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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.

Rocks.

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.”

“Is it?”

“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—”

“Thank y—“

“—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?!”

Chapter Text

Part One: Perfect Distractions | Chapter 2

She was inching ever closer to smacking him for real, now altogether disappointed that she’d returned the rocks instead of throwing them at him.

“The gist of it, aye.” He was very clearly taking pleasure in her dumbstruck gape. She turned on her heel half-jokingly, not wanting to give him the full satisfaction.

“Well, good fucking night then.”

“Wait, wait!” He was laughing in earnest now, infectiously so. When she turned again to face him, his arm was around his stomach and his cheeks were almost the colour of his hair. She tried very hard to look unimpressed.

“I think my verra good question deserves a little more effort than that,” she said in what she hoped was scathing, but wasn’t entirely sure didn’t sound like a chuckle.

He looked at her squarely, eyes endeavouring to be serious only to be betrayed by the echoes of laughter in his shaking shoulders.

“Och, yer accent could use some work, Sassenach.”

“I will actually go upstairs right now.”

“Okay, okay.” He grinned at her. “But I meant what I said, ye weren’t in the library today.”

“So…?”

So—“ with conviction, “—every week since the beginning of term, I’ve found ye there trying to pull thoughts out of that brown cloud that follows ye ‘round, and every week I’d walk ye home when it got too late.”

She smiled at that, despite her brain’s adamant order not to. She’d made a home for herself in the far recesses of the library where she could pull her hair out in peace. He’d been returning a book after realizing he’d gotten the authors switched and had no earthly need for the exact biomedical textbook Claire was pulling her hair out looking for. In her caffeine-induced haze, she’d tackled him as soon as he walked in with the one thing she needed more than sleep. Possibly not her best moment. Most definitely not the best way to start the semester.

It only made it all the more mortifying that the man she assaulted was amiable enough to walk her home that night.

 “So you’re here because…?”

“Well, for one.” He held up a finger. “I wanted to make sure ye didna pass out or die under a pile of books wi’out tellin’ me.”

Claire rolled her eyes, pushing her earlier impromptu nap out of mind.

“And two…“ His signature pause for effect, giving his grin ample time to send the wrong kind of feeling coursing through her veins.

“I didna get my walk.”

A beat.

Then Claire dissolved into sincere laughter, bending over in time to miss the way Jamie marveled at her. When she reared herself up again, it was – as always – gone.

“I don’t think they allow dogs on the dorm premises, actually,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye.

He rubbed the back of his head, recoiling in faux-offence. “Ye already smacked me once tonight, Sassenach. Ye didna have to do it again.”

She looked at him with wonder, eyes like upturned crescent moons squinting along with her smile. Try as she might, and try she did, to keep some sort of decorum, he had this irritating habit of breaking down every single wall she liked to hide behind. In the last 15 minutes or so since he’d appeared, she hadn’t thought once of the stresses and studies she’d left in her room.

It was vexing and unbelievable, and she found herself shaking her head at him as if he were already hers. As if, she knew him intimately enough to stake her claim in those blue cat-like eyes and declare they only glinted for her.

In her ocean of worry and stress, she hadn’t drowned at all. He’d pulled her up for air.


She was looking at him.

Of course, she had been for at least 15 minutes. That was how conversations worked.

But he’d never before seen this face on her, this look of awed disbelief and confusion as to why these feelings were appearing in the first place.

It was the way he looked at her, reflected back at him, and it froze all the blood in his body.

What was he doing, really? He’d walked her home that first night because he had no other way to explain that he was alright, and she didn’t have to apologize for tackling him to the ground, and that he was more than a little impressed she was able to catch him off guard like that. 

The week after, he’d heard her groan amidst the otherwise silent building because her pencil ran out of lead, and her backup pen had no ink left, and lucky for her he was in her vicinity with a spare. 

By the third time, he admits, he threw the word coincidence out a window. By then, he was actively seeking her company.

She was always forthcoming, welcoming, more so when the initial embarrassment of their first encounter ebbed away. They’d talk about their majors and he listened to her ambitions like a moth fluttering around a flame. And burn she did, so bright he felt it warm his own heart.

He’d gotten to know what made her laugh, what pissed her off, and which faces of hers he liked more.

This one, currently taking place, blew all the others away.

“What are ye lookin’ at, Sassenach?”

She blinked at the sound of his voice, like awakening from a daze.

“Sorry,” she said immediately, then she sighed, relaxed and tried again, softer. “Sorry, I was just thinking how…”

She took a breath. He held his.

“You always seem to appear with exactly what I need, when I need it,” she said finally, with a small chuckle.

He did?

“I do?”

She nodded, holding up fingers of her own. “First, with the textbook by some magic coincidence. Then, the pen—which I lost under my desk, by the way. And now, this.”

“Ye wanted a walk, then?”

“I needed the distraction. I… needed to tell my brain to shut the fuck up, and—“ A pause like she was bracing herself for impending sincerity. Then she deflated, her shoulders sagging as she smiled at him. “You’re very good at that.”

The cogs in his brain spun madly. She needed him? No, that’s not what she said. Not directly, anyway. But – said the most selfish parts of him – eerily close, and if this all ended up being for nothing, he’d hoard every moment like this for himself.

There were tens of millions of things he could say in reply. Infinite versions of how this might end circled through his mind. A combination of words and sentences could very well change his entire life by the end of the night, but—

His brain quieted enough to take her in for a moment. The track pants. The pen marks. The hesitant smile awaiting his reply.

A million ways this night could end, and he knew the only one he wanted was the one that was her choice.

“So that’s a yes to our walk, aye?” He hoped it didn’t come out as strained and terrified as the rest of him felt.

“Yes… Jamie.” He saw her shoulders relax, her smile widen, and felt the same calm wash over him at the sound of his name.

“Claire,” he replied obligingly.

It was a start. The strike of a match. The distant but sure glow of a faraway lighthouse, calling him to shore.

“What about you?” she said suddenly, yanking him by his pant leg back to the world of the living. It was his turn to sputter and blink at her.

“W-what about me?”

Her playful grin had returned, a strong contender for his favourite expression of hers, but still no match for whatever he’d witnessed tonight.

“You were staring at me too. What were you looking at?”

Millions of outcomes, and he’d only play to the one she’d made for the two of them.

“Just yer face,” he said, his thumb reaching to brush her cheek without thinking. “I’ve been admiring my pen’s handiwork all over yer cheek this whole time, aye?”

Proudly, he showed her the smudged blue on his thumb. Slowly, he watched the ink that still remained disappear into the creeping red blush painting her cheeks.

A Dhia, another strong contender.

[End of Part One]

Chapter Text

Part Two: Separation Anxiety | Chapter 1

The world for Jamie Fraser had shrunk to only the 9 x 16 confines of his phone screen. The familiar trepidation of a final paper and its mocking blank word document was multiplied a thousand-fold as he stared at that accursed empty message line and, above it, those 10 numbers in sequence.

Please, take my number,” she had said. Please. She’d implored. Mostly – entirely – because she didn’t want him chucking debris into her room anymore, but she’d said it nonetheless. He’d taken it humbly, gave her his, and waited until the minute precisely after he saw her safely back to her residence to celebrate properly. Like a gentleman.

But how to begin? How to dam up such overwhelming feeling and force it to trickle drip by drip? 

 >          Hello Claire—

Too formal?

 >          Sassenach!!!!

Absolutely too much. Abort. 

 >          Mo graidgh, ye have absolutely no earthly idea the havoc ye’re wreaking on my heart.

He groaned, flopping his back onto his bed and rubbing a tired hand down his face. How he managed not to trip all over himself the other night on their walk was entirely beyond him. There was something about actually being next to her that set his mind at ease. Words – mostly well-intended insults, from both sides – flowed naturally. Things were amiable.

It was the moments apart that sent his heart valves misfiring. If he couldn’t see the way her face scrunched up or how her smile slowly lighted her eyes at something he said, what – frankly – was the goddamn point?

He groaned again, rolling to his side with a firm grip on the edges of his phone, thumbs determinedly hovering over keys but not willing to go any further. He sounded like a lovesick teenager. For Christ’s sake, he essentially was. He glared motionless at his screen until it turned black from inactivity. In its reflection, Jamie locked his eyes with his roommate’s concerned ones.

“Have you not moved from that spot since I left for class this morning?”

“Didna hear ye come in, Grey,” Jamie said conversationally as he sat up on his bed, skirting round the question with an innocent enough smile. “Stood there long, have ye?”

John’s eyes narrowed.

“You do know your Scots gets heavier when you’re distressed, yes?”

“Och, it doesna…—n’t! Doesn’t. –Shut up!” He whipped a pencil off the reading desk at John, who dodged it and smiled despite himself.

“Didn’t you two already go out the other night?”

Jamie’s lips tightened. Drunk in euphoria that night, he now realized he may have exaggerated their impromptu study break.

“Aye well— ” He coughed. “That wasna actually a date-date, ye ken? Just a walk, is all. But!” He looked up, blue eyes pooling with earnest, almost childlike distress. “She gave me her number. ‘Tis a good sign, that. Right?”

John shook his head with a resigned sigh.

“I’ve seen you flawlessly argue your way out of overdue library books. Why is this so hard for you?”

Jamie squirmed in his spot, and then – with a glance at his phone – returned the sigh.

“Well, I guess my Uncle Dougal’s to blame a bit,” he said. “He’d always tell us boys no’ to look too eager in front of a lass.”

“I see.” John nodded slowly. “Married man, is he?”

“Aye, on his second wife now.”

“Thought as much,” he said wryly.

“I just dinn— don’t ken how to… start? I walked over to her residence the other night but now she’s given me her number. That means she intends for me to use it, aye?”

“That would be a safe assumption, yes.”

“Aye!” Jamie had a hand through his hair. “So she’s taken a step forward, and now I’m to follow through, right? But I dinna—”

Both pairs of eyes shot straight to Jamie’s phone as it beeped, but neither man moved. They stared like the device would explode until, ever so slowly, Jamie picked his phone up and unlocked it.

 >          Jamie! Wondering if you’re free for another study break tonight?

“Hmm, I can see why you like her.” John’s voice jolted Jamie out of his frozen state. He hadn’t even registered his roommate crossing the room to read over his shoulder.

“Tonight?” Jamie suddenly blinked up at John. “Ach, sorry mate, we were supposed to grab dinner tonight, aye? I could tell her—”

John rolled his eyes, snatching the phone away and hastily sending a reply.

“God almighty, I’d rather dine alone than hear you mope about missed opportunities all night.” He tried for a smile. “Go. Go and have fun.”

Jamie was on his feet at once, phone held tight in his hand as he quickly surveyed his outfit.

“Ye’re sure?” He met John’s eyes then.

“What am I, your Uncle Dougal? Just go.”

Jamie clapped a hand on his shoulder with a face-splitting grin.

“Ye’re the best, mate. Dinna wait up!”

And with the swoosh of a jacket and the click of a door, John was alone in the room.


 

“JOE. ABERNATHY. WHAT DID YOU DO?”

“Oh calm down,” Joe laughed, handing Claire her phone back with a pleasant smile. “Your man will be here in 15 minutes. You’d best wipe that gape off your face before he shows up.”

Chapter Text

Part Two: Separation Anxiety | Chapter 2

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp was mulling over five different edits of a text message and seven different ways to make Joe Abernathy’s murder look like an accident.

She was leaning against a pillar just outside the lobby of her residence, thankful that most people were already either huddled up in their room or away at dinner. Or on dates. Like her.

Or not like her. Or possibly like her? She stomped her heel with a grunt, and then straightened her back, inhaling quickly through her nose as she hit send without another thought.

>          Sorry for texting out of the blue. No worries if you already had plans…

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Beauchamp. And just what exactly did that ellipses mean to imply? That she’d be disappointed if he did have plans? That there was room to reschedule? That she was getting her hopes up for a date that wasn’t a date — that she didn’t even mean to ask for — but was now altogether dismayed and excited and no small amount of mortified at the very notion?

“Your man will be here,” Joe had said. Her man.

“Far bloody from it,” she murmured, thumping the back of her head against the pillar, feebly trying to stop him from coming to mind.

James Fraser. Jamie. That absurd red-headed idiot who threw pebbles into her third-floor window. He was infuriating and persistent, that one. And Claire was loathe to admit that their last impromptu study break had resulted in a well-rested mind and a shining grade on her midterm.

Her phone vibrated in her hand and she almost dropped it. Not a great sign for a future surgeon, she thought derisively as she opened the message.

>          Dinna fash lass, I cancelled those. I’ll be at yer place in 5

Her lips curved upwards involuntarily at the thought of him cancelling his plans, but she snapped out of it and scowled. Christ, what was happening to her? Why was this happening to her? She was a far cry from the dream-headed teenagers of Lifetime original movies. And yet, she’d woken up snuggled bodily against her pillows more times this week than she’d care to admit.

He was like a disease really, metastasizing and invading her every thought and action.

And not a bad-looking one, at that, said the more defiant recesses of her mind. She could still feel the phantom echo of his thumb against her cheek, making them flush of their own free will.

If she was being honest, she liked him. She liked him a lot. He was charming, almost to a fault, and was always so earnest in his actions that she found herself forgiving his small idiocies as if he were a child. He was also most gracious after she tackled him that first day in the library, which was as sweet as it was maddening. She’d said as much to him before, but whenever he was around, the constant buzzing in her brain seemed to shut down. His smile calmed even her stormiest thoughts.

What she hated was this: these moments apart where her mind was free to dream up all manner of anxiety, like the minutes before an exam but so much worse. The white noise came back tenfold, as if to make up for lost time. It was like the tension between two magnets just before they clicked together.

She also hated how much she wanted to click together.

She hated that the most.


 

He knew it was a mistake exactly 0.3 seconds after he clicked send. With no John to backseat text, Jamie had typed whatever came to mind before that same mind had the chance to walk him straight back to his room, let him cocoon under his blankets and slowly die of shame.

Why in God’s holy name would he tell her he cancelled his plans? So much for not looking too eager. He wanted to slow down his pace to think it over, but goddammit, he’d said he’d be there in five minutes. He was grateful for the autopilot his body seemed to operate on, willing his legs to move before the rest of him – stumbling around thoughts and scenarios and topics of conversation – could follow.

She’d texted him. She did. There was no more lingering doubt that she was only humouring his antics, and she’d told him so the other night. She needed him.

Or well, something akin to that. He couldn’t exactly remember the phrasing at the moment. His heart was singing too loudly to hear.

An icy jolt ran through him then and would’ve stopped him cold in his step had he not been oath-bound to make it to her door in the next 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

Jesus, he’d been so utterly spellbound by her saying his name that he’d touched her face without thinking. It seemed so natural to do so, to rub his thumb across the arches of blue pen painted on her cheek. And – curse that autopilot after all – he’d reached out and made contact before the rest of him even realized.

And her face. Dhia, that creeping blush and small quiver in her lips. His body ached to still them with his own, but thank heaven for small mercies, he’d managed to regain a semblance of control, managed to instead get lost in the lilt of her voice and the pools of whisky in her eyes.

Eyes that were now searching around for, presumably, him as she leaned against the front pillar of her residence. His legs finally slowed to a stop.

“Sassenach…”

Attention caught, she turned to him immediately with a wide doe-eyed expression that melted into a small smile of recognition. She walked towards him, closing the gap between them.


 

She was pulled towards him like the magnets she adamantly refused to liken them to.

Click went her heels as they hit the pavement and stopped right in front of him.

“We’re back to that name, are we?”

“Aye.” The corners of his eyes crinkled as he grinned down at her. “If ye like.”

“I did sort of miss it,” she said, feeling suddenly quite dull. How long had it been since she’d been on a date, let alone a first date? C’mon Beauchamp, you can do better than this.

She opened her mouth to say something – anything – but, he’d already drawn in a breath to speak so she let him.

“How was yer exam, by the way? Did ye do alright?”

“Oh well, y’know…” She brushed her hair back, letting her feigned humility last for less than a whole second before the honest joy poured out. “I got a 93!”

“That’s fantastic, lass!” he said happily, and he meant it. The strikingly warm hand now pressed into her arm told her so. “I’m verra proud of ye!”

Her smile shrunk, not wanting him to know how pleased that made her, nor how his hand on her arm was warming her whole body.

“And ye’re welcome too.” That startled her, pulling her head down from its rapid ascent into the clouds.

“For what, exactly?” Smile gone, eyes narrowing.

His hand left her as he crossed his arms, grin widening.

“For takin’ ye on a walk the other night, to clear yer heid.” He nodded, setting off Claire’s more familiar – and oddly comforting – urge to smack him.

“As I recall, I was the one taking you out for a walk that night.” She held her scrutinizing glare for half a second more before breaking into laughter. “No dogs on the premises, remember?”

He laughed too, shoulders relaxing as he let his arms fall loose from his chest.

“Ah well,” he said. “I suppose we’d best get off the premises then, aye?”

“Where did you have in mind?”

“Oh, I dinna ken, Sassenach. You were the one who called me here, weren’t ye?”

No, actually I wasn’t, but God bless Joe Abernathy, the nosy little bugger.

“Fair point.” One slim finger found her chin as she weighed their options, surveying the campus grounds behind him. “Food?”

When their eyes met again, he was staring intently at her, the same way he’d done that night before he reached up to touch her cheek. She could have sworn he’d meant to kiss her then and – for fuck’s flying sake – she was terrified of the fact that she would have let him.

“W-what?”

The look was gone as quickly as it came. He shook his head, ruddy curls swishing about.

“Nothin’, just my favourite word, that.”

“You and every other student on campus.” She snorted, turning from him to start in the direction of a small diner she’d taken a liking to. “I know where we can still find a table though.” With a look over her shoulder, she allowed herself to smile at him as widely and honestly as she’d like.

“Are you coming?”

“Aye,” he said softly, and a chill ran down her spine. “Aye, I’m right behind ye.”

Chapter Text

Part Two: Separation Anxiety | Chapter 3

If he could listen to her laugh every single day of his life, he’d count himself a lucky man and die happily.

“You didn’t!” she wheezed, and it only spurred him on more.

“Aye, we did!” He tapped his hand against the booth’s table for emphasis. “Ye should’ve seen my sister’s face the next morning, wonderin’ how the devil we’d magically procured another full-grown cow in one night.”

“And what did she say?”

“Och, I didna linger long enough to get my heid chopped off, ye ken? I left Ian to handle her – she had a wee soft spot for him, even then. I did happen to see the birds fly off the roofs as she screamed, though.”

Claire threw her head back laughing, and Jamie reveled in the way her curls swung behind her, how her hand came up to splay against her heart as she caught her breath.

“I can’t imagine what I’d say if I ever met this Ian,” she said, shaking her head. “God, I’d just be imagining you and him pushing the rump of a cow out of a stable.”

“Ye should visit Lallybroch sometime,” he said without thinking. He could see it so clearly: Claire walking up the western hill, the setting sun lighting her from the back but only paling in comparison to her smile as she saw him. His fingers twitched at the thought, so he used them to lift his beer to his lips instead.

“I’d give ye the grand tour, if ye came. Show ye the tower, and the rocks by the tower Ian and I would piss on sometimes.”

She choked on her own beer and sputtered.

“Why would I need to see that?”

He pulled an affronted gape that stirred the beginnings of more of her laughter. Christ, he’d sooner get drunk off her voice than whatever the house brew of this diner was.

“’Tis part of the whole experience, Sassenach. I canna just show ye one wi’out the other. Like meetin’ Ian wi’out Jenny.”

“I would like to meet this sister of yours, she sounds incredible.”

“Aye, she is. Ye’d like her, I think. A stubborn wee thing, but verra strong. Practically raised me when I was a wean.”

Claire tilted her head to the side, and he thought she looked like a small kitten, with her large eyes and quizzical mouth. He’d answer any question it’d ever ask.

“Ah well, see, my mother she… she died when I was just a lad.” There was a mute shaking of his shoulders and an inarticulate tremor from his throat. Still, at the thought of Jenny, he couldn’t help but smile. “Jenny was nigh 10 or 11 at the time but, she already had dinner going that same evening, tears still fresh on her face.”

He hadn’t thought of that day in a long while, but there was a sudden ache to be home pulsing in his heart. To see the tower again, share a dram with Ian, kiss Jenny on the cheek. The semester was half over and he hadn’t gotten the chance to go home during reading week. Now finals were the last large hurdle standing between him and Christmas break.

Claire was silent and the sight of her across the table, sitting and listening, shocked him out of his reverie.

“Shit, sorry lass. I didna mean to—that is, that wasna exactly light table conversation.”

He expected pity or an awkward shift in subject, but she simply shook her head, eyes closing in something like understanding.

“It’s alright,” she said softly, eyes opening again to reveal that deep gold that sent arrows darting into his chest. Her hand slowly reached across the table to cover his and Jamie inhaled sharply. She didn’t seem to notice, caught up in a reverie of her own.

“Both my parents died when I was very small.” Ah, she did understand.

“Och, I’m sorry Sassenach. Ye dinna have to—”

“No, it’s fine.” The hand that was over his lifted to wave dismissively, the echo of her touch still warm on his skin. “I don’t really remember them all that much. I was raised by my uncle.”

To say she had his attention caught then would be a lie. She’d had his attention, truly, since she tackled him in the library, and she hadn’t let him go since.


 

“We traveled a lot, me and my Uncle Lambert. He was an archaeologist. Almost had a heart attack when I told him I was going into medicine.” Claire answered the inquisitive quirk in his brow, looking past Jamie to some long-forgotten memory. He’d been so outwardly honest, she felt compelled to do the same, not in obligation but in a sudden overwhelming need for him to know her. Damn him. Damn those blue eyes.

“I grew up around a lot of strangers, but… I guess, we never stayed anywhere long enough to really make friends.” Meeting his gaze again, she chuckled. “To be honest, being here in university’s probably the longest I’ve ever stayed in any place.”

“I canna imagine,” he said. “I’ve spent most of my life at Lallybroch. ‘Tis the longest I’ve ever been away from home.”

She couldn’t imagine that. What was home to her but some idyllic half-promise? Something attainable certainly, but unfamiliar and somehow just too far away, like the distant lighthouse she’d seen the night Jamie showed up at her window. The night he’d stilled her rocking waters by merely appearing.

The way she was letting him do the very same right now.

“Do you miss it?” She spoke quietly, hoping it would cover the tremors in her voice.

He was looking straight at her, his blue-eyed stare unreadable but at an intensity that made her heart stop.

“Miss home?” he echoed. In place of his wide grin was a half-smile Claire had never seen on him before. His eyes never left hers.

“Not at the moment, no.”

Chapter Text

Part Two: Separation Anxiety | Chapter 4

She whirled around to face him, her pale face as clear as the moon amidst the darkness outside.

“Why’d you stop walking?”

“Because we’re at yer place, Sassenach.” He laughed, and she did too.

“Oh! So we are.” She whirled around again, looking the residence up and down. Her feet stumbled a bit and Jamie, grinning madly, rushed to grab her elbow and steady her.

“Easy lass, I dinna think ye can make it up the stairs on yer own.” Not entirely drunk, he didn’t think, she was a fair bit tipsy. Just enough for him to be amused without really feeling bad about it.

“I’m fine.” She scoffed, pushing against his chest to steady her own self. “Ugh, serves me right for getting into a drinking game with a Scotsman.”

“Serves ye right,” he amended, “for getting into a drinking game with James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.”

“I’m sorry?” She peered up at him. He could see her lose and regain focus. “That is faaaar too many names for one human being.”

Their laughs echoed in the otherwise empty yard, the same way they’d been the last time they were here in what, to Jamie, felt like another lifetime ago.

She wiped a tear from her eye just as they sighed at the same time. There was a moment, something arcing between them as their upturned eyes met and Jamie consciously reminded his heart to keep beating.

“I had fun tonight.” Claire beamed and whoops, there went his heart again.

“I did too, Sassenach.”

“We should –hic –we should do this again.”

“Aye.” He nodded, monitoring how the night wind made her sway and readying himself to catch her. “On one condition, though.”

“Mm, and what’s that?”

Go for it. Go for it.

I get to ask you out next time.”

Her lips curved into a coy smirk that he told himself not to read into. Perhaps she was farther gone than he thought.

“Oh, this was ‘going out’, was it?”

“Wasn’t it?”

Wasn’t it? His mind raced through several hundred variations of panic before she answered.

“Yes. Yes, it was.” She nodded slowly, poking him in the chest. “Very well, James Alexander… whateveryourothernamesare Fraser, you can ask me out on a second date.”

Her hand was still on his chest, even as she started moving closer to him. She was trying to kill him. Abort. Abort.

He closed his hand around hers to stop her and smiled at the ground.

“I’d best be off,” he said, returning her hand to her side and – reluctantly – releasing it. “Good luck wi’ the stairs, Sassenach.”

He turned sharply on his heel and made to walk away, to slow down his heartbeat. But he was only 10 steps away when—

“Jamie!”

It happened again. She was walking purposefully towards him, the light from the lobby window shining behind her like some kind of dream, freezing him to the floor.

Her hand was back on his chest, and she was standing closer than he’d ever been to her. When she looked up at him from under her lashes, their lips were mere inches away and Jamie could barely breathe.

“I… um…” Her mouth closed and opened wordlessly, her face inching closer, and his breath hitched.

That did it.

In an instant, his fingers were pressed against her lips.

“Ye’re drunk, Claire,” he whispered. His hand came around to cup her cheek and he could see the coherence waning in her eyes. He smiled at her, full of everything he usually tried to mask. The awe, the need, the—

The love. Ah Dhia, he was as far gone as she was and it had nothing to do with alcohol.

When I kiss ye for the first time, mo nighean donn, and there will be a first time,” he said softly in Gaelic, as if speaking to a sleeping child. His thumb rubbed the curve of her cheek just like the other night. “I want it to be yer choice. I want ye to remember.”

He got a mumbled sort of groan for an answer as her head started swaying, her eyes screwing shut. He chuckled, knowing he’d been right not just about how drunk she was, but about how she would very well be the death of him.

“I dinna think ye’ll remember much of this, a nighean.” He scooped her up into his arms and walked over to the door, hitting the automatic door button with his hip.

“Third floor, right?”

Her head snuggled into the curve of his shoulder, humming some sort of affirmative and in lieu of stopping completely, Jamie’s heart throbbed stronger than he’d ever felt it.

“Verra well, mo Sassenach, let’s go get my pen back, aye?”

[End of Part Two]

Chapter Text

Part Three: Fragmented | Chapter 1

She was in a boat, with the lighthouse down the shoreline slicing intermittent streams through the thick fog around her. The waves rocked the small dinghy back and forth in strong lurches that had her clutching the rough wooden edge with white knuckles.

One large wave ran up the behind her, ramming against the creaking tub, and knocked Claire cleanly overboard.

It was freezing. Her clothes soaked and clutched tight against her body as they began to drag her down, deep into the frigid dark no matter how hard she kicked her legs. She opened her mouth to scream but saw merely bubbles – her last bit of oxygen – escape from her, rising to the surface to tell no one she was there.

And then she was warm, exceedingly warm, feeling like it came spreading from her chest outwards. Something large and solid was pressed into her back. What could only be an arm encircled her waist as she numbly felt the swift kicking beneath her, the urgent hold around her, and the racing heartbeat pounding from behind that echoed inside of her as well.

The surface seemed so far, but she could faintly see the beam of the lighthouse scanning the sky above. Her vision was darkening at the edges.

Drowning.

Her body had been saved but she had stopped breathing. She felt her head fall, straining her neck as her wet curls pulled backwards against the current. Then, she felt nothing.

Nothing, save for the warmth at her back being replaced by coarse sand. There was a deep voice murmuring something to her, but she couldn’t recognize the words.

Nothing, save for two lips soft against her own as she shot up and gasped for breath.

She was in bed. She was in her dorm.

Her blankets had been kicked to the floor and the speed of sitting up sent all of her blood surging upwards in a pounding headache.

She was hungover too.

She was very hungover.

Just as she threaded a hand through her curls, there was another pounding – this time, from outside her door.

“Claaaire!” Geillis Duncan from down the hall. “Claire, open up!”

“It’s open!” she groaned, wishing for nothing more than the chance to bury herself back into bed and let the comforting darkness consume her.

Geillis entered with a swing of the door and Claire shook at the sound, groaning again as her hands cradled her head, elbows resting on her knees.

“Where is he?!”

She shot daggers at her dorm-mate through bleary eyes.

“Where is who? –And what bloody time is it?”

“7 o’clock,” Geillis answered, prompting yet another groan from Claire as she rested her cheek on the cool wall next to her. Maybe if she closed her eyes—

“Dinna sleep on me now, Beauchamp!” Scots. So many Scots around her. “Where’d ye hide him then?”

“Hide WHO?” Claire wished she had actual daggers now. She kept her eyes firmly shut and breathed deeply through her nose. “Geillis please, it’s Saturday and I’m pretty sure my liver just resigned in protest.”

“Aye, I ken. Drunk as all hell ye were last night,” Geillis said, leaning onto the doorframe with a creak that made Claire’s shoulders twitch. “Which is why James Fraser carried ye up the stairs like a wee bairn.”

Claire’s eyes shot open. He did what?

“I-I’m sorry?”

“James Fraser!” And the screeching returned. “That fit red-heided lad that ye take walks with ‘round campus all the time.”

There was a stirring in her gut at the sound of Geillis describing Jamie as fit, but jealousy was far less likely than the general queasiness of a hangover.

“Yes, I know who he is,” she mumbled dismissively. “He’s just a frie—“

Very well, James Alexander… whateveryourothernamesare Fraser, you can ask me out on a second date.

“What was that, Claire?”

“Yes, I know who you’re talking about,” she hissed quickly, wanting very much to end this line of questioning so she could begin one with herself. “As you can see, he’s not here. Aren’t many places to hide a 6-foot Scotsman now, are there?”

She could see Geillis’ smile drop a bit and prayed this would be over soon.

“So you two didna—“

“We did not.”

They didn’t. Not that, she was certain. But there was the ghost of a memory that stirred something entirely different – but definitely still the hangover – in her stomach. Being carried by something solid and warm. Uneven breath hot against her lips.

That was a dream.

That was a bloody dream.

“And he’s clearly not here,” Claire said with finality. “So if you could just shut the do—“

“Aye lass, he may no’ be in yer room…” Claire hadn’t realized Geillis had crossed to the window and was covertly peering out of it. “But he’s definitely here.”

With energy she had no idea she possessed, Claire stood and steered Geillis out of the room by the shoulders, lending no ear to the girl’s protests as she shut the door behind her. Then she made a beeline to the window, ducking as tiny pebbles hit the closed glass. The sound of their impact rang in her ears and she opened the window – once again – with an unimpressed glare.

“Good morning, Sassenach!” He was grinning at her but she wouldn’t fall for that again.

“Didn’t I give you my number so you would stop doing this?”

“Aye but, I thought the phone ringing might hurt yer heid.” He snorted, no doubt remembering more of last night than she did. “And ah, how is yer heid by the way?”

“Pounding. No thanks to the rocks hitting my window.”

“Well, at least I made sure the window was closed this time.” He squinted his eyes at her then, peering up against the just broken dawn. “What are ye wearin’, Sassenach?”

“Excuse me?” A deep crimson filled her cheeks and Jamie held his hands up dumbly, mouth flapping open.

“Ach, I mean—sorry lass, it’s just—I’m only askin’ because what I’ve got planned needs something light, ye ken? T-shirt and track pants will do. Hoodie in case ye catch a chill.”

She regarded him with crossed brows. She was still wearing her clothes from yesterday and the order wasn’t tall, but neither was crawling back into bed.

“What exactly do you have planned?”

He smirked and – damn it all – she fell for it again.

“A fine question, that, Sassenach.”

“And I’ll have to come down to get it answered,” she finished for him ruefully. “Ugh fine, wait there.”

She was outside in ten minutes time, and in spite the newly risen sun painting the yard in soft yellows, this all felt very familiar.

There he was, hands in pockets as he kicked his heel into the dirt. T-shirt and track pants indeed. She’d opted for a hoodie because it was bone-chilling outside, but there he was, unbothered by it all. His top was form-fitting and Claire could see every dip and curve in the chest and torso his regular shirts could already barely contain. Her eyes lingered a moment too long, but obviously that was the hangover’s fault too.

He finally noticed her and walked over with a warm grin.

“Oh, ye dinna look so bad,” he said.

“And you look infuriatingly cheery for someone awake at 7 a.m. after a night of drinking.”

“’Tis in my blood, aye?”

“Yes, that’s why they call it a blood alcohol level.” She rolled her eyes and he shook his head at her with a chuckle.

“Well, I’m glad to see yer wit hasna suffered greatly.”

“Ugh, that may be the only part of me that isn’t suffering greatly.” She rubbed a heavy hand into her eye, then down her face. “So are you going to tell me why you’re here, or do I have to wait?”

“It’s my turn, aye?”

“Your turn?”

I get to ask you out next time, he’d said. She hadn’t dreamed that.

“—run, and then breakfast.”

“Sorry, what’d you say?”

“That we’ll go for a run, then get breakfast,” he repeated, looking at her with a mite of pity. “Tsk, and ye sound like ye’re in desperate need of the fresh air, lass.”

Claire blinked at him once. Twice. And then shook her head.

“No.” Emphatically. “No. I’m going upstairs.”

“What, why?” He’d told her he was the younger sibling yesterday, right? He sounded like it. “A run will make ye feel better, Sassenach.”

Christ, was he trying to kill her? She should’ve known when he requested a dress code. That was her fault.

“Or I could lie in bed all day,” she said with a turn of her heel. “I can do that in track pants and a T-shirt too.”

“C’mon ye stubborn wee lass.” Jamie was laughing and a small part of her was glad he wasn’t taking her hangover-spite to heart. He reached for her elbow to pull her back around.

Her feet stumbled a bit and Jamie, grinning madly, rushed to grab her elbow and steady her.

“Please don’t make me do this.” She pouted, looking up at him under furrowed brows. He was still laughing.

“We walk all the time, Sassenach. ‘Tis just like that, but faster.”

The hand on her elbow surely wasn’t fair. The proximity of his chest in a shirt that tight was just playing dirty. She met the blue of his eyes, and lost the game completely.

“Oh alright,” she sighed and his grin only widened, waking up her heart. He really was going to kill her. “You can run. I’ll be walking.”

Chapter Text

Part Three: Fragmented | Chapter 2

It was at a pace much slower than he wanted, but he had gotten her outside nonetheless. They walked shoulder to shoulder, a comfortable distance apart, down the pathway that cut through a small forest on the far side of the campus.

Last night had been a restless one, spent turning in bed trying to keep time with the dance she was doing through his thoughts. He burned with curiosity, both terrified and eager to know how much of the night before she remembered. She’d just been so goddamn close, less than an inch between their lips. But, the whiff of alcohol on her breath was like a bucket of cold water. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. But fuck, did he want to and he hated himself for it. In total, he’d probably had around three hours of sleep before John told him to leave the room.

A good walk always spurred good ideas, after all. That’s how he found himself, yet again, staring up at her window.

“The fresh air always helps wi’ my hangovers,” he said, taking in a deep inhale through his nose. “I thought it might do the same for ye.”

“Is this what you did back home, at Lallybroch?”

So she remembered their dinner at least.

“Aye,” he answered. “There’s plenty of rooms to hide in, but fields enough to walk around all day if ye wanted. Or if ye’re tryin’ to avoid doing chores,” he added, nudging her elbow with his. She chuckled.

“You’ll be going home for Christmas break, then?”

“Of course!” He nodded. “I talk to my sister often enough but… it’s no’ the same, ye ken? The air’s different there, less clutter on the horizon.” He hadn’t realized he’d been staring at the horizon until he looked back at Claire.

“And you? Any plans for Christmas?”

“Not especially. Just me, my textbook and a bottle of wine, probably,” she said. He tilted his head at her and she wrinkled her nose. “My last exam’s at nine on the 23rd and I didn’t really make any plans otherwise so, I figured I’d just stay here and haunt the campus.”

“Well, ye—” could come home with me, but he stopped himself. Forget being eager, that was rushing things to an almost idiotic degree. What was he expecting? For her to run straight into his arms and tell him she loved him? He figured then that he must have dreamed at least once in his short three hours of sleep last night.

“Hmm?”

“Are ye hungry, lass?” Nice recovery.

Her face immediately lit up like a child and Dhia, if he wasn’t already completely under her power before, he definitely was now.

“Yes, thank God. Are we done now?”

“Almost,” he said, laughing at the way her expression deflated. “I’ll race ye to that tree at the end of the path first and –Och, dinna look like that, Sassenach. I meant to have ye run today, and ye havena done any running yet. Just a wee sprint, is all.”

She glared at him, but he could already see the way the upward curve of her lips was betraying her.

“You really are a dog, aren’t you?”

“C’moonnn.” Another nudge at her elbow. “Loser buys breakfast, aye?”

She quirked up the corner of her mouth at that.

“Alright, fine,” she conceded, facing herself forward as Jamie did the same.

“On yer mark, get set… G—aghh! Fuck!” She’d kicked him in the shin and darted towards the tree.

She’d kicked him.

In the shin.

This woman would surely kill him.


 

She was snickering the whole way through as she sprinted to the tree, eyes only on the finish line.

She splayed her hand onto the bark as she caught her breath, turning to finally look back.

“Looks like you’re paying for brea—oof!”

He’d tackled her, arms circling around her waist from her right side as he lifted her off the ground with a growl. She squirmed in his arms, legs kicking out beneath her. Both of them were laughing

What could only be an arm encircled her waist as she numbly felt the swift kicking beneath her, the urgent hold around her, and the racing heartbeat pounding from behind that echoed inside of her as well.

“That’s cheatin’, Sassenach!”

“Jamie! Jamie, put me down!”

…donn.

She turned to look at him and realized their faces were suddenly far too close.

Her mouth closed and opened wordlessly, her face inching closer, and his breath hitched.

He’d realized too and they just stared, whisky meeting deep blue. Their smiles vanished, panting breaths mingling between them.

Then his body started in a belated sort of panic as he gently set her back down on the floor.

Nothing, save for the warmth at her back being replaced by coarse sand. There was a deep voice murmuring something to her, but she couldn’t recognize the words.

She remembered one word though. Its odd syllables were swirling in her head, as fragmented as her dreams and memories had been. But they’d clicked together as her feet hit the ground.

Chapter Text

Part Three: Fragmented | Chapter 3

He took three hasty steps away from her and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to draw her back to their usual comfortable rapport. He could see her eyebrows furrowing, something had troubled her.

Och, he’d troubled her.

“Don’t doctors have an oath no’ to inflict harm on another person?”

Her eyes were still fixed on the ground thinking, but she chuckled at his joke and that set his own mind at ease somewhat.

“Fair’s fair, I guess.” He heaved a deep breath to give her time to look up at him. “Verra well, Sassenach. I’ll buy ye breakfast.”

He made to walk towards the end of the path, but froze when he heard it.

Mo nighean donn…” she muttered.

Jamie gulped but his throat had gone dry. He turned slowly back around to face her. She was staring at him with crossed brows, confused.

“That’s Gaelic, isn’t it?”

“Aye.” His voice was coarse and quiet. He cleared his throat.

“You were speaking in Gaelic before… last night.” It looked like her breathing was shaky too, the effort needed to exhale was tensing up her shoulders. She spoke in whispers. He walked towards her just to hear.

“What is it you were saying?”

Christ, a nighean, just stick yer dagger in me and be done with it.

If this was where it ended, he’d take the time to memorize this face. Flushed from running, brown wisps of curls in beautiful chaos. Her lips dry and slightly parted as her golden eyes asked questions he knew – he’d sworn to himself – he’d always answer.

“Claire…” he started. No Lass or Sassenach to hide behind.

He said he’d wanted it to be her choice, that he’d play to whatever path she drew for him. He said he’d answer anything she’d ever ask. So, he braced himself. If this was happening today, right now, he could never say he didn’t see it coming.

His hand rested on her shoulder, no more and no less, as he looked her straight in the eye.

“I like you, Claire.” A hesitant chuckle. An incredulous shake of the head. “I like ye a lot. You—ye’ve got this way of… Whenever I’m near ye I just…”

“Calm down…”

She wasn’t speaking to him so much as answering, finishing his sentence, telling him her own heart as well. She’d said so before, hadn’t she? She’d told him he calmed her down, that she needed him, but he’d brushed it aside as just another small thing his love-drunk head misinterpreted.

Now, her palm on his chest was telling him otherwise.

“Aye,” he laughed shakily. “That too, I suppose. But, what I meant to say was—” Say it. “—That is—” SAY IT.

“I dinna miss Lallybroch much when ye’re around, Claire. My heart… feels at home wi’ ye.”

Her fingers twitched against said heart, and Jamie waited for the worst.

Instead, her palm opened up against his chest as it had done on the tree. She looked at him and, for once, her eyes were unreadable.

What, woman? What is it ye want me to do?


 

“Jamie, I…” She let out a slow exhale. Words had suddenly become flat and muted, poor phrases that couldn’t even begin to describe the depths of her thoughts.

I like you too? She wasn’t a middle schooler, for fuck’s sake. She was an adult, regardless of however many butterflies batted their wings inside her stomach.

Now or never, Beauchamp.

She lunged forward and pressed her lips against his, earning a small squeak she was surprised came from Jamie and not her.

There was the familiar warmth again, darting through her like a jolt of electricity from her lips to her toes. Then she pulled away.

One tick of a second hand. One breath between them both. 

Eyes searching and finally finding. 

And the entire world turned on its axis.

The hand on her shoulder rushed to cradle her head and pull her back to him, mouths crashing messily together, noses bumping and smashing, as their lips slid over each other. Her own hand met its partner tangled in Jamie’s hair as she stumbled backwards, hitting the tree with a muffled grunt.

They broke apart, panting as Jamie pressed his forehead against hers. She opened her eyes, but his were still closed, brows knit close together like he was trying to regain command of his body or, at least, steady his breathing.

She let one of her hands fall, cupping his cheek, and he closed his own hand around her wrist, eyes slowly opening to reveal every emotion Claire was feeling too.

Mo nighean donn,” he whispered. “It means ‘my brown-haired lass’.”

“Oh, is that all?” Claire laughed breathlessly, still trying to level her heartbeat.

“Last night, when I carried ye upstairs,” he began, voice hoarse with effort but tender in ways that spoke right to her heart. “I said to ye, ‘when I kiss ye for the first time, and there will be a first time—” She smiled, thumb sweeping across his cheek. “—I want it to be yer choice. I want ye to remember’.”

“I’ll remember, Jamie.” She kissed him again, two delirious grins pressing softly together, clicking like magnets.

“I knew it.” He scoffed when he pulled away, brushing her hair from her face. “I told myself ye’d surely kill me, Sassenach.”

She laughed heartily into his chest.

“I said the exact same thing this morning.”

[End of Part Three]

Chapter Text

Part Four: Ice | Chapter 1

Jamie was elated in ways he couldn’t begin to describe, like a tap had been turned and everything he’d – they’d – pent up came pouring out.

Like the flick of a light switch, sending a current through a lamp he intended to leave on forever.

It was all new to him, but eased his heart in familiar ways, as comfortable and safe as it was nerve-wracking and terrifying. He wanted to fall asleep against her shoulder, never disturb the still waters they drifted on, and yet, he wanted to give into passion, rest his forehead on hers, and tell her he loved her.

Calm down. It was her voice in his head.

He’d thought he’d lost his mind the minute she tackled him, but now he understood what insanity felt like, how it felt to have someone share, thrive, in your delusion. There was time enough for torrential outpours of love, and frankly he’d rather watch the steady progression of her feelings for him. She’d catch up, their kiss under the tree promised that. Wherever he went, it would always be her choice.

But even still, he found himself drawn to her more than ever. In the weeks following their run, he reached for her as often as he could. At times, he could barely hold himself as he waited for Claire’s friends to depart before coiling his arms around her waist from behind, chin resting safely in her shoulder.

At impact, they breathed deeply in time and she ran her hands down his arms before meeting his clasped ones at her stomach.

“And how was your day?” she’d said.

“Better now,” he’d replied, burying his nose into the crook of her neck.

Sometimes, she’d come find him when her classes ended early. Given her major, it was oftentimes the other way around.

He found her one evening all alone in the lab, fussing over equipment he was sure she’d explain to him later. She was so focused, hands moving deftly, assuredly, as she bit her bottom lip in concentration. Her eyes were narrow and serious, but glinting like molten gold the way they did whenever she found something new, something useful, and it excited her.

“Ye look verra fine when ye’re doing that, Sassenach,” he said, leaning against the frame of the lab door.

What once may have startled her merely earned him a smirk now as she zeroed in on her task, body stock still as her hands worked in cautious and confident motions. That was his Claire, the surgeon-in-the-making. He swelled with pride and crossed the room immediately when she – at last – looked up, wiped her brow, and beamed.

“Ye’re well-prepared for yer practical, a nighean,” he marvelled, taking her into his arms and pulling her with him to lean onto the desk face-to-face.

“Just about,” she nodded, no doubt running the procedure over again in her brain. The furrow in her brow told him so. He smoothed it over with a soft kiss.

“Ye’ll do great,” he said, nudging her nose with his. “I didna see ye so much as blink when I came through the door. Ye’ll be enough, more than enough.”

She pressed her forehead to his and closed her eyes, a silent “thank you” he’d learned to read.

“There you go again, saying exactly what I need.” She ran a hand down from temple to jaw as she pulled away to smile at him. “How do you keep doing that?”

Jamie scoffed at that. “Och lass, it’s no great task when ye always wear what ye’re thinkin’ plain on yer face.” She made a face at him and he tapped her nose with his finger. “Ye’re a terrible liar, Sassenach. But I still like ye just fine.”

“Hmph,” she huffed, cheeks puffing up in a pout. Christ, she looked adorable. He crooked one finger under her chin and brought her lips chastely to his.

When she pulled back her eyes were molten gold again, darting down to his lips then back to his eyes, and Jamie’s breath came out uneven.

“So, what am I thinking right now?”

He answered with the warm return of his lips on hers, pressing sweetly together but lessening in chastity by the second.

She started it. She ran her tongue over his bottom lip in question and his hands snaked their way around her waist, pulling her tighter to him in reply. Their muffled hums mingled together in each other’s open mouths as her tongue found his.

He moaned.

She echoed it.

Her chest was pressed urgently to his, standing on her toes so her hands could trace lines through his hair from forehead to nape. One arm still wound around her waist, the other splayed a hand on her back as she arched into him.

He had to stop. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. They had to stop. There was a stirring in him dangerously low telling him not to – screaming, begging – when he tore himself away from her, hands clutching her forearms so hard she winced a little.

“Wha—what?” she panted. She was flushed from her cheeks to down her shirt where—

Her surveyed her hair instead, neat curls turned wisps, springing every which way as if he’d had his hands threaded through them, holding her head as she—

Fuck,” he all but spat, breathing just as ragged. “Claire, I canna—we… No’ here, no’ now.”

Claire breathed deep through her nose, her hands sliding down to rest on either side of his chest.

“I know…” she sighed as if her heart were breaking. God fucking damn it all.

He released her from his arms, rubbing his thumb across the curve of her hot cheek.

“Ye’ve got studying to do, lass.”

Her sigh this time was stunted, resigned. The adorable and dangerous pout that had started it all had returned.

“Ugh, you’re so… good.” He knew she didn’t entirely mean it as a compliment, but he took it all the same, gallantly taking her hand and pressing his lips to her fingers until she smiled again.

“Back to my dorm we go then,” she said, and his mouth stilled. She laughed. “To study, Jamie.”

“Aye, of course,” he said, still a bit shaken. He offered his arm to her anyway and walked her back to her residence without any more fuss.

The crisp late October air flowed through him as they stepped outside, cooling down his entire system. By the time he hugged her goodbye, she was still warming his core, but their lips were too frozen to be anything but chaste.

The fresh memories of their encounter carried him on a cloud back to his dorm. The heat he could feel from her back, pulsing out of her like solar flares. The lines of fire her fingers set streaming through his hair. Her sound. It burned a hole in him from inside out.

This was his life now. Claire, present and perfect. And, in a few short weeks, Lallybroch. Home in two places, heart happily divided.

He didn’t even think of returning to earth until sheets of paper collided with the back of his head.

He drew back, both astounded to find he was sitting on his bed and no small amount of sheepish to see John staring at him under unimpressed brows. In his hand was the stapled package of papers that had just met the crown of Jamie’s head.

“Back to the world of the living, yes? God, you two finally did it, didn’t you?”

“Nay!” Jamie was on his feet in an instant.

“I can’t tell if I liked you better pining, or actually dating,” John said with the shake of his head.

“We didna do anything,” much, he wanted to say. He instead eyed the papers. “What’re those?”

“As I said when I came in, I picked up the exam schedule.”

What?

“What?”

…WHAT?

“I know you don’t like the email updates on your phone, so I grabbed you one and –what? Oh, please tell me you didn’t actually forget about exams.”

“Of course not!”

He hadn’t, really. They loomed in the back of his brain like any other student. But he’d forgotten for the moment. He’d already been preparing to pack for Christmas break, buy his train ticket, find Claire a present, and maybe tell her he loved her by the tree where they first kissed if he felt so inclined.

…so maybe he’d forgotten just a bit. He ran a hand through his hair, momentarily replacing Claire’s handiwork with frigid realization.

Home would have to wait for now.

Chapter Text

Part Four: Ice |
Chapter 2

Claire often wondered how he existed in such duality. There was the Jamie whose blue eyes glinted and shone like snow under the sun, a wide and slow smile blossoming on his face like a content child. There was the Jamie who smoldered and burned with eyes like a hurricane, and whose crossed brow made her heart skip or stop altogether.

She was watching him over the spine of her textbook. He sat on the floor below the window, opposite the door to her room. It was that window, the one he loved to abuse with projectiles and debris. Claire sat cross-legged facing him. Long lashes hid his eyes as he looked down at his own book, again with the furrowed brow, bottom lip caught between his teeth in total focus. The way the winter sky filled the window frame behind him, he looked very much like a painting, save for the general disarray of her room in the foreground.

He stirred, shoulders shifting a little, and Claire dove back into her book, thinking herself caught. One careful glance told her she wasn’t though. He was still absorbed – if not more so – in his textbook. Frustration was setting in and she knew it was a matter of seconds until he broke.

“Sassenach?”

3.2 seconds.

“Yes?” she replied, casually flipping to the next page. She heard the floor creak at sudden movement and looked up in time to meet Jamie’s face inches from hers.

She fought against the upturns of her lips.

“What is it, Jamie?”

“Verb conjugation can burn in hell,” he said with a pout that could rival any self-respecting 7-year-old. He sat back, the toe of his shoes poking hers as he rested his arms on his knees. “I speak the damn language, aye? I dinna need an exam to tell me so.”

“Ugh,” Claire scoffed, rolling her eyes and nudging his shoe back. “People with natural-born talent can burn in hell too.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and he made a face. Then, like a tree falling slowly to the ground, he bent forward, coiled his arms around her waist and buried his head somewhere around her hip. She lifted her book in the air as she peered down at him.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Something like “taking a break” rumbled near her stomach and she smiled, running her fingers lightly down his scalp.

“Well, if you must,” she sighed, and then placed her book on top of his head to carry on reading.

“Sassenach,” said another rumble as he squirmed. “I’m no’ a table.”

“Could’ve fooled me.” She glanced at the numbers at the bottom of the page and nearly surged with relief. Only one chapter left of this unit. “Can’t get to vacation without finishing exams.”

He stirred at that, disentangling himself to sit back up.

“That reminds me, Sassenach. I’ve been meaning to ask ye.”

His expression was unreadable. Claire waited.

“Maybe ye could—that is, I ken ye’ve got a late exam. ‘Tis the day I’m catching my train too. I just thought… maybe ye should give yer uncle a call.”

Ice water slipped down her spine.

“I… you—what?”

He nodded eagerly, placing his hand on her knee as he sat cross-legged and scooted closer to her.

“See if he’s made plans for the break, aye? Maybe ye could go with him after yer exam.”

Why? Why, why, why was he doing this?

“Claire—” First name meant sincerity. “—Ye shouldna spend yer break alone.”

She shook her head, hand covering his.

Please, stop.

“I’m a big girl, Jamie. I can spend a Christmas by myself. It might even be quiet around here for once.” She tried for a smile, but he’d clearly set his mind. He reached up with his other hand to tuck her hair behind her ear.

“I willna be able to rest properly at Lallybroch, knowing ye’re here by yerself, a nighean.”

“Really, it’s fine. I—”

“Nay, Sassenach. Yer uncle is family. I dinna know the man, but I’m sure he’d take ye in if ye just—”

“Uncle Lambert’s dead.”


 

He’d read her wrong. Egregiously wrong.

“Christ, Claire, I didna—” He turned his hand over to squeeze hers. “When, lass? Why did ye no’ tell me?”

She shook her head again, loose curls brushing the back of his palm as it lay against her cheek.

“Last summer, before we…” she trailed off with a long exhale. “It’s fine. I’m fine. I can manage.”

It felt like an arrow lodged into his heart, but he couldn’t feel the wave of pain that should have followed. He’d do anything for her.

“I’ll stay here with you then, mo nighean donn.”

Her eyes went wide and the small tears just forming spilled down her cheeks.

“What? No! Jamie, you can’t.”

“How can I leave ye, lass? Now that I ken ye’re hurting?”

She pulled her hand from the one on her knee and shook away the other at her cheek, gold eyes burning.

“You’re going home, Jamie. You haven’t been home in months. I can’t do that to you.”

“Ye’re no’ doing anything to me, Sassenach. ‘Tis my choice, aye?”

“No!”

Claire stood and he followed. She looked up at him fiercely, lips tight and nostrils flared.

“Lallybroch isna going anywhere. I canna just leave ye to—”

“Yes, yes you can. And you will, you stubborn Scot!”

“I’m no’ the one being stubborn here!”

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” She stomped her foot and her textbook came crashing down to the floor. “If I had even half the home you had, I’d be there in a heartbeat! You don’t even know how lucky you are!”

Jamie took a step back.

Fuck.

He had read her so wrong and this was his penance. The realization coursed through his veins and froze every limb.

Of course.

Of course.

She was panting, frustration slowly melting from both of them as the tense cloud hanging overhead dissipated.

Mo nighean donn…” What would he say? He needed to tell her he understood. He needed to apologize. He needed to—

“Go,” Claire said softly and all the air rushed from Jamie’s lungs as he stared, gaped, panicked.

It couldn’t end here. He wasn’t ready.

She took a hesitant step towards him, and Jamie’s whole body tensed as her hand came up and touched his chest.

“It’s alright, just go,” she said softly again. There was no frost in her voice. She kept one hand splayed on his heart as the other stroked the back of his neck. Just like that morning under the tree. She smiled and relief thawed his limbs so quickly his knees almost buckled. Claire kissed him on the cheek, and then pressed her forehead to his with closed eyes.

Thank you. She understood, heard his apology before he spoke it, just as he heard hers.

But?

“I’ll see you when you get back.”

“But Claire…”

What would ye have me do, mo graidgh?

“I’ll be fine, Jamie. Really.”

He brushed her hair behind her ear, cradled her head in his hand and pressed their foreheads together again.

“Ye’re too good, mo nighean donn.”

She smiled at that.

Jamie didn’t.

Chapter Text

Part Four: Ice |
Chapter 3

Claire all but kicked down her door, scrambling to divest her winter coat and toss her bag somewhere across the room at the same time.

Heated from the effort, she fell back onto the cool sheets of her bed and spread her limbs out.

Done.

It was just past noon and she was officially finished with the semester. The pent up tension of the weeks past slowly started to melt her into her mattress.

She’d done well on her practical. Exceedingly so, as a matter of fact. But now that her mind wasn’t clouded with procedures and definitions, she couldn’t bring herself to be as happy as the end-of-term warranted.

“Dammit,” she muttered to her ceiling. She rolled onto her side, facing the wall, wanting to be as curled up and secure as possible.

Both of them had known well ahead of time that come exam season, they wouldn’t be seeing much of the other. There was no issue there. What they – she – hadn’t been counting on was the accompanying uneasiness of their last encounter.

They’d made up, and were friendly enough on text, but it unsettled her to remember that they hadn’t been together, in person, since that day.

The most frustrating part of it all was that he’d only wanted to help. He’d crossed that line because he cared, and she couldn’t begrudge him for that. Under any other circumstance, it would have warmed her heart to know he’d do that for her.

But damn him. Damn his virtue. He had a family waiting for him, a place he ached for. She’d give anything for just a small taste of that, and yet he was ready to casually put it all on hold.

For her, of course. 

But that wasn’t fair.

Her cheeks were wet with tears before she even realized she was crying. In a very brief flash of fire, she’d hated him for it but now, she curled her arms around her own waist.

Now, she just missed him.

It was 12:30 on the 23rd, and that meant she had literally missed him too, he was already on his train. He’d left, just like she told him to and now she was alone, like she said she would be.

She checked her phone but there was no text. No ‘I’m getting on the train. I’ll see you soon, lass’or ‘Dinna fash mnd, I’ll be back before you know it’. There was just her lock screen: a cheesy selfie Jamie insisted on taking, which had made her absurdly pleased to look at. Not now though, now those smiles just mocked her.

Was he afraid of her? Did he not want to engage or mention his holiday, for fear it might hurt her? Or maybe he was mad at her too, for being so stubborn, for throwing his offer back in his face. Christ, was he angry at her? Was he riding on that train, trying to forget her? Was that a rattling on her window?

Wait…

She shot up from her bed, narrow eyes carefully watching her window pane.

One second.

Then two.

Then, another rock, larger than the first few, followed by—

“Claaaaire!”

She flew to the end of her room and opened the window. The icy wind blew frost onto her tear-stained cheeks but the rapid beating of her heart was sending blood like fire coursing through her veins.

“Lass, I—”

“What are you doing here?!” The anger she’d cried through bubbled anew in her stomach. If he’d decided to stay here after all, she would buy him a new ticket and escort him to the station personally. “You’ve missed your train!”

“Aye, and there’s another in an hour but, Claire.” His eyes anchored hers, not childlike or smoldering, just deep pools of unreadable blue.

“Come home wi’ me, Sassenach, to Lallybroch.”

Claire clutched the windowsill tight as her knees almost gave way.

“What?”

She could read those eyes now. They were pleading.

“I canna just stand by while ye’re hurting, lass. I should have said so before. You are as much home to me as Lallybroch is, and there’s no way I could be in one home wi’out thinking of the other.”

“Jamie, I—”

“’Tis no’ much, I ken but—” He took in a sharp inhale of crisp winter air, his speech quickening in his urgency. “—‘tis yours, if ye’ll have it. Pack for two weeks and bring along any textbooks ye like, I’ll carry them. Just please…”

Claire was shaking. The chill from the open window circled around her, constricted her so her breaths came out in short spurts.

Pleasemo nighean donn. Let me be a home for ye, as you are for me.”

Her knuckles were as white as the soft dusting of snow in Jamie’s hair.

Again.

Again. Again. Again.

“Claire, ye—”

“Wait there,” she said, and he watched her in rapt attention. “Wait there, you bloody Scot.”


 

He’d told her to pack for two weeks, so she’d naturally take more than a few minutes, right? He paced in three measured steps back and forth, as restless as he’d been for the past month.

He’d taken a page out of her book and ran the scenario over and over in his mind before coming here. He’d said everything he wanted to say and the rest – the sole variable – was on her. All of his outcomes were pinned to the hope that he’d read her right this time, that he knew her heart as well as he liked to tell himself.

“Jamie!”

He whirled around immediately, feet stumbling to catch himself as his eyes rested on her.

No backlight in the middle of the day. Her eyes were strained and a bit puffy, red cheeks glazed with frozen tears. Her hair was already catching tiny snowflakes like a crown slowly forming on her head. She’d never looked more beautiful.

He felt the wind get knocked out of his gut before he realized she’d thrown herself into his arms, wrapping her own securely around his neck, trying to get as close as decency would allow. He heard her sniff in his ear and that sent him burying his face into the curve of her neck, one hand snug around her waist, the other large and open on her back to push them even closer.

She mumbled something into his shoulder and his whole body started. Grabbing her by the forearms, he held her back at arm’s length and stared fiercely at her.

She hadn’t. There was no way. He’d half-dreamed that.

What was he expecting? For her to run straight into his arms and tell him she loved him?

She loved him?

She loved him.

She sniffed and nodded, a silent answer to the burning question in his eyes.

His lips were fire on hers then. Her face was cool, heated only at the flushed cheeks both of his palms were covering as he held her to him. He could taste the remnants of her tears, salty on his tongue.

He tore his mouth from hers and pressed their foreheads urgently together, one hand stroking down her cheek.

“I love you too, Claire. God, I love ye.”

She smiled, fresh tears streaming down as she pushed his hair from his face.

“Take me home, Jamie,” she whispered, hot breath forming small clouds between them. “Take me home to Lallybroch.”

She closed her eyes, her wordless thank you, and Jamie blinked a few of his own tears back. They could have stayed that way for hours, wrapped up in each other.

“We’re going to miss the train,” Claire said evenly after a time and Jamie laughed from deep within his chest.

“Aye—” One more kiss. “—ye’re right, Sassenach.” She was out of his arms as he busied himself gathering her travel bag. She laughed along with him.

“Shall we?” He offered his hand to her, pressing a kiss to her fingers as she took it. “Let’s get ye home, mo graidgh.

“What’s that one mean?” she asked, looping her arm through his as they walked. 

He pulled her close to nuzzle her temple with his nose.

Mo graidgh,” he repeated. “My love.”

[End of Part Four]

Chapter Text

Part Five: Telling and Showing |
Chapter 1

“And what are we to do for dinner, ye clot-heided fool?!”

Claire could hear Jenny Fraser Murray’s voice crystal clear out of Jamie’s phone.

“I expect ye’ll eat wi’out me,” he sighed, casting a helpless glance down at where Claire rest her head against his shoulder in their train booth.

“Ye were meant to be here for 7!”

“Aye, and I caught a later train. Be there before 9, surely.”

“Jamie,” Claire piped up, nudging his arm. “Maybe we—”

“Ye tell that trollop to keep her neb out’ my business,” Jenny said flatly and Claire clamped her mouth shut. Jamie sent her an apologetic look as he tried again.

“Jenny, I—"

“If ye come home after exactly nine, brother, I’ll have Ian set the dogs on ye both!”

Jamie’s mouth opened to argue, but Claire could hear the droning tone of a dropped call cut him off. He rolled his eyes as he set the phone on the booth table, and readjusted his shoulders against the backrest.

“She is by far the most stubborn person on planet.”

Claire snorted. Jamie frowned.

“You own a mirror, right?”

“Aye,” he grunted. “And ye do too, at that.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and he did what Claire discovered was his natural response to her teasing. He bent slowly towards her until his head fit into her neck, leaning almost his full weight on her with a content hum as he closed his eyes.

“What are you doing?” She peered down at him with amusement, too exceedingly happy from their reconciliation to even muster false disdain.

He snuggled into her neck, red curls tickling her ear lobe.

“We’ve got plenty of time till our stop, mo graidgh.” A wide, sleepy smile split across his face. “Best get some shut-eye before Jenny gouges them out.”

“There’s a pleasant thought,” Claire chuckled dryly, hand reaching across to push his curls back and rest her cheek atop his head.

My love.

God, she loved this idiot, this overgrown child, so much it made her heart ache. Mere hours ago, she was curled up on her bed being mocked by an obscenely happy and indulgent selfie he’d insisted on taking, and now she was here: obscenely and unabashedly happy.

Feeling a sudden surge of warmth, she reached for her phone, careful not to disturb the already sleeping mass next to her.

Jamie had taken that selfie around a week after their morning run. They were content then, but as she looked at it again, she knew what she was feeling for him now was nowhere near what it had been. It had been a spark, not a forest fire. The Jamie and Claire that stared back at her were still shy, inching ever closer to the deep end but not wanting to spill over completely.

She reached her phone out above her, framing her head resting on his. Her dark curls on vibrant red, both alight in the pale mid-afternoon sunlight that fell in from the train window.

Click.


 

First he heard the steady clink of metal tracks, distant but familiar. His vision was still dark, but he could feel the gentle rumble of a moving train shaking through his body. No wonder he’d fallen asleep.

The wall his head leant on felt oddly soft, curved into a smooth bend that ended at a hardened point before a sharp cliff. His eyebrows furrowed at that and a hand came up to stroke the top of his head.

Beside him, Claire was cooing soft shushing noises, reaching across to brush his hair back from her shoulder as she placed a kiss on his crown.

Aye, no wonder he’d fallen asleep.

“We’re almost there,” she said, no doubt feeling him start to wake.

He lifted his chin up to look at her, loathe to leave her warmth and break whatever calming spell had been cast on them both.

He was eye-level with her mouth, which curved into a sweet smile. Only half-awake, he leaned his head forward until his brow touched her lips, then mirrored her smile back at her.

“Hi,” he said softly, finally meeting her eye.

“Hello.”

He hummed, sitting up a little to ease the weight off her shoulder.

“Were ye watchin’ me, a nighean?

“A bit,” she chuckled. “Did you know you smile in your sleep? You were doing it just now.”

“Aye.” He nodded. “Jenny told me that once as a lad. Said she’d sometimes find me passed out in the middle of a field after running around all day, flat on my back with the widest grin on my face.”

“Because you were tired?”

“Because I was happy, mo graidgh.”

“Oh,” she said, sounding pleased and looking, to Jamie, a bit like a purring cat.

He chuckled too. Finally sitting up properly to stretch his arms, small cracks sounded off at his joints. Without a word, his arm fell comfortably around her shoulders as she leaned into his chest.

“You think she’ll like me?”

“Jenny?” He considered his words for a moment. “Och, dinna fash, lass. My sister barks first and asks questions later, but she’ll warm up to ye. Just remember, ‘tis me she’s angry at.”

“And I’m just collateral damage, am I?” she laughed.

“Aye, if ye like.”

“I’m not sure what like has any say in the matter,” she said dryly.

“Not really, no,” he said with a wide grin.

“Ugh, are all Frasers like this?”

“Oh, and what’s that supposed to mean?” He bent his head to bury it into her neck then, letting his curls tickle her jawline until she squirmed.

“N-nothing at all,” she giggled, grabbing hold of his head with two hands to drag him back to her.

Noses almost touching, dumb grins reflected back at each other, their lips met as naturally as the rise and fall of the hills outside the train window. He’d meant for one kiss, for the sole pleasure of knowing he could, but whatever it was he saw in Claire’s eyes had his body chasing for more. The hand at her shoulder dropped to her hip before his brain could follow.

Fuck, not again.

The closed door of the booth gave not so much a semblance of privacy, but an illusion. One that was rendered wholly redundant by the large window across from it. Neither seemed to make much difference to Claire though. She took his bottom lip between her teeth.

He gasped for air as she turned her body around in his arms, kneeling on the seat with her hands dragging themselves up his chest to meet behind his neck. Without much thought, his own hands ran up and down her back and – Christ – if she moved any more she’d be straddling him completely. The rush of the scenery speeding by in the window only seemed to urge them further.

Claaaire please,” he groaned. They had to stop soon, but he wasn’t entirely sure his words were meant to halt or encourage. She started to nip at his neck and he shivered.

“I know, I know.” The playful lilt in her voice between her small bites made it all the more difficult to stay focused, and her knee was getting dangerously close to where his jeans were just a little tighter. “Something to take on account, hmm?”

He lifted her easily over his other leg, getting her knee away from where it could cause any trouble, but he hadn’t thought far enough to realize she was now properly straddling him.

Fuck, lass.” He threaded his hand into her curls and looked her straight in the eye. Jesus, did he hear her whimper?! He suppressed one of his own. “Ye do choose the worst times to start this.”

She smirked, no longer the kitten he likened her to. The molten gold in her eyes was that of a predator, a lioness biding her time.

“I like it when you’re flustered,” she said, with a sinister bat of her lashes. “It’s cute.”

Shit. One more kiss surely couldn’t make the situation any worse. They met with open mouths, but he pulled away when her tongue ran up against his.

“Ye do own a mirror, do ye not, mo graidgh? Flustered is my favourite look on ye.”

He wasn’t lying. There were very few things in this world that made his heart throb like the sight of her slowly burning cheeks and wide whisky eyes completely dumbfounded.

“Is it?” she said, kissing her way up his jawline. He used the hand in her hair to pull her back, as much to stop her as to look at her.

She was flushed, chest heaving, pupils dilated and hair wild. But instead of the sputtering and twitching her mouth did when she was rattled, her lips were still and smirking, swollen a bit from effort. He cupped her cheek, brushed his thumb across those lips.

“Second only to this one right now.”

Taking a deep breath, she eased back on his thighs, hands slipping to his chest as she pressed her cheek into his hand, kissing his thumb softly. Jamie groaned.

“Am I taking home a vixen, then?”

A sharp bite on his thumbnail.

“Don’t suppose your guest room is a little… out-of-the-way?”

“I’m sure we could manage something—” he’d started to say, and Dhia, did he want to, need to. There was a spark in her that they both yearned for him to ignite, their fresh confessions only heightening the urge, but there was a wall still in his way.

“I have to tell ye something, Claire.”

Coherence slipped easily back to her at the mention of her name.

“What, is everything okay?” Her hand came to cup his cheek too and there they were: palms on each other’s faces, her straddling over him, in the middle of an otherwise unsuspecting train booth.

It was the small things that seemed to make his heart race, her immediate and unprompted concern for him always one of them. He turned his head to kiss her palm.

“Aye, I’m fine. I just— ‘afore we… I have to tell you, I’m—”

The metallic sound of a PA system buzzed, sending the conductor’s voice slicing through the train and any tension between the two as she announced their stop.

Claire made no move to get up, eyes intently waiting like the interruption hadn’t even happened.

“You were saying?”

He loved this woman. His shoulders relaxed and he shook his head, stroking her cheek.

“Nay, mo nighean donn, the moment’s past. But…” He leaned forward to whisper in her ear just to see her shiver. “It’ll come ‘round again, soon, I’m sure.”

Their eyes locked and her mouth attacked his, delving her tongue in to find and wrap around his quickly, but thoroughly, before pulling away. She rolled off his lap towards the door with a laugh.

Jamie, breath stolen and more than a little reluctant to stand at the moment, dropped his head backwards onto the wall with a soft thud and a lengthy groan.

“Sasenaaaach, ye nearly killed me.”

“Oh, c’mon,” she said, finally sliding open their booth door. “If we’re late, Jenny will kill us both.”

Chapter Text

Part Five: Telling and Showing |
Chapter 2

She could still feel her blood pumping, her pulse throbbing in her fingertips, the phantom echo of his pulse still beating against her lips.

She hadn’t lied. She’d started all that just to see the way his usually unreadable face melted into one singular look of panic. What she didn’t count on – like that evening in the lab – was the way he reciprocated. The way his hands traveled up her back. Jesus, the way her name slipped through his gritted teeth. Though she’d never admit it to him – it took long enough to admit it to herself – she’d thought about it, about them clicking together, for a long while now. Their confessions this afternoon only seemed to make it all the more urgent.

But, as it tended to, life had several more immediate things she needed to focus on over her burgeoning libido and all the ways she imagined finding some conveniently empty hallway, pushing her chest against his and—

“Are ye alright, lass?” Speak of the red-headed devil. He’d collected their bags and found his way back to her on the platform.

She nodded, but knew better than to put up a front. He released the bags in an instant and pulled her closer, holding her at arm’s length.

“Dinna worry at all about Jenny, a nighean,” he said, pressing a soft kiss on her forehead before slinging his bag over his shoulder.

Claire reached for her own bag with a small but satisfied smile and the two walked shoulder-to-shoulder down the platform towards the taxis. So, she wasn’t as transparent as he liked to remind her. Unless – a slow frown in thought – he was trying to put their little encounter in the booth out of mind. She sent a quick glance at his lower-half before she’d even realized, then chuckled silently to herself.

He had rushed to the baggage car quicker than was strictly speaking necessary.

But that did beg the question…

“I just— ‘afore we… I have to tell you, I’m—"

Before they what? Before they went any further? Before they got to Lallybroch? His expression had been so suddenly dire, but it was gone as quickly as it came.

She certainly hoped it didn’t have to do with Jenny. The very thought doused her with cold water, placing any and all fiery lust on hold. Despite Jamie’s assertions that everything would be fine, when the initial joy of rejoining ebbed away Claire couldn’t help but feel like an outsider encroaching, inserting herself, into their family.

She watched him watch the scenery pan across the cab window, sitting up like a dog wagging its tail, picking out landmarks in the late evening dark with wide, eager eyes. This was his place, the one he dreamt about and ached to return to. His home. And maybe – maybe, maybe – a home for her too?

He noticed her eyes on him and his grin shrunk to a softer smile, one that – quite against her will – naturally eased the tightening in her shoulders. She placed her hand in his and he squeezed. Fuck, maybe he could read her after all.

It was just past nine when they arrived at the front arch of Lallybroch and she could plainly see it on Jamie’s face. He nearly dropped his bag at the sound of a door swinging open.

Claire had expected a woman, possibly red-headed like her brother, to appear through the dark. But instead, a small child, no older than 3- or 4-years-old, came darting out and into Jamie’s waiting arms.

He swung the boy around, saying things in Gaelic that made the boy giggle, and Claire had a sudden vision of Jamie cradling a small red- or brown-haired chubby mess of curls.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Beauchamp, where the fuck is your mind right now?!

“This here is wee Jamie,” the older one said, turning the boy to face her. “That’s Claire, a graidgh. Can ye say ‘Claire’?”

‘Wee’ Jamie’s large brown eyes considered her for a moment and then his face split into a wide grin like his namesake.

C-Cwaire!

“Aye, a bhalaich, Claire.” The two Jamie’s laughed together and Claire eased into cautious relief.

At least one Murray liked her.

This time the sound of the door opening made Claire jump instead.

“And where are ye then, ye wee fool? It’s high past yer bedtime and—”

Jenny Fraser Murray stopped not seven feet away from them, and crossed her arms. She was raven-haired, noticeably pregnant, and much smaller than Claire expected, but no less intimidating as she stared daggers into her brother.

“That goes for you as well, ye overgrown lad.”

“Mam!” said wee Jamie as he squirmed out of his uncle’s arms and ran to his mother.

Jenny bent to whisper something that had her son running back into the large house, and there went Claire’s only buffer. Jenny rose again with crossed arms perched on her belly and raised one poised eyebrow at her brother.

“And what time would this be? After nine, aye?”

“Didna hear any dogs barkin’ so we thought to come in,” Jamie said gruffly.

“Thought?” she scoffed. “When have ye ever done that, brother? Certainly no’ when ye took yer sweet time getting here.”

Jamie rolled his eyes and Claire could so clearly see the two siblings ten years younger. She didn’t dare a smile though, not while Jenny was glaring in her direction.

“I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“Aye,” Jenny said, raising her voice. “Two hours after ye were meant to. And did ye know yer brother-in-law had Mrs. Crook cookin’ all of your favourites all day, waitin’ for yer arrival?”

From what Jamie had said about his sister and her husband, Claire was fairly certain that order hadn’t come from Ian. She kept as stone-faced as she could but nearly flew out of her coat when someone tapped her shoulder from behind.

She turned and met the kindly face of a young man signaling her to keep her voice down.

“Ye must be Claire.”

She cast a backward glance at the oblivious Fraser siblings, whose arguing was getting louder and a great deal more personal. Then, she smiled warmly at her new companion, thinking only sparingly of a younger him and Jamie stealing a cow in the middle of the night.

“You must be Ian.”

He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by a particularly loud remark of Jenny’s that twisted Claire’s stomach into a knot.

“—Oh, and were ye thinkin’ when yer empty heid saddled us wi’ one more mouth to feed?!”

No.

No, no, no.

It was her after all. Claire’s chest constricted and there was a twitch in her legs telling her to run, run all the way back to the train station if she could.

Jamie must have been right about her face’s transparency after all, because Ian’s hand was on her arm immediately.

“Dinna fash, Claire,” he whispered, reaching to take her bag out of her frozen hand. “Let’s get ye some food, then I’ll show ye to yer room, aye?”

She nodded dumbly, feet trudging like concrete as she followed Ian out of the courtyard. She glanced once more at Jamie’s large back in the dark and realized it wasn’t the train station she wanted to run to, nor the warmth of her dorm room blankets she wanted to hide herself in.

Thank you for trying, but this home is lost.

Chapter Text

Part Five: Telling and Showing |
Chapter 3

He had to tell her.

When the house was finally silent, Jamie slipped up the stairs and walked right past his bedroom door, towards the guest room at the far end of the hall.

He had to tell her. The near-magnetic pulse in his fingertips whenever she came close to him was too strong to repress anymore, and she made it clear – brilliantly so – that she felt the same. They were racing to the same cliff, hands clasped together before they jumped, but Jamie still had one last tether.

He knocked softly on the wooden door to no answer. Surely she couldn’t already be asleep? They had slept enough on the train, or at least, he did.

“It’s me, Sassenach. Are ye awake?”

“Come in…” she replied, and Jamie’s shoulders immediately tensed at the small tremble in her voice.

He swung open the door and found her sitting on the edge of the bed, bag untouched, with her coat on her lap under wringing hands.

The door closed and he was kneeling in front of her in an instant, brushing the hair from her face with both hands.

“What’s wrong, Sassenach? Are ye ill?”

“No, I…” He could see her forcing a smile, trying to convince him, and it made his chest ache. “I just think… I should head back to campus in the morning.”

She’d blurted out the last bit so quickly, it took him a second to process. When he did, however, he took her by the shoulders.

“Back to cam—? Claire, whatever for?”

She shook her head, voice shaking too. “I just—I don’t want to be a burden and—”

“A burden?” He searched her eyes frantically for something he must have missed. “Why on earth would ye think that, mo graidgh?

It was the Gaelic words that got her. Jamie caught her tear with his thumb before it spilled down her cheek.

“I don’t want to encroach on your family Christmas. Not when I’m just a… a— Sassenach.”

“Claire, lass,” Jamie tried to meet her eyes, find his golden whisky through the tears. “Ye ken we dinna mean it that way.”

“But it’s true. I heard what Jenny said, I’m just another mouth to feed and I—”

“Nay, Claire,” he said firmly. She looked straight at him then and he felt the bubbling anger from his past argument subside. He shook his head with a chuckle instead, brushing his lips onto her forehead.

“That sister of mine, she always yells more than she means, aye?”

“But, she’s right. I don’t… belong here, not really.”

“Ye do, mo nighean donn. And Jenny wasna talking about ye when she said that, ken?”

“She—what? Then, who?”

Jamie heaved a sigh as he sat on the bed next to her, placing his hands over hers. Thank God they weren’t trembling anymore.

“There was a lad I saw ‘round town outside of campus, aye? 10 or 11. Smart kid, pickpocketed his share of drunks but, as I found out, was living in the bus terminal most nights. When the weather got colder, I thought to give him some money to help out and might’ve suggested coming to Lallybroch to be taken care of…”

Claire was silent for a moment just long enough for Jamie to tuck a curl behind her ear and see the beginnings of her smile.

“So,” she chuckled weakly, “you adopted a boy?”

“Nay, I didna adopt Fergus, a nighean. Though, Jenny did find it a shock when the boy appeared at her doorstep sayin’ I’d sent him.” He saw her back straighten at the mention of his sister and he ran his palm down it to soothe her.

“She’s a loud old crow, but her heart’s in the right place more or less. She’d no’ turn away a helpless boy livin’ on the street, let alone—” He lifted Claire’s chin up and kissed her. “—The woman I love.”

She pressed her forehead against his, running a palm down his cheek as they both closed their eyes.

“Have I told you today that I love you, Jamie Fraser?”

“Aye, ye have, mo nighean donn,” he laughed, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “And I thank ye for it.”

“Is that what you wanted to tell me before, on the train?”

The mention of the train made his heart stutter. He had to tell her now.

“Ah, no. That’s err—something else.”

She pulled her legs up onto the bed and turned to face him. Jamie reluctantly did the same, reaching out to rub his thumb against her cheek. No more distractions or interruptions.

One deep breath.

Now. Now or never.

“I want ye, mo graidgh—” A moment to enjoy the creeping blush colour in her face. “—I’ve wanted ye since I first saw ye in the library. And Dhia, whenever ye—we… whenever I kiss ye, whenever ye touch me, I—”

“Jamie,” she said softly, running her hand down his arm to interlace their fingers. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

“I just—I dinna want to… Ye might—”

“You don’t kill people, do you?” she said conversationally.

“Lass.” He glared at her and she laughed, darting up to kiss his cheek.

“Then I’m sure it’s fine.” Her lips lingered on his skin. He shivered. It was happening again, soon.

Now.

“I’m a virgin, Claire.”

His gaze fell to his lap as he braced himself for the inevitable whiplash of the world stopping, but Claire barely missed a beat with her reply.

“Oh? How’d you manage that?” He could hear her smile, thinking her ridicule might hurt almost as much as a flat-out rejection. No doubt noticing the sudden tension in his body, her hand squeezed his and her other came under his chin to lift his eyes back to hers.

“Ye’ve seen Lallybroch a bit, in the dark forbye, but still. It has fields and chores enough, aye, but no’ so much—err… anything else really,” he ended off hastily, begrudging her giggle.

He repositioned himself on the bed’s edge, taking both of her hands in his and looking her straight on.

“I love ye, Claire, more than I ever thought I could love anyone, but I… I dinna want to disappoint ye.”

“Disappoint me?” She was tracing nonsense shapes into his palm as she paused to think for a moment.  

“I’ll tell you a secret too,” she began, suddenly quieter. “I broke up with my last boyfriend two years ago. We’d been together awhile but he… Anyway, I thought I’d never be able to do that again, tell someone I love them and really mean it.” She smiled at him. “And then some idiot decided to throw rocks into my room.”

They both laughed and he marveled at her. The way her laugh lit her eyes first, and how just the small upturn of her mouth could melt away any worry weighing on his shoulders.

“You couldn’t disappoint me, Jamie.” She leaned forward and kissed him. “I’m happy just to be here, with you.”

He took her face in his hands and brought her gently back to his mouth, slow, soft, and full of every moment they’d shared or ever would share.

“Of course, anything else would be a welcome bonus.” She hummed and he smirked, and their lips moulded together again. He opened his palms wide on her back as she pressed closer to him.

The overwhelming need he’d kept simmering near the surface was ready to spill over, no longer hindered by anxiety or secrets. This time, it was his tongue swiping across her bottom lip, taking advantage of her soft gasp to slide in and search for its partner.

The rest of the room blurred as his focus zeroed in on her. He laid back onto the bed, pulling her with him to maintain the way her breasts pushed against his chest. One hand still on her back, the other tangled itself in her curls, cradling her head as they both tried to fuse impossibly closer together.

Mo nighean donn,” he groaned. She swung her leg over his hip and hovered over his torso, picking up where they’d left off in the train. Both of them whimpered as she pulled her mouth from his, but Jamie’s turned into another groan as she buried her head in his neck and sucked on his pulse point.

Dhia—Claire!”

She nipped her way up to his ear, her breath hot on his skin.

“Just go slow,” she panted, “and pay attention.” Her teeth closed around his ear lobe and his arm curved around her waist, hips starting to rise and fall shallowly in search of hers.

He growled in frustration, using his hold on her to flip them over and press her into the mattress. She closed her eyes and sighed, her nails raking down his ribs, finding the bottom of his shirt, and starting to tug it upwards.

That broke through the heady cloud circling Jamie’s head. This was going slow? What in God’s name was fast? He covered her stumbling fingers with his own and nearly tore his shirt off.

Claire’s palms traveled up and down his bare chest and Jamie’s eyes screwed shut, feeling the strain pushing at the zip of his jeans.

“Claire, I canna— S-show me, mo graidgh. I want ye to—”

He peered down at her, the way her hair fanned out on the pillow – Christhis guest room pillow, in his own house. Claire Beauchamp in bed, with him, in Lallybroch, cheeks red, lips swollen and chest heaving mere inches under his. His head dropped into her neck in sheer awe, nuzzling and nipping at her smooth skin, reveling in her sighs and the catches in her breath.

If it weren’t for her insistent hands fumbling at the button of her jeans – the backs of her palms grazing his crotch with nowhere near the right amount of pressure – he could have very well stayed staring at her forever.

His lower half had other plans.


God, she wanted this. She’d wanted this for nearly as long as he had.

Lust blurred her vision, slackened her muscles as she tried to open her jeans.

Show me, he’d said. She shivered, both at the thought and the way he licked up the column of her neck. She moaned then, triumph in her voice as she finally pulled down her zipper.

She reached for the hand that was still cradling her head, pulling at it to brush past her lips before guiding him downwards.

Jesus, Claire,” Jamie breathed as she pressed him to her breast. She arched her back with a gasp as his thumb swiped across her nipple through her shirt.

“Jesus yourself, Jamie.”

Then she was guiding him lower, past her stomach, and seeing the realization dawn on him only urged her further. He gulped once, but set his blue eyes ablaze with determination.

“Show me,” he said again, and she held her breath as she pushed him past the waistband of her underwear.

Fuck—!” Her back flew off the bed, pressing her stomach flat onto his solid frame as the rough pad of his fingertip found her clit.  

Ah Dhia—” He pulled away from her neck to look at her, astounded. “Mo graidgh, it’s—ye’re so… wet.

Claire moaned, eyes firmly shut as she set a pace for him. Quick learner that he was, she left him to it as she surged upwards and took his lip between her teeth, all the while rocking her hips into his hand.

“Keep—A-ah! Keep going, th-there Jamie,” she panted, falling back onto the mattress as he picked up the pace.

He looked beautiful, sweat forming between the brows he furrowed in concentration – working with such dedication to rubbing her off, God, she bucked her hips hard – blue eyes so dark his pupils nearly disappeared.

Jamiee,” she keened, head thrashing from side to side as his fingers slid seamlessly over her swollen clit.

“Sassenach,” he rasped. “W-what are ye doing?”

She hadn’t even realized her hands at his fly until he mentioned it; her body clearly one step ahead of the haze fogging her brain.

“Need you,” she mumbled, far past proper speech. “Inside me. Now.

Jamie moaned as her hand circled around him and Claire could have broken altogether right then. It wouldn’t satiate her to stop there though, not yet, not when she was guiding his hardened cock closer to where his fingers still worked diligently.

Closer. Closer. She could feel the anticipation pulsating in him as she brought him an inch away from decision.

“Claire, wait!” A sudden look of panic on his face. “P-protection, lass, we—”

“On the pill—Ah!” He’d jerked involuntarily as he neared her. At her words though, he pushed in and Claire’s breath left her in shaky stutters.

Christ Jesus—Fuck!” His head dropped into the curve of her neck again, his whole body trembling as his hands came to rest on her hips.

“Now, Jamie.” She reached down between them, so close to where he – God, Jamie Fraser – was inside of her, and resumed his actions.

Please—mmmph, ah-ahh, Jamie. N-now!”

First, his fingers pressed into her hips. Then, like the train they’d taken here, he started slowly, easing in and out with tentative care, building speed with every passing thrust.

“Claire—” Her name burst from his lungs as he pushed in deep. She looked up in time to lose her own breath seeing him smile at her. Lost in that duality again, smoldering eyes bored into her while, between them, his cock did the same through her slick flesh. Yet, his soft smile shot past the lust and warmed her from head to toe.

“Wh-mmmm, haa… W-what is it, love?”

“I’m—ah—I’m running out of w-ways to blaspheme, ye ken?”

She reached up to stroke his cheek, pulling him down to kiss her as he rutted faster, running his tongue along the inside of her mouth. Their moans echoed into each other as the mounting friction overrode everything else.

It was coming. Fingers rubbing hastily in time with his punishing pace, Claire knew she didn’t need to chase after him.

Mo graidgh, I—mmph, I’m gonna—”

“Yes, yesss Jamie, I—ah, p-please!”

They both cried out, Jamie spilling into her as Claire gripped him tightly. Their hips bucked until both were spent, and Jamie found his home in the crook of her neck, nuzzling and laying fervent kisses there.

Claire’s vision had shattered into colours and fragments and Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. His solid weight fell onto her chest, making it all the more difficult to steady her breathing but fuck all if she cared.

“Ah, mo graidgh, did ye—?”

Yes,” she whispered, rubbing his cheek with her thumb. An aftershock shuddered through her and she clenched around him with a whimper.

“Mmgh—Christ, lass. Give me a moment, at least.”

She laughed, brushing his damp curls from his face so she could rest her cheek on top of his head. Just like their train booth and so entirely different.

“Was it like you thought?” she asked softly, as if the serenity hanging around them might flee like an animal.

He breathed her in deeply before rearing up on his elbows to look at her.

“Aye, Sassenach.” He bent his head to kiss her. “Ye were.”

His very existence was unfair. Hours ago, she was in her bed, wrapping her own arms around her waist, wishing against all hope he’d appear somehow. And here she was now, here they were, joined beyond question. His strong arms wound around her only showed how pale her imitation had been. Nothing could match this, nothing ever.

“And you, Claire… Was it—?”

She rolled her hips in question, reveling in how he almost choked in surprise.

“People with natural-born talent can burn in hell.” She smirked and, as the words hit him – right between his legs, as far as she could tell – he mirrored the smirk back to her. His arms pulled her tighter to him and he echoed the motion of her hips.

Claire hummed, nails dragging from the base of his skull down his bare back. He chuckled, his words a low, confident rumble.

“Come burn with me then, Sassenach.”

Chapter Text

Part Five: Telling and Showing |
Chapter 4

Consciousness came to him in pieces.

Home. Aye, that was certain. Lallybroch had its own scent, the one that swept through his dreams back at school.

He wasn’t in his room though, the light never hit him from that side of the house at dawn. The east wing then, the guest room. Content with his deductions, he snuggled back into the pillows, one hand curving around the soft and smooth swell of a bare breast.

It wasn’t so much shock that darted through his body as it was overwhelming recollection. The events of the night before – the building fire, the release, the highest register of her voice as she clenched and fluttered around him – it all crashed into him like a wave, flooring him had he not already been lying down.

It was the ludicrous fare of dreams come to life, here, wrapped in nothing but the blankets and his own two arms.

His Sassenach. His Claire.

The pale expanse of her naked back was warm pressed against his chest, legs intertwined. One of his arms was draped over her shoulder, keeping a secure hold on her breast like she might suddenly disappear. His other arm was under her, reaching around to splay his palm on her belly. Her own hands rested there on top of his and their chests rose and fell in time.

His chin was snuggled into its favourite spot in the curve of her neck. He cracked one eye open to venture a glance down and very nearly gasped.

She was beautiful – always was, at that – but to see her so at peace was surreal. The lines of laughter and stress alike were gone, leaving a live porcelain doll, rose lips slightly puckered and still a bit bruised, lying anything but fragile in his arms.

He bent towards her cheek, leaving barely a kiss, more of a whisper of breath against her skin. He hadn’t meant to wake her, to break the spell.

But maybe he did.

“Now you’re watching me sleep?” She maintained her serene face even as her lips parted to speak, like a painting coming to life.

He lingered on her skin, so he knew she felt his smirk.

“Good morning, Sassenach,” he rumbled, placing gentle kisses down her cheek, her neck, the back of her shoulder.

“Morning,” she replied, pushing her back in his direction as he buried his nose into her neck and heaved a deep exhale. His arms tightened around her.

“Have I told ye today that I love ye, Claire?”

His hand resting on her stomach turned, searching, finding and squeezing hers.

“Considering I just woke up, I’d venture a ‘no’.” She squirmed, turning herself in his arms to meet him nose-to-nose. “But we were up pretty late last night. It might have—” She ran her hand up from his hipbone to his chest and Jamie let out a shaky breath. “—slipped out.”

It wasn’t at all foreign to him, waking up with the ghostly feel of her lips on his in a half-remembered dream that left him – that him – halfway rigid. What was new – thrilling, unbelievable, and frightening all at once – was waking up lying naked next to Claire, knowing every last secret of his was safe with her.

“I love ye,” he said, rubbing his nose into her cheek as he pulled her flush against him.

“Mmmm, you said that already,” Claire said in return, hooking one leg over his hip and effectively answering what would have been his next question.

“Aye, and I’ll keep sayin’ it, mo graidgh.” His teeth closed around her earlobe. Her hips rose, teasing his hardened cock with the warmth emanating from between her legs.

“It seemed like the only thing you could say—ahh, l-last night.” He’d fallen onto his back, taking her with him so she straddled his waist, chest still insistently pushed against his. Her heated core found his cock immediately and they both groaned.

“I’ll never tell ye anything that isna true, a nighean.” He reached down, grazing her clit just to see her shudder, before lining himself up and driving home.

“I love ye. I need ye, Claire.”

She moaned, head tossing backwards, using her hands on his stomach to push herself up. Her hips rode him at a steady, building pace and Jamie’s back arched, forcing their hips – their joining – deeper and deeper.

He kept one hand on her hip, feeling the way her muscles moved under her skin as she rocked forward and back. The other creeped its way up her stomach and cupped her breast. His palm brushing over the hard nipple sent gooseflesh running down her arms and earned him a breathy sigh that had him bucking especially hard into her.

Not wholly committed to complete consciousness just yet, he lost himself in the silky wet flesh surrounding him below and the pants and moans and writhing happening above.

Before long, she was riding him hard, the telltale quickening of her breath sending the hand he kept at her waist darting between her legs to help her along.

It’s a wonder he kept such careful note of what she’d done that first time, but thank heaven he did. His fingers rubbed against her clit until he felt that first iron clench around his cock, and then he stared in awe as she shattered above him.

Her voice came out in broken sobs, pleas. His own name burst out of her in such rapture that it took no time for him to break along with her, thrusting in arrhythmic pulses as he pulled her down to him and closed his mouth around her taut nipple.

She was still riding to her finish, his hips merely echoing hers as he circled his tongue around her.

When finally, she slowly began to still, to catch her breath, he licked a line from her chest to her collarbone and then dragged his lips back to hers, large hands stroking her back as she came back down, back to him.

They stayed silent for what might have been an hour or mere minutes, Claire’s cheek pressed against his chest, all skin covered in a light sheen of mingled sweat. His hands drew loops on her back as she mindlessly ran her fingers up and down his ribcage.

He could die here and have no qualms about it and yet, he could suddenly see a life like this so distant but so sure. He and Claire wrapped up in a bed of their own, with the sound of small feet padding towards their door.

That sent a jolt through him and had Claire look up, somewhat bleary-eyed.

She had said… But, that meant… He narrowed his eyes at her, brows furrowing in thought.

“What’s the matter, love?”

“Ye said ye were on the pill last night.”

Comprehension erased her initial concern as she rest her chin in the middle of his chest.

“Yes, and?”

“That means, ye kent we’d—”

“Well, yes, eventually,” she stated plainly.

“When, lass?”

“When, what?”

“When did ye start?”

At that, her head fell forward, hair obscuring her face from his view as she mumbled behind her self-made curtain.

“I canna hear you, Sassenach.”

“Since that time in the equipment lab,” she said through stubbornly pursed lips.

“Equipment la—Oh! Nearly two months ago, mo graidgh?”

“So what if it was?” she said, indignant in the way that made Jamie smile from ear to ear, if only because it annoyed her more.

He cupped her cheek and stroked it with his thumb.

“I’m sorry I made ye wait so long, my love—” One kiss. “—My own—” Another. She smiled into this one. “—My Claire.”

“Yeah well,” she said with a roll of her eyes that betrayed the widening grin across her face. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me.”

His chuckle turned into a growl as their kisses grew more fervent, but a knock on the door froze them both.

“If you two are quite finished,” said Jenny from the hallway outside. “’Tis almost time for breakfast.”

[End of Part 5]

Chapter Text

Part Six: Unspeakable |
Chapter 1

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp was not one to take things sitting down. Imbued with Jamie’s assurance that Jenny meant no harm, Claire rolled back her shoulders and walked through the kitchen doors with singular determination.

“Jenny, I—”

“Good, ye’re up.” The petite woman barely looked up from whatever seven things she was trying to do at once. She jerked her head in the direction of the counter. “Mind setting the plates?”

“Oh, um, sure. But, I was—”

“Table’s out there.”

With little more than a gape and a nod, Claire was standing outside the kitchen door, holding the plates and mentally slapping herself.

For fuck’s sake, Beauchamp.

“Ye talked to Jenny already? That was fast… and quiet.

She rolled her eyes as Jamie crossed the dining room from the hallway entrance to kiss her cheek.

“I’m working on it,” she grumbled, begrudging his grin but also feeling mild disappointment in seeing him fully-clothed.

For fuck’s ACTUAL sake, Beauchamp.

One night with Jamie and her skin was already rippling with the promise, the assurance, of the next time. His warm hand at her back was doing absolutely nothing to help.

“Got ye doin’ chores already?” he said, blue eyes glinting with amusement.

“Well, it’s nice to be needed, I guess,” she huffed.

“Oh aye, mo nighean donn.” His hand at her back dropped a few significant inches and Claire squeaked. “Ye certainly are needed.

“Is that you, Jamie?” Jenny yelled from behind the kitchen doors. “Get yer arse out back and help Ian.”

Claire almost burst out laughing at the way his face fell, twisting from a snarl to bleak reluctance as he trudged past the doors.

Alone again, she felt the same resignation as she began to set the plates. There would be more time to try, she told herself. She’d packed for two weeks and, at Jamie’s insistence, she’d stay that long.

And if anything, she could always hide in the surrounding wilderness and have Jamie bring her food. Uncle Lamb taught her as much. On the other hand, Scottish weather being what it was—

She heard the front door slam down the hallway, followed by hasty footfalls bounding in her direction, and she was alone no longer.

A young boy, no older than 10, stood at the hallway entrance, staring at her with large eyes. He had a mess of brown curls, matted with presumably the same mud that obscured his otherwise fair skin.

“Who are y—?” He’d started to say, but tensed at the sound of the front door swinging open again. “Mademoiselle, I was never here.”

“And where the devil di’ ye run off to, ye wee smout?!” shouted a gruff voice Claire didn’t recognize.

The boy dove under the dining table just as a man poked his head, and his accompanying scruffy beard, into the room, eyes scanning before stopping abruptly at Claire.

“Um, hello.”

“Ye must be Claire. Murtagh,” said the man curtly. “Ye havena seen a small runt of a boy, have ye?”

“Uh… no,” Claire said without thinking, not daring to peer down at the flash of white teeth grinning below the table. Not so terrible at lying now am I, Jamie?

Murtagh muttered something in Gaelic to himself, and then nodded to Claire before he retreated into the hallway.

The boy – and subsequently, Claire – waited until Murtagh’s boots stomped down the hall and back out the front door. Then, as quickly as he’d ducked in, the boy darted out from under the table and bowed gallantly at Claire with a laugh.

“I thank you, Mademoiselle.

“Fergus, I presume?” Undoubtedly so. His smile was infectious, and she felt an odd sense of comfort next to the only other outsider in Lallybroch.

A look of realization flashed on his face and Claire quirked a brow up at him.

“You are her, then! M’sieur Jamie’s—”

“I’m Claire.”

“Ah oui, I know. M’sieur has told me all about you.”

“Oh he has, has he?” Something to put a pin in for later. Right after she spoke to Jenny, surely.

Damn.

“I don’t suppose you’ll be eating breakfast with us?” Claire cast her line, counting the plates she’d already set with a frown. As far as buffers went, she quite enjoyed the company of this one.

“No, I’ve eaten already,” he said, the shake of his head tossing his curls back and forth. “And I must find a place to hide from le mechant loup.

“You can hide in my room,” she said, chuckling at the boy’s natural charm. She could see why Jamie was fond of him. “I don’t think Murtagh would go looking in the guest room.”

His eyes sparkled, face alight. Just a day too early for Christmas, Claire thought. 

“Just don’t touch anything in my bag,” she added quickly; Jamie had mentioned pickpocketing.

Fergus nodded eagerly at her.

“I swear it, Mademoiselle! I see why M’sieur is so taken with you.” Another flash of brilliant white teeth against his already pale complexion. He all but bounced to the hallway but stopped at the door and turned to her.

“I expect to be the ring-bearer at your wedding, d’accord?” he said with another bow before dashing away.

Claire’s cheeks burned as she turned away from the hallway entrance, and promptly collided with Jamie’s large chest re-emerging from the kitchen.

“S-sorry,” she said, looking up at him.

His eyes lit like blue flames.

Christ, mo graidgh,” he seethed, one arm coiling around her waist to press their bodies together. “Ye canna be lookin’ at me with yer cheeks all flushed like that right before breakfast wi’ my family.”

She wanted to laugh just as much as she wanted to drag him upstairs and kick Fergus out of her room. The former seemed safer.

“I just met your adopted boy.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Och, I told ye already, I didna adopt Fergus.”

“Ye may as well have,” said Jenny as she emerged behind Jamie from the kitchen, plates of food on hand with Ian at her tail.

“Suppose that makes us the godparents, eh?” Ian laughed, setting the food down alongside Jenny.

The elder Fraser cast Jamie an unimpressed glare from across the table.

“Well then, brother,” she said, pulling out a chair for herself. “Can ye manage disentangling yerself from the poor lass so we can sit and have breakfast like a proper family, or shall I have Murtagh fetch a crowbar?”

Chapter Text

Part Six: Unspeakable |
Chapter 2

Jamie Fraser had a lot to be thankful for.

Glancing at Claire from across the table, he watched the long, fine lines of her fingers as she ate and – before he could stop himself – remembered how those same fingers pressed into his bare chest, smoothed along his back, curved into his shoulder and left tiny crescent indents in his skin as she—they—

A swift nudge against his foot had him sputtering into his drink and, across from him, was Claire glaring.

He didn’t have to look to know Jenny was rolling her eyes at the head of the table, about to open her mouth and say something.

“So, Claire,” Ian piped up. “Jamie says you’re in medicine?”

Jamie was extra thankful for his brother-in-law.

“Oh, yes.” Claire nodded, and Jamie saw some of the tension leave her shoulders. “Studying to be a surgeon, actually.” Her eyes shifted to and away from Jenny.

“Maybe ye could help wi’ the pain in my leg,” Ian said with the same humour he always used to accompany talking about his prosthetic. Jamie knew Ian had meant it as a joke, but he saw the gold in Claire’s eyes flare at the chance.

“Actually,” she said, bristling with excitement. “I thought I saw some herbs along the courtyard that might help with that ah, if you—” Another tentative glance at Jenny. “—If you don’t mind.”

“I dinna mind much, no,” Ian nodded. “I’ll take anything ye got.”

“That’s kind of ye, lass,” Jenny said evenly, and Jamie felt a chill blow through the room; the air had changed. Both he and Ian looked at her, then at each other.

“It’s no trouble,” Claire said, humbly inclining her head as she turned in her seat to face Jenny completely. Jamie watched her roll her shoulders back, as she did when she was about to begin studying. “I’d like to help any way I can.”

“How’d you and Jamie meet again?”

“I sort of… ran into him in the library.”

“I heard ye tackled him to the floor.”

“I didn’t think Jamie would willingly offer up that information,” she said, holding her glass up to obscure her mirth to everyone except the man in question.

“Och, ’willing’ had little to do wi’ it,” Jenny said, waving her hand dismissively. “I also heard ye kicked him in the shin.”

“Well, that was only so he would pay for breakfast,” said Claire with a matching dismissive tone.

Jenny arched one eyebrow up and took a long sip from her glass.

Ian and Jamie exchanged glances. Was there another conversation happening that they weren’t invited to? If so, Jamie wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it anyway.

He did hope Claire was winning though.

“Hang on,” Jamie said suddenly. “I dinna remember tellin’ ye about the shin-kicking, Jenny.”

The calm, vaguely amused, scrutiny on Jenny’s face transformed into the glare Jamie was more accustomed to as she turned to him.

“Oh and ye think there are secrets between me and my husband, aye?”

“Ian!”

At his name, he stood abruptly.

“Claire, would ye mind helping me with the dishes?”

Claire’s face brightened as she followed suit and helped Ian clear the plates in a flurry, the two shuffling into the kitchen without so much as hasty cheek kisses and pats on the shoulder to their respective Frasers.

“Traitorous shite,” Jamie grumbled.

“Interesting woman, a graidgh.”

“Och, dinna start, Jenny.”

“I’m no’ starting anything, Jamie.” She shrugged. “Ye’re the one who thinks he can just make decisions wi’out asking anyone else.”

“Aye, maybe so.” He felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. “But don’t bring Claire into this.”

“Oh, so you agree that ye shouldna have sent yer adopted boy here after all?”

“I didna ado— Ugh, Jenny, what would ye have me do? The lad would’ve froze to death in that bus terminal.”

“Afraid he would freeze, so ye sent him to Scotland? Aye, that’s a fine plan there, brother.”

“And ye would’ve just left him there alone?”

“I dinna ken Jamie, but I’d have given it more thought than just chucking the lad on a train. And then to have a stranger just appear on our doorstep—”

Jamie exhaled sharply.

“Aye, so this is about Claire, after all.”

“It’s about yer muckle brain thinkin’ ye can go and decide for other people. Did ye just tell the lass to disregard whatever she had planned and pack her bags wi’out warning?”

Not entirely. “Jenny—”

“Or did ye just bring her here so ye could sleep with her?”

The force of Jamie standing shook the table and sent his chair clattering to the floor behind him.

“I’ve bit my tongue long enough to let Claire settle things between the two of ye. But, I’d thank ye not to make assumptions when the lass is no’ here to defend herself.”

“Christ,” Jenny said, suddenly quieter as she stared at him. “I havena seen that look on any man since I married Ian, and never once on yer face, Jamie.”

His mouth clamped shut.

“So it’s love, then?”

He felt the heat of something decidedly not anger rise in his cheeks as he broke his gaze from Jenny’s. She stood slowly and walked towards him.

“Aye,” he said softly, staring at the floor. He’d said it yesterday, his heart had been singing it since then, but telling Jenny – someone other than Claire – made it feel real. His hand twitched with a sudden and overwhelming ache to hold Claire in his arms.

Jenny lifted his chin to bring his eyes back to her.

“Then why on earth did ye bring her here, Jamie?”

What?

“What?”

“Ye love her, fine. Did ye wait a whole day to decide to bring her along, or did ye just show up at her doorstep ‘afore ye were meant to get on the train, ye dimwitted wee fool?”

“It wasna like that, Jenny, she—”

“Did ye no’ think she had plans of her own? Nay, ye just brought her to an unknown place and left her to sort herself out. For God’s sake, she looks like she’s treading thin ice where e’er she steps.”

“If she looks that way, it’s yer own fault, ye auld cow! The lass didna have anywhere else to go!”

“Oh and ye ken that’s a fact?” Her voice was getting louder, but the tremble he heard in it must have been his imagination. “The world doesna bend to yer will James Fraser, ye canna make choices for everyone else.” 

No, he definitely heard it again. 

“For Christ’s sake, ye’re not Da!”

There.

Jamie straightened his back, rising to full height to tower over his sister. That caught her attention. He took a deep breath and tried to force his anger back down, imagining Claire’s sleeping face this morning.

“Her uncle just died,” he said softly, in case Claire and Ian were listening from inside the kitchen. “But he was a father to her, ken? She lost her father, and this is the first time she’s wi’out him on Christmas. Ye ken the feeling, aye? We both do.”

Her head fell forward, hiding her eyes from him, and – for once in her life – she was silent for a moment.

“That’s cheatin’, brother.”

She looked up again and her lips were pulled tight together, defiant tears just starting to form. All the anger flushed from Jamie as he pulled her into his arms and rest his chin atop her head.

“Hush, a graidgh, it’s all right,” he whispered.

“Three years he’s gone and ye’re still getting him to win arguments for ye,” she chuckled weakly into his chest.

Pulling back, she wiped her cheeks with her sleeve and Jamie smiled at her for the first time since arriving at Lallybroch.

“I’m home, Jenny.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Welcome home, brother.” 

A sudden quirk at the edge of mouth. Jamie braced himself.

“I canna wait to go to Father’s grave and tell him ye finally popped yer cherry.”

Chapter Text

Part Six: Unspeakable |
Chapter 3

Claire reluctantly straightened her back and pulled away from the door.

“Well, I can’t hear a thing now,” she grumbled, half-jokingly. “Suppose they’ve left the room?”

“Suppose Jenny’s killed him?” Ian laughed, tossing her a dishtowel.

She caught it and resumed her post, taking a wet dish from the stack he’d made for her.

“She wouldn’t actually…” There was still humour in her voice, but if Claire was being honest, she wasn’t sure exactly what Jenny would or wouldn’t do.

“Ah, I was only joking, lass. Jenny’d sooner smother Jamie with a hug than plunge a knife in his chest, ken?”

She looked at him dubiously and, to the credit of Jamie’s oft-used observation, Ian must have seen all the things she was determinedly trying to put out of mind.

“Have ye a moment? I want to show you something.”

Before she could answer, he was already heading out the second door of the kitchen to a hallway in the large house Claire hadn’t seen yet.

It was a long stretch of a hall, lined with paintings and photographs hung up like a museum on both sides. Ian walked through purposefully, a Fraser curator of sorts, and stopped at a small cluster of photos two-thirds of the way down.

Claire had to suppress an amused squeak as she picked out Jamie’s red hair on a small kid, no older than 10, holding a fish just nearly as large as he was. On second look though, she realized the features were just slightly off: different shaped eyes, a slimmer nose, details that wouldn’t usually disappear with age.

“That’s no’ Jamie,” Ian said. “’Tis his older brother, William.”

Oh?

“Jamie never mentioned him,” she said, studying the new face with considerable interest. The similarities were surely there and, in her stomach, she felt a sinking feeling that there was yet another Fraser to win over.

“Aye well—” Ian coughed. “He ah, he died when Jamie was still a lad.”

Claire’s throat went dry. All she could manage was a choked, “Oh.”

“Anyway, that wasna the one I meant to show ye.”

He pointed to a frame hanging above and a little ways to the right. There was a young Jenny, seated in a meadow so the poofs of her Sunday best were dusted with soil at the edges. She was looking down at something cradled in her hands, her long lashes, just like her brother’s, casting a shadow so her eyes were hidden. In her hands was the fluff of a small bird, its beak poking up curiously in her direction like it was waiting to be fed.

“That’s one of her birds, there,” said Ian. “She used to find them after they came crashing into the windows and nurse them back to health.”

Claire must have made another face because he chuckled and shook his head.

“Aye, I ken she doesna seem the type at the moment. But there’s…” He thought for a moment and Claire was suddenly reminded of something Jamie had said.

Lallybroch was large, certainly, but in terms of company, there wasn’t exactly a wide range. This was perhaps the first time Ian’s had the chance to freely talk about Jenny to someone who wasn’t her or her brother. And Claire, feeling very much the outsider in their close-knit family, felt the same sort of recognition.

Who could she talk to about Jamie, really? Definitely not Geillis Duncan down the hall, and Joe only ever teased her about it, which was welcome but not always needed. If there was anyone who understood, who could confide in her as much as be a confidant, could it be Ian?

“…Well, I dinna understand it to be honest. It’s like two things that canna be any farther, but live in the same person, aye?”

Yes, it could.

“Jamie’s the same,” she said with a smile.

“Aye, I bet he is.” The almost solemn look on his face as he stared at the wall betrayed the levity in his voice. Claire turned from the photos to face him.

“They lost their father three years ago, ken?”

He was looking at a candid of who Claire assumed was Fraser Senior, one arm holding a small Jenny up on his broad shoulder while two boys were captured in a frozen dance around his feet. Her heart quickened in recognition, so amused at the sight of a 5-year-old Jamie it took her moment to realize the other boy in the picture was the man standing next to her.

“Jamie didn’t mention that either,” she said softly, not wanting to pop whatever wistful bubble Ian had encased them in.

“He wouldn’t have,” he nodded, turning then to Claire. “I just wanted ye to see, aye? Jenny’s lost William, their mam, their father… And when Jamie went to university, she sent him off wi’ a smile and cried the whole night.” He put a hand on her shoulder and smiled warmly. “It’s no’ you or Fergus, or even Jamie she’s mad at. She’s mad at how alone she feels, do ye ken?”

“Yes,” she said, putting her hand on his. “Yes, I know the feeling.”

His smile broadened.

“Aye, I thought ye might.”


 

Jenny had left with Mrs. Crook to buy food for the festivities tomorrow and, Jamie suspected, must have brought Ian along.

He cleared the last of the plates and dishes from the table, but the empty kitchen proved only half of his theory. Ian wasn’t here, but neither was his dishwashing partner-in-crime.

“Sassenach?”

He walked to the hall and found her studying the family photos closely.

“Has Ian been showing ye my baby photos, then?”

When she turned to him, he smiled but she didn’t return the gesture. Instead she walked straight towards him, a single-minded determination on her face, and wrapped her arms over his shoulders, pressing her body warm and tight against his.

“It’s only been half an hour since I saw ye last, mo graidgh. Miss me already?” He chuckled, moulding his body into her hug.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She pulled away to look at him, one hand coming up to stroke his cheek. “About your father, and William?”

“Ye—” Her hand on his face stopped him from jolting in shock. He took a deep breath, a shakier chuckle. “Ian told ye, did he?” He shook his head. “I… I dinna like to talk about it much.”

She nodded, eyes never leaving his, and he closed his hand around her thin wrist. Whatever it was between them, it was more than just simple attraction, or baser lust, and though love was the most encompassing word to use, it still seemed like a pale explanation for the way he felt whenever he saw her.

“But if ye ask it, mo nighean donn, I’ll tell ye everything.”

There was her smile, wide and kind, and crinkling the corners of her eyes. He pressed his lips to hers.

“Tell me whenever you’re ready,” she said, kissing him again.

His arms wound around her waist and hers around his neck, the spark from earlier only stoked by whatever indescribable thing they shared.

His hands drifted down her lower back, and he growled into her mouth as he lifted her off the floor by her thighs.

She squeaked, her hands reflexively tugging at his hair for purchase.

“W-what are you doing?”

“Taking ye back to yer room, lass,” he said simply. “All the ‘adults’ have left to buy groceries, ken?”

“Oh is that where Ian we—?” Her question dissolved into a giggle as he nuzzled his nose into her neck.

“Aye, and you and I have more—” One hand slid up her back and pushed her closer. “—pressing matters to deal with, no?”

She hummed, wriggling her body in his arms so that the swell of her breasts rubbed against his chest. Jesus, he didn’t think they’d make it up the stairs at this rate.

But then she stopped, and he could feel the tension run down her back under his large hand.

“Shit, we can’t.”

“Oh?” He drew back to look at her, but made no move to put her down. He rather liked the safe and solid weight of her in his arms, how something so beautiful and so real was resting in his hands, and was as much his as he was hers.

She huffed, her breath sending a loose strand of hair flying from her face.

“I told Fergus he could hide from Murtagh in my room.”

“Oh, so ye’ve met Murtagh? He’s my godfather.”

“Y… yes?”

The line between her brows told him this wasn’t the reply she’d expected. He laughed, resuming his place buried in her neck.

“J-Jamie, I just said—”

“Aye, I heard ye,” he replied, walking surefootedly back through the kitchen and towards the staircase in the other hall. The fact that he could walk this house blind was just another thing to be thankful for, to say nothing of the goddess currently pressed tightly against him.

“Then where are we going?” she demanded, tugging at his hair, this time for emphasis.

“Did ye forget I live here? I’m takin’ ye to my bed, mo chridhe.

He bit her earlobe and traced the shiver that ran down her spine.

“What’s that one, love?”

“That’s you, lass.” He took one of her hands and pressed it to his chest. She, a doctor, could assess the affliction, the mad throbbing sensation for which he knew she was both cure and cause.

She curved her back, bent her head and replaced her hand with her lips. And, through whatever unspeakable signal or feeling or pull it was between them, Jamie knew she understood.

[End of Part 6]


 

Chapter Text

Part Seven: The Grand Tour |
Chapter 1

Claire could feel the rise and fall of his chest against her cheek. His heartbeat was slow, thumping in time with hers, connected beyond all reason or doubt.

“I have a gift for you,” she said softly.

His thumb rubbed her bare shoulder, gently pulling her closer so he could press his lips to her forehead.

“Is it the one ye gave me just now?” he chuckled, breathless. “Because I dinna quite have the energy to repay ye just yet.”

Claire stifled a laugh into his neck.

“I’m serious, Sassenach. I’d—I mean I’d obviously heard people—men—talk about… but—”

Her laugh turned riotous.

“Didn’t think it actually happened, love?”

“Didna think ye’d want yer head anywhere near there, ye ken? Will it—?” His eyes went wide with wonder, and the odd disconnect between his nearly childlike curiosity and the decidedly adult context of their conversation was not lost on Claire in the slightest.

“Will it what?”

Jamie’s cheeks went pink as she raised a hand to smooth down his hair.

“Will it… feel the same if I do it to you?”

Now her cheeks burned.

“Well, you know… I’m actually not sure.”

“Oh? Ye’ve never—?”

“I didn’t exactly have a great ex-boyfriend,” she said dismissively and not without a pang of spite. Whatever she’d had before, it hadn’t felt like this, had it? She remembered the accompanying nervousness, the fluttering feeling of something new and exciting but now, there was something else. Something she didn’t have a name for.

He kissed her forehead again, then gathered her up in both arms. She closed her eyes and snuggled into his large chest, feeling unreasonably comforted in his warmth.

“Dinna fash lass, I’m here now. I’ve found ye.”

“I think you’ll recall, I found you first.”

His back readjusted against the bed as he rest the arm that wasn’t around her shoulder behind his head.

“Ye ken that, do ye?”

She wrinkled her nose up at him.

“I was the one who tackled you to the floor, yes? Did the impact affect your memory?”

“Nay,” he said in a strangely dazed tone that didn’t exactly refute her accusation. “I remember every minute of that day, every second. And I saw ye before ye tackled me.”

“Saw me running towards you, you mean?”

“No Sassenach, I saw ye about an hour ‘afore ye attacked me.”

Claire’s lips pursed as she tried to retrieve the memory. The way he smiled dreamily at the ceiling proved he didn’t have the same problem.

When had he…?

“Ye didna notice me then, too busy scribbling like mad in yer wee notebook.” His hand ran absently up and down her arm, rippling gooseflesh on her skin. “But I remember how ye looked: all serious and determined.”

“And frazzled, and manic, and sleep-deprived,” she added derisively, but that only made his chest rumble with another laugh.

“And beautiful,” he said, turning slightly to stare straight at her. “Wi’ yer hair all ruffled and yer eyes on fire. Kinda like they were a minute ago when we—” His sentence, said an octave lower, died in the diminishing space between his lips and her temple. Claire squirmed, trying vainly to somehow get closer than she already was to him.

“I stared for longer than strictly speaking necessary, ken? So I glanced at my book list, grabbed it as fast as I could, and hurried back to my dorm. It wasna till—”

Wait…

“Well, I walked home thinkin’ about maybe heading back some time to look for ye, so I didna notice I had the wrong book till an hour or so later.”

She gaped at him, blinking dumbly as her brain groped for the words.

“Imagine the way my heart stopped, aye mo graidgh? When I saw ye running right at me.”

Pulling herself from his grasp to rise up on her elbows, she leaned down to kiss him gently. His fingers immediately threaded through her hair, cradling her head to push her closer.

“Wish I had a better version of that story,” she sighed, resuming her place nestled just under his chin. “It still ended in me knocking you over.”

“Aye, like a raging bull ye were—Ow! Sassenach!”

She’d pinched him by his ribs.

“Um, excuse me, what happened to ‘beautiful’ and ‘determined’?”

“Aye,” he said, arching an eyebrow at her. “And stubborn and tactless come to think of it, and violent forbye—ow, a-and…”

She poised her nails, ready to dig into any tender flesh she could reach.

“And what?” she said, pleasantly enough.

He smirked, one quick hand darting up to catch hers by the wrist before she could strike again. He pressed it softly to his lips, then placed her hand against his cheek.

“And minemo chridhe.”

She smiled, growing increasingly accustomed to the warmth that started in her chest and rushed through her body.

“Yours.”

A content hum rumbled through his chest, small vibrations that reverberated under her fingers and through her own body. She kept her other hand on his cheek, her thumb absently tracing the outline of his lips.

“Ye said ye had a gift for me, mo graidgh?”

“Oh, right!” she laughed. “You distracted me.”

“Tis my job, no?” He shifted, moving to rest his back on the headboard and, reluctantly, Claire was forced to do the same. Her hands suddenly felt cold as they parted. She immediately snuggled her head into his shoulder, hand groping to interlock with his.

“So what is it? Where is it?”

“Hmm, impatient,” she scoffed, suddenly picturing Fergus’ wide-eyed excitement from earlier. “You’re getting it tomorrow, obviously.”

He made a derisive sound as his head fell to the side, resting on top of hers.

“Then why did ye tell me about it at all?” The sheer disappointment in his voice made Claire’s gut tremble with laughter that she fought hard to stifle. He was a child on Christmas Eve, her overgrown child.

You’re the one who says I’m terrible at lying,” she said, poking fruitlessly at his firm chest. “I figured I’d take the surprise out of the equation entirely.”

His laugh prompted hers and, as she was becoming increasingly aware, ended the way most of their encounters do, with their laughter ebbing away in the shrinking space between their lips.

“Quite the clever plan, mo nighean donn,” he said, making Claire feel absurdly pleased. “What happens when I guess what it is?”

He bent his head to nuzzle his cheek against hers, but she pushed him back by the shoulders with a quirked brow.

“What do you mean, when?”

He blinked as if she’d asked him something as obvious as the colour of his hair, and she found herself torn between the infuriatingly frequent decision of whether to kiss or smack him. Electing for neither, she squirmed her way out of his arms and made to get out of bed, revelling in the sheer shock in his eyes and the whining sound of protest from his throat.

“Let’s go into town, shall we?”

He pouted at her from over the pillow in his arms he’d replaced her with.

“Are ye truly asking my opinion on the matter, or just torturing me, ye wee—mmph!”

She remedied his protests with her lips against his and didn’t pull away until he was smiling into their kiss.

“The bed’s not going anywhere, Jamie.” 

He rolled his eyes.

“Aye, and I dinna want to either,” he said, snuggling back in and pulling the blankets tight around him.

“What about my grand tour, hmm?”

She gave him his pout right back and could almost see the conflicting thoughts flash through his face. She didn’t celebrate until he heaved a sigh and sat back up.

“Ye ken that face of yers is cheatin’, a nighea—” The rest of his sentence was lost into the shirt Claire threw at his head.

He pulled it off with a grunt and she met his glare with a beaming smile.

“Oh please, you love me.”

There was still a sudden cold rush of uncertainty in the milliseconds before the corner of his mouth turned upwards, but then it was like a dart of fire shooting from her chest outwards that said: this.

Him.

The reason she couldn’t place the feeling, she’d quite abruptly realized, was because she’d never actually known it before now. The unquestioning, unjudging comfort, the sweeping calm she found in his eyes, it was the same assurance she’d felt seeing the lighthouse that so often lit her dreams.

It was home.

“Aye,” he said softly, his large hand cupping her cheek, anchoring her heart. “I do, mo chridhe.”

Chapter Text

As tempting as it sounded and as well as he’d made his case, they really couldn’t spend the rest of the day in bed.

Reluctantly, and with the great difficulty of keeping his hands from her as she bent to retrieve her clothes, they both got re-dressed.

“Everyone’s going to know what we did if you keep smiling like that,” she said, evidently not making any attempt to stop smiling herself.

“Lass, wi’ the way ye were screaming, I’d be damned if all of Scotland doesna already ken.”

Her mouth closed and Jamie laughed, pressing his lips to her knuckles.

“Dinna fash Sassenach, I take it as a compliment.”

She rolled her eyes, then wriggled her fingers until they interlaced with his and kissed the back of his hand.

“Looks like we’re one of those couples,” she said, casting him a weary look. 

“Aye, we are.” He grinned, squeezing her hand before tugging at it to follow him out the door. “Let’s go annoy all of Lallybroch wi’ it.”

Claire stumbled on wobbly legs as he pulled her along and Jamie’s ego was sufficiently swollen. She was right, after all. The bed wasn’t likely to go anywhere.

“I’ll give ye the tour first, mo graidgh.” He beamed back at her as he led her down the stairs and out the front door. “I’m a man of my word, ye ken.”

She eyed him narrowly, lips just parting to form a reply when the cold air from outside hit them both. He could have mapped the tremor as it shuddered through her body from head to toe.

“Jesus H—fuck! It’s cold.”

“Nay, not cold, Sassenach. It’s just Scotland.”

She latched onto his arm like the frozen ground might shatter underneath them, trying vainly to get close enough to him to steal some warmth. Jamie chuckled.

“And suddenly, going back to bed doesna seem all that bad, aye?” He peered down in time to see her bury her face into the side of his chest, her arms wrapping around his waist.

“If I didn’t know any better,” she mumbled, “I’d say you lowered the temperature yourself, just to have me pressed up against you.”

A full-bellied laugh at that. He wrapped an arm tight around her shoulders, his hand rubbing her arm briskly as they walked into the courtyard.

“No’ a bad plan, Sassenach. Wish I’d thought of it.”

He was vaguely aware of the way their footsteps stepped in time with each other, making parallel tracks in the thin layer of snow as he led her around the property.

They strolled through the fields and down to the stables, Jamie recounting details and childhood stories, spurred by the glinting expectancy in Claire’s eyes. 

She’d never had a home. He’d make sure she knew this one.

“—And here, finally,” Jamie said, stepping away from her to place his hand on the tall, round namesake of the property. “This is—”

“No thanks,” she said curtly, “I don’t need to see this.”

Jamie blinked. He hadn’t been boring her, had he? Her attention had seemed so genuine.

It took the small quirk at the corner of her lips to dispel the icy shot of doubt piercing through him.

“I havena even finished my sentence yet, Sassenach.”

“I know this one,” she said, crossing her arms. “These are the stones you and Ian would piss on next to the tow—”

Jamie’s laugh cut her off.

“I told ye that months ago, mo graidgh. That’s some memory ye’ve got.”

She smiled, but only moved towards him hesitantly when he extended his other hand to her. There was no hesitation, however, in how she wove her fingers in his.

“Aye, those are the stones just there.” He jerked his head to the right, then nodded at the tower before them. “But this… This is…”

The words dissolved in his throat so he opted for Plan B. Very slowly, he turned and set his lips against hers, soft but insistent.

It took her a moment before she responded, then one hand slid behind his neck to lose itself in the shorter curls at the back of his head.

She was panting small clouds of breath between them as he pulled away.

“W-what was…?”

“This tower…” he started, before he lost his nerve. Loathe to leave her, he stepped out of her arms and turned to place a hand on the stone. “It leans to one side.”

Claire watched him intently.

Lazy tower,” he chuckled. “That’s what Lallybroch means.”

“But what does—?”

He kept his eyes fixed on the grey stone in front of him.

“My father, he built this himself, aye? Everything I showed ye today was his work, and—” His lips quivered into something akin to a smile as he ran his fingers over the deep grooves etched into one of the bricks.

“This is where he first told my mother he loved her. Carved their initials just here, ye see?”

Claire stepped closer, thin fingers running down the long straight line of the letter B.

“Brian and Ellen,” said Jamie, his own fingers tracing the letter’s uppermost curve, a breath away from Claire’s.

Then, her hand moved from the stone to his cheek, drawing his face towards her, his lips back to hers.

“I love you, Jamie.” She pressed her forehead to his and closed her eyes. His own narrowed to blue slits as he cupped her cheeks.

“I love you too, Claire.”

Reaching up, she took one of his hands and guided it back to the engravings on the stone, laying her own hand atop his as she kissed him again.

“Are ye warm enough now, mo chridhe?” he said when the parted.

She nodded.

“Let’s go into town then, aye?”

“Let’s.”

One more kiss before she turned on her heel and began to walk back towards the house.

He lingered back for a moment though. For one, just to watch her walk in that surefooted way like she inherently knew he was following close behind. And two, to place his hand on the tower again.

“Ye were right, Da,” he whispered to the wind. His eyes never left Claire, even as she turned and waited for him.

“I just knew.”


The walk off the large property was by no means short, but Claire was far too wrapped up in both Jamie’s stories and his arms to notice.

There, where he and Jenny fell out of a tree and he broke his arm trying to break her fall. That far off hill he and Ian would use old tires to roll down. They were just tiny fragments of a childhood he shaped for her, piece by piece.

By the time they got to town, Claire was feeling sufficiently warmed and it had nothing to do with the weather. She rubbed her cheek against his forearm and pulled him closer to her.

“Still cold, Sassenach?”

“Not in the slightest.”

He made an amused sound, pulling his hand from hers to wrap around her shoulders.

“Oh, and there, that shop, ye see?”

His other hand pointed to a small one-storey building across the street, dusted so aesthetically with powdered snow that Claire felt like she’d accidentally fallen into a snow globe.

“That shop’s ruined its fair share of Fraser dinners, aye? Ye can buy every sweet thing ye can think of. We’d all go every weekend, us kids. Me, Ian, Jenny, and Willie.”

He’d said it so casually, if not just a bit softer, that it took Claire a moment to notice. Her head snapped in his direction, but his eyes were fixed across the road. His wide mouth seemed to be fighting between a smile and something else, something unnameable. She stared at him.

“He’d babysit us, aye? Being the eldest and all. He’d take us to the store and say, ‘Alright now, weans, I’m in charge’.” His voice turned sterner, how Claire assumed William must have sounded to a smaller Jamie. “’And that means I get to choose what we’re eating, aye?’ And we’d all moan about it, Jenny most of all—” He chuckled, a smile seemingly winning out against its unnamed opponent. “—But eventually, he’d have us lined up so he could collect everyone’s pocket change. He—”

It started as a laugh but somehow sounded stuck, like it hadn’t fully formed inside him. Claire found her inch in, drawing his eyes back to her with a hand on his cheek.

“You don’t have to, Jamie,” she said. “If you don’t want t—”

“But I domo chridhe.” He shook his head with a weak chuckle. “My father, and Willie, I’ve never spoken about them to anyone but Jenny and Ian, and they knew them, ken? And it’s—that is, ye’re a rare thing, Sassenach, that I can tell ye all my heart and—and watch Willie and Da almost… come back to life in front of ye.”

Claire stared unblinkingly, as if she’d been struck. As earnest as he always was, this was different. It was, perhaps, the same irrepressible honesty that had burst from her when she told him about Uncle Lamb’s death, the swell of waves as floodgates gently eased open.

She’d realized a beat too late that he was staring back at her, blue eyes searching hers for comprehension or apprehension, reproach or encouragement. She felt her heart break and mend itself in the time it took to ease her hand down his cheek and watch his hesitant smile gradually widen.

“So,” she said softly, simply, “what did he end up buying for you?”

There was his smile, fully formed and breathtaking.

“Patience, Sassenach, ye dinna rush a proper Scot’s story.”

She rolled her eyes as he tucked her again under his arm and crossed the street, arriving finally at the front stoop of the shop in question.

“He’d have us wait right here, in a line.” He paused to stamp his feet in the snow, wean indeed. “I used to think he’d sometimes take longer than he really needed to, just to piss us off a wee bit. He’d always come out right as Jenny was about to lose her mind and march in after him.”

That wasn’t too difficult for Claire to picture. Smaller versions of the Fraser-Murray family sprung to life as she imagined Ian leaning against the window, Jenny with arms crossed, and a tiny Jamie – the one she’d seen in row upon row of photos on the wall – moving restlessly from one foot to the other.

“When he returned, he told us all to close our eyes and hold out our hands.” She watched a wave of some powerful emotion pass through him, too quick to discern whether it was nostalgia or grief.

“So we did as we were told, could scarcely choose otherwise, aye? And he placed something different in each of our hands, our favourite usually – but not all the time, just so we wouldna lose the novelty of it.”

“That’s really nice of him.”

“Nay, that’s just a kindly older brother thing to do, Sassenach. It was afterward—he’d tell us to close our eyes again, and we’d listen o’ course. And in each of our hands—” A rueful smile, another wave of something decidedly closer to sadness, but marked with reverence. “—he gave us back our money.”

He looked through the storefront and Claire could almost make out the figure of the boy she knew Jamie was trying to revive. She felt his fingers twitch at her shoulder and reached across to squeeze his hand.

I’m here.

He squeezed back, breaking his trance to look at her, find her and find the solace she held out to him.

“I think I would’ve liked him,” she said.

Jamie scoffed at that, and drew Claire closer to him.

“Och, he would have loved you, Sassenach,” he said with the shake of his head. “And actually, in that respect, maybe I’m a little relieved he’s no’ here at the moment.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, waiting for that telltale smile of his before his voice dropped and he said something heartwarming.

“And why is that?”

There.

“He had a bad habit of taking things that were mine, ken?”

She stifled her laugh into his shoulder, not only amused at his words but at his mere notion that she’d pick another person – another Fraser no less – over him.

“Well, that’s too bad then.”

She turned to face him, draping her arms over his shoulders as his hands naturally found her waist. Slow-dancing in the snow.

“Is it?”

She shrugged.

“Unfortunately, my heart is already set on this one guy.”

“Oh, aye?” He smirked, pulling her closer to him with a suppressed growl. “Anyone I know?”

She gave him his smirk back.

“Maybe, he does go to our school.” Jamie snorted at that. Claire drew herself up and butted her nose against his.

“If you happen to see him, tell him he needs to replace my cracked window.”

“Verra well, Sassenach,” he said, a breath away from her lips. “But perhaps ye could help me find the girl my heart is set on too?”

“And what exactly should I be looking for?”

He found a way to get impossibly closer, making her go nearly cross-eyed watching the puff of his hot breath dissipate against her own lips.

“Just the most beautiful lass on campus,” he said before his mouth descended on hers.

Chapter Text

Admittedly, he forgot the time and place – he often did when he was kissing Claire.

But who cared if people were watching? Her lips were cold, and who would he be if he didn’t try his damnedest to remedy that? She certainly encouraged him enough to keep going.

“Well, if it isn’t mes parents,” came a laugh from his right.

He and Claire jolted apart, and he cast a deadly glare in Fergus’ direction. The boy remained unfazed, instead beaming at Claire.

“Hello again, Mademoiselle!”

Jamie’s entire body seethed as she pulled away from him to face Fergus.

“Told you he’s your adopted boy,” she said with a sidelong smirk.

Jamie found no humour in that, regarding Fergus and his shit-eating grin from under sloped brows.

“Were ye no’ hiding from Murtagh, lad? Shall I call him here?”

“Ah, n-no M’sieur, please.” Utter satisfaction as Jamie saw the smile melt from his pale face.

Retribution enough, he supposed.

“Well, why’d you leave my room then?” Claire inquired, hands finding hips.

Jamie seized the opportunity to snake his arm around her waist immediately. He could still see the echoes of her smirk, even as she waited for Fergus’ reply.

“Well, it’s only because—” The growl of his stomach eagerly answered the question.

Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle. Going hungry while trying to evade chores was by no means a foreign concept.

“There were granola bars in my bag, I think,” said Claire, and Fergus inclined his head, sheepish.

“Ah ouiMademoiselle Claire, there... were.”

That sent Jamie’s chuckle into a full-blown laugh as Claire raised an eyebrow at the boy.

She’d make a terrifying mother, said Jamie’s more intrusive thoughts.

Fergus threw his hands up, open-palmed.

“Th-that was all I touched, I swear!”

Claire took a breath and a moment to silence Jamie’s laughs with a glare.

Aye, terrifying, but certainly effective.

“Alright fine,” she said bluntly. “And you came into town because your grand-theft granola bar wasn’t all that filling, is that right?”

“Och, well he’s a growing lad, aye?” Jamie threw in, spurred by the adorable twitch of annoyance just above her left brow. Fergus nodded in agreement and Claire held her glare a second longer before sighing, resigned.

“And you planned on, what? Stealing something from one of the shops here?”

Fergus opened his mouth, but Jamie cut him off.

No, right laddie?”

“No, Mademoiselle,” Fergus echoed, sounding a touch disappointed. He fished into his pocket then for some money, which he showed to Claire. “Madame Murray gives me some allowance every week.”

“Well,” Claire huffed, holding out her hand, “give it here.”

Mademoiselle?

“I distinctly recall letting you hide in my room, provided you didn’t touch anything. I think it’s only fair I get to choose what you’re going to eat as punishment, don’t you?” she said.

Jamie lifted a brow in Fergus’ direction and the boy’s shoulders slumped.

Oui, Mademoiselle, alright.”

“Oh don’t make that face, I won’t pick anything too terrible.” Claire laughed as she pocketed the money. “Stay here with Jamie, I’ll be right back.”

She turned on her heel and they both watched her walk down the sidewalk to a diner Jamie had pointed out when they’d arrived.

“Serves ye right, laddie,” Jamie said, turning back to the boy whose eyes seemed surprisingly bright despite having his lunch money taken.

“She is exactly as you described her, M’sieur,” he said with a smile Jamie mirrored easily.

“Aye, she’s…” Everything.

“Have you asked her to marry you then?”

Jamie choked on an inhale, coughing and sputtering to Fergus’ amusement.

“Christ lad, there’s a time and place for—What’s yer problem?”

“What?” Fergus blinked, looking innocent enough if not for the twitch at the corner of his mouth. “Mademoiselle is glowing, non? So you must have—”

Jamie choked again, this time scrutinizing the boy, trying to discern if he was implying anything less innocent.

He’d never admit it to Claire, but Fergus was picking up traits Jamie saw in himself at an alarming rate. He found himself staring at his own inscrutable face.

“Nay, lad,” he said shortly, “I didna ask Claire to marry me.”

“Why not? You love her, do you not?”

Jamie opened his mouth, then closed it. Thousands of replies, ranging from wry to heartfelt, flitted through his brain before he settled on the simplest.

“Aye, I do,” he said, almost sighing like the love-struck idiot he knew he’d become. “But ye ken, Fergus?”

He chose his words carefully. Yes he was a little shit, but he was a child and he was asking. And damn Claire and Jenny and their insinuations, Jamie felt a great deal responsible for him.  

“There’s a space between—” A cough. “—marriage, and the moment when ye first realize ye love someone more than ye’ve ever—well, more than anything, aye?”

He remembered when Jenny had told him she planned on marrying Ian. She was 16, and just as headstrong then. Likewise, he remembered when Ian had told him he planned on marrying Jenny, nearly eight years after.

“It’s nice to be in that space for a bit, ken? Like, riding a current, when ye ken it’ll bring ye to the end eventually.”

“But even still, M’sieur, you and she, you’ve—”

Jamie’s eyes darkened as he drew himself to full height. Fergus’ mask was cracking.

“We’ve what?

Done things a bit—” Jamie wanted to knock that quirk in his mouth clean off his face. “—out of order, non?

Heat rose to Jamie’s cheeks and he wasn’t entirely sure whether it was anger or embarrassment. Either way, he pushed Fergus away from him by the head with a grunt. The boy’s façade shattered into a fit of giggles.

“I was surprised when I met her this morning,” he said over Jamie’s Gaelic grumbling. “I thought her a bit—comment dire?—out of your league, M’sieur.”

“And what the hell do ye mean by that, ye shite?”

C’est marveillieux!” he shouted, and Jamie followed the boy’s gaze only to find Claire carrying a paper-wrapped sandwich roughly as thick as her forearm and just a bit longer than the length of Fergus’ head.

“Their club sandwich is just a bit excessive, I think,” she said, handing it to Fergus with a weary smile. “I had them put everything on it, hope that’s okay.”

“More than okay, Mademoiselle!” Fergus beamed.

With a pang in his chest, Jamie belatedly realized that between whatever Fergus had been eating on the street and the farm meals he was getting from Jenny, this very well could be the largest meal he’s ever had. He glanced at Claire smiling brightly at the boy and he didn’t have to guess if the same thought had crossed her mind.

Dhia. Her smile, the light reflected off white snow that lit the gold in her eyes. He didn’t think he could love her more than in this moment.

And he was so wrong.

She caught him staring at her and something flickered in that whisky gold before she turned back to Fergus.

“Oh, and I have one more thing for you,” she said. “Close your eyes.”

What was she—?

Fergus obliged, holding out the hand that wasn’t clutching his late lunch, and—

Christ.

“What’s th—?”

“It’s your allowance back,” Claire answered. “Much like my granola bars, I guess this is my treat.”

Jamie felt his heart leap into his throat and his world shrank to only Claire, so focused he barely registered Fergus’ parting words as he ran off.

Forget the time and place, Jamie needed her.

Here.

Now.

[End of Part 7]

Chapter Text

Part Eight: Give and Take |
Chapter 1

“J-Jamie! Jamie, w-wait!” Claire stuttered between his onslaught of kisses.

She caught maybe a third of the Gaelic he was murmuring in the space between their lips. His arms were wound tight around her waist, pressing their bodies together as he leaned his back against the stone wall of the alley he’d abruptly led her to.

“Jamie! W-what if someone comes?”

She was answered by a deep rumble in his chest, sending echoes through hers as he buried his face into her neck and gently nipped her skin.

“Aye, Sassenach, that’s sort of the whole plan, ken?” he rasped, setting his teeth into her collarbone. She would have rolled her eyes could she not feel the length of him pressing into her thigh. Her retort came out as a whimper instead, but she wasn’t through just yet.

Though every cell begged her not to, she yanked his head away from her and held it level with her eyes. His deep blue was nearly black with dark intent and his breath left him in shaky pants.

But she knew he caught her meaning.

“We’re standing between a theatre and a restaurant,” he began, in so much haste it was almost laughable, fingers drumming against her ribcage. “Both of which dinna open till after dark, and willna open today at all because it’s Christmas Eve, aye? The only people around are out last-minute shopping at a market two blocks from here and frankly, a nighean, I have a verra strong impression that I will certainly die if I dinna have you right now. So may I—?”

Claire pulled his lips back to hers, if only to stifle the laugh bubbling in her stomach. He answered immediately, growling as his tongue searched for hers, and nearly weeping when she pulled away again.

“What brought this on?” she said, stroking his heated cheek with her thumb.

His eyes grew a shade darker as his face set itself like stone.

“Ye ken what,” he said in barely a whisper.

She did. How could she not?

It hurt to see him so eager to somehow conjure new memories of his brother in front of her. How many years had he – with all his abundant heart – spent with no one to talk to, to grieve to, save the two people he’d known all his life? How many years spent reliving the same memories to the same people, cutting open the same wound just to watch it scab over again?

He was right, it was a rare thing. There was, Claire knew, an acute difference felt between grieving with and grieving to people. She thought she’d learned that at Uncle Lamb’s wake, surrounded by colleagues that knew her uncle well enough to share her sadness but not enough to soothe it. But she only truly understood it when she told Jamie he died. Someone who had never met Uncle Lamb, didn’t know him and never would, had suddenly validated all of her feelings with no more than an understanding half-smile. A hand on hers that said, I’m here, tell me all your heart if there’s time.

She gave him that half-smile now, feeling the tips of his fingers press into her. 

“It just seemed like a nice thing to do.”

She was, and always would be, a terrible liar. The disbelieving sound from Jamie said as much.

“What?” She butted their noses. “Would you prefer me less nice?”

“At the moment, lass?” His eyes were hooded, breath hot against her lips. In fact, despite the frigid start to the day, Claire was feeling unbearably hot now.

“I’d rather ye weren’t.”

That was all the leave she needed. She yanked at his collar with both hands and dragged him back to her, lips crashing together, hard enough to bruise. Taking advantage of the millisecond he was off-guard, she turned, her back thudding onto the stone wall as she pulled him on top of her.

He grunted in appreciation, pressing her into the wall with his torso. One of his arms coiled around her waist while the other steadied himself against the stone with a pound of his fist. Her hips wiggled in response and he groaned her name into her hair.

“You started it,” she panted, pressing her hands into his shoulders for leverage as she rolled her hips again.

Jamie was leaving a trail of wet kisses down her neck just as a breeze blew into the alley, sending a rippling shiver through Claire.

God, make that sound for me again,” he moaned.

Earn it, she was about to say, but his mouth kissing down the middle of her chest beat her to it.

So she did, and he moaned again.

Both hands dropped to her arse, squeezing quickly as he ground into her before coming around to undo the button of her jeans. Claire’s hands followed suit, reaching for his fly but he stopped her, pulling her jeans down to her knees instead.

“What are you doing?” she said, barely registering the winter air running past her bare thighs as Jamie knelt and kissed the inside of one. Her shiver then had nothing to do with the cold.

“I’m repayin’ ye for the gift earlier,” he said, infuriatingly nonchalant as he hooked his thumbs into her underwear and pulled it down.

Claire’s eyes flew wide open.

“Jamie, wait!” She stared down at him, frantic.

He must have seen every thought that raced through her head and she – quite suddenly – wondered if her face was the same as his had been last night, caught between mingling trepidation and hunger alike.

No.

But God, yes.

“Dinna fash, mo nighean donn,” he said, kissing the inside of her thigh again, this time a bit higher. Claire squeaked.

“I willna hurt ye, Claire, ever. I’ll just—” He considered for half a second, then smiled. “—Go slow, and pay attention, aye?”

She bit her lip, but nodded anyway. The swell of her impending release was too large to bear any longer.

In what felt like the infinity between two seconds, she watched Jamie’s face disappear between her legs and, with the gentleness of a butterfly’s wingbeat, she felt his tongue dart out to meet her folds.

She wasn’t expecting the arrow of fire that shot through her, so strong it sent one hand flying out to brace herself on the wall, and the other losing itself in Jamie’s curls.

Evidently, that was all the leave Jamie needed. His tentative strokes grew broader and broader, urged by the shallow rocking of Claire’s hips.

“F—ah! Fuck!” She pressed her lips together, trying to contain the way her body was screaming for him.

He mumbled something into her – into her – but she didn’t catch it, had rather felt the vibrations of his voice echo through her.

Her heart was beating out of her chest and she was very sure she’d melt to the floor if not for Jamie’s hold on her. Despite the overwhelming pressure, pleasure coursing through her in waves, she couldn’t seem to close her eyes. They were fixated on the absurd red hair that she’d spent so many nights looking down on from her window, now buried between her legs—Fuck, fuck, fuck—

“Jaaamie, ah—AH!” His name was the only coherent word her brain could formulate. But when he found her clit, lapping at it in the same rhythm she’d set for his fingers last night, all manner of coherency left completely.

She pushed her back into the wall, feeling his hands curve and press into her thighs.

Mo chridhe,” he panted, suddenly pulling away.

She made some sort of vague noise in answer, her brain too hazy for anything else. Through bleary eyes, she saw him lick his bottom lip and nearly buckled to the floor, slumping into Jamie’s warm hands.

“I canna—I need—

“Yes,” she said in an exhale.

Yes.

In a flurry of movement, he was on his feet, both sets of fingers tangling with each other trying to open his jeans. Finally – God, finally – he rustled his jeans down to mid-thigh and entered her in one motion.

Claire’s back arched off the wall, loosing a long moan as Jamie’s hands found her hips and lifted her slightly, pushing in deeper.

Dhia, Claire—I-I dinna think I can wait.”

She rocked her hips, revelling in the stretch of her muscles taking more of him into her.

“Then—mmmph ahh, d-don’t.”

There was no gradual beginning in his thrusts this time, just the rapid push and pull of the same urgency she felt deep below her stomach. She cradled his head against her, feeling the rhythmic way her back hit the wall, the way the stones scraped her bare skin. His body was solid, warm, and rubbing against hers, trapping her between wall and Jamie alike.

God, Sassenach—ahhh.” His breathing was ragged, coming in hot spurts on her neck.

He surged hard into her and she groaned, not knowing whether it was from her head colliding with the wall or from Jamie’s cock sliding through her slick flesh and, in all fairness, not giving the slightest shit either way.

She gave herself over to the waves of feeling, of Jamie, that came with each thrust. Just as her mouth opened to cry out, his tongue delved in to search for hers and she felt it—that click, the switch being turned on, the primal race to completion.

Close. Soon.

More.

Jamie took her bottom lip between his teeth and pressed one hand hard into her hip. The other reached for her thigh and tried to hoist it a little higher, sliding himself deeper. He was close too, the heat between them almost unbearable as Claire’s back slid up and down on the wall.

Her eyes screwed shut and all she could see was the image of Jamie’s head between her legs. She could still feel how his tongue had curled around her clit, even while his cock bore into her below. Without thinking, she let one hand fall to where they were joined.

“Christ, Claire!” Jamie’s hips stuttered as she grazed him. With a sob caught in his throat, he spilled into her, hips bucking erratically.

“Ahhh, mmmgh—J-Jamiee!”

It took barely one stroke against her clit to launch her back off the wall and into Jamie’s heaving chest. The frozen world outside melted around them as she rode out her release, clenching and flexing around him, loathe to stop no matter how tired her legs were.

In fact, her legs had given out completely. And, just as she was admiring how Jamie could still stand, supporting both of their weights, a strangled noise came from his throat. His fingers twitched.

They landed ungracefully on the ground in a tangle of limbs.


He’d fallen on top of her, fighting a losing battle against exhaustion to hold himself up so he wouldn’t crush her. With a great heave, he collapsed next to her, arms quickly pulling her by the waist, keeping them pressed to each other.

“Sorry,” he said, searching her face. With all his passion spent between them, the creeping shame had room to paint the tips of his ears pink.

But when his vision finally focused, he saw neither anger nor embarrassment. She was smiling, glowing.

Giggling.

Relieved, he buried his head into her neck and chuckled.

“Sorry,” he said again, nipping at her neck.

“And to think, this time yesterday you were still a virgin,” she laughed, head turning to kiss whatever she could reach.

“Well, I had a good teacher, aye?”

He pulled away to look at her when she scoffed.

“I most certainly did not teach you how to have semi-public sex.”

“Oh ye didn’t, did ye?” He clicked his tongue. “Save for assaulting me in the science lab and in the train?”

Her mouth opened, then closed again and—damn her—the corner of her mouth quirked up in a tiny smile.

“Oh right, well…” She absently – or trying to be – avoided his eye but looked pleased enough with his observation as she thought for a moment.

“I definitely didn’t teach you—” Her flush bloomed anew at the recollection. She glanced downwards. “—y’know…”

“A-aye.” His cheeks went red too, memories still very fresh. “I sort of… err, hoped for the best there.”

Her sigh had started in exasperation but ended on an incredulous snort. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, how are you bloody real?!”

How was he real? How was this earth-borne goddess real? And his for that matter? He’d woken up this morning in Lallybroch, naked and pressed against Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. He was on the ground in an alleyway with her wrapped in his arms, on Christmas Eve. How was any of this real?

He must have been awe-struck too long because her hand reached up to stroke his cheek.

“Where’d you go just now?” she said softly.

“I—” he coughed. “That is…” A sigh. “I canna tell ye, mo graidgh, what it feels like to hold ye.” His hands pressed into her. “It’s like ye’ve drugged me, lass. I canna…” He swallowed. Would it sound dumb? Would she laugh at him? “It doesn’t stop—the wanting—d-does it?”

Her mouth shrunk in thought and he figured thinking was a good deal better than laughing.

“I…” Her lips pursed. “I don’t think I have an answer for you.”

He stared at her, could almost see the thoughts dancing around her head as she tried to grab at one.

“I thought I’d been in love before,” she said finally, quietly. “But this is—I don’t know. This is different. Unusual.”

“In a good way though, aye?” He nudged her cheek with his nose until he heard a laugh. Her hand came up to cradle the base of his skull, slim white fingers twirling in his shorter curls.

“Ye’re right though, lass. I dinna ken what to call this either.”

Love, but stronger. Passion, but more. Words were suddenly too mundane to describe the give and take, push and pull, and endless want that rooted deep within both of them.

“It’s like—fucking hell!” Jamie felt her whole body tremble as a particularly frigid wind blew into the alley, rippling gooseflesh over her—still very much bare—thighs.

Jamie laughed, pulling her body tight to his.

“Aye Sassenach, I suppose it’s that too.”

She squirmed in his arms.

“Get off, so I can pull my pants up,” she seethed.

Still laughing, he released her and stood, graciously offering a hand after he had pulled his own pants back on.

He leaned his back on the opposite wall and watched her as she sorted out her clothes. She was frowning at the dark patches of melted snow on her coat and legs, undoubtedly assessing whether it was obvious what they had been up to.

It wasn’t, but he enjoyed the way her cheeks puffed into a pout. She was turning in one spot like a dog trying to see its tail, and he felt his heart throb all over again.

It wouldn’t stop, the wanting. And frankly, he didn’t want it to.

“Suppose we could just tell people I fell into a snowbank?” she said, resigned.

His gut trembled, imagining her emerging red-faced and stamping her legs, caught between laughter and indignation. A twitch ran down his arm. He was very tempted to see that.

“And what the hell are you smiling about?” she said in an echo of the very same half-joking indignation he’d been picturing.

“I’m thinking ye’re verra beautiful, Sassenach.”

She eyed him dubiously, vainly trying to divine his thoughts but – the subsequent downward tug at the corners of her mouth as proof – came up short.

“Well,” she said, bottom lip protruding. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

“Oh, am I?” He rubbed a hand down his jaw.

“Are you trying to be modest?” She crossed her arms with a smirk and leaned onto the brick behind her. “Or are you trying to make me sing your praises by means of classic understatement?”

“Och, I think maybe you’ve done enough singing for one day, Sassenach.” He gave her the smirk right back, stepping towards her to take her by the waist.

One fine eyebrow quirked up at him.

“So you’re saying we’re done for the day?”

Christ, he could light a match with the sparks that fired from a single bat of her lashes.

“To be determined,” he muttered, butting her nose with his. She smiled, and he nearly melted to the floor.

“We should probably head back, hmm?”

“Aye.” He disentangled himself from her arms and pulled her by the hand back towards the street, but felt a tug behind him as her feet remained rooted to the floor.

“Erm…”

“What’s the matter, lass?”

“This is going to sound stupid,” she said, her gaze falling. “But what if someone’s just waiting there at the end of that corner, listening to the whole—a-all of that?”

She looked so distressed, he had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop the squirming of his lips.

“Don’t you dare laugh.” He did anyway.

A graidgh, if someone’s been listening to all of that, I’d imagine they’d no’ likely want to be caught peeping, aye?”

“You know what I mean!” She stomped her foot like a child and Jamie resigned himself to the fact that his heart would never again beat slowly and surely, not while Claire Beauchamp existed.

“Verra well, Sassenach,” he said, bowing gallantly. Still holding his hand in hers, he walked away from the end of the alley they’d came from, passing and subsequently, turning her, and heading towards the opposite side.

“If it bothers ye all that much, we can go the back way.”

“But I just put my pants back on.”

“Ye—!”

Jesus. Christ.

His head whipped around, and he gaped at her. Now her lips trembled, trying—and brilliantly failing—to force down a smile.

And in a flurry, he covered her lips again, one large hand grasping at her nape while the other arm snaked around her waist. He nipped at her lower lip, his tongue darting out to poke at hers before he dropped his arms and took three steps back.

She was heaving, lips swollen and eyes like melted gold as she glared daggers at him.

“Now we can go,” he grinned, swiftly turning on his heel to stride out of the alley before she erupted.

“I take it back, I hate you!” she yelled from behind him.

His grin only grew wider.

Chapter Text

Part Eight: Give and Take |
Chapter 2

They’d eaten late and stumbled down the long walk back to Lallybroch with idiotic grins and at least three slips into a small alcove or behind a tree, whenever Claire felt her lips were simply not warm enough for her liking.

By the time they’d swung open the front door, their cheeks were red enough to blame the biting wind outside, even if their hands weren’t as frozen as they should’ve been in this weather. Claire clung to Jamie’s chest, laughing in earnest at the way he shook the snow off his hair like a dog, as they stamped their boots and removed their coats in the foyer.

“And just where have you two been?”

Actual ice slipped down Claire’s back at the sound of Jenny’s voice.

“In town,” Jamie replied right away. “Didna see ye there, Jenny. When’d ye get back?”

“O’er an hour ago.” Her arms were folded across her chest, as best she could over the pregnant belly. She clicked her tongue and made a small shrug. “Anyway, doesna matter. Mind helping me in the kitchen?”

Jamie straightened his back. “Aye, sur—”

“No, not you brother, you can go look for Ian and Murtagh,” she said, already walking back down the hall. “I meant Claire.”

Another drip of ice down her back and this time, Claire actually shivered.

“Well,” Jamie said, swiftly turning to press a kiss to her forehead. “Best of luck, a nighean.”

Her mouth fell open. “You’re just going to leave me to—” Her daze turned into a glare when she caught the corner of his lip twitching. “Jamieee,” she seethed in a whisper, swatting his arm.

“Ye’ll be fiiine, Sassenach,” he laughed, gently pushing her shoulders towards the kitchen hallway. “Just mind the kitchen knives, aye? In case things go sideways?”

She huffed, sticking her chin out as she walked down the hall. It was only after she heard him step out the door once more that she let out a breath. Rolling her shoulders back and cracking her neck, she balled her fists at her side and marched into the kitchen.

Jenny was peeling potatoes, her back hunched over a basin as best she could manage, given the swell of her belly.

Without a word, Claire pulled up a chair and a knife and set to work across from her. Between them was nothing but tiny scrapes of knives and the soft sound of potato skin falling into the basin.

Venturing a glance, Claire watched how Jenny’s lashes hid her eyes, just like Jamie’s; her mouth was a tight line, her teeth biting the inside of her bottom lip in concentration. In the stillness, Claire could almost make out the same young girl she had seen in the photos Ian showed her.

As if reading her thoughts was somehow a Fraser-borne trait, Jenny looked up sharply and caught Claire’s eyes.

With their bubble of peace sufficiently popped, Claire opened her mouth to speak, but stopped as she saw Jenny sigh, kick off her shoes and slowly lean back into her chair.

“The um, the baby giving you trouble?” Really, Beauchamp, you can do better.

“Aye, that’s all she’s fit to do these days,” she said. Claire saw her close her eyes and stretch her toes out from inside her socks.

That she could do.

“If… If it’s your feet—I could make a salve that might help the pain.”

Jenny regarded her with one eye – so much like Jamie – before she closed it again, taking in a deep breath.

“Dinna suppose ye could make something to get the wee bugger to behave?”

Claire chuckled softly, working on another potato. “Nothing like that, I’m afraid.”

Opening both eyes now, Jenny sat up, looking intently at Claire.

“Jamie did say ye were the helpful sort.”

“Hmm? Did he?”

“Aye.” When Claire looked up at her, she’d already started peeling again, busying herself to keep from talking to Claire directly.

Which was fine, since that was what Claire was doing too.

“He told us everything about ye, could scarcely talk about anything else every time he called.”

Christ. While there was undoubtedly a small swell of pride at hearing that Jamie was telling everyone about her, there was a much larger cloud of dread starting to rumble in her stomach.

What exactly did everything entail?

In his very Jamie-like way, he was certainly eager to offer up any and everything about Jenny and Ian, so much so that Claire had felt she knew them before even meeting them. Was it the same, then? Did they also have that odd aching to get to know a person they felt like they already knew?

“He spoke a lot about you too,” Claire said, “and this place. I—” She swallowed. Might as well get it all out then. She set her potato and knife down on the table. “—I do want to apologize, Jenny. I-I didn’t mean to show up out of the blue. In fact, I’d planned to spend Christmas holed up in my room with a textbook and a bottle of wine. But Jamie insisted I shouldn’t be alone and—well, he’d told me so much about all of you, and I really did want to see the place he always longs for while he’s on campus—”

Jenny stopped peeling, but didn’t look up just yet. She chuckled softly.

“Longs for, eh?”

“It’s all he talks about: how the air is different, how the horizon isn’t as crowded.”

“Sounds like him, dreamy-eyed lad he is.”

Their eyes met then, and Claire’s small smile mirrored Jenny’s. There was the window, Claire’s way in. She could feel whatever shadow of doubt Jenny had cast over her gradually, but surely receding.

“I take it Ian’s told ye a few things, aye?”

“He did, yes,” Claire answered slowly. Was that the shadow creeping back? She grabbed at her forgotten potato and resumed her peeling with purpose.

“Then—Then, I’ll apologize to ye too.”

The potato almost slipped right out of Claire’s fingers.

“I’m sorry?”

Jenny was focused entirely on the swift flick of her knife as she went on.

“For the way I acted, I’m sorry.” Her fingers clenched at the knife handle as she slowed her movements. “The truth is, we were all eager to meet ye too. And now that ye’re here—I’ve never seen Jamie so happy, ken? Not since… well, not in a long while.” She took a deep breath, shook off the last of the potato skin, and looked up at Claire with a warm grin.

“I’m grateful for that, truly Claire.”

“Oh,” Claire said. Her eyes blinked once, twice, but nevertheless, she felt that same warmth bloom in her chest.

The two women chuckled, and Claire could feel the sun from the window as the shadows moved with it, thawing whatever ice still remained.

She set the knife and freshly peeled potato down onto the table.

“Thank you, Jenny, really.”

She rolled her eyes at Claire, evidently through with any more heart to heart.

“Och, dinna fash—” God, did she sound like Jamie. “—Tis about time my brother found himself a nice lass like yerself.”

As her own knife hit the table, she and Claire glanced at the large pile of what had been the best distraction for idle hands. The two locked eyes and then burst into laughter.

“Suppose we’ve peeled enough to feed a small village?” said Claire.

“Ach, well they’re all ending up in the same place eventually,” Jenny said with a shrug.

They were still giggling to themselves as the back door clicked open and Jamie stepped through.

“And what’s all this?” he said, raising a brow at Claire.

She beamed at him, delighting in his bemused face. Whatever he’d expected of her chatting with Jenny, he certainly hadn’t counted on catching them cackling like witches over a pile of potatoes.

“It’s all been sorted,” Claire said with a nod.

Jamie crossed the room to her side and placed a frigid kiss against her cheek before turning his head to Jenny.

“Has it, now?”

“Aye, it has, brother.” Jenny nodded too. “Claire is far too good for ye, I’m afraid.”

Jamie’s face scrunched up, sending Claire’s laughing fit bursting anew. She rested her forehead against his solid shoulder, but the rest of her body shook with mirth. Jamie slipped his arms around her waist, giving it a squeeze as if trying to still her.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?”

“Because it’s true, a graidgh,” said Jenny pointedly.

“Aye? Well I think Ian is—” Claire didn’t have to look up to tell what kind of glare Jenny had given her brother. He cleared his throat. “—perfect for ye, Jenny.”

Claire smiled into his shoulder, pulling herself closer to him and feeling – as she heard brother and sister Fraser alike jeering at each other – that the shadows were finally cleared.

Chapter Text

Part Eight: Give and Take |
Chapter 3

Sufficiently filled with both food and Christmas Eve cheer, Jamie had passed blissfully out with Claire pressed against him.

It wasn’t until the wee hours of the night when he rolled over, already searching instinctively for her warmth, that he awoke to an empty dent in the mattress where Claire should have been. He floated up to consciousness, bleary eyes adjusting to the room’s darkness only to focus on the angel in a white nightgown leaning against the edge of the window.

He rose slowly, feeling some sort of reverence about her that he didn’t want to interrupt just yet. Before him was a nearly cinematic still, with Claire’s dark hair brushed out so the curls gently hung just past her shoulders. The moonlight seeping through the window picked out her features like a fine artist: the upward wisp of her lashes, the auburn strands often hidden by the darker brown of her hair, the light like fire in her gold eyes. Without realizing, he had padded slowly across the room towards her.

If she knew he was awake – he thought she must, considering how close he was to her now – she made no move to acknowledge him. Instead, she filled her lungs slowly and contently as he wrapped his arms around her from behind, nestling his chin in her neck.

“What are ye thinking about, mo nighean donn?” He peered up at her as she closed her eyes and smiled softly.

“Just imagining, I guess,” she replied in a whisper. “You and Jenny, and Ian and William gathered around a Christmas tree opening presents.” She pressed her cheek to the top of his head with a chuckle. “You all must have looked like one of those TV advertisements, with the fireplace going and everything.”

“Aye, our parents always liked proper Scottish tradition and spectacle for us kids. Jenny thought to keep it that way for wee Jamie as well. Church in the morning before any presents, aye?”

Her eyes had focused on something far off in the field and he clamped his mouth shut, instead tightening his hold around her, anchoring her before her thoughts carried her away.

“What were your Christmases like, a nighean, you and your Uncle Lambert?”

She snorted, her nose wrinkling.

“They were spent mostly on planes or hotel rooms, or the occasional university hall.” She took a moment to sigh, running a hand smoothly down Jamie’s arm until she could twine her fingers through his. “I did get in trouble once, when I was seven or eight, for digging up a very small pine tree and insisting we bring it into our hotel room.”

They both laughed, swaying gently with each other.

“Verra determined lassie, ye were, aye? But then, ye still are, I guess.”

She sighed again, her head lolling back onto his shoulder as she stared at the ceiling.

“I’d seen Christmas trees enough times to know I wanted one.”

He felt a small twinge of guilt in his chest. How many Christmases had he celebrated without a care, living out traditions he thought festive, but mostly commonplace, while Claire was out there dreaming of those very things? He kissed her neck, drawing her back to him.

“Will ye help me then, mo chridhe?” he whispered, lips lingering on her skin. He knew there was a ridge forming between her brows without having to look.

“With what?”

He grinned up at her, eyes shining. If it was a proper Christmas she wanted, he’d make damn sure she got one.

“A verra integral part of the Fraser Christmas experience, aye?”

“Oh? And what might that be?” She narrowed her eyes at him, evidently trying for nonchalant even though – with him pressed so tightly against her – he could literally feel the dart of excitement that ran down her spine.

He straightened his back, reluctantly letting his hands fall from her waist, and kissed her forehead before walking over and reaching for the large wrapped box hidden underneath his bed.

“’Tis about midnight or so, aye? We’ve got to place wee Jamie’s gift from Santa under the tree.” He tucked the gift under one arm and extended the other to her. “Will ye help me?”

She tried to contain her smile, but her eyes were as alight as wee Jamie’s were expected to be in the morning.

“I’ll take that as a yes?” he laughed, taking hold of her hand.

“Lead the way Jamie Claus,” she said, swinging their arms as he walked her out the door.

“Ye ken how adorable ye are, Sassenach?”

“Bah humbug,” she said, swatting his arm. “I’ll have you know, I—Jesus H. ROOSEVELT—sorry!” She clapped a hand over her mouth.

Jamie would have let out a barking laugh if he knew it wouldn’t wake up the whole house. Jenny had finished up the decorations in the living room and left the tree lights on. The red and green glow flickered intermittently against Claire’s pale skin and her wide, spellbound eyes.

He was sure he had the same look on his face, only it wasn’t the tree he was staring at.

“They’re no’ going to bite ye, Sassenach, go on.”

She stayed rooted to the ground a second longer before dashing ahead of him to ogle the tree up close.

The fireplace was smoldering, a comfortably natural glow working in odd harmony with the artificial lights on the tree. Both painted Claire’s white nightgown in soft washes of colour turning and changing like a kaleidoscope as she circled the tree and mass of presents slowly.

He’d never really given a thought to Jenny’s decorations before, or at least not since he was a child, but he found himself following Claire’s gaze, mirroring her smiles and gasps as she spun an ornament or poked at a bit of tinsel.

Christ, what was God thinking when he made this woman? Fierce and stubborn, with eyes that could storm and yet, were still capable of such childlike wonder.

He watched her, mesmerized, even as he slid wee Jamie’s gift under the tree. It was only when she crouched to survey the neatly wrapped gifts – done up in smooth craft paper with ribbons tied by Mrs. Crook and Jenny’s meticulous fingers – that Jamie turned his back to her. He headed for the large grandfather clock in one corner of the room, lifting a cookie from the plate on the desk as he strode by.  

“What are you doing over there?”

He turned, amused that she was still paying him even the slightest of attention. He scarfed down the cookie, retrieved the two presents he’d hid inside the clock and closed the door softly, sliding the smaller of the two into the back of his waistband.

“Remembered I was still in the room, did ye?”

He stopped her imminent reply with a cookie held right up to her open mouth. She took it and looked up at him from under her lashes.

“Don’t try to distract me.”

“I didna think I had to try, Sassenach. No’ with the tree doing such an excellent job.”

She smiled at that, taking a bite as Jamie slid past her to bend and place one last gift under the tree.

“Who’s that one for?”

“Fergus,” he replied, frowning at the lopsided ribbon. “Didna seem fair for him to miss out on the fun, simply because he showed up a bit late to the party, aye?”

Claire bent next to him, pressing down a stray piece of tape on the wrapping with her thumb.

“You did that?”

He shrugged. “‘Tis a far cry from Jenny’s work, aye?”

She kissed his cheek, then snuggled her head into his shoulder.

“You’re really something, James Fraser.”

“Aye? And what does that make you, a nighean?”

Her hand reached for his and laced their fingers together, tugging him up with her as she stood. He couldn’t seem to look away from her, not that he’d ever been able to do that. Gold anchored blue and vice-versa as their arms naturally curved around each other’s bodies.

“Thank you for this,” she said finally.

He squeezed her waist in acknowledgement, too content in her arms to ruin it with words. Her hand, however, drifted down his back and – before he could react – grabbed the thin rectangular box he’d had tucked inside.

“Claire!” He snatched it back immediately as she tried to muffle her laughter before the whole house woke up.

“And who’s that one for, hmm?”

“What’s yer best guess?” he said, holding it some distance away from her, just in case.

Comprehension bloomed slowly into a smile.

“I suppose it is Christmas day already. Shall I give you yours?”

“Well, that all depends.”

She blinked, head tilting to one side.

“On what?”

The corner of his mouth quirked up, one eyebrow rising in delicate suggestion.

“On whether we need to head back to the room for ye to give it to me.”

“Ha bloody ha!” She rolled her eyes, undoubtedly enjoying his whine of protest as she stepped out of his arms.

“Ye laugh, but ye’re still walking back to the room, are ye no?”

I’m getting your present. You are going to wait right here for me—with your clothes on, James Fraser!” she added with a pointed finger before she left the room.

Another whine of protest, only stunted by his grin as he watched her go.

Chapter Text

Part Eight: Give and Take |
Chapter 4

Claire found him seated – and thankfully still clothed – next to the plate of cookies, mindlessly munching away. Beside the plate, she saw, was the thin box wrapped with a blue lopsided bow that somehow mirrored the crooked half-smile he welcomed her with as she came into the room.

Her box was small too, a flat square that was just barely the size of her palm. She thrust it into his crumby fingers as he stood.

“Mine first.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, but visibly brightened as he thumbed one edge of the box. Claire bit her lip as she watched him in what felt like slow motion. The way he tugged the ribbon loose, slid the lid off, and peered down with a faint smile. The way his brows drew together, and his mouth straightened as he caught sight of the small, polished silver circle sitting in the crumpled tissue paper.

“It’s a keychain,” she blurted out, desperate to make time start moving again. “It-it opens up like a locket, and you can put a picture inside.”

She reached over and pressed the tiny latch on one side of the circle, and the silver face swung open.

“But that’s—” Jamie studied it closer. “That’s here, is it no’?”

It was. A tiny picture of Lallybroch, taken far enough to see both the tower and the large stone structure of the house, stared back at him through the frame of silver. He looked up then, questioning, at Claire.

“I got it off Google maps,” she said with a hesitant smile. His face remained unblinking, so she went stumbling on. “I figured—You’re always so homesick on campus. And, you said it yourself, talking to Jenny on the phone isn’t really the same thing… I just thought, you could bring it along with you, have a piece of home wherever you go and—w-what?”

His face was blank, as if a chunk of sky had just hit the ground right in front of him. Then something different, but equally unreadable, flashed across his features.

She barely registered him tossing the box and keychain gently onto the seat beside him. His lips were on hers in an instant, his hands cradling her head and holding her to him.

“Mm—y-you like it then?” Claire sputtered between kisses and giggles.

“I love you.”

“The present, Jamie.” She pushed him back by the shoulders.

“I love it, mo chridhe,” he rasped, leaning against her palms insistently. “I love you.”

She beamed, sliding her hands up to his nape to push them back together.

When they broke apart, Jamie’s smile looked defeated and Claire frowned, cupping his cheek.

“I only wish—” He chuckled, kissing her palm. “I should have gone first after all. I dinna think I can top that.”

He retrieved the thin box from the table and held it out to her.

As if bringing her here, welcoming her into his family, and just generally being some sort of god amongst men wasn’t gift enough. She bit her tongue to stop from saying just that, and elected to shake her head at him instead.

Inside the box was—

She doubled over laughing.

“A pen, James Fraser? You got me a pen?”

“Aye, so ye dinna have to be stealing mine and conveniently losing them behind yer desk anymore.”

It was a lot better than a thin plastic ballpoint, of course. It was a proper fountain ink pen with a good weight and a nice thin tip. Elegant, really. Its deep blue was darker than his eyes, but was oddly complemented in the flickering Christmas lights next to her.

“There’s a—If ye turn it around…” He reached between her fingers, turning the pen onto its opposite side. On it, in striking gold against the blue was:

Dr. Claire Beauchamp

Claire almost dropped the box. She looked up, searching his face frantically, and was met with that goddamn sweet half-smile that made her knees wobble.

When ye become a doctor, mo chridhe, ye’ll need one of yer own,” he said softly, rubbing his thumb down the length of her finger. “Ye canna be borrowing pens from me then.”

She choked on something between a sob and a laugh. His palm was large and warm on her cheek, catching the small tears she tried to blink away.

“’Tis no’ a matter of if, aye? I ken it seems foggy and far away sometimes so I thought ye might like it set in stone—or, err, engraved on a pen, I guess.”

Her fingers threaded through his hair, just above his ear, and then pulled him closer until their foreheads touched.

“No’ a bad first Christmas, aye?”

He kept one arm wound around her waist as he reached for the keychain on the chair.

“We’re pretty good at this,” Claire laughed. Her lips were fighting between smiling and trembling so she pressed them against Jamie’s and let him decide.

He hummed in approval; smiling it was then.

“Ye can cross that Christmas tradition of yer list now, lass.”

Her brows drew together, following his gaze upward to the ceiling where a sprig of mistletoe was innocuously hung.

She laughed.

“That seems a little strategically placed, James Fraser.”

“O’ course not.” He shook his head, already pulling her back to him. “I was just strategically sat, ye ken?”

“Well in the spirit of Christma—mmph!”

She coiled her arms around his neck, careful not to drop her pen even as he gently nipped at her jawline.

“Take me upstairs,” she said, muffling her squeal into his neck as his hands drifted down her thighs and lifted her in his arms.

“To the room, then?”

She swiped her tongue across his bottom lip.

“Mm, so I can give you the second part of your present.”

She could feel his chuckle rumbling through his chest, echoing through hers.

“Canna argue with doctor’s orders.”

[End of Part 8]

Chapter Text

“Empty!”

Jamie, who had been walking down the hall, paused and retraced his steps to poke his head into the sitting room.

“What’s that now, lad?”

Wee Jamie was sitting on the floor, his own small head peering deep into a gift box left over from that morning’s large-scale wrapping paper massacre.

A bhalaich, ye ken we’ve already opened all the presents.” He chuckled, plopping down on the rug beside his small namesake. “There willna be anymore toys in that box.”

“No’ toyss,” the boy droned, his voice echoing from inside his makeshift cardboard helmet. He promptly swung his head out of the box to give his uncle a singular look of distress. “Canna find Fewgus.”

“Fergus?” He looked at the box again, seeming comically large next to the boy, and did his level best to choke down a laugh.

“Aye! Canna find ‘im!”

“I—” His stomach was trembling. Control yerself Fraser. “I ah, dinna think Fergus could fit in that box, laddie. Has Murtagh got ye lookin’ for him?”

“No’ Moo-tah, NunkieFewgusnn’me playing hide n’seek!”

“Oh aye?” Jamie regarded his nephew with interest, calling to mind all the fond afternoons he himself, Ian and Willie spent making full use of the abundant, echoing space that was Lallybroch. He would have been no older than Fergus when he figured out he could hide in the priest’s hole and—

Jamie stood, scooping wee Jamie up into his arms.

“C’mon, a graidgh,” he said with a grin, “I ken exactly where he is.”

Within 15 minutes time, Jamie found himself wedged snugly into one of the larger wardrobes in the house. The Jamie duo had easily found Fergus stowed away in the priest’s hole and, just as easily, were convinced to play another round. Now he had one blue eye peering out of the gap between the double-doors for any sight of Fergus’ poof of dark curls.

Instead he caught sight of a decidedly different set of brown curls and darted his arm out to pull the accompanying body inside the closet with him.

“What the—?” He pressed a finger to her lips, urging her silence, as daunting that task may be.

“What the hell are you doing?” she whispered, squirming in a vain attempt to not be pressed completely flush against him. His knee, at a loss to go anywhere else, innocently situated itself between her thighs.

He wound his arms around the curve of her waist, kissing the tip of her nose as she relented.

“So nice of ye to pop in, mo nighean donn, I was getting lonely.”

“Why are we in a closet?”

“Hide and seek,” he stated plainly, grinning at the unimpressed slope of her brows. “I figured out as a lad that throwing some shirts onto the bed doesna look too amiss and leaves ye with a big enough hiding spot for someone my size.”

“Which means you played hide and seek well into adulthood?” Pressed so close, he could feel the tremble of laughter brewing in her gut.

Now it was his turn to look unimpressed.

“Which means I grew to this size fairly quickly, thank ye verra much.”

“Still…” She wriggled her body; not with any sort of intent as far as he could tell, but his lower half wasn’t in any mood to be principled on it.

“Bit of a snug fit, don’t you think?”

“Nay, lass,” he rumbled, pressing his fingertips discreetly into her hips. “It seems perfect to me.”

Her eyebrow went up at the same time the corners of his mouth did.

“Perfect for what exactly?”

“Oh, this and that,” he mumbled before pressing his lips to hers.

She hummed against him, tongue gently prodding his mouth open and slipping inside as his hands crept up her back. Every slight movement pushed their bodies against each other, his knee between her legs now less innocently insinuating itself higher, closer and closer to her core.

They broke apart with a shared gasp when her head thudded into the side of the closet.

“Shh, shhh Sassenach,” he whispered over her giggling, “we’re hiding remember?”

“Room for ‘this and that’, but not so much of ‘the other thing’, hmm?” She brushed her lips against his, lingering a breath away just to nip at the upturned corner of his smirk. “There is a bed, right out there.”

In three seconds, he could kick the wardrobe doors open and lay her out on the bed not six feet away. His blood boiled, fingers and heart thrumming alike at the thought of pressing her into the mattress, wrapping her legs around his hips and—

There was a creak in the floorboards outside the room that hit him like a bucket of ice.

“Canna, mo chridhe,” he rasped out, choking on the swell of passion he fought to keep in check. “Hide and seek, aye?”

“You’re kidding?”

“’Tis no joking matter, lass. I promised the lads a game and a game they’ll get.” His face was dead serious save for the glinting humour in his eyes.

She shifted her body again, this time not as purposeless as the first if the swell of her chest pressing against his was any indication. He swallowed slowly.

“And there’s nothing I can do to… persuade you?”

A chuckle thinly masked the deep growl from the back of his throat.

“Are ye drunk, mo nighean donn?” he rasped, leaning in and reasoning with himself that it was simply to catch any alcohol on her breath.

But who was he fooling?

The upside, among many, of having their lips sealed together was that it muffled their sighs and hums into each other; a decent (or indecent) enough way to keep quiet and hidden, so long as they skimmed the surface and didn’t plunge any deeper.

Of course, no one told Claire’s hand that. Jamie squeaked, then took her bottom lip between his teeth in warning.

Sassenach.”

“Hmm?” she said, sounding pleasantly unaware as her other hand urged him back towards her lips.

“I should’ve known this would happen,” he said, sounding defeated, in his small and infrequent gasps of air, “bringing a vixen home wi’ me.”

He felt her smirk against his mouth and then her warmth abruptly disappeared.

Hazy like he’d just woken up, Jamie belatedly took in the light of the room flooding into the wardrobe as the double doors opened.

“Found him, Fergus!” Claire called, snapping Jamie squarely back into reality.

“Claire—!”

Fergus rushed into the room and had there been any blood remotely near his head, Jamie was sure it would fill his cheeks.

“Thank you, mademoiselle!” Fergus said, beaming.

“Why ye wee shite!” The flush finally made it to Jamie’s face but it was indignation, not embarrassment lacing his voice. “Ye canna use Claire against me!”

“And Jamie le petit should not have used you to help find menon?”

“He’s a toddler, ye damn gomeral! Ye kent he wouldna travel to the priest’s hole on his own!”

Amidst all of this was Claire’s shuddering laughs. Jamie glared at her until she met his gaze, sparks flying dangerously between their eyes.

Ye’ll pay for this, his said.

Looking forward to it, hers replied and he gulped, his blood running a confused figure eight up and down his body.

Mademoiselle Claire simply offered to help find you,” Fergus argued.

“Oh aye?” Jamie said, rounding back on the boy. “Well, ye ken who else I can help find ye, laddie?”

Before the boy’s eyes could widen and his mouth could form any pleas or apologies, Jamie had a text sent off to Murtagh.

“I reckon ye’ve got five minutes or so to—”

Fergus was already out of the room, the door slamming behind him as he bound down the hallway.

Jamie walked over, sliding the lock with enough force to catch Claire’s attention.

“As for youmo nighean donn…”

Her shoulders were still shaking when he turned to her.

“You should’ve seen your fa—!”

She ended on a squawk as he neatly lifted her over his shoulder and swept the shirts and hangers off the bed.

“Aye? Let’s see what sort of faces ye make when I’m done wi’ ye, mo graidgh.”

Chapter Text

Part Nine: Empty |
Chapter 2

It was an odd thing, certainly.

By no means had Claire ever felt less than before, never felt like something was acutely missing from her life, or that some part of her was lacking and empty.

And then pebbles had flown into her window.

Then it was like her body had new parts, an extra set of limbs and another heartbeat in perfect time with hers. These new parts had immediately needed to be filled and inhabited by the shapeless soul, the twin of hers, so much so that to be separated felt like being ripped apart.

Not that she wasn’t whole before, but that now there were new lines to colour in, new pieces of a puzzle she’d long since written off as unexplained loose threads; pieces of her she never imagined would click together with anyone else. 

And click they did.

“What is it ye’re saying, mo graidgh?”

Jamie’s head popped up, looking as innocent as it could be from between her bare thighs.

“I—” Her voice was lost in a sweeping gasp, as Jamie resumed his place. “I said—b-bloody get on with it!”

“No’ a chance, a nighean,” he murmured against her inner thigh, nuzzling the stubble on his jaw against the soft skin. Her muscles clenched.

“Tis yer punishment, ken? For giving my hiding place away.”

Despite her protests, she couldn’t help but laugh.

“All’s fair in love a-and—Jesus, Jamie—please!

He flicked his tongue once against her clit and then pulled away.

Puzzle pieces be damned, she was going to kill him. Her shirt was unbuttoned but only made it past her shoulders when Jamie had pulled it down to push her bra aside and take her nipple in his mouth. Now her chest heaved in large gulps of air.

His chuckle was deep, the blue in his eyes even deeper.

“I like hearin’ ye beg me, lass. Is that normal?”

“Believe me, love, you—” She winced as he ran one finger through her folds. “N-nothing about you is even remotely normal.”

He rubbed a hand down his chin, considering her with – infuriating, fucking, GODDAMN – aloofness.

“Are ye in a position to be insulting me, do ye think?”

She made to kick him off the bed and he laughed, throwing his whole body over hers in a sudden flurry of kisses on her chest, her neck, across her face and forehead.

“Arse,” she mumbled, smiling when his wayward lips – finally – found hers.

“Aye, I’m quite fond of yers too, mo chridhe.” His hands drifted down and showed her just how fond. She squirmed in his arms.

Jamie!

“Have ye learned yer lesson, then?”

“I’ve learned you’re a bit of a sadis—mmph!”

His tongue slipped into her mouth, silencing anymore of her insults as she felt the smooth, heated skin of his cock pressed between their bodies.

She moaned into him, wriggling her body, desperate for friction and urging him to make the same noise.

He growled instead, biting her bottom lip hard.

“Beg me again,” he said, low and dark and dripping with promise.

She stopped thrashing in his arms, her hands taking either side of his face so he could see how the gold in her eyes flared.

Mo chridhe…

His whole body was trembling, and she could feel it in his cheeks. Below, he lined himself up, the head of his cock just barely touching her.

Pulling herself upwards, they kissed at half the tempo of their racing hearts. She hadn’t said a word out loud, and yet his body was answering every silent question and plea pulsating out of her. Whatever lingering emptiness in her soul was being filled by the overflow of love pouring out of Jamie, and she didn’t have to guess it was the same for him.

Please, Jamie,” she whispered, pulling his head down with hers as she lay back on the pillow.

He kissed her just behind her earlobe, so delicate and reverential Claire could have wept.

“Always, mo nighean donn,” he said into her skin, breathing her in deeply as he pushed himself in.


Claire moaned right into his ear, her fingers threading into his curls and tugging as Jamie skimmed his hands up her thighs, wrapping her legs around his hips.

“Oh Christ,” he groaned, sinking in deeper and holding himself there.

“Are you fucking kidd—Jamie!” She pushed her hips up, flexing around him, and his laugh turned into a helpless groan.

“Not so high and mighty now, h-hmm?” she jeered, or tried to, as he buried his face in her neck and slowly started rocking against her.

“Considerin’ all the times ye’ve already screamed my name, lass?” he murmured, “Aye—mmgh—my ego’s big enough.”

“Ego? Mmmmph—” she said in a half-laugh, half-sigh, “is that what you call it?”

He thrust particularly hard, taking advantage of the way her back arched to wind his arms around her waist. The sheer force from him made her hair poof against the pillow, framing her pale face as it split open in a long moan.

He needed her close, closer. He needed to feel her body pressed so tightly to his that their heartbeats could knock against each other, wanted the heat between them to melt and mould their bodies together until their souls could touch.

He wondered if she felt the same, if she knew how just a smile from her melted all his organs until he could feel them pooling in his wobbling knees. How she filled the empty pockets he had no idea were scattered all over his soul like an old bedsheet. With the steady hands of a surgeon, she ran her hands down the holes and scars, long since considered simply a part of him, and stitched and patched them over until he was something more than just himself.

She always made him feel more.

And, though he was constantly searching for new ways to explain this to her, to somehow impart this bone-deep feeling into words or actions, he still had no better method than holding her closer than close and letting his body speak for him.

It had been mere days since that first time, but he was already so attuned to her – go slow and pay attention indeed – that he could trace the path of her impending climax. There was the initial flutter of her muscles around his cock, then the tightening that had him screwing his eyes closed. Her breaths started getting faster, higher-pitched whimpers and near-sobs that only made him want to drive into her harder. Ellicit more of those sounds, knowing they were only for him.

She’d claw at him then, any flesh she could reach with nails or teeth. She’d order him – harder, faster – and he could almost see the spiraling of fire coil below her navel as her pleas got louder and less coherent.

“Aye mo nighean donn,” he said, licking the shell of her ear as the coiled fire set into a boil, a turbulent bubbling of passion beginning to drift purposefully up her body. She began to thrash about in his arms, as if she were fighting to keep that passion locked away.

“Let go, mo chridhe, I have ye.”

When the fire bloomed in her chest, like an arrow piercing her heart, his name became a prayer tumbling off her lips and that was what always seemed to break him.

Always, like this wasn’t completely new and thrilling and terrifying to him.

Her voice. The way his name slid off her tongue like it was the only word that mattered. It crumbled any walls he’d ever – even unwittingly – encased his heart in.

In the seconds just before the fire scorched through her veins, everything happened at once. The fluttering. The tightening. His name lost to long moans and sighs. The fire darted upwards as it – as she – came, knocking her head backwards, lifting her chin along with her chest in one perfect arch against his body, as her mouth fell open.

If he could make a home in those few perfect seconds, he’d stay there forever.

But if his name on her lips ending in a shuddering moan didn’t set his own finish off, it was the final tight clench of slick and swollen muscles around him that made him spill himself inside her.  

“What was it you were saying at the end there, love?” she said sometime later, when their heartbeats had settled into each other’s tempo.

He nuzzled his cheek into her neck, body rippling with pleasure as her hands drew loops up and down his back.

“Only that…”

He caught his reflection in her eyes, belatedly realizing the startlingly obvious fact she must feel that same refilling of the soul because, why else would she be looking at him the same way he looked at her?

Like the people they were before meeting each other were strangers from some distant lifetime.

“… we are neither of us alone, mo graidgh.”

Chapter Text

Time moved differently, as it always seemed to, in the days between Christmas and New Years. It felt as if she were living simply moment to moment, blinking into and out of scenes like skipping through movie scenes, while the events in between hurried past. Days that started and ended in Jamie’s arms melted together until Claire found herself counting the seconds down to the new year, surrounded by the jovial, if not tipsy, Fraser-Murray clan.

Christmas festivities with the Frasers had been a proper delight and quite literally everything she’d ever wanted.

But Hogmanay was so much more.

It was like the whole estate was bathed in a soft glow, tinted in gold like she’d fallen into a film right before the credits started rolling to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. There was a wistful look in nearly everyone’s eyes. The sort of glassy far-off gaze often accompanied with reminiscing and reflecting on the events of the year past.

At present, her back was snugly pressed into Jamie’s warm chest as they rocked gently from side to side in time with everyone’s countdown. Her mind, like everyone else’s surely, was elsewhere.

“10…!”

She’d tackled him in the library. He walked her home.

“9…!”

His pebbles left a permanent dent in her reading lamp.

“8…!”

He’d carried her up to her room.

“7…!”

She kicked him in the shin.

“6…!”

She kissed him under the tree.

“5…” The science lab.

“4…” The fight.

“3…” The train.

“2…” The guest room…

“1—"

His mouth found hers as a whoop went up. The world around them was celebrating, but it all seemed like mute white noise as she smiled against Jamie’s lips.

“Happy New Year, love,” she murmured.

He tucked a curl behind her ear, tracing its shell with his thumb, and Claire felt the rest of the room fade away. The other voices were a distant echo.

“And you, mo chridhe.”

Then, in a blink, she was in the kitchen washing plates with Jenny. The grandfather clock in the sitting room chimed 2 a.m. and Claire yawned.

“Aye, I think ye’re right lass,” said Jenny with a definitive clink from the ceramic plates. “The dishes willna be going anywhere in the morning.”

Claire hummed sleepily in agreement as they dried their hands and walked back to the hall. She was just about to take the first stair when Jenny’s hand tugged at her sleeve.

“Wha?” She was met with Jenny’s slim finger urging her silence, those Fraser blue eyes glinting in amusement. Jenny jerked her head in the direction of the sitting room, where low voices were murmuring and just beginning to gain volume.

“Look at that flush!” Murtagh’s gruff laugh filled the house. “The lad still canna hold his drink!”

“Get on wi’ ye!” Jamie shot back with only the slightest of slurs.

Not exactly helping your case, darling, she thought with a smile.

“Ach, cut him some slack, Murtagh,” said Ian, “I’ve a feeling that flush isna all to do with the whisky.”

“Not this whisky anyway.”

Now it was Claire’s turn to flush, looking anywhere but Jenny’s increasingly amused eyes.

“Ye dinna have to listen, Claire,” she said, stepping past her to start on the stairs. “They’ll likely get rowdier before it gets better, and the lads will bring Jamie up when they’re done.”

Claire smiled at that but made no move otherwise, and Jenny shrugged, taking her leave.

“Suit yerself, dinna stay up too late.”

Claire sat at the foot of the stairs, chin resting on clasped hands, as she floated in and out of both consciousness and the conversation in the next room.

“Christ, lad,” Murtagh again, “I havena seen ye like this since—what was that lass’ name? The blonde one?”

“Annalise?” Ian offered.

“Oh god,” Jamie said, exasperated, and Claire raised an eyebrow.

“Aye, that’s her. That puir lass ye wouldna leave alone,” Murtagh chuckled.

“That was years ago, ye auld goat!” argued Jamie above his godfather’s jeering. “And Claire is nothing like Annalise.”

“Aye, for one, this lass actually likes ye back.”

Claire heard a shuffling noise then, and knew immediately that Jamie had stood from his chair when Ian’s voice piped up.

“Now, now,” he said, “look at the eyes, Murtagh. Ye ken that look.”

Silence for a moment, and Claire was tempted to poke her head in. Luckily, some sort of Gaelic curse from Murtagh stopped her.

“Aye, I’m quite familiar wi’ it,” he said, softer this time. “It’s Claire, then?”

Jamie chuckled before he answered. Claire hadn’t realized she was holding her breath.

“Aye,” he said finally, sounding distant, dazed. “Claire is… She’s no’ some wee grade school crush, she’s—She’s it for me.”

Her heart thudded against her chest.

“I’m happy for ye, Jamie, truly,” said Ian. “Now it’s just Murtagh left in the Single’s Club.”

Another Gaelic curse and the two younger men burst out laughing

“What happened to that French lass?” said Jamie, “Suzette, aye?”

There were more Gaelic replies and Claire shook her head with a sleepy smile, finally making her way back to Jamie’s room.

Another blink and she was startled awake by Jamie drunkenly shuffling in and immediately snuggling into her on the bed.

“Sassenach,” he not-whispered into her ear, “are ye awake?”

He reeked of alcohol. She squirmed in his arms, but didn’t turn to face him.

“No,” she mumbled, pushing her face deeper into her pillow.

“I have sssomethin’ ‘mportant to tell ye, lass.” He shook her shoulder lightly. “Claire? Mo chridhe?” He paused, trying to figure out if she’d fallen asleep again.

Coming up short, he pressed a kiss where her jaw met her neck and nuzzled the spot with his nose.

“I love ye… sae muchmo nighean donn.

She smiled into the pillow and didn’t hear another sound until she was awakened the next morning by some sort of subterranean rumbling at her shoulder.

Even sleep went by in a blink.

She turned, his hold on her now loosened, but was met with a mess of red curls instead of the usual sleepy smile.

“Aww, is someone a little hungover?” she giggled, running her fingers through his hair. “Perhaps we should go for a run, hmm?”

“Ye’re too loud,” he mumbled into her collarbone, tightening his arms around her once again as if to still her shaking laughter.

“Murtagh’s right, you really can’t hold your drink.”

An interrogative reverberated through him as he looked up, propping his chin up on her shoulder.

“When did ye—?” He froze and she nodded. “What… what exactly did ye hear?”

She could tease him mercilessly and, God, would it be easy. Wouldn’t leave Annalise alone, would you? Not just a grade school crush, am I? But—

I love ye… sae much, mo nighean donn.

It came unannounced like a dream floating to the surface and rippling away all her other thoughts.

She reached for him, stroking his cheek with her thumb.

“Nothing I didn’t already know.”

There was that sleepy smile she loved waking up to. He leaned in to kiss her but she recoiled immediately at the first whiff of stale alcohol on his breath.

“Aye, I ken, sorry.” He chuckled, flipping back the blankets to get out of bed. “I’ll just brush my teeth, lass, then we can go for our run.”

Claire sat bolt upright, staring dumbfounded at him as he stood from the bed.

“What? No, I was joking.”

He cast her a look before pulling his shirt on.

“I’m not, ye ken that’s my hangover cure.”

“But I’m not hungover!” He was laughing in earnest now and Claire was mourning her missed opportunity to tease him.

“Aye, and I wasna when we went on our first run.” He got up in her face and she pushed him away by the cheek.

“You do know this is going to end with you getting kicked in the shin again, don’t you?”

He rubbed a hand down his jaw and then – goddamm bastard – smirked at her.

“Actually, if memory serves, it’ll end with a kiss.”

He took her head in both hands to quickly, and thoroughly, illustrate his point. Claire pursed her lips against his until he pulled away.

“You smell like the bottom of a wine barrel, you arse!”

“Aye,” he nodded with an infuriatingly disarming grin. “And the sooner ye roll me outside, the sooner we can come back to bed and—”

“Alright!” she conceded, pushing his cheek from her again. “Just go brush your damn teeth!”

“Love ye, mo chridhe,” he called, finally stepping into the bathroom, “sae much.”

Chapter Text

Part Nine: Empty |
Chapter 4
  

It was funny how quickly the body got used to things.

Two weeks ago, he woke up naked, pressed against Claire’s equally naked back, and very nearly shat himself.

Now he woke up next to Claire and very nearly shat himself, but she at least had a nightgown on.

Usually.

Slowly, he tightened his arms around her waist, pressing his chest into her back as she fluttered awake.

“Hmm?”

He rubbed his cheek into her shoulder blade, memorizing the feel of her soft skin against his early morning stubble and that perfect mingling of scents: Lallybroch and Claire, home by every definition.

“I can feel you frowning,” she said, trying to turn around in his arms. He held her where she was, hiding his face in her neck instead.

“When we get back to campus, mo chridhe,” he mumbled into her skin, “I willna be able to hold ye like this.”

“What?”

He let her snap around, making no attempt now to hide the lines of bleak acceptance on his face.

“What are you talking about?” Her hand reached across to cup his cheek and he closed his eyes, smiling faintly at her touch.

“As I recall—” He fought against the downward tug at the corners of his mouth, but lost as she withdrew her hand. “—ye have quite the nosey dorm-mate.”

“…and you have a roommate.” Realization flooded her glass face and he couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Aye,” he said, squeezing her waist.

“Well—we managed before, didn’t we?” she offered, but Jamie scoffed.

“If ye think I can go back to how it was before, mo nighean donn—” He pressed their bodies not-so-subtly together. “—then ye must really not know me at all.”

Now she was chuckling softly, running a feather light hand through his hair, tracing the shell of his ear. He wanted to melt into the mattress and pull her with him, trap them both in this moment with fingers entwined and soft morning smiles frozen in time.

“We’ll figure something out,” she sighed, tucking her head under his chin and slowly wrapping her own hands around him as if drawn by the same supposed finality curdling in his wame.

“Aye, lass.” He kissed the crown of her head, then snuggled his cheek into her hair. “We will.”

Tomorrow they’d pack up their bags. Make the bed, ruin it, and make it up again. Kiss Jenny on the cheek, wee Jamie on the head, embrace Ian and Murtagh, and ruffle up Fergus’ hair.

Tomorrow they’d leave Lallybroch, arrive at school by evening time, and head back to textbooks and roommates and classes the next morning.

Today though, for possibly but hopefully not the last time in a long while, they held each other and let the world turn without them.


Like winter had frozen everything in place, Claire found the front yard of her dormitory unchanged, save for the flood of memories that accompanied the last time she was here.

She turned around, running right into Jamie’s chest with a laugh as she wrapped her arms around his waist and smiled up at him.

His eyes were distant, the deep blue lacking that trademark glint. He’d been just a touch melancholic since yesterday morning. Hell, so had she. Lallybroch, as promised, had quickly become a home for her heart, if only because it was an extension of Jamie. Unconsciously, she rubbed her cheek against the soft tartan scarf Jenny and Ian had given her for Christmas.

Jamie, belatedly, wrapped his own arms around her and chuckled.

“Aye, I remember, mo graidgh,” he said, kissing her forehead. “I love ye too.”

“Well,” she said after a time, “here we are.”

“Aye.” Defeated.

She frowned too now, snuggling her head into the curve of his neck. Jamie hugged her tightly to him for a moment, and then pulled back with a sharp inhale.

“I’ll buy ye breakfast in the morning, mo chridhe,” he said. “And ye dinna even have to run for it.”

“Ha bloody ha.” She looked up and, for once, found no brilliant Fraser grin reflected back at her as their lips pressed together.

“Good night, Jamie.”

“Aye, good night mo nighean donn.” He tucked a curl behind her ear, then took her hand in his and pressed his lips to her knuckles.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, heart quietly shattering when he stood upright and smiled softly at her.

“Sweet dreams, Sassenach…” he said before finally turning to take his leave.

Claire watched him go, willing the winter wind to freeze the whole yard and shelter them from the flow of time.

Five hours later, however, she was glaring at her ceiling, wanting nothing more than sweet dreams. Or any dreams, really.

Or just sleep in general.

Really, Beauchamp,” she grumbled aloud. “You’re acting like a child without her blanket.”

How many nights in twenty-some years had she slept blissfully alone? How could one two-week reprieve systematically destroy two decades worth of easy dreams, let alone the very realexhaustion pulsing in her bones?

She pulled her blankets up to her nose and tried – for the ninth bloody time – to snuggle into her lumpy mattress. But as she turned her head and tried to force herself to sleep through sheer will alone, she couldn’t help but feel like her pillow was suddenly too large.

Like it was meant to be accommodating more than just her, no matter how wild her curls got.

Like it was somehow emptier.

There was a faint whistling noise coming from the window, letting in the smallest of drafts, and that was just enough to pin all of her frustration on.

“Fucking dorm windows. What is all my bloody tuition going to anyway?”

She sat up to direct her anger at the offending glass and frame, but instead felt her heart stutter.

It wasn’t open.

There really was a crack.

She could almost hear him yelling for her, just like he had two weeks ago before—

Before everything.

She shook her head, reaching for her phone and letting out an ungodly groan as she read the time.

2:54 a.m.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Chr—

Her phone pinged, a message notification suddenly blurring the photo of Jamie asleep on her shoulder from the train.

>          What the hell was that? Ye’re not having fun in there without me, are ye?

Claire’s brows drew together.

>          What are you talking about?

>          That was YOU who groaned just now, no? Or have I got the wrong room?

>          What???

>          Could ye come to the door, mnd? I dinna want to be standing out here all night.

She sprung from her blankets and rushed over. There, taking up all the space in her doorway, was her 6-foot Scot standing nonchalantly in the hall.

“What are y—?!”

He pressed a finger to his lips, holding his phone up in the other hand and nodding to her.

She nodded back dumbly, about to type what she was saying when—

>          Can I come in?

She grabbed his sleeve and yanked him into the room, poking her head into the hallway to make sure no one was lurking around.

Satisfied, she closed the door and turned back around to face him.

And was immediately crushed to his chest in a tight hug. A sigh shuddered out of both of them.

“How pathetic are we, lass?” he said in a half-laugh.

“Couldn’t even last a night without me, huh?”

He pulled back to cast an eye down at her.

“Oh, like ye werena just looking at yer phone at 3 a.m. before I texted ye.”

She kissed him to shut him up and was rewarded with that brilliant patented Fraser grin that made her body feel so full of air, she physically rose to her tiptoes as if she would drift up to the ceiling.

“I tried, aye? But the bed felt… wrong. I went for a walk so I wouldna bother John, then I—I sort of…”

“Ended up here?”

“Found myself walking homemo graidgh.”

She was at once thankful for the darkness in the room hiding the touch of pink on her cheeks. Just in case though, she buried her face into his chest, taking in his scent like it hadn’t only been mere hours since they last saw each other.

“Let’s go to bed, Jamie,” she mumbled into his shirt.

“To bed?” he asked, punctuating the question with a slow kiss that had Claire’s bare toes curling under her. “Or to sleepmo chridhe?”

She hummed, but pressed her palms into his chest.

“My 11 a.m. tutorial says to sleep.”

“Verra well, a nighean.” He laughed, kissing her crown as he stepped out of her arms and plopped onto the bed.

She watched him settle himself into the pillows, filling the empty bed space as he patted and squirmed around in the mattress like a dog assessing its new bed. She was giggling the whole time.

By the time he was finished, his back was pressed against the wall, the blankets barely covering him, and his feet just poking out off the mattress.

“Are ye laughing at me?”

“Obviously.”

He made a derisive Scottish noise that completely contradicted the smile on his face.

“Come to bed, mo graidgh,” he said, stretching his arm out to her. “There’s a draft from the window, I’ll warm ye.”

“That’s from the crack you made,” she said in a yawn, practically floating towards the bed.

It took three seconds to slide in and mould her body to his.

Two seconds to kiss him goodnight properly, and snuggle her head into his neck.

One second to fall fully and deeply asleep and in love in his arms.

[End of Part Nine]

Chapter Text

Part Ten: O.K. |
Chapter 1

He was leaning against the brick of the sciences building, watching the pre-med students flood out of the front doors with general disinterest until he spotted—there. A gentle sway of dark curls as she pulled her hair tie loose and ran her slim fingers through the strands.

Her eyes were trained on the ground and he could see her lips moving soundlessly, no doubt reciting what she’d just learned back to herself. So caught up in this recitation, she stumbled right into a smaller girl just clearing the bottom of the steps and Jamie choked on his laugh. Claire looked just as startled as the poor lass, both girls’ cheeks tinting pink as they tried to equally split the blame between them.

Eventually, the other girl scurried off with her books clutched tight to her chest and Jamie was hunched over, hands on knees as he tried to compose himself. He saw a white pair of sneakers stop right in front of him and stood straight, meeting Claire’s still-pink face with a wide grin.

“Ye alright, Sassenach? Didna hurt the puir lass much, did ye?”

Her arms were crossed, weight resting on one hip as she considered him with a pout in an attempt to contradict her blushing cheeks.

“I’m fine, thanks,” she huffed, turning on her heel as if to walk away. “Enjoy dining alone.”

Jamie shook his head, still laughing—

Stubborn, prideful wee thing.

—and rushed to grab her waist from behind, easily lifting her off the ground and she squeaked, trying very hard not to giggle.

“Jamie! Put me down!”

He nuzzled his nose into her neck, lending no ear to her half-hearted insults and the fruitless kicking of her legs.

“Och, c’mon, mo nighean donn, I’ll let ye choose what we’re eating.”

Her legs stilled immediately, and Jamie set her down, turning her towards him with a chuckle.

Stubborn and prideful, yes, but as easy to read as ever.

“What are ye feeling, mo graidgh?”

She tapped a finger to her chin for a moment, then— “Italian?”

“So pizza?”

“You know me so well.”

Their lips met in a messy shared laugh. Claire immediately stepped into his waiting arms, settling her head into the curve of his neck as his arm snaked around her waist. He kissed her forehead as they started walking, footsteps in time with each other.

“So, what news from the John front?”

Jamie snorted.

“None so keen to have a third roommate, as expected. Particularly not one I plan on sleeping with, regularly.” He rolled his Rs till Claire rolled her eyes. 

“And how are ye fairing with the Geillis front?”

“Well, if she knows, she’s not saying anything. And if she’s not saying anything—” She smiled. “—then she knows nothing.”

“Sounds like a success then.”

She didn’t look convinced, though. Jamie squeezed her hip and she gave him a sidelong smile before letting her head fall back on his shoulder.

“The truth is,” she said, playing with Jamie’s fingers at her waist, “it wouldn’t matter really, if she knew. I just…” She turned under his arm to wrap both of hers around his middle. “I don’t want to share you.”

Jamie rose an eyebrow.

“I didna ken Geillis was also a third roommate situation, Sassen—Ow!”

She pinched his rib with a glare.

“Shut up, you know what I mean.”

“Aye, lass,” he chuckled, kissing her crown. “I dinna want to share ye either.”

She sighed, nuzzling her cheek into him.

“So, sneaking back to my place it is then.”

Jamie opened the door to the restaurant for her.

“At least yer doorman is verra fond of me.”

“And verra fond of that 50 you slipped him that first time.”

They sat down at a booth and Jamie waved his hand dismissively.

“Details, lass, details.”

“Oh, speaking of details,” she said, casually flipping open the menu, “you’re holding out on me, Fraser.”

Jamie blinked at her and she rolled her eyes.

“I know for a fact Jenny had her baby and you haven’t shown me a single picture.”

He grinned.

“I was waiting till after we ate, Sassenach.”

C’mooonnn!” She was practically bouncing across the table and half of him wanted to scoop her out of her seat, find a darkened corner, and kiss this insane wonder of a woman senseless.

The arrival of their waiter put a pin in that plan.


She could tell he was still watching her over his slice of pizza. He hadn’t stopped, really, since she gave him his phone back when the food arrived.

No, he hadn’t stopped since they first met. But that was beside the point.

Something damnably unreadable passed over his features while she was scrolling through his phone gallery, gushing over the baby, and it hadn’t left.

She poked at his foot with her own, eyes questioning. But he simply slipped into his usual, pleasantly blank face.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Just…” He shrugged, smile getting just a bit coyer. “Just imagining.”

Claire raised a brow.

“Oh? Imagining what?”

It was a full-blown smirk now.

“Nothin’.”

“Oh really?” Two could play at that game.

She let her foot drift, seemingly aimless, up his shin and he narrowed his eyes at her, lips still upturned in amusement.

“What are ye doing?”

“Nothing.” She shrugged, taking a mouthful of pizza.

He regarded her dubiously but let it alone. Meanwhile, she waited till he took his next bite to slide her foot much higher.

He almost choked and Claire bit the inside of her cheek to keep from bursting.

“Sassenach,” he seethed.

“Hmm? Something wrong with your food?”

Under the table, his hand wrapped around her ankle. Above, his eyes were foreboding.

It was all Claire had not to fall out of their booth laughing, only stopping when his fingers inched up her calf.

“Bit directionally challenged there, darling?”

“Dinna fash, a nighean.” He pressed into her denim, thumb stroking the side of her leg like there was no material between them at all. “I ken exactly where I’m going.”

She wiggled her foot till her ankle rested right between his legs, all the while admiring how stoic he kept his face.

“And where might that be?”

He was cupping the back of her knee now, fingers drumming against her happily.

“To your place, o’ course.”

Her phone rang before she could shoot back a reply. Jamie chuckled, releasing her leg as she slid out of the booth.

“It’s Joe,” she said, walking off to the front door with a wave. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“There are verra few places I’d go without ye, mo chridhe.”

She shook her head at him before stepping into the cool evening air, pressing her phone to her ear.

Hello, Joe? …Hey, what’s—Hm? Sorry? We’re… We’re what? N-no… No, I-I must have forgotten since… But that’s…

She bit her lip as she glanced back at Jamie, sitting blissfully unaware in their booth.

Mhmm, yeah. Okay. Yes… yes, of course. Thanks Joe, we’ll know for sure tomorrow, I guess? …yeah. Alright. I just—SHIT!”

Her lip stung and she tasted the silver blood welling up at the newly punctured skin.

…I don’t know how to tell him.

She had to tell him.

Chapter Text

Part Ten: O.K. |
Chapter 2

He ran his tongue over her scabbed lip, knowing he didn’t have a claim to that particular bite.

Damn prideful, stubborn wee thingDamn her glass face. She’d walked back to the table, white as the snow outside and quick to an unconvincing smile as she urged him back to her residence.

He pressed his whole body into her, sinking them both deeper into the mattress and into each other.

Fuck—mmgh—Jamie!” Her hands clambered across his back as if somehow trying to gather up every part of him and never let go.

“I’m here, mo chridhe,” he rasped into her ear, large hands holding her as tight to him as possible.

Tell me, his body tried to impart to her with every thrust. Tell me so I can make it better.

In the mad race to dissolution, he tried to pull back and watch her fall apart but she dug her fingers into his nape and used his yelp to run her tongue against his, effectively finishing him as they stuttered and pulsed together.

Her hold on him didn’t loosen, even as he gently tried to disentangle from her. One arm was draped down his back from the shoulder, the other buried deep in the roots of his hair, both strategically holding his face away from hers.

“I have to tell you something,” she said softly, finally. The tone of her voice sent gooseflesh running down his arm.

He wound his arms tight around her.

“Are ye alright, mo nighean donn?”

“I’m fine,” she said, slowly running her fingers through his hair. “I just…” She huffed and Jamie didn’t move a single inch, barely breathing so as not to miss a single sound.

“I don’t know for sure, and—and I want to know so… I-I’ll find out tomorrow and then—”

He pulled from her grasp and rose to his elbows, already missing her whisky eyes.

“Tell me tomorrow then, mo graidgh,” he whispered against her lips. “Just tell me ye’re—” We’re. “—okay.”

She nodded furiously.

So her heart still heard his, that was a good sign.

“I love you,” she said, taking hold of his face with both hands. “I love you.”

He tried to smile, but could feel the honest downward tug on his lips, so he pressed them to hers before she could tell the difference.

One day.

He could wait.

“I love ye, Claire, wi’ all my heart.”

He would wait.

One day.

“One goddamn day,” he said to his own dorm room ceiling almost one day later.

In another lifetime he was lying right here, in the same spot on his bed, vainly trying to conjure up that first text message to Claire. More recently, he was staring at this very ceiling in the middle of the night, desperately working out a way to hold her in his arms again.

Today though, every word she’d said spun in mad tornadoes through his brain.

It could be nothing, after all. It could be so entirely inconsequential that he’d later feel stupid for worrying.

But it could just as well be something, anything.

He closed his eyes, but could only see her face as she shuffled back to their table yesterday. Her brows were drawn together, face a confused mix of indecision and… something else, something less severe but not happy enough to wash out the more creeping and insidious emotions.

How could it possibly be nothing when she looked at him like that?

“Oh for Christ’s sake, you scared the shit out of me,” John said as he stepped into the room.

“Grey!” Jamie scrambled to rise from the bed and greet him. “Havena seen ye in a couple days, how—”

John narrowed his eyes at him.

“This again? What’s wrong? What happened?”

Jamie opened his mouth to deny him but stopped on a sigh. He needed another brain for this, and John’s was a prime choice.

“So,” John began after Jamie gave him the full account, sans more private details, “It could be nothing?”

Jamie’s hair was an unsalvageable mess from running his hand through constantly.

“Aye, but—But her face was so…”

John sat on his bed across from Jamie, elbows resting on knees as he let out a long breath.

“Don’t suppose she’s pregnant,” he said with a chuckle.

Jamie’s head snapped up.

The world stopped turning.

“What? Wha—God, is she? Could she be?”

Jamie’s mouth hung open, forming wordless and aimless answers.

He could see her so clearly in their booth last night, lips pursing into a ridiculous face as she played in proxy with the video of wee Maggie on his phone. The sight had struck his heart so suddenly that he watched her scroll through the photos, mesmerized

To say he hadn’t pictured it before would be a lie. He’d pictured it an almost embarrassingly large amount of times. Lost somewhere in that liminal space between sleep and consciousness, were ghostly sensations of small kicks against his open palm on her stomach.

Blurry dreams were orchestrated with soft babbling and Claire humming; painted with a tiny head nuzzled into her neck, no hair colour discernable but the storm of curls unmistakeable.

Could she be?

She wanted to know for sure, that’s what she said. But did she not want him to know unless—?

Unless what? Positive? Negative?

He was about to run his hair right off his head when he finally heard John calling for him.

“Jamie! Hello?!”

“Aye?” he croaked.

The shellshock on Jamie’s face must have been as evident as the concern on John’s.

“I… I was joking,” John offered. “It could be literally anything else.”

“Aye,” Jamie said again. “But it could be—that is—she could be…”

“She could be dyeing her hair blonde, or—”

“Or she could be terrified right now, alone.”

John considered him for a moment and, Jamie thought, was about to say something else, but his roommate shook his head instead.

“Then don’t you have somewhere you should be?”

Jamie nodded, already on his feet.

“Don’t thank me,” John said before Jamie could. “Just go.”

He rushed out the door, sprinting straight to the sciences building with the setting sun at his back.

And he saw her, alone, like a beacon in a white lab coat at the foot of the front stairs.

“Sassenach!”

“Jamie! I was just about to ca—”

He was at her side in an instant, taking her face in his hands and crushing their lips together.

Surprised for half a second, she melted between his palms, her own hand coming up to tangle in his mussed hair and push him closer to her.

She was scared. He could taste it on her tongue, feel it in the urgency of her kiss and the grip she had in his hair.

“I love ye, Claire,” he whispered, so full of every possible feeling that it was suffocating him. “No matter what ye have to tell me, I’ll love ye. And I’ll be right beside ye for as long as ye’ll have me.”

He waited for her smile, for the relief to gently ease her shoulders, for her to shake her head and call him a dork.

It never came.

“We should…” She sighed, fingers tensing against his chest. “We should sit down…”


They sat right where they were standing, at the foot of the cold stone steps. Her arms were wrapped tight around his middle, loathe to let go and let time start moving again.

She fixed her stare at a crack in the asphalt under their feet and took a deep breath.

“Right when school started,” she began, “right before I met you, Joe and I signed up for this—this internship program. It’s… It was a long shot, and I completely forgot about it to be honest, but—But we were chosen.”

“That’s…” He pulled from her arms to face her. “That’s fantastic, lass.”

Something like relief was starting to loosen his shoulders so she shook her head, stopping him.

No. That’s not all of it. It’s not okay yet.

“It’s 6 weeks, the first half of this semester” she said hastily. “It’s—we go to distressed communities and provide any sort of medical aid they need and… and…”

Mo nighean donn,” he said. One large hand cupped her cheek and she swallowed down a sob. “This is incredible, ye’d be a fool to turn it down. And—” He was searching her eyes for some sort of way in, the hidden answer he was so sure he could find. “And I’ll be right here for you, mo chridhe.”

“But that’s just the—”

“I said it before, aye? There are verra few places I’d go without ye.”

Please stop.

“It’s 6 weeks,” she said again, heart breaking at the way his usually wide and smiling mouth bent southward.

He was trying. He was trying so hard to draw her back to him, pouring out his soul in the hopes she could catch just a few drops.

“It’s a once in a lifetime chance,” she mumbled, hearing the words in Joe’s voice, not her own.

“And ye should take it, mo graidgh.” His frown set into a straight line, neither sad nor happy, but serious all the same.

Now or never, Beauchamp. That’s what she’d said before their first kiss.

“Ye must take it. I dinna ken why ye—”

“It’s in the Philippines.”

Chapter Text

Part Ten: O.K. |
Chapter 3

Here he was again in her bed, exactly one day after, holding her in his arms like she might blink right out of existence.

Six weeks... fine.

Half a semester... whatever.

The goddamn other side of the world.

“Claire…”

He didn’t realize he’d said it aloud until she stirred, whisky eyes popping up from under his chin.

“Can I—” He sighed, tucking her head back where it was so she couldn’t see his usually inscrutable mask completely fall apart.

“I want to say something, mo graidgh. But—but after I do, can we pretend I never said it at all?”

He could feel her lips press into his collarbone and he smiled faintly, tightening his arms around her.

What on earth would he do without her?

“…I dinna want ye to go.”

Her lips stuttered and a hand came up to push against his chest so she could properly face him.

“Jamie…”

“Just forget I said it, mo nighean donn. But—but please…” He traced the curve of her cheek. “Dinna forget me, aye?”

Jamie,” she said again, incredulous, “how could I forget you in six weeks?”

“I dinna ken, I just—” His mind was empty, save for the pulsating plea to stay and the reprehensive counterargument that to put limitations on her was to lose her all the same.

“I’ll just miss ye.”

Her eyes swam, or it could’ve been his own tears blurring his vision.

But really it was both.

“How can I tell ye I love ye, then tell ye not to follow yer dream, mo chridhe?”

“You think I won’t miss you too? I couldn’t even last one bloody night without you. But—but…”

He knew what ran through her mind as well as he knew his own heartbeat. She wouldn’t tell him outright but she was just as excited as she was apprehensive to go.

“But ye must go, aye.” He laughed humorlessly, absolving her of whatever guilt was weighing on her heart no matter how it broke his. “As much as I’d like to think otherwise, there are people out there that need ye besides me.”

She smiled, and it was almost enough to be convinced that that could sustain him for the next month and a half.

“I’ll probably be calling you so often, you’ll want to block my number,” she said with a chuckle.

“Promise?”

Now she laughed for real.

“As long as you promise not to actually block me.”

“Never in life, mo graidgh,” he swore, “that would certainly kill me.”

She pressed her lips first to his forehead and then against his.

“And promise you’ll be here when I get back?” she said, much softer. Her fingers were dancing and tangling with the hair by his ear.

“I’ll be right here waiting for ye, mo nighean donn. Ye have my word—” He kissed her again, arms pulling her to him and memorizing the feel of her skin against his palms. “—and my heart, Claire.”

She hummed, looking resolved as she moulded her body back into his and made a small sighing noise not unlike the one Jamie’s heart made.

“Six weeks,” he said to the dark when he was sure she was asleep. “Lord, that she may be safe…”

[End of Part 10]

Chapter Text

Part Eleven: Six Weeks |
Chapter 1

He was so beautiful when he slept.

Waking, he was everything from a roaring bonfire to a single but steady candle, warmth enough for her and only her.

When he slept though, it was like watching a fireplace smolder. Energy dampened for now, but with glowing embers promising its return.

He snored lightly and she stifled a giggle, not yet wanting to break the bubble of peace encasing them from the rest of the world. It was just her and Jamie, and her luggage sitting by the door may has well have been in another universe.

His lips were parted and she waited for that lingering smile that sometimes flickered in and out while he slept.

It never came.

“Because I was happy,” he’d told her.

For what felt like the millionth time in the days since she’d told him about her trip, she felt her heart ache like it was being burnt at both ends.

This was the chance. There was her lighthouse, so close, she could pick out the details, see the doorway even from her small dinghy rocking in the water.

But along the shore, further from the light and deeper in the darkness, there was her single candle, the warm smile beckoning her as clearly as the blinding light in the opposite direction.

“Dinna forget me,” he’d said.

How could she? He said it as if it were possible to somehow separate their souls, discern which piece of the puzzle belonged to whom.

In the grand scheme of things, it was only six weeks. It was only half a semester.

And it was also roughly just less than the length of time they’ve been together.

It would be the longest they’d be apart, and the farthest too.

She laid back on the pillow with a huff. It was the same vain game of back and forth she’d already cycled through a thousand times over.

No doubt feeling her move about, Jamie stirred, groping aimlessly for her in the darkness.

“Time to… go? Mo chridhe?” he mumbled, eyes still closed as she shifted closer to him.

“Not yet, love,” she said, snuggling into his chest and pulling the blankets up like shields from the ticking clock. “We’ve got till morning.”

He hummed, both arms wrapping around her as he sleepily brushed his lips over her forehead.

“Rest, Sassenach,” he said softly, as if talking to his dreams, “I’m here still, and here I’ll stay.”

“You’d better,” she chuckled, pressing her lips to his chest and peering up quickly, just in case—

There.

His lips gently lifted upwards.

So did hers.


Sometime after she fell asleep again, it was Jamie’s turn to stare, frustrated and helpless, at the ceiling.

She was here. In his arms.

And in a few short hours she wouldn’t be.

In her sleep, she’d shifted off of his chest and onto her side, facing him. Her brows were drawn together and he wanted to jump into her dreams and cast away any demons troubling her because, just maybe, that would cast away his too.

She was tired. He really shouldn’t.

But, six weeks…

“Claire…”

He leaned in, kissing her softly, and her eyelids fluttered.

“Mm?”

She was heartbreakingly beautiful.

He could still see her against the pillows in the guest room at Lallybroch on that first night. How she guided his hand over her, how he could feel her quivering under his palm as she brought him lower, closer.

His hand was lightly tracing the same path over her now. A swipe of his thumb across her cheek, a brush against her lips that eased the crease between her brows somewhat.

And then lower, running a finger up her collarbone to where it met her shoulder. Then, down her arm, smoothing over the freshly formed goosebumps as she squirmed slightly, pushing herself towards him.

“Jamie,” she mumbled.

His fingers were inching up her stomach now, feeling it contract and tremble beneath his touch, expectant. Waiting.

At last, he dragged his palm up the underside of her breast, taking firm hold over the thin material of her nightgown. She whimpered, nipple hardening under his palm and he groaned softly.

Mo chridhe,” he said, breathing suddenly strained like the weight of the next six weeks was sitting squarely in the middle of his chest, crushing his heart all the same.

Travelling back down her stomach, he played with the edges of her gown. He ran one finger down her thigh to her knee and then back up, homing in, finally, on the soft glow of heat between her legs.

Lightly, he traced the shape of her, feeling the clench and flutter in time with her tiny gasps and catches of breath. Then he ran one finger through her and groaned again.

Christ, she was wet.

He shot a look at her face, eyes still pleasantly closed but with the smallest of smirks below.

“Oh, aye?”

“Hmmmm?” she drew out, feigning the slow ascent into consciousness.

“Luckily ye chose medicine instead of theatre, Sassenach. Ye’re a terrible actress.”

Her eyes snapped open, mouth just starting to form an insult when he pushed his finger deep into her. Her head shot back, mouth still open but eyes screwed shut.

He eased in and out, following the rocking insistence of her hips and the rise of her moans. She was made like a marble goddess, all long, fine lines and bold, fluid brushstrokes, and she moved – and felt – like silk under his touch.

His thumb pressed into her clit as he added his second finger into her and her arm shot out to muffle her moan into her pillow.

Christ Jesus, mo chridhe.”

“Jamie,” she panted, “plea—hng—please! I want—”

Her other hand groped for him madly, nails digging onto his shoulder for purchase.

“I—I want—inside, Jamie. I want you inside me.”

“No, mo graidh.” Her glare was gold-hued murder. He kissed her and she sunk her teeth into his bottom lip.

“I want to watch ye, Claire,” he said into her ear, increasing his speed and drawing tight circles around her clit as she near-sobbed into his neck.

He could feel it. That spiraling fire in perfect asymmetry with the fresh moisture coating his fingers.

He pressed his lips to hers quickly and then pulled back, fingers still working her, so he could watch her shatter.

Her head tossed back and forth, and she evidently didn’t care much if Geillis, the doorman, or all of campus heard her calling for him.

That sound. That sight.

The final clench and shudder and sigh of his name in pure rapture. The perfect curve of her body as it arced off the bed in search of his.

He knew nothing on earth, save for her arms around him and her lips on his, could ever truly sustain his soul for the next six weeks.

But that came pretty damn close.

Chapter Text

Part Eleven: Six Weeks |
Chapter 2

Kissing Jamie always seemed to stop time.

Which is why they were likely scandalizing the other people at the airport drop off.

She tried to pull away – honestly – multiple times, but his fingers tensed at her waist every time, and her grip in his hair refused to loosen.

Mo nighean donn,” he murmured finally as they broke for air.

Their foreheads were pressed together, unwilling to break contact for even a second.

“I’ll call you as soon as I get settled. Oh, but…” She looked away briefly, calculating the time difference from her likely arrival time. “I’m not sure when that’ll—”

“Doesna matter.” His hand drew her face back to him, insistent. “Call.”

She smiled. She’d promised, after all, to call until he was thoroughly sick of her and he’d promised in turn not to block her number.

He tucked a curl behind her ear, tracing the curve of her cheek with his thumb as if reminding her, and they both sighed.

“Do you want me to bring anything back for you?”

She could see the honest answer in his eyes before he could reply.

“Just my heart back, Sassenach, preferably in one piece, aye?”

“A romantic and cost-efficient,” she laughed. “Lord knows what I did to deserve you.”

He chuckled but she could tell there were a million other things he’d like to say instead.

“Hey,” she said softly, nudging his nose with hers. “I’ll be back by spring break. Got any plans?”

He brightened a little at that, fingers discretely pressing into her waist.

“Cost-efficient ones, to be sure,” he said, eyebrow raising, “involving naught but a bed and a week of no classes.”

Her cheeks flushed, damn him. But also damn her, since she’d walked headlong into that one.

“I’ll hold you to that, James Fraser.”

“Ye’ll have to come home first.” He sighed, looking at her like the blue in his eyes might somehow compel her to thread their fingers together and walk right out of the airport.

“Come back to me, Claire Beauchamp.”

“Wait for me?” she near-whispered against his lips.

“Right where ye left me, mo nighean donn.”

“I love you, Jamie.”

His smile was so small Claire could barely discern it from a frown. She brought his mouth back to hers, threading her fingers not with his own, but into his hair to root him to her for however long they had left.

“Claire!” Some distance away, Joe was calling. “It’s time to go.”

Jamie’s grip on her tightened so suddenly she winced as they broke apart.

Tha gaol agam ort, mo Sorcha,” he said in a breath, eyes still closed.

“What does that mean?”

His eyes opened slowly and then, just as slowly, his face melted into that sweet smile she feared she’d have to wait six weeks to see again.

“I’ll tell ye when ye get back.”

She tucked her head under his chin and squeezed her arms around him. Above, she felt him turn his head in Joe’s direction.

“I’m leaving her to ye, Abernathy,” he said. “I’m sure I dinna have to tell ye no’ to get in this one’s way when she starts chargin’.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Oh, I’m quite familiar with the protocol, Fraser.”

Excuse me!

Jamie caught her hand before it could jab his stomach and pressed his lips hard to her knuckles.

“Time to go be a superhero, lass. I’ll talk to ye soon.”

His hand leaving hers felt like something tugging deep inside her, even as she walked off to the gate with Joe.

It was an elastic pull between them, and she could only hope it was durable enough to stretch halfway across the world.

Chapter Text

Part Eleven: Six Weeks |
Chapter 3

James Fraser had never been tortured but – as he relayed to John and watched his roommate nearly roll his eyes out of their sockets – the hours after Claire’s plane departed were the slowest, oddest form of delayed anxiety he’d ever experienced.

The honest truth was he was fine for the first few hours. He even went to bed with reasonable peace, though that might’ve been because of the bone-deep exhaustion from steeling the insistent urge to lift her over his shoulder and stroll right out of the airport.

It wasn’t until he’d lost signal walking from his last evening class to the dorms that his carefully constructed walls started crumbling around him. Numbers spun madly in his head, trying to calculate her arrival time and the time difference all at once. He ended up sprinting back to his building and bursting into the room, sweaty and frantically searching for a Wi-Fi connection.

Connected, and no missed calls.

He fell hard onto his bed, grateful that John wasn’t in the room to see him like this. It was burden enough on Jamie’s own soul, he’d hate to burden John anymore than he already did.

He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep, the only tried and tested way to make the days move faster.

Hours later, the buzzing in his hand jolted him awake. He scrambled out of bed, checking if John had waken up as he hastily made his way out the door.

Shaking fingers, slow from sleep, unlocked his phone and the sight of her had him slumping back against the wall, sliding his back down until he was sitting on the hallway floor.

Mo graidgh.”

Hair tied back in a high ponytail, which was novel and made her look like she was about to wash her face. Her eyes were drooping slightly, looking as tired as he was, but she smiled at the sight of him.

“Jamie, how—” She stopped to frown. “Shit, what time is it there? Do you—Did I wake you?”

“Doesna matter, mo chridhe. How are ye? Have ye settled? How is it there?”

Her smile returned, no doubt amused at his pressing eagerness.

“It’s bloody boiling,” she laughed, hair swishing behind her like a personal tail.

Dhia, her laugh crashed against him, washing away any lasting exhaustion from the past days in its wake.

“Ye’ll come back to me all bronzed, lass.” He was already imagining the heat radiating off her typically cool skin.

He’d have to reacquaint himself with the planes and valleys of her body.

“Burnt more like!” Press his fingers to her skin and see the lasting imprint. “God, getting off the plane was like a blowtorch to the face.”

That snapped him out of his wee plans to laugh.

“Best get used to it, lass, or it’ll be a rough 40 days.”

“It’s certainly not Scotland, and the humidity is murder on my hair.”

“But…?” He raised an eyebrow at her, gently routing her thoughts to their intended destination. Her answering smile thanked him for knowing her so well.

“But damn me if it isn’t gorgeous here.”

He grinned, watching her animatedly describe the various places she’d seen… in the travel magazine on the plane.

Silly wee thing.

Intramuros. Boracay. Names of places she’d asked the flight attendant to help her pronounce. He let his mind wander over the sights she painted for him as his eyes wandered over her face and hands as she spoke, assessing and cataloguing to inform his dreams later on.

“Hang on—”

He’d stopped her halfway through a description of the young woman who’d offered to host her during the trip.

“What?” She blinked, brows furrowing at the quiver in Jamie’s lip 

“What uh, what shirt are ye wearin’, Sassenach?”

“Hmm?” She peered down. “It’s a school shirt.”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded solemnly. “And is it yours?”

The corner of her mouth quirked up as she caught on.

“I go to the university, don’t I? I should have a university shirt.”

“Mm, and do ye often buy shirts three sizes too big, mo nighean donn?

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “Or maybe I saw it just lying there in the corner of my room while I was packing.

“Ye didna seem to have much problem wi’ it when ye tore it off my back, mo chridhe.”

Christ, how he longed to wipe that smirk off her lips with his own. But in an instant, it softened as she bent her head and absently rubbed her cheek against the shoulder.

“It smells like you,” she muttered.

“Oh.” His heart slammed against his chest before stopping completely. “Oh, mo graidgh.

He could feel the tension run down his arm, fighting the urge to reach up and stroke her cheek as if he could somehow melt through the screen and across the continent to pull her close to him.

“Then that’s my gift to ye, Sassenach,” he croaked, swallowing down buckets full of trembling emotion. “So ye can feel me holdin’ ye, even though I canna at the moment.”

Her cheeks tinted pink and, grainy as it was on his phone screen, it was enough to restart his heart. He could feel the slow and sure thump pulsing through him as if assuring him he could make it another day.

Or week.

Or six.

“I love ye, mo nighean donn.”

“I love you too,” she said, face suddenly straightening out. “You should sleep, love.”

His face straightened too.

“Nay, mo chridhe,” he replied hastily. “I want to keep talkin’ to ye and—”

“I’ll call again, Jamie,” she chuckled. “But you have class in the morning.”

“But—”

“Sleep, love,” she said softly. The mere sound of her voice was seemingly pulling him into dreams, if only because in dreams he could wrap his arms around her and hold her close.

His eyelids drooped, and the white noise of the fluorescents above buzzed in his ear so distractingly that he couldn’t make out Claire admonishing him for sleeping in the middle of the hallway.

All he heard, above the noise and the deep pull of Dream-Claire’s arms, was his Claire – laughing incredulously at him – as she bade him good night.


“Who’s that?”

Claire’s shoulders shot up, turning quickly to the door of her room only to see a small 7-year-old girl in some sort of school uniform poking her head into the frame. Her face, cheeks filled with lasting baby fat, was screwed up in question.

“Ay, Angie, leave Miss Claire alone, ah?”

Appearing at the door as well was the slim figure of Claire’s gracious host, Rose, yanking at the collar of her younger sister’s white shirt.

Angie – Angelica, as she’d been introduced earlier – squirmed out of her sister’s grasp and stumbled towards the bed where Claire was sitting.

Claire smiled, endeared.

“It’s quite alright, I don’t mind.”

The young girl giggled.

“You talk funny, Miss!”

“You should hear my boyfriend then,” she shot back with a wide grin.

“Is that him?” Small hands pointed to Claire’s new lock screen – a beautiful candid shot from Ian of her and Jamie laughing together in the snow at Lallybroch.

Ikaw talaga,” Rose sighed, muttering to herself and shaking her head as she walked over. “You have school, and Claire needs to sleep.”

“He’s handsome,” Angie chirped, turning to her sister. “See AteParang Prince Charming!”

That was enough for Claire to laugh, sending Angie into a stronger fit of giggles.

“That makes you the prinsesa, Ate Claire!”

Rose rolled her eyes, but smiled anyway.

“Cute naman.” She nodded at Claire. “And his hair.

Natural redheads would likely be a shock, Claire thought. So far, she’d only seen shades of brown and black – with the occasional dye job – around town. Rose’s hair was streaked with highlights, which brought out her younger features, but was just as dark a brown as Claire’s.

And she was young, likely Claire’s age or just a bit younger. She lived alone with her sister and – Claire had learned – often housed international students, acting as both host and guide to earn money.

Next door, Joe was set up in a similar household, and Claire hoped he was settling in well.

“Okay,” Rose said with a clap of her hands, getting Angie’s attention. “You have school and Ate Claire has to rest.”

“But—”

A pointed look from her sister had Angie puffing out her cheeks and dragging her feet to the door.

“Sleep if you can. Dinner will be done when you wake up,” Rose said, ushering Angie out with an apologetic wave to Claire.

“Thank you, really,” Claire replied with a humble incline of the head. “I do appreciate it.”

“Ay, it’s nothing.”

Claire waved them off with a smile, watching the light from the hallway narrow against the wood floor until the room dimmed, dark curtains drawn so she could sleep.

In the dark, despite the sun and heat outside, she pressed herself into the mattress and pulled the thin blanket over her. The whirring from the electric fan covered her sigh as she coiled her arms around her waist, pulling her legs up to her chest.

The heat wafting over her skin was new. The smell of detergent lingering on the fresh sheets was different.

But the smell on her shirt, and the imagined arms around her…

That was home.

[End of Part Eleven]

Chapter Text

Part Twelve: Message Received |
Chapter 1

Slim fingers were skimming down his bare arm as tuneless humming pulled him slowly out of sleep.

“Sassenach?”

He was answered by tiny butterfly kisses brushing against his nape and between his shoulder blades. He shivered pleasantly, turning to meet his favourite shade of whisky.

“Hi,” she said softly, nudging his nose with hers.

Mo chridhe,” he whispered, cupping her cheek before pulling her lips to his.

He couldn’t place the feeling – not that he ever could with any great certainty – but something desperate inside had him pressing his fingers into her skin, lips recklessly insisting against hers.

“What's the matter, love?” She was giggling. “Have any big plans today?”

“Hmm?” He pulled away to look at her, finally taking in the space around them.

“This isn’t yer room…”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“No, of course not.”

“This is—”

And just as the familiar scent of Lallybroch wafted past him, he woke up.

In his dorm room.

Alone.

“Go to class,” John ordered from somewhere nearby.

Well, nearly alone.

“Aye, ye dinna need to keep remindin’ me,” Jamie groaned, pushing his face into the pillow.

“Yes I do,” John called as he shut the door behind him.

Jamie stayed pressed into his bed a moment longer, trying to draw Dream-Claire back to him. But like John, she was gone for the day.

He reached for his phone on the nightstand, arm heavy and reluctant from sleep. 

 >          Morning,

 >          Or, good night in yer case.

He waited for the small notification telling him the messages were delivered, but – like the last 20 or so he'd sent in the past few weeks – it never came.

She was in the thick of it now, he knew. She and Joe had spent a few days in Manila to acclimate themselves before driving to rural areas in a province called Cavite. Wherever they were, cell service was sparse or she was busy, but likely both. She’d spend most of the 6 weeks there and Jamie was feeling the weight of it all.

He hadn’t heard her voice or seen her face, save in pictures, for weeks.

But that didn’t stop him from texting her, a far cry from his attempt at not seeming too eager early in their courtship. Those blank little circles mocked him, telling him no – no matter how much he wished – she  hadn’t seen any of his messages.

He knew her well enough to expect more exasperation than apology when all 28 messages finally reached her. She’d roll her eyes at him, tease him about the sheer neediness of it all, and he was certain some sort of dog metaphor would be used.

But it didn’t matter what she said.

He just needed to see her.

By evening time, 28 had turned to 31. But only because the diner they had their first date in finally updated their beer selection and Jamie was sure she would want to know that.

“James Fraser, ye truly are a mess.” He sighed, running a tired hand down his face as he walked back to the dorms.

His ringtone barely made it through two notes before it was squashed against his ear.

“Claire?!”

“Ah, so she hasn’t called then,” Jenny’s pointed voice said through the phone.

“Nay,” Jamie said, matching her tone.

“And neither have you, brother.”

“What?”

“Ye haven’t called in weeks either.”

“Well, ye can imagine I’d rather keep this line open, ye ken?”

“Ye’re actin’ like a child, Jamie.” Never a spoonful of sugar type of person, his sister. “What would Claire say if she saw ye moping about like ye are.”

“Ye dinna ken I’m moping about!”

“Oh aye, I do. Ye like to think ye can hide whatever ye’re feeling but I’m no’ Claire. I can hear yer heart in yer voice alone.”

He made a grunting noise and Jenny sighed.

“This is her job aye? This is what she’s wanted to do since before she met ye.”

“I know! I just mi—"

“Miss her, I ken. But ye love her, no?”

Jamie blinked.

“O-of course.”

“And ye plan on spending yer life wi’ her?”

His face burned. Always trust a Fraser not to pull punches.

“...aye.”

“Then what’s a few weeks ye wee fool?! The world kens she’s just as mad about ye as ye are for her. She’ll come back to ye so just suck it up and wait.”

He was silent long enough for any other person to think he’d hung up, but not Jenny.

Then he chuckled.

“Ye’re quite enjoying my plight, aren’t ye?”

“I dinna ken what ye mean, dear brother.” Her voice was laced with a smile.

“Verra well, Jenny,” he said. “But if I can wait on Claire to call, surely ye can wait on mine, no?”

“No,” she said before hanging up.

Jamie shook his head and – though he thought against it – opened up his and Claire’s message history.

 >          I expect ye’ll be overwhelmed by the messages when ye get them. Apologies, lass. But, if ye read any at all, I hope it's this one. I love ye, and I’m proud of ye. I miss ye, aye, but I’ll be waiting right here for ye when ye return.

He nodded, resolved, and was about to slide his phone into his pocket when—

One by one, the checkmarks in the corner of his messages lit up and turned blue.

“Claire...?”

She was reading them.

Then, below what had essentially been his diary for the past few weeks, three tiny dots bubbled up.

He held his breath, waiting – as he had been for weeks – on her reply.

Chapter Text

It had taken Claire roughly two decades to find a place she could confidently call home, a place she could pin her heart to and refill her soul regardless of how exams, classes, or life in general drained her.

And that place was Jamie.

Nothing else on earth smoothed the static tremors of her life like the way his large hand squeezed her waist or the feel of his lips on her forehead.

At the moment though, the prospect of a softer bed and Rose’s cooking after weeks of work came pretty close.

She drummed her fingers against the armrest, dispassionately staring at the bumper-to-bumper traffic she’d quickly become accustomed to. The closer they got to Manila, the less it felt like nighttime as the neon glow of billboards and giant shopping malls lit the highways and reflected off the shiny, brightly coloured Jeepney buses.

Joe, in the seat next to her, patted her shoulder before leaning over to one of their mentors in the front seat.

“He’s got that pocket Wi-Fi thing,” he said, turning back to Claire. “We’re finally in range again.”

She nodded in thanks, thoughts floating anchorless as her body slowly came down from the adrenaline she’d ran on the last few days.

Within seconds of connecting, her phone buzzed so incessantly she thought she was getting a call, but the only Jamie she saw was the one frozen in time at Lallybroch on her lock screen.

It made sense, of course. They’d been off-grid for a while, who knew what kind of emails and notifications they’d missed?

She was heading straight for Jamie’s message history when the car pulled off the highway and down towards Rose’s neighbourhood.

Slipping her phone in her pocket for now, she and Joe slid out of the car once it pulled over.

She waited on Joe to grab the bags from the trunk, thumbing back and forth through her apps till she saw it.

31.

31 messages from Jamie in a small red circle on top of the app.

All manner of anxiety flushed through her. She’d expected a few, but to send 31 required just a bit more intent. Could she have missed an emergency?

Joe’s voice stopped her from opening the app, coming over with her bags.

“You okay there, LJ?”

“We’re fine,” she said quickly, locking her phone.

“I asked if you were okay,” he said, regarding her with raised brows.

“A-and, that’s what I said, I’m fine.”

He nodded slowly.

“I just mean, y’know, I know you and that kid were close…”

She bit down hard on her cheek. Inhaling quickly, she gathered up her bags.

“I’m fine,” she said, nodding to convince the both of them.

“Get some rest, Lady Jane,” he said, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “You’ve earned it.”

She smiled at that.

“You too, Joe. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Rest sounded heavenly. This level of exhaustion, she’d quickly learned, was fast to call dreams to her and made it much easier to imagine the small arms she hugged tightly to her waist were Jamie’s instead.

It was two even smaller arms wrapping around her when she walked into the house, though.

“You’re back!”

She held Angie to her for a moment, one hand coming up to bring her close, and finding her backpack instead of her back.

Claire looked up as Rose walked into the doorway, keys on hand.

“I’m working tonight,” she said after hugging Claire too. “Angie’s going to stay with a friend.”

“But I don’t wanna go to Tita Lina’s if Ate Claire’s here!” Despite her protests, she ended on a yawn and Claire smiled, leaning down to rub her cheek.

“I’ll tell you all about my trip tomorrow, okay?”

Tantrum successfully avoided, Claire waved the two sisters off and locked the door, waiting until she was completely alone to melt into the couch.

It started as a sigh, but in no time turned into hot tears streaming soundlessly down her cheeks.

There was nothing she could do. Nothing at all.

She dragged her feet to the bathroom, not bothering to assess the damage in the mirror as she stripped and got into the shower.

The cool water was an unmitigated blessing, doing well to ease the weight of those last few days in Cavite.

Settling into bed in just a shirt – not Jamie’s, because the scent had long since been washed away – she was ready to let dreamless sleep pull her in.

Her phone pinged and her eyes shot open again.

31 messages she’d momentarily forgotten had now turned to 32.

 >         I expect ye’ll be overwhelmed by the messages when ye get them. Apologies, lass. But, if ye read any at all, I hope it's this one. I love ye, and I’m proud of ye. I miss ye, aye, but I’ll be waiting right here for ye when ye return.

How the bloody hell did he do that? From halfway across the world no less.

She skimmed through the other messages, feeling the tears bubbling anew. But below, her smile was trembling much like her fingers as she wobbly typed a reply.

 >           Busy? Can I call?

She’d barely taken a breath after clicking send when—

 >          5 min, mo graidgh.


He sprinted back to the dorms, nearly crashing into John at the door of the room.

“Lost Wi-Fi again?”

Nay, we—” He stopped, looking his roommate up and down. “Where are ye off to?”

“Chess club,” he replied, “And I’ll probably stay over at a friend’s tonight so don’t wait up.”

Jamie waved him off, watching his roommate’s back walk down the hallway with increasing curiosity, but a squeeze to his phone – like the squeeze of her hand in his – reminded him.

He sat on his bed, watching the call connect and already imagining her smile, her laugh as she shook her head at him.

“32 messages, James Fraser?! Are you quite insane?”

When he actually saw her, his entire body tensed.

“Jamie,” she said, attempting so much less than the smile he’d expected.

“Claire… What’s wrong, mo chridhe?”

“Wrong? N-nothing’s—”

“Ye’ve been crying, lass.”

He could almost see her trying to pull a feeble excuse from the thoughts swirling around her head. Then, she sighed.

“What’s happened, mo graidgh?”

Tears were precariously balanced on her lashes. She took a breath and – to his surprise – smiled at him.

“I bloody love you, you know? I just got your messages.”

His cheeks pinked but he said nothing, his eyes gently urging her towards an explanation.

She swallowed, understanding, before she started again.

“There was a little boy, Elijah.” She smiled faintly. “We all called him Eli…”

She’d worked and lived at a centre in rural Cavite, providing any medical assistance needed in the morning and teaching health lessons to locals in the afternoons with Joe taking the opposite shift.

Eli had been a particularly frequent and particularly young student amid mostly teenagers and adults. Only 6-years-old or so, he’d had the kind of bright-eyed curiosity and eagerness that would undoubtedly draw Claire to him.

“He’d want to carry my medical bag everywhere, even though it was basically half his size,” she chuckled. “Followed me around like a little chick so often, Joe started calling him my tail. And he’d have all kinds of questions. We could barely understand each other at first but he was—was so smart and—”

“What happened to him?” He could see her slowly collapsing into herself and his heart physically ached, yearning to break out of his chest and fly across the world just to comfort hers.

“I was getting ready for my second shift on our last day there and I saw a woman talking to one of our supervisors. She was… she was crying, trying to explain something in Tagalog I couldn’t understand and then—I… Eli didn’t show up for class.”

She took a breath and Jamie simply watched her try to ground herself, wanting nothing more than to reach through his phone, take her face in his hands and kiss her tears away.

Hush now, love. Dinna cry, my heart, my brown-haired lass, I’m here,” he murmured in Gaelic.

“Dengue fever,” she said after a time. “It was sudden. It was fatal. It was—It’s—” She sniffed, despair shifting into frustration. “—we have medicine that could have eased the pain or— Or we… I could have—”

“Christ Claire…” He crossed himself. “I’m so verra sorry, mo chridhe.”

“I could have done something. I should have. I just didn’t… No one knew and—”

“And that’s no’ yer fault, mo nighean donn. None of it was yer fault.”

“I… I just—”

She knuckled away her tears, doing what Jamie wished he could. Every inch of him was on edge, straining to break across borders, distance, time itself to get to her, to tuck her into his chest and shelter her from the rest of the world.  His palms were sweaty from both his sprint to the dorm and the sheer will to keep himself from jumping on a plane and flying to her side this very moment.

“I miss you, love,” she said, sounding thoroughly shattered – exactly like his heart. “I… I need—”

“Anything. Anything at all.”

“I need you, Jamie.”

His phone nearly slipped out of his hand.

Chapter Text

Part Twelve: Message Received |
Chapter 3

The fact that she’d said it before realizing didn’t make it any less true.

You, Jamie, I don’t know how but—”

She was in a boat, with the lighthouse down the shoreline slicing intermittent streams through the thick fog around her. The waves rocked the small dinghy back and forth in strong lurches that had her clutching the rough wooden edge with white knuckles.

But there—

She could see her steady candle flickering in the wind, ghostly and faint compared to the faraway lighthouse, but a beacon nonetheless.

“Please, love?”

She saw understanding flash past his eyes right before his face went blank.

“Ye mean…” He swallowed slowly, schooling his face to hide whatever trepidation or – possibly, hopefully? – the very same need she felt.

“Ye’re hurting, Sassenach. Are ye sure ye—?”

She nodded, feeling anchorless in the storm winds of thoughts around her. She’d spent the past weeks working herself to exhaustion, not because of the weight of the work, not entirely. It was just easier to fall into dreamless sleep when her body gave out, easier not to imagine – not to demand – Jamie there.

“Please,” she said, willing his heart to hear hers. “Please, Jamie.”

Always, mo nighean donn, that’s what the echo of his voice whispered to her on the edge of sleep.

She watched him study her through the phone screen, nearly frozen save for his eyes scanning her face.

And then he sighed, ending on a heart-stopping smile.

Christ, I missed ye, mo graidgh.”

She laughed, the feeling seeming unnatural with tears barely dried on her cheek

“But I dinna ken how to—" He chuckled shakily. “I’ve never done this before, aye?”

Her cheeks pinked. Getting him to agree was one hurdle successfully managed, actually getting to the task at hand was something else entirely.

She hadn’t either, and she told him as much. They stared at each other, willing and able but unsure.

“Just, um, tell me what you would do if you were here—or I was there.”

He raised a brow.

“What I would do?” She saw him settle back into the headboard as he considered, and her heart tumbled, picturing all the times he’d lay back and pull her to straddle over him.

Willing and able, indeed.

“I’ve given much thought as to what I want to do to ye once ye’re within arms reach, mo nighean donn.”

She shivered. How long had it been since she heard that timbre in his voice? The low rumbling that shot right to her core and was already dispelling the clouds in her head.

“Tell me about those Spring Break plans of yours.”

He smiled at her, resting a hand behind his head. He looked like a goddamn magazine cover framed on her phone. Fighting the urge to screencap it, she turned to lean against the wall, her legs swinging off the side of the bed.

“I imagine we’ll no’ be leaving yer room, save to eat of course.”

“There’s always delivery.”

“As clever as ye are beautiful, mo graidgh. Just so, I suppose I’ll begin by running my hands up your arms, and over yer neck, and into yer lovely hair, my Sassenach.”

She could tell he’d truly given much thought to it, if the excess of pet names were any indication.

“I haven’t kissed you in weeks, Jamie.”

“We’ll have to make up for lost time, aye?” His eyes darkened. “And I intend to.”

She hummed as she squirmed in the bed, her other hand drifting lazily but intently down her stomach.

Christmo chridhe—!”

She hummed in response as her fingers lightly traced the outer shape of her, mimicking what Jamie had done the night she left.

Dhia…” His voice dropped to a whisper when he noticed.

“Are ye wet, Claire?” She saw him lick his lips and if she wasn’t before, she certainly was now.

“Keep going, love,” she said softly, fingers slowly rubbing against the slick and urgent ache between her legs.

“What I wouldn’t give to—” He swallowed. “—to touch ye, mo nighean donn. Take yer breast in my mouth and run my hands down the length of yer body.”

Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the heartache, or the mere fact that it had been a month since she’d seen him last, but his words – his voice – rippled through her skin and enveloped her like a blanket.

God, if she could touch him again. Claim his mouth, bite into his collarbone and mark him as hers. Hold the heat of him in her hand again and watch his eyes narrow into blue slits like—

Like they were doing right now.

“Decided to join in, eh?” she laughed.

His face had gone stoic, eyes piercing through her ribcage and straight to her heart.

“Ye’re no’ wearin’ my shirt.”

“Washed it too many times, why? Mmph—what are you picturing?”

“’Tis not gentlemanly to say,” he said after a time.

Not being a gentleman herself, she could tell him what she was picturing.

She’d drag him right to her room when she got back. They’d been apart so long, she wondered if he’d bother stripping down at all before falling into the bed.

Or would they even make it to the bed? She could lean against the door and pull him over her. He’d groan into her hair as his length pressed into her thigh. She’d hop into his arms and wrap her legs around his hips, desperate for that delicious friction between them as he pushed her into the door.

She could almost feel his large hands pressing into her waist, dragging up her back to clasp her neck and urge her mouth back to his.

Jesus God, Claire!”

She slid two fingers into her, wishing they were anywhere close to the thick, rigid feel of his cock.

She moaned and heard him echo it.

“Are ye—mmgh—are ye close, mo chridhe?”

She answered with another moan, fingers working in time with the increasing speed of his breathing.

“Come for me, mo graidgh,” he groaned. “Tell the whole country—ahh—who ye belong to.”

Two hearts, separated by thousands of miles, burst in time with each other, Claire just barely hearing Jamie finish as his name tore through her and set off into the night, clearing the last of the storm clouds circling in her mind.

It was Jamie’s soft chuckle that brought her back to reality.

“What was that, love?”

Their eyes locked through the phone, her face still flushed and his pulling a sheepish grimace.

“Can I—” He cleared his throat. “I’ll call ye back in a minute, Sassenach, aye?”

Giggles bubbled up through her, undone by the swell of emotions and hormones still swimming through her system.

“Got a bit of cleaning up to do?” She dissolved into full-bellied laughs, kicking her legs up as she fell back onto the bed.

She expected him to roll his eyes, make some wry comment about cackling witches or something of the like.

Instead, she heard—

“It’s so good to hear ye laugh, Claire.”

Her heart throbbed and she smiled at him, blowing a kiss into the phone camera.

“Come back to me, James Fraser.”

“One minute, mo chridhe.

Chapter Text

Part Twelve: Message Received |
Chapter 4

"Ah dhia, ye look so bonny, mo nighean donn.

Her face when she answered the phone was the same one that brightened his dreams every night. Except this one, here before him, was real, alive, and still slightly flushed from their earlier activities.

“I forgot to tell ye something, aye? When we were…”

“Oh, did you now?”

“Aye,” he said resolutely. “The verra first thing I would do if ye were here with me.”

“And what’s that?”

Her smile turned into a smirk, but his softened.

“I’d take ye in my arms, mo nighean donn, pull ye to my chest and hold ye till yer heart stops hurting.”

His words struck her, he could see it all over her face, then she softened too.

“You don’t need to hold me to do that, Jamie,” she said softly.

“Aye, but I like to, ken?”

They both laughed, overflowing with every feeling they’d held back the past month.

“John didn’t hear all of that, I hope?”

“Nay, dinna fash, lass. He’s staying at a friend’s tonight.”

“A friend’s? Really?”

“Aye, I ken.”

They shared a look, then burst once again into laughter like gossiping schoolchildren.

“And you, Claire, are ye no’ staying with a woman and her wee lassie?”

“Gone for the night,” she said with a shrug, “should be back sometime tomorrow.”

He scoffed and she narrowed her eyes at him.

“What?”

“’Tis an odd string of coincidences that pulled us back together, no?”

“The stars must have aligned just for us, love.”

“Aye, and—Hang on—”

“Hmm?”

He broke into a wide grin.

“Ye’ll be back next week, aye?”

The look on her face told him the thought had slipped her mind too.

“I-I will, that’s right.” Her own grin at him then blew his out of the water.

“One week,” he said again, almost incredulous. “Just one.”

“One week till—” She yawned. “—till we can do all of that in person.”

Jamie clicked his tongue.

“Och, time for ye to go to sleep, lass. ‘Tis nearly morning where ye are.”

“No…” She shook her head, curls swaying to and fro as one hand came up to rub her eyes like a child. “No I want to keep talking to y—”

“I’m no’ going anywhere, and ye need yer rest, mo chridhe.”

She smiled sleepily at him.

“I love you, Jamie.”

“I love ye too, mo nighean donn. And I’ll speak to ye again soon, aye?”

She lay back in the bed, curls hitting the pillow with a poof like a halo around her head.

“Good night, my love.”

“Good morningmo graidgh.

It didn’t take long for sleep to take him too. He awoke the next morning more rested than he’d been in a long while.

He was already dressed for class when John walked into the room.

“You’re awake.”

“Verra astute of ye, Grey. And how was yer night?”

“Fine,” he said, neatly sidestepping the question in favour of his own. “You’re a lot happier. Claire called, I take it?”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded, then turned to face John fully. “And I wanted to apologize to ye, John.”

“For what exactly?”

“I’ve been a right mess this past month, and ye’ve done nothing but be there for me, makin’ sure I went to class and such. I appreciate it, truly.” He walked over to put a hand on John’s shoulder, looking straight at him. “I’m sorry, aye? For everythin’ I put ye through.”

“Likely not everything,” John muttered, but Jamie hadn’t heard.

His phone was ringing.

“Claire again?” Jamie said, eyeing the Caller ID. It was a voice call, not a video. “What time is it there?”

John sighed, silently stepping aside to let Jamie out of the door. Jamie waved in thanks as he walked into the hallway and closed the door behind him.

Mo chridhe? Hello?” he said, pressing the phone to his ear.

“Hello? Jamie? It’s Joe.”

“Abernathy…?” His brows furrowed, tension running down his body at the tone of Joe’s voice. “Where’s—?”

“I need you to listen to me.”

He could just barely hear Joe above a child crying in the background and the general hustling sound of an emergency, cars honking, wails of sirens and shouts of words he couldn’t understand.

Something sharp and cold churned in his stomach.

“Where’s—?”

“Jamie, listen,” said Joe. “There’s been an accident.”

“Accident? Where’s Cla—?”

…that’s right, Elizabeth B-E-A-U…” Joe was speaking to someone else. “Jamie, I’ll call you back as soon as I can, okay? The ambulance is here.”

“Ambulance?! Aberna—Joe! JOE!”

Jamie heard nothing save for the dial tone of a dropped call.

And the clack of his phone hitting the floor as he flung it from his hand and collapsed against the door frame.

[End of Part 12]

Chapter Text

Part Thirteen: Bad Luck |
Chapter 1

All that mattered was Jamie, getting home to Jamie, running back to Jamie.

But in that split second it was Angie.

“Ate Claire, I’m back!”

Claire caught the flash of bright Jeepney colours just in time as she turned around, sprinting from the front door to the road faster than her mind could keep up.

“Angie—NO!”

But now it was Jamie again. Her brain was hazy, but she was still biting her lower lip into oblivion as she watched the call try to connect.

It was technically impossible to hear someone else’s heart shatter, but only slightly less so when it broke in time with your own.

Gaelic tumbled from his lips in a breath when he saw her. Tears streamed down the uneven, likely purple, surface of her cheeks; she schooled her eyes not to look at her own reflection in the corner of her phone screen.

Not yet.

Mo chridhe, my Sassenach…” His eyes were tired, his hair a mess, and he was standing outside somewhere. His other hand came up as if to reach her and then froze, remembering. “Yer bonny face, my Claire. What happened to ye, mo graidgh?”

“A Jeepney,” she said, as bluntly as it had hit her. “It’s like a bus.”

She saw him shudder back a sob, stumbling backwards onto what looked like a narrow wall.

“I… I’m a little bruised up, but n-no internal bleeding or—” Now her words were tumbling over her numb lips. The painkillers were setting in, but she still had to tell him.

Tell him.

“But ye’re alive, mo nighean donn. ‘Tis all that matters and—Christ—!” His fist pounded against something and shook whatever he was leaning on. “I canna—I need to hold ye, Claire.”

She smiled at that. She wanted to be home in his arms. She wanted to run across the continent to him.

But…

“Th-the main problem is my—I fractured my leg a bit. They put it in a cast so—”

Something almost a laugh shook through him. “Dinna fash, Sassenach, I’ll carry ye wherever ye need to go next week.”

“No, Jamie.” She was trying to hold back the sobs that wanted to wrack through her. “They—the doctors need to monitor me and with the cast on—”

She could see the realization – the quiet terror – slowly settle in as she spoke.

“How long?”

“Minor fractures typically take—”

“How long, lass?”

“I…” She sighed. “I don’t know for sure.”


The sky was falling. The earth was crumbling beneath him, and he was trapped in that liminal space between, watching everything he knew fall apart.

Motionless. Helpless.

“How…?”

Tense like an animal backed into a corner, charged like a live wire. Ready to blame, to fight, to scorn, whatever had marred her perfect skin and torn her from him indefinitely.

“How did it happen, mo chridhe?” As if he could have done something to stop it. “Did yon Jeepney hop the curb, or—?”

“Oh.” That seemed to take her by surprise. “No, nothing like that.”

“Then what, mo graidgh? Did it run a red?”

She muttered something about traffic lights being more of a suggestion over there, but shook her head.

“No, Jamie, I—”

“Surely, ye didna just run deliberately into the road.”

“…actually, I did.

Silence.

“Ye…” He tried to force it back down, but the fight boiled up, unbridled. “What in God’s name possessed ye to walk into the road, lass?! What were ye thinking?!”

“I—”

“Nay, ye clearly werena thinkin’!” He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake sense into her. “Ye’re a full grown adult and a doctor, no less! Ye ken not to—”

“You’re right, I do ken,” she shot back, voice dangerously on edge. Her lips were pulled in tight, eyes golden with fury. “And I did it anyway, because if I hadn’t, that would have been yet another child I couldn’t save!”

Shit.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

“I—” he started, but now she was the one charged, ready to fight.

“And she would have gotten much worse than some bruises and a fractured leg. So forgive me for trying to be a superhero like you fucking told me to be!”

Sparks. Fire.

Searing burns.

He recoiled, staggered backwards as the anger flushed from his body.

“Claire, mo chridhe, I—Christ, I’m—”

An idiot. An absolute bastard.

I’m sorry.

She took a deep breath from the nose, and then sighed.

“I’m… I’m on a lot of painkillers right now.” She sounded cold, distant in a way that was by no means physical. It was like her soul was drifting away from him and he could do nothing.

Nothing at all.

Mo nighean donnplease, I’m—”

“I should probably get some rest so…”

“No, Claire, mo graidgh, please—” Don’t go. Don’t leave me.

“Bye, Jamie.”

He saw himself completely fall apart in the black of his phone screen as the call disconnected, not knowing that thousands of miles away, Claire saw herself fall to pieces too.

Jamie’s phone slipped from his shaking hands once again. He’d walked aimlessly from the dorm since Joe’s call and had ended up – by some sick celestial joke – leaning against that tree, their tree, when she’d called.

He turned and pounded against it with a closed fist, his skin scraping and bleeding as he punched and punched and punched.

John found him under the tree that evening, knuckles bruised and raw, just like his heart.

Chapter Text

The Philippines was a beautiful island country that Claire was now forced to experience from her hospital bed.

Not that she was lifting her head off her pillow, save to check her phone for messages or missed calls and glaring when she saw nothing. Not too sure if she was angry there wasn’t any, or angry from the mere reminder of their last call.

The fourteenth or fifteenth time she dropped her face back into the pillow, she heard her door creak open.

“Do you want to call him?” Joe.

“No.”

“Do you want to start telling the truth?”

No.

She pressed her face deeper into the pillow. Bless Joe for offering to stay with her but she was in no. bloody. mood.

“C’mon LJ,” he sighed, “It’s just me.”

She heard the chair next to the bed squeak as he sat down and she groaned, brown storm cloud of hair reluctantly revealing her slightly less bruised face as she turned away from the pillow.

“Are you here to blame me for saving a child’s life too?” she said with a snarl.

“That’s some face,” he chuckled, nonplussed. “No wonder the nurses are scared of you.”

“Bite me,” she grumbled.

“Can’t blame the guy, though.” Jamie. “Imagine what he went through.”

“What HE went through?!” She shot up, gesturing at the cast that might as well have been a ball and chain shackling her to the bed.

“Fair enough.” While Joe’s levelheadedness was almost always a welcome balm to her more frenetic nature, there were times – like now – that she wanted to tear that goddamn unfazed expression off his face.

“But imagine if you got a call out of nowhere saying the love of your life was in an accident and no one was sure if they were alive or dead.”

She didn’t want reasonable right now. She wanted sleep, and fury, and likely something deep fried in no particular order.

The love of my life?”

“Your words, LJ.”

“I’ve never said that.”

“Not out loud.”

“Is there a point you’re getting to? I have a very busy day of staring out this window to get back to.” She turned from him and did just that.

She heard him click his tongue and knew he was shaking his head at her.

“Who are you being strong for right now, LJ? He’s not even here,” he said. “And even if he was, isn’t he the only person you don’t have to be strong for?”

“What?”

“To be continued,” he said quickly, standing from the chair as Claire turned. “Looks like you have a visitor.”

He gave her shoulder a squeeze before heading out of the room and there, standing in the doorway, was Rose with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Claire had barely managed an “Oh,” in welcome before her gracious host was kneeling beside the bed, frantically pressing her forehead to Claire’s hands clasped in her own.

“I’m sorry, I’m so—I’m so sorry!”

All manufactured anger flushed out of her as she tried to calm Rose down.

“It’s alright, Rose. I’m alright, honestly. Is Angie okay?”

“She is. She is, thanks to you. B-but—”

She looked up at Claire, red-faced and bleary-eyed, and Claire was once again reminded how young she really was.

“But—but you’re not! You’re—you—” She shuddered in a breath and Claire gently, and as best she could, eased her to sit in the chair. “You were supposed to go home this week. Did your—? Sh-should I call your boyfriend and apologize?”

Claire had her first real chuckle in a long while at that.

“No, no, you don’t have to do that. I’m actually… I’m not in the mood to call him right now anyway.”

“He doesn’t know? Claire, you have to call him right away! He must be scared and worried and—”

“No, he knows, he just…” She sighed; if anyone, it might as well be Rose. “We had a fight about—” She cast an eye at her injured leg. “—all this. He’s angry at me for running into the road to get Angie.”

“Oh,” Rose said, trying to wipe off her tears as she calmed down. “Well, that’s understandable, diba?”

“Is it?”

“Ay siempre,” she nodded, regaining some composure. “Alam mo? When I heard what Angie did—” She closed her eyes, pressing the bridge of her nose as if reliving that day over again. “Ang bata talagaparang I wanted to smack her.”

“What?” Claire blinked, dumbstruck.

“That kid…” she sighed. “She is everything to me, the only thing left I have and—and I love her. I tell her to take care, I work—I do everything I can to keep her safe. And then she goes and runs into the street, puts herself in danger. And I know she doesn’t mean to, and she can’t help it sometimes, but it feels like… parang…” She slowed to a stop, finding the right words.

“It’s like she’s throwing my love back in my face.”

Claire swallowed a lump her throat, thinking then that whoever was running the show above had a very odd sense of humour.

“And that’s—” Rose’s tears were starting to reform. “That’s why I wanted to thank you, Claire!”

“No, it’s okay I—”

“Not just for saving her but—” She sniffed, hands finding Claire’s and squeezing. “—for loving her, as much as I do.”

Tears welled up in Claire’s eyes and the two women embraced, weeping soundless gratitude into the other’s shoulder.

“How can I repay you, Claire? What can I do?”

“How about a nice cooked meal and we’ll call it even?”

They separated, genuine laughter soothing the pain and fear they’d both experienced the last few days.

“You pick and I’ll make it, Claire. Anything at all! Sinigang? Kare-kare?

Sisig?” She offered meekly, not wanting to overstep her host’s apparently boundless kindness.

Sisig?” Rose smiled wide, laughing.

“I-Is that okay?” She’d had it at a bar on one of those early days in Manila and she, embarrassingly, hadn’t stopped thinking about it since.

“Yes, yes, that’s okay! For you, Claire, I’ll make the best sisig in the whole province!” She nodded as she stood from the chair, looking resolved. “Should I bring your friend back?”

“Who, Joe? No, that’s alright, I… I think I have to make a phone call.”

Their eyes met and a slow smile bloomed on Rose’s face. She hugged Claire one last time.

“Good luck. I’ll bring Angie with me next time I visit.”

“Please do, I’d love that.”

Ingat, hah?” Rose said as she closed the door behind her.

Alone again, Claire gently eased her back up against the pillows. She grabbed her phone and pressed call before she had time to rethink it.

I’m sorry for worrying you. I’m sorry for yelling at you.

It seemed simple enough in her head, but to walk back on her fury from the other day when he likely had time to stew in his was another task altogether.

I love you.

Above all else, I love you.

“Hello—”

She held her breath.

“—ye’ve reached Jamie Fraser. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to ye as soon as I can.”

>beep<

“…damn it.”

She let her hand, along with her phone, fall back onto the bed before cocooning herself under her blanket.

“Damn it, Jamie,” she said again. “I need you, you idiot.”

Chapter Text

Part Thirteen: Bad Luck |
Chapter 3

That’s Jamie Fraser?”

“Just help me get him up, alright?”

He’d fallen asleep, roused only when he heard John and another voice talking above him. When he felt their hands trying to lift him, he jolted fully awake and waved them away, standing on his own.

“God, man, what happened?” said John, but Jamie turned his eye to the girl standing next to his roommate.

“Have I met ye before?”

“Not that I know of,” she said, looking from Jamie to John and back. “I’m Sadie.”

Anyway,” John said, “how’d you end up here? What did Claire say?”

“Wait, Claire Beauchamp?”

“Aye,” Jamie replied to Sadie. “Ye know her, lass?”

“We uh, we have a few classes together.” Her cheeks were a touch pink and Jamie belatedly realized this was the girl Claire almost knocked down the stairs months ago. He would have laughed if only he could remember how.

“Aye well, ye’re classmate got hit by a bus,” he muttered.

“What?!”

He was numb, and in no mood to relive or recount everything that had just happened. He ruffled the back of his head, stiff from sleeping on the ground as he made to walk away.

“Wait, Jamie, what happened?” John insisted, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Is she coming back?”

What came out of Jamie then could have been described as a laugh, though it came from no place of happiness.

“She’s fractured her leg.” If he’d hated hearing it that first time, actually saying it felt like venom burning his lips.

God, but she’s conscious at least?”

“Aye. Though, her return is… indefinite.”

“Well,” said Sadie, “typically fractured legs take—”

“I dinna care how long they take to heal! I—ach.” He took a breath. “Sorry, lass, I didna mean to shout at ye… I didna mean to do a lot of things,” he muttered ruefully. “I’m—I’m going for a walk. Thank ye for getting me on my feet, aye?”

He was already walking away, shoulders slumped as he stuffed his hands in his pockets, despite John calling after him.

“The last time you went for a walk, we found you under this tree.”

“Well then, ye’ll ken where to find me later!”

He needed to move, needed to run. He needed—

Like a homing beacon, like so many times before, he found himself staring up at her window.

He walked in, paying no heed to anyone save for a wave at the doorman as he took thoughtless steps to the third floor room that had been home in proxy after their return from Lallybroch.

He let himself in, gently shutting the door behind him, and the rush of senses, memories, echoes of whispers and ghosts of laughs nearly made his legs give out. 

The bed was made, as if to conceal all of the secret gasps and moans it held. All of the soft-edged mornings and nights spent not sleeping alike.

He ran his finger along the duct tape that covered the crack in her window, almost smiling as he traced the sharpie label that read “Jamie’s Fault” in her handwriting. To one side was her reading lamp, still sporting a dark spot and slight dent. And to the other side was her desk, where they’d had a very thorough goodbye after making up the bed.

He melted into the chair, the force of him sitting down rolling it into the desk with a rattle and the sound of something clattering between the desk and wall.

Curiosity was as welcome a distraction as any. He stood and eased the desk away from the wall, and when he saw it, he held back a sob.

His goddamn pen.

One shaking hand reached for it’s thin plastic body, holding it as delicately as he held that night in his heart. Pushing the desk back, he sat on the bed and stared at it, mesmerized and heartbroken.

He fell asleep on his back somewhere between then and dawn, phone in one hand and pen clasped in the other, pressed against his heart.

It became a habit. He’d just barely exist in his classes, eat enough to keep him standing, and then collapse into her sheets like that was the only way he could still feel her presence.

He couldn’t care less whether the doorman looked at him with pity, or if Geillis Duncan formed her own opinions as the news about Claire slowly spread through campus. He didn’t want to answer people’s questions, didn’t want to speak for her, on her behalf, because look how well that had gone the first time.

And days later, he felt his phone buzzing in his sleep. The ID said Claire and he knew then that it was a dream, so he let it go to voicemail.

After all, why would she call him after all that?

Chapter Text

Part Thirteen: Bad Luck |
Chapter 4

She was giggling relentlessly and that’s how she knew she was dreaming.

Jamie was lying atop her, arms wound around her waist as he nipped and nuzzled into her neck, his solid frame trapping her and rendering her squirms completely useless.

The word stop fell from her lips amidst her laughs, but the rest of her body – her fingers tangled in his hair and her nails skimming down his back – said the opposite.

Was he always this needy, or did the last excruciatingly long days apart make her subconscious crave him more than usual?

She knew it was both.

“We both ken,” he murmured into her skin, “that ye dinna want me to stop, Sassenach.”

God, no!” Her laugh ended on a sigh as he rubbed his stubble against her. “I could stay here forever.”

As if on cue, some sort of beeping went off. She groaned and he chuckled, sending vibrations rippling through her body.

“Yer alarm says otherwise, lass.”

Fuck my alarm—ah!”

He sunk his teeth into the juncture between her neck and shoulder.

“What a naughty tongue ye have, mo graidgh.”

“If you ignore the alarm too,” she said, leaning down to whisper his ear, “you can find out just how naughty.”

Now he groaned but, to her dismay, rose off of her and kissed the tip of her nose.

“Answer yer phone, Sassenach.”

She reached for him but he seemed too far away. Like so many other times, the edges of her sight started to blur and darken until her eyes fluttered open and adjusted to the real darkness around her.

Even awake, her alarm was still ringing, but – she realized – it wasn’t her alarm.

It was her ringtone.

It was his ringtone.

Clumsy from sleep, she blindly groped for her phone on the bedside tray, holding it to her face just as the call dropped.

Not this bloody time.

She called him right back, watching herself chew on her lip as the call tried to connect.

Then his face filled her screen, staring as wide-eyed and terrified as her own reflection in the bottom corner.

“Claire, I—”

“Jamie, I need to—”

Their words ran into each other, then screeched to a halt.

Claire was first to recover.

“Jamie, I’m—I wanted to apologize—”

That word caught his attention, he sat up immediately.

“Ye have nothing to apologize for, Claire. I was—God, I was so worried and sore, I said more than I meant and—”

She shook her head.

“No, I’m not sorry for saving Angie,” she said softly, feeling the urge to reach for him so acute it physically hurt. “I’m sorry I scared you. I’m sorry I yelled at you, and hung up on you, and…” Soundless tears streamed down her cheeks, releasing all the emotion she’d kept a tight lid on these past few days.

“Oh, mo nighean donn, my bonny lass,” he murmured, and she knew it was killing him to not be able to touch her too.

“And then you didn’t answer the phone, and I thought…”

“Ach, I’m sorry, mo chridhe,” he chuckled hesitantly. “I saw yer name and thought it was a dream, to be honest. I didna quite believe ye’d want to call after that.”

“You’re an idiot,” she said with a gentle scoff, ignoring the fact that she’d done almost the same thing not two minutes ago.

“Aye, so ye tell me.”

She sighed.

“And you were right, damn you,” she said with a shake of her head.

“What about?”

She smiled, wide and tearful, and she could see the force of it strike him.

We are neither of us alone.”

He mirrored her smile back at her, infinitely more breathtaking than she imagined her bruised-up attempt was. Though, the look on his face earlier begged the contrary.

“Ye’re looking a fair bit healed,” he said, as if reading her mind.

“The bruises are fading finally,” she nodded.

“And, yer leg?”

She sighed again, casting a glare at the deadweight of her leg down the bed.

“Slowly but surely.”

“Well, ye’re no’ missing much over here, mo chridhe. Ye just worry about getting better.”

“I’m missing one thing,” she mumbled, catching the upward quirk of his lips.

“And that one thing is missing you something fierce, Sassenach. But it doesna matter to me when ye get home, no’ anymore, just that ye make it back to me.”

She loved him.

God, she loved him.

Safely, aye?”

Her widening smile burst into a laugh.

“Yes, it seems I have to put a pin in my superhero activities for now and just be plain, old Claire for awhile.”

“Plain, old Claire, whom is neither of those things, mind,” he said with a glint in his eye, “just happens to be my favourite superhero.”

Blood rushed to her cheeks and filled in the spaces untouched by injury, colouring in her face the same way he filled in the empty spaces of her heart.

“You’re making it really hard to not rip this cast off and get on the next plane out, you know that?”

I’m making it hard? Do ye know how many times I’ve looked up flights to Manila in the past week?” He shook his head. “Nay lass, ye should get all the rest ye need there, and I can bide. So long as ye hold up yer end of the bargain, aye?”

“Bargain?”

“Aye, I’ve done my part, ken? I havena blocked yer number just yet, and I’m still sat here where ye left me but, ye havena called nearly enough.”

She loved him so much it was unbearable.

“Fair’s fair, James Fraser. It just so happens I’ve come into a very large, indefinite amount of free time.”

“So long as I’m no’ in class, I’ll answer ye.”

“What?” she said, mockingly indignant. “You’re not going to skip class just to talk to me?”

“Well, I would, but my girlfriend, aye? She’d be so cross if I didna focus on my studies.”

“Quite right,” she laughed. “Are midterms over? Wait—” With a pang, she realized Spring Break should be winding down around this time. “You didn’t go home for break?”

He took a moment, like he often did, to simply look at her. She absently wondered if he knew how it always sent her stomach tumbling.

“I’m home right now, mo nighean donn.”

For the first time in weeks, Claire felt his comforting warmth spread through her body, feeling closer to him than she’d ever felt since she left.

“Better not tell Jenny that…”

She settled into her bed, watching him do the same thousands of miles away.

And sometime later, when Joe came in to check on her, he found her asleep and Jamie, similarly so, on the phone screen she still held facing her.

[End of Part 13]

Chapter Text

Part Fourteen: Come Back |
Chapter 1

Exams were over, and Claire was still a world away.

And, though the additional six weeks were far more bearable with her easy availability, it had still been six. more. weeks than he’d expected.

He’d begrudgingly gotten used to waking up without her, feeling the ache echo through his body until that first morning check to see all of Claire’s messages from the day she had.

That was enough of a balm for the day until he could call, or she called. He was living moment to moment, smile to heart-stopping smile. It was life lived just barely, just enough, but nowhere near full.

At the least, he could tell her all his heart again. It was a little better for her in that, of the few activities she had in the day, they were all more or less paving her way back to him.

Check-ups. Physio. Appointments that could not – under any circumstance – be missed. Those were the only times she didn’t call or reply, and that was fine with him.

He’d bide, that’s what he told her. That’s what he told himself.

“Have you not packed yet?” said John as he came into the room.

“Packed?” Jamie’s head popped up from the side of the bed where he’d just plugged in his phone charger. He had two missed calls from Jenny, but he’d get to those after Claire messaged him back.

“Oh! Nay, I’m stayin’ a bit longer on campus.”

John cast him a look as he sat down on the neighbouring bed. Jamie knew he was past preamble.

“I’m sure Claire will understand if you head back to your family. In fact, wouldn’t she expect it?”

“Aye but, I promised her, ken?” He shook his head. “I’ll bide here until she gets back.”

“Do you even know when exactly she’s coming home?”

Jamie’s face scrunched up.

“Well, no, not exactly. But her leg is getting much better with the day so it shouldna be—”

John cleared his throat to stop him.

“I’m sorry Jamie, I know this last semester has been hard on you and I’ve tried to let you sort it out on your own as best I can, but you honestly can’t stay haunting the dorms all summer until she gets back.”

“I’m no—”

“Just go home,” John urged him. “Tell Claire you’ll be at Lallybroch so she’ll know where to find you.”

“I appreciate it John, I do,” he nodded.

“And I expect you’re not going to listen to me anyway.” John rolled his eyes. “At least try to find time to enjoy the summer?”

“Aye, o’ course. Ye should come by the farm sometime too, eh? If ye get the chance.”

John sighed, evidently through with trying to reason with him. He stood and crossed the space between the beds, hesitating only a moment before patting a hand on Jamie’s shoulder.

“Give Claire my best.”

Jamie smiled in answer, helping John bring his bags downstairs and waving him off as he left.

Back in the room, alone, Jamie – with great dignity, thank ye verra much – rushed to plop onto his bed and reach for his phone.

Another missed call from Jenny, and one new message from Claire.

 >           Have an appointment, call me after?

He checked the time – sent 5 minutes ago – and figured he had time to get lunch before she’d be done.

As he unplugged his phone and headed back to the front doors, he heard a voice that stopped him cold.

“And just where do ye think ye’re going, lad?”

Standing at the dormitory doors, as improbable as it seemed, was Jenny with her arms crossed and one eyebrow dangerously raised.

“What the hell are ye doing here?”

“Well if ye cared to answer yer phone or check yer damn voicemail, brother, ye’d ken.”

He glanced around the lobby, which was mostly empty save for a handful of curious onlookers. He briskly grabbed her by the shoulders and ushered her out the door just as her protests started gaining volume.

“Dinna manhandle me, lad, or I’ll return the favour,” she said, squirming relentlessly until he let go.

“How did ye get here? Where’s Ian?”

“Murtagh drove, and Ian’s back home where you ought to be.”

Ah, there it was.

“Jenny, I—”

“Och, I dinna care about what ye promised Claire. That was ‘afore she got hurt, and now ye dinna ken when she’ll be back. Ye’re sure as hell not stayin’ here, ye clot-heid.”

“But—”

“She’s a smart lass, she’ll know to head straight home when she returns and—and—Christ lad, why are ye grinning at me when I’m yellin’ at ye?”

He was in fact grinning, only because he knew she hadn’t noticed it.

“So Lallybroch is Claire’s home too, aye?”

Her mouth clamped shut and Jamie burst into a laugh, kissing her on the cheek.

“I missed ye too, Jenny.”

She rolled her eyes, swatting him away.

“So it’s settled then, aye? Ye’re coming home.”

Unconsciously, his finger ran alongside the edge of his phone in his pocket.

“Aye,” he sighed. “Fine, I’ll call Claire.”

“Good,” Jenny nodded, resolved. “And after ye do that, ye can bring me to that diner ye’re always talking about.”

“Oh aye? I should tell ye though, their whisky isna all that great.”

She scoffed. “Doesna matter, ye’re paying.”

He pointed her in the right direction and then hung back to call Claire.

Call me when ye ken yer arrival time, he’d say, I’ll meet ye at the airport.

“What’d Claire say?” said Jenny, walking back to him when she saw him frowning at his phone.

“Voicemail,” he shrugged. “Must still be at her appointment.”


“LJ, c’mon, you still there?”

“Wait a second Joe, I think Jamie just called and—”

“Claire, we really can’t be late or they’ll—”

“Okay, okay, I’m rolling as fast as I can!”

She slipped her phone into her bag as Joe ran back to her, then her body slammed against the backrest of the wheelchair as he started pushing her. She felt a twinge of guilt not answering Jamie right away but, as evidenced by the way Joe was flying her down the corridor, they really couldn’t be late.

Chapter Text

“Oh for Christ’s sake, lad, what the de’il are ye doin’ to yer sister now?”

Jamie rolled over on his bed to face Murtagh at the door.

“I havena done anything to her!”

“Aye, and that’s why she’s cursin’ yer name to all o’ Scotland downstairs? Ye’ve been home naught 2 days and ye’ve barely left this room.”

Jamie squirmed, readjusting himself on the pillows and trying to smooth down his hair after hours of mussing it with his fingers.

“Claire hasna called since I got home,” he said, “and my messages are no’ goin’ through again. I figure the signal’s bad here so I told Jenny I might head back to campus for a few days and—”

“Not on yer life, James Fraser!”

Like the devil summoned, Jenny appeared next to Murtagh. Smart man that he was, Jamie watched his godfather curtly nod in goodbye and escape as fast as he could.

“We had an agreement when ye left for school, aye? You go off to study, but come summer, you work. Lord kens this place doesna run itself.”

“Aye, but—”

“No buts. Stables. Now.”

They stared each other down, but Jenny could not be moved. With a great sigh and an even greater amount of grumbling, Jamie dragged himself out of bed and out to the stables.

But where was Claire? Even when she went to Cavite, she’d warned him well ahead of time that she’d be out of range. She wouldn’t simply turn her phone off for days, so logically, it must be a problem with his phone.

He didn’t want to even entertain the idea that something else, something worse, had happened. Yet, the insidious thoughts still crept under his skin. Had something gone wrong at the appointment? And if so, why hadn’t she told him about it?

Or maybe it was all the terrible things he could imagine at once. Claire was stuck halfway around the world, in some indeterminate amount of distress without any means of contacting him.

He sighed and leaned against the worktable along one of the walls in the stable, wiping the sweat off his brow that was in no way from working.

“Calm down, man,” he told himself, breathing deeply. “Abernathy is with her, and she can manage herself.”

How long had it been since he’d actually held her? There was no way to escape the swell of memories they’d made the last time he was back home; every hallway he’d stolen a kiss from her in, the wardrobe they’d squeezed into. Even lying in his own bed was disjointed torture, seeking her in his sleep and getting jolted awake when he came up empty-handed.

He heard light footfalls heading towards the stables – Jenny – and sighed. Perhaps he could head into town, camp around a coffee shop and leach off their signal for however long he needed to contact Claire. Who knew what Jenny would think of that?

“Damnable mule of a woman, she is,” he muttered to himself as he headed to the door to greet her.

“You better not be referring to me,” said a voice that stole all the air from Jamie’s lungs.

There in the stable doorway.

Crutches. Dress. Whisky.

Curls.

Smile.

Claire.

Whatever she’d been about to say was muffled into his chest as he swept her into his arms with a sob, her crutches clattering to the stable floor.

One arm was wrapped tight around her waist and the other reached up her back and tangled its fingers in her hair. She smelled like the stale, recycled air of the airport but buried in her brown curls was her, his Claire.

Gaelic was sputtering out of him, falling from his mouth and disappearing into her hair much like his tears.

He was dreaming, he must be. With that sudden shock, he pulled away, holding her at arms length to really look at her.

She was equally bleary-eyed but she was laughing and smiling, brilliance incomparable.

He couldn’t bring himself to just yet, confused and conflicting emotions swirling through him. He wasn’t sure and he needed to be.

“How did ye—? Where did ye—? Why did ye no’ call, mo nighean donn? My—mo graidgh—Claire, I could have picked ye up, o-or—Christ, did ye go to campus, a chridhe? I tried to stay as long as I could, but Jenny, she—”

A thousand questions she was likely trying to answer stumbled out of him without a space for her to fill. Still smiling – so breathtakingly beautiful – she gave up trying to answer and pressed her lips to his.

And then she was kissing him.

She was kissing him. The soft and sweet pressure of her lips, moving gently with his. It was water after a drought, sun after storms.

It was Claire.

And he was sure.

Chapter Text

Part Fourteen: Come Back |
Chapter 3

They eventually, slowly and reluctantly, separated and Claire could scarcely stop smiling.

Jamie’s eyes were still closed, as if expecting the moment to be torn from him by an abrupt awakening – she knew the feeling well.

But God, he was beautiful.

It’s not like she could have ever forgotten the fact in the time they’d spent apart, but to actually be in his presence again was an earth-shattering difference, like somehow conjuring up an imaginary friend into a tangible being.

The bold lines of his face, high cheekbones dappled with tears, his long lashes that no phone screen pixilation could do justice.

And above all, he was here. Her fingers pressed into the skin of his nape, affirming.

His eyes finally opened, meeting hers with a look caught between utter rapture and shaking disbelief.

“Why did ye no’ call?” he said softly, finally, his hand falling to cup her cheek and draw her forehead to his.

She’d had time – the whole 13-hour plane ride – to think about exactly what she would say, what she would do when she saw him, but now actually standing in his arms flushed away all her meticulous planning.

“Joe,” she started, “he—right after my last appointment—they’d just cleared me for travel and he immediately found the next flight out. Then I was in a wheelchair, and you called, and—and—”

Overcome with the flurry of events in the past day and, even more so, the very warm – and very real – hand cradling her cheek, she burrowed deeper into his willing arms and pressed her face to his chest, taking in the scent of him.

Stables, earth, and Jamie.

Christ, I do owe that man a great deal,” he chuckled, stroking Claire’s back and gently swaying them back and forth.

“You and me, both,” she sniffed, pulling away slightly just to gaze at him, re-familiarize herself with the same blue that coloured the turbulent waters of her dreams.

He was gazing at her too, recovering from the initial surprise and letting his eyes take full stock of her. One tentative hand came to brush a stray curl from her face and she shivered at his touch.

“Ye’re really here, mo chridhe?” he whispered, voice thick with barely dammed emotion. “Ye’re no’ a dream? I havena—Dhia—I’m still standing upright, aye? I dinna trust my knees at the moment.”

“Which one of us broke a leg here, hmm?” she laughed softly, resting her forehead on his shoulder as her fingers pressed harder into him, rooting him to her just in case.

“Ach, aye, Sassenach, yer leg—” He pulled from her again to peer down, running his hand down her thigh by means of simple assessment but rippling gooseflesh down her skin all the same.

God, 3 long months since he’d last touched her.

Her breath hitched, and his head darted up, no doubt thinking he’d hurt her.

She shook her head, trailing her hand down until it found and intertwined with his at her hip. Their eyes met and she saw the confusion on his face move in quick succession from realization to intent.

To deep-seated urgency.

His lips were back on hers in an instant and Claire could feel every cell in her body gravitate towards him, seeking to click or fuse or disintegrate. Anything at all, so long as it was together. It felt like his whole body was enveloping hers and all she wanted to do was curl up inside, find the home she’d left behind exactly as it had been.

Her teeth sunk into his bottom lip and she felt his growl vibrate against her own chest, pressed tightly to his. He buried his face into the crook of her neck and returned the favour, taking her skin sharply between his teeth before smoothing over the bite with his tongue.

Claire groaned, smoothing her hands under his shirt and across the planes of his back as he continued to suck on her neck, his own hands travelling as they pleased through her hair, down her sides, and around to her arse.

She could feel his smile against her thoroughly assaulted neck when she yelped. And again, when one of his hands ran back down her thigh and – ever so gently – guided her freshly healed leg to wrap around his hip.

Her other leg followed suit, hopping into his arms just like she’d spent the last 3 months imaging she would, and she very nearly melted to the floor when she felt him pressed hard between her open legs.

He moaned her name into her hair as she wiggled her hips, settling more firmly against him.

“I missed ye,” he said amidst his laboured pants of air, verging on a sob. “God, mo nighean donn, I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe.”

She ground against him again and echoed his moan back.

“Then take me, Jamie—fuck—p-please.”

He walked her deeper into the stables, taking only the greatest care to ease her down on the work table one leg at a time.

Her hands were already making quick work of his belt and fly as his pulled at the straps of both her dress and bra, dragging his lips down her skin as more and more got exposed.

Claire’s fingers were tracing purposefully up his shoulders, tangling into his hair and tugging as his mouth latched onto her nipple.

He was murmuring something in between his tiny nips all over her chest but Claire couldn’t tell whether it was English or Gaelic. Her blood was pounding too hard in her ears.

“I’ve missed all yer wee squeaks and sighs, mo graidgh,” he murmured into her collarbone.

“W-what squeaks? I don’t squea—Ah!”

He ground his hips against hers, only two layers of fabric between them.

“Aye, like that one. Or…”

His hand pushed her underwear out of the way and Claire nearly wept as he ran a finger through her.

“Aye, just like that.” The deep rumble of his voice made her thin arm hair stand on end, his whole being calling her to him.

Come back to me, it said.

She pulled at his waistband and grasped the smooth heat of him, revelling in his stuttered choke.

“You’re not so quiet yourself, my love.”

Love, her love. She’d said it before, though her incredulity made it no less true.

The love of my life.

“Love,” Jamie echoed, wrapping his large hand around hers and running the soft head of his cock up and down her clit. “My bonny love.”

Claire writhed in his arms, her body calling his just the same.

They’d spent the past 3 months drifting, ships meeting in the night but just missing each other during the day. Calls that went unanswered, needs unfulfilled. Aimless and searching for that elusive, intangible fixed point.

Then, like a wave crashing against the rocks, like the flood of memories from a single scent, he entered her and there it was.

Where it had always been.

Home.

And home, and home, and home again.

Her whole body shook, clenching around the thick feel of his cock pushing deeper, and deeper still.

Fuckmo nighean donn—” he groaned, increasing the speed of his hips in time with the quickening and catches in her breath. “—ye’re so—mmgh—so tightmo chridhe.”

All she could do was cling to him as the force of his thrusts rocked her hard against the creaking table, his hot spurts of breath only adding to the spreading warmth coursing through her body and radiating off her skin like solar flares.

How many times had she pictured this in the last 3 months? How many times had she traced absent lines down her stomach and lower, crooking a finger as if beckoning Jamie to come to her.

How did she even manage when the real thing was more magnetic, more instinctual, than she could ever hope to mimic? The way she stretched and clenched around him, the eager push and pull through her swollen flesh.

The churning, tumbling, falling sensation as every nerve ending burst one after the other like full-blown fireworks exploding just beneath her skin and behind her eyelids.

Her moans bounced off the walls as she came, pulsing and squeezing and pulling him along with her. Their hips stuttered, both reluctant to stop in case this really was a dream.

They clung tight to each other as their breathing slowed, heartbeats finding the other’s rhythm. His hand came up to cradle the back of her head as she fit her chin into his neck, coiling her arms around his waist.

It was Jamie’s incredulous scoff that eased them out of their silent reverie.

“I canna—I canna believe I’m holding ye again, Claire.”

She buried her nose into him with a vastly content hum.

“Do you remember the last time you held me?”

“At the airport, or…” His voice dropped a significant few decibels as he innocently shifted his hips against hers. “…on yer desk?”

She laughed, brushing butterfly kisses onto his shoulder.

“At the airport, Jamie.”

He laughed too and she could feel it vibrating through her whole body.

“Aye, well, I’m no’ likely to forget either.”

She was drawing lazy ovals up and down his back as she pressed her cheek against him.

“You said something in Gaelic when I left, remember? You said you’d tell me what it meant when I came back.”

“Aye,” he said in what sounded like an immensely happy sigh.

Pulling away from her gently, his large hand cupped her cheek so tenderly, Claire could feel fresh tears starting to well up.

Then, just as gently, he set his mouth against hers, deep and full. Her own hands came up to either side of his head, holding him to her.

She kept her eyes closed as they broke apart, feeling Jamie’s forehead press to hers as his thumb stroked her cheek.

Tha gaol agam ort, mo Sorcha,” he whispered against her lips. “It means, I love youmy Claire.”

She opened her eyes slowly and lost her breath at the soft gaze of his blue eyes, the ones that only glinted for her.

Sorcha means Claire?”

“Aye, ‘tis yer name in the Gaidhlig but, it also means ‘light’ and—” He swallowed, turning a shade more serious. “And that’s what ye are, mo chridhe, my light. Lord kens I havena been myself these past months, but when ye walked into the stables just now, it was like—like the sun had finally returned.”

Her heart throbbed. Trademark James Fraser.

God, I bloody missed you and that daft mouth of yours,” she sighed, kissing that very mouth if only just to stop hers from trembling.

“Say it again?”

He smiled, reciting it like a mantra between their kisses.

Tha gaol agam ort. I love ye… I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Mahal kita,” she said after they broke apart for air. “There’s another language for you to learn.”

He hummed, nuzzling her cheek with his nose.

“I’d like to learn all the languages in the world, I think, mo Sorcha, so I can have thousands of ways to tell ye I love you.”

While they were apart, it was a wonder how she kept her heart beating at all. But now, back in his arms, she felt like she could live for as long as his kept beating, and vice-versa.

And she didn’t have the words to express that feeling. All she could do was bring that daft mouth back to hers and know, truly know, he understood.

Chapter Text

Part Fourteen: Come Back |
Chapter 4

The last time they were in Lallybroch, he recalled how much of a comfort it was to have the full weight of her secure in his arms, how something so beautiful and so real was resting in his hands, and was as much his as he was hers. Their time apart only made it more so.

One hand under her knees and the other clutching her shoulders tight to his chest, he carried her from the stables and into the house, feeling as light as the cloud the thought of her always carried him on.

Fingers pressing hard into her skin, reaffirming and promising. Whispers and giggles between them, paying no heed to anyone they may have passed on their way up the stairs.

It wasn’t till he nudged open his bedroom door that he paused.

“Sassenach?”

She hummed in question into his neck.

“Did ye bring yer bags up to the room before ye came to find me?”

There they were, at the foot of his bed.

“No, I left them at the front when Jenny told me where you were.”

Jamie laughed, harder than he had in the past 3 months, as he walked them into the room, taking great care not to drop her.

“What?” she said, tugging at his hair. “What’s so funny?”

“It seems Jenny and Mrs. Crook kent exactly where ye’d be spending yer time, aye?”

He watched it dawn on her perfectly glass face, then watched her shatter into laughs as well.

“Well to be fair,” she said, tightening her hold around his neck to keep from falling as they shook together, “I did only spend one night in the guest room.”

“Aye, and what a night it was,” he rumbled, nipping at her bottom lip as he readjusted his hold on her.

“You really didn’t have to carry me all the way here, Jamie,” she said as their laughter ebbed away. “I told you, I can walk perfectly fine.”

“And I told you, it’s my great pleasure to carry ye, mo graidgh.” He nuzzled his nose into her temple before lowering her onto the bed.

Her content hums turned sharply into a groan of protest as he started to pull from her.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

His greedy wee thing. Dhia, to have her here again.

“I’m going to get ye food and water,” he chuckled over her exaggerated whines. “Ye need yer rest, mo chridhe, because—” He took her mouth, slipping his tongue past her lips to nudge against hers. “—I’m no’ done wi’ ye yet.”

“You’re telling me to rest?” she protested, despite practically melting out of his arms and into the mattress. “I’m supposed to be the doctor here.”

“I’ll have ye know I did a fair bit of doctorin’ myself while ye were away,” he said, eyeing the fading scars on his knuckles.

“Did you?” She kissed his knuckles delicately, then laced their fingers together and drew him closer. “And um, just how often did you… doctor yourself while I was gone, hmm?”

Verra funny,” he said flatly, motioning to pull away and shaking his head as she gripped his hand harder. “Rest, mo nighean donn. I’ll have food and water for ye when ye wake, aye?”

“Fine,” she resigned, sounding thoroughly – adorably – unconvinced. “But make it whisky instead?”

He nearly pounced on her, taking her face in his hands and showering it with kisses and laughs.

God, I missed ye, Claire.”

“Then hurry back,” she said with an increasingly sleepy smile.

He pressed one more kiss to her forehead, then headed to the door, stretching his arm to hold her hand as long as possible before finally letting go.

She was already asleep when he came back into the room. Setting the tray of food and drink on the table, he took a moment just to lose his breath at the sight of her.

She was curled onto her side in a ball, facing him on the far edge of the bed, arms wrapped tight around her waist.

He’d almost lost her. Lost her body to injury, and lost her love to his sheer stubbornness. The deep ache of seeing her bruised and beautiful face dropping the call still lingered and crept just beneath his skin. For that short second, it was like she was a stranger all over again, that all his – their – time spent had disappeared.

He shivered, then shook off the feeling completely, grounding himself with a look at her sleeping so serenely. He flexed and stretched his fingers at his side, feeling their separation acutely.

Here he was mourning her loss, with her lying not 3 feet from him.

He didn’t want to disturb her sleep, but the need to be near her was too strong. He slowly eased himself under the blankets and lay on his back, content to just have her at his side again.

Finally.

Despite his best efforts though, she stirred and mumbled something as she turned away from him. He froze, unsure and feeling suddenly like a stranger again.

“Jamie,” she said in her sleep.

Then, one thin arm reached behind her, groping blindly till she caught his wrist and pulled at it, urging him onto his side.

He followed her direction, could scarcely do otherwise even if he wanted to, as she guided his arm to wrap around her waist, scooting backwards until she pressed against his chest and nestled her whole body between his arms.

She hummed as his other arm followed suit, coiling around her middle as he curved his body around hers protectively.

Safe.

Secure.

His.

Chapter Text

Part Fourteen: Come Back |
Chapter 5

Her slow ascent into consciousness was only made more so by the wafting scent of Lallybroch. Despite her brain’s insistence that this must be a dream, her eyes eased open and adjusted to late afternoon sun streaming through the window, lighting the bright mass of red curls nestled firmly into her hip.

There was a cold plate of food and a glass of whisky on the beside table, just out of arms reach, but she wouldn’t have disturbed his sleep for the world. There were few joys greater than seeing James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser gently lift his lips in an unconscious smile.

His brows were furrowed though, looking thoroughly fretful propped up against her hip. She reached up slowly and ran her fingers through his hair but, she noticed with a frown, came up empty handed.

He murmured something and she ran a hand down his cheek, watching his eyes flutter open and search, find, settle on hers.

“What’s wrong?” she said softly.

“Wrong?” he said, voice grave from sleep. He moved upward to meet her nose-to-nose, his hands never releasing her waist.

“Ye’re heremo graidgh, how could anything be wrong?”

Claire cast an eye at him. It wasn’t often she was able to read his carefully masked emotions, but today he was either too tired or too weighed down by them to try.

And the latter worried her.

He could tell. As inscrutable as his face may be, she knew hers was just as transparent.

“I—” He sighed. “I dinna want to ruin this, Claire. No’ yet.”

That sent alarms ringing in her head and it was all she could do to keep calm despite her steadily increasing heart rate.

“Tell me?” she said, whispering to mask the choke in her words.

He sighed again, this time leaning to rest his forehead on hers, eyes carefully trained away like he was looking at something off in the room’s far corner.

“It’s just… something Jenny said, when ye were in Cavite and I was losin’ my mind missin’ ye.”

“What’d she say?”

He shifted, pulling her tighter to him as he spoke.

“That this is yer job, aye? Doctorin’, helping people, it’s what ye’ve wanted since long before ye met me.”

“Yes, but—” What was he saying? “—you knew that already, Jamie.”

“Aye, I ken but—but…” His sigh then ended on a grunt of frustration. “I dinna ken how to—I’d never take that away from ye, lass. Yer compassion, yer drive to help people, to take that from ye would be to lose some fundamental part of ye…”

He was leading somewhere, to something, and a part of Claire wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

Had their time apart injured that ever elusive, unnameable arc between them?

“But ClaireDhia—when Abernathy called, when I… I didna ken whether ye were alive or—or…” He glanced at her, eyes desperate and wild, as if only just remembering she was back. She was here.

“I want to wrap my arms around ye and hide ye in my chest, mo chridhe. Protect ye from the rest of the world and keep ye here with me. But I canna stop ye from being who ye are—God, I’d never want to but…”

She could tell he was struggling, desperate to put a word to the bone-deep ache their separation had triggered. Identify the break so they could start healing.

“I dinna want ye to leave again.”

“Jamie!” Her heart was pounding furiously, a frantic thump as the organ tried to burst free and find his. She grabbed both sides of his face and forced him to look at her.

“I’m not leaving you again.”

He shrugged his shoulders, fingers coming up to trace her cheek.

“That’s kind of ye to say, mo graidgh, but I already ken I canna stop ye no more than I can stop loving ye. I couldna—Do ye ken, mo nighean donn, how it feels to have yer heart live outside yer chest? See it… feel it break from thousands of miles away and know ye canna do anything about it?”

“Do I know how that feels?” Her voice was quiet and quivering. “You know I do, you goddamn Scot.”

That got his attention.


“Did you think it was easy for me?” she said, readjusting her grip on his face. “I could barely last a night without you when we were still on campus, for God’s sake! I worked myself to exhaustion every day so I wouldn’t have to—so I could bloody sleep without thinking of you, without thinking of anything.

His chest ached, imagining her falling into bed and willing herself to drown in dreamless sleep.

Just like he’d done.

“I can’t do that again, Jamie. I won’t.” The gold in her eyes was flaring. “Wherever I go, you come with me. Together, or not at all.”

He stared wide-eyed.

How?

How was she his? What could he have possibly done in his life to deserve her?

He pressed his trembling lips to hers fiercely, too overcome to ruin it with words.

She was smiling, bright and brilliant and his, when they broke apart.

“Besides,” she said, nuzzling their noses together. “I know you, James Fraser. Lallybroch may be your heart, but there are still things you want to do, places you want to see.”

“No’ without you, mo chridhe,” he swore, nodding slowly and thanking God for the blessing of her. “Together, or not at all.”

She kissed him again, then turned, resolved, and pressed her back into his chest. Taking his cue, he wrapped his arms around her waist, both sighing as they settled.

“I missed ye sae much, Claire,” he said into her hair.

“I missed… these.” She hummed, running her fingers down his arms and sending a pleasant shiver up his back.

He grunted an interrogative and she laughed.

“Which, admittedly, are attached to you, so I suppose I missed you t—Ah! Jamie!”

He turned her to face him by the shoulders, one eyebrow quirked upwards skeptically.

“Oh aye? Well, in that case, I missed—” He leaned in until he could feel her breath hitch against his lips. Then swooping upwards, he caught a stray curl and pressed a kiss to it. “—yer hair, mo nighean donn.”

She squirmed and he smirked, letting her hair slip from his fingers as he traced the fine line of her eyebrow.

“And yer eyes, mo chridhe. And yer nose…” which he kissed the tip of. His finger followed the curve of her cheek, till it found her chin and lifted it upwards.

“And yer smile, o’ course,” he said, pressing their lips together and feeling that smile bloom against his.

“Is that all?”

“Well, there’s maybe a handful of other things,” he said, revelling in her gasp when his hand found her arse.

“Hmm, and here I thought you forgot about that,” he laughed.

“Never in life, Sassenach.”

“I suppose I missed a few other things, like…” Her hand travelled downward, making him gasp. Then press himself harder into her hand.

“Oh look, it missed me too,” she said in a purr.

It did. And he was about to show her just how much.

There was a light knock on the door and they froze. Cautiously, Jamie slid out of bed and crossed the room to peek outside, but there was no one there – just a tray of food and a folded piece of paper.

“Who is it?” Claire called from the bed.

“Looks like Jenny’s handwriting,” he said, closing the door behind him as he brought the tray over to the bedside table where Claire’s food grew ever colder.

He sat on the bed, popping a breadcrumb into his mouth as he opened the note—and promptly choking on it as he read.

Claire was sitting up in an instant, patting his back as he coughed and sputtered, tears welling from both the effort and the laugh trembling in his gut.

“What?” Claire said, smiling once she realized he was alright.

He tossed the paper to her as he reached for her forgotten whisky, then watched her dissolve into giggles too.

Their shared laughs bounced off the walls and filled the room and Jamie’s heart alike.

He downed the whisky and pounced on her, making her yelp and drop Jenny’s note as he sunk his teeth into her collarbone.

“Now, where were we, Sassenach?”

“Aren’t you hungry?” she said, eyeing the food.

His eyes were trained only on hers, dark and dripping with intent.

“Aye, I am.”

Then the room was filled with their sighs and gasps as Jenny’s note floated innocuously onto the floor.

Take yer time, it said, But do it quietly.

[End of Chapter 14]

Chapter Text

Part Fifteen: Found Time |
Chapter 1

Of all the nights Claire Beauchamp spent staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping, this was likely the most mundane.

She was back in Lallybroch, back in Jamie’s arms. She was home.

But she was also wide awake.

Jamie had fallen onto his back in sleep, one hand flat on his bare stomach, the other laying underneath her equally bare body.

Like she hadn’t left at all.

Having cleared any lasting worries in his head, he fell blissfully asleep with what looked like a permanently content smile on his face.

But Claire could only enjoy his sleeping state for so long before more practical needs took over. Very slowly, she tried to ease herself out of bed and – without fail – felt his arm flex underneath her.

“Where’re ye goin’, Sassenach?” he mumbled, rubbing his cheek into the pillow.

“Just downstairs for a snack,” she whispered back, “do you want anything?”

“Snack?” His brows furrowed but he didn’t open his eyes. “What time is it?”

“Um,” she said sheepishly, “about 10 a.m. Manila time?”

The corner of his mouth lifted slightly.

“Aye, and what time here?”

“3, it’s 3 in the morning.”

He chuckled, eyes opening for a moment just to look at her before shaking his head and turning back to the pillow.

“Jetlag’s no’ going to be fun for ye, lass,” he laughed. “Make sure to put somethin’ on before ye head out, aye?”

He wasn’t looking at her, but she liked to think he knew she was rolling her eyes at him.

“I won’t take long,” she said, getting out of bed and pulling his large shirt over her.

“Don’t,” he mumbled into the pillow. “I dinna… like… sleeping…”

Contrary to whatever he’d been saying, he was out like a light in an instant and Claire shook her head at him.

Damn you, Joe. The love of her life, indeed.

Walking through the halls was a near overwhelming rush of memories, like stepping back into a long-past dream.

The sitting room looked positively bare without the large tree and Jenny’s decorations, the Christmas Jamie had gifted to her. She ran a hand down the body of the grandfather clock where he’d hid her actual gift and could have stayed there forever, reabsorbing all their time together. However, a slight rush of air conditioning reminded her she was in only Jamie’s shirt.

She set off for the kitchen, already in a hurry to get back upstairs and make up the time lost.


“Oh, you’re up,” Claire said, blinking at him as she came back into the room. “You didn’t go back to sleep?”

Dhia, she was wearing just his shirt. Her pale legs stretching underneath like long, finely painted brushstrokes. He readjusted his back against the headboard.

“I slept wi’out ye for 3 months, Sassenach, and I didna like it one bit.”

She smiled, unconsciously brushing the crumbs of her late snack from her cheek as she floated over to the bed.

“Did you want me to grab you something too?”

She came to sit next to him on the bed and he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her to rest against his shoulder.

“Nah, I’m fine,” he said, nuzzling his nose into her hair until he found her ear to gently sink his teeth in. “Besides, ye ken, mo chridhe? There are alternative activities to snacking when ye’re awake this late at night, aye?”

“Oh really?” He felt a shiver run down her spine as she inconspicuously shifted closer to him and he chuckled.

“Och aye,” he rumbled, pulling her suddenly to straddle his lap and glorying in her squeals and giggles.

“You might fall asleep on me,” she breathed against his lips.

“That’s why ye’re on top,” he said simply, skimming his hands down her back and up under the shirt to fill his hands with her bare arse. He groaned. “Ye left the room wi’ no knickers, lass?”

“Your shirt covers everything important,” she shrugged, raking her nails through his hair and pulling his lips to hers as she settled her hips firmly against him.

“Really though, Jamie, if you’re tired—”

“Claire,” he said into her neck, pushing his hips up in search of any sort of friction, “ye could wake me from the dead for this.”

They sealed their lips together again as Claire’s hands travelled up and down his bare chest. Her fingers found and danced around one of his nipples and he moaned, gripping her hip so hard she squeaked into his mouth.

“Jenny said quietly, remember?” he laughed, biting into her collarbone and actively, intently, grinding into her. He could feel the warmth between her legs teasing his cock and it was all he had not to drive into her and lose himself in her silky heat.

She pulled away from him and he couldn’t stop his whimper of protest. The glint in her molten gold eyes said, we’ll see about that, and he gulped, holding his breath.

She slithered down his body, leaving small bites in her wake until she placed a delicate kiss to the soft head of his cock.

The back of his head hit the wooden headboard with a dull thud as his eyes squeezed shut, shaking hands drifting up of their own volition to thread into her hair and urge her back towards him.

Then the warmth of her mouth enveloped him and his breath left him in shaky, half-formed curse words, English and Gaelic alike.

God in heaven, to feel the gentle suck of her mouth on him, her hums vibrating through his body and forcing moans from his throat. He began to lift his hips in time with her, raptly watching his cock disappear and reappear between her lips.

He was close already, tugging at her hair to keep her from finishing him altogether.

“Nay, mo nighean donn, no’ yet,” he said, breathless.

She took his cue and rose off him, once again coming up to straddle his hips.

“Remember when we did this over the phone?” she hummed, lips trailing down the stubble of his jaw. “Was that what you were imagining?”

His hands slid around from her arse to her stomach and upwards, seeing the imprint of his hands cupping her breasts underneath the shirt. She pushed her chest closer to him, mewling as his thumbs drew tight circles around her nipples.

“Part of it, aye,” he said, not overly willing to divulge his baser needs to her.

How he’d wanted nothing more than to be at her side then, seeing her wee frame in his oversized shirt. Running his hands as they pleased across the lines of her body, settling his tongue in a firm pace against her clit and tasting her finish as he worked her with two fingers.

He reached down between them, watching her eyes follow his movements as he ran his fingers through her folds and stroked his cock.

“God Jamie, now—please!” she moaned.

In one fluid and practiced movement, he entered her and they shared a sigh of both relief and immense, overwhelming need.

Their urgency left no room for gradual beginnings, just mindless riding and rocking, rising and falling. Instinctually choreographed movements that took him deeper and deeper into her.

Their lips came together again, if only to somehow staunch the overflow of sighs and moans as they moved faster together, speeding to the point of mutual bliss – that unmediated meeting of souls – they so often craved.

Claire fell first, clenching around him as she bit into his shoulder to muffle her scream, and Jamie came tumbling after. He grasped her nape and pressed his fingers hard into her hip as he pulsed and spilled himself inside of her.

He pressed kisses all over her face, seemingly arbitrary and, though in no way unaccepting, she looked at him curiously.

“I’m kissing away all yer bruises, aye? Because I didn’t get to the first time.”

“You can’t possibly remember where all of my bruises were.” But he knew, like she knew, that he definitely did.

To her credit, he fell quickly back to sleep soon after. Still inside her, safe. And holding her tightly to him, even safer.

Chapter Text

Part Fifteen: Found Time |
Chapter 2

Her head was filled with sand, or concrete, or the full weight of all of her curls was finally crushing her skull like she’d always suspected it would.

It stung to open her eyes so she kept them screwed shut, even as she felt Jamie wake up behind her.

“Sassenach,” he hummed pleasantly, nuzzling and pressing soft kisses to her nape. “Claire? Are ye awake?”

“Unwillingly,” she grumbled into her pillow, only slightly resenting his chuckle. He kissed her behind her ear.

“Did ye want to get breakfast?”

Not even food could help this, and her groan when he brushed the hair from her face – her natural blackout curtains – told him so. She scrambled to push her face back into the pillow.

Goddamn him, he was still laughing at her.

“I haven’t had jetlag in years,” she said, “I feel like death.”

He turned her by the shoulders and she begrudgingly cracked her eyes open, hoping that maybe the sight of him would help at all.

“Christ, ye look like death too,” he grinned and she groaned again, burrowing into his chest.

“I’m only kidding, mo nigheann donn,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and resting his cheek on her head. “Ye still look as beautiful as the first time I saw ye.”

She bit him.

“I looked like death the first time you saw me too, you bastard.”

“Hush now, lass,” he hummed, unperturbed, stroking her hair. “Just rest, mo chridhe.”

Despite her mock pride, her body easily melted into his. The familiar warmth and scent, paired with his rumbling voice washing over her like rolling waves could have knocked her out instantly.

“Don’t you have things to do today?” she mumbled into his chest, holding one last withering tether to consciousness.

“Nothin’ that matters lass, just you.”

“That’s sweet.” She knew he could feel her smirk against his bare skin. “I’ll remember that when Jenny burns you at the stake.”

“She said take our time, no? And this is just about as quiet as we can be.”

She snorted, stinging eyes be damned as she looked up at him.

“You should go, Jamie.”

He touched her cheek.

“Ye want me to?”

She blinked slowly, already fighting a losing battle with the deep pull of sleep. A battle she intended to lose, and gladly.

“I’m not going anywhere, promise.”

He cupped the full curve of her face, stroking her cheek with his thumb before leaning in to kiss her.

“Alright,” he whispered, nudging their noses together. “I’ll bring ye some lunch later, aye?”

“It’s anyone’s guess if I’ll eat it,” she sighed, smiling as he pressed another kiss to her forehead.

“I love ye, Claire.”

“Love you… too…” She was out like a light.

And with one last kiss to her temple, Jamie was out for the day.


When he came up with her food, the bed was empty and he could hear her in the shower. When he came up a little later, the food was partially eaten and she was dead asleep again.

To Jenny’s amusement, he threw himself into his chores by means of distraction, to somehow make the day pass quicker. But, by the time he crawled into bed, he was exhausted and Claire was just waking up.

It was almost as if they were still thousands of miles apart, but – he pulled her bodily to him – at least now he could hold her.

“You look tired,” she said, running her hand along his stubble.

“Aye well, it is nighttime.”

“Then sleep, Jamie. Don’t stay up just be—”

“I missed ye all day, lass,” he sighed. “And ye’re missing Lallybroch in the summertime.”

She hummed, letting her head fall against his shoulder as they snuggled into each other.

“I do have to get over this soon,” he said. “I’ve still got to head back to campus and—” She felt him tense and ran a hand down his chest. “—clear out my room, move all my stuff out.”

“Oh,” he nodded, tentatively pushing his luck. “And, ah—where would ye be moving yer stuff to?”

She shot him a look, eyes glinting.

“Well, usually I bring it all back to Uncle Lamb’s estate. It’s about halfway between here and campus.”

“Ahh, I see.” He coughed and she smirked.

“Of course,” she started slowly, “I’m always open to alternative plans—i-if you’ll have me, that is,” she added hastily, seeing his broadening grin.

“If?!” He rolled on top of her, kissing her furiously. “Ye dinna even ken half of the things we can do this summer.”

“I draw the line at pissing on the stones by the tower,” she laughed.

He laughed too, but it ended on a yawn and she tutted at him.

“Alright, my lad,” she said primly, “you let me sleep all day, and now it’s your turn.”

Instead of getting out of bed though, she shifted her back up against the pillows and wrapped her arms around him, letting his head nestle, perfectly pillowed, on her chest.

“I’m no’ gonna bother ye?” he said, snuggling his head in and coiling his arms around her anyway.

“The food’s in arm’s reach,” she replied with a kiss to his crown. “Besides, this thick head of yours makes a nice phone stand.”

He made a disapproving noise but resigned, sighing in contentment.

“Alright, alright…” He yawned again, letting the scent of Claire and Lallybroch, of home, pull him to the precipice of consciousness. “Just mind the volume, aye?”

Her giggle was the last thing he heard before he fell over completely.

Chapter Text

Part Fifteen: Found Time |
Chapter 3

Just as Claire was waking up, Jamie burst into the room and flopped onto the bed next to her.

“Sassenach!” She didn’t know what time it was, but it was certainly too late to warrant his level of energy.

“Lass, are ye awake?” He shook her lightly. “C’mon!”

“C’mon?” She looked at him dubiously. “C’mon, where?”

“I’ve got a wee surprise for ye, but it’s a bit time-sensitive, aye?” His apparent excitement sped his speech up ten-fold as he insistently tugged on her hand. “Do ye need to dre—?” He gave her shorts and tank top a once over before shrugging. “Och, that should be fine, it’s warm enough outside. Now, let’s go!”

Curiously entranced by his haste, she began to ease herself out of the bed and yelped as he – once again – lifted her into his arms.

“Jamie! I told you I can walk perfectly fine!” But her protests had no visible effect on the wide grin between his deaf ears.

“It’s either carry you or the crutches down the stairs, in case ye need them, aye? And I’d much prefer youmo nighean donn.

He didn’t set her down until they got to the front door to pull their shoes on. Never releasing her hand, and – to her growing annoyance – never once answering her questions, he walked her through the courtyard and into one of the dark, rolling fields of Lallybroch.

Her recollection of that first midnight walk they’d shared was abruptly interrupted when she saw it.

There, amidst the vast expanse of grass below and stars above, was a blanket, a picnic basket, and one infuriating Scot settling down and patting beside him, urging her to do the same.

“What’s all this?” she said, dumbfounded.

“I thought ye’d ken a picnic when ye saw one,” he laughed, humming contently as she relented and snuggled up beside him. “I’ve barely seen ye these past few days, wee nocturnal thing ye’ve become. So, I thought I’d make up for lost time, aye?”

She pressed her nose into his shoulder, hiding her blush as she muttered, “You goddamn bloody romantic.”

“And cost-effective too,” he chuckled, wrapping his arm around her.

She propped her chin against him and wrinkled her nose, turning his chuckle into a full-blown laugh.

“I don’t understand what part of this was time-sensitive though.”

“Aye, right.” He sat up at that, checking his phone for the time before readjusting his hold around her.

“Any second now, Sassenach, ye’ll want to keep yer eyes trained that way.”

He pointed to the sky and Claire narrowed her eyes, trying to find whatever he was waiting for amongst the stars.

And then, with a flash, one star dislodged itself and arced through the sky. She gasped.

“A meteor?”

“A whole shower of them,” he replied with a grin. “Should be the densest fall of the year too.”

She looked up with delight, watching another one fly across the sky. In the corner of her eye, she’d noticed Jamie had ceased to watch the sky.

“It’s beautiful,” she sighed.

“Aye.” His voice made her shiver despite the warmth of the night.

She rested her head onto his shoulder, listening to their shared heartbeat in the otherwise silent field.

“When ye were gone,” he started slowly, “I spent all my time imagining the things we could do over summer break, all the places I wanted to take ye. It felt like having ye there with me, picturing all the festivals in town we could go to, the fair that comes around this time of year…”

“I missed you too,” she said, kissing his shoulder then bringing a hand up to gently guide his gaze back to her. “Not just while I was away, but these past few days, waking up as you’re going to sleep.”

He leaned forward until their foreheads touched.

“But ye’re here now,” he said with a smile, leaning further to brush his lips past hers. “And we have the whole summer.”

She nodded, feeling heat ripple through her body as their lips gently met, completely disregarding the stars and the picnic basket.

But not so much, Jenny, whom they immediately heard walking up the hill.

“Do ye two no’ have a room to do this in?”

“My dear sister,” Jamie started, and Claire tried hard to hold back her laugh at the annoyed slant of his voice. “Might I ask what in the hell ye’re doing out here so late at night?”

“The stars dinna belong to only you, brother,” she said with a wink at Claire as she bent to set down another blanket close to theirs. “Ye’re looking better, Claire.”

“That’s because it’s just about breakfast time in Manila,” Claire replied with a smile, leaning back against Jamie and running a hand down his arm to soothe his grumbling.

Within minutes – and no shortage of gasps and whoops as the meteors picked up frequency – the whole Fraser-Murray clan had shown up. Ian and wee Jamie gave Claire a jubilant welcome, and Murtagh, an acknowledging nod, which Jamie assured her was just as jubilant.

“Glad to see ye in one piece,” Ian laughed, coming to sit next to Jenny. “The way Jamie was carrying about, we were afraid we’d have to foot an impromptu international flight.”

“Ach, shut it,” he said, throwing grass in Ian’s direction. “Whose side are ye on?”

Claire was just about to interject when two thin arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind, dislodging her from Jamie.

‘Welcome back, Mademoiselle!”

“Fergus!” She rose to her knees and turned to hug him, hyperaware of Jamie’s – hilarious – annoyance.

“It has been so boring without you, Mademoiselle Claire. You should have seen M’sieur!”

“That’s enough out of ye, laddie,” Jamie grunted and Claire laughed, seating Fergus comfortably between her knees.

“You must tell us all about your trip, Mademoiselle,” Fergus chirped, leaning his head back against her.

“Well, I actually met a clever little boy that reminded me a lot of you…” She’d said it without realizing and shot a look at Jamie, who was staring back just as surprised.

Then his expression melted into something indescribably heart breaking and heart warming at the same time.

He shifted next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and rubbing her arm.

“Sorry, mo chridhe,” he whispered.

“For what?” she said quietly, knowing only he could hear her voice quiver.

“Among other things,” he sighed, leaning in to kiss her cheek, supporting and soothing all at once before she caught the glint in his eye, “I’m sorry our picnic got invaded.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she laughed, the twinge of pain in her heart slowly but surely ebbing away. “I was going to thank you.”

“Thank me?” he scoffed. “What for?”

She turned to him, pressing their foreheads together.

“For giving me a family to come home to.”

She couldn’t even count the seconds before his mouth was on hers and he didn’t relent till Fergus wriggled in her arms, retching in mock disgust.

Jamie chuckled, placing his whole hand atop Fergus’ head to turn the boy’s eyes back towards the sky.

“Eyes ahead, lad, it’s PG-13 over here.”

Claire could barely keep her lips on Jamie’s as she fought back laughs and smiles alike.

She was surrounded by family, made not by blood, but love just the same. And while the rest of the Frasers and Murrays made wishes on the falling stars, Claire knew she had nothing at all to ask for.

[End of Part 15]

Chapter Text

Part Sixteen: Happy Returns |
Chapter 1

“Can I ask ye a question?”

Jamie stuck his pitchfork into the ground, leaning against it as he rose an eyebrow at Ian.

“Never had to ask my permission first, aye? Just ask.”

Ian chuckled, looking across the field where wee Jamie and Fergus were likely terrorizing Claire as she tried to pick herbs.

“Fair enough,” Ian shrugged. “Do ye recall New Years? When you and I and Murtagh got piss drunk?”

“Aye, every New Years,” Jamie laughed, still casting a curious eye at his brother-in-law. It wasn’t in Ian’s nature to dance around a subject.

“Ye said then that—" He looked across the field again. Wee Jamie was squealing and giggling at something Claire was doing. “—Claire was ‘it’ for ye, remember?”

Jamie’s cheeks tinted red slightly and Ian choked on a laugh.

“Aye, and what of it?” Jamie said defensively, but with no shortage of brotherly spite. Teasing was much more in Ian’s nature.

“Ye’ve gone through a lot this year, the both of ye,” Ian said. “I just wanted to see if that’s changed anything at all, how ye feel.”

“Changed?” Jamie blinked. “Changed how?” He scrutinized Ian’s face. Had Jenny said something? Did he have to prepare for yet another hurdle, after just barely making it through the last?

Claire’s laughter floated down the field and, like it always did, eased the growing tension in his shoulders.

“If anything’s changed, it's that I ken I can lose her now.”

Ian turned to him, brows crossed.

“No’ to another person, but just to my carelessness, or something else I canna control.” He breathed out a sigh to relieve the pressure suddenly compressing his chest. “What’s changed is I ken who I am wi’out her, and I dinna like him one bit.”

The two men were silent for a moment, letting the giggles down the field from Claire and the children alike fill their respective hearts.

Then Ian chuckled.

“Good,” he said. “That's what I thought ye'd say.”

“I never tested ye like this when ye started dating Jenny,” Jamie scoffed, shoving Ian’s shoulder.

“It wouldnae have mattered if ye did, knowing yer sister. Besides, we all grew up together. There wasna anythin’ else ye needed to know.

“Aye,” Jamie nodded, rubbing a finger under his nose as he looked off at Claire once again. Wee Jamie had just sprinkled the herbs she was gathering into her hair and she looked like some sort of – slightly miffed, but undoubtedly ethereal – forest goddess.

“But does it no’ feel like,” he started, still mesmerized by the sight of her and resigned to the fact that he always would be, “like Lallybroch is her place too? Like she belongs here as much as you or I do?”

Ian glanced at him, then back at Claire and the kids, and shook his head at Jamie.

“Aye, a braithair, I think ye’re right.”

“Oh, and come to think of that,” Jamie said, rounding back to Ian. “I have somethin’ I want to run by ye…”


The herbs Claire had meant to gather in her basket had ended up in her hair, much to wee Jamie’s amusement as evidenced by his thoroughly enthused squeal.

She couldn’t bring herself to blame him though, cute and tiny thing he was. She’d wanted to get up and chase him around, but didn’t feel like searching for the herbs again when they eventually dislodged from the very credible bird's nest on her head.

Wee Jamie was making chirping noises as he tumbled into her lap and pointed up at her hair and Claire grabbed him by the chubby middle and tickled him mercilessly.

“Only I’m allowed to call it a bird’s nest, you little smudge!”

Fergus, who had been doubled over laughing beside her, finally composed himself and knelt over Claire’s head.

“Allow me, Mademoiselle,” he said, beginning to run his fingers through her hair and carefully pull the grass out.

His fingers were nimble, and Claire felt surprisingly soothed.

“Where’d you learn to do this?” She turned to face him just in time to see his smile falter just a bit.

“My maman, from… before,” he answered simply, quickly jumping back to his regular grin. “My hair is just as troublesome, no?”

Claire bit her tongue but played it off with a laugh.

“It’s a curse, isn’t it? Nothing like this—” She ran a hand through wee Jamie’s straight black hair, just like his mother’s.

She wondered if Fergus’ mother had the same hair. And, with the same gentle but insistent pang it always triggered, if her own mother had the same hair as her.

Suddenly Fergus’ soft touch was replaced with much longer fingers. She blinked back to the present, only to be cast in Jamie’s tall shadow as he knelt beside her and took up Fergus’ work.

“My lady,” he said, running his fingers through her strands. “I’m at yer service.”

Claire tried to contain her smile, just to see if was still possible to maintain some semblance of composure when she was surrounded by such sweeping and unjudging comfort.

It wasn’t.

She leaned her head until it landed against his solid chest and sighed.

It really wasn’t possible.

Chapter Text

Part Sixteen: Happy Returns |
Chapter 2

His dreams were getting ahead of him.

In that blurry space just before consciousness, he was lying in bed, in some nondescript room, unknown to him cognitively, but with that odd sense of expected familiarity only found in dreams.

He knew this place, or he would.

And, whether awake or not, he felt Claire stir in his arms, shifting herself closer to him.

The room melted away like a stone thrown into pond reflection and he cracked his eyes open against the light filtering in.

Claire was still there, in his arms like she always was, but the room was distinctly Lallybroch.

She was stirring awake too, further blurring the line between his dreams and reality.

Which, he supposed, is what happened when your reality was quite literally the stuff of your dreams.

He could barely remember the time before he and Claire started dating, as long ago as it was. But he remembered every dream because, frankly, they hadn’t changed.

Waking up in Lallybroch with Claire curled up beside him. The only – staggering – difference was that it was all real, she was real and there with him.

Christ, over half a year with her and he was still utterly astounded that it was actually happening.

“I can hear your brain from here,” she mumbled into the pillow and he chuckled, seamlessly easing back to the present as he – just as seamlessly – pulled her closer to him and peppered her neck with kisses.

“Mornin’,” he rumbled.

She hummed, turning to him and, with eyes still closed, pursing her lips for a kiss.

“Good morning,” she said, slowly revealing that perfect shade of whisky. “What have you got planned today?”

“Nothin’, just you, mo chridhe,” he said, rubbing his nose into her cheek. “Did ye sleep through the whole night?”

“I did, indeed.” Her smile widened, naturally enticing his too. He kissed her again.

“Welcome back to our time.”

“Hmph, ‘our time’,” she chuckled, ending on a sigh. “You know what that means, though. I’ve got to clear out my room on campus this week, and sort out all of my classes.”

Jamie stretched his legs out slowly under him, groaning contently as he readjusted his hold on her.

“What is happening with yer classes anyway? You and Joe were supposed to graduate this year, no?”

“Well…” She blew some hair from her face as she turned in his arms, melting into his chest. “Considering all the courses I was supposed to take were in the winter semester, I’ll have to make them up then, which leaves me all of fall semester to study for medical school.”

“Fall semester,” he chirped, “that’s a year since we first met, aye? And, hang on—”

“Hmm?”

“Does that no’ mean ye’ll graduate—”

“With you, yes,” she said, not even trying to contain her smile. “Not in the same ceremony, of course, but—mmph!”

He wasn’t trying to contain his joy either. Lips on hers and arms coiling around her waist as he rolled her onto her back, shared giggles floating up to the ceiling.

Somewhere between her half-hearted attempts at “stop” as he nuzzled her neck, she tugged the shorter hair at his nape and he looked up at her.

“It’s a little ways away,” she started, “but I wanted to know if—maybe—you’ll be staying in the dormitories again next year?”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Havena given it a thought just yet, no,” he laughed. “Though, I wouldna be surprised if John needs an extended break from my sorry self after all I put him through.”

“But, does that mean—I mean, are you…?”

His fingers pressed into her.

“Out with it, woman.”

She bit the inside of her cheek, some odd mix of excitement and trepidation swirling through her features, as if she didn’t already know she could tell him any and everything.

“Well, I was just thinking, if you haven’t settled on a campus room yet, and since we’ll have another semester together—maybe you’d like to stay at Uncle Lamb’s estate—with me—during the school year…? It’s a longer commute, but closer to campus than Lallybroch and—and stop smiling at me and let me finish, damn you!”

“Are ye asking me to move in with you, mo nighean donn?” He was smiling, grin getting wider and wider as she stumbled over her words.

“The housekeepers comes once a month and his old colleagues usually rent it out during the school year, but since I have the semester off, I figured we could use the space—if you’d like.”

“A whole house just for us?”

He turned his chin up, considering.

Imagining.

Coming home after class to find her studying at the dining table and getting lost in the way she swept her curls from her neck as she leaned into her book. Lazing around empty rooms on quiet Saturday mornings, just like today, and loving her slowly, leisurely, with no one around to hear or interrupt.

“I can tell one part of you agrees,” she said, rolling both her eyes and her hips between them.

“There’d be plenty of room, aye?” He bent his head and sunk his teeth into the soft skin behind her ear. “No one around but us?”

She practically purred as he pressed her into the mattress.

“I’ll take that as a yes?”

Emphatically,” he growled, taking her mouth once again and swallowing her moan as his hands slipped under her gown.

“Summer with ye, and then living together when school comes around—ah!” Her hand found the heat of him and his head fell into the crook of her neck.

“Will the blessings never stop?” he said into her skin, grinding his hips against hers.

“I think we deserve it after the last few months.” She hooked her leg around his hip – the leg that had caused most of their troubles in the first place – and eagerly answered the motion of his hips.

He agreed, of course, and he showed her just how much. Over and over again, like so many times before, but with the promise of times to come, times alone, times to look forward to.

And in his post-bliss daze he saw the room from his dreams again and knew, without a doubt, he was seeing their future.

Chapter Text

Part Sixteen: Happy Returns |
Chapter 3

They’d driven down to campus in Murtagh’s pickup and she’d left Jamie to start packing as she and Joe settled their plans for the upcoming school year with their – extremely concerned and utterly relieved – program coordinator.

After waving Joe off, she came back up to the room and leaned silently against the doorframe, watching Jamie carefully pack away what had been her life for the last while.

His sleeves were rolled up, his large back facing her as he lifted a box of her books and moved to place it on her desk. He caught sight of her as he turned and gave her a sidelong smile that sent her heart swooping into her throat.

“Enjoyin’ the view, a nighean?”

Like giving herself over to a current, she let that ever indiscernible magnetic tug pull her towards him, wrapping her arms around his waist from behind.

“I missed this place while I was gone,” she sighed, already feeling the telltale rumble of his laugh.

“More so than Lallybroch?” he said, eyebrow raised.

“Close second,” she laughed, kissing his shoulder briefly before releasing him, reaching for the duct tape, and sealing off the box.

He sat back on her bare mattress, bouncing slightly just to amplify the bedframe’s creaking and giving her what she knew was his best attempt at a wink.

But was really just an hilariously unsettling blink.

“Most of yer wee trinkets and books are done,” he told her. “Thought ye might want to do the clothes yerself.”

She cast him an eye as she bent to retrieve a discarded sock on the floor by her desk.

“Half of these are likely your clothes, you know?”

“Aye,” he nodded, unperturbed, “which ye either stole from me, or were torn off me – also by you.”

Feeling her high-ground slipping, she relented with a shrug and a smile.

He stood, crossing the width of the room to kiss her cheek.

“Furniture’s staying, aye? I’ll start bringing the boxes down.”

She surveyed the room quickly for anything he might have missed and immediately sprung from his arms when she noticed it.

“No, no, we’re definitely bringing this,” she said, unplugging her bedside lamp and holding it out to him.

“This? Why?”

Because,” she pressed on, turning it so he could see the dark indent of that early and unexpected impact on its metal shade. His smile widened as he took it from her.

“Och aye, wouldna want to forget that.”

Also, we wouldn’t want to get in trouble for leaving any damaged things.”

“Should we no’ take the bedframe too then? I’m sure it’s not as strong as it was ‘afore we had our way with it, aye?”

Another ‘wink’ and Claire dissolved into giggles. Undoubtedly the exact opposite reaction he wanted, if the way he bent down and nipped her neck was any indication.

“I’ll get started loading the truck then, wee hyena.” He effortlessly slid the box of books to rest against his hip as he carried that and the lamp out the door.

“I shouldn’t be too long,” she called after him as she grabbed an empty box from their pile and set herself to work.

Jamie was in and out as he cleared the boxes and slowly, Claire watched her room disappear piece by piece, reverting itself back into the blank four-wall slate she’d had in first year.

She was standing by her window, the last of her clothes packed and waiting by the door, as she ran her fingers lightly across the duct tape she’d placed over the crack so many months ago.

“My fault, huh?” said Jamie’s low voice by her ear as he wrapped his arms around her from behind, pressing his warm body snugly against her. She melted into him.

“It’s certainly not mine,” she said, swaying gently with him.

“So, mo nighean donn,” he said after a time. “Proper send-off on the desk… or the bed?”

She turned in his arms, slowly dragging her palms up his chest until her fingers met behind his neck, feeling his shiver from over his shirt.

“Wherever we get to first,” she breathed against his lips before crushing both pairs together.

He growled into her open mouth, taking a hasty, if blind, step backwards just as Claire jumped, expecting him to catch her.

Which he did, albeit a second later than he should have, sending his back crashing to the floor and Claire toppling onto his chest.

She winced, and his hand immediately grasped her shin.

“Yer leg, mo chridhe?”

“Guess we know I’m definitely all healed,” she laughed, prompting his as their lips messily found each other again. “And how’s your…” She peered down guiltily, knowing she’d landed on something far more tender.

“Aye,” he croaked, taking hold of her hips and groaning in appreciation as she shifted, grinding against him. “That’s—ahh—better, lass.”

“Not yet,” she said, shifting further down so she could undo his belt and tug at his pants and underwear.

“Do ye one better.” He grabbed at her arm and easily flipped her onto her back, warm hands already travelling up under her shirt.

“Did you lock the door?” she said between pants.

“There’s no one else on campus, mo graidgh,” he chuckled.

His fingers slipped under her skirt, actively trying to elicit louder noises from her.

Bloody bastard.

“Practice for next se—mmph—semester, then? At Uncle Lamb’s—ahh!”

He pushed into her and she arched into him, one leg hooking around his hip.

“I dinna think we’ve ever done this in total privacy. No one hearing, aye?”

“There was that time in the alley.”

He groaned and –Jesus H. Christ—Claire made a mental note: mentioning their encounter in the alley yielded extremely good results. She grabbed his collar with one hand and his backside with her other, pushing him closer.

Deeper.

Several frenzied – and noisy – minutes later, she rolled over, propping her chin into the natural dip of his chest. He rubbed his hand up and down her back lazily.

“I’ve one more stop before we head to yer uncle’s, if that’s alright?”

They straightened out their clothes and grabbed the last of the boxes to bring to the truck. With one last look behind her, Claire closed the door and headed off with Jamie’s hand tight in hers.

“Really, here?” she said, realizing where he was leading them.

“Aye, here.” He pressed her back gently into the bark of their tree and kissed her softly. She ran her hand up to grasp the soft hair at his nape.

“The last time I was here, I—” He chuckled hesitantly, looking down past her hip to one side of the tree. She followed his gaze and saw that the bark was chipped and broken around one concentrated area.

“—well, I did that,” he said dispassionately, fingers tracing the damage, “right after our fight.”

Empty spaces filling themselves in, she reached for his hand – the one he’d said he spent his time doctoring – and pressed her lips to his knuckles.

“Stupid man,” he murmured, reveling in his warm chuckle.

“Aye, it’s a wonder ye put up wi’ me at all.”

She looked at him, simply looked, and tried to figure out exactly what string of cosmic miracles conspired to create someone so incredibly daft and indescribably sweet, and gift him to her no less.

She fished for her room key in her pocket and turned from him to the tree, kneeling down on the grass and ignoring all of his questions. Could she even begin to repay him for all the things he’d given her?

Likely not, but she was willing to spend the rest of her life trying.

“Just give me a second,” she said, working the jagged edge of the key into the already chipped bark.

When she was finished, she stood and let him examine it, watching – glorying in – how his expression went blank and catching the distinct flush that painted his cheeks.

There, replacing the damage on the tree and – she hoped – whatever was left in his heart.

J + C

Crude and crooked, but theirs. And if it worked for Brian and Ellen Fraser, it could certainly work for them.

He ran his finger around the curve of the C, then reached for her hand, pulling her to his chest.

“This doesn’t mean we’re building a farm here, though,” she said pointedly into his shirt.

“O’ course not,” he laughed, “Our place awaits us, aye?”

Her lips curved into a smile, thinking maybe she’d do something similar at Uncle Lamb’s too.


“Why do I get the distinct feeling I’ll walk into a wardrobe and fall into some magic fairy-tale kingdom?” Jamie said as they pulled up to the front doors of Uncle Lamb’s house.

Estate. Manor. Fortress. Whatever word suited it best. They’d turned off the main road and drove down quite a stretch of property before reaching the three-storey house.

“Or maybe meet a bald-headed telepath with an uncanny resemblance to Sir Patrick Stewart?”

Hilarious,” Claire deadpanned as she held the door open for him.

But it was big, about the size – and echoing capacity – of Lallybroch, and adorned with the quiet reverence of a museum, artifacts and maps teasing a story he couldn’t wait for Claire to tell.

He divided his attention between her tour and her eyes, keen to see wisps of memories flash through them, to learn about the parts of her he didn’t already know.

She looked up at a suit of armour to one side of the sitting room and broke into a wide smile.

“I used to talk to him when Lamb was busy studying,” she said, running her hand down its arm like an old friend. “How sad is that?” she laughed after a moment.

“No’ sad, mo nighean donn,” he said, shaking his head and pulling her to him. “I want to know all of it, mo graidgh.”

He felt her shoulders relax against him as she reached up to stroke his cheek.

“Well, his name was Nicholas, if you must know,” she said primly.

Jamie nodded his head in the knight’s direction.

“Sir Nicholas, pleasure to meet ye. I see where Claire gets her calm, cordial, not-stubborn-in-the-slightest demea—ach!”

She’d elbowed him in the rib as she stepped out of his arms.

“You’re ridiculous,” she said, shaking her at him. “Do you want to keep talking to Nick or come see my favourite room?”

“Depends,” he shrugged, “Does Nick ken any good stories?”

“Oh, hurry up,” she said, adorably exasperated as she grabbed his wrist and tugged him down the hallway.

Really, he shouldn’t have been surprised.

Behind large double doors and Claire’s brilliantly eager smile was a library. A large one at that, just like everything else in the house.

“The best travel companions, really,” she said, leaning against one of the tables.

“And what was wee Claire Beauchamp reading, then? Treasure Island? Harry Potter?”

“Those, and all Lamb’s dusty history books too.”

“And poetry, by the looks of it,” he said, flipping through a book left open on – undoubtedly her uncle’s – large wooden desk.

She came to one side of him, peering down at the pages.

“One of the tenants must have left it open, or Lamb’s friends—Oh! That one was my favourite.”

His heart nearly stopped as he followed her fingers tracing the printed works on the thin paper.

He’d read it in class. Distinctly remembered it too, because it was when she was still in the Philippines and he’d spent that whole day missing her all the more because of it.

“Come and—”

“—let us live, my dear…”

[End of Part 16]

Chapter Text

Part Seventeen: Full Effect |
Chapter 1

Spending her whole childhood travelling undoubtedly gave Claire a substantial list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But in her and Uncle Lamb’s globetrotting, she’d somehow missed the charm of a local carnival.

Something Jamie had found out about, and clearly made his personal mission to remedy if the way he tugged at her hand that evening was any indication.

“Ye’ve never been to a carnival? No’ even once, Sassenach?”

She wrapped her arms around one of his, forcing him to slow down and match her more leisurely pace.

“I was raised by an archeologist. They weren’t exactly top priority.”

That only seemed to make him more eager to show her everything at once. The lights were already dizzyingly brilliant and the sounds of games and kids laughing made her feel like she’d walked right onto the set of some cozy summer movie.

She looked up at Jamie’s wide grin. And yes, here was her leading man, impossibly handsome, unbelievably sweet, and hers.

All hers.

But as she looked past his hair, illuminated fire in the glow of all the neon lights, she saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks.

She tugged back on his hand, stopping him too as she pointed up at the Ferris wheel.

“Let’s go on that!”

He squinted at it against the light, then turned to her with brows furrowed curiously.

“I’ve been on one before,” she said. “Lamb took me on the London Eye when I was a child, but that was ages ago.” Now she was the one pulling him along. “C’mooonnn, when’s the last time you rode one?”

He regarded her like he always did, with some reverent affinity, then sighed.

“That face of yers is cheating,” he said, kissing her forehead as he walked her to the ticket booth.

She could scarcely stop smiling as the operator lowered the bar around them, her fingers practically drumming against Jamie’s hand.

She’d only rode it once, but she distinctly remembered how much she loved it. It was like flying up in a plane, seeing everything get smaller and smaller below until you were suspended in that quiet pocket in the sky, just barely kissing the clouds.

And was this not the staple of those aforementioned summer movies? Resting a head against the broad shoulder of your partner and feeling their hand clasped tight in yours.

Particularly tight.

She snapped back to reality, looking at their hands then up at Jamie, who was turning suddenly – increasingly – pale as the ride began it’s inching ascent, loading passenger after passenger.

“Jamie!” She was turned in her seat as best she could, hands frantically checking for fever or injury across his clammy skin. “What the hell happened?”

“It’s fine, it’s—”

“It’s really not!”

“—just a wee bit of motion sickness,” he said through clenched teeth, eyes screwing shut. “I dinna like the swinging much.”

She peered down, the world shrinking beneath their hanging feet no longer novel but urgent. They were too far for the operator to hear and even still, Jamie would have to endure the trip down anyway.

No, they were well and truly stuck. She pulled him to her, tucking his head into the curve of her neck and feeling his hands coil tight around her like a child.

“Motion sickness?” she said into his crown, kissing it softly. “Since when?”

“Since I was a lad,” he replied, breath warmer than the summer evening air against her skin.

“Why the hell did you agree to come up then?”

He stayed silent until Claire tugged at his hair. “It’s a long way down, Fraser.”

“Ye were excited,” he muttered, “…didna want to disappoint ye.”

“Disa—?” Well, she did say he was unbelievably – infuriatingly – sweet.

“You could’ve bloody well said something, stupid. I can live without riding a Ferris wheel.”

He squirmed and she felt him swallow, about to say something, as the ride creaked to a gentle stop. He tensed.

“What’s happened?”

“They’re just letting us enjoy the view for a bit,” she laughed, idly combing her fingers through his hair.

They were suspended a cart away from the very top, looking out into the fields that melted into city lights across the horizon.

“Ye can see Lallybroch from here,” Jamie said, sitting up with a tentative eye at the ground immediately below them. She watched that familiar shimmer in his eye when he thought of home and, in passing, wondered if hers now did the same.

Joe would probably tell her they did, but only when she was looking at Jamie.

Jamie turned to her and smiled, the tiniest bit sheepish. And with a slow inhale, Claire let the moment – suspended in air and time – simply be.

This was her movie moment.

She leaned in to kiss him, lips an inch away from his, when the wheel began its round trip back to the ground. Missing his face by a mile, her mouth landed in his hair as he ducked his head into her neck and wrapped his arms around her again.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, “I’ll kiss ye on the ground, promise.”

“That’s alright, love,” she giggled, resting her check on his head. “Just think of something pleasant.”

Who needed a movie moment, anyway, when her leading man was so much more than a face on a screen? She was just about to say so aloud when a squeak came out of her instead.

“Jamie,” she said sharply, tugging again at his hair, “I said think of something pleasant, not fondle it in public.”

And she felt the goddamn bastard smirk against her skin.


Skipping was undignified, but speedwalking only just less so. Regardless, he was eagerly speeding back to Claire, whom he’d left sitting somewhere so he could get them both food.

She was in a summer dress, long legs bare and crossed as she sat alone on the wooden bench where he’d left her. She was in sharp contrast to the neon lights behind her and he couldn’t help but take her picture with his phone.

He needed a new lockscreen anyway.

She caught sight of him and smiled as he wove through people to get to her, careful not to drop the hotdogs he had in one hand, and the soft plush surprise he had behind his back.

“Long line?” she asked, taking a hotdog from him.

“Nah, I was just getting’ ye this too.”

Without much ceremony, he plopped a teddy bear roughly the size of her head onto her lap.

She laughed, which was a good sign. He sat next to her, feeling – to the credit of her oft-used observation – not unlike a dog bringing home a bone. If he had a tail it would undoubtedly be wagging.

“And what on earth is this?”

“I won it at yon game over there with the mock shotguns,” he explained, dividing his gaze between the fluff of the brown bear and the surprised flush tinting her cheeks. “I saw it and thought of ye, but the lad said I had to play the game to get it.”

“You won this for me?”

“Cost me a fair amount of loose change, but aye.” He swallowed. “…I wanted to apologize to ye.”

“Hmm?” Her head darted from the bear to him, cheeks full of food and eyes blinking confusedly.

Pity he couldn’t make that his lockscreen.

“Ye were so excited to ride the Ferris wheel, and my damn wame got in the way, aye? I didna mean to ruin the moment.”

“Jamie, you know you didn’t.”

He smiled ruefully. He knew, of course, that she wouldn’t care, that being here with him is all she wanted and she’d tell him exactly so in a minute or two but—

He sighed, resting his arm around her shoulder.

“When I was a lad, all my friends would bring their girlfriends here, every summer. Win them some prize at a game, snog on top of the Ferris wheel—it’s what everyone did. Hell, even Jenny and Ian. And I always thought,” he chuckled, “that maybe I was… late? Or none of the lassies were much my type.” He shrugged, feeling suddenly like his shirt was too tight across his shoulders.

“And then I realized it was because I hadna met ye yet.”

She looked at him skeptically and he laughed, turning to face her fully. His fingers found the stray ends of her curls and played absently with them.

“Honest, mo chridhe, I swear. It wasna that I wanted to be like all my friends or I felt like I was missin’ out but—” He sighed again. “That day I saw ye, Sassenach, in the library, I saw every place I wanted to bring ye to, everything I wanted to see wi’ ye. I just—I wanted to give ye the full summer experience, without my blasted wame foiling our plans, ye ken?”

Her eyes softened as she looked from him to the bear and back again. Then, she leaned in and pressed her forehead to his.

“I ken,” she said softly, “but you know I’m already getting the ‘full summer experience’ just being here with you.”

It took almost exactly two minutes for her to say so, but who was counting?

“Aye, I ken,” he replied just as softly, moving to press his lips to her forehead. “Can I no’ want to spoil ye sometimes?”

“Fine,” she hummed, pulling the bear snugly into her middle as she discarded her hotdog wrapper and shifted closer to him. “What part of this bear reminded you of me though?”

There was a wide range of comments likening its unruly fur to her hair that he – rightly – thought against. Instead, he simply grinned at her.

“It’s a bear.”

“Mhmm?”

He grinned wider.

“Claire-bear.”

With a roll of her eyes she was on her feet and walking away from him in a second, the bear still on hand.

“Wha—Where are ye goin’?” he said running after her. She turned with a pointed finger and a look of singular determination.

“I’m going to go win you something.”

“Me? Why?”

“What? You think I can’t?”

“Course ye can,” he said resolutely.

Stubborn, prideful wee thing. He walked right up to her until they were nose to nose, then reflected her smirk back at her.

“But let me play too, aye?”

Chapter Text

Part Seventeen: Full Effect |
Chapter 2

The day had started well. Better than well, even.

It was unusually warm for Scotland and Jamie had yanked her out of bed for a trip to the West coast, where the gulf stream made the water along the shore warm enough to swim in.

It wasn’t the thick tropical heat of the Philippines’ beaches, but at least she still had a swimsuit on hand.

One that she was increasingly grateful for as she watched Jamie’s bugging eyes take in the two-piece suit and the expanse of her skin still touched with a lingering tan from her trip.

It took more than one tug on his hand to uproot his feet from the ground in front of the changing rooms.

Their walk towards the water’s edge had been fine too, until it wasn’t.

A Frisbee had flown wildly off course and hit her in the ankle as they walked, and she’d just been returning it to the two men who ran over when Jamie called her back suddenly.

She waved awkwardly at the stunned boys and walked over to Jamie, brows furrowed.

“What?”

His eyes were not on hers. He rubbed a finger absently under his nose, looking God knows where with startling intensity, as he replied with a mumbled, “Nothin’.”

And even as they walked farther, his head was darting in all directions at any sign of movement as far as she could tell.

Then, to their immediate left, she heard a girl laugh out loud and – despite Claire’s more logical mind – something cold and ugly turned in her stomach.

Jamie, historically, did not have wandering eyes but, was that not the very definition of what he was doing?

She didn’t mean to think it, but their tense silence as she laid down her beach towel only made it worse.

“Ye’re no’ going in the water?”

“In a bit, maybe,” she said, lying down on her stomach and resting her cheek on her crossed arms, trying to stop the mad turning of her brain.

“Ye alright?”

“Fine. You?” She hadn’t meant it to sound short, but his momentary silence told her she’d failed.

“Aye, fine,” he replied, sounding taken aback.

She chewed on her lip, deciding to say something right when she caught two pairs of legs approaching them – him – from the right.

“Um, excuse me?” One blonde and one with darker hair, both completely flushed. Claire pressed her forehead into her folded hands.

“Aye?” Jamie said pleasantly enough.

Claire could, even on a bad day, list a litany of his features and traits that could send most any girl with a beating heart into hysteria, just from a moment of his attentions. His natural, polite – goddamn – charm being first and foremost.

“W-we were um, we’re playing volleyball over there and were looking for a partner—I mean, extra player! If you’d like?”

There was a silence, long enough for Claire to peer one eye out at him, suddenly catching his eye staring right back.

Then, she saw something like profound understanding pass over him before shaking his head and turning back to the girls.

“Sorry lass,” he said, “I’d rather stay here wi’ my girlfriend, aye?”

“Oh!”

As if they’d just noticed Claire lying beside him.

“Hopefully, ye’ll find another player.”

Claire watched their legs retreat with dim satisfaction then nearly jumped out of her suit as his warm hand came to rest on her bare back.

He lay back and turned on his side to face her. She, with some reluctance, did the same.

“Hey,” he said softly.

“You don’t want to go play volleyball with those girl?” she said, pride stubbornly overriding all else. “Probably give them a heart attack.”

“And leave ye here wi’ all those men swarming around ye?” He scoffed, eyes turning a shade darker. “No’ likely.”

“Men?” She blinked dumbstruck. “What men?”

What men, Sassenach?” he said, voice high with disbelief. “Those lads wi’ the Frisbee threw it straight at ye just so they could see ye bend over. And me standing no’ three feet from ye! I’ve been staring down near every lad panting after ye since we got here.”

Oh.

“Have ye any idea how ye look, Sassenach?”

Her humility took a sharp turn left.

“Wait, this is my fault?” She moved to rise to her knees, but his hand tightened at her waist, keeping her where she was.

“Nay,” he swore. “And that’s the hell of it, a nighean. Ye’re doing nothing but be yerself. It’s the men thinking ye’re theirs.”

The anger subsided, floored – theoretically – as she always was by his earnestness.

You’re a man,” she said softly.

“Aye,” he conceded, “but…”

She raised her eyebrows at him, acutely aware of his large hand slowly opening up on the small of her back.

“But ye are mine,” he said in a rumble Claire remotely felt in her own stomach.

And somewhere a little further south.

“Hmph, you really are a man.”

Blood quickly rushed to her cheeks as she schooled her eyes on his, away from where she assumed his blood was running to.

“So you’re not going to play volleyball?”

He inched closer to her until their noses touched.

“Well, I can go play if ye like, and you can go play Frisbee, or…”

She gulped.

“Or?”

Or,” he said definitively, delicately slipping his pinky under the waistband of her bikini bottom.

She gasped.

“Here?” she breathed against his lips. It would only take an inch, less than an inch.

“Anywhere,” he said, ragged.

Just one millimetre to close the gap.

“Truck. Now.


He pressed her into the side panel, lips sliding over each other, urgent and hungry, as he fumbled for the door.

His fingers were drumming against her bare middle as she wriggled in his arms. He heard the click of the door opening and pulled from her, panting.

“Inside.”

She wasted no time crawling in, waiting – practically buzzing – on the centre console for him to fall in after her and shut the door.

Then she pounced on him, long legs straddling his hips as she took his head in both hands and pulled his mouth back to hers. His hands skimmed up her body from her thighs to her back, taking hold of her thin bikini straps and yanking them down until the thin fabric fell between them.

“This bittie thing leaves little to the imagination, Sassenach,” he said in a gasp, feeling her heat through the flimsy bottoms. “Those men—”

She silenced him, sinking her teeth into his bottom lip.

“Those men can imagine all they like, you don’t—” she gasped as he cupped her breast, thumb swiping over her puckered nipple. “—d-don’t have to.”

He growled, capturing her lips again.

Christ, I’ve wanted to tear this off ye since we got here.”

She hummed, grinding slowly into him until he groaned, his head falling into her shoulder.

“Yep,” she giggled, “you definitely are a man.”

“Aye, I am,” he said in a breath, fingers hooking into the sides of her bottoms.

She took his cue and eased back to shimmy out of her suit, giving him time to take care of his own shorts.

He sighed as his cock sprung free and Claire tutted her tongue.

“God, that must have hurt, love.”

“It did. Come here and fix it, will ye?”

Her smirk and her dark eyes, dripping gold, sent a shiver down his spine as she came to straddle his hips again.

“Ye’re mine, are ye no?” he said, pressing his fingers hard into her hips and gasping as she took hold of him.

Yes,” she breathed, rubbing the head of his cock through her folds, coating him with the gathering moisture between her thighs.

“And every square inch—” He pushed into her and they moaned together. “—of you is mine, James Fraser.”

He answered her not with words, but by sinking his teeth into the juncture between neck and shoulder. He felt her reply in the clench of slick muscles around his cock as he sucked against the tight skin.

He would mark her. He loved her with his whole heart, and would profess his tender devotion on command, but today was different.

Today he would own her, possess her. And she would do the same.

She had one hand tangled in his hair and the other bracing herself on the roof of the truck as she rode him at a punishing pace. Their moans drowned out by the sound of wet flesh between them and the rhythmic creaks of the truck frame.

A tug at the back of his head, coupled with a lower, deeper, tug told him she was close.

He released her skin with a soft pop, lathing over the dark spot he’d left and peppering it with kisses lest he’d hurt her anymore than he’d meant to.

Those men had no earthly idea – and never would – of how earth-shatteringly rapturous it felt as she came apart in his arms. That last rush of moisture as she tightened around him and keened his name, drawing his own release from him like she was beckoning his soul to share in the pure bliss that sent her body arching into his.

This moment was his and his alone.

In the hazy aftermath, he held her tight to him until both of them stopped quaking, drawing absent-minded loops up and down her back.

“Sorry,” he said after awhile. He felt her laugh come out in a huff against his chest.

“You don’t have to apologize for that. Ever.

He smiled, cupping her cheek to draw her eyes to his.

“Guess the heat got the better of us,” she said with a shrug, hand coming to hold his cheek too. “You know I love you, Jamie.”

“Aye,” he said softly, pressing his kips delicately to hers. “And I love you, my own.”

He paused, pulling from her suddenly to look down between them.

“Ach, but ye ken who willna love us nearly as much?”

Claire blinked and Jamie looked at her, grim with the forethought.

“Murtagh, when we give him his truck back.”

Chapter Text

Part Seventeen: Full Effect |
Chapter 3

“You know I’m not jetlagged anymore, right?”

He turned to look back at her as he walked them through Lallybroch’s dark fields, in the middle of the night. Again.

“We can sleep all day tomorrow, that’s what summer’s for,” he said dismissively, leading her to the pond alongside the mill on the far end of the farm.

“Here?” she said, turning to see him pulling his shirt off. “What are you doing?”

“We didna get to swim much at the beach the other day, ye ken?”

The darkness covered Claire’s faint blush fairly well as she recalled what they did get up to.

“Won’t be as warm, I’m sure—the water, I mean!”

He reached for her hand again and twined their fingers together, tugging gently.

“I dare ye.”

“What are you, seven-years-old?”

Shrugging, and definitively proving her point, he jumped into the pond with his boxers still on.

“Ach, it’s not so bad. C’mon, Sassenach.”

“C’mon, he says.” She rolled her eyes and sat at the edge, tentatively dipping her legs into the water. “Not bad, my ars—ahh!”

He grabbed at her calf and dragged her in with a laugh.

“You goddamn, fucking, bloody—!”

“Scot?” he offered cheerfully.

She pushed the wet hair from her face with a huff; there were other choice words she could have used, but Scot was the worst she could think of at the moment.

“You won’t think it’s funny when we both get pneumonia!”

“Ye’re a doctor, mo chridhe. I’m sure we’ll live.”

“Not too sure you will, after this,” she said with a steely eye at him.

Past the initial shock of cold, her teeth started chattering and Jamie sighed, wrapping his body around her and bringing them to sit on a natural ledge to one side of the pond.

“Ye’ll acclimate in a bit, mo graidgh,” he said, tucking her head under his chin. “And I’m sorry, aye?”

“Y-you didn’t look s-s-sorry two seconds ago.”

“Well, I did dare ye.”

She looked up, glaring at his completely unbothered smile.

“Truth or dare, Sassenach?”

Her comment on him actually being a 7-year-old was pre-emptively cut short by an urging squeeze at her hip. She sighed.

“Fine, truth.”

“Och, ye’re borin—ow! Why is biting always yer first defense?”

She swiped her tongue up the fresh teeth marks on his chest in apology and waited for him to readjust them on the ledge.

“Were ye really jealous on the beach the other day?”

“Why are you asking questions you already know the answer to?”

“It’s no’ my turn yet, a nighean.”

Rolling her eyes, she tucked her head back under his chin.

Yes, you arse. I was.”

He hummed happily and she resisted the urge to bite him again. His bite-mark on her neck was still a deep purple that summer scarves could only cover so well.

Your turn, truth or dare?”

“Dare.”

“Take the shorts off.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” Her fingers skimmed his waistband. She’d take what little retribution she could get, and having his privates en plein freezing water sounded like a good start.

His eyes darkened, as they often did when he undressed in front of her, but his wince as the boxers came off was – quite literally – ice cold vengeance.  

“I hope ye’re n-no’ thinking of getting a rise out of me, Sassenach,” he said, eyebrows waggling despite the tinge of blue painting his lips.

She kissed him in good faith and settled into his lap once more.

“Just evening out the playing field, love.”

He made a grunting, if strained, Scottish noise but wrapped his arms around her anyway.

“Truth or dare, mo chridhe.”

“Hmm, dare—though I think I know where this is—eep!”

He’d already started pulling her nightgown up and, with reluctance, she slowly lifted her arms and let him finish.

“Was skinny dipping on that summer bucket list of yours?” she chastised, pressing herself into his chest, not by means of seduction, but purely seeking out his body heat.

His idiotic grin and happily drumming fingers on her bare ribcage answered her question for her, so she moved on.

“Your turn, Jamie.”

“Truth, mo graidgh—though there’s verra little I dinna tell you outright.”

“Is it true you almost had a panic attack while I was gone because you couldn’t find a Wi-Fi signal?” 

His smile disappeared instantly.

“Who told ye that?”

No, it’s not my turn yet.”

His eyebrows sloped as he frowned.

“Aye,” he said sharply, “And I’ll be murderin’ Ian in the morning. Truth or dare, lass?”

“Dare.”

He leaned right into her and she could feel the wiry scrape of his chest hair against her skin.

“Kiss me,” he said without reason, she was automatically closing the distance between them anyway.

“Did you really have to dare me to do that?” she laughed, nuzzling their noses together.

“I suppose no’,” he said, “but I’m running out of things to ask ye. Ye’re already naked, aye?”

“Aye,” she agreed wryly, “well it’s your turn anyway.”

“Hmm, dare if ye’ve got more ideas.”

She tapped a finger to her chin, taking her lip between her teeth in thought.

“I dare you to… tell me something about you I don’t already know.”

He made a questioning noise, then chuckled.

“Is that no’ the same as truth, a nighean?”

You’re the one that said there’s little I don’t already know.”

He nodded in agreement, then considered for a moment and she could feel his finger tapping against her hip as he thought.

“Remember,” he started slowly, blue eyes looking just past her at some memory she couldn’t see, “that day when Abernathy called ye about the internship and ye made me suffer a whole day before ye told me about it?”

“Yes?” she said, unsure where he was taking this. His tone was light, jesting, but his eyes were a shade more serious.

“There was a brief moment, terrifying and…” He chuckled, less a laugh and more a shaky exhale. “…and brilliant, when I-I thought ye were pregnant.”

It was like the quiet white noise of the night completely silenced as she stared at him.

“I havena said that out loud before,” he said, shaking his head. “Ach, well, John knows but, that’s only because he was in the room wi’ me, ye ken?” he amended quickly.

She stared blankly at him, not at the revelation that he thought she was pregnant, but at that one word.

“Brilliant?” she asked softly, tentatively, “you were… excited?”

“Aye,” he said immediately, eyes bright even in the darkness. “Excited and worried, and scairt as all hell because… well, I couldna understand why ye didna tell me outright. Like ye were afraid of how I’d react or—That’s why I ran to the sciences building to find ye, I wanted—needed—to…” His mouth moved wordlessly as he tried to grasp at intangible words and feelings, and she knew the struggle all too well.

“Have you thought about that often, having—starting a family, I mean?”

The night masked his blush fairly well, but she still caught it.

“Ah aye, I have,” he sighed, sounding defeated but not too disappointed. “Earlier that day, even, when ye were looking at the pictures of wee Maggie on my phone.” He cupped her cheek and stared right at her. “Tis daft, I ken, and far, far into the future from now but—” Another sigh, helpless and, to Claire’s ear, mightily happy to be so. “—if it’s anyone, it’ll be wi’ you, mo nighean donn.”

She said nothing, waiting for time to start moving around her again. He was searching her eyes for any sort of reaction.

Then she smiled.

“I’ll tell you something you didn’t know,” she whispered, hiding her face into his chest but knowing he could feel the heat rising in her cheeks.

“That first day we came to Lallybroch, and wee Jamie ran into your arms, I saw it too…” She swallowed. “A child, massive curls and—and… um, ours,” she ended lamely.

Something changed across his features as he took in what she’d said.

“That early?”

“Mhmm,” she mumbled into his skin, “Faraway but—”

“But someday, aye?”

She looked up into his eyes, as blue and fathomless as the water that always seemed to rock her stormy thoughts. It had been some time, but there was her candle, distant and as steady as ever. As reliable as the lighthouse, but so much warmer.

“Someday,” she echoed, hand unconsciously palming her stomach and shivering as his covered hers.

“Are ye warm now, mo chridhe?

She felt his lips press against her forehead in a smile she easily mimicked.

“Yes, I—a-achoo!” She groaned, burying her face into his neck. “No, I’m not. Get me out of here, now.”

[End of Part 17]

Chapter Text

Part Eighteen: Echoes |
Chapter 1

Perfect is a word often used in hyperbole.

But, Jamie thought as he pulled his tartan wrap tighter around his and Claire’s shoulders, feeling her warm back pressed close to his chest.

But sometimes it’s right on mark, no?

The surprising rush of humidity seen the last few days finally burst into roughly a week of rain, and left the more typical chill of Scotland in its wake.

And while he’d enjoyed roaming the echoing halls of Lallybroch with her, the sounds of thunderous rain drowning out any sounds they themselves made, he was grateful to get some fresh air with her again.

And a good day for it, too; there was a music festival in town and while he had no real ear for anything even remotely musical, any reason to snuggle into Claire was alright with him.

“Hmm, nice song,” she said, resting her head back on his shoulder.

He wrapped his arms tighter around her, pressing a discreet kiss on her neck. They were towards the back of the park, away from the stage, where the crowd had begun to thin.

“Nice day, too,” he rumbled, feeling as though they might have been the only two people in the park at all.

She squirmed at the scrape of his stubble, encouraging him to do it again.

And who was he to argue?

Perfect day, in fact, Sassenach,” he said, sinking his teeth into the juncture between shoulder and neck. “So remind me again why we had to bring Fergus?”

He was answered by a glimmer of whisky gold. They knew, somewhere in that crowd, was the tiny French charge of Lallybroch, whom they were responsible for all day.

“That’s not fair, Jamie,” she said, “Imagine being cooped up in that big, echoing house all summer.”

“Well, I wouldna mind much,” he said with a shrug, “especially if you were cooped up wi’ me.”

“Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t.” They were so close, he felt the tremor of her suppressed laugh. She pinched his rib underneath the wrap. “He’s just a kid, Jamie.”

“Aye, and he’s old enough to ken how to get home wi’out us, no?”

She smiled but said nothing, simply closed her eyes to the gentle plucking of the far off guitar. Blatantly ignoring him.

He chuckled, bending low to murmur into her ear.

“C’mere, lass,” he said, quickly turning her to face him. Both hands still clutching the wrap as one came around her waist and the other holding one of hers to his heart.

Her smile then was small, curious. The same one he’d promised himself he’d always answer.

“What are you doing?” she asked, eyes alight.

“Dancing, obviously, like the song said.”

Her smile widened.

“This isn’t dancing, this is swaying.”

“Och, there’s no’ much difference, mo chridhe. Besides, isn’t dancing just an excuse to hold the person you love close in public?”

Then the smile shattered into a laugh. Her free hand, which had since been resting on his shoulder, came up to brush a curl from his face.

“You must show me whatever book or website you keep getting all these sweet words from, love. 

“That’s just me, Sassenach!” he said, frowning jokingly at her before leaning in close to nip gently at her upper lip. “Ye inspire me, is all.”

“You’re a dork,” she said, shaking her head.

“Aye, your dork.”

She tiptoed slightly to press their foreheads together, closing her eyes again.

Thank you, she was saying.

For not the first time since her return, he felt his fingers flex into her, proving to himself she was still there, still whole and still his.

“Ye ken when September comes, it’ll be a year since we’ve met?”

Her eyes slowly opened and – despite the year they’ve known, and loved, each other – he still lost his breath at the sight.

“A year since I tackled you?” she said in a chuckle. “Should we re-enact it, to commemorate the occasion?”

“We’ll be staying at yer place by then, no? Plenty of room there to celebrate, just the two of us.”

He gently pushed his hips into hers in case he wasn’t being explicitly clear.

She hummed, answering with her own twist of the hip.

“Something tells me you’ve got an idea or two already planned.”

“I’m open to suggestions, of course. It is something of a team effort, ye ken?”

“That means it’ll also be around a year since you—you lost your—” The rest of her sentence was lost into his shoulder as she stifled her fizzing laugh, but her meaning was clear.

Nay, that was in December, Sassenach.” As quick as an inhale, pressed them as close as possible and she gasped.

“And we’ll have to celebrate that as well, aye?”

Her eyes, a shade darker, peered up at him from under her lashes.

Aye,” she answered, burying her head into his neck to nip at his skin.

She must still be bitter about the mark he left on her at the beach, he thought, shivering at the scrape of her teeth.

“Dinna waste yer appetite, a nighean. We still have the Fraser barbecue afterwards. Ye’ll get to meet some of my other relatives, aye?”

“All as warm and welcoming as Jenny was at first, I’m sure.”

He opened his mouth to refute but, at the thought of Dougal and Colum, promptly closed it.

“To be determined, I see,” she laughed. “That’s okay, I can spend my time with the little ones if I get bored of the adult activities.”

“We could always sneak off for adult activities of our own, though.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Oh that’s a great first impression to make. ‘Where’s Jamie’s girlfriend? Oh, she’s just off shagging him someplace’.”

He chuckled along with her but didn’t reply, already too preoccupied with figuring out the best spot to duck away from the party.

There was the large oak tree with the large wooden swing on the very edge of the property, much closer to town than it was to the main house. Far enough to only distantly hear the goings on from the yard.

Yes, perfect was often hyperbolic but that seemed too good a chance to pass up.

He was just about to say so to Claire when a shout emitted from the crowd.

“Oi! Get back here, ye little shite!

There was a stirring in the crowd then and Jamie sighed.

“Lord, please dinna tell me that’s our little shite.”

And on cue, Fergus whizzed out of the thrum of people and towards the main street, followed closely by a red-faced man.

It took all of three seconds for Claire and, with a bit more reluctance, Jamie to run after them, the echoing sounds of music and people fading behind them.

Chapter Text

Part Eighteen: Echoes |
Chapter 2

By the time they made it to the town proper, Fergus was nowhere to be seen.

His assailant however, was stalking down the opposite side of the road. With little more than shared nod, Jamie ran across the street, leaving Claire to find Fergus as soon as possible.

This was perhaps – technically – her fault. She’d been the one so adamant to bring him along, despite Jamie’s very rational argument that nothing was stopping the boy from going into town himself.

But she couldn’t explain it, no more than she could explain the instinctual tug that pulled her to Jamie, made her feel at home in Lallybroch’s halls.

She wished she could somehow conjure that instinctual tug now though as she walked up and down the streets in search of Fergus’ telltale brown curls.

Echoes of her conversation with Jamie in the mill pond the other night were swirling in her head as she walked up and down the street. They’d danced around the idea of their little ‘someday’ with a fair amount of levity for a topic so serious. But, as most things did with Jamie, sheer earnest honesty came easily. His unjudging pools of blue drawing every single one of her hopes and dreams from her lips.

It was no secret she adored children; playing with wee Jamie ranked high on her list of favourite Lallybroch activities. She often missed listening to Angie’s Taglish recounting of her school day and, in her quieter moments, she imagined Eli’s large brown eyes, expectantly curious, staring up at her.

Her relationship with Fergus was no different, if not bolstered even more so after her return. She felt particularly responsible for him, felt the need to educate, advocate, reprimand, care for…

Good God, the maternal instinct was really coming out in full force. She shook her head, refocusing her efforts as she paused to scan across the opposite side of the street.

And finally, she caught sight of him on the other side of the road, further down from the intersection she was standing by. His head was darting in all directions, looking side to side before checking behind him.

Fists determinedly balled at her sides, she waited for her light to turn green so she could run over and grab him.

But then—she saw it, like watching in slow motion.

Before she could shout for him, her legs froze.

She staggered backward, voice dying in her throat as the blood in her body went cold.


 

“And what the hell do ye think ye’re doing, hmm?” Jamie said, yanking Fergus out of the road by the collar.

Just in time too, as a truck came barrelling down the street, horn honking madly as it came and went.

Mon dieu,” Fergus breathed out, one hand on his chest. “Thank you M’sieur, I almost—”

“Dinnae thank me,” Jamie said sharply, grabbing at the boy’s thin arm and pulling him towards the red-faced man from earlier. “Ye have something of his, aye?”.

“O-oui,” the boy said, defeated, as he fished into his pocket and held out the man’s money clip.

“Ye ought to watch that boy of yers more carefully!” the man barked before fuming away, shaking his head.

Jamie heaved a sigh as they watched him go before rounding back to Fergus.

“Aye, ‘boy of mine’, I recall a certain agreement between you and I regarding pickpocketing.”

“I didn’t! I swear it, M’sieur!” he said, arms up and palms open. “I picked it off of the ground and before I knew, that man was chasing me.”

Jamie pinched the bridge of his nose, briefly contemplating how likely he was to go white-haired after taking the boy in. The irony of the situation just after his and Claire’s conversation the other night was not lost to him in the slightest.

“Well, regardless, we should be headin’ back anyway. Where’s Claire?”

Fergus blinked.

“Is she not with you?”

“Nay, we split up to find you, ye wee gomeral.”

Pas de probleme, there she is!”

They saw her leaning against the side post of a building across the street and quickly made their way to the crossing to head over.

Madmoiselle?”

Jamie tensed when he saw her, rushing over immediately to take both of her hands in his. She was cold, and clammy, and as ashen as the overcast sky.

“Sassenach? Claire! What’s wrong, mo chridhe?” he said, taking her by the forearms to shake her gently.

Coherence slipped back into her glassy stare as she registered his presence.

“Jamie,” she said shakily. “F-Fergus, is he…?”

“I’m fine, Mademoiselle,” he answered, looking ever concerned.

She crumpled into Jamie’s arms at the confirmation, and he stumbled to keep her upright, held tight against him. Burying her face into his chest, she began to shake. Pressed so close together, he was sure she could hear his panicked pulse, but he couldn’t care less at the moment.

As always, all that mattered was her.

He scooped her up into his arms before turning an eye to Fergus.

“Ye ken the tree at the edge of the property?”

Fergus nodded as Jamie carefully held Claire’s shaking frame with one arm and reached for his wallet with the other.

“Buy some water, and food, then meet us there.”

He nodded again, looking singularly determined as he bolted down the street.

“It’s alright, mo graidgh, hush now. I have ye, ye’re safe.”

He murmured to her, soft and low, as he walked her out of town, all the while praying to himself.

Lord, let me be enough.


 

Chapter Text

Part Eighteen: Echoes |
Chapter 3

She was prolonging the inevitable. While her heart rate had slowed back down and the shaking had stopped, she was too soothed by Jamie’s deep murmuring as he gently stroked her hair to want time to start moving again.

He’d carried her back to Lallybroch’s edge, leaning his back on the trunk of a large tree and gathering her up in his lap like she was a child.

Her cheek was pressed against his chest, ear against his heart, timing her breathing with their synchronized rise and fall.

She sighed, burying her face into him for a moment before reluctantly pulling back to look up at him.

“Hey,” he said softly, cupping the swell of her cheek. “It’s alright, ye’re alright now.”

“I’m… I’m not.” She bit down hard on her lip to stop it from trembling.

He said nothing, blue eyes waiting, not expectant but open and accepting, letting her choose.

It made her smile despite everything else; she’d always choose Jamie.

“I couldn’t—I couldn’t move, or speak, or—I saw the truck down the street a-and—”

And she saw flashes of colours, could almost hear the sounds of traffic and feel the thick, humid air. But she felt the soft rub of Jamie’s thumb against her cheek before the storm of ghostly sensations took over.

“Ye’re safe. It’s alright, mo graidgh,” he said again.

“But it’s not.” She frowned, feeling frustrated tears well up defiantly. “How am I supposed to be a doctor if I’m too scared to do any bloody thing to save them.”

Claire.” He clutched her arms fiercely for a moment, urging her to look at him. “Ye canna think that, mo nighean donn.” She winced at the dig of his fingers and watched both his grip and face soften.

“Ye’ve just gone through something traumatic, mo graidgh.” He let one large hand skim her shin, so much warmer than the chill around them, and the one she felt inside. “Just like yer leg, aye? Yer brain needs the time to recover too.”

At that, he pressed his lips to her forehead, as if expediting the healing.

Sometimes, she fleetingly wished he wasn’t as good as he was at making her feel better, if only to be sure he really was human and not some earth-bound angel she thoroughly didn’t feel she deserved.

“Ye’re the strongest person I know, mo chridhe,” he said, hearing her heart as always, “and when yer mind’s all healed, ye’ll be stronger than ever.”

What could she say to that, to the words he says that she never expects to hear but are exactly what she always needs?

“You’re too good at this,” she mumbled after a moment, as reluctant as she was grateful, “I should come up with more trauma just to see if I can stump you.”

“Please don’t,” he laughed, and she could feel how hard in the way his body shook hers as he gathered her tighter into his arms. “I dinna think I could bear anymore, mo nighean donn.”

She wrapped her arms around his middle and sighed, letting his warmth blanket over her, safe and secure.

“Stubborn and strong is a terrible combination,” she said, “and we’ve got double of both.”

“Ye’re stronger, I think.”

She looked up at him but he was looking off, once again, at some unseen memory. A breeze blew by and ruffled his hair as he watched the moment pass, then he looked down tenderly at her.

“But ye ken, Sassenach? Ye dinna need to be strong all the time, no’ wi’ me, anyway.”

She scoffed, shaking her head to shake out the echoes of Joe in her head.

Who are you being strong for right now, LJ? He’s not even here… And even if he was, isn’t he the only person you don’t have to be strong for?

She was about to tell him exactly that when she suddenly came face to face with the label of a plastic water bottle.

She blinked, looking up to see Fergus’ face staring back at her, lined with concern but – thank god – safe.

[End of Part 18]

Chapter Text

Part Nineteen: Relativity |
Chapter 1

Jamie too was prolonging the inevitable. The pounding of boots against the front mat downstairs shook beneath the floor of his room like the ticking of a bomb timer.

One by one, just under his and Claire’s feet, the Mackenzie were arriving.

“Ye’re sure, then?” he said for maybe the fourth or fifth time as he watched Claire straighten out her clothes. The look she gave him meant it was likely the latter.

“No one would blame ye if ye want to sit this one out, mo nighean donn. I just want to make sure ye’re okay.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Oh, don’t you ‘mo nigheann donn’ me, we’re not locking ourselves in the room just to avoid the rest of your family.”

Darn.

“They can’t really be as bad as you’re making them out to be.”

“It’s no’ that they’re bad exactly, just—” He shrugged. “I’m no’ overly fond of some of them – my mother’s side, aye? – and the feeling’s mutual for a few.”

She sighed, then came over to wrap her arms around his middle.

“I can handle it,” she said with a smile that immediately melted the tension from his shoulders, if only because he was glad to see her colour, and general demeanour, had greatly improved from earlier.

“Just remember that ye asked for it,” he said grimly, kissing her forehead before taking her hand and leading her out the door.

“Ah and there’s Himself!” came a jovial voice to their right as they came down the stairs.

Claire turned first before he could prepare her, and was met with the eager eyes and smiles of—

“Rupert, Angus!” he called, hugging both briefly when they rushed over. As far as first impressions could go, he thought perhaps these two were a softer start.

“Cousins of mine, distantly related,” he explained sotto voce to Claire.

“A pleasure to finally meet ye, Claire.” Rupert extended a hand, bending low to press his lips to her knuckles gallantly.

Jamie felt the hair on his nape bristle, but pushed the fighting reflex back down after seeing Claire’s sidelong smirk at him.

“Pleasure to meet you too.”

“So ye’re the lass whose stolen our wee Jamie’s heart, eh?” said Angus, shaking her hand vigorously. “The same one that’s got ye by the cock as well?” he said in Gaelic, winking at Jamie, who rolled his eyes.

“What did—?”

“Just that he’s happy to meet ye too, Sassenach,” Jamie said quickly, glaring at Angus and Rupert as they burst into hearty laughter.

Jamie opened his mouth to stop them but was cut short by Murtagh stepping between the four, and turning to him and Claire.

“You two have a moment?”

“Aye, we do,” Jamie nodded, taking Claire’s hand hastily and following Murtagh down the hallway, leaving Angus and Rupert’s bellowing laughs behind them.

“Claire, I think Ian needs yer help in the kitchen,” Murtagh said.

“Sounds like a plan,” she replied, kissing Jamie quickly before turning her heel towards the kitchen.

“What did Jenny need?” Jamie asked after Claire had cleared the hall.

“Nothin’, ye just looked like ye needed the assist.” Murtaugh chuckled. “And I figured Ian could keep Claire awa’ from the Mackenzies as best as anyone.”

Jamie let out a breath, clapping a hand onto his godfather’s shoulder.

“Ye’re a goddamn saint, Murtagh.”


Claire weaved her way through new faces on her way to the kitchen, thinking all the while of what exactly was stirring all this anxiety in Jamie.

Rupert and Angus seemed harmless, if not a little uncouth – she knew what a dirty joke sounded like, no matter the language – but mild vulgarities couldn’t possibly be the sole cause of his uneasiness.

She walked through the living room with her head entirely preoccupied, only snapping out of her tumbling thoughts when she heard a muffled groan from the corner of the room. Her ears pricked up, quite attuned already to the sound of someone in pain.

Off to one side was an older man, in his 50s or so, seated on one of the couches with his legs outstretched on the footstool. Beside him was a red-headed woman, presumably his wife.

“Excuse me,” Claire began, making her way over.

The couple looked at her, and she could almost physically feel the way both pairs of eyes sized her up from head to toe. Unfazed, she went on.

“I don’t mean to intrude, but I couldn’t help but notice you’re in a bit of discomfort.”

The man looked to his wife, who promptly replied.

“He’s just resting his legs for a bit.”

Claire ran her gaze down the length of both shins – if they could size her up, she could very well do the same – and noticed the oddly crooked shape of the bones, the way his slacks rose and fell in awkward dips as they lay propped up on the rest.

A bone condition, undoubtedly. But there wasn’t much she could do to help that, except for – maybe – easing the pain.

“Looks like there’s some inflammation in the joints,” she said, almost automatically. The man’s eyes met hers and he nodded slowly.

“Aye, one of the many blessings of auld age, ye ken?”

Claire smiled at that.

“I could make you some tea to help with that.” She looked between the two as if seeking permission, though she knew quite well she’d do her level best to help regardless of what they said. “Turmeric has excellent anti-inflammatory properties that would help immensely, and I’m sure there’s some in the kitchen.”

“Better than wine, eh?” the man said to his wife before turning back to Claire. “Aye lass, it’d be a great help. Thank ye.”

Her smile widened.

“It’s no trouble at all,” she said. “I’ll be right back with it.”

Then she turned and headed back towards the kitchen, feeling that familiar and comforting resolve to help someone in need bubbling up within her. Past her distress from earlier, and her scattered thoughts about Jamie’s uncharacteristic trepidation, was the soothing balm of assured capability.

And for now, that was enough.

Chapter Text

Part Nineteen: Relativity |
Chapter 2

Jamie and Murtagh found Jenny setting the picnic table outside in the courtyard, a fine line of stress between her brows.

Jamie took a plate from her and she sighed at the sight of him.

“Is he here?” Jamie asked without reason

“Aye, found the whisky and stalked off somewhere.” She breathed quickly out of her nose, crossing her arms as she leaned against the table.

“Well why’d ye invite him then, Jenny?”

“Ye ken this isna yer sister’s fault, lad,” Murtagh interjected. “We invite that shite grandsire of yers every year knowing full well he’d die before he ever came here.”

“I thought that was the whole idea,” Jenny said with a dry laugh. “Ah, but where’s Claire?”

“Wi’ Ian for now,” Jamie answered.

“Why can’t the man ever sit and eat and just shut up?”

“It’s the Mackenzie in him,” Murtagh said, shaking his head. “Yer mother wasna exactly a closed-mouth woman either.”

“Aye, but if he must visit every year just to judge and scorn us, can he no’ have the good sense to do it quietly like his brother?”

“Have ye briefed Claire, then?” asked Murtagh, turning to Jamie.

“Ah, no—I havena.”

“Ye werena thinking of having Ian do it for ye now?” Jenny said with a glare.

He had, and she knew it. She took the plates back from him and sent him off with a pointed finger.

“Go and find that lass of yers before someone else does."


She stepped out of the kitchen only to find Jamie standing dumbstruck at the door he’d been about to pull open.

She smiled.

“Ian said you had something to tell me?”

“Never miss a beat, those two,” he muttered before taking her by the hand. “Have ye a moment, Sassenach?”

She nodded, and then was being led back through the kitchen, past Ian, and into the hall where the family photos hung.

But there was someone else there, and Claire felt Jamie’s hand tighten around hers.

It was a man, just around Jamie’s height with a bald head and greying beard. He was broad shouldered, large in a way somehow more intimidating than Jamie’s but with a certain familial likeness.

He was staring at a photo but, as he noticed them come in, turned – smirked – and walked over.

“Nephew,” he said, landing his hand hard onto Jamie’s shoulder. His other hand clutched a bottle of whisky Claire recognized from Jenny’s storage.

“Will ye no’ introduce me to the lass?”

“The ‘lass’ is named Claire,” she said, feeling Jamie’s tension flow through her from their linked hands.

“Aye, ye’re the one that’s got our wee Jamie’s heid in the clouds, eh?” he laughed, nudging his nephew’s shoulder in a jovial manner he was clearly in no mood to reciprocate.

In fact, Jamie’s face was completely blank – neither troubled nor bothered, and Claire knew him well enough to see the storm of emotions he was expertly holding at bay.

“Ye ken, I taught him everything about women,” his uncle went on. “Ye have me to thank for this, lass.”

At that Jamie, stoic as ever, stepped between them with a significantly less familiar hand on the man’s shoulder.

“I think we’re eating soon, Uncle,” he said, “I think Colum meant to speak with ye beforehand.”

He said something undoubtedly rude in Gaelic to Jamie before patting his shoulder and shuffling out of the hall. Claire didn’t feel Jamie’s grip relax till they heard the kitchen doors swing shut.

“I take it that’s who we’re talking about?” Claire said softly, nudging his shoulder with her nose.

He made a noise that was almost a laugh, then turned and cupped her cheek, staring at her for a silent moment.

“How are ye, mo chridhe? Feelin’ alright?”

“Just fine, yourself?” she replied, laughing too at the formality of it all.

He smiled, kissing her forehead before walking her down to where his uncle had just been standing.

It was a portrait of Jamie’s mother, the red hair unmistakeable and the sheer challenge in her eyes so reminiscent of Jenny.

“My mother, Ellen,” he said by way of introduction, though Claire already knew her name and not the uncle that had sent ice running down Jamie’s back.

“When she married my da, they—well, her family wasna so happy with the choice. They didna think a farmer’s life was for their daughter, ken?” He stopped, gazing into his mother’s eyes as if drawing courage from silent stare.

“If ye think Frasers are stubborn, ye havena met enough Mackenzies,” he chuckled joylessly.

“Well, you certainly got the luck of the draw, darling.”

He chuckled for real at that, untangling their fingers to wrap his arm around her shoulder.

“That was Dougal, my mam’s brother, and the most vocally opposed to the wedding. They – that side of the family – blamed my da for stealin’ her away… And when she died—” His tightened his grip. “—well, the situation could hardly get better, aye?”

Her own hand came up to squeeze his.

“Now every year, they come, they eat, they silently scorn us and confirm all their wee suspicions.”

“And you let them?”

“It’s nay harm usually,” he shrugged. “Except this year—Dougal’s second wife just divorced him. Loose canon that he is, Lord only kens what he’ll do.”

“And he’s already found the whisky,” Claire said, hoping to draw out a smile.

“Aye.” She succeeded, however small. “Ye cannae choose family, but here they are.”

She hummed in agreement, resting her head back on his shoulder. He rubbed her upper arm, leaning in to kiss her temple.

“And you, Sassenach? How are ye faring? It’s still no’ too late to hide upstairs.”

She laughed, poking his belly.

“I’m fine,” she said pointedly, feeling the rush of excitement from earlier bubbling anew. “While you’ve been busy worrying, I’ve been doctoring.”

“Oh, have ye now?” he said, visibly brightening at her tone. “Who was it?”

“They were—” Shit. She hadn’t caught his name. Jamie burst out laughing at her hesitation.

“Och, now I ken for sure ye’re feeling better. Ye always get a wee bit distracted when ye’re excited.”

“No, I don’t!” Her cheeks flushed.

“Och, aye? What did yer patient look like then?”

“He was… older—and—Oh, shut up!” She swatted his arm as he wiped a mock tear from his eye.

“I’m glad, Claire, truly,” he said, rubbing his thumb across her cheek. “If ye’re alright, I’m sure I can get through today.”

She pressed her lips to his and he welcomed them, smiling into their kiss as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“Oi, dinnae swallow her whole, Jamie lad!” bellowed Rupert from the kitchen door.

Jamie made to pull away, but Claire refused, pressing one hand into his nape to keep him firmly pressed to her as she raised her middle finger to Rupert and Angus down the hall.

Their audible reaction caused Jamie to crack one eye open and he nearly dislodged himself from Claire at the shock and subsequent hilarity of Rupert and Angus’ faces.

“Sassenach,” he murmured against her lips as the two shuffled their way out the hall, laughing to themselves.

Finally, she released him with a wide smile.

“Told you I can handle myself.”

Chapter Text

Part Nineteen: Relativity |
Chapter 3

It felt, to Jamie, like more than a few celestial forces were actively conspiring against him, targeting this one specific day with sniper-like precision.

It was one thing to have to bring Fergus along to what still ended up being a pleasant enough date, later events notwithstanding. But to come home and deal with not just the regular Mackenzie crowd, but his wild card of an uncle was another thing entirely.

He sighed, leaning against the brick of the house as he surveyed the courtyard, filled with Fraser and Mackenzie alike. His uncle was concerningly nowhere to be seen, and Claire was on the opposite end of the yard with wee Jamie and Fergus.

He couldn’t stop his smile from breaking through no less than he could tear his eyes from her. Was it because he’d dreamed so often of being with her in Lallybroch that she seemed to fit in so perfectly? Aside from the early eggshell walking of her initial visit, she’d settled snugly into his world without any resistance.

Perhaps it was because she’d never had that feeling, that knowing of and belonging to a singular place that sat so deeply within him. In the fuzzy space of his dreams, he sometimes saw her as a bird, combing the skies for a perch, and he a tree, growing contentedly all these years with no sense of greater purpose until the day she found him.

He saw a brief flash of his mother’s sharp eyes from the portrait and shivered, not in fright, but in the almost tangible feeling of her hand on his shoulder.

Was it the same, mam? When ye met da? Was life with the Mackenzie so structured and planned that she had no earthly idea one poor and earnest farmer was combing the highlands in search of her?

The love between his parents had been – still was – so clear to him, it boggled the mind to think her family couldn’t see it. And yet, while most were courteous enough to keep their opinions to themselves, his – still currently absent – uncle was resolute in his judgement and happy to let whomever know.

Across the yard, Claire finally took notice of his intense stare, raising an eyebrow at him in amused question and he chuckled, feeling a flush run up into his cheeks like he so often did when the light caught her whisky eyes at just the right angle.

Claire laughed, a light and thoroughly joyous sound, and somewhere nearby, he knew Jenny was rolling her eyes at them.

Christ, and if his mother and father’s love was as obvious to him as his and Claire’s was to everyone else, the Mackenzie were undoubtedly as blind as they were stubborn.

Suddenly feeling the acute need to be near her, as natural as breathing, he began to make his way over when something at the front gate caught her attention.

He followed her gaze, watching in slow motion as Dougal stalked into the yard, shoving past Murtagh and Rupert as the two tried to usher him in.

His uncle staggered to the table, swatting away Angus as the smaller man tried to help. The swing knocked Dougal’s balance off and he landed shoulder-first onto the ground.

Scottish gatherings being what they are, very few of the guests paid any kind of attention, and a few even raised their mugs at the spectacle with a laugh. But Jamie didn’t care about them.

No, the only person he did care about—

He saw her rush to Dougal’s side immediately, because of course she would. This was Claire in full form: driven and singularly-minded, focused on helping to the point of distraction.

And that’s what he was worried about.

With some help from Angus – who was particularly (and hilariously) scandalized at her barking orders at him – eased Dougal’s head into her lap as she checked his pulse and assessed his head for any sign of injury.

Jamie felt a tension run through his body, staring at Dougal’s large frame astride Claire’s and silently daring his uncle to try.

And try he did.

It was no more than a shocked yelp from Claire, but Jamie had already crossed, knelt, and grabbed the man by his shirt collar within seconds of her smacking Dougal’s hand away.

“Just what in the hell do ye think ye’re doing, ye fuckin’ bastard?”

Dougal rose to his feet, shaking off Jamie’s hands and meeting him almost nose-to-nose.

“Oh, that’s a fine look, lad,” Dougal said with a deep, if slightly slurred, chuckle. “Ye’re father gave me quite a few of those glares in his day.”

“Ye’ll apologize to Claire this instant.”

“Och aye, or what? Ye’ll crack me across the jaw?” He turned his head to one side, offering it to him. “Go on, wean, do what yer old man couldnae do.”

Jamie seethed, the will to fight bubbling up unbridled within him but his fists wouldn’t move.

“No, I see it in ye, nephew, ye’re just like that bastard father of yers.” He laughed in a barking, hacking, manner. “Where’d ye steal this lass from, then? A Sassenach, no less. Ye fuckin’ Frasers love to take what’s nae yours, do ye no’?”

Jamie’s fists balled at his sides, practically shaking with fury as Dougal egged him on.

“Do it, lad, I dare ye. Prove me wrong. I—"

CRACK.

It wasn’t Jamie’s hand but Claire’s coming open and clean across Dougal’s face, leaving a momentary white imprint against his drunken flush.

“Kindly go fuck yourself, you narcissistic bastard,” she said, as cold and precise as her slap had been.

Jamie’s legs felt like jelly and, before he could register, he was shoving past Dougal, past Rupert and Murtagh, and out of the front gates into the fields.

Heedless to the shouts and calls after him.

Chapter Text

Part Nineteen: Relativity |
Chapter 4

The sound of the slap was still ringing in her ears, so she hadn’t noticed Jamie’s hasty exit until his back was well away down the fields.

Dougal staggered, more than dazed for a moment before he rounded back to her.

Claire was unmoved, snarling back at him and readying her hand for another blow when—

“Brother,” said another voice down the yard, clear and cutting. “That’s quite enough, aye?”

Claire turned, and there making his limping way over to them, was the man she helped earlier. As he reached them, he placed a hand on her shoulder and she stared, dumbstruck.

“Close yer mouth, lass,” he said with a wry smile. “That was a fine grimace ye had earlier.”

“Brother—” Dougal began, and Claire saw the other man’s sharp turn from mild amusement to something much sterner.

“Sit down ‘afore ye embarrass yerself any futher.”

Thoroughly lost, Claire looked to the faces she knew – Jenny with a mad ecstatic grin and fairly impressed nods from Ian and Murtagh – and feeling bolstered, shouldered her way not-gently past Dougal and ran after Jamie.

There was only one place she thought he’d go and—there!

Standing with one palm flat on the surface of the towering monument to his parents and their love, inches away from the deeply engraved initials forever sealing them to the farm, and to Jamie.

She slowed to a walk some distance away when she caught sight of his red hair against the dark of early evening.

It dawned on her with a sudden pang that he might be angry with her. Male pride had gotten them into this mess in the first place, after all. And while Jamie was – in fact – devoted and sincere to a fault, he was also a man.

Shaking it from her head, she balled her fists at her sides with a sniff and marched over regardless.

He made no move, though there was no way he didn’t know she was there. She walked right up to his large back, hesitating only a moment before gently laying a hand between his shoulder blades.

She felt him let out a breath at her touch and, quite unexpectedly, she let one out too. Connection restored beyond doubt, she pressed her forehead into his back with a sigh.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled into his shirt, feeling the vibrations of his dry chuckle.

“You? What do ye have to be sorry about, mo chridhe?”

She wrapped her arms around his waist and felt him take one of her hands in his, raising it to his lips and pressing a kiss to her knuckles as he settled back into her embrace.

“I’m sorry your uncle’s a complete arsehat, for one,” she said, earning a much more genuine chuckle from him but he said nothing.

She swallowed, wanting nothing more than to have his seemingly supernatural ability to say exactly what she needed to hear.

Here goes nothing.

“But he was right though,” she said, “you are just like your father.”

He turned then, and her heart constricted at the slight redness she saw in his eyes. Her hand floated up with a mind of its own, cupping his cheek.

“And if Brian Fraser had even a fraction of the kindness and heart you do, I’m sure your mother was as deeply in love with him as I am with you.

She saw the words wash over him, knowing quite well he could – without much trouble – hide any emotion however profound, and knowing even better than that, he was choosing not to.

He didn’t have to, not for her.

“You can’t choose family,” she echoed him from earlier that day, “but I chose you, Jamie, and all the family that comes with that. And your mother—” She looked past him to the etched initials in the tower. “—I’m sure she was happy with her choice too.”

He simply looked at her. She could see his throat working out the words, any words, to reply. And, failing that, he took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply.

“And are youmo nighean donn? Happy wi’ yer choice, I mean.” He shrugged. “I think I may just slit my uncle’s throat for what he—”

She placed a hand on his chest and shook her head.

“As pigheaded as your uncle is, I think I’d be just a little more cross if I could only see you through prison glass,” she laughed softly. “Besides, as I keep telling you, I can handle myself.”

He grinned, and she felt her heart collide with her ribcage.

“Aye, that ye can, Sassenach,” he said with growing approval. “Tell me, mo graidgh, did he make a loud thud when he hit the ground?”

“Actually, he didn’t—” Her sentence fizzed into delighted giggles as Jamie – clearly feeling much better – nuzzled his nose into her neck.

“Can ye still see yer wee handprint on his cheek?”

She yanked him from her by his ears and dragged him back into a kiss, pressing his back into the side of the tower.

They broke apart with slightly gasping laughs.

“We’ll send the Mackenzie off tomorrow morning, as usual,” he said with a nod back to the main house. “But, as for tonight—” He raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, we can hide in the bedroom now, you bloody ma—eek!”

With a dutiful bend and the widest smile, he swept her into his arms.

“Finally,” he said into her hair.


Despite the general unease of their yearly visit, Jamie did always feel a brief dart of sadness when they waved the Mackenzie off, if only because their visit usually marked the impending end of summer.

And because you’ll miss some of your cousins, admit it,” Claire had said that morning with a roll of her eyes. “As crass as Rupert and Angus are, their laughter is quite contagious.”

“Well, ye’re both alone in that regard then, I want them out the minute they get in,” Jenny said as she wiped down the kitchen counter where the three had found early morning reprieve while their house guests finished packing upstairs. “Though, come to think, I wouldna mind seein’ ye clock Uncle Dougal again, Claire.”

Jamie settled into the kitchen stool and watched Claire and Jenny laughing with each other.

Aye, he might miss joking around with Rupert and Angus once and awhile but Lallybroch already housed all the family he needed.

And that dulled the sadness in his chest substantially as he stood with an arm around Claire’s shoulder, watching the Mackenzie clan pile their luggage and bodies alike into their convoy of cars.

True, summer was ending, but the next semester spent living with Claire was just on the horizon.

As if sensing his thoughts, or simply out of exhaustion of not sleeping last night, she let her head fall against his shoulder.

They watched Dougal step out of the house, look at them, and then, turning for a moment to answer someone behind him, lowered his head and trudged to his car.

Jamie was just about to point Colum out to Claire as his uncle appeared in the doorway, when she suddenly slipped from his arm and walked over to help his uncle down the front steps.

Jamie watched with burning curiosity as Claire, all smiles, led Colum to Leticia waiting at the car and waved them goodbye.

“That man ye doctored—” Jamie started as she came back to him.

“Yes, that one,” she answered. “I made him turmeric tea to help with the inflammation in his joints and—and what? What are you smiling at?”

“Aye, it’s nay doubt ye can take care of yerself, lass,” he nodded, “since ye apparently have no trouble makin’ friends wi’ the head of the entire Mackenzie clan.”

Her brows went up as she turned, eyes following the taillights of the cars as they drove, one by one, out of the courtyard.

He swelled with pride, pulling her to him by the waist so he could press a kiss to her temple.

This family, he chose. This one.

He could almost feel his mother’s hand on his shoulder in blessing.

Just one hand though, for the other, surely, was resting on Claire.

[End of Part 19]

Chapter Text

Part Twenty: Sunset |
Chapter 1

“What d’ye think of this one?”

Given the open invitation, Claire let her eyes travel the mass of his chest as languidly as they pleased, amused at the fact that the jacket in question would in no way contain said chest.

Jamie smiled, eyes glinting.

“I’ll take the silence as a yes, then,” he chuckled, turning back into the change rooms with a curt, “Dinnae drool on the floor, lass.”

He closed the door behind him, narrowly avoiding the coat hanger she sent clattering in the empty space he’d just been standing in.

“Don’t you have enough jackets?” Claire called from her seat by the mirror.

Jamie’s voice, slightly muffled behind the door answered her.

“Too many jackets? In Scotland?”

“Fair point,” she conceded, standing and stretching her arms above her head.

It was a small thrift store in town they’d found themselves in today. Cozy and essentially empty save for one kindly old man thumbing through the paper at the register, one bored Englishwoman, and her back-to-school-shopping boyfriend.

“Won’t we be late for the movie?”

“The theatre’s 2 blocks from here, maybe less,” he replied, “Besides, we dinna have to rush just to watch 20 minutes of commercials.” His head – and specifically his goddamn smirk – poked up in the crack of space between door and ceiling.

“Ye bored, Sassenach?”

“I don’t really have anything to buy,” she shrugged.

“I’ll only be another 5 minutes, promise,” he said, head disappearing again as he bent to retrieve something on the bench inside. “Why don’t ye take a look around?” His head popped back up like some absurd ginger jack-in-the-box and Claire bit down hard on her bottom lip to stop her laughter.

“I’m sure ye’ll find something, ye look good in everything, after all.”

“Flattery, hmm?” she chided, turning on her heel quickly so he couldn’t enjoy the faint blush on her cheeks.

She surveyed the aisles with a pointed finger tapping her chin. If the last 30 minutes or so of watching him parade in and out of the change rooms proved anything, it was that he looked good in anything. As if the bastard could get anymore infuriatingly perfect.

Then, spotting something arguably more perfect and very likely to disprove that theory, she pulled it off the rack with a mad grin and ran back to the change rooms.

“Truth or dare, love?” she said with a prim knock on the door.

A moment of undoubtedly interested silence.

“Dare.”

She tossed the jacket she’d found over the door triumphantly.

“I dare you to wear it for the rest of the day.”

Another moment of silence. She held her breath until he stepped out in it, looking less like her Highlander boyfriend and more like—

“A bloody cowboy,” he guffawed as he twisted and turned in the mirror. “Where’d ye even find this?”

It was a toughened brown leather jacket, patterned in large off-white spots exactly like the cows the original owner had likely been wrangling.

Claire dissolved back into her seat in a quaking fit of laughs.

“You look like Woody from Toy Story!”

Not a man to be undone, Jamie procured a matching brown Stetson hat and set it firmly on his head.

“That’s what ye want then, aye?” he said, laughing along with her. “Me lookin’ like a fool around the town I grew up in?”

She neither answered nor stopped laughing until she found herself staring at a bright pink Velcro tutu hanging inches from her nose.

She followed the arm holding it until she met Jamie’s arched eyebrow.

“Fair’s fair, ken?”

“That looks like it’s for children.”

“Then it suits ye fine,” he nodded, tugging her arm until she was standing, and making a fine show of fastening it to her waist as she wriggled in his arms.

“Hang on, no’ done yet.” He left, then reappeared to delicately place a ridiculous – and incredibly dusty – flower crown on her head.

She stared at herself in the mirror, increasingly skeptical.

“I look like a poster on some sad 14-year-old’s wall.”

Jamie joined her in the mirror’s frame, the two of them looking exactly like kids thoroughly too old for trick-or-treating.

“Hey,” he tutted, wrapping his arms around her middle, “if I was a sad 14-year-old again, I’d buy that poster.”

She leaned back into him before turning in his arms, smoothing her hands up the tanned leather at his shoulders.

“And if I owned multiple country albums, I’d buy your poster.”

“Ye really mean for us to walk to the theatre like this?”

“Oh, it’s only 2 blocks from here, maybe less,” she said, her smile widening precisely as his fell.

“Ye’re a daring woman, mo chridhe.”

She reached up and knocked the Stetson down over his eyes before stepping out of his arms and all the while, silently debating whether he actually did look good in his cowboy attire, or years of Western movie marathons with Uncle Lamb were finally getting the better of her.

She waited for him by the register, hands on tutu-adorned hips and pleasantly ignoring the old man’s confused stare.

“Ye ken wee Jamie’ thinks ye’re a fairy?” said Jamie as he paid the man and walked out of the store, with Claire under his arm. “Now ye look the part.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder, thinking maybe it was the ghost of Uncle Lamb’s favourite movies coming back to haunt her, after all

Or perhaps it was the shadow of Jamie’s Stetson-clad head stretching long and tall in front of them as the sun set behind their backs.

“Whatever you say, John Wayne,” she smiled.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty: Sunset |
Chapter 2

For not the first time – for not even the fifteenth time – he admired the calm serenity of her sleeping face, like the strength of a storm held miraculously at bay by the simple flutter of her eyelashes.

Then, like the telltale rumbling of distant thunder, she gradually came to the surface of consciousness with a slow inhale that he always found himself mimicking before he leaned down and ghosted his lips past her cheek.

“Mornin’.”

Dhia, her smile still had that contradictory ability to speed up his heart and stop it altogether, leaving him breathless just trying to catch up with the world around her.

“…you’re staring at me,” she said with a giggle, eyes narrowing.

“Nay, I’m only just thinkin’, is all.” He shifted closer to her, propping his head up on his fist as he smiled down at her. “Murtagh willna let us use his truck to bring our stuff to the house, aye? No’ after last time.”

“Ah, right…” He revelled in the way her smile immediately shrunk, her cheeks pinking as she remembered. “We could—always call a cab, I guess?”

And so, with humble inclines of the head at Murtagh as they passed him in the courtyard, they piled their first set of boxes and bags into the cab.

“I can ask the auld coot for ye,” Jenny said, closing the trunk of the cab with a solid thunk. “So ye dinna have to make more than one trip, stay here a bit longer too.”

“Nay, ‘tis fine,” Jamie said, kissing her on the forehead. “The semester doesna start for another week or so, we’ve plenty of time.”

“Aye,” his sister nodded with an arch of the eyebrow and a similar upturn of her lip. “And ye’re eager to leave and have plenty of time to yerselves, I’m sure.”

Now he felt his cheeks pink and Jenny burst into a laugh, catching Claire’s attention from the other side of the car.

“What’s so funn—?”

“Nothing,” Jamie said, resolutely turning Claire by the shoulders toward the car. “See ye tomorrow, Jenny.”

Claire waved but let herself be led into the backseat, threading her fingers with Jamie’s the minute the doors closed and the engine started.

“From one home to the next, aye?”

She smiled warmly in clear agreement, but said nothing as she rested her head against his shoulder and watched the fields of Lallybroch pass them by.

They were both asleep in minutes, waking only when the subtle rumbling of the engine finally came to a stop. Claire stepped out first to get started unloading, and Jamie came out to help after he’d paid.

And then – for indeed the first time – they were well and truly alone.

“Here we are,” she said, staring up at the large estate with her fingers still intertwined with Jamie’s. “It seems… bigger, somehow.”

“It’s definitely more space than we need, aye?” He turned, pulling his hand from hers to wrap his arms around her waist. “But it’s ours.” He punctuated the declaration with a kiss on her nose and she wrinkled it, much to his delight.

“I don’t think I ever felt like this place was mine when I was younger, but now—” She trailed off, golden eyes panning the front of the estate as if searching for a lost memory, a hitherto unnoticed thread to pull, before turning back to him.

“Now I feel like it could be home.”

He leaned in and kissed her, deep and full of unspoken and understood promises.

“Home is wherever we are together, mo nighean donn,” he said softly.

She sighed, sounding thoroughly content with the notion, as she smoothed a strand of his hair from his face.

“Well,” she said, finally, “Shall we?”

He’d been in the estate before, of course. But something about walking in with Claire, carrying their bags in together, struck him. Each step through the threshold felt heavier, as if weighed down by the significance of this new beginning.

He looked at Claire as they set their bags down, and watched how she scanned the foyer, just as she did the front, undoubtedly trying to search for that feeling of belonging to a place that she regularly saw in him, Jenny, and Ian at Lallybroch.

Pleasemo nighean donn.” He had said nearly a lifetime ago. “Let me be a home for ye, as you are for me.”

With his hands now free, he tugged at hers, pulling her flush against him, and he claimed her mouth again. And again.

And again, moving against each other in practiced pushes and pulls, as natural as breathing.

Feeling the same flicker of warmth and the burgeoning urgency from that first contact, she grabbed hold of his collar and pulled him impossibly closer, nipping his bottom lip before breaking just slightly apart.

“Bedroom?” she asked breathlessly, “Pick one.”

“No,” he rasped, kissing the crease in her brow.

I’ll have ye right here on the floor, Sassenach.

She blinked once, then her eyes darkened as the words rippled through her. His hands were already skimming the backs of her thighs, encouraging her to hop into his arms so he could ease her down right on the welcome rug.

Her hair fanned out on the floor like a brown halo as he lowered her down and settled himself between her legs.

“There are—ah!” He bit her collarbone, his fingers running under her shirt and up her ribcage. “—H-hundreds of other places to do this.”

“Aye,” he agreed, pulling her shirt over her head as she did the same for him. “And we’ll get to those in time, mo chridhe. But we should be systematic about this, no? Start from the front—” He slowly traced the line of her jeans under her navel, just to hear her gasp. “—And work our way around, ken?”

He leaned down to her ear, pressing his body snugly against hers and glorying in that new and incredibly arousing feeling of being completely alone with her.

“Besides, there’s no one around and I mean to hear ye scream for me, lass.”

That, coupled with a slow and torturous grind of his hips, earned him a sharp moan that shot right to his cock.

Fuck Jamie,” she keened, rolling her hips again in desperate search for more friction.

“Aye, I ken.”

They both raced to get the other’s flies undone, tugging and unzipping and pushing denim and underwear out of the way at lightning speed.

His hips stuttered as Claire took hold of him, stroking slowly with her eyes locked on his.

Christ, here was his tempest, awake and thundering, and he was completely at her mercy and happy to be so.

His head fell into her chest, smoothing his hand underneath her bra to move it aside, latching onto a nipple and lathing his tongue against her in time with the pace her hand worked him over.

“I need ye, Claire, please.”

“Have me, then,” she breathed against his lips, crushing them back together as he reached down to slide his fingers over her clit.

Her back arched and her sound – God, her sound – bounced off the empty walls of the foyer.

He couldn’t wait any longer. He lined himself up and pushed in, and their shared cry echoed down the halls. His hands found her hips as he rocked into her, slowly at first as they both revelled in the heat and sheer oneness they’d become so accustomed to.

He looked deep in her eyes and she nodded, understanding.

Look no further than here. This.

This was home.

Jamie reared back, placing his hands on the floor at either side of her head as he began to ride her. As prompted, she held no sound back and soon, the otherwise silent halls were filled with expletives, loud sighs, and mantras of each other’s names, all nearly drowned out by the rhythmic sound of slick flesh on flesh.

Jesus God, Claire—ah, mmm—m-mo graidgh, I canna—"

She reached down, her hand brushing against his cock as she traced the outline of their joining and that was all it took.

He cried out, pressing his head into her shoulder as he spilled into her in a series of sporadic thrusts.

Wasting only a moment, he pressed a kiss to her neck and then pulled out of her, his lips trailing down and downwards still until his nose was level with her navel.

“Yer turn, mo chridhe,” he rumbled, slowly kissing his way up the smooth white expanse of her thighs. “I mean to have ye blush like ye are now every time ye walk through this door, just remembering how I—”

Then his words were lost into the space between her legs, his tongue lapping against her clit while his arm held her rocking hips down as best it could.

She was close, he knew. His slid his finger into her and matched the pace of his tongue, the same pace she’d set for him all that time ago in their room at Lallybroch.

“Jamie, Ja—Oh god—I…” Her mouth split open as her back arched upwards, her inner walls clenching around his finger as he continued to work her through her climax. Her long moan filled both the empty rooms and Jamie’s ears, a secret to be kept only by the two of them.

Sometime later, they lay on the rug in a sweaty heap, still surrounded by their luggage. Their legs were twined together, Claire on her back, and Jamie on his side with his arms wound tight against her waist, and his nose buried in her hair.

“Does it feel like home now, lass?”

She snuggled closer to him with a deep inhale, the storm subsided once more as he watched her eyelids flutter sleepily.

“Home is wherever we are together, my love.”

Chapter Text

Part Twenty: Sunset |
Chapter 3

Ellen Fraser had beautiful eyes, a blue that was striking and equal shades cunning and warm. It was the duality she had passed onto her children, Claire thought as she gazed at the portraits and strolled through what had quickly become her favourite hall in Lallybroch.

She’d taken great time to admire Jamie’s baby photos, much to his adorable dismay and his later murmured promises of getting even once they were at Uncle Lamb’s estate.

She neglected to mention that there was perhaps one single album of her childhood photos sitting in that house. Not a sentimental one, her uncle, not unless they were artifacts of a time long since seen.

She sighed, not meaning to, as she scanned the great amass of framed pictures lining both sides of the hall.

Some were very standard portraits, with perfectly combed hair and pressed shirts. Some were school photos, even of Ian, lined by grade. And the rest, were candid moments, perfectly preserved memories and laughs that she could practically hear in their sheer sincerity.

Was it Jenny or Ian that made the decision to replace photos with new ones? There were few sparing spaces left for new frames and yet, she felt like the hallway stretched on forever. Photos from as recently as last Christmas were already up and—

Her legs halted so suddenly, she nearly toppled herself over. Wedged between a photo of Brian and his oldest son fishing and another of a 6-year-old Jamie knee-deep in a creek, was…

Well, her.

It was taken – by Jamie undoubtedly – on the day they’d gone to the carnival. She was sitting front and centre on the wooden bench, legs crossed and eyes turned to something at her left.

A child, she remembered. She'd been staring at a child with a balloon tied around her wrist and – more to the point – the large soft pretzel in her other hand. Jamie must have taken it on his way back with the hotdogs and that teddy bear he'd won.

From the distance he’d taken it, she seemed almost a white smudge amidst the neon chaos around her. But at the same time, so wholly integral to the composition.

She took a step back from the wall and felt it even more so, a single piece of her amidst decades of Fraser and Murray memories and yet, just as important a piece as any other.

She opened and closed her hands at her sides, unconsciously searching for the warmth that so often filled it.

She stepped out of the hall, but found Jenny instead.

“Talking to the dead, were ye?” she said with a laugh, her steady hand never hesitating as it stirred the pot she had on the stove.

“And the living too,” Claire answered absently as she scanned the room, already moving towards the dining room door.

“The lads took Fergus out to the school nearby.”

“Oh. Well, do you need any help then?”

“Nah, Mrs. Crook and I are sorted for now, and the weans are all down for a nap before supper.”

“Oh…”

Jenny finally looked up, smiling amusedly at Claire in an unnervingly Jamie-like way.

“Ye’ve a free moment, lass. Why no’ enjoy it?” Claire smiled and, satisfied, Jenny returned to her cooking with a curt, “Lord kens I would.”


“Ye have phones, do ye no? –And take yer boots off ‘afore ye track mud through the kitchen. Even wee Jamie kens better.” Jenny said an hour later, exasperated as Jamie came through the back in search of Claire.

Unwilling to concede that it was a good point, on a matter of younger sibling principle, Jamie discreetly texted Claire when Jenny turned her back to him.

> Got lost in the house, have ye?

> In the fields by the stable.

“Looks like I'm leavin’ my boots on after all,” he said in parting as he headed back out the door.

Fields by the stable, that was on the western side of the property.

It wasn’t lost on him that this was likely the route Claire had travelled the day she came home. He imagined her slow and careful trek on wobbly crutches and smiled at her stubbornness.

He saw her some distance away, her back turned from him as she sat atop the wooden fence sectioning off the stable grounds.

He hadn’t made a sound, was too preoccupied revering the sight of her, but she turned anyway and started closing the gap.

He would have started walking too, except his legs refused to move.

There was Claire, lit from behind as she walked towards him. But it wasn’t dorm lights, not this time. As if plucked directly from his subconscious, the sky behind her blazed in the pinks and oranges of the setting sun, paling only in comparison to her smile and the gold in her eyes as they met his.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said, finally reaching him.

He spun her back to face the sun, arms automatically winding around her waist as he notched his chin into her shoulder.

“No’ a ghost, just a dream.”

“A dream, huh?”

“Aye.” He nuzzled his nose into her neck and she wriggled with delight. “A verra good dream.”

He saw her open her mouth to say something, then apparently think against it.

“What’s wrong, mo nighean donn?”

“It’s stupid, it’s nothing—"

He pressed a kiss to her neck, not insisting but welcoming all the same. She sighed, running her hands down his arms until she could twine their fingers together.

“You gave me a place to call home,” she said softly. “What if— What if the estate… isn't? Isn't the same, I mean. Or, what if it is? And Lallybroch stops being—"

He kissed her neck again and pressed her close to his chest, drawing her back to him and away from the storm of thoughts tangling into her curls.

“I’ll tell ye what Jenny told me, when I left for school, aye?”

She let her head fall back against his shoulder in invitation to continue.

“Yer legs will take ye far away, to places ye can put yer feet up and call home. But yer heart doesna ever forget its own home, and it will bring ye back as many times as ye need.”

She was silent for a time and he watched her seemingly let the words sink in. Then she smiled softly, turning her head to brush her lips past his cheek.

“Then maybe it’s not Lallybroch that’s my home after all,” she said, squeezing his hand.

He opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by Jenny’s voice slicing the otherwise still air.

“Oi, you two! Supper isna goin’ to keep!”

They shook with laughter.

“Maybe no or maybe so, Sassenach. But I’m sure Jenny'd make quite the compelling argument.”

 

 [End of Part 20]

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-One: Milestones |
Chapter 1

“Ye mean to be staring at me like that all morning?”

Claire pulled at his cheek until his eyes cracked open in a blue-hued glare.

“Not all morning,” she answered simply. “One of us has school to go to.”

The line of his mouth squirmed, then he heaved a great groan as he rolled to his side and swept her up against him.

“Mmm,” he rumbled, nuzzling into her neck. “Beg me to stay, mo graidgh, beseech me and I’ll have no choice but to listen to ye.”

“Go—to—class, Jamie!” she ordered between giggles, wriggling in his arms in a half-hearted attempt at getting away.

“It’s only syllabus week, do I really need to—?”

Yes.

He frowned, his head falling against the pillow in a poof of red curls.

Fine. And what will you be doing all day?”

Now it was her turn to drop against the pillow.

“Research medical schools, find practice entrance exams, likely complain to Joe all day.”

He chuckled, as if satisfied that she’d be just as miserable as he expected to be.

“Busy day for us both, then,” he nodded, sounding resolved as he moved to turn over the blanket. “Well, best get star—What are ye doing?”

She was hurriedly pulling the blankets back to her, in answer to his question.

You’d best get started, or you’ll miss your train. I can do my work from right he—ahh, Jamie! Hey!”

Looking disgustingly smug about it, he lifted her out of the bed and over his shoulder, heedless to the pounding of her fists on his back until he placed her gently on her feet beside the bed.

“What’s that, a nighean? Och, so kind of ye to wake up with me. Shall I get started on breakfast?” he said with a laugh and a quick peck on her nose as she gave him a dead glare.

He practically zoomed out of the room before she could find something to throw at him.


It was later – much later – than he’d meant to be, but he was finally home.

It was an odd thing, returning to campus. He found himself falling automatically into dually-minded focus, attentively listening to the same policies and procedures he’d heard every semester but zoning out all the same.

His thoughts floated, as they always did, to Claire. Had she eaten lunch yet? He’d made enough breakfast that morning for extra leftovers, but maybe she ordered take-out. Knowing her, he thought with a chuckle, she’d much rather that to attempting any cooking activity unsupervised.

He hadn’t seen John today; their literature electives sometimes overlapped but, as he scanned the campus bookstore that evening, there was no sign of his old roommate.

“Sassenach?” he called as he stepped in. “Claire? I’m home.”

He wandered through the first floor, giving a nod to Sir Nicholas in the sitting room before finally finding her at the dining table.

“Sassen—” He stopped himself.

Her head was nodding off propped up precariously on her fist, her other hand resting atop the keys of her still-open but long asleep laptop.

She’d changed into house clothes but hadn’t bothered to brush her hair out, the mad curls swirling around her head like the thoughts that seemed to plague her if the ridge between her brows was any indication.

His heart clenched.

Compelled as he always was to smooth the wrinkle of worry from her face, he paused for a moment just to look at her.

He was suddenly back in the campus library that first day he saw her, much like this, surrounded by books and thoughts alike.

Even then, without knowing a single thing about her, he felt the need to ease her stress. Felt like his heart knew the exact and intricate ways of hers, without a word between them.

It was that magnetic pull she always liked blaming. Theirs was a love without conscious thought, as natural as any instinct, as easy and wholly necessary as breathing.

And, without thinking, his legs brought him right to her side. He leant down and pressed a soft kiss to her cheek.

“Good evening, my love,” he whispered, “I’m home.”

She hummed contently, almost like a purring cat as she stretched her arms out in front of her, eyes only opening when she reached slowly up to cop the swell of his cheek.

“You’re late.”

Christ, how the sight of her still made his chest feel tight. He closed the inches between their lips.

“Aye, went to the bookstore to beat the crowd but half the campus had the same idea.”

“Have you eaten?”

“Aye, have ye?”

She nodded slowly, her movements still lethargic with sleep.

“Take-out.”

Thought so.

“Come here, mo chridhe,” he said, gently wrapping his arms around her to lift her up. “I’ll bring ye to bed.”

She yawned and nuzzled her face into his neck, likely caught between reality and whatever dreams still had their hold on her.

“Aren’t you going to change?” she mumbled as he placed her on the bed and slid in after her.

“I’ve got a late start tomorrow and…” He pulled her tight against his chest, finding solace in the steady thump of her heart.

“I missed ye today, mo chridhe.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-One: Milestones |
Chapter 2

Old houses made noise.

A fact she was wholly cognizant of, having stayed in many an ancient inn and, more recently, the large and hollow walls of Lallybroch.

Pipes creaked and foundation groaned, and sometimes tree branches rapped against windows so incessantly she found herself glaring blearily at her digital clock on the nightstand.

Except, she realized with an icy jolt through her veins, there were no trees next to that window.

Jamie,” she whispered urgently, clutching the blankets tighter to her chest. “Do you hear that?”

No response. That man could sleep through an air raid. She turned, then, only to find a warm depression in the bed where her boyfriend should have been.

Sitting up, fully alert now, she scanned the room for the very few places a 6-foot Scot could hide.

Then she heard it again, like pellets striking the window in succession, or—

Something more familiar than that.

She threw a nightgown on and was opening the window in seconds, just dodging small pebbles as they flew in.

“Ach, Christ, did I hit ye, lass?”

“What in the goddamn fuck are you doing?!”

His grin was a brilliant flash of white in the darkness of the backyard, but he said nothing.

She bent to pick up one of the pebbles and chuck it at him, seeing his red hair bob out of the way and hearing his chuckle echo in the yard.

“It’s 3 in the bloody morning, come back to bed!”

“Nay.” He shook his head, still grinning even as she threw the last of her ammo at him. “Ye’ll have to come here and make me.”

Headlines flashed before her eyes. Local woman pelts idiot boyfriend to death with tiny pebbles.

“I have a blanket down here, mo chridhe, and the night’s verra comfortable tonight, no?”

Local woman strangles idiot boyfriend with plaid blanket.

“Sassenach…”

Local woman hits idiot boyfriend so hard, fingerprints still readable on his face.

“Cla—”

“Fine!” she huffed, “But I’m only coming down to smack you.”


The last time he did this, his heart was beating so fast and so loud he could hardly hear his own thoughts, not that said thoughts would have been anymore helpful.

And even tonight, as he saw the lights flicker on as she made her way through the house and towards the backyard, he could still feel his heart start to race ever so slightly, stopping completely as he caught the slope of her unimpressed golden glare staring at him behind the glass of the backdoor.

One step towards him, then another. His heart and breath alike unconsciously mimicked her pace until she was finally before him, arms – and temperament – extremely crossed.

He grinned.

“So nice of you to join me, Sassenach.”

“You have precisely one minute, Frase—”

“Happy anniversary, mo graidgh.”

“—Huh?” Wide golden eyes blinked curiously at him like an owl. “It’s not our anniversary, Jamie.”

“Aye but it is,” he said resolutely. “’Tis exactly a year since I first threw stones at yer window.”

“Threw stones into my room, you mean.” She smiled a little, and that was enough leave for him to pull her into his arms, wrapping the blanket around them both and sighing as he rested his cheek atop her head.

“A year since ye gave me yer number,” he went on, unperturbed. “A year since ye well and truly stole my heart, mo nighean donn.

“A year, huh?” she mumbled into his chest.

He could feel the tension of poised, sleep deprivation-induced anger slowly melt from her shoulders as she herself melted into his arms.

“That means two days from now is the anniversary of our first kiss.”

He pulled slightly from her to bend and enthusiastically mark the occasion.

“D’ye recall that night, when ye came out all covered in pen marks?” he chuckled. “It took all I had not to kiss ye then.”

She was silent for a moment before quietly muttering, “…I would’ve let you.”

He matched her silence, letting his mind entertain all the alternate universes and outcomes unfulfilled had she let him. He’d said as much on that day, exactly one year ago.

So many outcomes, and he’d play to whichever one was her choice because that’s all he’d ever wanted and – by some miracle – exactly what he received.

To be her choice.

“Maybe it’s better that ye didn’t, lass,” he said finally. “If ye did, I’m afraid I might’ve taken ye right there and then.”

She rolled her eyes. “No, you wouldn’t have. You would have gotten arrested if you did.”

“It occurs to me, though—” he said, his voice suddenly pitching itself much lower. He knew the deep rumble never failed to get her attention. “—that our neighbours are verra few and far between.”

She already knew what was – quite literally – coming, and a series of frenzied moments later, they were in various states of undress, lying helplessly in love atop the blanket Jamie had so rightly brought along.

Her eyes were on the stars when he turned to look at her, the light of the moon perfectly outlining the curve of her cheek and catching the wisps of her eyelashes.

Sorcha.

He hadn’t realized he’d said it aloud till those owl-like eyes were staring back at him.

“What is it?” she whispered, easing onto her side to shift closer to him.

“Nothin’.” He shook his head gently, fingers rising to trace the delicate shape of her face. “Just somethin’ Ian and I talked about.”

“Well, go on.”

Now?

His smile blossomed slowly on his face.

“Nah… it’s too soon, I think.” She pouted and her laughed, softly pressing his lips to hers. “I’ll tell ye, I promise, just… no’ now. No’ yet.”

“Is this a good surprise or—”

“I surely hope so,” he swore, raising his arm so she could nuzzle into his neck.

“Then I can wait,” she said with a nod.

“Ye sure?”

She looked up at him, eyes dazzlingly brilliant in the light of the moon.

“I’d wait forever for you, Jamie Fraser.”

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-One: Milestones |
Chapter 3

“Well, you wanted to see it, so here it is.”

The album made a satisfying, if muted, thud as she unceremoniously dropped it in the empty space beside Jamie, who was sitting on the couch with his legs propped up on the table.

She watched his eyebrow quirk up curiously over the rim of his whisky glass, then vast understanding wash over him as he sat up and set his drink aside.

“Aye? Let’s see them then,” he said eagerly, pulling the album onto his lap with one hand and tapping the space beside him, urging her to sit, with his other.

She complied with a soft sigh, leaning her head on his shoulder and watching him more so than the intermittent highlight reel of her unorthodox childhood hidden behind that dusty album cover.

The blue in Jamie’s eyes was bright as he opened it and began scanning the pictures.

Then his face shattered into complete delight at the first photo of her as a toddler. Mouth wide open and chubby arms raised about to smack the floor, her hair was an unmitigated storm cloud perfectly mimicking the astounding chaos of her playpen.

“About 3-years-old there, by the looks of it,” she said with the clinical passiveness only found in archaeologists, historians, and children raised by them. She squinted at the date written in Uncle Lamb’s handwriting underneath the photo before looking up to realize he wasn’t paying her the slightest attention.

Or maybe he was – there was no way he couldn’t hear her – but his gaze was still eagerly scanning across the spattering snapshots of her amidst Uncle Lamb’s other photos of various artifacts and landmarks.

He turned to her, having heard after all, and she thought she caught his lip tremble before he spoke, sounding thoroughly thunderstruck.

“Ye were…” he said softly, “ye were so… wee.”

She rolled her eyes, pushing his cheek away from her as he broke into hearty laughter.

“Why don’t I just leave you alone with that then,” she said, though she made no move to get off the couch. Regardless, Jamie put an arm around her shoulder.

“Nay, I’m sorry, mo chridhe, it’s only that—Christ, look at this one—” It was a photo of her mid-tantrum, with cheeks puffed out and red all over. Jamie was over the moon. “—Lord kens ye still make that face now.”

She wriggled under his arm, but he simply chuckled and pulled her closer as he thumbed through the pages.

“Och, and look at ye here, bonnie wee thing!”

“Oh,” she said, faintly surprised. “I remember that one.”

She was seven or so, wearing a black dress dotted with white circles of varying size. Her small fingers were clutching the side of her skirts, a wide, gap-toothed grin on her flushed face.

Jamie made a tiny inarticulate noise but Claire was too caught up to tease him about it.

“That was my birthday,” she sad softly, fingers rising unbidden to finger the edge of the photo. “I woke up to a tray of breakfast in the hotel room and no sign of Uncle Lamb. The front desk told me he’d left very early and I spent most of that morning crying into my pillow.” She gave a dry chuckle as Jamie rubbed her shoulder gently with his thumb.

“He came bursting in around lunch time and I nearly kneecapped him with the night lamp,” she laughed. “He’d gone out and bought me a birthday dress for God knows why, and having strictly been a practical-wear family, I was bloody enchanted!”

“Well, ye look positively radiant, mo nighean donn,” Jamie said, kissing her temple. “Are there any more of ye, from that day?”

Before she could stop him, he’d flipped the page and landed on one completely empty.

“I’m afraid that’s all she wrote,” she deadpanned, though Jamie didn’t laugh. “Once I was old enough to help him out properly, it was more convenient to reserve our film for digs and artifacts.”

She watched him frown at the empty page before slowly turning to her, eyes fathomless and as inscrutable as ever.

“It’s fine, Jamie, really.”

“I think, maybe,” he began slowly, taking a moment to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear, “I should give ye yer birthday present now, mo chridhe.”

She blinked, stunned. That was as far left afield as she could imagine.

“It’s not my birthday for another week.”

“Aye but…” He sighed, leaning over to kiss her forehead before rising from the couch. “Ach, just wait here.”


Two minutes later, he handed her a hefty envelope resumed his place beside her.

“It’s no’ a dress, if that’s what ye’re thinking.

Really? Never would have guessed.” She squinted at the envelope, turning it over in her hands before pulling the flap open.

He heard her faint gasp, feeling his heart swell in his chest as she snapped her head in his direction, her mouth agape.

“Ye like it, then?” he chuckled, sliding closer to her side to pull the contents out and lay them onto her lap.

Inside was a stack of photos of her, of them, on campus and at Lallybroch, all taken in the last – wonderful, magnificent, blessed – year they’ve spent together. 

“I meant to put them in an album but, considerin’ we’ve got space available in this one.” He shrugged. “That’s some coincidence, aye? 

He watched her face consider a response, her lips pressing together and squirming before finally – finally – settling on kissing him.

His grin split them apart and she leaned her forehead onto his, closing her eyes. He cupped the back of her head with one hand, holding her to him, as the other rose with his phone and snapped his latest lock screen.

“Happy birthday, my love,” he whispered.

“What did I possibly do in this life to deserve you, James Fraser?”

He smiled but said nothing, for what was an ample reply to the question he asked about himself every waking moment? The pictures were his best attempt at showing her, more than repeating the same words over and over again, that he had no worldly idea what he did to deserve that smile, or those eyes, or that heart.

“C’mon lass,” he said finally, tucking her under his arm once again, “this album won’t fill itself, aye?”

[End of Part Twenty-One]

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Two: Here, There and Everywhere |
Chapter 1

As inevitable as it was, Claire hadn’t truly felt the gradual decrescendo into mundanity until the first time Jamie wasn’t able to accompany her to the supermarket.

Cooking was neither her joy nor her priority, as she had typically erred on the dining-out option in her single life and her far busier childhood.

All that to say, the actual prospect of shopping for ingredients and food – for later – was so alien to her that Jamie spent 3 full minutes laughing and a great deal of time afterward teasing her about it.

In the weeks following though, she did enjoy the slow Sunday mornings spent walking through the aisles with Jamie, regardless of his incessant jeers at her.

She’d found, in an odd realization of something hidden in plain sight, how intrinsically attuned they were. How she would stop the cart, check her list, and already find that Jamie had found the yogurt she was looking for.

Or how, on a particularly pressing day, they’d ran in without a proper shopping list and split up, only to arrive at checkout with carts full of absolutely identical stock.

Even in a most practical level, he was especially useful in reaching the uppermost shelf; a trait she was missing acutely at the moment.

Last week, she didn’t have to do so much as tug his sleeve and point.

“As you wish.” He’d grinned, reaching his arm above her head and leaning excessively into her as if to remind her of all his 6ft and change. Stable boy, indeed.

“—There ye are, mo chridhe.”

He made a courtly bow and she rolled her eyes at him as he placed the box of cereal into the cart.

You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means,” she replied with a wink.

Back in the present, she waved off the friendly young attendant who’d grabbed the cereal from the top shelf for her wandered quite aimlessly until she found herself in the baking aisle.

If grocery shopping was alien territory, and cooking a generally agreed-upon danger zone, baking to Claire was an alternate universe entirely.

She considered a pre-made pie crust with a passively cocked head. It’s not like she’d ever tried baking, of course. And what was it really but base-level chemistry? Accurate measurements, combinations, and reactions.

And, on a deeper note, she wanted to surprise Jamie with something for once. It wasn’t that she didn’t adore his devotion and seemingly endless generosity – because she did, and she would stake her life on it – but Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp was also a woman not to be outdone.

With a slow clench in her fist and a deep inhale, it was decided.

“You’ve climbed bloody mountains, Beauchamp. Surely, you can bake an apple pie.”


Jamie peeled the front of his damp shirt from his skin and shook, airing out his sweat-soaked chest as he laid his back against the shingles of the roof.

It groaned slightly under his weight and he chuckled, resting his hands behind his head.

“No’ bloody likely, mate,” he murmured, closing his eyes to the considerably cool breeze wafting so high above ground. “Fraser’s handiwork willna give in so easy.”

Two nights ago, he’d been abruptly awakened by a precision drop of rain landing right between his eyes and had since, as far as Claire was concerned, taken it as nothing less than an absolutely personal offence. And today, being Sunday, Claire had elected to do the shopping herself and let him fight his own battles.

It was actually not that bad up sitting up there – affronting holes in the roof notwithstanding – though he figured it’d be a tough sell to bring Claire up with him, especially as the weather got colder.

In fact, if he wasn’t overheated from working, the mid-fall breeze would likely be too chilly to stay up in the roof very long.

With a soft grunt, he pulled himself up, assembled all his tools, and made his way down the ladder leaning sturdy against one side of the house.

About a quarter of the way down, another breeze blew by and he caught the faint but familiar smell of… something. Something he couldn’t place.

Back on solid ground, the scent only seemed to get stronger. He stashed the tools in the front hall and, like a dog poking its nose in the air, followed it out of the yard.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Two: Here, There and Everywhere |
Chapter 2

She squinted up at the roof against the midday sun, half-expecting to see the silhouette of a vengeful Scot yelling expletives at the hole that had thoroughly assaulted his honour.

No dice. There wasn’t any sign of him and the ladder was folded, resting haphazardly next to the front door, but Claire found her disappointment was quickly replaced with bubbling excitement.

She clutched the shopping bag tighter. All the better for a surprise if he wasn’t here to see the work in progress. And she supposed there might be a great many.

And what’s all that defeatist talk I hear? she imagined Sir Nicholas scolding as she past him in the sitting room, sounding distinctly like Uncle Lamb in the back of her head.

“Jaaamie!” she called, enjoying the way her voice echoed through the empty halls.

Smiling to herself when no voice answered back, she strode to the kitchen and dumped her bounty onto the counter.

She’d read, and reread, and re-re-read the recipe on the bus ride home till she knew it as well as she knew the human cardiovascular system.

But just in case, she sat her phone down next to her – wrapped in saran wrap so it wouldn’t get dirty, just like all the life-hack videos told her to do. Then she lined up each ingredient and measuring cup like finely trained soldiers.

With a snap of her hair tie and a glimmer of determination in her eye – a captain by every measure – she mentally saluted her troops and set off into what she expected to be a messy battle.

And when the war was done, both the pie and the scent permeating through the house was slightly charred but, she considered with a tired but mindful eye—

“Not bad, Beauchamp,” she sighed, setting the pie aside to clean off her battlefield and send silent prayers up to her fallen soldier, otherwise known as the cracked measuring cup she’d knocked off the counter with her elbow.

Just as she’d got the kitchen back in order, sliding the pie into the oven to keep warm, she heard the front door opening and sped to the front hall.

Jamie was bent over, retrieving the tools left lying to one side of the door, but straightened as he heard her coming.

“Fixed the roof,” he said triumphantly, and Claire rolled her eyes at him.

“And bought yourself take-out to celebrate?” she said, gaze flickering to the plastic bag hanging from his wrist.

“Ah, right!” he said, as if just noticing it. “Do ye ken a Mrs. Bug, Sassenach?”

“Mrs. Murdina Bug?” She blinked at him. “Does she still live down the street?”

His eyes lit up.

“Aye, she does. And she was wonderin’ if ye still remembered her.”

“I do,” she said with a smile, leaning her shoulder against the wall and turning up her chin at the rush of memories. “She’d always have little snacks to sneak into my carry-ons before we left for wherever.”

She could see Jamie almost inflating, smile widening, as she spoke. She gave him a quizzical look.

“How’d you run into Mrs. Bug in the first place?”

“I was comin’ down the ladder when I caught the smell of something baking, so I followed it,” he explained simply, knowing all-to-well the litany of dog comparisons running through Claire’s head and actively ignoring her smirk. “And there the auld woman was, lettin’ her pie out to cool on her windowsill, like something right out of a cartoon.”

He triumph crested as he lifted the plastic bag up next to his grin.

“Grabbed ye some. It tastes just like my Mam used to make.”

“Mm, Mrs. Bug did make the best—” The word caught in her throat as she registered what Jamie had said a beat too late.

“Everything alright, lass?’

He tilted his head at her, a shade more concerned, but she recovered quickly.

“Yes, sorry, I’m fine! I just thinking if I missed anything on the shopping list this morning.”

She hurried towards him and stooped down the retrieve the rest of the tools lying on the floor, careful not to let him see her face lest he – in his inexplicable way – saw right through her hastily made excuse.

Thank God she’d cleaned up before he arrived. She nearly chewed her lip to oblivion as she stumbled ahead of him to the shed in the backyard.

Competing with Jamie’s thoughtfulness was one thing, but in a bake-off between sweet Mrs. Bug, whose pie just happened to taste exactly like Ellen Fraser used to make—

Claire sighed, feeling woefully outranked but not wholly discouraged. Sir Nicholas’ – or Uncle Lamb’s – voice egged her on.

Buck up, Beauchamp. The war’s not over yet.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Two: Here, There and Everywhere |
Chapter 3

He’d already been rushing home after school, another freshly baked gift from Mrs. Bug on hand to surprise Claire, but the slightly burnt scent in the air made him step that much faster as he approached the house.

He opened the door in time to hear, the very much not-burnt Claire, yell, “Jesus H. –FUCKING—Roosevelt Christ!”

“Sassenach?” he called, peeking into the kitchen where the poor wee thing was gently banging her forehead on her crossed arms against the counter. Sitting next to her was a darkened apple pie, inconspicuously steaming like the heat that was undoubtedly filling Claire’s cheeks.

He approached her with due caution.

A nighean?” he said softly, a tentative arm gently wrapping around her shoulders as he set Mrs. Bug’s pie down. “What’s happened?”

She peered through her natural curtain of curls at his well-intentioned surprise and groaned, retreating back into her cave.

“Eat Mrs. Bug’s instead,” she mumbled, “I give up.”

“I—um, didna ken it was a competition.”

She turned her head just enough to glare at him and he chuckled, gently rubbing her back.

“Do ye want to tell me what this is about, or do ye mean for me to suffer a bit more?”

She muttered something in reply, muffled by her hair.

“Hmm, what was that?”

She gave a loud sigh, straightening her back and flipping her hair from her face. She looked at him, the echo of a frown still evident even as she gave him a small smile.

“I said, ‘that sounds tempting’.”

He pouted at her till she chuckled, stepping into his arms to bury her face in his chest. He kissed her crown and wrapped his arms around her.

“Were ye suddenly so inspired by Mrs. Bug’s baking?”

“No, no.” Her voice made tiny vibrations through his shirt. “I just…” She looked up, looking so utterly defeated, and Jamie’s heart thudded. He gave her the space to explain herself, holding himself from lunging forward and thoroughly kissing away her worries.

“I just wanted to surprise you,” she muttered after a moment. “You’re always doing nice things for me and I thought… I just wanted to—And then you came home with Mrs. Bug’s pie that miraculously tastes just like your mum’s, and—”

“Hey, hey—” He ran his hands down her arms, kissing her forehead again before tucking her head under his chin. “—It’s alright, mo chridhe.”

“No matter what I do, it keeps coming out burnt,” she groaned, resuming the banging of her head against Jamie’s chest.

He was caught so squarely between genuine concern, and the heart-shatteringly strong urge to simply bask at this true miracle of a woman, who cared so deeply for him, for God knows why.

Electing, as he always did, for both, he cupped her cheek and bent to press their foreheads together.

You are so many things, mo nighean donn,” he said softly. “Intelligent. Kind. Beautiful. So ye canna make a pie like Mrs. Bug or my mam. I highly doubt Mrs. Bug can stitch a wound quite like you.”

She smiled at that.

“Besides, ye dinna need to bake a pie to surprise me, mo chridhe. Waking up next to ye everyday is surprise enough.”

She pressed her hand against his chest, and he took a moment to enjoy both her small smile and the flush fill her face before – finally – cradling her head in his hands and kissing her.

“I’ll stump you one day, James Fraser,” she murmured against his lips.

“I just wish ye’d told me what ye were up to, Sassenach.” He pulled from her then to grab a fork and slide her blackened attempt toward him. “So I could help ye figure out what went wrong.”

“Wait, what are you—?” She blinked at him, stunned, as he struck the top and took a sizeable chunk onto his fork.

“Ye made something for me, mo graidghOf course, I’m going to try it.”

He took a bite, and past the crunch it actually wasn’t so bad.

“You may die,” she said, her wince quickly turning into a glare when he started laughing.

“Perks of dating a doctor, aye?” He dodged her swatting hand, taking another bite. “It isna all that bad, Sassenach, just a wee bit burnt. How long did ye bake it for?”

“20 minutes, then reduced the temperature, and left it for another 50 just like the recipe said!”

“Och, lass, it’s typically best to take 10 minutes off the recommended time so ye can check. Especially because that oven runs a little hotter sometimes.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

She was starting straight at him, eyes wide, mouth agape, and brows veering on anger. He bit his lip to keep from laughing, even as she – more defeated than ever – collapsed into his chest yet again.

“Do you know how much food I wasted? I—Stop laughing, dammit!”

“Ah, I’m sorry, mo chridhe.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and swayed them gently. “We can try again next weekend together, aye?”

“Not if you don’t die from food poisoning.”

“So ye do mean to make me suffer, after all.”

“You will regardless, after all the pie you’ve been eating these past few days.”

He groaned. “Aye, I’ll have to work this off, I’m sure.”

“Well,” she started, tracing a fingernail down the length of his shoulder blade. “I think some light cardio would do you some good.”

He heard the lilt in her voice and grinned.

“Och, aye? And did ye have any specific suggestions in mind?”

“I did hear that working out with a partner can be more effective.”

“Well then—” He scooped her into his arms and she squealed, giggling. “—canna argue with doctor’s orders.”

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Two: Here, There and Everywhere |
Chapter 4

“Our dear Mrs. Bug sends her regards once again,” Jamie said with a laugh as he came in with this week’s spoils.

“Bless that woman,” Claire said, coming from the kitchen to greet Jamie in the front hall. She bit her lip, eyeing the hefty bag of treats swinging from his wrist.

“And how was the…” she trailed off, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

“She wrote ye a wee list of tips for the next attempt, and a new recipe to try. It’s in the bag too,” he said, crossing the hall towards her and depositing said bag by the key table on the way.

“God bless Mrs. Bu—mmph!

In the seconds it took for him to make it to her, Jamie had his arms wound around her waist, bending his head and kissing her deeply. Stunned for only a moment, she pressed herself into him with a soft hum as her hand slid up his chest.

She could almost taste his urgency, in no way an unfamiliar nor unwelcome feeling, but just slightly curious in its catalyst. Her chuckle broke them apart, but Jamie’s arms didn’t let her go very far.

“What on earth have you been up to, then?” she said, idly running her fingers through the shorter hair at his nape.

“Mrs. Bug—” She raised an eyebrow and he laughed, kissing her nose. “—was playing Beatles songs in her parlour. I heard one and thought of ye.”

“If you—mmm—say Eleanor Rigby, I will step right out of your arms this instant.”

They were so close, she could feel the laugh trembling in his stomach. His eyes though, were that dark, deep blue that rippled gooseflesh down her arm, every part of her body seeming to rise to meet his.

She took barely a breath before he buried his nose into the crook of her neck, gently scraping his stubble against her smooth skin.

“It reminded me,” he went on, unbothered, “that we’ve somewhat set aside our to-do list in the midst of this domestic bubble we’ve made, aye?”

His nipping at her neck was more than a little distracting so it took her a moment to register what he’d said, and another yet to catch her breath.

“What—hmm—what to-do list is that, love?”

He dragged his lips back up her skin, wasting no time in delving his tongue in to look for hers.

“The one we started right here on the floor.”

Quite involuntarily, her cheeks flushed red at the recollection that seemed to start from below her navel and set her blood to a boil.

Oh aye?” she said, teasing.

“Aye.”

“What song could dear Mrs. Bug have been playing to get you—mmh!”

He canted his hips against hers and she could feel the length of him pressed into her thigh.

Jamie Fraser, she had found, could not – even by the farthest stretch of imagination – carry anything remotely close to a tune. On the rarest of occasions, songs came out as deep, tone-deaf chanting that, while still endearing, had no business being called music.

That being said, there was something in the current rumble of his voice, the edge of his accent, and the way he punctuated each word with torturous kisses down her neck and into her chest as he slowly unbuttoned her shirt.

“I want her everywhere, and if she’s beside me I know I’d need never care.”

Claire was wriggling madly in his arms as he trailed pure heat across the expanse of her skin. What had she been doing before this? Setting out tonight’s take-out, surely.

“But to love her is to need her everywhere.”

Her thoughts grasped for hazy straws, then fizzled out completely as he pushed her bra aside and caught her nipple between his teeth.

“Wait, wait—” she gasped.

She yanked at the short curls behind his head, dragging him back to face her.

She answered before he could ask.

“We’ve already done it here.”

He smirked.

“Aye, we have… We could always—”

“Nope,” she said quickly at the sight if his insinuating eyebrow. “I already told you, we are not having sex in Uncle Lamb’s study.”

He sighed, but otherwise looked unperturbed.

“I’ll have ye bent over a desk sometime, lass,” he murmured and she rolled her eyes at him.

They must of looked positively insane: her locked in his arms, in varying states of undress and general dishevelment as they very civilly discussed where they might decide to ravish each other in their own goddamn home.

“Have we done all the bedrooms?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Twice.

“Hmph, perhaps we’ve finished the list after all.” He shrugged, all the more unbothered like a dog who knew quite well that a meal was inevitable. “Shall we go for round 3 then, Sassenach?”

She ran through her mental layout of the estate, conjuring up the strangest mix of childhood memories and those of slightly more adult fare.

Then it came to her and in seconds, she made a half-hearted attempt at buttoning her shirt (rendered useless by Jamie’s kisses getting in the way) and headed to the far east corner of the second floor.

“There’s this—ahh!—S-side staircase to the attic,” she said by means of explanation, even as Jamie took every opportunity to press her into walls and assault her neck with small bites and kisses. “I was terrified of it as a child so I d-didn’t think to—mmm—mention—Jamie!

He’d made a quick undoing of her shirt once again, pushing her against the door leading to said side staircase and blindly fumbling for the handle.

“Aye, ye can give me the backstory during dinner, mo graidgh,” he rasped out over Claire’s shuddering laugh at him.

He regarded her, his intent clear and present as the door clicked open and he pressed her up against the adjacent wall, hiking her skirt up as he wrapped her leg around his hip.

Claire groaned, feeling how hard he was through his jeans. Their eyes met for an instant just long enough for that familiar electric spark to arc between them and then, no words were necessary.

It was a tight fit, the swell of Jamie’s chest leaving just barely enough space for Claire to grind against him. Even so, he wedged his hand between them to run a finger over her panties, humming in approval before he unzipped his fly and slide home.

Jesus God,” Jamie moaned, “I’ve been thinking about ye all day, mo chridhe. About this.” He pushed especially deep into her and Claire’s head flew back, thudding dully against the stone wall.

Claire squirmed, well and truly caught between the cool stone and the scalding fire pulsing between them. The scrape of the wall reminded her of the alleyway in the town by Lallybroch. Almost a whole year ago, yet the sheer power and need in Jamie – in both of them – hadn’t changed.

Her gasps and sighs were quickly veering into whimpers and sobs with each thrust, until Jamie bent to lift her other knee up and press her completely into both him and the wall. Her long moan bounced against the walls and they both stilled for a moment, listening to it echo up the staircase and into the attic.

“That’s new,” she muttered, knowing – or rather, feeling – that Jamie agreed, if the hardening cock between her legs was any indication.

And if it wasn’t, Jamie’s eager redoubled attempts to fill the corridor with their shared moans and screams certainly were.

She clenched her thighs around his hips, pushing her back against the wall to meet him thrust for thrust as he buried his face into her neck.

“Come, mo nighean donn,” he murmured into her skin, sinking his teeth into her collarbone as his hips sped up on the precipice of his own release. “Let me hear ye.”

And she did, loud and unhinged as it made its bouncing ascent up the staircase, much like how Claire’s soul felt as Jamie groaned and spilled into her.

Light as air and thoroughly rapturous.

“This…” Jamie began breathlessly after some time, his heaving chest trapping hers against the wall and making it all the more difficult to catch her breath. “This may be my new favourite place.”

Claire stifled her giggles into his chest, wrapping her arms around his neck as she counted the seconds before his strength gave out.

It was 5.

In an attempt to keep her from hitting the ground, Jamie twisted and fell through the open door onto his back. They met nose-to-nose, and Claire smiled hesitantly at him, wholly disregarding the fact that she was straddling him and that he was very much still inside her.

He looked up at her, deep blue no longer dark with intent, but swirling and fathomless, and utterly star-struck.

With eyes as honest as those, Claire knew she didn’t need words. After all, for all where love is, the speaking is unnecessary.

His hand rose to tuck her hair behind her ear, cupping the swell of her cheek before pulling her down to his lips.

Meanwhile, the take-out in the kitchen got very cold.

[End of Part 22]

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three: Timing |
Chapter 1

“So what did ye do, then?”

Jamie sighed into his cellphone, leaning his back against the closed door as he sat on the front steps. There was an early afternoon breeze blowing by, cooling down the red in his cheeks as he tried – and failed – to formulate an answer for his sister.

“Claire’s mad at me,” he muttered, another sigh heaving itself out of him.

“Aye, I figured that. So what is it ye’ve done, wee idiot?”

He sighed, shifting his weight back and forth and heard the wood of the steps creak under his weight.

“I wasna—I didn’t notice when I was loading the laundry and…”

“And?” Jenny’s voice went upwards like the way he imagined her eyebrow was arching.

“—and Ithrewherdressintothewashinsteadofdrycleaningit,” he finished in a breath.

Then, silence.

A very unimpressed, very disappointed silence.

“I—”

“I knoww,” he groaned.

“Do ye?” she said, her voice running a very clear undercurrent of a laugh. “Because what ye did says otherwise—Christ!” And the laugh crested, breaking through its dams with so much force he could feel it from the estate doors. “Have I taught ye nothing, lad?”

“Alright, alright, I ken I fucked up.” He sighed again. “I was just trying to help.”

“Is what ye told Claire, I’m sure.” Jenny sighed. “Christ, ye’ve got puir timing, ye clot-heid. Willie’s wedding is next Sunday, aye?”

Claire had said (yelled) essentially the same thing. Jamie scratched the back of his head.

“Aye and I was wonderin’—”

“Oh, Christ…”

“—if ye’d like to take Claire dress shopping wi’ ye? I ken ye dinna have a dress yet, Ian told me.”

“Twenty-odd years and I’m still cleaning yer mess for ye, hmm?”

He wasn’t above begging, but he hoped his silence spoke for itself.

They’d had fights, obviously. But it wasn’t the yelling or the occasional throwing of tiny objects that didn’t sit well with him. They quickly got over minor things like this, and he knew well that the real trouble didn’t happen when Claire yelled at him, but when she was completely silent.

But none of that bothered him. It was solely the fact that she’d looked so visibly upset, and it had been 100% his fault.

Before he could even utter the word please, Jenny heaved another great sigh through the phone, and he straightened his back, sitting up.

“Alright, fine,” she conceded, raising her voice over his stream of gratitude to tell him where she’d meet Claire, and how many chores he’d have to do to make it up to her.

His eager string of “Thank You’s” was cut short as he heard footsteps through the front hall behind him.

“She’s coming, I gotta go. Love ye, bye—”

Just barely cutting Jenny off, he hung up and slid his phone in his pocket just as the door slowly creaked open.

Claire, very quietly, sunk down to the steps beside him with a deep breath and Jamie watched her, frozen like a deer on the road.

“Hi,” she said finally.

“…Hi.” He swallowed. “I-I’m sorry, mo nighean donn, truly. I—”

“I know,” she said with a sigh, letting her head fall against his shoulder. “And I’m sorry for yelling at you, I just…”

Her shoulders were slouched, and she trailed off, staring absently at the ground. Very slowly, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and silently rejoiced as she nuzzled her head into his neck.

“Your cousin’s wedding is coming up, and I had everything laid out and now—”

Now, he had a Plan B.

“I just spoke with Jenny,” he started, kissing her crown softly. “She offered to take ye dress shopping this weekend, if ye like.”

She looked up at him and he wanted to fall over and thank God he could see the beginnings of her teasing smile.

Jenny offered? Or you asked her to?”

Well…”

She laughed, and Jamie felt his chest swell.

“Sounds like a plan,” she said with a nod, her hand – seemingly involuntarily – reaching for his and twining their fingers together. He squeezed her hand gently and, without fail, watched her smile widen.

“Y’know what else sounds like a good plan?” she went on, and there was an odd edge to her voice made him turn and blink at her.

“From now on,” she said primly, “you cook. I do the laundry.”

He laughed so hard, he almost dislodged her from his chest.

“Aye, mo chridhe, sounds like a fair trade.”

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three: Timing |
Chapter 2

“Ye havena met Willie, have ye?”

Claire pursed her lips, as she thumbed through the rack of dresses. They were on the third boutique that day and, while leisurely shopping her way through town sounded fun in theory, the ever-present time crunch made it all the more stressful.

“He wasn’t at the barbecue, was he?”

“Nay, he was abroad studying.”

Jenny shook her head, clattering hangars against each other as she flipped through a rack. “I promise ye, I taught the lad better.”

“It was an honest mistake, Jenny. An idiotic, horribly timed mistake,” she sighed, “but a mistake, nonetheless.”

“Lord only kens how that lad survived in the dormitories ‘afore he met ye.” The elder Fraser rolled her eyes. “It eases my mind a bit, knowin’ ye’re there with him.”

Claire absently ran her hand down the silk of a hanging gown, turning her head from Jenny in an attempt to hide her smile. While Jenny wasn’t generally complimentary, she leapt at any chance to take the piss out of her brother, and to Claire – whom never had a sister and found teasing Jamie to be one of her absolute favourite pastimes anyway – it was wholly welcome.

“Well, I try,” she said with a shrug.

“And just think, maybe soon we’ll have to buy ye another dress… but whiter.”

Cheeks thoroughly flushed, Claire’s head darted back to Jenny’s so fast, she could’ve sworn she heard her neck crack.

“Though, red does seem yer colour,” said Jenny, doubled over laughing.

“C’mon!” Claire tried – and failed – to appear nonchalant. She could feel the heat radiating from her face and was beginning to suspect there were one or two ulterior motives to Jenny agreeing to bring her shopping. She dove her nose back into the rack.

“It’s only been a year, we haven’t even—” She gave up trying to talk over Jenny’s laughs. And, while she did feel completely mortified, watching Jenny trying to catch her breath reminded Claire so much of Jamie.

Finally, Jenny straightened herself out and wiped a tear from her eye.

“Ach, I’m sorry, lass, ye just make teasin’ so easy, ye ken?” She was still chuckling and, despite herself, Claire smiled softly. “Ye remind of Jamie, and Ian for that matter.”

Both out of curiosity and a desperate need to change the subject, Claire followed up immediately.

“You know, I’ve never heard how you and Ian met.”

At that, Jenny smiled, and Claire missed Jamie exponentially. Those Frasers, with their lopsided grins and glinting eyes; the kind of reverence that would make anyone with a pulse stop and stare, secretly hoping that they were the cause. It made it near-breathtaking to actually know that you were.

“We all grew up together, ye ken? Our Das were old friends and Ian was around as long as I can remember.” She shook her head, her smile only widening as she called the memory forward. “I was 17, I think, when I marched right up to him, grabbed him by the shoulders and said, ‘Alright then, Ian Murray, when I turn 21-years-old, we’ll get married’.”

Claire could imagine that in perfect clarity: a young Jenny Fraser – the one she’d seen in countless pictures at Lallybroch – taking a gangly teenage Ian by the shoulders. Frasers with a clear goal in mind certainly didn’t play around. She was thinking not just of Jamie, but of what she knew about Brian Fraser too.

Apples from the same tree, the lot of them.

“And what did he say?”

“Och, I couldna tell ye. To be honest, my heart was pounding so loud in my ears, I could barely hear myself. Though, I do remember his face—all red and gaping, like yers was a minute ago.”

Claire’s smile faltered; so she hadn’t forgotten after all. Jenny seemed to notice and visibly softened, her hand reaching over to squeeze Claire’s shoulder.

Dinna fash, lass. I doubt Jamie will be as forward as I was,” she said.

“Thank you, but really, it’s only been a year.”

“Aye, but in that year—“ She released Claire’s shoulder to count off her fingers. “—Ye’ve said I love ye, had sex—och, calm down, we all ken—moved in together, and went through a nearly life-threatening disaster with nary a scratch on ye.” She motioned at Claire’s leg. “Most couples are at a turtle’s pace compared to the two of ye.”

“We haven’t even talked about it,” Claire said, waving her hand dismissively.

Raising a family, yes. But somehow, Claire realized, the idea of marriage had never surfaced. Not that she wanted to make any solid claim at what Jamie felt (though she didn’t doubt her ability to), but the way they talked, planned, dreamed—it all seemed so… inevitable. Like it was already an integral part of the plan, a foregone conclusion that didn’t warrant actual discussion.

Flashes of a lighthouse in the darkness over a calm sea filled her mind, leaving her feeling like she’d just run into an old friend.

“Well, I daresay, if Jamie isna already thinking about it, this ought to help speed things up.”

In Claire’s silent reverie, Jenny had strolled over to poke around in another rack of dresses and was on her way back with a dress on hand. Claire’s eyes widened, and Jenny was already starting to chuckle to herself.

“I did say red was yer colour.”

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three: Timing |
Chapter 3

His tie was skewed.

He was practically nose-to-nose with his reflection in the hotel room mirror as he tried – for the fifth time – to re-tie it.

His hands weren’t shaking, but he otherwise felt like a high schooler on prom night (which he had gone stag to, thank ye verra much). It took him nearly ten straight minutes to get his cufflinks right and now his tie was—

He sighed. Attempt number 6, then.

“Don’t strangle yourself, darling,” said Claire’s muffled voice from behind the bathroom door, undoubtedly hearing his frustration.

And there was the source of his plight, hidden behind a door with perhaps the tiniest inkling of the sheer havoc she was causing.

At first, when she refused to show him what she and Jenny had bought, he thought she was still mad at him. As the wedding drew closer, and with it Claire more tight-lipped, there was no doubt Jenny had done… something. What exactly, he had no idea, but that only made it worse.

“How are we for time?” Claire called.

“Almost out of it,” he replied, refocusing his efforts on this damn knot. “Are ye finished?”

“Nearly!” He heard her huff and was glad he wasn’t the only one with a less than cooperative wardrobe. “How’s the tie going?”

“I think I’ve finally got i—” He caught the bathroom door opening from the mirror and instantly forgot how to breathe, let alone tie a tie.

It was red.

The thin straps, a deep contrast against her pale shoulders, fell into a low scooped neckline that was more than just grazing the swell of her breasts.

He was likely turning the same shade, far darker than his hair, as his gaze travelled down the soft curve her waist and hips wrapped snugly in the cascading fabric that would have brushed the floor if not for her black heels.

Then she turned slowly and his knees almost buckled underneath him.

All of this, of course, unbeknownst to her as she bared the expanse of her back to him. The straps met in an X between her shoulder blades – Christ was she not wearing a bra?! – and it took him more than a few moments to realize she was pointing at the zipper just above the base of her spine that was nearly done.

Automatically, he crossed the room and zipped it, then took a step back to resume his thoroughly thunderstruck assessment.

“Thanks,” she said as she turned back around. “Now, how’s your tie—What? What’s wrong?”

He knew his mouth was open and more than that, was wildly aware that whatever words trying to manifest themselves were dissolving in his throat save for—

“I—ye…” Then one broke through the dam.

A breathless, “…wow.”

Her lips – the same damnable red – curved into a small smile, her cheeks tinting with pink and turning her into a veritable paint sampling card of all Jamie’s favourite colours.

“You’re pretty wow yourself,” she said, reaching up to tug at his tie.

He stumbled forward, hands rising unbidden to press into the soft fabric hugging her hips. Instinctively, he drew her flush against him and wasn’t fully cognizant of his actions till he felt her smile widen against his lips.

“We’re going to be late,” she murmured with a pleased-sounding hum.

“I…” Indistinct thoughts swirled around his head, and he grasped for the most coherent, hoping for the best. “…dinna want to go to the wedding anymore.”

“Huh?”

“We could—” His mouth was running faster than his brain could keep up, another part of him clearly taking the reigns as he bent his head into her neck and nuzzled his stubble against her skin. “—stay here instead, and—ye can stay in that dress and—”

She pressed her palms into his chest, pushing him from her with a soft chuckle.

“Jenny would kill us.”

“Aye,” he rasped, “but I dinna think Willie would mind owermuch.”

“Nuh-uh.” She smirked, the tiniest glint in her eye as she leaned into him and nipped delicately at his bottom lip. “You’ll have to work for it.”

“Jesus fuck, Sassenach,” he groaned.

“Hey!” She giggled, out of his arms and down the room like the poof of smoke still circling around his head and hazing his vision. “You’re about to go to church, remember?”

He glared at her across the room, watching the length of her back and the sway of her hips as she stepped out of the door.

“Heaven help me,” he muttered.

And crossing himself, he was out the door right after her.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three: Timing |
Chapter 4

She felt the weight of Jamie’s jacket fall onto her bare shoulders and her heels halted immediately at the front doors of the church.

“Wh—?”

“I didna think of it before,” he whispered in her ear, ushering her down the far right of the church in search of a pew. “Distracted, ye ken?” He looked her up and down with a baleful eye and she furrowed her brows at him.

“While I appreciate it to no end, Sassenach,” he went on wryly, “that’s perhaps too much skin for our Lord, aye?”

She snorted and more than a few hushes from scandalized, poofy-hatted women flew her way. Another, meeker, scan of the slowly filling church proved a better counter-argument than Jamie could’ve given her.

She couldn’t recall the last time she’d been to wedding but based on the available sample size, she had 98% too much shoulder, 100% too much back, and a handful of curious stares from young men in suits that Jamie was glaring at. She – very proudly, thanks very much – pulled Jamie’s jacket tighter against her, getting a full whiff of his cologne and smiling as they sit down.

Though she wasn’t as utterly thunderstruck as Jamie had been – his feet were concrete as she dragged him out of the hotel lobby – seeing him in a perfectly tailored suit was a rare, and wholly appreciated, treat. The way the fabric fit over his broad shoulders, how the jacket – currently hanging off her own shoulders – tapered at his waist in relief to the expanse of his chest.

She bit her lip, discreetly crossing her legs as she shifted in the pew. Beside her, she saw him swallow from the corner of her eye, his own peering at the peek of her skin as the dress rode up slightly and she laughed, leaning her head against his shoulder.

This was going to be a long day for both of them.

“Ye’re doing that on purpose,” he whispered, putting an arm around her.

“Hmm?” She turned, slower than necessary, so her thigh and the side if her chest brushed against him.

He groaned softly, digging his fingers into her shoulder.

“Careful, you’ll wrinkle the jacket.”

He murmured what was likely something vastly inappropriate for a church. And, by some celestial coincidence, the organ struck its first note. She would’ve cackled at the way he practically jumped at sound if not for the bride starting her practiced parade down the aisle.

They stood with the rest of the congregation and Claire, for the first time, got a good look at Jamie’s cousin at the altar.

Jenny had told her he was still studying, but Claire hadn’t expected him to be so young. Jamie’s age surely, if not younger. But, while the rest of the church watched the bride, Claire caught the wave of emotion pass over Willie’s face and felt her heart melting along with his.

She hadn’t thought about it, she realized like a dart of lightning shooting through her. Living together, yes. Hell, even having kids. But not marriage.

She was again reminded of the stark contrast between the Fraser household and her own. Jenny knew she was going to marry Ian immediately, in a reckless echo of Brian and Ellen’s legendary romance. But what landmark did Claire have to navigate from?

Her understanding of love began and ended with Jamie.

From his reaction to her dress alone, she could picture the sheer blankness of his typically unreadable face if – when – he saw her down the aisle. Mouth agape and blue eyes filled with wonder and – perhaps? – the beginning of tears.

Her heels would hurt. That procession to the altar likely felt like eternity. How much hairspray would she need? She’d probably complain about her dress until precisely the moment Jamie’s eyes glazed over, cupping her face in his hands as he swallowed hard and rasped out a soft, “I love you.

She’d need to invest in seriously high-grade waterproof make-up.

“I love ye too.”

“Hmm?”

She was jolted back to the present as the very real, and not nearly as weepy, Jamie Fraser bent his head and whispered to her; apparently that last bit of her silent reverie wasn’t as silent as she thought.

She nuzzled her head into his shoulder, listening to two hearts share their vows and closing her eyes in a smile as Jamie, perhaps hearing her thoughts, pressed his lips to her temple.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three: Timing |
Chapter 5

“You’re like—really bad at this, huh?”

“I’m trying no’ to step on yer toes.”

Ohhh,” Claire giggled, “Is that why we’re dancing on the off-beat?”

“Och, aye.” Even in the dim light of the hotel’s reception hall, he could already see the effects of her last few drinks painting her face in faint dustings of pink. “And it doesna help that ye’ve drank a bit more than I have.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, not disproving his statement in the slightest.

“I’m not drunk.”

“Never said ye were,” he chuckled, nuzzling her cheek with his nose. “Though, ye’re skin’s a bit warm, lass. Are ye alright?”

“It’s these damn curls. It’s too bloody hot!” She sighed, stepping out of his arms to reach up and shake out her hair but losing her balance in the process.

He rushed to steady her, laughing shamelessly all the while – and even more so when he saw her thoroughly displeased expression.

“I’m fine,” she said before he could even open his mouth.

He nodded, definitely believing her as he released her waist and put his hands up in good faith.

With a great deal more care this time, she gathered her hair up and away from her neck with a huff.

Poor wee thing.

With little more than a flick of his wrist, he was holding out a hair tie to her.

She blinked once. Twice.

“What is that?”

“Christ lass, how much have ye had?”

A moment to enjoy her pout at him.

“No, I know what it is. Why do you have one, I mean.”

It was his turn to blink at her then.

“I always carry one for ye, ‘round my wrist in case ye need it.”

More and more, her reactions – or in this case, lack thereof – did nothing to refute his overall judgement of her inebriation. It was a full 9 seconds of a genuinely blank, only slightly baffled, expression; he counted.

“You what—?”

She shook her head, seemingly gathering some semblance of coherence as she cupped his cheeks with both hands and kissed him.

You—” She tried again. “—are a god amongst men, James Fraser.”

He chuckled, his hand skimming the back of her neck as he returned the kiss in thanks.

“Shall I help ye wi’ that, mo chridhe?”

“No, no, I’ve got it,” she said over his insistence otherwise, pushing away from him and wobbling slightly on her heels.

Resigned and as irretrievably smitten as ever, he stepped around and let her back prop against his chest, steadying her by the waist as she tied her hair up.

The lights hanging above them changed into a soft blue haze as the raucous swing faded into something far gentler.

“Oh, we can do this one!” Claire said suddenly, turning in his arms and urging him to start swaying. Jamie, like so many other times since he met her, gladly let her lead.

He snaked his arms around her waist, sliding over the soft fabric hugging her hips as she smoothed her own hands past his shoulders and, tucking her head under his chin, draped her arms down his back.

She was right, it was no more a dance than the drunken stupor some of the bride’s relatives had already fallen into. Though just a touch more romantic, he supposed.

He held her close, feeling the calm rise and fall of her chest against his, as even and relaxed as it was right before sleep. Wholly vulnerable and entirely safe, just like he always felt with her.

A laugh floated above the music from across the room where Jamie could see Willie and his new bride feeding cake to each other. The fairy lights delicately hung around the hall cast the newlyweds in a soft glow and Jamie felt like he was watching the end of a movie, except that he knew – had countless childhood memories – with the leading man.

Willie was the youngest of his extended cousins, just a year younger than Jamie himself, and Jamie easily recalled the image of a much smaller, pudgier version of the groom stumbling to catch up with Rupert and Angus as they jaunted around the grounds of Lallybroch every summer.

Jamie didn’t know the bride though. As frequently as their childhoods intersected, he and Willie were never close enough to share much about their personal lives save the informal summer catch-up. Willie had met her at school in America; a point well-discussed, if discreetly, by nearly every relative he’d spoken to today, plus Jenny whom always swears she’s not a gossip immediately before proving herself wrong.

She seemed lovely though, with a big laugh that filled the room and – as far as Jamie could see as he held Claire and watched the dessert table – lit up Willie’s eyes like the child Jamie remembered. Of course, the Mackenzies were steeped in tradition and no stranger to gossip, he mused, whether it be a foreign girl marrying the clan’s youngest son or—

He stopped himself too late and swallowed the thought the same way he reigned back the tension that rushed to his fist

—or a lifelong farm boy marrying the clan’s only daughter.

He flexed his fingers and opened his palm onto the small of Claire’s back, pulling her closer to erase the tension completely.

Not that it mattered in the slightest, but he did wonder whether to expect the same kind of discreet – or even brazen – disdain from the Mackenzies for Claire if—

When—

Then an entirely different thought supplanted and overrode everything else.

She moved against his chest slowly, then pushed back to look up at him and only then he realized he had said her name out loud.


He was staring at her again, in that unnerving way that presented his thoughts to her, his emotions, just past a veil of inscrutability. Like he himself wasn’t sure he wanted her to know the sheer depth of whatever storm was brewing behind his blue eyes.

More often than not, she wasn’t on the receiving end of this mask. At least, not without pretense. The last time she could really recall not being able to divine his thoughts was their anniversary spent huddled under a blanket in the estate’s backyard.

“What is it?”

“I—” He wet his lips, swallowed, and Claire watched carefully. Watched how his eyes looked straight at hers, and yet seemed as though they were seeing so much more than what was right in front of him.

She waited, 8 full bars of music before he chuckled and shook his head. His warm hand at her back pressed their bodies together and he flexed his fingertips into her skin as his head bent to her ear.

“Ye look absolutely stunning in that dress, mo chridhe.”

Something inside Claire deflated, but she smiled nevertheless as her shoulders released some unwarranted tension.

“Finally found your words, have you?” she said, butting his nose with hers.

“Aye, I have.” He lowered his voice to a soft rumble that Claire could feel pressed up against his chest. “I lost them for a moment, in that mystery of a bra ye’re wearing.”

She stifled a giggle into his shoulder.

“I’m serious, Sassenach,” he went on. “Just how in hell is it holding everything together?”

“Double-sided tape, and a prayer?” she offered, pulling back slightly to peer up at him from under her lashes, and lowering her tone to match his. “Of course, you’re welcome to find out for yourself.”

She felt his repressed groan travel up to his throat, and saw vestiges of that same sentiment in the narrow and quite incendiary glare he gave her.

Now it was her turn to wet her lips.

Then the spell was broken. He tutted at her, tilting his head to one side slightly as if sizing her up.

“’Such a shame, lass,” he tutted at her, “As drunk as ye are—”

“What?” She blinked at him. “No, I told you I’m not drunk, Jamie.”

“Aye, ye are,” he insisted with a shrug. His voice was casual but his eyes, Claire could see, were sending her a different message entirely. “It’s really too bad but, I guess we’ll have to get ye back to the hotel room, aye? As soon as possible.

Understanding bloomed as quickly on her face as his air of aloofness dissipated. 

“Well,” she said, trying in vain not to mirror his wide grin. “I suppose if you think so.”

“I do,” he said softly, squeezing her hand in his.

In 30 minutes’ time, they had made their obligatory rounds of congratulations and goodbyes, narrowly avoided Jenny’s insinuating remarks, and piled themselves into a cab.

And 25 minutes after that, Claire had Jamie pressed into a hallway wall with her fingers systematically mussing his once perfectly groomed hair.

“Sass—mm—Sassenach!” he struggled between her relentless lips. “We havena—gotten to the room yet.”

He had been right, goddamn him. Claire was just tipsy enough to feel uninhibited. Her blood was boiling, and she couldn’t find it in herself to give two shits about any guests that might decide on an after-midnight stroll through the hall.

She bit his lower lip and revelled in his groan, lathing it over with her tongue as one hand left his hair and travelled downward to untuck his shirt.

He caught her wrist and pulled gently on her hair, making her whimper in protest. 

“Ja—Ah!”

Claire suddenly felt her feet leave the ground as Jamie threw her bodily over his shoulder.

“Jamie! Jamie, put me down!” She was dangling over him helplessly and began to pummel her fists into his back and kick her legs to no avail.

“Keep still, lass,” he laughed, pressing a quick kiss to the fabric-covered arse situated right next to his cheek. “Or ye’ll kill me ‘afore we get to the room.”

“Likely!”

She wriggled against him all the way to their door, finally stilling as she heard the telltale beep of their key-card lock.

Achingly slow, Jamie let her slide down his front and they both inhaled sharply when her leg brushed up against the length of him.

One breath.

The click of the door handle.

Another breath.

Then the world turned on its axis and Claire found herself pressed into the other side of their door, her eyes only briefly taking in the sight of their hotel room before they closed in rippled pleasure as Jamie sunk his teeth into her collarbone.

Christ,” he murmured into her skin as his lips travelled lower. “I’ll have to go to confession for all the thoughts I had of ye during the ceremony.”

His stubble scratched at the soft skin between her breasts and she arched into him, turning any remark she might have had for him into a sweeping gasp.

Her arm rose to tug at her straps, but Jamie caught her wrist and pinned it to the door just above her head, pressing himself harder into her as his knee slid between her legs.

“No lass. Keep it on.”

The deep rumble of his voice shot straight to her core and she rocked shamelessly onto his insinuating knee. That familiar ache between her legs was getting more urgent by the second and she knew it could take one quick turn of her heel to have him on the floor, hers to ride. But—

“I have to—Wait—” She gasped, at war with herself as she pushed Jamie back by the shoulder.

Jamie came back up immediately, searching her eyes for whatever was wrong, but she shook her head.

“You did want to see how this bra works, and I’d much rather have it off anyway.”

She wiggled her hand until he released her wrist and took one step back, his other hand never leaving her waist as he watched her pull the straps down past her chest.

“You’ve gotta untie the—”

He understood and began loosening the ties between both pads. Slowly, methodically. She watched his brow furrow as he mentally worked out the strapless, backless contraption for himself.

The strings came loose, and Claire heaved a full-chested sigh of relief. One that quickly turned into a squeak as Jamie’s finger lightly traced the outline of the pad.

The curious quirk in his eyebrow suddenly felt all the more erotic as he closed his eyes, bent his head to the side of one breast, and slowly pulled at the adhesive, lathing the irritated skin with his tongue as more and more of it was revealed to him.

Now Claire’s breath came in short spurts. Her head fell back, and her hands came up to thread in his hair as he massaged and kissed and nuzzled his way across her chest.

Finally, he peeled off the last bit of adhesive, stopping to give the contraption one last look before casually tossing it over his shoulder. Then, very gently, he replaced the straps at her shoulders and pressed a delicate kiss to each.

A gesture Claire would otherwise find heartbreakingly sweet, had his previous work not rendered her heaving and near-sobbing with her heart pounding loudly in her ears.

When he at last came up to meet her eye, two equally molten stares dared each other to move.

“I told ye I wanted to take ye in that dress.”

She rose on her toes, closing what little space they had left between them to butt her nose against his.

“So take me then.”

His mouth was on hers in an instant, her head thudding softly against the door as his whole body enveloped her, consumed her like the fire she’d willingly walk with him into.

The heat of his palms felt like it was searing through the fabric as his hands skimmed up her thighs, bunching the dress up around her hips. With few words but so much more between them, she kicked off her heels to wrap her legs around his hips.

Lightning darted through her as she rubbed against his hard length on her ascent, and Jamie groaned into her hair. Very much liking the sound, and more so revelling in the knowledge that he was as helpless in her arms as she was in his, she pressed her back into the door and rolled against him again.

His jaw clenched, his fingers pressing into her hips as he took long and measured breaths, and Claire was elated, alight with renewed desire.

And very likely as intoxicated as he’d thought she was. Not that she’d admit that to him.

In a flurry of moans and blind stumbles, she felt her back finally hit the mattress as her legs dangled off its side. Jamie’s hands on her hips pulled her closer to the edge, once again bunching up the dress, and she was lost in a haze until she felt the tickling of Jamie’s hair and stubble against her inner thighs.

Fuck,” she swore as Jamie ran one finger down her panties. He hooked that same finger under the cloth and pulled at it slowly.

You should be off to confession after this as well, lass,” he chuckled, nuzzling his nose and chin back up her legs.

“Oh shut up and—” The last of that sentence was lost in a gasp as his tongue prodded gently against her inner folds. His hand, which had since been drawing meaningless patterns on the back of her knee, travelled up to spread her legs further apart just as he pressed the flat of his tongue onto her core.

Her hips bucked up off the bed then with a sharp groan and she could feel the bloody bastard smirking as he brought his other arm down across her waist to keep her steady.

Her teeth were nearly puncturing her bottom lip as she tangled her fingers into Jamie’s hair and pulled.

Placing a kiss just under her navel, he rose up to quirk an eyebrow at her.

“Ready, I’m—” she started, trying to speak and refill her lungs at the same time. “I need you. Now.

The look he gave thoroughly erased all her hard work as her breath rushed out of her again. He stood straight, eyes never leaving hers, as he made quick work of his belt.

“Ye dinna have any idea what you look like right now,” he said, voice thick with feeling.

The more pragmatic side of Claire’s mind – wherever it was at the moment – could take an easy stab at the thought; dishevelled and sloppy, and in an alarming state of undress. But she knew – and frankly, could see – Jamie’s mind was decidedly somewhere else.

“Spread out like that, Sassenach.” She could feel the deep timbre of his voice leaving goosebumps up her arms. “Waiting for me, wi’ yer hair all mussed and yer chest heaving—Christ—I’d gladly burn in Hell just for the privilege of seeing ye’ so.”

She inched herself further onto the bed as he finally bent to join her, pulling away just slightly as he leaned in to kiss her.

She smirked.

He rumbled.

“Tease.”

In less than a breath, she was lost in insistent lips and warm, roaming hands steadily making their way downwards until, like all her cells converging onto a fixed point, she felt his thick cock press into her.

“Mmmgh—Jamie!

Instinctively, she hooked one leg around his hip and gasped greedily for air as he buried his head into her neck.

She draped her arms over his shoulders, dancing to the only choreographed rhythm she knew Jamie had memorized, a timing and movement he could never get wrong as he answered every twist and curve and grind with his own. Keeping in time with a single heartbeat shared between them. 

Moans and sighs accented their growing crescendo, higher and higher as he pushed in deeper, faster, until Claire crested. Her back arched off the bed, feeling weightless and shapeless, if only to better mould her body to his as she shattered around him and carried him off with her.

By the time Claire opened her eyes again – minutes or hours after – Jamie was peacefully snoozing beside her, his lips in a wide smile that tugged sharply at her heart. With eyes firmly shut, he reached, found, and tucked her neatly under his chin with a content hum.

“Jamie…?” she whispered. One bold hand came up to smooth down his hair, all the while waiting for his eyes to open.

When they didn’t, Claire snuggled closer into him, pressing a soft kiss at the base of his neck.

She hadn’t forgotten, even through the haze of alcohol and everything that followed.

“Jamie?” she tried again, louder, to no response.

It wasn’t the first time he’d stared at her like that, back at the reception, though she hoped the next time he did, it would be the last.

She smiled, comforted in the fact that whenever it happened to be, it was one of the few things in her life that was inevitable. She could – and would – safely let the tide deliver her there with the utmost faith in its certainty.

“It’s already a yes,” she said softly, into the night, “all you have to do is ask.”

[End of Part 23]

Part 24 Coming Soon!

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Four: Burdens |
Chapter 1

Thursdays, Jamie had decided, were the best.

Well, no, second only to the weekends perhaps but certainly high-ranking for sure. Thursdays he had only one class in the afternoon, and that afforded him more than ample time to snuggle into Claire in bed and see where the morning took them.

Not that they didn’t always end up in the same place – limbs and hearts entangled – but he wasn’t complaining.

Except for this Thursday, he realized as he blindly groped for Claire beside him and came up empty handed.

With a grunt, he begrudgingly floated up to full consciousness and sat up, blearily scanning the room to no avail. Squinting at the backlight of his phone – and the perfectly framed lock screen of a candid Claire adorably sleeping atop a textbook at the dining table – he frowned at the time.

7:15 a.m.?

7:15 was entirely unacceptable for lazy Thursday mornings with Claire.

He was about to call out her name when he caught the scent of something frying. Not burnt, he noted right away as he fished around the floor for his shorts and slipped them on. There was a faint sizzling noise coming from downstairs and, with no real sense of urgency but intent all the same, he half-consciously padded out of the room.

“Sassenach?” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he followed her absent humming into the kitchen.

She hadn’t heard him, and he took a moment to lean against the doorframe and watch her. Her back was facing him as – he assumed by the smell and the wee apron tied haphazardly around her waist – she fried eggs on the stovetop, and maybe it was the sheer domesticity or his barely waking state, but he felt his heart clench at the sight. His need from earlier burning into something much deeper than base desire.

Within seconds and with very little thought, he crossed the room and pulled her tight against him, arms snaking around her waist with a soft rumble in his chest that ended on a chuckle as she gasped.

“Ye’re makin’ breakfast?” he mumbled, dropping his head into her neck like he could fall asleep right then and there.

“I was,” she said, wriggling her arms free in an attempt to get back at it. “Good morning to you too, love.” She placed a quick kiss on his crown, and he smiled, returning it against her neck.

“Why’re ye dressed?”

“Joe and I are touring campuses today and tomorrow, remember?”

“Och ayyye,” he drew out with a needlessly heavy sigh. “Ye’re leaving me.”

“You can tone down the dramatics, darling,” she laughed, and he didn’t need to look up at her to know she was rolling her eyes at him. “I’ll be back tomorrow night.”

Her tone did little to assuage his dramatics. In fact, in his half-waking state he suddenly and brilliantly decided that he wasn’t being dramatic enough, as evidenced by him leaning more of his weight onto her like it might compel her to stay and take root in the kitchen tiles. Or better yet, their bed upstairs.

“Ye’re sure there isna anything I can do to convince ye to stay?”

“Mm, I do believe you tried your very best last night.”

He huffed, soberly. “I can do better, always do like the challenge.”

She made a noise equal parts grunting and giggling as she wriggled around in his arms to face him, poking him indignantly in the cheek.

“Go sit down. I’ll bring your breakfast over.”

He inhaled, slow and deep as he stared her down and she, as resolute as ever, stared right back.

He deflated—

“Fine.”

—then kissed her quickly before retreating to the stools on the other side of the kitchen island.


24 things, including train and bus schedules, meeting places, and pertinent questions to ask, completely blurred and dissipated as Jamie’s large arms enveloped her.

His clinginess was to be expected, she thought with a smile as she plated the eggs and turned the stove off. She had hoped the food would distract him first, but in a wager she happily lost, was proven wrong.

The plates had barely touched the island when she found herself swept up and seated astride his lap, a sleep-tousled but thoroughly smug face waiting for her before descending with purpose into her neck.

“You’re—mmph—supposed to be eating the eggs, Jamie!” She squirmed with little conviction, protests dotted with giggles.

“It’s on my to-do list,” he murmured as he nipped his way towards her collarbone.

She shivered as his teeth sunk into her, but tugged at his ear to stop him.

“If I have to spend the whole day hiding a hickey from my future professors and Joe – goddamn – Abernathy—” She held his face by both ears now. “—You will be in so much trouble.”

“Och, aye?” he said with a quirked eyebrow.

She sighed and conceded to kissing him back, because at least that kept his lips from her neck; the prospect of being in trouble with her had never proven to be an effective threat anyway.

“When are ye supposed to meet Abernathy?”

“Mm, in 20 minutes or so?”

Close as they were, she could feel both the corner of his mouth lift upwards and pleased Scottish-sounding noise rumble in his chest.

“Like I said, always do like the challen—”

They both froze at the sound of the doorbell ringing. Two pairs of eyebrows immediately furrowed.

“Is Joe meeting ye here?

“No…”

Sliding off Jamie’s lap, Claire quickly straightened her outfit and headed to the front foyer, Jamie padding just behind her but far enough behind that he didn’t know who was at the door until he saw a small set of arms wrap around Claire’s waist, knocking her back a step.

“Fergus! W-what the hell are you doing here?” She pulled him from her, and looked over his head, half-expecting to see Jenny and Ian around the corner.

“How’d ye get here, lad?” Jamie said, thinking much the same thing.

“I do know how to take a bus,” the boy said proudly. “And I saw your address written down on a paper on the fridge.”

Claire and Jamie both blinked, gaping at him for just a moment before Claire recovered first.

“Well that doesn’t answer my question,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “Don’t you have school?”

His smile faltered only slightly at that.

“Ah oui¸ but—But I do not need to go, it’s alright!”

Claire and Jamie shared a look but, before Jamie could take a stab at reasoning with him, Claire’s phone alarm chimed.

“Shit, I’ve got to go. I—”

Her eyes fell squarely on their new charge and paused. While he likely wouldn’t cause much trouble during the tours, there was the hotel rooms she and Joe booked. But she could potentially set up some pillows on a couch for him if she needed to—

Jamie ran a hand down her arm, as if divining her thoughts.

“It’s alright lass, I’ll take him to campus.”

“Are you sure?”

“Aye.” He raised an eyebrow at Fergus, who’s bright-eyed smile remained relatively unfazed. “He may not want to go to school, but I have to.”

Now with much more than 24 different thoughts swirling around her head, Claire shrugged. It’d have to do.

“Well alright, call me if you need anything,” she said before grabbing her coat and the bag she had packed by the stairs.

“We’ll be fine, a nighean,” Jamie said, squeezing her hand. “I’d say dinna worry about us, but I ken ye’re going to anyway.”

“I’ll try not to, I guess.” His hand came up to cup her cheek and she leaned into it. “See you tomorrow.”

Keenly aware of one young boy’s eyes on them, Jamie kissed her forehead quickly. Not their typical goodbye, but Claire supposed Jamie’s early morning clinginess was a blessing after all.

Stepping out of his arms to rub Fergus’ mop of curls, she walked past them toward the front door.

“Behave yourself!”

“Are you talking to me, or M’sieur?” Fergus laughed.

“Both!”

Chapter 2 Coming Soon!