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Alla Prima

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She sat on the same bench everyday at 4 pm. Jamie preferred it this way. It was when the sun’s hazy glow shone just slightly from the west. It caused her left side to be immersed in a yellow halo. At this angle, he could see the strands of gold spread throughout her almost-black hair. Her eyes matched these golden hairs. the glowing sun. Her cheekbones cut a sharp diagonal, hollowing the face below. Her chin and nose were pointed, elfish. He tried to recreate these images in his sketchbook, but could not capture her beauty with mere pencil and paper. She was his muse. He only wished he knew her name.

***

He was difficult to miss. Towering over most men, with flaming hair, he stood out in any crowd. Claire saw him everyday, always armed with sketchbook and pencil. She wanted to know what lie within that book. He hypnotized her. His pencil danced across the pages. His brows were drawn in concentration, but his eyes were always soft, as if looking at a lover on paper. Perhaps he was. She wished she had an artist’s hand. She wanted to capture him. Hair pulled into a knot to keep the fly-aways out of his eyes, the lines of his face were clear and sharp. He was a living sculpture from another era. A piece of art that become an artist

 

Chapter Text

It was unseasonably warm and bright for an early March morning. Jamie relished these days; the days when the light was at its peak and the world was basked in the brightness of new life.

He sat on the old wooden stool, looking out of the large windows that dominated his back wall. This was his favorite place on days like today. Brush in hand and guarding his easel, he stared out into the wooded yard. He enjoyed nature; its lively greens, its cracked browns. He was inspired by it; alive even when winter stole its breath.

But perhaps it wasn’t just nature that caused his brush to sway. He thought back to the pretty stranger in the park. The books she carried: intelligent. The wrinkle in her brow: determined. Her long fingers: the conductor of his passions.

His hands moved of their own accord, mixing. The gold that haloed her head. The brown that curled under her chin. The black that hid under her ears. He was creating her hair, the wild locks that swirled, mesmerizing him. Born of trees and grass and all things untamed, she was a mythical creature, and he was under her spell.

***

The demands of life interrupted fantasies, as they so often do. Jamie stood, bones creaking, and shuffled towards the sink. The process of cleaning brushes could be hypnotizing, the way the colors danced and swirled before disappearing. Usually it was satisfying, watching the day’s work washed away ready to begin anew. But, now, it vexed him to see this new chocolate color diluted by water. He didn’t want it to vanish. He wanted to be engulfed by it. 

***

Jamie was late, and he was not particularly looking forward to the verbal beating he would receive from his brother. Willie was five years older than Jamie, and his complete opposite, despite their appearances. They both carried the red hair, the imposing height. Willie had a softer face, though. A kinder face, with rounded cheeks and a curious brow shadowing his wide gray eyes.

But the biggest difference was their minds. Willie had a scientific mind, all logic and numbers and straight lines. Black and white. Jamie’s mind was filled with images and colors and ‘what ifs.’ They worked well this way, playing to the other’s strengths.

Jamie pulled up in front of Fraser Designs, the bright red ‘FD’ of the sign echoing the flaming hair of the man standing underneath it.

“Yer late.” Willie’s narrowed eyes caught Jamie’s. A storm meeting the sea.

“Aye, good to see ye too, brother.”

“Ye’ll get no pleasantries from me. Perhaps if ye were on time… Jesus Jamie!” Willie half whispered, exasperation pouring out of those soft-spoken words. “Ye’ve got paint all over ye! Do ye no have a mirror?”

Then, like the practiced father he was, Willie licked his thumb and began to wipe Jamie’s cheek.

“Uck!” Jamie swatted his hand away. “Stop! I’ll go to the toilet and clean up. Get off!”

“Be in the conference room in 5 minutes. And wash yer hands while yer in there! They’re spotted!”

***

The conference room was bright and industrial, florescent lights lining the ceiling. Jamie didn’t understand why they didn’t put in any windows.

The enormous table in the center swallowed its two occupants; Willie and their client, Robert MacLeod.

Rob was a small, older gentleman, with big ambitions. Ever since he was a lad, Rob had dreams to open a brewery. ‘Beer makes everyone happy,’ he told them once. And these dreams were finally coming to fruition in his late 60s. He had amassed money, time, and employees into the venture that was Anchored Sea Brewery. Now, he just needed customers, which was when the Frasers decided to step in, creating a logo and website for the man. This was their fifth meeting.

“Jamie, lad! What have ye got fer me, son?” Rob was a jovial man, spritely even though he carried 67 years.

“I’ve got a logo for ye, Rob, and I think ye’ll like it. Care to see?” Jamie stepped over to the table, and plopped down beside him.

“Weel, I’m not here fer my health,” Rob teased.  Jamie chuckled, and started rummaging through his portfolio briefcase. He could hear the quiet, annoyed sigh of Willie coming from across the table.

“Here we are!” Jamie waved his victory flag, and placed it in front of Rob.

The design was fairly simple, but with the practiced precision that only Jamie could accomplish: A black anchor just under the surface of the sea. Above it, the dark turquoise waves thrashed, spelling out ‘Anchored Sea’, in cursive.

Rob was calculating it, looking it over with shrewd eyes. It was his business, after all. Jamie’s proudly puffed chest was slowly deflating with each passing second. This was always the hard part: the anticipation of approval. Would the client like it? Would Jamie have to start over? Each minute felt like days, the ticking clock deafening.

Finally, the smallest of sounds, a hum of appreciation.

“Clever, lad. I’m impressed. Ye took all my ideas, and made them better!” Jamie slid his eyes to Willie, who nodded infinitesimally. “All right, Willie, now. What have ye got fer me?”

All attention was focused on the elder Fraser now, and his presentation screen.  

“Okay, this is the outline I want fer yer site, Rob. O’ course, we’ll be using the colors from the logo. We’ll have to put information, pictures…” Jamie could only take so much of his brother drone on about ‘WordPress’ and ‘CPUs.’ Now that the spotlight was of him, he let himself daydream, gold clouding his eyes.

***

“Excellent work, Jamie. Truly. I was afraid I’d have to whip ye after yer lateness, but since Rob loved it, I suppose that can wait. Fer all yer unreliability, yer a talented bastard.” Willie winked. “Shall we celebrate tonight?”

“Aye, sounds good. At 8? The usual place?”

“Dinna be late this time!” Willie bellowed after Jamie as he started for the door. Jamie responded by flashing a particularly unkind finger and heading to his car. It was 3:30; right on schedule for his daily park visit.

***

She was late. She was a constant, appearing at 4 every day. Except today. At 5, her bench was still empty, save for a small white dove perched on the edge. Her presence was something he could rely on, and he found the lack of her brought on an odd emptiness within him.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“So, wait, what time are we going to dinner?”

“4:30, Marsali said.”

“Are we planning on getting a senior citizen’s discount?”

“She said she wanted to give us plenty of time afterward to get ‘piss drunk.’ Her words.” The phrase ‘piss drunk’ sounded wrong coming out of Mary’s sweet, teacher voice.

Claire cringed. She was not so young as she used to be, and being ‘piss drunk’ did not entice her as it once did.

“Ugh. All right. Come to my place at 4. We’ll ride together.”

“Okay. I’ve got to go. Got to pick up the small children from lunch. See you, Claire!”

“Bye, Mary!”

Claire hung up the phone with a sigh. She was not particularly thrilled with the evening’s planned activities. But, she felt it her duty as friend of the bride and cousin of the groom to make an appearance at all wedding events, including this bachelorette party. Even if her wallet didn’t agree.

She gazed out into the empty lecture hall. Vacant seats echoing the beating of her heart. Was she so lonely that this sight should sadden her?

It was more than that, she knew. Visions of red curls filled her mind, paint stained hands dancing across a page, dancing across her body…

She wouldn’t get to see him today. Her artist. Had this stranger become so integral to her happiness?

She was afraid of the answer.

***

Whiskey. Her eyes. They were whiskey. Amber. Resin. Her hair the bark, her eyes the liquid amber that flowed out of it.

He swirled his own a liquid amber, contemplating colors. Brown and yellow definitely. Maybe some orange? Not too much, though…

“What’s wrong, Jamie?” He was surprised to see that his brother had crept up behind him. “Yer staring at that glass like its telling ye secrets.”

Jamie couldn’t tell him the truth: that he was fantasizing about some woman in the park. He would never live that one down.

“Ach, just tired. I woke up early. To paint, ye ken? The lighting— “

“I gotcha.” Willie was as thrilled about the mechanics of painting as Jamie was about the hardware of a computer. “I invited a couple lads. Just Rupert, and Angus, and Ian, if Jenny’ll let him.” The mention of their sister brought a smile to Jamie’s face. They were thick as thieves growing up, and he missed her greatly. But she and her husband Ian had been expanding their family rapidly, which kept her busy. He usually only saw her once a week, for Sunday dinner.

“Weel, Rupert will sure bring the good times.” Jamie glanced around the pub, The Usual Place. It was the Fraser men’s favorite, and was unusually quiet for a Friday night, save for a few straggling drunks and a small group of women tucked in a dark corner.

“Aye, they should be here anytime. I told them 8:30…” Willie craned his neck, scanning the large room for their friends.

“Dinna fash. When Rupert and Angus show up, we’ll ken it.”

***

Claire pulled at the hem of her dress, trying to stretch it. It was an older dress, worn during the wild days of cheap liquor and strangers’ lips. Since then, her hips had rounded considerably, and it felt like her arse was showing with each step.

“Where are we going, exactly?” Claire wondered to the bride-to-be. Marsali flipped her corn-silk hair, and turned around.

“It’s called The Usual Place. It’s nothing special, just a regular pub. But the drinks are cheap, so we can get in the right state o’ mind for the rest of the night!” She twirled, her silver dress sparkling under the florescent street lamps.

“Weel, I hope we get there soon! My heels keep getting stuck in the grates…” Geillis bellowed from behind, waddling as if she were in quicksand. “I dinna ken why we couldna get a cab…”          

“We’re here!” Marsali led her ladies-Claire, Joan, Mary, Geillis, and Louise-into the dim pub.

***

Jamie heard them before he saw them. Always one to make an entrance, Rupert flung open the doors with a mighty bellow.

 “FRASERS!” He sauntered to them with the cockiness of a man that knew he was the biggest in the room. Which he probably was. Behind him trailed two smaller men- Ian and Angus. “We hear ye’ve pleased another man today.”

“Why does everything that comes out of yer mouth sound filthy?” Jamie asked as Rupert clapped a paw on his shoulder

“Dinna ken. Ye’ve got a filthy mind, probably.” He winked.

“How will we be celebrating tonight?” Angus asked, scratching his scraggly beard with a look of false contemplation. “Shots?”

“Nay!” Ian spoke up. “Ye’ll ken what happened last time…”

“It’s no out fault ye canna hold yer drink,” Rupert teased.

“Yer company is celebration enough, lads,” Willie appeased, placing a hand on both their shoulders.

“Speak fer yerself,” Jamie muttered and waved the bartender over. He tried not to see her eyes in the bottom of his glass.

***

The pub grew steadily louder, and Claire found it more and more difficult to concentrate of her friends’ conversation. A mixture of the noise and alcohol.

“And, when are we going to see ze dancers?” Louise’s question caught Claire off guard.

“Marsali, you didn’t…”

“I only plan on getting marrit once. I’m doing my bachelorette party right.” She giggled, disarmingly sweet compared to the plans she had. “We should leave soon, though. So we can get a good seat.” The twinkle in her eye made Claire shake her head in mock disgust.

Much to Claire’s surprise, she was having fun. Not what she would have normally done on a Friday, she was glad to be out with these women. Her friends.

As they filed out, Claire saw a flash of red by the bar. A trick of the light, probably.

***

Jamie knew he was drunk. Was he hallucinating? He saw his stranger, wild hair trailing behind her as she walked out of the door. Perhaps he should call it a night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The flames licked at her, curling around her legs. She felt no pain, though; a surprising softness engulfed her. She welcomed it, spreading her arms wide. The flames grew, nuzzling up her body, filling her with a warmth that had nothing to do with the fire around her.

The flames…moaned? It was the only way she could describe the noise, a low sound coming from deep within the blaze. It sounded almost human, that low roar.

And within that white-hot center emerged a white-hot face. Strong features, sharp bones.Two blue flames stared at her, into her.

And with the sudden realization that only happens in dream, Claire became aware that this wasn’t a fire that surrounded her. It was a man’s long red hair that curled around her. A man’s electric blue eyes that shocked her. A man’s large hands that warmed her…

Not a man. Her man. Her artist.

He smiled at her, a mischievous half-grin. It was infectious; she smiled back, unsure of what they were smiling about, but knowing that she wanted to be a part of it.

Her stomach began to rise toward her throat, a jittery feeling that spread throughout. Sweat was beading on her skin. She was hot, burning, as if in a real fire now…

Claire woke with a start, and found that she was, indeed, hot and sweaty. Not the pleasant warmth, but a sickly heat. She ran to the toilet and thoroughly emptied her stomach.

***

Jamie’s brain was becoming too big for his skull. At least that’s what it felt like. He peeked an eye open, staring through the curtains. Overcast. Rainy. He rolled over, trying not to vomit in the process, and fell back asleep.

***

Claire watched the chasing raindrops from her window. Her thoughts flew back to that dream; wanting to remember, wanting to forget. Her mind was being consumed by thoughts of him, waking and dreaming. She could not escape him.

Did she even want to?

 

***

The rain began to soften, mere tears from the sky. Claire debated. Should she go to the park? Would he be there?

Did that matter?

It didn’t. Although she wished to see him, her time at the park was her favorite part of the day. When she was surrounded by green. It gave her a peace and focus she hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. And she had many tests to grade.

 

***

She sat at a picnic table today, papers strewn about it, held down with a couple rocks.

Well, Josh, you obviously have no idea what a chloroplast is. And you’ve known about this test how long? IT IS ON YOUR SYLLABUS.

Claire taught freshman Biology at the local university. It was a required course, not matter if you were Pre-Med or Computer Science. And some answers she received… She shook her head.

Gargantuan apparatus? Did he mean Golgi apparatus? Jesus H. Roosevelt…

The test fluttered before flying off into the wind.

“Christ!” Claire went after the papers, grabbing futilely with open hands. The test floated through the air, skidded the ground, and ascended again. And if she wasn’t so damn frustrated, she might have likened it to a large butterfly. As it were, she didn’t have the patience for poetry at the moment.

Perhaps by coincidence or fate, the papers landed on a pair of laced brown boots. As if in slow motion, she watched as blue stained fingertips reach down and grab her pages. She knew who those blue fingertips belonged to in her heart and soul. And brain. Only artists and cosmetologists had fingers stained in such a way.

Her gazed travelled slowly up his body, to his grinning face. The same grin he wore in her dream last night…

God…

 

***

This close, he could see things about her that he had never noticed before. She had a handful of freckles scattered over her nose and cheeks. Or how her canines were a bit long, giving her a vampirish smile.

“Thank you.” She was English. Also something he never noticed. A sharp, clear accent. A church bell at noon.

“No trouble, lass,” he smiled, trying to calm his racing heart. He was a good actor. He could manage a conversation without making a fool out of himself. At least, he hoped so.

“I could have been in big trouble had I lost this,” she chuckled, a much lower sound than he would have expected.

“Aye. I’m sure,” he squinted at the paper. “Josh would no appreciate ye losing his test.”

“Well, he probably failed anyway, so…” She spoke candidly, before clapping a hand over her mouth. “I should not be speaking about a student like that…”

“Dinna fash. Yer secret’s safe wi’ me.” He put a finger over his mouth is a ‘shh’ gesture. She laughed, showing off her wolfy grin.

“I’m Claire, by the way.” Claire. The click of a tongue, a swallowed ‘r.’ He had met a few Claires before, but none of their names sounded so musical.

“Jamie.” Don’t say it. Don’t say it. “Have I seen ye here before?” Damnit, Fraser.

“Oh, probably,” she answered with a flip of her hand. “I’m here almost everyday. I love nature.”

And I love ye.

No. NO.

“Oh, aye. I’m here often as well.” He looked down. This conversation had taken a dive bomb straight to the concrete.

“You’re an artist, aren’t you?” He was surprised to hear her speak. Surprised she was still in front of him, eyebrow cocked.

“Huh? Oh, aye. Yes. I am.” Did she like artists?

“I thought so. I’ve seen you too. You have a sketchbook with you all the time.”

“Ye never know when inspiration may hit.” He didn’t feel the need to tell her that inspiration always hit when he saw her.

“Of course. Well, I’ve got to finish my work. Perhaps I’ll see you around?”

“Aye. Perhaps.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire.

The name echoed in whispers in his mind, vibrating in his head. Such a simple name, really. Short, one syllable, clipped. Really, truly just a name. No, it was the woman it belonged to that made it special. That made Jamie want to elongate the name, taste every letter.

Cl…aire…

C…l…ai…re

It was his own personal poem, musical and song-like. A lullaby that dreamily drifted through his ears, lulling him into calmness.

And why should he feel so strongly about this woman? A woman he just met. A practical stranger.

He knew why, of course. No, it wasn’t just her beauty, though that didn’t hurt his impression of her. She was smart. Professor smart. Biology professor smart. And effortlessly funny. And kind. But, most of all, she was transparent. He felt as if he knew her in one conversation; her eyes stained glass windows into her mechanical mind, her face twisted with every emotion she felt.

He was infatuated with her: her voice, her eyes, her smile, her mind…

He tested her name out again, speaking to the darkness of early morning:

“C…l…airrrre.”

***

“Jamie? Jamie!” He shook himself from his thoughts, the large dining room coming into focus. His sister was speaking to him.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“What’s going on with ye, Jamie? Yer mind is somewhere else.” Jenny’s eyebrows were drawn in concern. Yes, his mind was elsewhere, but he wasn’t prepared to tell his family exactly where.

“Oh, aye. I’m just…tired. I was up late last night.” Jamie glanced around the table at his family.Sunday dinner at Jenny’s, a tradition that they had started when their father died. The family had grown since then, though. Jenny married Ian, Willie married Nora. Both couples had spawned 2 children each, and Jenny was round with another.

“Ye need to get more sleep, Sawny. Yer not sleeping enough,” Willie interjected.

“Sawny…Sawnyyyyyy…” Willie’s youngest, Elinor, sang sleepily, and dropped her head on her father’s shoulder.

“Aye, I ken. Just, ye never know when ye’ll be inspired.”

“I dinna understand it a bit,” Willie admitted, taking a large bite of pasta. “But I’ll always support ye. However. Ye need to be healthy.”

“I’ll work on it.” Willie placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder, squeezing slightly, before turning his full attention to the meal in front of him. A bottomless pit, that man was.

“Anyway, Jamie,” Jenny interjected. “I was asking what yer working on now?” With a little bit of natural artistic talent, but never taking it further than that, Jenny was always interested in Jamie’s ‘next big project.’

“Ach, just small canvases. Nothing special, really.” Very special, actually, but Jamie didn’t want to tell them about Claire.

“Nothing special? Ye just said yer getting inspired in the middle of the night!” Jenny laughed, blue eyes crinkling.

“Weel, I’ve just been painting…pretty things. Flowers and such. Nothing too…inspired. Just, when it’s in my heid, I have to do it, ken?”

“Nay, but I’ll pretend I do.” Jenny wasn’t convinced, and Jamie knew it. The way her eyes narrowed, and lips pursed; that was her concentration face. He would be asked about it when they were alone. He should definitely leave before there was a chance of that. “How’s the meal, loves?”

“Fantastic as always, sis,” Willie mumbled through a mouthful.

“Chew wif yer mouf closed, Da,” Elinor woke up long enough to say.

“Aye, Peach. Thank ye.”

***

It was unusual for Jamie to go to the park after Sunday dinner, but there he was. It wasn’t a conscious decision; his body was heading in that direction before his mind could catch up.

He saw Claire from a distance, her dark mane hard to ignore. Instead of sitting on her usually bench, she was pacing the path, stretching her arms above her head.

Suddenly, she doubled over, grabbing her foot.

***

“Fuck!” Claire whined, examining her toe. Just a scrape, nothing life-threatening. But, a stubbed toe never felt too good.

“Watch her mouth. There are children present.” She jumped, unaware she had company. She turned to face her companion, a man with the sunset in his hair and a smirk on his lips.

“Jamie! You frightened me!” He blushed.

“I’m sorry, I dinna mean to.” He looked positively abashed with his pink cheeks and downcast eyes.

“No! It’s fine. I wasn’t expecting you. How are you?”

“Good, good. Just had dinner. Are ye alright?” He motioned to her foot, which she was still holding onto.

“Oh, yes. A stubbed toe.” She winked. “I think I’ll survive.”

“Good to hear, Sassenach.” Sassenach? What does that mean. She was about to ask, but he cut off her thoughts. “So…um…can I ask ye something?”

“You just did.” A dumb joke, she knew, but she wanted to see him smile again.

It worked.

“Aye. Another thing, then.”

“Of course.”

“Do ye… Could I, maybe, get yer phone number?” Whatever she was expecting…that was not it. She was undoubtedly pleased.

“Oh. Um. Yes, let me see your phone.”

“Let me see yers as well.” They swapped phones, typing numbers furiously.

“You can text me anytime, Jamie.”

“Aye, I will. I mean, yes. Sure.” Flustered. He was flustered, and it warmed Claire to know she had such an effect.

“I better be off. Got to be up early tomorrow. But… I’ll speak with you soon?”

“Ye will.”

***

Jamie woke with a start, the shrill ringing of his cell phone hitting his sensitive ears. What time was it?

2:54 a.m. the clock told him.

He glanced over at his phone on the nightstand. And thrill ran through him. Underneath the bold name “Claire Beauchamp,” was a picture of her, taken not 12 hours ago. He didn’t realize she had put a photo in her contact information. He didn’t realize she took a picture at all.

But, even more surprising, why was she calling him? He wasn’t angry or annoyed, quite the opposite really. It was just…a shock.

Steeling himself, he pressed the little green button in the corner.

“Hello?”

Chapter Text

“Jamie?” Claire’s voice was thick and rough, a sleepy voice. It was…cute. Jamie hated that word, but it was the only one he had at the moment. Sweet and attractive, her voice was cute.

“Aye. Is everything alright?” Distracted by her voice for a moment, his concern for her didn’t lessen.

“Oh, um, yes. I just. Ugh.” She groaned. Frustrated. But why? “I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“I… I didn’t mean to call you. I meant to call my Uncle. He’s an L, you’re a J. And my sleepy fingers pressed the wrong button. I’m sorry.” Jamie felt relief rush through him, and he sighed.  She was safe.

But he couldn’t but feel a small twinge in his heart… She didn’t call him.

“It’s fine, Claire. Truly. It’s just…” No, it was none of his business.

“What?”

“Weel… Why are ye calling yer Uncle at 3 am?” She chuckled. When he was with her, her laugh was usually a chiming, loud sound. But, tonight, in the dark, it was low and husky. Sexy? No, he shouldn’t be thinking such thoughts.

“Well, my Uncle used to be an archeologist. But in his retirement, he’s an antique-er.” Jamie could hear her eyes roll. “Every Month, he goes out of town with one of his friends to antique stores. They like to get an early start, and I’m his wake up call.”

“Why does he no have an alarm?”

“He does. His trust in modern technology is…minimal, though.”

“But he trusts ye to wake up and call? He trusts the call to go through?”

“Listen, you aren’t telling me things I don’t know. I told him all this. He said he’d take his chances with me.”

Jamie knew the feeling.

“Well, Jamie, I apologize again. Get some rest.”

“Aye. Ye too. Goodnight, Claire.”

“Goodnight!”

***

Wide awake, Jamie painted without abandon, and without thought. He had no outcome in mind for this cacophony of color and texture, but he knew that he had to do it. He had to put these…these feelings down on canvas.

He surveyed his colors.

Orange? Yes, orange. Firey. Flames. An accurate depiction, he thought. His body radiated warmth, all centering around his core. His heart.

He wondered if he could recreate Claire’s skin. A soft pale color with a light, peachy glow. Long, ivory lines: her legs wrapped around his…

Red. For his hair. His colors melting into hers. His fires setting her earth ablaze.

More of her. More of him. Movement. Collision. Explosion.

Love?

Perhaps.

***

Exhausted, Jamie stared at the painting in the dawning light. It wasn’t a technically pretty piece of art, with its messy colors and jagged lines. But it made him feel. And, isn’t that what art is?

How long had he been painting? He checked the clock on the wall. 7:07.

He had put his soul into this for 4 hours. Straightening, he walked to the sink, and began to wash.

A ding from his bedroom made him tear his eyes away from the hypnotizing paint swirls. Who would text him this early? His siblings were never awake before 8. Neither were his friends. And his godfather? Jamie wasn’t Murtagh knew how to text.

Cautiously, he went to his room and checked.

One New Message:

Claire Beauchamp

Jamie’s breath caught, his eyes wide. Very carefully, as is diffusing a bomb, he opened the message.

C: I’m still really sorry for calling you in the middle of the night. I hope you got some rest!

He shook his head. Silly woman. She could call him in the middle of night for the rest of his life, and he wouldn’t mind.

J: I had to go to the hospital for sleep deprivation. But don’t worry about me!

He wondered if she would find his attempt at humor funny.

C: Ha. Ha. Jerk.

C: :)

J: That doesn’t qualify me as a jerk. A jerk would be someone who wakes someone else in the middle of the night…

C: Oh, that’s fine. Keep making me feel bad.

J: It’s fiiiiine. I’m usually up all night painting anyway.

C: I’ll have to make it up to you.

No, no. She didn’t have to do that. He was about to tell her so, but she interrupted him with another message.

C: And don’t say no, because I’ve already decided.

Damn psychic.

J: I think you’ll find, Claire, that I’m the stubborn one here. But, I’ll let you have this one, since you’re a lady.

C: I’m not much of a lady.

He begged to differ.

C: But I appreciate your chivalry.

J: I’m nothing if not honorable.

C: Class is about to start, so I’ve got to go. TTYL!

TTYL. Talk to you later. ‘Later’ couldn’t come soon enough.

 

Chapter Text

C: I know how to make it up to you.

Jamie’s heart fluttered in time with the vibrations of his phone. When Claire told him that she would talk to him later, ‘later’ ended up being a mere 4 hours. The longest 4 hours, Jamie thought.

He glanced around the small office, making sure his brother wasn’t looking, before replying.

J: You know you don’t have to, right? It really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Her reply was almost immediate. She must be on lunch.

C: Hush. It’ll make me feel better. Anyway, I’m taking you to dinner on Friday.

His heart drummed out an uneven rhythm. Dinner? On a Friday? Wasn’t that kind of like…

A date?

Before he could make a fool of himself by asking that question, she added:

C: And there’s no room for argument. :)

Well, he didn’t really feel like arguing with that.

J: Alright, Sassenach. You may take me to dinner.

C: We’ll sort out the details later. Got students coming in!

“Who’s Claire?” Jamie jumped. He wasn’t aware of his brother peeking behind him.

“Jesus, Willie!”

“Sort out the details for what?”

“What are ye doing over here?”

“Weel, I saw ye looking at her phone with the stupidest grin in yer face. So, I came to investigate. Do ye have a date?” Willie nudged his shoulder, eyebrows waggling.

“Shut it. No. She’s…she’s just a kind woman…”

“That’s taking ye on a date?”

“No! I…” Jamie sighed. “I dinna ken.”

“I can ask Jenny,” Willie suggested, only halfway joking. Being the mathematical genius he was, his way with women was stereotypically awful. How he managed to convince a woman to marry him was mind boggling.

“Ye’ll do no such thing. Ye ken how she is.” Jamie cleared his throat, and pitched his voice upward in imitation of his sister. “‘Oh, Jamie, when can we meet her? Is she good to ye? Tell me all about her. We should have her over for dinner on Sundays.’”

“Ye better not let her hear you mocking her so. But, I get yer point. I’ll no tell her. But…” Willie paused, mouth twitching, wanting to ask. Jamie cocked his eyebrows and nodded. “Weel, can ye tell me something about her?”

“Her name is Claire, we met at the park. She’s a professor. She pretty and funny, but I dinna ken much else about her.” Willie’s eyes softened, their stormy color calming.

“Sometimes, ye dinna need to know anything else.”

***

“Okay, time’s almost up. Don’t pack up yet, I’m not finished! Remember, make sure to study a little everyday. I was disappointed in many of the last test scores. Just, a tiny review every night. It’ll help you in the long run. Now, get out of here! See you on Wednesday!” Claire grinned at her students as they filed out of the lecture hall. As the last one disappeared, she sighed in relief. Last class of the day. Thank God. Freshman were exhausting: old enough to know better, not old enough to care, as they say.

She glanced over at the phone on her desk. No reply. Of course, she didn’t really expect him to. She told him she had a class. It was still disappointing.

Should she text him? Let him know that she was done for the day? Or, was that too forward?

God, she wasn’t very good at this.

Speaking of the devil–or thinking, as it were–her phone lit up with his name.

J: Busy day?

She smiled, then. A full, stupid, toothy smile. Thank god she was alone.

C: Always. And you?

She waited impatiently for his reply.

J: Nah. I let my brother Willie do all the work today ;)

C: At least you’re honest :P Will I see you at the park this evening?

The reply was almost instantaneous.

J: Of course.

C: Great! We can get our plans together for Friday.

J: :/

C: Remember, no arguing!

J: I’m not! Did you see me argue? I just made a face!

C: Whatever! See you in a little bit. And get some work done!

J: No!

She giggled, enjoying their flirtations. He seemed less inhibited behind a screen, and she felt less shy. Would their banter continue when they spoke in person again?

She hoped so.

“What are you laughing at?” Claire turned to find Mary in the doorway, blue eyes wide and curious. Mary worked at the primary school across the street from campus, so she liked to visit Claire when she could.

“Mary, you’re early! How did you make it so fast?”

“I power walked. Who are you talking to?” She motioned to the phone in Claire’s hand.

“Oh, um. A friend.”

“A man friend?” Mary quirked an eyebrow.

“Yes. A male friend.”

“An attractive man friend?” Her eyebrow wiggled up and down.

Claire groaned. “Yes, he is. Very attractive.”

Mary pulled a chair up to the desk, and plopped in it, getting comfortable. She rested her head on her fists and looked at Claire expectantly. “Do tell.”

“Well…” How should she begin? “We… met in the park.” I stalked him in the park. “We exchanged numbers. I accidentally called him in the middle of the night instead of Lamb. So, I told him I’d make it up to him. WithDinnerOnFriday.” Mary gaped, surprised, but not unpleasantly so.

“Like a date?”

“I didn’t say ‘date.’ Do you think he thinks it’s a date?”

“Do you want it to be?” Did she want it to be? Jamie was handsome, no question. And, from what she could tell, was sweet with a good sense of humor. But, he wasn’t the kind of man she usually went for.

“I don’t know. He’s not…my type, I guess?” Mary gave her a sympathetic look from under her lashes.

“Claire…Don’t take this the wrong way… But maybe you need a different ‘type.’ The men you’ve been with are…”

“Cheaters and scum?” Claire offered. She said this jokingly, but she knew the truth of it down deep in her taped up heart. Scenes flashed before her eyes: a boyfriend’s wild hair between a petite blonde’s legs, a break up text lighting her phone, her ex-fiance’s note: I’m sorry. I can’t. -F. No, her experience with men was…abysmally awful.

“I was going to say ‘not right for you.’ But your phrase is more accurate.” That was putting it nicely. Of course, Mary was always nicer than necessary. “How is he not your type, anyway?”

“He’s… he’s an artist. And, I tend to go toward sciencey, history, math guys. And, he’s just so… he’s passionate, you know? You can see it immediately in his eyes. They pour emotion. And, you know me. I’m not… I’m guarded, kind of.”

Mary contemplated. “He sounds romantic,” she admitted with a sigh. “If I didn’t have Alex…”

Claire slapped her lightly on the arm. “Mary! I’m telling!”

Mary giggled. “No, no! I’m only joking!” And then, more serious: “I think you should give Artist Guy a chance. How can you find love without any risk?”

“His name is Jamie. And I never said anything about love.”

“Maybe not now. But perhaps you will later. You deserve it.”

***

He was waiting for her when she arrived. When she saw him, her face broke into a smile that crinkled her eyes.

“Hey, Jamie!”

“Hey! How was yer day?”

She rolled her eyes. “Just another Monday. How was yours?”

“Oh, it was fine. So, about this dinner…”

“Oh, yes! Let’s walk and talk.” Without eating for a response, she began walking along the paved trail that circled the park. “So, I was thinking… does 7 o'clock sound okay to you?”

“Oh, um, aye. I get off work at 5, so yes.”

“Great! Now, since this is your dinner…” Jamie gave her a look at this, which she studiously ignored. “I figured you could pick where we go. What’s your favorite place?”

“Ohhh, I dinna ken. Can I tell ye later?”

“Sure, no problem.”

The walked in companionable silence, the sun slowly setting behind the trees.

“Claire…” She turned to him, her eyes sparkling in the low light. “I just… I was thinking… I dinna ken much about ye.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Ohhh, I dinna ken…”

She squinted at him, and nodded. “My name is Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. My favorite color is green. I’m a professor. I love strawberries, but hate strawberry ice cream.”

She held out her hand for a handshake, and he took it. “My name is James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. My favorite color is blue. I work with my brother Willie at Fraser Designs. I love strawberries and strawberry ice cream.

She grinned at that. “Well, James, I suppose we aren’t total strangers anymore.”

Chapter Text

Friday dawned with bright excitement, despite the drizzling rain. It was as if sunshine filled Jamie’s heart, scattering the clouds. Nothing could ruin his mood.

Jamie had decided on a local Italian restaurant for their date. No, not a date. Just friends having dinner. Tonight. Alone. Just two friends.

Anxiety and excitement bubbled in his stomach. It was going to be a long work day.

***

“Sawny, sit down.” Willie’s voice came from behind him, knocking him away from his thoughts. “Yer making everyone uncomfortable.”

Jamie turned to look at his brother, a flash of sympathy lighting his dove eyes.

“I can’t, Willie. I’m just so… so…”

“Nervous? Excited? About to vomit?” Willie questioned as he led Jamie to the empty conference room to sit.

“Aye. All three. It’s stupid. I’ve gone to dinner with women before.”

Willie dropped into the chair beside him. “Sure. But, ye like this one. Otherwise, ye wouldna be so…fidgety.”

“I’m no fidgety,” Jamie replied, drumming his fingernails on the table. Willie raised a brow. “Aye, alright.”

“Just… dinna worry so much. If she didna like ye, she wouldna be having dinner with ye, aye?”

It did make sense. Damn Willie’s logic. “Aye, I guess.”

“So…it’s alright. Just, be yerself, and all that…”

Jamie sighed. “Thanks.”

Willie got up to leave, but turned in the doorway. “Just… dinna get sick on her.”

***

Jamie pulled in front of Claire’s house, a small brick building nestled behind an abnormally large garden. He couldn’t place the names of the flowers. Some he had never seen before. But the hazy purples, yellows, and reds grabbed at his artist heart. They were all so lovely.

I wonder which is Claire’s favorite…

As if conjuring her from his thoughts, she came bounding out of the door. Her little blue dress flounced around her, flipping up a bit with each step.

Dear God.

“Hullo, Jamie.” Her voice broke him away from his frank appreciation. She was always lovely, but he had never seen her… ‘dressed up.’ The blue was a true blue, giving her pale skin an ethereal glow. The lace overlay showed him hints of skin on her chest and arms. She was stunning.

And he was still staring.

“Oh, um, hello Claire. Ye look lovely.”

She blushed prettily, giving him a shy smile. “Thanks. You look great, too.”

He didn’t think so. In dark jeans and an olive button-up, he felt quite plain next to her. But, at least his clothes weren’t stained with paint, and for that he was thankful.

“Thank ye. Are ye ready for some pasta?”

She patted her stomach. “Lead the way.”

***

The Olive Pit was a local Italian restaurant, wedged between a children’s boutique and a loan office on the downtown strip. It didn’t boast much physically, being tiny with mismatched decor. But, the food was, simply put, exquisite.

“You know,” Claire began, staring at the photograph hanging next to their booth. “I’ve lived here most of my life, but I’ve never been to this place.”

Jamie’s ears perked. “Really? I dinna ken you had lived here that long…”

“Oh, yes,” Claire nodded distractedly, still fixated on the strange decorations on the walls.

“But, yer accent?”

She laughed. “I was born in Oxford. When I was 11…” Her gaze fell downward. “When I was 11, my parents died in a car crash. My Uncle Lamb became my guardian, then. And this was where he lived. Well, he still lives here.”

Jamie was taken aback by the information, but he felt nothing but empathy. “I’m so very sorry to hear that.”

She glanced up, eyes glistening without fallen tears. “Thank you, Jamie. It was a long time ago, but I still miss them.”

He reached across the table to grasp her hand.“Ye never stop, I dinna think. Ye’ll always miss them. But, they’re always a part of ye, ken? In yer heart.”

She sniffled. “How very…poetic of you.”

“Well, ye dinna get to be an artist without having a bit of a soft heart. Besides, I ken how ye feel. My parents have passed as well”

She smiled sadly, and squeezed his hand, squeezing his heart in the process. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t remember much of my mother…I was only 3. She died giving birth. My father, though… He… He died of a heart attack 4 years ago.” Jamie felt his own eyes prick thinking of his father, a large strong man taken down in an instant.

Claire squeezed his hand once more. “I’m sorry.”

“Thank ye.”

She reached over with her free hand and brushed a tear from his cheek. “Look at us. We’re a mess, falling apart in public.”

He smiled at her observation. The two of them, tearing up on the first date. No. Not a date. “Well, at least we’re messes together.”

It was her turn to smile then. She blushed and ducked her head to study the menu. “So, what’s good here?”

He couldn’t help but notice that her hand was still in his.

Chapter Text

“Just ahead. To the left.” Hand in Jamie’s, Claire was leading him through the downtown streets. She had suggested that they grab a coffee for dessert, and, apparently, knew just the place.

“If we get there, and it’s just a Starbucks… I’ll no be very happy…”

He saw the flash of her teeth in the beaming streetlight. “Now, you know I have better taste than that.” Jamie could practically hear the eye roll in her voice.

“If ye say so…” Jamie remarked, pushing his shoulder against hers. Teasing her.

Claire pushed back. Teasing him.

“This way, dear.” Pulling his arm sharply, she led him into a small, dim shop.

It felt…cozy, Jamie thought, with its wood floors and brick walls, all different shades of brown. A few people were littered about on squished armchairs and unsteady bar stools, but, altogether, the place was fairly empty. The aroma of strong coffee, however, was a promising sign.

Jamie leaned over, and whispered in Claire’s ear. “Are ye sure this is a good place?” He was only half-teasing. 

She bumped him on the shoulder again. “Hush! It’s amazing! Best kept secret in town, in my opinion.”

“Sure.”

“Here. You go find a seat. I’m going to order for you. I won’t steer you wrong. Promise.” 

“Sure,” he repeated, rummaging in his pockets for his wallet.

“Stop. My treat!” Before he could argue, she had skipped to the counter. 

Sighing, Jamie wandered over to the back corner, sinking into the spongy leather sofa.

Christ, I’ll never be able to get up from this thing…

He watched Claire as she dropped money in the tip jar, and scampered over to him, hips swaying slightly. Jesus…

With a flourish, she presented him with the extra huge coffee cup.

“God, Sassenach. This coffee is as big as my forearm.” Jamie held up his arm for comparison. He wasn’t exaggerating. “How much did this cost ye?”

She plopped down beside him, the cushions practically eating her. “None of your business. I said it was my treat.”

“Well, will ye at least tell me what it is?” Flaring his nostrils, he took an exploratory sniff of the drink. Strong, with a hint of sweetness. Remind ye of anyone, Fraser?

“It’s my favorite. Just a vanilla and cinnamon latte. But, they make it perfectly here. I love it.” To prove her point, she closed her eyes and took a long drink. Her subsequent blissful sigh gave Jamie feelings inappropriate for a public area. “Ahhh…”

Clearing his throat: “Ahem, well, cheers.” He lifted his ridiculously large cup in a salute, and sipped.

The concoction was just as he predicted. A lovely, sweet flavor doused his tongue before being overwhelmed by the bitterness of the coffee.

When he came up from his drink, he saw Claire watching him expectantly. “Well…?”

“Its very good, Sassenach. Sweet, but no too sweet.”

She beamed. “Great! I’ve got a question though.” Jamie raised a brow. “What does ‘sassenach’ mean?” 

“Oh, weel, it’s Gaelic, ye ken?” She nodded, urging him to continue. “It means ‘Englishman.’ Or woman. It’s no normally a verra positive nickname, but…”

“But…?”

“Weel, my mother’s family is from Scotland, but she was born in England. My father always called her that. I didna ken it was….mean until I was much older. I’m sorry.” He felt… vulnerable telling this story. Did that mean he felt the same about her as his father did about his mother? If so, that would be truly embarrassing.

But, Claire just laughed. “Don’t be. It’ll be our little secret. People with think you’re calling me names, but only we’ll know the truth.” Her little wink made his heart beat a little faster.

“Aye. An inside joke, then.”

“Exactly! So, I’ve got another question for you.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve never really gotten to know an artist before. I’m curious. Where do you get your ideas for your art?”

You.

“Weel, sometimes it’s nature. Sometimes it’s dreams. Sometimes it’s people. So, I guess ye could say it’s a little bit of everything.”

Her eyes were wide in fascination. “Do you paint more realistic stuff, or…?”

“I suppose it depends. I dinna think I have a set style. Yet, anyway. Picasso wasna abstract artist at first, ye ken. I think… I just like color. No matter what I do: realistic, abstract, whatever. It’s the colors that matter.”

“You know, I would love to see some of your work sometime.” She placed a hand on his forearm, and squeezed gently.

Jesus…

“Aye. I… um… I’d love to show ye sometime.” Beaming. That was the only way Jamie could describe Claire’s smile then. It was beaming.

“Awesome. I’ll–”

“Claire!” The deep voice coincided with the dinging of the bell above the door. A small, lithe man appeared before them, a handsome smile on his face.

Claire jumped, throwing herself into his arms. “What are you doing here?”

They spoke. Jamie knew, because he could see their lips moving. But all he heard was his own pounding heart in his ears. Surely, she would have mentioned a… a boyfriend.

Blush rose on his face, chin to forehead. He was hot. His jaw clenched in a painful way. His fingernails dug into the palm of his hand.

Jamie was absolutely, undeniably jealous.

“Jamie? Jamieeeee?” Claire’s voice separated him from his thoughts. Clearing his head, he saw her arm looped tightly around the small man.

Damn it.

Unsure that he could form words at that moment, Jamie replied with a noise. “Hmmm?”

“This is Fergus. My cousin. Fergus, this is Jamie.”

Cousin?

It was obvious, then. The pointed features that once drew him to Claire were present in this man’s face. The same dark curls fell roguishly on his forehead.

Cousin.

You’re an arse, Fraser.

“Hey, nice to meet you, Jamie.” The man, Fergus, held out his hand, an amiable squint in his eyes.

100% arse-face.

“Nice to meet ye, too.” Jamie grasped his hand in a shake, feeling quite ashamed. But, this all went unnoticed by Fergus.

“Well, I’ll leave you both to it.” He turned to take his leave, but instead made a complete 360. “Oh, I almost forgot! Marsali said dinner on Tuesday, Claire. She’s making…something or other. You’re more than welcome to bring Jamie.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks!” He blew her a kiss, before turning his attention to the barista at the counter.

“The two of ye seem very close.”

“Oh! Yeah, we grew up together. Remember I told you about Lamb? That’s his son.”

“I thought your uncle was a bachelor?”

“Oh, he is. Lamb had a short affair with Fergus’ mother. They never wed. She lost custody of Fergus when he was young. Drug habits. So, he lived with Lamb. He’s like a brother to me.”

“That’s wonderful, truly. I dinna ken what I’d do without my brother and sister, even when they’re being arses.”

Claire chimed a short laugh. “I understand that. Family is important.” He felt her warm hand rest gently on his. “Friendships are as well.”

***

“I told you, you don’t have to walk me to the door.” The complaint was half-hearted; Claire was grinning the whole time.

“I’m a gentleman.”

“Of course you are. But it’s unnecessary.”

“And, it’s too late. We’re already at the door.”

“Well, thank you, gentleman.” Her face grew serious. “I really did have a wonderful time tonight.”

“Me too.” Deep breath. “At the risk of sounding like a fool, I’ve got to ask…”

Her head cocked to the side. “Yeah?”

Another deep breath. “Wasthisadate?” Smooth.

Before he could feel embarrassed, her hands came up to cup his cheeks, cool against the blush the rose there. It was slow motion, almost. Her eyes closed first, the dark lashes brushing her cheekbones. Then, she moved forward. Slowly, slowly. At the last second, her lips puckered slightly.

And, she kissed him.

Though a seemingly long kiss, it was quite chaste. She could have been nude, though, with the way Jamie’s blood was pumping. When he regained all motor function, he wrapped his arms around her lacy waist, pulling her a bit closer.

It wasn’t close enough, of course.

She broke away first, looking up at him through her lashes. “Was…did…did that answer your question okay?”

“Oh, um, aye. Um…yes.”

She giggled at his flustered speech, and he smiled back. “Will you text me when you make it home?”

“Aye, of course.”

“Well, then. Goodnight Jamie.”

He felt emboldened. Leaning down, he placed a quick peck on her lips.. “Goodnight, Claire.”

 

Chapter Text

Jamie stared at the blank canvas, trying to concentrate. He couldn’t gather his thoughts, his emotions. They scattered like autumn leaves in the wind: gone before he could wrap his hands around them.

He ran a finger across his lips, hoping to catch remnants of her kiss. Sadly, Claire’s lips were unreachable now, but he could still feel their soft warmth. How was that possible?

Dipping a thick brush in brown– Claire’s brown, he called it, the perfect mixture of the chocolate and gold in her hair– he swept it across the canvas, mimicking the waves atop her head. But this couldn’t–wouldn’t– be an ordinary portrait, for she wasn’t an ordinary woman. But what could he do to express those thoughts, that love he felt so strongly?

Heart blooming, he switched to a vibrant red, the color of his heart’s blood.

***

Claire dreamt of him, again. But it was more visceral, realer than any other dream she had experienced. Perhaps it was the imprint of his lips still on hers that caused her to sweat and pant cocooned in her bed.

She didn’t quite remember the contents of the dream; it disappeared as soon as she opened her eyes. She could feel it, though, in the way her body throbbed. And only he could make her body sing in such a way, with merely a thought.

God, he hadn’t even touched her yet! What would happen if–when– he did?

***

“What are you doing… two weekends from now?” Claire asked around her straw.

They sat outside a small bistro near her work–the university–eating sandwiches on her lunch hour.

“Umm… I dinna ken. Nothing, I suppose. Why?”

“Well…” She took a small sip from her lemonade. “You remember Fergus, right?”

How could he forget? He made an arse of himself in front of Fergus. “Aye.”

“Well, he’s getting married.”

“Oh! I didna ken that. My congratulations to him!”

“Well, that’s not it, entirely. I wanted to know…” She chewed on the end of her straw, thinking. “Would you like to come to the wedding with me?”

When he didn’t respond immediately, she nervously continued. “I mean, I’m in the wedding party. Bridesmaid. But the reception will be much more enjoyable with you there! I mean, I know weddings aren’t super fun, but there will be an open bar. And that’s always fun! Plus–”

“Hush, Sassenach.” She grinned at his nickname for her. “Is your cousin okay with that?”

“Oh, yes. He actually brought it up.”

“Well, that’s settled, then. I’d be happy to come with you.”

She lit up, her whole face lifting. “Great!”

Jamie reached for her, placing his hand on top of hers. “Aye, great!”

***

Jamie didn’t want to leave, but work beckoned him back to the office. Kissing her thoroughly, they said their goodbyes with promises to text each other.

Entering Fraser Designs, he saw Willie at the front desk, pencil scratching.

“Hey. How was lunch? How’s Claire?” Though he had yet to meet Jamie’s lady friend, he always asked after her.

“Good. And good. What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing. Just jotting down ideas.”

“Okay, weel, I’ll be upstairs.”

“Wait, Jamie.” Willie had stopped writing. “When do we get to meet this girlfriend yours?”

“She’s no my girlfriend. Officially. Why?”

“I just want to meet the woman that’s captured yer heart so.” He clutched his chest dramatically. “Besides, I’d like to meet her before Jenny finds out and scares her away.”

“Ye havena told her yet, have ye?”

“Of course not. I’m no stupid. Plus, I’m an excellent secret keeper.”

“Fine. I’ll talk to her, let her know ye want to meet.”

“Good.” He nodded his head, and bent back to his work.

Jamie turned before leaving. “Willie?”

Willie didn’t look up. “Aye?”

“What do ye wear to a wedding?”

That caught his attention. “You two getting marrit already?”

Jamie ignore his teasing. “She invited me to her cousin’s wedding.”

“A family wedding? My, my. It’s getting fairly serious, then.”

“Is it?”

“Oh, aye. Ye don’t invite someone to a wedding with all of their familyif they dinna mean much to ye.”

“Christ… I didna think about that.”

“Just, dinna be an idiot, and they should like ye fine.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Willie.”

Either Willie didn’t hear the sarcasm, or chose to ignore it. “Yer welcome.”

Chapter Text

Jamie hadn’t been to many weddings in his life. He could count on one hand the number of nuptials he had witnessed, and two of those had been his own siblings’. So, he couldn’t accurately judge their grandness. However, despite that, he found Fergus and Marsali’s wedding quite lovely. Vows were made on the grounds of a manor house, where early spring flowers poked through the grass and a stream bubbled nearby. It was a truly beautiful scene, but Jamie saw none of it.

For all of his attention was focused on Claire. She stood proudly in her navy bridesmaid dress, the deep color setting her skin alight like an opal in the sun. Her hair twisted up from her neck, leaving that long column bare, save for a few carefully placed tendrils. She was resplendent.

They say that the bride is the most beautiful woman in her wedding day. Jamie was inclined to disagree.

***

“Jamie!!” Claire skipped through the reception tent, the light fabric of her dress trailing behind her like a banner.

“Claire!!” He enthused with the same tone of voice. She gave him a withering look before throwing her arms around his neck. She smelled like the roses from her bouquet.

“Did you enjoy the wedding? I’m so sorry I didn’t get to see you more today. But, I guess that’s what happens when you’re a bridesmaid’s plus one! Anyway, how are you?” Jamie could tell she had already had a few drinks; she was chattier than usual.

“Fine, fine. A beautiful day for a wedding. Do I get ye all to myself now?”

“Afraid not.” She frowned, the dimples in her cheeks deepening. “But! You don’t have to be alone now! I must make the rounds with the family, and you’re coming with me!”

With that, she looped her arm through his, guiding him through the crowd.

His brother’s words echoed in his mind.

“A family wedding…”

“With all of their family…”

Jamie’s stomach plummeted. Christ, I hope I dinna make a fool of myself.

***

His white hair stood out from across the tent. Quentin Lambert Beauchamp. Uncle Lamb. The father Claire never had. This was the man Jamie needed to impress the most.

Jesus…

“Uncle Lamb!!”

“Claire, love!” Lamb’s face stretched in a toothy grin. Jamie saw Claire in that smile. “You look wonderful!”

“How does it feel to have your only son married off?”

Lamb rolled his eyes. Again, Jamie saw Claire within that action. “Don’t remind me. I’m just getting old I guess. But, I’m happy for him. Marsali will keep him in line!”

“Marsali could be a colonel!”

“Absolutely!” As if just now noticing his presence, Lamb’s eyes darted to Jamie. “And who is this?”

“This is Jamie. I told you about him, remember?”

“Oh, yes… The Scottish lad that stole my girl’s heart.” Jamie saw mischief in his dark eyes.

Claire flushed. “Uncle…” She warned.

But Jamie was undeterred. Confidence. “Aye. I suppose that’s me.”

“Ah, well, I’ve heard so much about you. All good, of course.” He threw a wink in Claire’s direction.

“Uncle! Stop!” Claire spoke petulantly, like an embarrassed child. All that was missing was a foot stomp.

But, Lamb just chuckled. “Alright, alright. I’ll leave you kids to it.” He stood up then, surprising Jamie with his height; they were about eye level with each other. Upon closer look, Lamb wasn’t quite as old as his white hair suggested; the lines on his face were sparse and faint. He pulled Jamie into a small, awkward hug. “You take care of her, alright?” He whispered only so Jamie could hear.

“Of course.”

***

“Well, aren’t you the charmer.” Claire’s arms were wrapped Jamie’s shoulders as they swayed to crooning melodies from the DJ’s speakers.

“And why do ye say that?” His hands flexed on her waist, pulling her closer.

“Well, you’ve managed to charm my entire family, and Marsali’s family as well! I thought her mother was going to have a heart attack when you kissed her hand!”

“Weel, I dinna ken about that…”

“I ken it! Tell me, how many ladies have asked to touch your hair?” She swatted lightly at the knot on top of his head.

He couldn’t fault her observations.

“I lost track…”

But, instead of making her angry or jealous, she merely laughed, that pealing sound he loved before he even met her. “See? You’re a regular Cary Grant! And you don’t even know it!”

“Weel, I suppose we dinna see ourselves right. The ones that love us see us better than we are.”

He felt her pull back, pushing her body at arms length. Her eyes were fathomless, eclipsing his own in their depths. “You think I love you?”

Shit. Did I say that?

“No, I… See, I didna mean—“

“Because I do, Jamie. I love you very much.”

He stared into her eyes, sweet like the honey of her voice. “Weel, that’s good. Because I love ye too.”

A smile broke her face, crinkling it with joy. Teeth and eyes shimmering in the dull glow of the fairy lights. “Good.”

And then she was kissing him. Soundly, passionately before friends and family. Perhaps he should have been embarrassed, but the happiness within his chest left no room for any other emotions.

He had loved her from the start, and she loved him back. Images and colors rushed into his mind, and he knew he would have to paint them later.

But for now, he simply enjoyed the sensation of Claire’s lips upon his own, swaying in the moonlight.

Chapter Text

What did love look like?

Jamie wasn’t entirely sure. He stood motionless, paintbrush in hand; it hovered inches above the blank canvas.

Love.

Love was the drumbeat of synchronous hearts. Love was a cinnamon and vanilla latte at the best coffee shop in town. Love was swaying under dim stars, his hands full of silk. Love was toffee eyes and chocolate waves: the sweetest dessert.

Love was Claire.

Jamie smiled to himself, and touched the brush hairs gently to the blankness before him.

***

“Claire, can I ask ye a question?”

“Well, dear, you just did.”

Like that, was it? “Ha. Ha.”

“You know, you don’t have to ask me if you can ask a question.”

The couple sat serenely outside of a bistro, soaking up the bright Friday sun on Claire’s lunch hour.

“Aye, well. Okay. Would ye like to… That is…”

“Out with it, Jamie.”

“I’ve… I’ve got an art show on Friday. Nothing big, but… it’s my first. And I was wondering if ye—“

“Of course I’ll come with you!” Claire had skidded out of her chair, almost knocking over the table to reach him. She wrapped her arms around him, a choking grip on his neck. “Oh, Jamie! That’s wonderful. I’m so proud of you!”

She began placing a multitude a kisses on his scalp. And although Jamie was proud of himself , the nervousness that bubbled in his chest overshadowed any other emotion.

“What’s the matter, love?”

Damn it. It must have showed in his fac e. “I dinna ken… I’m… I suppose I’m a bit nervous, aye?”

“Well, I’d think it strange if you weren’t.”

“What if no one comes?”

“That won’t happen. I’ll be there. Your brother and sister will be there. Speaking of, did you ever tell Jenny about me?”

“Aye. A bit.” He thought back to that surprisingly short and simple conversation he had with his sister the previous week. She took his news much better than he expected:

 

“Jenny… I… I need to tell ye something .”

“What is it?” She has her back turned to him, chopping vegetables for Sunday evening dinner.

“I...umm… I have a girlfriend. Her name is Claire.”

She turned slightly, the knife still in her hand. Perhaps that wasn’t the best time to tell her… “Oh, aye? Where did ye meet?”

“At the park.”

“What does she do?”

“She’s a professor. Biology.”

“I’ll have to meet her sometime. Pass me the onion, will ye?”

And that conversation had ended. Perhaps pregnancy had messed with her emotions more than he realized.

 

“Well, I can’t wait to meet her. And Willie. And we’ll all be there for you. It will be alright, Jamie.”

“Aye. I hope so.”

“I know it will be. You’re a wonderful artist. People will love you.”

“How do ye ken that? Ye’ve only seen… what? Three of my paintings?”

“And I loved them all.”

The paintings Jamie had failed to show here were the ones that featured her prominently. And that’s what scared him the most.

“Aye. Perhaps yer right.”

***

What did one wear to their partner’s first art show? Claire flicked through the plastic hangers in her closet.

No. No. No. Maybe… Nope!

Flashes of black passed over her eyes.

God. Am I that monochrome? (Thank you, Jamie, for the new vocabulary.)

She figured, as the artist’s plus one, that she should wear something… different. Something with color. She peeked into the dark corners of her closet. Many a tattered T-shirt resided in that space, collecting dust. Surely she had something. Anything…

She began pulling out hangers in frustration, throwing her entire wardrobe upon her bed.

AHA!

There it was. A soft, full length wrap dress in a lovely muted green. Dressy enough for an art show, yet casual enough to not be overdressed.

Perfect.

***

Jamie fidgeted with his collar as he rang Claire’s doorbell. He had worried relentlessly throughout the week, and, now that the day had arrived, he could feel his stomach bubble with stress. God, would everyone be able to hear his heartbeat?

The door swung open, revealing Claire. Jamie’s breath caught.

She was always beautiful, Jamie thought, and he had seen her dressed up before at her cousin’s wedding. But this was different. Her dress cut a v on her chest and a slit up her right leg, leaving creamy expanses of skin visible. Her makeup was heavier, and her heels gave her an extra two inches.

This wasn’t just dressed up … This was sexy as hell.

Jamie coughed. “Ye look wonderful, love.”

“So do you!”

Jamie looked sheepishly at his black slacks and oxford. Yeah, no one was going to be paying attention to him tonight. “Shall we?”

“Of course.”

He glanced at her one more time before turning toward his car. How did he ever get so lucky? How did a woman like that fall in love with him?

Well, he hoped she wouldn’t change her mind after seeing his paintings…





Chapter Text

The ride to the gallery was a quiet one. Jamie’s fingers drummed rhythmically against the steering wheel. A nervous habit. A pale hand covered his own, squeezing his fingers gently.

“It’s going to be okay, Jamie.”

“Aye.” Monosyllables. It was all he could muster. The nerves in his stomach made his voice shake.

“Just breathe. Whatever happens, whatever doesn’t… Just know I will still love you.”

How can you be so sure about that?

***

The gallery wasn’t a large building, only meant to hold about 100 people. But Jamie found, as he entered, that it was definitely passed its occupancy limits.

“Jesus…”

Family, friends, work clients… All squeezed into the small space. Small clusters of people in oxfords and dresses dotted the space, chatting and laughing and drinking.

Jamie felt Claire’s presence before her heard her voice. “They’re all here for you, love.” Her hand slipped into his easily, offering all the support she could give.

Conversation paused as he entered the room–the man of the hour. Oh, god… Was he supposed to have a speech ready or something? Everyone looked so expectant.

“Ahem… Thank all of ye for coming. It means the world. Umm… I hope ye have a good time, and… umm… enjoy the drinks.”

How awkward. A smattering of claps followed his attempted speech. The dull hum of conversation reappeared, and all eyes averted from him.

“Oh, there’s Lamb!” The tall, white-haired man wasn’t easy to miss. “I’m going to go say hello. You do the rounds, I’ll catch up!”

“Sasse–” But she was already gone, throwing her arms around her beloved uncle.

Great, now he was alone.

***

“…Just fantastic. You have such a vivid imagination. Well done.”

“Thank ye…sir.” Shit. Jamie had forgotten the man’s name. No matter. The man had already turned his back, leaving Jamie with a particularly good view of the bald spot on his head.

“Jamie!” The familiarity of the voice made Jamie sigh in relief. Turning toward the sound, Jamie found Willie swaggering toward him. A bit tipsy, but no worse for wear. “Jamie, lad! Jenny says ye have to bring yer girlfriend to meet her. Right now.”

“Well, as ye can see, she’s no with me right now.”

“She took one look at yer hideous paintings, and ran for the hills.” An elbow to the ribs told Jamie that was supposed to be a joke. He didn’t find it too funny. “I am proud of ye, Sawny.” Willie’s voice grew serious. “I always knew ye could do it. And here ye are.”

Jamie searched Willie’s eyes in search of jest, but all he found was stormy sincerity. “Thank ye, Willie. It means the world, coming from you.”

And they embraced, Jamie wrapping his arms tightly around the man that helped mold him into who he was.

***

It was hard to miss Claire as she sauntered toward him, a vision in green. Completely unaware of the attention she was garnering.

“I thought this was supposed to be my night,” Jamie teased as she sidled up next to him.

“What are you talking about? It is your night!”

“Then why are all eyes on ye?”

That earned him a small slap on the arm. “Oh, hush.”

“How’s Lamb?”

“Doing well. Just living life Lamb’s way.”

“Aye. And what other way is there?” They stood in silence for a moment, before Jamie remembered his brother’s words. “Oh, Jenny is here. She wants to meet ye.”

“Should I be frightened?”

“Verra.”

***

Jamie wasn’t accustomed to his sister being so…dressed up. She was a simple woman when it came to fashion. Jeans and a t-shirt suited her just fine, thank you very much. But she stood beside Ian, clad in a black dress and hair piled on top of her head, looking very much a socialite. That is, until Jamie noticed her shoes. Trainers encased her ever swelling feet, lending comfort to an uncomfortable situation.

That was the Jenny he knew.

“Brother!”

“Hi, Jenny.” Jamie reached out, and hugged her fiercely, careful of her large belly.

“All this, Jamie…” Her arms spread wide, motioning to the paintings on the walls. “It’s incredible. Yer incredible, brother.”

“Thank ye. Truly.” A small hand brushed his arm, reminding him he wasn’t alone. “Jenny. Ian. This is Claire. Claire. This is my sister Jenny, and her husband Ian.”

“It’s so nice to meet you finally!” Claire grasped Jenny’s hand, shaking it with nervous fervor. “Jamie has told me all about you two.”

“All good things, I hope,” Ian interjected.

“Oh, yes, yes. Of course. He is very fond of you two.”

“Weel, I would hope so.” Jenny rolled her eyes playfully. “He’s only known me his whole life!”

“Too true!” The two women chuckled. Awkwardly, but genuinely.

“We dinna want to keep ye,” Ian interrupted the women’s mirth. “I ken ye have many adoring fans to attend to.”

“Ha. Ha.”

“Plus, we have to relieve the baby sitter. Love ye, brother. We are all so proud of ye. Nice to meet ye, Claire.”

“You too.”

The couple watched as they walked away, in sync as only married people could be.

“They’re lovely, Jamie. You’ve got a wonderful family.”

“Aye. I’m a lucky one.”

“Well, how about you get me a drink, artist of mine?”

“Yer wish. My command.”

Jamie staggered through the throngs of people, nodding hello as he passed. He would be glad when he could leave; the large amount of attention made him uncomfortable. He found over the years that he was really truly himself in his own space.

“Excuse me. Pardon me. Hello. Ya alright? Excuse me.” God, there were entirely too many people in this room.

Jamie finally reached the far corner where the bar stood, thanking god he didn’t get lost in the congestion. “Two glasses of red, please. Thank ye.”

***

Claire wasn’t where he left her. She had wandered, as she was wont to do when boredom struck her. A blur of motion, that woman was.

“Claire!”

“Over here!” Her sharp voice entered his left ear, and he followed the sound.

He wished he hadn’t.

She stood stoically before one his paintings, examining it closely. Shit…

“Jamie, I… Is that me?”

There was no denying it. Although half of the face was covered in petals and blooms, the other half was obviously Claire. Wild, dark curls. Warm brown eyes. A small dimple in the chin. It was his personal favorite.

“Oh, um… Aye.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Her eyes shone, bright with unshed tears. Great. He had upset her.

“I… I was afraid, ken. That ye’d be mad, or… or… And, look! I’ve upset ye! Christ, Claire. I’m so sorry–”

“Upset me? You think I’m upset?”

“Yer crying.”

“Happy tears, love.” A smile broke on her face, spilling the small droplets down her cheeks. “I love it, Jamie.”

“Truly?” Unbelievable.

“Aye,” she teased. “It’s the greatest thing anyone has ever done for me…”

Jamie felt tears prick his own eyes. How did he ever get so lucky with this woman? He grasped her, wine forgotten, pulling her flush against him. “I love ye, Claire.”

“And I love you.”

He pressed his lips softly to hers. Chaste, but with a promise of more.

“Come on, dear. The evening isn’t over yet. We still have people to greet.”

Chapter Text

The night wore on slowly as feet began to swell in uncomfortable dress shoes. Jamie’s mind wandered, counting down the moments until he could be home. He was forever grateful for the opportunity the gallery afforded him, of course, but the sheer number of people was exhausting and he was ready to be alone.

A small squeeze on his elbow reminded him of his companion.

Well, hopefully not completely alone.

Claire had yet to leave his side since he showed her the painting, and, quite honestly, he wouldn’t want it any other way. She was a natural: charismatic and charming. She spoke with such grace and clarity that caused a bit a jealousy to burn in Jamie’s stomach. If only he could be so unreserved…

As if sensing his jitters, Claire whispered quiet support in his ear. “Ten minutes, love. Ten minutes, and it’ll be over.”

She understood him in ways no one else ever had.

People began filing out of the gallery, and the patrons became sparse. Jamie’s fingers itched toward the keys in his pocket. Dear God, why wouldn’t these people leave?

“Mr. Fraser?”

The voice was unfamiliar, and undoubtedly American. Jamie pivoted with Claire, facing the sound. The man was tall and handsome, dressed smartly in a navy blue suit.

“Aye? That’s me. It’s nice to meet ye Mr.…” He held out his hand for the stranger to shake.

“Grey. John Grey.” The man took the proffered hand firmly within his own.

Wait. John Grey?

The John Grey? Lord John?”

The blonde man chuckled. “That is what they call me, isn’t it?” Jamie couldn’t help but notice the slight Southern accent that peeked through his words.

“Aye…” A bit starstruck, Jamie was breathless. John Grey was a prolific art manager based in New York City. And he was here, standing before Jamie. He had looked at Jamie’s art. He was talking to Jamie. He thought he might scream. “W--what brings ye to Scotland, Mr. Grey?”

“John, please. A bit of a getaway with my husband, to tell you true. But I heard about a gallery showing this evening, and, well… I can’t stay away from art for too long. But I’m sure you understand, Mr. Fraser.”

“Aye, I do.”

“And who is this lovely woman?” John motioned toward Claire.

Christ, he forgot to introduce Claire.

“Oh, this is Claire. My girlfriend.”

She smiled that smile that could charm a man to his grave. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Grey.”

“You as well, Claire. But please, you may call me John as well.”

“Alright, John. May I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“What is it that you do? I must be honest, I am not invested in the art world like Jamie is.”

“Oh! I’m a manager. I used to be an artist myself, but I find a great joy in managing other artists.”

“And you want to manage Jamie?”

John looked taken aback, but he smiled nonetheless. “Well, you don’t hold anything back, do you?”

“Not usually.”

“Well, to be honest, I’m not sure yet. But I would like to give him a chance. If you would like that?” That last sentence was aimed toward Jamie.

“Oh, I, umm…”

“You don’t have to decide tonight. Here.” Reaching into his coat pocket, John procured a small business card and handing to Jamie. “Take this. Give me a call. It was nice to meet you, Jamie. Claire.”

The man disappeared, and Jamie was able to expel all the air from his lungs.

“Jesus Christ…” He leaned on Claire’s shoulder, eyes wide.

“I’m guessing he’s famous?” She asked.

“They didna nickname him Lord for nothing.”

“Well, that’s exciting!”

“I think I’m having a heart attack.”

“Brathair! Jamie! William Fraser’s crimson head bobbed between bodies, his height giving him an advantage. He stopped before the couple, eyes wide. “Was that… John Grey?”

“Nice to see ye too, Willie…”

“Yes, yes. Verra nice to see ye, too. I’m verra proud of ye. Hello, Claire.” His words came out in a rush. “Now, answer my question.”

“Ye already ken the answer…”

“Jesus Christ, Jamie! What did he want?”

“He gave me his business card…”

“That’s incredible!”

“Aye, I’m a bit in shock.”

“Well, go home. Get some rest. Call me tomorrow, aye?”

“Of course.”

His older brother wrapped him in a quick hug. “I am really proud of ye, Sawny.”

And with a pat on the back, he was gone.

***

The ride home was spent with Claire bursting out facts about John Grey from his Wikipedia page.

“He has been with his husband--Hector Dalrymple-Grey--since they were sixteen years old. How romantic!”

“Aye, verra sweet.” Jamie had been humouring her with such small comments like: Oh, really? And I didna ken that. She didn’t need much encouragement from him, though, to continue her research.

“And, he has an older brother, who’s a lawyer.”

“Ye know, ye could probably write his biography at this point.”

“Ha. Ha.”

Jamie inched the car up the drive of his small house. Home, he sighed in relief.

“Alright, Sassenach. We’re here.” Claire had yet to see his house. He wasn’t embarrassed of the tiny lot; he lived too far out of town for visits to be considered practical. At least that’s what he told himself. “Shall we?”

“Of course.”

***

Jamie wished he had to foresight to clean up a little bit. Sketch paper was strewn about the coffee table and sofa, a broken pencil had taken up residence on the carpet, and a red paint stain (his own handprint, he noticed) decorated the wall.

“Christ. I’m sorry, Claire.” He began picking the litter from the floor and tables. “I didna think to clean. I was sae nervous about the gallery, and--”

“Oh, hush.” Claire had approached him, stilling his movements with her hand. “You don’t have to tidy up for me. I love you, mess and all.” A grin pulled at the corner of her lips. “Besides, this house is entirely you.”

“Aye?”

“Mmhmm. A little hidden, a little frazzled, and completely charming.”

Jamie glanced at the exposed brick walls, at the natural wood furnishings… Yeah, he supposed his house was objectively ‘charming.”

“Now, where is the bathroom? I’d like to slip into something more comfortable… And I mean that totally literally.”

He chuckled, and extended his hand toward the hallway. “First door on the left.”

Hiking her large tote on her shoulder, she disappeared down the corridor.

Jamie flopped on the sofa, his muscles relaxing for the first time in hours. His mind flicked through the images of the evening:

Swarms of people.

Claire’s portrait.

John Grey’s business card.

Christ, had it only been one night? Surely, not…

“Ahem…” Jamie looked up, finding Claire resting her shoulder against the doorframe. She was clad in flannel pants and a loose fitting t-shirt that was so faded, the words on it were illegible. She popped a hip out, striking a pose. “What do you think?”

“Ye’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Her eyes rolled at his response. “Oh, stop,” she teased good-naturedly. She entered the room, and flung herself on the sofa next to him.

“It’s true.” Jamie placed a tiny peck on the tip of her nose.

“Whatever you say.” Distracted, she picked up the large black folder lying on the coffee table. “What’s this?”

“An old sketchbook. They’re no very good.”

“Not good?” Her fingers flicked through the pages. “Well, you’re right about that. Jamie, these are incredible.”

“Ye think so? God, those were from three...four years ago.”

“So, you’ve always been talented? Unfair.”

“Oh, hush. Besides, ye’re the brains of this relationship.”

“That’s why my hair is so big… To hide my large head.”

The couple descended into giggles. Comfortable giggles. They kind with deeps gasps and intermittent snorts.

“Yer head is perfectly proportioned, my love. Everything about ye is perfect.”

A scoff. And then: “You’re biased.”

“Perhaps. Ye do have everything I like: a regular-sized head--” That earned him a smack on the arm. “Let me finish! A regular-sized head; untamed curls; big toffee eyes, a sweet, kind smile; a big arse--”

“Hey!”

“--And, that brain of yours--”

“Not the brain, again…”

“--Full of so much knowledge, and humor, and kindness, and love. No, ye’re exactly my type.”

“Jamie…” He could hear the catch in her throat, and he turned to look at her. Her eyes shone, like sunlight, as a single tear ventured down her cheek. “You’re making me cry.”

“Happy tears, I hope?”

“Yes, very happy. You saying those things to me… You better be in it for the long haul, because I’m never letting you go.”

She was teasing, a small joke to deflect from the feelings she was displaying. But Jamie knew the truth in her statement, and knew his own truth as well:

“Don’t worry. I am.”