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Redeem Me

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You don’t need it, she told herself. You are working a 10 hour shift. You do not need your cell phone to do that.

 

She groaned, pushing the heel of her hand to her forehead, adjusting the bag on her shoulder as the internal debate whirled on.

 

Instead of being tucked away in its usual space- the inner pocket of her purse--her phone was likely where she’d carelessly left it--sitting on a table by the window at Bleecker Street Brews. A fact she’d neglected to realize until she was only two blocks away from the hospital. It would take her at least fifteen minutes to walk back to the coffee house by her new flat.

 

Be serious Beauchamp, another imaginary voice in her head chimed in, it’s a very expensive phone. One you can’t afford to replace. Not going back is irresponsible.

 

The matter settled, she spun on her heels and set off down the street at an uncharacteristically brisk pace. It was moments like this that made her especially grateful for the fact that, as a nurse, she got to go to work in comfy pink scrubs and sneakers. She watched with sympathy as her fellow twenty-somethings made their morning commutes in stiff looking suits and high heels.

 

The London air was unusually hot, even for July, and by the time she made it back to the coffee house, her forehead and upper lip were glistening with sweat and her hair was falling half way out of her high ponytail. When she went to the table by the window, she saw her phone was no longer there. She looked everywhere in the general area of where she’d been sitting- pulling out chairs and pushing menus to the side. Her phone was gone.

 

She turned around, quickly scanning the store. The only employee she could see was the barista at the cash register. Not knowing what else to do, she got in line. By the time she was second, she began to tap her foot. She didn't even realize she was doing it until the man in front of her paused from ordering and turned to peer down at her.

 

"Am I taking too long, Lass?" Came the deep Scottish burr from several inches over her head.

 

Jolted from her impatient thoughts, she snapped her head upwards. He was tall-very tall, towering over almost everyone else in the coffee shop. His sparkling blue eyes were aided in their assault of her senses with a dazzling smile and a neatly cropped head of bright red hair. All that combined with his pristinely pressed London Metropolitan Police uniform-- was enough to throw her more than a little off of her game.

 

Suddenly, she was very aware of the less than flattering  fit of her scrubs. Her face was engulfed in a red flush of embarrassment.  "Sorry— I’m not ordering anything. I was just on my way to work and I realized I left my cell phone here.”

 

“Ah,” he laughed, moving aside to allow her a path to the counter. “We’ve all been there.”

 

She smiled apologetically, stepping in front of him. Without thinking, she shrugged off her bag and perched it on the counter.

 

“Did someone find a cell phone over there earlier?” She asked, pointing back in the direction of the corner where she’d been sitting.

 

“What does it look like?” The teenage boy asked, barely looking up.

 

“It’s an iphone in a purple otterbox case,” she told him. “The screen’s cracked a bit in the upper right hand corner.”

 

Without another word, the barista walked away, presumably to go check for her phone. Turning back around, she realized that the police officer she’d cut in line was watching her, smiling. Her mouth went dry and she felt her stomach drop to the floor.

 

He stuck out a hand to her. “Jamie Fraser.”

 

‘Claire Beauchamp,” she said in turn, shaking his hand.

 

“I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before,” he mused, tilting his head to one side.

 

“This is my first time here,” she admitted, hoping he couldn’t hear the sound of her heart hammering in her chest.

 

Her mind was in full blown panic mode. A handsome stranger had initiated a conversation with her and she was not prepared to meet the challenge. Flirty texting, suggestive snapchats or even a few drunken exchanges on Tinder--sure, no problem! But talking to a stranger in public?  

 

Make small talk, be flirty, she thought frantically, trying recall the tips she’d stored in her mind from the countless issues of Cosmo she’d read over the years. Be coy, ask him questions, seem interested -- what would Carrie Bradshaw do!

 

“So, uhm…” She began lamely, grabbing for the first thing that came to mind. “What do you do?”

 

His eyebrows rose to his hairline as he looked down at his police officer’s uniform and then back up at her.

 

“Oh, right...” She sputtered, cheeks flaming. “Sorry… Mondays, you know…” She trailed off, choking on nervous laughter.

 

The corner of his mouth quirked up. “I think it’s Wednesday, Lass.”

 

Just when Claire thought she was going to fall over and die of embarrassment, the barista returned with her phone.

 

“Is this it?”

 

She took it without really looking. “Yes. Thanks.”

 

As she bolted for the door, she mumbled her goodbye to Jamie. “Nice meeting you.”

 

Back out on the street, she tried to keep her internal chastising to an absolute minimum, focusing her attention on the work day that lay ahead. So what if you made a fool of yourself in front of some random guy in a coffee shop?, she reasoned. It’s not like you’ll ever see him again.

 

“Claire!” The deep Scottish burr rang from behind her.

 

Stunned, she turned around to see Jamie jogging to catch up with her.

 

“Ye left this.”

 

To her horror, she realized he held her forgotten purse, dangling from his outstretched hand. She froze, all words stuck in her throat as she turned the shade of a tomato. He was smirking down at her with a not so subtle hint of amusement lighting his eyes.

 

To make matters worse, she suddenly noticed the way his utility belt hing off of his sculpted, trim hips--heavy ladened with baton, ticket book, pepper spray and all other things a police officer might need throughout the course of his day. The morning sunlight was shimmering in the coppery red of his hair and he looked as though he’d just walked off the cover of this year’s “Hotties of Metropolitan Police Services” charity calendar.

 

With what little dignity she could muster, she held her head high and plucked the bag from his hand.

 

“Thank you,” she said primly, before taking off down the street as fast as she possibly could.

 

*******

 

For Jamie, it started out as just another day. He woke to the blaring screech of his alarm at 5 am on the dot. He lived in a studio flat, near Kensington. It was a trendy place, all exposed brick and stainless steel appliances. He poured himself an ice cold glass of orange juice, drinking deeply before making his way over to to the pull up bar he’d mounted on the frame of his bathroom door.

 

Fifteen minutes later, he was changed into his running clothes, popping two airpods in his ears as he left his flat, and set off on his usual route. The gym he belonged to was two and a half miles away-- running there from his flat was a good warm-up, running back a good cool down.

 

He both loved and hated going to the gym this time of day. On the one hand, it wasn’t particularly crowded and he could work through his routine without having to stop to wait for a machine. On the other, the people who were there at that time tended to irk his nerves in the worse way. Gym rats, obsessed with perfecting their physical forms for purely vain reasons. Standing in front of the mirror in the weight room, phones raised, aiming for the perfect snapshot.

 

It was all Jamie could do, not to roll his eyes. Sure, he’d spent the same countless hours, molding his body into the powerful, hard thing it was. But not for the sake of vanity. He’d been fifteen, nose broken under his Uncle’s fist, when he decided he wouldn’t be weak. His body was made for a purpose. And that purpose was survival.

 

Back at his flat, he ran through the shower, before pulling on the pieces of his uniform. The tv mounted on the wall in his living room area was big enough that you could see it from basically anywhere in the flat. He flicked it on, turning to the news, before making his way to the kitchen. He listened over the hum of the blender as the announcer described a recent string of armed robberies, targeting hospitals and pharmacies in the east end. Given that the area was nowhere near his precinct’s jurisdiction, it didn’t really spark his interest.

 

Glancing at his watch, he didn’t feel rushed as he sucked down his usual peanut-butter and banana protein shake. At seven, he set out the door. It was a bright, hot day, causing him to push a pair of aviator sunglasses on to his face before he’d even stepped off the front stoop of his flat and on to the pavement. Halfway to the station, he turned onto Bleecker Street for his usual pit stop at his favorite coffee house.

 

He’d just gotten to the front of the line, and was opening his mouth to order when he heard the tap, tap, tap of an impatient foot behind him. The next second, his brain ceased all normal function. His awareness fragmented into a random, nonsensical torrent of observations.

 

Brown curls. Pink scrubs. Perfect.

 

“Am I taking too long, Lass?” He asked, once he regained the ability to form words.

 

She looked at him, and before he knew it he was drunk, drowning in a pair of whisky eyes that spoke to the very marrow in his bones. Her cheeks flushed an even deeper, sweeter shade of red and his only thought was Christ, is she even real?

 

"Sorry— I’m not ordering anything. I was just on my way to work and I realized I left my cell phone here.”

 

He said something, he had no idea what, only hoped it wasn’t as horribly daft as the thoughts running through his mind. She stepped around him, leaning over the counter to ask after her mobile. Before he knew it, his gaze was shifting down to admire the sweet curves of her arse, flicking back up in embarrassment a moment later.

 

She turned back around, and before he knew it, he was sticking out a hand. “Jamie Fraser.”

 

“Claire Beauchamp.” Came her response, and the name flooded his ears like honey.

 

His brain, that part of it that knew who he was and what he had been--what he had done, was screaming at him. Walk away, it told him. Don’t flirt, don’t engage. Yeah she’s cute, and sweet and bonny and looks like everything good in this world wrapped up in a pair of pink scrubs. Which is exactly why she’s off-fucking limits.

 

And yet, much to his chagrin, he did flirt, slipping on the mask he’d perfected over the years. The one that allowed him to hide the true nature of himself, and all the jagged, twisted secrets that lay within. The one he’d used often as a tool of manipulation, a way to earn trust. He hated himself for using it now, and yet he couldn’t seem to stop. Wanted her to smile at him some more, wanted those teeth digging into that full, pink lip, wanted to see that flush filling her cheeks.

 

She was such a tiny thing, looking so delicate Jamie was sure he would break her if he even touched her.

 

The next minute she was leaving and he was trying to talk himself out of going after her when he noticed her bag still sitting on the counter. He grabbed it, following her out onto the street.

 

“Claire!”

 

He gave her the bag, and stood rooted to the spot for a long time, watching her walk away. He was still thinking about her, specifically her mess of curls and flushed cheeks, when he made it to the station twenty minutes later.

 

His captain, Murtagh Fitzgibbons, was already waiting in the briefing room. The burly old scot arched a brow at him over a pair of thin, gold framed spectacles, taking in his dazed appearance.

 

“Somethin’ on yer mind, Lad?”

 

Blinking, Jamie shook his head, as if he could shake the thoughts of Claire Beauchamp right out of his mind. “No sir.”

 

“Good.” Murtagh pursed his lips, considering him. “Busy day today. Stay focused.”

 

“Aye.” Jamie sighed, taking a seat near the front of the room.

 

Stay focused, he thought, repeating the order to himself. Remember why you’re here. You’re gonna make something decent of yourself if it fucking kills you.

 

And that other reason, the one he never said out loud because it seemed wrong to even hope for it. He didn’t know if redemption was even possible for someone like him. But dammit if he wasn’t at least going to try.

 

September 2004

 

Jamie sat in the front seat of his Da’s old refurbished pick up truck, staring out the window, watching the Scottish countryside go by. He tried to focus on the rolling green hills, and not on the nerves twisting tight in his stomach.

 

“Say something,” he said finally.

 

Brian sighed heavily. “I dinna ken what there is to say, Lad.”

 

Jamie was silent, and brooding, because he was fourteen and everything in the world seemed unfair.

 

“I didna start it,” he pointed out. “He hit me first.”

 

“I’m not interested in excuses,” his Father said firmly.

 

“What would ye’ve had me do then, Da?” He demanded. “Sit there and let him hit me?”

 

“Och, son yer missin’ the point.”

 

Brian was suddenly distracted by a car approaching them quickly, eyes flicking to the rearview mirror, before going back to the road.

 

“I dinna care that ye hit him. I care that ye hit him from behind.”

 

“So?”

 

“So,” He drew out pointedly. “Ye should never hit a man while his back is turned.”

 

Jamie pursed his lips, considering this. “Why?”

 

“Well, Jamie, it’s just no’ right. No’ a fair fight if the other lad can’t defend himself.”

 

Before Jamie could ask any more questions, the car behind them started honking its horn.

 

“What is this guy’s problem?” Brian muttered, eyes flicking to the rear view mirror again.

 

It was a one lane road and while Brian was going the speed limit, it didn’t seem to be quite enough to whoever was driving the shiny red sports car behind them. A few more minutes, and the car surged forward, crashing into the rear of the truck, pushing them off the road.

 

The red car pulled off behind them, and the sound of a car door could be heard slamming as the other driver got out of the car.

 

“Stay in the car,” Brian ordered, already unbuckling his seat belt.

 

“But—”

 

“Do as I say.”

 

Jamie sat in his seat obediently, ears straining to hear what was happening . His father and the motorist were standing at the rear of the truck, down the little slope in the embankment where they’d been forced to pull over. He didn’t have a clear view of either of them.

 

At the sound of his father’s strangled scream, he bounded out of the car.

 

“Da!” He screamed in horror, coming to the end of the car to see his father, on his back, a knife deep in his gut, driven by the stranger’s hand.

 

The man was tall, and well dressed, smelling heavily of liquor, with thick black hair slicked back on his head.

 

Jamie lunged, not quick enough, not big enough, not strong enough. This man was too big, and too tall and too strong. He leapt to his feet quickly at Jamie’s approach, punching Jamie hard in the stomach, knocking him off his feet.

 

Jamie could do nothing but lie on his back, gulping air trying to catch his breath as the stranger drove away, wheels screeching. He struggled to roll over, came up on his hands and knees, crawled over to his father.

 

“What do I do?” He demanded, terrified and frantic. “Tell me what to do!”

 

Brian’s eyes  focused on his son, filled with a bone deep terror that Jamie would never forget, as his mouth filled with blood. Gurgling and gasping, trying to stay alive.

 

Jamie pressed down on his father’s abdomen, dimly recalling from health class that you had to put pressure on wounds to stop them from bleeding. He looked helplessly at the road, desperate for the help that wasn’t coming.

 

It was too late anyway. The gurgling sounds were getting quieter, as Brian struggled less and less for breath.

 

“Da, please…” he begged, a single tear falling slowly down his face, dripping off his chin as the light slowly died from his father’s eyes.