Thanksgiving, as cobbled together by two non-Americans, turns out not that badly. It wouldn’t have happened at all if Faith hadn’t been captivated by commercials on television, but the ads for the Macy’s Parade clenched it. For as passionate as she’d been about Halloween, she’s just as enthusiastic about Thanksgiving. Together, father and daughter looked up traditional foods and they needed to have turkey, that was a given they decided together. Jamie let her pick whatever else she wanted and by the time he was done writing a list (dressing, not stuffing, because stuffing in the bird was too weird, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie), he’d realized it was too much food. He ordered everything because he couldn’t cook it all in the small apartment but nevertheless, it was too much food.
Naturally, he’d had to call Claire and invite her to dinner.
The night before, Faith couldn’t sleep at all. They’d picked up the food and he was right - it was more food than he’d even imagined. She’d said plenty of times that there was enough for everyone back home and for a while they talked about when they could go home again. He’s glad she wants to be back at Lallybroch, but hates not knowing what it would do to him and Claire. He likes her; more than likes her, really. It’s something he didn’t consider for himself again, and with Faith being sick, he hadn’t thought there was room for any feelings other than fear, sadness, and guilt.
It changed one day while she was adjusting an IV. Jamie stepped out of the room, just to give Jenny a small update over the phone and when he looked back in through the window, he’d watched Claire. Watched the way she laughed freely with Faith, the tender kiss she’d placed to the side of her head while hugging her. He watched the way Faith brightened to see Claire and something shifted in him. Claire Randall didn’t just care. She truly loved these children, and he knew then that someone this giving deserved to be loved and cared for in return.
Of course, he had no idea then if he was the right person for it. He still doesn’t know and he might not be, but he’s decided to do his best, while he can.
The promise of a parade and seeing Santa Claus has been too much for Faith to bear, so they’re up early, coffee brewing for Jamie as he gets her settled on the couch with the parade on. He smiles at every exclamation (It’s Sesame Street! Da, look, a Dora balloon!) as he sits on the couch beside her and watches. He watches her face, the way she bobs her head along to a few songs she may or may not know. It’s less interesting the fewer bits she understands or recognizes, and after not sleeping at all the night before, she falls asleep during a Broadway performance (School of Rock). Jamie lets her sleep until the very end, then gently wakes her so she can see Santa. It makes her so happy, something so small, and he answers all of her questions the best he can about how Santa will find them all the way in America. (He already sent Santa an email about it, so it’s fine, he promises.)
Shortly after the parade ends and some sort of dog show begins, Claire arrives, arms loaded with more food that has Jamie eying her as he relieves her of the load. “Did ye no’ hear me when I said we have enough here to feed an army?” he asks with a barely suppressed smirk.
“I heard you, but this is my first time to really celebrate an American Thanksgiving, too. I heard rumors of sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top and that’s too odd sounding not to try. And I thought we might as well have a pecan pie. Tradition, Jamie,” she says with a faux ‘tsk.’
After he helps her put things down in the kitchen, his lips press to her forehead, then her lips.
“Where’s my little greeter?” Claire asks, only realizing now that there was no shout of happiness to see her.
“Oh, asleep. She didna sleep much last night, then woke up earlier than the Almighty Himself to see the parade.” It hadn’t even started yet, but what could he possibly deny that little girl? “Which means I have ye all to myself for now,” Jamie murmurs before kissing her again with his hands at her hips. His tongue seeks permission to taste, and when her lips part there’s a low groan of approval into her mouth. Slowly, he presses her against the fridge, one hand wandering up and down her side now before slipping under her shirt.
“Feeling me up in your kitchen?” Claire asks with a grin against his mouth.
There’s a laugh now as she kisses him again, pulling back briefly. “No, not at all. Very romantic. Just you and me and the turkey.”
He laughs into their next kiss and his hand resumes its travel, fingers lightly ghosting over her stomach before cupping her breast, dragging his thumb across a nipple even through the fabric. He can feel her shiver and in a way, it isn’t fair. They certainly aren’t going to do much more than this with Faith asleep on the couch, and Jamie raises his head to look at Claire and the way her cheeks have flushed with want. “We should…” He swallows, drawing his hand away and holding onto her over her clothes now.
“Right,” she breathes out, hands relaxing from the way they’d been gripping the back of his shirt.
There’s an offer for her to stay overnight on the tip of his tongue, but it’s been such a long time, for both of them, and he isn’t sure he’s ready. Parts of him certainly are, but taking her to his bed and making her fall apart with their clothes still on are two very different things. With the lack of invitation comes something else; one thigh between her legs as he kisses her again and drinks her moan. He relishes the feel of her hands back at his shirt, tugging downward desperately.
“I changed my mind. Christ, I want to see ye fall apart again,” he breathes out, encouraging her to use him, to use the friction. When she begins to grind against him shamelessly he groans and a hand moves back under her shirt as his lips press to the side of her neck in heated open-mouthed kisses.
There’s just enough pressure that she has to rock with no restraint as she concentrates on the sparks of pleasure that blossom low in her belly. She can feel it when she has the perfect spot, but it isn’t enough friction. It’s maddening, so before she can think about it, really, she gasps out one simple two-word command. “Touch me.”
Jamie’s head rears back almost comically fast as he looks at her, trying to be sure of what she said. Her eyes open slowly, and God the arousal has blown them wide; he knows by looking at her that he heard correctly. With her permission, his hand carefully moves to the button of her jeans, the zipper, working them both enough that he can slip his hand beneath the denim and fabric of her underwear. The moment his fingers touch her flesh he grunts, low in the back of his throat, to feel how wet she is.
Her reaction is slightly more, body jolting as if kissed by lightning. She’s not quiet by nature but she’s trying, pressing her lips together tightly while he touches and she jerks into his hand, fingers finally circling and stroking exactly where she needs him. “There, right there,” she gasps, holding onto him, pressing her face to his neck. He moves faster and the pleasure turns from simmering to explosive in a matter of seconds as she comes apart, letting out a sob of relief that’s muffled by his neck.
After a solid minute goes by, Jamie moves his hand, softly kissing her lips now. “That’s what I wanted to see,” he murmurs, turning his head to let his nose nuzzle against the side of hers.
Once she can breathe again, Claire takes a deep breath and pulls back, looking at him and exhaling contently. “How did I know you’d be good with your hands?”
The resulting laugh is a little too loud and it rouses Faith, but it doesn’t matter now. While Jamie cools off in the kitchen, Claire goes to join the other part of her company on the couch, happily wrapping her up. Not long after, the three of them sit to eat together, trying the new foods, deciding that cranberry sauce is delicious mixed into the dressing, the burnt marshmallows are terrible, and pie is really all that matters. They eat enough to put themselves into food comas in the living room afterward. Jamie lays along the couch with Faith spread on top of him, and Claire curls up in a recliner, fully reclined and asleep in the chair about ten minutes into something animated bouncing on the screen.
Friday, while the rest of the world shops, Claire goes back to work after promising Faith she’ll see her on Monday for her checkup. For Jamie and his daughter, it’s a lazy day spent watching movies. She doesn’t stay awake for most of them and he’s content to hold her, fingers idly playing with the little curls on top of her head while he watches Moana alone.
Sometime in the night, during the still-inky blackness of a Sunday morning, a soft whimpering of his name finally rouses Jamie from sleep. Listening in the dark for a few minutes, he finally hears it again, Faith calling out for him. Out of bed and tugging a shirt on, he goes to her room where he can hear her, crying, whimpering. “Mo leannan,” he murmurs with a frown, sitting and reaching for her and immediately waking fully at the touch. “Christ, ye have a fever,” he says, feeling her now, realizing how hot she is.
“Daddy, I dinna feel good.”
He tries to quell the panic, the feel of his stomach rising up to his throat. “Where does it hurt, Faith?”
After a few moments of her quietly contemplating, thinking and sniffling, she looks up at him with wide blue eyes. “Everywhere.”
He begs her to be more specific, and then he’s on the phone out in the living room, calling Claire in a panic. There’s no time to register the groggy sound of her voice. “She has a fever, Claire. She woke and said she’s in pain.” Jamie pauses, choking on his fear for a few precious seconds. “She said her bones hurt her.”
Claire’s fully awake at that, sitting up in bed. “Get her to the hospital. Now. I’ll be there as fast as I can. Take her, Jamie.” She doesn’t bother with reassurances to ease his panic. They both know, they know rates and statistics; her because she has to, him because of sleepless nights researching. There’s a second, though, a heartbeat of silence they can both feel, a shared twist of their hearts before she hangs up and throws on a pair of scrubs. Everything about this is urgent to her, personal. She knows a line has blurred, but if she stops to refocus now, she won’t be able to do her job.
When she arrives she nearly jogs into the ER, upset to see that Jamie’s still in triage with Faith, knowing it’s protocol until a doctor decides to admit. She takes it upon herself to do so but before beginning all the tests, before finding out something concrete, her hands take Jamie’s, looking right at him and holding on tightly. She says nothing, he says nothing. Whatever comes next, she’s there.
It takes eighty minutes from the time they have the MRI done to Claire viewing the results on a computer monitor. Looking at them, she simply closes the tab and takes a breath, steadying herself. She’s done this before. She has to do it now and she’ll have to do it again in the future, most likely. Her own dam can’t break. It has to be locked down for her to make it through this part. But as soon as she walks into Faith’s room, as soon as Jamie looks at her, she knows that he knows. When he joins her in the hallway, one of her hands reaches out to rest on his shoulder. She wants to vomit and would rather do that than say the words. But she has to tell him.
“It’s back, Jamie. It’s spread.” Too far.
He knows without her having to say more; if there was something to be done for it he knows she’d look the way she did the first day they met: ready to fight, ready to give the cancer hell. He doesn’t ask where it’s spread to. Maybe he should. Does it matter?
“How--how long?” He can’t look up, can’t meet her gaze, and instead stares at the floor.
“A few months.”
“A number, Claire. Give me…”
“Two. Maybe three good months, Jamie.”
Those words are the knife to his heart and he leans over, hands on his knees as a sob tears through him. Claire’s arms go around his body and somehow they wind up right there on the floor, his forehead pressed to her shoulder. She’s been here, she’s held parents, it’s nothing the nurses haven’t seen before, but it’s different for Claire. One hand makes its way to the back of his head, rocking while he weeps against her. She whispers that she’s sorry, feels her heart twist in her chest because she promised to do the best she could. Had she? Did she think of everything or did she fail Faith because she wasn’t good enough?
When he’s quiet, Claire rubs his back and then carefully stands, helping him up. “I’ll sit with her if you need to--”
“No. No, I have her,” he tells her, voice broken. Without saying anything else or acknowledging Claire further, he walks back into the room and leaves her standing alone in the empty hallway. Blindly, she walks to the bathroom and locks the door, pressing her back against it. Before a cry can choke its way out of her she covers her mouth and squeezes her eyes shut tightly. On Thursday, she watched a sweet little girl eat her way through an American tradition.
Now, she’s going to die.
Slowly, Claire sinks to the floor, crouching as she buries her face in her hands and sobs.