It's a cool night, the fires banked low in his small room, and yet Jamie is burning.
Not that it isn't his own fault to begin with. He shouldn't be seeking out Claire Beauchamp the way that he does. Old Alec and Murtagh have both scolded him for it, and the others have looked askance for his interest in her as well. He walks a fine edge here at Castle Leoch on the best of days, there's no practical point to looking for her in the hall, to share his lunch with her more days than not. To let his gaze linger on her face, to admire the grace of her body as she moves past.
But then, Jamie’s always been the reckless sort. And it feels good to want something, to have thoughts that aren’t tied to his immediate survival or the regrets and grief he’ll carry with him for a lifetime.
And so there she is, Mistress Claire Beauchamp, with her secrets and her clear gaze, and those steady hands she uses to heal him, time and time again, even when she’s roundly cursing him for a fool as she does it.
She hadn’t cursed him tonight, though. Oh no, she’d just chosen to follow his lead, follow him to the surgery like she wasn’t feeling the effects of Colum’s Rhenish--or maybe she had, and had just trusted him to do the right thing by her.
He likes the thought of that, her trusting him. She doesn’t have much cause to trust many people here in the castle, Jamie knows that right enough, and yet she might trust him.
The idea of it sits inside of him, heavy and sweet. He closes his eyes to better remember it, Claire smiling at him in the firelight, the light presence of her as she’d listened to him talk. He hasn’t met many people like her, who offer silence as a gift, as an invitation to ease your sorrows.
If the evening had been left there, perhaps he wouldn’t be burning like he is now. But it didn’t, and he is.
Let me take a look at that, she’d said. And those clever fingers had been at his throat, working open his neckcloth, touching his bare skin. Jamie exhales at the memory, still feeling the echo of her warm fingers on his skin, pressing down at the nape of his neck.
Claire had touched him, and he couldn’t do anything about it at all, could only just stand there, holding himself ruthlessly still, all the while trying and failing not to look down at her, at the curve of her cheek, the lines of her neck. All he could do was look at her, watch as she tried and failed not to look back at him, and wonder if perhaps, perhaps--
There’s a sharp edge to his thoughts, because it’s not decent, thinking of Claire like this when she’s still grieving so for her husband, and yet he wants her, burns for it. He wants her hands on his skin, wants her soft mouth on his. He wants to put his hands in those soft curls, wants to unhook and unlace every scrap of clothing off her body until all of that fair skin is exposed to him.
It’s not decent, to think this way. Sinful, even.
But there are different ways to burn, and some ways Jamie can take a risk on. So he sighs, and drags his sark above his head, letting it fall onto the floor as he settles back down into the covers, shivering just a little at the feel of the cool air in the room on his bare skin.
He loosely grips his cock, mouth falling open on a groan of pleasure, mixed with relief. Right now, he can't imagine why he'd hesitate to do this, tugging on his cockstand with slow, delicious strokes, thoughts of the woman he wants circling around in his mind. With a sharp twist of heat, he imagines what Claire would think if she saw him now, lying naked on the bed, his hand moving on his cock.
Jamie shudders all over at the thought, at the idea of Claire's blue eyes upon him. And once that thought is in his mind, it burns through his mind like a fire eating through dry brush, obliterating everything in his path--
Perhaps she'd come into his room, dressed in that thin white shift that he'd first seen her in, except not afraid or cold or dirty, instead calm and dry, that cloud of dark hair loose around her shoulders, slipping into his room and standing right at the foot of his bed, seeing him there, laid out for her, seeing the desire he has for her.
And if she were here, if she were here then Jamie would just look at her and choke out, "Claire--"
She wouldn't say anything, perhaps, not at first, she'd just watch and wait, let him drive himself mad with lust, before coming around the bed to come to his side, come in until she's close enough to touch.
“Let’s take a look at you, then,” Claire would say finally, leaning in over him, and she'd place her fingers just so on his throat, and press her mouth to his.
And it's that last thought that has Jamie coming undone at last, his hand slick, a groan caught in his throat, his mind as empty and clean as a blank page.
It takes a while for Jamie to settle back into his own skin, his eyes closed while he breathes in and out, a fine sheen of sweat all over him.
At last, he opens his eyes, and after a moment, grins up at the rafters. Born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards, his mother would often lament of him, and the words have never felt truer than they do now. But unlike everything else that's happened to him these last few years, he can't regret wanting Claire, no matter what trouble and grief it could bring him later on.
There are ways to burn, it's true. Some you choose, and some, Jamie's starting to believe, some might just be chosen for you.
Like a Sassenach wench appearing from God only knew where, with a talent for saving him time and time again, and an even greater talent for driving him half mad with distraction while she does it.
He can't bring himself to regret any of it though. He can't regret having Claire here, and he refuses to regret wanting her.
So there he is. But despite himself, Jamie's mind goes back to the way she'd looked at him tonight, her gaze flicking upward to his face like she couldn't help himself, and he sees the promise in it, the potential for more.
This is where he is now, an outlaw on the run, walking a tight edge between his uncles and the English redcoats, desperately wanting a woman who still grieves for her dead husband. But perhaps, if he's lucky, if he's ready for what comes next--where he is now isn't where he'll be, in time.