Three years ago
The moment Claire saw Jamie it was like Frank didn’t even exist. Well, he didn’t exist for some parts of her body. Her normally organized thoughts were replaced with the dizzying chaos of the however many shots she and Jenny had taken. But her heart and… other parts were only concerned with the very handsome Scot that was now looking only at her. Jenny and Geillis didn’t notice it but Ian gave her a knowing smile.
Jenny and Geillis were arguing for the thousandth time about the one time Geillis had almost picked up Jenny’s Uncle Dougal in a bar. In Geillis’ defense, Claire had been there and he was a very young looking 45 and bore very little resemblance to the niece who’d only met him a handful of times. What couldn’t be defended was that she had continued flirting with Dougal even after Jenny had left in disgust. Claire said as much and she watched all hell break loose with a glee. That was when she clocked Jamie at the same time Ian did.
He dripped with the appeal of a very attractive man who had no idea how attractive he was. Though he was certainly younger than Jenny, he held himself like a man even though he had the face of a boy. Claire decided immediately that she needed to see him naked. He didn’t have the body of a boy and Claire new he was only a few years younger than her. She was so sure of this need that she was surprised she didn’t say it out loud. She held out her hand for him to shake and was only self-conscious for a moment at how rough they were. Frank didn’t like how her callouses rubbed against his smooth, bare skin. Jamie didn’t seem to mind, though. His own hands seemed to be more callous than actual skin. That was what years of farm labor did, it seemed. She forgave him easily for the assumption that she was a nurse rather than a doctor. It was a mistake many people made, and Jamie seemed genuinely apologetic.
And his voice… the way her name sounded on his lips was intoxicating. She even liked when he called her Sassenach. And that was one word that had been thrown at her when she studied in Glasgow. She’d never really known what it meant, just that it was never said to her as a compliment. It was hard enough that she was a young, competent and confident woman in her med program. It was made worse in Scotland by the fact that she was English. She never asked what the rough sounding Gaelic her classmates threw at her meant, but she recognized an insult when she heard one. Jenny called her an English rose simply to tease (they both knew she was about as far from an English lady as they came), but what those men said about her… she didn’t really want to know. Even if she didn’t know what Sassenach meant, she knew whore well enough.
But Jamie used the term like a caress, and some mixture of alcohol and the heartbreak coursing through her veins decided things for her. She wanted him. Tonight.
It was only the five of them in Lallybroch, but there was the energy of an entire club in that kitchen. Ian and Jenny were dancing haphazardly while Geillis was trying and failing to teach Claire a drinking game. It didn’t help that her concentration was very much split. Jamie was doing a passable job pretending that he wasn’t staring at Claire, but she kept catching him out of the corner of her eye. Good.
“You are making up rules as you go along!” Claire cried as Geillis decided she’d earned another shot.
“Am not!” Geillis replied, “I just keep remembering them out of order.”
“Sure,” Claire replied skeptically but she took the shot of whisky anyways. Claire never did well with whisky, but she was in a proper Scottish house now and Geillis and Ian would have it no other way. She looked skeptically at the glass Jamie seemed to be drinking neat, but he apparently could hold his liquor a lot better than she could. He was only looking at her with laughter in his eyes as she lost yet another made up rule, “Something funny?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person this bad at quarters,” Jamie smiled into his glass.
“That’s because this isn’t quarters. I already know how to play quarters,” she huffed, “This is Geillis cheating at quarters. God fucking dammit,” she shouted as she lost yet again. Jenny threw her a withering look, but it had hit the point of the night where she was only concerned with getting her boyfriend into bed. Ian didn’t look opposed to the idea.
“Perhaps it’s time someone subbed in for our English rose? James?” Geillis said enticingly and Jamie handed his whisky to Claire. She locked eyes with him as she unwisely took a sip. He laughed when she grimaced so she took another pull just for spite. She was already feeling significantly more unsteady on her feet. How in the hell did Scots drink this stuff?
“Who am I to deny you, Geille,” Jamie said. With a wolfish grin, he went to flip his quarter into the cup. And promptly missed. Maybe he wasn’t as sober as he seemed.
“Oh no, my wee fox cub,” Geillis chided as he reached for a whisky shot. Instead, she poured him a healthy shot of tequila, “It’s not a punishment if it’s what you drink for fun.” It was Jamie’s turn to grimace, but he took the shot like a man.
The next three he lost to Geillis didn’t go down as smoothly, “I think Mr. Fraser needs to go to bed,” Geillis said soothingly, “Claire?” Geillis gave her a knowing look. Her own head was too fuzzy to be helping anyone with anything, but Geillis’ smirk said enough. Claire was lucky Jenny hadn’t yet noticed the lingering looks she was giving her brother. That would be a problem for tomorrow Claire, she decided.
“I dinna need help, lass,” Jamie slurred, his accent becoming even more pronounced with intoxication.
“Of course you don’t,” she soothed as she swung an arm around his waist and let him lead her towards his room. Claire hoped she wasn’t imagining how his arm tightened around her waist more than was strictly necessary.
After Claire had gotten a glass of water in him and he had successfully brushed his teeth he was no longer swaying on his feet. Instead, he was looking at her like she was a puzzle he wanted to solve, “I suppose I can show you to the guest room now?” Jamie asked, “Unless you wanted to rejoin the party?”
I was nearing three in the morning. If things with Jenny and Geillis went how they normally did, Jenny and Ian would be close to falling into bed together and Geillis would pass out on whatever horizontal surface was closest. Claire was considerably less of a partier now than she was in undergrad and she was falling into… something. Not sleep. Despite the whisky in her system and the late hour, she was far from tired.
“Or we could do something else?” Jamie said. It wasn’t suggestive and Claire loved him a little bit for it. The longer the night went on, the more she felt the acute ache of her breakup. What had filled her righteous fury earlier was now settling as simple sadness. She still felt the reckless energy of being a free woman for the first time in a year, but in many ways Frank was her first love. She’d never stopped moving long enough to keep a relationship. She had tried so hard with him and it fell apart anyways. She felt like she was waking up in an unfamiliar place as an entirely new woman. It was just as scary as it was thrilling, “Sassenach?”
The nickname snapped her out of it, “Do you have a deck of cards?” she asked. There was a game Claire used to play with her Uncle Lamb when she was little and he knew she had something on her mind. Claire quickly explained the game: each suit corresponded with a category (answering truthfully, with a lie, have you ever, or a dare). When she played with Lamb, he would warm her up a little bit with nonsense questions before asking what he really wanted to. By the end of the deck, Claire always felt lighter. Maybe it wasn’t fair to use Jamie to sort out her own feelings but well… he was there. After a few rounds, Jamie had fully gotten the hang of it and the game was having its desired effect.
“Have you ever done hard drugs?” Claire asked Jamie after she flipped a diamond. He was leaning against his headboard with his legs splayed, his deck of cards between them. Claire was sitting perhaps a little too close with her legs crossed. Definitely too close for someone she met that night but not nearly as close as she wanted.
“No,” he said, then flipped a spade. She could lie, “Why did ye take up medicine?”
“That’s a loaded question,” she said, “But there really isn’t anything else I could have done. My uncle and I traveled a lot when I was little and there weren’t always doctors where we went. We both got pretty good at field medicine and I had a talent for it… and when the time came to apply to college, there was nothing else that felt right.”
“Ye lived with yer uncle?”
“Not your turn,” Claire chided as she flipped another diamond, “Have you ever gone skinny dipping?”
“Yes,” he replied with a small blush that Claire found adorable. He flipped a heart. Truth, “Why did ye live with your uncle?”
“My parents died,” Claire replied casually. It was casual. She barely remembered having parents at all, she was so young when they died. How Lamb had gotten away with taking her out of school to travel the world she’d never know, but it took her a long while to figure out her life was very far from ordinary. She didn’t realize what she was missing in not having a mom until she saw how close her freshman roommate was with her own mother. But she had been nearly grown by that point, what use was grieving an old loss?
“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” he said, “My own Ma died when I was 10. It wasna easy.”
“I was five,” Claire shrugged, disregarding her own rules, “I don’t even remember them.”
“That doesna make it any easier,” he insisted then put his cards down, “Claire? If there’s something on yer mind we dinna have to play a game to talk about it.”
“You think I made up a game to unload my problems on you?” she asked. Which yeah, that was kind of what she did, but she didn’t like being so transparent.
“Didna say ye did,” Jamie said, “I’m just saying, the whole house must be asleep by now and here ye are, playing cards with a lad ye met two hours ago.”
“Oh Christ, it is late,” she realized. It was nearly five in the morning, “You must be exhausted. I should go.”
“No, Sassenach, that’s not what I meant either,” he said, “I just meant… I don’t know what I meant.” He looked so flustered he was adorable. Her body was moving without her permission. Claire sat up and kneeled in front of him and leaned forward until her lips were inches from Jamie’s. They’d been playing for more than an hour and she felt considerably more sober than when she’d been with Geillis. But what about him? His speech was no longer slurring and his eyes looked clear. Still, she gave him several long seconds to pull away. Instead, he drew in a shaky breath and tangled one of his hands in her unruly curls. It was all the encouragement Claire needed.
Claire narrowly resisted moaning at the first touch of his lips. It was hesitant and tender. Jamie was scared, she realized. But of what? Claire didn’t dwell on it. She’d been living entirely in her own mind for the last 36 hours and right now, everything was blissfully quiet. Nothing existed past the points of contact between them. First, just their lips, moving slowly and experimentally. Then Claire opened her mouth and Jamie moaned into it and pulled her forward until she was basically in his lap. His hands tangled further in her hair as she straddled him. Still, it was relatively chaste.
This wasn’t the clothes ripping, fast paced encounter she’d been picturing. It was sweet. Claire normally didn’t do sweet. But for this beauty of a man beneath her, she could try anything. They kissed for several more long minutes before Claire was forced to come up for air. They didn’t move far apart.
“Christ, Sassenach,” Jamie panted. She took no small amount of satisfaction at the feel of his hardness beneath her. Despite the physical evidence, Jamie made no move to deepen this encounter. But when he leaned in to kiss her again, Claire found that she didn’t mind.
Finally, Jamie rolled forward and pinned Claire beneath him as he moved his lips down her jaw and onto her throat. There was the most delicious friction of Jamie settling between her legs and Claire started a slow roll of her hips. Not frantic, but just enough to provide some relief.
“How long did ye say yer staying in Scotland?” Jamie asked into her collarbone. Claire’s hands had moved under his shirt and she was appreciating his hard muscles under her hands.
“Four months,” she managed through the fog of pure sensation that now inhabited her brain.
“Good,” he said with a final kiss to her neck before sitting far enough up to look in her eyes, “I want ye-”
“I want you, too,” she interrupted.
“But,” Jamie said and her heart plummeted, “I dinna thing it’s a good idea right now.”
It was like she’d been doused in cold water. Oh fuck. She’d completely misread things. Jamie was her friend’s brother. They were both not sober. Despite his words, he was just letting her down easy. Oh fuck, “Right. Of course.” Claire deadpanned as she rolled out from under him.
“I’m not… I haven’t…” he stammered. Claire allowed him a deep breath to collect his thoughts when she really just wanted to hide, “I dinna want ye just for a night, Sassenach.”
Of all the taverns in all the towns in all the world, I have to walk into Jenny Murray’s, Claire thought wryly even as she was sure Jenny was moments away from doing some sort of violence to her. And why not? She didn’t know why Claire had left. She didn’t know how she’d left Jamie’s bed and Lallybroch in humiliation after his girlfriend (a girlfriend) had shown up the morning after. Jamie wasn’t looking at her right now like you’d look at the woman you’d cheated with. Then again, James Fraser had taught her that looks could be deceiving.
There was also the chance that the girl (Laoghaire, her brain unhelpfully supplied) hadn’t told Jamie she’d met Claire. And why would she? Claire had made sure Laoghaire thought she was nothing to Jamie. She was nothing to Jamie, she reminded herself. So no, Jenny didn’t know anything that happened between Claire and Jamie.
And more importantly, Jenny didn’t know anything that had come after.
“Lady Jane, would you care to make some introductions?” Joe asked. She wasn’t looking at him, but she could hear his smile. Bastard. Introductions, indeed! But where would she even begin?
Three years ago
Jamie’s line had basically turned Claire to mush. If it had been a line, it would have surely worked, but what was really sending her swooning was that it didn’t sound like a line at all. Jamie Fraser was dripping in sincerity and it was an entirely foreign thing to Claire. She just nodded mutely at him until he cracked a small smile at her.
“Perhaps we should just go to bed then?” Claire said.
“To bed?” Jamie asked with a quirked eyebrow, “Or to sleep?”
“But you just said-”
“I ken what I said,” Jamie replied, “But there’s a whole world between abstinence and sex. I just didna want to lead ye on.”
“Well,” Claire replied dumbly, “Lead the way then.” Jamie gave her another smirk before his lips were on hers again.
Claire woke just after dawn feeling… well, satisfied. She didn’t know when she’d ever felt so content in the absence of an orgasm. Jamie had turned away from her in the night and was still deeply asleep. Once Claire was awake, she never fell back asleep. Instead of trying, she grabbed her phone and slipped out of bed. Maybe she’d try to make coffee? She hoped no one would be up to question why she’d come from Jamie’s room.
And just like that, her thoughts drifted back to him. It was so much more than what she’d expected from Jamie while being so much less physically. She’d managed to get Jamie’s shirt off and his hands on her breasts, but it had been firmly PG-13. She’d felt like a teenager, and it was wonderful.
Jamie had repeated the sentiment of not wanting her just for a night as they finally curled up together to fall asleep. Claire had fallen asleep and woken up smiling.
Jamie Fraser was like a balm to her broken heart. It was still sore, like a bad bruise. But she wasn’t broken. There were still men that wanted her. Jamie wanted her.
For more than just a night.
She was so giddy she opened the front door when the bell rang without even thinking about it. She’d fallen asleep in the same clothes she’d left London in so there were no questions of her modesty. The way the young woman on the other side of the threshold was looking at her made Claire want to cover up anyways.
“Who are ye?” she asked in a thick highland accent. It was ruder than Claire was expecting, but she brushed it off. She couldn’t have been more than 20, not worth Claire’s anger.
“Claire,” she replied evenly, “And you are?”
“Jamie’s girlfriend,” she replied hotly. It was like a bucket of ice water had been poured over her. It was a miracle she didn’t flinch. A girlfriend. Sincere, sweet, Jamie Fraser had a girlfriend. And she’d very nearly had sex with him last night.
“I’m a friend of Jenny’s,” Claire finally managed through her shock. Not a lie. But so far from the whole truth that Claire could barely keep a straight face. This girl seemed the type to cause a scene and there was no reason to wake the entire house at the crack of dawn. Not when Claire could easily slip out of the house once the girl was gone and leave Jamie to clean up his own messes.
“Oh, I see,” The girl replied a little more politely, “I didna ken Jenny was back from Edinburgh.”
“Just long enough to deal with the estate,” Claire replied.
“I’m sorry,” the girl said, “I just… Well, we’re on a bit of a pause at the moment, but we’re getting back together. And he promised to call me after he dropped me off last night, and I worried when he didn’t. And now to see another- verra beautiful woman- at his house at the crack of dawn.”
“I’m sure,” Claire replied. The girl had been talking about a mile a minute and Claire hadn’t caught all of it. But pause or no, a girlfriend was a girlfriend. And Jamie had been together last night.
“I’m Laoghaire,” she said with an extended hand. Claire forced herself to shake it, “Is Jamie…”
“I believe everyone is still asleep,” Claire replied. Should she offer to let Laoghaire in? Even if she’d known the girl was welcome in Lallybroch, it wasn’t her place to welcome guests, “I’ll let them know you stopped by.”
Laoghaire looked a little put out that but didn’t argue. Claire collapsed against the door as soon as she shut it. A bloody girlfriend.
But a cheater seemed so opposite to the man who told her that he didn’t want her for just a night. Maybe he thought he’d be able to pull off an affair with a woman in Edinburgh when his girlfriend lived in the highlands? But Claire was friends with his sister. Even if they kept it a secret from her (as Claire probably would have done for a time if this relationship moved any further), it wasn’t sustainable.
Maybe he and Laoghaire weren’t exclusive? Even if that were the case, Jamie still should have told her he had a girlfriend at all. Claire had nothing against open relationships, but she didn’t want to be in one.
What seemed more likely, Claire decided, was that Jamie was 21 years old and he hadn’t yet learned to be careful with people’s hearts.
Well, Claire wouldn’t be having any of that.
God, what was she doing? She was a fucking doctor. She had a medical degree and had just gotten out of a relationship with a serious boyfriend. She was better than letting her heart get broken by a child.
Fuck Jamie Fraser and his swoon worthy words that made her feel reckless. She’d known enough men with pretty words that masked selfish actions. Fuck his soft eyes and tender touch. She didn’t need him. She had an internship in Edinburgh and a job waiting for her at one of the best hospitals in her country. She didn’t need a boyfriend or even a rebound. That’s all Jamie would ever have been to her anyways.
Claire gathered her purse and coat as quickly as possible before storming out of Lallybroch. She’d give Jenny some sort of explanation that didn’t involve nearly having sex with her brother. She’d go to her job in Edinburgh and forget James Fraser even existed.
It had been two weeks into her internship and she still hadn’t given Jenny a call. It was mostly that Claire couldn’t figure out exactly what to say. There wasn’t really a sanitized equivalent to I hooked up with your brother and then his girlfriend showed up and it threw me into a spiral of heartbreak and righteous fury so yeah… I just left, please don’t tell Jamie where to find me.
The other part of it was that Claire barely had time to breathe, let alone make a difficult phone call. The internship was demanding, and it was exactly what Claire needed. She’d been pretty confident that she wanted to work in trauma surgery, but this confirmed it. She loved the fast paced and high stakes life of the ER. It broke her heart as often as it exhilarated her, but there was nothing she’d rather be doing.
Geillis Duncan had moved to Edinburgh, it turned out. Claire saw her at the intern orientation, but their paths rarely crossed since Claire was in the ER and Geillis was in the pediatrics wing most of the time. The few times they were face to face, Claire managed to evade. Claire knew Geillis had her own secrets, so one leave it alone, Geille stopped her prying.
The third was that none of them had her phone number now. Jenny and Claire had moved so quickly from the pub to Lallybroch that they forgot to exchange any kind of information. Claire supposed that Geillis could probably find it out if she went through hospital records, but she hadn’t yet. With no one demanding an explanation, Claire was able to hide in her mortification.
Then everything fell apart.
Claire had just passed the one month mark in Edinburgh and she finally felt like a doctor instead of a nuisance in the ER. She had gotten off of a 12 hour shift followed by surgical observation and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in her flat with a glass of wine.
But when she turned her phone back on, she had 15 missed calls. 8 of them were from Frank, 3 from Joe, the others from an unknown number.
She also had several texts, all from Frank.
Please call back.
Claire, I know we haven’t been talking but PLEASE call me.
It’s an emergency.
They hadn’t spoken in the month she’d been gone. Claire didn’t think he would ever fake an emergency just to talk to her when he’d been the one to break up with her. She called him back. He picked up after the first ring.
“Oh, Claire,” Frank said. She didn’t need to hear the rest. It was one of those icy calm moments where she understood with perfect clarity that something terrible had happened. She didn’t need to know the details to understand that her life as she knew it was over.
But the details were this: Claire’s archeologist professor uncle had collapsed during a lecture that morning. He was rushed to the hospital with a suspected heart attack. He had gone into surgery and not come back out. Uncle Lamb, her only family, her whole life at this point, was dead. When the hospital hadn’t been able to reach Claire, Joe (who was working when Lamb came in) had called Frank. Frank had called her and now here she was.
To say Claire reacted badly would be an understatement. She managed to thank Frank for calling her and deflected all of his follow up questions with a promise to call him when she came back to London. But as soon as she hung up the phone…
Claire was fairly stoic in the face of death. She was a doctor, for god’s sake. But this wasn’t a patient she had that met day who died on her table. This was the man that raised her. The only family she had left. Really, the only family she’d ever known. Claire liked to tell herself as a child that she didn’t miss her parents- that she didn’t need them. It was a boldfaced lie that she’d repeated when anyone showed her pity. She didn’t miss her parents because she didn’t have anything to miss. But she felt the absence all the damn time, and Uncle Lamb was there to make her feel whole and loved every time it got to be too much for her.
Claire was alone.
For the first time in years, she really and truly fell apart.
So no, there was no concise way to explain that. Especially in the middle of Jenny’s tavern with her brother looking on. It was getting harder for Claire to ignore the attention Jenny’s yelling had drawn. Claire ignored Joe and Jamie and spoke only to Jenny, “Can we talk about this in private?”
“Anything ye have to say to me ye can say in front of Jamie,” Jenny insisted with her arms crossed. And there was not a chance in hell that was happening. She owed Jenny an explanation, she even wanted to give it, but she’d sooner die than beg Jamie Fraser’s forgiveness. He was a liar and cheater and she wanted nothing to do with him. Despite her heart that was thundering in her chest at the sight of how his body had grown into full adulthood. 24 now, wasn’t he? The last traces of his boyhood were leaving him, and he was turning into a very attractive man. His hair was longer than it had been when she met him. She wanted to run her hands through it. Focus, Beauchamp.
“Here,” Claire said as she scrawled something on a napkin with a pen from her purse, she handed it to Jenny before throwing down enough money to cover her and Joe’s meals, “That is where I’m staying if you want to talk. I am sorry, Jenny, but I promise there is an explanation.” She could feel Jamie’s eyes on her as she walked out, leaving Joe to follow, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of looking back.
Edinburgh was a big city, and there was a chance she’d never see them again. But if she was going to live here long term, she’d rather have Jenny Murray as a friend than an enemy.