Claire would be lying if she said she wasn’t a little bit into how much Jamie had taken charge the last several days. She never thought she was someone who liked being taken care of. But now that she needed it, and there was someone who actually wanted to be there… yes, Claire liked it very much.
Which was dangerous because she couldn’t risk getting used to it. Since she’d moved into Jamie’s apartment, they seemed to have an unspoken agreement not to talk about anything that could start a real fight. Claire’s blood pressure was still a concern for Geillis and Joe, which meant that Jamie was committed to keeping her calm. As calm as possible, that is. Claire was still getting a lot of pleasure out of baiting him. Jamie played along, to a point, and Claire could almost pretend like things were normal between them. Almost.
It wasn’t that Claire didn’t believe him when he said he’d stay. She was sure Jamie had meant it in the moment. But the moment they were in right now was very different than where they were three months ago, or where they’d be a year from now. Right now, the priority was getting Claire back on her feet, and once she was… Claire had no doubt that all the other shit would creep back in.
Like Harvard. Jamie was acting like everyone had forgotten he would need to commit to somewhere soon, but Claire hadn’t. There was no way she’d let him give up someplace like Harvard for their relationship. Especially now that her actions had all but proven that she wasn’t as committed as he was. That wasn’t where her heart was at, but that was how it would seem to any outside observer. Claire couldn’t believe that wasn’t how Jamie saw things, but she really didn’t know where Jamie stood at all. Since his first outburst at the hospital, he had kept his hurt firmly under wraps. It was for the benefit of her recovery, Claire was sure, but she was feeling more on edge the longer it went on.
But for once, Claire tried to force her panic down. While it felt like Jamie’s school deadline was just on the horizon, it was still a few months away in reality. She needed to focus on resting and getting stronger so she could return to work as soon as possible. Not to avoid Jamie or her friends this time, but her job had gotten her through one breakup, and it could get her through another if the time came.
Aside from Jamie, getting Jenny back in her life had been Claire’s other worry. Claire hadn’t been sure Jenny would forgive her so easily. Not only had Claire wronged her brother, but she was supposed to be Claire’s best friend. Jenny cast a warm light on those she trusted and a cold shadow on those she didn’t. Claire knew how both felt all too well, and she wasn’t eager to return to the shadows. But Jenny had been more understanding than Claire could have dreamed of. She’d let Claire tell her story and her reasons and offered her advice and support. She wasn’t happy about what Claire had done, and she had extracted a promise that Claire wouldn’t do anything like it ever again, but Jenny had been her rock ever since.
She told Jenny all the things she hadn’t been able to tell Jamie or Joe, all the things that only another woman would understand. And Jenny did understand the terror and excitement all in one, logically knowing she shouldn’t have a baby but the small hope she’d be a good mother anyways. The grief that was still consuming her since she’d lost the baby.
They’d talked for hours, until Claire couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. Jenny had just told her to sleep and that she’d wake her if anything changed. They didn’t talk about Jamie. Jenny said it wasn’t any of her business, but Claire thought she just didn’t want to pick sides. Claire didn’t push it. Mostly because she was sure Jenny would side with her brother if it really came down to it.
When Claire awoke, she was in the company of a different Fraser. For those few precious hours, everything felt normal between them. Better than normal, it felt like they were building a small lean-to in the middle of the storm their relationship had become. It would collapse the moment Claire didn’t need him to function anymore, but she was going to enjoy the shelter while she had it.
There was a very thin line between what felt safe and what felt stifling. It only took a few days for Claire to start going crazy stuck in the apartment. Between Jenny, Ian and Jamie someone was constantly with her and Claire was unable to leave the apartment at all. They lived on the second floor of a walk up and she couldn’t manage the stairs at all the first week. She’d been adamant that she wouldn’t stay more than the two weeks Geillis demanded, but her own apartment was three floors up and Joe wasn’t home nearly as often as Jamie was. She would never admit it, but she was going to need the help much longer than she’d anticipated. Lucky for her, she didn’t have to admit it. She had a follow-up appointment a week after her discharge from the hospital and Geillis basically ordered her at least another month of taking things easy. Claire acted affronted, but there was a part of her that was relieved she could escape her real life for a little bit longer.
Day by day, she got a little bit stronger until she was able to leave the apartment for small, supervised walks. She hadn’t left the apartment by herself and she wasn’t as eager to try as she should have been.
Nor was she entirely eager to be left alone in the house, as claustrophobic as it was sometimes. No one said it, but they were all worried that Frank would show up. She hadn’t given anyone any more details than that he had ambushed her in her office and that he’d kissed her, but they’d been able to read between the lines apparently. Claire thought after a day like that, Frank might have finally gotten the message that they were over. But he had never been particularly good at taking hints, even when they were thrown directly in his face. There was a time in Claire's life where she’d found that persistence charming, romantic even. It was part of the reason she loved Jamie, after all.
But Frank’s brand of persistence was entirely different than Jamie’s. Claire knew that if she truly wanted him to leave, Jamie would go. And she knew that Jamie would never dream of kissing her without her consent. Frank had moved from endearing to honestly scary. Claire prided herself on being a woman who could take care of herself. But right now, she was glad to have the protection.
Then the day finally did come when Claire would be left entirely alone.
It happened about a month into her mandatory rest. She could get around the apartment okay even if she couldn’t handle the stairs alone. Somehow, every person that was trusted to take care of her was busy. Jenny had a repair at the tavern that she needed Ian’s help with and Geillis and Joe both had shifts they couldn’t get out of. Jamie didn’t tell her what he had to do, which meant it was something related to school and he didn’t want to start an argument. Claire let him get away with it because he had let her get away with so much more. But still, it hurt to be lied to.
Not that she’d ever admit it, but the loneliness hit her harder than she thought it would. Even after all the work she’d done to keep herself at a distance from these people, Claire had gotten used to them being there alarmingly quickly.
For one thing, she was bored out of her mind. There was only so much TV she could watch in a day and she missed her verbal sparring matches with Jamie.
For another- and Claire was embarrassed to admit it- she was scared.
The fear of Frank had been at the back of her mind, but now it was at the forefront. Claire knew that Frank had no way of knowing where she was. Even if he assumed she was with Jamie, he didn’t know where Jamie lived. And even if he did know where Jamie lived, he had no way of getting into the apartment. Jenny had made it clear that she was only a phone call away if Claire needed anything, but she wouldn’t abuse that over her own anxiety.
Claire wondered, not for the first time, how she had come so close to marrying a man who was able to scare her so badly. Shouldn’t her instincts have been able to pick up on that? Recognize that Frank had the potential to be dangerous even if he hadn’t shown any signs of it yet? Claire figured she was giving her judgement too much credit. Her last good choice had been sleeping with Jamie and she’d done her best to fuck that up ever since.
So Claire had all the ingredients for an anxious night in.
By the time someone finally came home, Claire had fallen into a light sleep on the couch. A light sleep that was interrupted the moment she heard someone else in the flat. She turned on a lamp immediately and Jamie looked very much like a deer caught in the head lights. She must not have looked much better, because he was walking towards her slowly the moment he recovered.
“Are ye alright, Sassenach?” Jamie asked gently as he set next to her.
“I’m… not sure,” Claire managed when she got her breathing under control. Where had that come from? Claire was not often prone to panic and she logically knew there was a very small chance of Frank doing anything to her. The man had many faults, but he wasn’t violent. Claire gripped her arms subconsciously where the bruises from Frank’s fingers had faded. He wasn’t violent often, she amended.
Jamie caught the move and put the pieces together, because of course he did and his eyes hardened.
“Did he call ye?” Jamie asked.
“No,” Claire said, “I just got into my own head. This is the first time I’ve been alone since…”
Since. They only talked about the miscarriage in the vaguest of terms. That was another fight that Claire was certain wasn’t over, but she refused to start. Again, Claire saw the understanding in Jamie’s eyes. This time they softened and he reached over to grip her hand. Jamie didn’t touch her if he could help it. Claire knew a part of that was Jamie not wanting to hurt her. She was constantly sore and he would never cause her pain. She also wasn’t so naïve to think that was the only reason. They’d reached a truce, but they weren’t together.
As awful as that was, Jamie’s touches were so much sweeter now when they were so unexpected. She squeezed his hand back and relished his soft hands against her callused ones. Claire was sure those touches were numbered and she wanted to enjoy them while they lasted.
“Would you like to tell me where you were?” Claire asked. She meant to say it gently, but it came out accusatory.
“I had a grad school interview,” Jamie admitted after a slight hesitation.
“Harvard?” Claire asked.
“London,” he said, “Although I don’t think they’re going to accept me.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Claire said, “If you got in at Harvard, you’ll get in everywhere else.”
“We can talk about it,” Claire interrupted, “You don’t have to dance around it. We can talk about grad school.”
“I’m no dancing around it,” Jamie said, “I am just… being careful.”
“According to Geillis, my blood pressure is back to normal. You’re not going to give me a stroke or anything,” Claire continued. She was aiming for it to be a joke, but it fell flat. It wasn’t entirely true. Geillis had said she was out of the dangerous zone, but she would still need to be careful with stress. Jamie didn’t need to know that, though, “So we can finally talk about something real.”
“And what has the last month been then?” Jamie asked, some anger finally creeping into his voice, “Fake?”
“Careful,” Claire corrected, “Just like you said. But you and I both know you have to start making decisions soon. And if I still factor into that decision, we should talk about it. And I would understand if I don’t factor into that decision anymore.”
“Of course yer a part of that decision!” Jamie replied, “Do ye think I’ve been taking care of ye out of the goodness of my heart?”
“A little bit,” Claire admitted.
“And ye thought I was what? Gonna leave ye the moment ye could leave this apartment by yourself?”
“Of course not,” Claire said, even though that was a little bit what she’d thought. Claire’s face must have betrayed her, because Jamie made a distinctly Scottish noise and got up off the couch. Claire wanted to follow him, but her body wouldn’t allow it after a full day of anxiety and taking care of herself. Instead, she floundered for words that would make him understand, “I would understand if you did. I would have understood if you’d broken up with me at the hospital.”
“Ye think I would break up with ye in the hospital after surgery?” Jamie replied, “Christ Claire, do ye really not ken me at all?”
“I ken you just fine,” She mocked, “And I’d prefer you to just get it bloody over with already instead of staying with me out of some sense of responsibly.”
“I am staying with ye because I love you,” Jamie snapped.
Claire wanted to say a million things, but they all got stuck in her throat. He loved her. Of course, she’d thought so. Jamie had said it in his actions over and over in their six-month relationship. But it still struck her dumb to hear it out loud. That someone like Jamie, kind and selfless Jamie, could love someone like her. Though she was shocked by it, she did believe it. It wasn’t long ago that she thought of Jamie as too young to really know what he wanted. But now, Claire saw the anger in his eyes was mixed with sincerity. He loved her, and he was angry that he had to keep proving it.
“That shut you up, didn’t it?” Jamie said. He was trying to lighten the mood, but there was nothing that could fade the intensity in his eyes. He wasn’t going to give her an out. He expected a response.
Of course Claire loved him too, and she wanted to say it back. But the words died on her lips. The problem wasn’t whether or not they loved each other. It was about Jamie giving up something incredible for her. If Claire gave all of herself to him and asked him to stay in Scotland, he would. And eventually he would start to look at Claire with resentment. It was entirely selfish. Claire wouldn’t survive Jamie falling out of love with her slowly. It was better to end it quickly than let something so beautiful die a cruel death.
“Do you want to go to Harvard?” Claire asked. Jamie looked at her incredulously, as if he didn’t understand the words coming out of her mouth. It wasn’t about love, Claire reminded herself. Love wouldn’t replace the bright future Jamie had, “Answer the question.”
“Yes,” Jamie said after another moment’s hesitation.
“Then you should go,” Claire said.
“And we break up?” Jamie asked.
“Yes,” Claire said, though her voice broke and betrayed her.
“Is it so simple for ye to ignore how I feel about ye?” Jamie asked. He finally sat back down next to her on the couch, as if he was too tired to even keep himself upright.
“No,” Claire said. Maybe she shouldn’t have, but she turned fully towards him and gripped his hands, “There is nothing about this that’s simple. But Jamie, you have put your dreams aside for too long. For Lallybroch and your family. I won’t let you do it for me.”
“It sounds like a ridiculous thing to do when ye say it like that,” Jamie admitted, “Would ye make the same choice if it was ye?”
“I did make the same choice when it was me,” Claire said, “I came to Edinburgh and found the most incredible man and a job I love.”
That seemed to finally get Jamie’s attention. His hands gripped hers tighter. Claire knew he hated it when she compared him to Frank, but how could she not? Claire had chosen her career over her relationships again and again. She’d probably make the same choice if it was Jamie she needed to leave instead of Frank. That was something that Jamie always understood about her, she was a doctor first and everything else second. The least Claire could do was give him that same understanding back.
“Yer really not gonna let me stay, are ye?” Jamie asked as tears gathered in his eyes.
“No,” Claire said, “And neither will anyone else.” Impulsively, Claire leaned forward and connected their lips briefly. It was a goodbye kiss and they both knew it. When Claire tried to pull away, Jamie held on to her tighter. For the first time in a month, Jamie was careless with her body and Claire couldn’t care less. The only thing that mattered was his hands in her hair and his tongue in her mouth. Every time the kiss found a natural end, one of them would take a deep breath and dive back in. Claire had half a mind to climb on top of him and really say goodbye properly, but she knew her body couldn’t handle it. Her heart couldn’t handle it either, probably. If they had sex, pregnancy would be in the back of her mind until her next period, and Claire couldn’t live with that anxiety again.
It seemed like Jamie was having similar thoughts, because he didn’t make a move to remove her clothes or push her back on the couch. He seemed content to just kiss her for the rest of his life. Claire would probably be content with the same thing.
After what felt like an eternity, Jamie did pull away from her. Claire didn’t notice she’ started crying until Jamie brushed the tears aside.
“I love ye, Claire,” he said, “And ye dinna need to say it back. I just need ye to know it.”
“You have made me so happy, Jamie,” Claire said she buried her hands in his hair and pressed her forehead to his, “I need you to know that.”
The sat there just holding each other for a few moments more until Jamie released the breath he’d been holding and moved away from her. Claire had to hold her own hands to stop herself from pulling him back. This was the right choice. Claire knew it was the right choice. But it was still bloody difficult.
“It looks like I need to make some phone calls,” Jamie said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. It almost broke Claire’s heart to see him hurt, but she knew he’d forget all about her once he was gone. That was exactly what Claire had done with Frank, after all. The idea of Jamie leaving and falling in love with some American woman made Claire nauseous, but she pushed the feeling down. This was the right choice.
Claire pulled out her own phone and sent a text to Joe as Jamie left the living room. It was time for her to go back to her own apartment.