Jamie hated Harvard. There was no denying it or avoiding it any longer. It had been 4 months, and Jamie regretted the choice he’d made. The choice he’d been expected to make.
It wasn’t just Claire. She wanted him to leave and he didn’t fight her on it. He didn’t really want to fight her on it, if he was being honest. The idea of fleeing the country- fleeing her- had been attractive in the moment. He’d left Scotland heartbroken, but he’d tried his best to put Claire out of his mind after that. It mostly worked. Jamie could live his everyday life as if he wasn’t missing half of his heart. It wasn’t even school. He was doing well academically and he liked his classes and most of his classmates.
It was Boston. More specifically, it was that Boston just wasn’t Scotland.
And Boston didn’t have his sister or his father or his friends. And yes, Boston didn’t have Claire. But Claire was just one person in the dozens he was missing. It was too hard to only be half in their lives, so Jamie just took himself out completely. It was frighteningly easy to just not pick up the phone when he didn’t have anything truthful to say. He had spent years putting school off and wishing he was right here. And now that he was, somehow he was still unhappy. Jamie didn’t know how to tell anyone that he had gotten exactly where he wanted to, and somehow it still wasn’t enough.
Then Jenny told him she was pregnant and it was like Jamie’s entire world stopped.
They’d all been so careful around each other after Claire’s miscarriage, but Jamie knew she and Ian wanted children. And not just in the abstract way that Jamie wanted children. Ian and Jenny had been wanting children since the moment they’d gotten married. And now it was happening, and Jamie wasn’t going to be there for any of it. She was four months along now, which meant that Jamie would see her at Christmas then he’d be back in Boston when the baby was born. So much of his life had been just him and Jenny, and now he wasn’t there when she, for once, was the one needing him.
So Jamie became even more elusive. For the first time, he maybe understood how Claire must have felt. Jamie felt like he might rather die than tell someone what was going through his head. Harvard was the dream. At least it was supposed to be. How could he be quite literally living his dream and want nothing more than to quit? Like Claire, Jamie was finding it much easier to just run away. It wasn’t hard when he was 3000 miles away from anyone he cared about.
The only time he got close to cracking was when Ian called asking him to be the baby’s godfather. Jamie hadn’t picked up the phone, but the voicemail was enough to nearly send him to pieces. He was a little surprised that Ian had asked, if he was being honest. Six months ago, it would have made perfect sense. But Jamie knew he had sounded less than enthusiastic when Jenny had told him, and he’d been dodging her calls ever since. If he was Ian, he probably would have asked someone else. Someone who would actually be there for the next three years, and not on an entirely different continent.
Not to mention that Jenny had apparently asked Claire to be the godmother. And more surprising, she had accepted. There was a time when Jamie would have taken that as evidence that Claire was going to stick around. Jamie didn’t think she’d agree to that if she was planning on leaving, but Jamie didn’t know her anymore. If he ever had in the first place.
The sting of his last unanswered message was always in the back of Jamie’s mind. He hadn’t really expected her to respond after the way they’d left things. And he hadn’t expected her to come to his party or say goodbye to him. But he still hoped she would surprise him. She hadn’t. As always, Claire had remained set on her course once she’d decided it. But Jamie hadn’t been able to resist telling her one last time that he loved her, as if it was going to change anything.
And now, apparently, she was tying herself to Jamie and his family in a permanent way.
And Jamie couldn’t bring himself to do anything about it. He couldn’t call and ask what was going through Claire’s head. He couldn’t bring himself to call Ian back with an answer, or respond to the baby updates that Jenny constantly still sent him. Instead, he threw himself entirely into school. He picked up a job to make ends meet and an extra night class he didn’t really need. When Jamie had the time to sleep at all, he was so exhausted that he fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. He rarely dreamt and he rarely thought about all the things he was missing back home.
Jamie knew something was bound to give eventually. And gave it did.
Jamie had managed to get scheduled all through the holidays at work. It hadn’t been entirely intentional, but he also hadn’t asked for the time off. He wasn’t sure if he’d legitimately forgotten or if he just subconsciously didn’t want to go. Probably a little of both. In any case, he wasn’t going to be able to go back to Scotland for Christmas or Hogmanay. Jamie couldn’t decide what was worse: the pang of longing for Lallybroch at Christmas that was constantly there, or the thought of going home and having to pretend that everything was fine.
Despite his best efforts, Jamie had managed to make a few friends at Harvard, so he didn’t spend the holiday alone. Instead, his friend John dragged him out on New Years to get him “magnificently drunk and happy for once”. Jamie didn’t have it in him to argue, so he let John take him out and ply him with enough whiskey that he started to actually be honest for once. Entirely too honest. And of course, John had an opinion.
“You should call her,” John declared when he was done.
“I mean, you should probably also call your sister,” he said, “But yes, Claire.”
“Dinna be ridiculous,” Jamie said, “She dinna wanna talk to me.”
“Yeah, 6 months ago,” John continued, “But she wouldn’t have agreed to be the baby’s godmother if she was repulsed by the idea of having you in her life.”
“I’d like a bit more than someone who isna repulsed by me,” Jamie tried for a joke, but it fell flat. Instead, he took a long pull of his whiskey. Calling Claire would only set himself up for heartbreak. Sober Jamie would know that. Drunk Jamie, with drunk John’s coaxing, couldn’t think about anything other than hearing Claire’s voice. It had been six months, and Jamie could still hear the twang of her British accent. Before Jamie really knew what he was doing, he was walking out of the crowded club and onto the street with his phone in his hand. Damn John.
It was just past midnight in Boston, he realized as he looked at Claire’s number. It was a new year. Jamie couldn’t help but think of it as a new beginning. And if Claire didn’t pick up, he could start the new year off with some closure.
Of course, midnight in Boston was 5:00 AM in Scotland. If Claire didn’t pick up, it might have nothing to do with him. And if she called him back? Then what would he do? It was too late now, though. The phone was ringing and Claire was on the other end of the line.
“Jamie?” Claire asked. Her voice was tired, but curious. And a little bit worried. Jamie let out a breath that was very close to a sob and just bathed in her voice for a moment, “Jamie? Are you alright?”
What a question. No. He wasn’t alright. But he was more alright than he’d been in months with her voice in his ear, “Aye,” Jamie said when he realized Claire was probably waiting for an explanation, “I just wanted to wish ye a happy New Year, Sassenach.” It was as good an excuse as any, Jamie thought.
“Are you drunk?” Claire shot back, and Jamie almost laughed. He was drunk, of course, but he thought it was possible he would have done the same thing sober. And in the cold Boston air, he was decidedly more sober than he’d been in the bar.
“Are you safe? Is there someone with you?”
“It is so good to hear yer voice, Claire,” Jamie sighed before he could stop himself. Okay, maybe not entirely sober then. But it was the truth, and Jamie heard Claire’s breath catch. Maybe she wasn’t nearly as aloof as she pretended to be.
“You should call your sister. She’s been worried sick about you,” Claire said after she cleared her throat. It was an obvious subject change, but it hit Jamie hard regardless.
“Canna,” Jamie said, “It’s too hard.”
“What is, Jamie?” Claire replied. Her voice was soft and genuine. Jamie wondered if maybe Jenny and Ian had told her how flighty he’d been recently. There was a moment where Jamie wanted to confide everything in her, even more than he’d already done with John. Claire seemed to be waiting so patiently for him, and the temptation to spill every thought he’d had since the last time he saw her six months ago was so strong. But as willing as Claire seemed to be, it was still 5:00 AM in Scotland and she sounded exhausted. Jamie wondered if Geillis had held her to a 40 hour work week, or if Claire had returned to the schedule she’d kept before.
“Everything I’m missing,” Jamie settled on, “And the bairn.”
“I’m sorry, Claire,” Jamie interrupted. Now that he’d started speaking, he couldn’t bring himself to stop. Of all the things he missed about Scotland, Jamie had been doing an excellent job of pretending Claire wasn’t one of them. She had broken up with him, after all, it wasn’t up to Jamie to get her back. But now… now all Jamie wanted to do was talk about them, “About all of it. I shouldna let ye push me away.”
“I didn’t push you away,” Claire snapped, but Jamie could hear the hurt her sharp tone was masking, “I let you go.”
“What if I dinna wanna be let go?” Jamie asked before he could stop himself. Was that really how Claire had seen things? Their breakup had seemed so one sided when it happened. Jamie had tried, then Claire decided they were over. He had thought at the time that her decision was mostly about the baby. But if it was really more about his future… Jamie didn’t think he’d had any fight left in him. But if he’d known Claire truly thought he was better off without her… Jamie would have fought a lot harder, that was for damn sure.
“It was six months ago, Jamie,” Claire interrupted his thoughts, “Why are you telling me this now?”
“Because I miss ye,” he said simply. And it did feel simple. Jamie hadn’t been sure of anything in months, but loving Claire, it was as easy as breathing. Jamie desperately needed simple.
Then the silence stretched between them for long minutes, and that feeling of simplicity evaporated. What did Jamie expect her to say? That she loved him and she wanted him back? If it wasn’t going to work when they saw each other every day, it wasn’t going to work now. As far as Claire knew, he was happy at Harvard and would might come back to Scotland. Jamie couldn’t start that particular conversation right now, not when he didn’t know what he was going to do. And he wouldn’t go back to Scotland just for Claire, not when she hadn’t even considered going to Boston for him. He wasn’t going to knowingly set himself up for heartbreak. And Claire still wasn’t saying anything. He would have taken even a rejection, anything to finally be put out of his misery. But Claire stayed maddeningly quiet.
“I’m sorry, Claire,” Jamie said when he was finally unable to stand the silence any longer. Jamie thought he heard a small, relieved sigh but he couldn’t be sure. Jamie tried to get through his excuses without completely breaking down, “I dinna ken what’s gotten into me.”
“A lot of whiskey, it sounds like,” Claire said. She was offering him an out, and Jamie took it. He tried not to think himself a coward for it.
“Aye, that’s it. Goodnight, Claire. Happy New Year,” Jamie managed to choke out. He waited for her to hang up, but she didn’t. Instead, Jamie just listened to her breathe for a long moment. He should hang up, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Jamie couldn’t shake the feeling that this might be the last time he ever spoke to her, and he wasn’t about to be the one to end the call. Like always, if Claire wanted him gone, she was going to have to make him ,go.
“Jamie!” Claire said suddenly, after another long moment of silence.
“Aye?” Jamie replied entirely too quickly. It was ridiculous how quickly his hope could be built back up. There were a million things she could say. Once again, Claire left him in suspense as she chose her words.
“Happy New Year,” she said finally. Just as quickly as his hope had been sparked, it was doused. She gave him one last reminder to call Jenny, then she was gone.
Jamie was unbelievably cold. Winters in Boston were no colder than Scotland, but Jamie had left his coat in the bar and if felt like Claire had sapped all the warmth from his body. It hadn’t been a long conversation, but Jamie felt entirely unmoored.
Jamie was still in love with Claire, damn him. It was likely that he’d never really stopped.
Even though there were still all the same problems they’d had six months ago, there was a traitorous part of him that said Claire was the one, and they could make it someday. Maybe Jamie would finish school and Claire would still be in Scotland. Maybe another three years would pass and they’d feel the same way and it would be like no time had passed at all. But Jamie didn’t know if he was ready to set himself up for heartbreak again. If Claire wanted him still, she was going to have to make the first move. And that seemed unlikely given their track record.
With that thought, Jamie went back into the bar and sat down next to John.
“How did it go?” he asked expectantly.
Instead of answering, Jamie ordered a round of shots and threw them both back himself. It was a new year, and Jamie didn’t want to remember how the last one had ended.
Unfortunately, Jamie did remember. And he had a massive hangover. He’d also woken up a few hours after he had finally stumbled home even though he had the morning off, which wasn’t fair. He was wide awake and there was no place to go on New Years Day.
Jamie had tried to drink enough to forget his conversation with Claire, but it was seared into his memory. He couldn’t believe he’d done that. What did he think he was going to accomplish? It wasn’t like Claire was going to suddenly confess she was still in love with him. Nor was she going to just hop on a plane to Boston.
Jamie stared at the ceiling for a few minutes more before grabbing his phone. It had been a mistake to call Claire, but she was right about one thing. Jamie needed to call his sister. It was only about 8:00 AM in Scotland, but Jenny picked up on the first ring.
“Oh good, yer phone still works,” she snapped, “I was starting to worry when ye went three months without talking to anyone.”
“I mean I get avoiding some people from Lallybroch,” Jenny continued, “But Ian? I dinna care how heartbroken ye are, he is your brother.”
“And I am yer sister!” she interrupted, “And ye at least need to tell us yer no gonna be the godfather to yer nephew.”
“It’s a boy?” Jamie asked, completely dumbstruck.
“It’s just a hunch,” Jenny said dismissively, “Ye’d know that if ye bothered to call us, James Fraser.”
“Janet, can I get a word in please?” Jamie replied as crossly as he could muster.
“Be my guest,” Jenny said.
“I’m sorry,” Jamie replied.
“That’s as good a start as any,” Jenny admitted, “Continue.”
“I hate Harvard,” Jamie said before he lost his nerve.
“Ye hate Harvard?” Jenny deflated at that, “I thought Harvard was yer dream?”
“It was,” Jamie continued, “At least before… before Da got sick and before we moved to Edinburgh and before… before Claire. But then I got here, and it wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be. And then ye got pregnant, and it was all too much. I hate Harvard.”
“Oh, Jamie,” Jenny said. Jamie hadn’t heard Jenny this gentle since they were bairns themselves, “Ye ken ye dinna have to stay.”
“Dinna I?” Jamie replied.
“No!” Jenny insisted.
“And what else would I do?” Jamie asked.
“Christ, Jamie!” Jenny said, “People transfer schools all the time. It will hardly be a scandal.”
“Ye dinna understand,” Jamie replied.
“I’ve been through grad school,” Jenny replied. He could practically hear her eyeroll, “In Glasgow, where you just happened to also be accepted. Ye are making this harder than it needs to be.”
Jamie remained silent. He knew that Jenny was right. He could, technically, just transfer. It probably wouldn’t even set him back more than semester. But there was still a small part of him that couldn’t admit defeat with this. He’d given up so much to be at Harvard, not least of which was money that came from Lallybroch that would now be wasted. Coming back to Scotland might make him happier, but there was still a distinct part of him that would feel like he failed.
“I want ye here,” Jenny said when he remained silent, “If that means anything.”
“I’m just saying,” Jenny said, “Yer my brother, and I want ye in my bairn’s life.”
“I will be,” Jamie said, dangerously close to tears.
“Good,” Jenny said, “And ye can do that from Boston, too. Ye just need to pick up yer damn phone.”
“I have to go,” she said suddenly, “But the decision to leave Harvard is yers to make. No one will think any less of ye for coming home.”
With that, she was gone, and Jamie finally felt sure of something.
It seemed like Jamie’s heart had settled on a course of action long ago and his head was just now catching up. Talking to Jenny solidified it. He was going to leave Harvard.
Even though Jamie had decided, there was nothing he could do about it right now. He couldn’t leave in the middle of the semester and he had work to plow through before classes started in a few days. But for the first time, not everything felt like a chore. Even as he worked through his endless readings and translations, Jamie was planning a course of action.
Before he knew it, he was halfway through the semester and had sent several emails to the schools that had accepted him a year ago.
He had gotten into a number of schools in the UK, but nothing in Edinburgh. The closest he could get was Glasgow, but the thought of being in the same country made him giddy. If he could secure a transfer there, he would only be hours away from everything that he cared about. Hours away from Claire.
Would he tell her himself that he was coming back? It seemed like if he had stayed, they might have been able to work things out. He still wanted to, would she? Or would he leave it to Jenny to fill Claire in and just see her for godparent related duties? That thought almost made him physically ill. Jamie didn’t want to pretend that he wasn’t in love with her. And if he was judging from New Years, there were at least still things Claire wanted to say to him.
Then Jamie saw her, as if he had summoned her.
Jamie stopped dead in his tracks. It must be a dream, or a hallucination. There was no other explanation for why Claire Beauchamp was standing in from of his apartment building in Boston. There was no way she could have known where he lived, for one thing. And more importantly, Why?
He didn’t have long to wonder. She’d noticed him. He didn’t approach her, as if she was an apparition that could fade away at any moment, and Claire didn’t make a move towards him either. Instead, her mouth broke out into a wide (but slightly uncertain smile) that Jamie couldn’t help but return.
“Hello, Jamie,” was all she said.
“Sassenach?” Jamie managed after he swallowed the lump in his throat. The nickname felt incredible on his tongue. And finally. Finally. For the first time in nearly a year, Jamie felt like he could breathe again.