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Game Changer

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Jamie Fraser had made up his mind. He wasn’t a quitter by nature, no. He was as stubbornly determined as they came. But at 28 years old, after years of sacrifice and injury, traveling in beaten-up buses and sleeping in seedy motels, living poor and working his ass off with absolutely nothing to show for it, he’d decided that the time had come. He was giving up his dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player, hanging up his first baseman’s glove, and returning to Scotland.

“I’m goin’ home to Lallybroch,” he murmured, so quietly that no one else in the clubhouse could hear him.

As soon as he allowed himself to articulate this thought, which was against everything he’d wanted or worked towards for almost two decades, he felt his shoulders relax. Tears rushed to his eyes just imagining working the fields alongside his Da, sharing a dram with Jenny and Ian after dinner, and chasing the bairns through the meadow until their breath ran out. After so long of practically being a stranger to his own land, he was ready to make Scotland his home again.

“Hey, Fraser! Angus wants to see you in his office.” Jamie's head snapped up abruptly as he heard a teammate yell to him from several lockers over. His reverie now interrupted, he let out a low groan and slowly rose from the bench, delicately stretching so as not to tweak his back.

Weel, he thought to himself. No time like the present. Might as well get this over with and let coach know I’m done.

As he started to walk down the hallway to Angus Mhor’s office, he thought about the road he had taken to get here. He thought about the steps and choices he had taken that brought him to this place and this moment, so different from where he thought he would be at this age.

He remembered how he fell in love with baseball while watching the Sydney Olympics late one night when he was nine years old. That summer, he would spend his days wandering alone on the heathered hills behind the house, hoping that the fresh air would ease the queasiness he’d felt in his wame ever since his Mam had died the year before. He would spend most nights watching telly in the sitting room, staying awake into the wee hours in order to avoid returning to sleep in his room, where the memories of his mother reading him bedtime stories and comforting him through illness were still too strong, too raw for him to bear.

On one such night, he caught the two am showing of a USA-Japan game in the early rounds of the competition. By the third inning of the game, he was already captivated by the loud crack of bat meeting ball, and the satisfying pop of a fastball caught in a glove. He listened carefully to the announcers, picking up as much as he could to try to understand the game’s rules, which were nothing like those of soccer or rugby, the only two sports that mattered to most of his friends. Baseball was slower than those sports, but also more cerebral and analytical, something that appealed to him even then.

By the end of the Olympics, Jamie vowed to learn, to practice, and to one day be among the very best to play this sport -- never minding the fact that he had never even held a baseball at that point.

 

He imagined bringing joy to thousands of spectators in the stands, thrilling them with home runs and gravity-defying catches. His fantasies were fueled by whatever paltry mention of the sport he could find on TV or in the newspaper, or in the two books on the topic from the Broch Mordha library that he’d read and re-read until the spines cracked.

After 3 months of talking and thinking incessantly about baseball, his father Brian surprised him one afternoon by telling him he could skip his chores for the day.

“Get in the car, Jamie lad,” he had said with his usual kindhearted, teasing smile. “After all your bletherin’ about baseball, we’re goin’ to Inverness to see if ye’ve got any talent in it.”

As it turned out, he did have talent. A lot of talent, in fact.

But sometimes talent isn’t enough.

Jamie startled when he realized that he must have been standing in front of Angus’ office for the past five minutes, lost in his thoughts again. He rolled his shoulders and stood taller, then reached up and rapped on the partially-closed door twice before hearing a surly voice bark, “I don’t know what took ye so long, Red. Get yer ass in here.”

He entered and took a seat opposite the desk, letting out a sigh as he faced his longtime coach. Jamie had played under Angus Mhor for the past four seasons in the Mets minor league system. A retired catcher, he was a player’s manager, willing to defend his men to the end, while also being the biggest prankster in the clubhouse. Jamie was more often than not the victim of these jokes; being a fellow Scot, Mhor felt Jamie was obliged to forgive him no matter how egregious the prank.

Frankly, Jamie could’ve done without some of the mischief and bawdy jokes, but still, he respected his manager for his honesty and for always having his players’ backs.

Mhor looked him up and down with wrinkled eyes and a quirk to his lip before asking, “Why’d ye think I called ye in here tonight?”

“I dinna ken why ye called me in,” Jamie started, his fingers drumming insistently against his outer thigh. “But before ye tell me, there is somethin’ I need to tell you.”

He took another deep breath, and pushed on. “I’m done with baseball. I’ve played my last game.”

“Ahh. Ye’re quittin’, are ye?” Angus asked skeptically, eyes cast downward, focused on his tobacco-stained fingers.

“Aye, I am!” Jamie answered indignantly, on his way to being furious at Angus for not taking him seriously. “Look, my playing’s been shite lately. You know it, I know it, and all the lads know it. I canna hit the damned ball any more. Since my injury last year I just-- I just canna find my rhythm.”

“I’ve put in six years in the minors,” he continued. “They’re never going to call me up to the big leagues, so I need to get on with my life, find a new purpose. I need to go back home to my family.” Once again, a thrill shot through Jamie just to think of it. Home.

Angus sat back in his chair and swung his feet up on the desk, all while shaking his head and looking at Jamie with a glint in his eyes. “Are ye done flappin’ your gums yet?”

“Dinna try to talk me out of it,” warned Jamie, fixing his manager with his steely blue gaze. “I knew ye were going to do this. Just know that this is what I want and need to--”

“YE’RE GOING TO THE SHOW, YOU CLOT-HEID!” Angus roared.

Jamie froze.

With his eyes and his mouth wide open, he attempted to form words, but that was hard to do when it felt as though his heart had stopped beating. “What?” he finally managed to spit out. “That’s impossible.”

He looked up sharply a moment later, understanding hitting him all at once. “You bastard! Ye’re fucking pranking me, aren’t ye? Christ, Angus. I canna believe ye would--”

“Jamie, I swear on my sweet mother’s grave. You’ve been called up. Really. The team needs ye to start tomorrow. There’s an Uber coming to take you to Queens in 20 minutes.”

Jamie sat, silent, shell shocked, and staring out the window onto the ballfield. He had imagined this moment hundreds of times in his life, but he never thought of it happening like this. “I--I just dinna understand it. Why? I’ve never played worse in my life.”

“So, are ye sayin’ ye’d like to turn down this opportunity? I’ll be glad to pick up the phone and let them know,” said Angus, with his signature sarcastic smile.

“No. NO! Of course not. I just dinna understand it, is all,” Jamie replied, deep in thought over what this all meant. Major League Baseball. The Bigs. The realization of his dreams, of everything he’d worked for. Was this really happening?

“Here’s the deal, Red. Both the starting first baseman and the backup were injured in tonight’s game. They’ve got no one else to start at first tomorrow. So, ye’re it. At least until they can trade for someone better. Ye’ll probably be up there for a game or two at most.”

So that was the crux of it, then. He wasn’t being called up because they thought he had talent or promise. It had been years since he had been considered a top prospect, and his glory days were certainly over. He was being called up, as a 28 year old rookie in the worst slump of his career, to fill in during a crisis.

Jamie ran his hands through his curls and exhaled sharply. He closed his eyes to find some peace from the blinding fluorescent light emanating from the ceiling. His mind jumped back to watching Olympic baseball in the middle of the night, when the spark in him was first lit. That spark, and his talent, had gotten him so close, but the flame had all but been snuffed out over the past year. Did he still have it in him? Just a few minutes ago, he was on the verge of walking away from the sport for good, and he hadn’t a single regret about it. But he was suddenly grasped by a sense of hope and promise. He found a determination growing in him by the second, the spark rekindled. His heart started beating quickly, and he felt an urge to get out of this stadium and get on the road, now. It was time to get prepared for the biggest moment of his life.

Standing up quickly, he put his hands on the desk. “I’ll get my things together and will be outside by the time the car gets here,” he told Angus, nodding. “I’m grateful for all yer help. Truly.”

Jamie turned and walked out the door, with one corner of his mouth slowly lifting into a lopsided grin. He was nervous but giddy, simultaneously confident and panicky. Stopping to take a deep breath in an attempt to steady his heart rate, he glanced down at his tattoo, the one he got on his left forearm at 18. He relied on it during moments of self doubt; the words of his family motto helped him to steel himself mentally and physically for all the challenges before him.

“Je suis prest,” he said in a hushed voice, standing in front of his locker. “I am ready.”

*******************

It was a beautiful July day in New York. Claire Beauchamp was grateful that, for once, the humidity was low enough that her blowout didn’t start curling midday. She was grateful, too, for getting to live in this spectacular city, the skyline of which she was currently admiring from the back seat of a taxi hurtling up the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. And what she was grateful for above all else was that she was living her professional dream: a fellowship in sports medicine and shoulder surgery with a spot on the medical team of the New York Mets.

Claire’s therapist, Dr. de La Tour, had suggested she find three things to be grateful for every day, and she did find it to be a useful activity. Still, for all that she was grateful, she felt a haze of melancholy surrounding her today, which she couldn’t help but express in a long, deep sigh.

“Lady Jane, are you all right over there?” Joe asked from the other side of the cab’s rear bench.

“I’m all right. I mean, I guess I’m all right,” she said as she turned away from the window to face him. “It’s just that today marks a year since the divorce was finalized. I can’t help but feel . . .” She paused. What exactly was she feeling? She was relieved to be on her own. She was happy --wasn’t she?-- with her life. But she couldn’t help but feel a sense of failure that her marriage only lasted two years. “Well, I know that I’m not sad about it. I know we are better off not being married. Though I suppose I’ll always feel regret that it had to end. That I couldn’t save it. I couldn’t save us.”

Joe snorted but then quickly recovered and presented a more somber face to his best friend. “Listen, sweetheart. Leaving Frank was the best thing that you’ve ever done for yourself. The man never understood you, never appreciated you, never even respected you! My God, Lady Jane. Do you remember how many times you’d come to the hospital with your eyes bloodshot from crying?”

“I know, Joe. I remember,” she said. Of course she remembered. For months and months, she cried. At the hospital, on the subway, at the supermarket. She cried herself to sleep most nights. She cried until the tears ran out, and she eventually decided that she could not live her life like this anymore. So she hid the pain and the humiliation where no one else could find them, picked up the pieces of her life, and threw herself into her work.

“This prick had the nerve to accuse you of infidelity, all because he was jealous that most of your patients were male athletes. Meanwhile, he had his own side piece for most of your marriage!” Joe ranted, looking a little ashamed at how heated he had gotten. “I’m sorry, LJ. I just get irrationally angry when we talk about him. Fuck Frank!”

“I really do appreciate you being so protective of me,” she said with a downcast but thankful smile.

She really could count Joe Abernathy as another thing that she was grateful for. They had met at Harvard Medical School, both specializing in sports medicine, with Joe just a year ahead of her. He matched for his residency at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and Claire did the same a year later. Now, Joe was working as an Assistant Team Physician for the Mets, while she was on her way to completing her one-year post-residency fellowship with HSS and the team.

“I don’t mean to make you feel even worse about today. I’m sorry for losing it.” Joe apologized while reaching out his hand to her shoulder for a squeeze. “I just want the best for you. I really do think that you’d be much happier if you would consider--”

“No, Joe! Just no. How many times have I told you that I’m not ready to start dating?” she asked. Had she just added Joe Abernathy to her grateful list? She considered taking him off of it. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m still working through a lot of issues in therapy that need to be resolved before I can even consider dating again. Besides, it’s not like there’s a queue of bachelors lining up for the honor.”

“Have you seen you, Claire? Come on. Who wouldn’t want to date you? You’re brilliant. You’ve got that dry British sense of humor that’s hilarious and only a little bit intimidating. You are the most interesting person I know.” Joe continued listing her attributes, as Claire squirmed uncomfortably in the seat next to him. “And, last but not least, you have a fabulous head of hair and an ass that won’t quit. You know how many men at the stadium check you out on a daily basis?”

Claire rolled her eyes at the thought. “At the stadium? Well, it’s not like I’m going to date any of the athletes! They’re all considered my patients. You know that. And anyway, after all of Frank’s allegations, I would never give him the satisfaction of thinking he was right.”

Her stomach twisted remembering the fights. Frank used his words as weapons, hitting her with them in the way he knew would hurt her most, by questioning her professionalism. It was a daily occurrence for him to accuse her of dalliances with her patients, going so far as threatening to force her to quit her job. Claire pushed down the bile that rose to her throat at the very thought of it.

She shook her head to displace the unpleasant memories, and noticed that the cab was taking its exit from the highway. She looked to her right to catch a glimpse out the window at the World’s Fair Marina. Dr. de La Tour had recommended that she take visual snapshots of things that brought her serenity, to help ground her during stressful times. She made sure to take a mental photo of the boats bobbing calmly in Flushing Bay for use at a later time when she might need it.

“Well, LJ, there are plenty of men who work at the stadium who aren’t players or patients of yours. And I have seen them look at you,” Joe said, wiggling his eyebrows. “You may just want to keep it in mind.”

“Ok, Dr. Abernathy. I didn’t know that you had taken on the role of Citi Field’s chief matchmaker, but I will keep that in mind,” she replied, as she turned from the window towards him, giving him a wink.

The cab pulled up to the side entrance of the stadium. Joe paid the driver, and together he and Claire headed to the gate. They made their way inside to the medical offices to check their agendas for the day.

“Well, I’ve got a meeting with the training staff in 15 minutes. I’m going to go prep for that in my office,” Joe mumbled as he popped a mini muffin from catering into his mouth. “What have you got going on today?”

Claire flipped through the file that had been prepared for her and said, “It seems I’ll be doing a baseline physical for a player called up from Triple-A Syracuse. I have another hour until he gets here. Later on I’m going to look over the injury status reports from this week.”

“All right, I’ll catch you later, LJ. And I hope your day gets better.”

As much as Joe drove her crazy, she really did love and appreciate him. She looked up at her best friend and smiled. “You’ve already made my day better, Joe.”

Claire settled at her desk, and started to dive into the thick stack of papers in the folder. What on earth had happened to this man to merit such a massive medical file, she wondered. It was at least double the size of most players’ files coming up to the majors for the first time.

She noted a shoulder dislocation early in his career, followed by a broken hand requiring an extensive amount of surgery shortly after. And then just last year, he missed a significant amount of playing time due to a herniated lumbar disc and left leg sciatica. This chap must have a mighty high pain tolerance, she mused. She dug deeper into the file, wanting to learn as much as she could about the new call-up before he arrived.

She looked again at the label on the file, and was just starting to wrap her mind around the five names listed where she normally only found two, when she heard a tap at the door.

She looked up and found herself staring into the slanted aquamarine eyes of James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. And she would never be the same again.

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Jamie cracked open an eye and was hit by a blinding ray of sunlight streaming through the floor to ceiling window. Christ, he thought, where the hell am I? This wasn’t an uncommon question over his many years of waking up on the road. He forced open his other eye for a look at his surroundings, noting the plush velvet sofa, the dazzling, modern chandelier, and the sliding glass doors leading to a large balcony. Right. Definitely no’ in the minor leagues any more.

He was in New York City. And today was going to be the most important day of his life.

Still bleary-eyed, he grasped for his phone on the nightstand, glanced down, and saw that it was 9:30 a.m. He had gotten two hours of sleep, which was actually more than he thought he’d manage. After stopping by his Syracuse apartment to pack a bag, the ride to Queens had taken close to five hours, bringing him to the hotel around four in the morning. Even after the long drive, he was still vibrating with anticipation. He’d gone for a treadmill run at the hotel gym in an attempt to wear himself out, but it had taken the whispered, soothing narration of a nature documentary to eventually lull him into slumber.

Jamie lifted himself out of bed and picked up the folder that had been waiting for him at check in. It had been delivered by the team, and included his schedule for the day.

11 a.m.       Meet with Clubhouse Manager Kevin Martinez

11:45 a.m.  Meet with Team Manager Billy Raines

12:30 p.m.  Baseline physical with on-duty team physician

1 p.m.        Lunch with Media Relations Director Gillian Edgars

2 p.m         Press interviews

4 p.m.        Drills and batting practice

5:30 p.m.   Dinner

7:10 p.m   First Pitch

He checked the time on his phone once again, and realized he needed to get going if he was to make it to his first meeting by eleven. It was all starting to feel real. His initial panic last night had morphed into an unwavering sense of confidence that he could do this, that he would get on that field and contribute to the team, even if only for a game or two. Jamie had always had the ability to quash his nerves in high-pressure situations, finding the strength within him to overcome others’ expectations and battle his own self-doubts. He had done it in high school when he hit the game-winning single in the state championships, and he’d done it again when he secured victory for his team in the College World Series with a walk-off home run. He would focus the energy and determination that had propelled him to his greatest successes into his performance tonight. Je Suis Prest.

*******************

Three hours later, Jamie stepped out of the manager’s office at Citi Field with Billy Raines’ last words still ringing in his ears. “This is your one chance,” he had said. “Try not to fuck it up completely.”

Raines hadn’t looked pleased when Jamie responded with a grin, “Is that all then? I’ll do my verra best.”

Still rolling his eyes at the less-than-encouraging meeting with his new manager, he strode down the hallways of the gleaming, labyrinthine underworld that encompassed the Mets players’ quarters. He was searching for the medical suite, and found it after a series of turns that he wouldn’t be able to replicate anytime soon.

Upon entering the suite, he introduced himself to the assistant at the entry desk, and was directed to the office on the right. He approached the door, hoping that this appointment would run less than the scheduled half hour. He was anxious to get on with his day, and in particular wanted to have the press interviews over with so that he could work on getting his body ready for tonight’s game. Lifting his hand, he tapped lightly on the half-open door, and stepped across the threshold.

There was a woman sitting at the desk in the middle of the room, head bent over a massive file, with a perplexed expression on her face. When she looked up and her eyes met his, he couldn’t help but let out a hushed gasp.

Her eyes were the deepest gold, with whiskey-hued ribbons running through. They exuded intelligence, humor, tenacity, and a kindness that immediately called to his soul. He felt that he could peer into her eyes and feel her every emotion, without having to exchange a single word.

She was looking at him, her sweet mouth slightly agape, and then she glimpsed down again at the file. He heard her slowly ask, “Are you James. . . Alexander. . . Malc--”

“Ye- yes, that’s me,” he stammered. “James Fraser. You can call me Jamie.” He walked farther into the office, stopping in front of the desk, eager to get closer to her, to this . . . Sassenach? Could he be hearing her accent correctly?

“Well, Jamie Fraser,that’s a hell of a lot easier to say than all of that.” She gestured at the label on the folder with the faintest smile on her pink lips. “I’m Claire Beauchamp. I’m a doctor with the sports medicine group at the Hospital for Special Surgery that provides care to the team. It’s nice to meet you.” She stood up from the table and reached out her hand in greeting.

A Sassenach indeed, he thought to himself, while extending his hand towards hers. “It’s verra fine to meet ye, Clai--I mean, Dr. Beauchamp. No disrespect intended.”

“Oh, it’s all right. You can call me Claire,” she said, looking vaguely disarmed for a moment. Her eyes lingered on his and she took in a sharp breath before composing her face once more. “You’re Scottish, aren’t you?’

“Aye, as Scottish as they come. And ye’re English? You dinna meet too many Brits working in baseball.”

As Jamie's right hand, large and blistered, enveloped hers, small and delicate, he saw her flinch and quickly move away. “Do you have a fever?” she asked suddenly, concerned. “I’ve never felt a hand so warm in my life.”

“Och, no. I dinna have a fever. I just happen to run warm, ye see.” It was true, but he was feeling significantly warmer than usual just now.

“I need to take your temperature in any case, so we’ll find out for sure. Today I’ll be getting your vitals and assessing your current pain management and treatment plan.” She motioned for him to take a seat on the exam table, and he hopped up easily while she walked to the sink to wash her hands. “Luckily, your bloodwork, EKG, and stress test are all current, so no need to repeat those.”

Claire took the thermometer from the counter, and brushed it across his forehead until the signal beeped. “Hmm. Your temperature is, in fact, perfectly normal. I’m glad there’s no fever. Wouldn’t want to impede on your playing time tonight. I imagine your family’s coming to the game?”

She wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Jamie’s upper arm, and hit the button on the electric monitor. She was standing near the exam table, close enough that he could smell her; she was fragrant with something sweet and botanical, the headiness of mint mixed with the light, soothing scent of the bluebells one might find in the hills of the Highlands.

“Weel, my godfather and my aunt will be comin’ up from North Carolina tonight, but it was a little far for my father and sister to come all the way from Scotland.” He thought briefly and wistfully of his middle-of-the-night call to his father, and the way he could hear his Da, fit to bursting with pride--and shock--at the news of his debut. He was grateful that his father understood when he asked that he and Jenny not fly in; he would likely be demoted back to the minors before they could even make it to New York. They’d be cheering him on tonight from Lallybroch. “I told my Da I’d buy him a ticket myself if I was still playing in the majors at this time next week. I dinna think I have to worry about the hit to my bank account, though,” he joked.

Claire chortled. “Don’t sell yourself short. It really is an incredible accomplishment. So few players ever get this far. You should be proud, Jamie. I’m so glad you’ll have someone from your family here to experience this with you.”

He saw Claire pause, swallow, and avert her eyes before asking, “Will your wife be able to make it tonight?”

He felt a small thrill in his wame at her question--could the lass be interested?--and answered while shaking his head, “No, no. I dinna have a wife. Or a girlfriend,” he added for good measure, willing his traitorous lips to resist breaking into a smile. She looked up at him with what appeared to be relief. But perhaps he was reading more into it than was there.

The blood pressure monitor beeped and he felt the cuff loosen, turning his gaze to the side to find Claire squinting at the monitor. “Did you happen to work out just before this? Your pressure’s normal, but your heart rate’s quite high for being at rest.”

“Ehm, I . . .” he stumbled. He couldn’t exactly tell her that his heart had been beating out of his chest since his first glance of her caramel eyes. “Ah, I’ve got a case of nerves about tonight. Adrenaline’s runnin’ high, ye ken.”

“Of course,” she said, nodding. “That makes sense. I do want to check your pulse manually, though, to see if I get a different reading. The machine can be finicky sometimes. And I want you to come in and have it checked again tomorrow. Hopefully your nerves will have calmed by then.” Claire removed the blood pressure cuff and placed it on the counter before coming back to stand at Jamie’s side, tapping his wrist so that he would rotate it, giving her access to his radial pulse. She softly placed two of her fingers there, shushing him so that she could count the beats.

He sat quietly, trying his hardest not to look at her, but it was so very difficult not to. Her head of thick, dark chocolate brown hair was only inches away; it was straight, but he could see wispy curls at her ears, and he had to restrain himself from reaching out and tucking them back. While she was peering down at her watch, he realized that his heart had slowed from the moment she had placed her hands on him. It was as if everything within him and around him became peaceful when they touched.

After about thirty seconds, she looked up at him quizzically. “Interesting. Your heart rate is totally fine now. Must have been the monitor acting up again.”

Jamie suppressed a laugh and said, “Aye, must have been.”

Claire continued with the exam, listening to his lungs and asking questions about his injury history. She carefully examined his right hand, expressing amazement that he was ever able to regain full strength after each of his fingers had been shattered five years ago. They discussed his current back pain, managed with periodic epidural injections, and decided on a regimen of alternating heat and cold using the team’s cryotherapy tubs and saunas following each game. Throughout the conversation, Jamie yearned to steer the talk back to her. Who was she? Who was this woman who had enthralled him within moments?

“How did you get into sports medicine, Claire? Were ye an athlete yerself?” he managed to ask during a brief pause in the examination.

“Oh, Christ no! I was never an athlete. But I always knew I wanted to study medicine, and I’m a huge sports fan. I fell in love with baseball and hockey when my uncle brought me to the States with him when I was 12. He was in Boston for an archeology conference, and his friends got us tickets to both Red Sox and Bruins games. After that I was hooked,” she recounted with a shrug. She leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Don’t tell anyone here, but hockey’s actually my favorite.”

“Yer secret’s safe wi’ me, lass,” he promised her, eyes shining. He watched her stop to enter a few notes into the laptop on the counter, and ventured another question, trying not to sound too invested. “Will ye be workin’ tomorrow then? When I come back to get my heart rate checked?”

“Probably not. I usually work every third game. That said, I’m the most junior person on the team, so I get called in when the others are on vacation or sick. But you can come over to the medical suite and anyone on staff can check it for you.” She grinned up at him and once again, Jamie saw a peculiar expression in her eyes. She appeared to be fighting a battle within herself, and it was playing out on her face, but she turned away before he could get a better read on her.

At that moment, a whirl of energy entered the room, breaking the easy calm that had enveloped them. That whirl took the human form of a petite woman with strawberry blonde hair, dashing into the room with a piqued air about her. “Are you James Fraser? You’re ten minutes late for our meeting.”

Claire spoke before he was able to, apologizing on Jamie’s behalf. “I’m so sorry, Gillian. Our appointment just went over a bit. We’re done now.” She turned to Jamie and asked, “Have you met Gillian yet? She’s the team’s amazing media relations director. Oh, wait a minute! Gill, didn’t you have a family connection to Scotland? That’s where Jamie’s from.”

Gillian raised her eyebrows and approached Jamie with a smirk. “Aye, I took a keek at his bio. I ken we have a bonny Hielan’ laddie on our hands! I spent e’ry summer growing up wi’ me grandparents outside Inverness,” she said, winking, before returning to her usual dialect. “I slip into the Scots when I’m around people who will actually understand me. The rest of the time, I sound like the Long Islander I really am.”

“Nae bother, mo charaid. It’s braw to hear ye! Ye sound like home.” Jamie smiled and stood up before Gillian could start yelling at him for running late again.

Claire shook her head, grinning. “Why do I feel like I’ve landed on another planet? I can’t understand half of what either of you just said.”

“It’s all right, Sassenach. We’ll make a Scot out o’ ye in no time.” Jamie had meant for this to be more lighthearted banter, but as the words came out of his mouth, he found that he wasn’t laughing. His eyes had captured Claire’s and they both stayed there, in that moment, intently taking each other in.

Gillian very purposefully cleared her throat. “Jamie? We need to start talking about your interviews. Your first one’s in about an hour.”

Claire, still holding his gaze, said “Goodbye, Jamie. Good luck tonight.”

He replied, “Goodbye Claire,” tore himself away from her eyes, and headed out of the room. As he exited the suite, he could’ve sworn he heard Gillian behind him hissing to Claire, “What just happened?”

*******************

Claire pushed Gillian out of the room while shooting daggers her way, closed the door behind her, and rested her head upon the cool, smooth surface. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ. What the bloody hell was that? Asking him about his wife? Are you mad?

She took a deep, steadying breath. And then another. And one more because she was still shaking from the adrenaline of . . . whatever that was.

Get a hold of yourself, Beauchamp! She had never responded like that to a patient before. She had never responded like that to anyone before. To look in someone’s eyes, and within seconds to know, deep in the marrow of your bones, that this feeling was unusual. It was different. It was primal.

He was a beautiful man, muscular and tall, with a face that looked to have been sculpted from marble. She felt like his blue eyes were still searing into hers. And she could probably spend hours thinking about his reddish gold curls, his broad chest, the dulcet tones of his burr. Damnit Beauchamp. Enough! But it was more than his good looks that had her feeling this way. It was the quirk of his mouth and the glint in his eye that made her feel known and seen. It was the way he brought serenity when his skin touched hers.

She walked to the desk and threw herself into the chair, then sat back and shut her eyes. What was it that she had discussed with Dr. de La Tour? Suddenly, she remembered about the snapshots, and she recalled the marina she had seen from the cab this morning. Claire mentally pulled up her view of the boats bobbing in the water, sun reflecting off of the waves, and she carefully matched her breathing to their movements, up and down, side to side. After a few minutes she felt the buzz of her meeting with Jamie subside, until she was almost--but not quite--back to normal.

Opening her eyes, she grabbed her phone, opened a note, and started typing. She was going to approach this situation in a logical, reasonable fashion. These were to be her ground rules.

Avoid all contact with JF unless there is a medical necessity.

Refer JF to other medical staff when feasible.

Do not, under any circumstances, form an emotional or other attachment to JF. The doctor/patient boundaries have already been blurred, and may not be blurred further.

Do not risk your career over a *possible* attraction to an athlete.

Absolutely DO NOT provide any fodder that could potentially validate Frank’s accusations.

She placed her phone down triumphantly, as if it were just that easy to move past this. She dove into her remaining work, trying to bury the whispers of Jamie calling her “Sassenach”--what did that mean, anyway?--in the mounds of reports she needed to complete.

*******************

Claire and Joe grabbed dinner in the stadium--tacos for her, Shake Shack for him--and then headed back down to the medical suite just before first pitch. As the doctors on duty, they were to watch the game on the enormous TV in the suite, and be on alert for any injuries that might need tending to throughout the course of the game. Most times, they were able to keep half an eye on the game broadcast, while also doing some paperwork or, even better, reading a book or playing on their phones.

Claire walked into the suite and froze in place. On the screen before her, larger than life, was Jamie in his uniform for a pre-game interview. Auburn curls crept out the sides of his blue cap, and his eyes were accentuated by the crisp royal pinstripes of his jersey. She stepped close, listening fixedly.

She learned that he had been a top prospect, and was considered at one time to be “the future of the franchise” until he was hindered by injury after injury, derailing his advancement. He was the tenth player born in Scotland ever to play for Major League Baseball in its entire 150 year history. His teammates called him “Red.” She couldn’t help but laugh at that one.

In the off-season, he lived in North Carolina and worked as a lifeguard at the YMCA so that he could train for free in their gym. He’d been studying towards his Masters in Classics (Classics!) for the past several years and was only a few credits short. The last thing she heard before Joe knocked her out of her trance was Jamie telling the interviewer, “This is my chance, and I hope to make the most of it and help this team win some ball games while I’m here.”

“Hey, LJ, you should read this book I just finished. It’s really good. If you know what I mean,” Joe teased, showing her his latest Harlequin romance.

“I think I’m really going to pay attention to the game tonight,” Claire answered. “You know they’re in second place, and the next four games are against the Nationals, who are in first. John Grey’s pitching, and he’s been amazing this year. It should be a great game.”

“Suit yourself,” he shrugged, “I’ll be here playing some Candy Crush. You tell me if anyone gets hurt.”

Claire settled onto the sofa to watch the game and felt the flutter of butterflies in her stomach each time the ball was hit to first base. But Jamie played each ball hit to him perfectly.

When it was time for his first at-bat, the announcers talked about his recent slump, and how he hadn’t had a hit in his last 15 games in the minors. She held her breath once he stepped into the batter’s box and felt a tug on her heart when he struck out on only three pitches. “Damnit,” she muttered under her breath.

Joe looked up. “What’s that, Lady Jane?”

“Nothing.”

Jamie’s next at-bat came in the fourth inning. The game was tied 1-1, and the Mets had two runners on base. The butterflies in her belly were flapping wildly at that point, but they quieted when the camera captured the look of confidence and determination on his face. You can do this, Jamie.

He swung on the first pitch, and hit a liner to the corner in right field. One runner scored, and then another. Jamie pulled into second base, with a smile that could end wars. She leapt off the sofa while clapping her hands and biting her tongue to keep from screaming in excitement.

Joe looked at her curiously. “What’s gotten into you today?”

“It’s just an exciting game. That’s all,” she said sheepishly, smoothing her skirt as she sat back down.

Glancing at the TV in the exam room while tending to the sprained ankle of a player from the opposing team, she got to see Jamie hit a single in his next plate appearance. It took a great deal of effort to tone down her beaming grin.

In the next inning, the in-game reporter held an interview with Jamie’s family, the godfather and aunt he said were coming from North Carolina. The bushy-bearded man was clearly uncomfortable being on camera, but his love for his godson shone through with the glimmer in his eyes as he said, “We’re just so proud o’ the lad.”

Claire was safely ensconced on the couch in time for Jamie’s last at-bat in the bottom of the eighth. The Mets were winning 3-1, but an additional run would give them an extra cushion heading into the final inning. She cringed as he swung and missed at two terrible pitches. She found herself gripping the arms of the sofa as he waited for the third pitch. She heard the crack of the bat and saw the ball leave the stadium like a laser. Her breath hitched as she jumped up, arms raised above her head. On the screen, Jamie was rounding the bases, pumping his arm in the air, looking up at the 35,000 fans who were on their feet cheering for their newest hero.

Claire chose to ignore Joe’s baffled look and his warning that he was going to “find out exactly what’s going on here before the night is through.”

She laughed when Jamie crossed home plate, got back to the dugout, and was roundly ignored by his teammates. It was one of those weirdly funny baseball traditions, where a player got the silent treatment for a few moments after his first major league home run. Jamie’s smile, now broad enough to cure disease and power major cities, was plastered on his face as his teammates, done with the silent treatment, swarmed him with back slaps and high fives. She realized that Jamie likely knew a lot of these players already, having been in the minor leagues for so many years. And they were clearly thrilled for his long-awaited success.

The Mets won the ball game 4-1, and Jamie was responsible for driving in three of those runs. It was a spectacular debut, and the fans remained in the stands to see him give the post-game, on-field interview, chanting “Red, Red, Red!” so loudly that she could feel the stadium vibrating from the medical suite’s basement location. She heard him say that the night was his childhood dream come true, and she had to wipe away the tear that had leaked from the corner of her eye.

A few minutes later, the team trainer called, asking her to come down to the treatment room to have a look at a player with some muscle tightness. As she headed down the hallway, she heard hooting coming from the clubhouse. She glanced through the open door as she walked by and saw Jamie, shirtless and being pushed in a laundry cart by his beer-drinking teammates, who were dousing him in ketchup, mustard, shaving cream, and raw eggs. Boys will be boys. Suddenly, she was aware of the fact that she was rooted firmly in place and staring. She was about to start walking again when his eyes raised and met hers. She was powerless to move under his gaze. The edge of his mouth quirked and then he slowly closed his eyes, giving her the world’s strangest and yet most enchanting quasi-wink.

The moment came to an abrupt end as a player came through the door and slammed it shut. Claire stood there, unmoving, and came to the sinking realization that she had completely forgotten about her ground rules. For the past four hours, her every breath had hinged upon Jamie’s actions and words. She was captivated by this man, and she didn’t know what she was going to do about it.

Chapter Text

Jamie arrived at the stadium early, as had always been his habit on game days, and found a copy of that day’s New York Post sitting on the chair in front of his locker.

RED HOT: Rookie Phenom Fraser Leads Mets to Victory With Homer in 3rd Straight Game,” blared the headline. It was centered over a picture of him sprinting out of the batter’s box, his eyes angled upwards as he followed the trajectory of the ball he had hit over the right field wall. Even though he was alone in the clubhouse, he felt a deep red crimson spread quickly from his cheeks to the tips of his ears, and he shook his head incredulously.

After changing into his workout clothes, Jamie stood from his seat and looked at the crisp white jersey with blue pinstripes hanging from a hook in the locker. On the back of the jersey, the capital letters of his last name curved above his number, 44. He had always chosen to wear it in remembrance of his mother Ellen, whose birthday was April 4. Oh, mam. What would she have made of all this?

Jamie himself didn’t know what to make of this. He knew he had been mentally ready for the challenge of the majors. But to suddenly be playing the best baseball of his life? Where was this coming from? It felt as if his performance was being driven by something stronger and larger than himself that he had no control over. It was both exciting and terrifying, and he hoped to God he could maintain it.

If he were honest with himself, though, he’d have to admit that something other than baseball had been dominating his mind these past days. There was one insistent, exhilarating thought buzzing in his ear, eclipsing all else. One word that made him feel more alive than he ever had before, that conjured light, and peace, and possibility.

Claire.

He hadn’t seen her since that first day, but he hadn’t stopped thinking of her. He knew he needed to speak with her, to sense her again. Propelled by these thoughts, he found himself walking out of the clubhouse and down the hall towards the medical suite, though God only knew what excuse he’d have for going there.

Jamie’s musings were rudely interrupted by a blow that took his breath away. A searing pain quickly radiated from his left shoulder down to his fingers. He pivoted around and found himself facing Stephen Bonnet, the second baseman, looking back at him wide eyed. “What the fuck, man?” he spat out.

“Did I hurt you, Red? Sorry about that,” Bonnet said nonchalantly, shrugging and continuing down the hallway to the clubhouse. Jamie massaged his shoulder to lessen the sting, staring bitterly at the second baseman’s retreating form.

“I’ll thank ye to keep yer hands off of me, Bonnet,” he growled down the echoey hall, but his words fell on deaf ears. Jamie wasn’t one to have a beef with a teammate, but something about that guy rubbed him the wrong way. It occurred to him, though, that Bonnet just provided him with a perfectly valid reason to visit the doctor, so maybe he wouldn’t hold a grudge this time.

He made it three more steps before hearing “Jamie! Jamie, wait!” from behind him. He sighed in exasperation and turned to see Gillian rushing to catch up with him, newspaper clutched in one hand, and an iPad in the other. “Did you see the Post? Another back cover! New York loves you.”

“Aye, I saw it,” he said, grinning in spite of the fact that he wanted nothing more at that moment than to keep on walking. “What can I do for ye, Gillian? I was on my way to--”

“Just a few things! I’ll make this quick.” She looked down at her tablet and started scrolling. “OK, first off--and don’t take this personally--members of the media have asked that you speak more clearly. They’re having a hard time understanding your accent.”

Jamie scoffed at this, but it was nothing that he hadn’t heard before. “Fine. All right. I suppose I can try harder to sound less Scottish. Next?”

“You’ve got a fan group, Jamie. They formed on Twitter and are coming to cheer you on tonight. They’ll be sitting on the first base line and they’re planning on wearing kilts and red wigs. And the best part? They’re calling themselves The Red Army.” At this, Gillian burst into laughter. Jamie tilted his head back and groaned.

“I know you hate the nickname, but just go with it,” Geillis pleaded. “We have them coming in early to talk to the media. Could you meet them on the field in half an hour for some photos and autographs?”

He glanced down at his watch, while the fingers of his opposite hand thrummed along his thigh. “How about in 45 minutes?”

“Great. And last thing--ESPN wants to interview you after the game. You know you have the chance to make history tonight, right? If you hit another homer, you tie the record for home runs in consecutive games by a rookie starting his career.”

“Och, dinna tell me that,” he said, chuckling while walking backwards, eager to get where he was going. “I’ll see you in a bit, Gillian.”

He turned a corner and finally made it to his destination, eagerly pushing open the door and hoping to find Claire within.

As Jamie entered, a tall man emerged from a side office and asked, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, hi. I’m Jamie Fraser.” The two shook hands as Jamie stole a stealthy glance towards Claire’s office, finding a darkened, seemingly empty room. Damnit. Perhaps she’s not in today?

“Oh right, you’re the rookie who’s tearing up this place! It’s nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Joe Abernathy. I know you’ve been in here the past few days to have your heart rate checked, but I saw your file earlier, and it looks like you no longer need to have that monitored.”

“Aye, thankfully my heart rate’s fine, but I’m having a shoulder issue that I was hoping someone could look at. You, uh -- you seem to be headed somewhere. Maybe Claire could examine me?” he asked, clearing his throat.

Joe’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Claire? I believe you mean Dr. Beauchamp?”

Jamie inhaled sharply, realizing his error. “Aye, of course. Dr. Beauchamp. I apologize, truly. She had said I could call her--” he stopped abruptly at the sound of heels clicking down the hallway. The door opened and Claire rushed in, walking and talking at breakneck speed.

“Joe! I’m so sorry I’m late. I had a surgery at the hospital this morning that took longer than anticipated, and then of course they closed a lane on the bridge so traffic was out of control. Did you get my text? I wrote a little while ago to let you know I wasn’t going to be here on time.”

“No problem, Dr. Beauchamp,” he said pointedly. “You managed to make it right on time. I’m off to my meeting, and you have a patient waiting to see you.” With that, he nodded in Jamie’s direction and walked out of the suite before Claire could say a word in response.

It was clear that Claire hadn’t noticed Jamie was in the room until that moment, and at the sight of him, her eyes sparkled briefly. Then she shook her head slightly, as if to rid her mind of an unwanted thought, and jutted out her chin. She took a deep breath, and asked, “How can I help you, Jamie? Are you feeling OK?”

He was so taken by the sight of her, it took him a few seconds to respond. Christ she was lovely, with her voluminous hair and her skin the color of pearl, save for cheeks that were flushed the rosiest pink.

“Weel, erm, my left shoulder’s bothering me a wee bit,” he explained. “It’s just a touch of soreness, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have someone take a look.” He tried his best to make eye contact with her. She, however, seemed determined to focus on the wall behind him.

“All right. Let’s go into my office then.” She turned on her heel with a huff and made her way into the room on the right, Jamie following a step behind her.

Claire flicked the light switch, put her bag down on the desk, and walked to the sink to wash her hands. “Tell me when the pain started. Are you noticing any popping or clicking noises when you use the arm?”

“No, there’s no noises. And I really only started feelin’ it this morning. Not too long ago, in fact,” Jamie answered, feeling a twinge of guilt that he wasn’t being completely upfront about the cause of his pain, which at that point had faded to only the slightest ache.

He watched as Claire approached him to begin the exam, her curves and long legs accentuated by her figure-hugging olive green skirt. When she was only steps away from him, he saw her falter and start to sink downwards, making a quiet squeaking noise as she went. He quickly moved to close the distance between them, bending to grab her by the hips and lift her up before she hit the ground.

“Are ye OK, Claire?” he asked, concern etched across his face. He looked into her eyes, and, finally, she looked right back into his. He became aware of her arms wrapped around his shoulders, and of his own hands that were still resting on her hips. If a person were to walk in then, they’d look like a pair about to begin a slow dance.

Claire looked up at him, and he saw her resolve fall, as surely as she had nearly fallen a moment earlier. She straightened, stepped back, and slowly lowered her arms. No longer jutting her chin, her face relaxed into a kind but embarrassed smile. “Thank you for catching me, Jamie. I should know better than to wear these shoes when I’m such a klutz,” she said, gesturing to her bronze colored heels.

“It isna any bother, lass. I’m just glad I was able to grab ye before ye hit the floor,” Jamie said, returning her shy smile with a lopsided one of his own. He walked over to the exam table and took a seat on its edge before the awkwardness became too crushing.

“So. Where were we?” Claire exhaled noticeably as she opened the laptop on the long counter at the side of the room. “You said you have shoulder pain that started this morning, which isn’t necessarily unusual given the power hitting you’ve been doing. I saw you make a nice leaping catch on a line drive, too. You might have hyperextended a bit.”

“So, ye’ve been watchin’ the games then? Even when ye’re no’ on the job?” Jamie asked hopefully.

He caught the smallest hint of a smile on her face before she turned her head towards the screen and began pecking at the keyboard. “I may have caught bits here and there,” she admitted quietly.

Done typing, Claire strode to the center of the room, her gaze fixed on Jamie, and said, “Take off your shirt. I want to look at you.”

Jamie’s eyes widened as a beat passed, and then another. Claire finally spluttered, “Your shoulder! I meant I want to look at your shoulder.”

“Och, I see,” he said, nodding. She rubbed her hands on her skirt nervously, and he felt a flash of delight at the sight of it.

Jamie stood from the table, reached for the hem of his Mets-emblazoned training shirt, and lifted it over his head.

“Did that bother your shoulder? Lifting your shirt off?” She was looking very intently and steadily at his shoulder, eyes careful not to stray from their focus.

“Erm, doing that didna bother me,” he said, understanding that it was time to come clean. He wasn’t sure that he was capable of lying to this woman. “To be honest, this isna a playing injury. Bonnet slammed me hard on the shoulder today. He probably thought he was being funny. But it hurt like hell and . . . “ he trailed off, realizing he probably sounded ridiculous.

He saw her eyebrows furrow together in irritation. “You mean to tell me that you risked your career by engaging in horseplay with your teammate? What were you thinking?”

Why did he find her even more alluring when she was scolding him?

“No, it wasna like that. He just hit me out of nowhere as I was walking by,” Jamie said in mild protest.

Claire tilted her head to the side, considering. “I can see him doing that, actually,” she said eventually, with a roll of her eyes.

She turned her focus back to his shoulder, and gave him a series of instructions, helping manipulate his body into each position. “OK, hold your arm straight in front of you, and now bend your elbow outwards.” She was standing to his left, her cool hands moving deliberately but delicately from his shoulder to his elbow, leaving whispers of sensation in their wake.

“Now move your arm parallel to the ground, and bend your elbow to form a right angle, hand towards the ceiling.” He was intoxicated from the closeness of her, and at the feel of her fingers brushing his skin.

“Bend your arm here, and place your hand on your abdomen.” He had to bite his lip to keep from moaning when her hand covered his and pressed on his stomach.

Through a fog, he heard her explain that she would be placing one hand on his acromion, and another around the humeral head of the shoulder joint. When she applied pressure on one while squeezing the other, his breath became ragged, and he was sure he detected a shudder in her own breath as well.

“How does this feel? Does this hurt?” she asked in a low, soothing tone. But none of it hurt. Jamie could feel no pain while Claire’s hands were touching him.

“Nah,” he answered, when she indicated that she had finished the exam. “Everything feels fine.”

“I think you’re going to be fit to play, then. Your discomfort is minimal, your range of motion is good. The joint isn’t making any cracking or popping sounds. I would recommend that you stay away from the weight room today, but other than that, you are good to go.” Her hand was still resting on his shoulder when she spoke, and as she stepped back, her finger grazed his bicep. He struggled to contain the shivers that threatened to erupt on his skin before she pulled away completely.

Jamie watched Claire return to the laptop and sit down on an adjacent high stool, her eyes downcast as she typed in notes. He knew that he needed to find some way to prolong this. He’d been thinking of her for days and couldn’t leave until he had learned more about her. He dove in. “So, I was wondering, Claire, where do you--”

“How are you handling all of this, Ja-”

They looked at each other and laughed before Jamie gestured towards her with a flourish and said, “Ladies first.”

“Why, thank you very much,” she said, still grinning as she lowered her head with an exaggerated bow in his direction. “I was just going to ask how you’re handling everything. I know it’s only been a few days, but all of the fan attention, the interviews, the newspaper covers . . . it’s a lot. Not everyone can handle the New York media.”

“Ye’re right, it is a lot. It can feel overwhelming. But this is what I always wanted. Playing at this level is the dream that I gave up everything for. My home, my family.” He stood and ran his hands through his hair as he walked closer to Claire’s desk, peering at a print of Citi Field by night hanging behind it.

“I left my family home in the Highlands when I was 12 to move to Edinburgh. For baseball, ye ken. And then at 16, I moved to the U.S. so that I could play competitively. Luckily, my godfather has been wi’ me since I left home, but I havena lived in Scotland or seen my Da regularly in all that time. So getting to be here now, after so many years . . . in this stadium, playing under the lights,” he gestured at the framed photograph on the wall, ”and doin’ somethin’ that brings people to their feet? Doin’ somethin’ that contributes to the team? It makes it all worth it. So, nah. I dinna mind the attention o’ermuch.”

He turned to face Claire, quirked his eyebrows and said, “I s’pose I can only hope for the chance to be here long enough to get annoyed by it.”

“That’s quite the amazing story, Jamie,” she said, looking at him with shining eyes. She stood up and walked nearer to him.

“And what’s your story, Sassenach?” he asked.

“Well, I spent most of my childhood--” she stopped then, looking down at her desk when her phone buzzed with an incoming text.

“Oh! Oh Jamie, you’re in trouble.” She picked up her phone, swiped to open the message, and held it up for him to read.

“IS FRASER WITH YOU? IF HE IS, TELL HIM HE NEEDS TO MEET ME ON THE FIELD NOW!” They could practically hear Gillian screaming the words.

Jamie looked at his watch and hissed in frustration. “Christ! The meeting with Gillian. I forgot. I meant to be there fifteen minutes ago.”

“Again? You’re making a habit of this,” Claire teased.

“Aye, apparently I am,” he said with a lingering smile. “Thank ye for checking out my shoulder. Ye’ve got a gentle touch, Claire.”

“Just doing my job,” she replied with a shrug. “I’m glad that you’re not actually injured. But be careful, especially around Bonnet.” Her phone buzzed again. “Jamie, Gillian is going to kill you. Go!”

“OK, OK, I’m leaving. I really do hope to see you again soon, Claire.” He gave her one last meaningful look before turning and leaving her office, feeling both elated from the time spent in her presence, and bitter from being deprived of more.

*******************

After an exhausting week of consultations, surgeries, and working three games at the stadium, Claire was thrilled to spend Friday night at home with her hair up, comfortable in her oldest, softest t-shirt and a pair of leggings. She had the baseball game on the TV and a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table. The makings of a perfect evening.

As tiring as it was, it had been a good week. She loved her work at the hospital, and was thrilled to learn from her esteemed colleagues while treating all types of athletes, from high school goalies to professional linebackers. She felt her skills as a doctor growing with every day on the job.

For the first time in a long time, everything seemed to be going right in her world. And at the top of the list was her growing friendship with Jamie.

She had deleted her ridiculous list of ground rules once she realized that it wouldn’t be necessary. She was perfectly capable of maintaining a platonic friendship with him, despite what her friends were telling her.

Gillian had been ribbing her mercilessly from day one. “When I walked in, the air in your office was so saturated with sexual tension between you two, I could hardly take a breath. What are you going to do about it?” And Gillian couldn’t help but taunt her after hearing Jamie call her Sassenach. “The word itself just means an English person or an outlander, but the way he said it, Claire! I’m telling you. The man loves you!” Claire narrowed her eyes and shook her head, threatening her friend to “stop it, you little witch.”

Frankly, Joe wasn’t much better. “You told him to call you by your first name? I remember you saying on your graduation day that you had worked so hard for this, you were going to make everyone, including your cat, call you Dr. Beauchamp. I never thought I’d hear you let a patient call you Claire. Now why don’t you tell me what’s going on between the two of you?” When she protested that they hit it off just as friends, and that she’d clearly never date a player on the team, he reminded her that her fellowship would end in November, adding, “I’ll bet your handsome Red Jamie would be happy to wait until then. I saw the way he looked at you, LJ.” She’d laughed it off and punched him on the shoulder for good measure.

Because the truth was that Jamie was just a friend. A friend who sometimes took her breath away, but just a friend.

After the day that Claire had examined his shoulder, she’d wound up working the next three games, filling in for a sick colleague. She had run into Jamie when they’d both arrived at the stadium’s employee entrance at the same time on that first day. He invited her to join him for lunch in the players’ cafeteria, and as her schedule was light, she agreed.

They spent an entire hour immersed in conversation, the tension and hesitancy that previously existed between them somewhat eased. He insisted that she tell him about her family, and listened with attention and compassion as she spoke of her parents’ early death when she was only five years old, reaching out and offering her a slight squeeze with his large, warm hand when her eyes filled momentarily. She told him about living around the world with her uncle, the roving anthropologist, and he was intrigued by her tales of digging for antiquities while other children her age were playing on swings and slides. She wasn’t a natural storyteller like he was, but she found him hanging on her every word.

They met again for lunch the next day, and the day after that.

Jamie spoke of his childhood home, shared his parents’ astonishing love story, and told her about the epic fights he used to have with his sister, Jenny. He spoke of the immense grief that hit his family two years in a row, first losing his brother Willie to a seizure, and then his mother, Ellen, to cancer a year later. Claire’s heart tore to see the pain in his eyes, and she reached out a hand to comfort him as he had done for her when she shared her own losses.

They talked about their favorite foods, movies, travels, and books. Jamie spoke about his injuries; Claire talked about medical school. They spoke about almost everything.

Claire noticed Jamie running his hands across the copper scruff on his chin and asked him about it. He told her he wouldn’t be shaving as long as his hitting streak continued, so as not to jinx it. “I may be an educated man, but I still have my superstitions, aye.”

Jamie mentioned that his father and sister would be flying in to see him play next week, joining him at the end of the upcoming road trip to DC, and then continuing up to New York for a few games in Queens. “I hope they’ll have the chance to meet ye, Claire,” he had said.

“I’d like that, Jamie,” she answered.

When he told her that he would be moving into an apartment in Long Island City that week, it suddenly hit Claire. “You made it, Jamie. You’re a major leaguer. They’re not sending you back to the minors. You really did it.” She couldn’t help but beam at him, feeling thoroughly proud of her new friend.

Yes, what they had was a friendship, and there was nothing wrong with that.

He was on the screen before her, stepping up to the plate. The announcers were praising what he had accomplished since being called up. He had set a new major league record by hitting a home run in each of his first five games, and had a nine-game hitting streak going. More than the numbers, though, it was the energy he brought to the team that made him such a phenomenon. He played with such unbridled joy, you couldn’t help but cheer for him.

Jamie smacked a line drive into right field for a double, driving in a run. She shouted “GO, JAMIE!” so loudly that she woke up her cat, quietly apologizing, “Sorry, Fezzie,” afterwards. The cameraman panned to the group of zealous fans calling themselves The Red Army high-fiving each other while wearing their Fraser jerseys with kilts and the most ridiculous curly red wigs. And was that a bagpiper she saw in the crowd?

Sometime in the next inning, her phone rang, and she saw that it was Gillian calling.

“Hi, Gill.”

“Hey friend. Let me guess; you’re watching the game,” Gillian said with a mischievous giggle.

“Why wouldn't I be? I’m a baseball fan.” Here she goes again.

“No comment, love. Listen, I’m actually not calling to harass you, fun as it is. I wanted to know what you’re wearing tomorrow night.”

Claire paused and wracked her brain. “What’s tomorrow night?”

“Remember when I pressured you into buying a ticket to the Mets Foundation Gala last month? Well, the event’s tomorrow.” Claire could hear the clanging of hangers; Gill must have been in her closet searching for an outfit herself.

“Christ, I had totally forgotten.” She got up to go through a stack of papers on her desk, and found what she was looking for. “Ok, I haven’t lost the ticket at least. Seven p.m. at the New York Public Library. What should I wear? You’re so much better at this than me.”

“Something formal, but at least a little bit sexy,” Gillian purred.

Claire snorted as she sat back down on the couch. “You always think I should wear something sexy. Who’s going to be there, anyway? Team executives? Business people?”

“Yes to both of those. And fans. And players.” She dragged out the word for dramatic effect.

“Players?” Claire nearly choked on the water she had just sipped.

“Of course, how do you think they raise all that money? People buy tickets to these things so they can mingle with the players. And you better believe that your wee fox cub is going to be there. He’s going to be the big draw of the night.”

Suddenly Claire was feeling flushed. “First of all, I’ve told you how many times that he’s not mine. And second of all, he is not a wee fox cub.”

“You’re right. I’m not so sure that anything about him is wee. See you tomorrow night at seven, hon.”

Claire hung up and tossed her phone on the sofa in irritation, narrowly missing Fez. What the hell was she going to wear to this thing? And why did Gillian have to be such a bloody brat? While mentally cataloguing her wardrobe, she looked up at the TV and saw Jamie smiling directly into the camera, seemingly right at her, with his kind blue eyes shimmering and the cinnamon-gold of his beard glinting under the lights. With a sudden epiphany, she knew exactly which dress she would wear to the gala. She broke into a dreamy grin at the thought of a fancy night out, the kind she hadn’t had for a long while. She laid back on the couch with one arm behind her head, closed her eyes and, as she fell asleep, saw herself floating among the vaulted columns of a grand room in the arms of a giant, rugged, ginger-haired man. Her friend. Jamie.

 

Chapter Text

Hair piled on top of her head, with tendrils falling around her ears, whispering against her neck. Eyes lined and lids shimmering in hints of rose-copper. Gold and diamond earrings that dropped elegantly from her lobes. Velvet dress in a luminous cinnamon blush that skimmed along the lines of her body, the deep vee of the neckline reaching almost to her navel, skating along the curve of her teardrop breasts.

Claire turned and looked over her shoulder at the mirror. The back of the dress plunged even deeper than the front, revealing an unblemished canvas of ivory skin. The velvet fabric hugged her waist and her arse in exactly the right ways. She felt sexy, and that was something she hadn’t felt for a very long time. 

She finished applying her lipstick, remembering when she had tried this dress on for Frank, eager to show him what she planned on wearing to his colleague’s wedding. He had taken one look and told her that he’d be embarrassed to be seen with her in front of his friends from the university. She had hoped to reignite some passion between them, but instead he had lectured her, saying that the dress was far too revealing and provocative. Too right , she thought with a smirk, glancing at herself in the mirror one last time. What will Jamie think of it? The thought had come to her unbidden, and she immediately willed it back to the recesses of her subconscious. What does it matter anyway, Beauchamp?

“All right then,” she said to an uninterested Fez. “Time to see what the night ahead holds in store.” She grabbed her phone and clutch, and headed out the door of her apartment.

Twenty minutes later, Claire alighted from an Uber in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library. She walked up the steps of the majestic, century-old building feeling confident and desirable as the summer breeze met her exposed skin—far more than she was used to having on display. As she passed the threshold into Astor Hall, her senses were enveloped in sound and color; the buoyant buzzing of the arriving crowd, the elegant flowers and candelabras that filled the white marble room, and the tones of the jazz band playing standards on the stage to the right of the entryway. 

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Claire spun around at the sound of Gillian’s voice to find her grinning like a Cheshire cat. “For once you took my advice! You look incredible. More than incredible. Just wait until Jai—”

“Gill, show me to the bar,” Claire said, quickly tucking her arm under Gillian’s elbow and cutting her off before she had the chance to say another word. Gillian quirked her brow as she snagged two flutes of champagne from a passing waiter and handed one to Claire. “Now this is a good way to start the evening. Here’s to letting go and to having a great night. Cheers!”

“I’ll drink to that,” Claire said, clinking her glass with Gill’s before taking a sip. Her eyes scanned the room, taking in the sight of the glammed-up crowd, and trying not to be too obvious that she was looking for one person in particular. It didn’t work.

“He’s not here yet,” Gillian snickered as Claire opened her mouth to defend herself. “And don’t try to tell me you don’t know who I mean.”

Claire took another, longer sip of her champagne and narrowed her eyes at her friend over the glass. “Fine then. Shall we mingle?” She turned, but before she could take a step, she saw him.

Jamie entered the room with the resplendent air of a Highland warrior from centuries gone by. Her eyes were immediately drawn to his kilt— his kilt!— in a tartan of bluish grays, browns, and yellows, drawn together with thin red stripes. His auburn locks curled to the collar of his white dress shirt, the fabric fitted snugly over his broad shoulders and biceps, and worn under a fitted gray waistcoat. To complete the look, he wore a pair of black, laced-up combat boots with socks that peeked out over the top.

For the first time in her life, she truly understood the meaning of the word breathtaking. He was breathtaking . She was incapable of inhaling or exhaling, and felt a first hint of dizziness before she finally recaptured her breath at the touch of Gillian’s hand on her forearm.

“Claire, dear. You’re spilling.”

She looked down to see that she had been holding her champagne flute askew, allowing a trickle of bubbly to make its way down the glass and to the floor, thankfully keeping clear of her dress. “Oh,” she said vacantly, then looked up again to see Jamie, who was now talking to John Grey just inside the entrance to the hall. 

Gillian glanced from Claire to the object of her gaze and took the flute from her hand. “I’m going to go find some napkins, but when I come back, I expect you to be talking to him, ” she whispered over her shoulder as she walked away.

Claire couldn’t tear her eyes from Jamie. He was now walking with John towards the Duncan brothers, the team owners, who were extending their hands to greet their two star players. As eager as she was to talk to him, she also would have been happy to stand at a distance and just observe him—his brilliant smile, easy confidence, and the graceful way he moved his towering frame—for the entire evening. 

“Dr. Beauchamp, you are looking exceptionally attractive tonight.” Cl aire startled at the voice in her ear, and at the smell of cigarettes and hard liquor that accompanied it. “What are you looking at over there? Is there someone who’s caught your eye?”

Stephen Bonnet was in her personal space, as he so often was, and making her feel uncomfortable. His voice oozed charm, but underneath there was something disingenuous about him. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, but she always felt the need to be on her guard whenever he was around. 

“I’m just admiring the wonderful job they did in putting this event together,” Claire answered in as neutral a voice as possible, fixing her eyes on a nearby floral display. She hoped he’d pick up on how disinterested she was and leave her alone.

“I thought you were checking out my friend Red over there, but I guess I was wrong.” Stephen moved closer to her, and Claire automatically took a step back. She truly didn’t want to cause a scene, and discreetly looked around for the best way to make a safe and quick exit. Wasn’t Gillian supposed to be coming back?

“Can you please not stand so close to me?” She kept her voice polite even as anger flooded her body with heat.

“What’s the matter, Doctor? I’m just trying to have a friendly conversation,” Stephen said, stepping even closer and placing his cold, bony hand on her shoulder. 

At his touch, she snapped. “Get off of me, Bonnet! Go fuck yourself!” Claire spat out, nostrils flaring.  She quickly pushed past Stephen and saw a flash of red and plaid coming from the opposite direction. 

Jamie grabbed Stephen’s elbow and growled, “I’m no’ going to punch ye right now because I dinna want to give ye the satisfaction of getting me suspended from the team. But I best not see ye touchin’ a woman who clearly doesna want to be touched, not ever again. Stop drinking and get out of here.” He shoved Stephen away without letting him say a word in response, and turned quickly to Claire, who had been watching in a haze of adrenaline.

“Are ye all right, Claire?” Jamie asked, the worry for her written on his face. He put his arm around her shoulders and led her to a high-top table in a far corner of the room, depositing her into a seat. “Did Bonnet hurt ye?”

“I’m all right. Just angry and a little rattled.” She closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her breath. Jamie was running his fingers in a circle over the center of her exposed back.

“I promise he willna come near ye again, Sassenach, if ye dinna want him to. I dinna trust the man. Has he tried anything like that wi’ ye before?” 

“He’s always struck me as unpleasant and. . . not to be trusted. But, no, he’s never hit on me or tried to touch me before.” Jamie’s hand was still on her back, no longer circling, but just there; warm, comforting, and protective. She looked up at him gratefully and said, “I’m ok now. Thank you for stepping in.”

“You never have to thank me for anything, Claire. Besides, it looked like you had him sorted before I even got there,” he said, smiling, before turning more serious. “If you decide to file a complaint with the team, ye can count on me as a witness.”

It was something she hadn’t thought about yet, but she knew that she likely would wind up following through on it. “Thanks, I might. But I want to put this behind me for tonight and just try to enjoy myself.” 

“All right then. Let’s enjoy ourselves.” His hand drifted down her back, as his eyes drifted from her face to her neck, and then down the front of her dress, unconsciously seeking the end of the pearly skin. She traced the path of his eyes with her own, and thought she saw a flicker of desire before he tore them away from her figure, turning his head to survey the room. 

“Would ye mind staying put here for a wee bit?” he asked. “I’ll be right back. Dinna go anywhere.”

Jamie walked off and disappeared into the crowd in the great room, leaving her guessing as to what he was planning. She still felt the warm imprint of his hand where it had been resting on her skin, and she was once again struck by how kind and gentle this giant of a man was. There was probably no one else in the world who could have helped her regain her composure as quickly as he had just then. 

“Hello to the good doctor! How are you this fine evening?”

People seemed to be making a habit of disrupting her thoughts. Luckily, this time it was John Grey, who couldn’t be more different than Stephen Bonnet. She had treated John quite a bit during her tenure with the team as he was a pitcher who was prone to overworking his shoulder. They had developed a congenial and comfortable rapport. 

“Hi John. It’s good to see you outside of the stadium.”

“Likewise. Uh, was Jamie just here? I thought I saw him with you. We were talking to the Duncans when he suddenly ran this way. It looked like something was going on with Bonnet?” he inquired while sitting down on the bar stool opposite Claire. 

“Yes, he was here a minute ago, but he said he’ll be back shortly. And everything is fine now, it’s just—” she paused, feeling somewhat flustered, but continued on, “it’s just that he saw Stephen making an unwanted pass at me so he—”

“Ah, the hero at work again,” he said with a knowing laugh. “Classic Fraser. Let me guess, he warned Bonnet in his best Scottish Batman voice that he’d better stay away from you.”

Claire’s heart plummeted to her stomach. So, Jamie did this all the time. He didn’t come to her aid because of any special feelings he had for her. No, he did it because he was a bloody hero. What a fool she was!

“Yes. It was something like that,” she managed to choke out. “He really seems to be quite the upstanding citizen.” 

“Oh, he is. Jamie Fraser’s the most honorable person I’ve ever met. We met playing Double A ball in Binghamton and have stayed close ever since.” John spoke of Jamie with a look of wistful reverence on his face. 

“Grey, do I hear you telling Dr. Beauchamp all of my secrets?” The man in question had appeared—seemingly from nowhere—carrying a large tray with several plates full of food and two tumblers of whisky, which he promptly set down on the table while sliding into the seat next to Claire’s. Turning to her, he said, “I ran off to the kitchen to gather up something for us to eat instead of waiting for the waiters to come around with their wee snacks.”

“This is perfect! I’m famished,” Claire said, hungrily eyeing the plates piled high with appetizers.

“I also grabbed us each a dram,” Jamie said, holding a glass out to her with a grin. “We have a day game tomorrow, so I’ll limit myself to just the one.”

“I’m actually working at the hospital tomorrow at 8. So one will do it for me, too.” She clinked her glass against his and toasted “Cheers!” while Jamie replied, “Slainte!”

John cleared his throat loudly to get their attention, but the couple seemed to have forgotten that he was there. Rolling his eyes, he stood up from the table and said, “Well, I suppose I’ll head to the bar and get my own whisky then.”

“Sorry, mo charaid !” Jamie called after his friend. “I didna know ye were here or I would’ve gotten another!”

They looked at each other and burst into giggles. 

“Oops,” said Jamie with a shrug as he popped a shrimp into his mouth.

And just like that, Claire was enchanted again, despite the sting of disappointment she had felt when thinking of him mere minutes before. He certainly inspired strong emotions in her. 

She could see other players being approached by fans looking for selfies or autographs, and was grateful for the anonymity afforded by the dark and obscured corner where they were seated. 

“This building is really something else, aye?” Jamie asked as he glanced at the massive arched windows above. “It almost feels like a museum or university that ye’d find back home.”

“Well, it’s built in the Beaux Arts style that originated in Paris. So it’s very European. That’s probably why it’s one of my favorite places in the city,” Claire explained. She picked up a spring roll and took a bite. “Mmm, that’s delicious.”

“And what are yer other favorite places?” Jamie asked, leaning closer so that he could hear her above the din of the crowd and the band. “Hmmm. It’s hard to choose. There’s Central Park, of course. Sometimes you can lose yourself there so thoroughly that you completely forget you’re in New York. But my favorite of all is The Cloisters. It’s a museum of medieval art, housed in actual medieval buildings that were transported here from France and Spain. It’s simply . . . magical.”

Claire was leaning so close to Jamie that she could feel the heat emanating from his body without them even touching. But how she longed to touch him.

She had been sipping her whisky as they chatted, and she realized that it was making her lightheaded. Flushing at the thought that the alcohol would make her do something she might regret, she considered putting some space between them. But she found it damn near physically impossible to move her body. Her pull to him was stronger than gravity.

“I like the way ye get excited about things ye love,” Jamie said in a soft voice, so deep and low that she could only hear him because of how near his face was to hers. His aqua eyes, barely an inch away, were flecked with gold from the candlelight, and were trained upon her with longing. Claire breathed in the whisky on his breath when he spoke, and it heightened her intoxication. 

The intensity of his gaze was so overwhelming that she had to avert her eyes for a heartbeat. She had just glanced down at the table and was trying to regain her composure when she heard someone behind her say, “Jamie! Finally! I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

GIllian’s sharp voice hit her like a splash of cold water. She and Jamie practically jumped apart at the sound.

“Oh! Hello, Claire,” Gillian said with a cloyingly sweet voice and a sparkle in her eye. Claire could’ve killed her for the smug grin on her face. “I didn’t see you there, hiding behind Jamie like that. But I was looking for you, too.”

“You were looking for me ?” Claire asked with a touch of agitation. She was still reeling from the heated connection that she and Jamie had just shared, as well as from Gill’s sudden reappearance, which had torn them from it. “You left me an hour ago saying you’d be right back with a napkin.”

“Gillian,” Jamie interjected, awkwardly standing and gesturing to the third seat at the table. “Would ye care to join us?”

“I wish I could, but I can’t. I was supposed to have the night off, but who do you think they called in to put out all the fires that have been springing up? So now I’m in charge of rounding up the players for the VIP meet and greets. Yours is in fifteen minutes, Jamie. It’s just down that way,” Gillian explained as she pointed to the hall on the left, “in the periodicals room. Don’t be late. I mean it this time.”

Jamie glanced at his watch before telling Gillian, “I’ll be there at 9:30 sharp. Ye have my word. How long will I need to be down there?”

“Just half an hour, and then you can get back to the party. Unlike me.” Turning to Claire, she said, “I’m sorry, hon. I know I sold this to you as a girls’ night out, but duty calls. It looks like you’ve got yourself pretty well-situated, though.” And with a playful wink towards her friend, Gillian was off.

Claire shifted uncomfortably in her chair next to Jamie, acutely feeling the loss of the intimacy that had existed between them moments ago. Unsure of how to recapture it, she did what she’d always done when she was feeling emotionally overwhelmed: she looked for an out.

“Well . . .” she began hesitantly, slowly rising from her seat, eyes squarely on the table before her. “I know you need to be somewhere soon. I’m sure you want to spend some time with your teammates before you have to sign autographs, so I’ll just—”

“Ye’re sure? What makes ye so sure of that?” he asked, quickly wrapping his hand around her wrist to keep her from leaving. “Nah, I’d rather spend the rest of my time with you.”

Claire breathed an internal sigh of relief at the words. 

“I was actually wondering if you’d care to dance,” he said.

“To dance?” she asked, lost in his eyes and the memory of her dream from last night, dancing under grand arches in Jamie’s arms. But the reality was that she was not much of a dancer, and she was instantly petrified at the thought of spearing one of Jamie Fraser’s toes with her heels, and landing him on the injured list.

“Well, we are in a ballroom, and there’s a dance floor, and a band.” He stared directly into her eyes as he shrugged and gave her a crooked smile, and there was no way on earth she could say no to that. 

“Ok. Let’s dance then. I hope you’re a good leader,” she said tremulously, her breath shallow with anticipation. 

Jamie put his hand low on her back to lead her away from their table, his fingers sliding down until they found the edge of the fabric. As they walked, the band transitioned from one tune to the next, and Claire stopped short when she heard the opening bars of the song.

It's not the pale moon that excites me

That thrills and delights me

Oh no, it's just the nearness of you

“What is it?” he asked, stopping with her and leaning in to hear her response over the hum of the crowd.

“This is . . . rather this was my Uncle Lamb’s favorite song. He loved standards from the ‘30s and ‘40s. We could be in the middle of a dig in the Mongolian desert, and he’d be singing Hoagy Carmichael to the camels as he worked,” she said, the bittersweet memory clearly playing in her mind.

“Mmphm. Maybe yer uncle is sending a message. Letting ye know he’s watching over ye,” Jamie said, as they continued walking, brushing past couples on the outskirts of the dance floor until they made it to the less crowded middle. Claire wasn’t a particularly spiritual person, but she liked the idea of Lamb’s presence being there tonight. Perhaps he was letting her know that he approved of the gentleman who was making her heart quiver.

They faced each other, and Jamie’s hand rested warmly on her right hip. He held her left hand close against his chest. She slid her fingers up his shoulder-- Christ, he was tall- -until she reached the back of his neck, his curls tickling her wrist. They began the softest, most gentle sway to the music, Jamie guiding her in the pace and direction of their movement. 

It isn't your sweet conversation

That brings this sensation

Oh no, it's just the nearness of you

Jamie bent his head to her ear, his breath immediately sending a wave of goosebumps down her neck and arms. “I didna get to say it earlier, Claire, but you look absolutely beautiful tonight. Truly, ye’re stunning, mo nighean donn .” She didn’t understand his last words, but knew intuitively that they were meaningful to him.

Claire pulled her head back slightly, grazing her check against his stubble. Suppressing a shiver, she told him, “Thank you. You look pretty spectacular yourself. I... like the kilt.” That may have been the understatement of the century.

His mouth broke into a broad smile, and he suddenly raised her hand and spun her around once, before pulling her back in towards his body, tighter and nearer than before. She gasped in surprise and they both laughed breathlessly, Claire reveling in the feeling of weightlessness that was washing over her heart and mind.

When you're in my arms

And I feel you so close to me

All my wildest dreams came true

They continued their dance, and when her laughter subsided, she rested her head against his chest, breathing in his scent--wool, sweat, Tide, and something indescribable that was purely Jamie. She felt him place his chin gently on top of her head, and heard him inhale as he leaned his nose deeper into her hair, taking a sniff of his own. 

This was far better than her dream from the night before. She felt in sync with his body, and graceful in a way she had never felt in her life, wrapped in the strong arms of this magnificent, considerate, worthy man. She wished she could dance with him all night.

I need no soft lights to enchant me

If you will only grant me

The right to hold you ever so tight

And to feel in the night

The nearness of you

As the song came to an end, they moved their bodies ever so slightly apart to look at one another before Jamie reluctantly removed his hand from hers and checked his watch. 

“I wish I didna have to go, but it’s time. Will ye wait for me, Claire? Please? I’ll be back in half an hour. I--I dinna want the night to be over for us just yet.”

Nodding her head, she told him, “I’ll wait for you, Jamie. I’ll be over by the table when you’re done.” She lowered her hand, which she had realized was still resting around the curve of his neck. They departed the dance floor together, Jamie’s hand again finding her lower back, just brushing her bare skin. They walked to the edge of the hall, where he said softly, “I’ll see you soon,” and turned to head to his meeting. 

Claire watched him walk off, and saw that he had only made it three steps before being approached by fans asking him to sign all manner of paraphernalia. She chuckled, thinking that he might once again wind up on the wrong side of Gill’s wrath if he were late.

But once he was out of her vision, her mind started racing. Their evening together had been blissful, but it was also confusing as hell. She could no longer delude herself into believing that they were “just friends.” And she could no longer deny her attraction to him. It was all-consuming, and pulsed through her veins like fire. 

She had good reason to suspect that he felt similarly, from the absorbed way his eyes held hers, to his choosing to spend almost the entire evening with her, to the way she felt . . . certain stirrings coming from beneath his kilt when they were dancing. A thrill shot through her to remember it.

But even if he did want her, she couldn’t have him. She was a doctor. She was, technically, his doctor. She knew that she wasn’t willing to forsake her oath or risk her job, so why was she doing this?

Because it was the most powerful thing she’d ever felt in her life. That was why.

The tears had started to burn before she’d even finished the thought. She had never been drawn to someone with her whole heart and soul the way she was drawn to Jamie. She had never been with someone who elevated her the way that Jamie did. She had never felt this deep, magnetic connection with a single other person in the world. Not until Jamie.

The power of her feelings frightened her, and for a moment she considered walking out of the library and catching a taxi home. But she owed it to Jamie to wait. They needed to have an honest discussion about whatever it was between them, and she could tell him the reasons that a relationship wouldn’t be possible. At least not right now. She hoped, fervently, that he would understand.

Claire tried to distract herself by looking over the silent auction items and listening to the remarks by the President of the Mets Foundation about the work they were doing to support local communities, but her eyes kept drifting across the room to where Jamie had disappeared. 

Shortly after the President’s speech, the catcher, John Myers, stopped to talk to her as she ordered a seltzer from the bar. He insisted on showing her his swollen, blistered finger, which she examined briefly and then told him to visit the med suite first thing the next day.

Claire was surprised to find that the time passed relatively quickly, and that there were only five minutes left before Jamie would be done with his meet and greet. She tried not to reveal her eagerness as she moved nonchalantly back to the table where they had sat earlier.

For the first time that night, she took out her phone, and quickly checked her texts and emails. Her eyes kept drifting to the time and then up to search the room for his face. When Jamie was fifteen minutes late, she figured that he had gotten hung up, so she decided to look at the news to further pass the time.

When he was thirty minutes late, she couldn’t sit still any longer, and decided to walk around the hall, wondering if perhaps he had waited for her at the wrong table. She didn’t see him anywhere. Her stomach became knotted, whether with worry or anger, she wasn’t sure. 

At the one hour mark, she was thoroughly miserable. She remembered that after the game the next afternoon, the team would be leaving for a twelve day road trip. It seemed more and more likely that she wouldn’t get to have the conversation she had hoped to have with Jamie before he left.

After waiting for one hour and fifteen minutes, she decided that what she was feeling most definitely was anger, and enough was enough. There was no way his meeting had gone on this long. Where the devil was he? 

Claire grabbed her clutch and headed for the exit, holding back tears of disappointment while she walked through the now almost-empty hall. As she did, she heard the deep rumble of laughter coming from above. She glanced up and saw that there were a number of people continuing the party on the second floor atrium, among them a group of men, tumblers of amber liquid in hand, standing just next to the balcony. And in the middle of that group, she spotted the unmistakable red mop of Jamie Fraser.

What the hell had happened to “I dinna want the night to be over for us just yet?”

The pent up frustration made her blood boil and she headed to the stairs, ready to give him a piece of her mind. But she could get no farther than the first step, where she was stopped by a security guard. “I’m sorry, ma’am. This is a private party, only for special guests of the Duncans.”

The sound of Jamie’s voice floated down to her, and she looked back up to see him, glass raised in a toast, beaming at the group circled around him. “To a World Series victory!” she heard him say to roars from his new friends.

Claire’s heart dropped, and she turned and dashed out the front door of the library into the now rainy summer night, taking the stairs by two and praying that she wouldn’t fall. Luckily, a vacant cab stopped as soon as she put her hand out at the curb, and she hopped in, instructing the driver to take her to Brooklyn.

As the car pulled away, she looked back at the beautiful building, thinking with disbelief about the fact that only four hours previously, she had sauntered up the steps, feeling like she would own the night ahead of her. Instead, she was borderline harassed by Bonnet and essentially ditched by Gillian. 

And, worst of all, she was forgotten by Jamie. She flushed with a fresh wave of hurt, but she wasn’t going to allow herself to cry for him. After Frank, she had sworn that her days of crying over men were behind her.

In truth, she was almost as furious at herself as she was at Jamie. She had worked so damned hard to rebuild herself after the divorce. She had taken the pieces of her shattered spirit, and reassembled them into the self-possessed, confident woman she was today. 

But all it took was one evening of bliss in the company of the most enchanting man she had ever met, one moment of allowing her heart to open again, to demolish that illusion. 

Who was she? Was she the confident, poised woman she had worked so hard to become? Would she ever be capable of loving and being loved again? Was she destined to always crumble at the slightest hint of abandonment?

As her taxi rambled over the Williamsburg Bridge towards home, she leaned her head back against the seat, trying to make sense of her confused heart. She sat stock still, focusing on her breathing. And when she shut her eyes and listened closely she could hear—beyond the pulsing anger, past the throbbing ache—the faint but insistent drum of his name.



Chapter Text

Jamie stepped into the batter’s box, readied his bat in the air, and peered at the pitcher facing him from sixty feet, six inches away. He awaited the pitch, rear elbow up and knees bent. It was the top of the ninth inning, his team was down by one run, and there was a runner on second base with two outs. He could tie the game with a long single. He could give his team the lead with a home run.

He willed his mind to be clear, his body to align itself, and his entire being to focus on the fastball flying towards him at ninety-nine miles per hour. But as the pitch whizzed past him, he froze. The ball soared by for strike three, ending the game. Nationals 3, Mets 2.

Once again, he had been unable to put the pieces together, unable to make contact between ball and bat, unable to get a damned hit. Once again, instead of seeing the baseball, he saw orbs of golden caramel glinting in candlelight and laughing eyes framed by long lashes. He saw flashes of her, and he was completely immobilized, incapable of doing anything.

“Ifrinn!” he shouted, whirling away from home plate. He tossed his bat to the ground before snatching his helmet off his head and slamming it into the dugout, narrowly missing the bat boy. None of his teammates talked to him as he made his way through the visitors’ clubhouse and towards the showers, walking gingerly while massaging his lower back, which had been giving him trouble again. They all knew he’d been struggling at the plate on this road trip; his trouble on the field had started on the Sunday afternoon home game the day after the gala. The day after he had last seen Claire.

Stripping off his uniform, he grabbed a towel and entered the nearest empty shower stall. He ran the water as hot as it would go and felt relief as he stepped under the flow, the water washing the sweat, grime, and a bit of the aggravation off of him. The hot water pounded against his back, somewhat easing the pain.

He closed his eyes, and saw her before him as she had been that night, exquisite in rose-colored velvet, her milky white skin soft as silk to the touch. His stomach clenched as anger and guilt struck him like lightning. He punched his balled up fist into the shower wall in frustration, recalling the series of events that had led to the mess he currently found himself in.

The evening had passed in a blur—of hushed conversation, the tickle of her hair against his nose, blissful laughter, the whisper of her skin beneath his fingers, the fullness of her body pressed against his as they danced. They had spent hours drawn together as though by a metaphysical force, their connection seemingly unbreakable by the bonds of time or space. When they parted, removing his hand from the delicate flesh of her lower back had been like separating two magnets.

Throughout the meet and greet, he had felt her pull from across the great hall, and rushed to return to her immediately afterward. Blocked by forces beyond his control in his attempts to get to her, he frantically scribbled a note, telling her that he hated to go back on his word, that he wished more than anything they could have continued the evening together, that he hoped she could forgive him. He wrote down his number and asked her to text or call so that he could know that she made it home safely, and so that he could explain what had happened to keep him away.

Gillian had handed off the note to her intern while Jamie gave him a head to toe description of Claire. “Make sure she gets it, aye? Dinna lose it, lad,” Jamie warned, his fingers tapping furiously against his thigh.

Stuck at the Duncans’ party, he was anxious, miserable, and feeling the palpable loss of her by his side. To calm his nerves, he accepted a whisky that the investors surrounding him shoved into his hand. Preoccupied by an overwhelming ache for Claire, he distractedly drank dram after dram, leaving him with a bitter, acidic taste in his throat.

Things became hazy quickly, though he vaguely recalled toasting to World Series victories and to MVP awards in his future. But as the haze surrounding him increased, so did his yearning for her.

After an hour and a half at the party, he was finally able to escape from his obligation, stumbling out of the library and back home to his apartment, where he spent the rest of the night rehydrating and incessantly checking his phone for a message from Claire.

But she never reached out to him.

A feeling of dread filled his wame with each passing hour. Had she gotten his note? Did she think he was an uncaring rake who had led her on all night? That he had willfully stood her up? His heart hurt, thinking of the pain he may have caused her.

She’d said that she would be working at the hospital the following day, so he left messages for her there, to no avail. On Monday, from the road in Miami, he called Gillian at her work number. After leaving three voicemails, she finally called him back, explaining that she was doing so against Claire’s wishes. She confirmed his worst fears—Claire had never gotten his note, she was hurt and angry, and she didn’t even want to hear his name, let alone listen to Gillian's explanation of what had happened.

In the nine days since then, he had become practically incapable of hitting a baseball. He was distraught, moody, and listless over losing a woman who he had no right to even think of as his. But Claire had felt like she belonged to him, in the same way that he belonged to her, from the very first time they had met.

Jamie shut off the water and wrapped a towel around his waist, itching to get out of the stadium. He had spent so long in the shower that most of his teammates had already left the clubhouse, but sitting in a swivel chair just next to his own locker was John, fully dressed and waiting for him.

“Come on, Fraser. Get your clothes on. I’m going to buy you dinner tonight,” John said.

“Nah, I’m going to grab something at the hotel before I head to the airport later on. My Da and Jenny are flying in at nine tonight,” Jamie said, avoiding eye contact as he rifled through the drawer at the bottom of the locker for his clothes.

John chuckled and glanced at his watch. “It’s 4:30, man. You’ve got plenty of time.”

“I dinna feel like going,” he replied icily, pulling a t-shirt over his head. “I’m just going back to my room to relax a bit. It’s been a long trip.” It wasn’t like him to close himself off to a close friend like this—he could see the surprise in John’s face at his tone—but he wasn’t feeling at all like himself. He didn’t even know how he could explain the situation to John. It would sound ridiculous to say the words out loud. His world had been turned completely upside down by a woman he had met barely three weeks before. It was madness.

John stood, looking puzzled and a bit wounded. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s clear that something is. You know you can talk to me, Jamie. Hell, I’ve confided my deepest secrets to you. Is this more than just your slump?”

Turning to his friend, Jamie let out an exasperated sigh. “Ye’ve seen the way I’m playing. I’m struggling, and badly. And I dinna feel like talking about it.”

John nodded understandingly and reached out a tentative hand to squeeze Jamie’s shoulder in support. “I see. I’ll just . . . leave you alone then.” Before walking out of the locker room, he paused by the door long enough to say, “I’ll be here if you want to talk. Tell your dad and Jen I say hi.”

Jamie finished getting dressed, cursing himself the whole time for alienating John on top of everything else. He checked his phone, still hoping for a message from Claire after all these days, and was once again disappointed. He left the stadium to head back to the hotel, hoping that something—a movie, a run, a nap—could quiet the cacophony in his head and his heart.

*******************

“I needn’t be at the stadium ‘til 3, so we’ve got the whole day ahead of us to explore,” Jamie said, spreading the free map he snagged from the front desk across the empty breakfast plates on the table. “Shall we start at the Lincoln Memorial or at the Capitol? Or if ye want, we can go to some of the museums at the Smithsonian.”

Jenny exchanged a look with her father before narrowing her steely blue eyes upon her brother. “We didna fly all the way over here to sightsee and ye ken it, Jamie. We haven’t seen you for a year and a half. I’d be happy just to go back to the room and spend the morning talkin’ to ye.”

“I thought we should take advantage of being in Washington together. This might be our only chance to do this,” mumbled Jamie, still poring over the map in front of him.

“What’s happening, mo mhac?” Brian asked, looking at his son, head still bent over the map like he was plotting a quest for a secret treasure. “Jamie?” he tried again. “Why d’ye seem so distant? Is everything ok?’

Jamie had always been good at masking his emotions, but his current turmoil was apparently too great to be contained within him, to his chagrin. He hunched his shoulders up towards his ears as he finally looked up at his father. “I’m all right,” he said, forcing a smile. “I’m glad ye’re both here.” And that he meant. He was glad they were there. Though he wished that he’d be able to show them all that he was capable of on the field. And oh, how he wished that he would be able to introduce them to Claire.

His Da grinned back at him, the same expansive smile that had always been on his face, even in the tough years following Willie’s death and then his Mam’s. The same smile that had always meant security and acceptance to Jamie.

“I know you’ve been having a rough go of it at the plate lately,” Brian said. “But ye’ve been through slumps before. And ye’ll get through this one, just like ye’ve gotten through those ones.”

“Mmphm,” Jamie grunted.

“Don’t ‘mmphm’ me!” Brian said in a tone of faux consternation that quickly turned to a laugh.

And when his father laughed, Jamie couldn’t help but laugh, too.

“Oh, Ian’s FaceTiming me!” Jenny shrieked, moving her seat closer to Jamie’s so that he could see the kids. “Hello, my gomerels!” she shouted lovingly to the beaming faces of wee Jamie, Maggie, and Kitty, seemingly all crowded onto Ian’s lap.

Jamie leaned behind Jenny’s head, and his nieces and nephew erupted in cheers at the sight of him. “How are my favorite bairns doing? Causing yer Da some problems, are ye?” he asked.

“I’m no’ a bairn anymore, uncle,” six year old Jamie announced indignantly.

“Och, so sorry for my error. Here, say hello to yer Grandda,” said Jamie, laughing as he passed the phone to his father.

And so the day went, laughing and talking and wandering aimlessly with no tourist landmarks hit, but with time spent in the best way possible: in the comfort and companionship of family. Jamie still remained on edge, butting heads with Jenny from time to time over their two days in Washington, but he was grateful to her and to his Da for helping bring a lightness to his soul that he hadn’t felt in ten days.

*******************

Claire shifted on the lounge chair for the fourth time in the last five minutes, lowering the back rung once more in an attempt to get comfortable. She reclined into the new position, and was immediately blinded by the sun’s harsh rays, making it impossible for her to see a thing on the screen of her Kindle. Her annoyance escaped her body in a sigh. She was not made for the lounging poolside lifestyle.

At that moment, Gillian slipped through the sliding glass door of the modern and pristine Hamptons home where they were staying, holding a small tray containing two still-fizzing gin and tonics.

“Give me one of those, stat,” said Claire, “before I melt into this bloody chair.”

Gillian rolled her eyes while passing the drink into Claire’s eager hands. “It’s 76 degrees out. You’re not melting into anything. Stop being so dramatic, and try to enjoy yourself a little.” She sat in the chair next to Claire’s and took a sip from her own glass before lying down and lifting her alabaster face towards the bright sun. “Oh God, this feels so good.”

Claire let out a huff as she stood, lifted the entire lounge chair, and set it down so that it was angled away from the sun. Settling back onto the lounger that was now facing Gill, she said, “Remind me again why I agreed to come here with you.”

Gillian chuckled at her cranky friend. “I’m happy to. For one, we had the chance to stay in a gorgeous house in the Hamptons for free . . . thank you very much to my aunt for marrying rich, by the way. Two, you haven’t gotten out of the city in—what did you say? Two years?”

“That’s not entirely true. I’ve traveled for conferences,” Claire protested.

“Work trips don’t count, sweetheart. Ok, three, you have been working yourself ragged lately and need a break. And four,” she said, sliding her sunglasses down so that she could look Claire directly in the eye, “it’s time. We need to talk about what happened with Jamie. It’s been eleven days, and you’ve cut me off every time I’ve tried to say his name.”

“Christ, I should have known this was coming,” Clare said, exhaling sharply through pursed lips.

“I thought I was being good!” crowed Gillian. “We’ve been here two days and I haven’t brought him up yet. I was waiting for you to talk first, but I can see that that’s not going to happen.”

Claire took a swig of her drink, the tartness of the lime already diluted by the rapidly melting ice cubes. “Gill, I’ve talked with my therapist about it. I’m ok.”

Of course, inside she knew that she was decidedly not ok. She had been at war with herself every day since the gala. Gillian was right; she couldn’t bear to talk about him, and had completely avoided watching the games or checking the baseball news so as to stay clear of any mention of him. She feared that hearing his name aloud would awaken the silent fury that had been burrowing in her belly.

He was still ever-present in her mind, despite her efforts to evict him. She still heard the quiet but steady whisper of his name, murmuring in her ear day and night, meandering through her brain, circulating with her blood, imbuing itself into the very fibers of her being. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie.

Her feelings for him alternated wildly between absolute, blinding rage, and a sharp, almost desperate pang of longing and desire. She was nearly as angry at her own traitorous heart and body as she was at him.

“It’s wonderful that you’ve talked to your therapist, hon,” Gillian said, reaching her hand across to Claire’s and gripping it in support. “I know you still have a lot of leftover baggage to unpack from Frank. And I know that what happened on the night of the gala brought up a lot of trust issues for you. I don’t blame you at all for feeling hurt! But Jamie truly seems to be one of the good ones, and I just think that if you could—”

Claire suddenly removed her hand from Gill’s, grabbed her large floppy hat from the low table next to the lounger, and threw it on her head. She pulled it as low as she could, creating her own secret world where she could attempt to hide from Gillian’s words. It may not have been her most mature move, but she simply did not feel equipped to have this conversation.

“Hey! Don’t hide from me, missy,” said Gill, tilting the hat up and forcing her friend to look at her. “Listen, you know that I talked to him when he called me at work. Well, we also exchanged cell numbers and he texts me every day to ask how you are. Not in a stalkerish way. He’s just absolutely devastated that he’s hurt you—”

“Good!” Claire interjected.

“—and he just wants to explain what happened. I think you should at least talk to him, Claire. He really did try to get word to you. It’s not his fault that Geordie, that utter imbecile of an intern, didn’t get the message to you. I think you and Jamie could be so good together. I just can’t get out of my head the way he looks at you, like you’ve hung the fucking moon.”

Gillian wasn’t wrong—Claire was well aware of the way he looked at her—but that only made it hurt more. She tossed back the last of her drink and sat up, placing her feet between the two lounge chairs, letting out a sigh of resignation. Guess this conversation is happening, like it or not.

“Here’s the thing, Gill. There is something about him that makes me—” she paused there, grasping for the right words before starting over. “I just feel like when I’m around him, I . . . I don’t stand a chance. Every sense, every emotion is heightened when it comes to Jamie. The connection that I feel with him is so powerful. It’s overwhelming.” She shook her head thinking about it, frustrated with how inadequate her words were at describing how she felt. “And then the anger I’ve been feeling towards him, it’s so much more than anything I’ve felt before, even towards Frank. It’s visceral and potent and . . . and physical. Honestly, it frightens me to feel so strongly.”

Claire plucked the hat from her head and ran her hand through her thick mane. “I’ve spent so much time working on myself over the past year and a half. And what happened that night with Jamie reminded me of just how vulnerable I am. It made me remember that I don’t want to be—I won’t be!—subject to someone else’s whims.”

Gillian sat up in her chair, turned to face Claire, and laid a comforting hand on her forearm. “I understand that, hon. I really do. But I also can’t help but think that someone who inspires such powerful feelings in you has to be pretty special, no?”

“Thank you for looking out for me, Gill. I’m so grateful to you. But I just need to handle this my own way.” If only she could figure out what her own way was. Claire stood and slid off her cover-up, turning her eyes towards the shimmering, cool water of the pool. She berated her mind for immediately conjuring up an image of Jamie’s eyes, the same astonishing shade of blue.

“Now, since we’re going back to the city tomorrow, I’m going to take advantage of being here and pop in for a swim. Care to join me?”

*******************

In the end, Gillian was right. The time away had been good for her. Returning to work the following afternoon, she felt rested, refreshed, and relaxed in a way that she hadn’t been for a long time. She approached the employee entrance with a smile on her face.

And then she heard his voice.

“Claire!”

She froze in place, her spine tingling with the fledgling flames of her ire.

“Claire, wait!” he shouted again.

She felt more than heard his approach, the air somehow shifting, becoming heavier with each footfall as he jogged towards where she was standing.

Her breathing had already become shaky, her knees weak with adrenaline. Damnit, Beauchamp! All those therapy sessions to prepare for this, and you’re still a mess.

She felt the shuddering of his breath and knew he was right behind her. It took her an instant to steady her own breathing before turning around. When she did, she momentarily faltered, taken aback by his striking features—slanted, bright eyes, chiseled cheekbones, dimpled chin, pointed ears sticking out from his mess of red curls—all combining to create the world’s most beautiful man. How had she forgotten how absolutely stunning he was?

As soon as he started speaking, her face and her mind snapped back to their prior furious state.

“Claire, I’m so verra sorry that I hurt ye. I’ve been trying to reach ye so we could talk and I could tell—”

“I don’t want to talk to you, you bloody bastard,” she spat out, chin pointed like a dagger towards its opponent.

Jamie took a step closer to her, his eyes concerned and pleading. “Please. Listen to me. I was basically blackmailed by the owners into attending their party, but the only reason I gave in was that I—”

“I don’t want to hear it, Jamie,” she snarled, putting her hand up between them. “You led me on. I trusted you, and you acted like I was a toy to play with for a night. My God, I thought that at the very least you were a friend—”

“I would never do anything to hurt you, Claire, I swear it.” It was clear that he was becoming more agitated by the second, as his words became clipped and insistent, and his voice deeper. “I tried to get back to you. But I was stopped by—”

Claire’s head snapped up at the sound of people approaching the entrance that she and Jamie were blocking. Her stomach sank at the thought of anyone affiliated with the team witnessing their argument.

Before she could register who was there, she heard a sharp Scottish voice ring out, “Is this Sassenach the reason why ye were acting so crabbit when we got here, ye big numpty?”

Looking from the woman (a carbon copy of Jamie, if he had been a five foot tall female with black hair) to the man (as tall and broad as Jamie, and possessing the same long, straight nose and cat-shaped eyes), realization dawned on her. This was Jamie’s family. They were here on their visit.

Jamie had twisted around at his sister’s words, and Claire witnessed the sudden reddening of his ears, cheeks, and the bits of his chest visible at his collar. He opened his mouth to say something, but couldn’t seem to get the words out.

Claire couldn’t seem to form words either; she was seized by the memory of the stories he had told her about his sister and his Da. And for a moment, she saw beyond her anger and felt her heart soften.

Jamie’s father walked closer to them with a devilish half smile on his face that was so reminiscent of the one she had seen on his son countless times.

“She’s got a sharp tongue and a fiery temper, just like yer Mam did, mo mhac,” he said, his tone full of mirth.

“Would ye both haud yer wheesht and mind yer own business?” Jamie exclaimed in agitation, his entire face now as red as his hair.

An awkward silence descended over the four of them, broken only when Claire decided to introduce herself.

“I’m Claire Beauchamp, a doctor with the team. It’s . . . nice to meet you both. I do need to get to work now, though,” she said weakly, feeling the after-effects of the adrenaline that had been coursing through her body only moments before. “I’ll just be going now. Hope you enjoy your visit.”

Steadfastly avoiding contact with the three sets of Fraser eyes set upon her, she slinked through the stadium entrance, hearing Brian’s voice echo behind her, “He’s a good lad, Claire! Ye should give him a chance.”

She practically ran down the hallway to her office, muttering, “Damn you and your hold on me, James Fraser.” Suddenly the idea of lounging poolside for all eternity seemed like a good plan after all..