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American Pie

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April 1995

Jenny had told her she should sit, but she insisted on standing despite her swollen ankles and aching back. John’s arm was firmly around her shoulder, and she leaned on him for support. Over the last six months he’d been her anchor, keeping her from drifting away in the storm that had tried to swallow them. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and tried to focus on what the priest was saying. 

 

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;

As the coffin was slowly lowered into the grave in front of them, Jenny let out a sob. Claire reached out and gripped her hand, keeping her steady. Her head throbbed and her vision went blurry. She took deep breaths and tried to steady herself; she had to be strong. 

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

At the end of the ceremony, the Frasers and Murrays all lined up to place a stone next to the headstone, building a small cairn, one by one. When Claire saw young Jamie hold his little sister’s hand as they both placed tiny stones in the pile, a sound escaped from her throat before she could swallow it back down. 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When it was her own turn, John helped her lower herself down and place her own rock. He pulled her up and she took a moment to steady herself. She kissed her hand, and placed it on the headstone, whispering quietly, “Goodbye.”

***

July 1993

There were a few moments in Jamie’s life that he would remember forever; moments that he could close his eyes and conjure the image of immediately. Most were those he wished he could forget - the panic of waking up to his house in Scotland engulfed in flames, the farming accident that took Ian’s leg – but the moment he saw Claire standing inside the doorway of the church, the sunlight from the open door forming a halo behind her, that image dimmed all the others. 

He swallowed hard as Ian put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Her hair, which she had taken to straightening over the last year, was piled on top of her head in a mass of curls; she knew he preferred her hair wild. Her white dress showed off the tan she had been working on diligently over the last few weeks, and the veil surrounding her tresses floated down over her back. The dress was off-the-shoulder , as Claire had described it to him, and ridiculously puffy. “ When am I ever going to have a chance to look like a princess again? ” she’d said, shrugging her shoulders when he had laughed at the description of the lengths of tulle and the pattern of fallen leaves embedded in the lace overlay. 

He wasn’t laughing now.

As she walked toward him on her Uncle Lamb’s arm, he smiled at her, his entire body trembling. She smiled back and winked at him, the small gesture sending a shockwave through his entire body. How could she be so calm, even playful while he was barely holding it together. It seemed to take forever for her to reach him, but finally Lamb was handing her off to him, and she was taking his hands, squeezing to steady them. 

“Hi,” she whispered, as they faced each other. 

“Ye look so bonny, Claire,” he whispered back, his voice catching in his throat as he saw his mother's pearls fastened around her beautiful neck. He was fighting with everything he had not to start crying; once he started, he would not be able to stop. He tried to focus on the priest who had already started speaking.

“Who blesses the matrimony of this man and woman today?” Claire had insisted on this change to the traditional giving away part of the ceremony. “It’s absolutely barbaric!” she’d said. “Nobody owns me now, so why would they have to give me away?” But Jamie had wanted a traditional ceremony, so they’d compromised and come up with their own version. 

“I do,” Uncle Lamb said before taking his seat.

“And I do,” Brian Fraser added. 

They stood facing each other throughout the ceremony. He tried to listen to the readings, carefully selected by Jenny and John, but his mind could not focus; he’d ask them for copies later. A feeling of dread came over him as the time for the vows approached. Will I even be able to speak?

Rather than write their own, they had opted to use both the traditional and Scottish vows in their ceremony. As he spoke the first part, the dam finally broke, and he was sure his voice was barely recognizable. Looking in Claire’s eyes though, he could tell that she knew he meant every word of them. 

I, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, take you, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do we part. This is my solemn vow.

If you looked at it from a cynical point of view, the words were merely a formality. He’d cherished her from the moment he met her, and taken her to the emergency room on their first night together. When she’d gotten the flu last winter, he’d called Jenny in a panic, asking for her chicken soup recipe. None of this was new for them, but the making of a vow, a solemn oath in front of all their family and friends, that was the difference; that was what made it real.

Claire was crying too, as she echoed his words back, and he reached out and gently brushed a tear away from her cheek with his thumb. She would be so mad if her makeup got messed up. 

Then, they spoke the traditional Celtic vows, whose words encompassed their entire relationship in a way that neither of them could have expressed so eloquently on their own:

You cannot possess me, for I belong to myself

But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give.

You cannot command me, for I am a free person, 

But I shall serve you in those ways you require.

And the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand. 

I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud at night. 

And the eyes into which I smile in the morning.

I pledge to you the first bite from my meat, 

And the first drink from my cup.

I pledge to you my living and dying, equally in your care,

And will tell no strangers our grievances.

This is my wedding vow to you.

This is a marriage of equals.

By the time they were done, neither of them could control or hide their tears. With shaking hands, they lit the unity candle, with Brian at Jamie’s side, Lamb at Claire’s, and pictures of Ellen, Julia, and Henry placed carefully on the table along with the candles.

They returned to the altar and exchanged rings. Hers was a wide, white gold band in the Highland interlace style, a small and delicate Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center of each link. On the inside, he’d had the words Di mi basia mille engraved; he would have to show her later. Claire’s hand reached out to him, fingers trembling. He slipped the cool metal over her knuckles until it rested snug at the base of her finger. Before he let go, he lifted her hand to his mouth, as he had so many times before, and kissed her knuckles. 

She slipped the ring she had chosen for him on his finger next. His was also white gold and interlace style. Instead of the thistle bloom, though, she had chosen strawberry vines, with a small strawberry at each link. He’d told her once that strawberries were part of the Fraser crest and she’d remembered. He wondered if she’d had anything engraved on the inside.

Finally, the long ceremony was over. “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.” He smiled at her and met her lips with his, chastely at first. He started to pull away, but she pulled him closer, taking his lips in hers in a way that would make Jesus blush. “Christ,” he whispered as she pulled away, biting the bottom of his lip.

When they got to the back of the church, they had just a few moments to themselves, hidden away in her dressing room. As soon as the door was closed, he put his hands on her waist and pushed her toward the wall, pressing against her. The excitement, the nerves, and that kiss had given him an epic hard on. He knew there was no time, nor any way to find his wife’s warm center under all that fabric, but he wanted to feel her against him all the same.

Mo nighean donn, ” he whispered in her ear. “Mo bhean. God, I love ye so much.”

She smiled at him, thrusting her hips against him. “Are you happy, Mr. Fraser?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him.

“Aye, I am, Mrs . Fraser.”

Claire cleared her throat and reminded him, “It’s Mrs. Beauchamp Fraser, and don’t you forget it.”

“How could I?” he responded. “Ye are perfect just the way ye are, and I’m honored that ye’d let me add my name to yours, because ye dinna need tae.”

“You are a part of me, James Fraser. Since the day I met you, I’ve never been the same.” She kissed him again and he was starting to consider that maybe they could find a way to consummate their marriage sooner rather than later, when Gillian burst through the door.

“Come on, you two! There’ll be plenty of time for doing that later. You have to do the receiving line and then we have pictures. Let’s go!” She was taking her job as maid of honor very seriously, despite having threatened to quit when Claire had shown her the red color that the bridesmaids would be wearing.

“All right, Mr. Fraser,” Claire said to him. “We’re under strict orders right now.”

“Aye,” he said, kissing her one more time, “but tonight ye’ll be mine and I plan tae take my time servin’ ye well.”

She blushed and smiled at him before they walked out to celebrate the rest of the day.

***

Claire’s hands were shaking as she stood at the back of the church, her arm looped in Uncle Lamb’s. The rest of the procession had already walked down the aisle. Little Maggie, carrying a basket of flowers in her red dress, completely forgot to do anything with the flowers as she made her debut down the aisle. Young Jamie carried the ring, so adorable in his little kilt and suit coat, so careful not to drop it. Then her bridesmaids and Jamie’s groomsmen, in pairs - Gillian and Ian, Jenny and John, Isobel and Rupert, Mary and Angus. The men all wore kilts in the Fraser colors while the bridesmaid’s dresses were red to match the kilts. 

They made a stunning picture standing in a line at the altar, but nothing could compare to the centerpiece of the tableau. Jamie stood tall in his formal tartan, his red curls tied back – Oh my god, had he shaved? He had!   - His face was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And his smile. The smile that told her how much happiness she brought him. She couldn’t see anything but him. 

As they started their walk down the aisle, and Jamie’s face came more in focus, she wondered how he could look so calm and steady – she felt like she would lose it any moment and ruin her makeup. When she reached him, his hands were strong around hers. She locked eyes with him, and she used them as a focal point to keep her anchored.

Somehow, she managed to make it through the ceremony without fainting, though her legs were trembling terribly the entire time. After, they’d managed to get about thirty seconds of alone time before being whisked away to the reception line and the pictures. She’d stupidly thought that the pictures would be quick; now she’d been standing out in the hot July sun for forty-five minutes, starving and thirsty; all those appetizers she had painstakingly picked out for the cocktail hour were probably gone. 

Finally, the photographer sent the wedding party back to the reception and it was just her and Jamie left. They’d already had a ton of shots of just the two of them taken, so Claire couldn’t see why the photographer would need them any longer. “Are ye alright?” Jamie asked, kissing her gently, careful not to mess up her makeup or hair.

“Yes, I’m just hot and tired, and I want to be inside enjoying this wedding I spent so much time planning.” She put her arms around his waist and her head against his chest. He bent and kissed the top of her head and held her closely. 

“Perfect!” the photographer said. “I think I have everything I need now.” Those candid pictures, capturing that perfect moment between the two of them, would be the photos she displayed proudly on her mantle. 

She didn’t know it then, but later, she would box them carefully for every move, wrapping them carefully and padding them well before placing them in a moving box. She would keep them from the grubby fingers of children until they were old enough to be careful with them. She would scan them onto her computer and email them to her family on their anniversary. 

They were treasured mementos of their life before , of the absolutely perfect love that existed between them before everything changed. 

Chapter Text

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December 1993

"Sassenach," Jamie called from the front entrance of their house. "Are ye home?"

"In the kitchen," Claire called back. She was busily chopping up peppers and onions to cook along with the sweet sausages she'd bought for dinner.

"Yer no' burnin' the place down, are ye?"

"Ha, ha," she replied. "Get in here and help me if you're so worried."

He appeared in the doorway of their tiny kitchen then, his tie loosened, shirt untucked. "Ye look beautiful," he told her.

Claire looked down at her old sweatshirt and leggings and rolled her eyes at him. "I could be wearing actual garbage and you would tell me I look beautiful."

He crossed the room to her and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "If a man canna appreciate his wife's beauty no matter what she's wearing, then he doesna deserve her." He kissed her cheek and rocked her body back and forth.

"Mmmmm," Claire replied. "Where's John?"

"Ye sure ken how tae get a man in the mood, Sassenach."

She put the knife down, laughing and turning around to put her arms around Jamie's neck. "I was just wondering if we were alone, but if I've killed the mood, I can just finish up dinner."

She started to turn around again, but he held her firmly in place. "John is workin' late and then he's going out fer drinks with some of the lads. He willna be home until verra late."

"Sounds like I know what our plans are tonight," she replied, kissing him softly, a promise for later.

“Aye,” he answered, “How long until dinner’s ready? Do I have time tae shower?”

“If you make it a quick one,” Claire told him, slapping his bottom as he scooted away.

“What are we havin’ tonight anyway, Sassenach?” Jamie called over his shoulder as he walked toward the stairs.

“Sausage and peppers,” she called back.

He circled back and peeked his head in the kitchen, giving her a wicked smile. “I meant what are we havin’ for dinner, no’ what are ye havin’ later.”

Claire laughed and threw a dish towel at him as he scooted back toward the stairs.

***

Jamie sat back in his chair and patted his stomach. “I have tae say, Sassenach, married life suits ye. I didna even worry I was being poisoned once that whole meal.”

“Ha bloody ha. You should feel lucky that I even cooked. It was a long week."

"I ken. Let me take care of the cleaning up while ye relax, mo nighean donn." Jamie stood and started clearing the table. He planted a kiss on the top of Claire's head on his way to the kitchen.

"I think I'll go take a shower." Claire stood and walked to the stairs, eager to shed her clothes and wash away the week.

She'd worried, perhaps as all new spouses did, that settling in as a married couple would smother the heat in their relationship. But her stomach still got butterflies when she saw him at the end of a long day, and her body still yearned for his touch when he wasn't there. Just the thought of them having the night to be together, just the two of them, sent a shock of need and pleasure through her body.

She stepped into the hot shower and scrubbed her body with a scratchy loofah, enjoying the tingling sensation on her skin. She'd almost finished washing when the bathroom door opened. Peeking out from the curtain, she saw Jamie standing in the bathroom, stripping down.

"I thought you already showered," she teased.

"Aye, but I thought ye might need some help." His lips curled in one corner and his blue eyes were full of mischief. "May I join ye?"

She opened the curtain wider in invitation and he stepped in. "Oh, Christ ye're so beautiful, Sassenach," he said hoarsely. "I dinna think I'll ever tire of the sight of ye." He pulled her in at the small of her back so that every inch of their bodies touched.

"I need help washing my hair," she whispered, knowing how much he enjoyed running his fingers through her wet curls and massaging her scalp.

"Turn around then, Sassenach," he said as he positioned her body facing away from the flowing water. Seconds later his hands were in her hair rubbing and kneading as his erection brushed against her.

A chill ran down Claire's spine and she moaned as his fingers worked their way through her curls. He leaned forward and pressed himself against her, whispering Gaelic in her ear. The only way she could respond to the poetry he created was to whisper back, "I love you."

She stepped into the water to rinse her hair and then pulled Jamie's head forward and kissed him hard, their lips pressing into their teeth until they finally gave way for their tongues to meet. Jamie reached around and grabbed a handful of Claire's bottom, growling into her mouth, "Ye''ve got the roundest arse I've ever seen."

Jamie spun Claire around and she put her hands against the wall. He gripped her around the waist and slowly slid inside her. Claire shuddered as he entered her, the angle hitting just right. "Yes, Jamie," she moaned as he thrust into her over and over again, holding onto her firmly so she wouldn't slip.

Between the hot water and the constant barrage against the most sensitive spot inside of her, Claire felt like she was floating. She knew she could trust Jamie to keep her standing even as her legs began to tremble. He slipped one hand down and rubbed between her legs. She pressed her forehead against the wall as she reached her climax; everything went black for several seconds.

When she opened her eyes her back was pressed against Jamie's chest as he spilled his seed inside her. The throbbing of his cock caused her body to quake with aftershocks as her own orgasm faded. Jamie's arms were across her chest and he stroked her breasts tenderly.

Yup, we still got it, Claire thought as Jamie dried her off and carried her to bed. He tossed her one of his t-shirts to put on. They were super comfy for sleeping in and also turned Jamie on when he saw her wearing it.

Once she was settled in, Jamie took a wide toothed comb and gently worked his way through her tangled curls. A feeling of pure bliss flushed through her body. It was these intimate moments that reminded Claire how lucky she was to have found her soulmate, and she thanked the universe for whatever force had thrown them together at that concert two years before.

Two years could be a lifetime, she realized. Two years ago, their relationship was new. She was living in a small apartment in New York City while Jamie was still in a cramped dorm room on Long Island, trekking his way to her place every weekend.

Now, everything was different. They owned their own home in a quaint gated-community, thanks to a generous gift from her father in law, Brian. Jamie had a job that used his talents and continued to challenge him. Claire was in her second year of med school, at the top of her class.

So much had changed around them, and yet they were still the same. Sure, Jamie wore his hair a little shorter and had traded his concert t-shirts and flannel for a shirt and tie. Claire had learned to cook and spent less time lounging around and more time studying. But they were still the same, and their love continued to grow stronger as they found new ways to express their feelings within their new life.

Jamie finished with her hair and put the comb down. "Do ye want to go downstairs?" he asked. "It's still early."

"No. Let's just stay up here and watch TV together," she answered. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV that sat on their dresser, tuning to TGIF. The block of sitcoms had become another part of their routine, especially at the end of a tiring week. Jamie opened his arms and Claire sunk into him. His chest rumbled under her head as he laughed at the ridiculous antics of Steve Urkel.

When the shows were over, Jamie rolled on top of Claire and they made love again, slowly and gently. There was no rush or urgency; they had all the time in the world to pour their hearts into each other. When they were finished they fell asleep curled around one another, always seeking the physical closeness that confirmed their connected souls.

***

The next morning, Claire woke to the smell of bacon frying. She smiled to herself; It had become a Saturday tradition for Jamie to get up and cook breakfast while Claire slept in. Her stomach growling, she headed downstairs. She walked into the kitchen and smiled warmly at Jamie. “Smells good, as always. Is the coffee ready?”

Jamie put down the spatula he’d been wielding and quickly poured her a mug of coffee. Claire gave him a quick kiss before sitting down at the island. She looked around, admiring their cozy kitchen. They’d spent weeks painstakingly refinishing the cabinets, regrouting the tile floor, and selecting the perfect seating for the light and airy room. She was so proud of the little home they'd put together.

Jamie placed a plate in front of Claire and sat down next to her. They ate together in comfortable silence. When they were finished, Claire cleared the plates away and started straightening up the kitchen.

She was leaning over the sink when Jamie took his opportunity and sneaked up behind her, pressing himself against her and grabbing at the hem of her shirt. "When ye wear my t-shirts and prance around the kitchen in them, ye make me want tae do the most unspeakable things to ye." His fingers were pushing her panties aside when they heard the lock click in the front door.

Claire hastily pushed the t-shirt back down and Jamie busied himself transporting the frying pan to the sink. John walked through the door, looking a little worse for the wear, and slumped down at the island. Claire quickly poured him a mug of coffee and slid it across the surface to him. "Did you have a good night?" she teased.

John groaned and nodded. He took eager gulps of the coffee before answering. "I had a blast, actually. Too bad I'm paying for it now."

Claire slid onto one of the stools and waited for John to tell her all about his adventures. Though she and Jamie had settled into old married couple life easily, she still liked to live vicariously through John's very active social life. "Where did you stay?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him. Jamie was finishing clean up duty but she noticed he was being a little quieter with the dishes so he could overhear.

John tried to hide his smile but it was plain on his face. "I met someone last night."

Claire rolled her eyes. "Well that's not really a surprise, John. You've met a lot of ‘someones’ in the last year or so." Once John had settled into their new life, he'd come out of his shell and really started to live a little. It certainly wasn't the first time he hadn't come home from a night out until the next day.

"I think this is different," John said.

Claire gave him a curious look. "Well does this someone have a name?" Jamie asked; he had finished cleaning up and leaned on the counter next to her.

"Hector," John replied, smiling as he said the name out loud. "I've seen him out a few times but last night we just connected. I can't explain it."

Claire and Jamie gave each other a knowing look and Jamie looped his arm around Claire's shoulder. John rolled his eyes at them. "Not every love story can measure up to the Frasers, but I think there might be something there."

"I'm really happy for you, John," Claire told him. "When are you seeing him again?"

"Tonight!" John said, standing up "So it's time for me to get some sleep." He walked toward the stairs and then turned around. "I almost forgot to ask, what do you think of Jamie’s good news?"

"Good news?" Claire asked. She glanced at Jamie, whose entire face was turning beet red. "What good news?"

John's smile quickly turned into a grimace. "Oh shit, he didn't tell you yet...I...um...OK bye." He ran up the stairs leaving Claire facing Jamie with a confused look on her face.

"What's he talking about? What happened?" Claire asked.

Jamie rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. "It isna a big deal, Sassenach."

"What isn't a big deal?"

"They offered to send me to a special training program, to be a Language Officer."

"Jamie, that's amazing news! Why didn't you tell me?" She wrapped her arms around him but he didn't return her embrace.

"I'm no' going tae do it, Sassenach."

She pushed away from him and searched his face for a hint at what was going on but he had gone stoic. "Why not? I don't understand."

“I dinna want tae,” he answered, raising his voice. “Just drop it.” He turned away from her and walked away, grumbling, “I have tae go take care of some stuff in the garage.”

***

Jamie didn’t have anything to do in the garage, but he needed to get out of the house and think. He unfolded a vinyl lawn chair that was much too small for him and sat down, closing his eyes. The fingers of his left hand tapped nervously on his thigh. Dammit John, why did ye have tae say anything?

It wasn’t fair to John to be mad at him, though. Jamie hadn’t had a chance to talk to him before he’d left on Friday, so there was no way he would have known that Jamie was going to turn down the offer. Now Claire was going to demand to know why he was going to turn it down, and the whole situation was likely to turn into an argument, He hated arguing with Claire. She always cried when she was angry, and it broke his heart in pieces to see tears on his wife’s face.

He stood and paced along the concrete floor, trying to figure out a way to extricate himself from the situation. He could tell Claire that he just wasn’t interested in the training program, but that would be a lie, and he had sworn to Claire when they first met that he would never lie to her. He would be in enough hot water for what he had already said to her; it wouldn’t do to dig himself any deeper. But how could he explain it to her?

He did want to do the training program. It would be challenging and exciting. It was an honor to be picked for the training program at such a young age, and so early in his career. Most of the others that were chosen this round had been with the CIA for at least five years. The career opportunities that would be available to him if he succeeded in the training program would be incredible. If successful, he would go on to become a Language Officer, helping with important missions, perhaps even traveling to foreign countries to assist with covert operations. Was that type of work not secretly every man's dream? Who hadn't grown up playing spies?

He had never truly been excited about work until now. Apart from farming, which was more of a lifestyle than a career, he'd always viewed work as a necessary evil, something to get through every day in order to provide for your family. Since he'd started at the CIA, though, he realized that work could be fulfilling. He was challenged every day, and it tapped directly into the parts of his brain that he loved to exercise. And to be able to train as an officer, that was just taking everything to the next level.

But he had Claire to think about; she was his first priority, always. And the training program would mean being away from her for six months. How could he do that? He hadn't been away from Claire more than five days in a row since he'd first laid eyes on her. And since they'd graduated, they had fallen asleep tangled up with each other every single night. Not only did he feel an obligation, one he was happy to have, to be there for her every day, but he also wondered if his own body could survive that long without her touch.

And he knew she would tell him to go. Claire didn't have a selfish bone in her body. There would be no way to hide from her that he wanted to do this, she knew him all too well. And then she would be excited for him and tell him he had to do it.

A knock on the side door jolted Jamie out of his reverie. He peered out the window on the door and saw his neighbor, Tom Christie. Sighing, he motioned for the man to enter.

Tom was a widower who lived next door with his teenage children, Malva and Allan. When the Frasers had moved in, the whole Christie family had been like the neighborhood welcome wagon. Malva had brought them platters of baked goods and ready-to-cook casseroles that fed them for a week while they unburied themselves from the endless piles of boxes and the never ending task of putting furniture together. Tom had held a barbecue for them, inviting everyone on the block, and Allan had kept their lawn mowed until the cold weather set in, deeming the task unnecessary.

After the initial friendliness had worn off, though, both Claire and Jamie had started to see Tom's true personality. He was constantly sticking his nose where it didn't belong, asking intrusive questions or offering unsolicited advice on anything from keeping their hedges properly trimmed to how Claire could improve upon her lasagna. He also seemed to hang around much too closely to Claire and tended to "drop by" whenever Jamie happened to be out running errands or working late.

Malva was a nice enough girl, but they both found it odd that a teenager would spend so much time cooking and cleaning instead of just being a kid. On the weekends she seemed to prefer the company of Claire over going to the movies or school dances. And Allan, quite frankly, creeped both of them out. They'd lived in the neighborhood for four months and Jamie had barely heard the kid utter five words. He dressed in all black with his dark hair hanging in his eyes, and he sat off to the side during social events, staring at everybody without ever joining in on the conversation.

Tom entered the garage and went immediately to the small fridge. Come on in, Tom. Make yourself at home. "Oh, is it noon already?" Jamie asked as Tom cracked open a beer.

"It's noon somewhere, Jamie!" he proclaimed.

"What can I do fer ye, Tom?" Jamie asked impatiently. He needed to get back inside and talk to Claire.

"Oh, nothing," Tom replied, "I saw you head out to the garage so I figured I'd join you for a brewski."

"Well that's real nice of ye tae...uh...keep an eye out fer me, Tom, but I actually have tae get back in and speak with Claire." He started to walk toward the door, holding Tom's arm leading him in the same direction. "Why don't ye take yer beer tae go, aye?"

"How is Claire?" Tom asked. "I feel like I haven't seen her in ages."

Jamie nudged Tom through the doorway. "Ye dropped in on her just a few days ago." He headed for the house with his back to Tom. "Goodbye, Tom," he called as he walked into the back door.

He found Claire sitting on the couch working on a crossword puzzle. Carefully, he sat down on the couch and slipped his head under her arm. When she didn't look up at him, he nuzzled her neck with his nose.

"Are you a puppy or my husband," Claire murmured, never taking her eyes off the paper in front of her.

"Claire," Jamie said quietly, "Do ye want tae talk about it?"

Claire put the paper down and looked at him. "I'm fairly certain it wasn't me that didn't want to talk about it."

Jamie slipped his arms around her waist and leaned his on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, mo nighean donn. I'm ready now." He felt her body relax underneath him.

"Alright then. Talk."

He told her about the training program, what an amazing opportunity it was, and the career paths it would open for him. Then he told her about the six months of training, the possible foreign missions in the future. "I dinna ken how I can do it, Claire. I canna be away from ye for that long. I need ye, mo ghraidh."

Claire put her hands on Jamie’s cheeks and lifted his head up. "You really want this, don't you?"

"Aye," he replied, "Except the part about being separated from ye."

"Jamie, our love is strong enough to survive six months apart. It's going to suck, but it will be worth it. I want you to be fulfilled with your work."

"But who will take care of ye, Claire?"

She threw her head back and laughed. "I managed to survive twenty two years without you. I think I can manage six months. Besides, I can cook now, and I have John." She stifled a giggle, "And I'm sure Tom Christie will be happy to keep an eye on me."

Jamie growled and pounced on Claire, pinning her to the couch. "Ye'll pay for that, ye wee besom." He attacked her neck and chest, kissing, sucking, and biting.

"What are you doing?" Claire laughed.

Jamie looked up and gave her a wicked grin. "I'm marking ye so people ken yer mine while I'm gone."

She laughed harder and pulled his head up by the curls. "Would you like me to get your name tattooed on my ass?"

"Aye perhaps." He flipped her over and tugged at the waist of her pants. "Property of James Fraser, right here." He gave her a swift swat and she squealed with delight.

She wiggled her way back around so she was on her back under him again and pulled his head down, kissing him softly. "I love you, Jamie. I'll always love you. And six months is nothing compared to an entire lifetime."

"Ye truly are the greatest wife a man could ever ask fer." He flipped them around one more time, so that she was laying on top of him.

She cuddled into him and kissed him on the cheek, settling her head on his chest. He stroked her hair and felt her steady breathing, and thanked God for the mosh pit that brought them together.

Chapter Text

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Day Seven

Claire rolled over in her bed, shivering, her hand instinctively reaching out for Jamie, her personal heater. Finding the spot empty, she sighed, putting her hand over her face, and tried not to cry. She knew the separation from Jamie would be hard, but she hadn’t been able to imagine how hard it would be. She felt like a car trying to keep chugging along the road missing two wheels and an engine. Everything was hard, even the simple task of getting out of bed.

Even worse, layered amidst the sadness and longing, was an intense feeling of guilt. She silently berated herself for being so melodramatic. Yes, Jamie was gone, but it was temporary. It was only six months. But if she was barely hanging on after only seven days, how would she manage six months?

She rolled over and closed her eyes, conjuring his image. She had fallen asleep in his sweatshirt and she wrapped her arms around herself, pulling the covers over her head. As long as she kept her eyes closed, he was there.

Day Fourteen

John woke up early and slipped downstairs quietly, though there was really no need to. His whole objective was to lure Claire out of her bed. She'd spent the entirety of the previous weekend shut in her bedroom, and he didn't intend to let her wallow again.

He put the coffee on and shuffled around the kitchen, pulling out pans, cracking eggs, putting toast in the toaster. His cooking skills were far beyond the simple breakfast he was preparing, but he wanted to make it just like Jamie did for her every Saturday morning. Claire had been walking around like a ghost for the past two weeks and he was going to put a stop to it. Even if all they did was watch movies on the couch all day, it would be a vast improvement.

When everything was just about done, he ran up the stairs and opened her door without bothering to knock. He nudged her gently until she peeked her head out from under the covers. "Come on Claire," he said gently, "I made breakfast."

"No thank you," she mumbled, attempting to roll over and pull the covers back over her head.

John grabbed her shoulder. "Please, Claire. You have to at least eat. For me?"

She sighed deeply and turned her head back to look at him. "What did you make?"

"Bacon and eggs, just how you like it."

She huffed and groaned but sat up in the bed. Her hair was wildly sticking up in all directions, and she quickly threw her blanket over the top of her head and wrapped the rest around her like a monk's robe. "Fine," she said, and she followed him down the stairs.

Day Twenty-eight

John laughed hysterically at Claire as she wiped her eyes. She'd started out only crying but thanks to John's teasing, she was now laughing as well, adding even more tears to the mix.

"I can't believe you were crying that much over a movie about dogs," he said again, shaking his head as he got into the car.

Claire got into the passenger side and buckled her seat belt. "I saw a couple tears in your eyes too, John Grey. Don't deny it."

"A few tears maybe, but you were sobbing like a lunatic. People were staring." He pulled the car out of the parking space and maneuvered through the busy parking lot.

She started laughing again, fanning her face, flushed red with embarrassment. "They all had so much courage," she said, which set John into another fit of laughter.

John shook his head again and turned up the radio. Claire groaned. "Please, not Mariah Carey again. I can't take it anymore."

"Fine. You pick."

Claire hit the preset buttons until she found the alternative station. The latest song by Red Hot Chili Peppers filled the car and Claire rested her head against the window, her thoughts instantly turning to Jamie.

It's bitter baby,

And it's very sweet.

I'm on a rollercoaster,

but I'm on my feet.

Take me to the river,

Let me on your shore.

I'll be coming back baby,

I'll be coming back for more.

"Nope!" John said, breaking her out of her reverie. "We will be going right back to Mariah if you start wallowing again."

Claire lifted her head back up and smiled at John, reaching out to squeeze his arm. "Thank you."

Day Fifty-six

"Are you sure you don't mind if I invite Hector over for our movie night?" John asked as he and Claire perused the new releases at Blockbuster.

"Can you please stop asking me? I’ve told you a hundred times that I'd love to meet him. Besides, you've been spending so much time with me, I feel like you haven't been able to spend much time with him." She held up one of the movies and showed John. "How about this one?"

"The Sandlot?" he said doubtfully, reading the back of the box. "Sounds like a ripoff of Stand By Me. No thanks." He plucked the box out of her hands and replaced it on the shelf.

"Here," he said, picking up another movie and handing it to her.

"Jason Goes to Hell? No. Have I ever told you that you have terrible taste in movies." Claire shook her head and continued her search.

They finally settled on Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and headed for home. As soon as they got inside the phone was ringing. Claire dropped her bags and ran to pick it up. "Hello?" she answered breathlessly.

John watched as Claire’s face relaxed and erupted in a smile. Jamie. As much as John tried to keep Claire’s spirits up, there was nothing he could do that would make her face light up like a simple phone call from Jamie. He braced himself, hoping she wasn't going to fall apart after she hung up.

The doorbell rang and John hurried to answer it. He embraced Hector as soon as he opened the door and pulled him in for a lingering kiss. When they broke apart, Hector looked nervously over John's shoulder. "Don't worry," John said, shaking his head. "Claire knows. I told you that."

Hector's caramel skin flushed pink. "Sorry, I just didn't want to make her uncomfortable."

John laughed and led Hector into the house. "Trust me. Once you see her with her husband, you'll see she doesn't have a leg to stand if she complained about that."

Claire hung up the phone just as Hector and John joined her in the kitchen. John could see the tears welling in her eyes but before he could even say anything, Hector jumped in. "Oh no, I always seem to have this effect on women."

Claire burst out laughing and the tension in the room eased. "You must be Hector," she said. "And I can see why John likes you so much."

She reached her hand out to Hector, but he pulled her into an embrace instead. John gave Hector a thankful smile.

"Honey, your hair is to die for," Hector said as he pulled away from Claire.

"Oh, I like him!" Claire laughed.

John let out a sigh of relief, smiling at Hector as he fawned over Claire. 56 days down, only 125 to go.

Day Seventy-two

“She’s absolutely gorgeous,” Claire cooed as she held her new niece, Katherine, in her arms.

She had driven up to Lallybroch on her spring break to meet the newest Murray baby, and the visit with her family was a balm on her soul. The moment she'd stepped into the farmhouse in Upstate New York she was surrounded by love and laughter.

“Ye look good with a bairn in yer arms,” Jenny told her. She sat on the couch next to Claire, watching the two of them.

Claire rolled her eyes. “You sound like your father now. The first thing he asked me when I walked in the door was whether or not I had a ‘wee bun’ in my oven yet.”

“I  ken ye’re not ready yet,” Jenny told her. “I just canna wait fer when ye are. It’ll be nice to finally get to be an Auntie. I need a bairn that I can spoil.”

Claire stared at baby Katherine’s face and kissed the top of her head. “To be honest, Jenny, I can’t wait to be a mother myself. I just know the timing isn’t right.”

“Ye need tae finish school, Claire,” Jenny said, suddenly taking on a serious tone. “Everything is so much harder with bairns.” The year that Jamie and Claire had moved to Maryland, Jenny had started going back to school to become a teacher. She took a few classes at a time at the local community college, leaving Brian, Ian, or her father-in-law in charge of Jamie and Maggie. Claire would have paid good money to see that in action.

“I know, Jenny. And I’m so incredibly proud of you.” Claire told her. “I know I have to finish school first, and besides, can you imagine me going through almost an entire pregnancy without Jamie here?”

“It would damn near kill my brother, I’m sure. He’ll want tae wait on ye hand and foot.”

Claire smiled and tried to hold back her tears. She just missed him so damn much. Everybody in her life was being wonderful and helpful and trying to keep her spirits up, but there just wasn’t anybody who could fill the emptiness she felt without him near. She tried to swipe the tears away before Jenny could see them, but absolutely nothing got past her sister-in-law. “I ken ye miss him.”

Jenny’s words opened the floodgates. Everyone had been tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, trying not to mention Jamie’s absence or her feelings about it. It was a relief to have those feelings acknowledged and the tears flowed freely. Jenny took Katherine from Claire’s arms, holding the baby in one arm and putting her other around Claire. “It’s okay to miss him, ye ken? I ken ye’re a strong woman, but ye dinna have tae be ashamed that ye need him.”

Claire let herself relax into Jenny’s arms, thankful to have the force of this wonderful family, her family, behind her.

Day One hundred and twelve

“Honey, I am sick of seeing your gorgeous ass leaving an imprint on this couch.” Hector pulled at Claire’s arm to lift her out of her seat. “You are going out with us tonight.”

Claire groaned and tried to resist, but he was surprisingly strong for being such a slight man. She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Hector, please. I’ll just be a drag on you guys. Nobody wants a sad, straight girl sitting at the bar drowning in martinis while they’re trying to have a good time.”

“That’s not going to happen, because we are going to dress you up, fix up that gorgeous hair, and get some drinks into you before we even leave this house. By the time we get to the bar, you’ll be ready to dance your ass off with us.”

Claire looked to John for help but he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. “Fine,” Claire grumbled, “I can see that I’m outnumbered.

Hector dragged Claire up to her room and rummaged through her closet. Claire sat on the bed and listened to him comment on her wardrobe, throwing things on the bed that he deemed suitable. “My friend Gillian used to do this for me,” Claire commented with a smile. “I miss her. You would really like her.”

“I’ll have to meet her sometime and see if her taste in clothes measures up,” he teased.

“Well, she’s working on her MFA in fashion design, so I think you would approve.”

“Oooh, I definitely need to meet her then,” Hector said. He held up a tight purple dress, eyeing it closely and then tossed it to Claire. “That’s the one.”

“Oh Lord! I haven’t worn this in ages! I don’t even know if it fits anymore!” Claire looked at the dress skeptically and cringed at the thought of it. It was an old dress from her single days, and she actually couldn’t believe she’d ever worn it.

Hector walked toward the door. “Try it on now,” he commanded before shutting the door behind him.

Claire sighed and started to undress. She’d barely put a thought into anything she had worn in the last three and a half months, sticking to comfortable jeans or leggings and bulky sweaters or long t-shirts. She slid the dress over her head and wiggled her way into it. It was a little snug, but, looking at herself in her full-length mirror, she saw that it accentuated her curves, making her look far more voluptuous than she ever felt. She quickly pushed away the thought of wishing Jamie was there to see her in it, and called out through the door, “Alright, you can come in now.”

Hector walked in and let out a loud, “Woo!” He looked her up and down. “Girl, you look A-mazing. John, get up here and see this!”

Claire blushed as she waited for John to run up the stairs. “Wow, Claire,” he said when he walked in the room. “You really do look great. I forgot you had a body under all those layers,” he teased.

“Enough!” she said in mock exasperation.

“Alright, alright,” Hector said, waving his hands at John. “You go on, now; I’ve got more work to do on our girl.”

An hour later, Claire was covered in a layer of make-up and so much glitter she was afraid she would blind someone if the sun reflected off of it.  Her hair was piled on her head in a curly mass, with a few tendrils purposely pulled out to frame her face. It was a teeny bit overdone, but she was genuinely having fun with Hector and decided to just go with it.

Hector drove them into DC and they dropped their overnight bags off at Hector’s apartment before walking the several blocks to the bar. “Nellie’s Sports Bar?” Claire asked skeptically. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”

“You’ll see,” John told her as he nudged her toward the door. She laughed once she stepped inside and saw that the walls were adorned with pictures of shirtless athletes. Hector dragged John away from the TVs playing basketball games.

“Let’s go up to the patio,” he said, pointing toward the ceiling.

They elbowed their way through the crowd and walked up the stairs to the second floor. Pushing through even more people, they finally found their way to the patio. It was packed, but the air was at least a little easier to breath. A DJ booth off to one side was blasting C & C Music Factory, and there were as many people dancing as there were standing around and socializing. Hector took off to get drinks, and Claire smiled at John. “I know I’ve told you this a hundred times, but I really like him.”

“Me too,” John replied, giving her hand a squeeze.

Hector returned with drinks for everyone, plus a tray of shots in little plastic test tubes. He set them on the high-top table they were standing next to and then handed one to each of them. “Better get started!” Hector said, raising his test tube in the air. “To Claire’s first night at the gay bar!”  They clinked them together and downed the drinks quickly. “There’s plenty more where that came from,” he said, gesturing toward the nine shots that were still left in the tray.

As Claire finished her martini, chatting and laughing with John and Hector, she started to relax and enjoy herself. Her entire body tingled with the alcohol, the music, the buzz of people around her. It was so hard to not wish that Jamie was with her for every mundane moment in her life, but she found it much easier with a bit of alcohol in her.

After another round of shots, Claire grabbed John’s hand. “Let’s dance!” she shouted in his ear.

He laughed and shook his head. “I’m not drunk enough to dance. You and Hector go.”

Hector needed no convincing and they weaved their way to where the other dancers were. She let the music wash over her shaking her hips and throwing her hands in the air. “You’re a pretty good dancer for a white girl,” Hector teased as he grabbed her by the waist and moved with her.

A bit later, John joined them, carrying the tray of shots. There were two left each and they quickly drank them back. John had apparently imbibed enough at that point to dance. and they all lost themselves in the music. Claire hadn’t felt so free in a long time. She let herself go, dancing wildly. A  shirtless man carrying another tray of shots weaved his way through the dance floor and they each bought two more. Hector and John sandwiched Claire between them, all three of their hips grinding and butts bumping.

Hours later, they stumbled home, stopping to buy a pizza on the way. Back at Hector’s apartment, Claire sat on the floor with the pizza in front of her, sauce smeared across her face trying to manage the cheese that was threatening to fall out of her mouth. Hector and John teased her for being such a mess and eventually put her to bed on the couch before going off on their own to Hector’s room.

Day One hundred and thirteen

Claire woke up with a screaming hangover. She stumbled into the kitchen and saw that John had left out a glass of water and two ibuprofen on the counter for her. Smiling, she gratefully took the pills and chugged the rest of the water. She found the coffee and put it on to brew before peeking in Hector’s fridge. She found eggs and sausages, so she located his frying pans and started to cook up breakfast for everyone.

John and Hector stumbled down the hall when they smelled the coffee. They moved their chairs close together at the small kitchen table and Hector laid his head on John’s shoulder as Claire put mugs of coffee and plates down in front of them. She seated herself across from them and they all quietly dug into their food, nobody speaking until they had all finished their coffee.

Finally Hector said, “I told you it would be fun, dancing queen.”

Claire groaned and put her head in her hands. “Ughhh. It was fun, but I’m paying for it today. Thank you though, seriously. I didn’t realize how much I needed that.”

John smiled at her. “Only sixty-eight more days to go.”

Day One hundred and forty six

With school over for the year, and John away with Hector for Memorial Day, Claire faced a lonely three-day weekend. They had invited her to go along with them to Rehoboth Beach, but she had declined both that and Gillian’s invitation to take her to Fire Island. Jenny had even tried to get her to make the drive to Lallybroch, but Claire just couldn’t get up the energy to do it. Exams had been exhausting and she just wanted to rest and wallow a little.

She sat at the kitchen island, sipping coffee and contemplating how much she wanted to try to accomplish that day. The lawn needed to be mowed, but she could just pay Allan Christie to take care of that. The house needed a good cleaning, though, so she threw on some shorts and a tank top, put a Queen album in the CD player, and got to work dusting furniture, mopping the floors, and scrubbing the toilet.

There was a knock on the front door which Claire ignored until she heard someone calling, “Hello?” She rolled her eyes and groaned. Tom Christie.

“I’ll be out in a minute, Tom.” She gave the bathroom sink one last wipe and rinsed the sponge, leaving it to dry. Annoyed, she walked to the front of her house to find Tom sitting in a chair in the living room. “Make yourself at home, Tom,” she said, not trying very hard to hide her sarcasm.

“Claire,” he said, standing up to greet her, “I just came over to check on you.”

Tom had been “stopping by” to check on Claire periodically since Jamie had left for training, and it would have been a sweet, neighborly gesture if the man didn’t leer at her like a hungry man staring at a steak. It had been bad enough before Jamie left, but without him there, the friendly neighbor act was getting to be a bit much. “I’m fine Tom, thank you,” she said curtly.

“Do you need Allan to mow the lawn for you?” he asked her.

“Please, if you don’t mind. I told him I would pay him when he was finished.”

“And I told you that it wasn’t necessary to pay him.” He took a few steps closer to Claire and she instinctively took a few steps back.

“Well, since it’s Allan doing the work, I think it’s up for him to decide whether or not he wants to be paid,” she told him, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Anyway,” he went on, “We are going to have a small picnic in the backyard tomorrow. Just the family. I was hoping you would like to join us.”

She resisted the urge to groan audibly. “No, thank you, Tom.”

“Oh, do you have plans?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, I just don’t want to intrude on your family time. Now, I’m quite busy, if you wouldn’t mind-”

“But I think of you as family!” Tom interrupted. “Both you and Jamie.”

Enough was enough. Claire walked past Tom and opened the front door, gesturing for him to leave. “Thank you Tom, but I’m quite busy today. You’ll have to go now.”

Flustered, he walked out the door. Before closing it, she told him, “You know, Tom, you can just call. And please stop letting yourself in.” She didn’t let him answer, shutting the door behind him.

She cursed herself for not taking anybody up on their invitations to join them that weekend as she curled up on the couch and cried.

Day One hundred and seventy nine

June 30. Jamie would be home in just one day. Claire’s nervous energy buzzed through the entire house as she cooked and cleaned and prepared for Jamie’s homecoming the following day. She prepped a lasagna for the next evening, knowing she wouldn’t want to get out of bed to cook anything, once Jamie got home. She chose her outfit carefully, laying out a sundress to slip on in the morning before Jamie arrived.

John planned to stay in with her that night to watch movies together, hoping to keep her distracted. He would head to Hector’s the next morning, before Jamie was set to arrive.  Dazed and Confused, The Fugitive, and Mrs Doubtfire were all stacked neatly next to the VCR. She figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, so they may as well stay up and binge as many movies as possible.

The bed was made with fresh sheets, and she’d aired out the bedroom, opening the windows to try to remove the stench of misery from the last six months. By the time John arrived home from work to start their movie marathon, everything was perfect. They ordered large quantities of Chinese food and cracked open one bottle of wine and then another as they made their way through the movies.

By eleven PM, twelve hours before Jamie was slated to walk through the door, she and John had both gotten a little too drunk and were both on the floor practically rolling with laughter at Mrs. Doubtfire. The volume on the television was so loud that they didn’t even hear the front door open.

It wasn’t until Claire heard, “Well ye two are a fine mess. Is this what happens when I’m no’ around to take care of ye?”

Claire scrambled to her feet at the sound of Jamie’s voice and stumbled to greet him, fat drunk-tears already pouring from her eyes. She threw herself at him and he dropped his bag, lifting her up as she wrapped her legs around his waist.

“Oh my God...you’re home...I missed you so much.” Claire went on incoherently as she sloppily placed kisses over every inch of Jamie’s face.

“And ye are drunk,” he laughed, kissing her back. They completely forgot about John as Jamie carried Claire toward the stairs, growling in her ear, “Aye, yes, I’m here, mo chridhe, and I’m going tae take ye tae bed and make ye forget I was ever gone.”

Day one

Claire rolled over in bed. The room was chilly from the air conditioner, but she was warm snuggled up next to Jamie. When he felt her move, he rolled over to face her and wrapped his arm around her. She tucked her head under his chin and buried her face in his chest. His body had changed while he was away, his muscles had become more defined and his frame slightly leaner. He smelled like a different soap, but the underlying scent of Jamie was undeniable.

She felt whole again, as if her soul had been placed on pause for six months and finally started to play again. She was ready for them to move forward together again, with whatever plans life had laid out for them.

Chapter Text

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July 1994

“Happy Anniversary, mo nighean donn,” Jamie mumbled into Claire's bare shoulder as he kissed it. “Ye’ve got the most adorable freckles from all that sun ye got yesterday.” They’d spent the previous day boating on the Potomac with John and Hector, along with Joe Abernathy, Claire’s friend from med school, and his fiance, Gail.

Claire rolled over and smiled at Jamie, pulling his face to hers so she could kiss him. "Happy Anniversary to you too. Are you going to tell me what you have planned for me today? Or what the bloody hell you're building in our backyard?"

He rolled over on top of her and pulled the blanket down. Claire shrieked in mock-protest, giggling as Jamie put his face between her breasts. "Well, first," he said, kissing one nipple, "I'm going tae wear ye out so thoroughly in this bed, ye'll no' be able tae move." He moved to the other nipple. "Then, I'm going tae bring ye breakfast." He started making a trail of kisses down her stomach. "Then, we'll get dressed for the day." He trailed off her stomach and onto her inner thigh, and she moaned in anticipation. "Then, ye'll get tae see yer surprise."

With that, he put his head between her legs and began working his tongue on her clit. Claire threw her head back as her stomach muscles clenched with excitement. Jamie had been home for two weeks and, though six months of separation had been the hardest thing she'd ever done, she was still enjoying the renewed butterflies she got in her stomach every time she saw him and the way she trembled in anticipation when he so much as touched her.

With his tongue assaulting her pussy, she dug her heels into the mattress and thrust her hips up in a plea for more. He slid his hands under her ass and held on, giving her no chance of respite from the intensity with which he was pleasuring her. His tongue dipped inside of her, and she cried out his name as she threw her hands over her head and pressed them against the headboard.

Her thighs squeezed his ears, trembling with her rapidly approaching peak. Jamie put his lips around her clit and suckled as he slipped two fingers inside her. Claire let out a guttural scream as she reached her peak, her whole body shaking as Jamie slowed his movement. He let her pulse around his fingers as he moved his tongue in lazy circles until her body finally relaxed.

He crawled his way up her body slowly and hovered over her. She looked at him with hooded eyes and lifted her arms lazily to wrap them around his neck, pulling his face down. "I want you inside me," she whispered before taking his lower lip between her teeth. He breathed in sharply and opened his mouth, drinking her in, with the taste of her still on his lips and tongue. As their tongues danced, he slowly slid inside her.

They moved together in a dance that was both familiar and unique. With each thrust, Jamie gave himself to her and she welcomed him home. His eyes were open, watching her as they both panted and moaned their way to the top, tumbling over the peak together. Claire held onto him even after he'd spilled inside her, digging her heel into his buttocks to hold him there, not wanting to sever their connection. "I love ye, mo chridhe," he told her, kissing her on the nose and pushing a stray tendril away from her eyes.

"I love you too," she whispered back hoarsely.

She finally released him and he fell to his side. Claire instantly curled up against him, practically purring with happiness. "I love ye like this, mo nighean donn." Jamie twirled his fingers in her hair as he spoke quietly. "I love ye with yer face flush with pleasure and yer hair wild, curled against me as if a strong wind would take ye away if ye didna hold onto me. I ken ye dinna need me; yer so strong on yer own, but ye give yerself tae me anyway. Ye let yerself need me, mo ghraidh, and I'm so thankful for that every day."

"I think you give me too much credit," she said, taking his hand and lacing her fingers with his. "Needing you isn't a choice at all. But I do choose you everyday. Remember your father said that to us on our wedding day?"

"Aye, he said 'falling in love is something that happens to ye; staying in love is something ye make happen,'" Jamie recalled with a chuckle. "My da, the poet."

"Now I know where you get it from," she teased.

Jamie turned over on his back and pulled Claire in so that her head rested on his chest. "What do ye think we'll be doing at this time on our fifth anniversary, Sassenach?"

"Four years from now?" she asked thoughtfully, tracing patterns on his chest and abdomen with her finger. "Well, I'll be doing my Residency so I'll be lucky if I have a day off."

"Yer no' verra romantic."

"Well, it's true." She looked up at Jamie and he scowled at her. "Fine, how about on our tenth anniversary?”

"We'll be in this bed, trying tae be quiet so the bairns dinna walk in on us," he said, kissing her on top of her head.

"Hmmmm...maybe they can stay with Uncle John that weekend…"

"Nah. We'll want them to celebrate with us later. We'll have a wee cookout and they can run around with their older cousins."

"You've certainly got this planned out," Claire laughed. "How many children will we have by then?"

"Oh, at least two. A boy and a girl, Brian and Ellen." His voice was so sincere, so certain; Claire couldn't help but laugh.

"I'm sorry," she said when he gave her a look and started to get out of bed. "You just seem so sure of it. It's adorable, really. Please come back to bed."

"Och, I'm no' mad at ye, Sassenach. I'm only looking fer one of yer gifts." He fumbled around in the closet before returning with a small book wrapped with a bow.

"What is it?" she asked, turning the book over in her hands.

"Ye ken the first anniversary gift is paper, aye? Well, this is a journal." He climbed back in the bed with her, sitting up against the headboard. He took the book out of her hands again and opened it, showing her the inside. The page on the left said: Predictions: Five Years and on the right side: Our First Five Years. "Today, we're going to write down all the things we think will happen in five years, ten years, and on and on. And then on every fifth anniversary, we'll write down what really happened in those five years."

Claire thumbed through the book. He'd labeled each page, up until their eightieth anniversary. "Jamie, it's perfect," she said with tears in her eyes. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. "You are amazing.”

He smiled as she kissed him. "Come on, now. Let's get some clothes on and go eat breakfast. We can write everything down in our wee journal, and then I have a second surprise for ye."

They dressed in shorts and t-shirts, as Jamie had instructed, and went downstairs and into the kitchen. Claire settled herself on a stool and opened the journal, staring at the first page thoughtfully. "Four years from now…" she mused, rolling one end of the pen around in her mouth, "1998. I'll be starting my third year of Residency…" Her voice trailed off as Jamie moved noisily around the kitchen.

He whisked the eggs in a metal bowl and looked up, smiling. "What troubles ye, Sassenach?"

"We don't even know where we'll be living then." She tapped the pen on the counter nervously. "How can I predict what this day will be like?"

"Mo chridhe, it doesna matter where we are. What do ye want us to be like? What do ye want our family tae look like?" He paused, pouring the eggs in the hot pan. "Imagine we could take this very house and drop it anywhere in the world; what would ye like the two of us to be doing inside it?"

Claire sighed and fidgeted in her seat. With her nomadic childhood, she'd never even thought to try to predict what the future held. When she’d taken up residency in New York in her teens, it had been the first time since she was five years old that she'd been able to predict with any sort of certainty what her life would be like six months or a year into the future. When Med school and Residency were on the horizon, she'd easily adapted to the idea that her life was going to continue to be unpredictable

And then James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser had walked into her life and changed everything. He was her home now. She watched her man stirring eggs and pulling toast out of the toaster, and she knew he was right. As long as she was with him, she was home.

"Alright, then." She quickly scratched down Claire doing Residency, and then hovered the pen over the journal. "Five years, Fraser. What do we want our life to be like?"

Jamie plated their food and brought it over to the counter, sitting down across from Claire. "What's got ye stuck, Sassenach? Are ye thinking of getting rid of me before then?"

Claire rolled her eyes. "Don't be silly. I just…. Jamie, do you want to have children by then? Just four years from now? I know you mentioned it at ten years, but what about five? Is that too soon for you?"

Jamie nearly choked. "Too soon for me? Och, no, Sassenach. I'd have had ye barefoot and pregnant a year ago if it was only up tae me. Thank goodness ye've got enough sense to keep me in check."

"What if I'd lost my good sense altogether while we were apart? What if, when I held my new niece in my arms a few months ago, my body actually ached as if something were missing from it?" She looked down shyly and stirred her eggs around the plate. "Would that be crazy? Would everyone think we're idiots? Shouldn't we wait until our lives are more stable?"

"Claire," Jamie began, trying to keep his voice measured to hide his enthusiasm, "do ye remember when we were first together and ye freaked out that things were moving too quickly? We promised each other that day tae do what felt right for us and not worry about what people think we should do." Claire nodded, smiling at the memory of the day she’d decided she was going to hold onto this man forever.

"I practically moved in with ye the first night I met ye, and we were engaged six months later," Jamie went on. " We're twenty-four years old and we own our own home. We havena taken anything slow in our entire time together. If we're ready for a bairn, why should anything hold us back?"

"Hmmmmm…" she considered carefully. Finally, she put the pen to the paper and wrote, under the five year predictions, Jamie + Claire = Brian & Ellen. She flipped the journal around and showed Jamie.

He smiled at her and she swore she saw a tear in his eye. He cleared his throat finally and said, "If we're tae have two children by then, we'd need tae start trying now."

"I know," she replied, winking at him and standing to clear the dishes. She set the dirty plates in the sink and, before she could turn around to join Jamie at the counter, she felt his hands on her hips, his erection pressed into her back.

“Do ye want to start right now, mo ghraidh? Cause I need ye,” he whispered hoarsely into her ear, his breath tickling her, making her shiver. He was already moving his hips slowly, and she leaned back into him, her head on his chest.

Claire moved with him as his hands roamed her body, putting them up the front of her shirt and massaging her breasts. When he pinched her nipples, her knees went weak. Jamie held onto her tight and bent the upper half of her body over the counter. Her voice cracked, “Yes, Jamie. I want to start right now.”

Jamie growled and yanked at her shorts and underwear. “Ye ken I canna resist ye when ye wear these wee things, Sassenach, wi’ yer arse peeking out from the bottom.” He pushed them down to the floor and she stepped out of them as he pulled his own shorts down.

Claire panted with anticipation, waiting for Jamie to push inside of her. Her legs trembled, but he didn’t make a move right away; his hands continued to roam over every part of her, fingers finally reaching her hot, wet center. He groaned when he felt how wet she was, collecting her juices on his fingers and rubbing her clit with one hand as he used the other to steady her at the hip. He lined up his cock and plunged it inside her, watching as she opened to him, watching his cock slide in and out of her at a furious pace. She gripped at the counter top and cried out, the sound fading into a continuous groan that increased with volume at every thrust.

Jamie reached one hand up and yanked Claire’s head back by the hair, pulling her almost upright as he moved himself up and down, grunting with the effort. He felt her muscles tense, a sure sign of her imminent orgasm, and he moved his fingers back to her clit, rubbing rabidly as she leaned back against him. She yelled out, “Jamie!” and fell forward against the counter, her body twitching as the waves overcame her, sending Jamie over the edge. He laid his body over hers as he came inside of her, reaching his hand around her waist and pulling her entire body as close to his as he could.

When he was spent, he nibbled at her neck and whispered in her ear, “That was a good start, aye?” Then, feeling like a proud male lion who’d just mated for the first time, he stood and smacked her on the bottom.

Claire shrieked and stood up straight, grabbing at her arse as she giggled. “Jamie!” They both laughed as she tried to reach around to give him a smack in return. He grabbed her arms and spun her back around, wrapping his arms around her, holding hers in place.

“Hush, mo ghraidh,” he said, burying his head in her hair and rocking her back and forth. “God, I love ye. Now let’s go get cleaned up a bit and finish our journal. I want tae show ye your other surprise soon.”

***

They spent the next hour writing out their plans for the next seventy-nine years, laughing together as they wrote down milestones such as ‘Claire’s first grey hair’ and ‘Getting our first walkers together’. Claire presented Jamie with her gift to him: tickets to Lollapalooza in upstate New York later that summer. Ian and Jenny would be going with them, and they would get to spend some time with the family. “It’s not quite as romantic as your gift, but I suppose it will do,” Claire demurred when he thanked her.

Finally, they put the journal away in a box that held their wedding momentos. Sifting through the box, they got caught up in the memories of that day, and ended up sitting on the couch together looking through their wedding album.

Finally, Jamie left Claire in the living room to run outside and prepare to give her the next gift. He went into the backyard and removed the various canvases and coverings from the surprise he’d been building for her over the previous two weeks. Then he went back into the house and made her close her eyes as he led her outside.

When he finally let her open her eyes, she squinted at the bright sun. As they adjusted to the light she saw the raised beds Jamie had built for her, and a smile broke out on her face. "Oh, Jamie. I can’t believe you did all this!”

“I ken I was supposed tae do this in the spring,” he told her, “And I’m sorry it’s too late to grow any of yer wee vegetables this year, but I bought a bunch of flowers to fill them with fer now.” He pointed out a spot in the corner of the yard that was marked off with stakes. “I’m going tae build ye a wee shed right there, and ye can use this bed fer the herb garden ye’ve been wanting.”

Claire pursed her lips, holding back her tears. “Jamie,” she said, as she reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck. “It’s perfect. You’re perfect.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.

“I’ve got all the flowers fer planting in the garage,” he told her. “Let’s get them out and get tae work. Does that suit ye, Sassenach?”

She was already heading into the garage and Jamie laughed at her eagerness. Ever since they’d bought the house, she’d talked non-stop about her plans for her wee gardens and all the time she would spend tending to them. The guilt of not being able to make do on his promise to get the beds ready for the spring had eaten at him, and he’d been more than eager to get started on the project as soon as he’d gotten home.

They spent the rest of the day planting and tending to the new gardens. When they were finished, they showered together and then Jamie threw some steaks on the grill. They ate in the yard, both getting a little tipsy on wine, and then went inside to cuddle up together and watch a movie. Claire fell asleep on the couch in the middle of the movie, and Jamie carried her up to bed. He watched her as she slept, laying a hand on her stomach and praying over her in Gaelic.

God, shield my beloved,my white dove.

And the child that she may one day bear.

Preserve her from violence and from harm.

In this place and every place.

On this night and on every night.

***

The rest of the summer went by quickly. Jamie went back to work; Claire took summer classes. They grilled almost every night, sometimes just the two of them, but more often with John. On the weekends they worked in the gardens and spent time with Joe and Gail, along with John and Hector.

September came and Claire was back to her full load of classes, feeling more exhausted than ever by the work, the studying, the long commute. Some nights he would cover her with a blanket or carry her to bed when she fell asleep studying on the couch. Other evenings she would spend hours in the library, getting home even after Jamie. On those nights, he would always have dinner ready when she got home.

Which was why Claire was confused when she came home late one evening to find Jamie sitting in the living room drinking a whisky. "What's the matter, Jamie? Do you feel ok?" she asked as she removed her shoes and hung her coat up.

"Come sit, mo nighean donn." He smiled, though he couldn't hide the grim look in his eyes, and patted the seat next to him.

"Jamie, you're scaring me." Despite her anxiety, she sat down with him.

Jamie put his drink down and took her hands in his. "I have tae leave ye again, Claire."

"I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

"They're sending me tae the Middle East, Claire. I'll be gone fer about three months."

"No," she said, shaking her head. "Not so soon. Jamie, I just got you back.

"I'm sorry, Claire. I ken it’s no' fair tae ye, but it will only be three months this time."

She was crying, not even bothering to wipe the tears away. "Will you be home for Christmas?'

Jamie rubbed her back and handed her a tissue. "I dinna ken. I wish I did, but they couldna give an exact date."

"When do you leave? Could they tell you that at least?"

"In one week…" he told her quietly.

"One week?" Her sadness turned quickly to hot anger and she stood up from the couch and paced the room. "They're giving you one week notice to go halfway around the world?"

Jamie got up from the couch and tried to embrace her, but she pushed him away. "Claire," he pleaded, "I'm sorry, but ye ken this is what I signed up for."

"What you signed up for, Jamie?" she spat back. "What about what I signed up for? I never agreed to this. I never signed up to be married to a man who would be gone more than he's here."

Jamie's patience was already worn thin after spending an entire day trying to beg his way out of his deployment. His temper flared and he shouted back, "Ye're the one who told me to take the Officer's training, Claire. I wasna going tae take it, but ye pushed me. So dinna try tae tell me now that ye didna sign up fer this."

"I was trying to be a good wife and support you, you utter arsehole. But please throw that in my face now."

"Dammit, Claire, do ye think that I want this? Do ye think it makes me happy tae be away from ye?"

"No. I don't think that. But I do think that a part of you is happy to go off on your little adventure, even if it means leaving me here alone again." Exhausted, she collapsed in a nearby chair and covered her face as she cried.

"Claire," Jamie uttered, kneeling down next to the chair and burying his face in her lap. "I dinna want this, and I promise after this trip, I'll figure something else out, ok? I have tae do this. We canna afford for me to lose my job with ye still in school, but I promise after I get back, I'll figure something else out. Either I'll ask for a new position in the department or find something else entirely. I promise ye."

She ran her fingers through the curls that were just beginning to grow back from the short cut that had been required during his training. "I love you, Jamie," she said hoarsely. "I'm sorry I'm holding you back from your dream job. I just can't live a life like this."

He looked up at her and shook his head. His eyes were red and puffy. "Mo nighean donn, do ye no' ken I've already got my dream job? All the adventure in the world is nothing compared to being your husband."

They clung to each other that night, and every night for the next week as they hectically prepared for his departure. The weekend before he left, Jenny insisted on visiting with Ian and the children, arguing that she'd only seen her brother once since he'd been back. Brian came along with them, so instead of having time alone with Jamie before he left, she found herself playing host to her in-laws, fighting for time with her husband even as they saw him off at the airport.

"I love you, soldier," she sobbed into his neck as she clung to him in the waiting area near the gate. "Please be safe and come back in one piece."

"Och, Sassenach. Ye worry too much. I'm only going tae a training center. I'll be teaching. It's perfectly safe. I love ye and I promise, once I get back I'll never leave ye again."

Claire stood with Brian, Jenny, Ian, and the kids as they watched the plane take off. Afterwards, they went back to the house and packed their own things, hitting the road and heading back to Lallybroch.

Claire was left alone until John came home from Hector's, where he'd spent the weekend, wisely staying away from the house full of Frasers and Murray's. They ate leftovers and watched Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman before calling it a night altogether.

The next morning, when Claire woke up, her stomach lurched and she scrambled out of bed, barely making it to the toilet. She emptied the contents of her stomach and then sat there paralyzed with her head hung over the bowl. She briefly considered that it could be a stomach bug or even food poisoning, but deep down she already knew.

John walked out of his room in his boxers, rubbing his sleepy eyes with the back of his hands. "What's wrong, Claire, are you sick?"

She leaned back on her heels, grabbing on to the sink to pull herself up. "No, I'm not sick," she said, turning on the tap and collecting water in her hand. She slurped the water up, rinsing her mouth and spitting into the sink. "I'm pregnant."

Chapter Text

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September 24, 1994

Dear Claire,

            It feels strange to be writing you letters when you've never been more than a phone call away. Even when I was at training, and I couldn't see you, I knew I could get in my car and be back with you in an hour. Now there's 7,000 miles between us and I can feel every single one of them.

            But enough of that. I don't want my letters to make you feel worse.

            I would have written to you sooner, but this is the first time I've felt human since I left you at the airport. It's 2 pm on Saturday, and I only got up an hour ago (I just realized it's 6 am in Maryland, so you are definitely still sleeping). It's been a complete blur since I landed early Tuesday morning.

            There's not a whole lot I can tell you about where I am or what I'm doing. I think I can tell you that I'm surrounded by mostly Americans and Scots, so things are never quiet.

            One of the Scots, Duncan, grew up not far from Broch Morda, so we've been hanging out a lot, talking about the places and even some people we knew in common. It's been nice to at least be reminded of home - my first home - while I've had to be away from you.

            My roommate, another one of the instructors, is a Chinese American named Yi Tien Cho (but he tells me everyone calls him Willoughby). He's an interesting guy; he emigrated from China in the 80s when he was eighteen. Apparently, he wanted to go to university, but he didn't pass the exams, so he was going to be sent to work as a farm laborer. Instead he went to America and joined the military.

            I don't know what else to tell you about, mo nighean donn. I miss you so much it pains me. I hope John and Hector have been keeping you busy so that you aren't thinking about me too much (but make sure you think of me a little, aye?). I want you to have fun and enjoy your time while I'm gone (but not too much, ok? I don't want you to think you can do without me). You should take a weekend and go visit Gillian in New York and have one of your wee girl's weekends.

            I'd write more about all the ways I miss you and tell you in detail all the depraved thoughts I have about you while I'm lying in bed at night, but I know this letter will be inspected and I don't want to get kicked out for being degenerate.

            I love you, Claire, so very much. I swear this is the last time I'll be apart from you. When I get home, I'll be around you so much you'll probably get sick of me (but only a wee bit because I know you need me as much as I need you).

            Tell my sister that I'll write to her soon and to stop worrying about me. And tell my Da that I love him.

Love,

Your husband,

Jamie

***

October 3, 1994

Dear Jamie,

            I got your letter when I got home from school today and I think I've read it five times already. Reading it was like hearing your voice, even more than those five minutes of staticky conversation we had the other day were. (Of course, I'm grateful for any phone call you can make to me...it's just so hard trying to have a conversation when you can only understand every other word).

            So, even though we may talk again before you get this letter, I'm going to share our news here first, so that you can read it without having to say "What?!?" ten times before you understand me. (And I apologize for not telling you this when we did talk, but I wanted to be sure).

            Wow, this is really hard to write down now that the time is here.

            I'm pregnant. If my calculations are correct, I'll be due around the end of May, but I'll know more when I got to my first doctor's appointment (in two weeks).

            Please don't worry about me. Everything is fine. I'm having a lot of morning sickness (and afternoon sickness and evening sickness) but I spoke to the doctor today and she said it's all normal. And yes, I'm eating...when I can manage to keep anything down. John and Hector have been following me around like a couple of old biddies, plying me with soup and saltine crackers.

            I'm also completely exhausted, which nobody ever told me would happen so early on. I always assumed the exhaustion was from carrying around a basketball in your belly, but apparently it takes a lot of energy to grow a tiny bean into a giant Fraser baby.

            Jamie, I am so happy, and I know you will be too when you read this. The moment I realized I was pregnant (which was when I woke up puking the day after you left, by the way), I was completely overcome with joy (and nausea) and having a little piece of you with me every day makes our separation much easier this time around.

            Please don't feel guilty that you aren't here for this early part. Like I said, it's mostly just vomiting and sleeping right now (I'm very sorry that my first letter to you contains a million references to vomit), and you'll be back just in time for the good part. I can already imagine us lying in bed together with your hand on my stomach, waiting to feel the baby kick.

            Do you want to find out if we're having a boy or a girl? You don't have to decide now - you'll be home before we have to - but it's something to think about. I'll bet you want to be surprised.

            One more thing: please don't write to your family about this or tell them on the phone. I think it would be really fun to surprise them at Christmas (which I hope you’re home for). I can already see the look on Brian's face.

            I love you, James Fraser, and I can't wait to see you. Please be safe and please do not worry about me or the little bean. We'll be right here waiting for you when you come home.

 

Love,

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser

(& my little hitchhiker)

***

October 13, 1994

Claire,

            I've been sitting here for an hour trying to decide how to start this letter. My mind is completely blank except for the flood of happiness that took over the minute I read those words, “I’m pregnant.”

            I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy in my entire life. Claire, you have already given me more than a man could ever ask for, and now you’re carrying my child. Please, please take care of yourself and the little guy (I know it’s too soon to know, but I already KNOW it’s a boy. He’ll have your brown curls and my blue eyes, and he’ll be a braw laddie).

            I know you told me not to worry, but I can’t help it. How do I know that you’re taking care of yourself? You always try to push yourself and do too much, and you ALWAYS forget to eat when I’m not there to feed you. I’ll have to write a letter to John to make sure he knows how to make you eggs (Can you even eat them sunny side up now? You better not until you ask the doctor).

            I want to write more about what’s been happening these last few weeks (nothing important, just day to day things), but I can’t remember anything right now. It all pales in comparison to this news. All I can think of is getting home to you. Do you think you’ll have a wee bump by the time I get back? Christ, I can’t wait to see you plump (I wonder if your ass will get bigger too?) and waddling around. I can’t wait to rub your feet every night and run to the grocery store at midnight to get you pickles and ice cream.

            The only other thought that crosses my mind is worry that I’ll be able to provide for our family. I promised that I will leave this job once this time away from you is over, and I will not break that promise. But I haven’t given a single thought as to what I’ll do next. How stupid of me to think that I would have plenty of time to figure that out. I know one day you’ll be a fancy doctor able to take care of all of us yourself, but until then it’s up to me, and I promise you I will do whatever I have to do. If I have to clean toilets while I go back to school to prepare for the next steps, I’ll gladly do it knowing that I will be coming home to you and our bairn every night.

            There are a thousand things going through my mind right now, and I don’t want them to worry you. I will do the worrying for both of us - your only job right now is to grow that little pumpkin seed. I will take care of the rest. Please just rest and eat and stay relaxed, knowing that I’ll always take care of you.

Love,

Jamie

PS I don’t care if we find out if it’s a boy or a girl. I would like to be surprised, but I know you would rather be as prepared as possible, so I’ll leave that decision up to you and be happy with whatever you choose.

PPS What do you think of the name Dalhouise for a boy?

***

 

October 14, 1994

John,

            Claire wrote to me about her news. I am so incredibly grateful because I know that if I can’t be there right now, she is in the best possible hands with you and Hector. She says that you are making sure she eats and thank God for that because we both know the wee thing would live off ramen noodles if left to her own devices.

            I have an even bigger favor to ask you, John. Sometimes I worry that I’m taking advantage of your friendship with all that we depend on you for, but you are the only person I trust to follow through.

            I’m not trying to alarm you. I am doing relatively safe work and things are about as stable as we could expect where I am. But I can’t ignore the fact that I am in the Middle East and anything could happen.

            John, you are like a brother to me, so I want you to promise me that you will make sure Claire and the bairn are taken care of if anything happens to me. I know it’s a lot to ask, but last night I couldn’t sleep because I was sick with worry about what would happen to them if something happened to me. Claire will need to be strong for the bairn - she will need you to help with that. She’ll need somebody to paint the nursery and put together the crib and be with her at the hospital when the bairn is born. And the bairn will need a man in his life to be there for him from time to time, someone he can depend on.

            I’m sorry to send such a morbid letter, but I didn’t think I would be able to sleep until I put these words on paper and sent them off again.

Your friend,

Jamie

 

***

October 19, 1994

Dear Jamie,

            I know you probably haven't even received my previous letter yet, but I just had to send you a quick note (and picture).

            I went to see the doctor today and she confirmed that I am 8 weeks pregnant and everything is well. I could even see the heartbeat on the screen (sending you a picture with the little lines to show you).  According to the baby book, the little one is the size of a raspberry this week (also sending the clearest picture we could get of my little hitchhiker).

            Yes, I've come to think of the baby as a hitchhiker, my constant companion. We go everywhere together and (I know this sounds crazy when I don't even think the little thing has ears yet) I talk to him constantly. It's rather nice having a little buddy with me, especially when I'm missing you so much.

            I promise to write more soon. I've got to study for an exam now and then work on some other odds and ends for school. My extra sleep time is really cutting into my studying time, but the doctor says that I’ll start feeling less tired in the second trimester (which is only five weeks away - it’s already going so fast!).

            I love you and I miss you so much, and so does the little hitchhiker. I know she can’t wait to hear your voice (I know you probably think the baby is a boy, but I’m convinced it’s a little girl with curly red hair and your beautiful blue eyes).

Love,

Claire

(and baby Ellen, probably)

***

October 23, 1994

Dear Jamie,

            Dalhousie?!??! Have you lost your mind? It sounds like a sneeze! What happened to Brian? I’m going to chalk this up to the desert heat going to your head!

            This week the hitchhiker is the size of a cherry (no comments about my nipples staring at you like cherries again, please!). It’s hard to believe that a baby that small could be wreaking so much havoc on my body, but here we are. My all-day sickness has gotten worse (I thought it was supposed to get better!) and I already look bloated. I’m going to look like a beached whale before you know it, and you won’t even recognize me when you get home.

            Do you have any news on when you’re coming home, darling? While the hitchhiker makes for decent company, she doesn’t make me laugh like you do. The weather is getting colder, and I miss my personal furnace. And I miss YOU, Jamie. I miss waking up in the night and reaching out my hand to feel you there.  I miss seeing your smile when I walk in the door in the evenings. I miss your hearty laughter that fills the entire house with sound and my heart with joy. I miss your touch. I miss the way you come to me in need, with that look in your eyes that tells me that if you don’t have me straight away, you might just implode like a supernova and cease to exist.

            I hope I haven’t made whoever is screening this letter blush…. believe me that it is the PG version of what I would really like to say to you.

            Last week I was watching 90210 with John and Hector, and I missed you teasing us about it and then asking all sorts of questions about what is going on, and then eventually ending up cuddled on the couch with me watching it. Just so you know: Brandon won the election, but Josh died in a car accident right before. Dylan slept with Valerie (of course he did!). Donna is dating a construction worker/singer. Andrea caught Jesse flirting with other women; Andrea is flirting with other men and the Peach Pit is now holding raves.

            I hope you enjoyed your pictures of the hitchhiker. I can’t wait to hear from you.           

            Love,

Claire

(& the cherry)

***

October 25, 1994

Dear Jamie,

            My friend, you don’t even have to ask. You know that you and Claire are my family, and I would do anything for either of you. It may seem that you ask a lot of me, but I think that you sometimes forget that the two of you are the reason that I am living a life of happiness now instead of being resigned to a life in a miserable marriage.

            And when my parents told me they were disowning me; you and Claire were there to pick up the pieces. I’ve spent my holidays with your family ever since, and Claire’s uncle has become a mentor to me. The two of you have always supported me, and you will have my ever-faithful devotion for the rest of my life for that.

            Which is why I need you to come home safe. You are my best friend, my brother, and I can’t imagine a world without you in it.

            But I promise that, should the unthinkable happen, I will always be there for Claire and the baby. I’m already waiting on both of them hand and foot, so it won’t be much different than normal.

            This letter is already way too sappy and full of feelings. I know that you will be back safely with us soon, and until then, your wife is in good hands.

Your friend,

John

***

November 5, 1994

Dear Claire,

            I’m sorry it’s taken me a bit to write back to you. Things have been incredibly busy here and I am so tired by the time I get back to my room at night, I barely have the energy to lift the pen. Of course, I shouldn’t complain because I know it pales in comparison to how exhausted you must be.

            I told Willoughby about our wee bairn on the way, and he wrote up a list of Chinese herbs to buy to help with your morning sickness and such (you should be able to purchase them in DC).

            I have to let you know that I’ll be going out into the field to do some work for a couple of weeks, and I won’t be able to write to you as often and I’m not sure about phone calls either, so please don’t worry if you don’t hear from me. You’re carrying our child and the last thing I want is for you to be fashing yourself about me.

            Please take care of yourself and the bairn. Make sure you’re eating. Make sure you’re resting. Put your feet up at the end of the day. It won’t be long before I’m home and I can take care of you.

Love,

Jamie

***

November 15, 1994

Dear Jamie,

            You tell me not to worry about you, as if that's even possible. I have tried so hard to be positive in all my letters to you, but you need to know that I worry about you every second of every day. It never stops.

            First you tell me you have to go off to the bloody Middle East, but you told me not to worry because you'll be in a safe place, which is rubbish to begin with. They wouldn't be sending you there if it was safe! Now you have to go off "into the field" whatever the hell that means.

            I hate this, Jamie. I HATE IT! I sit here at home day in and day out and I have no idea where you are or what you're doing or if I'll ever even see you again.         

            I won't bother to write again until I hear from you because I don't see the point if you won't be able to read them.

            I swear to God, James Fraser, you better come home safe or else I will come after you myself and drag you back by your curls!

 

Your wife,

Claire

***

November 16, 1994

            Oh, Jamie, please forgive me for that horrible letter I wrote yesterday. My temper got the best of me. I love you so much and I'm just so bloody worried about you.

            I just want you home with me, Love. I need to see you and touch you to know that you're safe.

            If you should happen to read this letter before the other one, please tear the other one up and never look at it.

 

Love,

Claire

PS The baby is the size of a passion fruit and I was able to hear her heartbeat at my appointment last week. It was the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. I can't wait until you are here, and you can listen with me.

***

November 25, 1994

Dear Claire,

            Happy Thanksgiving, mo chridhe. Did you go to Lallybroch? Or did you stay in Maryland? Maybe Uncle Lamb came to visit? I hope you write to me soon and tell me all about it.

            I did read both your letters, and I can't say I wasn't hurt by the way you lashed out at me. I'm struggling, too, Claire. I hate being away from you and all I can think about is the day I get to come home to you.

            I know you were angry and I know you needed to let that out, but I wish I hadn't come back after three weeks in the middle of a desert to a letter telling me what a terrible husband I am.

            I know you didn't use those words, but I can't help feeling that was your intention behind them. I'm doing my best, Claire. From the moment I met you, everything I've done, every decision I've made, has been with your best interest in mind. Sometimes I think you forget that we need money to eat and put a roof over our heads while you finish school.

            But I don't want to chide you back. I don't want to be fighting with you when we're already so far apart. I forgive you for what you said, and I hope you can forgive me for not being there.

 

Love,

Jamie

***

December 9, 1994

Dear Jamie,

            I've behaved horribly and I'm so sorry. I would have written to you sooner, but I've been waiting to see how you reacted. And now I know that I've hurt your feelings.

            I love you so much. The only reason I got so upset is because of how much I miss you. You're a wonderful husband and you're going to be the world's best father, too.

            I'm sending you a picture of me. I finally have a bump and I know you'll want to see it (though I hope you'll be home to see it too). My little hitchhiker is the size of an orange now and must be growing like crazy because I am so hungry all the time. (That’s how I know I'm definitely carrying a Fraser.) By Christmas we might even be able to feel her moving around.

            I hate to bring this up, but you've been gone almost 3 months now and you haven't mentioned at all if you're going to be home by Christmas. I can't wait for you to be here so we can share our wonderful news together. You have no idea how hard it's been to keep this from your sister. I'm just bursting with the news every time she calls.

            Hopefully I'll hear from you by phone before this letter reaches you and hopefully, you'll be telling me that you'll be home soon.

 

I love you,

Claire

***

December 15, 1994

Mo ghraidh,

            I just got off the phone with you and I miss your voice already. I'm sorry I made you cry; I'm sorry for this whole awful mess. And I'm sorry I won't be able to spend Christmas with you.

            I can't believe I'm not going to be able to spend our last Christmas as a family of two with you.  Or see the look on my Da's face when he finds out he's going to be a Grandda again. I want to watch Jenny fuss over you while she makes plans for some extravagant baby shower with a million people you don't even know.

            At least we have a date now, though April 15th seems so far away. I'm going to miss almost your entire pregnancy. None of this is fair, Claire. And I'm so sorry.

 

Love,

Jamie

***

January 2, 1995

Jamie,

            I decided to wait until after Hogmanay to write to you so I could tell you all about the holidays at once. Also, I want you to know that my New Year's Resolution is to be more positive, so I'm not going to think about how much I miss you anymore and just focus on how happy I'll be when you get home.

            I had bought a Christmas ornament to give to your father that said "Baby's First Christmas, 1995" on it, but Brian noticed my bump first thing, of course! (I guess it's a bit bigger than I realized). The second he helped me get my coat off, his eyes bugged out of his head and he scooped me up in a Brian Bear Hug.

            That set your sister off and she spent about two days moaning about how I didn't tell her sooner while she fussed over me and wouldn't let me lift a finger. (I really should get pregnant more often...it gets me out of everything).  It was nice for John and Hector, though...they finally got a break from waiting on me. (I really am spoiled, and I should never, ever complain about being lonely).

            Uncle Lamb came this year and so did Murtagh. The house was so full and loud and happy. And you should see the kids, Jamie. They've all grown up so much.

            We had a really lovely Christmas and then your sister decided she needed to throw a big party for Hogmanay at the last minute, so everyone went into a flurry decorating and cooking and cleaning. I was ordered to just hang out on the couch watching movies with the kiddos and I was more than happy to take on that duty.

            So, December 31 came, and people started showing up and I swear to you, Jamie, your sister invited every Scottish person in the Northeast. Your Uncle Dougal even made an appearance (he made sure to tell me that I was glowing and that if I was missing you too much, he'd be happy to take your place).

            Your Aunt Jocasta came, too, and you'll never guess who I caught her kissing under the mistletoe when they thought nobody was looking. MURTAGH! I almost died.

            Right before midnight, everybody toasted to me and the baby and your safe return. It really was beautiful.

            I miss you and I'm counting down the days until your return. Next week I find out if we're having a boy or a girl, but I won't tell you unless you want to know.

Love,

Claire

PS Baby is the size of a mango this week.

***

January 14, 1995

Dear Claire,

            I am so glad you all had such a good holiday together. It makes me happy to know that you are feeling better and that even though I couldn’t be there you were still surrounded by our family.

            I’m going to try not to bring you down too much, but you’re my best friend, and who else to pour my heart out too?

            Christmas was very depressing, mo chridhe. They tried to make it happy for us but spending the holidays with people who are mostly strangers and eating dry turkey in a dining hall just isn’t very festive. All I could think about was how much I wanted to run away and be home with you and my whole family. It was hard

            But I’m going to try to take your lead and be more positive. It’s only three more months now until I see you again, and even though I wish I was there to watch your belly grow round with my child, I’m starting to warm up to the idea of seeing you for the first time when you’re already almost ready to burst.

            I ken you’ve already found out if we’re having a boy or a girl, and for that reason only, I’m glad we’re apart. I’m determined for it to be a surprise and at least this way it will be a lot harder for you to slip and tell me.

Love,

Jamie

PS please send me another picture of your bump. I found the first one very sexy.

***

January 29, 1995

Dear Jamie.

            I’m sorry it took me a little bit longer to write back to you, but I’m glad we’ve had a few phone calls in between. This semester has been completely kicking my ass, as I’ve had to start doing some clinical rotations in addition to my normal classes.

            Let me tell you that being on my feet all day with a giant Fraser baby, who I’m pretty sure is playing shinty already, in my belly has not been a great time. Supposedly the baby is the size of a grapefruit, but I’m pretty sure our child is at least the size of a soccer ball. It certainly LOOKS like a soccer ball right now (picture enclosed).

            John and Hector have been pampering me with foot massages and pedicures. Hector has basically moved in, and he and John are taking turns making me yummy meals and even doing the late-night craving runs to the stores. We’ve gotten started on the nursery and you are going to love it! I’m doing a Lion King theme, which means you are going to have to actually watch the movie when you get back.

            I’m also enclosing some pictures of the 20-week ultrasounds. The little hitchhiker is perfect...the doctor has no concerns. I miss you, but there’s only eight more weeks until you’re home now.

Love,

Claire

PS I signed us up for birthing classes for when you get home.

***

February 9, 1995

Claire,

            Any time I’ve ever seen an ultrasound picture, the baby just looked like a little tadpole, but to see our baby’s face (even if it’s a bit blurry), brought tears to my eyes. It’s been so hard for me to feel like this is all real, so to see those picture….it was almost like I was there with you.  It looks like a real baby, Claire.

            And you, looking so plump. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Even your cheeks are rounder and glowing (please send a picture of your arse next time, though. I really do need to see if it’s gotten bigger).

            Please, please, please don’t worry, Claire, but I have to go out into the field again. They just told me today and I wasn’t able to get a hold of you on the phone. I will try a few more times if I can before we leave in the morning, but you may not hear about it until you get this letter. I’ll be out for close to a month this time and you probably won’t hear from me until I’m back. But please send me more pictures to come back to.

            I love you and our little grapefruit,

Jamie

 

***

February 19, 1995

Jamie,

 

            I was wondering why I didn’t hear from you on Valentine’s Day, but I guess I know why now. I will be praying every night that you get back safely from whatever it is you are doing.

            The nursery is all set up, so you won’t have to do any work on it when you get home. Your father and Ian came down and helped us last weekend and we got the walls painted, the crib put together, and the curtains hung (enclosing pictures). Your father even built us a rocking chair!

            Our baby is the size of a head of lettuce this week, and I’ve only got one week left in the second trimester. Then it’s the home stretch, and you’ll finally be back home so we can spend some time together before we are a family of three.

            I’m enclosing some pictures of the bump (and my arse!) to brighten your day when you get back from...wherever you are.

Love,

Claire

 ***

March 15, 1995

Dear Claire,

            I’m sure I’ll talk to you on the phone as soon as I post this letter, but I still wanted to write to you right away to let you know that I’m back and I’m safe. And now there’s only one month until I’m home with you.

            Thank you so much for sending the pictures...your arse looks very lovely, and you did an awesome job on the nursery. I can’t help but feel guilty that I wasn’t the one setting it up, but it’s such a comfort to know you’re in good hands.

            One month, Claire, and we’ll never be apart again. I’ve got so many plans for when I see you again that I don’t know how I’m going to decide which comes first. All I know is that I’ll feel whole again when I see you.

            I’m going to shower now and then call you, so I won’t write any more for now. I love you Claire.

Love,

Jamie

***

31 March 1995

Dear Mrs. Fraser:

            On behalf of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, it is with deep, personal concern that I officially inform you that the duty status and whereabouts of your husband, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, has been unknown since 30 March 1995. Agent Fraser was working as a Translations and Coding Training Instructor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during an explosion that took place on 30 March 1995. We have not had contact with Agent Fraser since. Please be assured that we will furnish you with any new information we receive. Please accept my deepest sympathy during this period of anxiety.

Signed: Harold Quarry, Director of Training, Central Intelligence Agency

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She woke in the featureless, potent dawn, the first blue-grey streaks of sunlight permeating through the window emphasizing the pallor of her complexion. The tears of a suffocating grief tattooed her face, pressed against her soggy pillow. So immersed in her suffering, she was uncoupled from herself; she could see her hand lift and touch her own cheek, and observe the dampness on them without feeling it. Had she been crying in her sleep? She must have been, for there was no other explanation, but her numbed body couldn’t feel her hoarse throat or stinging eyes.

She pushed herself to a sitting position and blinked at the bundle of blankets at the foot of her bed. No. Not blankets. John. He'd promised he would stay with her until she fell asleep, and he must have fallen asleep himself.

The baby shifted, kicked, reminding Claire that she was there. She clamped her hands over her belly protectively and rubbed it, trying to soothe the oblivious child within. If she started to feel the baby, she might start to feel other things, and she was not ready for that.

She carefully swung her feet off the side of the bed and stood. The corners of her vision went dark and she grasped the headboard for balance until it passed. When the room stopped spinning, she continued on, lumbering her way to the bathroom.

After relieving the pressure on her bladder, she turned the faucets in the bathtub and popped the shower on, letting it warm as she undressed. When it was heated to her satisfaction, she stepped in and let the water wash over her.

She regretted it immediately, but it was too late. The sound of the water, the sensation of it hitting her skin woke her memory.

It was pouring outside, and Claire moved as quickly as her hulking shape would allow her. She had stopped at the grocery store on the way home from school and had to juggle them along with her school books on her way from the garage into the house. She made a mental note to ask Jamie if he could build a breezeway between the garage and the back door of the house.

Smiling at the thought of seeing Jamie in just two weeks, she unloaded the groceries on the counter and called out, "John? Hector? Anyone home?"

There was no response and she went back to her task, humming "My Boyfriend's Back" and giggling to herself at how silly she was being.

She'd just put water on to boil for a quick meal of pasta and meat sauce (meat added only to satisfy the fretting of her roommates) when the doorbell rang. Sighing, she wiped her hands on her jeans and went to answer the door.

She did a double take when she saw John on the front steps. "John, what are you - " Her voice caught in her throat as she saw the other man standing behind John.

He nodded at her when she caught his eye. "Mrs. Fraser?"

"Beauchamp Fraser," she responded automatically.

"Ah yes, of course," he said, clearly flustered.

"Claire," John said quietly, "Can we come in?"

She stepped aside, a ball of dread roiling in her stomach. Every fiber of her being screamed at her to run and hide from whatever was coming. Instead she closed the front door and followed John and their guest into the living room.

John sat on the couch and patted the spot next to him. For the first time she notices the red in his eyes, the lines of worry etched on his face. She shook her head vehemently. The other man cleared his throat and said, "Ma'am, you should sit down."

"No thank you," she responded indignantly, her defenses charging to the front of her brain to shield her from the imminent slaughter. "And you might start by telling me who you are."

"Harold Quarry, ma'am."

"Claire," John began, "Harry is the Director of the program Jamie has been working under."

She tried to respond but her mouth had gone completely dry.

John continued on, his face pained with the effort. "There was an explosion yesterday at the Training Center where Jamie was working, in Riyadh. Sixty people were injured. There are six people unaccounted for. Jamie is one of those six."

"No," Claire said, sounding like someone who was declining an invitation to a party.

John stood and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Claire, they can't get to some of the areas to do recovery right now; the building is too unstable. But it's assumed that is where Jamie and the five others are. Underneath the rubble."

Harry gently handed a folded letter to Claire. She shook her head and tore it in half. "No," she said again. "Jamie is coming home in two weeks. He'll be here in two weeks."

"Claire please sit down; you look pale." John leapt to his feet and managed to grab a hold of Claire before the room was knocked off kilter and everything went black.

When she floated back to the surface, she was lying on the couch. John was crouched next to her with his fingers around her wrist and it took her a moment to realize he was checking her pulse. "Are you alright, Claire? Should we take you to the hospital?"

Her temper reared. She pulled her hand away and maneuvered her body clumsily until she was in a sitting position. "No, I don't need to go to the hospital. I'm perfectly fine."

John examined her face as if she were a stranger he vaguely recognized. "Claire, I need you to tell me that you understand what happened."

She sat with her arms crossed and refused to speak. John stood and went to confer with Harry, who had retreated into a chair in the corner of the room like a wounded animal. After a few minutes of whispered conversation, Harry walked to the couch and said, "We will keep you updated with any news, Mrs. Fraser. I'll take my leave now, since I know you are in good hands."

He walked out quietly, shutting the front door behind him. John slumped down in an easy chair and they both sat in silence.

The shrill ring of the telephone broke through the quiet and John jumped up to answer it. When he came back into the living room, he held the phone out to Claire. "It's Jenny. They've been to Lallybroch. She knows."

Claire shook her head again and kept her arms crossed, refusing to take the phone out of his hands. John held his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered through gritted teeth, "Your sister in law is in hysterics right now. Take the phone."

Slowly, she reached her hand out and let John place the phone in it. She put it up to her ear and listened to the sobbing on the other end.

The sound of Jenny, the impenetrable wall of strength, weeping on the other end of the line broke Claire.

She couldn't remember all of what they said to each other. Jenny begged Claire to come to Lallybroch and be with the family, but Claire insisted it was better if she stayed home. Neither of them could believe what they'd been told, and they both wept together until they were too tired, their throats too raw.

She hung up the phone and sat in a daze as John talked incessantly about building stability and extremists, rattling off potential rescue strategies until Claire stood up and quietly announced that she was going to bed.

She didn't bother to turn a light on, just changed her clothes in the dark bedroom and crawled under the covers. John knocked on the door some time later and asked if she needed anything. She asked him to stay with her until she fell asleep.

She stepped out of the shower and walked back to her bedroom wrapped in her robe. John was snoring lightly at the foot of the bed and she walked lightly, trying not to disturb him. When she was dressed, she sat on the bed and John stirred. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Claire?” He looked at his watch and furrowed his eyebrows. “What are you doing? It’s 7:00 in the morning.”

Her throat was so dry, she had to swallow hard before answering. “I have to go to class,” she croaked quietly.

John sat up and placed his hand on her shoulder tentatively. “It’s Saturday, my dear. You don’t have to go anywhere.”

“Oh,” she replied, staring down at her belly cradled in her hands.

“Why don’t I go downstairs and make us some breakfast?”

Claire turned her head away and stared off blankly. “I’m not hungry.”

“You have to eat.” John stood and took Claire’s hand in his. “Come downstairs with me, ok?” He pulled gently on her hand and she stood, following him down the stairs.

She sat at the kitchen counter as John prepared the meal. Frying pans clattered, bacon sizzled, but the sounds were far away, as if she was separated from them by a thick fog. When John placed the food in front of her, she ate mechanically; the food had no taste.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to rage. She was trapped, though, as if someone had coated her in a layer of viscous gel that weighed her down and kept her separated from the rest of the world and even from herself.

She went through the rest of the day as if in one of those dreams where you have to say something, but your mouth won’t make the sounds; you have to run somewhere but your body will only move in slow motion. Hector came over and she sat on the couch between him and John, both of them resting their heads on her shoulders and gripping her hands.

In the late afternoon, the phone rang. John looked at her expectantly, but she just stared into space. He stood and answered it, speaking in hushed tones in the kitchen. Finally, he walked the cordless into the living room and handed it to Claire. “It’s Jenny,” he said hoarsely, the tears he’d been holding back all day pooling in his eyes.

She took the phone and held it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Claire, it’s Jenny.”

“Yes, hello.”

“Claire, I need ye tae come.”

“Jenny, I already told you I - “

“It’s my Da. He’s had a stroke,” Jenny choked on a sob before going on. “He isna going tae make it. Ye need tae come and say yer goodbyes.”

***

They arrived at the hospital in Upstate New York at midnight. Something had happened along the way; John had a mixtape playing on the stereo and the music penetrated through the wall that was surrounding her. Slowly the numbness, the disconnect, had given way to emotions, especially anger.

“It’s like a cruel joke,” she’d said after two hours of riding together in silence. She leaned her head on the window and felt the cool contrast with her skin. “What kind of God would pile this on me, on us, like this? Two of the most important men in my life, gone in two days.”

He’d reached over and patted her thigh. She wondered if he could feel the anger building inside of her.

They found Ian in the waiting room and he greeted them warmly, pulling Claire into a tender hug. “Ye look beautiful, Claire,” he whispered shakily. “Just seein’ ye so full wi’ Jamie’s child gives me hope.”

John stayed behind as Ian led Claire to Brian’s room, where they found Jenny. She sat next to the bed, elbows resting on the mattress and her hands clasped in prayer. She stood when she heard Claire and Ian enter and ushered them out into the hallway.

Jenny spoke in hushed tones. “The stroke affected the parts of his brain that controls breathing. He’s got a machine doing the breathing for him right now, but he wouldna want to live this way.” She took a deep breath and steadied herself before going on. “I’ll no’ make him suffer. I’ve signed papers tae take him off the machines, but we waited for you tae get here. So ye and the bairn could say goodbye.”

Claire nodded and went into the dark room. It was quiet except for the sound of the machine pumping air in and out of her father in law’s lungs. She could barely bring herself to look at the hulk of a man lying helpless in the small hospital bed.

She walked over to him and pressed her hand to his forehead, pushing the loose hair out of his eyes like she did for Jamie so often. How to say goodbye to this man who had survived so much? He lost his wife and two children. He lost his home. Yet he survived and carried Jamie and Jenny through it all. He built a new life for them and raised them with love and patience. He’d raised the man she loved, the father of her child; made him into the gentle, honorable man she’d fallen in love with.

And now he was all but gone, Jamie too. The only hard evidence left that they both lived was rolling around in her stomach as usual. She knew the baby was happy, could feel it in every movement. She lifted Brian’s hand and placed it on her belly. “That’s your granddaughter, Brian,” she whispered. “I promise I’ll take good care of her for you and for Jamie. And wheth - “ she paused, choking on the words in her throat. “Whether or not Jamie ever gets to see her, I promise that she’ll know what wonderful men you both were.”

She put his hand down gently and went on, “Thank you Brian. Thank you for your son. Thank you for your family, for my family.” She dipped her head down to kiss his forehead. “I love you as if you were my own father.”

***

They arrived at Lallybroch hours later. For something that can happen so quickly, death was actually a very complicated business. Claire had sat by helpless as Jenny filled out and signed form after form. Everyone was exhausted and they all collapsed in their beds hoping for a few hours of blissful sleep before the children were up.

Of course, Claire couldn’t fall asleep. Burdened with her giant belly, she could hardly even toss and turn properly. Instead, she lay in a half dazed state until the sun began peeking it’s way through the curtains. She got back up, threw on her robe, and went downstairs in search of coffee. She found it already brewed; Jenny sat at the kitchen table drinking a mug.

Claire poured herself a cup and sat down next to Jenny. Neither spoke for some time until Jenny broke the silence. “It feels like a horrible nightmare.”

“To lose them both at the same time…” Claire mused absentmindedly.

Jenny snapped head up and pointed a finger at Claire, “Jamie isna dead.”

All the anger that had been building in Claire over the past twenty four hours started to rumble inside of her. She was a volcano about to erupt. “You don’t know that,” she said through gritted teeth.

“What’s wrong wi’ ye, sister? The Claire I ken would never give up hope that Jamie was alive”

Claire sighed deeply, frustrated that she couldn’t explain herself properly. “I haven’t given up on him, dammit. He’s missing. Fine. But what does that mean for me? Am I a widow? Am I a distraught wife? I don’t know. Am I supposed to grieve? Be hopeful? Somebody needs to tell me how to feel because all I feel is angry.” She slammed her hand down on the table, shaking with fury. “I can barely bring myself to talk about him because I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about him in the past or present tense. I’m living in fucking purgatory right now, and you want to nit pick at my words!”

The dam broke, and her tears flooded out. Jenny stood and wrapped her arms around Claire, cradling her head against her warm, motherly body. “I’m sorry, Claire,” she murmured, resting her head on top of Claire’s. “I ken ye’re going through hell and I dinna mean tae make it worse. If ye canna have the strength fer this, I’ll carry us both, sister.”

Claire sniffled and nodded her head. “I just love him so much, Jenny. I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to live without him.” Her voice steadied a little and Jenny released her grip on Claire, sitting back down in her seat at the table. “You know, before I met Jamie, I could have lived my whole life alone, not needing anybody. I lost my parents when I was five and Lamb and I only had each other. He taught me how to survive on my own, gave me all the skills I needed to do so. He sent me off to boarding school when I was fourteen, and l was surrounded by girls who didn’t understand me, which was fine because I didn’t understand them either. Then I went to college and met Frank. He wanted me to need him, and I didn’t. He ended up being a total arsehole anyway, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t need him, or anyone, in my life.

“Do you know I almost broke up with your brother right after we met? I said it was because I didn’t want to get involved with him because I didn’t know where I would be going to school the following year, but really it was because I was bloody scared of how much I needed him. I loved him so much, so quickly, and it scared the shit out of me.

“But Jamie was, of course, calm and reassuring. He said all the right things to make me feel safe and secure. He always made me….makes me feel safe. And now I may have to face the world without him, and I’m so bloody angry with him for making me trust him and I’m angry at myself for trusting that he wouldn’t leave me alone.” The bitter tears of righteous indignation came, and she stood up, suddenly feeling the urge to be in motion. “Thank you for everything, Jenny,” she said curtly. “I’m going outside for some fresh air.” Before Jenny could protest, she waddled to the front door, stopping at the closet to put on a light jacket.

The air outside was damp and cool. The signs of spring had already come to Maryland, but here they were still dealing with the dregs of winter. She stepped off the porch gingerly, avoiding the mud and puddles as best she could. Turning to the back yard, she walked over the grounds of Lallybroch, greeting the animals and breathing in the sweet air, a mixture of grass and animals and manure that she had grown to associate with Jamie, and with home.

At the edge of the property, a small grove sprang up, separating Lallybroch from the country road that ran behind it. Jamie had taken her there before and shown her the spots where he and Ian had played. A low stone wall, some remnant of the eighteenth century, marked the true end of the Fraser property, and Claire sat on it, imagining Jamie beside her as he had when he’d first brought her there. “Jamie,” she whispered, “I feel you here. I don’t know if it’s because I have such fond memories of us here or because you’re already dead and your spirit is here. I suppose it doesn’t matter. But if you can hear me, I need to tell you that I promise I will be alright, no matter what happens. And I promise I’ll raise our child with so much love. Whether or not you are here with us, she will know her father; you can trust in that. I won’t promise that I’ll move on, though. I know people say that to their spouses sometimes, but that’s not who we are. You are my one and only, Jamie. You own my soul and I own yours.” She paused and blinked her eyes, letting the tears escape.

“I love you, Jamie Fraser,” she said. Then she stood up and walked back to the house, ready to face whatever was coming next.

Chapter Text

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The next few days were tense as Jenny made funeral plans and they all awaited any news about Jamie’s whereabouts. John checked in with the department several times a day, but there continued to be no progress in stabilizing the building for a recovery mission. The tentative peace she had forged with Jenny was breached several times a day as they both dealt with the loss and uncertainty in their own ways.

The morning of the funeral, Claire woke with a splitting headache and a bad attitude. She knew it was going to cause the strain between her and Jenny to worsen, but she felt outside of her body, unable to control her emotions or any words that came out of her mouth. She walked with a heavy foot into the kitchen and saw John hanging up the phone. Jenny sat at the kitchen table staring off into space.

Claire poured herself a cup of coffee and asked, “Did those idiots figure anything out yet?”

John sighed and rubbed his hand over the front of his face. “No. Nothing yet.”

“Incompetence,” Claire said plainly as she lowered herself into a chair. She felt uncomfortable in her own body, as if she were ready to burst out of her skin. “If he wasn’t dead five days ago, when it happened, he probably is now.”

Jenny immediately shook out of her reverie and slammed her hand on the table. “Will ye stop that talk, Claire? It’s like ye wish my brother dead.”

“Don’t start this again, Jenny. I want closure. I deserve closure.”

“Aye, so ye’d speed up my brother’s death to get that?”

Claire spoke through gritted teeth. “In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have control over anything in my life right now. Not even my own body.”

“I suppose ye’d wish the baby away then, if ye could.”

Claire pushed back from the table, knocking the chair down. “You fucking bitch. How dare you insinuate something as awful as that? How fucking dare you?” She grasped her stomach protectively. “This child is the only thing that will ever be left of Jamie. I would never wish her away.” Her face was beet red and tears streaked her cheeks.

John put an arm around Claire and handed her the coffee mug she’d abandoned at the table. “Claire, just go upstairs and get ready. I’ll bring you something to eat. And Jenny, do you have to needle her at every go? You should be on the same team.”

Claire turned on her heel and walked out of the room piling the guilt of upsetting Jenny on top of all her other feelings.

***

The funeral started at ten o’clock, with the Mass of Christian Burial to follow immediately. Claire donned what could only be described as a black mumu, having had little in the way of options when she went into the small town near Lallybroch looking for something suitable to wear. She cursed herself for having bought a pair of high heeled pumps to wear on her feet. When she tried to slip her feet into them, she found them to be too tight, despite the fact that they were a size bigger than what she normally wore and had fit two days before when she’d tried them at the store.

Sighing, she stuffed her feet into them like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters and stepped precariously down the stairs. Ian was pacing by the front door and Jenny sat in an armchair in the living room. “Can I speak to you for a moment?” Claire asked.

Jenny turned to look at Claire and nodded, sending Ian away with the wave of a hand. As Claire lumbered toward her, Jenny’s eyes widened. “Christ, sister, yer feet look like sausages too big for the casings.”

Claire gave her a wry smile and sat down heavily in the chair next to her sister in law. “At least when you talk to me like that, I know you’re not mad at me.”

Jenny reached over and put a hand over Claire’s. “I’m sorry, sister. I dinna ken what’s wrong with me. I canna seem to help the things I say.”

“I can’t either, Jenny. And I know we’re both dealing with this differently.” She looked away, ashamed at what she was about to admit. “I know I should feel sad or scared, but all I feel is angry. It’s completely consumed me and I have to...release the pressure every so often.”

“I ken, sister, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. And we’ll get through this together, even if we’re at each other’s throats the entire time.”

Ian popped his head in, glancing at his watch. “We really have tae go now, Jenny.”

John came down the stairs dressed in a suit and tie and helped Claire out of the chair. Ian gathered the children. Wee Jamie was dressed in a jacket and a small kilt and the girls wore neat red dresses. They looked adorable, the sweetness of it contrasting with the bitterness of the day.

“Let’s get this over with,” Ian said tersely. He ushered them all out of the door and they drove off to face the day together.

***

After the funeral and burial, they hosted a reception at Lallybroch. Jenny insisted that it was “the way things were done,” despite everybody’s protestations that they were all dealing with too much to play host to a house full of people. Of course, what Jenny wanted, Jenny got.

Claire’s feet felt like they were bursting out of her shoes and her back ached from being on her feet all morning. Still, she was determined to be of help to Jenny, who had been so strong while watching her father lowered into the ground. She tried her best to stuff her fury down for the sake of her family.

For an hour, Claire floated through the groups of people, fetching them drinks and listening to both their condolences and congratulations. Claire forced her tone to be neutral in the face of such contrasting sentiments. It was exhausting and her head continued to throb.

Jenny caught her leaning against the wall, trying to stretch her back. "Claire! Ye need tae sit down. Fer Christ sake, look at yer ankles." She led Claire over to the couch. Claire sat dutifully, but Jenny wasn't satisfied. "Lie down," she ordered.

Claire rolled her eyes, "Really Jenny, I'm fine. It's your father's funeral; you shouldn't be making such a fuss over me."

"Claire Fraser, if ye want me tae stop fussing about ye then ye'll do as I say." She leaned in close and grabbed Claire by the shoulders gently. "You and that bairn are the only bright spot this family has right now. Ye need tae take care of both of ye, so that we have something tae look forward tae. If we all have to stand around worrying about ye because ye're being a stubborn ass, then ye take even that away."

Claire swallowed hard and nodded her head. She laid down as instructed while Jenny collected enough cushions to raise Claire's legs at a ridiculously high angle. She finished off by covering Claire with a blanket before fetching John to sit with her and play warden.

He sat down on the floor in front of the couch and leaned his head on her belly. "How are you holding up?" he asked.

"I'd be a lot better if I wasn't lying on the couch with my legs in the air," she complained.

"It's for your own good. No offense, Claire, but your legs look like they belong on an elephant," he teased, ducking as she tried to swat his head.

"I've just been eating terribly and not drinking enough water," she told him, her voice losing its edge. "Can you really blame me?" She felt the tears she’d been holding back stinging behind her eyes and desperately tried to choke them back. "Could you get me some water, John?" she asked hoarsely. "My head is pounding."

John sprang to his feet, and his eagerness to help her was enough to tip Claire over the edge. Pull it together, Beauchamp. You already look like a beached whale. You don't need to have people see you blubbering too. She covered her face with her arm and turned her head toward the back of the couch, wishing she could disappear into the cushions.

Oh, this is silly. Why should I lay down here and create a spectacle? Done with any semblance of trying to be sociable, she kicked the cushions out from under her feet and sat up, her head a bit woozy with the effort. Ignoring the rushing sound in her ears, she pushed herself off the couch and onto her feet, stumbling a bit as the room took a moment to settle.

Well that's not quite right, she thought, barely able to hear herself over the intense ringing that echoed through her head. She forged ahead toward the stairs, her vision fading at the corners. The entire room sounded like it was under water.

As if she were a million miles away, she heard Jenny's muffled voice cry out, "Claire!"

A glass breaking…

A scream (Is that me?) ...

Her head hitting the floor…

Silence.

***

Her lips were parched, and when she tried to wet them with her tongue, it felt like sandpaper. "Water," she croaked to anyone who could hear her.

A warm hand rubbed an ice cube on her lips. "Shhhh…shhhhh...we'll get ye some as soon as yer sitting up, aye?"

Jenny.

Another hand gripped hers and she squeezed it weakly. "Jamie," she whispered.

"She's no' herself yet," Jenny said.

"Claire," the man holding her hand said gently (Not Jamie), "It's John. Can you open your eyes for me?"

She pulled her hand away and moved it to her stomach, instantly sitting up in panic as searing pain tore through her abdomen. "My baby? Where's my baby?" she cried out in panic. "What happened? Where is my baby?"

The machines started blaring out various alarms and two nurses came running in, lying her back down on the bed, taking her blood pressure, checking various wires and tubes. "You must relax, dear," a nurse with a thick Haitian accent told her sternly. "You were very sick. You can't get your blood pressure up again. Can you take some deep breaths for me?"

Claire took deep, shaky breaths as the pain in her abdomen dulled. "I'm Nurse Hildegarde," the imposing dark-skinned woman said, raising the bed so that Claire could sit up a little. "I need to check that you didn't pop a stitch, yes?"

Claire nodded and allowed the nurse to lift her flimsy hospital gown. As soon as her deflated stomach was revealed, she panicked again, grabbing the nurse by the smock and asking desperately, "Where is my baby? I want to see my baby."

Jenny let out a sob and turned away from the bed, but Nurse Hildegard held steady. "Please let me finish examining you first.”

Claire nodded and tried to relax as the nurse poked and prodded at the painful wound. Finally satisfied, she took Claire’s hand in her own and said, "I'll leave you with your family. And when you are ready, they will let me know, yes?" She lowered Claire's hand gently and placed it in John's before leaving the room.

Jenny raised the bed so Claire could sit up and sat down on the opposite side of John. Her voice was pinched as she spoke. "Claire, ye gave us such a scare. We almost lost ye. Thank the Lord we didna."

Claire shook her head in confusion. "Lost me? I don't...what do you mean?"

"Ye had toxemia. Yer blood pressure was through the roof, and ye had a seizure in the ambulance on the way here."

"I don't understand. I was fine. Everything was going perfectly."

"The doctor said it can come on quite suddenly, especially when you’re under a lot of stress," John added quietly.

"It's no' matter," Jenny said. "The outcome would have likely been the same." She took a deep breath and held Claire’s hand firmly. "They had tae take the baby out right away, Claire, or ye would have died."

"But where is my baby?" Claire asked, her voice growing urgent again.

Jenny opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out. She quickly covered it with her hand and choked on a sob.

John swallowed hard and took over. "You had a... your... placenta detached. You lost a lot of blood and the baby was deprived of oxygen."

Jenny squeezed her hand again, as if trying to keep herself from fleeing the room. "The bairn didna make it Claire. Yer wee lass is in heaven wi’ all o' her grandparents taking care o’ her."

Claire turned away from Jenny and looked to John, her eyes desperate to see a different truth in them. John took her hand in his, grasping it between both of his hands and shaking his head back and forth. “I’m sorry, Claire.”

“No no no no no no no…” Claire said frantically, looking around the room for any sign of the baby.

“Yes, a leannan.” Jenny stood and pressed both of her hands on Claire’s shoulders to push her back against the bed. “And ye must be as calm as possible right now so ye dinna make yerself sick. Besides, they willna bring her tae ye if ye’re in hysterics.”

“I can see her?” Claire asked. She took deep breaths and tried to fight the urge to flee the room and turn the room upside down looking for her.

Jenny nodded at John, who got up and left the room quietly. When he returned, he held a small, still bundle in his arms. Claire reached her arms out instinctively and he placed the baby in them.

Claire sobbed when she saw how tiny she was. Her skin looked delicate and fragile and as Claire carefully unwrapped the bundle, the light coming in through the window shone through her tiny ears. “They stick out a little,” she whispered and ran her hand over the soft copper hair on the baby’s head.

Gingerly, she placed the baby on bed in front of her and spread the blanket out so she could see her whole. “Ten fingers, ten toes. Perfect.” She gasped and brought her hand to her mouth, choking back a sob. “She looks just like the baby pictures of Jamie.”

“Aye, she does,” Jenny whispered.

Claire jumped a little; she’d forgotten John and Jenny were in the room. “Would it….could you...can I please have a few moments alone with her?” she asked.

Jenny and John exchanged a look and nodded. “We’ll be right outside the door if you need us, Claire,” John said. He put his arm around Jenny’s shoulders and ushered her out.

Claire bundled the baby up, shushing her unconsciously, as if her body had been anticipating needing to comfort a screaming infant. She held her close to her aching chest, her breasts already beginning to swell with milk. “If you’re still close enough to hear this, I want you to know that we love you, Brianna.” The name poured from her lips without even thinking about it. “Your father and I both love you so much, and we will miss you until the day we die. You are absolutely perfect, darling.”

Her body swayed back and forth, and she began to hum quietly. Soon, she was singing to her, a mother rocking her baby to sleep.

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong in a boat out at sea

Sail away, kill off the hours

You belong somewhere you feel free

Run away, find you a lover

Go away somewhere all bright and new

I have seen no other

Who compares with you

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong in a boat out at sea

You belong with your love on your arm

You belong somewhere you feel free

Run away, go find a lover

Run away, let your heart be your guide

You deserve the deepest of cover

You belong in that home by and by

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong somewhere close to me

Far away from your trouble and worries

You belong somewhere you feel free

You belong somewhere you feel free

She stayed there, singing and rocking her baby, losing any semblance of time or the world around her. When she looked up, the windows had gone dark. John and Jenny came back in soon after. “Did ye name her, sister?” Jenny asked quietly.

“Brianna Ellen,” Claire responded, not taking her eyes off of the baby. “Jamie wanted us to name our first two children Brian and Ellen. And since - “ she choked and swallowed hard, “since I may never have any other children with him, I wanted to honor his wishes.”

Nurse Hildegarde came in then, a grim look on her face. “I am sorry, Mrs. Fraser, but it is time.”

Claire closed her eyes and squeezed Brianna tightly, her chin quivering. But when the nurse put her hands on the baby gently, Claire relaxed her own arms and let her go. She kept her eyes shut as Brianna was taken out of the room.

“Claire, would you like something to eat?” John asked.

She shook her head and turned it away from them. “No. I don’t want anything. Just leave me alone.”

“Claire, ye need tae -”

“Leave me!” Claire shouted hoarsely, refusing to even open her eyes.

They stayed by her side in silence for a time and then eventually slipped away telling her that they’d be back in the morning. When they were gone, she waited long enough to ensure they were out of earshot before letting forth the scream that had been sitting inside her since she woke that morning, since Brian had died, since Jamie had gone missing. She wailed and screamed until the nurses came in and gave her a shot that numbed everything and allowed her to fall into a slumber that was more like death than sleep.

***

Two days later, with her blood pressure in check, Claire was given a clean bill of health and discharged from the hospital. She'd laughed sardonically when Jenny and John had told her the night before that she’d be able to go home. "Just like that," she said with her lips trembling, "I'm good as new and out the door."

"Claire," Jenny said, gripping her hand, "Why dinna ye come tae Lallybroch until ye're back on yer feet? We'll take good care of ye."

She considered it, but the thought of facing what was left of Jamie’s family every single day made her insides run cold. They had lost so much, and Claire had failed to even give them a piece of Jamie to ease their suffering. She had held the key to their healing in her hands, and she had failed.

She shook her head and turned away from Jenny. "No. John will take me home."

Jenny had arranged for Brianna’s cremation. Claire told her to have the ashes buried at the family plot next to Brian. There would be no funeral; she left it to Jenny to pick out a headstone. The morning Claire left, Jenny met her at the hospital, and gave her a tiny box. "A wee bit of yer girl," Jenny choked, "So ye can have her wi’ ye, always." Her voice trailed off, unable to conjure any more words.

Claire simply nodded and held the tiny box in her lap as the nurse pushed her wheelchair through the hospital. John was waiting with the car, and he rushed over to help her. She buckled herself while he put her overnight bag into the trunk. Jenny leaned into the open window and hugged Claire around the neck. “Ye must have faith, sister. Ye must trust that things will get better.”

Claire stared ahead. “My faith is gone,” she replied vacantly.

John got in the driver's side and they took off in silence. The small container was still clutched in Claire’s hand.

The drive home was interminable; Claire stared out the window the entire way, listening to the music John put on, the volume so low she had to strain to hear it. When they finally arrived home, Claire slowly climbed the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door behind her. Despite the warm weather, she put on one of Jamie’s sweatshirts. It still smelled of him and she wondered vaguely how long she could go without washing any of his clothes so that she could still feel surrounded by him. Clutching the small box close to her heart, she crawled into bed and prayed for a sleep without dreams.

Chapter Text

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After spending two days in bed, swallowed whole by her grief, Joe came to the house after classes and insisted he see her. He sat on the edge of her bed, talking to the only part of her that was visible, a wild mass of overgrown brown curls splayed across her pillow. “Lady Jane,” he started, “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through right now, and if you decide that the only thing you can do is stay in bed and breathe, then I will support you in that one hundred percent.” He sighed before going on. “But the last thing I want is for you to come out of this fog a month, two months from now and kick yourself for losing the entire semester. Because I know you, Lady Jane, and I know that you will come out of this, and you will want to pursue your dream. It’s in your blood. I know, because it’s in mine too.

“So, if you decide that you want to try to salvage one good thing out of this awful time and finish the semester, I am here to help you. I will do whatever it takes to get you across that finish line. But only if you want to.”

Claire didn’t say a word to him during his visit, but the next morning she had a follow up appointment with her OB-GYN, which led to her showering for the first time in days. Hector, who had taken the day off of work to drive her to the appointment, showed up with a box of doughnuts and Claire tentatively nibbled on one while drinking a cup of coffee. Is this what grief is? she thought as she started to feel slightly human again. Do I just start moving on with my life despite the fact that I have a giant hole in my heart?

“You’re healing nicely,” the doctor told her after a brief examination. “Your incision isn’t infected and everything seems to be as expected. I don’t see any reason why you won’t be able to have more children. We’ll just have to monitor your blood pressure closely.” She put a hand on Claire’s shoulder and added, “But how are you doing otherwise? Do you have a support system in place?”

Claire nodded and looked away, her eyes burning with tears.

She was still on lifting restrictions until she was eight weeks postpartum, so when she got home, she sheepishly asked Hector if he minded stripping her bed and washing the sheets. He happily obliged. With her bed unavailable, Claire sat on the couch and looked around the room. She had no idea what she was going to do until she saw her backpack leaning against the easy chair. She dragged it over and opened her notebook to her most recent lecture notes, reading them over and over until her brain finally cleared enough for them to make sense.

With the end of the semester only a month away, Claire had a lot of ground to cover if she was going to finish it successfully. She realized that Joe had been right. She couldn’t bear the idea of having one more thing taken away from her, so she determined then that she would throw herself into her studies and continue to work toward her goal.

She called her advisor and had it arranged with her professors that she would take an additional week off to catch up on everything she had missed. Later that night, she called Joe and asked if he was prepared to make good on the promise he had made the day before. Of course, he agreed on the spot. Thankfully he had copious notes on all the lectures and came over in the evenings, after a full day of classes, to help bring her up to speed.

She filled her days with studying, ignoring the pain and anxiety that lived inside of her as constant companions. Within days she was almost completely caught up to the rest of the class and was prepared to begin going to campus the following week.

One afternoon, she wandered into the kitchen for a glass of juice, and, for the first time since she’d been home, noticed the calendar that hung from the refrigerator on a magnetic hook. Neither she nor John had bothered to change it, so it still showed the month of March. She took it down from the fridge and flipped it to April, counting. She’d completely lost track of the days.

Two weeks. It had only been two weeks since her world had been turned around. Two weeks ago, she'd had a husband, and they'd had a baby on the way. He was preparing to come home, excited to see Claire round with their child. Now they’re both gone.

Claire ripped the calendar apart, throwing the torn pages at the wall. She let out a guttural scream and sank to the floor, weeping for the future that would never be. She didn’t even know how long she sat there, finally releasing the righteous indignation that had been coursing through her veins since she’d left the hospital. She was twenty-five. She was a widow. She had lost a child.

I didn’t ask for this, dammit. I didn’t ask for any of this.

Eventually, she wiped her tears from her eyes and stood up. She grabbed her backpack and pulled out a heavy textbook and a highlighter. She sat down on the couch, uncapped the highlighter, and started to move forward again.

She was studying when the phone rang. She set her book aside and stood, stretching broadly before she moved to the kitchen and answered it. “Hello?”

Jenny’s voice was panicked as she spoke. “Claire! Ye need tae turn on the news right now!”

Claire’s head started spinning and she shook her head. “No, Jenny. Tell me what’s going on,” she replied, her voice already shaking.

“Claire,” Jenny said breathlessly, “They found four of the missing men, all dead.”

“Four…” Claire said, her heart beating rapidly. She had to pause to take several deep breaths to avoid hyperventilating.

“Has anyone called ye, Claire? Have they sent anyone?”

“No,” she replied quietly.

“Oh, thank the Lord!” Jenny cried.

“Why, Jenny? What does this mean?”

“Claire, Jamie could be alive. If they’ve identified the other men and they havena notified ye, that means that Jamie wasna with them.”

“I have to go,” Claire said quietly. Jenny continued talking but Claire didn’t hear her. “I have to go, Jenny,” she said again. “Good-bye.” She slowly walked back to the living room, taking the phone with her, and switched on the television, turning to CNN.

Officials are just beginning to release the names of the victims of an attack on an American-run military training center in the heart of the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh last month. In March, it was reported that six Americans, both military members and CIA Officers, were reporting missing following the blast. Now, as the clean up and recovery efforts are coming to a close, it is being reported that the bodies of only four of the six Americans have been found. When CNN asked Officials about the status of the two remaining Americans, we were told that the men were still considered to be missing, but likely taken prisoner during the chaos of the explosion.

Claire stared at the television, her mind slowly processing what they were reporting. She watched the news cycle through over and over again, waiting for the names of the dead to be released. The only time she looked away from the television was to stare at the door, waiting for the doorbell to ring.

Instead, the phone finally rang. Claire answered it, her voice hollow. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Fraser?”

“Yes, this is she.”

“This is Harry Quarry. I’m your husband’s superior officer at -”

“Yes, I know who you are.”

“I’m calling to inform you that your husband was not among the dead identified today.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“At this point it means that we don’t know where he is at the moment. His body was not located among the dead - “

“Are you telling me that my husband is alive?”

A pause.

“It is a possibility.”

Anger bubbled in Claire’s stomach and her voice rose. “And what, exactly have you been doing for the last two weeks? Have there been any efforts made to find him?”

“As you know, he was presumed -”

Claire’s voice continued to elevate with every sentence. “I know what your presumption was. What I would like to know is why it was made. Because I don’t understand how the greatest military in the world and one of the world’s best Global Intelligence Agencies failed to overlook the fact that two men, one of which is my husband, were not among the dead.”

“Mrs. Fraser, I -”

“No. I don’t want to hear any excuses. I have been grieving my husband for two weeks. In the meantime, I have lost my father-in-law and my baby. So if you are going to sit there and tell me my husband might be alive, you better be right, and you had better find him.”

She hung up the phone before he could say anything else and threw it across the room. It bounced off the wall and the back fell off, the batteries flying in different directions. She put her head between her knees and sobbed.

***

John found her like that when he walked in the front door. When the news had spread around the office, he’d taken off for home immediately, hoping to catch Claire before she turned on the television. Clearly, he hadn’t been fast enough.

He sat down next to her on the couch and pulled her toward him, hugging her and rubbing her back. There was no point in saying anything; he knew her well enough by then to know she wouldn’t hear him in that state. Eventually, he coaxed her into taking a mild sedative and when she was calm enough, he held her by the shoulders and told her, “This is a good thing. They will find him Claire.”

After a day of purgatory, the call came in the middle of the next night. Claire had drifted off momentarily and she was startled awake by the shrill ring of the phone.

“Yes, hello?”

“Mrs Fraser? This is Harry Quarry.”

Her heart lept into her throat and she gripped the phone tighter as her hands broke out into a sweat. She had tried hard not to get her hopes up; for all she knew Jamie would just be found dead, another cruel joke played on her by the universe.

“Mrs. Fraser? Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here,” was all she could manage.

“We found your husband, ma’am. Alive.”

Tears sprang to Claire’s eyes and she let out a strangled cry. “Is he alright?” she choked.

“We located him along with a soldier by the name of Yi Tien Cho. They were being kept prisoner by a local terrorist group. They do not appear to have been tortured or injured by the group, but it appears your husband’s leg was severely injured during the initial explosion.”

Claire’s heart was beating so fast she was sure it would burst through her chest. She needed to see him, touch him, make sure he would be alright. “When is he coming home? When can I see him?”

“They’re just stabilizing him at a local hospital and then he’ll be sent back to Walter Reed for further treatment. I would expect he’ll be arriving within the next two days, but you really can never be sure with these things. You’ll be called before he arrives so you can meet him there.”

When they hung up, Claire sank back onto her pillow, clutching the phone to her heart. She could hardly bring herself to believe it. After all the pain and everything that had happened, would the universe really be giving her this miracle? She wiped her eyes and sat up. Jamie is alive, she told herself over and over again, trying to will her mind to catch up to heart, which was already feeling lighter.

She slid out of bed and made her way to John’s room. He and Hector were sleeping with their legs tangled together underneath the sheets, and she smiled as the image of sleeping with Jamie like that flashed across her mind.

“John,” she whispered from the doorway. “John wake up.”

A light sleeper, John shot up to a sitting position immediately. “Claire? Is everything alright?” Hector groaned and rolled over, mumbling in his sleep.

“He’s alive, John. He’s alive and he’s coming home.”

***

After she, John, and a very groggy Hector had wept together with joy at the news, Claire went back to her room and called Jenny. Her sister in law insisted on leaving for Maryland straight away even though Claire repeatedly told her that it would be at least another day before Jamie was there. Finally she gave up with a defeated laugh. There was no stopping Hurricane Jenny one she was on her way.

There was no way she would be getting back to sleep despite the late hour. Claire made her way downstairs and put the kettle on for tea. It seemed like ages since she’d felt any happiness. She didn’t quite trust it, but as she settled on the couch with her cuppa, she felt lighter than she had in months.

Her stomach flipped with the thought of her pregnancy. She was sure Jamie didn’t know about Brianna, and the thought of having to tell him cast a shadow over her cautious joy. Jamie would be expecting to find her largely pregnant. She pressed her palm to her stomach; it had gone back to more or less the same as it had been before. She had a few stretch marks and some things seemed to have permanently shifted, but otherwise, any evidence of their daughter’s existence was gone.

Get it together Beauchamp. No matter what, Jamie is coming home, and you can face this together.

She pushed the shadow aside and closed her eyes, forcing herself to focus on the fact that, very soon, she would lay eyes on Jamie again. She would be able to touch him, hear his voice in person, hold his hands in hers. They had a long road ahead of them, but they would walk it together.

***

The following thirty hours felt more like thirty days. Jenny arrived and they both tiptoed around the house like live wires ready to throw sparks at the slightest disruption.

It wasn't until the following morning that the phone call came informing Claire that Jamie would be arriving at Walter Reed within the hour. She and Jenny were in the car and headed to the hospital within minutes.

They'd been directed where to go on the phone and as soon as they arrived on the ward, they were greeted by the doctor who would be scrubbing in on Jamie’s case. He was a short man, barely as tall as Jenny, "Mrs. Fraser, my name is Dr. Raymond and I'll be performing your husband’s surgery upon his arrival. If you would like to step into my office while we're waiting for him, I can apprise you of what I know of his condition."

"This is my sister in law, Jenny Murray. She'll join us if that's alright."

"Of course. Come this way."

As they followed behind the dwarfish man, Claire was suddenly overcome by the image of him standing on a step stool, hovering over her husband's 6'4" frame and she covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. Jenny elbowed her and hissed, "What's wrong wi' ye, sister."

Claire just shook her head, her eyes watering with the effort to not burst out laughing. Perhaps I've finally gone mad, she thought, but that idea only sent her into further fits so that by the time she was taking her seat in Dr. Raymond's office she was shaking "I understand this is difficult for you, Mrs. Fraser," the doctor said as he settled in at his desk across from her. He pushed a box of tissues across his desk and Claire took one, holding it in front of her mouth.

When she looked at Dr. Raymond's face staring at her from the other side of the desk, she was struck by his resemblance to a bull frog. Claire could not contain herself any longer; she burst out laughing, doubling over and fanning her face. Jenny glared at her. "Claire, have ye lost yer heid?"

"I'm sorry," Claire sputtered, trying to regain control of herself. "I'm so sorry. I don't know what's come over me." She plucked another tissue from the box and wiped her eyes. Her shoulders still shook but she started to regain control of herself.

"I'm so sorry for my sister in law," Jenny said. "She's been through so much these last few weeks."

Dr. Raymond dismissed the entire situation with a wave of the hand. "Never mind. I've seen many families through situations like this and you never know how any one person will react. Now, Mrs. Fraser, the reports I received from the medical center in Saudi Arabia indicate that your husband’s leg was injured severely, which is my immediate concern when he arrives. The wound became infected and he developed osteomyelitis."

"What's that?" Jenny asked.

"An infection in the bone," Claire muttered, all humor immediately drained from her. "What is the course of treatment?" Claire asked the doctor.

"The wound was drained on site, but I may need to do that again. Then I'll go in and remove any diseased bone and tissue. Depending on the severity of the infection, I may be able to do bone and tissue grafts immediately. If not, we will put some temporary fillers in until his infection clears, in which case we will have to perform a second surgery after he's treated with a six week course of antibiotics."

"Six weeks?"

"Yes, Mrs. Fraser. Prepare yourself for a long hospital stay with this type of injury. Now, secondarily there are some other minor injuries, but nothing for us to be concerned over right now.“

His beeper went off then and he glanced down at it. "That will be your husband now. Do you have any questions?" He was already out the door before Claire could open her mouth. She and Jenny stood and followed him quickly.

A stretcher came through the double doors at the end of the hallway, pushed by a large medical team. Claire barely caught a glimpse of his red hair before the stretcher disappeared down a corridor, but it was him. Jamie. She reached out and grasped Jenny’s hands and they clung to each other in both relief and anxiety of what was to come.

***

The entire procedure only took a few hours. Dr. Raymond came to the waiting room and quickly debriefed Claire: he was certain he had cleared out all of the damaged bone and tissue, but he had not been able to do any of the necessary grafts because of the widespread infection. Jamie would require at least two other procedures along with the six week course of antibiotics before he would be able to go home.

But he’s alive, Claire reminded herself. You weren’t sure you would ever get to say that again, so count your blessings.

After another hour, a nurse came to usher Claire to his room. Jenny stood to join them, but the nurse firmly told her, “Only one visitor at a time.”

The nurse spoke quickly to Claire as they walked through the maze of corridors. “He’s heavily medicated right now, so he may not wake up for some time, but he was asking for you all the way into surgery and the minute he woke up in recovery.” She steered Claire into a room and pushed the curtain away.

Claire froze, except for her hands that began to shake involuntarily. He was there, lying in the hospital bed, a bit worse for the wear but undeniably him. She didn’t think she fully believed it until she saw all of him with her own eyes.

“He’s got a morphine pump right here,” the nurse went on, “so if he wakes up in any pain, all he needs to do is press this button, alright?”

Claire nodded slowly as the nurse did a brisk check of his vitals and then swooped out of the room. Claire stepped toward the bed nervously and pulled the sheet down so she could look at her husband for the first time in seven months. He had lost weight and his body was peppered with a patchwork of various bandages. His face was gaunt, his complexion grey. She gently threaded her fingers through a few strands of his hair. It had been washed, but likely not brushed well after, and his curls were tangled and matted in some places.

Relieved that he was in one piece, she covered him again and pulled a nearby chair up close to the bed. She watched the slow rise and fall of his chest under the hospital gown and blanket. There were so many things to discuss and so many hurdles for them to jump, but she knew in that moment that nothing truly mattered between them except the fact that they were both alive. They’d both experienced their own separate hells and they both had come through them and back to each other.

She lowered the side of the bed and scooched even closer. If she wasn’t afraid of disturbing his rest or injuring his leg, she would have crawled into the bed with him. Instead, she settled for taking his hand between both of hers and leaning her elbows on the bed. She held his hands up to her forehead as she prayed quietly, thanking God for bringing him back to her.

She didn’t even realize his eyes had opened until he spoke. “Ye’re here,” he said softly. “I kent ye would be.”

She lifted her head and opened her mouth to reply but he went on. “Mo chridhe,” he said, almost whispering. “God ye do look so lovely wi’ yer great eyes all gold, and yer hair so soft round yer face.” He pulled his hand from hers and reached out to softly trace the outlines of her face and gently twist his fingers in her hair.

“Jamie,” she whispered. "How do you feel?"

"Like a pile of moldy tripe."

Claire chuckled and swiped a tear away from her eye. "You'll still be making jokes on your deathbed, won't you?"

“Sassenach, I thought maybe I’d never hear your laugh again.”

“Me too.”

“But ye’re here.”

“So are you.”

“Dinna be afraid,” he said softly. “There’s the two of us now.”

***

Jamie was forced to hit the morphine button shortly thereafter and he fell asleep. Claire’s stomach growled and she realized that she hadn’t eaten anything all day. She went back to the waiting room and apprised Jenny of his condition. Jenny made her way to his room while Claire went down to the cafeteria.

She filled her tray with a ridiculously large amount of food. It had been so long since she’d managed any more than a nibble here and there, but she was suddenly ravenous. She ate greedily until she was done with everything except a giant brownie which she tucked into her purse before heading for the pay phones.

Claire was fairly certain that Jenny would have updated Ian, but she pulled a few coins from her wallet and dialed home. “Hello?” John answered on the first ring.

“He’s alright.” Claire said quietly, as if she were still afraid to say the words out loud, lest it all be ripped away from her. “I saw him; I spoke to him. He’s injured and in pain, but he’s alive.”

“Oh thank Christ,” John breathed. “How soon until you can bring him home?”

Claire gave John the rundown of Jamie’s condition. “I’ll be staying the night tonight,” she told him, “but I’m going to try to send Jenny home for some sleep.”

“You need sleep yourself, Claire.”

“I need to be with Jamie.”

“Fair enough. I’ll come by after work tomorrow if he’s feeling up to it, alright?”

“Sounds good, John. Thank you.”

She hung up the phone and made her way back to Jamie’s room. Jenny let her know that he’d been awake briefly, but she hadn’t told him about Brian yet. “I think we need tae wait til he’s feeling a wee bit better.”

“I didn’t tell him about the baby yet,” Claire told her. “I was sitting the whole time and he didn’t ask. I’m sure his head was too clouded with morphine. Soon enough, though, he’s going to remember.”

“I wish I could tell him fer ye, Claire. I truly do. But I ken it’s something you two need to go through together.”

Claire hugged Jenny goodbye. The nursing staff had brought in a more comfortable reclining chair and left her with a blanket and pillow. She pulled the chair alongside the bed and laid down on her side so that she could keep an eye on Jamie.

She drifted off but woke immediately when Jamie stirred in the bed. She stood quickly and went to the other side of the bed to pour him a cup of water. “Here,” she said quietly, handing it to him. He drank eagerly, his eyes focused on Claire’s face, as if she would disappear if he took them off of her.

As she walked back to the other side of the bed, he gasped suddenly. “Claire! Our child?” The look on his face was pained and confused. “Ye couldna have…”

Claire sat down in the chair again and cradled her hands in her lap. “No….I mean, yes. I did have the baby, Jamie. Two weeks ago. There were....complications.”

“I dinna understand.”

“Oh God, Jamie. This is so hard.” Her voice shook and the tears on her face had arrived again like old friends. “I had a condition called toxemia. It came on quickly and if they hadn’t performed an emergency c-section, I would have died. But when they took her out, my placenta had detached. She was without oxygen for too long. She was...it was...she didn't make it.”

“It was a girl?” he asked hoarsely.

“Yes. I named her Brianna Ellen, to honor your wish that our children be named after your parents.” Jamie’s hand shot up and covered his mouth, smothering a sob. He sat there breathing shakily, tears dripping down his cheeks. Claire leaned forward and rested her hand on Jamie’s chest. “Jamie, I…”

“Christ, yer a brave wee thing,” he whispered fervently. He reached out and stroked her hair tenderly.

“I would hardly call myself brave, given that I didn’t have much choice in the matter.”

Jamie responded with a quiet grunt and then fell silent, except for the occasional sniffle. Finally he asked quietly, “Tell me about her.”

“She was perfect. Her ears stuck out a little and her eyes were slanted like yours. She had ten fingers and ten toes and the most beautiful wisps of copper curls.” Unable to go on, she put her head in her hands and wept.

Jamie continued running his fingers through her hair as he let the tears fall unfettered from his eyes. “She sounds beautiful Claire,” he managed to choke out. “Christ, I’m so sorry I wasna there, Claire. I’m so very sorry.”

Claire shook her head. “No, Jamie. You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one who is sorry. All you had to look forward to, through everything, was coming home and meeting your daughter. And I couldn’t even give you that.”

“Sassenach, will ye get in the bed wi’ me? I need tae hold ye.”

He moved over as far as he could and she slid in next to him on his good side. He lifted his arm for her to slide under, and she curled into him, her head resting on his chest. It had been so long since she’d felt his arms around her and she began to sob.

“Dinna weep, mo ghraidh. It’s no’ yer fault.” His face was streaked with tears but he kept his voice strong and steady for her. “The weight of what happened is too much for either of us to bear alone. The only way we can live with it is tae carry it, taegether.”

“I love you Jamie,” she sobbed. She was soaking his hospital gown with her tears but she felt too safe in his arms to pull away.

“I love ye too, Claire.”