Actions

Work Header

A Tiny Shoot of Hope

Chapter Text

 

   Storming into his cottage, Jamie reached for the precious bottle of fine whisky he kept hidden in the very back of his small pantry. Grabbing for the nearest vessel he could find (…damn, his everyday antler cup would do!), he poured himself a solid dram. He knocked it back in one, replacing it immediately by pouring another, taking little care over how accurate his aim was. The bottle collided with the rough wooden table a little harder than he meant, as his thoughts came crashing down on him like an torrent.

   Finally stopping for the first moment since he had left her by the woods, he stared into the fire, slowly closed his eyes and let out a long shaky breath, realising that stopping the pain would be an impossible task. This time. Once again, he was alone. She would be lost to him for sure – how could she not be after what he had told to her? He had lost others before.

Many.

Everyone.

 

Despite the years of solitude; despite having guarded himself against opening his heart on those few occasions that he had thought to, something about Mistress Beauchamp, Claire,  had been different. With Claire, he had found the tiniest of shoots growing in his heart over the months that she had arrived. This time...

 

Hope.      

 

   But now… well, he knew how this played out now. She would turn away from him. She would be appalled. She would leave. How could she have him like this? Why would she have him like this?

  It had been many years since Jamie had allowed himself to truly feel the depth of his despair and humility; he usually managed to keep it at a distance. The sorry, lonely shoot began to wither before it had had a chance. For the first time in many years, tears swamped his eyes, at real danger of spilling over and down his cheeks.

   Jamie couldn’t take the ever-growing ache that radiated from his heart, almost numbing his limbs, anymore. He certainly couldn’t sit still a moment longer; he had to move. Standing up suddenly, he opened his eyes, discarded the cup on the table and made to round off to the door. Only to be stopped in his tracks, his breath catching in his throat, by the sight of 2 amber eyes staring back at him from the door. It was her. She was here. She had followed him home? In his painful, self-hating haze, he had failed to hear her enter his small cottage.            

 

   They both stood as still as the standing stones that command the landscape around the Highlands, time becoming unimportant. Jamie couldn’t say how long they stood staring at one another.  His brain began to catch up with the situation though, and uncertainty as to why she was actually there festered like a dank millpond.

Claire seemed to sense Jamie’s trepidation and very slowly moved towards him, never breaking eye contact. God, even in this moment the sway of her hips and skirt was not lost on Jamie. But why was she here? Surely she hadn’t followed him to berate him after his revelation?

Had Jamie of been able to take a moment to digest the scene, he would have remembered that Claire would never have been capable of treating anyone that way; he knew that really. Unfortunately, experience had created a muscle-memory like response and he feared that he would only see disgust and disappointment in her eyes….and yet…

He simply could not look away from her. Having refused to meet her eye previously, he was caught in her drowning gaze.

Was this a form of purgatory for him? Unable to look away from the tempting Medusa?

 

…and yet? Search as he might, locked in position; still unable to move, let alone breath, he could not see disgust or hatred in her beautiful eyes. He saw …compassion? Truly?

 

   Claire came to rest in front of Jamie and slowly reached out her right hand to settle on his chest, just where the opening of his jacket was. She had never purposefully touched him before. In fact, it had been many years since anyone had touched Jamie without violence or disregard. There had been moments when both he and Claire had reached for the same thing; functional actions that had led them to briefly touch but, in this moment, she reached out and somehow her touch both calmed and excited him simultaneously. Jamie’s heart was beating so hard he was sure she could feel it through her fingertips. And yet still he could not draw himself to look away from those whisky eyes.

Gradually, Claire moved her hand up to his clavicle, on its journey to his neck and finally to tenderly cup his cheek. The look in Jamie’s eyes at that moment seemed suspicious as if to say, “Don’t hurt me. Don’t be unkind.” They narrowed further in disbelief as she moved her hand to the back of his neck; gifting him the most honest and heartfelt smile across her face and gently pulled.

Looking from eye to eye, a brief moment of resistance and then Jamie slowly bowed his head onto her shoulder…. and the dam burst; his shoulders silently heaving up and down as the tears and sorrow; the desolation escaped. He still couldn’t move his limbs and so only his head sought succour.

 

   She had heard his story and she had stayed. Perhaps he was no longer being punished for his sins? Just maybe, his time in self-imposed purgatory had been served to the Almighty’s pleasure.

   Jamie could feel Claire begin to caress the back of his head and his auburn curls as he broke down. Unbeknownst to Jamie, Claire was unable to help herself; she began to gently kiss the cheek closest to her.  Her lips speaking the words of comfort that she could not find to say. They continued just below that smooth skin under his earlobe, and down the beginning of his neck, eventually returning its journey back up to his cheek.

   Bolstered by her caring affections, Jamie turned his head suddenly and sought her soft lips. They were everything he had dreamed they would be. She never hesitated to return the affection. Eyes tightly shut, Jamie kissed her swift and gentle, to begin with. However, sensing no disagreement, he poured his heart and soul into a solid kiss, taking no prisoners. Claire could sense already that there was great passion hidden below Jamie’s gruff exterior but he was a man who held this in check, and Claire knew he would never over-reach without consent. This was unlike anything either of them had experienced before; it was as if they were both home; lost in one another’s soul.

   Jamie felt Claire slowly part her lips and lick his bottom lip with the tip of her tongue, in invitation. Was this truly happening? He was mesmerised by the experience. Their kisses continued, now accompanied by their arms around one another until finally, Jamie drew away; he took a moment to share the air with Claire as their mouths lay close, simply breathing, yet not touching.

“Thank you for trusting me, Jamie,” she whispered, hoarse from the kiss.

Rising to his full height, Jamie steeled himself, opened his sea blue eyes and met Claire’s piercing amber gaze.       

Hope.

He saw it there in her beautiful whiskey eyes. They held the promise of a safe future together. He was alone no more. Claire made him a man again. He would not let her down and he would not leave.

Chapter Text

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

Feeling like her heart was in her throat, Claire followed the hidden path down to the water’s edge. She was sure that this is where Mr Fraser, …Jamie, would have come. She had felt an almost ethereal quality to the place, when she had stumbled across it before, wandering one day in the woods. If he was to be found anywhere, it would be here.

Trudging through the trees and ferns, she soon caught sight of him sitting on a rock, arms clasped across his stomach, holding himself, as if to move would see his innards spill out. His chin rested on his chest, almost as if he were asleep. Claire suspected that had she experienced the trauma that Jamie just had, that she too would try to shut out the world, however ineffective it might have been.  

She paused and simply watched over him for a short while. With his shirt ripped and no jacket to cover him, his scarred back was on unguarded display. She hadn’t known about the scars. Thinking back, she had recalled several occasions where he had bristled when another’s hands had drawn too near. It made sense now.

*****

God, his face when he realised what had happened. It sucked the very life out of her when she thought of it. Claire could not recall who had grabbed Jamie first; it had escalated so fast, but the pure and utter horror on his face, at his shirt being ripped from his body, overpowered by the crowd,  would visit Claire’s mind in her own dark moments for ever more.

At first, she had been just as shocked as those surrounding him. The silence his exposed back caused had arrived abruptly, following the loud brawl. Clearly, despite having lived amongst them for many years, no one had ever seen nor heard about Jamie’s wounds. All attention had been solely set on judging him. The wrath that had been laid down on his strong back though was there for all to see now. Claire could not comprehend what would compel any human being to treat another in such a horrific manner, as it was all too clear that another’s hand had caused those vicious marks.

Another moment had passed and Claire’s shock had turned to anger. Anger that he had been so cruelly exposed in this way. The embarrassment and resentment he clearly felt had radiated with fury in his eyes and before Claire had a chance to speak up for him, he had pushed through the speechless crowd and marched off. She still had hold of his coat. In his rush to escape, he had completely forgotten it.

*****

And so here he was. Drawn here, as she had been, to the water’s comfort. Claire could almost taste the crushing devastation that spread out from the rock he sat on; it seemed to hang in the air. She could no longer deny to herself the overwhelming feelings that he had brought out in her, long before today. So often, when she had found herself alone, inevitably her mind had wandered to thoughts of Jamie and the intensity of her affection threatened to spill over her edges. To see him in his current state tore at her very being. She wanted to take him in her arms and fend off all the demons with his dirk. She wanted to wrap him secure, whispering never-ending words of comfort and reassurance into his auburn curls. 

She wanted to share his heavy load.

If this was ever to be the case though, she needed to know what his burden was. In the time that they had known one another, she had seen glimpses of …something wonderful. But, no sooner would it catch her eye than it would be gone and the smile; the sparkle in his eyes, were once again lost and the mask returned. She knew that to ever have a hope of finding that wonder again, she would have to persuade him to let her walk into the darkness with him.

Claire drew herself up, took one deep breath and began to walk towards him again. In a gentle voice she called,

“Mr Fraser.”

He shot up off of the rock. The rushing water of the stream not only mirrored his emotions but had also masked her arrival. He kept his piercing stare on the water, unable to turn and meet her eye. He fought the urge to cower under her gaze and instead held his ground. She moved a little nearer, yet still a good distance away, seeing him in profile now.  Gentler still, she spoke.

“Jamie,…..tell me..…please.”

She could see a thunderous look on his face and was unsure as to whether he would indeed tell her. He was clearly not happy that she had asked. However, she stood firm and remained there for 2, …3, …4 minutes, knowing that one way or another they would stay there until he damn well told her.

Instinct led Claire to hold out his jacket for him and still without meeting her eye, he reached out his arm, internally grateful for the consideration she was showing him. She placed it in his hand and he took it from her. Jamie looked down at the rag that had been his smart shirt and slowly pulled its remnants away out of his trousers. He discarded it on the ground. He then slowly replaced his jacket with as much dignity as he could muster. To Claire though, he still looked every bit as noble and strong as any time she had found herself sneaking a glance at him before today. Jamie then lowered himself back down onto the rock leaning forwards, until his elbows rested on his knees.

Finally, with the never ending rush and noise of the stream highlighting the lack of sound from Jamie, he looked to the sky, squeezed his eyes shut and let out a deep, shaky breath. Evidently, he was looking for some divine courage to help him find the words. Slowly swallowing, he began in a distant voice,

“I…”

 

He faltered.

 

“I….had a wife. Her… her name wis Annalise. We met durin’ my time studyin’ at the Sorbonne in Paris. I fought  a duel for her honour.” He let out a brief snort, clearly thinking of things still unsaid.

 “I won. She returned tae Scotland with me. We were happy, fer a time. ….We were even blessed wie a child…”

 Jamie’s face showed a searing pain and he turned his head away from Claire, controlling his mask by acting as if in deep concentration at something far down the stream. After a moment, he seemed to gather himself and turned his head back around to its original position, still not looking at her; still in profile. He spoke one word; almost a whisper,

 

“Willie.”

 

Claire would recall after, the exact moment that she heard the quiet sound of her heart breaking, joining his, shattered on the floor. She knew that there was no sign at all of Jamie having a wife and son in his life now. Indeed, it was clear and simple that he was alone. Claire had a growing feeling that something truly awful had befallen Annalise and Willie.

After another shaky sigh, Jamie continued,

“I have always been a stubborn man, Claire. Or so ma sister, Jenny, would aie tell me!”

 

 His sister?

 

He snorted, “Well, takes one tae know one! All Frasers are the same. I was Laird Broch Turach of Lallybrock…. an’ I was a proud man. Too proud.”

Shaking his head as if appalled when thinking on his past behaviour and the man he had been, he admitted,

“It brought me down more than once! ”

 

He swallowed, then continued, “…One day, Annalise an’ I had spoken ill words over….I dinna ken what, but it was as I was readying tae leave fir a trip. Somethin’ aboot the root cellar or the stable…I canna mind. I climbed upon my horse an’ wieoot a single look back, I just…rode off. I never thought….”

Jamie closed his mouth and breathed firmly out through his nose. He stared and stared at the water with wide eyes, seeing scenes that were no longer there.

 “I still hear her callin’ after me…  It catches me sometimes… an’ I turn, heart in ma throat; thinkin’ she’s right there behind me.”

 

He sneered at the cruelty of it. Fury bubbling under the surface.

Claire slowly took a seat on a nearby rock, keen to avoid disturbing him in case he should cease to talk.

“After a time, my tenants; my friends; my family, well, it wis as if I had just upped an’ left her and the bairn. It wis like I’d abandoned them an’ Lord Broch Turach became a shameful man overnight!”

 

Claire was confused. What did this have to do with his scarred back? Why had he left them? Why did he not return? What had happened to make him feel so…bereft?

 

As Jamie thought about his next words, his jaw visibly tensed again.

 

“I, er… eventually managed to make it back home….but it had been months an' ...... in the end, it was all too late.”

 

“They were both dead.”

 

He said those final four words with a deep rumble and they hung heavy in the air; pressing into Claire’s lungs making it hard to breath. Her worst fear for him confirmed. Jamie sighed, shaking his head slowly from side to side simply trying to breath. He continued his story, unable to halt now that he had started.

“I wis told that a month after I left, 2 redcoat deserters had set upon them at Lallybrock. No-one could tell me who they were. Old Mrs Crock had been away tending to her ailing sister in Inverness and so it wis just the two o’ them there. Unprotected. ”

He croaked out the last word and Claire could see that his throat had all but constricted with emotion. When his next words were eventually spoken, they stole her breath away.  

 

“Slit her throat.”

 

“My boy’s too.”

 

“They weren’t found fir a week.”

    

 Jamie spoke each sentence swift and firm, clearly the only way that those words could ever be uttered from his mouth. His chin slowly dropped to his chest again.

Claire couldn’t stop herself – she quietly asked the questions hanging around them in the air like tempting fruit, ripe for the picking. 

“Where were you, Jamie? Why had you not return?”

She could sense that they were getting to the crux of things now and she thought that he seemed to be having trouble swallowing again. After a moment though, he declared with a unforgiving growl,

“Because I am a coward……….and God saw fit to punish me for my crimes!”

Chapter Text

 

Jamie stood up abruptly and with his Viking stride, headed off at pace back through the woods. Claire was still so caught up in his last words that he had already slipped from view by the time she had realised that he had upped and left. He clearly had no intention of letting her keep up with him.

Every fibre of Claire’s body told her that it was not as simple as him staying away from his home because he was a coward.

Lonely? Yes.

Grouchy? God, yes!

Proud? For sure!

But a coward? No. Definitely not.

Claire had learnt through life that there are some people who simply carry an air of grace about themselves, no matter their current circumstance. That was Jamie; through and through – it permeated his being and he could no more hide it than he could his red curls. Jamie was an honourable man and no amount of persuasion would ever change Claire’s view. He had a natural presence and despite him acting the life of a loner, the truth was that he was a born leader of men. Lord Broch Turach, indeed! He could reject the birthright but not the heritage. There was more to this than Jamie was saying, and she was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Without wasting another moment, she gathered up her skirts and headed for the trees, running to catch him up. Not so fast, Fraser!

 

****

 

Jamie strode with purpose, his traitorous back rubbing in his jacket. He had said too much already. He couldn’t bear telling the rest. The shame and desolation nearly forced him to cry out to the Heavens as he stalked, feeling his demons hurtling back towards him. This ever-lasting pain was his penance, he knew that. And most days he took his punishment with resignation but the anguish caused by the events of today; seeing the shock on their faces as his shirt ripped; Christ, the look on her face…well, it was like a salted wound, rendered raw and exposed by her eyes alone. And so he had left. Again.

Coward, his mind taunted him. He growled aloud as he walked, warning his mind not to piss about with him today.

Within a few more minutes, he reached the edge of the woods intent on making it back to his cottage. He had an appointment with a bottle. Claire caught up with him just as he turned at the wooded edge. Out of breath, she called out as best she could.

“Jamie!”  It came out as a gasp.

“Jamie!” That was better! 

He paid her no heed and carried on walking. Louder, she called,

“Jamie!” God damn this man!

She stood still and at the top of her voice, she bellowed,

“James Fraser, you stop right there or so help me God I’ll….!”

He had walked along the path as it hugged the tree line; at her outburst he had stopped. The tone she used was one that he hadn’t heard since he was a lad and his mother had caught him and his best friend, Ian Murray, sneaking out of the kitchen with the last few combs of the household’s honey in one set of hands; the last of the morning’s bannocks in the other. Every atom of his being knew to stop lest he be on the receiving end of a determined woman’s ire!

Still heaving her lungs as she walked, Claire stomped around him to look him dead on, although he still wouldn’t meet her eye. “James Fraser, don’t you dare walk away from me!” Her hand whacked him on the upper arm. It hadn’t hurt as such but he stumbled ever so slightly as the contact was so unexpected. His eyes momentarily widened in shock. Pointing her finger at him, she firmly told him,

“There is more to this story than you are telling me, James Fraser!”

She tried to calm herself – no point scaring him off!

“Now….I cannot begin to imagine how hard this is for you but you are going to finish telling me what happened! There is nothing you can tell me that will change how I fee…”

With that Jamie’s temper finally exploded. He bellowed,

“God dammit, woman! What do ye want from me?” 

Claire halted, taken aback by his retort. He had interrupted her, and she had no answer for him. This was on account of her being unable to stop staring at his vivid sea-blue eyes which for the first time since the incident with the crowd, were looking straight at her. She felt a tug in her wame; she couldn’t drag her eyes away from his. Seeing that she was lost for words, he carried on,

“What is it, eh? You want me tae tell you how not 2 hours into my journey, I fell of ma horse, as he threw a shoe (a simple shoe!) an’ landed on some godforsaken tree root which ripped ma thigh open and broke my hand?”

He pointed his arm behind him as if it had happened close by. In disgust, he continued,

“How I lay unnoticed fir 2 days in a ditch, falling into fever before I was rescued (Ha!), rescued by a Sassenach redcoat by the name of Captain Jonathan Randall? That he held me against my will, tortured me and …..Is that enough fer ye?”

His face turned an ugly shade of red as he spat the next words out at her.

“Nothing I say will make ye change the way ye feel, eh? Well, Mistress Beauchamp, the truth o’ the matter is that as my wife and child lay with their life’s blood pouring out of their bodies; wondering where the hell I was; why I had betrayed them; why I had failed tae protect them, I was ignorant tae their disappointment, as I was busy being fucked by another man!”

He had ended up shouting those last words with no care for being overheard for once.  But, Jamie was utterly startled with the  jolting shock of having told her. In fact, his face looked every bit as shocked at the revelation as Claire’s did. He had never told a soul his story. Never uttered the truth of just why he hadn’t made it home to protect his family; why he had been away for so much longer than he had meant to be; what he had endured all those lost months. Oh Dear God, what had he done?

He hadn't been able to stop himself; Claire seemed to break down every last one of his defenses with great ease and he'd never been more terrified in his life. This was a mistake.  No good could come from having uttered those words to her. A flock of birds took flight from the trees as if they too couldn’t stay around after such a heinous revelation. The terror of her leaving him forever and never seeing her again overwhelmed him. It seemed completely and utterly inevitable.  

She stayed; he left.  His inner voice whispering “Coward!”    

Chapter Text

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

 

Music:      The Pretenders -   I’ll Stand by You

 

 

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

 

 

   Jamie raised his hand and brushed some of those wonderful curls behind her ear. Realising in that moment that he had wanted to do so since the very first time he had seen her. It felt so natural and effortless.

 “Christ, to touch you, Sassenach….!”  

   She shivered as her breath left her body. God, it was thrilling to hear him talk that way. Meanwhile, Jamie could not help but marvel at how his large hand made this strong woman’s face look so delicate and fragile as she looked up at him with hooded eyes. Sorcha. Light.

   Never leaving her warm gaze, his hands took hold of both cheekbones, his thumbs grazing her temples, and tilted her face slowly up towards him, as he lowered his lips to meet hers. The touch of which turned Claire once again to liquid, and she moved her hands from his chest, to caress his chin; his stubble; his jaw. He moaned deeply and she felt her stomach clench as if she had jumped from a great height. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! Did he know what he did to her with those noises?

   They remained joined this way, exploring one another’s mouths; both enchanted by the feel of the other’s soft and wanting lips. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her close, as they deepened the kiss, both wanting to lose themselves in the other; both coming to realise that what it was between them was…different. Their mouths eventually broke apart to catch their breath; overwhelmed by the feeling of being in one another’s arms. Keen to not lose their connection though, they rested their foreheads together. 

   If, when it was all said and done, this was the only moment in time she could have with him, she would take it. She knew she was jeopardizing everything by making her next request but, she had to know and Jamie, whether he realised it or not; whether he believed it or not, needed her to know too. Risking it all, she steeled herself to speak the ten words she knew she had to.

   “Jamie, you need to finish telling me about Randall now.”  She felt him bristle, as she knew he would. His eyes closed and a long sigh left his body.

“He is a poison we have to purge, Jamie! He has already had far too long inside, dragging your soul down; you have to do this!”

Gently, she continued,

“Tell me what happened after Randall found you in the ditch.  I need to hear it; all of it. I’ll…I’ll grieve with you; I’ll rage with you; I’ll be with you. And when it is has all been said, I will still be here, right beside you.” 

Jamie sighed and then, opening his eyes, he turned away, facing the fire again. She could see those oak-solid shoulders clenched and his head bobbing up and down; side to side as he searched for a way to voice his fear.  

“…I’m afraid, Claire… If I’m honest……I’m utterly petrified.” His voice became hoarse as the shame he felt escaped him. Claire sought to reassure him but as he turned back to her, a sad smile appeared on his face and he explained,

“I’ve lost everyone, Claire. In…in the end I…. I always let them doon. Always. The thought o’ findin’ you…only to lose you… I just dinnae think my heart could take it, Claire. No more.”

“Then trust me, Jamie, as you did before! Trust me! We must do this. Please…let me help you heal!”

And in that moment, he did; he trusted her. The truth was that he was so weary from the weight of it all. Nothing could be worse than these last 10 years, alone, surely? It was time to stop being the coward he felt he had let himself become these many years past. A stoic man by nature; it had never been an easy skin for him to fill but the guilt and desolation left by that decision to not turn back, …well, it held him fast.

But now, he walked hesitantly over to his chair and sat down; it creaked under the sudden weight, accompanied by a loud crack from the fire. He found himself resigned to the fact that she was right; he had to tell her all the last sorry details of the story. He could only hope that in the telling he would find salvation.

   Everything around him, from Claire to the very cottage itself, seemed to be holding its breath waiting for him to begin.

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

Flashback

Jamie had thought that once their child had been born that Annalise would feel more settled here in Scotland. Unfortunately, if anything, she appeared to feel even more caged than she had before. The few years that they had been together, here at Lallybrock, had gradually eroded away much of the affection with which they had held one another, exposing their relationship to be the youthful infatuation it had only ever been. Being Lady Broch Turach was not proving to be the pleasure, nor bring the status, that Annalise had thought it might. This was not how Jamie had seen his married life playing out. However, Annalise doted on their boy, at least, as did Jamie and so they had remained together, both resigned to their commitment to one another, taking joy in seeing their bonnie wee lad growing up at least. Only occasionally did this agreement break down.

   Annalise had got up that morning quite clearly sullen. They had not shared a bed for many a month now and from the moment she saw Jamie, everything he said or did over breakfast was pulled apart, like a vulture on carrion. She picked at him for everything – he had found that she always got like this before he left Lallybrock on business, clearly resenting the freedom his gender gave him. The knowing did not make it any easier to endure though.

   He tried to engage Willie in some talk about the coming day, but Annalise kept interrupting. Jamie’s impatience was evident through his clenched jaw, which Annalise would have seen had she been inclined to look at him today, but he sought to calm himself by entertaining Willie. He was 4 years old with chestnut brown hair and the same beautiful Fraser eyes graced his face, as did his father’s. It made Jamie recall his own mother’s face and he saw her radiating out through Willie’s eyes.  Jamie was always struck by just how vivid a blue those eyes were, with that strong black line surrounding the iris. They were like beautiful deep lakes and he would find himself lost in them regularly when they had time together. He was enchanted by his son. Jamie saw, with pride, that Willie had also inherited a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Just like his Da. Ma boy. Jamie’s heart was fit to bursting whenever he caught the lad unawares; he would turn to Jamie, look at him and smile like sunlight.

   Deciding that he had had enough of the high-pitched whining coming from his wife, he nabbed another bannock and with a wink to Willie, he mumbled something about readying his horse, Donas.    Donas was a fine beast but he would not allow anyone to get near him except Jamie. He was a vengeful horse, Donas, but Jamie kept him in tow, most of the time. Of course, it turned out that today would not be one of those days.

   Later, that morning, with his horse loaded up, Jamie made to set off. He had already said his goodbyes to Willie and Mrs Crock, the latter having tucked a few extra bread chunks and some more cheese into his bag. He was hardly wasting away; but try telling that to Mrs Crock who had known him since he was young lanky lad!

     “I shall be gone fir a week, Annalise. I’ll sort the root cellar shelvin’ when I return.” Jamie busied himself in a bid to avoid friction between them. Annalise had no such qualms.

   “And I suppose I am to remain here and keep your house for you! Waiting patiently for your return? Non?!” Her French accent growing stronger as she became more agitated.

   “There are many jobs that I need you to do here at home, Jamie. Why do you need to go on your foolish trip now? C’est ridicule! It’s ridiculous! The stable roof eez leaking and you simply ride off wizout a care for me left behind! Dieu, comme j’aurais aimé que tu perde ce putain de duel! God, how I wish you had lost that damn duel!” Her French distain evident in those last few words. 

 There was no talking to her when she was like this and hearing her words echoing his own dark thoughts sat ill with him. Jamie climbed upon Donas, clicked his tongue, and never took a second glance back at what would have been the last time he would see his wife alive.

 

 

 

Not 2 hours into his journey, it was clear to Jamie that much like his wife, Donas had woken up in a particularly difficult mood. He pulled at the reins regularly and Jamie was expelling much energy and focus on keeping him in line. It was just a shame that he could not leave Donas behind, as he had done Annalise! Jamie emitted a derisory snort at the thought.

   As the proverb goes, pride cometh before a fall. Jamie had never thought he would have practical experience of this particular adage but distracted for that moment, in admiration of his own wit, Jamie never noticed Donas’ disobedience coming that one last time. Suddenly, it was too late, and they were both thrown by the shoe that became dislodged by an ill-placed rock, jutting surreptitiously from the ground. Jamie felt instant pain all over; he felt his hand break; his upper left leg felt like fire had spread through it; and as his damaged head caused him to fall into unconsciousness, his last thought was, “Tha mi a ’dol a mharbhadh an each diabhal sin! I am going to kill that devil horse!

 Cold, hungry, numb. These would be Jamie’s vague recollections of the 2 days he spent alone lying in that ditch, falling in and out of consciousness. By far, the worst of the injuries was to his thigh, which he could no longer feel. He would realise later that he had a gaping slash across it where his fall had caused an exposed root to gouge a new path that lead from a few inches about his knee, to near enough his groin. What had saved him was the fact that he had fallen on to his front and the angle that he lay at, with his bag trapped under him had stopped the wound from losing too much blood. It had not been enough to stave off an inflammation though, and he surely would not have made it through another night had he not been spotted by a particular Captain of Dragoons, Jonathan Randall, riding past.  

Captain Randall had a fearsome reputation in this part of Scotland and Jamie had heard of ‘Black Jack’ Randall and his sinister behaviour; people disappearing, never to be heard of again; unduly heavy consequences for rules broken,  but had been fortunate enough not to cross paths with him. Until now. Much to Jamie’s continuing horror, they would share far more than a crossing of paths in the coming months. 

   Randall was on his way to his monthly triste at the Duke of Sandringham’s Scottish residence. They were unlikely bedfellows, but Sandringham served as sufficient cover for Randall and his…particular tastes. His horse, Potens, had carried him swiftly from his garrison however, their pace had slowed as they neared their destination and it was this that caused Randall’s eye to spot those red curls and the Nordic god attached to them in the undergrowth.

   Jamie was quite delirious with fever when Randall found him. His memories of those many hours were vague and fleeting but he recalled being held in a strong pair of arms; his hair being gently brushed from his face; a comforting voice, even, reassuring him that all was well and he would be looked after. He later recalled being carried to a big comfortable bed and for a time, his comfort allowed his brain to rest, no longer required for now.    

  This was swiftly overturned late one evening. Jamie had been having what seemed like some rather strange dreams during his more comatosed moments in this place. It had been a number of days he thought (maybe a week?) that he had been here. He recalled in his more lucid moments, a young girl, who had tended to him. He would later learn that she was Mary Hawkins, goddaughter of Sandringham. A timid little beast, she had seemed scared and ill at ease in Jamie’s presence, no matter how harmless he tried to sell himself. A smell like incense was ever present now though and Jamie had been left feeling uneasy and…handled.

   During his dreams, he had felt many hands over his body. It had been sometime since he had laid with his wife and the touch of a soft hand was pleasing. He felt the cover being pulled back and the hand this time caressed his pecs and rubbed at his nipples. Jamie shivered with pleasure as the hand moved to his muscular stomach, and then down. His lucidity had changed this time though and he came to the very abrupt realisation that this was no dream. Jamie’s right hand grabbed the offending limb and he shot open his eyes. To his horror, he came face to face with the glassy-eyed stare of the Duke of Sandringham, leaning over him, whose look had turned from shock to terror when Jamie’s left hand had then grabbed at his throat.

   Sandringham gave out a strangled shriek. His height over Jamie, who had been lying horizontal, gave him the leverage he needed to get Jamie off him. He stumbled away as Jamie lunged for him again. His weakness by this point saved Sandringham as he had not the strength to get up and follow the Duke.

  The Duke would not visit Jamie again in the months that he was kept here. Nor would Jamie be left at ease. When he awoke from the next hazy dream, he had been moved to the basement and was shackled in chains.     

      

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Flashback on

   Not seeing the outside world was the hardest part…at the start, at least. Being unable to follow the passing of the sun and moon made the hours; the days; the weeks; and in the end, the months impossible to follow. Unsurprisingly, that made the living hell all the more real and inescapable.

   Jamie had been down in the basement for about a week. Mary would bring food and drink for him each day but always stayed as far away from him as possible and left as soon as she could. Not for the first time, he thought it rather rich that she was scared of him seeing as he was the one in here; tied to the wall like an animal. She never spoke to him and in those moments he would trade the silence for Annalise’s griping, in a heartbeat. How the hell had he ended up like this? The waiting was the worst. He wished that they would hurry up and get on with it whatever this was – it wouldn’t be long until that rash thought was struck permanently from his mind though. He could never have imagined…

   Usually a furnace of body heat, the days and days in the dank cellar had finally cut through to Jamie’s bones and he was cold. It was almost as if the ominous all-encompassing stench of the horrific unknown was actively spreading through his body. Jamie hadn’t seen his clothes since he’d fallen off his horse. He lay on a hard wooden cot now with only a thin quilt providing any covering for his body, let alone his dignity. The room was bare and the stone walls cold. The cot; a table; a chair and a bucket in the corner; nothing else except for the whispers of horrors past, like a vacuum. 

   Randall finally made his appearance and with him came a flagon of wine and a cat o’nine tails whip curled in his hand. This cruel weapon was made of a material like tarred string and had knots along each of the nine tails’ lengths. Being thin strands, such as they were, each one tended to cut open the skin when wielded; a particularly nasty implement.

   Jamie had never seen a flogging but an old man had passed through once, when Jamie was a lad and he had spied the quiet man bathing in the river, the man’s back was full of divots and caverns spreading from left to right; and at awkward angles.  It had given Jamie a great shock when he had first seen it and had left him with nightmares for weeks after the man left, imagining the raging monsters that must have caused the damage.

   Randall strode into the room as if it was his working office and he came in here every day. Not yet looking at Jamie, who was huddled in the cot, under the small quilt; the iron chains making his ankles ache; impossible to get comfortable in; watching Randall’s every move through his red curls. Randall set the flagon of wine on the table in the corner of the room, and carefully placed the bound whip next to it, treating it as if it were a prized possession worthy of veneration.

   Dressed in his Army reds, Randall looked every bit the gentleman he purported to be. From the impeccable shine on his boots; the heavy weight of his jacket; the smooth shape of his restrained dark hair;  and the gleaming white of his shirt and stock.  Only a steely cold glint in his eyes, coupled with a gaze of fascination at his ‘guest’ contradicted the complete look.   

   Randall pulled out the chair, sat himself down in it, being sure to flick his coat tails up behind and elegantly crossing his legs, he studied the large lump laying still in the bed; only a faint rise and fall of the chest showing movement. Confident that Jamie was indeed awake, he spoke to him as if they were two gentleman of equal standing, engaged in a genial conversation. Of course, in every way they were both of equal standing; but for the fact that at this precise moment, one was chained and naked; and the other was not.  

  “You really are the most exquisite creature, you know.” Randall began.

 “When I saw you lying there, in the ditch, I couldn’t believe my luck. Do you remember it?”

Randall asked much like a lover might shyly ask his partner something intimate. He didn’t wait for an answer.

“I thought you were dead to begin with. Now that would have been a great shame. We are going to have a memorable time here together, my boy. I can promise you that.”

Randall shifted in his chair, and Jamie’s heart forgot to beat in that moment. He hadn’t blinked the entire time that Randall had been talking and now he had a feeling of dread beginning to crawl all over him; he was beginning to see where this was heading. Randall stood up and slowly picked up the whip, unfurling it as he moved to the opposite side of the room. He gave a slow, throaty chuckle as he carried on talking.

   “This is one of my favourite parts, you know? The beginning.”

Letting his eye travel over that of Jamie’s body that he could see, Randall stalked the room like a hunter. His voice sounding distant as he whispered,

 “So full of anticipation. Can you feel it? I know you can. You’re terrified….and just a little bit curious.”

That chuckle again and then more whispers.

“We are going to create a masterpiece together, Jamie; a work of art; it’s going to be pure theatre….and it will stay with us both until the end of our days. If you are….compliant, you may just make it out of here….if you survive.”

This fiend damn near scared Jamie’s hair white, where he lay. He would be damned if he was going to give this maniac the satisfaction of seeing it though. Whatever was thrown at him, Jamie would take it all.

 Randall leaned himself again the wall still out of reach of Jamie. He softly requested,

“Now then, my boy, stand up and lean your hands against that wall.”

He pointed with the handle of the whip, to where he wanted Jamie to go.

Jamie, still not having moved for a single moment of Randall’s time in the room, remained motionless. Try an’ make me ye red-backed Sassenach!

   Randall stood completely still, knowing how this would play out; they always resisted him in the beginning. The breaking them was such joy. He stood up straight, away from the wall, clasping one hand with the other behind his back, never losing his grip on the whip; its rough feel in his hands already rousing him when he thought about the glorious colours he was going to see appear on that wonderful smooth back, in the coming weeks. He took a few steps and then stopped.

   “James Fraser, Lord Broch Turach. Tell me, how was your lovely French wife when you left?”

Jamie immediately felt the bile rise from his stomach. Whatever he’d expected Randall to say, it hadn’t been that. How had he known who Jamie was? Had he given up the information during those early days? Jamie had come to realise in his week here in the basement that the odd smell of incense in his room, upstairs, was most likely opium and those confusing and overwhelming dreams he had had where as a result of it. He could have given anything up in those days and would never have known it. Randall could see Jamie’s brain turning the information over. He continued to provoke,

 “I should imagine that she’ll be wondering where you are by now? Perhaps I should pay her a visit. Show her a real welcome to our pleasant isle. Of course, there’s your boy too. Willie.”

Randall looked wistful and smiled into the distance as if imagining….God knows what dreadful notion. Jamie’s finally moved at this and as Randall had known he would, Jamie had slowly stood to his full height, holding the quilt around his lower half, keeping what little dignity he had left for as long as he could. In a low rumble, he stated,

“You stay away from my boy, an’ his mother…

Randall waited for the bargain he knew Jamie would offer.

….and you can have me. Take me instead.”

Family men; they were always so easy to play, Randall thought with revulsion. This would only be the opening move though. They always thought they could endure him for the love of their families. He laughed derisorily inside; it never lasted. Did they see that it weakened them; left them vulnerable? But he sensed something ironlike in Fraser. Perhaps a worthy opponent this time? He nodded to show his agreement.

“You have my word as a gentleman. Make free of your body to me and I will leave your family unharmed.”

With a slow nod, Jamie clenched his jaw and turned to the wall, away from Randall. As he reached his hands up to brace himself, the cover fell, and with it, his last shred of dignity was lost too. Randall smiled to himself and slowly walked towards him, shaking the whip out as he moved.

 

***

   The first few times were the same nightmare played over and over. Randall would take his whip to Jamie’s back; he would deliver 15-20 lashes; Jamie would make no sound; but Randall would clearly take pleasure in the red devastation he opened up with each swipe. In fact, judging by the sounds coming from behind Jamie when the lashes would finish, taking his pleasure was exactly what Randall was doing. Randall would leave and Jamie would be left alone, shaking  with agony. Randall would not return for what Jamie guessed was about 4-5 days, but Mary would come to dress his raw wounds and feed him – she clearly had experience of doing so, convincing Jamie that he was far from the first poor soul to inhabit this prison-like cell. The ill-fated girl was clearly just as traumatised as he was becoming. 

   About 3 weeks into this spectacle, Randall turned the ratchet further. Now that he had Jamie in a more compliant position, he felt that it was time to take a little more. Constantly prompting Jamie with his veiled threats towards his family, he began to toy with Jamie’s own body. Much to his shame, Jamie’s body would betray him at Randall’s touch, not seeming to care that it was a vile monster indulging. This monster would rouse him time and again but never allow him release. It was ultimately more pain to add to his ruined back. A pain that was gradually breaking him down.

   As Randall knew would happen, Jamie’s resolve finally broke. He had lasted longer than most. He knew his back was a forever ruined mess and that he would carry Randall’s work for the rest of his days. Jamie found himself both so astonishingly tired and yet extremely aroused at the exactly the same time. The truth was that he had been slowly drowning in an ocean of pain and distress. Eventually, he couldn’t help himself grabbing onto that tiny raft of pleasure and clinging to it for dear life.

   This time, Randall hadn’t hurt him first; the whip hadn’t appeared. He seemed to have a different notion this time. He very quickly rid himself of his own clothes, careful to lay them meticulously over the chair and sat next to Jamie who was laid on his side, turned away from Randall, lost in his own misery. Randall drew out a small vial of oil; it smelt of lavender; it was a smell that Jamie had never cared for anyway and now it would forever draw him back to this very moment, whenever it would occur.

   Randall rubbed the oil sensually over his hands and then used them to delicately sweep back the hair from Jamie’s face. He’d enacted this move many times with others; never had it given him so much rigid pleasure though. It had taken much longer to break this strong Viking specimen but it had been worth it. Despite the weeks of ill treatment casting away some of Jamie’s bulk, he still cut a striking image, especially when contrasted with his current helpless situation.  Randall slowly brought himself down behind Jamie on the bed, careful not to touch his back, still so raw, lest it break the spell. He swept the hair from where Jamie’s shoulder and neck met and kissed him gently. Jamie lay staring into some unknown place trying to be anywhere but here; if not in body; then at least in mind.

   Randall had other ideas though and he gently drew his hand down and across Jamie’s shoulder; feathering his arm with his fingers and around the flat expanse of his lower torso. Try as he might Jamie couldn’t help but let out a small, slow moan, his head lifting and falling backwards onto Randall’s shoulder, as a hand cupped him and began to stroke. Randall brought his mouth close to Jamie’s ear and whispered,

   “I want you to enjoy yourself, now… by your own hand.”

  Unable to resist; broken down through weeks of so much pain and a small part of him still believing that this was his desperate attempt to keep his family safe, Jamie reached his hand down to where Randall’s was and joined him. Randall confirmed in a melodious tone, as he lifted his own hand away for other duties,       

   “You’re mine now, my boy; mine! I’m going to take you to places you’ve never been!”

   In that moment, Jamie didn’t care what Randall said or did, as long as the pleasurable escape didn’t stop. He’d say anything, or do anything for Randall in this moment. Readying Jamie behind with his fingers, Randall gently guided himself inside and it was the most exquisite feeling he had ever had. To know that no one had ever been in this place within Jamie before; to tame this wild, striking highlander and to reduce him to little more than wet clay in his hands made Randall hard as oak and slowly he began to move inside Jamie. To hear a small gasp escaping Jamie only served to heighten Randall’s arousal.

   Much to his twisted joy, Jamie responded as they all did at this point; with increasing abandon. Randall felt Jamie begin to move his own hips, opening himself to each thrust. Lost in the moment, they forged an unforgettable synchronicity and to their horror and surprise, the pleasure they shared brought them both to the edge of the abyss; they jumped off together, and came. Both men cried out at the intensity of the feelings and in that moment, there was no denying that they were as one.

   No sooner had they come down from this indescribable high though, and Jamie’s senses gradually returned to him; the incomprehensible shock at what he had just done left him stunned and utterly motionless. His insides felt like they were being constricted and he stared ahead, into a dark corner of the room, trying to understanding what had just happened and how the hell it had come to this!

****

   Randall stayed away for a longer time now. This had given Jamie’s back a little longer to start healing; the repair to his soul though, well, that would take a much longer time to heal.  When Randall eventually returned, he had a glint of malice in his eye unlike anything Jamie had seen before. He could hardly contain himself it seemed. Unable to suppress his excitement, fleeting smiles would slip from his mouth on regularly occasion, as he sought to find the words to adequately express his news. Kneeling on the bed behind Jamie, he teased,

   “Well, my boy, I heard some very sad news as I was travelling here these last few days.”

  He clearly had one last turn of the knife of torture to deliver to Jamie. He leaned in close to Jamie’s ear; beyond control, the fear and disgust that Jamie felt caused him to tightly close his eyes, and in a mean whisper Randall said,

  “Oh yes, very sad news. It seems that Lady Broch Turach and her son were set upon by two murderous beasts, whilst her husband was away from home. No one knows where he is – it would seem that he had abandoned them and now….well, now it’s too late. They’re gone.”

   In that moment, Jamie felt his entire world shrink to black with the only pin point left being Randall’s piercing words.

   “Just think, my boy. As your wife and son lay dying in the dirt, their throats cut;  wondering why you had failed them, I was deep inside you, filling you with my seed, until I spilled over…and you …couldn’t…get…enough of it.”

   Randall seemed elated at the thought.

   “As they lay there dying, your thoughts were not of them, but the pleasure that my body was delivering you. You failed them, my boy,  and you abandoned them…for your own…hungry…pleasure.”      

  The truth of Randall’s words hit Jamie like a sledgehammer and with it a cloak of shame fell, so dark and tremendous that it would block out the sunlight for many, many years to come. As Randall, left the room, smirking to himself, he halted just outside the door. Then, he heard it; a slow wail emitting from Jamie. It grew ever louder until it broke into sobs filled with complete and utter anguish. As he walked away the conqueror, he thought about how this was his second favourite part; the moment when they finally broke, having realised that they had abandoned their loved ones for simple carnal gratification.  

  It would be many months until the horror of Randall’s abuse would eventually become a past event. What should have been relief saw anything but. The damage had been done and to have survived it; to have not ultimately succumbed to death, seemed like a fitting atonement for Jamie’s self-proclaimed crimes.

 

Flashback ends         

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

 

Fire has the most magical qualities. You can waste hours staring into each unique moment of flame. Such beauty and endless fascination; coupled with danger and destruction. Jamie had spent most of his horror story leaning against the hearth, having been unable to remain still in the chair for long; his strong arms spread across the mantel; staring into the past through the flames of the fire.

   As his tale ended, he stood motionless. For that brief moment, he was no longer concerned with Claire’s reaction. It was simply an extraordinary feeling having voiced his trauma. He wasn’t quite sure the best way to describe how he felt exactly, but it wasn’t the calamity that he had always feared it might be. He almost felt…weightless. Like he had been Atlas, carrying the burden of the world around on his back, only to now have gravity cease to affect him. Perhaps it was just the novelty of such an experience that made him so aware of it. One thing he suspected though was that this feeling of relief wouldn’t last.

Finally, Claire spoke; the disbelief of what he had been through making her throat dry up somewhat,

   “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, Jamie! I…I don’t know what...That must have been so awful for you.”

    To have her put voice to her own shock at what he had told her pulled Jamie up short and when he saw the look of despair etched on her face and in her eyes, the brief respite he’d had burst. To see such pain in her eyes and to know that once again, he had caused such heartache in a loved one, yes a loved one, for he did love her, honestly and completely, threatened to undo him again.

   He walked around the room like a caged animal and found himself standing by the wall;  his forehead leaning against it seeking solace. Turning around to lean his weight on the solid structure, he brought his fist up to the centre of his chest, and tried to explain how Randall had truly broken him. He hit his chest as he spoke haltingly,

  “It wisnae sae much whit Randall did tae me that caused sae much damage, Claire. It wis,….”

His resolve stumbled.

   “Go on….” Claire whispered.

   “It wis...”  The horror was before him again but this time he soldiered on. Swallowing he carried on,

   “It wis whit Randall showed me about ma self that did the damage. Claire….it wis like he shone a torch intae the dark corners o’ ma soul….showed me things a never knew; things a wid never hae believed aboot ma self. An’ then, tae find oot that Willie and Annalise were…..that a’d failed tae protect them, whilst…”  

 At this, his knees slowly gave way like a crumbling dam and he fell to the floor utterly crushed. Immediately, Claire rushed to his side, her own heart painfully throbbing at the sad figure her Viking cast.

“Oh, my love! My love! I’m here! I’m here! Please don’t hide away from me, Jamie. I swear to you; I swear that I will never leave you. I won’t!”

Claire pleaded with him to believe her. She fell to her knees in front of him and clutched his legs, looking up with urgency in her eyes.

    After a time, Jamie lifted his head and Claire could see him begin to falter again as the tender moments that they had shared were in danger of passing and being lost to them both; she watched the doubt and fear cross his face once more. It was like the dark cloud was descending again; the mask was about to be forced back in place and with all her aching heart, she couldn’t bear it. Neither could he it seemed, as he slowly lifted his head, climbed back up off of the floor and facing away from her, he looked out of the window.

 Claire raised herself up and moved to face him again. Grabbing hold of his upper arms tightly, she looked pleadingly at him; shook him ever so slightly where he stood and searched his face for reassurance. He dropped his chin to his chest, this movement of shame she had seen repeatedly in him, and then, he spoke,

   “Claire, I….”

   “Jamie.” She interrupted him in panicked desperation. Her heart felt like it was in her mouth.

   Calming herself she repeated, “Jamie…… I want you to listen to me very carefully. Can you do that for me? Please?”

   Struggling to meet her eye again, she cupped his cheek and chin and lifted them until he looked at her. He met her eye and gave a curt nod. Tenderly, she reassured him,

   “I know your heart, Jamie; I know your heart and I am telling you here and now that nothing you could ever tell me; not this, not anything,  will ever make me love you any less!” Jamie was stunned to hear this incredible woman, who had made him feel like he was basking in sunlight again, from the moment he had met her, say that she loved him too.

   “I will walk into the depths of hell with you, Jamie; I will stay with you in whatever darkness you exist in; I …I hope you won’t think me too bold but, ….I want to spend the rest of my life right here, ….with you. I will walk beside you through your living hell if necessary, every day for the rest of our lives, if you’ll let me.  It will be you and me against the world, my dear love. Neither one of us will be alone again.”

She felt the slightest hesitation in him still and with tears in her eyes she continued to plead with him,

   “Don’t shut me out Jamie, please! I don’t think I could bear it! I don’t think I could carry on if you won’t have me, Jamie!” If he wouldn’t have her? It tore at his very soul to see her so wretched and fearful. Bravely she continued,

   “I……I’ve seen darkness too. I’ve….I’ve done things I too am ashamed to admit, but I’ll share it all with you, Jamie; you can have it all, if it helps you heal; if it helps you see that you are mine; …you are mine and we are meant to be together!”

She could see how torn he was; one second his eyes glistened at her words; the next she saw fear and doubt and so it continued over and over. He slowly drew himself out of her arms and turned to look at the fire again, burning in the hearth, clutching his stomach as she had seen him do by the water’s edge earlier. Again, he slowly lowered his head into his chest.

When Jamie had listened to Claire’s words, he had felt a million different things at once but the beacon of them all was hearing her saying that she loved him; that she wanted him; that she couldn’t bear to carry on without him. It called to his very soul. There was still just one worrying thought that he could not shift though and resigned to voicing it, he spoke it aloud,

“How can you have me like this?” 

     In the telling of his story, whilst he had had a brief moment of relief, the reality was that he had never felt so small and weak. He felt so…damaged. And the shame threatened to engulf him again.

   Without hesitation, she went to him and cupping his strong solid face in her hands; her eyes full of tears, as one solitary drop overflowed down her right cheek, she lifted his head to hers and passionately told him,

“I will have you anyway I can…always!”  

  In that moment, she cast away the very last of the fear; and the loneliness; and the rage; and the shame. Like the scars on his back, the sorrow of having lost so much would never fully leave him. However, her love for Jamie utterly dazzled him. He lifted back his shoulders, climbed to his full height for a moment and seeing the truth in her eyes, he smiled until his beautiful blue eyes sparkled and reached out for his future, wrapping his strong arms around her. He pulled her close, with firm resolve, the hesitation gone and nuzzled his face into those wonderful curls around her neck.

   Claire’s relief crashed around her like breaking waves and she finally broke down as he held her close. It was his turn to support her. They sank to the floor in front of the hearth, never breaking contact and there they remained for the rest of the evening; a tangle of limbs entwined with one another; Claire grabbing tighter any moment she felt him move. Both of them thinking that they’d never be ready to let go of the other; independently swearing an oath  to God that they would never allow circumstance to require them to do so, whilst there was breath in their body.

Chapter Text

 Jamie couldn’t say how long they had sat there together in front of the warming fire, holding on to one another, but he suddenly realised that the light had now faded outside and in fact, the fireplace was in danger of doing so soon too. He knew that people would talk if it was discovered that they had spent time like this, but the pleasure of having such a soft and beautiful creature in his arms after so long with them being empty was making it extremely hard for him to care right at this moment. Even before the horror of Randall and all that he and Sandringham had put Jamie through, the truth was that Annalise and he had lost their desire to touch one another a long time before he was taken and it was near impossible to remember the last time he had been blessed with such a wonderful experience.

   All through those 10 years that he had been back, there had never been a single moment of gentle, soothing contact. For as long as he could remember, there was only violence. When he had returned, his tenants no longer thought of him as their laird; it was an honour that Jamie felt he had destroyed; respect ruined and thus he never pursued the matter; in fact, he’d barely even returned to Lallybrock at all, preferring instead to take up in this old croft. The contempt and revulsion they felt was never hidden and in the early months after his return, there had only been brawls and loathing; both Jamie and his tenants seething with anger at the grim consequences of his betrayal of his family. To his tenants though, he had simply been a coward and a disappointment to both his name and them. Only Jamie felt he had the true understanding of all that had happened and how truly deserving he had been of their wrath.   

   But now, to hold this incredible woman in his arms; it humbled and moved him beyond words and he could feel his soul awaken and his body stir for the first time since…forever; and never had it done so in this deep and profound way. She was warm; soft; smooth. She smelt….fresh, like the forest; there was a hint of chamomile in her hair; and the sweat he must have caused her to form, when he stormed away from her by the water, was lingering. Christ! She’d looked glorious when she had stomped around him at the wood’s edge having bellowed his name. He had noticed even in spite of the enduring trauma that had been exposed. Jamie smiled and chuckled when he recalled how flushed and cross, she had been when she finally caught up with him.

   Feeling him shake, Claire stirred in his arms; she had fallen asleep a short while before and when he looked down at her to make sure that she hadn’t woken up, he was convinced that she was some kind of perfect angel, unexpectedly here in his arms. The arc of those stunning dark lashes that usually framed her unique eyes swept themselves in a way that captivated Jamie and he spent more happy moments just reveling in them. 

   As if she could feel his adoration radiate onto her, Claire awoke and opened her eyes, finding a vast sea of blue looking down at her. Meanwhile, the catch of the fire in her eyes lit them up golden, like the afternoon sun on a crisp Autumn day. One stray curl caressed her face and Jamie raised one of his hands to gently guide it away, all the while smiling as he lost himself in her loving stare.

   “Good evenin’, mo ghaol. My love.” He said, his voice sounding so different to her.

   She soon realised that she had never heard him speak with a joyful tone before; tender and husky. He had always been so brusque and dismissive.  It was like a wave washed over her, when she heard it; a wave so full of love, it took her breath momentarily away. If this moment lasted forever; she’d be quite content.

   “Good evening.” She happily replied back to him, all the while her face beaming.

   “I’m sorry, it is late. I…er…I think it best if we remain here fir the night, given the events o’ this mornin’ in the town. People are no thinkin’ too favourably o’ me just at the moment. Ye can take the bed an’ I’ll sleep by the hearth.” 

   He rushed on, ensuring that he offered her a safer option, should she prefer it.

   “O’ course, I can walk ye home now, if ye wid rather. The choice is yours……Claire.” He said her name with such revelry, as if he was testing it out; it still being so new on his tongue. 

   Claire took herself out of Jamie’s arms and stood up. He followed her lead, giving her space to compose her answer by slowly climbing up, convinced she’d want to return home. Claire watched him rise like one of the tall sunflowers she found in her garden during the summer months; unfurling before her eyes and when he looked at her she felt that tug in her stomach, and lower down too.  In a gentle but confident voice she reassured him,

   “Jamie, I meant it; I am not leaving you and I…”

She took a step towards him and raised her hand to his chest again, still clad in only his jacket. After caressing it slightly through the fabric, she looked up at him, swallowed and carried on, 

   “…I want to be with you. Always.”

   The effect of her standing so close to Jamie was unbelievably powerful; he felt a stirring in his trousers. Feeling her poised so close to him had Jamie fighting every impulse of his body to grab hold of her and satisfy the deep longing for her that he had. He should not do that though; she was not yet his to have. Yes, they had declared their mutual feelings for one another, but he was trying his hardest to honour her and do things right, this time. She wasn’t going to make it easy for him though.

   “Christ, Claire!  I want ye too…. Christ, how I want ye…. I can scarcely believe how today has changed everythin’ fir us. I never thought I wid ever be able tae leave the hell that I found mysel’ in these 10 years past. Never thought I would be granted the right tae hold another wie such affection an’ adoration in my arms. But here ye are…”

He lit up the room with his smile and as his eyes sparkled, he slid his arms down Claire’s and took hold of each of her elegant hands in his own. Looking down at them, he carried on,

   “Ye told me earlier that I am yours, an’ that we are meant tae be together. Did ye truly mean that?”

   As he spoke this crucial question, his eyes left her hands and he looked so intensely at her that she felt him and all he was reach deep into her heart and soul as if he was liquid. Without hesitation, she whispered,

   “You know I did.”

   Jamie smiled and lifting her hands in front of them both, he continued,

   “Well in that case…Mistress Beauchamp, I wonder if ye wid do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

He could see that he had taken her by beautiful surprise; she was not expecting him to ask such a thing in this moment and yet his resolve was absolute; this was where their future lay. Together. His eyes never left hers as he lifted her hands and gently kissed her ring finger. Her heart shot to her throat as she felt his tongue very gently touch her skin, through his slightly parted lips; her knees felt suddenly weak. To see him command such confidence in himself was uplifting and, she couldn’t deny it; it did all manner of things to her stirring wame. Looking from one eye to the other across his face; her joy finally too strong to contain; her eyes glistened; and she beamed at him giving him her the answer,

   “Yes…Mister Fraser, I will marry you. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”

   Jamie’s eyes filled up too as a brief, delighted laugh burst out of him.

   “I dinnae ken what I did to deserve ye, Claire. I’d truly given up all hope o’ every findin’ maself again in such a humble position but here ye are givin’ me another chance at happiness. Even in the finest moments wie…Annalise…it wisnae like this…I swear tae ye Claire, here an’ now, that I will spend my life honouring the love an’ trust ye’ve given me. I lay ma heart and soul at yer feet. It is yours firever, mo ghaol! Treat it as ye will; ma heart is yours…forever.”

   And with this, he once more enveloped her in his solid embrace, holding one hand of hers by his heart and wrapping his other around her to keep her near, resting his cheek on her head. They would have stayed in this moment for a good while longer had a loud clap of thunder not caught them both unawares. Jamie jumped and reluctantly loosened his hold on Claire. He drew his eyes from her and walked suddenly over to the window, seeing that rain had begun to fall.

   “Christ, the animals, I clean forgot! Claire can ye perhaps see tae getting some light sorted fir us. The candles are o’er there, in the corner.”  He pointed absentmindedly as he gathered his thoughts towards the tasks that still needed doing, the reality of life finally breaking into their intimate moment. He reached for a lamp to take with him as he ventured out to close up the stable for the night, as quickly as possible now that a storm was upon them. Thank Christ she’d already decided to remain here with him.

   “There’s bread, cheese…well, ye’ll find things in the pantry fir us, if ye dinnae mind, Claire. I’ll away and see tae the goats…and my crabbit old sow!”  Chuckling to himself, he admitted,

   “I’ll be fir it tonight with that old besom! She willnae be happy that I’ve left her sae long wieoot grub! If I’m no back in 15 minutes, ye’ll ken she decided she couldnae wait any longer and has eaten me instead!”        

And with that, he was gone.

   Claire looked around, wondering where to start; the sudden exit of her man, yes; her man, leaving her happy but a little overwhelmed. What had he said to her? …. Candles! Right, let’s get some light into the room. With purpose, and an unexpected ease about the place, she soon had a number of additional light sources in the room. She took a moment to look around to see that whilst it was a very basic cottage, there were hints of the gentleman she knew Jamie to be, dotted around. A small shelf of books; one by his bed, left open at the page most recently read; the grand chest sat against the wall, too splendid for a crofter’s cottage; the fine candlesticks on the mantel.

   Claire’s stomach grumbled as if to remind her of the second task Jamie had asked of her. In the pantry she found a small feast and laid it out beautifully on the table, feeling that the occasion warranted the extravagance. She found bread, cheese, grapes, pickle, beef….and the whisky! She was just searching for some glasses when she heard a loud cry of surprise come from outside and still finding herself a little on edge after both the sudden brawl in the town and the salacious horror story Jamie had told her, instinct had her instantly running out the door to protect what was hers! 

   Struggling to keep her balance on the sodden ground, as the rain pounded down on her, she slipped and stumbled over to the stable and pen where she could see Jamie’s lamp on the ground and a shape thrashing about next to it. The lump would rise up from the ground only to return to it again with Gaelic profanities accompanying each fall.

“Bu chòir dhomh a bhith air feòil isbean a dhèanamh dhut o chionn bhliadhnaichean, an seann mhuc! I should have made sausage meat of you years ago, ye old hog!”

   Ever one for steaming into turmoil without hesitation, Claire stumbled her way into the pen. Everything then happened so fast. The rain was lashing down on her; three thoughts crossed her mind simultaneously (Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! It’s cold; Where the hell is Jamie?; and Where the hell is the devilled old sow?); The thunder cracked again and the next step she took felt like stepping onto sheet ice and her legs were suddenly propelled forward and she flew to the floor like a marionette puppet; she fell down flat on her back; the wind knocked out of her.

   Claire heard Jamie call out to her. He was only a few metres away, but he might as well have been at the other end of the field, for all she could hear him!  She could just make out in the dark rain, Jamie slowly making his way towards her but every time they each tried to get up, one of them slipped again, taking the other back down with them.

   “Jamie!”

   “Claire!...just…och!…”

   “Shit! Careful Jam…. aargh!”

   “Ifrinn! Hell!”     

   “Jesus H….ow!“

   This comedy of errors carried on for several sodden minutes. Jamie finally deciding that the easiest way to escape was to crawl on their hands and knees. He was just about to suggest this to Claire when he heard a snort from behind him coming from the depths of the stable. Jamie swiftly discovered that having 600 pounds of ferocious hog hurtling towards you works wonders at sharpening the mind and lightening the toes! Hurling himself and Claire up and through the gate, his arm wrapped tightly around her waist; he quickly turned to secure it and then they slipped and stumbled back into the house looking like a pair of deer escaping an icy lake.

   Jamie’s cursing still had not abated until he finally stopped and looked up at Claire. She stood covered from to head to foot in thick, brown mud, pig shit, hay and God knows what else; her hair was wet and very stuck to her face, which in turn was fully caked with mud as well. Only her 2 beautiful leopard eyes could break him from his irritation, and he paused to take her all in. Her temper was somewhat frayed too; this was not quite how she had envisioned spending their sudden happy engagement. Jamie thought she looked wonderful though, despite all the pig shit and suddenly the absurd humour of the situation hit him and he double over in laughter at this glorious muddy siren before him.

   For the shortest of moments Claire was indignant at his laughter; she looked down at herself, then up at him and suddenly her white teeth appeared as she too descended into laughter.  Jamie struggled to contain himself, shaking his head still, but eventually, he ventured,

   “Oh Christ, Claire, look at ye! Yer filthy! Me too! We cannae stay in these muddy clothes – we’ll dry rigid!”

Claire looked back at him, unable to resist the urge to flirt with him a little,

“Well, Mr Fraser, what would you suggest we do about that?!”

Her unexpected brazen remark stopped him in his tracks Lord have mercy!, and whilst the laughter left him, the smile remained. He would play along and call her bluff,

   “Well, Mistress Beauchamp, I think we’ll need to escape these wet and dirty clothes…”

He slowly made his way towards her, like a cat staking its prey. Her heart froze in shock at his tone and yet lower down it was only wet heat that she felt. Swallowing as she watched a drop of water bead its way down his neck and into the depths of his jacket, subconsciously wishing that she could dive in after it, she countered,

“ I…er…” The situation was now getting to her. She tried again, speaking low, and licking her lips.

   “I... don’t know how to stop being so filthy.” She halted, and then blushed wide-eyed, as she realised quite what she had just said. Jamie continued to tease,

   “Claire, I’m no sayin’ I ever want ye to stop that…. Come! It’ll be cold but the quickest way!”

   He grabbed her hand and much to her shock, he dragged her back outside. He was right, it was cold, but the onslaught of torrential rain quickly washed away most of the mud, leaving them both drookit but minus the worst of it now, at least.

   They both rushed back into the warm cottage and Jamie closed and locked the door; they were now secure and fully secluded in this secret space. Jamie couldn’t work out if that was a good thing or a bad!

   “Get yersel’ by the fire, lass. I’ll find us somethin’ dry tae change intae.”

   Off he went to the large chest that Claire had noticed earlier and began rummaging around, with purpose. Claire’s mind was still whirling at how wildly the day had altered her future…forever. Her feelings for Jamie had been creeping up on her for weeks now, but the events of today had caused both to confront their feelings in such an unexpected and honest way. And now here she was, newly engaged, and deliriously happy about it. Not least because throughout the day, and the last few weeks, she had been fighting an uncontrollable desire for him and seeing him half naked this afternoon and then clad so wet in only his jacket and trousers, was making it exceptionally hard for her to breathe again.      

    Rather oblivious to Claire’s respiratory problems, Jamie came back with one of his dry shirts and a large swathe of tartan, thinking she could use it as an arisaid, if she wished. Dropping a clean pair of trousers and another shirt on his cot for himself, he looked around trying to work out the best way for them to remain dignified and respectful as they only had the one room to change in.

   “Erm, Claire, why don’t ye get changed there by the fire as it’ll be warmer there and, er, I’ll change o’er here by the cot. I can go and wait ootside if ye wid rather hae yer privacy. I’m sorry lass, there’s no much more I can do…”

   Claire swung round and looked him dead in the eye,

   “Wait outside?! Jamie, it is torrential rain; you’ll catch your death of cold out there, and then where would I be?! A widow before I was married!” 

She continued in a soft and reassuring tone with just a hint of flirtation,

   “Don’t worry, we’ll managed.”

He smiled bashfully and nodded, looking about to ready himself for who would go first. In the end, Claire decided it was her, due in no small part to the fact that she quickly realised that she’d struggle to get her garments off without some help…

   “Um,… Jamie?”

   “Hmm?”

   Embarrassed she admitted,

   “I need your help, I think.” Feeling both aroused and mortified at the same time was proving to be quite uncomfortable for Claire. Her feelings were not helped by Jamie moving closer towards her to assist as required.

   “Oh aye, sure!” he looked over at her seeming to assess where he might start.

   “If you could just find the ties for this skirt please…” her voice tailed off as Jamie approached her and started looking at her back. Claire tried to suppress a sigh at having him move so near and when he began to pull on her ties she caught her breath. He noticed and swallowed, watching her neck as he pulled and wafted the skirt down.

   “What now?!” Husky and his resolve weakening, it was Jamie’s turn to sigh.      

Chapter Text

Suddenly a little shy, Claire looked down at her remaining clothes,

   “Well, erm…” Hell, what IS next?

   She felt Jamie step in a little closer still behind her and heard him slowly breathing in, his nose close to her hair. Both stood rigid, anticipation slowly consuming them. In that moment, Jamie decided that this night would be hers; he would show her just how much she meant to him and how indebted he felt towards her. He would serve her up with the same pleasure that she had awoken in him. With a quiet certainty, he offered,

   “Let me, lass.”

   And with that he slowly walked around to face her and found the ties on her roll pad, secure around her waist. As they both looked down and watched, he pulled one end of the bow; Jamie entranced in watching it come away; Claire too nervous to look at him for fear that she would lose all control in the moment. As it pulled away, he slid his fingers down into the gap and drew the ends fully apart. It was discarded on the floor within moments. With just as much care and serenity, he removed her outer jacket, panel & sleeves.   

   Claire gave out a shaky breath when Jamie then knelt in front of her on one knee, watching her as he did so. The light from the fire was making the lower half of her body somewhat visible to him. Christ, she looked so bonny in her shift, stays and stockings! What the sight of her did to him!  He put one hand around the back of her right ankle and gently lifted it as his left hand gradually swept its way up towards the top of her stocking; under the hem of her shift. All the while he stirred her awakening with his intoxicating words, 

   “Tonight, my lady, I will serve you. The night will be fer you alone.  I mean tae show ye, in great depth…”

   Claire’s heart hitched at the way Jamie’s deep voice rumbled out those last words, coupled with feeling his fingers pull away the first stocking from her body. He slowly reached for the second, all the while still talking,

   “…just how very, very grateful I am tae have ye here, an’ fir helpin’ me start tae heal ma many wounds. I will spend all the days an’ nights o’ ma life makin’ maself worthy of ye, Claire…. serving ye.”

   Oh, this man!

    “One day, I will take ye back tae Lallybrock an’ make ye Lady…”

   He pulled away the tie.

“Broch…”

  He hooked his fingers into the stocking feeling her smooth warm thigh.

   “Turach.”

   He pulled the stocking down and off in one continuous movement. The effect on Claire’s resolve was electrifying. Jamie ran his palm and fingers up and down the back of her calf and then he placed her leg back down on to the ground and in one smooth movement stood up, until he once again looked down on her. Claire found this view of Jamie wonderful; looking up at him, she found him so gallant and she wanted to know all there was to know about him and she intended to start with his body.

  Slowly she reached for his rock-solid chest, rubbing her fingers over a small part; it was mostly covered in the wet jacket that still concealed his solemn history. She could see that the rain still clung to his beautiful skin and she could think of little else but how glorious it would feel to strip him from the coat; and indulge herself in his stunning torso. With an evident rasp to her voice, holding his eye, she spoke,

   “Jamie, I want to see you; I want to see all of you…and want to begin with…your back…will you permit me to see, my love?”

   As expected, he stiffened in his stance. How could he not? Claire held her breath but she need not have worried; as if in a trance, he reached his hands up, opened the jacket and spread it wide; it felt as if he was a long-discarded gift that was finally being unwrapped and seen for the first time; ready to finally be cherished. First, one strong shoulder appeared; and then the other, as he leaned and dropped the coat some distance away on a chair. Claire could feel her arousal grow between her legs at the sight of his strong Viking chest alone. There is no fighting evolution!

   Before she thought to reach out to him though, he began to slowly turn around so that the light of the fire could illuminate the macabre artefact for her. She knew that he was baring to her the darkest, most painful part of his soul; made flesh and it moved her beyond words. How was it possible for her heart to both swell and break simultaneously?

   He held still, only his fingers gently rubbing his thumb and palms, betraying his nervousness. Claire reached out and for the first time since seeing his back so cruelly exposed in the village square, truly took in what carnage his nightmare with Randall had left. She began at his right shoulder and gently guided her fingers along the depressions left by his body’s attempt at healing the damage inflicted by that beast. She continued this way, slow and sensual; caressing and touching, until she reached below his ribs. As her touch had continued, she felt him relax somewhat, almost as if her warm touch was soothing him and reassuring him.    

   Stepping closer, she fed her right hand around his waist to his belly and drew him close to her, planting a kiss on the very centre of his back, and then resting her cheek against it. Jamie leaned back into her and lifted his head back and to the side to rest his cheek on the top of her head. If anyone had ever told him that a woman existed who could smooth away, with only her touch, the shame that he felt whenever he was reminded of his back, he would have said that they were mad; gullible; wrong!   And yet, here she was.  

   Jamie stood enveloped in the warmth of her love for a good while longer; his breathing became laboured though as she began to move her fingers across his abdomen. With this, he could hold still no longer, and he stood up tall again and steeling himself, he began to turn. His head went first, as he swept his eyes around to catch her in his gaze and his solid body followed. There was no doubting the intent in his eyes, or Claire’s; they were locked on one another as if drawn by some intimate force.

   Jamie moved through the small space between them and passionately kissed her lips; finding his hand on the back of her head as if it had always belonged there; always meant to be there. Her lips parted swiftly with his tongue’s invitation and from that moment, neither could tell from whom the moans were coming. They remained like this for some time; exploring one another’s mouths as if they were filled with infinite treasures and little time to discover them.

   After a while, Claire gently caught Jamie’s lower lip between her teeth and pulled ever so slightly.  He groaned with pleasure and held her gaze again. He could see a silent message written in it, just for him and it told him that it was time to take things up a notch.

   Holding her sultry gaze, Jamie took a small step back and began to circle behind. She held his gaze until he was too far round. Bringing his arm around her waist and gently pulling her close to hold her still, he brought his head over her shoulder so that they could watch together and began to pull at the strings on her stays. Feeling wet and ready herself, Claire moved her hand up behind her, to hold and rub his obvious arousal with her palm but he quickly stopped undoing her stays to remove the distraction. It had clearly taken an iron will to do so as she could tell, from the short contact he had allowed, that he was just as eager as she was for more. Whispering in her ear, she listened to him make his case,

    "No, Claire, let me do this for you - let me show you how grateful I am for saving me. I want you to experience just how precious you are to me; see all I want to do for you; to you."

   Jamie’s words had rumbled out and, in that moment, she felt again just how wet he was making her. Desperate for him to satiate her urgent need, she complied…. for now. Still with one arm around her waist, he finished with the stays and they fell to the ground. Jamie then reached round and drew his hand up the inside of her thigh; under the forbidden hem of her shift again and he found her very centre, deep within her folds and slowly circled it. It was clear immediately by his delicate touch that alone or not, in recent times; he was no novice at this. Claire’s first reaction was to raise up a lazy arm, which draped itself behind Jamie’s head; and her second was to let out a long, low, languorous moan which sounded like,

   “Jaaaammmmiiieeee…”   

   Damn, he knew what to do alright! Right there! God, right there!

   The roughness of his calloused fingers was bliss as Claire arched her body and rocked her pleasure centre against them. She could feel herself beginning to rouse under his skilful hands; it had after all been a long time since she had had anyone’s hand there except her own; but it was not enough for her. She wanted to see and have all of Jamie and her appetite for him was becoming ravenous. Much to his momentary surprise, she stopped his hand; removed it and turned to face him.  Grabbing handfuls of his curls, she panted,

   "Jamie, both of us have lost so much time; suffered so much, I don't. want. to wait. I don’t want to. I know you wish to protect my honour, but it is no good; I feel like I will end right here; right now; if I don’t have you inside me.”

   The pants that escaped Jamie’s throat through this matched hers.

   “I want you here. Now.” She growled,

   “I am done waiting…"

   Attempting to catch his breath it took Jamie a few moments to answer,

   “…Aye, lass! Ye make a fair point. I think I am done too. I am yours; now an’ firever…If ye’ll have me?”

   “Oh, I want you Jamie; I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life before!”

   Their mouths clashed once again; their bodies pressed up against one another; fighting to get closer. Jamie reached between them to her shift and pulled the drawstring. Claire let a little distance between them appear and the material covering the last of her wonderful body fell to the ground, with a helping hand from gravity and Jamie’s breath was taken away. Her body; her breasts; her stomach; her honeypot; her legs; it was all sending him wild but the shock of seeing a number of large areas of raging burnt skin across her lower torso ripped his very heart from him and he fell to his knees, in penance, as if the fault was his.

   The marks were several in number, each about the size of his palm and the odd layout of them suggested that they had been inflicted on several different occasions, rather than one sad accident. Finally, Jamie realized what connected them so deeply; how she understood some of the shame he lived with; how she had recognised, before him, that they were kindred spirits.  Tears brimming in disbelief and clutching her damaged body to his cheek he pushed through the lump in his throat,

   “Oh, ma brave lass! Ma brave, bonny lass! Who...? Whit…?”

   His breath failed him. Whilst Claire stood defiant, Jamie’s kind and honest reaction to her own trauma made her love him all the more and she succumbed to tenderly hold his head to her body; her hands reaching into his wet auburn curls. It was clear he was devastated but she would be damned if she were going to let any more of their horrors ruin this night; they had both missed out on too much already. Hell, no! Not going to happen!

    "I don't want to talk about them now Jamie, I just want you to make me feel safe; protected, wanted. I will tell you tomorrow; I will tell you it all. I promised you. But I want you to take me. Now."

   Jamie was learning very quickly that when Claire used that particular tone, he better damn well do what she asked, with haste! In this moment, he nodded his head and found her lips again with abandon; his hands caressing her back; her waist; her hips, as he danced her naked form back to his cot. Every moment, their kisses becoming more urgent and needy. Pressing himself again her, she could feel his rigid passion calling to her to be seen.

   Drawing her mouth away from him, Claire whispered,

   “I want to see all of you, Jamie. I want to see you, my love.”

    Jamie nodded his consent silently and Claire reached for his trousers buttons, undoing them one at a time, by touch alone; her eyes never leaving his face. As soon as there was room, she slid her hand in and filled it with his length, squeezing slightly as Jamie’s breath caught in his throat at the exhilarating touch. As he guided the garment down, he took a small step back to grant her a look at him.

   Seeing her transfixed on his cock coupled with her finding the need to swallow in delight made him feel more of a man than at any other point in his life. He was not the largest you would find but his erection was no trifling matter when seen this close and Claire could not help but reach out to explore it again. She palmed his balls and explored his silky length, circling her thumb over his tip. Christ! This clearly was not her first time doing this too!

   That thought made Jamie both deeply grateful and thoroughly envious simultaneously. But he knew better than most that the most intense things in life tended to be this complicated mix of opposing forces; joy & sorrow; light & dark; pain & pleasure. Either way, her well placed hand elicited a deep groan in him as he laid his body and soul bare for her. With great restraint and breathlessness, he quietly rumbled to her,

   “Claire, I’ll be spent afore we begin if ye carry on like that, lass! Lay yerself doon on the bed, mo ghaol. I wish tae serve and explore ye more.”

     Following his request, Claire lay herself back onto the cot and her naked Norseman took his place next to her, leaning his weight on one elbow and marvelling in her glorious sight. As she rubbed and explored the nipple closest to her left arm, Jamie took her right in his hand and gently kissed the pulse point he found there, teasing it with the tip of his tongue again. His kisses continued up her arm, to her shoulder, her neck. Oh, Sweet Lord!

   His hand then found her breast, which had been tingling with neglect until now. He rubbed his thumb over her pink nipple and feeling it rise to his touch, he squeezed it between that and his finger. Ah, she liked that, judging by her reaction! All the while he continued exploring her neck with his lips, nipping, and sucking her flesh, which lead her to slur and moan,

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!......Jamie!”

  The things it did to his cock, hearing her call out his name thus! He was sure it made him harder, if such a thing was possible.

   Jamie’s big strong hand continued its exploration south, as he caressed her waist and hip, eventually finding his way to the part of her that he had spent many weeks longing to discover; her beautiful, round arse. It felt just as soft; and full; and succulent as he had dreamt it would be and in truth, he longed to sink his teeth deep into it. Another time…

   He let out an aroused moan picturing it and as he ghosted her breasts and neck with his lips, he whispered to her,

   “Christ, yer arse, Lass! I have wanted tae hold it in ma hands an’ squeeze it from that very first time I saw ye bent ower. The things ye did tae me…an’ me never knowin’ that you’d ever be mine, fir real!”

   Reluctantly leaving his favourite part of her so far, he brought his hand round to her sweet honeypot and cupped her. Claire opened her legs a little more, granting him access and he gently explored her folds before plunging his finger deep instead, it quickly joined by another. Claire moaned loudly as her hips rose to meet him each time as he delved deeper, letting his thumb find her bud and tease it too.

   “Oh Claire, I have wanted to see ye like this fir sae long now. From the moment ye crashed intae ma life an’ started bossin’ me around, I have wanted tae tame the siren that ye are, feel ye melt just like this at ma touch. Dinna think I am no aware that it is only because ye allow it tae be so though! Oh, but Claire, ye’ve been wi’ me here in ma dreams fir weeks now and I cannae believe that now yer real!”

   Needing to check just one last time, he asked her,

   “…. Are ye sure ye want me Claire, now? We can stop if ye want but I dinnae think I’ll be able to if it isnae now.”

   His throbbing cock was a clear indication that he spoke the truth. As it was, Claire had no intention of them stopping.

   “I believe that I told you that wild horses couldn’t keep me away. I want you now, Jamie.”

Her right hand came up to brush back his copper curls, slowly drying in the heat of the moment. She took a deep breath and gently let it out, still enjoying his touch in her quim,

   “No more words; it’s time we talk with our bodies alone. Let them heal our wounds and cast out the dark. Let us go and find the light. Show me the light, Jamie!”

   The intensity of her pleading gaze galvanised him into action and he removed his hand from inside her body and raised himself up and over her, lowering himself until the length of his cock played with her bud and folds. Jamie took her arms and stretched them above her head, held in place by one of his huge hands. He raised one of her thighs high up on his waist and looked down at her folds. It had been so long since he had been granted such a sight and never had it been such an inviting, welcoming home.

   Unable to take his eyes from this incredible sight he watched intently as his cock disappeared into her warm quim. Jamie could not contain his gasp at the feeling of her wrapping her most intimate self around him; just as Claire found a cry escape her too, at his engorged length filling her. Jamie slid out and rammed his cock back again, eager to create the same erotic sensations.

   Claire also looked down between them and the sight of him disappearing over and over brought her ever closer to her end. She looked up and met Jamie’s blissful gaze, grabbing one hand around his neck; and the other round his muscular waist.

   “Harder!”  She demanded,

   “Don’t hold anything back, Jamie! I want to have all of you in me; I want to completely consume you and have you take every part of me too.”

   Jamie held their locked eyes together and nodded, utterly determined now to satisfy her fully. He had never before felt able to indulge his wilder side; even before the rage that Randall had brought out in him and when he had had opportunity in the past. However, it was clear as the water from a Scottish stream to him, that he had met his match in Claire. She was his equal in so many ways and his resolution became absolute at her welcome request. Holding his palm over the very top of her head to keep her steady, he began to pump his cock into her very depths and vixen that she was, she rose her hips each and every time in unison taking as much from him each time as he took from her.

   With each thrust they could both feel their demons leave them; some clung on but most dissipated out into the air; bobbing and weaving; lifting and falling like sparks from a fire catching on the wind and floating away to nothing but ash.

  They locked foreheads in deep emotional connection; their curls becoming entwined as their pleasure rose and rose and eventually, they came together in an incredible moment of ecstasy.

   “Claire!” Jamie cried.

   “Jamie!”  Claire screamed.

   He spilled into her more and more as each of her spasms continued to caress his cock still deep inside her. Still connected, Jamie looked down at her with such love and tenderness; with tears of wonder in his eyes, seeing the same reflected in hers and caressing her head with his hand, he sought to find the words to describe this moment and his gratitude to her,

   “Claire…Lass...I... I…”

Seeing him struggling to find them, she cupped his face, so beautiful above hers and whispered,

   “I know Jamie…I know, I think I saw the light too!”

   Overwhelmed by the full range of emotions he was feeling in this moment; and what it meant for their future together, he swiftly but tenderly kissed her and in doing so, conveyed so clearly to her just what this moment had meant to him.

Chapter Text

   After their beautiful joining, Jamie and Claire had found rest in one another’s arms for the next few hours. Claire fell into a restful sleep, hearing wonderful expressions of love whispered from Jamie’s lips to her ear. He was slipping into slumber himself and so he spoke in his true heart’s language, but her spirit understood his sentiments regardless of her mind’s inability to translate.

  Jamie stirred awake a few hours later, awoken by the cold as the fire had died down and was in fear of extinguishing all together. Reveling in the opportunity to once again be experiencing the pleasure of looking out for a loved one, he pulled his naked body out of the nest that he and Claire had created; grabbed the tartan he had long ago used as a kilt, and set about building up the fire again. The storm was still raging outside, and he found himself soon lost in thought as the unrelenting and hypnotic pummel of the rain caught his ear.

   Jamie looked down at the one piece of clothing he had not touched in the 10 years since he had returned to Broch Murdha and discovered the fate of his family. He had stopped feeling like he had a right to wear it long before he had been able to confirm Randall’s taunts about them. In truth, he had not taken his family colours out of the chest since placing them there on his return. He was not sure what had made him reach for them after so long when he searched for something dry for Claire and him to change into, but as he mused about it, he realised that now, he longed very much to see her draped in them.

   In fact, he truly wished to make her Lady Broch Turach, as much for her sake as for his tenants. In the six months since she had appeared here, every action he had ever seen of her had unconsciously cemented in his mind the certainty that she, more than anyone he knew now, or had known before,  embodied the role, despite previously having had no actual claim to the title. It gave him immense pleasure to think on how that was no longer the case; now that she had agreed to become his wife.

  His mind turned to her wonderful ways; he thought about how she held herself with such dignity and grace, even if she spent most of her waking days elbow deep in either blood, puss or vomit from her patients; this made him smile – the memory of seeing her all these months; ordering her patients around with the full expectation of her instructions being followed at once. He thought about how he had seen such compassion and caring in her manner; treating vagabonds, the occasional gentry and everyday folk with equal standing and consideration; a clear lack of judgement on them; yes, that was something he had noticed very quickly. Having been denied such a luxury himself since his return, he could see why his attention had been drawn to that.  She really was a rare beast and he wondered, not for the first time, how she had become such a way and just where she had come from.

**********

   Without Jamie realising it, Claire had awoken; her body noticing the loss of his presence, having already become needy of it surrounding her. She opened her eyes and found him sitting deep in thought, as he stared into the fire. The light from the it now being the only source, it lit his face up and she could see the shine in his eyes as he barely seemed to blink. It was hard to discern the look in them but if pushed she would say that it was…. contemplative.

   He really was a wonder to look at, and it occurred to her that her view in this matter had been slowly blossoming, over these last few weeks particularly.  She could watch him like this for the longest time and would still find her heart skip at the new discoveries that could be made in his every move. Before today, she had always felt the need to guard her glances at him, in case he misunderstood and lost his temper, but she held no such concerns now.

   Claire could see that Jamie was sat in the tartan that she noticed he had offered her earlier, which ultimately she had had no need of. She could not help but smile at the memory of why she had not needed it; taking joy in remembering his enraptured face when he had finally released himself blissfully into her. Suspecting the tartan was in his family colours, she realised that she had never seen him wear them in all the time she had been here. She had seen other villagers sporting them but never Jamie, who was still their Laird, if in name alone.

   Slowly climbing out of the covers, Claire reached for the clean shirt that Jamie had never ended up needing either and she pulled it over her chilled body. Her lithe limbs carried her to the bench near where Jamie was sat. His head turned ever so slightly to acknowledge her quiet arrival, but he continued looking at the fire.   

    “You seem far away, my love? Everything alright?”    

   Jamie smiled that hook-smile of his; the one she was beginning to recognise and love; a small, short chuckle joining it.

   “Aye, lass, everythin’ is much more than a’right. Never fear.”

   He leaned himself forward with his elbows resting on his knees. The tartan fell open somewhat to expose the sight of his shoulder, arm, and strong muscular stomach. Claire tried to stay focused, but it was no easy task under such circumstances. Sighing, Jamie opened his thoughts to her,   

   “I wis thinkin’ aboot when I returned all those years ago. Ye ken, I felt so ashamed o’ wit had happened; all those months o’ torture an’ abuse had worn me down so much; when I came back an’ found that Randall had been speakin’ the truth; that Annalise an’ Willie…..were gone…”

   His voice got so quiet when he said their names. Claire knew that before today, he probably had not said them out loud for all that time. Shaking his head, he continued,

   “…I felt like such a coward, Claire. So unworthy o’ the position tae which I had been born. An’ like I told ye, everyone wis just so angry; sat in such judgement o’ me, an’ I welcomed it, in truth. None could be harder on me than I was on maself; even when their anger turned to violence. I went back tae Lallybrock only the once; I…er…I never even visited their graves, Claire; couldnae do it. Collected some things an’ just found maself here, in this old cottage. It wis fair run down when I first arrived but the physical work o’ mendin’ it was just whit I needed at the time.”

   Sitting up again, Jamie gathered the tartan back around himself; looked down at it and smoothed his hand over its pattern.

   “The truth is though, Claire, that I’ve only continued tae let my tenants down these last 10 years past. They an’ the land have suffered from the lack of a leader. A true Laird would have put his people’s needs first; no’ his own. I lost ma courage fir so long after Randall. In truth, I never thought I would see it again. But mo ghaol; mo chridhe, my love; my heartyou have helped me begin tae find maself again. Ye gave me…. hope, Claire. Hope as I had scarcely believed I would; or should ever be allowed again.”

   He reached out his hand to her; it shaking a little as he did,

    “I…er…I think it is time; it is time to return tae Lallybrock an’ take up ma place as laird. I am no sure that any o’ them will want me but, they need me...and that’s as good a place tae start as any.”        

    Claire took his strong fingers in hers; this brave man and squeezed; reassuring him. She smiled and said,

   “Jamie, in all the time that I have known you, I have never once seen you as a coward. Your tenants…they do not understand the full situation and if they did, my love, they would not dismiss you as a coward either! I am not suggesting you give them all the private details but Jamie, you never planned to stay away… It was a tragic turn of events; but not one that was entirely of your making. You didn’t send the deserters to your home; you could just have easily turned up all those months later and arrived to an angry but alive Annalise and Willie!”

   Pulling at his hand to make her point, she continued,

“You take too much blame onto your solid, stubborn shoulders, James Fraser. None of us can be perfect, it is too high a standard to expect; would kill any of us in the doing. I will not sit here and claim to be more knowledgeable than I am, Jamie, but I have learnt that in life, we must simply…do our best. No-one can deny that you have tried to do that. Your heart has always belonged to your people, even if it has been too damaged these many years for you to feel it."

   Jamie smiled in wonder at this magnificent woman, in front of him. Moved by her inspiring words of reassurance he replied,

   “I cannae tell ye, how tae have yer wisdom an’ counsel means… everythin’ tae me, Claire. I have spent so long wieout such a thing. Tae share ma honest thoughts, an’ tae ken that you will always see my true intent is a rare an’ precious gift.”

   Removing his hand from hers, and taking another brave step, he opened the cloth that covered him and looking over at her with hooded eyes, his dark tone rasped at her,

   “Come, lass…for I find I need ye near me.”

   Fully aware of his intent, Claire stood and lifted off the shirt she wore, in one smooth movement. Naked and with his eyes once again feasting on her, she slowly began to lower herself onto him. As his firm cock entered her, he momentarily closed his eyes and sighed. Claire began to rock against him, relishing the feeling of being in control and being able to serve him up such delicious pleasure; it felt all-consuming for her; his pleasure; her pleasure; their incredible connection. Meanwhile, Jamie wrapped the Fraser tartan around them both and seeing this brought an additional wave of arousal for her.

   Both sought out the other’s mouth with an unhurried sensuality; never losing their eye contact. This was all still so new, and they were enjoying learning their way of being together. Their compatibility was evident though and it was not long before their gentle rocking and writhing made them both pant with increasing breathlessness; taking in one another’s air. Jamie steadied Claire’s hips with his sturdy hands, which created just the friction that they both needed to ascend higher.  The joy and bliss that they felt consumed by, was still so rare to both of them and in the privacy of their intimate space, it showed so radiantly on both their faces. They opened themselves to one another again and sailed off on the wave of intense pleasure together. As they gradually descended from their erotic high, they hugged and nuzzled necks; and Jamie lifted her, still straddling him, back to their nest, the Fraser colours coming with them,

   “Come, mo ghaol, my love, let me hold ye while ye sleep…”

   Once again, slumber came to the resting new lovers easily and there they stayed until the morning light,  which would bring with it the passing of the storm; the beginning of their future together and the unrelenting realities of life.              

***********

   Hours later, it was Claire that stirred first to this fact. Jamie had his left arm draped over her, but she managed to turn her head slightly and saw that he had the softest smile on his face. When coupled with those dark lashes of his, which she was thoroughly enjoying having this uninterrupted time to savour; its effect on her was deep and visceral. Then, seeing his auburn curls loose around his face, something she had never seen prior to following him to his cottage yesterday and their lovemaking, fascinated her too and she fought the urge to reach out and touch them, for fear of waking him and breaking the cocoon they had created around themselves.

   She cared for this incredible man so very deeply and now it was her turn to worry if he might reject her. Especially as he was now talking about her becoming Lady to his Laird. She wanted to see Jamie fulfill his rightful duty again as Lord Broch Turach, but for his sake alone. She began to fear that her true story was too much though, even for a man as loyal and honourable as she believed Jamie to be. How could he possibly understand; or even believe her?

   He had been so shocked by the sight of her scars and when she thought about how it had floored him to see them for the first time, she felt truly moved. But her own demons were beginning to scratch at the door, and the loneliness of being without him as he slept was beginning to make her panic. She knew that in this moment she needed to feel connected and to find solace in that.

   To that end, Claire could feel on her backside that certain parts of Jamie’s anatomy were already awake and able, and she slowly arched her back, causing her arse to press firmer against him. A broad smile enveloped her face as she enjoyed the feelings it stirred in her once again. Her heart soared when she heard Jamie sleepily let out a long, low growl as she maneuvered herself to rub him between her folds.

   She continued to slowly gyrate her hips backwards and forwards, loving the feeling of his hard cock stroking her too, just where she needed it. Greedy for the attention on her body, in lieu of Jamie’s touch, she kneaded her own breast and squeezed her nipple, hard, just like she enjoyed it and before she could stop herself, a sexy moan escaped her throat. Stilling herself momentarily, she knew the moment Jamie became lucid and aware that his wet dream was actually a reality. In those deep, aroused tones of his, he took a good handful of her arse and mumbled,

   “Oh lass, I could get used tae having ye wake me like this every mornin’…” 

   Hearing him talk this way was so unfamiliar and new but Claire had no real time to savour the joy of those words; she had one focus; and one focus alone,

   “Jamie, I want you inside me. I need you. Right. Now.”

Responding to her plea, he swept away her hair, to expose her delicious neck and began kissing and nibbling it, which only resulted in her arching her arse and squeezing her thighs together to grind against him more. When he had teased her sufficiently, he reassured her,

   “Madam…”

Christ! How could the tone of his voice alone make her almost come?!

   “…I am your servant…always.”

   The goosebumps covered her body and it felt like a bolt of lightening shot straight to her pleasure centre.

   Jamie’s left hand came between Claire’s arm and her body and grasped onto her shoulder to hold her in position. She angled herself in readiness and gasped with joy at being so full, when Jamie took hold of his cock and in one swift movement, drove himself in to the hilt. As she felt him begin to thrust expertly over and over, she felt no inhibitions about sharing what she wanted,

   “Oh Christ!... Oh yes!... Jamie!.... Just like that!…Bloody hell!...Don’t stop! Don’t stop!”

   In this incredible moment, Claire had no desire to be the one in control; she was happy for Jamie to be so and in fact, feeling him do so in such a passionate and accomplished way served to reassure her that being the one in charge was exactly what he needed in this moment too. Yet again, it was liberating them both as they connected so deeply.

   Before another coherent thought could enter Claire’s head, Jamie’s other arm came around her waist to hold her steady as he quickened the pace, grunting as he continued. This new arm soon moved and found her drenched bud, expertly pressing it in circular motions as he felt himself close and wanted her to come with him.

   Still kissing and biting her neck from behind, Jamie sensed Claire’s arm reach up and hold his neck in place, her fingers firmly grabbing his curls - this had the effect of making him double his efforts. As they both cried out; their ecstasy once again overwhelming them; Claire was struck by how freeing it was giving herself over to him. In other times, in other places, she would have felt weak and controlled… but not here, like this, with Jamie.  This connection that they shared; it was unlike anything either of them had experienced before and she knew that she had to find the strength to trust him with her story; as he had done; trust that he felt the same as she had yesterday; that nothing she could tell him would change how he felt about her. 

   She hoped that her faith was not misplaced.

Please, dear God! 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

   One of the things that Claire had learnt during her time travelling through Scotland was that Scotsmen had an immoveable affinity with porridge – oats, water, salt and heat! Jamie was no exception to this, and he was already up and stirring his pot in the warm hearth, when Claire awoke for the second time this morning. Seeing him engage in an activity that was so domestic and normal spoke of shared intimacy again to Claire and she was moved at being granted the privilege of witnessing it.

   She once again pulled on one of Jamie’s shirts, enjoying being encased in his scent as she noticed that he had spread out her own clothes to warm by the fire next to where he stood. He was dressed in his shirt, breeks and boots and now that she felt no need to restrain her attraction to him, she savoured the wonderful view openly; his shoulders; his thighs; his arse. She placed a lot of value on a strong backside! In fact, seeing a flat arse on a man was as disappointing as a weak jaw for her, she found. Damn, he really was a sight to see!

   In between stirs of his porridge, Jamie looked up and smiled warmly at her,

   “Ye hungry, Claire? It’ll only be a few more minutes...”

   Sitting herself at the table, she rested her chin on her raised palm and smiled at the vision before her. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a loved one make her breakfast; it felt wonderful. She was full of such joy at seeing how happy and confident Jamie looked this morning. So different than every other occasion she had ever been with him, before last night. In those moments he was only ever serious, tense or down-right grumpy. Oh, she knew his frown expertly, having been the cause of it many times! He was like a different man today though and she could clearly see that the noble gentleman she had always felt him to be was emerging before her very eyes, even as he stirred his pot! 

   Fussing about the room finding her a spoon and a bowl; happily serving her up a hefty portion of his beloved food, Jamie continued looking for the honey and with a brief cheer of victory when he found it, he leaned over her and placed it on the table.  Hesitantly, he swept her hair off her neck and placed a gentle kiss right where it met her shoulder. He mumbled into her curls,     

 “I dinnae ken about you, but I am ravenous after last night, lass.” 

   She chuckled and picked up her spoon. Jamie walked around the table, pulled over the chair and sat down to eat opposite her. She tried to hide another mischievous smile behind her hand and spoon, but he saw it and beamed back at her. He knew that he would be asking her to share what was evidently a difficult story for her at some point today but for now, he was just so happy to see her at ease…and here, with him.

   In such a rare moment of contentment, Claire’s mind drifted to how so much had changed for her in the six months since she had stumbled into Jamie Fraser’s path, that fateful October morning. In the last 7 years, she had never settled anywhere for such a length of time. Well, she never had before that either, if she was honest.

Before.

How had it been 7 years already?

   There had always been something that stopped her putting down roots, but she wondered if finally, here with Jamie that might be about to change. The thought that she still had to share her own horror story with him was systematically gnawing at her mind but for now she wanted to contemplate their shared beginning. Struggling to contain her smile, Claire asked him tenderly,

   “Do you remember the day we met?”

   Looking at her out of the corner of his eyes, remembering full well the day that they met, he warily replied,

   “Aye, lass. I remember fine enough. I came away wie a stubbed toe; a bite on ma arse fae yer mule there and one of the worst cockstands I’d had in years wie no one tae help me tend it!”

   Claire laughed out loud and then with a twinkle in her eye, feigned concern,

   “Oh dear, my love! You poor thing! If only I’d known, I could have rubbed them all better for you!”

   Jamie let out a loud laugh as well, in response and shook his head at her continuing brazenness.

 

********

Six months previously…

 

   He had taken the morning to walk his traps set up in the woods. It was a mild day given that it was the end of October. One of those rare days where the world around him seemed to momentarily forget the current season it was in. Scotland was at its best on days like these; the blue light found here was very different to the yellow light found in somewhere much further south in, say, Europe. However, when it was coupled with a clear sky, it very much drew out the yellows, the purples and the deep rich blues of the landscape. It created a sight that was so multi-layered; completely breath-taking, no matter which direction you looked in.

   Jamie was lost again in the pleasure of being in this great wilderness that he hadn’t initially seen the woman and her mule by the roadside. Not one for mixing with others these days, he tended to stay far out of the village, which was a few miles east, and only left his small homestead when absolutely necessary.

   He was close to the edge of the woods when he finally looked forwards and saw her. She took his breath away in that very first moment, as he saw her standing about 15 metres ahead, her profile so clear to him. She had the usual dress-wear he would expect; a beautiful dark brown woollen check skirt, with a deep forest green jacket atop; however, something about the way she wore the handsome woollen stole around her neck and the wrist warmers on her forearms caught his attention. There was something otherworldly about them; about her. She wore no cap over the most glorious head of dark brown curls and Jamie’s eyes widened at the beauty of them.

   She turned her head up and down the road as if hoping for someone to come. Next to her, she had the roughest looking mule that Jamie had seen in a long while. It was laden down with a number of baskets and other items, but it did not look well at all. Even from here, Jamie could hear the cough it regularly emitted. Sounded like equine influenza to him! Usually this would be a few days rest and the animal would be right as rain, but Jamie wasn’t convinced that this beast would make it.

   Standing perfectly still and within the edge of the woods, Jamie continued to watch the woman; entranced, as she raised her hands to her hips and looked to the sky for inspiration. No point lookin’ up there, lass, I’ve done it many times maself; you’ll hear nae answer tae yer plea! He heard her let out a loud sigh and looking around again as if to check this time that she was alone, she began to move in the oddest of ways.

Firstly, she began by rolling her neck in a circle; then she raised her elbows out to her sides and moved her flat hands into her body, above her bosom and then out to the sides,  which remind Jamie of  Christ on the cross; keeping her arms out long, she twisted her upper body from side to side a few times and then reached down to her toes with the opposite hand. The next thing he knew, she was jumping on the spot, arms and legs stretched out like….well, like a star and try as he might, he couldn’t look away as her cleavage bounced just visible under the bottom of her stole.

   Jamie’s cheeks were red hot from the unexpected thrill of spying such a display but then she did two things that made him stir hard in a way that he hadn’t in a long time. To begin with, she bent over; fully over, with her arse stuck up in the air, clearly sorting her shoelace. It had been so long since Jamie had been in any sort of vicinity of a woman, let alone one in this position, that the fact that she was fully swathed in her heavy wool dress made absolutely no difference to his reaction. As if this wasn’t powerful enough, the woman briefly stood up and then reached her long arms back down in front of her and pulled up her skirts to reveal the majority of her left leg to retie her stocking. Even at this distance, Jamie could see the milk white flesh of her upper thigh and he felt a twitch in his groin that he shamefully knew he would have to attend to later. Despite knowing he really shouldn’t be looking at her, what he couldn’t do in that moment was stop.            

   Within a heartbeat though, the moment had passed; reality had returned and the first of an infinite number of frowns, caused by this woman, descended onto his face. Why on earth was she here? Never mind! She was of no consequence to him! Or at least, that is what he must force himself to believe. Lonely he might be but alone he would stay. He had no right to expect anything else.

   Whilst she was turned away, he took the last few steps forward to the edge of the trees and then walked the path that flanked the wood, away from this curly-haired outlander, with her milk-white thigh and her delicious hidden arse. He didn’t therefore see the moment that her mule collapsed.

   She, however, did see him and she called out with authority,

   “You, sir! Come and help me! My mule has collapsed! Hurry!”

   Cross for a number of reasons; the fact that she had seen him; the fact that he now had to talk to her; the fact that he was still affected by her recent actions; Jamie stomped through the heather towards her, mumbling,

   “O tha, damn boireannach! Tha mi nam sheasamh an seo a ’feitheamh ri seirbheis a thoirt dhut le làimh is cas! Oh yes, damn woman! I am just standing here waiting to serve you on hand and foot!”   

   As he reached her though it was like the rays of the sun getting brighter and brighter with every step closer. Outwardly, he still looked thoroughly cross but inside, he was at a loss over what to say or do, being confronted by this unexpected wonder.

   “Oh, do stop mumbling and help me!”

   Despite this, both of them just stood and looked at the animal; Claire unsure what to do first; Jamie unsure why they were bothering as the beast seemed close to giving up completely. To this end, Jamie offered coldly,

   “Ye should have the useless runt shot; he's no worth the effort o’ moving him. Here, I'll dae it fir ye!”

   And he made to remove his pistol, from his belt. Claire was appalled and angrily replied,

   “Don't you dare, you barbarian!! Clarence is my friend! He has seen me safe all the way from France and through England. He has been instrumental in saving me on several occasions. I wager he has more value than a useless fool like yourself!”

   In that one last sentence, she had inadvertently prodded at a deep wound that was still festering after many years and Jamie shoved his pistol back into his belt and stormed off down the road. Claire was having none of this though and marched after him,

   “"Oh, so you are just going to walk away and abandon me, are you?! Leave me here without helping! My, what a gentleman you are?!”

Jamie immediately stopped in his tracks at this; turned, and pointing his finger at her, he bellowed,

   “I am NOT abandoning ye! Dinnae say such a thing tae me!”

It was clear that Claire had not expected quite that reaction to her retort and she took a moment’s pause and then sighed. Jamie couldn’t know but Claire tended to rush into situations and get in well over her head. In fact, bad memories of France came rushing back to her and she walked back to Clarence, dropped herself on the side of the road next to him and took large gulps of air trying to calm her rising panic.

  She suddenly looked very much out of her depth and as her breath returned, she let out a long sigh and stared off down the road, past Jamie, and into the distance. In her mind she was wondering what the hell she was going to do now and unable to contemplate how she would ever carry on if anything happened to Clarence.

   Jamie couldn’t seem to help himself and turned to see where she had suddenly gone. Seeing her sit so defeated by the roadside, he couldn’t help but feel a pull to assist her. He turned away from her again, let out a grumpy sigh and shaking his head he turned and stomped back towards where she was sitting. Gruffly, he told her, whilst gesturing with his hand,

   “Come. I’ve a place ye can stop at.”

   Claire looked up indignantly at him,

   “I am a lady. I am not going anywhere with you, Sir!”

   Jamie puffed up like an indignant rooster and went to tell this lady just what she could do with herself, and her mule! His good manners thankfully, surfaced in time and instead he reassured her that he knew of an empty cottage that she could have.

   “It is fair near ma own but it will gie ye some privacy at least. My Lady.”

   He made a great point of showing her his leg to reassure her of his honourable intentions, if with the slightest hint of sarcasm in the action. Hesitantly, she asked,

   “Are you certain it will be ok?” Christ, Beauchamp, like he’s going to tell you if it’s not! Why are you trusting him?

   He quietly reassured her,

   “Aye…. I ken the laird willnae mind.”

   She seemed to be mulling the idea over whilst scrutinising him, with her gaze directed straight at him. It was unrelenting and Jamie found it extremely uncomfortable and was close to losing his temper again if she didn’t hurry up and accept his offer. In truth, he was worried that she would refuse him and that was a further rejection he really couldn’t handle. As usual though, none of this showed on his face and instead he just looked sullen and ill-tempered. In the end though, she must have seen something that reassured her. God knows what!

     Having made up her mind, Claire returned to her previous state of taking charge and having advised Jamie of her decision to go with him, she stood up and began loading baskets; and blankets; and satchels into his arms until he was having trouble seeing passed it all.

  “How the hell am I meant tae see where am goin’ lass? It’s too much! Will ye sto…”

   Claire ignored him and added one more blanket which toppled the lot out of Jamie’s arms and right onto the ground in front of him. A particularly heavy item caught his foot and he growled loudly in pain, followed by limping in small circles trying to suppress the pain and embarrassment.

   “Mac galla à ifrinn! Son of a bitch from Hell!”      

   “Jesus H Roosevelt, Christ!  Be careful! I have some very rare medicine in there! You are going to ruin it all!  For fu… Give me stren.... Downright bloody useless!!”

    “Oh, dinnae mind me, mistress!! I'll just stand here an let ye abuse me, shall I? I'm just droppin’ all ma daily chores tae help ye, is all! I have places tae be, ye ken!"

   This was not entirely true as his snares had all been checked and reset but, Jamie felt a need to suggest it might be so; as if he might still be someone who has places to be; things to do. He wasn't yet ready to accept that he wanted to impress her, this strange and interesting woman that had dropped into his day and so his frown returned, cross more at himself than her.

   His outburst had caused Claire to stop in that moment and truly look at him properly. It was at this point that several things caught her attention in one quick burst. Firstly, he was tall. She liked that; it made her feel feminine. Secondly, he had a head of the richest red curls. There were so many different shades that the light of the day caught them every time he turned. And lastly, his intense blue eyes took her breath away. She could see there was a black ring around his deep blue irises and one of them had the smallest fleck of golden brown.  For Christ sake, stop staring! She quickly became flustered, but his eyes had left her gaze before that anyway and so the moment was gone.

   “Oh, yes, of course!  I am grateful, Sir, I really am. Look, let us start over. My name is Beauchamp, Claire Beauchamp."

   She held out her hand, but Jamie just stared at it. She lowered it remembering that handshaking was not the norm here yet.

   “Fraser. James Fraser. Your servant, madam.”

   He showed her a leg again, but this time with sincerity. Claire found herself curtseying back.  

   “Well Mr Fraser, if you would be so good as to assist me with my load, so that Clarence might make it to this cottage you know of, I would be very grateful."

 "As ye wish, …Mistress Beauchamp."

   It felt good having this contact with her and although she wouldn’t have known it, her trust in him had led him to walk a little taller than normal. He stood still and let her load him up, a little slower and more carefully this time.

   Meanwhile, Claire coaxed Clarence up, reassuring him now that his load was lighter and that the walk left wasn’t too far. Jamie walked slightly ahead and internally rolled his eyes at hearing this odd lady talking to her mule as if he would reply heartily. He took a step too close to Clarence though, who grabbed the opportunity to bite Jamie’s arse after the harsh way he had heard his mistress being talked too.     

   Jamie once again dropped some of the luggage and Clarence took great pride in hearing his mistress stripping the man down again for not guarding her herbs with enough care and he let out a load brae.

Chapter Text

Feeling full from the annoyingly delicious breakfast that Jamie had made her, bloody porridge, Claire stretched and made to get up with her bowl and spoon.

   “No, lass, I’ll see tae them.”

   And Jamie went to take them from her. Claire held them away though and smiled at him,

   “Jamie, you made breakfast; let me clean the bowls. Anyway, you would not want me getting used to this level of pampering now we are engaged to be married. I might expect it every day!”

   Jamie smiled and touched her waist as she stood up and slid past him, in his chair.

   “Claire, I will happily indulge ye everyday fir the rest o’ ma life after yesterday….and this morning.”

   He smirked and reached out for her again as she came close to him, reaching for some clean water warmed on the hearth. Claire let out a throaty laugh and teased,

   “Why Mr Fraser, I do believe you may be trying to pay me back for a most pleasurable night we just spent together… Did you enjoy it?”

   As she spoke, she sat in his lap, one arm around his shoulder; the other caressing the back of his neck and his glorious curls, whispering the last question in his ear, the bowls momentarily forgotten in the water. She worried the lobe between her teeth, a little hard.

   With eyes darkening by the second at her refreshing flirtation, he found his mind cast back to just how very pleasurable it had indeed all been last night.     

    “I’ll tell ye lass, I would spend the rest o’ ma life repayin’ ye for that night alone, it meant that much tae me.”

   He looked up at her with a smile, as she sat there on his lap. He caressed her shoulder and her back as he spoke; his eyes searching everywhere for the words,

   “Claire, I feel like I had a weight, pressin’ down on ma chest all this time, an’ yesterday, last night…Christ, Claire, it wis like ye walked towards me an’ brushed it away as if it wis just a wee fleck o’ dust. I dinnae understand how ye could be so incredible; so strong. Today, is the first time I’ve bin able tae draw a full breath since…well, since I woke up at Sandringham’s place. I am indebted tae ye, Claire. Truly. An’ I will spend the rest o’ ma life showin’ ye how thankful I am that ye didnae give up on this crotchety old fool all those months ago!”  

    “I never saw you as a crotchety old fool, Jamie. Never.”

   Jamie looked at her with mirth in his hooded eyes.

   “…well, maybe just at the start!” She smiled, trying to restrain a laugh.

   Jamie chuckled too, letting her stand up as she finished cleaning the crockery and checking to see if her clothes were dry.  Both were silent as they cast their minds back to that first day again, and how it ended.  

     

 

********

 

 

 Flashback

   Jamie had solemnly led Claire and her haggard mule, Clarence, to an old croft that was situated some way down the track, around a bend in the treeline, not far from his own. In truth, there were about three such vacant cottages to choose from; the other two were located a little closer to the village but something in Jamie felt strangely possessive of this unusual woman; with a need to keep her near, even if he wasn’t ready to admit it.

   They hadn’t spoken much on the short walk; Jamie found making conversation awkward with her, struck dumb by her strong aura and his lack of practise interacting with others in recent times; Claire so busy offering words of reassurance and encouragement to Clarence that she paid little heed to the local guide that she had.

   Soon enough, they turned off the main track and Jamie led her to the run-down croft which looked like it had seen better days.  The thatched roof seemed a little thin in places and the small stable needed several timbers replacing. Despite this though Claire felt an immediate attachment to the hardy little dwelling; the beautiful multi-coloured stonework; the charming little symmetrical windows either side of the door and a wonderful little bench sat under one of them made Claire smile for some reason. She liked it. It felt steadfast; reliable somehow. In a gruff tone that Claire still was not used to, Jamie looked about and said,

   “Here we are. It’s no much, but ye may have its use as long as ye need it.”

   Jamie carefully began to set down some of the load he had been carrying and went to work the door open. Claire stood outside, holding onto the rope she had around Clarence, a little uncertain about what to do next. She’d spend the last few nights living rough, as she had many times before as she travelled, and the luxury of her own Scottish croft so suddenly, was rather overwhelming. It seemed like an exceptionally generous gesture to her and she felt a small lump form in her throat for a moment. It had been a long time since she had had anything quite so considerate offered to her. 

   Jamie soon appeared, ducking low out of the building, so as not to hit his head; took one look at her mangy, coughing mule and begrudgingly set about checking the stable for use, disappearing inside it. Calling after him, Claire wondered aloud,

   “This is exceedingly kind, Mr Fraser, but are you absolutely sure that the Laird will be happy for me to be here? He doesn’t even know me!”

   Jamie reappeared, scrutinising the structure still. Quietly, and without looking at her he reassured her,

 “Aye, …it’ll be fine.”

   Thinking out loud, she said,

   “Maybe I should got to the manor and meet him? Introduce myself first.”

   Jamie could feel the inside of his chest seize up in an instant, almost as if she had thrown a bucket of winter-cold loch water over him. With a muscle tensing in his jaw, he took a moment and then quietly told her,

   “He’s no been here fir a long time...”

   “Oh.” Claire was confused. Both by the revelation and the tension she felt in the air.

   “Aye, well. Use it as ye see fit. We need tae start wie some firewood and water. If you begin wie unpackin’ inside, I’ll head tae the woods and sort them out fir ye.”

   He did not wait for her response but took himself swiftly off on his self-appointed task.        

   By the time that Jamie returned, Claire had Clarence unloaded and had him settled in the stable. She was carrying her belongings into the croft when Jamie hesitantly came in with an armful of firewood. He knelt by the old hearth and stacked the wood up for her, taking some of it to build a fire. Claire stood looking around, taking in the room, with her hands on her waist. There were some basic items in the room, a table, a bench, a chair, a sideboard, a cot. The cot would need stuffing again, but it would be a welcome relief from the nights of sleeping under a bush, that was for sure!

   As Jamie got the fire going and brough her some water, Claire had her few belongings unpacked and set about dealing with her herbs and tinctures; the sideboard would be a good place for them all for now.      

   With Clarence sorted and most of her things unpacked, Claire’s attentions turned to food. She had nothing on hand for a hot meal but remembered that she had some cheese, bread, and an apple somewhere. Just as she set about looking for it, Jamie stood up and back from the sound fire that he had begun. Realising that he was alone with this strange woman inside her new dwelling and feeling a wave of discomfort too complicated in that moment to consider, he headed for the door with an abrupt,

   “I’ll be takin’ my leave then.”

   Somehow panicked at the sudden thought of being alone, Claire rushed forward and pleaded,

   “Oh no, Mr Fraser, please don’t leave!”

   Beauchamp! You have spent the last 2 years travelling this island alone! Why on earth are you suddenly worried about being on your own?! Pull yourself together! You are going to scare him off!

Wait… why are you worried about scaring him off?!

Oh, will you listen to yourself! It is not like that at all!

 “I…er, I haven’t thanked you properly. I…I really am incredibly grateful for your assistance and your kindness.”

   Jamie froze near the door at her words. Compliments and praise were not easy bedfellows for him these days. Without turning back or looking at her he told her,

   “It wis nae bother. Truly.” 

    Keen to repay him in some way, Claire encouraged him to stay a while longer,

   “Um, let me at least give you something to eat, just to show my thanks. I’m afraid I don’t have very much…”

   She turned away from him to look down at her meagre scraps, looking back she continued,

   “…but you are very welcome to share…”

   But he was gone.

   “Oh.”

   In usual circumstances, Claire would have been rather indignant at his poor manners; she had a real issue with rudeness. However, she found in this moment that she was just disappointed; disappointed that he had gone. She sat down on the cot where she had been rummaging for the food and simply looked about her.

   What now?  

   She gave herself a firm reprimand and the rumble in her stomach encouraged her to stand and prepare her small meal. No sooner had she laid out a cloth onto the table, than there was a bang on the door. Claire jumped at the sudden noise and slowly made her way to the door, curious as to who would be knocking.

   She opened it cautiously to begin with and was surprised to see Jamie had returned with a pot of some kind. She noticed that he did not really look her in the eye and seemed quite unhappy about standing there as if he had been forced to do so against his will. He explained,

   “I’ve a little rabbit stew left over. It’s no much, but ye look like ye havenae had a hot meal in a while.”

   He held out the pot to her, waiting for her to take it.

   “That is so kind, Mr Fraser. I am touched, really, but I cannot possibly take your dinner away from you. Please come in and share it with me. I have a little bread we could put with it.”

   Jamie stood still thinking and breathing, it seemed. Finally, he gave a curt nod and accepted her gesture for him to enter again.

    For the next short while, they busied themselves getting things ready to eat. Had they both felt comfortable enough to relax, they would have observed that they worked well together; Jamie warmed the stew on the hearth; Claire cleaned and readied the table for them to dine. When the stew was ready and Jamie had dished it up, he sat on the bench, letting Claire take the chair, trying to respect that he was her guest, and this was now her house.

   Claire brought them each some water to drink and ignored the chair, choosing instead to sit at the other end of the bench to Jamie. They were in no danger of touching, such as the bench was, but the move startled Jamie who never would have expected such a thing from a respectable lady such as Mistress Beauchamp appeared to be. Further surprising him was the fact that she had given them both water to drink. Such a strange practise.

   Through their shared food, which tasted delicious to Claire having been short on meals in recent days, she tried to talk to Jamie to get to know him. He was very much not interested in not only talking about himself, but almost in not talking at all. In fact, she had the distinct impression from him that if they simply sat there in silence, he would finally be happy. What on earth has made you so irritable, you miserable old man?!

   Finally, Claire asked Jamie to tell her about the village of Broch Murdha. Despite his continued reluctance, there was the smallest hint of, well, it almost seemed like pride, when he spoke about the village. He clearly knew all about its history. Claire very nearly saw him let a half-smile show on his face, but the moment was so fleeting that it was gone before she had time to really see it. She managed to get a few minutes more conversation from him and then she asked him if he would take her down to the village to show her around in the morning.

   At this, Jamie stiffened up and his face fell slack. In a low tone, he refused,

   “Naw, I dinnae go intae the village these days; save as when I cannae help it. Naw.”

   Confused and somewhat surprised at such an odd situation, Claire pushed him on why.

   “Surely you must go into the village some time? Please, take me there.”

   Trying for a wittier approach, she offered,

   “Come on, Mr Fraser! You can’t let me down!”

   She had clearly misjudged him though as with this last comment, he stared into the fire as he seemed to battle with his anger at her comment. He threw down the spoon, his stew gone and abruptly stood up. He hesitated a moment as he stood.

   And then, he simply left. 

    Shit! Well done Beauchamp!

            

 

       

Chapter Text

 

 

   After pulling herself away from Jamie long enough to get dressed, Claire tried taming her curls but promptly gave it up as a lost cause. Jamie had already tended to his own animals before breakfast and Claire realised with a jolt that it was time that she sorted out her own – especially as she hadn’t been back to her own croft since the previous morning.

   They agreed that they would take a walk there before heading into the woods for Jamie to check his snares again. Neither wanted to leave the other’s company and so they made plans to complete both together and spend the day with one another.

   Once they had strolled over to Claire’s homestead hand in hand, they got on with the everyday jobs that keeping a home required. It was a journey that took double the time that it should have done as they ended up stopping every few minutes to kiss and then smile bashfully at one another. It felt wonderful to Claire walking along with her arm around Jamie’s waist; resting her head on his shoulder whenever her smile became too much to contain. For Jamie, it was a poignant walk that saw his smile accompanied regularly with a lump in his throat at how thankful he was that she came into his life and just how close it had been that they be lost to one another forever, during those early days.  

   As Jamie set about seeing to the animals that Claire had; and whilst Claire took up a seat on her cherished bench with a selection of her herbs and plants, he began to hear her singing a familiar song under her breath. It was a song that he had heard only once before but it had beguiled him then, as it did now and he would never forget it. He wanted to ask her about it but he realised that she wasn’t aware that he had heard it the first time and how to tell her… Pulling himself from his own lost thoughts, he looked over at her and realised that she too looked reflective.

   “Where are ye, lass?”

   Claire had not realised that he was quite so close, so she started a bit. Then, looking down at the herbs she was bagging up she sighed,

   “Oh, I was just thinking about how happy I am and yet, how very close I came to messing the whole thing up…repeatedly!” She swallowed tentatively, less the fear overpower her.

   Jamie looked at her in confusion.

   “What are ye talkin’ about, Claire?”

   Claire gathered her herbs together in the large plate that she had been working them in and placed it on the bench beside her.

   “Oh, Jamie, when I think about how badly I misjudged things when we first met – I said so many things that must have hurt you deeply; touched so many raw nerves, it’s no wonder you kept walking away so angry!”

Jamie stepped around her, lifted the plate out of the way and promptly sat next to her. Putting his hand behind her and caressing her back, much like she had seen him do to Clarence, he reassured her,

“Dinnae fash, Claire. The fault wasnae yours; it wis mine. I shouldnae have been so sensitive an’ proud.”

He paused and let out a long sigh. Quietly, he continued,

   “The truth is that ye challenged me; every time I saw ye, ye dragged me kickin’ an’ screamin’ out of the prison I’d built fir myself, believin’ that I wis only protectin’ myself. When the truth was that I wis hidin’, like a scared wee beastie. It wis pathetic an’ it shames me tae even think on it now!”

   Even in the short time since they had opened themselves to one another, it was becoming clear to Claire that one of the things that she loved so much was this beautiful dance they were developing of buoying one another up in a wonderfully harmonious way.  She could tell now that it was her turn,

   “You know Jamie, in all the time that I’ve known you, I never saw you as pathetic. Never. You know… from the moment we met…it pained me when you left.”

He winced at her words, removing his hand from her back and leaning forward, his elbows on his knees.

“Christ, Claire, dinnae make me feel worse. I acted like such a fool, runnin’ away aw the time. Such a coward!” He turned his head away from her. This was the first time that Claire had heard that cruel tone that he used on himself reappear since he had opened up to her, and she was not having it. She grabbed his arm and told him,

“Stop, Jamie! You have not been a coward! A lesser man would have been crushed by what you went through. But, my love, it didn’t beat you; it knocked you down for sure but look, you are still here! No, that is not what I meant. What I meant was that even before I realised myself; even before I could put it into words, the emptiness I felt whenever you left was…intense. Even at the start. You annoyed me; you confused me; irritated me; frustrated me; yes and yet whenever you left, it was like you took the sun with you and I was left to live in the dark again.”

   Her beautiful heartfelt words floored him. She continued,

   “Can I ask you a question?”

   Shaking his head in wonder at this incredible woman, he whispered,

   “Anythin’!”

Claire smiled shyly; hesitating whilst looking up and down from her hands to his face. She took a deep breath and asked,

“What made you suddenly come back all those days later after the mess I made of returning your pot?”

 

*********

 

 Flashback

 

   The empty stew pot that Mr Fraser had brought the night before was sat glaring up at Claire from her tidy table. It almost seemed to scream aloud to her, taunting her somehow; reminding her of how she made such a mess of things. She spent the first few hours in the morning pottering around it, her gaze regularly falling on it and each time this returned her thoughts to how things had ended between them the night before. She barely knew this man and yet she was so deeply troubled by how he had left. She felt such confusion. Was it my impulsiveness that was to blame or was his reaction unusually extreme?

   Ultimately though, the thought she kept returning to was: Should I return the pot? Mr Fraser had explained to her where his own croft was in relation to hers, so she could certainly find him but, she was not sure that he would be happy to see her. Each time she came close to a decision, her doubts resurfaced, she huffed loudly and found another job to distract herself with.

 

*****

 

   Jamie spent the brisk morning as he always did, tending to his animals and land, after seeing to the house. He was particularly irritable this morning as he found that he had not been able to sleep last night; he had spent the night tossing and turning unable to get comfortable but in truth, the real problems was that he was embarrassed about how disrespectfully he had left Mistress Beauchamp’s house the night before; he knew that he had acted like a petulant child; and he felt so foolish. For some unfathomable reason, he could not bear the thought of her thinking ill of him. Yet another thing tae add tae ma list o’ failures. All she did wis ask ye tae show her around the village, ye eejit!

   Jamie knew what would happen, what always happened, if he went to the village. This was why he tended to stay away; 9-and-a-half years was not long enough for anyone to forget, least of all him. The thought of her finding out, let alone being there when she did, was horrid. It filled him with a cold, creeping fear every time he pictured what people might say to her about him.

   Mistress Beauchamp had appeared in his life only the day before and her arrival had felt like a bracing whirlwind descending into his quiet, ordered life, knocking everything askew. She annoyed the hell out of him, that was for sure! What he was not quite ready to accept though was that what she actually challenged in him was the safe and solitary life he had carved out for himself. It was like she instinctively knew he was born for….more; expected more of him.

 

*****

 

   Claire had had enough of feeling sorry for herself and decided to take a trip off into the village. She was used to having to fend for herself and a few hours of moping about ended with her giving herself a good talking to Up off your arse, Beauchamp! What are you waiting for? A knight in shining armour to do it all for you?! No, that will not do!

   She packed her bag with some of her medicines; brought it up over her head and laid it securely onto her right shoulder. She hesitated and glanced at the pot but ultimately, she left it where it sat. She departed the croft clearly on a mission; she had had many fresh starts on her journeys; this was simply just another one.

Two minutes later, the door to the croft flew open again and she stomped back in. Without pause, she grabbed the pot and with a swish of her skirt she was back out.  

 

*****

 

   Jamie set about skinning one of the rabbits he had snared the day before. It was a job he had done so many times before that he had lost count and so he couldn’t help his mind drifting to those first moments the previous day when he had seen her from afar, before she had known he was there. The untamed hair that framed her face; the odd moves she had made; the weariness with which she had sat next to her mule; the indignation at his suggestion that the beast was past saving and should be put out of his misery. Then, the memory of her beautiful pale thigh gradually being revealed came back especially clearly to him and despite the cold morning, he felt a rising heat radiate through him. If only she had hitched her skirts just a wee bit higher? Dear God! It has been such a long time since…What wid I have done if I’d caught a glimpse o’ her sweet honey….

   “Good Morning, Mr Fraser!”       

    “Ifrinn! …Ow!”

   The shock of her intruding onto his salacious thoughts in person, by appearing around the corner of his cottage so unexpectedly had caused him to catch his hand with the sharp knife he had been using to gut the rabbit. Utterly mortified at his indiscretion, even if it was just within his private thoughts, he turned away from her ashamed of his obvious arousal, fearing that it was visible,  and quickly pulled off his stock, using it to stem the bleeding. He had cut an inch-long gash across his palm, right on the fleshy part of his thumb.

   “Oh bloody hell! I am so sorry Mr Fraser; I really did not mean to startle you! Gosh, I do seem to be making a habit of causing you injury…”

   Her voice trailed off at the end and Claire tried very hard to ignore the quickening of her heart as she spied that small triangle of flesh at the top of his shirt, now that he had removed his stock. Stealing a peek at the small divot that sat atop his clavicle made her stomach clench. Claire looked away and then down at his hand in an attempt to hide the flush appearing on her cheeks from him. Could he see her blood all rush south?! She quickly noticed the damage he had done to himself and switched into nurse mode,

  “Oh goodness, let me help you, that looks like a nasty cut!”

   She made to reach out to take his hand in hers; an action she had done thousands of times during her career. However, to her utter bemusement, Jamie recoiled from her before she had even touched him and staggered away to the bench under his window. He clutched his bloodied hand to his torso as he sat.

   “No! Dinnae touch me!” Jamie cried at her with an unexpected urgency. The sudden proximity of another was such a rare thing that it still unnerved him.   

   “Mr Fraser, I am a trained healer. We have to clean it; you’ve been cutting raw meat with that blade; I have to be sure your hand doesn’t become inflamed!”

The healer in her was too powerful an urge to stop.

“Christ, Woman! Let me be! I’m fine! I’ll tend tae it maself!”  He bellowed at her. 

   Here we go again! Stubborn man! Claire thought and rolled her eyes.

  Whilst this odd scene played out in front of her, a small part of Claire’s brain couldn’t help notice that the bench was a twin to the one she had at her own dwelling; this little detail gave her a small sense of comfort for some unexpected reason.   

   Perhaps that was why she felt brave enough to give it one last shot with him. That and the fact that he was calming quite quickly now that he appeared to realise just how extreme his reaction must have seemed to her. 

   “Well, at least let me put some of this on…”

   Claire reached into her bag and brought out a little clay jar with some lavender ointment in it. He looked on with clear apprehension. It took a few seconds for the aroma to reach Jamie’s nose, as Claire rubbed it over her fingers to soften the balm. Soon enough though and with a strangled cry, Jamie leapt back on the bench, almost pushing himself up the wall of the cottage. He managed to make himself stand and looking at her hands as if they contained some sort of danger charged to explode; he pressed himself against the wall next to the bench and inched himself to the door, his chest heaving and face full of panic.

   “Just go!” He growled at her, mortified that he was acting in such a fearful way before her.

   In a few moments, and to Claire’s complete bewilderment, he ran into the house and slammed the door behind him.

She noticed that he had inadvertently smeared his blood all along the wall of the building. 

   Feeling suddenly quite defeated; her resolve broke and Claire turned and dropped onto the bench. She lifted her head and looked out at the wonderful vista; not really seeing any of it though as she became lost in the overwhelming feeling that every step she seemed to take here was wrong and for some unknown reason it affected her deeply. Why do I care about what this churlish old man thinks of me? Why is it so hard to walk away though? He has made it very obvious that he wishes me to leave him be! Yes, he has made that perfectly plain since the moment I met him!

   Despite feeling unexplainably bereft, she couldn’t help but find him captivating; something about this man drew her near and rendered her unable to leave;  as if somehow to do so would be a profoundly poor decision; as if…as if their future depended on it. Claire had become used to relying on her gut instincts – they had only let her down on a few rare occasions.

   With disastrous results, mind!

   Yes, yes – like I could forget!

   The question of course was could she rely on her instincts now?

   Claire listened closely for the inhabitant of the house; not an easy task with such thick walls, she couldn’t hear anything to indicate that he was moving about. She let out a deep sigh and searching in her bag, Claire found a cloth and wiped the ointment from her hands. Then, standing up, she found a little willow bark that she had wrapped up in a modest burlap bag; it was one of a number she had been planning on selling in town. The bag had a small tag around it where she had written instructions for making a tea. She sat the pouch in the pot that had caused all this upset in the first place and set it all down on the bench for Mr Fraser to find when he eventually ventured out again.

   Inside the cottage, Jamie saw her through his small window. She turned to face the door, smoothing her skirts as she did; he was far enough into the cottage that she could not see him watching.

   “I am sorry to have caused you such distress, Mr Fraser.” She called out.

   “I've taken the ointment away. I will go and I'll leave you now…. I only really wanted to return your pot and to thank you for the kindness you have shown me. I seem to be making rather a habit of annoying you; …I am sorry about that. I will take my leave and not disturb you any longer… Take care, Mr Fraser."

   Jamie saw her turn and take a few steps away but then she stopped; turning back, she searched in her bag once more and removed something else, which she seemed to place on the bench too. With that, she cast her eyes down to the ground and swept away unaware of the true level of devastation she had left in her wake. Jamie was all too aware though and her disarming words of apology left him bereft, with more heartache and self-loathing to add to his already heavy load.   

      After a safe amount of time, Jamie slowly opened the door and stepped out. His curiosity at what she had left for him had finally got the better of him. He walked over to the bench and found his pot, thoroughly cleaned. Looking inside he saw that she had left him some willow bark tea for any pain he might have. He picked up the little bag, his face expressionless, and gently rubbed his thumb over its surface, knowing that it had only recently been in her own kind hand. He looked back at the black pot and found a small sprig of blue flowers positioned delicately inside. Yet again this unusual woman had challenged him and his notions but, she had also touched him deeply; moved him profoundly at such a small yet remarkable gesture.

   Jamie felt a slight warmth develop inside at the unexpected token of friendship; he simply wasn’t used to this kind of thing and he did not know quite how to react to it; he was glad in that moment that she had gone. His soft gaze lifted and far across the valley; way past the village that was hidden from sight; the imposing and ever-present outline of Lallybrock asserted itself into his conscience once more and the warmth evaporated instantly. He snorted at the sight of it and threw the flowers aside, storming back into his croft and hurled the door shut…again.

   The door remained closed until the winter sun began to set; the sky was filled with the most beautiful soft hues of yellow, orange and pink. Very quietly, unseen by a single other soul, the door opened, and a large hand reached down and gently gathered up the pretty little blue sprig.

The door quietly closed.