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A Million Little Times

Chapter Text

Now

Slim fingers reached out to pluck the bottle off the glass shelf as hooded eyes shifted from side to side to make sure no one was watching. She held the bottle up to her nose, too nervous to spray the perfume on her skin. But, oh, how she wanted to. She could imagine how he would take her perfumed wrist in his hand - she loved how his large hand always made hers appear so delicate in comparison. He would bring her wrist to his nose, closing his eyes at the sweet intermingling of roses with her unique body chemistry. Then he would kiss the inside of her wrist, right over the pulse, his stubble scratching her soft skin.

“Do you need help, ma’am?” A shopkeeper startled her half to death, and she fumbled with the ornate, glass bottle as she rushed to put it back on the shelf.

“N-no,” she sputtered. “No, thank you.”

The shopkeeper flashed her a confused look, and she smiled nervously before leaving the shop as inconspicuously as possible. The bell above the door dinged on her way out, and she jumped, mentally cursing her nerves. It wasn’t as if anyone could read her mind. Anyone who knew her would assume she was in such a store to pick out a scent to please her husband, with whom she was supposedly madly in love.

“No one knows about Jamie,” she muttered under her breath, standing still for a moment to take in deep, calming lungfuls of fresh air. That was, however, precisely the problem. No one did or could know about Jamie, the absolute love of her life, because Jamie was not her husband.

Then

Claire Randall frequently recalled the first time she had met Jamie Fraser. She had been walking across campus at the university in Scotland where her husband Frank taught while a group of grad students played shinty on the lawn. Jamie’s red hair and impressive musculature had caught her eye even before she’d heard his cry of pain as a member of the opposing team had slammed into him, knocking him to the ground.

Being a nurse, Claire couldn’t very well just continue walking without stopping to check that he was okay. “I’m a nurse!” she shouted as she jogged across the expanse of damp grass.

“Ah, a nurse! Jamie, ye hear that? She’ll set ye to rights,” one of the players reassured the injured young man. Jamie clutched his shoulder, grimacing in pain, but he didn’t make a sound.

“I’m Claire,” she said, and as soon as their eyes met, the world seemed to shift on its axis. All indication of pain immediately left Jamie’s features, and the corners of his mouth actually turned up in a smile when he saw her face.

“Jamie, lad, have ye gone daft?” the same player from before asked him.

Claire fought down the urge to smile back at him, forcing her professionalism to take over. “He’s probably just in shock,” she explained. “Here, let me take a look.”

She ripped the shoulder seam of his shirt to reveal bulging muscles along with the painfully obvious signs of a dislocated shoulder. “Do any of you lads have a belt?” she asked while removing her coat.

“Aye!” one chipper young man in the back of the group called out. The belt was passed to Claire who folded it over once and held it out toward Jamie’s mouth. “You’ll want to bite down on this. I promise I’ll be quick, but it will hurt.” Jamie nodded, any trace of his earlier smile now vanished from his face. “I’ll need someone to brace him from behind,” she ordered. One of the more burly men stepped forward to hold Jamie up while Claire waved the other men back to give her space as she got into position. She took a deep breath and looked Jamie in the eye. He nodded, and before anyone knew it, Claire pushed on his arm just so, he cried out, and his shoulder was back in place.

“Thank ye, Sassenach,” he gasped out, a mixture of gratitude and awe shining in his blue eyes.

The apparent spokesman of the group from earlier cuffed Jamie on the head. “The lovely lass puts yer shoulder back in place, and ye call her a common slur? Ye really have gone daft.”

“I didna mean…” Jamie began to apologize.

“It’s all right, everyone. Like I said earlier, he’s probably just in a bit of shock.” Claire looked at Jamie and smiled. “I don’t take offense at all. I’ve been called much worse.” Jamie just nodded, still a bit glassy-eyed. “Now you will want to stop in to hospital to at least get a sling. It might not hurt now, but it will later, and you’ll need to keep it immobilized for a time.”

“We’ll make sure to take care of him, Claire,” the spokesman said. “Wouldna want our best player to be out for any longer than necessary.”

Claire picked her coat up and put it on, bundling herself back up. “Well, I’d best be off. See you lads around campus. And be careful!” she called as she was walking away.

She’d almost gotten back to the paved walkway before she heard, “Wait!” and saw Jamie jogging after her, his injured arm pulled close to his body. His face was flushed red and he was panting, probably more from the pain than the physical exertion of running after her, fit as he was.

He ran the hand on his non-injured arm through his sweaty, red curls, not quite knowing what to say. “I didna…that is, I couldna let ye leave without askin’.”

“Asking what?”

“Well, the lads said I should just go fer it, and well, fuck it. Could I have yer number? Mebbe we could grab a cup of coffee some time?” Claire started to say no until Jamie added, “Just as a thank you, mind ye. No pressure or expectations.”

Claire’s mouth fell open, she being the one in shock this time, but she was at a loss for words. She laughed nervously as she plunged her left hand with its telltale pair of rings into the pocket of her coat. She looked up at Jamie, her heart pounding, and realized that she had a full-blown crush on him, a heady and wonderful feeling she thought she’d never have again.

To this day, Claire still wasn’t sure why she did it. She was married, right then on her way to meet up with her husband. But Jamie had just been injured and been so brave about it. And the way he’d smiled at her, so hopeful and smitten. Maybe she didn’t want to add insult to literal injury. Maybe she thought nothing would come of it. Maybe she was just starved for attention, which she admittedly hadn’t gotten from her husband in years. Or maybe she was just flattered that a younger man found her attractive. Whatever it was, Claire Randall pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote her number on Jamie Fraser’s hand. And so began the biggest and most beautiful mistake of her life.

Chapter Text

Now

Claire’s brother-in-law and his wife were in town. An insufferable couple, Claire always thought. Being around Frank had become almost unbearable for her since falling in love with Jamie, but there had been a time when she had enjoyed his company. Jack, on the other hand, had sincerely made her question her decision to join the Randall family altogether. He was a know-it-all and turned Frank into one when they were together, the two of them mansplaining away to mostly deaf ears. Claire was in medical school, for goodness’ sake, not a child who needed every little thing explained to her.

His wife Annabelle was no better. She came from a wealthy family and was solely concerned with material objects. Claire had absolutely nothing in common with her, yet she was expected to feign interest in her descriptions of the latest fashion trends and goings-on of what seemed like endless numbers of Real Housewives and Bachelorettes without complaint.

Now especially the torture was compounded with the fact that Jack and Annabelle were expecting their first child, meaning that Claire was reduced to something of a servant, fulfilling Annabelle’s every need. As if it wasn’t difficult enough for Claire to be around a pregnant woman when she and Frank had been trying for years to have a baby with no success. Although she now thanked her lucky stars that there wasn’t a baby involved in the mess of her life, she couldn’t help but feel sad that she’d likely never get to have children with Jamie either. Frank insisted that since his brother had managed to get his wife pregnant, it must be an issue on Claire’s end, and she had no reason to believe otherwise.

So there Claire sat, massaging her temples as Annabelle prattled on about the thousands of dollars they had spent on prams and cribs and carseats. How they had chosen the exact one that some celebrity had for their child. And all of a sudden, Claire couldn’t take it any longer.

She stood up from her place on the sofa and announced, “I’m going for a run,” completely interrupting Annabelle in the process. Frank, Jack, and Annabelle stared at her in disgust as she walked out of the room, after which Annabelle immediately started back up on whatever she had been talking about. Clearly Claire wouldn’t be missed much.

It was during moments like these that Claire was grateful to live in a house right off campus. She had originally thought it would be annoying to reside in such close proximity to obnoxious university students, but when she found out she lived only a five minutes’ walk away from Jamie’s flat, the loud music and drunken passersby all faded into the background. Claire pulled on a pair of leggings and a hoodie, shot Jamie a quick text to make sure he was at home, and tiptoed in her socks past the living room door so as to not be detected on her way out. She stuffed her feet into her trainers at the door, pulled her hood over her head, and exited the stuffy house, butterflies in her stomach.

She tried not to jog too hard on her way to Jamie’s so she wouldn’t be a sweaty mess when she arrived, but she was too eager to see him to take it slow. She’d told him she wouldn’t be available for the week because of Jack and Annabelle’s visit, so this was an unexpected surprise for both of them.

He opened the door to his flat before she could even knock, pulling her in as she squealed in surprise, and slammed the door behind them. “Sassenach,” he moaned, his hand immediately feeling for her arse, kneading it as if his life depended on it. “Ye wore the wee leggings. Ye ken what they do to me.”

“That’s precisely why I wore them.” She grinned as she met his lips with hers. “Plus they come with an added bonus of being easily removable.” She squealed again as Jamie lifted her by the thighs to wrap her legs around his waist as he navigated through his tiny but serviceable flat. She giggled, tangling her hands in his hair as she tilted his face up to kiss her, her hips already beginning to move against him. He groaned into her mouth as he set her on his futon, or as they jokingly referred to it, “the spare bedroom.”

He was already wearing nothing but his boxers, and Claire pulled her sweatshirt off as soon as she was free of being tangled around Jamie. “This’ll have to be quick,” she murmured as his lips immediately began kissing her newly-bared neck. “They think I’m just out for a run.”

“Well then we should get ye out of these so I can get started.” Jamie pulled on the waistband of her leggings, groaning when he saw that she was wearing no knickers underneath. “Ye’re killing me, Sassenach.”

She grinned at the pure lust in his eyes as he threw the leggings onto the floor over his shoulder, then in an instant was biting her lip with her head thrown back against the futon as he buried his face between her legs. He held her hips still despite her desire to move, and she slipped her hands into his hair as his tongue swirled expertly over her most sensitive area.

Her hand slammed against the wall behind her as she neared completion, causing the students next door to yell, “Oi! Quiet down over there!” Jamie looked up at her from between her legs, and they both began giggling uncontrollably, their desperation for each other forgotten for a brief moment.

“I think your walls are actually made of paper,” Claire finally managed to gasp between laughs.

“I think even walls of stone wouldn’t be able to muffle the noises you make when my head’s between yer legs,” Jamie countered.

Claire bent to kiss him, sneaking a hand under the waistband of his boxers to grab ahold of his cock. He immediately moaned into her mouth, and she laughed, breaking their kiss as she stroked him. “Sounds like you have a similarly loud mouth, my lad,” she teased.

“Aye, and I’m no’ ashamed to admit it.” Jamie grabbed her wrist to stop her motions for a moment so he could remove his boxers while Claire wrangled her sports bra over her head to join the pile of discarded work-out clothing on the floor. “Now lie back, Sassenach, and we’ll see what other noises I can get ye to make.”

Claire propped her foot up on the back side of the futon, opening her legs for Jamie to slam home, hard and hot. She wrapped her other leg around Jamie’s waist as he pounded into her, both of them worked up from days spent apart, neither wanting their joining to be gentle. The wooden frame of the futon slammed repeatedly against the wall, but neither Jamie nor Claire noticed anything outside of the coming together of their bodies.

Claire nipped at Jamie’s shoulder as he moved over her, sinking her teeth into his flesh as she quickly neared her peak once again. “Jamie, I’m going to…”

“Aye, Claire.” He kissed her as she keened, swallowing the noises she made. “Let go, lass.” She cried out, arching into him as he came into her once, twice, three more times, her body clenching around his as he spilled inside her, their movements finally stilling.

Jamie wedged himself beside Claire on the limited space of the futon so as not to crush her, and she managed to drag herself atop him a moment later, still coming down from her high. He adjusted slightly so she was spread out along his body and pulled her close, his arm draped across her back.

Claire finally spoke after a few moments of catching her breath. “How am I supposed to leave you and go back to dealing with the three idiots for the rest of the week? I just want to be right here with you for the rest of my life.”

The neighbors chose that moment to pound against the wall again. “Hey, now that ye’re finished over there, maybe move the fuckin’ futon away from the wall, ye daft eejit!”

“Aye, aye, we’re sorry,” Jamie yelled back. The neighbor pounded a fist on the wall once more to emphasize their point and then left them alone again.

“Well, maybe not right here,” Claire giggled.

“I’m sorry about them, Sassenach. They’re jest jealous.” Jamie smoothed the wisps of hair back from her face as she rested on his chest. “Besides, ye dinna want to be here with me forever. Ye want to be a doctor. And soon enough I’ll finish grad school and become a teacher, and we’ll get ourselves a wee house, and ye can finally leave Frank.” He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it. “But until then, we’ll manage. Even if I have to live in this paper-walled flat and you have to deal with yer horrible in-laws. We’re doin’ it for our future. Together.”

Claire moved to kiss Jamie, the only way she knew to thank him for his sweet words of encouragement. “I have to go,” she whispered, almost in a sob.

“I ken.” He kissed her forehead. “Just a few more days, mo ghraidh, and we’ll be together again.”

She nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes before disentangling herself from Jamie and putting her clothes back on. He pulled her to him for one more searing kiss before she slipped out the door to jog back.

When she returned home, she tried to slip by to take a shower without being noticed, but Frank was in the hall, still going through the mail he had just brought in. “Ugh, Claire, you look like you’ve just run a marathon,” he noted with disgust. “I don’t know why you insist on running in the streets when I bought you that exercise bike for Christmas.”

Claire shrugged. “I like the change of scenery, I guess.” Frank just rolled his eyes and continued rifling though the mail as Claire swept by him, a secret smile on her lips.

Then

Claire hadn’t expected Jamie to actually contact her, figuring that once they parted, he would mostly forget about the nurse who had set his arm, but the next morning she got a text from an unknown number.

Unknown: Claire? This is Jamie, the one whose shoulder you set yesterday.

Claire: Yes, hello! How are you feeling today?

Jamie: Oh, not too bad. Just a bit sore. The doctor said I’ll be back to normal in a few weeks.

Claire: Good to hear!

Jamie: So, about that cup of coffee…

Claire: It’s really sweet of you to offer, but you don’t need to feel obligated to buy me a coffee just because I set your shoulder. I promise it was no hardship on my part.

Jamie: I know. But I’ll feel better if I can thank you properly. Please just let me buy you the coffee to assuage my debtor’s guilt, and then you’ll never have to see me again.

Claire: Haha ok. How about tomorrow around 15:00 at the campus Starbucks? I get off of work at 14:30.

Jamie: Sounds great! Thanks again, Sassenach!

Claire didn’t know what Jamie was expecting from this coffee meet-up, but she resolved to tell him she was married if it seemed at all like he was romantically interested in her. She still felt a wave of guilt when she thought about how she had deliberately hidden her rings from him the day before, but, she reasoned, it wasn’t like he hadn’t had a chance to see them while she was setting his shoulder. He likely knew she was married and just wanted the opportunity to thank her for helping him.

Either way, tomorrow would be the last day she would ever see Jamie, so she might as well stop dedicating every thought in her head to wondering what it would feel like to have his muscular body pressed up against her own.

Chapter Text

Then

Claire had deliberately given herself just enough time after her shift ended to get to the coffee shop to meet Jamie. She didn’t even have time to change out of her scrubs, meaning that she would be in her least attractive state, hopefully able to easily be written off by him. Not that she had any way to be certain he was actually attracted to her, but she did have a feeling that this coffee date was more than just about thanking her. She’d felt the spark of mutual physical attraction when he’d asked for her number; so how better to send him on his way than to be as physically unattractive as she could make herself?

Jamie was waiting by the door of the Starbucks when she walked up, bouncing from one foot to the other to stay warm, or perhaps from nerves. His cheeks were ruddy from the cold despite being bundled up in a pea coat and scarf, and Claire’s knees admittedly went weak as his face broke out into a grin upon spotting her.

“Sassenach!” he greeted her as he opened the door.

“Hello, Jamie,” she replied pleasantly, grateful for the warmth and pleasing coffee aroma that welcomed her as she stepped inside.

“Why don’t ye grab a table, and I’ll get our drinks. What’ll ye have?”

“Just a green tea, please. With honey.” She pointed towards a table. “I’ll take that one in the back by the window.” Next to a window where the whole world could see them. Certainly not in the secluded back corner where a couple on a date might be inclined to sit.

She shrugged off her coat and hung it over the back of her chair while Jamie stood in line. Students passed by the window as she waited, hurrying off to their next class or back to their dorm, almost doubled over against the biting wind that whipped the tree branches back and forth. January in Scotland was not for the faint of heart. Just the fact that Jamie had been out playing shinty with his friends in this weather proved how fit and resilient he was. No wonder he had hardly made a sound when she’d set his shoulder.

Jamie made his way to their table a few minutes later, a cup in each hand. He managed to carry both with no issue, despite his injured arm being in a sling. “Here ye are, Sassenach. Are two packets of honey all right for ye?”

“Yes, thank you.” He removed his sling in order to take his coat off, then put it back on while she went about fixing her tea to her liking. She took a sip after he sat down, holding the cup in such a way that he couldn’t miss her wedding rings shining on her finger. If he’d just noticed them for the first time, his face didn’t show any sign of disappointment.

“Thank ye for meeting with me. I really did just want to thank ye. I promise there are no strings attached,” Jamie said. “I really appreciate ye stopping to help me the other day. I hope I didna make ye late for a class or anything.”

“No, not at all,” Claire replied. “I’m actually finished with school. My husband is a professor here, and I’m a nurse. I was on my way to meet him when I saw you get injured.”

“Och, I’m sorry to have assumed. I figured when ye said ye were a nurse, ye meant ye were a nursing student. Ye dinna look old enough to be finished with school yet.”

Claire laughed. “That’s very nice of you to say, but I assure you I am. Although I have been considering going back to school recently - med school.”

“Makes sense,” Jamie said without hesitation. “Ye seem to ken what ye’re about. Might as well go for it if that’s what ye want.”

Claire tried not to compare Jamie’s response to Frank’s. Jamie didn’t even know her, nor did he have any stake in the game in regards to how much her life would change if she decided to start on the path toward becoming a doctor. Frank was just more practical, that was all. After all, he hadn’t said no, just that she should take more time to think about it.

“And what are you in school for?” Claire asked as Jamie took a sip of his coffee.

“I’m getting my masters in linguistics. I hope to be a professor some day, but I’d be happy to teach at any level really. I love kids, so I wouldna even be opposed to teaching the wee ones if that’s where I end up.”

So not only was he immediately supportive of Claire’s dreams, he was also much more humble than Frank had ever been about teaching. He’d complained constantly during the years he’d spent teaching in secondary school and had vowed to never go back once he’d finally gotten hired on as a professor.

“So ye said ye’re married,” Jamie said, his eyes glancing for a moment toward her rings. There was no touch of animosity in his statement. He was apparently telling the truth when he’d said there were no strings attached. Still, Claire didn’t think she had misread the situation when he’d originally asked her out for coffee. He had been attracted to her, right? “What does yer husband teach?”

Claire answered, telling Jamie about Frank’s job at the university, how they’d moved to Scotland for his career. The conversation continued easily, with Claire telling the story of how she and Frank had met, then Jamie responding about his family in kind. Claire and Jamie had both lost a parent at a young age - Claire both her mother and father, while Jamie had lost his mother - and were able to bond over the shared experience few others could understand. Jamie filled the silence easily while still allowing Claire to guide the conversation, appearing truly interested in hearing about her life despite the fact that she had nothing to offer him but her friendship.

“So when did ye say ye’d be starting medical school?” Jamie asked as he drained the last of his second cup of coffee.

Claire traced her finger absently around the rim of her empty cup, not meeting Jamie’s eye. “I don’t know for certain that I’ll go if I’m being honest. I have a good job already. I don’t necessarily need to be a doctor.”

Jamie reached across the table and put his hand on top of Claire’s, encouraging her to look up at him. The sadness in her beautiful eyes almost took his breath away. “Ye should do it, Claire. I can tell it’s something ye truly want. Don’t let anyone convince ye otherwise.”

Claire held his gaze for a moment longer, unable to ignore the warmth of his hand as his thumb caressed the back of her own. Then the spell broke and she withdrew her hand as her cheeks flushed. “We’ll see. At least I’d get a heavy discount being married to a professor and all.”

“I’ll expect a text from ye when ye send in your application, then.” Jamie flashed her another one of his intoxicating smiles, and her heart fluttered.

“Oh, God, I really need to go,” she said suddenly, glancing at her watch. “Frank’ll be home any minute for supper.” She pushed back her chair and stood, rushing to put on her coat.

“Well thanks again for comin’, Sassenach. I really do appreciate yer help.” Jamie stood as well, draping his coat over his shoulders so he didn’t have to readjust his sling.

“Thanks for the tea! I’m sure I’ll see you around campus.” Claire grabbed her handbag as she left, turning around at the door to give Jamie a little wave before she stepped out into the frigid early evening, leaving him standing there, a bit shocked at her speedy exit.

“That was a close one, Beauchamp,” she muttered to herself as she started her walk home. Jamie had been even lovelier than she could have imagined, causing her crush from the physical attraction she had felt for him to amplify during their conversation over coffee. Good thing she’d probably never see him again or else she’d be in real trouble.

Now

Tha mi tog an sgàin mo chridhe.”

Claire didn’t say anything for a moment as she caught her breath from a particularly aerobic bout of lovemaking. Jamie had collapsed at her side, muttering in Gaelic like he usually did when overcome by emotion.

“What did you just say?” she finally asked when she regained the wherewithal to even try to parse out any Gaelic words she might have heard before.

He turned on his side to plant a kiss on her bare shoulder before answering, “I said I thought my heart was gonna burst.”

Claire couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. “That good, huh?” she asked, a bit smug.

An-còmhnaidh,” he replied before kissing her on the mouth. Always. She brought her hand up to tangle in his hair as his body moved over hers again, her breasts brushing against the wiry hairs on his chest.

“You know,” she said, interrupting his kisses. “One day you’ll have to teach me some Gaelic. Especially if I’m to meet your family.”

“Oh, aye,” he agreed, giving her a peck on the lips before lying back down next to her. “I can teach ye some right now.” Claire raised her eyebrows and motioned for him to begin.

“All right, let’s start with sròn.” He leaned over to kiss the tip of her nose.

Sròn,” she repeated. “I take it that means ‘nose’?”

“Aye. See, ye’re a fast learner.” He took her hand in his, kissing each of her fingers. “Mheur,” he said after sucking her index finger into his mouth.

She laughed, repeating the word for finger in a fairly close approximation of how he had said it. “I don’t quite see how knowing how to say 'nose’ and ‘finger’ and other various parts of the body will help me in my daily life.”

“Well if ye’re to be a doctor, Sassenach, then ye’ll have to ken how to ask what parts are hurting when someone comes in for help. Besides, ye canna be laid out naked next to me and expect me to concentrate on anything else,” he reasoned. “Now yer next word is teanga.” Before she could repeat that one, he had claimed her lips, thrusting his tongue into her mouth to entangle with her own. She moaned, turning her body toward his as their kiss deepened, his hands reaching for her arse to pull her hips flush with his where she could feel his growing erection.

“That one isn’t so different from English,” she breathed as they finally broke apart.

“An easy one for ye to remember then.”

“I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it any time soon. Shall we stop the lesson for now?” she asked, reaching down to stroke him as she gave him another passionate kiss.

He grasped her wrist to still her motions. “I’ve got one more for tonight. Tha gaol agam ort, Sassenach.”

“That one sounds familiar,” she mused.

“It should. I’ve been sayin’ it to ye since the first night we spent together. It means ‘I love you.’”

Claire’s eyes widened in surprise. “Since the first night?” she repeated. “You’ve loved me since then?”

“Aye, I have.” He played absentmindedly with a curl resting on her shoulder. “I wanted ye from the moment I saw ye running towards me on that field.” He gave her a quick peck on the lips. “But I loved you on that night ye were here when ye wept in my arms. Even before we slept together. I knew you were the only one for me, Claire. Mo nighean donn, mo chridhe. Tha gaol agam ort.”

“I love you too, Jamie. So much,” she declared, tears in her eyes. And as he came to her, giving sweet kisses, spreading her thighs to enter her once again, she wept. Because she did love him. So much. And yet she was wracked with guilt. Because she was still married to another man.

Chapter Text

Then

Jamie: Claire, I’m so sorry to bother you, but are you busy right now?

Claire: No, not really. What’s up?

Jamie: I’m babysitting my sister’s lad for a few hours, and I have a bit of an emergency. He’s stuck a bead up his nose, and I don’t know what to do to get it out.

Claire: Is he breathing ok?

Jamie: Seems to be. I just can’t get the wee beastie out of his nose. Should I head to the A&E?

Claire: How old is he?

Jamie: 2 and a half

Claire: The A&E is definitely an option, but I do have something I could try first if you’re wanting to avoid your sister’s wrath…

Jamie: Really?

Jamie: I mean, I would really appreciate it, but I don’t want to make you come over to mine if you were doing something or getting ready for bed.

Claire: Nah, I really don’t mind. My husband is away at a conference for the weekend anyway, so I’m just sitting around watching the telly. What’s your address?

Jamie: 1325 Market St. Apt. 4. It’s on the second floor, and you’ll need to ring the buzzer when you get here.

Claire: Oh, that’s not far at all! Just a five minute walk. I’ll be right there!

Claire turned off the tv and hopped up from the sofa to put on some actual clothes. She had been just about to go to bed, but she truly didn’t mind going a bit out of her way to help Jamie. As she pulled on the jeans she’d taken off earlier, she told herself it was just her nurse’s instinct to help someone when they needed it that was causing her to once again interact with the incredibly handsome young man she’d already told herself she would never see again. Sure, he could have gone to the A&E, but why go that route when she was right here?

She pulled a soft, warm sweater over her head, looking in the mirror to fluff up her curls that had been smooshed by the neck of the sweater. Her glance held for a moment at the perfume and makeup that sat on her dresser, then she shook her head and turned to leave. “You’re really losing it, Beauchamp,” she muttered to herself. “His nephew has something stuck up his nose. This isn’t a date, and you are married.” She hurried out of the room, grabbed her coat and keys by the door, and headed out into the frigid evening.

“Claire!” Jamie said by way of greeting her at his door, relief evident in his tone. “I canna thank ye enough!” His nephew was balanced on his hip, staring at her curiously. He wore the most adorable pair of footie pajamas, and Claire found herself as instantly smitten with him as she had been with his uncle.

“No problem at all, Jamie. Happy to help.” Claire smiled warmly at the pair as she closed the door to Jamie’s flat behind her, shutting out the cold of the hallway before removing her coat. “What’s this young man’s name?” she asked.

“It’s actually Jamie,” Jamie replied, blushing a bit. “We call him Wee Jamie - to avoid confusion, ye ken.”

“Makes sense.” Claire nodded. “Which nostril is the bead stuck in?”

“His right one.”

“Right, I’m going to need you to lay him down on a flat surface. Then I’ll try to blow the bead out of his nose.”

“Blow it out?” Jamie looked worried and more than a little dubious.

“I promise, I know what I’m doing. And if it doesn’t work, it won’t make things any worse than they are now,” Claire explained, straightening a bit as she spoke to convey an air of confidence.

Jamie nodded, apparently having convinced himself that he could trust this veritable stranger with his nephew. “All right, wee laddie, Nurse Claire here has come over to set ye to rights,” Jamie said to his nephew, laying him down on the kitchen table.

“Nose?” Wee Jamie asked.

“Aye, she’ll get the bead outta yer nose. And then we’ll keep it a wee secret, so yer mam doesna murder yer uncle, eh?” Wee Jamie laughed as his uncle gently reclined him until he was lying flat on the table. “Now hold still for Nurse Claire, aye?”

“You’re being very brave, Jamie,” Claire said in a reassuring tone. Jamie thought she might have left off from specifying Wee Jamie so they both could gain encouragement from her words. “Now I’m just going to blow gently into your mouth and see if we can’t get this bead out of your nose, all right?”

Claire held her finger against Wee Jamie’s left nostril, effectively blocking it as she blew into his mouth. Nothing happened at first, but when she blew a little harder a second time, a small, pink bead flew out of Wee Jamie’s nose onto the the linoleum.

“Ye did it, Claire!” Jamie whooped with relief. He picked Wee Jamie up from the table and hugged him. “Now dinna ever do that to me again, ye hear?” He booped Wee Jamie on his now unobstructed nose. “Nothin’ more up yer nose. At least while ye’re at yer uncle’s place, aye?”

“Aye, Unkie,” Wee Jamie replied.

“Now I think it’s way past a certain someone’s bedtime,” Jamie said. “And I dinna want any arguments from ye after what ye’ve put me through.” Wee Jamie nodded, resigning himself to his fate.

“I should be going-” Claire started to say before Jamie cut her off.

“Oh, I was hopin’ ye could at least stay for a wee nightcap, Sassenach. I insist after ye came all the way over here. I’ll only be a minute.” Jamie looked so hopeful, Claire couldn’t help but nod and smile at his offer. “Be right back then,” he assured her.

Claire stood around awkwardly for a moment, taking in Jamie’s small flat. The kitchen and living room space were open and connected, a small kitchen table sitting half on the linoleum and half on the carpet with only two chairs. A cream-colored futon sat pushed up against one wall, and in the middle of the room was a black sofa just big enough for two. Both pieces of furniture looked well-used but not threadbare by any means. The only thing he had that seemed to be worth any money was his television and gaming setup. Claire was unfamiliar with the game systems as Frank always preferred to sit and quietly read over just about any other activity, and she’d never been into them herself.

After a moment of wringing her hands, Claire decided to sit on the sofa and casually scroll through her phone while she waited for Jamie to return, which he did after about five minutes. He sat down next to her, leaving an appropriate amount of space between them and leaned back against the cushions.

“Ye know, I think I’d take the bead up the nose over the normal nightmare of gettin’ him to bed,” Jamie mused. “His guilt made him as good as gold tonight. Normally he’s a wee heathen.”

“It’s very kind of you to watch him for your sister. I’m not sure there are many men your age who would be willing to babysit their nephew on a Friday night,” replied Claire.

“Ach, it’s the least I can do. My sister and her boyfriend Ian - who happens to also be my best friend - basically took over the running of my family farm so I could go to school,” Jamie explained. “They dinna get much time to themselves, busy as they are with all of the responsibility that comes along wi’ it.”

Claire relaxed a bit as the conversation continued. “I thought you said at the coffee shop that your father still owned the farm.”

Jamie’s face darkened a bit. “Aye, he still owns it. But he’s no’ been well lately.” Claire almost reached out to take his hand but stopped herself. “He had a minor stroke a couple of months ago, and he hasna been able to keep up as much since.”

“Oh, Jamie, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Claire sympathized.

“I canna help but feel guilty bein’ away from home while Jenny and Ian are stuck postponing their wedding because of how hard all of this has hit my family.” Jamie sighed, and this time Claire did reach out to caress his shoulder. She simply couldn’t help herself, sad as he looked.

“I’m sure this is exactly where you family wants you to be. I can’t imagine they’d want you to give up your dreams if they’re able to make do without you for a bit longer.”

“Thank ye, Sassenach.” Jamie smiled weakly, flashing her a glimpse of his beautiful blue eyes as he patted her hand that was still resting on his shoulder. “Speakin’ of dreams, did ye ever start that application?”

Claire blushed and withdrew her hand. “Actually I did,” she admitted, leaving off the fact that she had finally done it because of his encouragement.

“Ach, that is good news! Let’s have a wee dram before ye leave to celebrate!” Once again, Claire knew she should have declined and made her exit. But once again, she couldn’t resist the hopeful charm of Jamie Fraser.

“All right,” she conceded, grinning mischievously. “But I must insist you explain to me how you got a pink bead on the floor of your otherwise sparse and manly flat.”

Jamie laughed before beginning a story that propelled them into more conversation that lasted well into the early hours of the morning.

Now

“So what time is your sister’s wedding on Saturday?” Claire asked one evening during dinner at Jamie’s. Frank was staying late at his office grading a slew of term papers, so Jamie had made spaghetti and meatballs with homemade garlic bread - Claire’s favorite.

“It’s set to begin at five o’clock. Which is good seein’ as Ian and all the groomsmen will need a decent amount of time to sober up after Ian’s stag do on Friday.” Jamie dipped his garlic bread in the marinara sauce and took a bite.

“I still think it’s insane that you’re doing that the night before the wedding, even if it is the only time everyone will be in town.” Claire twirled her spaghetti expertly around her fork before bringing it to her mouth.

Jamie swallowed nervously and began to pick at his food. “What?” Claire asked, placing her fork back down on her plate without having taken a bite. “Why do you look so worried all of a sudden?”

“Well, speakin’ of people bein’ in town…” Jamie trailed off, not meeting Claire’s eyes. “Listen, ye ken I love you, right?” he asked, looking across the table at her worried expression. God, it killed him to have to tell her this, but it was better for her to be prepared than blindsided when the wedding pictures came out.

“Yes. Although it terrifies me to hear you say it like that,” Claire replied warily.

“Ye ken what I’ve told ye of Jenny and how she always is meddlin’ in my affairs,” Jamie prefaced. “She knew I’d be goin’ to the wedding alone, and she’s always tryin’ to set me up with someone or other. So…Laoghaire is invited of course and she was goin’ alone too, so Jenny set me up with her as my date.” Jamie said the last part so quickly that it sounded like one long word slurred together.

Claire pushed her plate away and crossed her arms in front of her. “Say somethin’, please,” Jamie implored.

“Your date?” Claire echoed, monotone.

“Well…yes, but no. How was I supposed to say no to Jenny when she’s the bride and all?” Jamie tried to reason.

“Easy. You just say no,” replied Claire, clearly having made up her mind over the situation.

“Sassenach-“

“DON’T. Call me that,” Claire interrupted. Hot tears had started to run down her flushed cheeks as she sat staring daggers across the table at Jamie.

“Okay, Claire, I’m sorry. Ye ken I would much rather take you wi’ me-“

“But you can’t, can you?” Claire snapped. “So once again it’s all my fault because I’m the one who’s married. So I should just sit back and let you go on a date.” Claire stood up, her chair scraping on the floor. “It isn’t like you didn’t know from the very beginning that I was married. We chose this, yet I’m the one who always has to pay the consequences!”

“Claire, that isna true!” Jamie stood as well, his voice raising to meet the volume of hers. “I did choose this along with ye, but I dinna get off scot-free! I dinna want to spend hours with a lass I’m no’ interested in, pretendin’ like I care about the inane stories she’s likely to spend all evening telling me. Why d’ye no’ trust me?”

“But she isn’t just any girl!” Claire’s voice broke on a sob. “You’ve slept with her, Jamie! And you’ll be at a wedding! She’s bound to assume you might want to go there again with her. And I can’t bear it!” Claire buried her face in her hands, beginning to weep.

“Can’t bear it?” Jamie’s voice seethed with anger. “You canna bear it? Claire, ye ken sometimes ye make me feel like…like an idiotic fool!” Claire looked back up at him, her eyes rimmed with red. “You come to me only when yer husband isna home. I have to go on one obligatory date wi’ a family friend, yet you leave here and go back to yer husband’s bed to do God knows what wi’ him!”

“You know that isn’t true,” Claire whispered, shocked at what was coming out of Jamie’s mouth. How long had he been holding this in? Was this his way of telling her he didn’t want to do this anymore? Didn’t want her anymore?

“How?” he demanded. “How do I ken it isna true?” He glared at her, waiting for a response.

“Because I told you I don’t sleep with him anymore,” she answered, sounding a lot more calm than she felt on the inside.

“And I’m supposed to trust you, aye? Trust that yer husband has no interest in fucking his wife anymore. Yet you canna trust me for one night.” The vitriol seeped out of Jamie’s words and was replaced by pure hurt. “Don’t ye see, Claire? If we canna trust each other, this might as well be over.”

Claire sniffed and wiped the tears from her face with the sleeve of her sweater. “I need to go,” she stated dejectedly. And after she put her coat and boots on, and the door closed behind her, Jamie cursed himself, wondering why in heaven’s name he hadn’t stopped her.

Chapter Text

Now

Jamie left for Ian’s stag do two days after the fight with Claire, neither of them having talked about what had happened. This was their first real fight, leaving them with no precedent on how or even if they would resolve it. Both of them felt miserable, yet were unsure what to say to make things better. Claire was able to use her schoolwork as a distraction, but Jamie had no hope of escaping his feelings. Witnessing his best friend’s happiness over marrying the love of his life only inspired bitterness in Jamie as he was unable to even talk about Claire with any of his friends or family, let alone marry her. And the thought of having to entertain Laoghaire for an entire night was now more unbearable than ever since she had been the cause of the argument with Claire in the first place.

Despite his inner turmoil, Jamie was too good a friend and brother to not at least fake having a good time, even though he was dying on the inside. Claire had a more difficult time hiding her emotions, so she just lied to Frank, fabricating a big exam she needed to study for, and locked herself in the den with a pile of medical textbooks.

But when Friday afternoon hit, and the prospect of a weekend free of the distraction of classes loomed, all of Claire’s emotional turmoil hit her like a tidal wave, and she broke down, unable to think of anything but Jamie. What would she do if she had lost him? And what could she do to get him back?

Frank knocked on the door to the den at around six o’clock to ask Claire if she wanted to get dinner together, but she claimed to have cramps, and Frank asked no further questions. Frank had always been squeamish about her “female problems,” as he called them, and preferred she keep those things to herself. She’d made the mistake early on in their relationship of asking him to pick up a box of tampons on his way home. He’d come home carrying a bag with the tips of his fingers as if there was some deadly disease inside and begged her to please never make him go through that embarrassment again. She’d laughed it off then, but realized now she should have noticed it as one of the many red flags she now realized Frank had displayed over their years together.

As Claire thought about what she was going to do for the next two days to avoid losing her mind, she realized inaction was simply not an option. She needed to see Jamie. Now. Frank had gone out to pick up dinner for himself, so she had the peace and quiet to think about her plan of action. She sent Frank a quick text with a lie about going to a classmate’s flat to have a late night study session. As expected, he asked no questions, and she was suddenly free and clear to go after Jamie.

Claire knew where the stag do was taking place. Jamie had told her several stories from the pub he and Ian had frequented as lads and how excited he was to relive those times on Ian’s last night as a single man. It was about an hour’s drive to get there, and Claire felt the weight of every minute that passed as she drove. What if she had left it go too long? Why hadn’t she just texted him yesterday before he went out of town? Would she even be in any sort of state to drive home if he rejected her? All these thoughts ran through her mind on a loop, her brain not comprehending a single word of the podcast playing in the background.

She’d been unsure of what to wear, knowing she was going to somehow have to get to Jamie in a crowded pub and wanting to at least blend in so as to not rouse suspicion from the other partygoers. Rushed as she was, she’d grabbed the first dress out of her closet that looked even mildly appropriate and thrown it on. Now, as she sat in the parking lot of the pub, she tugged on the hemline, wondering if it sent the wrong message to Jamie. What if he thought she was here to show off instead of apologize? “Too late now, Beauchamp,” she muttered to herself. She’d spotted Jamie’s beat-up, old truck in the parking lot, so she knew she was in the right place. She took a deep breath as she got out of the car, walked up to the pub, and pushed open the door.

Deafening noise and the press of bodies almost forced her back outside, but she managed to hold her ground as the door closed behind her. The small space was packed with folks enjoying the beginning of their weekend, clearly happy to be letting off some steam. Despite the crowd, her eyes were immediately drawn to Jamie, partly because he was a full head taller than almost anyone else, but she also liked to think it was just a little bit because he was her soulmate, and she would always find him. He was chatting with another lad around his age, but even from across the room she could see that his smile didn’t fully reach his eyes. He was just as torn apart as she was.

A stab of guilt lanced through her heart at the knowledge that she had hurt him so much that he couldn’t even enjoy an event he’d been looking forward to for months. She had to make this right. Jamie’s friend made his way to the loo after a few minutes, leaving Jamie alone, staring at the wall behind the bar. Claire took a deep breath and excused her way through the throng of revelers. She tapped Jamie on the shoulder, her heart pounding out of her chest, and he turned around to look at her, his face only revealing a moment of shock before becoming unreadable.

“Hi,” she said, practically yelling to be heard over the crowd.

“Ye’re here.” A mere statement of fact, but not tinged with anger like she’d expected.

“Do you…want to go outside for a minute?” she asked. He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. A protective arm came around her to guide her out of the pub, and she teared up at his touch. Even in the midst of the most tumultuous time in their relationship, he looked out for her; he was her safeguard. Frank had never been that for her, always letting her fend for herself, even when she’d needed him most.

Claire immediately started to shiver when they got outside, whether from the cool, evening air or from nerves she wasn’t sure. “D’ye want to go up to my room?” Jamie asked, motioning to the inn next to the pub. “It’s a wee bit nippy to be standin’ out here to talk.”

Claire chose her words carefully. “As long as you’re comfortable with that. I don’t want to impose.”

“Ye came all the way here, Sassenach.” Jamie gave her a ghost of a smile. “The least I can do is hear ye out.” Claire nodded, secretly relieved. If he’d called her Sassenach, he couldn’t be too mad at her, right?

They made their way silently up to Jamie’s room at the inn. “I’m bunking wi’ Rupert,” he explained, indicating the two double beds, “but he willna be back ’til at least two in the morning. So we have time to talk.”

Claire swallowed, wringing her hands. She suddenly felt stupid for coming here, for interrupting Jamie’s time with his friends, for wearing this stupid dress, for thinking that she even deserved Jamie’s love at all. She couldn’t even meet his eyes. How was she supposed to explain herself?

“Claire.” Jamie’s voice interrupted her thought spiral. “Claire, look at me.” She finally did, a wave of comfort washing over her at the love she found in his eyes. He took her hands in his. “We’re going to talk through this, and get through this, together. Ye came all the way here for me. I’m no’ angry wi’ ye anymore, but I do think I deserve an explanation for what set ye off so suddenly the other night.”

“You do,” Claire sighed. “You absolutely do.”

Jamie sat down on the bed and looked at Claire expectantly. “Well?” he prompted.

Claire let out a shaky breath. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, it had nothing to do with you.”

“Frank,” Jamie muttered.

“Yes, Frank.” Claire paused, parsing her words carefully. “Jamie, I need you to understand this has no bearing on us or our relationship. You are the only man I love. But I did love Frank once, and he still has the ability to hurt me.”

“What did the bastard do this time?”

“I know it shouldn’t even matter to me because I’m literally doing the same thing to him, but…I found out Frank is cheating on me with one of his grad students.” Claire wiped the tears that had sprung to her eyes as she’d finally admitted it out loud. Even though she’d decided she was going to eventually leave Frank for Jamie, she’d still held onto some small hope that Frank actually cared about her. It was so contradictory and messy, but a part of her had hoped that maybe Frank was just incapable of being a good partner, that it wasn’t because of her. But since finding out about his infidelity, she’d figured out the passcode to his phone and read the text messages between him and his student. They sounded genuinely in love - much happier than she and Frank had ever been, even at their best. So it stood to reason that she was part of the problem in their marriage. Frank could be happy - just not with her.

“He left his phone at home the other night,” Claire continued, “and it just kept buzzing over and over with text messages. I finally got fed up with it and went to turn it off when I noticed the lock screen picture was Frank kissing another woman, one I’d seen before at his work functions. Sandy.”

Jamie’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Why would he have made that his background photo? Seems risky.”

“All I can think is that she must have done it without his knowing, and he hadn’t taken the time to change it back yet,” Claire reasoned. “Either way, he’s cheating on me. Which, like I said, shouldn’t even matter because I love you, not him. But somehow it still hurts. And I guess that’s why I was worried about Laoghaire. Because if Frank cheating on me feels like a dull ache…Jamie, if you cheated on me, it would feel like a sword stabbed right through my heart. I wouldn’t survive it.”

“Claire,” Jamie said, her name sounding like an oath coming from his lips. “I will never. Ever. Cheat on you. Frank is a scumbag who treated ye like garbage. I willna defend what we’re doing as right, but it is different. Ye’re leaving an abusive, horrible relationship. Maybe no’ in the right way, but ye had to leave him eventually. He has been nothin’ but awful to ye. Holdin’ ye back from yer dreams, leavin’ ye home by yourself and then criticizing everything ye did around the house. He was trying to break ye, mo ghraidh, and if ye hadn’t realized in time, he might have succeeded.”

Claire nodded and buried her face in Jamie’s chest as she cried some more. “How are you so good to me?” she asked after a time. “How can I tell you that I’m jealous of my husband’s mistress, and you manage to respond with exactly what I need to hear? How do you not hate me, Jamie?”

“Because I know your heart, Claire.” He placed their joined hands on her chest over her heart. “And I trust you with my own. He may think you’re his to abuse and neglect, but he doesn’t know that you’re mine. Mine to love and care for. Forever.”

“Forever,” she repeated.

Then

If Claire had felt foolish going to Jamie’s flat the first time to help his nephew, she didn’t even know what word to describe her feelings now as she prepared to go over a few weeks later. The easy conversation they’d had that evening had continued through frequent texting and even the occasional phone call during Claire’s breaks at work. The other nurses in the break room gave her knowing smiles, assuming she was enthusiastically chatting with her husband.

“Old Frank finally realize what he’s missin’ out on and reignite that fire between ye?” asked Geillis, one of Claire’s closest work friends one night.

Claire had just hung up from another phone call with Jamie, a telling grin on her face. “Oh,” she sputtered as her cheeks flushed red, “yes, something like that.”

“Well, I hope ye’re gettin’ some when ye get home tonight. Ye deserve it!” Geillis winked as Claire rolled her eyes before heading back to the nurse’s station. But she couldn’t help but think of what it would be like to “get some” as Geillis had put it. Only problem was, it wasn’t Frank’s mouth she imagined kissing, nor was it his body she longed to feel pinning her to the mattress.

Thus far Claire had still be able to dismiss the physical attraction she felt toward Jamie as just a silly crush. Their conversations never veered into anything beyond friendship territory, and one day it hit her that Jamie truly had become one of her best friends in the short time she had known him.

So tonight, just as friends, she was going to his flat to play video games. When Claire had outed herself as video game illiterate by asking over text whether Jamie was looking forward to playing Mario on his new PlayStation, he’d immediately sworn to give her an introductory course to the basics of gaming. They were starting with Mario Kart, which Claire could at least admit to having heard of in passing.

She wanted to avoid looking like she’d dressed for a date at all costs, so Claire put on her favorite pair of going-out appropriate leggings and an oversized university sweatshirt, courtesy of Frank. The sweatshirt had arrived in a welcome bag of goodies when he’d started at the university which he’d gone through in disgust. As if a dignified professor such as himself would ever be caught dead wearing a university sweatshirt or baseball cap. Claire had snatched the cozy sweatshirt out of the bin before Frank had had the chance to take the trash out, and it had become one of her favorite pieces of clothing, not least because of how much it annoyed Frank to see her wearing it.

And saw it he did as she poked her head into his study to let him know she was leaving. “I’m going to a friend’s house for a little while to watch a movie,” she lied. She’d reasoned bringing up the video games would only start a conversation she didn’t really want to have about what she chose to do with her time. A movie was also a silly way to pass an evening according to Frank, but he at least understood he was in the minority with that opinion.

“Yes, darling, have a lovely time with Geillis,” he replied, looking up from his book and giving her a compulsory smile. She didn’t bother to correct him as she eased the door shut, rolling her eyes at how much he didn’t pay attention to anything she said.

Frank’s ambivalence allowed Claire to easily push aside any feelings of guilt in her mind during her walk over to Jamie’s flat. They were just friends. And they were playing video games. And if it seemed like their relationship was veering into anything inappropriate, she could just cut off communication with him.

So why was her hand shaking as she lifted her finger to ring the bell for his flat?

She shook her head to clear it and pressed the buzzer. “Come on up, Sassenach,” Jamie’s friendly voice crackled over the speaker. Claire grinned in spite of herself, excited to finally be spending some quality time with her friend.

“Welcome to Video Games 101!” he greeted her as she entered the flat. He gave her a side hug that seemed completely natural, and she felt her body warm immediately next to his furnace-like heat.

“Thanks, Professor Fraser,” she gibed, toeing off her shoes at the door. “Is that pizza I smell?”

“Aye, ye canna have a game night without sustenance, Sassenach, and the nutrition gained from the unique blend of cheese, bread, and sauce canna be beat. That’s lesson number one.” Jamie held his hand out, motioning Claire to take a seat at his small kitchen table.

“Two pizzas?” she exclaimed as she sat down. “How much sustenance do you think we need?”

“No use being dainty about it. Eat yer fill now, lass. Once the gaming starts, we stop for nothing but loo and whisky breaks.” Jamie opened the first box and grabbed a slice, devouring it in just three bites, causing Claire to break out into laughter. “In actuality,” he explained as he wiped his mouth with a napkin, “I just didna ken if ye were a fan of pepperoni or cheese, so I got one of each.”

“Thank goodness!” Claire tore off a slice of her own and sprinkled it with parmesan cheese. “I might not have made it through the evening if I’d had to eat an entire pizza myself.” She took a bite and closed her eyes at the heavenly, greasy taste. “Mmmm, delicious. And for the record, I’m a plain cheese girl.”

“Good to know,” said Jamie, secretly thrilled that she seemed to be enjoying the dinner he had chosen for them.

They both ate probably a bit more pizza than they should have, and Claire excused herself to the loo while Jamie cleaned up. When she came back, he had his Switch powered up, the Mario Kart music playing softly in the background.

“A wee dram before we get started?” Jamie offered, pouring a glass of whisky.

“Are you trying to throw me off my game, Fraser?” Claire asked, though still accepting the whisky he offered.

“Nah, I dinna think ye have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating me at Mario Kart, Sassenach, with or without whisky. I’ve been playin’ it since I was a wee lad. The whisky is just to loosen ye up. Ye have to be willing to take risks to win, especially once we get to Rainbow Road.” Claire’s brow furrowed in confusion, but Jamie just toasted her with a “Slainte!” and they each downed their shot before sitting on the sofa.

Jamie explained the finer points of picking a character - he was always Bowser - and made sure Claire - aka Cat Peach - chose a vehicle with good handling to start out with. The first few races, Jamie easily lapped Claire and was amused to watch her struggle her way through her final lap, teeth gritted in concentration. But she caught on quickly, and after about an hour, she was finishing in the top five pretty consistently. She had no hope of beating Jamie, but when she did finally finish in second place on the Toad Harbour track, they high-fived before having another shot of whisky in celebration.

“All right, Sassenach, do ye think ye’re ready to tackle the dreaded Rainbow Road?” Jamie asked in a mock serious tone.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, professor,” Claire answered gamely.

“Now Rainbow Road is the most infamous track in all of Mario Kart,” Jamie warned. “No man, woman, or child has ever made it through on the first try without fallin’ off at least once, so dinna get frustrated when it happens to you.”

“Understood,” stated Claire, tightly gripping the controller in her hands. Jamie selected the track, and the preview of the twists and turns to come flashed across the screen. Claire’s heart pounded as the countdown to the start of the race began, and then they were off.

Jamie had just finished drifting around the second turn when Claire shot off the track for the first of many times over the next five or so minutes. As she fell further and further down the ranks, Claire’s cursing grew louder and more varied. When she fell off the track for about the twentieth time, flinging her hands and the controller in the air, Jamie could barely contain his laughter and almost lost control of Bowser in the final few meters before he crossed the finish line.

When Claire finally crossed the finish in a very far back twelfth place, she fell dramatically back against the sofa, her head landing on Jamie’s shoulder. They hadn’t noticed, but somewhere in the craziness of Rainbow Road, they had both migrated toward the center of the sofa, their thighs brushing against one another as they raced. Jamie’s arm now came around Claire’s shoulders and gave an apologetic squeeze as she leaned against his solid torso.

“I did warn ye, Sassenach,” he said by way of apology. God, her hair smelled good, and she felt so soft leaning up against him. It was almost like she’d been made to fit there.

She let out a shaky laugh. “You sure did.” She’d never felt more comfortable, more safe in anyone’s arms before. How was this so easy? So fun? And how did he smell so good? Like laundry detergent and pine-scented soap. She could stay like this forever, surrounded by this sweet, caring man.

She sat up abruptly, suddenly realizing she had let her mind go exactly where she’d sworn it wouldn’t, and he snatched his arm away from her quick as lightning. “I need to get home,” she stated.

“Aye…of course ye do. ’Tis later than I thought.” Claire was already up, putting her shoes back on by the door. “Can I walk ye home? I’d feel better if-”

“No, I’ll be fine. I’ll text you when I get there,” she promised. Jamie had gotten up as well and stood by the door to see Claire out. “Thank you for the pizza. I really did have so much fun.”

“If I did anything to make ye uncomfortable, Claire, I’m sorrier than ye know,” said Jamie, looking dejected.

Claire paused, not sure how to tell him that it was all her. She was the one who had made everything awkward by having this uncontrollable crush on him. “Jamie, no. Of course you didn’t. You’ve been nothing but a wonderful friend to me. It’s just-” She couldn’t continue. Even though she knew she should break this off here and now before she truly got herself in trouble, she couldn’t make herself say the words that would break her heart.

“I’ve just got an early morning at work tomorrow,” she explained, lightening her tone. “I promise I’ll text you when I get home. Maybe we can get coffee after one of your classes next week?” Not only had she been unable to end her friendship with Jamie, now she was actively making plans with him? What the hell was wrong with her?

But her words had the desired effect as the concerned look on Jamie’s face was replaced by one of his beautiful smiles. “Aye, that sounds braw, Sassenach. Just let me know the day and time, and I’ll be there.” She smiled back at him and gave him a quick hug goodbye before leaving his flat.

It didn’t seem to matter what she did, Claire Randall was completely under Jamie Fraser’s spell - and happy to be there.

Chapter Text

Then

Texts and phone calls continued on over the next month or so without any further incident. They had indeed gotten coffee later that week, and, although the meeting had begun somewhat awkwardly due to Claire’s residual nerves from the video game night, they had quickly relaxed into their usual, easy conversation. Jamie still seemed to have no inkling of Claire’s crush on him, and he continued to behave only as a friend would. Claire had decided that she would happily meet up with Jamie in public, but had to draw a line at hanging out with him at his flat. Continuing down that road was just too dangerous.

Claire had been called into work very early this morning, and had just gone on her first break at around 9:00 am. When she checked her emails, she got news that made her realize she absolutely had to see Jamie today, no matter what. She immediately texted him, hoping to catch him before his day got underway.

Claire: Jamie! Do you have any free time at all today to grab a coffee with me?

Jamie: Hm, today’s a tough one, Sassenach. I’ve got class all morning and then right into a shinty game with the lads in the afternoon.

Claire: Maybe after your game?

Jamie: You don’t need to be home for dinner with Frank?

Claire: Damn, you’re right. He is home early this evening. That’s all right. I’ll just see you next Thursday like we’d planned.

Jamie: I’m sorry. I can feel your disappointment even through my phone screen.

Claire: Don’t worry about it. Really. I’m good!

But she wasn’t good; Jamie knew it. As little time as he’d physically spent in her presence, he could still tell when things weren’t okay. He knew she’d never have asked to see him today if it wasn’t for a good reason, and he couldn’t bear to let her down. Some part of him knew that he should dial things back a little when it came to Claire. His mates all thought he was insane for spending so much of his time communicating with a married woman, but he just couldn’t seem to stay away.

When he’d asked for her phone number that day when she’d set his shoulder, he had intended on asking her for a date. He’d figured a thank-you coffee was a good way to start things out, but he’d wanted things to go further from there. Then he’d seen her wedding rings at the coffee shop and figured that would probably be the last time he would ever see her. But they’d had such a nice time with each other, he just couldn’t bring himself to let her slip away. And the more he’d gotten to know her, the further convinced he was that even if she was only ever just his friend, he was lucky to have her in his life.

So now he had to figure out a window of time in which to see her. Once Frank got off of work, usually around 5:00 pm, Claire would be off limits for the evening. Frank got testy if Claire spent too much time away from home when he was available to spend time with her. Jamie found it frustrating that Claire let him dictate her time like that, but it wasn’t his place to criticize her marriage. He couldn’t blow off class, but he could be late to the shinty game.

Jamie: Claire, what time is your last break today?

Claire: Probably around noon. Why?

Jamie: I’ll call you then.

Claire: Ok, sounds good!

Jamie then quickly sent a text in his shinty team group chat that he would be late to the game. The lads gave him a hard time, but he didn’t care. He had an extra spring in his step all morning, looking forward to surprising Claire.

Once his class ended, Jamie leapt from his seat and practically ran out the door to head to the hospital where Claire worked. It was about a twenty minute walk for the average person, but Jamie’s long strides shortened it to fifteen. It was once he walked in to the lobby of the hospital that he realized he had no idea what he was doing. He’d never been here before, and no one had any reason to believe that he knew Claire. Well, he’d come all this way, he figured. Might as well give it a try.

The receptionist greeted him with a friendly smile as he approached the counter. “How can I help ye?” she asked.

“This may seem like a strange request,” he began, “but I’m friends with one of the nurses here, Claire Randall.” He could tell immediately from the way her face changed, the receptionist was not going to give him the information he wanted, but he tried anyway. “I was hopin’ to surprise her by showing up here, but I understand if ye canna give me any information as to her whereabouts.”

“Ye’re correct, I’m afraid,” the receptionist stated. “I canna even tell ye if Nurse Randall is workin’ today, let alone take ye to her.”

“Aye, that’s what I figured. Thank ye anyway.” Jamie could just text her and tell her he was here, but it sort of took away from the element of surprise he had been going for.

He was on his way to sit on a bench and do just that when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Did ye say ye’re lookin’ for Nurse Randall?” asked a pretty, young nurse whose ID badge read “Geillis Duncan.” She appeared to be just arriving for the day as she had her purse slung across her body and a coat draped over her arm.

“Aye…” Jamie replied dubiously. “Do ye know her then?”

“Oh, aye.” A naughty look sparkled in Geillis’s eyes. “I can take ye to her if ye like.”

“Well, only if it wouldna get ye into trouble.”

“Oh, I dinna think I’m the one who’ll get into trouble from bein’ around you, fox cub.” Geillis winked at him and took his hand, practically dragging him behind her right past the receptionist’s desk without a moment’s hesitation. She guided him down several hallways to the point where he had completely lost track of how many lefts and rights they had made. His heart started pounding. What if Claire thought he was being too overbearing by coming to where she worked? Was this a stupid idea to begin with?

“Now stay here,” Geillis directed Jamie as she steered him into a room just big enough to hold a hospital-style sofa and a table with two chairs. She closed the door behind her, and Jamie pulled out a chair and sat down. He hoped to God no one came by and asked what he was doing here because he didn’t have a clue how he would answer.

After about five minutes of anxious waiting, the door reopened, and Claire was pushed into the room, looking very confused. “Jamie?” she asked as soon as she saw him. “What?”

Geillis winked at Jamie behind Claire’s back and mouthed, “Enjoy,” as she closed the door behind her.

“I think yer friend got the wrong impression from me comin’ to see ye. I’m sorry if that causes ye any trouble, Sassenach,” Jamie apologized.

Claire laughed. “Geillis would get the wrong impression even if the bloody queen came to visit me. Her mind is the filthiest I’ve ever known. But what are you doing here? Why aren’t you at your shinty game?”

“I could tell ye wanted to see me, and I didna want to let ye down. I want to be a good friend to ye, Claire.” Jamie wanted to say so much more - how she deserved to have someone in her life who would show up when she needed them, unlike her loser of a husband - but he managed to stop himself before he put his foot into his mouth.

“That’s really so sweet of you. And, well…I am glad you’re here.” A huge grin spread across Claire’s face, lighting up her golden eyes so they seemed to sparkle. She took a deep breath and said, “I got into medical school!”

Jamie stood at once and gave her a big hug, even picking her up off the floor in the process. “That’s wonderful news! I knew ye would get in, but still! I’m so happy for ye!”

“Thank you!” Claire took a step back out of the hug, but she didn’t seem bothered by it. “I had to tell you first because I never would have sent the application in without your encouragement.”

“Wow, I’m honored, Sassenach.” Jamie felt a warmth bloom through his body. Definitely only due to friendship. Nothing more. “So…does that mean ye havena told Frank yet?”

“Well, no.” Claire unconsciously fiddled with her wedding ring. “But I’m sure I can convince him to let me go. He does want what’s best for me.”

“Of course he does,” Jamie quickly agreed. “As do I and all of yer friends I’m sure.” Jamie reached out and took her hand between his as she looked up at him. “Medical school. Ye’re goin’ to medical school, Claire!”

Claire’s worry dissipated from her face as she smiled up at him. “I know!” she squealed. “I get to start taking classes this summer! It’s all so soon!”

Jamie dropped her hand and sat back down at the table. “Have a seat, then and tell me all about it.” And so she did. And Jamie missed his entire shinty game.

Now

After they had both calmed down a bit from the emotion of Claire’s apology and revelation about Frank’s mistress, Claire went into the bathroom to freshen up and wipe the tear stains from her face. When she came back into the room, Jamie noticed what she was wearing for the first time that evening.

“Did ye wear that just for me, Sassenach?” he teased. “Afraid I’d need a bit of convincing?”

She smoothed her hands over her very short, very low-cut black dress and sighed. “I honestly don’t know what compelled me to grab this out of my closet,” she admitted. “I just wanted something that wouldn’t look too out of place at a party so I could find you. I was desperate to find you.” Her lip started to quiver as the memory of the feelings of loneliness and desperation came flooding back to her.

“Hey,” he murmured, standing up from the bed and walking over to take her in his arms as her eyes filled with tears. “I’m right here, mo ghraidh. Ye found me.” She laid her head on his chest as he swayed back and forth in a silent slow dance.

They stood like that for a while, just being with each other, until finally Claire remembered that Jamie was supposed to be down at the stag do. “Oh, God! I’ve kept you from your friends for too long! I should leave so you can get back to the party.”

Claire started to head for the door until Jamie grabbed her hand, pulling her back toward him. “I just got you back, and now I have to watch you leave again?” He pressed his lips to hers, and she melted into him, appreciating the taste and feel of his mouth even more now that she had lived through thinking she would never have it again. He smoothed his hands down her back until he reached her arse, pulling her hips flush with his as they both instinctively began to move with and against one another, the pull too strong.

“Won’t Rupert know if we…” Claire breathed as Jamie began to kiss his way down her long, slender neck.

“I dinna care what Rupert thinks. I have to have ye, Claire.” Her dress had ridden up even higher as they’d ground against each other, revealing the black lace of her knickers. Jamie bunched the dress up above her hips and pulled the scrap of lace down her legs, kneeling down as he did so. She moaned as he nudged her legs apart so he could taste her.

She held a hand out to the wall for balance as Jamie thrust his tongue inside her, then swirled it around her clit, causing her legs to turn to jelly. He braced her hips with his hands as she moved against his mouth and tongue, and he gave her exactly what she needed from him until her orgasm hit her hard and fast.

He kept a hold on her as she came down from the high, and, once he’d stood up, picked her up and carried her over to his bed. She pulled her dress the rest of the way off, then lay there smiling up at him as he removed his shirt and trousers, but with a tinge of worry hidden behind her smile.

“What has ye bothered, my own?” Jamie asked once he’d lain beside her, his hand cupping the soft swell of her breast.

“I guess I’m just…waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she admitted.

Confusion etched into his brow. “What do ye mean?”

“Our fight. It was my fault. And I guess I just thought…” She trailed off, feeling embarrassed. Here they were, naked in bed together, about to have make-up sex, and she was somehow ruining this too.

He kissed her forehead, then laced their fingers together. “Claire. Did you think I would somehow…punish you? For having a disagreement with me?” She nodded, gripping his hand like a lifeline.

He lifted their hands to his lips and kissed her knuckles. Then kissed her face, mouth, neck, breasts, worked his way down her body, kissing, sucking, and nibbling every bit of her, healing her with his lips. She was panting, eyes hooded when he finally made his way back to her mouth to complete his journey.

“I don’t know what things were like for you before ye were with me, Claire, but I need you to know that I would never hurt you or withhold from you ever. No matter what. I want you to feel good with me. It makes me happy to bring you pleasure, to show you my love. When I say I’ve forgiven you for something, no matter how big or small, that’s it. It’s forgotten. There are no consequences or reparations to be made after the fact. I love you, Claire.”

Her eyes shone with tears as she pulled his head down to hers to kiss him again. She gave herself over to him then, let him show her what it was truly like to be loved, to be forgiven. He took his time, making damn sure she was sated before he chased his own release, spilling into her, breathing the same air as her, trying his best to merge them into one so she would feel him there with her even when he could not be.

They did eventually get out of bed at Claire’s insistence that Jamie get back to Ian’s stag do. Jamie knew he would regret it if he missed out on the whole evening, so he got dressed alongside Claire and ran his fingers through his hair to try to return it to a presentable state.

“I’ll text you when I get home,” Claire said by way of goodbye as she finished fastening her shoes.

She leaned down to give him a kiss where he sat on the edge of the bed tying his own shoes. “Claire, wait,” he said as she reached for the door handle to leave. She turned around expectantly, and it felt like his breath was stolen from his body. She was so beautiful in her little dress and heels, her hair still slightly mussed from sex with him. He just couldn’t let her go.

“Come wi’ me? To the party, I mean.”

She paused for a moment, trying to think of a reason to say no. Frank wasn’t expecting her back any time soon. She’d never met any of these people before, so they wouldn’t know she was married. She couldn’t come up with anything, so she just stood there, her mouth slightly open in shock.

“We dinna have to say ye’re my girlfriend. We can just pretend like we met tonight and hit it off. And we have the added bonus of being able to make out in front of Laoghaire before I have to take her as my date tomorrow.”

Claire looked skeptical. “Would you really make out with someone you had just met in a bar?”

Jamie took a step toward her and pulled her to him so they were once again only separated by their layers of clothes. “If I’d met you in a bar, Sassenach, ye’d better believe it.” Their mouths fused together in a sloppy kiss, just the sort one might take part in after a few drinks in a bar.

Claire was smiling when they broke apart. “Okay, random stranger. Let’s do it!”

Chapter Text

Then

The end of the spring semester was in sight, and both student and professor alike were busy preparing for finals. Frank had taken to sleeping on the sofa in his office a couple of nights a week, and Claire hadn’t even received a text from Jamie in days. Work was about all she had to keep herself occupied these days, so she picked up extra shifts and then collapsed into bed at whatever hour it happened to be when she got home.

She’d actually been dismissed from work early on this particular evening due to overstaffing, so she was enjoying a quiet night of reading and drinking tea. A cold front had come through as they’re bound to do in Scotland, and they were even expecting snow tonight, late in the season as it was. Claire could hear the wind whipping up and down the street as she attempted to focus on her book.

Any such focus was put to an abrupt end when the power suddenly shut off, leaving her in the dark. The warm flow of heat in the house also ceased as the electricity went out, and Claire sighed, realizing she was in for a long, boring, frigid night. She got up to put on a couple more layers of clothing in preparation for the house cooling off, then got into bed to scroll through her phone. She grew more frustrated, realizing her phone had only enough battery left to last for about an hour or so. She needed to find somewhere to go with electricity or she might just lose her mind with boredom.

She could go to Frank’s office. The university likely had backup generators if the power outage happened to extend to the buildings on campus. But she and Frank had been arguing more than ever recently, and she just didn’t have the energy to deal with trying to convince him that her goals and desires should matter just as much as his. Even if they didn’t end up fighting, the silence between them was colder than the house could ever be.

She could probably call Geillis and ask to stay with her. But it was always risky to call her for anything. Geillis worked hard, but partied harder, and she usually had her latest fling over on her free nights. Claire knew Geillis would never say no if she asked her for help, but she didn’t really feel like dealing with the awkwardness that might ensue.

That left Jamie. He really was the most logical choice, close as he was. But Claire had sworn to never go over to his flat alone again. Was the threat of slowly freezing to death in her own house enough to break her vow?

Claire: Hey, are you terribly busy with studying tonight?

Jamie: Oh, reasonably so. But I do need to take a break soon or my mind might turn to mush.

Claire: Feel free to say no because it really isn’t that big of a deal, but my power went out. I was wondering if I could come over for a bit just to warm up. I’ll just sit and quietly read my book if you need to study.

Jamie: Of course you can! You can stay in the spare bedroom for the night if you need to. I wouldn’t want you to freeze!

Claire: Ok, thanks so much! I’ll be over in about a half hour then. But if you change your mind, let me know. I promise I’ll be fine here if you’re too busy.

Jamie: See ya in a half hour!

Claire stood up and shivered, and not just from the cold. This was going to be fine. Staying in Jamie’s spare bedroom - which she frankly hadn’t even know he had - was a perfectly normal thing for a friend to do. But she couldn’t deny the thrill that went through her as she packed an overnight bag. An overnight bag to stay at Jamie’s. She hadn’t packed an overnight bag to stay at a man’s place in so long. And she knew she shouldn’t be feeling this level of excitement over it, but it was too late now.

The walk over to Jamie’s flat was a brutal one, wind and sleet stinging her face, but about half way over, the wind changed directions and was literally pushing her the rest of the way to Jamie’s building. A blast of warmth hit her as Jamie opened the door to let her in, and she sighed in relief.

“I cranked up the heat for ye, Sassenach. Figured ye’d need it.” Claire peeled off her outer layers while Jamie took her bag and placed it next to his futon which now had clean sheets and a blanket and pillow sitting atop it.

“Is that the ‘spare bedroom’?” Claire asked, pointing to the futon.

Jamie laughed. “Aye, it is. I ken it doesna look very comfortable, but I swear it is. Sometimes I come out here to sleep when my own bed feels hard as a board.”

“You don’t have to convince me. My alternative is sleeping on Frank’s sofa in his office. I’m sure the futon will be better than that. I really appreciate you letting me crash here.” Claire hung up her coat, grabbed her book out of her bag, then gingerly climbed onto the futon and wrapped herself in the blanket Jamie had provided. She glanced up at Jamie who’d been standing awkwardly in his own flat while she made herself at home.

“You can go back to studying. I told you I’d be able to entertain myself.” Just read your book until you fall asleep, Beauchamp, she said to herself. Nothing can happen if you’re sitting by yourself reading a book.

Jamie shrugged and went back to his kitchen table where he had several textbooks laid out. A pleasant but quiet hour was spent in this manner, interrupted only when Claire got up to get a glass of water. Jamie tried to get up to get it for her, but Claire pushed him back down into his chair, insisting she was capable of getting a glass of water by herself.

Finally at around 8:00 pm, Jamie stood, stretched, and sat down on the sofa next to Claire’s futon. “So, Sassenach,” he said, “tell me what ye’ve been up to these last couple weeks. We ken I’ve only had my nose buried in books, but you’ve been able to have a life. Have ye given yer notice at work yet so ye can start yer classes this summer?”

Claire closed her book and shifted nervously. She’d been afraid this would come up tonight, and she really didn’t want to have to give Jamie her bad news. But he would find out eventually. Might as well be now.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you-” she began before Jamie interrupted, her face giving away what she was about to confess.

“No, Claire,” he groaned. “Don’t tell me ye’re not goin’ because of Frank.” He spat the name out with disgust, holding nothing back about how he felt.

“Jamie, you don’t know him,” Claire stated defensively. “Frank’s an old-fashioned person, and I knew that when I married him. His job pays more, and it has to come first. If I was to go back to school, I’d never see him. And it’s not like I can ask him to find a more flexible job because his being a professor is what would allow me to be able to afford to go to school in the first place.” Claire had been telling herself all of these things since her last argument with Frank about the situation, but she hadn’t even been able to convince herself they were valid reasons, so she didn’t expect them to work on Jamie.

Jamie replied very carefully. “I dinna want to criticize yer marriage or husband, but as an outside observer and from what you yourself tell me, ye barely see Frank now as it is. He’s so wrapped up in his job, half the time ye’re home alone texting me for any sort of human connection outside of work.” Claire started to respond, but Jamie held up his hand. “Not to imply that I dinna want to be the one ye reach out to, but I just think…and don’t get mad at me for sayin’ it, but…I think Frank treats ye like more of a glorified cook and housekeeper than as a wife, an equal partner.”

Claire sat for a moment, rage bubbling inside of her at the idea that Jamie would say something like that to her. And then she thought back on the last few months, years, in fact, with Frank. They hadn’t been on a vacation together since the second year of their marriage. The most time she’d spent with her husband in one go in months had been at the Christmas party for the professors in the history department at the university. Other than that, she’d seen him for dinners here and there, always prepared by her. They had sex dutifully once or twice a month when she was ovulating just in case that might be the time she finally conceived, but otherwise they were like two ships passing in the night.

The rage slowly dissipated as Claire came to terms with the fact that everything Jamie had said was right - brutally, painfully right. And when that hit her, she collapsed onto the futon, sobbing uncontrollably. She felt so alone, her husband basically nonexistent, and now she knew her best friend thought her a fool for remaining in a joke of a marriage.

Then all of a sudden, the futon cushion sank slightly next to her, and warm arms were sitting her back up to wrap her in a hug. She clung to Jamie like her life depended on it, practically climbing into his lap as he soothed her.

“It’s all right, mo chridhe, cry as much as ye need to. I’m here,” he whispered as he stroked her hair. He continued to murmur to her in Gaelic, words unable to be understood by her brain, but that went straight to her heart, doing what they could to heal what had been broken.

She’d been crying for ten minutes or so when Claire finally pulled away and sat up to look into his face. She was still part of the way in his lap, and their faces were so close, all she could see were his eyes, so beautiful, blue and - she realized for the first time - full of love. Love for her. Love that she felt in return. She’d tried to deny it, tried to stay away, but it was just too strong.

She reached her hand up to touch his jaw, and he closed his eyes as she felt his softly-stubbled skin. “Claire,” he moaned. “Ye feel it too?”

Claire’s heart started to pound as the moment of decision loomed before her. It only took a moment of deliberation before she pushed Frank out of her mind, nodding tearfully as Jamie opened his eyes to look at her. “Since the very first day,” she whispered.

And then they were kissing, each one closing the gap equally for their lips to meet. Jamie opened his mouth, tracing the seam of her lips with his tongue until she opened up to him, breathed him in, and felt his tongue thrust into her mouth. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling herself closer to him, further onto his lap as his wide hand moved to rub across her back, rubbing circles lower and lower the longer they kissed while his other hand rested possessively on her thigh, gripping her softly.

They finally broke apart for air after what felt like hours, panting and breathless. As Claire came back to her senses, she realized she could feel Jamie’s hardness from her position on his lap, and she smiled at him, moving her hips just so to grind her own aching center against him. Jamie’s head fell back against the wall as she moved to straddle him to gain better access.

She chased his lips with her own, molding them together once again as she began to grind against him, her leggings allowing her to feel every bit of him his restrictive jeans would allow. He moaned into her mouth as she continued to move and grasped her hips, pressing her down onto his erection. “Do you want to take them off?” she asked boldly as she continued to roll her hips. He answered by reaching down to unbutton and unzip, then shimmied his jeans down to his knees, kicking them the rest of the way off.

Claire lowered herself now to his much more accessible cock, covered only by his boxers, and gasped as they made contact through their clothes. She could feel how large he was, inciting a powerful longing to take him inside her, feel him stretch and fill her. They both moved madly against one another, chasing their release until Jamie suddenly stilled her hips with his hands.

“I want to watch ye first, mo ghraidh,” he explained at her confused look, then lowered her back onto the futon. “May I?” he asked, tugging on the waistband of her leggings. She nodded and smiled, lifting her hips to aid him. She gasped as she felt the air hit her bare skin, realizing he had taken her knickers right along with the leggings, baring her to him entirely. “Is this all right?” he asked with concern.

“Yes,” she breathed. “I just haven’t had the chance to…I wasn’t expecting…”

“Claire, ye’re so beautiful.” He kissed her knees as he nudged them apart, ran his hands up her thighs, over the soft, almost invisible hairs that dusted them from days of not shaving. She sucked in a breath as he cupped her over the soft curls between her legs, then grasped the sheet with her fists as he swiped a finger up to her entrance.

“Sae wet, Claire,” he murmured, his accent gone so thick he rolled the r in her name. “Have ye always been this wet, this ready when ye’ve been near me, Sassenach?” He thrust a finger fully inside of her, exploring her depths for the first time.

“Yes, Jamie,” she groaned. “I’ve wanted you for so long.”

“Mo leannan,” he said as he slid up alongside her to kiss her swollen lips, never stopping his finger’s exploration of her. She panted into his mouth as he finally moved his exploration to her apex, to the place that had been throbbing with need this whole time.

“Mmmm,” she mumbled as he began circling her clit, pressing and sliding his finger over and over, aided by the slickness of her arousal. He pulled back from her mouth, hovering over her as her brows furrowed, as she sucked in air, eyes shut and mouth open. He gazed upon her, memorizing the way her face changed the instant her orgasm hit her, how she bit her lip, seemed to stop breathing altogether, her entire body arching off the futon, her hand reaching to grasp his t-shirt as the fire he’d stoked within her burned bright and hot.

He thrust his finger in to feel her walls clenching around it, his cock hardening anew, desperate to be gripped in the same way. When she finally opened her eyes, she pulled his face down to hers, this time invading his mouth with her tongue in an imitation, a question posed without speaking for him to come to her, make love to her like she’d been dreaming of for months now.

He pushed her shirt up as they kissed, moved his hands under the elastic band of her sports bra and rubbed his thumbs over her nipples until they stood as hardened peaks, and she cried out, overwhelmed by sensation. “I want to look at you,” she commanded, sitting up to pull off the rest of her clothes. He stood for a moment to remove his boxers and t-shirt, finally revealing his impressive size that she had felt earlier through their clothes.

“You’re perfect, Jamie,” she said, awed as her eyes raked over his form.

“Are ye sure, Claire?” he asked while he still standing away from her. He knew if he waited any longer to ask or moved any closer to her beautiful, naked form, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. “If we do this, I dinna think we can ever go back to the way it was before.”

Claire nodded. “I don’t want it to be like it was before. I just want you. I’m sure.”

And with that, Jamie walked over to the table by the door where his wallet was, grabbed a condom and rolled it on before joining Claire back on the futon. He hovered over her for a moment, their bodies just barely grazing as he kissed her, slow and sweet. She spread her legs and lifted her hips until the tip of him was just grazing her folds. Then she reached around and grabbed his arse to pull him into her at the same time as he moved forward to sheathe himself deep within.

They both gasped, still for just a moment to catch up with the emotional impact of finally coming together. Then as one they began to move, slow at first, but quickly ramping up into a frenzy of motion. Claire cried out with every thrust, unable to remember a time when she’d ever felt this good, this complete. Jamie kissed her, almost bruising her already swollen lips all while he came into her over, over, and over again. She was so close, finally reaching down between them to ensure her completion, and within seconds she cried out as her body shuddered with the most intense wave of pleasure she’d ever felt. Jamie held on hardly a moment longer, stilling within her as he came, her body gripping and releasing his cock just as it had earlier with his finger.

He pulled out of her after a moment and quickly disposed of the used condom, then rolled to lay beside her on the very edge of the futon while they both took in the enormity of what had just happened between them. Claire shifted to her side and kissed him softly, playing with the hairs on his well-defined chest. “Did that really just happen?” she asked.

“Aye,” he breathed, kissing her again. “Ye have no idea how much I’ve wanted this, wanted you.”

“Tell me. Tell me when you knew.” Claire snuggled into his side, moved her leg on top of his, then kissed his shoulder as he put an arm around her and traced circles on her back.

“I suppose I was in too much pain at the verra beginning,” he recalled. “But once ye’d set my arm, and I looked into yer eyes, I realized how beautiful this mysterious nurse was who’d just appeared as if ye were sent there just for me, just in the moment I needed ye. And then as quickly as ye’d arrived, ye were putting yer coat back on and leaving me. And once ye turned around to walk away, I saw yer bonny, round arse in those tight jeans.” He reached his hand down to squeeze said arse as she squealed with surprise. “I couldna stop staring at ye. The lads all knew I was a goner. I couldna let ye just walk away from me without at least tryin’ to get yer number. I was more shocked than anythin’ when ye actually gave it to me.”

“I knew it!” Claire stated triumphantly. “I knew you weren’t just asking me to coffee because you wanted to thank me.”

“Nah, more like because I wanted to fuck ye, Sassenach.”

“Jamie!”

“Weel, ye did ask.” He turned to kiss her nose, then her mouth. “It’s much more than that now, Claire. Ye ken that, aye?”

“For me too,” she confirmed, tilting her head up for another kiss. And then it started all over again, the passion between them building toward an inevitable crescendo.

“Claire,” Jamie interrupted, gasping for air. “Can we no’ do this in my bed this time instead of in the spare bedroom? I dinna think the futon can take much more.”

“Yes, Jamie, take me to your bed.”

So he did.

Now

“Jamie!” Claire squealed, slapping the hand that had just snuck up under her dress to pinch her arse.

“Yer bum in this dress, Claire,” he murmured in her ear. “It’s just sae full and round - and barely covered. I canna keep my hands from ye.”

“Well, you’re going to have to, Fraser, unless you want to do quite a lot of explaining in the morning to all the people who think we literally just met.”

Jamie and Claire had come down from his room together, but Claire had sat in her car for fifteen minutes or so before going back into the bar. That way it wouldn’t look like they had arrived together. No one seemed to have noticed her quick entrance and exit from before, and Jamie had been able to explain away his absence as a bad reaction to the fish and chips he’d had earlier in the day.

The majority of the revelers were now well past drunk and on their way to being pissed, so none of them paid much attention to the fact that Jamie was chatting up a never-before-seen brunette at the bar. They both felt a rush at being able to flirt and be together in public. Almost all of their interactions since becoming…whatever it was they were, had taken place in Jamie’s tiny flat. They couldn’t risk being seen together around the university too much lest it get back to Frank. But here, they could laugh together, whisper in one another’s ear, and even occasionally lay a hand on a knee.

Jamie had been able to behave himself up until now, but he had lost track of how many whisky shots he’d downed at this point, and he was feeling reckless - and possessive. Something about being with her in public made him want to lay claim to her, to show the world she was his. Maybe it was the looks she’d been getting from other men in the bar all night. Maybe it was that sinfully short dress she was wearing. Or maybe it was just that he was drunk. Either way, his self-imposed barriers were coming down quickly, and he was feeling impulsive.

“I’ll be right back, Sassenach,” said Jamie. “Quick trip to the loo.” Claire nodded and kissed his cheek.

“I’ll be right here,” she replied, grinning. She leaned back against the bar, appreciating the view of Jamie’s backside as he moved through the crowd. She couldn’t believe they were actually here together. She’d been nervous as hell at first, but after a drink or two, they’d both loosened up and started to have fun with one another. This was so much better than Frank’s stodgy academic parties. This was the life she craved, being by Jamie’s side with his loud and boisterous family and friends. She hoped she’d get to know them better soon, that they’d be preparing for her and Jamie’s wedding in a couple of years. Claire Fraser had a nice ring to it.

She was so busy daydreaming about her wedding, she didn’t even notice the big, burly Scotsman who’d sidled up to her. “I’m Michael,” he said by way of a greeting. “What’s yer name, lass?”

He reeked of alcohol and cigarette smoke, both of which she could smell because of how close he’d gotten to her face when he’d spoken. “Sorry, I’m here with someone,” she tried, hoping that would get him to leave her alone. No such luck.

“I dinna see anyone around.” He searched exaggeratedly, then shrugged. “Looks like it’s his loss.”

“Not interested,” she stated bluntly as she turned on the barstool to face away from him. A shiver ran down her spine as she felt his hands on her shoulders, starting to give her a very unwanted massage.

“Ye just need to relax, lassie. I can help ye wi’ that if yer man isna able to properly care for-” Michael’s creepy hands were suddenly off her shoulders as Jamie had torn through the bar to push him, hard enough that he fell to the ground.

“I’ll thank ye to keep yer hands off my lass!” Jamie roared as Michael scrambled backwards, crab-like away from him.

“Aye, aye, whatever ye say.” Michael heaved himself up using the wall as support and slunk out of the bar back to whatever hole he had crawled out of.

“Thanks for th-” Claire started to say, but before she could finish, Jamie was upon her, pressing her back into the bar, his tongue in her mouth. She was just tipsy enough to allow the public display of affection, and she pressed herself back against him and tangled her hands in his curls.

He was properly drunk, the taste of whisky on his tongue, and she lapped it up like she was dying of thirst. Her legs fell open to allow him to stand between them, the barstool at just the right height for her to be able to grind against the bulge of his straining cock, now very present between her legs. She was grateful they were in the darkest corner at the end of the bar and hoped that would be enough to shield their more lewd activity from the rest of the room.

“Does it ever stop, Claire?” Jamie asked as she nibbled on his ear. “The wanting ye. Does it ever stop?”

“I don’t know,” she breathed, reaching her hands down into the back pockets of his jeans, pulling his hips even closer to her own.

“I just had my cock inside ye not even two hours ago, and I already feel like I’ll die if I canna have ye again.”

“Oh, God,” she moaned as he hit just the right spot between her legs. Her knickers were soaked, and her whole body was throbbing with need. She thought she might come right here and now if she could just-

“Jamie!” someone shouted from across the bar, and they jolted apart, Claire hastily fixing her dress to return to a state of decency while Jamie discreetly adjusted his pants.

“Jamie, mate!” Ian called again as he came up to greet his best friend who would have been easily identified as flustered by anyone not three sheets to the wind as Ian appeared to be. “Who’s this lovely lass ye’ve been botherin’ all night, eh?”

“I’m Claire,” she introduced herself, holding out a hand to shake Ian’s. She thought Jamie might need a moment to regain his composure.

“Clairrre,” he slurred, taking her hand and planting a sloppy kiss on the back of it.

“Hey!” Jamie yelled as he pulled Claire’s hand back from Ian’s grasp. “Ye’re marryin’ my sister tomorrow! Maybe dinna be kissin’ lassies’ hands the night before!” He didn’t let go of her hand, instead lacing their fingers together and settling their joined hands on her thigh.

“I’m gettin’ married tomorrow!” Ian suddenly shouted to the crowd at large who all whooped and hollered in celebration. Claire laughed, fully enjoying being the only slightly-sober person left in the bar.

“Congratulations!” she offered, lifting her glass to toast Ian before taking a sip. Claire’s amused grin shifted to a look of concerned surprise as Ian’s eyes began to well up.

“Jenny,” he sobbed before downing the rest of whatever liquid was currently in his glass.

“Oh, Dhia,” Jamie groaned. “He’s an emotional drunk,” he explained to Claire before dropping her hand to pat Ian on the back.

“She’s so bonnie, Jamie. I dinna deserve her,” Ian clarified, tears streaming down his face.

“Buck up, man. Too late for all that now. Ye may no’ deserve her, but she and Wee Jamie are stuck wi’ ye for good.”

“Is that really helping, Jamie?” Claire chided as Ian began to sob even harder.

“And she gave me a son!” Ian wailed. “I dinna deserve her!”

“All right, man, how about Claire and I get ye up to yer room?” Jamie offered. Ian nodded, still audibly crying, as Jamie got under his arm to support him as they made their way out of the bar. Claire hopped down from the stool and cleared a path for Jamie to get Ian through the crowd.

A blast of cold, sobering air hit Claire as she opened the door to the parking lot, the sight of her car bringing her out of the fantasy world she had been living in with Jamie for the past few hours and back into reality. Jamie seemed to have been hit with the same dose of reality and deposited the weeping Ian on a bench for a moment to say goodbye to Claire.

“I guess I should be going,” Claire said, resigned to the fact but still sad to have to leave.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, pulling her into a hug. “Ye ken I dinna want ye to.”

“I know.” Her voice was muffled in his jacket. “I had a lot of fun tonight,” she said as he released her. “Well, after all of the…you know.”

“I take yer meaning, Sassenach.” Jamie kissed the top of her head. “I’m really, really glad ye came here tonight. Not only because we were able to talk through everything, but also…it was really nice to just have my girlfriend wi’ me at a party. Not that I wish to make ye feel guilty or anythin’,” he rushed to say.

“I know. It was nice for me too.” Claire kicked a pebble in the parking lot, stalling having to leave.

“Ye’re sure ye’re sober enough to drive home?” Jamie asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I didn’t have nearly as much as you did, and I had a lot of water along with what I did have. I’ll still text you when I get home.”

“All right, then. Drive safe.”

“I will.” Claire stood on her tiptoes to give Jamie one last kiss before she left. He couldn’t resist pulling her body to him, opening his mouth to hers to tangle their tongues with a kiss that warmed her right to her bones.

“God, I love you, Sassenach.”

“I love you too.” She gave him one last peck before motioning to Ian. “Now you’d better get this mess up to his room so he can get some sleep before tomorrow.”

“Aye, I’ll see him safe. Good night, Claire.”

“Night,” she replied, walking towards her car.

“Oh, and, Claire!” Jamie called as she was getting into her car. “Did ye notice Laoghaire left the pub about an hour ago?” Claire shook her head. “She was glued to Rupert’s side! Look’s like I’ll be bunking wi’ Ian tonight and going solo to the wedding tomorrow!”

Claire grinned in spite of herself as she closed the car door. Not that she was concerned about Jamie cheating on her anymore, but still. It was nice to know she had one less thing to worry about.

Chapter Text

Then

Unfortunately for Jamie and Claire, their timing could not have been worse. After their first night together, Jamie simply had no time to spare for anything other than studying for his finals and writing his papers that were due at the end of the semester. He and Claire met up for lunch one afternoon, but talking about their situation seemed inappropriate for a public setting. Besides, they had no way of knowing who might overhear them and whether or not what they said might get back to Frank. So they kept the conversation casual, mostly talking about Jamie’s exams and Claire’s work. Claire was grateful that Jamie never brought up the subject of med school either as she still hadn’t decided what she was going to do about Frank all but forbidding her to go.

With Claire having most of her time outside of work free, she was having a hard time distracting herself when all she wanted to do was run to Jamie’s flat and jump him. Sex with Jamie had reawakened a long-dormant side of her, and she suddenly felt once again like she had in her early twenties. Claire had never been ashamed of her sexuality, and connecting physically with her partner had always been very important to her. She’d had that once with Frank, but once sex became about having a baby - one that had sadly failed to ever arrive - it had slowly become like more of a chore than the fun, spontaneous activity it had once been. Now it was all but scheduled for them, and Claire imagined if things had kept going down the road they were on, it would have become nonexistent very soon.

Now however she felt insatiable. She daydreamed about Jamie when she drove to work each day, on her breaks, at night when she was trying to read, basically whenever her mind was unoccupied with work, Jamie was there. On one of Frank’s regular late nights at work, she was lying on the sofa in the living room trying to read when her mind stopped comprehending the words in front of her and focused in on Jamie. All it took was the mention of a character with red hair, and she could feel his soft curls between her fingers. That then led to her remembering the smattering of copper hairs across his chest, and she remembered running her hands across the hard planes of it, down to his stomach, then further down to the other mass of auburn hair between his legs. She remembered how his large cock had jutted out towards her, his desire for her strong and evident.

She closed her book and sighed, lying back into the throw pillows at the end of the sofa and reaching her hand down to lift the hem of her nightgown, slipping her fingers below the waistband of her knickers. She shut her eyes, remembering how it had felt to be touched by Jamie. How his fingers had known just how to press and circle to make her squirm. She moved her own hand in imitation of his, but it paled in comparison. Still, it wasn’t bad, and it helped to relieve the almost constant ache she felt between her legs.

She spread her legs wide, picking up the pace with her hand. She moved two fingers to her entrance, wishing Jamie was here instead, that it was his cock teasing her, about to plunge into her. A whimper left her lips as she got closer and closer to orgasm. She was so close. Then the press of lips on her mouth startled her into opening her eyes, her hand stilling. For a moment she absurdly expected Jamie to be the one looking down on her, but instead it was Frank.

“Frank!” she gasped, surprised and a little embarrassed. He’d never walked in on her pleasuring herself before.

“I came home early, darling,” he said in a husky tone as he loosened his tie. “Looks like it’s a good thing I did.

He lowered himself to kiss her again, this time clearly implying that he wanted her. She kissed him back, unable to come up with any good reason to put a stop to his attentions. She couldn’t claim she wasn’t in the mood since every shred of evidence proved otherwise. And this certainly didn’t seem like an appropriate time to tell Frank she was planning on leaving him, so she’d just have to lie back and think of England.

Frank didn’t linger afterwards - he wasn’t exactly what one would call a cuddler - and Claire went upstairs to shower and get ready for bed. Fucking Frank had at least taken the edge off enough that she was now able to concentrate on reading, which she did for the next hour or so. She was just about to close her book and turn off the bedroom light to go to sleep when Frank peered around the doorjamb.

“Sorry to interrupt, darling.”

“No bother, Frank. What is it?”

He came over and sat down on the edge of the bed next to her, taking her hand in his. “I’ve been thinking. I’m afraid I’ve been rather awful to you these past few weeks, and I wanted to apologize.”

“Thank you,” she replied sincerely. “I’m sorry too. I’m sure I said some horrible things to you as well.”

“Well, I might have deserved them this time,” Frank admitted. He rubbed his thumb over the soft skin on the back of her hand. “Other than offering my apology, I wanted to say that I’ve thought a good deal on it, and I think you should go to medical school.”

“Really?” Claire asked, incredulous.

“Yes, darling, if it’s what you really want, then I want it for you too.” He kissed the back of her hand, then let go. “I’ll let you get your sleep.”

“Thank you, Frank,” Claire said, tears in her eyes. “I just - thank you.”

“Good night, darling,” he said, then left to return to his study.

Claire turned off the light next to the bed, then immediately pulled out her phone.

Claire: Jamie, are you still up?

Jamie: Aye, Sassenach. Everything all right?

Claire: More than all right! Frank is ok with me going to med school!

Jamie: WHAT?! Sassenach, that’s brilliant! What changed his mind?

Claire couldn’t very well tell him the real reason - that a good shag can apparently work wonders on toxic masculinity.

Claire: I guess he just reconsidered? What does it matter anyway? I’m going to med school!

Jamie: I swear we’ll celebrate as soon as I’m finished with this bloody semester.

Claire: It’s ok! I know you’re happy for me. Omg I have so much to do now! Can’t wait to see you though! Three more days and you’re done!

Jamie: Aye, can’t wait!

Now

What with one thing and another, Claire didn’t have the chance to see Jamie again until about three weeks after the wedding.

“It was beautiful, Sassenach. My da cried the whole way down the aisle, and Wee Jamie stole the show comin’ down carryin’ the rings. I’ve never seen my sister that happy in my whole life,” Jamie gushed.

“I’m so glad everything went well,” Claire said. She and Jamie were sitting on his sofa, her feet in his lap as she reclined against a throw pillow.

“I couldna help but think…maybe it’s daft, but I just kept thinkin’ about how you’ll look at our wedding, mo chridhe.”

Claire’s entire body tensed. She both loved and hated when he talked about their future like this. She knew if it was up to Jamie, she’d have left Frank months ago. And she did want a divorce from Frank. But it wasn’t that simple. She didn’t want to be a burden on Jamie when he was just starting out in his career. She didn’t want him to feel the pressure to take the first teaching job that came along just so they could pay for her medical school. Sneaking around behind Frank’s back filled her with guilt, even though she now knew he was doing the same thing to her. And the fun they’d had at Ian’s stag do had only intensified her desire to be out in the open with her and Jamie’s relationship. But she just couldn’t figure how she could both be with him and become a doctor. It very much seemed like an either/or situation, and she didn’t want to choose.

“I’ve been thinking about something, Jamie,” Claire said, sitting up. “I loved our night out at the pub and how much fun we had. I really want to get to know your family, and I was thinking maybe we could take that step.”

“Oh, aye?” Jamie asked, face full of hope.

“Yeah, I mean, I met Ian and the world didn’t end. Not that he necessarily remembers me or anything, but what if I was able to come up with an excuse to go away for a weekend, and we went to meet your dad and Jenny?” Claire had been thinking about this ever since the pub night. If they just didn’t tell his family she was married, maybe they would simply never find out. People kept secrets for their whole lives sometimes. Maybe they’d never have to know about her first marriage.

“Ye mean ye want to meet my family as my girlfriend while ye’re still married to Frank?” Jamie asked, his voice carefully even.

“Would it be so bad?”

“Weel, think of this scenario. Jenny meets ye and thinks ye’re wonderful, perfect for me, aye? And then she thinks mebbe she’ll find ye on Facebook. And yer profile picture is you and another man. What do ye suppose she’d think?”

Claire swallowed. This was not going at all the way she’d hoped it would. “You’re right,” she relented, her voice small. “It was a silly idea.” Claire swung her feet off of Jamie’s lap and onto the floor, feeling like a foolish child.

“Claire, I hate to do this again when we just got past our last fight, but I’ve been thinkin’ on the night at the pub too. I dinna wish to start a row wi’ ye, but I have to be honest. I want to bring ye to things like that again. I dinna want to go to another wedding without ye as my plus one. I love you, Claire, like I’ve never loved anyone before, and I want a life with you. I graduate in two months. How am I supposed to make any decisions about what I want to do next without you by my side. I want to do these things with ye, Claire, but ye won’t let me.” Jamie sighed deeply, both relieved to have told the truth and terrified at what would come next.

Claire had been sitting with her head in her hands, her curls shielding her face from Jamie. She turned to look at him and saw tears in his eyes. “We don’t have the money, Jamie,” she said sadly. “I have three more years of medical school still to go, and I don’t even have a job anymore. How would we ever afford it?”

“I dinna ken, Claire, but I dinna care!” Jamie responded, his voice raising in volume. “We’ll bloody figure something out! Why do ye trust Frank, the man who cheats on ye and mistreats ye, to take care of ye, yet ye don’t trust me? I love ye, Claire! I swear I’ll do whatever it takes to get ye through school.”

“But I don’t want to put that burden on you,” Claire argued back. “I want you to be able to take your dream job when you finish school, even if that means you don’t get paid well at first, or ever.”

“What would ye say if I told ye I already got offered a job?” Jamie asked.

“You did?” Claire’s frustration dissipated as excitement for Jamie took over. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s in North Carolina, in America,” Jamie stated flatly.

“What?”

Jamie had been holding this in for weeks now. He’d found out the morning of Ian’s stag do and hadn’t had a chance to tell Claire yet. “Aye, one of my professors kens a professor who moved there. She’s goin’ on medical leave for a while. Some kind of back surgery that’ll take a long time to recover from. My professor recommended me to be her replacement while she’s gone, and for some crazy reason the university agreed and offered me the position.”

Claire stared open-mouthed and speechless.

“It’s only for the year, ye ken, but the school has a good medical program for you, and I’m sure I’d be able to find work somewhere once the year is up. It’s an unbelievable opportunity, Claire. I dinna want to pass it up. But I also want to make this decision together. If we decide it’s best for me not to take it, I won’t, but I also dinna want to stay here unless I can be with you, really be with you. No more secrets and lies.”

“So, to get this straight, if I don’t leave Frank, you’re going to America without me?” Claire asked. She’d gone pale, her hands were sweaty, and she felt like she was going to be sick.

“I havena fully decided, but…aye, I’d say that’s likely what would happen.”

“So it’s an ultimatum.”

“I didna say that.”

“So then, what, we’ll be long distance? How would that ever work, Jamie?”

“It wouldn’t!” Jamie was so frustrated he wanted to scream. Why wouldn’t she just choose him? Trust that they could do this together?

She stood up from the sofa and paced the tiny living room. “So then it is an ultimatum! I leave Frank or you leave me? What else would you call that?”

“I call it askin’ the woman I love to be with me! Only me! Why is that so difficult for ye to do, Claire?”

Claire threw up her hands in frustration. “I don’t know, Jamie, I’m just - oh, God!” she clapped her hand over her mouth and ran for the toilet. The waves of nausea that had been hitting her since their argument began were no longer able to be ignored, and Claire made it just in time. Jamie ran in after her, gathering the unruly curls he loved so much at the back of her neck to keep them out of her way. She retched a couple of times, then flushed the toilet and stood at the sink, using her cupped hand to rinse the foul taste from her mouth.

Jamie rubbed her back as she stood grasping the sink, her whole body shaking. “Let’s no’ argue any more tonight, Sassenach. Ye’re not well. Let me get ye into bed.”

Claire shook her head. “I should go home. If I have some sort of bug or flu, I don’t want to give it to you.”

“Can I at least call an Uber to take ye home so I ken ye get there safe?”

She nodded, then suddenly turned and wrapped her arms around Jamie like she was sinking and he was the only life raft within miles. “I love you,” she said as he brought his arms around to hold her. He didn’t say anything for a moment, terrifying her that he couldn’t bring himself to say it back. “I love you,” she repeated, close to tears, praying she would hear him echo the words.

Finally he said, “And I, you.” He let go of her to get his phone so he could call the Uber. They sat in silence until the car came, then he walked her outside and closed the car door after she got in. As she watched him turn to go back into his building, Claire realized that for the first time since she’d met Jamie - she wasn’t sure that love would be enough.

Chapter Text

Then

The semester finally ended with Jamie passing all of his exams and getting top marks on his papers. He had exactly one free evening before he was due to return to Lallybroch to help Jenny and Ian on the farm for the summer. Wee Jamie’s birthday was the next day, otherwise he might have booked a hotel for a few nights alone with Claire, but he knew it would break his nephew’s heart if his Unkie Jamie wasn’t there on his third birthday. He’d spent the last few hours packing up his flat for the summer, and was just about to take a shower in preparation for his evening in with Claire when his phone buzzed in his pocket.

Claire: You’re going to kill me.

Jamie: What?

Claire: Geillis surprised me with a night out with everyone from work to celebrate my going to med school.

Jamie: Please tell me this night out is tomorrow, or the next day, or literally any other bloody day than today.

Claire: It’s today.

Jamie: Noooooooooooooooooooo

Claire: I’m so so so so so sorry

Jamie: My cock is going to snap off, Sassenach.

Claire: Believe me, I’m not in much better shape than you are.

Jamie: But when will I see you again? I don’t know if I’ll have time to come all the way back here from Lallybroch for weeks!

Claire: I’m so so sorry. I don’t know what to say.

Jamie: I know. You didn’t ask for this. I’m just really really really disappointed.

Claire: I promise I’ll make it up to you next time we’re together.

Jamie: For now, it’s just me, myself, and I.

Claire: Pics or it didn’t happen!

Jamie: You first!

Claire didn’t respond, her break likely having ended, but just the thought of scandalous pictures of Claire did enough for Jamie that he was able to take care of his rather sizable problem in the shower.

Pictures were eventually exchanged as the weeks apart began to wear on them. Claire started medical school which provided a welcome distraction, and Jamie figured if he just completely wore himself out working on the farm every day, he’d be too tired to spend time missing Claire at night.

Finally one evening about three and a half weeks after the end of the semester, they decided they had to see each other in person or they’d combust with sexual frustration.

Jamie: We can’t use my flat anymore. Someone’s subletting it for the summer.

Claire: Well we obviously can’t use my house.

Jamie: We could get a hotel?

Claire: I looked already. Everything that’s reasonably priced is booked. I don’t have a job anymore, so I can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds on a hotel for a couple of hours.

Jamie: Well we both know I don’t have that kind of money either. What the hell are we going to do?

Claire: Ok, I know how this is going to sound, but your truck has a pretty wide bench seat, right?

Jamie: Dhia, are we really resorting to this?

Claire: The parking lot where Frank normally parks is abandoned in the summer. It’s really far away from any of the offices, so everyone hates it, and since the university is basically a ghost town in the summer, they’re allowed to park closer. It’s always empty. Plus you need a key card to access it. I could swipe Frank’s. He’d never know. And it’s pretty shady as well with lots of trees. Wouldn’t be too bad.

Jamie: I swear, one day I am going to get you alone, naked, and we will have the biggest bed in the entire world. I have a plan for that day, Sassenach.

Claire: Sounds heavenly. But until then…parking lot?

Jamie: Parking lot it is.

Claire: I’ll send you the directions. See you tomorrow at 15:00.

Jamie: Canna wait.

Claire was literally shivering with anticipation as she drove through the deserted university streets to get to the parking lot. She knew it was ridiculous that Jamie was driving here just so they could spend two or three hours together, but she also didn’t care. Her classes were great so far but incredibly stressful, and she needed to see Jamie. She knew he would be able to encourage her in person like he couldn’t over the phone. And more importantly, she needed to be fucked. They had spent months building up to the night where they finally gave over to their feelings, yet had been unable to act on those feelings since then. One night with Jamie would never be enough. She craved more.

She got to the parking lot a half hour early just to make sure Frank’s key card still worked. She tapped it to the reader, and, sure enough, the arm raised, and she was in. The day was thankfully quite cool - thank you, Scotland - so they should be fine in the shade with the windows cracked. She pulled her car into a space under a large tree and waited.

Luckily Jamie was only about five minutes behind her. She got out of her car when she saw his truck drive up and hopped into the passenger seat to hand him the key card. The arm went back up, he drove to the spot on the other side of her car, then he cut off the ignition.

“Hi,” she said, turning to look at him. His eyes could only be described as wild - lust-filled, pupils blown wide - and the second she saw the way he looked at her, she pounced on him, sealing her mouth to his. He was ready for her, catching her as she practically fell into him and lifting her onto his lap as he slid over to the passenger side away from the steering wheel.

He moaned as she settled onto his lap, straddling him and pressing her soft breasts into his chest. He slid his hands between them to cup her breasts, running his fingers over her nipples that were already pushing against the fabric of the soft dress she wore. God, she hadn’t even worn a bra. Their tongues were dancing throughout, but she hadn’t begun to move her hips against him yet, hoping to at least make this last for a little while.

Her hands stayed tangled in his curls while his kept exploring as they continued to kiss each other madly. He moved down to her thighs, bunching her dress up above her hips to find out if she’d worn knickers or not. She had done, and he wondered dimly if she’d worn them just so he could feel how soaked they were from her arousal. She was more than ready it seemed, and he wasn’t planning to make her wait much longer.

“Let me look at ye for a moment, Sassenach,” he finally said as they paused their kissing for a moment, both panting for air. He smoothed her hair back from her face and tucked it behind her ear. He wondered if she knew how much he loved it when she wore it down and loose as she had today. He traced the lines of her face with his finger, calloused from the physical labor he’d been doing around the farm the past few weeks. Her golden eyes seemed to bore right through him as she stared into his blue ones. God must have made this woman just for him - his whisky-eyed Sassenach.

“I could look upon yer face for hours and never tire of it,” he murmured to her. She smiled at him and tugged on the hem of his shirt in a silent query. He lifted his arms, allowing her to remove the garment which she threw into the back of the truck.

She took a moment to look at him too, running her hands over his chest, flicking his nipples with her fingernails until he groaned. The confines of the truck only allowed for so much exploration, but then again being forced into such a small space with one another had its advantages as well. Claire tilted Jamie’s face up as she hovered over him and kissed him again. She gave him three quick kisses, then they both gave over to full on making out like they had been a few minutes ago.

This time, Claire was eager to get things moving. She experimentally rolled her hips, and he let out a strangled sort of sound as she pressed down onto his cock. “I kent this would be the hardest part,” he grunted as he unbuttoned his pants.

Claire giggled. “Hardest indeed,” she teased as his cock sprang loose from the confines of jeans and boxers.

“Aye, verra funny, Sassenach. Give me a hand, will ye?” Claire slid off of his lap momentarily to help him tug his shoes and pants off. She slid her knickers off while she was at it, figuring there was no time like the present.

“Och, I forgot to grab the condom out of my pocket. Give me just a moment.” Claire grabbed the hand that was about to reach for his jeans.

“You…don’t need one. If you don’t want to, that is.” Jamie’s eyes went wide. “I went on birth control, and I’m clean, so…”

“Ye went on birth control…for me?”

Claire grinned, then moved his hand that she still held to cup her under her dress. “I thought you might want to feel this without anything between us,” she whispered in his ear. “I know I wanted to feel you inside me like that. I dream about it almost every night.”

“Ye’ll be the death of me, Claire.” He swallowed hard. “Aye, I’m clean too. No condom then.”

Claire took a deep, shuddering breath, then moved to straddle him again. She lifted the hem of her dress, then sank down, both of them staring at the place of their joining as his cock disappeared inside her. She cried out as she took him in that last little bit, then put her arms around his neck and began to move.

She slid up and down, rolling her hips as Jamie bucked up into her as best he could from the bench seat. Their kisses were messy, their movements frantic as they each built to their respective peaks. Claire was desperate to come with Jamie, and she ground down onto him as he hit a spot deep inside of her that made her see stars. He pulled down the straps of her dress, baring her breasts to him, and she leaned back slightly so he could appreciate the way they bounced as she rode him.

Every bit of her was oversensitive, his gentle bite on her nipple causing her to scream. “Oh, Jamie!” she cried out, slamming her hand into the headrest. She was so close, and then he reached down to touch where she had been aching, throbbing for him for weeks now, and that was enough to send her over the edge. She flung her arm around his neck as her walls began to clench down on his cock. He felt every bit of her slick warmth as it gripped him, and he could hold on no longer, shooting his seed into her as they clung to each other, finally whole again.

Claire lay draped over him for a few moments as their heart rates returned to normal, then sat up to give him a sweet, post-coital kiss. “That was even better than I’d imagined,” she murmured against his lips.

“Aye,” he replied before sucking her bottom lip into his mouth. “Whatever this thing is between us, it isna usual.”

“No,” she agreed, her hands cupping his jaw. “No, this is different.”

With the initial lust for one another out of the way, they made themselves decent and drove to a nearby park. Claire had packed some food and drinks for them to share so they could find a secluded area to talk openly. The park was nearly as deserted as the university in the summer, so it didn’t take long for them to find a bench out of earshot from any sunbathers or picnickers. They sat close, their knees touching as they ate, and once they’d finished, Claire settled into Jamie’s side, taking his hand in hers.

“It’s so good to see ye again, Sassenach, to feel yer touch. I dinna ken how I’m supposed to leave ye again after this.” He lifted her hand to his mouth, brushing his lips against her knuckles.

“Next summer you’ll just have to find a job around here so we don’t have to be apart for so long,” Claire suggested.

“I hope by next summer I’ll be able to take ye to Lallybroch with me. I ken ye’ll still have classes, but maybe ye’ll be able to take a wee break to come see the farm. Meet my sister and my da.” Jamie could just imagine how beautiful Claire would look spending a summer weekend with him in the Highlands. He could see her hair streaming behind her as they went horseback riding, picture her pale skin in the moonlight during a late-night skinny dipping session in the pond. He felt himself growing hard again at the mere thought.

Claire looked down at their joined hands, her face falling a bit. “That would be nice, Jamie, but maybe in a few years when I finish medical school. I don’t know that I could meet your family while I’m still married to Frank.”

“Surely ye willna be married to Frank by next year,” Jamie said, dropping her hand. He felt his face flush red, feeling foolish for having assumed. “Ye told me ye havena hardly spoken to the man since we’ve been together. Are ye not looking into getting a divorce?”

“I haven’t really spoken to him much thanks to being so busy with school, but, Jamie, that’s the point. I can’t continue with school without him.” Her heart dropped as she looked at Jamie and saw only disappointment. Would this thing with him be over before it even really began? “All of the money my uncle left to me went to buying our house. Frank’s job before he became a professor didn’t pay very well, so we had no other choice when we moved here. I just don’t have enough savings to quit my job and also be able to afford med school,” she explained. “But if I’m still married to Frank, I can attend school for free, and then when we start our life together, we’ll both be in a good place without thousands of pounds of debt hanging over us.”

Jamie looked unconvinced. “I guess I was just under the impression we had already started our life together. Ye told me ye didna want things to be the way they were before, and I believed ye.”

“You were right to believe me!” she insisted. “I want things to be different between us. I know it’s soon, but…I’m falling in love with you, Jamie. I do love you. And that’s why I want to think of our future, not just what we want right now.” Jamie’s face was blank, leaving Claire completely unable to tell what he was thinking.

“You love me?” he finally asked, latching on to what Claire had been most nervous to say to him. She nodded, tears coming to her eyes. “I love you too,” he responded, taking her hand. “Ye’re sure this is what ye want?”

“For now? Yes. This is what I want. But only because someday, I want it all, with you.” She leaned toward him to give him a kiss. “Are we good?” she asked, their faces only inches apart.

“Aye, we’re good.” Jamie smiled to reassure her, but he could feel a mass of darkness settling in his heart, inextricably linked with the light of the love he carried for Claire, a darkness that would be with him until she was truly his and his alone.

Now

Another week had gone by since the awful night Jamie had given Claire the news about his job offer in North Carolina. Jamie had texted her a couple of times to ask how she was feeling, but other than that, there had been no communication. Their relationship had been through so many ups and downs in the last couple of months, it felt like a rubber band that was at its breaking point. One of them had to let go, and soon, or it would snap under the pressure.

Claire had so much on her mind she was finding it almost impossible to concentrate on her classes. She had taken a cursory look into the university in North Carolina, and she had to admit their program did look impressive. Would she really be willing to uproot her life, change schools, move to a different country, just to be with Jamie? The only answer she could come up with was, yes.

How could she not follow the man who had waited for her now for almost two years? She’d been hot-headed and rash when he’d first mentioned it, but now she was filled with shame at the way she’d responded. The thought of leaving Frank had once scared her. Perhaps she’d been afraid of re-entering into a life of instability after almost ten years of being married. Frank had given her the first real home she’d known since her parents’ death when she was five years old. The nomadic life she’d led with her uncle had been wonderful in so many ways, but she’d longed for a place to call her own. Now she realized that her home wasn’t a house, it was a person, and that person was Jamie.

Now all that was left was for her to swallow her pride and tell all of this to his face, then beg forgiveness for her stupidity. And she would, just as soon as she put her mind at ease about one other thing that had been bothering her.

Her first inkling had been when she’d thrown up at Jamie’s in the middle of their argument. On the Uber ride home, the thought of what could have caused such a reaction popped into her brain. But she’d dismissed it as an overreaction. She’d been upset, thinking that she really might be losing the love of her life. A physical response to such intense emotions wasn’t all that strange.

Then the other day she’d been at the store and passed the feminine products aisle. She’d started to grab a box of tampons when she realized she hadn’t gotten her period when she was supposed to a couple of weeks ago. She’d opened her phone to confirm on her tracking app, and there was the proof. She’d had to drop her basket as she ran to the loo to throw up again. But maybe that was just because she was in shock over having missed her period. And that could be due to stress - something she had more than enough of these days. So nothing definitively pointed to her being pregnant. Everything could be explained away. Or at least that’s what she kept telling herself.

So now she was on her way to Geillis’s flat, the one friend she could think of who wouldn’t judge her for the situation in which she found herself. She had a bag with three different brands of pregnancy tests and a bottle of wine either to drink if they came up negative, or to give to Geillis as a thank you for dealing with her train wreck of a friend if they were positive.

“Claire!” Geillis greeted her warmly, giving her a hug at the door. “I feel like I havena seen ye in ages, hen. Come in, come in!”

Claire smiled, truly happy to see her friend despite the circumstances and followed Geillis into her living room where they sat down on the sofa.

“So the lad who came to visit ye at the hospital that one day really has stuck around then, eh?” Geillis asked, raising her eyebrows.

“He really has,” Claire admitted. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, it’s just…”

“Oh, dinna fash! I ken all about how exciting a secret love affair can be. And it isna like Frank ever deserved ye. And if this isna a sign that ye’re meant to be wi’ Jamie, I don’t know what is.”

Claire sighed. “I feel like this is more a sign of my own irresponsibility. Jamie and I had a fight a little while ago right before his sister’s wedding. I really thought we were going to break up over it. It was my fault, so I think I blew it out of proportion. Anyway, I was so upset, and I ended up missing a few days of taking my birth control.”

“Aw, Claire, ye didna mean for things to happen the way they did. Ye were heartbroken, not irresponsible.”

“Whatever the reason, the end result is the same. I just can’t believe Frank and I tried for years and years with no result. Then with Jamie, one time without birth control and, well…here we are.” Claire leaned forward, head in her hands, still not quite able to believe she was in this situation.

Geillis asked, “So do ye want to chat for a little while longer or…?”

“Or see if my life is about to fully change in the span of five minutes?” Claire sighed. “I think I have to get it over with.”

“Before ye do, I have to ask. Is there any part of ye that might want to see a positive when ye take the test? Even the smallest bit of ye that would be excited?” Geillis rubbed Claire’s arm in support. “I just need to ken how ye’re feeling if I’m to be there for ye through this.”

“I’ve thought a lot about it,” Claire began. “If there was any question as to who the father was, I think I’d be devastated. But I know it could only be Jamie’s. And - as crazy as it may sound, as difficult as it would certainly be, and as inconvenient as the timing is - yes. I want almost nothing more in the whole world than to have a baby with Jamie.” Having finally admitted it out loud, Claire immediately started to sob.

“Aww, hen,” Geillis murmured, wrapping Claire in another hug. “Dinna fash, now.”

“But what if he’s angry, Geillis?” Claire asked, wiping tears from her face. “What if he thinks I somehow did this on purpose to trap him with me? Or what if he decides to go to America without me, and my baby never gets to know their father?”

“I’ve barely met the man, Claire, but from everythin’ ye’ve told me about him, he loves you more than anything. Hell, he waited for you for almost two years while ye were married to crusty, old Frank. I canna imagine he’d leave ye now that ye might be carryin’ his bairn.” Claire nodded, still sniffling. “Let me get ye a glass of water, and then we’ll find out one way or another. I’m sure ye’ll feel better just knowin’ the truth, no matter what it is.”

Claire followed Geillis into the kitchen, downed a glass of water, then took a moment to use the toilet and prepare the tests. She opened the door, and Geillis stood up from the sofa expectantly. “Five minutes,” Claire said, her voice shaking slightly.

Geillis filled the silence with the latest gossip from the hospital where Claire used to work as they waited, and Claire even managed to laugh a few times at one of the more outrageous stories. They both went quiet though as the final few seconds counted down on Claire’s phone, then took deep breaths as the alarm sounded.

“Do ye want me to look for ye?” Geillis asked.

“No,” Claire’s voice cracked, and she cleared her throat. “No,” she repeated. “I can do this.” Claire had never been more conscious of the pounding of her heart in her entire life. An unexpected thought ran through her head that if she was pregnant, the way her heart was jumping couldn’t be good for the baby. And then with no fanfare or preparation, she looked at all three pregnancy tests lined up on the counter. All three with dark pink, positive lines indicating that she was, without question, officially pregnant.

“Claire?” Geillis prompted, having seen the tests over Claire’s shoulder. “How do ye feel, hen?”

Claire turned to look at her friend, tears shining in both of their eyes. “I think…I feel really really happy.” And with that they were both sobbing, Geillis holding on to Claire and lifting her up as only a friend can do, silently vowing that no matter what, she would be at Claire’s side to help in any way she could.

“Ye’ll be the best mother, Claire. Yer bairn is lucky to have ye.” Geillis guided a teary-eyed Claire back to the living room so she could sit down and start to process her impending motherhood.

“God, I just can’t believe it,” Claire finally said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “All those years with Frank, I thought it was me. I thought I’d never have this moment, never carry my own child.” Her hand went to her stomach, giving what affection she could to the life within. “Am I insane to be this happy when my life is such a mess?”

“I think it’s wonderful that ye’re so happy,” answered Geillis. “Ye have yer reason to get things in order now. And ye will. For the bairn.”

“For my baby…” Claire said dreamily. “Jamie’s baby.” A little thrill went through her at the thought of telling Jamie. “I have to tell him!” she said, excited. “I’ll call him right now and see if he’s free.”

Geillis patted her hand in support, and Claire took a deep breath before tapping his name on her phone to call him.

“Claire?” a strangled voice said on the other end.

“Jamie? What’s wrong?” She felt guilty all of a sudden. Here she was, over the moon with her news and recent decision to finally commit fully to Jamie, and he didn’t know any of it. Was he still that upset from their fight the other night that he could barely speak to her?

“How did ye ken to call already?”

Now she was really confused. “What do you mean?”

“Och, I dinna ken what I’m sayin’.” His voice broke on a sob. “Claire, I just got the news. My da had a heart attack this mornin’. He’s dead.”

Chapter Text

Then

The summer came to a slow, stuttering end, Claire finishing up her first semester of medical school with top marks in all of her classes. She was shocked she’d even been able to concentrate on her last final, knowing that Jamie was arriving back at his flat even as she sat in a stuffy room trying to rack her brain to remember every fact she’d meticulously copied onto note cards.

Jamie and Claire had kept up a steady stream of texts since their meeting in the parking lot, but they hadn’t had a chance to see each other again over the summer. Jamie had underestimated just how much he was needed on the farm, feeling too guilty to leave even for a few hours when he felt his duty was to his family. Claire understood, truthfully not having much time herself anyway due to her intense course load.

She practically floated to Jamie’s flat after her exam, sleep-deprived as she was from weeks of late night study sessions. She’d been able to buy herself some free time by lying to Frank about a night out with some classmates to celebrate the end of finals. Truth was, she’d had neither the time nor the inclination to make friends with anyone in her classes, but Frank didn’t need to know that. Now she had an entire afternoon and evening free to spend with Jamie, and she couldn’t be more excited.

Claire finally reached Jamie’s flat and rang the now familiar buzzer. He let her in immediately and was waiting at the door as she ran up the steps, two at a time.

“Hi,” he said, grinning widely. But she had no desire to talk at the moment, instead tossing her bag on the floor and closing the door behind her. She then threw herself on him, their lips colliding, expressing weeks of pent-up desire the only way she knew how. She placed her arms around his neck, and he lifted her, her legs immediately wrapping around his waist as he walked them to his bedroom.

They giggled into each other’s mouths as they bumped into the walls of the narrow hallway, Jamie’s vision completely obscured by a cloud of brown curls. Trousers were torn off, neither willing to wait any longer to become one. Jamie laid Claire down on the bed, almost falling on top of her as his boxers tangled around his ankles. He managed to kick them off, sealed his mouth to hers, then thrust forward into her, pushing her further up the bed with the force of their bodies meeting.

He ran his hands up under her t-shirt, the rough skin of his work-worn fingers meeting the softness of her belly and breasts, causing her skin to break out in goosebumps, Claire making the most delicious noises all the while. “Don’t stop, Jamie! God, you feel so good!” she cried out. He tried to last as long as he could, not willing to leave her wanting, but he was nearing his end quickly. He reached between them, his calloused finger pressing against her in just the right spot, and she gasped, her face contorting in the throes of pleasure as he let go and spilled inside her.

Afterward he lay on top of her, practically crushing her into the mattress, but she couldn’t care less, happy to have the solid weight of him with her again. He did finally roll off, and they both took off their t-shirts, cuddling with each other naked and pressed together, every possible inch of flesh touching.

Claire had wanted to stay awake, but she felt too good - relaxed for the first time in months with her exams behind her and Jamie beside her - she couldn’t help but succumb to sleep.

She awoke an hour or so later, looking down the length of her body to see a mop of unruly red curls between her legs, and silently thanked whatever power in the universe that had seen fit to bring this man into her life. Then her mind went blank as she surrendered to Jamie, letting him have his way with her and loving every second of it.

After round two, they dragged themselves out of bed for round three in the shower. They had both worked up quite the appetite by that point and agreed to order a pizza. Jamie made himself decent enough to answer the door without shocking the delivery boy, but once the lad was gone, Jamie stripped down to his boxers and sat down on the sofa next to Claire who had donned one of his t-shirts.

They tore into the pizza like they hadn’t eaten for days, then turned on a mindless show to watch, Claire cuddled into Jamie’s side.

“So,” Claire began over the low noise of the telly, “did you get everything done at the farm like you wanted to?”

Jamie scoffed. “Not even close, Sassenach. That place is a nightmare.”

“How so?” Claire sat up, giving Jamie her full attention.

“It’s too much to go into really, but suffice it to say, my da never counted on having to slow down. And Ian just doesna have the passion for runnin’ the farm the way my da did. He built it from the ground up, ye ken, so it has more of a special meaning to him than it ever could for anyone else. And Jenny enjoys runnin’ the household, but she’s got Wee Jamie to keep up with and a wedding to plan, so her mind is in a thousand places at once.”

Claire took Jamie’s hand and squeezed it in support. “The truth of it is, I ken my da thought I’d take over from him one day. But I canna imagine being tied down to the land like he’s been all these years. I do love my home, ye ken, but it feels like a beloved thing of the past for me, not my future.”

“I understand what it’s like to have someone else dictate your future,” Claire sympathized. “Believe me, it’s not worth giving in to. You’ll never be truly happy.”

“I’ve tried telling my da that. But he just goes on about how he built Lallybroch for his family, and how it isna right for me to want to raise my bairns in a city when they could have a beautiful home in the Highlands with plenty of fresh air, and on and on and on.” Jamie sighed, then patted Claire’s bare knee. “But enough about my woes, tell me about your exam today.”

Claire waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, it was fine. I couldn’t tell you if I got a single question right, but I studied as much as I possibly could, so hopefully it pays off.”

Jamie leaned toward her and kissed her softly. “I’m sure ye did beautifully, mo nighean donn. Ye’ll be savin’ lives before ye know it.”

Claire smiled, but her mind was far away. Something Jamie had said a moment ago had triggered a feeling of panic in her heart, and she knew he could see it on her face.

“What is it, lass?” he asked, cupping her face in his hand as he traced his thumb over her cheek. She leaned into him like a cat, her eyes closed, just taking a moment to be grateful for his touch.

“What you said a minute ago,” she said, trying to control the shakiness in her voice. “About children. You…want them?”

“Aye, I do,” he replied confidently. “One day in the future, mind ye. Not right now. But I’ve always wanted to be a da. Do ye no’ want the same?”

Claire could tell from the way he spoke that this would be a deal-breaker if she disagreed with him. “No. I mean, yes, I do. I very much do. It’s only…Frank and I have tried. For years. And, well, as you know, it never worked out.”

Jamie looked confused. “But ye said ye went on birth control, so ye must think it’s possible.”

“Possible, yes. Probable? I’m not too sure about that.”

“Could the problem no’ lie on Frank’s end of things?” Jamie asked cautiously.

“It could. Of course it could. But he knows his family history, and no one’s ever had an issue like that. I don’t know anything about mine, so it just seems more likely that I’d be the cause.” Claire braced herself for Jamie’s response, sure he would at least say he needed time to think about this. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” she apologized, looking forlorn.

“Claire, mo ghraidh, ye dinna think I’d leave ye because ye might not be able to carry my bairns, do ye?” She shrugged. “Well let me say it then. I willna leave ye because ye might not be able to carry my bairns. If we both want children, we’ll have them one way or another. Or maybe a couple of ways.” He took both her hands in his. “Maybe we’ll be surprised and I’ll be able to get ye wi’ child. Or maybe one day we’ll meet a wee bairn with no home and know that he’s always been meant to be ours to love."

She still looked unsure and slightly worried, as if she didn’t really believe him. He paused, taking a moment to tuck her hair behind her ear before planting a soft kiss on her forehead. “Maybe I havena made it clear to ye, so let me do it now. I am in this with you. I knew what I was doing when I kissed you that night, and I will have you any way I can. Whether we have one bairn or twelve, it doesna matter as long as you are by my side.”

“I love you,” she uttered, embracing him as he rubbed a soothing hand against her back. And for now, that was enough.

Now

Claire felt helpless as Jamie wept over the phone, in utter agony over the death of his father. She had never had a gift for being able to say the right things at the right time, so she just told him she was sorry and that she loved him and then just sat there and listened as his choked sobs continued to sound in her ear. Geillis sat by her side the whole time, holding her hand, knowing this news could not have come at a worse time.

Jamie’s friend Rupert drove the next morning to pick him up and take him home to Lallybroch. Claire’s disappointment at being unable to attend Jenny’s wedding was nothing compared to the uselessness she felt at not being able to attend Jamie’s father’s funeral. He may have wanted her by his side at the wedding, but he needed her now, and she couldn’t be there for him - and it was all her fault.

If she’d not been so damned stubborn this whole time about staying married to Frank, Jamie wouldn’t be going through this alone. She was afraid she might have lost her chance to reconcile with him. What if she’d been just a day too late? Would she ever be able to forgive herself?

And on top of the insurmountable pile of guilt on her shoulders, she was also dealing with the ever-increasing symptoms of her pregnancy. She could barely make it through a class without having to run to the toilet to vomit up whatever little she’d just eaten. Even water managed to nauseate her, but she forced herself to keep drinking, wary of becoming dehydrated. Life felt like it was on pause as she was unable to see Jamie, yet felt she needed to at least speak to him first before officially ending things with Frank.

Four days later, Jamie was back in town, still only a shell of a human. Claire had texted, asking when she could see him next, and she was determined to be there for him as long as he needed her. She didn’t even bother making up an excuse for Frank to explain away her absence, figuring he would text her if he needed her - if he even cared enough to do that. She skipped her afternoon class to wait on a bench outside of Jamie’s flat until she saw Rupert drive away from dropping him back off, then walked over to ring the buzzer.

Jamie stood in the doorway of the entrance to his flat, shrouded in darkness. The curtains inside were all drawn shut, and he had only one small lamp turned on for light. Claire gave him a hug after softly shutting the door, and his arms slowly rose to wrap around her.

“I’m so so sorry, Jamie,” she whispered. “For everything.” She could feel him nod against her shoulder, then felt the wetness of tears through her shirt. “Let’s get you to bed, hm?” she suggested, and he let her lead him into his bedroom.

She guided him to sit on the edge of his bed where she removed his shoes, then helped him undress down to his boxers and pulled the covers up over him. She stripped down as well until she was naked, somehow knowing he needed the skin-to-skin contact of their bodies. She climbed into bed, spooning him from behind and wrapping her arms around his torso. She could feel his body shaking as he wept, and she planted small kisses on his back, just trying to do anything she could to reassure him that she was here and she would not leave.

He slept fitfully, waking abruptly from a nightmare to remember he was living in one. The only reason he was able to rest at all was because Claire was there to soothe him back to sleep every time. They went through this process several times over the span of a few hours until one time when he awoke, he turned to her and kissed her, taking the comfort she offered him with her body.

Her hand snaked down between them, grasping his length, and he was almost surprised he was still able to respond to her touch, even as he was drowning in grief. He let her do as she would with him, trusting her to use her touch to heal him, to bring him back from the brink. They lay on their sides facing each other, and she lifted her leg over his to open herself to him, guiding him home. They began to move together as one, hips rolling and thrusting in an intimate dance, neither in any rush. As they grew closer to a mutual climax, Jamie put his hand on her breast as he always did, kneading the soft flesh and rubbing his finger over her nipple, but instead of pleasure, this time she cried out as if in pain, prompting him to snatch his hand away from her.

“Did I hurt ye?” he asked, stilling his movements within her.

“No, damn it, don’t stop now,” she gasped, urging him on. He did, both of them speeding up their movements, clutching one another as they finished. Afterward Jamie rested his head on Claire’s breast and wrapped his arms around her, his life raft in a raging sea.

A little while later Jamie’s raspy voice uttered, “Ye need to go to the doctor, Claire.”

“What?” she asked, surprised. “Why?”

Jamie moved off of her, then laid his hand on her breast, squeezing gently. Her breasts had been sore and tender for the last week or so, and she couldn’t help but wince at the pain as he touched her. “That’s why.” He sat up against the headboard of the bed, and she looked up at him, noticing the tears forming in his eyes.

“Did I ever tell ye how my mam died?” he asked, staring straight ahead.

She sat up next to him, taking his hand in hers. “No, I don’t think so.”

“It was nothing at first. Just a small lump the doctor found at a check-up. And ye hear of so many women who survive breast cancer. We never thought for a second she wouldna be one of them.” Jamie swallowed hard before continuing, blinking to keep the tears at bay. “They did the surgery of course, and they thought they’d gotten it all, but then it came back. My da shaved her hair. It was red like mine, ye ken. They tried chemotherapy, but by then it had spread too much. She came home to Lallybroch for the last few months, and she had some good days, but near the end she was begging my da to put her out of her misery. My mam was dying and my da was barely existing. I ken if it hadna been for me and Jenny, he would have died right along wi’ her. And now he’s gone too.”

Jamie could hold back his tears no longer and Claire pulled him to her, cradling him against her. She wept along with him, both for the two people who had made the man she loved and for her own parents who had been taken from her far too soon. And then it hit her like it hadn’t up until now - she was a parent. She and Jamie were about to be a new person’s whole world. All of a sudden, she felt like she couldn’t waste a single second more of Jamie not knowing about his impending fatherhood. Life was too short to not enjoy every moment of this journey they were now on together.

“Jamie,” she whispered, smoothing his hair back. He lifted his head to look at her, tears still running down his face and onto her breasts. She leaned forward and kissed him, then took his face in her hands and kissed his cheeks, tasting the saltiness of his tears even as she kissed them away.

“Jamie, I don’t have breast cancer,” she assured him. He started to respond, but she placed a finger over his mouth. “I love you so much for worrying after me, and you aren’t wrong that there’s something different. But it isn’t cancer.

“I know this isn’t maybe the best time to be telling you this, and God knows our lives don’t need any more complications. But I don’t want to wait any longer.” Jamie looked utterly confused, and she couldn’t help but break out into a grin despite the heavy veil of sadness present in the room. She lifted his hand from the bed and placed it low on her belly, then placed her own on top of his. Their eyes met, and she could see the question reflected in his blue depths, afraid to voice it aloud.

“We’re having a baby,” she finally said as she held their hands tight against the place where their child grew. “And I know I might sound completely unhinged for saying so, but I’m just so unbelievably happy about it.”

He was silent for a moment, and she worried that maybe her worst fears were about to come true. Maybe he would be angry. Had it been horribly insensitive of her to bring this up while he was still deep in the throes of grief over his father’s death?

But then she felt his hand move under hers, not away from her, but in a soft, caressing sort of way over her skin, and she could imagine what it would be like in a few months as her stomach grew to accommodate its inhabitant. How overjoyed they would both be to see and feel the physical evidence that she was carrying their child. His face changed from worry and fear to one of awe and maybe even a glimmer of happiness as she continued to wait for his response.

“Mo ghraidh,” he murmured giving her a tender kiss, then as he leaned down to kiss her stomach, “Mo chuisle.” He looked up at her, a smile as bright as the sun on her face, reflecting the one that had broken out upon his own. “Ye’re giving me a bairn, Claire?”

She nodded. “Yes, my love. And there’s one other thing.” She took a moment to come up with the right words to properly explain herself. “I want you to know I had already decided this before I knew about the baby. When I got home that night after you told me about North Carolina, the first thing I did was look into the university there and its medical program. You were right; it would be a good fit for me. And once I calmed down and thought about it for a day or two, I realized I do want to go with you.

“Jamie, I’m ready to start our life together. I’m going to tell Frank tomorrow that I’m leaving him. And if it’s what you want, I want you to accept the job in America. I trust you, and I trust us. I know you’ll always do what’s best for me and for our family.” She’d begun to cry at this point, Jamie’s eyes filling with love as she told him the truth of her heart. “I love you, Jamie. I love you, I love you, I-”

And then he was kissing her, and they were crying together, tears of happiness and sadness and relief all mingling together in a huge release of emotion. She slid down the bed among the pillows, pulling him down with her, and he moved on top of her, settling himself between her legs to join with her once more. This time he was ever so gentle, focused only on her, the mother of his child, still in a state of disbelief that this could really be happening.

She fell asleep afterwards, and he took the opportunity to study her, not wanting to miss a single change in her over the next several months. She’d pulled the blankets up to her chin before she’d drifted off, so he could only see her face, but now that he looked, there was something different there. Her cheeks looked slightly fuller, her hair was shinier. Even in her sleep, he could see a new glow of impending motherhood on her. She’d always been the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, but now her beauty was enhanced somehow, like she’d been made just for him.

His stomach interrupted his musings by growling rather loudly, and he realized if he was hungry, she probably would be too once she awoke. He knew she had a bad habit of skipping meals and just grabbing a granola bar to make it through her busy class schedule, but he’d have to make sure to help her stick to a proper, nutritious diet now that she was eating for two. And he could start right now.

Claire awoke to the smell of something delicious wafting into the bedroom, and her stomach immediately rumbled in response. She got out of bed and went to freshen up in the bathroom, both excited to eat, yet wary of being able to keep it down once she did. She rummaged through Jamie’s closet, grabbing a pair of his sweatpants with a drawstring along with one of his old hoodies, the soft, worn fabric gliding deliciously over her skin.

She padded into the kitchen where Jamie stood stirring a pot of sauce and wrapped her arms around him from behind, pressing the side of her face into his back. “I love you,” she murmured into the fabric of his t-shirt. “What’s for dinner?”

She felt a rumble of laughter go through Jamie and loosened her hold on him as he turned around. “Is that the way of things now? Ye love me and also what is there for ye to eat?” He lifted the hem of the hoodie she was wearing to expose her stomach and poked at it. “Are ye hungry in there, wee one? Dinna fash, yer da is a braw cook. I’ll keep yer mam well-fed for ye.”

Claire laughed, feeling tears of joy spring to her eyes. Could this man be any more perfect? Already he was taking to the role of fatherhood like a duck to water. She could only hope to be as good at being a mother as he surely would be as a father.

“In answer to yer question, it’s only spaghetti, Sassenach. But ye can bet when I go shopping, I’ll get ye whatever yer heart and stomach desire.”

She raised her eyebrows. “My own personal chef, hm?”

“Yer own personal everythin’, mo chridhe,” he replied taking her into his arms. “I dinna ken how to explain to ye what ye’ve done for me today. I’ve felt so lost and hopeless these past days, dealing with my da’s death, but also feeling guilty for leaving Jenny and Ian with the whole run of the farm now with no help. And the whole time I was afraid we wouldna find our way back to each other, that I’d made such a huge mistake telling ye I’d move without ye. I thought…I thought perhaps it was a sign. That maybe I should move back home and forget about becoming a teacher.”

She squeezed him tighter, trying to convey how sorry she was. “You were right, Jamie. You needed to say what you felt, and I needed to hear it. It was a sign for me to wake up and realize what I was giving up by being unwilling to embrace change.” She let go of him, looking up into his eyes. “Now I know change will come for you whether you allow it or not.”

“Aye, it will. Having you and the bairn now, Claire, gives me something to hold onto when I feel like everything else is slipping away.” He leaned down to kiss her forehead. “We’re in this together now, the three of us.”

Chapter Text

Then

Jamie was on his way to Claire’s house for the first time ever, and he wasn’t at all sure how to feel about it. He’d honestly never planned to step foot in the house she lived in with Frank Randall, but his flat was currently unavailable. Rupert had been kicked out of his own flat by his girlfriend for the hundredth time, and he’d begged Jamie to put him up for the weekend until he could talk her back into letting him return. Jamie knew his relationship with Claire was far from healthy, but this thing with Rupert and Katie rivaled even the most toxic of relationships.

Jamie had tried to talk Rupert into staying anywhere else, but he’d finally given up, and now he was stuck with a roommate for at least the next two days. Normally he wouldn’t have minded, but Frank was gone for the weekend visiting his brother, leaving Jamie and Claire with two completely free days to be together. Now those plans had been ruined, but Claire had insisted he at least come over and have dinner tonight, both of them feeling that doing anything other than that was crossing some sort of invisible line of propriety. Jamie had resigned himself to the fact that he was in love with another man’s wife, but he just couldn’t imagine making love to her in that very man’s bed.

Now, as Jamie stood at the front door to the foreboding house, he was finding just the act of lifting his hand to knock on the door to be a herculean effort. Before he could bring himself to do it, the curtain in the front window swished open to reveal Claire’s face, looking out to see if he’d arrived. When she saw him, she smiled, closing the curtain and opening the door a few seconds later.

“What were you doing just standing there, love?” she asked, closing the door behind him before giving him a peck on the lips.

“Oh, I’d just gotten there,” Jamie lied. “Ye just have verra good timing.”

“I see,” Claire said, looking unconvinced. “Well let me take your coat. I’ve cooked my specialty - takeout from the Asian restaurant down the street. Come on in to the kitchen, and we can eat.”

Jamie followed her, looking around at the foyer and hallway as he went. Historical pictures of men in red coats lined the walls, not a single family photo in sight. He felt more like he was in a museum than a home, and that was saying a lot coming from someone who’d grown up in an 18th century farm house. Claire’s touch was nowhere in this house, and he wondered, not for the first time, what in the world had caused her to end up with this man who seemed to have no concern for her whatsoever.

He tried to shake off the strange feeling the house gave him as they sat down to eat their supper, and he was able to enjoy his time with Claire despite the awkwardness of their location. After they’d cleaned up the take-out boxes, Claire asked him if he wanted to watch TV, and he agreed.

Frank naturally had a state-of-the-art television and sound system, even though Claire insisted he almost never used it, preferring to read instead. “I’d kill to get to play Halo in here,” Jamie said as he examined the speakers.

“Not Mario Kart?” Claire teased, plopping down on the sofa. “These are all hand-me-downs from Jack anyway. Otherwise Frank probably wouldn’t even have a television, let alone any sort of sound system.”

“Hmph, well to each his own, I guess.”

Claire patted the seat next to her. “Come over here, Jamie. I promise I’m more fun than a bunch of electronics.”

Jamie turned to see her grinning wickedly at him. “Oh, I ken ye are, Sassenach. That’s what I’m worried about. Ye promised we’d behave ourselves.”

Claire pouted. “Fine, fine. But can you at least hold me while we watch tv? Surely you don’t have to stand ten feet away all evening.”

He relented, sitting down next to her and gathering her in his arms when she immediately leaned into him. She flipped on the telly, and they sat for a while, just enjoying being together. But as Jamie pretended to watch the episode she’d chosen, his mind wandered. He just couldn’t help but think of Frank, surrounded as he was by the man’s possessions. Even though he knew it had been Claire’s money that had bought the house, it felt so devoid of her presence that he couldn’t see it as anything but Frank’s house.

Had Frank just waited for Claire to go to work one day after they’d moved in and then decorated every inch of the place to his liking in some whirlwind so that Claire could have no input? He wondered if Claire and Frank had lived together before they’d married. Had she truly known what she was getting herself into when she’d promised forever to this man?

“Claire?” he asked, immediately regretting speaking her name with the intention of starting a conversation to find answers that were none of his business.

“Hm?” she responded, turning down the volume so they could talk.

Ah, fuck it, he thought. “Ye dinna have to answer this, but…I canna help but wonder, just bein’ here and all…” He trailed off, unsure how to phrase the question.

“You’re wondering how I ended up with Frank?” she posited, coming to the obvious conclusion.

“Well, yes, I suppose I am. It’s only, ye seem so different from him, so much younger and more vibrant.”

“Thank you, I think?”

“Aye, it was meant as a compliment.” Jamie was now really wondering what had possessed him to start down this path. “Never mind, it was a silly thing to ask ye.”

“No, it’s all right. I don’t mind,” Claire insisted. “It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the years, and I do have an answer.” She sat up, leaning against the opposite side of the sofa from Jamie. “You know the part about how my parents died when I was little, but I maybe haven’t explained just how much my uncle meant to me growing up. He took me in when I was just five years old, having no experience with children, let alone a grieving one. His first inclination was to send me to boarding school, but I threw such a fit over it that he relented, instead choosing to teach me himself as I went along with him on his travels.

“We traveled extensively, from Asia to Africa, and everywhere in between. He gave me a truly unique and magical childhood, and I loved him dearly for it. He finally retired when I was sixteen and bought a house in Oxford, close to many of his colleagues. Frank was just finishing his doctorate at the time, and my uncle helped him some with his research.

“I think at first Frank thought I was just some annoying child he had to put up with, but the more time he spent around me, the more he realized I was intelligent and interesting. Not that I had to try very hard considering my upbringing - I had hundreds, if not thousands of stories from my travels, and I enjoyed telling them. My uncle saw what was happening between us and had a very serious conversation with Frank, warning him to stay away from me, at least until I turned eighteen.

“He respected my uncle’s wishes, but the summer before I turned eighteen, Uncle Lamb had a stroke. It was a minor one, but unfortunately it was just the beginning. He had two more over the next few months, and then finally, right before Christmas, he had his last one which ended up killing him.” Jamie reached over to take Claire’s hand, the pain in her eyes still fresh despite all the time that had elapsed since her uncle’s death.

She took a deep breath before continuing. “Frank was there with me through it all. He helped arrange the funeral, got me through Christmas that year by taking me away to the countryside to get my mind off of everything. That was when we finally gave in to our feelings for each other. It was flattering for me, that a man who was almost thirty was interested in me, still just a teenager with no experience. He was so smart, and I thought the obsession with history was just because he was still finishing up his studies. I never dreamed he’d let it rule his whole life forever.

“By that spring, we were married, and I was stuck. The initial excitement over being with each other faded quickly. Frank was fine with me going to school for nursing, but he always said that once we started a family, I wouldn’t be expected to work outside the home anymore. I guess luckily for my career, that never happened, but I think that drove us even further away from each other. Then once I started working, it became even easier to let things continue on without addressing our problems. And you know the rest.” Claire sighed, feeling like she’d just run an emotional marathon. Jamie rubbed his thumb over her hand, unsure what to say.

“Do you think I’m a fool for staying with him all these years?” Claire asked in a small voice.

“No, Sassenach,” Jamie replied immediately. “I dinna think that at all. I think ye did what ye had to in order to make it by. Frank was there for ye when ye needed someone, and I’m grateful for that.”

“You are?” she asked, looking surprised.

“Aye, I am. If I couldna be there for ye, I’m glad someone was, even if it was Frank. I wish he would have continued to treat ye well and provide ye with happiness, but since he didn’t, I’m happy to be able to be the man ye deserve.”

Claire scooted back over to Jamie’s side of the sofa, melting into him as he wrapped his arms around her, kissing the top of her head. They sat in silence for a little while longer as the next episode began to play. Then Claire interrupted.

“So you got to ask me an awkward question…” she began.

“Aye, Sassenach,” he replied, a bit nervous. “Should I be afraid of where this is headed?”

“Well I just was wondering. You know Frank was my first now. But I don’t know who yours was. Care to enlighten me?” she asked cheekily.

“Och, ye dinna want that story, lass,” he attempted to brush her off. “It doesna exactly paint my skills in the best light, ye ken.”

“Oh, now I think I have to know.” She sat up, an evil grin on her face. “Come on, you owe me!”

“All right, all right,” he relented. “Well I suppose it begins wi’ a scheming, awful girl named Laoghaire…”

Now

“Are you sure ye dinna want me to go in wi’ ye?” Jamie asked Claire for the thousandth time this morning. Deep down he knew this was something she had to do on her own, but his protective instincts had hit hard when he’d found out he was going to be a father, and he didn’t like the idea of letting Claire go into the jaws of the lion without him.

“I’m sure,” she answered him. “This is my battle to fight. And it’s just Frank. He hasn’t been a good husband, but he wouldn’t hurt me.” She undid her seatbelt and opened the door of the Uber Jamie had insisted on getting for her. “I’ll text you no matter what happens, and I promise I’ll be back with you by tonight at the very latest.” During dinner last night, they’d discussed the fact that Claire would probably need to move in with Jamie once she ended things with Frank. Even though it was technically her house, she didn’t feel comfortable asking Frank to leave right away, and she certainly couldn’t fathom continuing to live there with him, even if they were to do so separately. Jamie was going to go back to his flat for a little while to clean out half of his closet for her, and she hoped the conversation with Frank would end in a civil enough manner that she could get some clothes together before she left without feeling too awkward.

Despite her reassurances, Jamie had the worst uneasy feeling about what was about to happen. “Please be careful, Claire,” he pleaded. “And call me if anythin’ happens. I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ll text you soon.” Jamie watched her go up the stairs to what had once been her home, saying a prayer for her and their child, hoping he was wrong to be so worried.

Claire took a deep breath before unlocking the door, trying to feel as confident as she’d attempted to convince Jamie she was. “We can do this, right?” she whispered, putting a hand on her stomach. “I can do this. For you, little love.” The thought of her baby gave her the confidence to push open the door and take a step inside.

“Frank!” she called out as she entered. He always hated when she was loud, complaining it would give him a headache, and then he wouldn’t be able to read. She’d often wondered how he would have dealt with the children he’d claimed to have wanted with her. Guess she’d never find out now.

Her phone buzzed with a text from Frank, telling her he was in his study. Claire trudged up the stairs, her feet like lead. She felt like she was going to be sick, and she didn’t know if it was from the baby or from the dread she felt in the pit of her stomach. Whichever it was, the last thing she wanted to do was vomit in front of Frank, so she hoped she could hold it together until she got back to Jamie’s.

Frank’s study door was ajar, not making a sound as she pushed it open. Claire cleared her throat to get Frank’s attention, but he still didn’t look up from his book. “Frank?” she said, wondering if maybe he had his wireless headphones in, and she just couldn’t see them.

He held up a finger to her, still not looking up for a few more moments. Then finally, “Sorry, I just quickly wanted to finish that chapter. What can I do for you, darling?”

Claire’s mouth went dry, and her hands were sweaty. How was she supposed to start this conversation? “Frank, we need to talk,” she managed to get out.

“Ah. Yes,” Frank replied, seemingly unsurprised. “I thought this might happen eventually.”

“You…did?” Claire asked. She wondered what Frank could possibly be thinking. Surely not what she was actually about to tell him.

“Of course, darling. I know I’ve been distant lately, too focused on my work, as it were. And you with your schooling. I thought you might be ready to take a break. We could even go away for a week this summer, take some time to reconnect…” Frank continued to ramble about where they might vacation while Claire tried desperately to think of a way to tell him how terribly wrong he was.

“We could even go to Italy…” he was saying, before Claire finally got up the nerve to interrupt him.

“Frank, stop!” she commanded. She walked over to sit in the chair in front of his desk, feeling like a child about to be scolded by her headmaster.

“This isn’t about a vacation, or…or trying to reconnect with you.” She took a deep breath, wringing her hands. “I’m truly sorry to be saying this to you, but…I’m leaving you, Frank.”

“You’re what?” he asked, more surprised than angry.

“I’m sorry, but I’m leaving you. I want a divorce.” A huge weight lifted from her shoulders, just from having finally told him, but it wasn’t over yet.

“You want a divorce,” he repeated.

“Yes, I do. I know this might come as a bit of a shock, but I promise it isn’t something I’ve decided on lightly or rashly. I am sure this is the only solution to the problems in our marriage. I know there are still many things to discuss, but I hope we can do so civilly and like adults. I’m sure solicitors will have to be involved at some stage of the proceedings, but I don’t want or need anything from you. I just want this to be over as quickly as possible.” She sighed, having managed to get through the speech she’d been rehearsing for days now, then dared to look up into Frank’s totally unreadable face.

“Do you…do you have anything you want to say?” she asked cautiously.

“Do I have anything I want to say?” he repeated once again, this time with a tinge of anger seeping into his tone. “You’re going to allow me to speak now, Claire? Well, let me say this: I don’t want a divorce. What do you have to say to that?”

Claire truly hadn’t expected this reaction. Why would anyone want to remain married to someone who didn’t want to be with them? “I guess I’d have to say that I’m sorry, but it isn’t up for discussion.”

“Not up for discussion? What did you do, Claire, just decide last night you didn’t want to be married anymore, run away to some friend’s house for the night, and come back here this morning to tell me you want a divorce?” Frank’s fists were clenched, but his voice remained steady and mostly calm.

“I told you, it isn’t something I haven’t thought about extensively. If I thought there could be any other outcome, I would be willing to discuss it, but I will not change my mind.” Claire really had wanted to avoid bringing Jamie into this, at least for now, but it seemed like she might have to in order to convince Frank she was serious.

“And what am I supposed to do? Tell our friends and family that you just didn’t want to be married to me anymore? That you were, what, too bored with me? Too comfortable? Too tired of having your every need and want met with my job and my money? How do you think that makes you look, Claire?” he spat.

“I don’t care what your friends and your family think, Frank. They aren’t ours, they’re yours. If you want to make me out to be the villain, so be it. I’m only asking for a divorce, not absolution.”

“Well, I won’t give you either one. You said ’til death do us part, and I’m holding you to it.” He crossed his arms like a petulant child. She made up her mind: she had to tell him about Jamie.

“Frank, honestly. I’m not staying in this house another night. I didn’t want to bring this into it, but…I’m in love with another man. I haven’t been staying with friends or out drinking with classmates. I’ve been sleeping with another man. And I’m sorry for whatever pain it may cause you to hear this, but it is the truth. I’ll be living with him from now on, divorce or no.”

A shadow crossed Frank’s face, and Claire’s heart jumped from fear. She’d never seen him look at her this way before. He breathed in deeply through his nose, clearly trying to calm himself down before he spoke again. “Claire,” he said evenly, “I understand.”

“You do?” she asked, knowing it was too good to be true.

“I do.” He paused. “I know I’ve been working long hours. I haven’t had time to, perhaps, fulfill your needs. I understand that taking a lover sometimes is necessary in long-term relationships. I must confess I haven’t been entirely faithful to you either. But, darling, don’t you see? Now that we can be honest about this, we can be happy together again. We can each have our dalliances while remaining with one another in our marriage.”

Claire recoiled. She had not mentally prepared herself for anything like this. “I don’t think you understand. This isn’t a dalliance for me. I love Jamie, deeply. And I want to be his wife. I will not change my mind on this. Just let me go, Frank, and then we can both be free to move on with our lives.”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so stubborn about this. Can’t you at least think about my offer before you reject me outright?”

Claire had one final card to play. One she was loath to part with, but she could see no other way out at this point. “Frank, I’m pregnant,” she stated, feeling like she had just dropped an atomic bomb.

For a brief moment, a glimmer of hope shone in Frank’s eyes. “You’re…you’re pregnant? But how is that poss- No. No, Claire, no.” And for the first time since Claire had walked into his study, she actually felt some level of sympathy for Frank.

“I’m sorry, Frank, but it’s Jamie’s baby. I’m carrying another man’s child.”

Somehow hearing those words flipped a switch in Frank. The man who had been mostly reasonable, even wanting to work on their relationship, turned into a monster. “You. Fucking. Whore,” he seethed. “This is how you thank me for almost ten years of marriage? For working hard every fucking day so you could go to medical school for free? You go out and fuck some other man? Not only that, but you get knocked up with his bastard child? Fuck you, Claire!” He stood up from his chair and pounded his fist into his wooden desktop.

“I tried to tell you, Frank-”

“Well it’s too bloody late! You just think you can run off and play house with a new husband and baby?” Frank stormed around his desk and grasped the arms of the chair where Claire sat, towering over her. She didn’t know what to do, afraid he would hit her if she made any move to get away from him.

“I will make your life a living hell. Mark my words. You want this divorce to be quick and easy? I promise you it will not be. You may get to be with the man you claim to love, but you better believe my specter will be hanging over you the entire time.” Claire could feel the heat of his breath against her face as he threatened her, and she wished more than anything that Jamie would come bursting through the door to rescue her from this horrible side of Frank she’d never seen before.

“Frank, please,” she begged. “Just let me leave. Please.”

Frank kept her caged in with his body for a few more seconds, staring at her with utter disgust. Then finally he relented, turning his back to her. “Get out of my house, Claire,” he ordered. “If you stop to take a single item, you will live to regret it. Go. Now.”

Claire didn’t have to be told twice. She got up and practically ran from the room, tearing through the house until she reached the front door. She slammed it behind her, then crumbled to the ground sobbing, her hands shaking so hard, she could barely use her phone. But before she was even able to make the call to Jamie, he was miraculously there, running towards her, gathering her in his arms, helping her to the open door of the Uber he had been sitting in for the last twenty minutes, just circling the block, waiting for her text.

“Claire, what happened?” he asked as the car began to drive away.

“I can’t,” she sobbed. “Can’t talk about it yet. Please, Jamie. Please just take me away from here.”

“I think I ken just the place, mo ghraidh. Just try to breathe, aye? I’ve got ye.”

Chapter Text

Then

Jamie knelt on the ground at the end of his bed, his knees digging into the carpet fibers, sure to leave bumpy, red burn marks to be discovered in the morning, but right now he didn’t even notice. He’d knelt like this in church his whole life, learning to read from the prayer book as much as from Dr. Seuss. His family had attended Mass every week, and he’d gone through all the rituals one was expected to growing up in the Catholic church. He’d once thought nothing and no one could ever come between him and his religion. That is, until he met Claire.

The very first confession he’d gone to after that day she’d set his shoulder had consisted of admitting the lustful thoughts he’d had towards her, and things had only built from there. Now here he was, worshipping at the altar of her hips, his tongue in sweet communion with her body, no telling how many Hail Marys he’d have to say to atone for this moment alone. But surely God hadn’t placed this woman in his life for him to let her slip away. No, she was meant to be well-loved, and he was dedicated to the task.

Sounds emanated from her lips, sweeter than a choir of angels to his ears as her body began to tremble in his hands, reaching the precipice of heaven before having to once again plummet back to earth until he could take her there again. She tugged lightly on his hair, urging him to come to her, their lips meeting in a ritual as old as time itself.

“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair*,” he quoted to her. Her cheeks were flushed, her breast still heaving from her orgasm, and he thought he’d never seen a more beautiful sight in all his life.

She pushed gently on his chest, encouraging him to lie back so she could straddle him, sinking down slowly, torturously, until she encompassed his entire length, giving a little sigh as she braced herself on his chest and began to move.

“Oh, God,” he moaned, as she gripped him, stroked him, pulled him deep into her until nothing existed but them. Two people merged into one, an Adam and Eve tasting of the forbidden fruit, damn the consequences.

Now

Claire continued to weep as the car made the sharp turns dictated by city streets. Jamie didn’t ask another thing of her, just sat stoically while she cried into his jacket, his mind running through every scenario for how things could have gone with Frank, trying to figure out which one could have caused this reaction in her. By the time the car was making the long, winding turns of the countryside, Claire had fallen asleep, dozing fitfully. She woke with a start at one point, frantically begging the driver to pull over so she could be sick on the side of the road. Jamie slid across the back seat to run after her, rubbing her back as she heaved and carrying her back to the car once she was finished.

“I’m so sorry, mo ghraidh,” Jamie said as she settled back into his side, and the car started to move again.

“I know it’s crazy, but I don’t even mind it that much,” she replied, smiling weakly. Her hand drifted down to cover her stomach. “Not that it’s very fun while it’s happening, but it’s a sign our little one is still there, growing away.”

“Already such a wonderful mother,” Jamie said as he nuzzled his chin amongst her curls. She yawned then and drifted back to sleep for the last fifteen minutes of the trip.

“We’re here, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered, gently nudging her awake. She lifted her head from his shoulder to look out the window. “It’s my family’s land,” he explained as her eyes grew wide at the scenery. “We’ll be fine to stay here as long as we need.”

“Thank you,” she breathed, in awe of how safe and cared for Jamie always made her feel.

The driver zoomed away as soon as they exited the car, leaving them alone with a small cottage surrounded by mist-covered rolling hills and nothing else. Jamie took Claire’s hand, leading her inside and locking the door behind them once they entered.

“It’s a bit chilly in here, but I’ll start a fire to keep us warm. Why don’t ye sit under the blanket until I can join ye?” Jamie offered, giving her a little nudge toward the sofa. A huge, tartan blanket was draped over the back of it, and Claire covered herself up, shivering slightly.

She took in her surroundings while Jamie built the fire, feeling right at home almost immediately. They were currently in the main room which housed a double bed in one corner, the sofa where Claire sat, and a coffee table at the other end. There was a wardrobe next to the bed, presumably containing fresh linens, and a door to the bathroom next to that. The sofa on which Claire sat was facing the fireplace, above which was a mantle that displayed pictures of Jamie’s family through the years. Claire could also see a glimpse of a small, dark kitchen through the doorway next to the fireplace.

Jamie finished building the fire, the warm glow already doing wonders to lift Claire’s spirits. He lifted the end of the blanket and got under it with her, snuggling close and kissing the top of her head. “What is this place, Jamie?” she asked, tucking her cold feet up under his legs to keep them warm.

“This is my parents’ first wee house,” he explained as he put his arm around her shoulders. “My mam’s family weren’t the biggest fans of my da, so they had to marry in secret. My da spent every last penny he had to buy this land, and he and my godfather built the cottage so he and my mam would have a place to live once they married.

“My mam’s family had grand Hogmanay parties every year, and my da snuck in late in the night one year after everyone was on at least their fifth dram of whisky. He whisked my mam away right under the noses of her parents and over-protective brothers, drove her here in the middle of the night, and had a priest waiting to marry them once they got here.”

“That’s so romantic,” Claire gushed.

“Aye it was. I always wondered if I would find the kind of love my parents had. My da told me when the right woman came along, I would just know.” Jamie turned to give Claire a kiss, then held her gaze as he said, “He was right.”

Tears pooled in Claire’s eyes as she tilted her head to kiss him again, smiling sweetly up at him when they pulled apart.

“My sister was born here, ye ken.” Jamie gestured toward the bed in the corner. “Almost nine months to the day from when my parents were wed.” Jamie reached a hand under the blanket to smooth over Claire’s stomach. “My mam’s pains started just when an early snow storm came through unexpectedly, and they werena able to get out before Jenny made her way into the world, screamin’ and carryin’ on just like she still does to this day.”

Claire chuckled. “Hmm, I think I’d rather go the hospital route, at least for the first one,” she mused.

“First one?” Jamie echoed.

“Well we can’t let this one grow up without at least one brother or sister. I always wished I’d had a sibling growing up, and I’d like to give that gift to our child,” she explained.

“I just didna ken if ye’d want to have a big family, what with yer career and all.”

“If I’ve learned anything from these past few weeks, it’s that, for me, you and the family we’re building will always come first. Not that I’m not determined to have my career alongside a family, but at the end of the day, I want to come home to you and our children. And I can’t do that if I’m not willing to make some sacrifices with my work.”

“You come first for me too, Claire. Always.” They were silent for a little while, just watching the flames dance in the fireplace.

“Are ye warm enough now, a nighean?” Jamie asked after a little while. “D’ye fancy having a cup of tea wi’ me in the kitchen?”

“As long as it doesn’t have any caffeine,” she answered. “Ugh, how am I going to survive the rest of this semester without coffee?”

“I’ll help ye study,” Jamie said as he stood up and offered Claire a hand to pull her to her feet. “We can have study dates every night, and I’ll read out all yer wee notecards to ye until ye remember everything.”

They shuffled together to the kitchen where Claire sat down at the small table while Jamie started a kettle of water to boil. “I just remembered, ye’ll be living with me now!” Jamie remarked excitedly. He sat down at the table across from her and took her hands in his. “To wake up next to you every morning, Sassenach…it’ll be like a dream come true.”

Claire smiled at him, but she couldn’t help but feel a pit of dread in her stomach. Jamie still didn’t know what had happened with Frank. She figured now was as good a time as any to tell him.

“We will wake up next to each other every morning. I promise you that. But it might not be quite like a dream come true right away,” she explained. “Frank doesn’t want a divorce.” Jamie’s face fell, but he squeezed her fingers in encouragement. “Not that he won’t eventually give in to one, but it isn’t going to be easy.”

Jamie swallowed. “Did ye tell him about me? About the bairn? Surely he wouldna feel right keeping ye tied to him when we have a bairn on the way.”

“I did tell him. I didn’t want to, but he gave me no other choice. Even when I told him I was in love with you, he told me it was fine for us to have our dalliances, but that we could stay married through it all,” Claire recalled with disgust. “But once I mentioned the baby, he…” Her face changed, filling with fear, and she had to blink back tears before continuing. “He became almost unhinged. And he threatened me. Said he would make my life a living hell. He wouldn’t even let me take any clothes with me when I left.”

The tea kettle chose that moment to start whistling, and Jamie jumped up to take it off the heat and pour their tea. He gave Claire her cup, and they both sat sipping at their tea for a minute.

“So what do we do?” Jamie asked eventually.

“I guess we just keep with the plan. I’ll move in with you at your flat. We still plan to move to America over the summer. I’ve already been accepted into the university in North Carolina. The baby should arrive some time around the end of the semester which might be tricky, but I’ll find a way to make it work. And we’ll just live our lives and hope that eventually Frank grows tired of fighting a losing battle. But I won’t let him stop us from starting our lives together for even one more minute,” she stated with determination.

Jamie stood and held out his hand to her. “Will ye come wi’ me for a moment, Sassenach?” Claire looked confused, but stood and placed her hand in his.

Jamie led them to the main room, dropping Claire’s hand for a moment to rummage in a drawer in the wardrobe next to the bed. Finding what he wanted, he then spread the tartan blanket on the floor, kneeling down in front of the fireplace and inviting Claire to do the same. The glow of the firelight on her creamy skin made his heart skip a beat. God, she was so beautiful.

“There’s an old tradition in Scotland called handfasting,” Jamie began, his voice deep and rough with emotion. “When a lad and a lass wanted to marry back in the old days, they would handfast. Then when a priest would come around to the village, he would marry them properly, but everyone considered them married after the handfasting ceremony.

“I ken we willna maybe be able to marry in a church for another few years, but I want to call ye my wife now, Claire. Yer hand may belong to another, but ye are the mother of my child, and yer heart belongs to me. Will ye handfast wi’ me now?”

“Yes,” she agreed, then kissed him. She put her arms around his neck, kissing him over and over, repeating, “Yes,” in between each kiss. When she finally pulled away from him, he grasped her right hand in his, wrapping a long piece of tartan fabric around their hands, joining them together.

Then he said, “Repeat after me:
You are blood of my blood,
And bone of my bone.
I give you my body
That we two may be one.
I give you my spirit
’Til our life shall be done.”

Once they’d finished speaking their vows to one another, Jamie unwrapped their hands and pulled a silver ring out of his pocket. Claire had removed Frank’s ring before she’d gone to Jamie’s the day before, knowing she would never wear it again.

“This was my mam’s ring,” Jamie revealed as he slid it onto her bare ring finger. “She always meant to give it to me once I found the woman I would marry, but she never had the chance.”

“She would be so proud of you, Jamie, of how well you care for me. It’s so beautiful.” Jamie kissed the ring that was now Claire’s, then let go of her hand so she could examine it in the firelight. A pattern of intertwined thistles was engraved into the silver, each facet catching the light as she moved her hand.

“I feel so unprepared,” admitted Claire. “Here you’ve given me this beautiful ring, yet I have nothing to give to you.”

Jamie took her hands once again, his thumb immediately rubbing over the silver ring. “Oh, mo chridhe, ye carry my gift inside ye - the most precious gift of all. Ye’re giving me a child, Claire, and for that I owe ye my soul. How can I ever show you how much ye mean to me?”

“Just love me, Jamie,” Claire replied.

And so he did. He undressed her slowly, kissing every inch of her skin that was revealed as she lay down on the blanket, her hair spread like a halo behind her. After Jamie quickly took off his own clothes, she pulled him down to her, as sure and inevitable as the moon to a tide, both smiling as their lips met, safe in the knowledge that they would never be alone again. Their bodies slid against one another as they joined together, slick with sweat in the glow of the fire, and their love became branded upon their hearts, never again to be doubted or disputed.

Claire was spent by the end of their love making, the exhaustion of pregnancy combined with the emotional toll of the day causing her eyes to drift shut even as she struggled to stay awake, too happy to willingly succumb to sleep. Nevertheless, by the time Jamie finished cleaning her up, she had fallen into a deep slumber. Jamie took her in his arms, his heart so filled with love it almost ached. Then he placed her gently on the mattress, climbing into bed behind her and pulling the covers over them. She was like putty in his hands as he wrapped his large form around her much smaller one, holding her close as he drifted off along with her.

A few hours later Jamie was just under the surface of consciousness, dreaming of Claire and how she would look in a few months, round with their child, when the real Claire stirred in his arms, pulling him into a different kind of dream, no less happy, but infinitely more tangible.

“Mmm, how is yer skin so soft, mo nighean donn?” he mumbled, still half-asleep. His hands roamed over her body, ghosting the sensitive roundness of her breasts, down to the velvety smoothness of her belly, then teasing her by quickly cupping his hand over her wet heat down below as she squirmed against him. She turned around in his arms to face him and traced her fingers down his jawline before claiming his mouth with hers.
“I’m such a fool,” she acknowledged sadly after their kiss ended. “To think I could have had this every day for months now, and I chose not to…”

“Dinna think that way,” Jamie said as he hugged her close to him. “We canna change what has been, and we’re together now. That’s all that matters.” She buried her face in his chest, breathing him in, accepting the comfort he offered her.

“Let’s think on happier things,” he suggested. “Is it too early to ask ye if ye’ve thought of any names for this bairn of ours?”

Claire lifted her head to look up at him, a sheepish grin on her face. “Well…no,” she admitted. He remained silent, nodding at her in encouragement. “I want to name the baby after you.”

“After me?” Jamie chuckled. “We canna have two Wee Jamies running around, Sassenach. I’m flattered though, that ye thought of doing such a thing.” He planted a kiss on her forehead in gratitude.

“I actually wasn’t thinking of Jamie. I thought-”

But at that moment, a pounding on the door of the cottage burst the carefully-formed bubble of safety and love in which Claire and Jamie had been residing for the past few hours. Claire’s eyes widened as a crease of confusion formed in Jamie’s brow. But Claire wasn’t confused at all. Somehow she already knew who was at that door.

Jamie jumped out of bed and scrambled to pull his jeans back on, then opened the wardrobe to grab a robe which he tossed to Claire. All the while, the pounding on the door continued, Claire unable to speak, almost paralyzed from fear. She managed to pull the robe on to cover herself just as Jamie unbolted the door.

The door flew open almost as soon as the lock turned, Jamie jumping back out of the way just a moment before he would have been hit in the face by a solid plank of wood, and then Frank Randall stood in the center of the room, his eyes ablaze.

“Get out of that bed, Claire,” he seethed, pointing his finger at her. “How dare you run away to some love nest like a little whore right after you tell me you want a fucking divorce?”

Claire didn’t move a muscle as Frank berated her and Jamie weighed his options. He didn’t want to hurt the man, but he also wouldn’t just stand by and do nothing while Frank spewed hatred towards Claire, nor would he let Frank take her away from him. She was, as far as Jamie was concerned, his wife now, and he would do anything to protect her. They made eye contact across the room, and when Jamie saw the extent of the panic in her eyes, he decided to make his move.

“Frank,” he said calmly, causing Frank to spin around wildly to look at him, “I’ll ask ye nicely to leave my house just this once. And then we’ll move on to me askin’ ye not so nicely. Either way, ye will leave my house and my property.”

“You.” Frank spat out the word like it had left the most vile taste on his tongue. “You are the man who has been FUCKING MY WIFE! And you think I drove all the way to this wasteland just to turn around and go back home because you tell me to? You have another thing coming, you fucking bastard.”

“Frank, please,” Claire sobbed from her place on the bed. “What do you want from me? I told you it’s over. Nothing you do is going to change my mind.” She was visibly shaking, and Jamie wanted nothing more than to run over and take her in his arms, but he was afraid to make any sort of move, unsure of how Frank would react.

“I want you to come home, Claire,” Frank replied, almost sounding normal. “Let’s talk about this - figure out a way to work through it. Be reasonable. Do you really want to give up our life together for…this?” He gestured to indicate the cottage, mocking the home that meant so much to Jamie’s family.

“That’s enough, Frank.” Jamie’s voice had risen slightly in volume from when he spoke earlier, but he still managed to maintain an air of calm. “Ye ken where the door is. I suggest ye use it now before this gets out of hand.”

“I don’t take suggestions from the likes of you,” Frank growled.

And then before Claire could finish yelling, “Watch out!” Frank took two steps towards Jamie, his fist in the air, ready to strike. But Jamie was faster and stronger than Frank had bargained on and was able to deflect the attempted blow, responding with his own fist. He made contact with Frank’s nose, blood spewing across the wood floor as Frank fell to his knees clutching his face.

“NO!” Jamie bellowed to Claire as she instinctively started to get out of bed to help Frank. “Ye’ll not go near him, Claire.” Jamie grabbed Frank by the collar and dragged him to the door, throwing him out into the night. He slammed the door, bolting it once again, then made his way over to Claire.

“Where is yer phone, a nighean?” he asked, calm but firm. Claire pointed to the kitchen where she’d left her phone sitting next to her cup of unfinished tea. Jamie’s heart was still racing with adrenaline as he brought the phone over to her so she could unlock it, turned off all the location settings, then finished it off by smashing it against the stone hearth and throwing the remnants into the bin. “We’ll get ye a new phone tomorrow. I’m sorry, but it had to be done.”

“I didn’t even th-think,” Claire stammered while staring blankly straight ahead. “I never thought he’d come after us.”

Jamie moved a corner of the curtain aside and let out a sigh of relief to see Frank’s car driving away. “I didna think he would either,” Jamie said as he then sat on the bed to take Claire in his arms. She almost collapsed into him, shivering so hard her teeth were rattling. Jamie started to worry for her when he felt how cold she was. “Yer hands are like ice, lass.” He blew on her fingers, then wrapped the robe tight around her before covering them both in blankets.

“I think I might be in shock,” Claire mumbled.

“I’m here, mo chridhe. I’ll no’ let any harm come to ye. Try to calm down, if not for yer own sake, for the bairn’s.” Jamie’s heart had shifted from pounding with adrenaline to almost beating through his chest with fear and worry. The stress Claire had been through today couldn’t be good for the baby. He knew it would break both of their hearts if something were to happen to their bairn. Then Claire said something he couldn’t quite understand. “What was that?” he asked.

“Alex,” Claire repeated, a little louder this time. She was starting to warm up being next to Jamie, and she could feel her body returning to its normal rhythms. “I said I wanted to name the baby after you,” she clarified. “Boy or girl, I want them to be named Alex.”

Jamie laughed with relief, knowing that he would have agreed to any name she’d suggested at this moment in time. “Alex is a braw name, Sassenach. Our little Alex is already the most loved bairn in the whole world.”