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An interruption in the first law of thermodynamics

Chapter Text

 


 

Oxmas.

A little Christmas bubble in Oxford before the end of the term, created for the students to celebrate the holiday together. Even if it had to be a month early. 

Music, colourful Christmas markets, trees going up on the streets – even at the centre of the old Bodleian court. I could never have imagined the Bodleian court looking more beautiful, but apparently, everything looks better with a Christmas tree.

My legs were hurting from the midnight ice-skating Malva, Mary, and Maisri had dragged me to. The three M’s of my Catastrophe, as I called them. But it was fun. A lot of fun. So much fun that I had forgotten myself for a while and laughed with all my heart.

Then I’d remembered that I would never tell him how great midnight ice-skating with friends was. 

Him. Sometimes it was difficult even to think of his name, let alone say it.

But life was going on and I was still at Oxford, with friends and our magical Christmas campus. Thinking about how terrible the holiday would be back at home, I decided that I owed it to myself to have a little bit of fun here.

I didn’t want to think about the end of the term. I was supposed to go to the US and then to Lallybroch with Jamie. Lamb wouldn’t be in Edinburgh, because when I announced my initial plans he’d decided that he wouldn’t fly back. He was at a critical point in his research, he’d said. 

Back then, it was fine. Lamb was happy and he’d eased my guilt for leaving him alone in a single phone call. 

It was the reason I still hadn’t told Lamb about Jamie. I didn’t want him to come back because his little niece couldn’t handle a break-up. And now, once the term was over, I would spend a month in Edinburgh alone, most probably studying for the next term. The ideal Christmas break. Just awesome.

“You’re still in your pyjamas?” Malva’s eyebrows shot up the moment she entered my dorm room. 

“Yes?” I asked confused, as I watched her walking towards me, shaking her head.

“Today is the event at Bodleian’s Old Schools Quad, remember? The one with the projections of maps on the buildings? You said you wanted to go!” 

I had said that, but then I forgot about it. It would be amazing, seeing the maps from the Bodleian Library collection projected onto the library’s historic buildings. I shot Malva an apologetic glance and got out of bed. “Give me ten minutes?” I implored, and headed towards my closet. 

“We’ll wait for you outside,” she said, before I heard the door click shut. 

I wore my favourite pair of jeans and a soft, warm sweater. Boots. A woollen scarf and a beanie, that meant I didn’t have to put any effort into taming my unruly curls. In less than ten minutes, I joined Malva and Mary who were giggling at something next to the front door. 

“What?” I asked, walking towards the entrance. 

“Well, our little shy daisy here has something to tell you, Claire.”

My eyes shot from Malva’s teasing smile to Mary’s blushing cheeks. “Oh my God! What?”

“It’s nothing!” Mary exclaimed, much louder than normal. Startling herself with her raised voice, her next words came out in a whisper. “It’s nothing, nothing. I’ve only met him once.”

“Him? Who?” I inquired with a grin on my face.

“Alex,” Malva replied instead of Mary, batting her eyelashes and faking a swoon.

“Who is Alex, Mary?”

“This guy,” Mary murmured. “I dropped my scarf last night and he picked it up and gave it back to me. He was so kind, and he smiled…”

“And?” I pushed her, but Mary had hardly heard me, lost in her reverie. 

“We were walking in the same direction,” she continued, her voice dreamy. “And we talked, and I don’t know how, but I didn’t stutter at all. He had the most beautiful eyes, and he’s a fresher too.”

“Which college?” Malva asked, chewing her lip. “We should pay him a visit!”

“Nnn-o, no, no.” Mary faltered. “And I don’t know that, anyway. An older guy materialized next to us all of a sudden and told him they had to go. Alex looked at me and said –”

“Till next time,” Malva spoke, imitating a man’s low voice.

“Yes, but not like that, you know,” Mary corrected, smiling and blushing even more. “But he doesn’t have my number and I– I don’t know how…”

“Come on.” I linked her elbow with mine. “He might be there tonight.”

I was sure Mary hadn’t seen a single projection all night, her eyes scanning the crowd for him, for Alex. It was sweet and honest, and it made my heart hurt. So I focused my attention on the lights dancing on the hundred year old walls. The old and the new, in perfect conjunction. With my eyes on the Old School Quad buildings, I didn’t notice another him until he was standing right next to me. 

“That interested in maps, are you?” Robert’s French accent stood out from the British ones around us. I hadn’t seen him since that night at the bar, three days before. We had agreed to go out for drinks again, the way people always do when they say goodbye because they feel like they have to. He had my number and I had his from when we were back in Zambia, but, as expected, neither of us had called.

“It’s enchanting, isn’t it?” I asked in a light voice as I moved my eyes over another projection. 

He made a low, affirmative sound, but when I turned my head towards him, he was already looking at me again. “So, how do you find your first Oxmas?”

Robert shrugged. “It’s weird, isn’t it? The term hasn’t finished and I still have to work on an essay for the 26th, but everyone is so cheery. And you know, the trees, the lights…”

“They create a totally different atmosphere,” I finished his thought. “It will be weird when it’s over, going back to the pre-Christmas mood.”

“Definitely,” he agreed. “But I like it.”

“Well, celebrating Christmas twice can’t be bad.”

His eyes changed for a moment, and his mouth became a hard line. Before I had the chance to say something, he smiled. 

“Christmas is not my favourite time of the year,” he explained softly.

I was ready to ask how that could be, but I stopped myself in time. His mother. Maybe Christmas brought back memories of family traditions, and his mother was an inextricable part of this time for him. As Ellen had been for Jamie. I wondered whether not having so many memories from my parents was beneficial from time to time. But then, I would give my soul for a few more moments with them.

I took a step towards Robert and squeezed his arm in solidarity. Neither of us spoke, but we didn’t need to.

At some point, Malva disappeared and a bit later I felt someone pinching my arm.

“Ouch!” I turned to look at Mary. “What?” She was blushing again, and when I looked next to her, I saw a skinny guy with brown hair and the sweetest smile who was blushing too. 

“I didn’t find him, but he found me,” Mary whispered to me, her eyes shining with happiness. “Do you mind if we leave?”

I bit my lip to stop the smile from growing wider on my face. “No, of course not. Good luck!” I watched them until they disappeared into the crowd. 

I spent the rest of the night standing next to Robert, admiring the projections, enjoying the comfortable silence between us, and letting the colours of light sneak into my heart. 

“So, what’s the plan now?” he asked once the event was over. He looked around, searching for something. Or someone. “It seems that my friends ditched me,” he observed a moment later.

I snorted. “Yeah, mine too. Not big fans of maps, it seems.”

“Booze sounds better,” he commented. 

“Does it?” I wondered. 

“Oui. Join me for a pint?” Robert winked at me, then looked nonchalantly at the people leaving the library.

“You know that once I take the beanie off, a jungle of curls will be waiting underneath it?” I half-joked, half-prepared him for what he would see.

Robert laughed, then looked at my beanie as if I was hiding a little monster underneath it.

“You’re right,” he grimaced after a long moment of examination. “We better just walk around.”

His grimace became sincere when he felt my blow to his arm. “You’re an arse,” I added, for good measure.

“I think I’ve heard that one before,” he laughed, rubbing his arm. “That hurt,” he grumbled. “You’re paying for the drinks.”

“Fine! But no hair jokes for the rest of the night!”

“Deal!” he said, tugging on a curl, stretching it out and watching it spring back.

We went to a crowded pub, sat at the only available table in a corner, but Robert didn’t let me pay for the drinks. We talked about life in Oxford, the medical school and his courses on economics, and I tried hard to keep Jamie out of my mind, not to break down just because Robert had some common classes with him. Robert talked about his father’s business in France, and listened to my stories from my travels with Lamb. When we left, he announced that he would walk me back to my dorm, because it was late and he was a gentleman. Ignoring my snort at his description of himself, we started walking towards the dorms of Lady Margaret’s Hall. 

It was much quieter now that the events were over, but students were still walking around, laughing, flirting, and giggling. The night was beautiful, and a few stars hung in the clear sky. I took a deep breath and tried to empty my head from all thoughts of my heartbreak. I had fun tonight, and I was allowed to. I was entitled to it.

When we arrived at my dorm, I turned to say goodnight only to find Robert’s face a few inches away from mine. My heart stopped when I felt his hot breath and smelled the peppermint in it, from drops he’d bought from a stall at the Christmas market. I held my breath in turn, knowing that it smelled exactly the same. I had eaten half his peppermint drops on our way back to my dorm.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Before I had time to think, Robert tilted his head closer to me, and the next moment he brushed his lips against mine. It was gentle. A start. An invitation for more.

And I freaked out.

I took a hurried step back, raising a hand to my lips and looking at him through wide eyes.

Robert frowned at me, then took a step back, too. “You’re single, aren’t you?” he implored, perplexed.

“How?” I asked, not wanting to affirm his notion.

“How did I know?”

I nodded.

“You haven’t mentioned him once tonight or the other night at the bar, you’re not constantly on your phone texting him and you didn’t send him a picture from the event. Even though you loved it. It wasn’t so hard to figure out,” he concluded and shrugged, his gaze falling on my lips again.

“I guess I’m quite easy to read,” I murmured and heard him chuckle. 

“I like that.”

I nodded again, not knowing what to say. The truth. I had to tell him the truth. I was never good at lies, anyway. 

“Robert,” I started and his green eyes locked with mine. He was one of those people who didn’t even have to try to look good. Robert was the definition of a handsome man. But that didn’t matter at all. I took a deep breath and continued. “You’re not wrong. Jamie and I, we…” I swallowed, cursing myself for stumbling. “We broke up. But I’m not ready, and I don’t want to move on before I am. It wouldn’t be fair, to either of us.” 

Robert nodded and raised his chin, in defeat or acceptance I wasn’t sure, but kept his eyes low on the ground. “I understand.”

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, wanting him to look at me again. “I’m still in love with him.”

At that comment, Robert looked at me and gave me a wistful smile. He took a step towards me again and placed a warm, gentle hand on my cheek. His thumb caressed my cheekbone as he murmured something in French, so low that I wasn’t able to catch it. “You’re a good one, Claire,” he said, at last. 

“I don’t know about that,” I disagreed. 

“I do,” he insisted, then took a step back and turned to leave. I stayed rooted in place. He had only taken two steps away before he turned back again, grinned at me, and said, “See you around, Miss Bennet.”

As I walked up to my room, I wondered whether he was a good one. If I had made a huge mistake by stopping him, by not kissing him back. He was beautiful, smart and witty, even if he was a little bit more cocky and authoritative than I would like. 

And yet, kissing him now didn’t feel right.

Robert had a wonderful French accent, and all I wanted to hear was Jamie’s heavy Scottish one.

I fell onto my bed, hating Jamie for ruining my Oxmas, my chances for a future, my life. Hating myself for loving him so much.

Mary came back from her date after midnight. Alex had kissed her and her exhilaration permeated the thick layer of unhappiness that surrounded me. I was happy for her. I was glad she had found someone who was so like her, who could understand her, and care for her. Who didn’t mind if she was shy or stuttered, and saw the lovely person she was.

By the time Mary fell asleep, I couldn’t find it in me to be upset anymore. But I couldn’t force myself to be happy either. I slipped into my semi-depressed state with ease, and when I realized sleep wasn’t a choice anymore, I put on my thickest winter coat and headed out to the gardens. 

I don’t know how long I sat by the river, crying, while trying to stop my stupid heart from suffocating me. At last, I lay down on the cold grass, closed my eyes and wondered what kind of an idiot I would be if I ended up with pneumonia. Maybe that would be enough of a shock to delete Jamie from my mind. 

Maybe.

I woke up with the dawn overtaking the night sky and a hand holding mine. My heart began beating faster and faster, and I closed my eyes again, trying to figure out what to do. This wasn’t a woman’s hand. It wasn’t Mary’s, or Malva’s. It was a big, warm, male hand that seemed strangely familiar. But who was I to be sure about the familiarity of hands? I resolved to leap to my feet, take a look at the person lying beside me, and if I didn’t know him, run back to my dorm as fast as I could. 

But then he spoke. And his voice was a balm that soothed reality away.

“If I lay here, if I just lay here, will you lie with me and just forget the world?”

My heart stopped and I felt my eyes grow abnormally wide as I opened them again. I tried to breathe, but I couldn’t. I tried to react, to turn and look at him, but I was afraid that he was just a dream and the moment I turned he would dissolve into thin air. He had spoken to me in my dreams before. He had never been there when I had woken up.

“But you’ve never touched me,” I croaked with effort. 

“What?” His whisper was barely audible. Tentative.

“You’ve never touched me in my dreams before.”

A chuckle. “Yeah, bummer.” His voice quivered and a shiver ran down my spine. “I couldn’t touch you in my dreams either, Sassenach, and I decided to do something about it.”

My whole body tensed.

The gall of him.

I sat up so quickly the world tilted on its axis for a few seconds. When I found my bearings again, I slowly turned to look at him.

God, he was beautiful. Those red curls, the bright blue eyes, the wide mouth. I suddenly realized why I couldn’t kiss Robert. His soft brown locks, his shining green eyes, his full lips – they were all wrong. Perfect, but wrong. 

A small smile curled Jamie’s lips and I realized he was drinking me in too. 

And then it hit me. The hurt, the desperation, the anger. 

“What are you doing here.” It wasn’t a question. It was an interrogation. I set my jaw, resolute to be rigid, determined not to cry. 

“I had to see you,” he said in a low voice and moved to take my hand. I snatched it away from him.

“Why? Are you trying to establish a new tradition? Do we have to see each other once a month now that we’re not together?”

“Twenty-six days,” he countered. 

“What?” I asked incredulously.

“It’s been twenty-six days since that night.”

That night. I knew exactly how many days it had been. A part of me had died over the course of each one of those days. I kept my hard gaze on Jamie for a long moment, then stood up. “Well, you saw me. Now, goodbye, Jamie.”

“Claire!” he yelled, alarmed, as he sprang up and rushed to me. “Wait.” He towered over me and grabbed my arm, afraid I would leave if he didn’t have a proper hold on me. I didn’t know if he was wrong about that. I wanted to get away, far away from him. Even looking at him hurt. “Please, Sassenach.”

“What do you want?” Ice infused my tone. 

“I need to talk to you.”

I didn’t want to listen to him, and yet, I wished for him to tell me everything. I wanted to know his heart, his thoughts. I needed answers, so many answers, but just looking at him and knowing he had decided he didn’t want to be mine was stealing my breath. He was here, but he wasn’t my Jamie anymore. 

I took a step to leave and heard him gasp, as if I had shot him. I froze in place, balling my hands into fists. 

I was fighting with myself, struggling to find what I wanted, and how much more pain I could handle. I closed my eyes, trying to set my feelings in order before they could choke me.

I felt like I was four again, standing in the aisle with the chocolate bars at the grocery store and trying to choose one. It was one of the few memories I had with my dad, shopping together. I will never forget how I had stared and stared at the chocolates, licking my lips as if I were imagining their taste on my tongue, trying to decide which one I should put in our cart. And then, surprising myself, I had suddenly started crying. Soon my silent tears turned into wailing, bringing my dad’s attention back to me. 

“What’s wrong, Claire?” he had asked, eyebrows scrunched in a frown. 

But I couldn’t answer his question. I hadn’t known what was wrong. I only knew that I wanted to do what he had asked and choose only one chocolate, but I also wanted to buy all of them. And I felt tired, too tired to decide. I only wanted my mum, because mum would know which chocolate was the best. So I kept crying, and crying, until my breath came in gasps, and my dad’s face was blurry in front of me. 

He had held my shoulders and pulled me into a hug, then, his big hand drawing circles on my back to soothe me.

“In here,” he had said afterwards, tapping lightly on my chest, “Snuggle our feelings. And they are so many, sweetheart, that sometimes they don’t talk to each other and try to get out of our chest all at once. And we start crying, because we are confused and we don’t know how to feel. I want you to take a deep breath, stop crying, and tell me what’s wrong.”

And with my father squatting in front of me, his hands tucking errand curls behind my ears, I had told him that I didn’t know what I wanted.

I felt the same now, only that I was not four anymore, and I couldn’t throw a fit. Jamie was here, standing in front of me, looking me through pleading eyes, and he was all the chocolates. And yet, I couldn’t have him. I couldn’t trust him, not anymore, but I didn’t want to leave either. I couldn’t. 

So I inhaled. Exhaled. In and out, again and again, following my dad’s advice. My coat was soaked from lying on the grass for so many hours, and my hands felt like ice cubes. And I decided to listen to him.

“Let’s go find a bench. My arse is freezing.”

I started walking and heard him falling in step behind me, undoing the zipper of his insulated jacket. “Here,” he offered, catching up with me in two wide strides. 

“I’m fine, thank you,” I dismissed him, keeping my chin high.

“Please, Sassenach.”

“Don’t call me that!” I hissed, breathing hard. He had decided that I was not his Sassenach before he made that video call. I was plain Claire to him now, and he had better deal with it.

“Please, Claire,” he repeated, rectifying his slip.

I took his jacket begrudgingly and wore it. It was dry and warm, and it smelled like him. 

Dammit.

Two minutes later we were sitting on a bench, watching the sky changing from a deep blue to a lighter one. It was beautiful. This would be one of my favourite moments with him if his surprise had happened a month ago. Now, however, I could feel the bitter taste of these twenty-six days in my throat every time I swallowed.

“I’ll hear you.”

“Can I hold yer hands, please?”

“No.” My voice was colder than my hands as I shoved them into his jacket pockets.

Jamie took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. It was such a simple gesture and so him, that I felt my heart clench inside my chest. “I miss ye, Claire,” he whispered. “Every moment, every day.”

I resolved not to talk until he was done, and to keep any tears at bay. I would not cry. I would not.

“I miss ye when I wake up and I don’t find yer text on my phone. I miss ye when the guys do something funny and I can’t text you to laugh with you about it. I miss ye when I finish training and I can’t call ye to see how ye’re doing. I miss ye when I go back to the dorm and canna talk to ye about my day. I wake up every day, knowing that no matter what happens I willna be happy, Claire… I canna think of myself without ye.”

Fuck my resolution. I had to speak. 

“You didn’t seem to have any problem with that, twenty-sixdays ago,” I deadpanned. 

“I was a fool.” Jamie’s voice trembled. “I thought… I thought breaking up would be hard, but we’d get over it and then everything would be easier for both of us. I could see ye struggling here, and I couldna even hug you when ye needed me, when ye were tired from long hours in the library. Ye couldna come to my races or be there to calm me down when I was stressed. Another guy in the team broke up with his girlfriend who lived in another State and he got over it, eventually. And we arena in different States, Claire. We live on different continents,” he explained as if that detail had eluded me. “I felt torn all the time, between ye and my life in the US. I ken that I was the one who changed our plans, I was the one who went to Michigan–”

“I never said anything about our plans. I never complained, and I supported your decision from the very first moment. I was the one who told you to go. That is not why we broke up. We broke up because you stopped believing in us. Because you wanted somebody who would be closer to you.”

“No!” he protested, his gaze bore into mine with insistence and flame. “No, not somebody. Not anybody. I wanted ye to be close to me, and I thought that if we were in a long-distance relationship for years the pain of not seeing each other would become too much, until we couldna take it anymore. Or what we had would become less. I thought that we would gradually fall apart, and I didna want that. I thought that we didna have any other option, Sassenach. Every time that ye missed one of my calls, or I missed yers, I became more sure of it. Then I thought…” he trailed off.

“What? What else did you think, Jamie?” I prompted, impatient. He was a mess but I didn’t feel merciful in that moment to go soft on him. Not after everything I had been through.

“I thought if we were destined to be together, maybe we would find each other again once ended up in the same country. But now I know, Claire. I dinna want to find ye again after how ever many years, and realize that ye don’t want to be mine anymore. That there is a big part of yer life that I know nothing about. I dinna want to miss yer first day in the OR, or yer graduation. I dinna want to miss yer smiles after yer tutorials, even if I can only see them through a screen. I dinna ken what I was thinking when I believed I could do it without you, but I can’t. I can’t and I don’t want to be without you.”

I huffed, partly because I didn’t want to let his words have an impact on me. “Twenty-six days. Took you long enough.”

“I tried, at first. I tried to go on, to tuck you into a corner of my heart and keep living. But I couldn’t, Sassenach, because all of my heart was yers. I could have come to find you after those first few days. And maybe I should have, but I didna, because I wanted to be sure. But no matter how hard I tried, living without ye didna become easier. It became harder. I kent how I was with ye, and now I ken how it is to live without ye. It sucks, Claire. I’m miserable without ye. All I could think of this past month–”

Twenty-six days,” I interrupted him.

He smiled, shaking his head. “I love ye. A Dhia, I love ye so much it hurts. Twenty-six days. All I could think of was ye, Sassenach. How I wanted to share everything with ye. How I needed to ken where ye are, what ye’re doing, and how ye feel. I missed ye with every breath I took. And now I ken that I canna go on without ye.”

I’d resolved not to cry, but treacherous tears were rolling down my cheeks without asking for my permission. 

“And how do I know that you won’t change your mind again? How can I trust you again, Jamie?” My question found its target in his heart, and I saw his sharp intake of breath from the impact. “You broke my heart,” I whispered, as an explanation. “You broke me.”

He looked down for a moment, but quickly locked his eyes on mine again. “I fucked up. I know I did. Forgive, mo nighean donn. Forgive me, please.” He paused for a moment, and extended his hand between us, palm facing up. He didn’t remove it when I didn’t move to take it, and he continued. “All I’m asking for is another chance. One chance, Sassenach. If ye’re not ready, if ye need time, I can wait. I will wait for as long as it takes.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think time would change how I felt. I loved him, I knew I did. But he had given up on us, yielding to his fears. He didn’t believe we would make it through all the years of our separation. He had chosen a life without me and broke me in the process.

Well, and he regretted it. It was clear that he did. I could see it as much in the pain in his eyes as I could hear it in his voice when he spoke. 

I watched Jamie’s chest rising and falling with every breath he took while he waited for me to say something. His hair was a mess from all the times he had run his hand through it. I wanted to fix it, and then run my fingers over his cheekbones, over the curve of his lips. And yet, I was frozen in my place. Not even to take his hand that lay on the bench between us.

“How can we ever be the same again?” I asked, unsure. I started caving in, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.

“I dinna want us to be the same. D’ye remember the first time I talked to ye?” he asked with a timid smile. “In Mrs. Fitz’s class, ye were keeping notes on the first law of thermodynamics.”

I didn’t know where he was going with that, but I stayed silent and let him go on.

“The conservation of energy. Nothing is lost, Sassenach; only changed. And I don’t care if we change, as long as we change together. This… Me without ye… It was an interruption in the first law of thermodynamics. Because I was lost. And that’s against the laws of physics.”

I laughed. This was ridiculous. Jamie blushed, and then laughed with me.

“I ken what I want now, Claire. I want ye. I want us. And I will fight for us, if ye let me, because what we had – what we have – it’s true. It’s truer than anything I will ever get. It’s more than I could ever ask for.”

I kept my eyes on the river, the grass, the sky. I felt my heart beating faster in response to his words, as if each time he spoke he glued another of its broken parts back in place.

“All I’m asking for, is a chance,” Jamie implored. “A chance to prove myself to ye, mo ghraidh.” 

“A chance,” I murmured, trying to sort the tangle of emotions in my chest.

He came closer, now brave enough to take my hands out of my pockets and wrap them in his. “I know ye and ye know me. Ye’re the only person in the world that really knows me. Ye’re my heart and my soul Claire, and I canna leave without them, can I?” Without taking his eyes from me, he leaned into me and kissed me gently on the lips. 

And damn him, it felt right. But I didn’t kiss him back. I had more to say.

“You didn’t talk to me.” I kept my voice calm. “You had all these thoughts in your head, and you left me here in the dark, thinking that everything was alright on your end. And when you made up your mind, you just called me to announce the verdict of a trial I didn’t participate in.”

Jamie opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again. I guess there was nothing he could say that wouldn’t be a lie. He haddecided for both of us.

“This…” I started again. “This is not how things work, how relationships work. If you have second thoughts, I need to know. If you need something I’m not giving you, I need to know. If you believe that we’re fucking falling apart,” I finally barked, unable to keep the anger from my voice, “I. Need. To. Know.”

Jamie nodded, but I was far from finished. “What we’re trying to do is bloody hard. We need to talk, and talking includes the unpleasant discussions too. I’m not going to try again without knowing that you’ll do that.”

“I give ye my word, Claire. We will make this work. I will do anything I can to make sure it does.”

“Will you talk to me? Always?” There was no ice or blaze in my voice now. Just a question. A sincere question that demanded an honest answer. 

“Always,” Jamie vowed and leaned into me. “I will not give up on us, ever again,” he whispered on my lips, and I drank the words in.

I had trusted him with my heart before and he broke it. But he was right when he said that I knew him. And I knew he’d torn his own heart apart in the process too. I could still see the pain in the way his sweater hung a little too wide on him, in the black bags underneath his blue eyes. I looked into his eyes, those eyes I knew better than my own, and saw the truth in them.

“One chance, Jamie Fraser. You won’t get another.”

“I willna need another. Ye’re mine and I’m yers, and I will never let you go again.”

“Promise?” I asked, as if that would seal the deal. As if his promise would secure my happiness.

“Promise,” Jamie nodded emphatically, his eyes overflowing with tears that split when he closed them and kissed me again.

And this time, I kissed him back. It was long, and soft, and encompassing. It was an offering of his soul, and I took it, keeping it safe inside my chest. A treasure and a hostage. 

“Plus,” Jamie said once we stopped to catch our breath. “I offer you a chance to torture me forever for making the worst mistake of my life.”

I laughed, cupped his cheeks and kissed him again.

I closed my eyes. Life was nothing but chances and choices. Decisions. Paths waiting for us to take them. A huge aisle with chocolate bars. 

I looked towards the path in front of me and I saw Jamie and me together – arguing, fighting, kissing, laughing. I saw a man who wasn’t flawless, but was mine. I saw a future that wasn’t perfect, but was real. 

I saw happy moments and sad ones. I saw difficulties and dreams coming true. I saw us facing life with our hands clasped tightly together. 

When I opened my eyes again, I saw a risk, but a risk worth taking. 

“Challenge accepted, Jamie Fraser.” 

And just like that, the next chapter of our lives began.