For the first time she could remember, Claire didn’t know how to talk to Jamie.
Even when they first met, when every moment between them (text, talk, or touch) felt like it was something that only they could know about (a secret just for them), words had never failed her. She never worried about his reaction to what she had to say, never worried that she would somehow push him away from her by sharing too much. Opening up to him was as easy as breathing; a lifeline necessary for her very survival. They were connected, irrevocably so, some type of pre-determined kismet existing between the two of them that meant they would never be parted, no matter what life threw their way.
Once they had finally gotten together, there was no topic they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) broach. Everything from political and religious affiliation to how they would divide up household chores to Star Wars vs. Star Trek (Jamie switching his allegiance to the former after their first Halloween together) had become a regular part of their conversations. Even Uncle Lamb’s very vocal affinity for England’s national rugby team over Scotland’s when he came to visit had never been a source of contention.
But she had noticed over the last few months that there was one thing Jamie was no longer interested in talking about: his family.
For a long time, little anecdotes would come out easily, willingly: the sight of red roses at a local farmer’s market led to an offhand remark about the rose bushes his mother had grown and tended at Lallybroch; haggis on a restaurant menu would evoke memories of attending Burns Night celebrations with his parents and siblings; the outcome of a rugby match would either lead to swearing or cheering, followed by stories of he and Ian watching and drinking whisky together (and the hangovers that followed) like they had done so many times before.
Jamie would speak of Lallybroch itself, of the swelling hills and grounds that made up the estate, of the gardens and greenhouse his mother had designed and cared for, built meticulously (and lovingly) by his father and his hope to take her there “one day soon.” Every detail he divulged about the working farm was done with reverence: the cows that grazed in one of the pastures (“coos,” he called them, “very bonny creatures”), the horses and state of the art stables they lived in, the circular tower with a door that faced north that had stood for hundreds of years, the fields and streams and woods that all connected countless numbers of acres together that he had spent the majority of his life roaming and memorizing.
She learned about the Fraser tartan and plaid, of the clan motto (‘je suis prest’) that had been his family’s since before the days of Culloden and was embedded on a brooch that he wanted to wear at his (their) wedding one day. Jamie had told her of the blood oath performed by his parents before their official church ceremony, of the ancient Gaelic words they had spoken to each other before mixing their blood together, a sacred vow that transcended time and space.
She knew that one day they would make that same vow in a similar place.
But ‘one day soon’ never came; as the months wore on, Claire never got to meet his family, to shake their hands when Jamie introduced her proudly as his girlfriend, to give them a warm smile that she hoped didn’t betray her nerves, her deep desire for them to like her and approve of Jamie’s choices (her, them, a life of his own making).
At first, Jamie would speak to his father on the phone once or twice a week, the conversations painfully formal for a father and son she knew had been close for many years. The talk would inevitably turn to Lallybroch Farms, to Jamie’s decision to sign away his position and thus the company itself to his uncle, and he would end the call, frustrated and upset, unwilling to have the same discussion over and over again.
Eventually, the calls dwindled in number between Jamie and Brian until they ceased to exist; but they never came at all from Jenny.
She had refused to talk to Jamie after he broke up with Laoghaire and walked away from the company, his calls to her always sent straight to voicemail. Claire had watched and listened with a heavy heart when Ian called one evening a few weeks after she moved in, letting Jamie know Jenny had gone into labor and was being admitted to the hospital, reluctantly telling him he had snuck away from her room to let Jamie know.
She had spent the next several hours awake with Jamie, alternately watching him from her position on the couch (bundled underneath a blanket, a Harry Potter movie playing in the background) as he tried to keep himself busy by pacing, and running her fingers through his hair when he would finally relent to laying down with his head in her lap, his fingers drumming against his thigh.
He had waited at the hospital with his father when wee Jamie was born; but with this child, he was forced to wait from afar, hoping and praying that everything would go well for his sister and her baby. When Ian called several hours later, Claire watched as Jamie’s heart both expanded and broke at the news that he had a niece his sister did not want him to come and visit.
She had thought with a little more time, Jenny would come around once her emotions had settled from both the pregnancy (and her fluctuating hormones) and the shock of Jamie making such a huge decision that had impacted the whole family.
But then the issue of Maggie’s christening and her godparents had come up on a phone call with Ian, and she knew the last thread of hope Jamie was holding on to that he might salvage a relationship with his sister had shredded.
For some reason, it was that moment — the heated discussion between Ian and Jamie, and the look of utter betrayal on his face after he hung up the phone that had been keeping her up at night recently.
She turned her head to look at the clock on her nightstand, sighing internally when she noted the time. 1:54 a.m. She shifted in bed, tugging the flannel sheet tighter around her before letting a hand rest above her head on her pillow. Luckily she didn’t have class in the morning, but Jamie had to get up early to head into the office and she didn’t want to wake him up.
She glanced over at him, a small smile curving her lips at the sight of him. He was laying on his back like always, the sheet and comforter bunched loosely around his waist, one hand flat against his toned stomach. She watched as his chest rose and fell steadily as he breathed, the curly hairs on his bare chest just visible in their darkened bedroom.
Unable to help herself, she reached out and pushed a curl back from his forehead, letting her hand run down the curve of his cheek, the breath catching in her throat as he smiled in his sleep like he always did when she touched him. He was beautiful, strong (in more ways than she could count), and most importantly, thank God, hers.
She couldn’t stop the sigh that did come out of her mouth then, turning away from Jamie to stare back up at the ceiling. She jumped when his low, gravelly voice broke through the silence and her screaming thoughts, one large hand moving underneath the sheet to rest on her thigh.
“Ye’re thinking so loud I can hear it next to you.”
“Did I wake you?” she whispered, turning to look at him.
He gave her a slow half-smile, his eyes hooded as he met hers. “Not really. I dinna sleep well when you don’t. What’s wrong? Ye canna sleep, even after everything we did tonight?”
She felt her cheeks flush with color at the memory, her blush deepening when he laughed at the look on her face (was she really so obvious?). “Don’t tease me.”
“I’m no’ teasing, I’m being serious, Sassenach. I knew ye were flexible, but I didna ken ye could do all of that.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, the shit eating grin on his face only growing at her mock annoyance. “I didn’t hear you complaining about it.”
“And I never will,” he said, sliding his hand up to her hip, then underneath the hem of her top (his shirt), his thumb stroking the soft skin there. “I’m a lucky man and I ken it well.”
She hummed at that, shifting onto her side to face him. “I was thinking the exact same thing about you before you scared me half to death.”
He chuckled, leaning forward to kiss her on the nose before pulling back. “Why can’t ye sleep?”
She bit down on her bottom lip, weighing her options in her head as she considered him carefully. She knew she needed to tell him what had been on her mind, to try and get him to open up, but she was afraid to push too far. The hesitation on her face must have showed, because his eyebrows suddenly furrowed together before he reached for her.
He brushed her hair back from her face, his fingers lingering on her cheek for a long moment before his thumb worked her lip out from underneath her teeth. “Hey... ye ken ye can talk to me about anything, right?”
“I know that. I just… I’ve been thinking about the holidays. Christmas and Hogmanay are coming up soon, and while last year was absolutely perfect together—”
“More than perfect,” Jamie interrupted.
She couldn’t help but smile at that. “Yes, more than perfect… I just can’t help but think that maybe they would be even better this year if you were able to spend part of that time with your family.”
She felt him stiffen, his fingers pausing in their journey exploring the lines of her body (the ones he had already memorized), his palm falling flat against her skin. “Claire…”
“Jamie, you haven’t talked to your father in six months. You haven’t seen him in even longer, and Jenny—”
“Don’t,” he said flatly.
“It’s been over a year,” she pushed on gently, reaching for his hand. He intertwined their fingers together but refused to look at her, his jaw set hard.
“Ye ken exactly why that is.”
“Yes, I do, but don’t you think it’s something you two can talk through and move past?”
He looked at her then, his face incredulous. “She went ahead and made Laoghaire the godmother to my niece even after I broke up with her, knowing it would mean we — you — would be forced to continue seeing her regularly. She had Ian tell me the only way I could come to Maggie’s baptism was if I left ye at home. The things I could hear her saying in the background… no, Sassenach. She chose someone else over her own family. I canna just forget that and I willna stand for anyone disrespecting you that way.”
She hesitated briefly, voice tentative when she spoke again. “Jamie, she probably thinks the same thing of you. I’m sure in her mind, you chose someone else over them when you chose me. And I love you for wanting to protect me and defend my honor, but I hate that you haven’t seen or talked to your family in so long because of me. I don’t want that for you. I never did.”
“It’s no’ the same, Claire, and it’s no’ your fault. It’s not like I was choosing between being with you or being a Fraser. They aren’t mutually exclusive. She was angry that I broke up with Laoghaire and even angrier that I chose to sign away my position with my parent’s company. She’s done nothing but act like I was some… some damn puppet for her and everyone else to play with, only it was my life affected, no’ hers. She wasna the one who had other people making life decisions for her.”
“I understand that, but Jamie… try to see it from her perspective. She thought you were going to move home to Lallybroch after you graduated and run the Farms and marry Laoghaire one day. Those two are best friends. Instead, out of nowhere, you sign everything away and break up with her for another woman. How did you expect her to react?”
“I expected her to be supportive, like I’ve always been of her and Ian. She could have asked me questions, could have asked to meet ye so she could see how happy ye make me — so she could see how right all of this is. But she didna do that and I’m no’ going to forget it.”
“Jamie…” she started, but he shook his head, his mouth set in a firm line.
“Sassenach, I love you. But dinna argue with me over this.”
“I’m not arguing, I just want you to really think about it.”
“I have thought about it. And ye are arguing with me. Don’t.” His voice was firm, but his touch was gentle as he brought her hand up to his mouth, pressing his lips against the inside of her wrist.
His eyes were imploring her to let it go, and although she wanted to push back, she relented, shifting her body until she was lying flush against his, her head tucked underneath his chin. “Fine. For now anyways.”
“Thank ye,” he sighed, his body relaxing into hers as he tugged her closer, one hand running lazily up and down her back.
She let the quiet envelop them for several minutes, feeling the beat of Jamie’s heart against her own chest, his breathing becoming slower and more even. His fingers continued their path along her spine, one hand now resting on her bottom, holding her close.
She stroked his chest, her voice barely audible when she spoke. “Jamie?”
“Mm?” he mumbled in response, sounding like sleep was ready to pull him under at any moment.
“What about your father?”
“Christ, Claire,” he groaned, pulling back to look at her.
“I said I wouldn’t argue about Jenny, I never said anything about him, though.”
He sighed (exasperated, bemused), the corners of his mouth twitching up as he met her sheepish expression. “What has gotten into ye?”
“I told you, it’s the holidays coming up. You’re supposed to spend that time with family, and regardless of what you’ve said, I know your family still means everything to you. I want to help.”
“Are we no’ a family?”
“What?” she asked, surprised by his question.
“You and me,” he answered. “We live together. I pick yer dirty socks off our bed and wash and fold yer underwear. We go grocery shopping and cook together. I rub yer feet after a long day of classes while we watch tv on the couch. I ken every curve of yer body. I ken what will make ye blush and what will make ye scream and cry out. I get to be the one who makes ye smile and laugh, and the one ye tell all yer secrets to. I love you more than life itself. Doesn’t that make us a family?”
She felt her heart lurch and expand to a million times its normal size as it always did when he spoke to her like this, the sudden rush (all-consuming, overwhelming, yet never enough) of emotion at how much he loved her and how unafraid he was to tell and show her making her throat feel thick and her eyes burn with tears. She swallowed hard, her eyes locked on his, whisky on blue, as she answered him.
“Yes. That makes us a family.”
“Well then,” he smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he watched her, “it seems I’ll be with my family during the holidays.”
She rested her forehead against his, a murmur of agreement coming from deep within her chest. “I love you, Jamie.”
“I love you, too, Claire. You and the bairns we’ll have… ye’re everything I want and need.”
She pulled away, raising an eyebrow at him. “Bairns, hm? That sounded plural.”
“Aye,” he agreed.
“Just how many children do you think we’re going to have?”
“As many as ye’ll give me, Sassenach. An even dozen would do.”
She laughed out loud at that, shaking her head as he grinned at her. “A dozen, hm? I don’t think so, Fraser.”
“Why no’? Ye’ll look so bonny, mo nighean donn, all round and glowing.” One hand traveled to her flat stomach, his palm splaying against her skin there, as if he was imagining the promise of their future within.
She made her own approximation of a Scottish noise at him, her hand sliding down to cover his against her belly. “I’m relieved to know you’ll think I’m beautiful even when I’m big and fat, but I’m not having twelve children for you. A couple of them, yes.”
“Mm, we can discuss the number later. But one day, aye?”
“Aye,” she smiled. “One day down the road. The road is long, but I can see them… they’re just pretty far down there. Tiny little dots right now.”
He chuckled, leaning down to press a kiss against her forehead. “Ye said dots, plural,” he tossed her word back at her, “so that’s enough for me.”
He pulled her in against him again, their legs tangling together underneath the sheets. She sighed in contentment, pressing a kiss against the hollow of his throat, breathing in his scent as it surrounded her. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your father just because you sidetracked me by being all romantic. I’m going to bring it up again,” she said warningly, a playful edge to her tone.
“I wouldna expect anything less from ye, Sassenach. But for now, let’s sleep. Unless…”
“Ye’d rather I take ye to bed instead.”
His hands slipped underneath her shirt, one hand cupping the warmth between her legs. She let out a shaky breath, her body moving against his instinctually. Her eyes fluttered closed at the feel of his touch, slowly opening back up when he moved her underwear to the side, one finger stroking along her opening.
She pushed up against him, swinging her body on top of his until she was straddling him, pushing her hair out of her face with one hand before she met his eyes, intently watching her. The smile that she gave him (easy, suggestive) was reflecting right back at her.
She quirked one eyebrow at him. “Give me your best.”
She had watched Jamie get ready for work in the still, dark hours of the morning through bleary eyes she could barely keep open. They had gone to bed late (in the early hours of dawn), the alarm on his phone seeming to go off as soon as their heads had hit their pillows, both flushed and satiated from their lovemaking.
He had pressed a kiss to her temple before whispering a hushed “I love ye,” before he turned to go. She had mumbled incoherently back at him before grabbing for his hand on his way towards the door, not wanting him to leave. He crouched down beside their bed, his face tired but beautiful as he stroked her cheek.
“You didn’t give me a proper kiss goodbye.” It came out a slurred sigh, her head barely lifting away from her pillow.
“That’s because ye have morning breath,” he teased.
She mustered up just enough energy to glare at him with only one eye opened. “Shut up and kiss me,” she retorted, voice clear this time.
Her mouth swallowed his laugh before he finally pulled away, bopping her nose with one finger. “Get a little bit of rest. I’ll see ye later.”
She had grunted in response, allowing her eyes to close as he headed out, waking up a few hours later when her own alarm went off. Although she didn’t have to make her way to campus, she did want to run a few errands before Jamie got home later that day. She grudgingly got up and started the shower, hoping the hot water would wash away the fuzziness in her mind and ease her sore limbs.
She dressed carefully for the weather after drying her hair, tugging on a pair of jeggings and a sweater, wrapping a scarf around her neck before slipping her feet into a pair of boots. She frowned when she heard a knock at the front door of their apartment; she never heard anyone buzz in.
Tucking her hair behind her ear, she walked from the bedroom towards the front door, yelling “Coming!” as the knocking picked up its steady beat again.
She swung it open, eyes traveling up, up, up to take in the tall stranger who was filling the doorway of her and Jamie’s home. Her breath caught in her throat when she met his eyes — the same shape and color of blue as the ones she looked into every single night.
His voice was deep when he spoke, the Scottish burr thicker than Jamie’s. “Ye must be Claire,” he said, sticking his hand out for her to grasp.
She realized she was gaping, forcing herself to close her mouth before she swallowed hard and extended her own hand out to meet his. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, her pulse thundering in her ears as she opened her mouth to speak.
“Yes, I am. It’s so nice to meet you, Mr. Fraser.”