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Back To You, Part 2

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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…”

“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.”

Chapter Text

She pulled her hand away from Brian’s, taking a small step back into the doorway as she tried to find her composure. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she took a deep breath before moving to the side. “Would you like to come in?”

“Thank ye,” he nodded, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he gave her a smile. She closed the door quietly behind him, watching as his head moved subtly around the entry, no doubt taking in the pictures on the walls (of places she and Jamie had visited together, added since she had moved in).

“Can I take your coat?” she asked, hoping her voice sounded steady even though she felt unsettled, nerves quaking through her body.

He turned away from the photos, shrugging out of his jacket. “Yes, if ye dinna mind. These photographs are spectacular. Are they from a local artist?”

“Thank you,” she replied, taking his coat and bending it over her arm. “I took them, actually. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, and Jamie suggested hanging them up here.”

He looked impressed, his head turning back to the wall. “Jamie told me ye were a medical student, but I didna ken ye were a photographer, too. Ye’ve really captured the beauty of Scotland.”

She took a step next to him, looking over the pictures: the view from Arthur’s Seat, taken on a warm weekday she and Jamie both had free and spent hiking after a picnic together outdoors; the historic buildings of Old Town, taken as they walked together down the Royal Mile; the rolling greens and endless water of Loch Lomond, captured on a weekend getaway; Edinburgh and Stirling Castles, Jamie’s enthusiasm over both so infectious it had made her wish they could own a castle themselves (for their own children to sword fight and play on the grounds as he had done as a child); and the outside of the rugby stadium on campus, a place so special (and theirs) that it would forever own her heart.

She did not know Brian Fraser enough (or at all) to tell him why these photographs were so important to her and his son. He knew nothing of her, of them, of the life they had built (and were continuing to build) together. She felt a small stab in her chest at the knowledge of how little he knew, but pushed it aside, meeting his eyes as he watched her. Was her glass face giving her away?

“Thank you, though I wouldn’t call myself a photographer by any means. I think Scotland does all the work, honestly. I’m not sure you could take a bad picture here.”

He nodded his agreement, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. “Ye’re too modest, all things considered.”

His r’s rolled even more than Jamie’s.

She smiled a little at that, shaking her head before pointing in the direction of the kitchen and living room area. “Come in, please, and have a seat. Can I get you anything to drink?”

He followed after her, walking towards the built in bookcases next to their television. “Does Jamie still keep a nice bottle of whisky on hand?”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh as she moved towards one of the cabinets, opening it up and grabbing a bottle out. “A bottle? Do you know your son?”

The laughter died on her lips instantly. She wanted to kick herself as she watched Brian’s face fall slightly at her words, the struggle to mask his feelings obvious. She placed the whisky down on the kitchen island, nibbling at her bottom lip. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Dinna apologize,” he waved a hand, clearing his throat. “Ye didna mean anything by it, though ye wouldna be in the wrong if ye had.”

She stayed quiet for a moment, hands flat on the cool surface of the countertop. “Whisky then?” she said finally, hoping to move past the awkward moment.

“Aye, lass, I thank ye.”

She watched him out of the corner of her eye as she grabbed two tumblers, pouring a generous amount into both. She wasn’t sure getting tipsy with her boyfriend’s father the first time she met him was a good idea given the circumstances, but the thought of having him in their home without Jamie there (or some liquid courage) was not an option, either.

Brian picked up one of the framed photographs on one of the shelves of the bookcase, turning towards her. “If ye dinna mind me asking, who is this?”

She walked into the living room, handing Brian his glass as she peered around his arm to see the picture. It was of her, Jamie, and Uncle Lamb at a rugby match, all wearing matching smiles and Scotland blue (though Lamb had only begrudgingly agreed, grumbling goodnaturedly about Jamie’s choice in attire for him).

“That’s my Uncle Lamb. We took him to a match when he came to visit. He’s an England supporter, so he wasn’t particularly happy to be wearing that,” she chuckled.

“Trying to turn him into a Scot?”

“Mm, not likely. He’s English through and through, at least when it comes to rugby. Jamie keeps swearing to me that he’s going to get him to change allegiances the way he did me.”

“Are the three of ye close then?”

She took a sip of her whisky, the warm liquid sliding smoothly down her throat. “Yes. He’s the only biological family I have left. He tries to visit as often as he can. He adores Jamie.”

He didn’t say anything to that, just let his lips turn up slightly (mouth still closed)  before he placed the frame back on its shelf. She wondered if she had said the wrong thing; did any father want to hear that his son had formed a bond like the one they shared with another man?

He picked up another picture then, a full smile forming on his lips this time. “Jamie took ye riding.” It was a statement, not a question.

She felt an answering smile form on her own lips. “More than once. He’s an incredibly accomplished rider. I’m much better than I was when we started, thanks to him.”

“Do ye enjoy it? Riding?” His eyes were watching her carefully as if her answer would reveal everything there was to know about her.

“I do, yes. Riding around the countryside with Jamie… well, it’s hard to do something like that and not enjoy it. And seeing him outdoors in his element…” her voice trailed off, her throat feeling strangely tight as she thought of him riding (wind whipping through his curls, the music of his laughter echoing as they raced in an open field knowing he would win, the straight set of his back on top of the saddle, his proud smile as she mounted her horse easily without his help).

She cleared her throat, looking down at the floor before meeting his eyes again. “You have an incredible son,” she finished, not looking away from his gaze.

She could see the mix of pride and regret in his face at her words. It was his turn to look down at the floor, one hand coming up to rub at the back of his neck. She watched as he blinked rapidly, his voice shaky when he spoke again.

“I ken I do.”

She sat down on the arm of the couch, setting her drink on the table next to her, seeing her opening. “Mr. Fraser—,”

“Please call me Brian, lass. Ye’re my son’s girlfriend after all,” he interrupted.

“Okay,” she smiled weakly. “Brian, then — I don’t want this to sound rude, but why are you here? Why now, I mean?”

Claire could feel her own guard building, knowing that while the man in front of her seemed kind and reminded her physically of Jamie, he had profoundly hurt the person she loved more than anything or anyone else in the world. She could not, would not, let Jamie feel more pain because of his father. Not if she could help it.

Brian made one of those Scottish noises that Jamie always made, sitting down in a leather chair across from her. “I ken I’ve been a poor father to Jamie the last year, Claire. I also ken it’s little recompense for how things have been between the two of us, but I want to make it right. He’s my son and I love him. He hasna been returning any of my messages so I figured it was time to come see him in person. And you… well, ‘tis time for me to know you as well.”

The expression on his face and tone of his voice were both so earnest and genuine, his gaze not wavering as he looked straight into her eyes. She could see the glint of an open plea there for her to believe him, to know that his words were true.

She opened her mouth to respond to him when she heard the scratch of a key in the front door, the slide of the deadbolt clicking before the door swung open. Her breath caught in her throat when Jamie’s voice called out to her, deep and clear as always.

“Sassenach? Are ye home, love?”

Claire felt her breath catch in her throat, her palms suddenly sweaty as she wiped them against her jeans. She stood up, unsure if she should somehow try to keep Jamie in the hallway to warn him, a barely audible tremble to her voice when she answered, starting to make her way towards him. “Yes, I’m here.”

“Have ye had lunch yet? I thought maybe we could grab something out.”

She was two steps away from the chance to warn Jamie when he came striding into the living room, his head down as he flipped through documents. Distracted, he reached out for her and pulled her to him, kissing her soundly on the lips. One hand automatically reached up to rest along his cheek and jaw, pressing another kiss to his mouth before she pulled back.

“Hi,” his eyes crinkled as he smiled at her, his eyebrows furrowing slightly together as he took in the look on her face. She wanted to curse herself for being so obvious as worry began to override his features. “Are ye okay, Sassenach? What’s…”

His voice trailed off as his eyes looked over her shoulder. Claire could see from the corner of her eye that Brian had stood up, making his presence known to his son. She felt Jamie’s body stiffen against hers, his eyes flashing momentarily in shock before an unreadable mask slipped over his face.

“Hello, son,” Brian said quietly. “It’s good to see ye.”

Jamie’s hands tightened on her waist before bringing her to his side, slightly behind his body (as if to protect her, her heart cracking at the idea that Jamie thought his family was a threat in any way to her). “Da… what are ye doing here?”

“I came to see ye. I didna ken how else to get ye to talk to me. Claire here was lovely enough to let me in.”

“I wasna talking to ye because I dinna want to. And I dinna appreciate ye showing up at our home like this and ambushing Claire when I’m no’ here.” His voice was low, the anger coursing through it clear.

“Jamie,” Brian sighed, “I didna ambush the lass. I ken why ye’re so angry with me, but will ye at least sit down and hear me out?”

His jaw was set tight, though Claire could feel the slight tremble of his hand at her side, fighting the urge to tap his fingers against his thigh. “No, I willna do that. I’d like for ye to leave.”

Brian’s face fell, his eyes turning to Claire’s beseechingly. Part of her heart went out to him, but she would not take up for him publicly and team up with him against Jamie. Instead, she grabbed Jamie’s hand, threading her fingers together with his.

He looked down at her, that mask he was wearing slipping away as he looked at her. “Can I talk to you for a minute, please? Alone?” she asked softly, her thumb moving up and down his own, her touch a balm as always.

“Aye,” he said grudgingly, allowing her to pull him towards their bedroom.

“Excuse us, please. We’ll be right back,” she said to Brian before closing the door firmly behind them and sitting down on the edge of their bed, watching as Jamie began to pace back and forth.

“What are you thinking?” she asked quietly, folding her hands in her lap.

He stopped abruptly, placing his hands on his hips. His head was bowed in thought, the tension in his body still palpable. “I canna talk to him, Claire.”

“Why not?”

He looked up at her then, shrugging helplessly. “He just… he didna abandon me, no’ in the way that usually means, but I canna think of any other word for what he did. Parents are supposed to support their children, not turn their backs on them. I would never do to my bairn what he’s done to me.”

She stayed quiet for a moment before reaching her hand out for him. He took it, allowing her to pull him down next to her on the bed. She weighed her words carefully before she spoke. “I know how much he’s hurt you. I won’t even try to explain what he’s done, because that’s for him to do. But if you don’t give him a chance to speak his heart to you, you might never get closure. Would you be okay with that?”

He sighed heavily, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t know, Sassenach. And it’s no’ just about me, ken?”

“What do you mean?”

His eyes locked with hers, his body turning towards her so their knees touched. “We’ve been together for over a year now, Sassenach, and he’s not spoken to ye or seen ye once in that whole time. I can live with the way he’s treated me, but I couldna bear to see him somehow hurt you, too.”

She felt the corners of her eyes begin to burn, her face softening as she cupped his cheek in her other hand. “Jamie, I love you so much for worrying about me… but you don’t need to hold back from your family on my behalf. I’m not concerned that your father will somehow hurt me. My only concern is you. I want you to do whatever feels right to you. No matter what, I will support you and be here for you.”

His eyes searched hers, the hurt and worry shining clearly in them. “And what if I agree to hear him out, only to end up disappointed again?”

“Then at least you gave him a chance. It’s all on him, not you. And if it doesn’t go well, you’ll have me to pick up the pieces and put them back together with you. It’s the two of us, remember?”

That half-smile she loved so much appeared, curling up one side of his mouth. “I could never forget.”

“And I would never let you. So? Will you hear him out?”

“Only if ye stay by my side.”

She smiled, leaning forward to kiss him, first his cheek, then his jaw, and finally his lips. She felt his own smile against her mouth, breathing each other in as they pulled apart. “I will always be by your side,” she promised.

“Then I’ll be well pleased with the world, Sassenach. Come on, let’s get this over with,” he sighed, standing up and heading towards the door, his hand on the small of her back.

Brian had sat back down, but stood up when they re-entered the living room, pushing his hands into his pockets. Jamie let his hand slide from her back as she sat down on the couch, taking his place next to her. “I’ll hear ye out, but I canna promise ye that it will make a difference as to how I feel,” he said warningly to his father.

Relief flooded over Brian’s face as he sat down heavily once more. “I understand. Thank ye… both of ye,” he added, shooting a grateful look to Claire.

He swallowed hard, letting out a deep breath before meeting Jamie’s steely gaze. “I dinna ken exactly where to begin. I ken there is nothing I can say to explain to ye why I’ve acted the way I have the last year, because it’s inexcusable. I’ve been a terrible father to ye, Jamie, and I’m so sorry. Yer mother would be ashamed of me. I’m ashamed of me.”

“Do ye have any idea how ye’ve made me feel?” Jamie asked, his hand reaching over for Claire’s, holding on to her tightly. “Ye treated me like I was only good enough to be your son so long as I took over the company. Now I’m supposed to believe ye suddenly feel and believe otherwise?”

“I ken it may seem that way, but I’ve wanted to reach out to ye for months, but I… I was afraid to. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and I understand why ye made the choice that ye did. Ye were living a life that other people laid out for ye, and no’ one that would have been fulfilling — professionally or personally.”

He paused then, his eyes turning to Claire, a small smile forming on his mouth as he nodded before looking back to Jamie. “I can see ye’ve found a woman who is yer equal. And I’m sorry that I dinna ken much of her, beyond what ye’ve been willing to share with me and what I’ve been able to see so far myself today. I am proud of you, son. I ken ye’ll no’ be ready to forgive me, but I hope the both of ye will be willing to consider starting over fresh and letting me prove that I want to be in yer lives.”

Throat thick, she turned her head to look at Jamie. He was struggling to hold his emotions in check, his eyes glassy with moisture as he blinked rapidly, looking down at their joined hands. She squeezed, giving him an encouraging half-smile when he looked at her.

It said, I am here. We are in this together.

The curl of his fingers around hers in response answered, I know.

He let out a shaky breath then, turning to look Brian square in the eye. “How am I supposed to trust that you mean everything you’ve said?”

“Ye let me show you over time,” he said simply. “And if ye think ye could try to do that — the both of ye — then ye’ll allow me to start by asking ye to come to Lallybroch for the holidays. It’s time for Claire to see yer home.”

Jamie made a noise somewhere between a snort and a scoff, his hand tightening on hers. “Do ye no’ think the first step at this point would be dinner together at a restaurant, not going to Lallybroch for an extended visit?”

“Aye,” Brian said somewhat wryly, “if the two of ye had only just started dating. It’s been over a year and ye live together. She’s yer family, is she no’?”

“Yes,” Jamie answered sharply.

“Then I’m asking ye to come home so we can all celebrate the holidays together as a family. We’ve missed out on too much time already. I dinna want another Christmas and Hogmanay to go by without ye there — both of ye.”

Jamie turned to her, his eyes asking her a question without any words. She nodded slightly, giving him an encouraging smile of consent and confirmation.

“Okay,” he said, Brian’s face lighting up at the word. “But we’ll no’ be there until at least the day after Christmas. We’ll spend that together here. Alone.”

“Of course,” Brian agreed quickly. “Thank ye, son, I—,”

“But,” Jamie interrupted, voice hardening, “if Jenny is planning on staying at the house, we willna come.”

“Jamie…” Claire said softly, biting her tongue when he raised an eyebrow at her.

“After the way she’s treated both of us, Sassenach, particularly you, I willna do it.” He turned back to his father. “Do we have a deal?”

Brian looked slightly distressed, but he finally nodded, his voice sure when he spoke. “Aye. Ye have a deal.”

“Then it looks like we’ll be at Lallybroch for Hogmanay.”

She could feel the nervous energy course through her veins at his words.

Lallybroch .

He was finally going to take her home.

Chapter Text

Claire didn’t think she had ever been so tired before (an ache that ran through muscle and bone, knocking her off her feet).

The few weeks that followed Brian’s unexpected visit passed by in a blur. Jamie was busy at work, finalizing details of the new whisky he and his Uncle Jared had been working on, spending time between his office in Edinburgh and the distillery in the Highlands. Claire herself was consumed with final exams before the semester ended for the holiday break, her eyes bleary and red from pouring over her textbooks. She practically crawled into bed after her last class, the knowledge she had successfully completed her first semester of medical school filling her with pride and relief.

Though it seemed they barely had five minutes to just relax together, they had still managed to find time to decorate their flat for Christmas, the evergreen standing in the corner of their living room the crowning jewel (wrapped in ribbon, twinkling lights and an assortment of ornaments they bought together the previous year). Stockings had been hung from the fireplace mantle (their names embroidered across the cuffs), garland and candles scented like cookies and pine scattered throughout their home.

With the chaos of work and school finally over, they had been able to settle into their newly formed traditions just before the holidays began. They spent Christmas Eve baking cookies together, Jamie doing the majority of the actual baking while Claire watched him from her chair at the kitchen island, eating frosting with a spoon.

He had pretended to frown at her, pausing from his task of pulling the shape of a gingerbread man from the dough, setting the cookie cutter down on the counter. “Are ye going to help me, or just sit there eating all of the icing so we dinna have any for the actual cookies?”

She shrugged, a little smirk crossing her lips as she looked at him. “You like to be healthy, so I’m just helping you resist the temptation to cheat on your fruits and vegetables. Besides, we both know you don’t actually want me to help you bake. I’m terrible at it.”

“Even so,” he grumbled, “it’s no’ fair that you’re sitting there licking that spoon the way ye are while I’m trying to work.”

“Jealous?” she asked, a flirtatious lilt to her voice as she put another small spoonful of icing in her mouth, making an exaggerated sound of contentment (an almost breathy moan), her eyes closing briefly before she pulled the spoon back out, licking at the remaining icing.

Jamie’s eyes followed her tongue, his eyes traveling from her mouth up to her eyes, his own narrowing slightly when he saw the amusement she was trying (and failing) to hide. “Are ye laughing at me?”

“For being jealous of a spoon? Yes, I am.”

“I wouldna be jealous if ye’d give me the same treatment,” he pouted, his own eyes bright as he looked at her.

“Mm, I don’t know if you’d taste as good as the icing,” she said, barely able to contain her laughter when a look of mildly shocked offense crossed his face.

“I dinna remember ye complaining about that last night,” he muttered, turning back to the dough on the countertop.

She did laugh out loud then, turning her body sideways on the chair so she could stand up. She made her way around the island to him, icing covered spoon in her hand. He continued to place cut out dough on a baking pan, turning around to open the oven door and slide it in. He set the timer, turning back around to face Claire as she tugged at his belt loops, pulling his body flush against hers.

“Did I offend you?” she asked, biting down on her bottom lip as a smile threatened to bloom. 

He made that deep Scottish noise, his hands running across the small of her back to the curve of her hips, then over the swell of her bottom to rest there. He nipped gently at the corner of her mouth, a small sigh leaving her at his touch.

“If I told ye that I was offended, how would ye make it up to me?” His voice was low against her ear, his lips pushing against the soft skin just underneath her earlobe.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” she said quietly, moving her head to the side to allow him better access to her neck. She scratched at the curls along his collar, smiling when she felt him shiver against her. “Though I bet I could find a way.”

“Ye think so?”

She felt that heady sensation begin to take over her body as it always did when he touched her, her mind fighting to stay in control as her hips moved against his. She nodded her answer as she pulled back slightly, one finger dipping into the blue icing on the spoon in her other hand. She smeared it across one corner of his mouth, giggling when he made a noise of surprise.

That noise turned into something else when she fastened her mouth over that same spot, her tongue swirling around his bottom lip as she licked it off. He pulled her tighter against him, moving his head to fasten his lips to hers, his tongue sliding into her mouth easily as she wrapped her arms around his neck again.

“You’re stealing my icing,” she teased against his lips.

“Ye said ye’d make it up to me, did ye not?” he retorted, using his hands to lift her body up onto the countertop, his fingers moving towards the buttons on her shirt.

“I did,” she confirmed, letting her legs fall apart so he could stand between them, her hands still looped around him as he finished opening the front of her shirt, his hands gently cupping her breasts before he slid them to her back, deftly unclasping her bra.

“Well then,” he said, sliding her closer towards him and lifting her back up, her legs wrapping around his waist automatically. “Living room or bedroom?”

“What about the cookies?” she laughed. “They’ll burn!”

“Och, I nearly forgot,” he smiled back, swiveling around with her still in his arms, turning the oven off and grabbing the spoon out of her hand, throwing it down on the island with a clatter. “We’ve got enough cookies already. I see something else I’d rather have for dessert.”

“Very smooth,” she snorted.

“Ye ken it, Sassenach. Now are ye gonna choose or shall I?”

“Let’s start a fire in the living room, please.”

“Are ye being literal or metaphorical?”

She shook her head as she laughed, saying a quick thank you to whatever god had made this man hers. “Both.”

__________

They spent the rest of Christmas Eve together at their flat: a quiet dinner of takeout in front of the fire, then a mini marathon of Christmas movies as they snuggled in bed together, their legs intertwined beneath the covers, a plate of half-iced Christmas cookies set aside on Jamie’s nightstand.

They had both fallen asleep with the television on and their bedroom door still open, some of the multicolored lights of the tree just barely visible against the wall. Claire woke first (slowly, her body fuzzy with exhaustion and happiness), turning back onto her side to watch Jamie.

They had shifted in the few hours they had been sleeping so that he was on his back, one hand holding on to her thigh, the other lying flat across his stomach. His face was turned towards hers, his chest moving slowly up and down as he slept. She marveled at the way his eyelashes were so long and thick, curling at the ends as they fluttered against his cheeks.

She scooted closer to him, reaching out with one hand to run a delicate finger down his cheek and jaw, her touch as light as a feather. She bit down on her bottom lip when that half-smile she loved so much curled up one side of his mouth in response to her touch, leaning forward to kiss his jaw.

He stirred, his eyes hooded as he opened them halfway, blinking slowly as he came to. She pressed another kiss to the corner of his mouth, pulling back slightly so she could meet his eyes. “Merry Christmas, love.”

She felt his chest rumble before she heard the sound come from his throat, his hands tugging her back down to him, his lips soft against hers. “Merry Christmas, mo nighean donn. What time is it?”

“It’s early. I’m sorry I woke you.”

“Dinna be,” he said, turning to look at the clock next to him. He groaned when he saw the time, his head falling back on the pillow. “Christ, Sassenach. I take that back.”

“I know, but it’s Christmas morning, Jamie. That means it’s time for presents.”

He looked at her appraisingly, trying to hide the smile that was threatening to bloom on his face. “How do ye ken ye’re getting anything?”

“Because I’ve been good this year,” she teased, “don’t you agree?”

He smirked, raising his eyebrows slightly as he looked at her, his hand sliding down to cup her bottom. “That’s one word for it.”

“Oh my god, don’t make this dirty. It’s Christmas, Jamie!”

“Aye, and it’s still you,” he laughed, poking at her side and tickling the soft skin underneath her pajama top, her giggles filling their room as she squirmed away from his fingers.

She managed to swing one leg over him, straddling his waist as she hovered over his face. She used one hand to push her curls to the side, her other pressing down on his chest before leaning down and pressing a kiss to his lips, pulling back with a smile. His hands settled on her waist, his own smile spread wide across his face.

“Is this my Christmas present?”

She swatted at him, rolling her eyes playfully. “No, it’s not. Are you ready to open them?”

“Aye, Sassenach. Ye ken ye’re like a little kid right now?”

She stilled on top of him, her fingers that had been tracing slowly up and down his own stopping, bringing his hand to rest over her heart. “Do you know why that is?”

She could hear the unbidden vulnerability seeping through the question (her voice unguarded, suddenly emotional), her face clearly reflecting the tone of her voice. Jamie turned serious too, his eyes fixed on hers, unblinking as he watched her. “No,” he said quietly. “Tell me.”

“Because for the first time in my life, I have stability. I have someone who not only wants to build traditions with me, but will keep them, too. I didn’t have that… before. And being able to follow through on what we started last year…” her voice trailed off, throat suddenly thick with emotion. “It means everything to me, Jamie.”

His palm spread over her heart before he brought her hand to his lips, placing a soft, lingering kiss on the inside of her wrist. He placed her hand over his heart then, letting her feel the way it was beating for her and her alone.

“It means everything to me, too, Sassenach. Thank you for letting me follow through.”

She let out a choked laugh when he brushed away a tear that had slipped past her lashes down her cheek, shaking her head at herself. “God, I don’t know why I’m so emotional recently. I’m being silly.”

“Ye’re no’ being silly. And even if ye were, ye’re allowed to be silly with me,” he smiled, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Presents now?”

“Yes,” she said, pushing off Jamie to stand up, making her way towards their closet where she had placed his carefully wrapped gift. She padded back to their bed, crawling underneath the covers as she handed it to him. “You first. It’s not much, but I hope you like it.”

He propped himself up on one elbow, his fingers sliding along the inside of the wrapping paper, pulling it away with a ripping noise that filled the room. He took the red bow from the top off, playfully setting it on top of Claire’s head before turning back to the box. He opened it, moving the tissue paper aside to pull out what was inside.

“Sassenach…”

“Do you like them? I know it’s not very exciting, but I thought they would be useful for when we’re at Lallybroch.”

She watched as he ran a finger along the cuff of the leather riding gloves, his initials carved into the soft material. His smile curved one corner of his mouth, his expression touched as he looked up at her. “They’re perfect, mo ghraidh. Does this mean ye’ll ride through the grounds with me, even if it’s cold and snowing?”

“Of course I will. I can’t wait to see your home, Jamie.”

“And me riding a horse there?” he asked knowingly.

She felt her cheeks turn pink, which only made him laugh. “Maybe,” she mumbled, rolling her eyes at him when he chuckled again. He leaned forward and kissed her, his hand sliding along her jaw.

“I’m just teasing ye. Thank ye for the gift and for agreeing to come to Lallybroch with me. I’m no’ as confident about the trip as you are, but I wouldna be going there without you and I canna wait to show you where I grew up.”

He kissed her once more before sitting up in bed, turning around to open the drawer in his nightstand. He pulled a long box out, his face unreadable as he turned back to her, handing Claire her gift. “Here ye go.”

He watched her intently as she carefully undid the wrapping paper to reveal a thin velvet jewelry box (dark red, like a rose, slightly worn but clearly well cared for). She felt her breath catch in her lungs as she opened it, a gasp leaving her lips as her fingers reverently touched the strand of pearls sitting within.

She pulled them out, mouth falling slightly open as she met his eyes. “Jamie, these are beautiful.”

He gently took them from her, undoing the clasp and moving them around her. She swept her hair off to the side so it wouldn’t get tangled, watching from the corner of her eye as he secured them around her neck. He made a noise she couldn’t quite decipher as he all but drank in the sight of her, his fingers running along the strand of pearls and meeting her own.

He swallowed hard, glancing down briefly before meeting her eyes. “These were my mam’s pearls. My da gave them to her on their wedding day, and she always wore them for special occasions. I remember seeing them on her for a dinner party my parents were going to, and I told her how bonny she looked with them on, the most beautiful lass I’d ever meet. I think it melted her heart, because she wore them far more often after that. After she passed, my da took me aside and told me she had wanted me to have them one day, to give to the woman I knew was the one for me.”

He paused, fighting to control the emotions that were running across his face. She squeezed his hand tight, blinking back tears as the magnitude of his gift sank in.

“These pearls are very precious to me… as are you, Claire.”

She wouldn’t have been able to look away from his gaze even if she wanted to. She let out a shaky breath as her fingers touched the cool, hard pearls against her skin once more, moving away from the necklace to touch Jamie’s face instead. His eyes fluttered closed at her touch, slowly opening back up as her hand slid up along his jaw.

She knew she couldn’t find the right words just then to tell him how his gift made her feel, but she could show him.

His stubble was rough against her skin, her fingers finally disappearing into the silky curls of his hair. She brought her lips down to his, a noise between a sigh and a squeak leaving her throat as he moved his body to face hers, his own hands cupping her face as he drew her in closer.

Their tongues tangled together languidly, Jamie’s hands moving down from her cheeks to run along the curve of her neck before he unbuttoned her pajama top, sliding it slowly off her arms.

She moved her lips from his, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth before pulling back, tugging at the hem of his shirt. He removed it easily, tossing it so it joined her match on the floor, his hands reverent as he helped her remove the last barriers between them, his fingers warm and sure as they slid against her skin.

They were cocooned in the warmth of each other, naked bodies touching all along their lengths underneath the covers. Jamie’s hand ran over her thigh, her bottom, and her hip before cupping one of her breasts, his other hand sliding between her legs.

She moaned, her own hands moving across his chest and down to his stomach, her hips beginning to move against his hand as she arched into his touch, her nails digging slightly into his skin.

“Jamie,” she breathed, her lips moving across his neck to the tender spot behind his ear, her body tangling with his as she ran a foot up his calf, his hands continuing to rub and caress.

“I ken,” he said quietly, letting out a groan when Claire took him in her hand, stroking softly, the solid heat of him sending a jolt through her body.

She let her forehead rest against his, feeling almost boneless as he ran a hand along the back of one of her knees, bending it so her leg was wrapped around him. They both let out breathless moans when he lined himself up and entered her, their bodies stilling against each other as she quickly adjusted to the familiar feel of him inside her.

She met his gaze as he started to slowly rotate his hips, her body answering his rhythm. She felt like she was drowning in the look in his eyes (like she was the beginning and end of his world), her own starting to fill up unexpectedly from emotion.

He touched her as they continued to move together, his palm and fingers running along her arm, his nails occasionally scratching along her skin as if he needed to know she was real, there, tangible. She reached out and touched his face, unwilling to blink away the tears and miss the way his eyes and face looked as they loved each other, the pearls around her neck sliding to settle between her breasts.

“I love you,” she whispered, the words ending on a whimper as he pressed deeper inside her, the rotation of her body against his creating the friction she desperately needed. “God, I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered back, pressing against the small of her back until there was no longer a her or a him, but them.

They were melded together, face to face on their sides, so connected that she didn’t realize she was close to her finish until it came upon her suddenly, her body bursting at the same time the emotional dam inside her did; she couldn’t stop the chants of I love you, I love you, I love you from falling from her mouth any more than she could the tears pouring down her cheeks.

She felt him come inside her moments later with a moan of her name, his thumbs brushing away the tears that had wet her face, his lips following their path to her mouth as he whispered his own words of love back to her.

Jamie rested his forehead against hers, finally tilting his head back to kiss her temple, then her mouth, his eyes meeting hers. He smiled, that half-smile that never failed to make her stomach drop, his lips soft on the tip of her nose.

“I was wrong before.” His voice was soft, filled with wonder.

Her eyebrows furrowed together at his words. “About what?”

“When I was a wee lad, and told my mam I’d met the most beautiful woman in the world.” His fingers ran along her cheek, down the slope of her neck and curve of her shoulder as his eyes swept the hard and soft lines of her body and face. He touched the pearls around her neck then, his expression so tender it nearly made her weep again. “It could never be anyone but you.”

She kissed him then, her eyes never leaving his. “For me, too.”

They stayed wrapped in each other’s arms for what felt like hours, their fingers continuing a lazy exploration of each other’s bodies (the ones they knew already, but still somehow felt new), Jamie’s hands pausing only when Claire’s stomach growled between them, causing them both to chuckle.

“Sorry,” she said, feeling her cheeks pink slightly.

“Dinna be,” Jamie said, kissing her once more on top of the head before gently pulling himself away. “I’ll go make some breakfast, aye? Stay here and rest.”

“Okay,” she mumbled, eyes already closing as she burrowed deeper beneath the covers, her cheek pressing against her pillow.

She listened to the sound of Jamie bringing out pots and pans from the kitchen, yawning as she tried to get warm without the heat of his body next to her. Reluctantly, she sat up and reached over the edge of the bed for her pajamas, putting them back on quickly before grabbing the television remote and settling back into bed.

She turned another Christmas movie on for background noise, her eyes heavy as she blinked slowly at the screen. Jamie stuck his head around the corner of the door a moment later, his hair mussed and unruly, the clear frames of his round glasses making him look younger than usual.

“What do ye want to drink? I made scrambled eggs and pancakes.”

“Orange juice, please.”

He disappeared again, the sound of the refrigerator opening and then closing floating through the room. When he came back into their room a few moments later, plates and drinking glasses filled on top of a breakfast tray, she sat up to fluff the pillows behind her, smiling gratefully at him as he handed her a glass of juice, which she set down on her nightstand, and then a plate.

She held it with both hands, trying to adjust her body so she was more comfortable when the smell of the eggs hit her senses.

She felt the sudden rush of saliva fill her mouth, but not for the reason it usually did when Jamie cooked. She swallowed hard, only to have the same thing happen again, her mouth and tongue beginning to feel fuzzy and thick. Stomach beginning to churn, she shoved the plate back in Jamie’s direction, his confused “what are you—,” trailing off as she threw back the covers, rushing towards their bathroom.

She flicked the light on and shut the door firmly behind her, taking in long, deep breaths of air. She turned the tap on, spitting some of the excess saliva from her mouth into the sink, watching as it disappeared down the drain with the water.

She let out a shaky breath as her stomach finally stopped rolling, leaning over to splash cold water on her face, reaching for a towel to pat her skin dry. Jamie knocked, his voice worried behind the door. “Sassenach? Are ye alright?”

She opened it, giving him a weak smile. “Yes, sorry. I think I’m getting some kind of bug, and the smell of the eggs just made it worse.”

“I’ll get rid of them then,” he leaned against the door jam, watching as she wiped at her mouth again. “Do ye need to see a doctor?”

“No,” she shook her head instantly, “I’m fine, really. It’s flu season, so it might just be a touch of that. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“Maybe we should stay home from Lallybroch.”

“Absolutely not! Jamie, I’m fine. I promise. We don’t leave for a few more days anyways. Everything will be back to normal by then, I’m sure.”

“Okay,” he said, just a hint of doubt left in his voice. “Stay here while I take the food out. I’ll bring just the pancakes back.”

“Thank you,” she said gratefully.

She waited a few more minutes before climbing back into their bed, accepting the plate of pancakes and syrup from Jamie, settling in next to him against the pillows.

“Better?” he asked.

“Much,” she smiled, taking a small bite from the end of her fork, waiting to make sure her stomach was still settled before taking another. “Has it been a good Christmas so far?”

“Do ye even have to ask?”

She smiled at that. “No, I guess not. Jamie…” her voice trailed off.

He reached over and laid a hand on one thigh, squeezing in encouragement. “Aye?”

“The pearls… thank you. I will cherish them.”

His eyes were blue and fathomless as he looked at her, his fingers touching the necklace and then the swell of her bottom lip, his touch a promise and vow. “You’re welcome, Sassenach. Thank ye for being the right woman to wear them. My mam would be proud.”

“I hope so.”

“I know so. And now ye’ll have something to wear with your dress on Hogmanay. Are ye sure you’re ready for Lallybroch?”

She could hear the thread of uncertainty in his voice, knowing that he was the one who was nervous. She laid a hand over his still resting on her thigh, her voice reassuring when she answered him.

“I am ready.”

Chapter Text

She had known from Jamie’s description that Lallybroch was going to be beautiful, but her breath still caught in her throat, finally bubbling up and out of her mouth as a gasp when they pulled up to it together for the first time.

Jamie drove his SUV up a long, winding drive, passing underneath a large stone archway before parking in a spot on the driveway, a small smile quirking up his lips when he turned to see the look of astonishment crossing her face.

“Here it is. Welcome to Lallybroch, Sassenach.” His voice was clear, the trace of pride evident behind his words.

“Jamie, it’s stunning. I can’t believe you really grew up here.” She reached across the center console to squeeze his hand, taking in the pleased expression on his face at her uncontained awe.

“Aye, it’s a beautiful place. It looks even bonnier today, though.”

She looked at him in question, a flush warming her cheeks when she saw the way he was staring at her. He closed the distance between them, one hand sliding up her jaw as he gently pulled her against him, his mouth pressing against hers.

“Thank ye for coming with me. I couldna do this without you,” he mumbled against her lips.

She kissed him one more time before pulling away, her thumb rubbing his bottom lip. “You don’t have to thank me, but you’re welcome.”

He smiled at that, sighing a little as he glanced behind her out the window. “Are ye ready to head inside and see it?”

“Yes,” she gave him a reassuring smile, unbuckling her seat belt and opening the door, the faint smell of burning firewood and fresh, cold air hitting her at the same time.

The front door to the massive house opened as Jamie started pulling their bags out of the back of the car, Brian appearing in the doorway with an older, grandmotherly woman following right behind him. He crossed the drive to Claire first, reaching out to pull her into a warm embrace, his musky, woodsy scent enveloping her. “Thank ye for coming,” he said quietly (voice grateful) when he pulled back, turning to his son next.

“It’s sae good to have ye both home, son.”

Jamie gave him a tight smile, allowing his father to hug him briefly before reaching down to grab for their luggage. “Thanks, Da. How are ye, Mrs. Crook?”

“Better now that I’ve seen ye after so long,” the older woman smiled, fussing over Jamie as she patted his cheek fondly before turning to Claire. “And ye must be Claire. Welcome, darling, I’m Mrs. Crook, I help keep the house and the Frasers in line. Come in, let’s get ye warmed up and fed.”

Claire smiled in amusement at her words, accepting her proffered arm. “It sounds like we have similar work.”

“I heard that,” Jamie muttered as they walked past him, the corner of his mouth quirking up as he pressed the button to shut the trunk.

“I meant for you to,” she quipped back. “Can I help bring in any of our stuff?”

“Nay, we’ve got it, lass,” Brian said, motioning for them to continue towards the front door. “I’ll take them upstairs to yer room for ye.”

If she was impressed by the exterior of Lallybroch, it was nothing compared to the inside. Her head felt like it was on a constant swivel as she looked around, taking in as much as she could:  the dark wood floors and massive stone fireplace, the gleaming bannister wrapped in garland, the French doors leading to an office, and the smell of something cinnamon wafting from the direction of what she assumed was the kitchen.

Everything was softly lit and cozy, generations of family pride and tradition visible in the decor on the walls and the family pictures hanging in beautiful frames. It felt quintessentially Scottish on a scale she couldn’t have imagined, far warmer and inviting than she ever thought a house so enormous could be.

It felt like a home.

Jamie was watching her, his eyes soft as she beamed at him. “What do ye think so far?”

“It’s even better than I imagined,” she said, her enthusiasm so obvious that Jamie and Brian both chuckled.

“I’m glad it hasna disappointed yet, lass. I will tend to her luggage and then I have some business to take care of. I thought we could have an early supper together after Jamie shows ye around some of the estate?” Brian asked, looking first to Claire and then Jamie for confirmation.

Receiving it, he took their belongings upstairs while she and Jamie followed Mrs. Crook into the kitchen, her voice filling the hallway as she talked animatedly about having the house filled for Hogmanay, Jamie’s warm hand spanning the small of her back before squeezing around her waist. She met his smile with one of her own, sitting down at the kitchen table with Jamie’s hand on her knee, both of them accepting the snacks and drinks Mrs. Crook pushed their way.

They finally managed to make their way out of the kitchen after pushing away the third plate of cookies they had been offered, Jamie practically dragging her behind him back to the front of the house where their coats were hanging.

“If ye’re no’ too tired, Sassenach, I was hoping ye’d let me show you around some of the grounds. There’s somewhere I’ve been wanting to take you for a long time.”

“No, I’m not tired,” she said, looking at him curiously. “But I don’t even get to see your bedroom first?”

Her voice was teasing, and it made her heart swell to see the way it made him smile. “Och, we’ll get there soon enough. I assure ye, our bedroom at home has seen far more action than the one here ever did.”

“Is that so?”

“It is,” he said firmly, handing her her coat, hat, and gloves. “Ye can help me break it in later. For now, put these on so ye dinna freeze outside.”

Claire did as requested, adjusting her curls out of her face before tugging her hat and jacket on, the scratching noise of the zipper’s teeth filling the air between them. Jamie grabbed her gloved hand once she was done, swinging the door open and letting her pass through first.

“Where are we going?” she asked, threading their fingers together as they walked down the stairs, following Jamie as he turned right and began to walk towards the back of the estate.

“I thought ye’d like to see the wee garden my mam always tended, though it willna have the same bonny look it does in the summer.” He paused, clearing his throat before looking at her. “And then I was hoping I could introduce ye to my mam.”

Her chest suddenly felt like it was being squeezed tight, a burn rising in her throat that she hoped wouldn’t make it to her eyelashes. She squeezed his hand, nodding her agreement. “I would be honored.”

He nodded back, pressing his lips against her temple and drawing her into his very breath and lungs as he inhaled the scent of her. “This way, then,” he said finally, heading off in the proper direction.

The swelling grounds and hills surrounding the house were just like she had hoped they would be; she could imagine the way they would look in the spring and summer, green and lush with the bloom of vegetation. It wasn’t hard to picture Jamie and his siblings running around when they were children, the thought flitting through her mind that one day (far away, when they were ready), their own child might roam the same paths. She gasped when Jamie got her attention and pointed ahead, her mouth falling open in shock.

“Jamie! A wee garden?” she asked mockingly, looking around in wonder.

“Compared to the rest of the place, yes,” he laughed.

A small gate opened up to an expansive area blocked off with a picket fence. He opened it for her, following her into the garden itself, the gate swinging shut behind them with a creak in the wind. Inside were well over two dozen raised garden beds (large, surrounded by fruit bearing trees), carefully constructed and frosted over, a stone pathway between them leading to what looked like a tiny cabin.

At the sight of it, she stopped walking around and turned to face Jamie, one hand planted on her hip as the other motioned towards the building. “Is that small house the garden shed?”

“It’s no’ a small house, but yes.”

“Jamie, it has a chimney.”

“Aye, my mam wanted a fireplace inside it. She would disappear for hours out here, pulling weeds and potting her wee herbs inside the shed. That’s what she claimed she was doing, anyways. I think she just came out here when she needed some time to herself.”

“And your father built it? It’s beautiful.”

“He did. He spent a few months one spring making sure it was everything she wanted. I’ll never forget the way her face lit up when she saw it completed for the first time. Reminds me a lot of the look on yer face right now, Sassenach.”

“I can imagine. God, this is stunning. I would love to have a place like this to work in.”

“Spring isna too far off.” She looked over to see him leaning against the fence, his arms and ankles crossed as he watched her affectionately.

“Does that mean we’ll be coming back?”

“I hope so.”

“Me, too.”

She took one last, sweeping look around the garden before walking over to Jamie. “I do want to see inside that so-called shed later, but in the meantime, I am ready to go visit your mother if you are.”

“Aye, I am. It’s been over a year, Sassenach.”

“I know,” she said softly, reaching up on her tiptoes to place a gentle kiss at the corner of his mouth. “Lead the way.”

It wasn’t far from the gardens; they walked a few hundred feet away and passed a line of mature trees to a secluded, well maintained site, a field of what she thought must be heather surrounding it.

There were two large headstones standing next to each other in the clearing, the white stone almost glowing against the snow smattered on the ground, making the powdery substance look gray in comparison. Two Christmas wreaths adorned them (one on each), berries and ribbon twined into the pine needles.

She heard Jamie take a deep, shuddering breath, his hand squeezing hers before letting go as he touched his brother’s grave first, his hand sliding over the top of the cold stone, head bowed as if in prayer. She stood back slightly, her hands folded in front of her as she waited for Jamie to be ready for her to join him.

He knelt down in front of Ellen’s headstone next, his fingers brushing aside a small amount of frost and snow that layered the front of it. She could make out the inscription perfectly, her heart squeezing at the words.

Ellen Fraser. Beloved wife, mother, friend.

Gone too soon, leaving behind a family who needed her, just as her own parents had so long ago.

Jamie began to whisper words in Gaelic, his fingers never leaving the letters of his mother’s name as he spoke. His voice eventually trailed off, a peaceful silence swirling around them for a few moments before he sniffled, turning around to reach for her hand again. His eyes were bright (glassy), though there was also a peace in them as he pulled her down beside him.

She went easily, sinking into the snow on her knees, mindless of the way it would soak the front of her jeans. She clutched Jamie’s hand, keeping her eyes focused on him as he swallowed hard, hastily swiping at his eyes.

“Mam, this is the person I’ve been telling ye about for so long. I’m sorry it took me so long to bring her home to meet ye, but she’s finally here. This is the love of my life, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.”

She smiled at that, her voice wobbly with emotion when she spoke. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Fraser. I wish you were here in person so I could thank you for raising such an amazing man. I feel… beyond lucky to have him in my life. Lucky isn’t even close to the right word, really. I’m honored to be by his side right now and every day.”

His breath hitched next to her. She continued on, reaching out a tentative hand to touch Ellen’s stone. “When I first met Jamie and fell in love with him, I wished that I could meet you here at Lallybroch so you could see the two of us together. I had this idea in my mind that we would spend time together in the garden, tending the plants and roses together as you got to know me before we all spent time together as a family… and that you would get to see for yourself that you taught your son the proper way to love and care for the woman he chose for himself.”

She paused, taking a deep breath before clearing her throat. “I know it won’t be exactly like that, but I hope you know how much I love your son. I will do everything in my power to make him happy and to take care of him in a way that honors you. And I hope that somehow, you and my parents are able to come together and see how the products of your love have found their own together.”

She fell quiet then, letting her hand fall away from the stone and back into her lap. She turned to look at Jamie, catching a fleeting glimpse of the fierce, emotional look on his face before she found herself buried against his neck, Jamie’s hands cupping the back of her head and small of her back.

“Thank you,” he whispered against her curls. “I love you, Claire.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered back, trying to fold her body against his as close as possible, hoping against hope that they would somehow melt into each other so she could keep him just the way he was now, always, right by her side for safekeeping.

They reluctantly broke apart after several long minutes, both wiping at their wet cheeks, slightly embarrassed laughs mixing with their sniffling. Jamie stood up then, brushing the snow off his front before extending a hand to Claire, dusting her off as well.

“We’ll be back to visit soon, Mam,” he said, giving one final touch to her grave before stepping back.

“Yes, we will,” Claire agreed quietly.

They walked out of the clearing together then, Jamie’s arm wrapped tightly around her shoulder, drawing her as close to him as possible, her own arm hugging him around his waist. She squeezed his side gently, a soft (almost shy) smile curling up her mouth when he looked down at her, kissing the tip of her nose.

Their cheeks were both red and slightly wind chapped, breaths forming small, visible puffs of air as they made their way towards the courtyard of the estate, the house finally becoming visible as they trudged through the compact snow underneath their boots, hips and legs bumping together.

They were both so caught up in their surroundings and each other, Jamie looking at her with such tenderness as he brought them to a stop and pulled her against him, his hands cupping her face and his mouth pressing urgently against hers, that they didn’t notice the company standing near the entrance of the house.

The shout emanating from the top of the stairs was faint, barely registering as her senses were filled with Jamie, until a second, louder call of “Uncle Jamie!” broke through the haze.

She pulled away, their lips parting with a soft smacking sound as they both turned towards the source of the noise. A little boy was bounding towards them, a shock of black hair exposed as his hat flew off his head, forcing him to stop and turn around to catch it before the wind blew it away.

Jamie let out a breathless laugh, grabbing Claire by the hand and tugging her in the direction of what she knew must be his nephew. He only let go when they were a few feet away from him, crouching down to open his arms up, wrapping them around wee Jamie’s small body as he flew into his arms, his small frame nearly knocking him over.

“Uncle Jamie!” he said again, pulling back to place his gloved hands on his uncle’s beaming face. “Do ye remember me?”

“As if I could ever forget ye,” Jamie smiled, leaning forward to blow a raspberry against the side of his nephew’s neck, wee Jamie giggling as he squirmed away from Jamie’s mouth.

Claire thought her heart might burst as she watched the two of them together, looking up briefly as she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. A man she presumed to be Ian was walking in their direction, Brian and Jenny standing in the background watching the scene before them, Mrs. Crook disappearing into the house with a toddler in her arms.

She could feel the heat of Jenny’s stare on her and met her eyes, refusing to look away as Jenny looked her up and down before turning on her heel and disappearing through the door after Mrs. Crook. Disconcerted, she turned her attention back to Jamie and his little namesake, the latter’s slightly mispronounced words flying out of his mouth as he chattered away to his uncle, clearly thrilled at having his attention after so long apart.

Ian crossed the final few steps to them, his expression slightly hesitant as he waited for Jamie to acknowledge him. He gave a small smile to Claire, his eyes scanning her face briefly before flickering back to his brother-in-law and son. Jamie said something softly to wee Jamie before standing up to his full height, his face almost blankly calm (guarded, an unease that only Claire could recognize in the construct of his expression).

There was an air of awkwardness surrounding them as Jamie reached a hand out to Ian, his voice gruff with barely contained emotion. “It’s good to see ye.”

Ian grasped Jamie’s hand in his own, nodding his agreement. “Aye, it is. Come here,” he said, grabbing Jamie by the shoulder and bringing him in for a hug, his eyes suddenly glassy.

Claire felt her throat thicken as they patted each other on the back while they embraced, Jamie clearing his throat when he pulled away, taking a step back before reaching for her hand. He pulled her gently to his side, meeting her eyes with that half-smile she loved so much curling up his mouth.

“Ian, this is my girlfriend, Claire.” The pride in his voice was obvious, his fingers tightening around hers with a reassuring squeeze. “Claire, this is my brother-in-law, Ian.”

Ian’s eyes were warm as he met hers, his voice friendly as he extended his hand to her. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet ye, Claire.”

“You, as well,” she smiled, looking down when she felt a small pair of hands tug at the hem of her coat. Wee Jamie was looking at her curiously, his light brown eyes (cat eyed, clearly from the Fraser side, though not the blue of Jamie, Jenny, or their father) narrowed slightly.

Jamie chuckled, ruffling the top of his nephew’s head. “I’ve forgotten my manners, haven’t I, a chuilein? This is Claire.”

“Well, hello there. You look very handsome in your jacket and hat,” she said, crouching down to meet his gaze directly. He looked pleased at her compliment, though he was still looking at her in slight confusion.

“Are ye the Claire my mam and Auntie Laoghaire call ‘ the hoor ’?”

The air suddenly felt stifled, like it had been sucked out of the atmosphere itself as heat rushed up her chest and neck, threatening to bloom on her cheeks. She felt Jamie stiffen next to her before kneeling in front of his nephew, his face serious as he cupped the little boy’s chin, gently bringing his face away from Claire’s to meet his eyes.

“That word isna proper for you or anyone around you to be using. Claire is my girlfriend and she deserves to be treated with respect, aye?”

“I’m no’ the one who said it, Uncle Jamie! I said it was my mam and Auntie Laoghaire. I think Claire looks nice,” he said, his big brown eyes widening. He stepped closer to Jamie, his voice a loud whisper. “She looks like a faerie.”

“Aye, she does,” Jamie whispered back, ruffling his hair again. “Why don’t ye go inside and warm up, okay?”

Wee Jamie nodded, looking at Claire out of the corner of his eye again before turning to head towards the house. Ian stopped him with a hand on his thin shoulder, an embarrassed, disapproving look on his face. “We’ll be having words later, aye?”

“Yes, Da,” he mumbled miserably, “though it sounds like ye need to have words with Mam and Auntie Laoghaire, too.”

“Noted,” Ian muttered, running a hand over his face as he turned back to Jamie and Claire, his cheeks burning crimson.

Jamie kept his eyes focused on his nephew’s back as he walked away, drawing Claire to his side and running a hand up and down her arm. He pressed a kiss to the side of her head, his jaw set furiously as he turned to her. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, please don’t apologize,” she said softly, hoping her voice didn’t betray the mortification still coloring her cheeks from wee Jamie’s question.

“I’m the one who should be apologizing,” Ian broke in, shaking his head as he met Claire’s eyes. “I am so sorry, Claire. I can assure ye that he doesna even ken what that word means, let alone think it actually applies to ye.”

“I know, Ian. It’s fine, really.”

“No, Sassenach, it isna fine,” Jamie broke in angrily, addressing his words to Ian. “Do ye think because he doesna ken what the word means that it somehow excuses Jenny and Laoghaire from talking that way about Claire or anyone else?”

“No, of course not, Jamie. I canna say I’m sorry enough, and I promise ye it willna happen again.”

“I hope not,” Jamie said firmly, “because if it does, it’ll be the last time any of you see the two of us again. I know Jenny believes her own lies about Claire, but I willna put up with it. Not now or ever.”

“I understand,” Ian’s voice was solemn, his gaze almost curious as he looked between the two of them. Claire had the fleeting thought that it was like he was seeing Jamie (truly seeing him) for the first time ever.

“Ian, would you excuse us, please?”

“Of course. I’ll see ye both later.”

She waited until he was out of earshot to turn back to Jamie, grabbing both of his hands in her own. His head was down, eyes focused on the ground as he worked to avoid meeting her gaze. She squeezed his hands, taking a step closer as she lowered her own head to try and catch his eye.

“Hey,” she said softly, waiting patiently as Jamie drew a shaky breath before finally speaking.  

“I dinna ken if it was right to come here. I’m so embarrassed, Sassenach.”

“Embarrassed? What for? Jamie, you didn’t do anything wrong. Wee Jamie didn’t do anything wrong, either. He’s a child who can’t help the things he’s heard his mother say. He wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings.”

“I ken, but to hear him call ye that name…” he trailed off, shaking his head as he looked over her shoulder into the distance, voice thick when he spoke again. “I love you more than anything, and I canna stand knowing I’m the one who’s put ye in this position.”

Her eyebrows furrowed together, confusion etching her features as she looked at him. “What are you talking about?”

“If I had been honorable and broken up with Laoghaire straight away when I met ye, this wouldna even be an issue.”

She felt something small and painful lodge in her chest at his words, one hand coming up to cup his cheek to force him to look at her. “Jamie, Jenny and Laoghaire would have said the same thing about me even if things had started off differently. And while I hope we can fix things with your family while we’re here, if your sister never likes me, that’s okay, as long as you do.”

He let out a small huff of laughter, the corners of his mouth quirking up. “I just need to like ye, that’s all?”

“That’s part of it, yes,” she smiled, bringing her arms up around his neck, letting her fingers slide into the soft curls at his nape. She felt his large palms against her hips as he drew her flush against him, his forehead resting against hers. “Obviously I need you to love me, but it’s a different thing entirely to like the person you’re with, too.”

She felt that Scottish noise he made so often rumble against her, his lips soft as he pressed them against her mouth. “I like ye just fine, Sassenach.”

“Good,” she whispered against his kiss, “because I like you just fine, too. Everything will work out the way it’s supposed to, Jamie. Nothing your sister or anyone else says or does is going to change us.”

Wrapped up in his arms, she had no idea how easily that would be tested in the days that followed.

Chapter Text

Claire had left Jamie upstairs in their bedroom after an early morning shower, his face pressed between their two pillows, his auburn hair tousled from sleep (and the previous night’s activities). He had mumbled incoherently back when she told him she was off to find breakfast, affectionately running a hand along his naked back before closing the door quietly behind her.

Mrs. Crook was bustling around the large kitchen when she made her way downstairs, sliding a pan into the oven before scribbling notes down on a piece of paper next to her. She insisted on making Claire a plate for breakfast, chatting the entire time about the menu for Hogmanay that still wasn’t complete, and the herbs that needed to be planted in the garden shed before being moved to the greenhouse.

Her ears had perked up at that, the opportunity to get her hands in some dirt and plants in the dead of winter too good to resist. “I would love to help with that.”

“With the menu? It’s nay necessary, dearie.”

Claire laughed. “Definitely not with the cooking. Jamie barely trusts me to boil a pot of water on my own, but with the planting of the herbs. I love gardening, and I didn’t get to see inside that so-called wee shed yesterday like I wanted to.”

Mrs. Crook paused from peering into the oven, turning to look over her shoulder at Claire. “Are ye sure? Brian didna expect ye to be put to work while ye were visiting.”

“Of course, I would love to help. I don’t mind helping out at all.”

She smiled at Claire, pushing the oven door shut again. “Then it would be much appreciated, if ye truly dinna mind.”

She had finished her breakfast and washed her dishes off before asking Mrs. Crook to let Jamie know where she was before she grabbed her coat and headed outside in the direction of Ellen’s garden and shed.

She marveled at the beauty of the grounds again as she breathed in the fresh air, imagining with little effort how many hours she could spend out here during the warm months, digging and planting and weeding to her heart’s content.

The garden shed was unlocked as Mrs. Crook had said it would be, the door closing quietly behind her as she took a moment and leaned against it, looking around the inside in wonder. 

The floors were wood, smooth and gleaming; a huge window faced her on the opposite wall, running up to nearly the ceiling, letting in a large array of light; a sink was underneath it, built in to a counter the entire length of the shed, bookcases and small plants lining the surface.

She turned her head to her left, taking in another workspace, empty pots and a large planter of fresh dirt waiting for someone to use. The fireplace sat on the other end of the room, made of stone that reached all the way to the roof. A large wooden table with two benches sat in the middle (clearly handmade, the craftsmanship impeccable), the herbs waiting to be planted sitting on top.

She couldn’t help the smile that seemed to grow larger and larger as she took it all in; it was a little dream space that felt made for her. Pushing off against the door, she unzipped her coat and tossed it into the corner, unbuttoning the cuffs of her sleeves so she could roll them up, grabbing a pair of gloves and shovel from the countertop before digging in.

She had no idea how much time had passed; she was so busy carefully distributing dirt into the pots of basil at the table, her small potting shovel cast aside with a clang as she began to move the soil around with her fingers, packing the small, leafy herbs down that she didn’t hear him the first time he cleared his throat.

“Having fun?”

She whirled around, her cheeks flushing as she took in the sight before her. Jamie was leaning casually against the door like she had been, his arms crossed across his chest, his mouth curved up on one side as he watched her.

“I am,” she confirmed, turning back around to continue her work. “Did you sleep well?”

He made a noncommittal noise, his voice holding a hint of a tease when he spoke. “Not really. I had this vixen in my bed last night… my back stings like ye wouldna believe.”

“Is that right?” She bit down on her bottom lip to hide her smile even though he couldn’t see her face. “I wonder how your vixen’s bruised hips and thighs feel.”

She could hear him walk up behind her, the heat of his body sending a chill down her spine. His hands (large and warm) slid over her hips, his fingers digging into the material of her jeans just slightly. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, his stubble scratching her sensitive skin. His voice was barely a whisper when he spoke into her ear. “I dinna ken. Maybe I should check to make sure she’s okay.”

His lips moved down to bite gently at her earlobe before they fastened themselves behind her ear, sucking softly. His tongue tasted her skin lazily, his hands moving around to splay across her stomach before one dipped for the button on her jeans.

“I don’t think that’s necessary. From what I understand, she’s a nurse studying to be a doctor. I think she can take care of herself.”

“She didn’t want to last night.”

“Ugh!” Her head had been lolling to the side, allowing him better access to her neck, but at his words she turned around in his arms, pushing him back from her. “You’re a jerk!”

He laughed out loud at her indignant tone, one hand coming up to cup her chin. He brushed at her bottom lip with his thumb, his own tucked underneath his teeth as he tried to hide the smile taking over his face. “I’d hate to think ye could do without me. I know I canna do without you.”

“Flatterer,” she grumbled, a tiny smile appearing despite herself as she grabbed him by the neck, pulling him down to meet her mouth.

She could feel his own smile against her lips, a little sigh escaping from her mouth into his as he cupped her face, drawing her body closer to his. He angled his mouth to deepen the kiss, her hands scraping along his nape before her fingers tangled into his curls there.

She could smell the basil in the pots behind her, the scent and taste of Jamie’s mint toothpaste taking over as his tongue sought hers. Before she realized what was happening, his hands had slid down the lines and curves of her body, brushing along her breasts and landing on her waist. He picked her up and plopped her down on the table in front of him, moving to stand between her open legs as his fingers began to work the buttons on her shirt. 

“What are you doing?” She could hear the mixture of surprise and amusement in her voice, breathless as it was.

“Getting you naked,” he answered easily, continuing to pop buttons until he could pull the material apart, exposing her bra and stomach to him. He made a noise of appreciation, fastening his mouth back to the curve of her shoulder as his hands began to wander.

She shivered when he nipped at her, her hands seeking the skin underneath his own sweater. “We can’t get naked in the potting shed, Jamie.”

“I think we already are.”

Her traitorous body had helped him pull her shirt off her arms, the material sliding off the table onto the floor. He worked his own off easily, letting it fall with hers in a pool by his feet.

“Anyone could come in and see us.”

“Let them,” he whispered, his eyes dark as he looked at her. She could feel his words and the look on his face in the rush of blood in her veins, in the way her pulse began to race to a completion she knew only he could bring her.

The rational part of her brain knew she should tell him to save it for later, when they were sure to be left alone, but the other part of her brain — the one that turned to mush when he so much as looked at her — had other plans. She wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him in closer as she crushed her mouth against his.

“God, I want you,” she managed to mumble, arching against him as he removed her bra, her breasts pressing against his naked chest. She could feel him pressed against her, hardening with every lick and kiss, every touch of her body against his.

She fumbled for the button on his pants as he cupped her breasts, his thumbs brushing over her nipples, flicking and rubbing as they had done countless times before. But this time, the sensation was too much, different; she leaned away from his touch, her sensitive skin tingling and throbbing as she made a noise like a whimper.

Her sharp intake of breath, a clear gasp of pain, had Jamie pulling away from her. “What’s wrong? Did I hurt ye?” he asked, voice concerned as he looked her over before meeting her eyes.

“No, it’s just… a bit sensitive up there.”

“I’m sorry. We can stop.” He made to step away from her, but she tugged him back to her, shaking her head.

“Don’t stop, just...touch somewhere else.”

“Are ye sure?”

She answered him by pulling the belt free from his jeans, urging him to help her shed the final layers between them. She lifted her hips off the table as Jamie tugged her jeans over her bottom and hips, his fingers trailing along the warm skin of her legs as he pulled them off.

“I’m sure. Get your clothes off,” she mumbled against him, her lips pressing along the warm skin of his chest, feeling the hard muscles and beat of his heart beneath her.

He chuckled, the sound hitching in his throat when she used her teeth to bite him. “Christ, Sassenach.”

“Now.”

“Bossy wee thing,” he muttered, a playful glint in his eye as he scrambled to get the rest of his clothes off. He had barely stood straight up again before Claire was wrapping her legs around him once more, digging her heels into his bottom to bring him flush with her.

She reached down between them, running a thumb along the hard length of him, rubbing a gentle circle around the tip. His hips moved against her, his breath becoming more labored as she continued to touch him, her hand pumping and sliding along him.

He reached between them, cupping the warmth between her legs, drawing a sound out of her she hadn’t heard herself make before. “You’re so wet,” he breathed against her, their hips moving against each other’s hands, seeking more friction.

“I know,” she tried to wiggle closer to him, desperate for him to touch her. “Jamie, please…”

“Please what?”

“Touch me.”

She could hear the neediness in her voice, and was surprised to feel the burn of tears spring up behind her eyelids. She pressed herself against him harder, urging him towards something more.

He removed his hand from between her legs then, lifting her up from the table. He pulled at her underwear, bringing it down past her ass before he laid her down on the table, almost ripping the thin material in his haste to get it all the way off her.

She wondered vaguely if she was going to end up with splinters in her arse, then wondered no more when Jamie tugged her legs apart, lined himself up, and drove home. Her chest swelled as she took in a deep breath at the feel of him, hard and hot and pulsing inside her.

“Is this the kind of touch ye wanted?”

“Yes,” she breathed out, her voice somewhere between a moan and a hiss.

His hands snaked their way underneath her, helping her move against him as he pushed in and out, the heels of her feet digging into his bottom. She could feel the buzzing in her limbs building, Jamie keeping a steady rhythm for them as they slid against each other.

He angled her slightly, hitting her at a different angle, and she knew it wouldn’t be much longer; he was close, too, his hips beginning to move more erratically as he ground himself into her.

He reached between them with one hand, rubbing against her, and the pops of light began to burst behind her eyes. She heard words tumbling from her mouth (his name, mumbled letters and vowels that had no meaning, a plea for “more, harder”) and with another thrust, she was gone, squeezing and pulsing around him, drawing him further into her body.

He tumbled over the edge not long after, the sound of her name never more beautiful than it was in that moment.

He half-collapsed on top of her, his chest pounding against hers. His eyes were closed, a satisfied look on his face as he took deep breaths, trying to get his heart rate under control. She reached up with one hand, running her fingers along his jaw and ear, meeting his smiling eyes with her own.

They stayed pressed together for a few more minutes before Jamie pressed a kiss to her neck and then her lips, standing up straight and pulling her with him. He slid out of her with a sigh, before he grabbed their clothes from the floor, both of them dressing wordlessly.

“How do I look?” Claire asked, tugging at her shirt before running her fingers through her hair.

“Like you just got fucked,” he smirked.

“That is so crude,” she laughed, swatting at him playfully. “And it better not be true, we’re supposed to go to the stables for a ride this morning! I don’t want anyone to know we were doing… that,” she motioned towards the table.

He tucked her hair behind her ear before drawing her against him, enfolding her in his arms. “I’m sure no one will ken. And if they ask, ye can just say ye were working hard in the garden shed.”

She laughed at that, shaking her head at him. “I guess it wouldn’t be a lie. Let me finish up the last couple of pots and then I’ll be done. You can help, if you’d like.”

“I thought I just did,” he joked, laughing when Claire shot him a look. “Just kidding. Tell me what to do.”

They finished up the remaining planting together, leaving the herbs on the table like Claire had been instructed to do by Mrs. Crook. Jamie helped her into her jacket, zipping it up and pressing a kiss against her forehead before reaching for her hand, tugging her outside behind him.

“Are we going to christen the stables, too?” he asked cheerfully. “I’ll be ready for round two by the time we walk there.”

“Absolutely not,” she laughed. “You promised me a ride through the whole estate, and I plan on getting just that.”

“I’m worried ye willna be able to ride now.”

“I believe I just did,” she raised an eyebrow at him.

They were so caught up in their banter that they almost ran straight into Brian as they left the garden, the gate swinging shut behind them.

“There ye two are. What were ye doing out here?”

Jamie turned his head towards her just slightly, his tongue sneaking out to slide along his bottom lip. His teeth bit down into the swollen flesh there for just a minute, one hand coming up to scratch at his neck. He chanced a glance at her once more while Brian looked between them, waiting for an answer; she could feel her already flushed cheeks flood with color, the throb still pulsing between her legs seeming to grow as they stood there (guiltily) in front of Jamie’s father.

He cleared his throat, motioning vaguely towards the shed behind them. “Mrs. Crook told Claire there were some herbs and plants inside that needed tending, and she wanted to see the fireplace, so I was just showing her where to put everything after she was done.”

He was babbling. She knew she should meet Brian’s eye, but all she wanted in that moment was for the ground to open up and swallow her whole. Fear of her glass face giving them away (“we had sex” might as well have been written across her forehead) kept her gaze fixed solidly on the snow in front of her.

An awkward silence stretched between them. She finally chanced a glance up to see Brian trying (and failing) to hide the smirk on his face. “I bet ye did,” he said wryly, eyebrows raised slightly as he looked at Jamie.

He said something back to his father in Gaelic which only made Brian laugh. She shot a look at Jamie, but he only shook his head slightly at her, rolling his eyes, a sheepish expression of male pride on his face all the same.

“Anyways,” Brian smiled, “before the two of ye head out for your morning ride, I was hoping I could borrow Claire here for a little bit alone? I’ve something I want to show her before ye take off.”

Jamie looked at his father suspiciously. “What is it?”

“It’s no’ for you, or I’d have invited ye, yes? I promise the lass will still be in one piece when ye come out there, Jamie. Give us half an hour, aye?”

He looked at her, eyebrows raised in a silent question; she answered it with a squeeze of his hand, reaching up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek before turning to his father. “Lead the way,” she smiled.

“Mrs. Crook can use yer help in the house, moving things around for dinner and the party. We’ll be in the main stable. Dinna be lurking about trying to find out what’s happening.”

“Christ, you act like I’m some gossip sniffing local,” Jamie rolled his eyes, tugging Claire back to him for another kiss. “I’ll see ye soon.”

Brian motioned for Claire to follow him, his strides slow and easy as they walked side by side, his deep Scottish burr filling the space between them as he pointed out different points of interest around the estate just as Jamie had done the previous day. She couldn’t help but smile at how similar they were.

He seemed to know what she was thinking, because he suddenly cut himself off mid-sentence, a small smile curling up his mouth. “Ye’ve heard all of this already, haven’t you?”

“Yes and no. I was actually just thinking how much the two of you sound alike when you talk about the grounds here. I can tell how much it means to you.”

“Aye. This place has been a labor of love… and to get to raise children here was a dream. I hope to see all my grandchildren running around here together one day.”

“Are you hinting?” she teased, feeling completely at ease as Brian quirked his head to the side, lending her an arm as they walked up a small stone stairway, the stables just ahead of them.

“Doesn’t every father dream of his children having their own one day?”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “My parents died when I was so young. I imagine that they do, though… or I should say, I imagine that every parent dreams of their child being happy, whatever that happiness looks like. I don’t suppose it always involves children of their own.”

Brian made a Scottish noise at that, leading Claire into the large, state of the art stable. “Ye may be right, though I hope that isna the case for you and Jamie.” He paused in the doorway, turning back to her suddenly. “And I’m verra sorry about yer parents. I ken how hard Jamie took it when Ellen…” his voice trailed off. “Well, I canna imagine how hard it was for you, losing both at such a young age.”

She placed a hand on his arm, squeezing gently. “Thank you. It wasn’t easy, but I had Lamb. He did the absolute best he could for me, as all guardians and parents do.”

He shook his head noncommittally, his voice low when he spoke. “I dinna ken if that applies to me. After Ellen passed, I… well, I had a hard time coming to terms with her being gone. I took that out on Jenny and Jamie even if I didna mean to. I ken that’s why he felt he couldna talk to me about not wanting to take over the family business as a figurehead… why he signed everything away  before he even told me what he was doing.”

She considered her words carefully, her arms crossing over her chest as she took in the tears pooling in Brian’s eyes. “Jamie has always wanted to make you proud. He loves you very much and he didn’t want to disappoint you. I think… he also wanted to know in his heart that he was making the right decision for himself and no one else.”

“I ken,” he said quietly, letting out a small breath as he glanced around the stable. “It’s just… this is our legacy. Mine and Ellen’s. I dinna want to see it fall apart somehow.”

“This isn’t your legacy.”

Her voice was steady, clear. Brian turned his head sharply, surprise lining his face at her words. “I’m sorry?” he asked, almost as if he hadn’t heard her properly.

“This isn’t your legacy,” she repeated. “The way your son loves me, the way he takes care of me, the way he works hard to provide for us, the way he makes me laugh, the way he is devoted to the people he loves… that is your legacy. Not this beautiful stable full of expensive horses, as amazing as it may be.”

She watched as he bowed his head at her words, a tear slipping down his cheek, hastily swiped away with the back of one hand. He looked up then, clearing his throat as he nodded at her. “Do ye think… does Jamie know who he is now?”

She thought for a moment, choosing her words carefully. “He does. He’s a man. And that’s not an easy thing to be.”

“No, it’s not,” Brian replied quietly. “Thank you for being there for him the last year, Claire.”

She gave him a small smile, her lips curving up on one side as she looked at him. “You don’t have to thank me. I love him. I just wish things had been different this past year. Maybe if he and I hadn’t started our relationship the way we did—”

“No,” Brian cut in firmly, his voice gentle as he reached out to squeeze one of her hands. “This hasna been your fault. Perhaps the way everything began between the two of ye wasna ideal, but when two souls meet, nothing will stand in their way. Hearing Jamie speak of ye, and finally getting to see the two of ye together… I’ve never seen two people more suited for each other and he loves you something fierce.”

She swallowed hard, words failing her as her vision blurred, a weight she didn’t realize she had been carrying lifting at his words. He seemed to understand; he squeezed her hand briefly, letting go when she nodded her thanks to him. He tilted his head then, motioning for her to follow him down one of the aisles. “Did ye ken I came to visit ye at the hospital ye work at?”

“What?” she asked in wonder. “When?”

“Oh, it was over the summer. I kent ye were working full time before medical school started back up in the fall. I came to Edinburgh, thinking I’d go and meet ye finally, and maybe see Jamie, too.”

“Why didn’t you speak to me?”

“I dinna ken. I spoke with the charge nurse to find out which floor ye were on. She didna want to tell me anything about you until I told her I was Jamie’s father. Then she raved about the two of ye, you in particular. Said you’re the most requested nurse by all the surgeons and that the patients love ye, too. That should have made me more confident about speaking to ye, but instead it just made me lose my nerve. I thanked her and told her I’d stop by later and asked her not to say anything to ye.”

“Well, I think she was probably over complimentary,” Claire chuckled, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“I doubt that, lass. She didn’t tell me anything Jamie hadna told me already. It sounds like ye’re a braw nurse and will be an even better doctor. Have ye always wanted to do that?”

“For as long as I can remember. I love working with my hands, figuring out ways to treat people who are sick or injured and help them get better.”

“And will ye remain in Edinburgh after school is done, do ye think?”

“Well, I don’t know. I suppose it depends on what I decide to specialize in and I haven’t figured that out yet.”

He smiled at her, finally stopping in front of a stall. “Well ye’ll be just fine, whatever ye choose to practice in. I hope Jamie realizes he’s going to marry up one day.”

She raised her eyebrows at that, an amused noise that was not quite a laugh coming out of her. “You’re making a lot of assumptions about the future of your family.”

“Perhaps,” he smiled back. “But I’m a betting man, and I never lose, lass.” He winked before turning away from her, reaching a hand over the door of the stall to touch the nose of a tall white horse standing a few feet away.

He began murmuring in Gaelic, the horse snorting and snuffling as it drew closer to the door, finally peeking its head over the top. “Aye, there ye are,” he murmured, his fingers stroking gently.

“May I?” Claire asked softly.

“Please,” Brian said, letting his hand fall to the side as Claire moved forward, tentatively sliding her hand along the horse’s nose. She rubbed more firmly when the animal didn’t pull away, letting out a chuckle when it nuzzled against her hair.

“She likes you,” Brian smiled, clearly pleased.

“She’s a beautiful horse. What’s her name?”

“Briar Rose.”

“Like from Sleeping Beauty?” she asked, amused.

Brian’s smile grew, his hand reaching out to rub the gleaming hair along her flank. “Aye. It was one of Ellen’s favorite fairytales to read to the bairns when they were little, because of the symbolism of the rose. Ye ken in the story from the Brothers Grimm, they gave that name to the princess because she was the rose encased in the castle surrounded by briar. She brought hope with her… as ye’ve done for me and Jamie.”

“Brian…” Her throat suddenly felt thick and fuzzy, her eyes beginning to burn as she turned back towards him. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Ye let me into yer home. Ye listened, even when ye didna have to. And ye let my son know that it was okay for him to take a chance and bring ye back home. I canna say how grateful I am, Claire. Ye’ve given us the chance to be a family again. And we have a tradition in this family.”

She wiped the tears that had slipped down her cheeks away with the backs of her hands before wiping them on her jeans, sniffling as she looked at him. “What’s that?”

“When ye’ve learned to ride properly, ye get yer own horse. Briar Rose is yours.”

Her mouth dropped open slightly as she looked between him and the horse. “I… Brian, that’s very generous, but I can’t accept a horse from you.”

“Ye can and ye will. It’s no’ up for debate.”

She stood there gaping, reaching out to pet the horse again when she nudged Claire with her nose. The enormity of his gift and gesture made the breath in her lungs catch; the acceptance of her as family, as a Fraser (Jamie’s choice, decision, and destiny), was more than she had ever expected. “Are you sure?” she asked finally, unable to find anything else to say.

Brian was watching her struggle to master her emotions with something very much like fatherly affection on his face, and it nearly made her come undone. His voice was reassuring when he spoke. “Verra sure, lass. Welcome to the family. I could not be more pleased with Jamie’s choice, and I ken Ellen would feel the same.”

She stepped forward and hugged him then, her arms squeezing tightly around his neck. She knew the tears sliding down her cheeks again were likely going to end up soaking his collar, but she didn’t care. Brian hugged her back, one hand patting her gently on the back. 

“Thank you,” she whispered.

She pulled back from his warm embrace when she heard the sound of a throat clearing behind them. Looking over Brian’s shoulder, she saw Jenny standing there, her blue eyes (so like Jamie’s) narrowed slightly as she took in the sight before her.

She looked between Claire and Brian, suspicion and something very much like disapproval appearing on her face. “There ye are, Da. Philip’s looking for ye, said there’s some sort of issue with one of the orders for the stables. He’s in the office, said he couldna get a hold of Colum.”

Brian rolled his eyes, muttering something under his breath that Claire couldn’t hear. “Aye, thanks. I’ll go find the lad and take care of it.” He turned back to Claire, winking at her. “Enjoy yer ride with Jamie this morning. I expect he’ll be here in a few minutes.”

He turned to go and Jenny made to follow him, clearly not interested in being alone with Claire. She hesitated for just a moment before the words came out of their own volition. “Jenny, could I speak to you?”

They both turned around, Brian looking warily between his daughter and Claire. He opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a man’s voice calling his name; he hesitated, clearly unsure about leaving her and Jenny alone.

Jenny stared at Claire, her expression unreadable; Claire refused to look away, doing her best to keep her own face neutral. Jenny’s eyes flickered down her face once more before she turned to her father, offering him a small smile. “Go on. We’ll only be a minute.”

Claire gave him her own reassuring smile before he nodded and turned away, the smile sliding off her face when she turned back to Jenny.

It was time for them to finally speak.

Chapter Text

Meeting Jenny Fraser Murray’s eyes up close for the first time, Claire couldn’t help but marvel at how they were so very much like Jamie’s, yet not like his at all.

The physical similarities were striking: their clear blue color, fathomless like the sea or sky, the ring around them a slightly darker shade of azure; the thick, dark lashes surrounding them, strangely light at the roots; and the wide shape, slanting at the corner almost like a cat’s. She knew if Jenny were to smile at her, they would crinkle at the corner just like Jamie’s.

But unlike Jamie’s, these eyes held no affection or tenderness in them; they didn’t look at her with trust, unafraid to let their broken bits and pieces show. No, these eyes (Jamie’s eyes, but not his at all) were staring at her coldly, dislike and judgment clouding them.

She wondered not for the first time how many lies Jenny had been told about her to make her look at her the way she was.

“Ye said ye wanted a word. Are ye gonna say anything, or just stand there and stare?” Jenny bit out, her arms crossing her chest.

Claire took a deep breath, willing herself to be patient as she reminded herself that Jenny was looking to goad her into a reaction, another strike to hold against her. She kept her voice even when she spoke. “I was hoping we could get to know each other a little bit before Jamie and I leave to go back to Edinburgh in a few days.”

“And why would we do that?”

“It’s time, don’t you think? For Jamie?”

Jenny’s gaze hardened. “I think ye’ve done enough for my brother already, don’t you?”

She could feel her patience begin to slip, an edge creeping into her words as her own eyes narrowed slightly at Jenny. “I know you have preconceived notions of who I am because of your friendship with Laoghaire, but—,”

“Oh, aye, I have preconceived notions, but they’ve nothing to do with Laoghaire. They’re to do with ye going after another woman’s man and taking him for yourself.”

“Going after him?” Claire repeated incredulously.  “That implies that I was scheming and plotting to break the two of them up, which is not remotely what happened. But even if it was true, do you honestly believe I would have been able to ‘take’ Jamie from anyone if he didn’t want to go?”

“What I think is that ye and my brother were sniffing around each other and ye did nothing to discourage him. Within two months of meeting ye, he’d cast aside his long term girlfriend and signed away my parents hard earned company to take up with ye in another city. And now ye’re here, playing house with my father like ye’re his long lost daughter.”

“You mean the way you tried to play house with Jamie and Laoghaire?” she asked coldly, Jenny’s back stiffening at her words. “I don’t know what she’s told you about me, but I never asked Jamie to sign away the rights to your family’s company. In fact, I encouraged him to stay with Laoghaire but he didn’t want to. And unlike you, I respected his right to choose his own life!”

“Don’t ye dare pretend like ye ken the first thing about respect. Ye canna even deny that you and Jamie took up with each other while he was committed to someone else!” Jenny’s voice continued to rise as she spoke, anger lining every word.

“No, I can’t, and I regret that things happened the way they did, but I don’t regret being with Jamie, and I never will.”

“And do ye no’ worry about it?”

“Worry about what?” Claire asked, forehead creasing in confusion at Jenny’s question.

“That what the two of ye did to Laoghaire, Jamie will do to you? He’s proven he’s capable of it. What makes ye think you’ll be any different?”

She could feel the anger swell and rise in her, threatening to burst like a dam as a flush colored her neck and cheeks. “I imagine for the same reason you don’t worry that Ian will cheat on you. He loves me. Unequivocally. He shows me and tells me every single day. I have no reason to doubt him.”

Jenny scoffed at that, her eyebrows rising slightly. “I bet Laoghaire would have said the same thing.”

“Well, people who tend to bury their heads in the sand often believe their own delusions. Maybe if you had taken the time to really talk to your brother — hell, to even look at him you would have seen how lost and unhappy he was. How trapped he felt. But neither of you did that because you didn’t care how he felt as long as he was doing what you wanted him to!”

Jenny’s face had grown more furious as Claire spoke, the small brunette straightening up to her full height before she took a step towards Claire. Her voice was almost shaking with anger when she spoke. “How dare you—,”

“How dare you!” Claire hissed, cutting off the rest of her words. “I meant what I said — I am sorry about the way things started between me and Jamie, but I will not stand here and let you question who he is, or who we are. I would love nothing more than to get to know you, and for you to get to know me… the real me. You might actually find that you like me.”

They stood on either side of the stable aisle, both glowering at each other as they let their words to each other sink in. Claire could hear the rushing beat of her pulse in her ears, her back stiff as her fingernails dug into her crossed arms.

Jenny finally shook her head, her expression stubborn and resolute. “No. Jamie may have chose ye, as is his right, but I willna be doing the same.”

She turned to leave, taking a step to walk away, and Claire felt the unexpected prickle of tears well up in her throat. She swallowed hard, hoping her voice would be steady when she called after Jenny.

“You’re going to lose him.”

She stopped moving, listening, though she didn’t turn back around.

“Regardless of what’s happened, he’s your brother and he loves you. Do you really want to risk never seeing him again because he made a mistake one time?”

She thought for a moment that Jenny was going to turn around; her head dipped down and slightly to the side as if she wanted to look at Claire. But then the moment was over and she walked away without another word or glance, her shoulders set stiffly before she disappeared around the corner.

She blinked away the rush of disappointed tears, turning back with a sigh to the horse stall. Briar Rose ambled back over to her, nudging her hand with her nose. Claire stroked her aimlessly, her mind racing, yet blank at the same time.

She sighed when the horse turned away again, resting her arms across the door, her chin on top of her hands as she watched her slowly munch on hay. She felt Jamie’s presence before she heard the sound of his footsteps behind her, though she didn’t turn to look at him.

He took his place next to her, leaning down to kiss her temple. His hand slid along her waist, warm and reassuring. She felt another surge of emotion; how did his touch always do this to her?

“Hi,” she said softly, giving him a small smile when she turned her head to meet his eyes briefly. Whatever he saw in her face had concern flashing across his, but then she turned away again, returning her focus back to her horse.

“Hi,” he said cautiously. She could see his eyes scanning her intently from her peripheral vision before he turned to face the same direction as her, leaning against the door, too.

They stood quietly together for a few minutes, their bodies so close together she could feel the heat radiating off him. She knew if they turned towards each other, they would fit together like the only two pieces of a puzzle: her head just underneath his chin, her ear against the solid beating of his heart as his much bigger body engulfed hers in a hug that offered love and devotion and protection.

The desire to do just that, to melt into him and let her worries wash away was strong, but she resisted. He shifted slightly so their elbows were touching, and she spoke, buoyed by the feel of him against her. “What do you think of her?” she nodded towards the horse.

He looked over Briar Rose appraisingly, holding out a hand and saying something in Gaelic that she clearly recognized as a command; she walked back over to them, allowing Jamie to smooth his fingers over her head and nose. Claire smiled as she watched him, his tone low and smooth as he murmured words she didn’t understand.

“I don’t recognize any of the Gaelic words you usually speak to me,” she said, a teasing tone to her voice.

“There’s an obvious reason for that, Sassenach,” he smirked, patting the horse’s nose once move before pulling his hand away. “She’s beautiful. Seems to have a gentle temperament and she’s verra friendly. Are ye wanting to ride her this morning?”

“Well, she is mine, so I think that would be a good choice.”

“What do ye mean she’s yours?”

“Your father gave her to me. He said it’s a tradition that every member of the Fraser family gets a horse when they learn to ride. So say hello again to Briar Rose Beauchamp.”

She watched the surprise on his face turn into something else; he stayed quiet for a moment, finally nodding his head, his eyes slightly glassy. “I didna ken he was going to do that.”

“Do you not approve?”

His head turned towards her sharply, his features relaxing when he saw the half-smile curling up her mouth. “Of course I do. I guess this means you’re stuck with us forever.”

She laughed at that, shaking her head in amusement. “Is that so? I didn’t realize a horse was a legal contract binding the two of us together.”

He made a Scottish noise, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “In the old days, it probably was.”

“Very romantic,” she said wryly. “So what would you have been in the old days? The laird of this great estate like your Halloween costume from last year?”

“Oh, aye,” he answered, reaching out for her hand. She took his and tangled their fingers together as he tugged her towards him, her hips meeting the front of his body, his other hand resting on the small of her back. “And you would have been my lady, rustling about in your wee surgery here on the grounds, tending to my wounds and cursing at me for it.”

She laughed, her heart fluttering as he smiled back at her. “That sounds about right. But would I really have been yours if I was English?”

His answer was swift and sure. “Always, Sassenach.”

He bent his head and kissed her then, his lips soft and warm against hers. She felt that familiar melting sensation (and this time, embraced it), her body molding against his as his mouth continued to move over hers, their interlocked hands resting over his heart. It was slow and languid, their tongues meeting before he licked at her upper lip, a breathy sigh bubbling out of her at his touch.

They gently broke apart, Jamie kissing the tip of her nose before resting his forehead against hers. She closed her eyes for a moment, letting herself go weightless against him as he cradled her to his chest. His voice was a rumble against her ear when he spoke.

“Are ye ready to tell me what’s wrong now, my lady?”

She swallowed hard, unable to meet his eyes as she let out a shaky breath. “Are we… do you think we’re bad people?”

His arms tightened around her. “What do you mean?”

She pulled away from him with a sigh, leaning with her back against the door, her eyes fixed on the dirt ground in front of her as she played with the hem of her coat. “I talked to your sister before you got here.”

He stiffened, his jaw setting as he tried to catch her eye. “And what did she have to say?”

“She said a lot of things. And while her perception of how things happened between us has definitely been shaped by Laoghaire, she wasn’t wrong about all of it. You were in a committed relationship with another woman when we met, and we… cheated.” Her voice trembled on the word, at the uncomfortable truth behind what it meant.

“Claire…”

“Just…” she shook her head. “I’ve never really thought about it before, you know? When Frank cheated on me, I didn’t understand how he could do that to someone he had cared for. I knew that I would never be able to do that to someone else because I’m a good person. I’m honorable and devoted and it was simple… or so I thought. But then I met you, and even though I tried to fight it, I couldn’t. I knew you belonged to someone else. God, Jamie, I lived with her, and it didn’t matter. I slept with you while you were still with her. So really, I’m no better than Frank or the woman he was sleeping with. I might actually be worse.”

She saw him take a step towards her through blurred vision, her heart squeezing painfully as he cupped her chin with his thumb and forefinger, tilting her head up so she was forced to meet his gaze. He wiped away the tears that fell down her cheeks, tenderly brushing her hair away from her face, his fingers lingering along her skin.

“You are a good person, mo ghraidh. Ye didn’t stop being any of those things — honorable, devoted, smart, beautiful, loving, fiercely loyal — because ye fell in love with the right person at the wrong time. It doesn’t make ye a bad person. It makes you human. If there is blame to go around for how we got together, then it will lay at my feet and mine alone.”

“That’s not how it works,” she sniffled, leaning into his touch. “I made a choice, too, Jamie.”

He stayed silent for a few moments, thinking, his words carefully chosen when he spoke. “That life… with her would have been like placing a bandaid over a bullet hole, thinking it would keep all the cracks and broken pieces of me together. For a time, I thought that was okay. And then I met ye, and I realized that all those empty spaces were waiting for you to fill them. Ye make me whole, Claire.” He paused then, his voice quiet. “I would have done far worse than that to keep you.”

She pressed herself to him then, arms winding around his neck, her face buried in his neck. Her voice was barely more than a whisper, hoarse with tears. “You make me whole, too. I love you so much that it literally takes my breath away at times. But I don’t know how to explain that to your sister because I know that love came at a cost to someone else that she loves very much.”

“Claire, ye dinna have to explain yourself to anyone. The only people who matter in this relationship are you and me, and I ken how ye feel for me. You tell and show me every day. What did she say to ye that has ye this upset?”

“She asked what makes me think we’ll be any different… that we won’t find someone else one day and do to them what we did to Laoghaire.”

He swore in Gaelic, the sound muffled by her hair. Instead of moving to pull away like she had expected, he held her tighter, the heat radiating off his body warming the sudden chill in hers away. “Do ye worry about that happening?”

“No!” she said emphatically. “Do you?”

“No. Never. And that’s all that matters, Sassenach. Dinna let her get into your head. I’m sorry she upset you like this. But you and me… we will be together for eternity, mo nighean donn. I swear to you, I will not be parted from you.”

“I won’t be, either. I promise you, Jamie.”

“Then don’t worry, my own. Know that I know your heart and what’s in it, and so do the people who know and love you. Hurting and being hurt is part of life. I am sorry for the circumstances of what happened, but when it comes down to it… I have no regrets. I can’t.”

She pressed a kiss against his neck, unclasping her hands from around his neck to wipe at her cheeks with the backs of her hands. She let out a little laugh, realizing that she probably looked like a puffy mess. “How do you always know just what to say to make me feel better?”

He looked at her, a half-smile curving his lips. “I just do. But what I said is also the truth. As for my sister… I will make sure she doesn’t upset you again.”

“Jamie, this was between me and her. I can defend myself.”

“I know you can, but she and I are due to speak anyways, Sassenach. Dinna fash.” He kissed her on the forehead, nodding reassuringly at her. “Are we good?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then if you’re still interested, I’d like to take ye around more of the grounds with that new horse of yours.”

“Do you think you and Donas will be able to keep up?”

He raised his eyebrows, amusement lining his face. “I always keep up, Sassenach. Let’s go,” he smacked her on the bottom before opening the door to Briar Rose’s stall, motioning for her to follow.

She did, her heart feeling lighter, knowing whatever he asked of her, she would be by his side, and he by hers.

__________

She had walked back to the house after their long ride alone, Jamie sending her ahead with a kiss and an order to take a warm shower while he went to help his father tend to an issue with one of the animals in a pasture along the south end of the estate.

She made her way upstairs shivering, rubbing her hands together as she shut the door to their room behind her, heading into the en suite bathroom to start the shower. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she frowned; her hair was more of a tangled, knotted mess of curls than usual.

Deciding extreme measures would be necessary, she padded back out into the bedroom, heading towards the closet where their luggage was stored. She grabbed the bag containing some of her toiletries, tossing it on top of the bed as she began to rifle through it in search of her leave in conditioner.

She pushed aside a box of tampons, her fingers wrapping around the bottle she needed when she suddenly froze. Tossing the conditioner on the bed, she grabbed the tampons again, her pulse racing into overdrive.

The box was unopened. Dates ran through her mind as she did the math, her breath catching in a strangled gasp in her throat as she realized.

She was late.

Very late.

Chapter Text

She wiped her clammy palms against the rough material of her jeans as she walked through the aisles of the convenience store in Inverness, nervous energy coursing through her body as she looked for what she desperately needed to find.

She had slowly replaced the box of tampons back in her bag, the scratching of the zipper’s teeth filling the air as she pulled it shut, hiding the evidence of what she already knew in her heart to be true.

She would not be needing those anytime soon.

Mind jumbled, she had carefully undressed and walked into the shower (the deep conditioner she had been searching for still abandoned on top of their bed), letting the hot water rush over her head, her curls sticking to her face and skin as it rolled down her body. Although it removed the chill on her skin from the frost of the outdoors, it did nothing to alleviate the numbness filling her inside.

She had washed and dried off within a matter of minutes, throwing on the first pair of clothes she could find and roughly towel drying her hair before plugging her hair dryer in, staring blankly at her reflection in the mirror as she ran her fingers through her curls.

Satisfied that it was dry, she had grabbed her purse from the chair in the corner of the room and picked up Jamie’s car keys from their place on top of the dresser as she headed out of the room, her feet flying down the stairs to the main hall of the house.

Mrs. Crook had been pulling linens for that night’s big dinner out of a closet, her warm face smiling at Claire as she put her coat and gloves on. “Where are ye off to, dearie?” she had asked, pausing from sorting through a stack of fine cloth napkins.

“I need to run into town and pick up a few things I forgot at home,” she lied. “If Jamie comes back, would you mind letting him know where I am? I won’t be long.”

“Of course,” she said, turning back to her task. “Drive safe.”

“I will,” she had promised, giving her a reassuring smile that didn’t meet her eyes before leaving.

And now she stood in an aisle in a grocery store in Inverness, the fluorescent lighting shining on the dingy white tiled floor as she decided which pregnancy test to buy.

She felt overwhelmed as she looked at her options: multiple rows of different colored boxes (pink and white, purple and blue), all with the promise of early results, guaranteed to be 99% accurate. She bit down on her bottom lip, her teeth biting into the soft skin there as she let her eyes flicker over the other products next to the pregnancy tests: ovulation sticks, a dozen varieties of lubricant, and boxes of condoms.

An ironic laugh caught in her throat at the sight, nearly choking her.

She finally picked one of the more expensive boxes (magenta, First Response, “6 Days Sooner” in bold, large text), thinking the results would be more accurate than a cheap off brand, her normally scientific, rational brain muddled.

She crossed her arms across her chest as she made her way to the checkout at the front of the store, the box half-concealed under her arm. She considered picking up other items to purchase so it wouldn’t be so obvious she was there for a pregnancy test and nothing else; face flushing from embarrassment at both what she was buying and how ridiculous she was being, she shook her head at herself and walked to the register.

The young woman working it was around her age, if not a little younger. Her light brown hair was piled into a messy knot on top of her head, her expression both friendly and bored at the same time as she finished ringing out the customer in front of her. Her head turned to Claire when she was done, her mouth curving into a small smile. “Hi there, how are ye?” she asked, her accent causing her r’s to roll slightly.

“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” Claire replied automatically, putting the pregnancy test down on the counter and sliding it across to the cashier, her voice sounding dull even to her own ears.

She watched the girl’s eyes flicker down to the box and back up to Claire’s face, her expression taking on a softer, almost sympathetic edge as she picked it up and scanned it. Heat rushing up the back of her neck, Claire focused on the girl’s name tag (“Jessica”) as she placed her purchase in an ordinary plastic bag.

“I’m well, thank ye. It’ll be £13.49.”

Claire paid with her debit card, her teeth worrying her bottom lip again as she waited for the machine to process. She felt a strange mix of anxiety and anticipation begin to rise in her as the receipt began to print out; she now owned the box of pregnancy tests and whatever results they would give her.

Jessica handed her the receipt and then the bag, her smile small as she met Claire’s eyes. She could see the faint glow of trepidation in this stranger’s face on her behalf, and it made her heart beat faster in response. “Good luck,” she said quietly, with a nod of encouragement. “I hope ye get the results ye want.”

Claire stared at her, dumbfounded. She nodded back, a strangled breath leaving her lungs and mouth as she forced her own lips to turn up in a smile. “Thank you.”

And then she turned and left the store, the entirety of her future resting in that white plastic bag.

__________

She made it back to Lallybroch quickly, tucking the bag and it’s contents inside her coat as she entered the front door. She started to hurry up the stairs, only pausing when Mrs. Crook appeared in the hallway, an apron tied around her neck and waist.

“Did ye get everything ye needed?”

“I did,” Claire smiled tightly. “Is Jamie around?”

“Nay, he popped in to check on ye and then went back out with Brian to do some more work around the grounds. He said he’ll be back in time to shower before supper.”

“Okay. Thank you, Mrs. Crook. Do you need any help?”

“Nay, dear, go get some rest if ye can before everyone gets here. It willna be much longer.”

Nodding in relief, Claire finished her journey up the stairs, sealing herself in her and Jamie’s room. She took her coat off and tossed it on the bed, walking briskly back into the bathroom. She shut and locked the door behind her, leaning against the door for a brief moment before setting the bag on the countertop.

She pulled the box out and peeled away the plastic wrap sealing it, her fingers trembling slightly as she pulled the cardboard lid off, reaching for one of the pregnancy tests within. She placed it on the counter before grabbing the tiny pamphlet of directions, unfolding and decreasing the paper.

The directions were straightforward: pee on the stick with the results window facing away from her body, let it lay flat on a solid surface, and check the results after three minutes. One pink line meant she wasn’t pregnant. Two meant she was.

Heart pounding, she laid toilet paper down on the counter for the used test to sit on after she took it; then she took the pregnancy test out of its foil wrapping and removed the cap, her fingers fumbling with the button and zipper on her jeans. She thought abstractedly that she was grateful she hadn’t gone to the bathroom before she left for the store.

When she was finished, she set the test on the counter before flushing and washing her hands, her body beginning to tremble as she started to pace the length of the small bathroom. Jumbled thoughts raced through her mind as she walked back and forth, her future that had seemed so certain (more than five years of medical school still ahead of her, years of a tough residency after that, and Jamie) suddenly up in the air.

She was only 23 years old.

Jamie was still only 22.

Suddenly nauseous, she raised a hand to her mouth before gripping the edge of the counter, closing her eyes as she took deep, gulping breaths of air to try and curb the rise of saliva she felt invading her mouth. Oxygen came in through her nose and out through her mouth slowly, repeatedly; finally feeling that she wouldn’t dispel the contents of her stomach several minutes later, she opened her eyes and looked over at the pregnancy test.

“Oh, god,” she whispered.

The extreme fatigue she had attributed to her first semester of medical school and tough final exams. The way the smell of eggs still made her stomach turn over. The tenderness in her breasts when they were touched. Her emotional reactions that sometimes felt like overreactions.

They all made sense now.

Two lines.

Dark pink and burned into the surface, their marks reflective of how she was forever marked, too.

She was pregnant.

__________

She spent the majority of the next few hours alternately pacing around the room, picking up objects at random and placing them back down, or in bed, lying flat on her back as she stared at the ceiling in confused disbelief.

She didn’t understand how this had happened. She ran through the last several weeks in her mind over and over again, trying to figure out how birth control had failed her (them) and when. She was religious about taking her pill at the exact time every single day; but perhaps if Jamie had been wearing condoms, too, this wouldn’t have happened…

She pushed the thought firmly away. This was not his fault for not wearing an extra layer of protection; they had both been in agreement that her taking the pill was enough. Her stomach suddenly clenched painfully at the thought of what his reaction to this unexpected news was going to be, and how she was going to tell him.

Jenny would think she was trying to trap him.

And Lamb… would he be disappointed in her? Young, unmarried, and pregnant?

She worked herself into such a state of misery that she didn’t realize she had less than an hour to get ready for dinner (the first full Fraser family dinner she had ever attended) until she glanced at the clock on the bedside table. Jamie still hadn’t returned from whatever he was doing with Brian.

She forced herself to get up from the bed, going into the closet to pull out her outfit for the night (a black sweater, pleated midi skirt, and black boots). She dressed carefully, her hands running down the front of her sweater as she adjusted it, her palm resting for just the slightest moment on her stomach and what lay within.

Letting out a shaky breath, she took her hand away and grabbed the red jewelry box from the bed, moving towards the vanity in the corner. She sat down in front of the mirror, pulling her hair away from her face in a low, loose bun before applying her makeup. She opened the velvet box then, looking down at the pearls that had been Ellen’s and were now hers.

An heirloom meant to be passed down one day from Jamie’s wife to their child and then to their children’s children.

She pulled the strand out and placed them around her neck, her trembling fingers struggling with the clasp. Her frustration was growing when the door swung open, Jamie entering the room before closing the door firmly shut behind him, his nose and cheeks a bright shade of pink from the cold.

He was ruffling his hair, his fingers moving through his curls and sweeping them off to the side (always parted to the right), the cinnamon and red of his hair darker than usual from the snow that had dampened it. She did her best to keep her face straight, hoping he wouldn’t look at her and see straight through her.

Their eyes met in the mirror and he let out a low whistle, the corner of his mouth curling up into a half-smile. “Ye look beautiful, Sassenach.”

“Thank you.” She couldn’t help the soft smile that spread across her face, though her voice sounded weak to her own ears. “Can you help me with this, please?”

He walked over to her, blowing and rubbing warmth into his hands as he did so, his palms spreading over the curve of her shoulders. He leaned down and pressed a soft, slightly cold (yet so warm) kiss on the side of her neck, her eyes closing at his touch.

“I missed ye today. Did ye make it into town okay earlier?”

She cleared her throat, looking down into her lap as she smoothed her skirt. “I did. How was spending the day with your father?”

“Better than I expected.” His voice was light and airy as he straightened up to clasp the pearls around her neck, his fingers brushing along her skin. He made a contented sound as he looked her over again, affection written all over his face. “I’m glad ye decided to wear the pearls. They were made for ye.”

“Hmm, I don’t know about that, but I love them. They’re beautiful, Jamie. I’m honored to wear them.”

He held a hand out to her, and she took it, standing up in front of him so he could wrap his arms around her, bringing her in to rest her head against his chest. His chin rested on top of her head, his hands rubbing up and down her back. Out of his direct view, she felt her bottom lip start to quiver as the emotions she had been trying to control for the last several hours bubbled up to the surface all at once.

“I love you,” he said quietly.

“I love you, too.” She blinked rapidly, taking a deep breath before speaking again. “I need to talk to you.”

“Okay…” he said slowly, pulling back to look at her. “Are ye well?”

“I — yes,” she said abruptly, eyes darting to the floor and then back up, barely meeting his eyes. “It’s just—,”

An insistent knock at the door interrupted her, both of their heads turning towards the sound. Brian’s slightly muffled voice came through the solid hardwood. “Claire? Jamie?”

Disentangling herself from Jamie’s embrace, Claire walked over to the door and opened it to reveal Brian with a very worried expression on his face. “I’m sorry to bother the two of ye, but Mrs. Crook just burned herself in the kitchen and it looks rather nasty. Would ye be able to come and take a look at it? It’s blistering something fierce.”

“Of course, I’ll be right down. Do you have some first aid supplies here in the house you could get for me? I’ll need cool compresses, too — not cold, cool.”

“Aye, I’ll get ye everything ye need right away. Thank ye, Claire.” He looked at Jamie before he turned to go. “Ye better hurry up and shower, son. Dinner starts in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll be fast, dinna fash.”

With a nod, Brian disappeared down the hallway in search of Claire’s requested items, leaving the two of them alone again. She turned back to Jamie, her mouth barely curving up. “I better head downstairs. We’ll talk later?”

His eyebrows furrowed together as he looked at her, his face concerned as he looked her over, searching for signs of what was bothering her. She kept her face straight, meeting his eyes briefly. “Yes. Are ye sure ye’re okay? Ye look a bit fashed. Maybe we should talk now.”

“I’m just tired.” It wasn’t (entirely) a lie. “Go take your shower. Mrs. Crook needs me right now. Everything else can wait.”

“Sassenach—,”

“Really, Jamie. I need to take care of that burn before it gets worse. It’ll keep until after dinner.” She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile then, his face relaxing just slightly at the sight of it. “I love you.”

It was both a plea and promise leaving her lips.

He smiled back. “And I, you.”

She paused for a moment in the doorway, drinking in the sight of him (tall and broad shouldered, his curls haphazard and unruly like they were every morning, his eyes clear and blue and limitless, the strength in the lines of his body only surpassed by the strength in the way she knew his heart beat for her), her own heart clenching as she realized she was looking at him for the first time with the knowledge that he was a father.

She wondered if she would ever feel ready to be a mother.

She wondered if he would understand.

Chapter Text

Claire sat next to Jamie at the long dining room table, her posture stiff as she barely leaned back against the lush fabric chair. She couldn’t stop her eyes from darting between wee Jamie and Maggie, who sat across from her, secured in a booster seat.

The little girl held a children’s sized fork in her small, chubby hand, stabbing at the bananas and green beans on her plate and (more often than not) missing her mark. When she would finally succeed in getting one on her fork, she would carefully aim for her mouth, using her other hand to help shove the bite all the way in, her face covered in crumbs and gooey residue as she continued to feed herself.

Her gaze flickered away to Jenny, who was carefully cutting up pieces of roast chicken for wee Jamie, her eyes fixed on the task at hand as she answered a question Brian had asked her. Claire tried to listen to the conversation, but it was like a buzzing in her ears; she watched mindlessly as Jenny flicked the now bite sized food onto her son’s plate while bending over to pick up the sippy cup Maggie had just tossed on the floor at the same time.

“We dinna throw things, a leannan,” she said firmly, leaning over her son to set the cup back in front of her daughter and giving her a look as she did so without missing a beat, turning back to continue speaking with her father.

Her head snapped away when she felt Jamie’s hand touch her knee gently before sliding up her thigh, resting there. He squeezed gently and she looked up at him, his eyes concerned and narrowed slightly as he gave her a small smile. “You okay?” he whispered.

Swallowing hard, she nodded her head once, trying to curve her lips up at him. His hand tightened on her leg, his forehead creasing as he continued to watch her, but she turned away after forcing another smile, her eyes going back to watch the children.

She hoped that the longer she watched them, a switch inside of her would suddenly turn on and some long hidden mother gene would kick in. She would then be able to see herself in the same spot in a few years, wrangling an unruly toddler as they smashed food on their plate, her patience (seemingly like Jenny’s) unwavering as she took care of him or her.

Instead, all she felt was an ever growing fear that she was being thrown headfirst into something for which she had not asked for or thought would happen anytime in the near future. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, suddenly acutely aware that there was now something growing inside of her as she sat at that dinner table picking at her food.

The thought made her nauseous.

She pushed the green beans on her plate away with her fork (prepared perfectly by Mrs. Crook and placed on the table with her heavily bandaged hand) before setting it down beside her. She breathed in deeply, fingers clutching the napkin in her lap as she willed the nausea to dissipate.

She was so distracted she didn’t realize anyone had said her name until Jamie placed his hand on the small of her back, looking at her with unabashed worry.

“Sassenach?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, glancing around the table to see that everyone was looking at her. She felt her cheeks flush as she squeezed Jamie’s knee with one hand. “What did you say?”

He nodded towards Ian, and she turned her head towards him, giving him a small smile. “I’m so sorry,” she repeated. “I was in a daze, I guess.”

“It’s all right, lass,” he smiled back. “I was just asking if ye’ve decided what kind of medicine ye’re going to study.”

“I haven’t decided yet. I still have some time to do that, but I’ve wanted to be a surgeon for as long as I can remember. Once I get into my residency and I’m on different floors, I’ll have to pick a specialty.”

They fell into an easy conversation about her schooling, Brian and Ian marveling at all she was studying. She answered their questions as best she could, Jamie interjecting his own proud comments from time to time, his hand on her thigh a reassuring presence.

Jenny had remained mostly silent while the rest of the family talked, though she seemed to be listening attentively. As the conversation came to a natural lull, she looked up from her own plate of food.

“Claire, I couldn’t help but notice ye’re wearing my Mam’s pearls tonight.” Jenny’s voice was casual as she spoke, leaning forward to pick up her wine glass.

Claire’s hand went up to her necklace automatically, touching the small, round pearls around her neck. She glanced over at Jamie, exchanging a look with him that made warmth pool in her belly. “Yes. Jamie gave them to me for Christmas this year.”

“Ellen would be thrilled to see ye wearing them,” Brian said approvingly, tipping his own glass filled with whisky to her.  

Claire smiled at him, a flood of color rushing through her cheeks as she recognized his words for the compliment they were. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.

Jamie leaned over and pressed his lips against her temple, his hand enveloping hers beneath the table. Her eyes fluttered shut at his touch before slowly opening back up. She saw Brian watching them with affection before she looked at Jenny, whose eyes were fixed on Jamie.

Jenny took a sip of wine then, her voice casual when she spoke again. “Ye ken the last time I saw those pearls, Jamie was planning to give them to Laoghaire.”

A calm, deadly silence filled the room, so awkward and uncomfortable that Claire could literally feel it pressing on her chest, making it hard for her to breathe. Time itself seemed to freeze as Jenny’s words sunk in; then a noise somewhere between a gasp and a sob, the kind one makes when they’d just been punched in the gut burst from her chest unbidden, slicing the tension that was crackling around the table.

The sound was like the first deadly crack on a sheet of thin ice.

Jamie’s hand tightened on hers briefly before he stood from his chair, the legs squeaking as they stuttered and slammed backwards against the floor from the force of his movement. Every muscle in his body was tight with tension as he rose to his full height, the anger radiating off him like waves, threatening to crash and drown everyone around him.

Jenny placed her glass down on the table, her expression calm as she took in Jamie towering before her. “Is something wrong, brother?”

“What the hell are you trying to pull?” he hissed, his eyes narrowed.

“Pull? Since when does admiring a family heirloom mean I’m trying to pull something? It’s no’ my fault they’re sloppy seconds for your girlfriend. I suppose she’s used to that, though.”

“Jenny!” Brian barked.

“Fuck you,” Jamie practically growled, a flush creeping up his neck beyond his collar and spreading across his cheeks, his ears turning a deep shade of pink. “Don’t ever talk about Claire like that again. You are nothing but a hateful, petty—,”

“Jamie,” Claire said quietly, laying a hand on his arm, stopping him short, her eyes focused on wee Jamie and Maggie, both children shrinking back in their chairs with worried looks on their faces as they looked between their uncle and mother.

He looked down at her when she touched him, his eyes moving to see what she was looking at. When he noticed the kids, he drew in a sharp breath, trying to get his breathing back under control as he fell silent. She pulled the napkin from her lap then and set it on top of her plate, moving her chair back slowly.

She stood up next to Jamie, trying to hide the way her hands were shaking. She gave what she hoped was a small smile to Brian, blinking rapidly to stop the tears that were beginning to burn at the corners of her eyes. “Please excuse me,” she said, smoothing the front of her sweater down as she turned and walked out of the room, heading towards the hallway and staircase.

She could hear the tinkling of silverware hitting plates behind her and the scrape of chairs being pushed back, the sound of Gaelic sweeping after her as Jamie and Brian began to speak furiously back and forth to each other (Jamie’s tone heated), and Maggie finally letting out an ear splitting shriek and cry.

She paused at the foot of the stairs, suddenly lightheaded. She gripped the curled bannister with one hand, the other going to rest over her stomach as she squeezed her eyes shut. She took deep, gulping breaths of air before slowly opening her eyes back up, waiting for the dizziness to pass before heading up the stairs.

She closed the door to the bedroom behind her, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she walked over and sat down on the bed. Her skin looked flushed, her eyes and nose red from the tears that had started to run unnoticed down her cheeks. A glint of light hit one of the pearls around her neck, sending a stutter of flecks and stars around the room.

Her breath caught as she stared at the necklace, watching her reflection as one hand came up to touch the pearls.

Ellen’s. Hers.

Laoghaire’s.

Before she was even aware of what she was doing, she was up off the bed and in the closet, pulling her bags out and throwing them on the bed. Suddenly frantic, she began to pull the dresser drawers open, grabbing her clothes out and stuffing them haphazardly into her luggage.

She flew around the room, her hands shaking as she packed everything she could find (shirts and sweaters, underwear and bras, pajamas and her fuzzy robe, shoes and socks and slippers), moving back to the dresser to put her makeup into its bag, the plastic containers thwacking against each other as she threw them inside without care.

She rushed into the bathroom next, grabbing her brushes and tossing them onto the bed before reaching for her hair dryer, winding the cord around and around before jamming it into a bag, “fuck!” coming out of her mouth as she pulled at the zipper and it got stuck.

She tugged and pulled at the small metal tab, frustrated tears continuing to streak down her face without abandon. She didn’t realize she had been making any kind of noise until the sound of the door shutting firmly once more made her look up in shock.

She heard herself then; the hitching, rattling sound of her breath and sobs as her body fought to master the uncontrollable crying she couldn’t stop. Her skin was vibrating, heat suddenly swelling and exploding from her chest, up to her neck and face.

She watched Jamie’s face fall as he took her in, the already distressed look he wore increasing tenfold as he took a step towards her. “Sassenach…” he said softly, his voice turning confused when he noticed her bags on the bed, bringing him up short. “What’s going on?”

She brought her hands up to the clasp of her necklace then, her trembling fingers struggling to undo it. She tugged at the strand, letting out a hiccuping breath as she glanced at Jamie before looking down at the floor. “I can’t stay here. I need to change and go and I— I can’t get this thing off,” she cried, frustration seeping into her jerky movements.

She watched as his feet moved in front of her, his hands coming up to cover hers over the necklace. “Stop. Ye’re not going anywhere,” he said quietly, carefully removing her hands away. He pulled her against his chest then, enveloping her in his arms, his hands rubbing soothingly over her back before one tangled into her curls. “I am… so sorry.”

The hurt (for her) and remorse in his voice made her heart physically hurt as it beat in her chest. She sniffled against him, the tears subsiding slightly as he continued to stroke her hair and back. She felt the hard plane of his chest underneath her fingertips, letting a hand rest over his heart (hers for safekeeping), a sudden stab of insecurity entering her mind.

Her voice was hoarse when she spoke. “Is it true?”

“Is what true?” he asked.

“Were you going to give your mother’s pearls to Laoghaire?”

The stiffening of his body against hers felt like another punch to her gut. She pushed away from his embrace, wrapping her arms around herself. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, willing herself not to let anymore tears fall. She opened them back up as he reached for her again, but she took another step away, shaking her head slightly.

“Answer my question.”

“I — no. I mean, yes — no. God, no,” he stuttered. Claire looked up then to see him wrench a hand through his hair, frustration lining his face. “Jenny had asked me about the necklace before we went back to school last year. She suggested I give them to Laoghaire as a gift. I told her I would think about it, and that was the end of it.”

“I see. And did you think about it?”

“Aye, for about two seconds after my conversation with Jenny, but only because she brought it up. I hadna thought about it before that and I decided I wasna going to do it.”

“Why not?”

“Why not?” he repeated slowly. “Claire… ye ken why I didn’t. She wasn’t the right person for me, and I knew it in my heart. I gave them to you because you are. I love you more than life itself.”

“And yet if you’d never met me, you’d probably be planning your wedding to Laoghaire right now,” she tossed back, “and she would be the one sitting downstairs having a fucking drink and a laugh with your sister; not being called your sloppy seconds and mistaken for a whore by your nephew.”

He took a step towards her, cautiously reaching out to touch her cheek, his fingers sliding along her skin. Unable to help herself, she leaned into his touch, a half-swallowed sob sending a shudder over her body. “I would not be planning a wedding to her and I dinna care about what Laoghaire and Jenny would be doing together. All I care about is you. I’m sorry for what Jenny said and the way she’s treated ye, mo ghraidh. I wish I could take the hurt off your shoulders and onto my own. I can bear pain myself, but seeing yours… it’s almost more than I can stand.”

She met his eyes, the words tumbling from her mouth in what sounded like one rambling sentence. “Your sister hates me, Jamie. I was so stupid thinking we’d come here and she’d see us together and accept me. She’s never going to accept me because I’m not Laoghaire. How am I supposed to compete against that?”

His eyebrows furrowed together, his voice firm when he spoke. “Claire, it’s not a competition—,”

She jerked her head away from his hand, cutting his words off. “That’s not how it feels. I cannot… I can’t sit around wondering when she’s going to get in another dig about Laoghaire or if what she’s saying is true or not. I can’t…” she shook her head, trailing off as another wave of nausea rushed over her.

She knew this time it wasn’t going to be  quelled.

One hand moving to cover her mouth, she pushed past Jamie, who was looking at her with unabashed concern. “Move!” she snapped, rushing to the door of the bathroom and slamming it shut behind her.

She barely made it to the toilet before she was gagging and emptying the contents of her stomach into the porcelain basin. She felt tears streaming down her cheeks as her stomach and throat burned from the rush of acid, her hands gripping the sides of it as she coughed and spit away the rest of the saliva in her mouth.

She reached up with one shaking hand to flush, her chest heaving as she continued to hover over the toilet, unsure if she was going to throw up again. She didn’t realize Jamie had come into the bathroom behind her until she felt him pull the loose strands of hair in her face away and tuck them behind her ears, one hand coming to rest on her back as he rubbed soothing circles over and over again.

She let herself cry without abandon then; tears of frustration at herself for getting so worked up about a girl that Jamie didn’t want or love, one that meant nothing to him and yet meant everything when it came to Jenny’s distaste of her, and tears of fear as she realized that the little thing growing inside of her was very much real and making her sick.

“Sassenach,” Jamie’s voice was filled with something akin to fear and anxiety. “Are ye okay?”

“I’m…” she paused, unsure of what to say. “I need to brush my teeth and then I need to talk to you.”

“Are ye going to be sick again?”

“No, I’m okay now,” she said weakly. “Help me up?”

He hovered around her after she got up from the floor and grabbed her toothbrush, putting a dollop of toothpaste on before quickly sticking it into her mouth, cleaning and rinsing away the taste of her vomit.

She motioned for him to follow her out to the bedroom when she was done. “I think you should probably sit down,” she said quietly.

He did as she directed, his back ramrod straight as he looked at her, his voice just as quiet as hers when he spoke. “Sassenach, what the hell is going on?”

She closed her eyes briefly, unsure of where to begin. “I don’t know how to tell you.”

“Whatever it is, just say it. Ye’re scaring me.”

She opened her eyes then and met his, whisky on blue, the shape and form of him slightly blurry through her tears. She took a deep breath, blinking rapidly to clear her vision, her hands wringing the bottom of her sweater. “I’m pregnant.”

He stared at her for a few moments, his face absolutely blank with shock. She could see his mind working in overdrive to absorb and understand her words. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “Ye’re what?”

“I’m pregnant,” she repeated, struggling to keep her voice steady.

She watched as his face transformed, his eyes widening slightly as they grew a brighter shade of blue, the corner of his mouth curling into that half-smile she loved and lived for. It only made her stomach sink deeper.

He stood up slowly, a surprised laugh (disbelieving, joyful ) coming from his mouth. “We’re going to have a bairn?”

She opened her mouth to respond, but nothing would come out; he didn’t seem to notice, so caught up in his own feelings. Before she realized what was happening, he had crossed the few steps to her and placed his large hand against her stomach, his palm spreading as if he could already envision the child that lay within.

He looked up at her then, his face the picture of awe. He tilted her chin up with his other hand, bringing his lips down to hers. His kiss was steady and warm against her mouth, her own lips pressing against his without thought. His whispered thrill of “I canna believe it, Sassenach” against her lips had her pulling away.

She took a small step back, his hand falling away from her stomach as she moved away from him, shaking her head. His forehead creased as he looked at her, his eyes clouding over in confusion. “Claire… what is it? Are ye no’ happy about it? I ken it’s a big surprise, but—,”

“I don’t know what I am,” she interrupted, desperation creeping into her tone. “I… Jamie, this is all too much right now. We can’t have a baby. I’m still in school, and things with your family are still so rocky, and then tonight… I need to think. I can’t think being here.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

She looked up at him, her expression lost. “It means that I need time to figure out what to do about this. I’m only 23 years old. We didn’t plan this. I didn’t think this would happen for years still. How am I supposed to have a baby and raise him or her while I’ve still got over five years of medical school ahead of me? Not to mention years of a residency after that? How am I supposed to do both?”

The confusion on his face deepened with every word. “You’re no’ going to be doing it alone. Ye have me. I’ll be there every step of the way, Sassenach. We’ll figure it out together and everything will be just fine.”

“You don’t know that! Jamie, I can’t… I can’t do it all. I can’t be a good mother and devote myself to becoming a doctor at the same time. I spend hours every week in class and studying. I have to in order to stay on top of everything. Who is going to watch the baby while I’m doing that?”

“Claire, women have children and go to school at the same time every single day. We can hire help, or ask family—,”

“Hire help?” she interrupted. “With what money? And family isn’t going to be an option. Lamb doesn’t live in Scotland. Your father isn’t exactly close to Edinburgh, and your sister…” she let out a choked laugh. “Your sister is going to think I did this on purpose to trap you.”

Jamie swore softly in Gaelic, turning his head to the side briefly as he ran a hand over his face and through his hair. “Claire, fuck my sister and what she may or may not think. We both ken that while this bairn wasna planned, it’s still a blessing we both want.”

She didn’t respond, her eyes shifting down to the floor in front of her. She could feel heat rushing up the back of her neck, her skin feeling sticky against her clothes as she felt tension begin to build between the two of them. It felt like hours had passed between them when she finally spoke again. “I don’t know if…” she trailed off, her throat suddenly thick with tears.

“Ye don’t know what?” His voice was desperate, disbelief (of realization) creeping in. She looked up and met his gaze, the sight of him nearly undoing her.

He was trying hard to hold himself together; she watched his throat as he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down almost painfully as he looked at her . His forehead was creased, his jaw clenching as he met her eyes, his own swimming with tears she knew he didn’t want to shed.

She could feel her pulse rushing in her ears as she stood across from him, her vision blurring until she could no longer see him clearly. Tears began to drip down her face (nose, cheeks, and lips), but she refused to push them away, her bottom lip trembling as she stared back at him.

He knew.

“I need you to say it, Claire.”

His voice was quiet, an unspoken demand behind his words for her to put her own feelings into words, to give life to something that they both knew could cleave them in two. 

She realized vaguely that the last time they had stood like this, she had broken his heart (and hers) in the rugby stadium more than a year before.

She had thought the blow then had been fatal. 

She knew this really was.

Mouth suddenly dry, she tried to swallow, but found she couldn’t. Almost gasping for air, she breathed in slowly, the noise a sobbing hiccup that filled the space between them. She felt the rush of salt fill her mouth as she spoke, her voice trembling as her words smothered the life from Jamie’s face.

“I don’t know if I want to keep the baby.”

He stared at her, the silence so deafening she thought it was going to swallow her whole. The look of betrayal that finally washed over his face had another sob escaping her lips. “I see,” he said finally, his voice flat. “And do I get a voice in this?”

She sniffled, a disgusting snot-filled sound as she wiped at her nose and eyes. “Of course you do, but…”

“But what?”

“But I’m the one that has to make the final decision, Jamie.”

“I see,” he said again. “So ultimately, it doesna matter what I want? Even though this baby is not the result of rape or a one night stand between two people who dinna love each other… even though it’s our child, the product of our love, it only comes down to what you want?”

“Of course I know it’s not like either of those situations! This isn’t simple, or easy, but you are twisting everything I say, Jamie! It’s not fair and this conversation is going nowhere right now. I think we both need to take a step back and calm down before we continue talking about this.”

“It’s no’ fair?” he repeated incredulously, leveling her with a look she had never seen directed towards her before. “We must have a different definition of that word, Claire. The only thing that seems unfair here is that my opinion apparently doesna matter, and only yours does.”

It wasn’t the anger and bitterness in his voice that made her breath catch in her throat; it was the way his eyes, always filled with such love for her (unfailing, endless, tender) were now hard and cold as they stared at her, like he didn’t recognize her or was seeing her for the first time.

She felt sucker punched. Helpless.

“Jamie, I just need some time to think…”

“Aye,” he nodded, holding his hands up as he took a step backwards towards the door. “So do I. I look at you right now, Claire, and I can feel my own heart’s blood leave me.”

Heart squeezing painfully, she felt the tears streaming down her cheeks and neck as she bit down on her bottom lip, trying to hold back the sobs that were building inside her chest and throat.

He grabbed the doorknob and paused, before turning slowly back around to look at her. His eyes were bright with grief, tears slipping past his eyelashes. He shook his head slightly, his voice a hoarse plea when he spoke.

“Please, Claire.”

And then he turned and left.

Chapter Text

He stood outside the bedroom door, his hand still on the knob as he leaned against the door frame for support. He screwed his eyes shut as he listened to Claire’s hitching breaths and sobs behind him, every instinct within him screaming to turn around and go inside to hold and comfort her.

But he couldn’t.

He didn’t know how to.

He scrubbed a shaking hand over his face, pushing himself away from the door and towards the staircase (his body aching like he was sick, his limbs leaden and slow, weak). He didn’t know what he was going to do when he returned to the dining room, but he knew it was past time for him to make his feelings known to his sister.

Walking down the stairs and turning down the hallway that led back to the dining room, he could hear the hushed voices of his father and Ian, their words indecipherable. But he could hear Jenny scoff in response at something that had been said, and it set the blood in his veins boiling.

Ian was still whispering harshly to Jenny when he appeared in the doorway, his sister seemingly ignoring him as she went about clearing off Maggie’s tray before walking around her high chair to wee Jamie. His father was leaning forward against the table, stress clearly showing in the lines of his face. He leaned back and rose from his seat when he noticed Jamie, Ian falling silent as he looked in the same direction as Brian.

“Jamie—,” his father said, voice trailing off as if he didn’t know what else to say.

Jamie ignored him, his eyes fixed on Jenny. She met his eyes briefly (her expression defiant, cold) before turning back to her children. He watched as Maggie clapped her hands together, unaware of the tension simmering in the room between the adults.

He could feel the burn of both his father’s and Ian’s eyes on him, waiting for him to say something (to do something), before he called out clearly, “Mrs. Crook?”

He heard her footsteps coming from the kitchen, her face peering hesitantly around the doorway. “Aye, Jamie?”

“Can ye please take wee Jamie and Maggie and get them ready for bed?”

She glanced nervously between Jamie and Brian, a slight tremor to her voice when she spoke. “Aye, dearie.” She moved past Jenny and Ian, picking wee Jamie up from his chair and setting him beside her before unbuckling Maggie from her high chair, placing her on one hip as she grabbed his nephew’s hand with her own. “Come, you two. Time to get cleaned up.”

“I can do it myself, Mrs. Crook. I’ve nothing to say here,” Jenny said, moving to grab Maggie in her own arms.

“Sit down, Janet,” Jamie said firmly, a deadly note to his voice.

It was not a request.

She knew it. Everyone knew it.

She stood up straight, fixing her gaze on him. He expected to hear the thundering roar of his pulse rushing through his ears, or feel the out of control rhythm of his heartbeat pounding against his chest as they stared each other down; instead, he felt a calm resolve spread through him, his expression hard as he looked at his sister.

She turned to Mrs. Crook then, nodding curtly. “Take the kids, please. We’ll be upstairs to fetch them soon.”

He waited until the kids were whisked out of the room and well out of earshot before he spoke again. “Why?”

“Why what?” Jenny asked, crossing her arms across her chest.

He walked forward to the opposite side of the table, back to where he and Claire had been sitting together before. He gripped the back of his chair, the skin of his knuckles turning white as he glared at her. “I’m no’ going to play this game with you. Answer the damn question, Janet.”

She jutted her chin out defiantly as her eyes narrowed at him. “I was simply reminiscing over the last time I saw Mam’s pearls, Jamie. It’s no’ my fault you were planning on giving them to someone else then and that it upset Claire.”

“Except ye ken I was never considering giving them to Laoghaire and that you’re the one who brought the idea up in the first place. You were purposely trying to upset Claire. Why? She’s never done a single thing wrong to you.”

“No’ to me, just to another woman I care for greatly, a woman who was part of this family before ye decided to think with yer cock instead of your brain!”

“She was never part of this family,” Jamie hissed, his own eyes narrowing now. “We were together, aye, and I should have broken up with her sooner, but I’d made no promises of a future together, and if anyone was going to make her part of this family, it would have been me. It was my choice, one way or the other. My decision, no one else’s. I ken she’s your best friend, but I’m your brother. Are my choices not worthy of your understanding and support?”

“Not when I canna understand them!” Jenny snapped. “I have no idea who you are, and I haven’t for well over a year now. The brother I knew — the one Mam and Da raised would never have taken up with another woman while committed to another!”

“I ken ye may not understand this, seeing as how you’ve never left Lallybroch, but sometimes people are in relationships and then meet someone else who is actually right for them. That’s what happens in the real world. I am sorry I hurt Laoghaire, but we weren’t meant for each other and I’ll never be sorry that I met Claire. She’s the love of my life.”

She flinched at his words, though he could tell she was trying to hide her hurt. “Until ye stumble upon some other woman one day and decide she’s the right one for ye instead. Or maybe Claire will do it to you. I guess that’s what happens out in the real world.”

Something inside him snapped at her words, at the insinuation that he or Claire would ever be unfaithful to each other; before he was aware of what he was doing, he had leaned over the table, his hands sweeping along the dark wood surface, sending plates and glasses flying against the wall and onto the floor, the sound of shattering porcelain and glass filling the air along with his growled “Ifrinn!”

His father let out a yelp as he scrambled back from the wreckage of the dinner table, Ian and Jenny both jumping back as well. “Jamie—,” Brian began to say, but Jamie cut him off immediately, his eyes flickering to him before landing back on Jenny.

“Don’t,” he said firmly. “This is our fight, not yours. Dinna get in the middle.”

Brian closed his mouth, his lips pressed together in a firm line as he looked between his children. Satisfied he wasn’t going to say another word, Jamie turned his full attention back to Jenny.

His jaw was clenched so hard he thought it might break, his calm reserve completely crumbled. “What ye said? That is never going to happen. Don’t ye dare pretend like ye know anything about mine and Claire’s relationship or our commitment to each other. Ye dinna ken a damn thing about us because you’ve chosen not to. I didn’t know what it was to be truly happy — to be myself — until I met Claire. I’m not whole without her. I thought that was something ye could understand at least, being that ye’re married, but I’ll add it to the list of things I was wrong about when it comes to you.”

His outburst had shaken her completely; he could see it written across her face, in the way she seemed to shrink into herself. Her voice held a slight tremor to it when she spoke, though it strengthened as she continued speaking. “Aye, she’s really helped ye be a better man, hasn’t she, Jamie? Ye take up with her and suddenly decide to betray your family, betray everything our parents had worked for and throw away their company at the same time ye cast aside your girlfriend like she was some common hoor. Unlike you, I’ve never done that to someone else.”

“Claire had nothing to do with me choosing to not take over the business. In fact, she encouraged me to do it! I’m the one who didn’t want to and hadn’t wanted to for months. Am I no’ allowed to choose my own life and future? Or was I to continue living everyone else’s dream so you could stay comfortable here while I did all the work and made myself miserable in the process? Isn’t that what it really comes down to, Jenny? That ye’re angry with me for refusing to live the same life as you and you’re taking it out on Claire.”

Jenny swallowed hard, clearing her throat before speaking. “Is that what ye think? That I’m some… simpleton that canna understand the complexities of a life and career? That all I’ve done my whole life is look for ways to manipulate ye?”

“Like how you’re trying to manipulate me right now with a guilt trip?” he asked coldly. “What I think is that ye’re living the life you wanted — married to the man ye went to secondary school with, raising your children in the exact same place ye grew up in. Ye never wanted more than that, and there’s nothing wrong with what ye’ve chosen. Just like there’s nothing wrong with me wanting something different. I will not live your life, Jenny, or let you choose it for me.”

“I see. And so ye think I was manipulating ye, trying to force ye into living the life of my choosing the entire time ye were Laoghaire, aye? Ye were never happy once with her?”

“Jesus Christ,” Jamie scrubbed a hand over his face, shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s no’ about Laoghaire, Jenny! Aye, she and I were fine for a time, but I dinna want fine. What we had is absolutely nothing compared to what I have with Claire. She makes every part of my day better. She makes me laugh and smile constantly… she challenges me and understands me and loves me unconditionally. I look at her and I see forever. I canna breathe without her, let alone live without her. I never felt that way with Laoghaire. Why is it impossible for ye to accept that?”

“And where is she?” Jenny choked out. “She couldna come down here herself and say these things to me?”

He could feel the heat of his anger rushing up his chest and neck, spreading along his ears and cheeks, burning his skin and making him feel dizzy. “She’s probably upstairs puking her guts out again like she was before I came down here.” He paused, his stomach twisting painfully at his next words. “She’s pregnant.”

“She’s what?” Brian asked, his voice shocked, though there was a certain note of disbelieving joy within it.

Jamie glanced at his father, taking in the surprise and delight on his face. “She’s pregnant,” he repeated. “She told me when I went upstairs. But dinna get too excited, Da. She doesn’t know if she wants to keep it.”

He felt the rush of hot, angry tears swell in the corners of his eyes; looking down at his feet, he blinked rapidly as he tried to get his emotions under control. He looked back up, his jaw clenched as he glared at Jenny again. “Against my better judgment, I brought her to Lallybroch, to the place I grew up because I thought we could move past all of this. I thought somewhere inside of ye was an ounce of our mother, and ye’d apologize and treat Claire the way she deserves, the way I have always treated Ian. But I should have known better. Ye’re nothing like Mam or Da.”

Jenny’s eyes were wide as she looked at him. “Jamie, I—”

“Are we even now?” he broke in. “I broke up with yer best friend for someone else and now my pregnant girlfriend doesn’t know if she wants to have our child. Have I paid my debts to you?”

“If I had known, then I…” her voice trailed off, her lips pressed together in what looked like regret.

“Then you what, Janet? Ye wouldn’t have said anything?” The disbelieving laugh that followed his question was humorless, hollow. A detached part of him wondered how he could feel such excruciating pain blooming inside his chest, spreading through his body like a poison when he was empty inside, his heart ripped away and laying on the floor upstairs with his lost family.

She said nothing at first, her mouth slightly open as she looked to the floor. A shaky hand came up to smooth at her hair, before meeting his eyes. “I would never do anything to harm yer bairn.”

“Just the bairn, not Claire?” he scoffed, taking a step back, moving towards the doorway, suddenly desperate to get out of the room, from the root of his life’s destruction. “Ye dinna get it, and ye never will. She is everything to me. Everything.”

His father took a slow step towards him, his hands raised as if he was afraid Jamie would physically attack him. “Jamie, ye need to calm down.”

“Dinna tell me what to do,” he spat as he shook his head, anger beginning to swell inside him again. “This is pointless. I’m done with this.”

He turned back to Jenny, meeting the same blue he saw every morning when he looked in the mirror. Would his child, his and Claire’s, ever get to open their own? Would he or she inherit the eyes his mother had passed down to them, proof that she had lived and loved and been real?

He shook his head, his voice filled with disgust. “I’m done with you. I never want to see you again.”

__________

He had left the house without even grabbing a coat, his pulse pounding in his ears and his heart racing. All he knew was he had to get out, right that very moment, before the full weight of what had happened inside over the last hour crushed him whole forever.

His feet took him to where he needed to go without conscious thought. Walking past the garden and potting shed, he felt a pang deep in his chest as he thought of making love to Claire there what felt like a lifetime ago, her skin pink and warm and soft as he held her in his arms, her breath and moans hot in his ear, her giggles filling the air between them as she surrendered herself completely to him as she had done so many times before.

Swallowing hard, he blinked back the onslaught of tears burning the corners of his eyes and kept walking, the wind whipping through his shirt and sweater. He could not think of that. Of her like that. Not right now.

He entered the clearing where his mother’s grave stood, the stone seeming to glow as he came closer to it. He sniffled as he walked over to her, wiping at his nose and eyes before jamming his hands deep into his pockets. Head slightly bowed, he closed his eyes as he waited for some sort of peace to wash over him as it usually did in this spot.

“God, I miss you,” he whispered. “I wish you were here to tell me what to do.”

His eyes blurred over again, but he made no move to stop the tears as they swelled and spilled past his eyelashes, the cold air turning them into frozen tracks down his cheeks. How many times had his mother come to William’s grave after he died, seeking answers and resolution that would never come?

He turned his head when he heard the sound of a boot crunching through the snow, his father entering the clearing with a coat and hat in his hands. “Ye’re going to freeze to death out here,” he tutted, handing both to his son.

“I’m not cold,” he said blandly, though the constant chill running through his body said otherwise.

“That’s because ye’ve gone numb. Put them both on,” Brian ordered, Jamie rolling his eyes in response as he did what he was told and took the hat and coat from Brian’s outstretched hands.

He zipped the coat all the way up, nearly sighing in relief at the warmth it offered. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

“Ye’re welcome.” His father stood next to him, nearly shoulder to shoulder, both of them looking down at Ellen’s grave. Jamie saw Brian glance a look at him from the corner of his eye, his breath coming out in a puff of smoke before him. He didn’t turn to meet his gaze.

“Is she… did ye check on her before ye came out here?”

He had nearly (stupidly) asked if she was okay. She wasn’t. Neither of them were.

“I did. Mrs. Crook took her some ginger ale and crackers to help settle her stomach. I made sure she was comfortable and resting before I left the house.”

He tried to swallow past the lump that was suddenly burning in his throat, clearing it before he spoke again. “Thank you. I’m sorry about the plates and glasses. I’ll pay to replace everything.”

“Dinna be ridiculous,” Brian scoffed. “Ye have nothing to apologize for.”

“Yes, I do. You and Mam didna raise me to shout at women and throw and break things because I’m mad. Mam would be ashamed.”

He could see the small, wry smile curling up one side of his father’s mouth. “Well, while that may be true, we didna raise your sister to say and do what she’s done to you and Claire, either. It looks like we’re oh-for-two.”

A noise escaped him that Claire would have described as Scottish. “I guess ye are, then.”

“I guess so,” Brian agreed easily, his voice taking on a faint note of amusement. “Ye ken when yer mam would come out of a room after punishing one of you for whatever hell ye’d gotten up to that day, she’d always say she didna realize what she was getting into when she decided to raise stubborn, hotheaded Frasers. Ye’ll understood soon enough, now that you’re going to be a father.”

Something twisted painfully in his chest at those words. He turned to his father, his voice desperate. “Am I?”

Brian reached up and cupped his cheek gently before letting his hand rest on Jamie’s shoulder, squeezing in reassurance. “She’s scared, son.”

He said it so simply, like those three words were supposed to explain it all. He shrugged his shoulders in defeat, staring into his father’s eyes helplessly. “Is that enough of a reason to not want our child?”

Brian looked him over, no doubt taking in his red and puffy eyes, his cheeks stained with tears that he could still feel brimming just beneath the surface. He seemed to be considering his words carefully, as if whatever he said next would somehow help to quell the helplessness swirling within him.

“We never spoke of this to anyone else, but yer mam had a miscarriage after Jenny. We were young when William came along, just like you and Claire, though we were both out of school at that point. I was working a full time job in Inverness and trying to establish a working farm here at the same time, with the hope that eventually Lallybroch alone would be able to support us. When Willie was born, yer mam went back to work after a few months, and then we found out she was pregnant again with Jenny.

“We were both shocked, but figured we would just make it work somehow. Two bairns… one just barely walking and the other a newborn. We had no idea what we were getting into. It didna make financial sense for your mam to return to work, so she quit her job to stay home with your brother and sister while I continued to work two full time jobs at once.

“It was so hard on yer mam. Two pregnancies just months apart and then chasing a toddler around the house while trying to feed and care for a new baby. I dinna think we had one date night, just the two of us, for months after Jenny was born. There were days I would come home from work and yer mam would hand the kids off to me and disappear into our bedroom, locking the door behind her because she needed a break.

“She would jokingly say she was never having another bairn, and then on the day of Jenny’s first birthday party, she took a pregnancy test and it was positive. She didna want to say it, but I could tell she wasna happy about it. She tried to pretend she was, but I knew. A few weeks later, she woke me up in the middle of the night, bleeding and cramping. There was nothing we could have done to stop it, miscarriages happen all the time… but even though we grieved what could have been, I think she was mostly relieved. And then she just felt guilty for feeling that way.”

His father paused, a strange sense of urgency  ( for Jamie to hear him, to understand ) washing over his face. “Motherhood — pregnancy — those are things we canna understand, son. We’re no’ the ones who carry a bairn for nine months, sharing our body with another living being who relies on us for everything. It’s not our bodies that change, swelling and stretching until we can barely walk because our ankles are swollen and our backs are out of joint. As fathers, we get to be a support system for all their emotional and physical needs during the pregnancy, but we canna truly understand. We can feel the baby kick, can see the way an elbow or knee pushes against their skin, but we will never know what it feels like to have our child’s heart growing and beating inside of us, relying on us to keep them safe and see them delivered healthy and whole after they rip their own bodies apart during the actual birth. It changes a woman forever, do ye ken?

“And then when it comes to actually raising that bairn, well… it’s all-consuming, especially in the early years. Have ye heard the expression, the days are long, but the years are short? It’s because ye’re deep in the trenches, doing the same things every day… changing diapers, refilling milk cups, dodging flying hands when yer bairn is throwing a tantrum because ye didna let them eat out of the trash or ye chose the wrong book to read to them. The sleepless nights feel like they will never end. Ye spend yer time in a battle of wills with a child who canna be reasoned with because they canna reason yet. The small things ye take for granted now, like running errands alone or deciding to go to a movie together last minute becomes near impossible.

“As the man, ye go off to work without a second thought because it’s expected of ye, while women are the ones who are made to feel guilty for working while being mothers. And women… they can get lost in child rearing while trying to hold onto themselves at the same time, hoping when they look in the mirror at night, they’re the same person they were before that child was born. But they’re not. They canna be.”

He was silent for a moment, his eyes fixed on Ellen’s grave. “I canna tell ye how many times I caught yer mam looking in the mirror, examining herself to see how she was changed. At first I thought she was worried about stretch marks or wrinkles… and then I realized she was looking to see if her soul was the same. To see if she still recognized herself, the essence of who she was. To see what pieces of her had changed on the inside while she raised you kids.”

His father was quiet for a long moment, turning back to Jamie with one side of his mouth barely curling up. “Do ye see why she’s scared, son?”

Jamie’s voice was hoarse when he answered. “Why would anyone want that?”

Brian made a noise deep in his throat, a real smile crossing his face this time. “Because of all the good, beautiful moments in between the hard ones. The first time ye hold your bairn after they’re born, their skin warm and soft against yours. Watching your child at Claire’s breast as she feeds him or her. The smell of their hair. The first time they smile at ye because they recognize ye belong to each other forever. The first time ye put them on a horse and help them ride a bike. The first scraped knee they get and the kiss from you that’s the only thing that will soothe them. Watching them go off to school for the first time, a tiny backpack on their shoulders, their school uniforms making them look far more grown up than they are.”

Brian reached up and squeezed his shoulder again. “Before ye ken it, that child will be near grown and bringing home their first boyfriend or girlfriend. Then eventually they go off to university and if they’re lucky like I’ve been, that child will bring home the love of their life to meet ye. You’ll get to see the promise you made to your wife fulfilled when your child is happy and starting their own family with the person they love.”

Jamie could do nothing but nod, wiping hastily at his eyes as he felt more tears slip past his lashes. His father looked at him tenderly, his own eyes beginning to well with tears.

“You, your brother and sister… ye’re our greatest achievement. It doesna mean things have been easy all the time, or that there are things I wouldna have done differently. But what I ken above all else, is that when you hold your child, you’ll know that they are the greatest gift you and Claire will ever give each other.”

“And what do I do if she decides she doesna want the baby? What then, Da?”

Brian looked him square in the eye. “Is she the one? Truly?”

His answer came without hesitation or thought. “Yes.”

His father’s hand squeezed tightly on his shoulder. “Then ye must stand by her, Jamie, and support her. ‘Tis your job as a man — as her man — and as your bairn’s father.”

He swallowed hard (once, twice), trying to quell the lump in his throat that seemed to be growing by the second. He felt a strange sense of resolve wash through him at his father’s words, the peace he had been looking for settling into his veins.

Jamie nodded in assent, Brian’s shoulders sagging in relief. He threw his arms around his father then, letting his dad hold him for the first time in a long time, his strong arms protecting him and keeping him safe as they had done for the majority of his life.

The way his father had done for his mother, and the way he would do for Claire.

Brian’s arms held him close, one hand patting Jamie’s back. He could feel his father’s tears against his skin, his voice thick with emotion when he spoke again. “I will be here for you and Claire, whatever the two of ye decide. Whatever ye need — whether that’s a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to ye, financial support — I will be here. I will not fail ye, son. I promise.”

Jamie nodded again as he pulled away, wiping at his eyes with his hands. “I ken you will. Thank you, Da.”

“Ye dinna need to thank me, Jamie. Everything will work itself out. Ye both just need some time… and each other.”

“I know. I’m going to head back to the house now.” He turned to leave, pausing for a moment before looking at his father. “Da?”

“Yes, son?”

“I love you.”

He hadn’t spoken those words to him in a long time; he watched as Brian’s eyes turned glassy, a small smile growing on his face as he nodded back to Jamie.

“I love you, too.”

__________

He made his way slowly back to the house, opening and closing the front door softly behind him as heat enveloped him, the faint smell of dinner still lingering in the air. The house was eerily calm, a low light in the study down the hall the only source of illumination. He took his coat and hat off, hanging them up in the hall closet before toeing his wet shoes off, taking a moment to steady himself before heading up the stairs.

He was still absorbing all that his father had said to him; though he knew he needed to go to Claire, that she needed him right now as much as he needed her, the urge to bypass their room and sleep in one of the guest rooms was overwhelming. His feet felt heavy and sluggish as they took him down the hall to their door.

He stopped in front of it, his hand hovering over the door knob. He felt like he was frozen, his feet stuck to the floor, his breath catching painfully in his chest as he hesitated. Then the sound of her hitching breaths reached his ears, her sniffling like a punch to his gut. He took a deep breath before reaching down and turning the knob, letting himself into their room.

Claire was curled underneath the covers, her back to him, knees tucked close to her chest. She didn’t turn when he came in, but he saw her shrink into herself, the blanket curling tighter around her shoulders as she tried to make herself smaller. His heart squeezed painfully at the sight, a lump forming instantaneously in his throat in response.

He undressed quietly, down to his undershirt and boxers before he padded softly over to the bed, turning the covers back and sliding in beside her. He hesitated for the space of a heartbeat —theirs (because he had no heart without Claire) — before turning to her and pulling her gently against him, her back pressed against his chest, her bottom and legs molding perfectly into him as they always had. 

He carefully brushed her curls back from her face, his fingers sliding along the soft skin of her neck as he moved them over her shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her, peering down into her face as he did so, the outline of her visible to him in the darkened room through the moonlight peering through a crack in the curtains.

Her eyes were squeezed shut, her mouth pressed in a firm line as she tried and failed to stop the trembling of her lips. He watched as the tears she was clearly fighting won the battle, slipping past her dark lashes and spilling down her cheeks. She let out a muffled sob then, her shoulders beginning to shake as he wiped her tears away, his own eyes watering as he looked down at her.

“Dinna weep, mo ghraidh,” he said softly, pulling her in tighter against him. “I’m here. I have you.”

His words only made her cry harder, her face tear streaked and her eyes red and swollen when she turned over her shoulder to look at him. “Do you hate me for it, Jamie?”

“I could never hate you,” he said firmly, reaching up to stroke his fingers along her cheek, before he cupped her chin. He stared into her eyes, whisky on blue, urging her to believe the truth of his words. “I love you, Claire. For right now, that’s all that matters. The rest can wait until tomorrow. Ye need to get some sleep. I’ll hold ye. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Do you promise?” Her voice was small, another crack in his already destroyed heart.

He leaned down and pressed a kiss against her temple, his arms tightening around her as her hands clutched at him. “I promise,” he swore, his lips lingering against her skin.

Some of the tension sagged from her body at his words then, though her grip didn’t lessen. He began to run his fingers through her hair, soft, continuous strokes as he watched her, her body occasionally shuddering from the remnants of her sobs.

Slowly, slowly, her body became heavy against his, her breathing deepening and hitching less and less until he was sure she was sleeping. Her pearl skin was tear stained and puffy, her hands curled underneath her chin.

He shifted carefully, making sure he didn’t wake her as he propped himself up on one elbow. Hesitantly, with a glance towards her to make sure she was still asleep, he slid his other hand to her stomach, his hand resting against what lay within.

He swallowed hard, his voice barely a whisper when he spoke. “Hello, wee one. It’s yer Da. I ken you canna hear anything yet, but I hope ye ken that I’m here anyways. I hope I get to meet you one day soon, but I promise that you will always be loved and cared for, no matter what… by me and your mam, or by your Grannie Fraser and Grannie and Grandda Beauchamp. Ye willna be alone, no matter what. I swear it to you.”

He paused, his eyes closing briefly as his fingers splayed across Claire’s belly. Without conscious thought, his quiet words turned to Gaelic, the unspoken prayer that had been running through his mind all day (unrealized, unformed words until this moment) spilling from his lips.

God, shield my beloved, my white dove. And this child that she may one day bear. Preserve her from violence and harm. In this place, and every place. On this night, and on every night.

Please, Lord, keep her safe. She and our child.

Over and over, he spoke the last two sentences, his words fortifying him even as tears welled in his eyes and slipped down his cheeks, filling his mouth with the taste of salt. 

So preoccupied with his prayers, he didn’t notice the tears sliding down Claire’s cheeks again as she lie awake, listening to him, his words like a lullaby to their child.

Chapter Text

She woke slowly the next morning, her eyelids crusted together from her tears the night before, her head pounding as if she had been hit with a sledgehammer. She wasn’t sure if an emotional hangover existed, but if it did, she was certain she was experiencing one for the first time in her life.

But the incessant ache seemed to dissolve into nothingness as she felt Jamie’s warm body still pressed firmly behind hers, the everpresent heat of him warming her from the inside out. His arms were wrapped around her, one long leg tangled between hers. She didn’t so much as pause in wonderment over whether he was still asleep; she knew instinctively he had not slept at all.

But he hadn’t left her after she had drifted off, either. He had stayed. Just as he had promised.

Licking her bottom lip, she swallowed hard, her throat feeling dry and scratchy like sandpaper. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke, a cracking whisper in the room. “Morning.”

Not “good morning.” It wasn’t good.

She could feel his chest inflate against her back as he inhaled, his breath warm against her curls and neck when he exhaled. “Morning, Sassenach.”

His voice was low and gravelly, too.

It was not a good morning for or from him, either.

It couldn’t be.

But then his lips pressed softly and surely against the tender skin where her neck met her shoulder before he buried his face into the crook of her neck. He pressed himself forward against her, trying to get closer as she wiggled back against him at the same time, her free arm reaching up to hold on to him, too.

“You didn’t sleep,” she said softly. It was a statement.

“No, I didn’t,” he said back, his voice a hushed murmur against her skin.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He was quiet for several moments, before she felt him shake his head against her. “No. Not yet. Ye said last night that ye canna think while you’re here… and neither can I. I know we need to talk — but we both need some time to think about things on our own before we do that.”

She turned her head to look at him, her eyes roaming over his face, drinking him in before finally meeting his gaze. She felt her heart squeeze as she looked into his eyes, a multitude of emotions warring within them (uncertainty, longing, fear, love, desperate hope and the desire to not show it). She knew everything she was seeing was reflected back in her own face; he tenderly reached up with his thumb to smooth away the crease that had formed between her eyebrows before leaning down and pressing a kiss to the same spot.

His voice was both sure and pleading when he whispered to her. “We will figure it out. But it’s time we go home.”

Their eyes locked together, whisky on blue, and then she turned herself over completely and buried herself in his arms, her own wrapping around his neck as she clung to him. His hands rubbed along her back before one slid into her hair, cupping her neck as he held her tightly against him. She felt the slide of hot tears down her cheeks before she had even realized they were forming, dripping down her chin and onto Jamie’s neck and shirt collar.

She felt him take a shuddering breath and knew he was fighting back his own tears; suddenly scared, her words came out almost desperate. “I love you, Jamie. I love you so much.”

“I know, my own.” He pulled back then, tilting her chin up so that she had to look at him. “I love you, too. We will figure it out,” he repeated, his mouth curling up in a tiny half-smile she knew was for her benefit only. “But we canna do that here.”

She nodded in agreement, wiping at her eyes before taking a deep breath. “At home, then.”

“Aye,” he agreed, giving her another small smile. “Home. Let’s get dressed and find some breakfast for ye. You need to eat.”

She gave him a small smile back, nodding her assent once more. She knew he was right; she also knew the “you” he was referring to included the baby she was now responsible for nourishing, regardless of what decision she came to.

Within an hour, they had dressed and finished packing, Jamie dragging their luggage down to the foyer before they made their way into the kitchen to eat a quick breakfast. She could see him casting furtive glances at her out of the corner of her eye, presumably to make sure she was eating and keeping her food down. Satisfied she was not going to be sick, he had left her sitting at the kitchen table as he went to load up their car.

She made her way towards the front door with Mrs. Crook trailing behind her, a small bag of snacks and drinks in hand for their trip home. She grabbed her coat and slid her arms through it before turning back to Mrs. Crook. She gave her a small smile, taking the package from her hands. “Thank you,” she said gratefully, using her free hand to grab one of hers, squeezing it tightly.

“Ye’re welcome, dear. There’s ginger ale packed in there for ye in case ye start feeling ill on the ride home. We will see ye soon, aye?” Her voice was warm, both of her hands wrapping around Claire’s as she squeezed back.

She nodded in confirmation, her eyes flickering around the inside of the house for one last look before she turned and walked out the front door. She smiled shakily as Brian opened up the car door for her, a sudden lump forming in her throat.

He took the bag from her hands and placed it in the backseat before pulling her in for a hug, his arms wrapping around her tightly. His voice was a whisper against her hair. “I ken you and Jamie have a lot to figure out. But I want ye to know I am here for the both of you; whatever you need.”

Her vision blurred as she listened to him, her head nodding up and down as he rubbed her back affectionately before pulling away to look her in the eye. “I couldna ask for a better match for Jamie. The two of ye will be okay, Claire. I know it. Jamie will see to it.”

“I know,” she said quietly, giving him a small smile. “Thank you, Brian.”

He smiled back, drawing her in for one more quick hug before helping her inside the vehicle, closing the door behind her. She fastened her seatbelt and watched from inside the car as Brian walked to the other side, wrapping Jamie in his arms and whispering words into his son’s hair like he had just done hers.

Whatever he said had Jamie squeezing him tighter before he pulled away, both of their eyes glassy when they parted. She felt like she should look away, but she couldn’t, offering another tremulous smile to Brian as he stepped back from the car, wiping surreptitiously at his eyes. Jamie’s door swung open, the car shifting beneath his weight as he buckled his own seatbelt and shut the door behind him, his breath coming out as a deep sigh.

He waved a hand at his father and Mrs. Crook before shifting the car into gear and reaching for her hand, lacing their fingers together. She watched as Lallybroch became part of the landscape behind them, bringing Jamie’s hand up to her mouth to press her lips against his knuckles before resting her head against the headrest behind her, her gaze turning towards her window.

They were mostly silent as Jamie drove back to Edinburgh, stopping only once when Claire thought she was going to be sick, Jamie rubbing soothing circles on her back as she wrenched open the car door, her elbows going to her knees as she gulped in fresh air as she waited for the nausea to pass.

“Do ye want some of the ginger ale Mrs. Crook packed?”

“Yes, please,” she said weakly, slumping back against her seat with her eyes shut. She accepted the drink gratefully from Jamie, the warm weight of his hand resting on her knee as he watched her carefully as she sipped the soda. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said softly. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Do ye want to pull over somewhere?”

“No, I’m okay. It’s passed. We can keep driving.”

“Are ye sure?” he asked doubtfully.

“I’m sure.” She squeezed his hand, blowing out a deep breath that made the curls around her face flutter. “Let’s go.”

She managed to sleep on and off for the rest of the ride home, a pressing weight she didn’t realize had settled on her chest easing slightly when Edinburgh came into sight. They made it home without further incident, both of them sighing gratefully when they pulled onto their street.

They trudged up the stairs to their flat with arms full of bags (hearts heavier than when they had left only days before), Claire dropping hers on the ground in front of their apartment door to grab her keys and unlock it. The smell of their home hit her instantly (vanilla, cinnamon apples, Jamie’s cologne, and something undefinably them ), relief at being home bringing unbidden tears to her eyes.

“Home sweet home,” she sighed.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed from behind her, pushing the door shut and dropping his own bags on the ground.

“Should we unpack or take a nap?” she asked, turning around to see Jamie’s fingers tapping against his thigh. He shifted uncomfortably, his shoulders shrugging slightly as if his shirt was too tight.

“I’ll help unpack and get some groceries for here, but I think… I think I’m going to stay at John’s for a few days.”

“What?” Claire asked, her tone bewildered. “Why would you stay at John’s?”

“I think we both need some time to think about what we want to do… about the baby. Whatever choice you make, I don’t want you to make because I’m here pressuring you somehow.”

“You wouldn’t be pressuring me!” she protested, her throat beginning to feel tight.

He closed the distance between them, his hands reaching up to cup her face, his thumbs brushing against the apples of her cheeks. “I love you. But me being around while ye think things through on your own may sway you one way or the other, and I don’t want that. I want you to figure out what’s in your heart without worrying about disappointing me. I will be around when you’re ready to talk things over with me, but I need time to think, too. I’ll only be a call or text away, Sassenach.”

“Jamie…” she trailed off, biting down on her bottom lip as she tried to stem the swell of tears. “I don’t want to do this without you.”

“You aren’t and you won’t, mo chridhe, I promise. It’s just a few days, aye? To clear our heads and give us both time to think before we make a decision.”

He wiped away the tears that had slipped past her eyelashes, his gaze tender as he looked at her. She finally nodded in agreement before leaning forward and burying her head in his chest, her arms wrapping tightly around him as he cradled her against him. He whispered words of Gaelic into her curls before she felt his lips press and linger against her temple.

A few hours later, he had packed again and left, his eyes bright with tears, his mouth curling up in a small smile to try and give her some peace.

_________

That was five days ago, and she hadn’t seen him since.

He checked in with her throughout the day, always by text. The messages were short, almost distant (did you sleep well? do you need anything at home? i am working from john’s place if you need me), though the ones at night before bed kept some of the dull ache in her chest from piercing her heart (i love you. i don’t sleep well without you by my side. my promise hasn’t changed. miss you xx).

Five days.

And she still had no clue how she felt or what to do.

Feet resting on the coffee table in their living room, she stared blankly at the television screen, Friday Night Lights reflecting back at her. She felt another pang of longing for Jamie; they had binged this show together after she moved in, several episodes having to be rewatched as they had gotten distracted by wandering hands and slow, lazy tongues.

Sighing, she moved her gaze from the show to the picture frames and photo albums on one of the shelves next to it, her feet and body moving before she realized what she was doing. She grabbed two of the oldest photo books before returning back to the couch, tucking her legs underneath her as she sat back down.

She flipped the thinner one open first, the black leather beginning to crack in one corner. She smiled as she saw pictures of herself as a newborn reflected back at her, round cheeks and fuzzy brown wisps of hair covering her head, a soft pink blanket wrapped around her little body.

She turned to the next page, her heart squeezing as her parents smiled back at her. Her mother held her carefully in her arms, beaming, her own brown curls tied back in a low ponytail. Her father had one arm wrapped around her mother’s shoulders, his other holding on to Claire’s covered legs. He was looking down at her face, a look of awe on his own.

On and on she flipped, flashes of a childhood she could and could not remember materializing in front of her eyes. Holidays spent together, surrounded by food and presents, Claire dressed in poofy dresses with tights and buckled shoes, her hair pinned back with big hair bows. Trips to the zoo and beach, her small hands triumphantly waving around a sand shovel and bucket, a floppy hat shielding her face from the sun.

Pictures of her and her mother snuggled in bed together, playing with blocks, reading books. Pictures her father had clearly snapped when they weren’t looking, making sure to document the small moments shared between the two fixed points of his world.

One picture of only her mother, making a silly face with her curls blowing across her cheeks as she held a child’s stuffed animal in her hands (plush yet worn, a teddy bear that had clearly been well loved and held constantly by her own hands). And then she flipped another page and the pictures turned to those of her and Lamb. Throat tight, she closed the book, placing it next to her on the couch. She picked up the other album and placed it in her lap, slowly pulling back the cover.

A choked laugh bubbled out of her as she looked at a picture of Jamie when he was first born, his eyes closed but still slanted at the corners like a cat’s, his hair a slightly darker auburn than it was now. She thumbed through the pages of his baby book, smiling at the small details Ellen had included about her youngest son.

First word: no. He had two teeth by the time he turned nine months old. He loved fruits, but would not eat his vegetables. He was a good sleeper, sleeping through the night by seven weeks old. William and Jenny fought over who got to hold him first in the morning. Ellen liked to call him “mo luran.”

My pretty boy.

Looking through the photos of Jamie as he turned from a baby to a toddler and then a child, she understood why she had chosen that term of endearment. His hair had grown into thick curls of auburn and cinnamon and blonde, his clear blue eyes lined by thick lashes, a mischievous look on his face in most of the pictures. She ran a finger down a picture of him standing in front of a pony with affection, a smile blooming on her face as she took in his toothy smile.

An image suddenly flashed through her mind, of a small child of their own held securely in her arms. She couldn’t help but wonder — would their baby have the same russet curls and sharp cheekbones? Would their eyes be the color of a clear blue ocean or of amber whisky? Would his or her ears look like the wings of a tiny elf, just like Jamie’s?

Sighing, she leaned her head back against the couch, letting her eyes close as she sat there silently. Wondering what the baby she was carrying would look like had flitted through her mind more times than she could count the last few days; she would catch herself staring at her reflection or a picture of Jamie, picking and choosing which features were likely to win their dominance over the other’s, a pang of longing left behind in the wake of her thoughts.

The sudden ringing of their doorbell made her jump, her eyes opening reluctantly as she stood up from the couch. She made her way to the front door, running a hand through her hair in the hopes of making it look somewhat more presentable for whoever was on the other side before swinging the door open.

She needn’t have bothered.

“Good to see ye’re still alive,” Geillis said cheerfully, stepping into the apartment past Claire. “I figured I’d come and do a wellness check since ye havena returned any of my calls or texts the last few days.”

“Please come in,” Claire quipped sarcastically, closing the door behind her friend, Geillis winking at her over her shoulder as she moved into the living room without preamble.

She removed her coat before flopping down on the couch, stealing the blanket Claire had been wrapped in all day. “So what’s going on?” she asked conversationally, eyeing Claire as she sat on the other end of the couch.

“Why do you think something’s going on?”

Geillis gave her a pointed look. “The last time ye holed up in an apartment with a blanket and Netflix, looking like that,” she twirled a finger at Claire, who looked down to take in her own appearance (disheveled curls, joggers, fuzzy socks, and a sweatshirt that smelled like Jamie), “it was because ye’d just broken up with yer man. Only last time it was my apartment and not the one ye share with said man. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“No,” Claire mumbled.

“Well, I ken he’s not staying here right now. I went to John’s yesterday and found Jamie in a similar state to you. Did ye break up?”

“Of course not,” she scoffed.

Geillis raised her eyebrows, head tilting to the side as she narrowed her eyes at Claire. “Then why are ye both wandering around like the walking dead, refusing to answer yer friends texts and calls? John said he’s gotten about three words out of him since the two of ye came back from Lallybroch unexpectedly.”

Claire stared at Geillis for a moment, opening her mouth to say something before shutting it abruptly. Geillis’ eyebrows only rose higher in response, one long, slender hand coming up to wave at Claire in a “just say it” gesture.

She took a deep breath, clearing her throat before she spoke. It didn’t help; her voice still broke on the words. “I’m pregnant.”

She had expected Geillis to be surprised, if not shocked; what she did not expect was the flash of indignation in her green eyes instead. “You’re having a bairn and Jamie is over brooding at John’s instead of here taking care of you? I’ll kill him,” she snarled, moving to stand up from the couch.

“Jesus H. Christ, calm down,” Claire yanked at her friend’s arm, forcing her back down next to her. “He hasn’t abandoned me or the baby. He’s happy about it, or… or he would be if it wasn’t for me.”

“What do ye mean if it wasna for you?”

Claire shrugged helplessly, tucking her knees against her chest. “I don’t know how to feel about any of this, Geillis. I didn’t expect to get pregnant right now, and I just… I’m so confused. I need time to think, and Jamie is giving me space to do that on my own because I’m an absolute mess. I’m hopeless.”

Geillis made a noise like a hum, her eyes fixed on Claire as if she was reading her mind. “If there’s one thing I ken about you, Claire Beauchamp, it’s that you’re not a hopeless mess. Ye’re just about the furthest thing from that, in fact.” She reached over and placed a slender hand on Claire’s knee, squeezing it gently. “Since I dinna need to run off and kill Jamie, why don’t ye tell me what you’re so confused about?”

She felt tears begin to prickle her eyes even as she let out a small laugh at Geillis’ words. She sniffled, wiping a hand over her nose before speaking. “I’m only 23. I run myself ragged with school, going to classes and studying and writing papers, and trying to fit in shifts at the hospital when I can to help pay for everything. How am I supposed to do all of that and have a baby? I can’t do it, Geillis. I can’t do all of those things and be a good mother at the same time.”

She wiped the tears that had fallen down her cheeks away with the backs of her hands, sniffling again as she looked up at Geillis to see her rolling her eyes. “Do ye ken what you’re best at, Claire? Underestimating yourself.”

“I’m not underestimating myself! And did you seriously just roll your eyes at me?” she asked incredulously.

“Aye, I did, because ye sell yourself short too often. You moved around your entire life with your uncle, and adapted to every place ye went to. You moved from England to Scotland the last year of university all by yourself, not knowing anyone here. You studied your ass off and graduated at the top of our class, and then ye got accepted into a fantastic medical school program. And you’ve managed to start building a beautiful life with a man you love, who thinks ye literally hung the stars and the moon, all at the same time. You’ve been a rock for him while he’s been dealing with his family and you’re always here for me and our other friends when we need ye. You’re some kind of faerie, I’m convinced of it.”

It felt like a rock had lodged itself in Claire’s throat. “I’m not… I don’t—,” she started to stammer, before she was cut off by another squeeze to her knee.

“You are, and you do,” Geillis said softly. “What makes you think a baby will be any different?”

“Because it’s a child, Geillis. I want to be a good mother — better than good. I don’t want to worry that I’m devoting too much time to my studies for a career and not enough time to my baby. I don’t want to miss their first word or first step because I’m holed up at the library or in class. I don’t want to do it halfway.”

“I hate to break it to you, but ye may miss their first word or first step anyways. Ye canna be around 24/7, Claire. Mothers all around the world miss those firsts, and their bairns love them all the same. The first time you see all those things will be the ones that matter; ye willna care if Jamie or someone else saw them before you.”

“And who will that someone else be? A nanny we can’t afford?”

Geillis gave her a wry smile. “Jamie drives a Range Rover and his family owns a sprawling estate with a small castle on it. I think they’ll be able to help the two of ye out if ye need money.”

She couldn’t stop the small chuckle that escaped, even as she pushed away more tears. “His father would. His sister hates me, though. She thinks I’m a whore.”

“Is this the sister that has some weird attachment to Laoghaire?”

“Yes.”

“The sister who encouraged Jamie to date the lass in the first place and wanted them to stay together even though her brother wasna happy?”

“Yes…”

“Then it seems to me that she’s no better than a pimp, trying to keep her brother attached to a woman of her choosing for her own personal reasons. So she should keep her judgments and opinions to herself, and ye should tell her to fuck off,” Geillis said bluntly.

Claire raised her eyebrows, a small smile curling up the corners of her mouth. “I’m sure telling her to fuck off will really improve things between us. Though, to be fair, she does deserve it.”

“Then dinna let her opinion about you or Jamie bother you, Claire. I ken that’s easier said than done, but she doesna matter. Especially not when it comes to this.”

She sat quietly for a few minutes, sighing deeply before she spoke again. “I know you’re right about Jenny, but… how do I know what the right thing to do about the baby is, Geillis?”

Her friend looked at her appraisingly, her face softening slightly. “Tell me this: when ye see yourself in ten years, are you and Jamie still together?”

“Yes,” she answered without hesitation.

“And in ten years, if ye were having a bairn for the first time… would you be wondering what that baby’s brother or sister would be like had ye had him or her? Would you be able to live with not knowing?”

Claire swallowed hard past the sudden lump that had formed in her throat. “I don’t know,” she choked out, hot tears slipping past her eyelashes and down her cheeks.

Geillis reached forward and enveloped one of Claire’s hands in her own, squeezing tightly. Her face was full of sympathy, her eyes seemingly brighter than usual through Claire’s blurry vision. “Then ye need to talk to Jamie. The two of ye are half of the same whole, Claire. You need to figure things out together.”

Claire squeezed her hand back before pulling away to wipe at her cheeks, blowing out an unsteady breath as the cuffs of her sweatshirt soaked up her tears. She tried to smile at Geillis, though she knew her chin was trembling. “I know. You’re right. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

“Good,” Geillis smiled. “Ye ken ye could have saved yourself a lot of misery if ye’d only answered one of my messages three days ago. I would have given you the same advice then.”

Claire laughed, the sound almost foreign to her ears. “And here I was thinking you’d call me an idiot for getting pregnant right now.”

“Well, now that you bring it up…” Geillis hedged. “Did ye really no’ think to wrap it up? I’ve seen ye demonstrate before on a banana, so I ken ye know how to do it…”

“Oh my god,” Claire breathed out, a flush beginning to creep up her neck. “I was on birth control, Geillis! It just failed for some reason. I wouldn’t have been sitting on this couch for the last five days like this if I’d been having unprotected sex.”

Geillis’ face lit up in a way that Claire knew was not going to amuse her. “So he has super sperm then, huh? Based on what ye’ve told me before, that doesna surprise me,” she laughed.

“On what I’ve told you before? What are you talking about?”

Geillis smirked, lifting her eyebrows slightly as she looked at Claire in amusement. “Ye dinna remember then? I’m no’ surprised given yer state at the time.”

“What are you talking about?” Claire asked, her tone taking on a huffy tone as she glared at her friend. She was not interested in playing a game of 20 questions.

“Ye told me big dick energy is no’ just a metaphor when it comes to your man.”

“I said what?” Claire practically screeched.

Geillis could not have looked more amused if she had tried. “Oh, aye. We were at a party at John’s house. You and Jamie disappeared for a while, and when ye came back looking like ye’d just smoked a cigarette after a good shag, ye found me and when I asked where you’d been, that’s what ye told me. You really canna hold your tongue when you’ve been drinking.”

“Oh my god,” she muttered, covering her face with her hands as she felt a deep flush creep up her neck and color her cheeks.

“I willna lie and say I wasna jealous at the time, because I was. Not of Jamie, but… well, his apparent size. It does matter, ken? Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh in response, even as she rolled her eyes at her friend. “You’re right. Again.”

“I always am. Anyways… I ken this may not be the right time to say it, but I’m happy for you and Jamie. It was always your duty to procreate together and make the next generation more beautiful. You’ll put the rest of our offspring to shame.”

“Thank you,” she said softly, realizing that it was the first time someone had been able to congratulate her on the news.

Geillis stood up then, holding a hand out to Claire. “Come then. Walk me out and then get some rest. Ye look like ye haven’t slept well in a few days. And promise me that if you need anything, you will call me or Jamie.”

“I promise. Thank you, Geillis,” she said sincerely. “You’re an incredible friend.”

“Och, no need to thank me,” Geillis waved a hand dismissively. “Just name a future bairn after me one day, aye?”

__________

She had made herself dinner and then crawled into bed, her head just about to hit the pillow (Jamie’s, his lingering scent promising to lull her to sleep) when she heard two firm knocks at the door. Groaning, she thought about ignoring whoever was on the other side of the door, but pushed herself back up when she heard another round of knuckles rapping against the wood.

She padded to the entryway, her footsteps slow as she ran a hand through her hair, pushing her curls behind one ear. She opened the door, expecting to see Geillis returning to check on her; instead, she was met with the nervous looking face of Jenny Murray.

Momentarily speechless, her mouth fell open slightly as she stared at Jenny in shock. Her grip on the edge of the door tightened as her brain began to work again, her pulse picking up speed as she felt something very close to rage well up inside of her. “What are you doing here?” she asked finally, struggling to keep her voice flat.

Jenny swallowed hard, her eyes flickering to the ground before meeting Claire’s gaze. “I came to apologize to ye. May I come in?”

Claire’s eyebrows furrowed together as she let out a disbelieving scoff. She stood defensively, ready to shut the door in her face at a moment’s notice. “Is this a joke?”

“No,” Jenny said quietly. “It’s no’ a joke, or a trick of any kind. I’m here to apologize, if you’ll let me, though I’d understand if ye said no. It’s what I’d deserve.”

“You deserve a hell of a lot worse than me refusing to let you into my home,” she retorted sharply.

“Aye, I do. I’ll no’ take up much of your time, and I’ll leave at any point that ye wish for me to. Please?”

Claire shook her head slightly, caught off guard by the plea in her tone. She had absolutely no reason to trust what Jenny was telling her, but morbid curiosity was making her consider letting her in. Jamie would have called her a masochist for it, she knew; and then she felt a sudden pang of loneliness in her chest at the thought of him. He would know exactly what to do, his hand warm and heavy on the small of her back, his presence a talisman against anything bad that could be said or done.

But he wasn’t there, and she had to decide on her own.

With a sigh, she stepped back and opened the door wider, her arms crossing across her chest. “You have five minutes,” she said, turning her back on Jenny and making her way into the living room. She turned around and leaned against the couch, her back ramrod straight as she watched Jenny trail after her, her eyes trying to discreetly take in her and Jamie’s home.

“I havena been here in a verra long time,” Jenny said quietly. “It looks so different. More like a home.”

“It is a home. Mine and Jamie’s,” Claire said stiffly.

Jenny nodded, taking a deep breath before she met Claire’s eyes. “It’s lovely. I… God, I dinna even ken where to start,” she breathed out. “Thank you for letting me in. Like I said, I owe you an apology and I wanted to do it in person. I ken ye have no reason to believe me, but I’m sorry for the way I treated you when you and Jamie came to visit.”

“You’re sorry,” she repeated flatly. “Why now?”

“Ian and my da had… well, to say they had some choice words for me after dinner that night would be an understatement. Neither of them are speaking to me right now, and I ken why. I went too far.”

“So you’re here to apologize in the hopes it will appease your husband and father, and not because you’re actually sorry,” Claire scoffed.

“No, that’s not what I—,”

Claire cut her off, the words pouring from her like a flood. “You all but disowned your brother, your own flesh and blood, because he wouldn’t do what you wanted him to do. You have treated me like an actual whore for over a year now. Your son has called me a whore because of you. You took a gift that Jamie gave me — a gift from his mother, one that was so deeply personal to him and now to me — and you tried to ruin it for us. You have treated both of us like shit for months, and you expect me to… what? Accept your apology and feel sorry for you because your husband and father have been mad at you for less than a week?”

Jenny’s expression was faltering, a tremor to her voice when she spoke. “I know that nothing I say today will make ye believe that I’m sorry. But I’m not here because of Ian and my da. I’ve known for a while that I was going too far, I just… I didna ken how to stop. But now with the baby—,”

“Is that what this is about?” Claire interrupted incredulously, a surge of anger sharpening her tone. “You think because there’s a baby involved now, that you need to make amends so you can… what? Be its favorite Aunt Jenny like nothing ever happened?”

“No,” Jenny held her hands up, “it’s not like that, Claire. I willna deny that hearing you were pregnant made me realize how reckless I’ve been in the way I treated you. I have been pregnant twice before and I ken how delicate those months are, and I’m ashamed I could have caused harm to you or the bairn.”

“And am I supposed to believe you would have suddenly come to your senses and stopped if I hadn’t gotten pregnant?”

Jenny took a deep breath, shaking her head slightly. “I know it doesna make any sense, and it’s no excuse, but Laoghaire has been more than a sister to me these past few years. She saw me at some of my worst moments after my mam passed away. I had to be strong, for Jamie, for my da… I didna want them to have to take care of me when they were both struggling so terribly with their own grief. But with Laoghaire, I could break down and cry and get angry and she saw me through it all. I felt indebted to her.”

She paused, clearing her throat before she spoke again. “I knew she had feelings for Jamie. Everyone did. She’d been pining after him for years. I tried to set them up a time or two before, but Jamie never had much interest. Then when they finally spent some time together and got to know each other a bit, he was more receptive towards her. When they started dating, she was the happiest I’ve ever seen her. And Jamie seemed like he was happy too, for a time.

“I knew he was starting to have doubts about taking over my parent’s company. But I thought it was just nerves about moving on from university. I figured once he came home, he and Laoghaire would settle down together here and everything would be back to normal. I had this vision in my mind of the four of us having dinners together during the week and going into town on the weekends, raising children together here… I felt like I owed it to Laoghaire for all she’d done holding me together to make sure her and Jamie were happy.”

“But they weren’t,” Claire said sharply.

“I know that now,” Jenny said quietly. “But I was selfish and I wanted them to be. I thought Jamie was just acting out, that you were just a fling. I thought if I didna accept you, that he’d realize he’d made a mistake and come home. I ken it doesna matter to you, but Laoghaire was in a right state and I was so angry with him. I just kept digging my heels in deeper because I didna know what else to do and I’ve made an absolute mess of things.”

Claire looked away, closing her eyes briefly as she took in a deep breath before meeting Jenny’s eyes again. “I understand why you felt loyal to Laoghaire, Jenny, and I do care that we hurt her. I can even understand why you acted the way you did at first, but to continue on for over a year? Jamie didn’t deserve the way you treated him. And then the things you said to me at Lallybroch… I can’t just move past it right now. I don’t trust you.”

“I understand,” Jenny said quietly. “I am going to try to make amends with my brother, too, and I willna stop even if he doesna want to speak to me at first. I know it will take a long time for that trust to be built, if either of you are even willing. And if not, well…” she swallowed hard. “I would understand that, too.”

“I hope you’re telling the truth,” Claire said quietly, “and I hope you do apologize to Jamie for everything you’ve done. But if you do anything to hurt him again, I swear to god, I will end you.”

Her gaze didn’t waver from Jenny’s, the promise in her words hanging heavily between them. She expected to see a flash of surprise or even anger in Jenny’s face, but watched instead as a small smile curved Jenny’s lips. “Good. I wouldna expect any less. Ye know, I’ve always kent that Jamie will make an amazing father, but you… you’re going to be an excellent mother. If you’re this fierce over my brother, I can only imagine how you’ll be when it’s your bairn.” Her eyes darted down to Claire’s stomach, then back up. “Jamie and that wee one are very lucky.”

Her heart seemed to drop into her stomach at the compliment, her throat suddenly so thick with emotion she felt like she couldn’t speak. “Thank you,” she managed to choke out, not trusting herself to say any more.

Jenny looked as if she wanted to say more, but she simply offered Claire another small smile, reaching into her coat pocket for her keys. “I’ll leave ye be now. Thank you for letting me in and hearing me out.”

Claire nodded, not knowing what else to do. They stood there looking at each other, an air of awkwardness filling the space between them until Jenny turned and walked away, pausing at the front door. “Take care of yourself, aye?”

“I will,” Claire promised for the second time that day, letting out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding when Jenny smiled again and disappeared through the front door, closing it quietly behind her.

She realized her hands were shaking as she continued to lean against the couch, her mind blank and whirling at the same time as the magnitude of all of Jenny’s words began to sink in. The desire to call Jamie and tell him what had happened was overwhelming, but she fought against it, wanting time to process it all before she spoke to him.

Suddenly restless, she walked to the hall closet and grabbed her Uggs, jamming her feet into her boots before slipping her arms through her coat, her hat and gloves going on last. She grabbed her purse and phone then, looking to make sure her key ring was inside before she left their apartment, locking the door behind her.

The cold air hit her like a shock, a shiver running through her as her feet hit the pavement. She wasn’t sure where she wanted to go, she only knew she needed to walk to clear her head. Before she knew it, she was halfway across campus, past the rolling hills of the stable grounds and standing in front of the place where it really all began for her and Jamie.

She dug her hand to the bottom of her purse, feeling around for her key ring. Looking around to make sure no one else was nearby, she picked the key she hadn’t used in months (but had kept just in case), pushing it into the locked gate of the rugby stadium and turning it, listening to the satisfying clicking noise it made as it worked.

She slipped past the gate and closed it quietly behind her, making her way to the staircase she had climbed so many times before. Her hand slid along the railing (cold and smooth beneath her gloved fingers), the weight that had been pressing down on her chest for the last five days beginning to ease slightly.

Her feet slowed as she made it to the top of the stadium (their spot), a wistful smile crossing her face as she remembered the last time she had been there (back pressed against the brick wall, Jamie between her legs, fingers and mouths and hearts tangled and exploring again). She hadn’t been back since that moment, and as she felt a small warmth like peace begin to take hold inside her, she remembered how much she had missed it.

She sat down then, letting her eyes drift upwards to the dark, inky sky. Lamb’s words to her when she was a child about the stars and her parents watching over her through them drifted back to her, a small sigh escaping her lips. She wondered then — did they know? Letting her eyes close as she leaned back, she let her hand drift down to her stomach, fingers spreading and curling slightly over the child that lay within her (the size of a cherry, her internet search had said).

Nonexistent to the eye and touch, but more real to her than she had thought was possible. 

Eyes still closed, she thought she might just fall asleep here (the place where she and Jamie had fallen in love, and lost, and loved again), when she was suddenly jolted out of her reverie by one simple word.

“Sassenach.”

She looked up then, her heart nearly stopping at the sight before her.

Jamie.

Chapter Text

Without another thought, she launched herself into his arms, her fingers sliding into the silky curls around his nape. She clung to him, her face buried in the crook of his neck, his scent (warm and masculine and familiar) filling her senses, making her feel almost drunk. He held her just as tightly, his own face buried in her curls as he breathed her in.

“You’re real,” she said dumbly, her mouth moving against his skin as she spoke, refusing to move back even a centimeter and risk losing the warmth of his embrace.

She felt his chest rumble against her as he made a nondescript sound, his hands sliding down her back to cup her bottom, lifting up slightly. She wrapped her legs around his waist then, finally moving her head to plant a kiss on his lips, a breathy sigh leaving her mouth and entering his as she tasted him for the first time in days.

“Mm,” he smiled against her lips. “You’re real, too. I can tell because your arse is even better than in the dreams I’ve had about ye the last few days.”

“You’ve been dreaming about my arse, huh?”

She leaned back to look at him, watching as his smile grew even wider. “Always,” he answered easily, eliciting a small giggle from her that made his eyes crinkle in affection at her.

She sighed then, letting her forehead rest against his as she closed her eyes. “I’ve missed you, Jamie.”

“I’ve missed you, too, mo ghraidh. It’s been hard to be away from you the last few days.”

“This is the longest we’ve been away from each other since we moved in together,” she said quietly. “I’ve hated it.”

“So have I. I don’t ever want to be away from you like this again.” He pulled back to look at her, his eyes intent as they swept slowly over her face, one hand coming up to sweep his thumb along her bottom lip. She watched his eyes follow the movement of his fingers along her mouth and cheek and jaw before he looked back up, his eyes meeting hers. He licked his bottom lip before he kissed her again, his mouth soft and firm at the same time against hers.

He pressed his lips against hers once, twice more before he pulled away and swatted her playfully on the bottom. She let her legs unwind from his waist as he placed her carefully back on her feet, turning back towards the seat she had been in a few minutes before, their hands reaching for each other like magnets as they walked up the few steps to sit down together.

He made a noise of deep disapproval when Claire moved to sit in the seat next to him. “I dinna think so,” he said, his hand tugging her into his lap. “C’mere.” His arms came around her, holding her close against his chest as she snuggled back into the warmth of his embrace.

They were both quiet for a few minutes, content in the silence and calm of being back together and in each other’s arms again. His jaw moved against her temple when he spoke, his breath warm against her skin. “Do ye remember our first date here?”

Her forehead scrunched together in confusion. “Our first date was in North Berwick. You took me out for a nice dinner and then you made me climb that bloody hill with you, which I was not expecting to do.”

She felt his chest rumble his dissent against her back. “That wasn’t our first date, Sassenach. Though that was a good one… ye went up with me in heels. Verra classy. I was impressed.”

“I’m glad, since we were already living together at that point. It would have been terribly awkward to have an awful date and then have to go home together, too,” she smiled. “Wouldn’t have wanted you to regret asking me to move in with you.”

“That would never happen. Best thing I ever did was convince ye to live with me. But still, you’re remembering wrong. Remember that date we had here, when I brought ye popcorn and Milk Duds?”

She turned her head slightly to look up at him. “That wasn’t a date, Jamie! You were still dating Laoghaire.”

His nose scrunched up adorably in disagreement. “Aye, I ken I was, but… it was still a date to me, Sassenach. I was so nervous waiting here for ye, hoping ye hadna changed your mind and that you’d still show up. And then when ye did… I was so happy. I wanted to kiss ye so badly the whole night.”

She hummed at that, settling back against his chest. “I think a kiss would have been a better end to that night, although I have to say I’m pretty happy with the way our first kiss went anyways.”

“Oh, aye?” he asked, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth at the tone of his voice (playful, sexy). She knew without looking at him that he was smirking, her cheeks pinking slightly at the memory of that night (first kiss, first time making love to each other, first morning waking up in each other’s arms).

“Aye,” she said teasingly. “Though I suppose having our first kiss here would have been fitting, too. We’ve had a lot of firsts here.”

He made a noise of agreement, his arms tightening around her. “First date.” She shook her head slightly, squirming when he poked her in the sides. “First date,” he repeated firmly, “first and only breakup, first make up kiss, first public sexual encounter…”

She gasped, sitting up and turning around to slap at his chest. “James Fraser!”

“What?” he laughed. “It was.” He grabbed her hand before she could swat at him again, tugging her back against his chest. He pressed his mouth to her ear, his voice low when he spoke. “I took ye up against that wall back there.”

“And that was a first for you, huh?” she whispered back, feeling the goosebumps erupt on her flesh from his touch.

“You know it was. Everything here with you was. And I knew that first night here,” he said quietly, his voice changing, a tone she couldn’t quite decipher taking over.

Confused, she turned around to look into his eyes, her voice just as quiet when she spoke. “Knew what?”

“That I was going to fall hopelessly in love with you and that I’d never be able to come back from it. I’d wanted ye from the first time I saw ye outside the library that day, but then that night here… you opened up to me and let me do the same. And I kent then that I’d do anything to have you and keep you. And I have no regrets, Claire.”

His hand came up to tenderly push a lock of hair back from her face, his fingers tracing the path down her cheek and along her jaw as his gaze stayed locked with hers. She took his face between her hands then and kissed him slowly, her lips as tender as his touch had been on her skin. “I don’t, either,” she said when she finally pulled away. “Is that why you ended up here tonight?”

“Aye,” he said, his thumb continuing to caress her cheek, a small smile curling up his mouth. “I haven’t been here since that last night we were here together. I felt homesick for ye, and I left John’s to get some air. I ended up here. I guess I knew somehow.”

“That this place would bring me back to you?” she asked knowingly.

“I did promise you that that night, did I not?”

“You did,” she sighed contently, remembering.

“Why did you come here tonight?” he asked quietly, his eyes searching hers.

She hesitated briefly, her eyes flickering down to her lap before back up to meet his. “It’s been a long week without you,” she said finally. “And today was a really weird day. Geillis came by, and then… then your sister showed up.”

She felt his body stiffen against hers immediately, his jaw clenching as he sat up straighter, a dangerous edge lining his tone of voice when he spoke. “She did what?”

“She came to our flat to apologize to me.”

He shifted her off his lap and onto the seat alone as he stood up, beginning to pace back and forth down the aisle. She could hear him muttering words of Gaelic under his breath (she recognized “fuck” and “damn it”), one hand running through his hair, mussing it up. She watched him quietly, knowing he needed to get his emotions under control before he spoke again. He finally paused, his back turned to her, his head bowed slightly as he exhaled loudly. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she asked, confused.

He turned around to look at her, his face tight with anger. “That she showed up to our home after what she did and that I wasna there! Christ, I could kill her.”

He made like he was going to start pacing again, but before he could, Claire stood from her seat and reached for his hand, tugging him towards her. She placed one hand on his cheek, Jamie leaning into her touch automatically, though the expression on his face didn’t soften.

“You don’t need to apologize to me. Come sit down,” she said, pulling him after her into separate seats. She kept their hands locked together, knees touching as she turned towards him. “I thought about shutting the door in her face, but I wanted to hear what she had to say. Morbid curiosity, I guess.”

“She doesna deserve to breathe the same air as you, let alone speak to you,” Jamie said hotly. “I should have been there to turn her away and make sure she understands to stay the hell away from ye.”

“Jamie, you can’t protect me all the time, and—,”

“Oh, I ken that,” he cut her off. “Being at Lallybroch proved that, did it not?” He pulled his hand away from hers then, looking away from her as he seemed to fold in on himself as she watched, mildly shocked at his reaction and the bitterness she heard in his voice.

“Jamie…” she said again after a moment, reaching for him gently. “Look at me.”

He did so grudgingly, his eyes bright with a layer of unshed tears. She felt her heart crack as she looked at him, willing herself to not start crying at how broken he suddenly looked. She placed a hand on his thigh, squeezing it as she spoke. “Nothing that happened at Lallybroch was your fault. I don’t blame you for the way Jenny acted, and you shouldn’t, either.”

“How can I not?”

“Because you’re not her keeper, Jamie. You can’t force her to do or not do something. I know you want to protect me and would do anything for me. I’ve never doubted that, and nothing your sister says or does could make me think differently. You’ve always done your best for me. Always.”

He drew in a shaky breath, shaking his head slightly at himself. “She canna be trusted, and I don’t want her around you. What could she possibly have to say to you anyways?”

“She said she was sorry for what happened at dinner, that she didn’t mean to go that far. She said she’s known for a while now that the way she was acting was wrong, but she didn’t know how to stop herself. She feels indebted to Laoghaire for the way she was there for her after your mother died, and she just lashed out. She wants to apologize in person to you, too.”

“Indebted to Laoghaire?” he asked incredulously, the tips of his ears beginning to turn a dangerous shade of red from his anger. “That’s her grand excuse for all of this? That she had to be a good friend to Laoghaire and the way to do that was to bulldoze the two of us in the process?”

“I think she did it because she wanted you back at home, living close to her and Ian. She thought if you were with Laoghaire, she wouldn’t lose you, and the four of you would be around Lallybroch together,” she said quietly. “It’s twisted, but I think she thought it would work.”

“That’s because she refused to talk to me or believe me when I told her I was making the choices that I wanted to make for my own life,” he said furiously. “She didna want to hear a word of it because she’s selfish and only cares about herself.”

“I know. And whatever your decision is about speaking to her again and hearing her out or not… I will support you. I won’t push you like I did this last time. That didn’t work out too well in the end, did it?” she smiled weakly, though there was no humor in her expression or words.

“Hey…” Jamie grabbed her hand, squeezing gently. “It’s no’ your fault either, Sassenach. Maybe one day my feelings will change, but I dinna want to see or speak to her right now. Whether or not she’s sorry doesna change what’s happened and I canna trust her. I just… we all need space to heal, aye? And I canna do that with her around right now. I’m still too angry.”

There was a small part of her that wanted to argue that he wouldn’t be able to fully heal until he heard Jenny out and let her apologize, but she pushed it away, knowing he would come around when he was ready. She nodded her agreement instead, squeezing his hand back in reassurance. “Okay,” she said simply.

“Did she say anything else to ye?”

“Before or after I told her if she hurts you again that I’ll end her?”

“Ye said what?” he asked, the corners of his mouth quirking up in amusement.

She felt a small smile curve her own lips up as she looked at him. “She seemed strangely proud that I said that to her face. She told me then that you’ll be a great father, and that if I’m as protective of the… the baby as I am of you, they’ll be a very lucky child.”

“She said that?”

“She did,” she confirmed, biting down on her bottom lip before sighing heavily, knowing the topic could no longer be avoided. “I know we need to talk about the baby and make some decisions,” she said awkwardly, “but before we do that, I… I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

His eyebrows furrowed together in confusion at her words. “Sorry for what?”

She swallowed hard, trying to quell the sudden lump that had formed in her throat. She could feel the burn of tears rising in the corners of her eyes as they stayed locked on his. “For getting pregnant, Jamie. I swear I was taking my birth control pill every morning on time. I don’t know what happened, but it didn’t work, and now we’re in this situation because of me.”

“Sassenach…” he shook his head at her, a shaky smile curling up one side of his mouth. “I dinna blame ye for getting pregnant. We were both there, aye?”

“Yes, but that’s not really the point.”

“It is,” his smile grew a little as he reached up with one hand to tenderly cup her face, his thumb brushing back and forth against her cheek. “I ken I shouldna say this, because I dinna want to make you feel bad, but… god, Claire, I feel proud that you’re pregnant and carrying my child. I ken we have a lot to talk about, but don’t think for a minute that I’m upset with ye for this. Okay?”

“It’s not just that, Jamie,” she sniffled, feeling her bottom lip beginning to wobble as tears slipped past her lashes and ran down her cheeks. “I’ve had time to think the last few days, and you were right about what you said the night I told you I was pregnant. You should have a say in this decision and I’m sorry that I told you that you don’t.”

“A lot had just happened,” he said softly. “And you were scared, Sassenach. That…” he trailed off, shaking his head slightly, a look of tenderness crossing his face as he took in her tears. “It wasna a good time for us to be talking about anything of importance. We were both reacting emotionally. So dinna fash about it, aye? I ken we’re in this together, and if you’re ready… we can talk about it now.”

She took a deep, shuddering breath, nodding her assent. She wiped quickly at her cheeks, brushing away the rest of her tears before settling back against her seat. Jamie followed suit, angling his body to face hers, taking both of her hands in his. She couldn’t stop the small, choked laugh from escaping her.

“What’s so funny?” Jamie asked, his mouth curving up slightly as he looked at her.

“Nothing,” she shrugged helplessly. “I’m laughing because I don’t know what else to do. Jamie… how do we decide? How do we know if we’re making the right decision?”

“Remember when we promised each other that there would be honesty between us? Secrets, but no’ lies?”

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I remember.”

“That’s how we decide.” His smile was crooked, his eyes beginning to look slightly glassy as he squeezed her hands. “We have to be honest about how we feel. We’ll figure it out, Sassenach, we always do.”

“It’s just… I’m scared that whatever we decide is going to change us forever,” she admitted, feeling tears beginning to prickle her eyes again.

He was quiet for a moment, his voice gentle when he spoke. “It’s already changed us, my own, no matter what we decide.”

She stared at him, letting his words sink in, the breath she wasn’t aware she was holding coming out as a sharp exhale when she realized he was right. Even if they chose to not have the baby, it would still have existed. Whatever decision they came to, that would never change.

She swallowed hard then, her voice slightly unsteady when she spoke. “I know you’re right, but… aren’t you scared, too?”

He let out his own shaky laugh, though there wasn’t much humor in the sound. “Of course I’m scared. The night ye told me you were pregnant, after I left our room, I got into it with Jenny. I went to my mam’s grave after that to think, and my da found me there. We had a long talk about the baby and how it would change our lives… how it would change you. It terrifies me, Claire. But at the same time…” his voice trailed off, his face suddenly pensive as if he was lost in thought, remembering his time with his father at Lallybroch.

“At the same time what?” she prodded.

“I dinna want to lie to ye and say that I don’t want it, either. My da… he gave me a lot to think about the last few days, and I have. Before I went back inside to you that night, the last thing he asked me was if you were the one, because if ye are, I must stick by you, no matter the cost.”

“And what did you tell him?” she asked, her voice so quiet it was nearly a whisper.

He gave her a look that pierced straight through her heart, making it break and mend and swell at the same time because of (and for) him, the beats of her life’s blood suddenly pounding stronger and faster in her chest. “I told him that you are, because it’s the only thing I know for sure. You are the one constant in my life, Claire. You’re mine forever, and I’m yours. That will never change.”

She could hear the slight hesitation, almost a hitch in his voice at the end. She quickly brushed away the tears she felt spilling past her lashes again (how could she have any tears left?), grabbing his hands again when she was done. “But what? I can tell you have more to say than just that.”

“I…” he stopped, averting his gaze from hers as he looked down at their intertwined hands.

“Hey,” she prodded, lifting his chin up so he would look at her again. “Honesty, remember? No matter what, we have to have that between us.”

His eyes began to fill with tears of their own, though he blinked furiously to try and quell them. He nodded once in assent, one hand tucking a stray curl away from her face as he kept his eyes locked on hers. “I will support whatever decision you make, I hope you know that,” he said quietly. “But I won’t lie to you, Claire… I’m scared that if ye decide you don’t want to have the baby, that I’ll wake up one day and resent you for it.”

She watched as he swallowed hard, his voice unsteady when he spoke again. “But I’m just as afraid that if you decide to have it, you’ll be the one who wakes up one day with regrets. I dinna think I could handle that. Do ye see now why I’m scared, too?”

He wouldn’t meet her eyes then, his gaze fixed on his hands laying in his lap. Heart aching, she reached over and slipped one hand into his, squeezing gently. “Look at me,” she said softly, turning her body so she could face him completely.

He met her gaze reluctantly, his eyes bluer than usual (almost green) from the tears that had filled them. She leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss against one cheek, then the other, her lips catching the tears that had slipped past his eyelashes, the taste of salt wetting her lips.

She pulled away to gently wipe at his cheeks with her thumbs before she pressed another kiss against his jaw. “I understand,” she said softly.

“Ye do?” he asked, his voice trembling with uncertainty as he looked at her.

She nodded, laying a hand on his thigh, hoping her touch would help reassure him. “I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about you hating me one day if I… if I decide not to have it,” she said, stumbling slightly over the words. “So I don’t blame you for wondering the same thing. Maybe it doesn’t help much, but I think that if we talk it through and decide together, really together, that neither of those things you’re scared about will happen. I think we’re bound, you and I, and nothing could ever truly tear us apart. But we can’t make this choice based on fear, Jamie. So if you can push that worry away for now, I will, too.”

His face still looked troubled, but his shoulders relaxed slightly as he nodded. He let out a shaky breath, leaning over to cup her cheeks as he kissed her on the forehead, lips and breath lingering against her skin. She closed her eyes at his touch, leaning into him as her hands clutched at any part of him she could reach, seeking the reassurance of his body against hers.

“Together then,” he said finally.

She squeezed him once more before pulling away. “I don’t really know where to start.”

“Why don’t ye tell me what you’re unsure about first?”

“A lot of things.” Her voice was small, wobbling. “We are so young, Jamie. I know people have children at our age all the time, but we’re still getting our feet underneath us… you with work, and me with school. I look ahead, and all I see is medical school. It’s been my dream for so long, and I don’t know how a child fits into that.”

His fingers tightened around hers as she spoke, his face smoothing over into a semblance of neutrality as he listened carefully to her. She watched as his eyes narrowed slightly, one of his tells that he was thinking about how to choose his words.

“I ken we’re still young, but I think we’re mature for our age, Sassenach. I dinna ken many other people living with their significant other and planning a future with them like we are. And I think I’m right in saying that our future together includes bairns at some point, aye?”

“Yes, at some point. I just didn’t think that was going to be nine months from now. It’s a lot of responsibility, Jamie. This little person would rely on us for everything. Late nights going out to a bar with John and your friends or hanging out at his place while I’m studying wouldn’t be an option anymore. Neither would spending lazy weekends in bed together, or taking a spur of the moment road trip, or traveling around the world like we had planned. It wouldn’t be about just us anymore.”

“Aye, some things would have to change. I ken I would need to be home to help with the bairn while you’re studying or in class. I ken things wouldna be as spontaneous anymore, and when we travel, it would be with a diaper bag and stroller and a child who doesna know or care what a plan is. But we would still be experiencing new things and places together, making memories with our child as a family. I canna promise that it won’t be really hard at times, but I can promise that I will do everything in my power to support you and take care of you.”

“And that wouldn’t frustrate or disappoint you? You wouldn’t feel…” she paused, searching for the right words. “You wouldn’t feel tied down or stuck because of the baby? Because of me?”

His eyebrows knit together as he looked at her, disbelief lining his face and coloring his voice. “No. God, no. Sassenach, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I dinna really care where we go or what we do as long as I have you. And having a bairn soon… yes, it would be all consuming for a while, but I dinna mind that. I would choose you and the bairn over anything, always.” He hesitated, clearing his throat quietly before he spoke again. “Would you feel that way?”

She sighed, shaking her head. “No, I don’t think so. I’m sure there would be moments where I wished we could go somewhere quickly, just the two of us, or have time really alone, like we do now, but—,”

“We could still have time together, just the two of us,” he interrupted gently. “The bairn will have to sleep, aye? And I ken my da or Mrs. Crook would be willing to take him or her if we want to go away for the weekend. Things would change, yes, but we can make sure we have time for each other still.”

“I know they would help, it’s just… I know how much I would be asking of you, Jamie. I’ll still have class and studying to do, and you’d have to take the baby by yourself during those times, or we’d have to pay someone to watch him or her.”

“And?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders slightly. “It’s my child, too, Claire. I’m more than capable of taking care of a bairn.”

“I know you are. But what about the money for a babysitter when I’m gone during the day?”

His mouth curled up into a small smile, his eyes lighting up in something close to humor. “Ye ken I have a job, Sassenach. I even get paid for doing it,” he said teasingly.

She tilted her head to the side, giving him a look (narrowed eyes, slightly pouting mouth) that only made the smile on his face grow wider. “Don’t be cute. I’m being serious.”

“So am I. I make decent money. It’s no’ a fortune, but it provides everything we need plus a little more. Besides, do ye really think my da and Mrs. Crook willna be hovering around Edinburgh, trying to get their hands on the bairn? He already said he will do whatever he can to help, Claire, and he meant it.”

She bit down on her bottom lip, her teeth digging in as she shook her head slowly, blinking back the sting of tears in her eyes. “I know that, but it feels like such an imposition, Jamie. How can we ask them to put their lives on hold while they come here and help us?”

His touch was gentle against her face, his thumb moving over her stinging bottom lip, rubbing the color back into it. “They’re family,” he answered simply. “You are family.”

She blinked harder at that, looking down and away from Jamie as she sniffled, the beating of her heart quickening and rushing in her ears. She knew what he was saying was true — that she was family to them, that Brian considered her a Fraser now. His gift to her at Lallybroch had been proof of that.

And now… her hand rose without conscious thought to her stomach once more, resting there lightly, protecting what lay within. Now she had another member of the Fraser family growing inside her, half Jamie and half her, part of the legacy of his parents and her own. She looked up to see Jamie watching her, his eyes fixed on her hand cradling her still flat stomach before they rose to meet hers. He was trying (and failing) to hide the desperate hope within them, blurred by his own glassy tears, a spark growing that hadn’t been there since the night she told him she was pregnant. 

She swallowed hard, her voice wobbling, hoarse, when she spoke again. “And what about school?”

It was the last (and biggest) of her practical concerns. Jamie sniffed, rubbing quickly at his eyes before answering her. “What do ye mean?”

“If I have the baby, how will I keep up with school? I’ll have to take weeks off after I have him or her. What if I fall behind?”

“I’m sure your professors would work with ye to make sure ye stay up to date before ye go back to class. It won’t be easy, especially at first, but I can take a little time off from work and help so ye still have time to study and work on things for your classes. It’s no’ impossible,” he said gently.

“I know that, but it seems like it’s going to be really bloody hard to do both. And it’s me that has to do it, no one else. I have dreamed of being a doctor for so long, and I don’t want to give it up. Maybe that’s selfish, I don’t know.”

“Sassenach… ye dinna have to give it up and I wouldn’t let ye. I ken I don’t have all the answers to some of your worries. I ken issues will pop up that will have to be resolved. And while I can’t tell ye how we’ll do that, I promise you that we’ll figure it out together. Whatever has to happen for you to continue with school if you decide to have the bairn, we’ll do it. I swear to you. I won’t fail either of you.”

She didn’t try to blink the tears away this time; she let them fall, slipping past her lashes and down her cheeks, curving into her lips and down along her jaw. Jamie’s face began to crumble at the sight of her; the last thing she saw was his reddening, watery eyes before he pulled her against him, tucking her head into the curve of his neck. He began to whisper to her, soothing words in Gaelic (some she recognized and some she didn’t), his fingers combing through her curls as he soothed her.

She felt the beat of his pulse against her lips, felt the reassuring pound of his heart against her hand on his chest. “I know you won’t. It’s just… I just don’t know if I can do this,” she finally managed to cry, her words (desperate and broken) a muffled sound against his skin.

His hold on her tightened before she felt him press his lips against her head, his chest rising against her as he breathed in deeply. He pulled away from her gently, lifting her chin up so that she had to look at him.

“Love… ye’ve given me all the reasons you’re scared, and I understand. I ken ye like to be prepared and know what’s going to happen, and there are so many things we dinna ken about having a child. But have ye let yourself think about what it might be like if the worst case scenario doesna happen… if you have the baby and he or she makes things even better? If all the moments of joy we have together make the hard ones worth it?”

She gave a small laugh, one that sounded strangled to her own ears. “Of course I have. But god, Jamie, it feels like… like too much to hope for. Like it couldn’t be possible for me to have all those things and have it work out. But…” she trailed off, shaking her head slightly at herself.

“But what?” he prodded.

“I want it to,” she admitted, her eyes boring into his, suddenly desperate (for what, she couldn’t quite name). “You asked me earlier if I would resent you or the baby if I have it, and I need you to know… I wouldn’t wake up one day and regret having it. It’s a piece of me and you. I’m just terrified because I don’t know how to do this.”

“Do what?”

She shrugged, a helpless noise coming out of her mouth. “I know how to be a good student and nurse. I know how to stick to a schedule, how to go to class, and take notes, and study. I know how it feels to spend hours pouring over a textbook or working a clinical rotation. I know how to detach emotionally from patients and provide them with the best care possible. I know how to map out my academic future. I know that if I keep working the way I have, in just over five years, I’ll be a doctor. I know how to be Claire Beauchamp, student. I have no idea how to be Claire Beauchamp, mum.”

She wanted to turn away from him as she finally let herself express her biggest fear, but found she couldn’t look away from his eyes, those big, blue pools she had drowned in so many times before (without thought or effort or hesitation). “I know how to not fail when it comes to school. I have no idea how to not fail when it comes to raising a child. You know I only have a few memories left of my parents. The ones I have I cherish, and I know how loved I was… but there’s so much I don’t remember and never had. Uncle Lamb did everything he could for me, and I will never complain about the way he raised me, but he wasn’t a mother. He couldn’t be. What if I don’t know how to be one, either? What if I try and fail at the most important thing in our lives because I’m not ready for it yet? Because it’s not the right time?”

She looked away from him then, suddenly exhausted (emotionally and physically) from the conversation. She breathed in deeply, letting out a slow, shaky breath before reluctantly turning back to meet Jamie’s eyes. She had one brief glimpse of his face and the look in his eyes (stunned disbelief mixed with the dawning of realization and an unutterable tenderness that was almost fierce in its intensity) before his hands were on her face, pushing his mouth against hers.

She had kissed Jamie over a thousand times before, in a thousand different ways, in more places than she could count. She knew his body more intimately than she knew her own, to say nothing of the way she knew his heart and soul. But this kiss… this one felt different, like he was trying to pour every hope and dream and piece of himself into her, like she was the lifeline he needed to survive. His mouth was gentle but insistent against hers, his hands moving to tangle in her curls, tugging her tighter against him as he sought to reassure her and be reassured alike.

She felt the taste of salt in her mouth, but wasn’t sure if it came from her or him; with one more press of his lips, Jamie leaned away, his eyes bright and wet, matching her own. “Do ye ken the part of you I love the most?”

“What?” she asked, her voice slightly confused.

“Do ye ken the part of you I love the most?” he repeated, eyes intent on hers.

Her forehead scrunched together as she searched his eyes, taken aback by his question, by the change in direction away from what she had just confessed to him. “Is this leading to a comment about my arse again?”

He made that Scottish noise of his that always made her weak, the corners of his mouth curling up. “No, Sassenach, not this time.” His hands had been half tangled in her hair still, but one came down slowly to rest against her chest, his fingers splaying over her heart. “This is.”

She swallowed hard past the sudden lump that had formed in her throat, shaking her head slightly at him. “Jamie…”

“I need ye to listen to me.” His voice was serious, his hand warm against her chest even through the layers she was wearing, her heart feeling like it was stretching and beating to meet his touch. “I dinna ken what it’s like to actually be a parent, either. I have no idea what the proper way to raise a bairn is. I dinna think ye can truly know or understand until ye have one of your own. But what I do know is you. I know what’s in here.” His fingers tapped lightly against her heart.

“You have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. You’ve loved me beyond reason, even when ye had reason not to. I dinna think a day has gone by since we moved in together that I havena laughed at something ye said or did. You make me smile and laugh more than I ever thought was possible. When I’m sick, ye force me into bed and feed me vitamins and medicine and that terrible chicken soup ye try to make yourself.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at that, even as she brought her hands up to wipe at the tears that were sliding down her cheeks. He gave her a moment to stop sniffling before he continued to speak. “You’ve comforted me and held me when I’ve cried over my family and the grief I felt over not speaking to them. You always try and put me first, Sassenach. God, even when ye broke up with me, it was because ye thought you were protecting me. You’re the least selfish person I know. And none of what I’ve just said even begins to cover how beautiful and smart ye are.”

He paused again, his eyes searching her face as he reached up to tenderly wipe at her wet cheeks. “All those things… everything that you are, that’s why I know you’ll be a great mother. Maybe we willna know what to do in every situation, but we’ll figure it out and learn together, aye? All I know, Claire, is I dinna want anyone but you having my bairns. Whether that happens nine months from now, or nine years from now… it could only ever be you.”

She knew there was no use in trying to stem her tears anymore; his words had cut her right open, his belief and faith in her so overwhelming she could do nothing else but pull him into her, her arms wrapping like vines around his neck as she clung to him, burying her face in his neck. “I love you,” she managed to whisper against him, squeezing tighter as he wrapped his own arms around her, both of them holding on to each other for dear life. “I love you so much, Jamie.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered back. “You’re everything to me, Claire Beauchamp.”

She kissed the side of his neck in response, his skin warm and flushed against her lips. “Have you been talking to Geillis?” she sniffled, wiping at her eyes and nose as she pulled away slightly to look at him.

“No, why?”

“Because she told me today that I underestimate myself. She said some of the same things you did, actually, though not nearly as beautifully.”

“Aye, well, it’s pretty hard to be as poetic as I am,” he said teasingly. “What else did she say?”

“She asked if I was pregnant ten years down the road, having our first child… if I could live with not knowing what their brother or sister would have been like if I decide to not have this baby.”

She watched as he swallowed hard, his voice quiet when he spoke. “Could you?”

The smile she gave him was small, tremulous. “I have spent the last five days thinking about how I feel and what I should do and how to decide. At one point, I started to write down the pros and cons of having the baby on a piece of paper and then I threw it away because it seemed so ridiculous. This isn’t a decision that can only be based on some kind of list on a page. I have felt… lost, Jamie. And I’ve been scared. I still am, because I don’t know if the timing is right, or how we’ll manage everything.”

She paused, taking in a deep breath before she continued, feeling a weight that had been pressing on her chest for days begin to lift. “But bigger than all that fear and doubt is the knowledge that growing inside of me is a little piece of you and me. I keep wondering if this baby is going to be a boy or a girl. If he or she is going to have red curls like you, or brown like me. If their eyes are going to slant a little at the corner like yours, and whether or not they’ll be blue. I want to know what it sounds like when they cry for the first time, and what they look like when they smile at us and laugh. I want to know everything about what this baby is going to do and be.”

His eyes were beginning to well with tears, that nervous hope she had seen him trying to hide earlier beginning to build and grow again. His hands clutched onto her, his voice measured and even when he spoke, like he was afraid of scaring her away. “What are ye saying?”

She bit down on her bottom lip through her growing smile, Jamie’s face blurring in front of her as she watched him. “I’m saying that I want to have this baby.”

She could feel the way his hands began to tremble against her, his fingers digging into her suddenly. “Are ye sure?”

“I’m sure,” she nodded, relief flooding through her at her words. “You’re going to be a father, James Fraser.”

She didn’t get a chance to see his reaction; he pulled her against him once again, squeezing her tightly against his chest, a muffled Gaelic prayer whispered into her hair before his mouth was crashing against hers. This kiss wasn’t hesitant or meant to reassure like before; it was fierce and urgent, his hands on her face and his tongue in her mouth, her own hands clutching at his coat as she tried to draw him closer.

This time, she knew the tears she felt melding between them were ones of happiness, a giggle forming in her throat as Jamie moved his lips from her mouth to her cheeks and then her neck, his hand pushing her curls out of the way. “I’m not done talking yet!” she managed to gasp out, squirming slightly away from him even as she angled her head to give him better access.

He barely paused from the trail of kisses he was leaving at the soft spot behind her ear, his mumbled “mmphmm?” against her skin his response.

She pushed against his chest, trying to get his attention. “We still have things we need to figure out, Jamie.”

“Like what?”

“Like the fact that we live in a one bedroom flat and have nowhere to put this baby when he or she arrives.”

She felt him smile against her skin, his lips pressing one more kiss to her neck before he looked at her. “We can look for a new one. Maybe we’ll even find something with a wee garden outside for you with room for the bairn to run around and play.”

“That sounds expensive.”

“I’ve money from my mam. Looking doesna mean we have to get something right away. We have time still. What else?”

“I’m probably going to get super hormonal and emotional. What if you wake up one day and hate me because I’ve become crazy?”

His mouth curved up on one side, that half-smile she loved so much more devastatingly sweet than she had ever seen it before. “I could never hate ye. Even if you’re weepy one minute, and mad the next, I promise I won’t hold it against ye, as long as you don’t hold it against me for getting ye pregnant in those moments. Deal?”

“Well, I can’t make any promises…” she teased, trying (and failing) to hide the smile that was beginning to bloom on her face.

“Fair enough,” Jamie laughed, pulling her from her seat and settling her against him, his mouth covering hers again. She could feel his smile against her lips, his breath warm against her face as his hands made their ear around to her backside, tugging her closer against him.

“You know that’s going to get twice its normal size soon because I’m going to get fat,” she mumbled, her hands seeking his skin underneath his coat and sweater.

“You’re going to look perfect, Sassenach. I canna wait to see ye all round and glowing.” He pulled back to look at her, his eyes searching her face before roaming down her body, like he was already imagining how she would change. His hand came up to rest against her stomach (tentative at first, then sure), her own joining his seconds later, their hands together for the first time over their child.

“We’re having a baby,” he whispered, eyes coming back up to meet hers, his expression slightly dazed but full of awe.

She nodded, a smile spreading across her face, matching Jamie’s own. “We’re having a baby.”

the end.