Chapter 1: wonderful
Claire tried her hardest to fish her buzzing phone from her handbag as quickly as possible and swore as Geillis’ face disappeared from the screen just as she was swiping to answer it.
Checking in her side and rearview mirrors that the coast was clear, she changed lanes and searched for the nearest car space. She was only twenty minutes from home but her mind was jumping from one conclusion to the next as to why Geillis would be calling her after they had just spent the entire afternoon together.
Had she forgotten something? Was there an emergency at work? Did she need to turn the car around as soon as possible? Stopping her thoughts from cascading into a never-ending list of overly dramatic and tragic possibilities, Claire parked her car and pulled on the hand brake as she brought up the list of missed calls and called Geillis back.
“Claire!” Gellis answered before it had even rung once and Claire’s heart leapt into her throat.
“I’ve had the best idea! Dougal’s nephew!”
“What?” Claire asked as she stared out at the snow falling on her windshield utterly perplexed by what was happening.
“Dougal’s nephew, Claire!” Geillis repeated excitedly, apparently oblivious to Claire’s anxiety attack. “He’s the answer to your problems! After you left I was thinking about Dougal’s and my Christmas plans with our families and I realised -- Jamie’s single and he’s going to be here for the holidays. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before!”
“I don’t under-”
“Oh, ye’ll like him, I’m sure. I mean, he’s a bit of a…. a- a goofball, he’s been single for a long while and he probably could work on his personal hygiene a little bit. But that’s nothing that canna be changed. He’s an absolute fox. If I wasn’t committed to Dougal I would be looking to take him for a ride, myself, if ye get my meaning. Oh, he’ll be perfect to take to the wedding.”
Claire let out a strangled laugh and tried to think of something to say as Geillis continued.
“Plus, I think he’s planning on moving here full time - Dougal said something about him applying for a job in one of the nearby cities. Just think, Claire… you might just get to work off some of that tension ye’ve been holding onto if ye play yer cards right - and not just the once, aye?”
“Alright!” Claire practically shouted into the phone, so desperate for Geillis to cease her chatter she was willing to agree to anything. Even a night attending her ex’s wedding with a man she had never met before so long as she didn’t keep talking about her sex life - or lack thereof.
“I kent ye’d say yes! I’ll send ye the link to his social media page so that ye can look him up when ye get home, aye? Ye’ll see what I’m talking about.”
“Alright, Geillis. I’ll have a look when I get home. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Aye, ye can thank me then.”
With a sigh, Claire dropped the phone into her lap and rested back against the headrest before turning her head to the side and fishing the invitation out of her handbag.
Franklin Wolverton Randall & Sandra Josephine Travers invite you to their wedding...
“Ugh!” Claire tossed it back down and turned the engine back on. She needed a glass of wine before she could even begin to think about the wedding scheduled just seven days from now.
Unfortunately for her, the universe seemed determined to cause chaos in her life no matter how much the people in her life tried to help. By the time she actually had the time to sit down in front of her laptop with a glass of wine in hand two days later, her search for Jamie MacTavish online resulted in very little.
The best she could find was an account by the same name where the platform claimed they had one “mutual friend in common”, being Geillis Duncan. Because his account was set to private, all she could see was four images. Three of which were... somewhat funny memes and a photo of Dougal and Geillis on holiday over a decade ago.
Claire sat back and sighed. When she had agreed to a blind date but she didn’t think she would be going into this date quite so blind.
“Who the hell has a wedding in December?” Claire grumbled as she pulled her winter coat on over her dress. It was a brand new, custom made slim-fitting sleeveless gown made of red lace that covered her from neck to floor and easily the most expensive piece of clothing she had ever owned but be damned if she was going to wear anything less than stellar to Frank’s wedding. Or to meet Jamie. “And who the hell agrees to attend one with a blind date?”
“You, Claire. That would be you,” Geillis answered with a knowing grin as she walked into the bedroom holding a small black box. “There's no going back now, which is why these are for you.”
Claire accepted and opened the box to find a pair of large diamond framed ruby earrings.
“Are these real?” Claire asked in awe, as her free hand hovered over them, torn between wanting to hold the jewels in her hands and wanting to slam the box shut to prevent herself from damaging them in the slightest way.
“Aye. A family heirloom from the Abernathy side,” Geillis held her hand out to Claire, palm upwards. “Come on then, hand me those hideous things ye’ve currently got on. Yer date will be here soon.”
“They’re not hideous,” Claire scoffed as she pulled out the simple gold drop earring she had originally chosen to wear and Geillis only stared back with one eyebrow raised. “Okay, okay. I’ll admit they’re nothing special- especially compared to these.”
Claire turned back to face the mirror and Geillis patiently handed her one ruby earring at a time.
“Much better,” Geillis confirmed as she tucked one of Claire's dark curls that had strayed too far from her loose updo back into place. “No-one will be able to take their eyes off ye. Not even the groom.”
“I would never upstage the bride!” Claire's cheeks went red at the thought. She had never been one to enjoy overt attention even when appropriate. She had practically internally combusted the day she went on stage to receive her university graduation certificate.
“Oh, please, Claire. Don't pretend to care about Candy, Sandy, Mandy - whatever-her-name is. Frank only invited ye to their wedding to rub it in yer face that he found someone willing to commit to putting up with him. As his ex, it’s yer duty to make an appearance and show him the fine piece of ass he let go.”
Too accustomed to Geillis’ antics, Claire quickly moved away before Geillis could do anything like smack said ‘fine piece of ass’. Her winter coat might be thick but she was sure it didn’t give her a thick enough barrier to endure anything like that .
“Yer nae fun, Claire!” Geillis’ voice trailed after her as she escaped into the kitchen to set herself up at the breakfast bar with a small glass of wine while waiting for Jamie. While she couldn’t quite say that she was grateful for attending the wedding as such, she certainly was grateful that it was taking place in the late afternoon if it meant she could have something to calm her nerves.
She hadn’t even finished pouring the wine into the glass when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll take that,” Gellis offered, taking the glass out of Claire’s hand and nudged her towards the door with her hip.
“How generous of you,” Claire dead-panned but found herself unable to keep a straight face.
“I’m the friend that just keeps on giving,” Geillis brought the glass to her lips with a wink.
Claire rolled her eyes and buttoned her coat as she walked downstairs. Typically she complained about the layout of her double story apartment but for once she was thankful if it meant Geillis wasn’t nearby to witness this. It had been such a long time since she had gone on a date, a blind-date no less, and she was undoubtedly going to make a fool of herself at some point. With a deep, calming breath, she put a neutral smile on her face and opened the door.
Having not seen even a photo of him prior, she hadn't known what to expect but she had been imagining something close to a younger version of Dougal, with matching hazel eyes and (hopefully a head full of) russet coloured hair.
What she definitely was not expecting was for the man standing on her front step to be so tall that she had to take a step back to get a good look at him, even on her high heels. He had dark blue eyes that sparkled with the reflection of the Christmas lights arching over her door and intensely red hair that sat in neatly positioned curls atop his head.
“Claire? I'm Jamie,” the man said in a thick Scottish accent and held out his hand with a smile. “It's a pleasure to finally meet ye.” He was dressed in a dark grey suit with a red and white tie that immediately made her think of candy canes and an open thick woolen coat over the top, obviously only thrown on for the purpose of walking from the car to her front door. What stood out to her the most was how comfortable she felt in his presence - something she typically never felt around strangers, not even patients at the hospital she worked at.
“You too, Jamie,” she shook his proffered hand with a smile that was guaranteed to be more genuine than the one she’d originally had when opening the door.
“Ye ready to go?”
“Absolutely. Just let me get my purse, I won’t be a moment.”
Double-checking she had her lipstick and compact mirror, she glanced at herself one last time in the hallway mirror.
“Dinna dawdle, Claire. He might just leave without ye and then what will ye do?”
“How the bloody hell did you even know what I was doing?” Claire called back to Geillis who, by the sound of her voice, was still in the kitchen.
“We used to be flatmates once upon a time, aye? Dinna fash, I'll be gone by the time the reception’s over just in case ye wanna bring the lad back here afterward. Ye won't have a worry in the world bar how to get that dress off quick enough-”
“Bye, Geillis!” Claire shouted and went out to join Jamie who was still standing on her front step, now with his gloved hands in his coat pockets. His demeanor didn't give any indication as to whether or not he had heard her exchange with Geillis and she opted to assume he hadn't, if only for her own peace of mind. “Ready!”
The drive to St. Mary's Church was thankfully unencumbered by traffic, giving them plenty of time to get inside and settled. Something Claire only came to regret as she ran into people who remembered her from all the time she had previously spent with the groom.
Her anxiety must have been palpable as Jamie seemed to pick up on it and offered her his arm to hold onto as they approached old Mrs. Baird.
“Claire! How nice to see you, dear! And who's this strapping young man you've got with you? I'm so glad to see you've moved on, I've been so worried about you all alone and working all the time-”
“Mrs. Baird, this is Jamie MacTavish,” Claire interrupted. She knew very well how the woman could carry on and on if given the chance. “Jamie, this is Mrs. Baird.”
“It's a pleasure to meet ye, Mrs. Baird,” Jamie smiled at the woman. “Ye need not worry about Claire, here. I promise ye she's in fine hands.”
“Oh, I'm sure she is if she's dating a tall, strong lad like yourself.” The woman gave Claire a wink and thankfully moved on to another guest who had arrived after them.
“ Sorry ,” Claire mouthed to Jamie as she quickly led him away.
They had spoken very little during the car ride, and sitting side by side in a pew waiting for the ceremony to start seemed to be a good time to start.
“So what is it that you do, Mr. MacTavish?”
“Jamie. Call me Jamie, Claire.” Claire nodded in agreement and watched as Jamie settled back in his seat. “I recently retired from the British Armed Forces and am now working at a stable that breeds racing horses about four hours out of the city, although… I’m not sure it’s the right fit for me. It’s harder to get used to civilian life than I thought, to be honest with ye.”
“Geillis mentioned that you were looking to relocate somewhere nearby.”
“Aye. Dougal recently put me in touch with a man they call Auld Alec who has a traditionally run stable not too far from here. Based on the conversations I've had with the man so far, I'd say things seem promising. With any luck, it will work out. And what about yerself? I ken ye work with Geillis at the General, but I dinna ken much more than that.”
“Medical Professional,” Claire nodded wondering how best to describe her job that might make sense to someone with no medical knowledge whatsoever.
“Oh, a nurse?”
“No, not that kind of medical professional. A surgeon actually.”
“Assistant to the Chief, currently. I spend an awful lot of my days going over paperwork rather than actual patients these days. Typically I’m only called into theatre when the hospital is short-staffed or a patient presents with a particularly complicated case. I really enjoy it though and the people I work with are great - which is a bonus.”
They both sat quietly and watched as Frank made his way to the altar along with three men dressed in matching suits and ties.
“So how exactly do ye ken the bride and groom? I would assume yer not all that close as yer not in the wedding party but ye seem to ken a lot of the other people here so I might be wrong.”
“Well, Frank,” she pointed to him unnecessarily as if he wasn’t literally the centre of attention, “and I met... probably 7 or 8 years ago when he came to consult my Uncle Lamb about something - they're both historians, you see - and I happened to be in the office at the time. To be honest, I was surprised by the invitation to attend this wedding. It must have been at least 18 months since we last saw one another. And we didn't exactly part on good terms, either.”
“Well, ye must still mean something to him if he wanted ye here."
“I suppose so.”
Another couple came and joined them on her other side and they ceased chatting in order to introduce themselves and partake in small talk as they waited for the bride to make her appearance.
The ceremony itself was admittedly beautiful, although perhaps a little garish, and had the added benefit of occupying everyone’s attention for a solid twenty minutes which Claire used to mentally prepare herself for the looming reception.
When they stepped outside to join everyone in congratulating the couple and travel as a group down the street and around the corner.
“Have you ever been inside the Natural History Museum before?”
“Nay, never. Have you?”
“I’ve been a few times over the years but I’ve never attended an evening function before. I have to admit I’m a little bit excited to see how it looks. But first I think we’re to meet Frank and Sandy in the foyer.”
“Dinna fash, Claire,” Jamie reached out and took her gloved hand in his own. “Ye said yerself that it’s been a time since ye saw each other. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see ye.”
Claire looked up and smiled at Jamie as they made their way inside. How he could remain so positive when surrounded by dozens of strangers that took far too much interest in them she didn’t know. Still, she was incredibly grateful for it as they approached the newly married couple. After taking off their gloves, their hands reconnected and she held on so tightly Jamie probably wouldn’t have been able to walk away even if he tried.
“Claire. You came.”
Frank’s face didn’t give away anything but she could tell just from the inflection in his voice that he was surprised. Now she knew for sure what she had received in the mail was more a test than an invitation. Jamie might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt but after half a decade with the man, she knew better.
“Frank,” she nodded in response and turned to his bride, “Sandy, congratulations! The wedding was absolutely beautiful - and I’m not just saying that.”
“Thank you, Claire, that’s very kind of you,” Sandy’s eyes were glistening and her cheeks blushed ever so slightly beneath her make-up. “Who have you brought with you? I don’t believe we’ve met?”
“Jamie MacTavish, ma’am,” Jamie shook hands with Sandy and then Frank. “It’s an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to attend yer celebration. Thank ye both verra much. We were just discussing how the banquet hall might look like in the evening lights. It’s going to be wonderful, no doubt, if the ceremony is any indication.”
“I have to say I’m surprised you see you here, and with a date no less,” Frank laughed lightly as though it were some private joke between Claire and himself. “Where ever did you find him?”
“Ah, we…” Claire stalled as she tried to think of what to say. At my front door just two hours ago, wasn't exactly the type of information she wanted to share.
“...met through mutual friends. Claire's good friend is dating a family member of mine. Ye ken how it is when ye live outside the big city, aye?”
“Oh, yes! I'm pretty certain there's no need for us to introduce people to each other tonight - everyone's already met at least once or twice!” Sandy laughed but sobered somewhat as she reached out to pat Claire's arm. “I’m so happy we had the chance to talk with you tonight. Frank was worried that you would feel self-conscious about coming to the wedding alone. But now that we can see you've met someone special we can rest assured you're happy.”
“Aye. Engaged to be married, in fact.” Jamie offered. Claire’s head whipped around to stare at him and Jamie simply took her reaction in his stride. “I’m sorry, Claire. I should have let you be the one to break the good news to yer friends. Next week I'll let ye tell some of mine - fair turnabout, aye?
“Ahh…” Claire stalled as a thousand thoughts ran through her mind. Engaged? To be married? Jamie's arm tightened around her minutely, thankfully reminding her she was expected to say something. “That's alright, Jamie. I know how much joy you get out of telling people.”
“Engaged? Oh how wonderful, for you two! Well, now. Let me see the ring,” Sandy gushed and bit her bottom lip as she reached for Claire's left hand.
Claire pulled her hand out of reach and placed it open on Jamie's chest instead. Her first choice would have been to wrap it around his neck and ask what the hell he had been thinking but for the moment this would have to do.
“No ring, I’m afraid. Jamie knows me all too well to give me one.” Claire offered, too busy keeping a smile on her face to come up with a convincing lie.
“Claire's a surgeon, aye?” Jamie nodded. “She works so much that she would rarely have the opportunity to wear one.”
“Oh, what a shame! I don't know what I would do if I was unable to wear mine all the time.”
Claire glanced at Frank as Sandy regaled Jamie with the tale of his proposal and how excited she was to be presented with a diamond ring. He had been uncharacteristically quiet ever since Jamie had announced their own engagement and she worried that her face had given away just how unprepared she was for Jamie to make such a statement. Surprisingly, Frank was staring at Jamie with a blank look on his face apparently more interesting in the man whom he had just met than herself. She relaxed a little in Jamie's arms. With any luck, she might just get away from this conversation unscathed after all.
“Well, we best be leaving ye to receive the other guests,” Jamie offered politely, “and I best be getting this beautiful lady a drink.”
It was the first thing Jamie had said all night that she wholeheartedly agreed with. Halfway through the ceremony she had found herself regretting not taking the time to drink a glass before she left home.
It wasn't until they had checked their coats and she had said promised drink in hand that she decided to address what had just happened.
“What were you-”
“I’m sorry, truly . I just really didna like the way he was looking at ye… as though ye were someone who might break at any moment if ye werena handled with care. Look Claire,” Jamie stopped to put his own drink down and raise his hands to place them upon her upper arms. “ I havena spent all that long wi’ ye but I ken yer a strong and successful woman, one that doesna deserve to be looked down upon, ken? I was right to think Frank wants ye here but now I understand it's fer all the wrong reasons. I just wanted to wipe that look off his face - even just for a moment.”
“It was a little entertaining,” Claire acquiesced. She was still mad but there was no way she could leave now without a really good excuse. And it did feel good to have the upper hand with Frank for once.
“Come on, Sassenach. Let’s go find our table, aye? Ye can berate me all ye like once we sit down - I believe that's something engaged couples like to do if my sister Jenny and now brother-in-law Ian are any indication.”
“Fine,” Claire huffed. “But only if you promise to let me have the chicken if this is one of those receptions where everyone gets served an alternate dish. I refuse to be stuck with the fish.”
Their table was located in the middle of the hall and they had the added benefit of being seated to face the bridal table. If Frank hadn't blatantly told her as much, she would have known by now that he had expected her to turn up alone. The other four guests sitting around the table including one of Frank's recently widowed aunts were attending the reception alone.
Normally she would be inclined to dwell on the matter the entire meal (or longer) but she, like everyone else at their table, found herself taken in by the group's conversation as they ate.
Soon enough people got up one by one to make a toast to the newlywed couple, most of which Claire zoned out, too preoccupied with Jamie. She had only known him for a few hours and yet it was evident that he was not only charming but also a natural-born storyteller. Never once, in all the years she'd known Frank, had she ever made his Aunt Margaret laugh like Jamie did as he told them all a tale about the time his older brother got stuck in a bog as a child.
As Frank and Sandy made their way to cut the cake, an obnoxiously large four-tier sculpture decorated in white roses and red berries that matched the bridal party's bouquets and boutonnières, Claire remembered that they were supposedly engaged and reached out for Jamie's hand.
“Do ye think there'll be enough for all of us? Sassenach? I would hate to miss out on tasting that buttercream.”
Claire turned her head into his shoulder to smother her snort and he pulled his hand away to wrap his arm around her shoulders instead. More than ever she appreciated his sense of humor and astonishing quick wit.
They watched as Frank and Sandy shared their first dance as husband and wife and joined them on the dancefloor as soon as the guests were invited to.
“I dinna understand,” Jamie said as he looked over her shoulder during their third song, one that had them swaying close to one another.
Claire followed his gaze and found Frank and Sandy standing on the edge of the chatting with some guests as they surveyed those dancing. “Understand what?”
“Why some people are so bewildered by the idea that you're in a loving committed relationship with someone. You're beautiful, so easy to talk to and you have skills that put even professionals like myself to shame. It doesna make any sense.”
“I guess not everyone sees me that way,” Claire shrugged. “I can't help the feeling that no matter what I do or say tonight I'm being judged. Not just by Frank but his friends and relatives too. I don't know what they see when they look at me but I'm confident it's nothing like that.”
“We should give them something to look at then, aye?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you trust me, Claire?” He cradled her head gently in the palm of his hand as he waited for her answer.
She probably should have been more hesitant, certainly less trusting of someone she hardly knew, but when Jamie's lips descended onto hers she found she simply didn't care. His lips were soft and so much more than she could have ever imagined. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled their bodies even closer to one another. Her heart was pounding so hard it was the only thing besides Jamie that she took any notice of.
All too soon, Jamie pulled back and looked at her with a ridiculous grin on his face.
“I… think I need a drink,” was all she could say.
As they made their way to the bar hand in hand, Claire noticed that Frank and Sandy had moved on to another area on the opposite side of the hall. Exactly how much time had passed since Jamie had made the decision to kiss her?
“One Sleedlip and tonic and…” Jamie said to the bartender and paused to turn to Claire with his eyebrow raised.
“I think I need a Whiskey Ginger”
“...and a Whiskey Ginger, please.”
“Jamie, I have to ask…” Claire placed her elbow on the bar and dropped her face in the palm of her hand to look up at him while they waited for their order. “Why in heaven’s name would you agree to come here with me tonight? Aren’t ex’s typically kryptonite for a first date?”
“Aye, weel, to be honest, the offer to accompany a beautiful woman to a function that included free food and alcohol was nothing compared to what I had expected Dougal to request of me. So much so, that I accepted on the spot,” Jamie chuckled as he accepted their newly prepared drinks with thanks. “Meeting your ex-boyfriend face-to-face was actually a piece of information that both Dougal and Geillis happened to omit from any of the conversations we had leading up to this event.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Claire sat up and reached out to place a hand on Jamie’s arm. “I just assumed that you were fully aware of the situation. Although, that makes an awful lot more sense as to why you agreed to all of this. Perhaps you’re not as crazy as I thought.”
“Perhaps? What, ye still aren’t convinced?” Jamie drew back from her hand obviously offended by her words.
“No, that’s not-” Claire caught a glimpse of the smirk threatening to take over his face and stopped with a glare of her own. “You’re just screwing with me aren’t you?
“Aye,” Jamie burst out laughing. “That I am, Sassenach. Now come on, my darling fiance. Let’s go celebrate our impending nuptials with some of that cake.”
Claire picked up her drink and accept Jamie’s proffered hand. Attending Frank's wedding might be a complete disaster from start to finish but she might as well enjoy herself as much as she could.
When they each had a plate in one hand and drinks in the other, Claire turned to make her way back to their designated seats but was stopped with a gentle nudge. Jamie nodded his head and began walking in the opposite direction.
“This’ll do, aye?” Jamie stopped in the middle of the empty hallway, the soft light a welcome respite from the moving party lights in the banquet room.
“Following you to a mystery destination rather than returning to the table was definitely the easiest decision I’ve made all night,” Claire laughed and toed off her heels before sitting down next to him with a sigh. “Yep, best decision ever.”
“I've been wanting to ask ye, ever since I met Frank and his wife,” Jamie paused to take a bite of cake. “Why in heaven's name would ye ever agree to attend their wedding?”
“I have been asking myself the same thing over and over. I think… maybe I wanted to prove something? To him or myself I really don't know.”
“What happened between the two of ye, if ye dinna mind me asking?”
“It was the typical scenario,” Claire rolled her eyes. “We were on different career paths and tried to do the long-distance thing but it didn't work out. I mean, I tried - we both tried. But Frank was a little more interested in the women around him than making things work. I called it off and we had this huge fight. He said some awful things but I’m not proud of the things I said either. At first I was so incredibly devastated. And embarrassed, you know? I had committed so many years to our relationship and I was left with… nothing.”
“I wouldn't say nothing. Our life experiences make up who we are, aye? That's something my Da always stressed to me when he was still alive. I like to believe it's true and since we’re telling truths… there’s something I have to tell ye, Claire. My true name is not MacTavish.”
“Oh.” It was not what she had been expecting him to confess but, all the same, she found she wasn’t the least bit surprised. It certainly explained why she couldn’t find any pictures of him on social media. “I’ve just had a thought.”
“I can't possibly marry you. I don't even know your real name.”
“It's Fraser,” Jamie said, his confusion morphing into a smile. “James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser”.
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp,” Claire replied with a smile that she suspected matched his and held out her hand for him to shake. “Why don’t you go by your proper name? Or is MacTavish a name you reserve especially for blind dates that take you to things such as this?”
“Well, I won’t lie and say it doesn’t come in handy sometimes - I have some stories - but the real reason is for security. Some of the work I have done with the SAS requires it, even years after an assignment has been completed I still need to keep my details private, especially online.”
“What can you tell me about your work?” Claire picked up her fork and settled in for a story as she ate. It didn't really matter what story he told, his voice was so easy to listen to she would be happy if he chose to tell her a story about where he parks his car for work.
For what seemed like all the time in the world and no time at all, they shared stories back and forth. Everything from their work and their childhoods to drunken nights out friends and favourite second-hand stories. He made it so easy to forget about the things that had kept her from enjoying herself most of the night. Ever since she had received the invitation, really.
Finished with her cake, she leaned against her head back against the wall and felt her scalp protesting against the numerous pins in her hair. Without hesitation she took them out one by one and shook her hair out, sighing in relief at the feeling of having her hair down. Jamie paused in his storytelling and she looked over at him only to catch him staring at her with a strange look on his face.
“Och, nothing.” Jamie looked away quickly as his cheeks began to flush even brighter.
“Oh, come on now, Jamie, after everything we've shared tonight surely you can tell me what's on your mind. Do I have icing on my face? Is that why you were looking at me like that?” Claire brushed a hand around her mouth just in case.
“Nay, it’s just...” Jamie turned back to look at her, his cat-like eyes large and bright. “I was thinking how ye might just be the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.”
Claire looked down at herself. Still barefoot, with an empty plate on her lap and her ridiculous curls falling freely about her shoulders she must be an absolute sight compared to how she had looked when she opened her door to him earlier in the day.
“Are you just saying this because we're engaged to be married?” She joked nervously. Nervous that he was being sincere or that he was joking, she wasn't sure.
“I can assure ye it's not. Ye look so bonny sitting there, with yer cheeks all rosy and a smile on yer face. But speaking of being engaged,” Jamie stood up and brushed off his slacks before holding out his hand to her,” will ye join me for one last dance?”
She had been so preoccupied with their lie and the need to keep it up for the entire reception, she hadn't even considered that it was soon coming to an end. What exactly did that say about her? Too full of food and wine to ponder such serious thoughts, she mentally waved the question away and removed the plate from her lap before accepting Jamie's hand.
Just like every other wedding reception, she had ever attended, the last song of the night was a slow one. It might have been the buzz from all the wine she had been drinking or maybe even a sugar high from all the buttercream frosting she had eaten but as Jamie placed his hands on her waist and she wrapped her own over his shoulders she couldn’t help but lean into him as they began to move across the floor. It wasn’t until the music ended and chatter filled the room that she realised she had, for just a moment, completely lost all sense of time and space. So much so, she had forgotten that they were there to celebrate Frank and Sandy’s wedding. The feeling lingered as she and Jamie gathered their belongings from coat check and made their way outside. Not even the chill in the night air made it disappear.
The drive home from the reception was long but comfortable. Choosing to once again take off her heels, Jamie had fiddled with the settings until heat was blissfully warming up her bare skin. She almost loathed to put them back on as they pulled up in front of her apartment.
Continuing to be the gentleman he had proven himself to be that evening he walked her to her door and waited despite the freezing cold breeze that gently rattled the wreath that hung on the front.
“Thank you for being such a wonderful date tonight, Jamie.” She leaned upon the tips of her toes and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.
“It has been my absolute pleasure, Claire,” Jamie smiled softly. “I…”
For the first time since they had met Jamie seemed to be stalling and unsure of what to say. Claire supposed it made sense that he would make sure to let her down gently before he left, not wanting to complicate things by leaving her questioning where they stood.
“... would you like to go out with me again next weekend?”
“You want to see me again? After everything that happened tonight?” Claire looked up at him incredulously.
“Claire.” Jamie reached out and took her hand in both of his own. “Tonight, I willingly offered you my name, my clan, my family and, if necessary, the protection of my body. Is it truly surprising that I might wanna take ye out on a proper date as well?”
“Well, no…” Claire searched his face for any sign of insincerity. Finding none, she smiled back at him. “That would be wonderful.”
“Aye. It would.”
Chapter 2: tempting
"I have a rather odd request, and I hope ye dinna mind over much, but I really need to do some Christmas shopping.”
Welcome to Part 2 of what is now a multi-chapter story! Thank you so much to everyone who read and left comments on the original one-shot. It's all of you who inspired me to continue writing. Once again, happy reading and happy holidays!
Not sure how exactly, Claire found herself even more nervous than she had been for Frank and Sandy's wedding.
Having never met someone before you have little to no expectations... but this time around things were different. What if Jamie was under the impression that she regularly looked like she did for the wedding rather than just the rare special occasion? What would things be like now that they weren't pretending and, instead, being their ‘real’ selves? And would conversation flow just as easily without the presence of an open bar?
That was the most concerning aspect.
She and Jamie had originally planned to meet for drinks after she finished her shift on Saturday evening but come Friday she was absolutely exhausted and had, regretfully, contacted Jamie to reschedule knowing that she would never make it out the following night. Thankfully, Jamie had been more than understanding and they had agreed to meet down at the City Park mid-morning on Sunday instead.
The sight of Jamie walking through the park towards her was more than enough to distract her from her thoughts. He looked just as handsome as the day he had picked her up from her apartment, this time dressed in a grey tweed overcoat with an olive green scarf and matching beanie. The red curls peeking out underneath his hat were probably the cutest thing she had ever seen and she sincerely hoped they would find themselves in a situation that required him to remove it so she could view his curls in all their glory.
“I brought coffee!” Jamie grinned and held up a cup in each hand, as though he were Santa Claus himself delivering much-needed caffeine to sleep-deprived adults in desperate need of assistance. “I wasn’t sure what ye’d like so I picked up a Peppermint and a Cinnamon Latte.”
“Oooh Peppermint Latte,” Claire eagerly held out her gloved hands to accept her chosen coffee. “Thank you! I’ve always been intrigued by the holiday blends but I’m yet to try one with peppermint.”
“If I’d have kent yer reaction would be this good I would’ve brought some holiday cookies too,” Jamie laughed and took a sip of his own.
“Hey, you’ve got plenty of time,” Claire smiled over her cup at him, “and I’m sure we can find a cookie store at some point today if we look hard enough.”
“Best we get a move on then, Sassenach. Canna be dawdlin’ when there are cookies to be had.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Claire started as they began walking side by side through the park, “why do you call me that? ‘Sassenach’, I mean. I would assume it means you don’t like me very much but the coffee seems to suggest otherwise.”
“I dinna ken, really. I suppose ye just seemed so out of place at the wedding last weekend- och, that’s no’-” Jamie took a deep breath and visibly attempted to gather his words. “What I mean to say is… ye’re different than anyone else I’ve ever met. I dinna ken how or why exactly - yer not the first English woman I’ve ever come across, aye? But, there’s just something about ye.”
Claire nodded in response and focused on the path before. She was lost for words.
“I apologize if that was too forward. I-”
“No,” Claire interrupted him, “please don’t apologise. I was just... taken aback, somewhat. I don’t think I can recall ever being complimented in such an insulting way. And the strange part is that I don't seem to mind at all.”
They continued walking, this time in comfortable silence. It wasn’t until they had both finished their drinks and disposed of their cups in nearby bins, Clare thought to ask what their plans were for the day.
“Weel, I have a rather odd request, and I hope ye dinna mind overmuch, but I really need to do some Christmas shopping.”
“Are you serious?”
“I mean, we don’t have to. I just thought...”
“Ah, yes we do,” Claire laughed out loud at the look of confusion on Jamie’s face. “I can’t believe you left your shopping this late! Please tell me you only have the one gift you need to buy.”
“All of them?”
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire snorted and linked her arm with his. “Come on, then.”
Walking down the street to the mall it became exceedingly apparent that Jamie wasn't the only one doing some last-minute shopping that day. Vehicles filled every visible parking space and pedestrians laden with multiple bags and boxes were navigating each other on the snow-swept sidewalk.
"So, who exactly do we need to shop for?" Claire asked as they walked inside and inspected their new surroundings. The mall was decorated from top to toe in oversized ornaments and glittering garlands. In the very centre was a huge Christmas tree that easily reached the third floor, surrounded by multiple workshops and, of course, a large red velvet chair for the big man himself.
"Hang on," Jamie pulled his phone out of his back pocket. "I made a list."
"Did you check it twice?"
"Claire," Jamie stopped and steeled her with a look. "This is serious."
“I’m sorry,” Claire replied with her face as straight as she could manage. She wasn't sure what had come over her - perhaps it was all the sugar in her Peppermint Latte or maybe the giddiness exuded by the children around them was contagious - but she just couldn't seem to help herself. Teasing him was just too fun. “Please, continue.”
“Alright. So there's my brother and sister - and each of their spouses, o’ course. Then there's my… four nieces and… three nephews.”
“Okay. 11 presents - or 9 if you intend on giving joint gifts to your siblings and their spouses - that's easy.”
“Is it?” Jamie looked around the mall nervously.
“Okay, now I see why you put this off until now,” Claire guided him towards the large electronic store guide. “Let's start over here.”
After determining a rough plan of attack, they made their way from store to store and soon enough had their hands full of shopping bags filled with gifts not just for the children on Jamie’s list but for the toy drive at the hospital, too. While she had already donated a couple of items, Claire simply couldn’t help herself - especially when they came across a stand of handmade wooden toys that reminded her of her own childhood, of days playing in her parent's study with little wooden dolls while her father worked at his desk.
The look on her face must have expressed as much because Jamie had taken one look at her and simply added some of the toys to their shopping basket without a word.
“What do ye say, Sassenach. Time fer a break?”
“Good idea,” Claire glanced down at her watch to confirm it was, in fact, lunchtime. “There's a cute little café just around the corner that we could go to. Otherwise, there's a new eatery on the top floor that I've been meaning to try?”
“Something unknown? Aye, that sounds good to me,” Jamie decided and moved towards the upward escalator.
“Not even a moment's hesitance? Why am I even surprised?” Claire asked herself as she followed him.
Jamie paused at the foot of the escalator and turned back to face her with a smirk on his lips. “I've always been a gambling man.”
By the time they sat down in a little booth and a platter of assorted meats and cheeses was brought to their table it was obvious they had made the right decision. They chatted as they ate, catching up on what had happened since they last saw each other on Claire’s front doorstep the night of the wedding.
“How did your meeting with the local stables go?”
“I really think it’s going to be a good fit - at least until I decide what my long term plans are. I'll finish up at my current work just before Christmas and then start with Auld Alec after Hogmanay.”
“Oh, that's good timing! Especially since it means you'll be able to spend the holidays with your family.”
“Aye. Other people too.” Jamie looked at her intently and Claire felt her face flush.
“Yes, that too,” she whispered back softly before changing the topic of conversation to something much less heavy.
Making their way back downstairs, they came across a large crowd gathered around Santa's Winter Wonderland. There seemed to be some announcement being made but Claire couldn't quite make out the words.
“Come on, Sassenach!”
“What? Jamie!” Claire watched as he jogged over to the table of officials and talked with them for a moment before beckoning her over with his hand.
With no choice but to follow, Claire managed to drop her bags next to Jamie’s and take her place beside him by the time the emcee introduced them as the final competitors.
“Jamie, what comp-”
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen! The rules of the Candy Cane Relay are simple. First, you must place your candy cane on the tip of your nose and spin around FIVE TIMES before racing to the wreath making station where you will create a wreath decorated in ONLY candy canes. Then you must race back and pass said wreath to your relay partner who must then also spin around five times. From there your partner must run to the Gingerbread House and hang the wreath on one of the four hooks on the front door and then race back to the finish line! The winner will be determined not only by which team crosses the finish line first but ALSO by the number of candy canes that remain on their wreath at the end!”
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire whispered to herself as she checked out the other competitors. The other three teams consisted of a mother and her teenage daughter, a father and his young son, and a couple who seemed to be around the same age as her and Jamie. “What the heck is this?”
“This, Sassenach,” Jamie leaned over to whisper in her ear, “is-”
“On your marks. Get set. GO!”
Without even thinking, Claire began to twirl in a circle and listened as Jamie counted for her.
“FIVE! Go, Claire! Go!”
She raced in what she hoped - but very much doubted - was a straight line to the station and got to work. What she noticed straight away was how the emcee had failed to mention was that there was no adhesive to actually stick the candy canes to her crudely put together wreath. She tucked as many as she could into the vines but when she saw one of the other competitors already leaving the station she knew she couldn't waste any more time and carried it back to Jamie as she could.
Jamie was calling to her from the starting line and accepted the wreath eagerly as she practically threw it at him.
“One, two, three, four, five! That's five!” She yelled at Jamie over the top of the crowd as he turned. “Run!”
Jamie had managed to lose half a dozen candy canes by the time he made it to the door of the gingerbread house and Claire could barely breathe from laughing so hard.
Watching him try to compete with the teenage girl to place their wreath on a hook as quickly as possible, while losing more and more candy canes by the second, almost had her in hysterics for she had never seen him so flustered. Jamie picked up some candy canes that had fallen to the floor and tried to shove them back on.
“Leave them! Just leave them! Quick!”
Jamie raced back and was the first to cross the line. Without even waiting to see the others do the same, Claire threw her arms around Jamie who embraced her back just as happily.
“We did it!”
“Aye, we did! I think we might be out of luck with the candy canes, though. I dinna ken how many are still hanging but I would guess about ten - if we're lucky.”
The pair turned and waited hand in hand for the judge's announcement.
“Congratulations… Harry and Jack!! You are the winners of today’s Candy Cane Relay!”
Jamie and Claire cheered on the father and son team as they received their prize. Even from this far away it was obvious their wreath had the most candy canes still attached.
“I can't believe we just did that,” Claire said as they went and gathered their bags.
Still giddy from the race, she grabbed Jamie’s free hand and pulled him towards another workshop. This one decorated with oversized cardboard gingerbread men and a large sign that read Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen in red 'icing'.
“You still owe me a Christmas cookie, you know.”
“Aye, that’s true. Will ye make me one too then, Sassenach? Since we’re here and all?”
“Alright,” Claire opened her purse and dropped some coins into the donations box. “But you have to promise not to look until it's done!”
“Aye, I promise.”
After a short induction presented by Mrs. Claus herself, they each donned an apron and began to decorate. Baking had never been one of her skill-sets but she figured she could decorate a snowflake well enough.
A base made of pale blue icing and then detailed with white piping seemed a reasonable choice. Just as she was reaching for some blue sprinkles she caught Jamie sneaking closer.
“Hey! No peeking!” She dramatically covered her cookie with her free hand and gave him her best glare.
The boy at the icing station next to hers leaned forward to catch Jamie's eye.
“I reckon it'll taste better than it looks, dinna fash.”
“What?!” Claire looked under her hand to double-check. “I don't know what you’re talking about!”
Jamie was too busy laughing to be a threat anymore and Claire side-eyed them both before continuing to work on what she , at least, considered to be an extremely handsome cookie.
“Alright, let me ken when yer ready, Sassenanch.”
“Okay…” Claire added a small chocolate beanie to each corner of her snowflake. “Ready.”
“Three... two... one!” They counted down in unison and presented their cookies to each other.
Claire nearly dropped her plate along with everything on it.
“Are you kidding me?” Jamie's cookie looked more like something that had been designed and created at an award-winning bakery rather than something whipped up in the last 5 minutes on a whim. “What is this??”
“A Christmas stocking, see - the lollies at the top are meant to be the little toys.”
“Ah, yes. Now I see.”
“Now for the taste test,” Jamie picked the snowflake cookie off of her plate and took a large bite. “Mmm. Tis good.”
“Thank heaven for small mercies, I guess,” she muttered before taking a nibble of the stocking.
“I dinna ken what yer talking about,” Jamie said before shoving the rest of in his mouth.
Refueled with what Claire doubted to be a very healthy dose of sugar, they packed up their mess and returned to their shopping with added determination.
“So, tell me about your siblings,” Claire asked as they walked into a vintage style bookstore. “What are their interests? Is there anything they need? Do you have any ideas at all as to what to get them?”
“Weel, my older brother Willie runs the family farm. He doesna leave the Highlands over much - more of a homebody, aye?. People often tell me that he and I are alike, probably because of the colour of our hair, but I think Jenny and I are more of a match. We couldna look more different, but we’re both… stubborn headed, ye might say. Family is easily the most important thing to her. I’d say she spends most of her time looking after the bairns, not just her own but everyone else’s too.”
“So what do you think they might like for Christmas?”
“I have no idea. At all,” Jamie replied rather dejectedly.
Claire gave Jamie time to ponder while she browsed the ‘Bestsellers’ display. Soon though, she found she couldn’t remain silent any longer.
“Can I ask you something? And you don't have to answer me if you don't want to.”
“Aye…” Jamie replied somewhat suspiciously.
“Do you not get along very well with your family?”
“Och, it's not that. It’s… I havena seen them in a long while. Not since before I joined the Force,” Jamie shook his head as he turned back to the shelf in front of him and brushed his forefinger down the spine of a green and gold cloth bound novel. “We didn't exactly part on good terms. My sister was mad at me and I fought with my brother. I left without even waiting to say goodbye to our father and just weeks into my training I received notice that Da had died, from a stroke of all things. By the time I had the opportunity to return home, I couldna bear to face them, knowing what had happened all because I was young and stupid.”
“What about your mother?”
“She passed when we were young. She was pregnant with our little brother when she was in a car accident and went into premature labour. Ma didna survive and nor did baby Robert. None of us were prepared for it but my Da was especially devastated.”
Claire nodded with understanding. While modern medicine had improved the maternal mortality rate in many countries including this one, it wasn't uncommon and she had witnessed first hand how devastating it could be for family members left behind.
“Alright then, let's try a different approach. You all grew up together, right? Tell me your favourite memories about spending time with your brother and sister before any of that happened. Like, did you ever… have a favourite game you used to play or maybe you had a family tradition that you all loved? Anything that comes to mind.”
“For my fifth birthday,” Jamie started as they slowly moved on to the non-fiction section, “my brother gave me this little wooden snake. He’d made it by hand. Carved ‘Sawny’ on the belly.”
“It’s a play on the Gaelic for my second name, Alexander, aye? It’s what he used to call me when we were little.”
“Maybe that’s something you could get him. A wood carving kit. You know, to let him know how much that gift meant to you.”
“Ye dinna think that would be silly?”
“No, not at all. If anything it might inspire him to create something for his own children - or maybe even teach them how to carve.”
“Aye…” He nodded his head slowly, a smile coming over his face. “That’s a bonny idea. Well then, what of my sister?”
“Tell me some more stories and we’ll figure it out,” Claire shrugged as she linked her arm with his and guided them out of the book store.
Soon enough they had added not only a wood carving kit to their bags but also a charades card game for Jenny that reminded Jamie of cold winter nights his family would spend in front of the living room fire, limited-edition whiskey diamonds for his brother-in-law, Ian, and a new set of wine glasses for his sister-in-law, Rachel.
“I canna believe it’s done. Sassenach,” Jamie reached out to put a hand on Claire’s forearm and swing them both to a stop, “ye’re a miracle worker, truly. I never could have done this without ye.”
“You shouldn’t underestimate yourself, Jamie. I'm absolutely positive you could have. I can just imagine it now, half a dozen gift cards and multiple boxes of chocolate. Done,” Claire winked and resumed walking, swinging her bags happily.
“Hey!” Jamie called after her dramatically and jogged to catch up. “Seriously though, I ken we're done with our shopping but I’m no’ quite ready to let ye go just yet. But I can tell ye I sure as rain am ready to get out of this shopping mall.”
“How about the pub down on Gardener? I would like nothing better than to sit down to a serve of chicken and mushroom pie right now.”
“I would be happy to sit down to anything so long as it’s edible,” Jamie laughed.
A hearty pub meal followed by a festive cranberry and rosemary gin and tonic turned out to be exactly what they both needed to unwind.
“I canna thank ye enough fer all the help ye've given me today. I ken it probably wasna what ye were expecting when ye agreed to meet wi’ me.”
“You know for someone who dislikes crowds so much, your choice to wait until the busiest time of the year to do your Christmas shopping is absolutely mind-boggling. You could have avoided all of this if you had just done your shopping online like a lot of other people.”
“Aye, but then how would we have won the Candy Cane Relay?” Jamie grinned at her before becoming more serious. “If I'm perfectly honest with ye, today was a great distraction from my upcoming visit home. It was nice to stop over-thinking it - even if it was only for a few hours.”
“I could come with you, you know.”
Jamie laughed and took another sip of his gin and tonic.
“I'm being serious.”
Jamie stopped and placed his glass down on the table to look at her a moment.
“Ye would be willing to join me, truly? Wait...” Claire watched as the look on Jamie’s face morphed from surprise to something akin to understanding, “is this because I accompanied ye to Frank and Sandy's wedding and yer wishing to return the favour? Yer verra kind to offer but I wouldna put ye through the experience of meeting my entire family - and on Christmas, no less - when ye could be spending yer time elsewhere.”
“What if I were to tell you that I would love to join your family for the holidays? I can tell that they are very important to you and from you've told me about them I suspect I might even like them too, given the chance.”
“But what about yer own family? Won't they miss ye if yer off galivanting about the Highlands o’er the holiday?”
“I don't have any family to spend the day with. I lost both my parents when I was young and my last remaining relative Uncle Lamb passed away more recently,” Claire explained matter of factly, seeing the faint look come over Jamie’s face she had seen on so many others. “Honestly, you would be doing me just as much a favour as I would you. Currently, my plans include staying at home and curling up in front of the heater with a good book that I’ve read a dozen times before. Given the choice, I would actually be working, but the hospital has this policy where holidays are rotated amongst the staff on a tri-yearly basis. You know, to make it fair to everyone. So... just know that my offer is genuine. You could even consider it my Christmas present to you if that makes you feel better.”
Claire went back to her drink, purposefully giving Jamie time to mull over her words. While she hadn’t spent an extensive amount of time with man, she knew that he was just as much proud as he was generous. There was no point in pressing the matter. He would either accept her offer or he wouldn’t. When Jamie started nodding his head slowly, however, she knew she had him in the bag.
“I have had sae much fun with ye, today, Sassenach.”
Claire blinked. That certainly wasn’t what she expected him to say. “I…”
“More than I could ever have imagined, aye? I would love fer ye to accompany me to Lallybroch for Christmas.”
“Let’s talk details,” Claire replied happily then looked down at her empty glass. “But first… refills.”
The rest of the evening passed by faster than any other Claire could remember. They had started talking about plans to visit Lallybroch but quickly found themselves talking of anything but and all too soon, the crowd had thinned out and bartenders had started cleaning.
“I suppose we should be making our way outside, Sassenach.”
“Mmm,” Claire nodded in response and reluctantly finished off her drink. “I suppose we should.”
They both took their time donning their extra layers, hesitant to leave their warm surrounds or avoid the prospect of saying goodbye to each other, she wasn't sure. Although she suspected the answer was probably both.
“Would ye like to join me for a stroll to look at the City Tree, Sassenach? That is if yer not quite ready to head on home, yet.”
“That sounds lovely. I've heard some great things from people at work about how it looks lit up at night. I've been meaning to go and have a look.”
It was colder outside than expected and Claire huddled into Jamie's side as they walked down the street, reveling in the feeling of having his arm around her. They didn't utter a word as they walked and she found she didn't mind at all. The comfortable silence a respite from their non-stop conversation during the day.
The City Tree was even more incredible than Claire had imagined and she was increasingly taken by the sight with every step closer. Strings of golden lights shimmered and ornaments of every shape and colour covered its branches. Easily over 40 feet tall, Claire had to crane her neck up to see the star at the very top.
Something flashed past in front of them and Jamie jerked, moving in front of her with one hand held out - presumably - to protect her.
“What-” Claire started to ask but Jamie was already walking away from her.
“Oye, ye bampot! Ye near scared me to death!”
Claire moved out of Jamie’s shadow and found a man sitting beside a stall grinning at Jamie as though his reaction was the one he had intended to prompt. She watched as the man stood up from his fold-out chair and embraced Jamie in the closest thing to a bear hug she had ever seen. Him being much shorter than Jamie, it was quite a sight to behold. The men pulled back and stared at each other a moment.
“Friend of yours?” Claire asked.
“Hugh, Hugh Munro.” Jamie released him with a pat on the shoulder and turned to beckon Claire closer. “Let me introduce ye, Claire, to a verra special friend of mine.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Claire smiled. She couldn’t quite figure out what exactly but there was something about him that made her like him instantaneously.
Claire watched in surprise as Jamie interpreted her words into sign language for Hugh.
“Oh, my apologies,” Claire signed, suddenly thankful for the British Sign Language course she had taken many moons ago as part of her career development plan. “You must think me so rude.”
“Dinna fash. We have far more important things to spend our time on,” Hugh waved her apology away. “It’s been a while since I've seen Jamie with a lass on his arm and I have a lot of questions.”
“Me too!” Claire laughed. “You're the first person I've met that can tell me all sorts of stories about what Jamie's like when I'm not around.”
“Woah,” Jamie interrupted them. “This is not -”
Claire studied Jamie and Hugh as they spoke in a flurry of hand signatures that were too fast for her to follow. Suddenly they were both looking to her as if waiting for her to give her opinion on something.
“I’m so sorry, I always thought that I knew enough sign language to carry me through a conversation but you two seem to be speaking a completely different dialect.”
“Och, apologies Sassenach. It’s no surprise ye dinna ken how to speak Scottish Gaelic. Dinna fash. We’ll be gentlemen and make a point of sticking to English, aye Hugh?”
Hugh nodded in agreement with a hand on his heart in such a dramatic way that it made Claire suspicious.
“If you’re anything like Jamie, here, I imagine that’s going to be a rather difficult task.”
“What are ye trying to say, Sassenach? That I canna be a gentleman?”
Claire gave him a pointed look that had Hugh laughing and Jamie becoming all the more indignant.
“Here, I’ll prove it to ye,” Jamie turned to his friend. “Hugh, one of yon wee baubles, if ye please.”
Claire watched as Hugh turned to his stall and looked through what she now realised was a vast collection of Christmas ornaments. After a moment, he presented her with a round amber coloured bauble that featured a silver dragonfly in the very centre.
“It's beautiful,” Claire held it up and watched the dragonfly glitter in the street light.
“You’re supposed to hang it on the City Tree,” Hugh explained, “and make a wish.”
“What do I owe ye, Hugh?” Jamie asked as he pulled out his wallet.
“It's a gift.”
“Dammit, Hugh. I'm trying to show Claire my gentlemanly side and instead of helping me yer upstaging me!”
“Thank you, Hugh,” Claire laughed so hard she was starting to regret drinking so much as the pub earlier. Almost. “You've given me two wonderful gifts tonight.”
Jamie and Hugh shook hands as they said their goodbyes and Claire waved before taking Jamie's hand in her own.
“What are you going to wish for?” Jamie asked as they approached the tree.
“I don't know, but I better make it worthwhile. If there's anything I've learned from watching too many Christmas movies it's that wishes are more likely to come true this time of year.”
“Having never seen one myself, I'll have to take yer word for it, Sassenach. Let me ken when yer ready, aye?”
Claire took her time looking at all the ornaments already on display and couldn’t help but wonder what the people who had placed them there had each wished for.
“Alright, I’m ready.”
Claire let out a squeal as Jamie bent down and picked her up around the knees.
“Are ye high enough, Sassenach?”
“Yes, I can just… reach,” Claire stretched as high as she could and hooked the string over the branch.
“Have ye made yer wish, too?”
Claire closed her eyes as she made her wish and then opened them to look at the dragonfly in amber bauble once more. “All done.”
Jamie relaxed his grip and Claire slid down his body slowly. As her toes touched the ground she remained where she landed with her hands on his chest, the look in his eyes making her swallow so slowly, almost like she had forgotten how.
This time Jamie didn’t ask for her permission to kiss her, indirect or otherwise, and Claire welcomed it. So much so, she met him halfway. It started a little messy, connecting sooner than intended with his lips capturing her top one wholeheartedly, but as they moved they found a rhythm that had her heart pounding and her panties growing damp. Soon, it wasn’t anywhere near enough. She wound her hands up to cradle the back of his neck and spread her fingers through the curls underneath his beanie to pull him in even closer. If Jamie seemed at all surprised he didn’t show it, instead he responded in kind by opening his mouth and kissing her like… like she had never been kissed before.
Short of breath, Claire pulled back reluctantly and Jamie tilted his face to rest his forehead upon hers.
“Christ. I dinna wish to say goodbye to ye tonight.”
“Then come home with me.”
“Ye shouldna tempt me with such things, Claire,” Jamie pulled her even closer and groaned into her hair. “I….”
“I want to,” Jamie pulled back and brushed her curls around her ear. “Believe me, I do.”
“But?” Claire moved to pull away but he held on tight.
“But… I canna. Not yet. Ask me again. On a night we havena had sae much to drink, aye? When I can kiss you, and touch you… and feel you. And remember all of it the next day.” Jamie leaned down and kissed her once more, this time short and sweet. “You’re not something I ever want to forget.”
“Okay, now I know you’re lying.”
“What? No! I-”
“You try and tell me that you haven’t seen any Hallmark movies but you come out with a line like that? You’re not fooling me, Jamie Fraser. Not for one second.”
“Och,” Jamie snorted, his relief at hearing her explanation palpable. “Maybe... I’ve seen one or two but I swear I came up with that one on my own.”
“Come on,” Claire slid her hands down his arms and linked her fingers with his, “you can at least walk me to the taxi stand?”
“Aye,” Jamie nodded and kissed her again. “That much I can do.”
Chapter 3: unexpected
“There ye go, Sassenach. Merry Christmas.”
“I’m sae sorry, Claire,” Jamie slumped in his seat and dropped his fist onto the steering wheel. “I didna expect…”
“For our light plane to be delayed because of severe weather storms on the other side of the country? To finally arrive only to be informed that our original hire car had been released to someone else and that the only one still available was this old Fiat? For the said vehicle to get us only halfway to our destination... before breaking down and leaving us to sit in the freezing cold waiting for help to arrive?”
“Aye. I didna expect that .” Jamie turned his head and looked at her so woefully she was really wished she could do something to help.
Initially, the little 500 had provided them with much needed comic relief. Watching Jamie trying to manoeuvre his 6’4’’ body into the driver's seat - all the while using swear words she had never heard before - had made her laugh so hard there were tears streaming down her cheeks. Jamie had only taken one look at her face and burst into laughter himself, all the tension they had accumulated since meeting at the airport earlier in the morning dissipating into the cool breeze that swirled around them.
Relieved to finally be on their way, they had settled in for the two-hour-long drive, sharing random tales with each other as they nibbled on the contents of a bag of mixed lollies Jamie had bought from a vending machine at some point during their ordeal.
But all too soon things had made a turn for the worst.
Out of nowhere, the engine had started making a series of clunking noises and then stopped working altogether, leaving them both tired and cold on the side of an empty highway with not even a Highland Coo in sight. With neither of them knowing anything more than the basics such as how to check the oil or change a tire, they quickly resigned to the fact that there was nothing they could do but wait for Jamie’s godfather, Murtagh, to come and get them. Instead, they donned their coats, scarves and whatever else they hand on hand before reclining their seats in an admittedly failed attempt to relax.
“I, uh, I have a gift for ye,” Jamie turned and leaned over to reach for his duffle bag on the back seat. After fiddling awkwardly for a moment he pulled out a gold package wrapped in wide red satin ribbon and settled back into his seat before handing it to her. “There ye go, Sassenach. Merry Christmas.”
“Thank you,” Claire took the package from him and placed it gently on her lap. “Are you sure I should open it now and not wait until Christmas morning? It's not bad luck to open a gift early or anything, is it?”
“I dinna ken about luck but I do have a strong feeling ye might be needing what's inside before then.”
Claire didn't hesitate a moment longer and pulled at the ribbon. In the corner of her eye, she noticed Jamie smile in obvious anticipation as she opened the box and her heart rate picked up speed as she pulled away the tissue paper.
“These are just beautiful,” Claire said softly as she brushed her fingers along the intricate cable knit design that was featured on a knitted red beanie and a matching pair of mittens. “Thank you. Truly . I've never seen anything like them before - where ever did you find them?”
“I made them,” Jamie hesitated and the smile on his face flickered ever so slightly before he shrugged. “I learned how to click-it when I was a boy, ken? I dinna think ye'd come across a single person in the Highlands who doesna ken how to make the basics.”
“I’m in awe, to be honest. I wish- wait!” Claire sat up in her seat suddenly, prompting Jamie to do the same. “Why did we spend hours shopping at the mall in the city for presents when you can make things like this?” Claire waved the beanie at him, its red and white pompom flopping to and fro as though it too demanded to know why.
“And invite my family to judge my lack of skills? I dinna think so, Sassenach. Although, in hindsight…” Jamie leaned back in his seat and looked out through the windshield at something Claire suspected only he could see. “That might have just been the perfect present for my older sister, Jenny.”
“She loves to give me a hard time, ken?” Jamie turned and looked at her with a knowing smirk on his face. “It might have been a time since we saw each other but I doubt verra much that would ever change. Just ye wait and see.”
“Well, since your sister isn't here right now,” Claire purposefully kept a straight face as she jammed the beanie on over the top of her tragic mop of hair and pulled on the mittens one at a time. “I'll have to be the one to judge.”
“Oh, aye? And what say you?”
“You can’t possibly expect me to provide a full and detailed review already ? I don’t know how well the knit holds up to the wind nor how well it will protect me from the evening temperatures. There's so much more to consider than just looks, you know.”
With a grin, she pulled on the door handle and pushed her way out into the cold air with the hope that Jamie would follow.
She wasn’t disappointed.
They leaned against the solid wooden fence side by side and looked out at the snow-covered fields. At first, she had been disappointed that it wasn’t snowing as they made their way up north but now, standing out in the cold with the sun starting to set over the mountains, she was incredibly thankful.
“Do you think it will snow on Christmas Day?” Claire asked. She wasn’t sure why, maybe it was due to all of the Christmas movies she binge-watched every December, but waking up on the 25th and looking out the window to find snowflakes swirling past was something she always dreamed of.
“I dinna ken, Sassenach. Ask me again tonight,” Jamie glanced at her raised eyebrows and laughed. “They say if there’s a ring around the moon at night, snow or rain will come in the next 3 days.”
“But how will you know if it’s snow or rain that’s coming?”
“I dinna ken that either, truth be told.”
Claire snorted and nudged him playfully with her elbow. “What good are you, then?”
“Weel, I might not be any good at fixing cars or predicting the weather but there is one thing I'm good at.”
“Oh really? And just what might that be?”
“Here,” Jamie suddenly pulled on the fence and hopped over it in one swift motion, “let me show ye.”
She only hesitated for a second before gingerly climbing over to the other side, far less smoothly than she would have liked to admit. Luckily for her, Jamie was facing the other way as he waited for her to join him.
“Okay, what is it you were going to- OW!” Claire stared at Jamie in shock then looked down at the snow on her jacket.
“What’s the matter, Sassenach? Canna take the snow?” It was the grin that came over his face that prompted her to finally move.
“Oh, this is how it’s going to be?”
She bent down to gather a snowball of her own and before she knew it was a full-on snowball fight. More snow than ball but a fight all the same.
With the intention of smushing snow right in Jamie’s face, Claire crept as quietly as she could through the snow. She kept an eye on Jamie’s turned back lest he hear her. Just as she was prepared to commit her act of war he turned around and picked her up, throwing her over his shoulder and spinning her around in one smooth movement. She let out a squeal and dropped the snowball out of her hand in favour of gripping on to the back of his jacket.
“Put me down! Put me down!”
Jamie let out a laugh and she smacked him on the back in mock anger. He softened his grip on her and she slid down his body to sit on top of the fence. Instead of stepping back, Jamie kept his grip on her and even took half a step closer to stand between her legs. She looked up at him and the smile on his face morphed into something that she couldn't quite decipher. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.
He leaned down and she tilted her face up to meet his lips with hers. Unlike the kisses they had shared before, neither of them held back.
Jamie’s hand came up to cradle the back of her neck and she opened her mouth to him, welcoming his tongue against hers. Feeling safe, she let go of the fence and pulled at the pockets of his coat to bring his body even closer. Despite the layers between them, the feel of him so close to her centre had her heart racing and her panties growing wet at the thought of what it might feel like were they somewhere else. Somewhere they would have fewer clothes and preferably a bed or any kind of soft dry surface out of the elements. Jamie pulled his lips away from hers and it took all of her self control not to follow him.
“Mmmm…” Jamie hummed as he pressed his forehead against hers. “I’ve missed you.”
A rumble sounded and Jamie looked away. “That’ll be Murtagh,” he said, his voice still hoarse.
The moment officially broken, Claire turned and followed his gaze to find an old blue truck driving towards them. She swung her legs over to the other side of the fence and hopped down. She smoothed out her jacket and adjusted her before beanie before moving to wait near the car as Jamie went to greet his godfather.
Before the truck had even come to a complete stop, the driver was already opening his door. The man stepped out of the car slowly and pulled Jamie into a tight embrace. Almost an entire foot shorter, with a head full of dark greasy locks and matching beard, he was a stark contrast to his tall, red-haired Godson.
Murtagh pulled back and gave Jamie a once over with his eyes. Apparently content with what he saw, he moved to the back of his truck and pull out a toolbox.
“Right. Let’s have a look then.”
As the men started walking towards her, Claire got the distinct feeling that Murtagh wasn’t talking about the car like she had first assumed.
“Murtagh, let me introduce ye to Claire Beauchamp. Claire this is my Godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.”
“Murtagh will do just fine, lass.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Murtagh. Jamie tells me you’re the best mechanic in the region.”
“That’s probably because I’m the only mechanic in the region.” Murtagh’s laugh was gruff and she couldn’t help but take a liking to it. “Open the bonnet, will ye Jamie?”
Murtagh spent some time under the hood, poking and prodding at the engine and all the parts that were connected to it.
“So, how is it ye come to be here with Jamie? In his hometown and at Yuletide, no less?” With his head still under the bonnet, Murtagh’s words were muffled and it took Claire a moment to realise he was speaking to her.
“Well, I…” What could she possibly say? Not that she and Jamie had been enjoying an alcoholic beverage (or two) and she had impulsively offered to go with him without much forethought for what it might involve. That much she was sure of. “I was going to be alone over the holidays and Jamie was kind enough to allow me to accompany him.”
“Oh, aye?” By the tone of his voice it was obvious he knew there was more to the story than she was telling. “How kind of the lad.”
“Canna be leaving a lass in distress, a goistidh. Wouldna be gentlemanly, aye?”
Murtagh grunted and Claire looked over the car at Jamie who was leaning his forearms casually against the roof. She raised her brow and he shrugged.
“You are no help at all,” she mouthed and Jamie only chuckled in response.
“Weel, what needs to be done, I canna do here,” Murtagh stood and pulled a rag out of his back pocket to wipe his hands. “We’ll have to hook her up to Nessie and tow her back to the yard.”
“Nessie?” Claire asked.
“Oh, aye. The truck’s a beast reminiscent of the creature that lives at the bottom of Loch Ness, ken? Large, strong and doesna play by anyone else's rules.”
“Ah. I see.”
The drive to the yard was slow going but compared to the hours she and Jamie had spent on the side of the road it went by in what felt like the blink of an eye.
Sitting in between the two men had been its own source of entertainment, with them bickering back and forth. She could tell they had a rich history and knew each other well - Murtagh, more so than Jamie. But knowing someone since they were born would have that effect, she supposed.
Making their way inside Murtagh’s workshop she found it was cosier than she had expected. With a large boiler on one side of the room, there was even enough heat radiating from it that she felt comfortable enough to take off her mittens.
“It'll probably take me a day or two to get this one back up and running. How long are ye staying for?” Murtagh asked.
“Just until Boxing Day. We need to be back at the airport by mid-afternoon,” Jamie replied.
“In that case,” Murtagh moved across to a box on the wall and pulled out a set of keys, “take my car.”
“What about ye?”
“I’ll warm up one of the bombs out back. Dinna fash,” Murtagh threw the keys to Jamie who caught then swiftly. “Now off with ye both. I'm sure the lass could do with a rest and hot drink after the day ye've had, aye?”
“Aye, I ken I sure could.”
“I’ll see ye on Christmas Day,” Murtagh patted Jamie on the shoulder before turning to her and bowing his head slightly. “Verra nice to meet ye, Claire.”
“The pleasure was mine,” Claire replied with a smile and, following Jamie’s lead, climbed into the passenger side of their newly borrowed pick up truck.
By the time they were back on the main road, the sun had well and truly set. Claire fiddled with the heater until the cab was at a comfortable temperature and closed her eyes.
“Claire,” Jamie gave her thigh a nudge with his free hand.
“We're about 5 minutes out.”
“Oh.” She hadn’t planned on falling asleep but there was nothing more she could do but pat the make-up around her eyes in the hope she didn’t look all too terrible.
As they slowed down and the truck’s lights brought a large stone archway into view, Claire couldn't help but notice a new tension emanating from Jamie. She glanced over. His mouth was tucked into a straight line and his hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles had gone pale.
Silence filled the cab as they parked neatly beside the two other cars near the house. Claire pulled on the door handle and moved to step out but stopped when she noticed Jamie wasn’t moving. She sat back quietly and looked out through the window at their dark surrounds as she waited.
“With everything that happened today I almost…”
His voice came out so soft she leaned her body towards him. It was something so natural she, herself, might not have even noticed if not for the sound her bracelet made as she moved. “Almost what?”
Claire reached out and placed her hand on top of Jamie’s. He looked down suddenly, surprised by the touch, and released his grip on the steering wheel.
“It’s behind you now, Jamie. It’s in the past.” Claire gave his hand a gentle squeeze and pulled away. “I might not know your family nor what happened back then, exactly. But I do know that you're here. Right now.”
The front door of the house opened and light pooled out onto the front steps. There stood three children, two of whom appeared to be fighting with each other. Claire couldn't hear what they were saying but she could easily guess by the way the tallest child was turning back and gesturing for someone to come and join them at the door.
“And your family is inside waiting for you.”
“Aye. Let's go, Sassenach. Their mother will have my hide if they catch a cold right before Christmas.”
The excitement exuded by the children at the door increased tenfold as they made their way bags in hand across the driveway and into the light.
“Nunkie!!” The eldest called out and pushed the younger ones aside to let them both through before closing the door behind them. “We’ve been waiting all day for ye to arrive!”
“Aye!” Piped up one of the little girls, “Mam even let us stay up coz she says we will only come back downstairs when ye get here anyway.”
“Well, that was verra kind of her,” Jamie laughed and bent down to hug the two little ones before reaching over to ruffle the hair of the eldest. “I hope ye’ve been looking after yer Mam? And yer Da?”
“We have, Nunkie! We even helped decorate the house for Christmas!”
“From what I can see it looks amazing! I canna wait to see-”
Claire looked up to see a short woman, no more than five foot tall, with fair skin and dark curly hair walk down the hallway.
“Jenny.” Jamie’s entire body straightened and yet, without even slowing, the woman walked right up to him and pulled him into a tight embrace. Only then, due to the awkward angle she was standing, did Claire notice the woman's protruding belly.
“Nunkie! Do ye wanna see my room? It's got lots of toys!”
“He's only just walked in the door, Maggie,” Jenny said as she let go of Jamie. “Ye can show him everything in the morning”.
“Actually I could use yer help,” Jamie bent down and opened his duffle to pull out a cotton drawstring bag. “Since ye've all done such a fine job getting the house ready for Christmas, perhaps ye can also put these under the tree for me.”
“And then straight onto bed wi’ ye,” Jenny added. “I willna hear any arguments now ye’ve seen yer uncle.”
“Yes, Mam!” The children agreed as they ran off into another room.
“Woah!” A fair-haired man practically fell through the doorway in which the children had just disappeared. “Whose children are these?”
“Yours Ian. They would be yours.”
“Ach, I thought they looked familiar.” The man put an arm around Jenny’s shoulders and reached out to shake Jamie’s hand with the other. “It's good to see ye, Jamie.”
“You too, Ian,” Jamie then turned to Claire. “Jenny, Ian, this is Claire Beauchamp.”
For the first time since they had arrived Claire moved into the spotlight.
“Claire,” Ian smiled at her while Jenny simply looked her up and down. “Welcome to our home.”
“Thank you. It’s very nice to meet you both. Jamie’s told me a lot about you.”
“Oh, aye?” Jenny said. “Weel, best we get ye into the kitchen and a plate in front of ye so ye can start telling me just what exactly he’s been sharing with ye.”
“And I’ll go make sure the kids have found their way into their beds,” Ian said.
Once settled at the kitchen table, Jenny provided them each with a plate of shepherd's pie and a glass of water besides.
“So where’s Willie and the rest of the family? I thought they’d be here,” Jamie asked as he picked up his fork.
“They were earlier - they were hoping to be here when you arrived but they had to get the young ones home and into bed. Dinna fash, brother. They’ll be back early again tomorrow morning.”
Claire and Jamie sat and ate their meal in easy silence as Jenny busied herself cleaning up the kitchen.
“Four years and no word?” Jenny said suddenly, breaking the silence. She was standing at the kitchen sink with her back to them yet it was obvious she wasn’t starting a conversation just for the fun of it.
“Jenny.” Jamie’s voice was firm, one that brokered no arguments. A warning of sort, Claire guessed.
“The last I heard from ye, ye were being deployed,” Jenny spun around, dish cloth still in hand. “Off to a war that ye werena likely to come back from - no’ in one piece. When I never heard from ye again- Dammit, brother! Ye left me to think ye were dead!”
The tension in the room was growing and Claire didn’t know where to look, suddenly feeling like a voyeur to something private. Something not intended for her to witness.
“Do ye drink whisky?”
“Hmm?” Claire turned to look at Ian who had come to stand next to her. “I've been known to have a glass or two.”
“Tonight I'm thinking we'll be taking more than that, Claire,” Ian nodded his head towards the door and led the way into the living room.
Ian poured them each a dram before inviting her to sit down in one of the armchairs in front of the fire.
“Thank you, Ian,” Claire accepted the glass eagerly. “Cheers.”
Claire relaxed back into the armchair. It was heavenly to finally sit down and relax without multiple layers on and a stomach full of good food only made things even better.
It wasn't long before both Jenny and Jamie joined them. Having apparently aired their thoughts, the topic of conversation now stayed within the realm of what everyone seemed to consider safe. The said peace was soon disturbed by a wail coming from up the stairs.
“That'll be Caitlin,” Jenny put down her glass and pushed herself up out of the chair, one hand on her swollen belly. “Young Jamie is bunking in with Maggie and Kitty so that ye can have yer old room. Do ye ken yer way, a bhràthair, or has it been so long ye need to be shown the guest room?”
“I think I've got it. Thank ye, Janet,” Jamie replied dryly and then turned to Claire with a soft smile. “Follow me, Sassenach.”
As harsh as Jenny might have been since their arrival, the room that had been prepared for them told a completely different story. Looking around the room it was obvious how much she cared for her younger brother. It was warm and cozy thanks to a small fire burning in the old fireplace on the east wall and the bed had already been turned down with extra blankets placed neatly on the end. There was even a jug of water and two glasses set on a tray on top of the dressing table.
“Are ye no’ going to set yer bag down, Sassenach?”
“Oh,” Claire said as she moved to do just that. “I was just surprised that's all.”
“Even as a wee lass, Jenny would test both Willie and I by saying things just to get a rise out of us,” Jamie said as bent down to stoke the fire, apparently reading her mind. “When she was being particularly sweet that was when ye had cause to worry - usually it meant she was up to something, aye?”
“That must have made for an interesting childhood.”
“Oh, aye. But my Mam would always remind us that not everyone showed their love the same way. With our family, that's definitely true.”
“I’m glad,” Claire saw Jamie's quizzical look and continued. “That your sister shows you she loves you, no matter how unorthodox her methods may be.”
“I am too,” Jamie said softly. “I wasna so sure she would, this time around.”
Claire sat down on the bed and unlaced her boots before pulling them off and putting them to the side.
“There ye go, Sassenach,” Jamie placed the stoker back in its place and moved back towards the door. “The bathroom is down the hall to the left. Just send me a text if ye need anything.”
“Wait. Where are you going?”
“Downstairs to sleep on the couch in the den.”
“You can't sleep out there. Even if you don’t want to share a bed with me, at least come into the room. It's warmer.”
“Sleep in your room with you? I couldn't do that. Your reputation would be ruined.”
“My reputation? You-” Claire started to respond but stopped when she saw the smile hiding in the corner of Jamie’s mouth. Instead, she threw caution to the wind and decided to play along. “Well, at least let me give you the blanket off my bed. Or is that too scandalous?”
Jamie accepted the blanket she held out to him with a laugh and laid it out on the floor while Claire went about getting changed into her sleepwear. When she had made the offer for Jamie to share with her she hadn’t really considered how she might get changed without an adjacent ensuite or even a walk-in wardrobe.
Thinking quickly, she opted to dress down to her t-shirt and knickers and put on a pair of red tartan flannelette pants. Typically, she wasn’t one to shy away from showing bare skin - definitely more than happy to expose some when in a private room with a handsome man - but this seemed like the wrong time and place to be anything but chaste.
After getting into bed she looked to make sure Jamie was settled in his own before turning off the bedside lamp.
“Good night, Jamie.”
“Good night, Sassenach.”
Laying there in the semi-darkness, she could only wonder what the next day might bring. She could hardly wait.
Chapter 4: overwhelming
“So, Uncle Jamie. Did ye bring something special for Christmas?"
The door swung open and Claire sat up with a start, eyes squinting as she looked about and reached her hands towards the heavy lump suddenly sprawled across her legs.
Claire turned to find one of the younger of the two girls who had greeted Jamie at the door the night before. She stood bouncing up and down at the foot of Jamie’s bed on the floor, looking at her uncle expectantly.
"Aye," he agreed with a yawn and shifted, joints popping as he propped himself up on an elbow to stretch his stiff neck. "It is."
"Then why are ye still sleepin'?" Someone else asked from the doorway.
"Yeah, why ye sleepin'?" The lump on the bed parroted.
Claire's eyes widened despite the bright light.
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ , she thought to herself, still somewhat disoriented. Oddly, the time she had laid down to recover from a particularly intense 40-hour shift at the hospital only to be disturbed a couple of hours later by firemen evacuating her apartment complex flashed through her mind.
"We're not sleeping anymore, I assure you."
Jamie chuckled as he got up and moved to the chair by the fireplace.
"Claire, let me introduce ye to Jenny and Ian's bairns. Maggie who's seven and Kitty who's five, both ye met last night." The two girls smiled politely and Jamie then gestured to the toddlers, dressed almost identically, still sitting atop of Claire's blanketed legs. "And these two are Michael and Young Janet who must be three by now.”
“Dinna forget Jamie!” Michael piped up and Claire looked at Jamie quizzically, eyebrows raised.
“Young Jamie is our big brother!“ Kitty answered for him and moved to sit atop the arm of his chair. Any closer and she would be sitting on top of him.
"Well, I must say it's a pleasure to meet you all," Claire smiled and, in the hope of restarting blood flow to and from her lower body, slowly shift out from underneath the blanket without upsetting the twins.
“So, Uncle Jamie. Did ye bring something special for Christmas?"
“Kitty!” Young Jamie appeared in the doorway behind Maggie, dark hair mussed and chest heaving. Obviously embarrassed by his sister's lack of subtlety, his cheeks turned an even deeper shade of pink. “Ye canna just go asking things like that! Mam would have yer heid if she heard ye!”
“What?” Kitty asked innocently and moved her face even closer to her uncle’s. “We heard Ma talkin’ to Uncle Willie this mornin’ ‘bout how ye brought a ‘trollop’ wi’ ye but Maggie n' me dinna ken what that is so we came to have a look-see for ourselves.” She took a breath. “Do ye have it here?”
Jamie choked as Kitty looked around the room and Claire put a hand over her mouth, snorting at the look on his now very red face. How he planned on dealing with this, she had no idea. But she was very keen to find out.
“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Young Jamie started apologising profusely. “I told them no’ to bother ye but they dinna listen and the twins-”
“Dinna fash, lad,” Jamie interrupted him and let out a low growl. “I ken exactly how sisters can be.”
“Now,” he turned to face the rest of the children, a kind smile on his face. “Off wi’ the lot of ye. We’ll dress and come downstairs for some breakfast - we’ll have plenty of time to talk then, aye?”
Ah, Claire nodded. Avoidance. As good a plan as any, she supposed.
The children vacated the room and the two adults set about getting themselves ready for the day. Cautious of prompting another visit from the children, Claire spent only a token amount of time pulling her hair into a messy bun. On her way out the door, she slipped a small red and green brooch into her curls in the hope it would detract any unwanted attention from unruly curls that were bound to come loose at some point.
They walked into the kitchen and were greeted by Jamie's brother, Willie, and his wife Rachel.
Claire couldn’t help but stare.
Jamie had once told her they looked alike but the resemblance was astounding beyond words. With the same red locks, fair skin and physical build, it was only the shapes of their faces and less than an inch in height physically separating the two.
Willie stepped forward and embraced his not so little brother with a thump on the back. They held on tightly to one another for a moment before Willie pulled away slightly to look him up and down.
“It’s good to see ye, bràthair ."
Seemingly pleased with what he saw, Willie nodded and turned to Claire. “And this would be...”
“The trollop,” Claire reached out a hand and watched mirthfully as Willie's eyes widened and a blush started to creep upwards and around his neck. “Otherwise known as Claire Beauchamp.”
Someone in the adjoining room tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh and Jenny turned from her position at the stove to stare pointedly at her children. Obviously accustomed to such a look, they quickly looked away and busied themselves with setting the dining room table.
“ Madainn mhath , Claire. Despite what you may have heard,” Willie side-eyed his sister with a chastising frown and turned back to Claire with a soft smile, “we are very pleased to meet ye. Please, let me introduce ye to my lovely wife Rachel."
"Welcome, Claire,” Rachel said, her slightly plump face, smattered with a handful of freckles, radiated nothing less than pure happiness as she, too, shook her hand.
“Thank you, I’m so happy to be here."
"And these are our children. Simon who's six," Willie paused and a boy with untamed Fraser Red hair and a face like his mother's waved unenthusiastically from his place at the breakfast bar. "Arabella-”
“I’m four!” The little girl next to Simon told them enthusiastically, her red curls bouncing and gold ribbon waving in the air.
Willie smiled warmly for a moment and then turned to the grey-eyed baby in Rachel’s arms. “- and this is our youngest, one-year-old Ellinor.”
“Ellinor?” Jamie asked.
“After Mam, aye?” Willie picked Ellinor up and out of his wife’s arms and then turned back towards Claire to explain. “Ellen was her name and she had eyes just like our Ellinor, here.”
Claire stepped forward to take Ellinor’s chubby hand in hers and dipped her head to look more closely.
"Quite," Claire agreed then added, "stunning, too."
“We had already been considering naming one of our children after their grandmother and as soon as this one opened her eyes for the first time - there was no question about it," Rachel explained as she began handing the children dishes of food to add to the table. "I never personally got the chance to meet Ellen but I've seen enough photos to confirm she's just like her grandmother. Time will only tell if she's also inherited the infamous sharp tongue and cleverness too. I've always thought Willie here was almost more than I can handle and yet the stories I've heard about Ellen...” she paused and then whispered jokingly to Claire, “I’m not so sure I could handle that."
"Dinna fash, mo ghraidh ," Willie put his spare arm around Rachel and pulled her in close with a laugh. "She was also the sweetest and most kind loving Mam to be had - it all balanced out. Ellinor willnae give ye any more grief than the rest of us already do, I'm sure."
"Oh, how reassuring," she deadpanned and smacked him on the chest with a wooden spoon. "But enough of that, breakfast is ready. Let's all go sit down while it's hot."
Together they followed Rachel into the dining room and settled around a table long enough to accommodate both adults and children.
Typical breakfast foods such as eggs, bacon, Lorne sausage, baked beans, potato scones, and grilled vegetables adorned the table along with dishes filled with a variety of pies and pastries that Claire didn’t recognize. Carafes filled with various liquids had been placed on a smaller, separate table, evidence of a family long accustomed to mealtimes with clumsy elbowed children and the occasional accident-prone adult.
Casual conversation filled the room as they ate, pausing only when the children, having had their fill, requested permission to leave the table and scattered away noisily.
"So, Claire? Whereabouts are ye from?" Ian asked as he passed a pitcher of orange juice down the table for refills.
"I was born in Oxfordshire," Claire replied as she buttered a second scone, "but raised by an archeologist and have lived in locations all around the world. We very rarely stayed anywhere long and so 'home' was never a particular place, as such, but more…" she looked around the room as she searched for the right word. Her eyes landed on the fireplace. "Wherever we hung our stockings, as it were.”
“That sounds sae exciting,” Rachel said dreamily as she wiped a wet towel over Ellinor's face - much to her daughter's protest. "And what is it exactly that ye do now? Jamie mentioned ye work at the Hospital?"
"For a few years now,” Claire nodded, “and just recently was tenured and promoted to Assistant to the Chief.”
“A rather prestigious position,” Jenny commented.
“Some would think so,” Claire agreed, “but it’s not what I would call my dream job - although the position does allow me the time to also work on my doctorate, so that's something.”
“What are ye studying?” Rachel asked.
“Well, in short, I’m looking at the science behind traditional remedies utilised in the 18th century and how they might be used to advance or, at the very least, complement modern-day medicine. It's all very theoretical, of course, and, at the rate I'm going, not likely to come to a conclusion any time soon.”
“Rachel can relate to that.” Willie poked at his wife playfully and she battered his hand away.
“I have a bachelor's degree in education,” Rachel explained when Claire tilted her head in question, “and I started my master’s when Simon was born. Foolishly, I thought I would have the time to study… but between motherhood and the farm yielding more produce than ever, it just hasn’t happened.”
"What is it exactly you farm here at Lallybroch? I've been meaning to ask.”
"Traditionally, sheep are our primary investment," Willie answered, "but we also grow potatoes and barley in the outfields."
Jamie’s head shot up and his eyes flashed in surprise. "Since when do we farm potatoes?"
"Since the economy turned and would have left us in ruin had we no' sought out other options," Jenny replied. "Which ye would ken if ye deigned to grace us with yer presence more than once every ten or so years.”
"Ye should have told me the farm was in trouble," Jamie argued, "whether I was here or no'."
"There was a problem and we dealt with it," Willie intervened quickly in a not so subtle attempt to keep the peace. “It's nae matter now.”
“Nae matter?” Jenny and Jamie exclaimed simultaneously, though each for very different reasons. Willie sighed.
As they continued, Claire took the opportunity to turn to Ian who was sitting beside her, quietly sipping what must be a lukewarm cup of tea.
“I’m a little confused,” she admitted quietly. “Who exactly runs the farm - Willie or you and Jenny?"
Ian chuckled kindly and placed his cup down on a coaster before leaned back in his chair.
"Like many farms in the Highlands, Lallybroch is family-owned. Willie, being the eldest, is - on paper - in charge of running the estate but in truth we all play a part.
"When each of the Fraser clann were born, Brian and Ellen sectioned off a piece of the land and had it placed legally under their name with the idea that once grown, they could do whatever they wished. Be it start their own crop or sell the land to finance a life somewhere else.
"Then, when Brian passed away, the sizeable farmland that remained was left to all three of them. Willie, having been his father's second hand for some years, took over the role of Laird. After Jenny and I got engaged, she and Willie decided between themselves that she and I would have the manor house. Not only because Jenny was the first to settle down and start a family, but because she’s so often claimed to have a spiritual connection to an taigh-maineir .
"On his section of land just over the hill, Willie went and built himself a house. Yer no' likely to have seen it so late last night but it's a much more modern two-story house, white with a blue roof and sprawling garden all around. He, Rachel and the bairns live there while continuing to use most of the existing outbuildings to house all the tools, machinery and the like since we have little use for them, otherwise."
Suddenly Jamie's glass slammed down on the table, liquid splashing onto its cloth cover, and their private conversation came to an abrupt but well-timed end.
She hadn't been paying attention but it was clear that things at the other end of the table had intensified.
Voices were raised and, between the increased use of Gaelic and Scottish brogue so thick, she struggled to follow what was being said. From the way Jenny was pointing her finger, though, it was apparent that Jamie was receiving an alarmingly stern dressing down.
She looked over at Rachel who placed her napkin on the table beside her plate and stood up, shifting Ellinor around to sit on her hip.
"I’ll take ye on a tour of the property.”
Understanding the offer for what it was and being more than happy to comply, Claire moved to pick up her empty plate only to have Rachel stop her.
“Leave that,," she waved a hand. "The men can take care of the dishes when they're done.”
Willie broke away from his squabbling siblings and raised an eyebrow at his wife. “Oh, aye?”
“Aye,” Rachel confirmed sweetly and, when Willie huffed at her with an unmistakable twinkle in his eye, she patted him on the cheek lovingly. “ Tapadh leat, a dhuine mo ghaoil .”
The two women headed straight for the front door, stopping only to don coats, boots, and various woolen accessories. Claire lingered a little longer than necessary and Rachel chucked.
“Dinna fash, Claire," she smiled understandingly and opened the door. "If she were planning on causing him any permanent harm she would no' have wasted time and energy putting together a spread as we had for breakfast this morning, aye?"
Claire snorted. She couldn't deny it had been a rather impressive serving of food - even for the number of people dining.
"That would be a waste," she agreed and fell into step behind her guide.
Bran, the family’s black and tan staghound, lead them along a well-worn path that took them up, around and through various old outbuildings.
Most, Claire noticed, were decades if not centuries old and very well maintained - one or two had even been fully renovated at some point over the years. A small few, however, had long since been left to the elements and Claire found herself especially grateful. In her opinion, overgrown vines spreading over rocks and bird nests long since vacated for warmer climates only added to the estate's enamoring rustic charm.
Eventually, they came to a stop in front of a large stable yard where a large black stallion was standing tall and proud, his thick winter coat shimmering in the sunlight. Rachel set Ellinor down on her feet to wander and shook out her arms before resting them on the fence.
“So… tell me?"
Claire's forehead furrowed in confusion as she turned to look at her. “Pardon?”
“How long have ye known each other? How did ye meet? What exactly is going on between you two? Tell me everything!” Rachel wiggled her shoulders suggestively, her sizable bosom following suit, and Claire laughed.
"I’m not sure there’s anything to tell."
"Oh, come on Claire," Rachel pleaded. "I'm a mother of three beautiful but exhausting children and live on a farm in the Highlands that gets hardly any visitors. Help me live a little - at this point, I'll take anything . Please."
Unashamedly, Claire quickly assented with barely a token display of resistance.
Excluding Geillis, she hadn’t spoken about Jamie to anyone and now, given the opportunity, she found herself telling Rachel almost everything that had happened since Jamie knocked on her front door that night. She doubted any of it was racy enough to quell the woman's apparent thirst for adventure but pretending to be engaged to Jamie at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding seemed to meet some sort of criteria for drama.
"How did he react?"
"When Jamie kissed me on the dancefloor? I have no idea."
“Ye dinna ken?” Rachel stared at her in confusion. “Wasna the whole purpose to put on a show?"
"I... got a little distracted." Claire's ears burned and when Rachel cackled gleefully she couldn’t help but try and defend herself. “I didn’t plan on any of it, I’ll have you know.”
“Oh, I believe ye, Claire. Truly.”
Ellinor suddenly cried out as thick raindrops started to fall upon all of them, prompting all three of them to start moving again, this time back towards the manor house and at a much faster pace. They made it to the door just in time for the rain stop.
“Och!” Rachel glared at the heavens, her eyes full of mirth. “Every time.”
Ellinor laughed. Not because she understood, Claire thought, but because her mother was so animated.
“Ye think it’s funny do ye?” Rachel turned suddenly and tickled her daughter. “Do ye?!”
With Rachel occupied and Ellinor shrieking in delight, Claire used the opportunity to take off her coat and go inside to search for Jamie. She found him moving about downstairs in the kitchen.
“Hot chocolate, Sassenach?”
She smiled at him thankfully and took a seat at the breakfast bar to rest. A round of laughter sounded from somewhere down the hall and Claire looked to Jamie.
“What going on in there?”
“I have no idea," he replied as he poured them each a drink, adding a peppermint candy cane to each one. He held one out to her. "Let’s go see?"
Waiting only for Jamie to tidy his mess and grab his own mug, they followed the sound of merriment into the living room where they found the children all gathered around the Christmas tree.
“What’s going on here?”
Kitty turned to her Uncle excitedly. “We’re decorating an craobh Nollaig with our new ornaments!”
“Look Nunkie," Michael pointed to a googly-eyed reindeer made out of cork hanging from one of the lower branches. "This one’s mine!”
“We each made one,” Maggie chimed in and, following Michael's lead, pointed to her own on the tree. “We even made some for Caitlin and Ellinor. They’re too little to make their own," she added seriously.
“Aye, I imagine they are.”
The children returned to their previous tasks and Claire sipped her drink as she watched Jamie study the tree seriously. A sense of melancholy seemed to fall upon him as his eyes roamed its many branches, his shoulder blades shifting under his sweater as he tensed.
She stepped closer to him and tilted her head.
“What is it?” she asked quietly.
“Och, nothing,” Jamie shook his head and turned away from both the tree and his thoughts to look at her. “Mesmerised by the lights is all.”
Claire wasn’t convinced. But, luckily for him, she also didn’t have the chance to question him any further as Young Jamie came to stand before them holding out an old battered tin full of fresh gingerbread biscuits.
“Did you make these?”
“Nay, Mrs. Crook came around with a tin full earlier when you and Uncle Jamie were out riding. She even convinced Mam not to wait until là na Nollaig to eat them!”
Claire pulled out a simple-looking snowman adorned with a bright red and white striped scarf and smiled at the dark-haired boy.
“In that case, please make sure to pass along my thanks to Mrs. Crook. They look absolutely delicious.”
Hands now filled with both hot chocolate and sweets, Jamie and Claire settled themselves down on a vintage loveseat by the fire to rest for a while.
“Nunkie?” Jamie looked down in surprise at Kitty who seemed to have teleported herself from in front of the tree to the corner they had settled into.
“Did you used to make ornaments when you were little - like me?” Kitty tilted her head as she looked up at him. Her eyes, big and round, told a tale of bright lights and too much sugar.
“Oh, aye,” Jamie smiled. “Yer Mam, Uncle and I would each make a new one every year and hang them right there in the middle for all to see.”
“Where are they? Can I see them?”
“Ah, I dinna ken." Jamie's smile faded. "That was a long time ago now, aye? They’re probably in the attic somewhere amongst the cobwebs.”
Unable to simply sit there and watch, Claire held out a hand to take his empty mug and place them both down on a table nearby.
“Why don’t Jamie and I go have a look?”
Pleased with Claire’s offer, Kitty nodded and skipped her way back to the tree while the two adults slipped out of the room and up the stairs otherwise unnoticed.
Up in the attic, Claire carefully settled herself down on a cloth-covered chest as Jamie began rummaging through a pile of haphazardly stacked boxes and crates in the back corner.
She watched quietly as he pulled out a box labeled ‘ yuletide ’ and began rummaging through it a little more roughly than Claire thought truly necessary. Eventually, he threw the items back into their box and swiped it away with a growl.
Still, she chose to stay silent.
He shifted so that he was sitting up against a collection of large picture frames and leaned his head back for a time before looking at her.
"For a long time, it was just the five of us - four after Mam died. Then life in the Force…” He shrugged, “I wasna prepared.”
"For what?” Claire asked softly but received no answer. Instead, Jamie took a deep breath and reached to pull out another box, this time labeled in Gaelic she didn't understand.
“I only brought presents for seven nieces and nephews," Jamie stated simply, as though that explained everything. And perhaps it did. "Did ye no' see? There’s nine - plus Jenny has another one on the way."
He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head before making eye contact. "What kind of brother… what kind of man am I, Claire, to be so out of touch with my own family?”
Claire pondered this for a moment as Jamie returned to his search. From the way he had spoken she understood that, despite saying her name, he didn't expect her to have any answers. He was, really, asking himself.
“How long has it been? Since you last had contact with your family, I mean?”
“From the time I started Basic, we kept in touch. Mostly through email. The occasional phone call when there was something important to be shared. They were always few and far between, though, and they only became more so after I made SAS.
"Three years ago we were deployed - again - and, for a time, the mission didna allow for any outside contact beyond command and then… I knew both Willie and Jenny were busy with their families and what could I say?" Jamie shrugged despondently. "There was so little about my own life that I could share with them and nothing that they would understand."
“How did you end up being here now?”
Jamie stood up and moved to sit in the hard-backed chair next to Claire.
“A week after I made contact with Dougal, looking for work, Jenny called. If I had ignored her,” Jamie shook his head slowly, “she would've had me by the bollocks first chance she got.”
Claire chuckled softly at the thought.
Jamie looked down at the small collection of partially wrapped ornaments now in his lap. He traced a thumb around a roughly engraved star-shaped ornament, a soft smile tugging at his lips as long lost memories replayed themselves in his eyes.
“I ken Christmas is no’ about the gifts. I’ve just been trying sae hard to convince myself that things havena changed much in the last three years and being here… it keeps reminding me that nothing is the same. Myself, included.”
“Maybe that’s it, then,” Claire said and when Jamie’s eyes widened imperceptibly she continued. “You just need to get to know each other again.”
“Ye truly think that's possible?”
“A lot can happen in six days and, anyhow, it’s got to be better than hiding in a dusty old attic,” she nudged his leg with hers.
“Aye, that’s true,” Jamie chuckled and looked about the room. Despite the somewhat recent installation of two round skylights it really was a dreary place.
“And Jamie?" Claire reached out and place a hand above his knee. She waited until he looked her in the eye. "For what it’s worth, the man that you are now? I like him. I think they will too.”
Jamie glanced down at her hand and then back up again, his eyes light and guileless, ornaments and family conflict now momentarily forgotten. He reached out to gently cup her cheek in his hand and she leaned into him, now so close she could feel his breath curl around her neck.
Kitty’s voice traveled up the stairs and they each breathed out a laugh as they pulled away, the heaviness surrounding them dissipating along with it.
“Did ye find them? Mam says I’m no’ allowed to come up there and I’m tired of waiting!”
“Aye! We’re coming!” Jamie called back and then said more softly, “Here, Sassenach, you take these downstairs while I’ll fix those boxes. Best we no' keep the bairn waiting.”
Claire reached to take the ornaments, her hands lingering on his a little longer than necessary as she did so, then made her way back to the door.
“And Claire?” He called just as she put one foot on the stairs. She looked over her shoulder at him expectantly. “For what it’s worth, the woman that agreed to come all the way to the Scottish Highlands to spend time with me and my family at Christmas? I like her, too.”
Jenny led the way out through the kitchen door, an assortment of goblets and glasses balanced confidently on a tray between her hands as Claire and Rachel followed, each carrying bottles of freshly brewed spiced cider and water cordial.
The afternoon had been a simple and enjoyable affair followed by another hearty meal around the dining room table, this time featuring pleasant chit chat rather than overly intense familial conflict.
By the time the dishes had been washed and the babies put to bed, the sun had given way to the moon and a bonfire was burning high and strong just outside the manor’s gate.
Ian had settled himself into a solid garden chair and was plucking at the strings of an old guitar while Willie and Jamie pulled together makeshift seats made out of hay bales.
Once everything was organised, Jamie and Claire settled themselves down next to one another on a set of hay bales that had been covered with a tartan quilt, so well used it had been patched back together with what appeared to be homespun pieces of mismatched cloth. Quietly, they watched the children laugh, dance and play in the glowing and flickering light.
“When we were bairns, we would gather around a bonfire just like this.”
Claire pulled her eyes away from the flames to look at Jamie and see them dancing in the reflection of his own instead.
"My Grandda would tell us a stories. My favourite was about a fire faerie that would walk the earth during grian-stad a' gheamhraidh, the winter solstice, banishing darkness and ridding the villages of evil spirits."
The children caught wind of Jamie’s tale and gravitated towards him as little one’s do to Father Christmas whenever he’s in town.
"One year, a young man fell in love with the faerie and asked her to marry him. Drawn in by the simplicity of mortal life and utterly consumed by their love, she agreed to abandon her post and wed the following spring.
"That following winter, darkness spread across Alba and a terrible famine befell all who lived there. The faerie's husband, along with many others, fell prey to illness and each night they could hear the heavy footsteps of Death approaching ever closer. And so, the faerie ran, returning to the flames once more."
Spurred on by appropriately timed oohs and ahhs , Jamie became all the more animated.
"But, instead of accepting her, the flames demanded she recompense for the damage her absence caused. If she were to return, they told her, she would be bound to her post forevermore. The faerie, she had but one choice, for if she stayed she would walk both in darkness and alone. She couldna bear the thought. So, she held out her hands and sacrificed her freedom to the light."
Jamie leaned forward and lowered his voice as though revealing a precious secret not to be shared beyond their entrusted circle.
"They say, even now, if you listen hard enough, you can hear the faerie calling through the flame for her long lost love, in the desperate hope that they might cross paths and be reunited once again."
The children went silent as they tilted their heads towards the fire, listening intently. Jamie winked at Claire above their heads and took the opportunity to drink the last of his cider.
Much to the children's delight, stories passed down between generations soon gave way to much more recent ones featuring Willie, Jenny, and Jamie in their youth.
Just as Jamie was wrapping up a tale of druids, mistletoe and a very dangerous trip through the forest - and Claire was wondering just how much of it was exaggerated for retelling - Rachel walked over to refill their empty goblets with fresh cider.
“ Mòran taing, piuthar-chèile ." Jamie thanked her and Rachel smiled at him knowingly as she placed the thermos down next to him.
“Come along now,” she said to the children and when they started protesting began herding them none too gently back towards the manor.
“But-” Simon started only to stop when he saw his mother’s raised brow.
“ Tha i fuar ,” she insisted, her tone leaving no room for rebuke, and they followed along much more obediently, calling out goodnight wishes as they went.
Claire smiled as she watched and then tilted her head towards Jamie.
“It’s late?” She guessed and he shook his head.
“It’s cold,” he translated and wrapped an arm around her shoulders gently as he lifted his goblet to his lips once more. “And that it is, Sassenach.”
They sat quietly, cuddled together with fingers entwined, simply enjoying each other's company and before long only the two of them remained.
A rather gratifying sense of peace had settled over the surrounding land and Claire couldn't help but think of the fire faerie, wondering - just for a moment - if they might have been granted a visit this evening.
With every pop and crackle of the fire, Claire relaxed further into Jamie and by the time the thermos was empty and the flames had reduced to embers they were lying across their makeshift couch, tangled together in a way that would no doubt be considered improper come daylight.
He looked down at her when she shifted ever so slightly in his arms and, without thinking, she tilted her head up and pressed her lips against his.
The kiss was light at first, not hesitant but gentle and unhurried. Her heart loudened when his thigh shifted higher to rest in the apex of her own - she barely noticed the hand on her neck moving to lose itself in her hair. One of her own slid up the back of his jacket to grab hold and pull down on his shoulder as she kissed him more forcefully.
Like her thoughts, time and space ceased to exist as they lost themselves to one another. She was both breathless and weightless, grounded only by his touch and unwilling to change.
It was overwhelming.
His hand snaked under her jacket and brushed along the bare skin of her lower back, bringing her back to consciousness along with a newfound sense of reality. His fingers smoothed an unknown path along the length of her spine and her entire being shivered forcibly in response.
"Would ye like to go inside?"
Jamie’s voice was husky from disuse and she was unsure if he was graciously offering to call it a night or inviting her to continue someplace warmer.
Adverse to the idea of losing his touch in either case, not even for a moment, she tightened her grip on his jacket and again brushed her lips over his.
"Let's stay," she whispered and then moaned ever so quietly when Jamie shifted his attention to the bare column of her neck. "...just a little while longer."
Chapter 5: genuine
“Aye, but that doesna mean we must cancel all our plans now, Sassenach.”
Soundtrack: I’ll Be Your Santa Tonight by Keith Urban
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Claire stood in the doorway of the barn, a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee in each hand.
Not all that long ago she had woken up slowly to a ray of sunshine brushing across her face and memories of Jamie’s lips on hers the night before, both prompting an all-encompassing feeling of contentment. When she had rolled over and found Jamie's bed on the floor empty, however, that feeling quickly shifted into disappointment and an odd sense of emptiness had risen in her chest.
Now that she had found him, she leaned a coat clad shoulder against the rough architrave and watched patiently as, rep after rep, Jamie pulled himself up on a thick bar hanging low from the ceiling.
Despite the brisk early morning air flowing through the barn, his shirt was saturated with sweat, physical evidence of both time and energy spent. Claire couldn’t help but wonder just how long he had been here.
Jamie dropped down and looked at her as he wiped his brow with a cloth, pleasure rather than surprise behind his eyes.
“Ian said you might be here,” she said simply, in the way of greeting.
“I decided to preempt the Wakeup Wagon.” Jamie smiled and the tension in Claire’s shoulders dissipated. “I’m glad ye found me, actually.”
“Achnagairn Castle is hosting a Christmas Party in their grand ballroom tonight and it would please me verra much if you would do me the honor of accompanying me.”
“Aye,” Jamie nodded. “It’s a fair drive but I think it would be worth it. Achnagairn has a reputation for parties more memorable than that of King Charles, himself .”
“I would love to… but I don’t have anything to wear,” Claire shook her head regretfully while, internally, she screamed at herself. The nicest thing she had packed was a simple but smart blouse to wear on Christmas day.
What had she been thinking ?
“I didna bring anything either, Sassenach. And I doubt verra much the suit I wore to my graduation still fits."
Claire glanced at his broad shoulders and silently agreed that must be true.
“But," he continued, "that’s easy enough to fix. I overheard Jenny and Rachel talking in the kitchen. They’re planning to take the bairns to their school in Broch Mordha later this morn’ - something about rehearsing for their Christmas play - and I’m fair’ certain there’s a dress and tailor shop somewhere around the market square.”
“A market square?” Claire echoed. She hadn’t planned on doing any shopping, but still... “That sounds like fun.”
Broch Mordha, it turned out, was a quaint little village just twenty minutes from Lallybroch and walking down Main Street arm in arm with Jamie was an experience in and of itself.
Christmas trees lined the sidewalk, wreaths adorned almost every window, and garlands were strung across every available line. Large banners hung from light poles and even more decorations were being carried by people bustling to and fro. Most of the buildings beneath all that were aged and the few that were new had been designed to blend in with those surrounding them.
Claire glanced up at Jamie out of the corner of her eye, silently cursing her new hat and mittens set and how they restricted her ability to hold his hand like the young lustful teenager she apparently still was. The feeling only lasted a moment, however, when he reached over with his free arm and ran a hand down her sleeve to get her attention.
As if he didn’t already have it.
“Care fer a drink?”
He guided them over to a stand by the edge of what had to be the market square and Claire stared blankly at the menu. Words like Rudolph, Starry Night and Santa’s Favourite Elf stood out but nothing identified itself as something to be consumed.
She blinked to find both Jamie and the barista looking at her. “Ah...what would you recommend?”
The barista pointed to a corner of the board. “The Gingerbread Spiced Mocha Latte and ButterScotch Coffee are two of our bestsellers.”
“Latte sounds perfect. Thank you.”
Drinks in hand, they took their time making their way through the market square where people were bustling to and fro, many of whom were building temporary stalls and putting up flags or signs advertising their goods, preparing for the market scheduled for tomorrow.
By the time they had finished their drinks, they had gravitated towards the east end where a small church made of stone stood boldly atop a small hill. They pulled to a stop at the edge of the trail that led upward.
“My Mam and Da were married here,” Jamie said, voice softened by the memory. “It was before any of us were born, o’ course, but we have photos. At home.”
“It looks like the door is open,” Claire squeezed his arm gently and he looked down at her with a smile. “Shall we take a look?”
Something bright sparked in his eyes and Jamie nodded. With a set destination, they moved more quickly. Up close, it was easy to see the stones were covered with many seasons worth of moss, shades of brown and green colouring the church’s grey stones and highlighting the most magnificent stained glass window set at the highest point.
They walked up the haphazard stairs and through the archway into the service hall.
As Jamie made his way in further, Claire paused at the notice board to browse the fliers. Featured in the centre was the largest, an advertisement for ‘Broch Mordha’s Christmas Tree Festival’, a fundraiser to renovate the church originally built in the 1700s and scheduled for tomorrow night after the market.
Another, much smaller, piece of paper pinned to the side was a checklist of things needed to bring the church up to code: new roof, washroom plumbing, emergency exit installation and accessible entrance, no doubt the most expensive.
Claire looked around.
The Christmas decorations inside were large and tasteful but the patchwork underneath was obvious, new short term solutions on top of the old, as was the water damage from storms passed. Ever the easiest thing to replace, the furniture was newer though dated and the piece of carpet that ran down the middle had faded from red to pink.
Claire followed it down to join Jamie where he stood talking to a much older man with short flyaway white hair and a peaceful look on his face.
Jamie took a step back and invited her to join them. “Claire, I’d like ye tae meet Reverend Aberfeldy. Reverend, this is Claire Beauchamp.”
“Welcome my dear.”
“This is a lovely church,” Claire smiled in return, “Jamie tells me his parents got married here.”
“Oh aye, I remember the day clearly. Brain and Ellen Fraser…” he shook his head fondly. “I wed them myself and have been blessed with their children’s presence ever since. Not a Christmas has passed without a house full of Fraser’s. Although,” he looked to Jamie, “there are some faces I havenae seen in some time.”
The tips of Jamie’s ear turned pink and he shifted uncomfortably, rolling his shoulders ever so slightly to ease the tension visibly running up his neck.
“I just saw you’re having a fundraiser tomorrow night,” Claire said to fill the silence and Jamie’s eyes crinkled in response. She looked back at the Reverend who tilted his head curiously. “A tree festival?”
“We’re in desperate need of repairs and it’s a big task, aye, but we need to address some of the structural issues and prevent further damage otherwise the council will force us to close our doors forever. It would be a right shame, now. We need something, a deposit, to show the council we’re onto it. A tree festival sounds like a lot of fun, no?”
“I have to admit, I’ve never been to one.”
The Reverend looked around then lowered his voice conspiratorially, “Neither have I, lass. Perhaps if Young James, here, is willing, ye might join us and we can find out together, aye?”
The Reverend chuckled and held out a hand first to Claire and then to Jamie. “It was a pleasure to speak with ye both.”
With the departure of the Reverend, Jamie and Claire continued on their way, returning to the market square with the intention of finding something to wear tonight as planned.
Purchasing a suit jacket for Jamie was easy with the first store they visited, a local thrift shop, hosting numerous to choose from but finding something for Claire took longer than expected and so they continued on their way towards a rather new looking boutique some doors down.
“ Jamie! ”
Both of them turned around at the call of his name to find a stout woman, older than either of them judging by the lines adoring her face, with a hat atop her curly red hair and a stern look on her face.
Claire took a step back and watched, stunned, as the woman walked right up to Jamie and took a hold of him by the arms and proceeded to berate him.
“James Fraser, t’is you then? Ye had me thinkin’ fer a moment my eyes were deceivin’ me. Just what do you think ye’re doing? Coming all the way home, walking about Broch Mordha as though ye havena even thought about comin’ fer a visit.” She stopped ever so briefly. “And who’s this then?”
“Claire Beauchamp,” Jamie introduced them, “Mistress Fitzgibbons.”
“Och,” the woman scoffed, then smiled at Claire. “Everybody calls me Mrs. Fitz. You may also. And tell me, what brings ye into town today, of all days?”
“Jamie’s invited me to a party tonight and I’m in need of a dress.”
Mrs. Fitz looked up at Jamie.
“No’ the one at Achnagairn Castle?” She shook head and looked back at Claire in a way that had her more than a little curious. “No, dear. Ye’re no’ in need of a dress. Ye’re in need of a gown. Come along now, tha i fuar ." She handed her bags over to Jamie and wrapped an arm round Claire before leaning in and explaining, "Best we continue this conversation inside where it’s warm."
Well, that Claire couldn’t deny. She also couldn’t complain about being manhandled across the way and down an alleyway that led to a stately, well-kept house, the front path embossed with plush greenery and a bold sign declaring it Leoch Bed & Breakfast.
Mrs. Fitz pushed the heavy door open and waved Claire through. “Welcome to Castle Leoch. Come through, come through. Jamie kens where to put our things but you come with me. This way, now.”
Claire did as she was told and followed Mrs. Fitz through the entrance and past the reception counter. While the building had been made of stone once upon a time, the walls inside were covered with old-fashioned wallpapers, floral and warm. They walked through a vacant tea room and out the back into a more personal dining room where heat was emanating from an open fireplace.
“Hang up yer coat and take a seat. I’ll put the kettle on and get you a plate.”
“Oh, we’ve just had--”
Mrs. Fitz was gone before she could finish her sentence.
Sensing now was the time to give up, Claire settled herself down in a worn but well-kept armchair by the fire. A set of books sat beside and she thumbed through them until Mrs. Fitz came back with a tray laden with a large tea set and a young woman with long blonde hair and a round, pretty face, carrying a plate of sandwiches following behind.
“Claire, this is my granddaughter, Laoghaire,” Mrs, Fitz said proudly as the two of them set everything down on the table. “She’s here helping prepare goods in the kitchen for the market tomorrow. I couldn’t do it without her, bless her, and the jam she makes is one of our best sellers. It sells out every time.”
Laoghaire blushed at the compliment but didn’t protest.
“It’s nice to meet ye,” she said before dipping her head politely and quietly going back to the kitchen.
Soon enough they each had a cup and saucer in hand and Claire indulged in just enough sandwiches to appease her host as they talked.
“Ye’ve picked a verra fine day to visit the town,” Mrs. Fitz commented. “I canna remember having such beautiful weather this time of year. But enough about the weather, now. What we need to do is get ye a dress. And I think I have just the thing. Come.”
Mrs. Fitz pushed herself up and out of the chair and Claire quickly moved to do the same and follow her all the up to the top floor of the house.
The small room was filled with wardrobes, boxes and sheet-covered furniture, long forgotten, but it was a large trunk in the far corner that had the woman’s attention.
Mrs. Fitz pulled out a heavy piece of cloth and shook it out in front of her before holding it up in the light coming through the small window.
The gown was beautiful.
It was deep red and made of silk with a wasp waist and full skirt that was both reminiscent of the 1700s but the 1940s, too, with a plunging neckline that surprised her… and likely would surprise anyone that saw it on her.
“Now this is a gown.”
“Yes,” Claire nodded. “It is.”
Upon leaving Mrs. Fitz and the hustle and bustle surrounding her B&B they took their time travelling back to Lallybroch, driving via all of the obligatory sites one simply must share with newcomers. For Jamie, these included the high school wh ere he had been known as Seumas Ruadh by almost everyone including the faculty , and the local recreation ground where he would play shinty on Sundays after Church during each and every winter.
By the time they were on the dirt road that took them into Lallybroch they were enveloped in a comfortable silence with memories, from long ago, keeping their thoughts occupied.
As they drove under the archway, Jamie leaned forward over the steering wheel and Claire turned her head curiously.
“Looks like ye might be getting that snow after all, Sassenach. Just a little earlier than ye wished for, aye?”
Claire followed his gaze and, having not noticed anything out of the norm, looked out her own side window but again found only clear blue skies surrounding Lallybroch, just as they had left it. She turned back to Jamie. “What do you mean?”
He pulled back in his seat and Willie and Ian came into view, both carrying what looked lik e window shutters, some of the older children trailing behind.
“Come on,” he shut off the engine and pulled on the hand break before opening his door. “Let’s give them a hand.”
More hands make light work, as they say, and it wasn’t long before the exterior of the manor was prepared for the storm ahead and Claire found herself employed by Jenny inside while the others went to check on the state of the outhouses and stockpiling feed for the animals.
Jenny handed a box of lanterns and candles over to Kitty. “You, Michael and Janet go and set some lights in each of the bedrooms and washrooms. Don’t turn them on, mind. Just set them down and come back when ye’re done.”
Kitty nodded seriously, shoulders set with purpose. “Aye, Mam.”
Jenny smiled to herself as Kitty headed out, twins toddling after her, and tilted her head towards Claire. “They’ll be gone a while… and I’m sure we’ll end up wi’ less candles than what we started with but it’s good tae keep them busy and out of the way.” She wiped her hands on the corner of her apron and turned around to study the kitchen itself. “We’ve only sae much time before Caitlin wakes from her nap.”
“What would you like me to do?”
Jenny pointed to a collection of containers sitting in the corner of the kitchen. “Fill those with water from the tap, while I get this dough in the oven. If there’s one thing other than water that this family canna live without, even fer a time, it’s bread.”
The thought of freshly baked bread topped with butter had Claire salivating and she quickly began her assigned task in an attempt to distract herself. She wasn’t usually one to indulge in too many carbs, certainly not in one day, but she wouldn’t be turning down anything that was offered. She was on holiday, after all.
A fact she wasn’t bound to forget any time soon.
Even the kitchen was decorated, with garlands framing the window above the sink, tea towels embroidered with red and gold thread, and standing ornaments scattered amongst the canisters lining the shelves.
It was like something out of a holiday movie and she commented as such aloud.
Jenny laughed. “We - Willie, Jamie and myself, I mean - we never celebrated Christmas as bairns. We had many a Yule tradition, o’ course. Carving wooden ornaments to hang on the tree, candles in the window and the yule log, weel, that was guaranteed. It’s only recently - since the children were born - that we started doing any of this. They love all of the fair. The multi coloured lights, the candy canes and getting to meet Santa down in Broch Mordha…”
"The excitement," Jenny agreed with a shake of head, “it’s contagious, aye? Every year since Young Jamie was born our celebrations have just gotten bigger and bigger. We canna blame it all on the bairns, mind. These days everyone is more likely to get holidays over Christmas than Hogmanay and so it makes more sense for us to invite everyone to Lallybroch then. That being said, it’s a shame ye and Jamie willna be here long enough to celebrate the new year wi’ us. Now, that’s a real celebration - one that’s been perfected over many a decade.”
“Mam!” Maggie came running into the kitchen, flushed and out of breath. “Mam!” She pointed behind her as she tried to catch her breath. “Jamie’s gone and hurt himself. One of the logs came down off the pile and landed on his foot!”
Claire followed Maggie and Jenny out of the kitchen and down to the mud room where Young Jamie was sitting, cradling his foot and face held tight in the telltale sign of someone trying to hold back expressing their pain.
The sight of his mother coming to his aid, however, had his body relaxing enough that a tear or two made their way down his cheeks before the boy could swipe them away.
“Let’s see then,” Jenny crouched down, one hand on her round stomach, the other on Young Jamie’s shoulder for balance. Young Jamie pulled his sock away and everyone groaned in sympathy. The top of his foot was red and raised. It must have been quite a piece of wood to have caused that much damage through a leather boot. “How’s it feel? Can ye move it?”
Young Jamie wiggled his toes gently which wasn’t unusual, but it didn’t tell the whole story.
Claire stepped forward. “May I?”
Young Jamie nodded but it was Jenny’s approval she was truly seeking and so she waited until she, too, gave her consent by way of standing up and clearing a path for Claire to come forward.
Claire gently palpated his foot and ran her fingers along the bones. She hummed.
“I don’t think anything’s broken but you’re sure to have a mighty bruise. Make sure to wear a good shoe with stiff soles for the next few days at least and it should be feeling better in no time.”
Sensing her job was done, Claire once again stepped back and watched as Jenny and Maggie got Young Jamie settled in one of the living room’s more comfortable arm chairs and acquired a stool for him to rest his foot upon.
Jamie walked in, looking rather tired and out of sorts himself.
“Is everything alright?” Claire asked when he reached her side.
“I was going tae ask the same thing about Young Jamie, here.”
“He’s in a little bit of pain but he’s going to be okay. He just needs a rest.”
“Oh, aye?” Jamie blew out a breath. “That’s good then. I would hate tae think what might happen tae me should one of Jenny’s bairns be hurt while on my watch - even if his father was there also. I ken what she was like when she lookin’ after me when we were young.”
He shuddered then sighed, a telltale sign of someone bearing bad news.
“They’re saying on the wireless, the road to Achnagairn Castle has been closed. We willna be going to the Christmas Party after all, Sassenach,” he looked apologetic as though it was his own fault the elements were against them. “There’s still plenty Ian and I need to get done before dark and I might no’ be back in fer a while but,” he glanced up at the clock on the mantle, “if ye could be dressed and ready by seven, I’ll be sure tae be here waiting.”
He bent over slightly and kissed her on the cheek before making his way back across the room.
“But wait!” Claire called and Jamie paused long enough to look back. “I thought the road was closed?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “But that doesna mean we must cancel all our plans now, Sassenach.”
Claire made her way down the stairs, slowly and carefully as to not trip in her newly acquired heels. While being much higher than she was used to, the colour matched her dress so closely she truly wasn’t able to refuse Jenny’s offer for her to borrow them for the night.
She paused for a moment to catch her balance and raised her eyes to look at Jamie who waited for her below. Dressed in a suit jacket and kilt with his red curls swept back off of his face, he stood tall and proud. More so than Claire had ever seen.
It was the stunned look upon his face, however, that truly had Claire’s attention. The rest of the way down she kept eye contact, waiting for him to say something.
After a moment he blinked and seemed to gain some equilibrium. He held out a hand and she accepted without an ounce of hesitation, excited to see where this would lead.
The manor house was suspiciously vacant of all other occupants as Jamie led the way outside and across to the barn where a soft glow was emanating from its windows. As they moved closer she could also hear music playing. He moved ahead to open the door and she stepped through the doorway to find the interior completely made over.
“How…” She pulled her eyes away and turned to look at Jamie. “When?”
“When ye were wi’ Jenny this afternoon. May I take yer cloak?”
Claire shed her cover and moved further inside as Jamie hung it on a hook by the door. She twirled around. There was so much to see. Horseshoes adorned with festive ribbons and greenery, lanterns surrounded by fairy lights and an endless number of candles sat atop the wine barrels.
A table set for two near the wood heater.
Jamie moved forward and pulled out a chair for her and she moved slowly to take her seat unsure as to whether to continue taking in her surroundings or the man in front of her who had an eyebrow raised in question and a shy smile on his face.
In the end she decided on Jamie and happily watched as he took the seat across from her and poured them each a glass of aromatic mulled wine and then pulled the covers off their plates to reveal a classic home cooked meal featuring roast turkey, vegetables and creamy whisky sauce.
They dined quietly, content with just the music flowing around them and Claire had to admit she wasn’t even sure how the meal tasted, distracted as she was. Eventually though, their plates were clear and their wine finished.
Jamie rose from his chair and held out his hand.
“May I have this dance, Miss Beauchamp?”
Claire moved her napkin to the side and placed her hand in his. “You may, Mr. Fraser.”
It was natural, the way their bodies came together, her hand on his shoulder and his on her waist and they moved about the room with eyes only on each other.
“That first time we danced,” Jamie said quietly, “when I kissed ye… it was all fer show, aye?”
“But now…“ Jamie raised a hand and brushed her hair behind her ear. “I ken it’s only been a few days and we hardly know each other but... I feel like I’ve known you my whole life.”
“I feel the same way.”
“And when I kiss ye,” he brushed his lips against hers softly, “I mean it. I do it because I canna help myself but also because I want to.”
He truly kissed her then, lips pressed hard against hers and she returned in kind, letting herself fall into the sensation, eyes closed and completely unaware of all that was - or perhaps wasn't - around them.
All that was left was Jamie.
The way he made her feel.
And Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, did she feel .
None of it made sense and she really didn't care.
An arm wrapped tighter around her waist and she moved her own hands to get a better grip on his shirt and pull herself closer.
Eventually they shifted and she followed his lead as they slowly made their way towards a nearby settee. Newly settled, side by side, their kissing turned even more heated and, despite the heat emanating from the fireplace, she was overcome with goosebumps when Jamie ran a hand down her side and over her hip.
He paused as he reached her backside for long enough that she lost herself again.
She gasped when his hand slid down under her thigh and he used it to pull her on top of him. She opened her eyes and looked down at him and the smirk on his lips only made her want to kiss him all the more.
She blinked suddenly when the lights went out and all she could see were shadows from the candlelight that remained.
He ran his lips along the soft skin under her jawline and said quietly, voice husky with want, "Told ye there was a storm coming."
"Mmm," she agreed, eyes closed once more. "You did."
She pulled back and, just as she expected, he followed, allowing her to shed him of his jacket and then his tie.
His fingers made their way into her hair and she almost scolded him for it before remembering the lights were out - the only thing that mattered now was ridding themselves of even more clothing.
Just as he was sliding a hand under her dress, she grabbed a handful of his shirt pulled to loosen it from the confines of his kilt and quickly tucked her hand underneath, the muscles that ran along his torso, solid and reactive to her touch.
Far more deft at buttons and zippers, she experimentally slid a finger under the hem of his kilt and pulled, testing the fabric.
Why didn't she know more about kilts? How do you--
Distracted as she was, she was taken by surprise when she ended up with her back against the soft fabric of the settee and Jamie hovering over the top of her. She pulled her hands out from between their bodies and wrapped them around him and groaned out loud when his own ran up her sides but stopped short of cupping her breasts.
She wound her hands down his back and up under the fabric of his shirt -- and he pulled away.
Overcome with cold, she opened her eyes and looked up at him.
He kissed her on the lips in response but continued to hold himself at a distance and she cautiously shifted herself upright.
“I need to go and check that everything is in place before the storm hits.” He kissed her once more then stood up and adjusted his clothing before replacing his jacket. “I ken we’re no’ particularly dressed fer the weather. Would you prefer to stay here? Or in the house by the fire? I willna be long.”
“If you would escort me to the house, I’ll wait for you there.” Claire rose from the settee and kissed him again just for the hell of it, wishing they could return to what they had just a few minutes ago. The look in his eyes made her think he felt the same. “Thank you for such a wonderful dinner.”
“Ye’re most welcome, Sassenach.”
They made their way to the door and Claire wrapped her cover around her shoulders once again and followed Jamie out into the darkness, with one single thought on her mind...
What just happened?
Hmm… that's a rather abrupt end to the night, don't you think? Thoughts?