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The memories woke up her up, sometimes. Like clutches to her throat, suffocating her. The war had ended a little over two years ago, now. With each passing day, the memories became hazier, blurrier but some things remained…She remembered the smell vividly: a mixture of gunpowder and shredded human flesh. And the noise. Deafening. Some days could go on end without a sound. An agonizing silence that always predicted the impending chaos that would follow.

When the time had come to leave for the front, she didn’t hesitate.

She had no home, no anchors. And with the war, those would have been erased, anyway. Swept away with a single bomb, never to be real, again. She had been stationed, first in Bordeaux and then in Normandy, to heal people. She tried to remember all their faces, sometimes. The ones of the fellow nurses working with her, the doctors, the wounded soldiers, the lost ones… Strangers that were no more. But again, she barely could.

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp saw countless men wounded and lost under her care. She saw their bodies torn apart by bombs and heard their pleading cries to their mothers. She had looked death in the eyes and yet, it wasn’t what kept her up at night. She barely thought of the night she almost lost her own life in an ambush and laid alone in a ditch for long hours, shaking and paralyzed by fear, either. The smell of exposed flesh and the sound of agony didn’t haunt her, at least not anymore.

He haunted her.

Lieutenant Fraser.

Jamie.

She recalled everything of the Scot. From his impressive height, his fiery curls to the deep blue of his eyes. And the way he looked at her. Like no one else had ever done – like no one would never do. She remembered the smell of his soap and the taste of his skin. The way his flesh was strewed with goosebumps when she touched it.

Claire could still hear his voice. The deep hum of satisfaction he made whenever he was right. The way her name rolled off his tongue as if it had been created especially for him to say. And the thickness of his Scottish accent whenever he spoke Gaelic. He had taught her words during his stay at the makeshift hospital. Words she didn’t speak out loud again.

Jamie had stayed under her care for a month. His shoulder displaced and injured by a bullet. A month where two strangers had quickly become friends and slowly something else.Something more. Something unspeakable, neither of them dared to say out loud. Claire wasn’t sure their bond hadn’t been created even before they had met.

She had learned that tomorrow might not come to pass and so had he. All they had was today and if they were lucky, they would have the next, too. Maybe the one after that. At least, until his shoulder would heal and Lieutenant Fraser would have to go back to the front, disappearing one morning, under the thick fog, one last look towards nurse Beauchamp.  

 

 

“Lieutenant,” Claire appeared with a smile on her face, clean bandages in her hands, “Time to see that shoulder of yours.”

“I’ve been here for God kens how long, will I have to tell ye every day to call me Jamie, lass?” He looked at her, his mouth curling up into a grin.

“No” She chuckled softly, putting her supplies on the little table by his bed, “I just like to say, Lieutenant.”

“Verra well then Nurse Beauchamp,” Smiling, Jamie sat up slowly, his eyes never leaving hers.

“How are you feeling?” She watched him, washing her hands with alcohol and trying to ignore the burning of it on her chapped skin.

“My arm isna bother anymore and neither is my shoulder wound, if that is what ye are askin’,” He answered, not bringing up the fact that this improvement would mean for him to leave the hospital very soon.

“Well, that’s good,” Her eyes didn’t meet his this time, pretexting to be busy preparing the fresh bandages.

Jamie stayed silent for a while, simply watching her hands. The ones he had felt brushing his skin more time than once when she took care of his injuries.

“Your shoulder is fully recovered, what worried me most was the bullet wound and potential infection but you haven’t had fever, I guess it’s on the road to recovery, as well,” The hubbub and voices had seemed to fade around them. It always seemed to fade whenever she was with Jamie.

“Aye, ‘tis,” Jamie said, smiling sadly.

They both knew the second Claire would speak the words, it meant Jamie would have to go back to the front, in the shortest notice. She had been dragging it more than she should have, for selfish reasons she wasn’t very proud of. But the sheer idea of letting this man go, without no guarantee of ever seeing him again broke her heart.

In the few short weeks he had been here, he had become her friend. Sharing stories about his family and his life in Scotland, trying to describe as best as he could Lallybroch, his childhood home. She heard him pray every night. Pray for his sister, his parents. Pray they would still be there, alive and well whenever he would go back. If he would ever go back. He prayed for strangers and he always prayed for her, but she didn’t know that.

He was a bloody scot. She called him that, sometimes. When he didn’t want to listen to her and tried to use his arm for no reason other than annoy her. In those moments, she wanted to cup his cheeks between her palms and kiss him to leave him breathless.

Kiss him for today and maybe, for tomorrow.

“Thank ye for fixin’ me, Sassenach,” Smiling, Jamie watched her eyes while her fingers slowly opened the button of the pyjama they had provided for him.

They itched to touch his skin in a less clinical way than what she was doing right now. Opening his shirt, sliding it off his shoulder with a medical precision not to hurt his wound. Not to burn her fingers.

“You need a nurse on hand, I’ve never seen someone with so many scars and given the circumstances, it’s quite an accomplishment for one man alone – ”

“Och, I ken and most of them aren’t even because of this bloody war,” He chuckled softly, “My poor mam cursed me more time than once, always falling and injuring myself whenever I would go out to play. Then, I guess growin’ up and becomin’ a soldier didn’t help matters.”

“How did you end up with this one?” Claire pointed at the one on his right side. Her eyes doing their best not to stare at his chest.

“My sister who pushed me down a hill and a rock dug into my skin, I was a wee lad, barely six,” He made a face, “I cried all the tears I had and some more, took me a while to speak to her again,” He looked at her, his mouth curling up into a grin.

Smiling, Claire leaned closer, “And what about this one?”

Her index lightly traced the line on his cheekbone, the tip of her finger like a match igniting heat on the surface of his skin.

“I could tell ye about me fighting in a duel for a lass’ heart but truthfully, I ran into a tree,” He looked at her defeated, with a childlike expression that made her heart burst.

She couldn’t help but laugh, a deep sound coming from the pit of her stomach. A sound she had no idea would be the thing he would remember of her until his last breath. Along with her eyes – the colour of whisky reminiscent  of home. 

“The duel was far more heroic,” Grinning, Claire sat down on the edge of his bed and slowly unwrapped his bandage.

“Aye, I admit ‘tis,” He smiled, leaning back.  

“But it’s a funny story, I hope the tree is alright,” she grinned

“Och, ‘tis!” He chuckled. It was a nice change to hear laughter around these parts and not agonising sounds or men pleading as they were dying.

She smiled again before looking closely at his wound.

For any other soldier, she would have been glad to see it scabbing nicely but the sight of his shoulder simply made her inside shred with the realisation their time together was even more counted than before. And Jamie noticed the way her face completely changed.

“What is it?” He asked, his eyes begging for hers to meet them.

“Your wound is almost healed,” Her voice was low, afraid that if she said it too loudly, someone would hear. She had a glass face, no matter if she tried to hide her emotions from him, she couldn’t.

“Tis…’tis a good thing,” Jamie took her hand.

“Yes, of course.” She cleared her throat and took her hand away, taking a clean roll of bandage, “Let me make you a new bandage and I shall be on my way to tend the others.”

“Aye,” Jamie answered quietly.

Her skilled hands worked quickly but effectively while her mouth remained shut, simply curling up into a sad smile whenever their eyes met with a silent understanding of what would come next.

“There, all good,” Claire buttoned his shirt again and washed her hands. “Have a good day, Lieutenant.”

“Ye too, Claire,” He said softly, watching her walk away before he had the time to say anything.

Since the war had started, time had felt interminable. Hours turned into days, days into weeks and weeks into months. Time had become an abstract concept, that didn’t really exist anymore… Until Jamie had come into her life. Each day faded faster and faster and his impending departure that seemed so far away at first would now be tomorrow. 

Claire sat by a fire, eyes closed and ears opened to the crackling of it. The hospital was almost always composed at this time of the evening and Claire had taken the opportunity to go a bit further away to spend time with her thoughts and sorrows. She had avoided him for the last few days, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

“Sassenach,” His voice was low and tender, echoing into the quiet night and bringing her mind back to reality. 

Tomorrow he would be gone.

Slightly turning her head, she looked up at him, noticing he was dressed in his army pants and a stained white t-shirt. The same one he had on the day he arrived here.

“‘Tis late, what are ye doin’ here alone in the dark?” He asked, voice still low. He made his way towards her.

“I couldn’t sleep,” She answered truthfully, her eyes following him as he sat next to her.

They both knew exactly why but neither one spoke of the reason, then.

“I couldna sleep, either,” He shrugged, “Weel, ‘tis been a while I haven’t been able to sleep properly.”

“I wonder how much longer this nonsense is going to last,” She sighed, warming her hands towards the fire.

It wasn’t particularly cold during the days, as it was somewhere around spring (maybe May, maybe June, no one knew at this point) but the evenings were chilly when everyone was barely fed and the cots’ beds were deprived of blankets thicker than sheets of paper.

“I don’t even know how long it’s been, at this point, two years? Maybe three?” She chuckled, more of frustration and exhaustion than amusement.

“I dinna ken, either, apart that it’s been a long time we’ve been away from home, Sassenach,” He looked at her, his mouth curling up sadly.

Home. What an odd concept it was for Claire. Losing her parents at a young age and travelling the world with her uncle Lambert after that, she had never known what home meant. At least not in the literal sense of the word. With four walls, stairs, a fireplace and books scattered around shelves. Maybe a bouquet of flowers in a vase, resting on a coffee table.

She realised the longest she had ever stayed in a place was now, stationed in France. With strangers that became friends. Strangers she would never see again once the war would end.

“Do you have anyone waiting for you at home? Apart from your family, of course,” The question escaped her quicker than she realised and she cursed herself for asking it. Not only she would not see his man after tomorrow, but she also didn’t want to know if he belonged to anyone else.

“A lass, ye mean?” He looked at her amused and his expression eased her heart even before he could answer, “Nay, I dinna have a lass waitin’ for me at home.”

“Maybe ‘tis better this way, I have enough worryin’ about my family.”

“That’s true,” She smiled softly, moving slightly to sit closer to him.

“And ye? Is there a lad waitin’ for ye?”

“The only lad waiting for me would be my uncle is all,” She smiled warmly at the mention of Lambert Beauchamp, “The archaeologist I told you about once. Hopefully, he is somewhere, safe and sound.”

“I’m sure he is,” Jamie looked at her eyes. She wasn’t sure he was telling her the truth but he told her what she needed to hear and it was enough.

“Thank you, Jamie,” She squeezed his hand and rested her head against his shoulder. It healed but she made sure to be careful.

“I’m sure he’s verra proud of ye, of how brave ye are,” He whispered, resting his head against hers. 

She waited a long time to say something again, her eyes glued to the fire and her hand absently stroking Jamie’s.  

“I’m not brave,” Claire finally said, “I don’t even think any of us is, we just got swept in this and we have no choice but survive.”

“Och, maybe ye’re right, Sassenach,” He closed his eyes for a second, “So much bloodshed, so many lives lost and for what? Thirst of power.”

A shiver ran down Claire’s spine thinking of the atrocities fears could generate and how many lives had already been lost. She didn’t dare to think about the ones who would perish before the end. Maybe hers or even worse, Jamie’s.

“What did want to do before this bloody war started?” She quickly changed the subject to avoid her heart to break again.

“You told me about Lallybroch and helping run the farm but was there something else?” Claire would never know what it did to Jamie to hear the name of his childhood home in her mouth. The way her posh English accent pronounced the “ch” as if she had some warm apple pie in her mouth.

“Aye I always wanted to help my family at the farm but if I could, I would be a painter,” He admitted sounding like a child and Claire’s eyes drifted directly to his hands.

“Are you good at it?” His confession surprised her and yet, not at all. “ I love painting but I’m absolutely dreadful, I’d rather take pictures.”

“I dinna ken if I’m good at it, not as good as my mam anyway,” He smiled fondly, “She’s the one who taught me everything and the real artist in the family.”

“If I get you a paper and a pencil, would you draw something for me?” She grinned, noting the surprise on his face.

“Aye, what do ye want me to do?”

“Anything you’d like,” Getting up, she smiled, ”I will be right back.”

Jamie watched as she disappeared into the night  in search of papers and a pencil.

Claire reappeared a few minutes later, a proud smile on her face and holding up her finds, “Found what I was looking for.”

“Are ye really sure ye want me to draw something for ye?” Jamie raised his eyebrows.

“Wot? Are you scared to mess it up?” Sitting down, she handed him the paper and the pencil, “Go on, surprise me.”

“Verra well, Sassenach,” Jamie took the items she was presenting him and moved to sit in front of her, “But dinna move.”

So Claire didn’t.

Silence fell between them when the scot started his task, first observing her attentively before picking up the pencil. His eyes examined her face for a long moment, his brows briefly frowning in concentration.

The more he watched her, the more Claire realised no one ever looked at her in a similar way. Like she was some sort of piece of italian renaissance, carved in white marble. When he started to brush the pencil against the paper, her breath hissed. All of a sudden, the air around them seemed to have evaporated and the fire reflecting on her skin was like a wave of warmth, burning in her direction.

Her. He was drawing her.

He did not say a word while he drew nor did he look at the piece of paper, once. His sea blue eyes were reading through her like an open book and she was willingly letting them. They were slowly undressing her, inch by inch and she found it intensely erotic. Claire didn’t know what it was about Jamie Fraser but everything he did felt that way.

“Can I do somethin’, Claire?” He asked softly, voice low but deep.

Without a word, she nodded and followed the movement of his fingers as they reached behind her to pull off her hair ribbon and freed her riotous curls.

Jamie smiled, pleased with himself and the sight before him and got back to his task. She quickly ran her fingers through her birdnest to make it look semi-presentable and their eyes locked again.

After a few minutes of eyes gazing and heavy silence, Jamie handed her the piece of paper. It seemed to her that his fingers were shaking but she wasn’t sure, she didn’t look. She was drowning into his eyes and she didn’t want to come up for air.

However, when her eyes did look down to the little piece of paper he was handing her, she was speechless. She could have been holding a mirror, it would have been the exact same. What stared back at her was her exact reflection and yet… the woman on the page was of a beauty that surely couldn’t be hers.

“Jamie…” She looked up at him, still at a loss for words.

“This looks like a photograph,” She finally said, gazing at him. “it looks more like me than any photograph I have ever seen and yet, there’s something about it I can’t grasp.”

“Ye look like that, Sassenach. But even more beautiful because I canna fully give ye justice on paper. Maybe on a canvas, one day, I could try. Though I’m not quite sure it would work, either.”

Cheeks flushed, she looked at him, “I’m not beautiful.”

“Ye are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Claire,” he brushed a curl away from her face and the tenderness in his voice almost had her crying.

“‘Tis no’ much but ye can keep it,” He smiled sweetly.

“Thank you,” She carefully folded the paper and hid it to safety in her front pocket.

Jamie moved next to her again, “Ye said ye’d rather take pictures, did ye use to do it a lot before?”

“Oh yes, all the time,” She smiled in turn, “I always had my camera with me when I travelled with my uncle. It was almost the continuation of my hand.”

“Do ye miss it?” Jamie looked at her, sensing the sadness in her voice.

“I do,” She admitted, laying down on the grass, her eyes staring at the sky. She wished she had her camera now, to froze this moment onto paper forever. His face and the way he looked at her. 

Jamie laid next to her, his eyes too glued to the sky.

“No matter what is goin’ on in the world, the sky will always be full of stars… Isna it fascinatin’, Sorcha?”

“It’s a reassuring sight to know that some things remain,” She smiled, her hand brushing against his.

Jamie took her hand and silence fell into the night. She entwined their fingers, eyes counting the stars.

“‘Tis so quiet,” He whispered, stroking her hand with his thumb.

“I remember as a child, I found silence to be extremely reassuring. Listening to the wind or the rain against the window…Now, the silence only brings anguish to me. At least when there is noise, we know what’s happening. No matter how loud it is.”

“‘Tis what will stay wi’ me the most, I think,” He looked at her, “The noise. Between the bombs and the screams, I dinna ken how I could ever forget that.”

She would never forget, either. But between the bombs and the screams, what would stay with her forever would be the sound of his voice. The only solace in the midst of chaos. She understood very well just then, why it is that men measure time. They wish to fix a moment, in the vain hope that doing so will keep it from departing.

“Are you afraid?” Claire asked softly, she was fearful to look at him even if she knew the sight of his face was far more beautiful than the stars, “To go back?”

“‘Tis never pleasant to ken I might be dyin’ at any moment but I take great comfort in the fact that if I die, at least I would have met ye before I depart this earth,” Jamie turned on his side, their hands still entwined.

Claire turned after a minute, their eyes meeting, “Why are you staring at me?”

“Because ye are beautiful,” He cupped her cheek, Claire melting into his touch, “And I’m afraid to forget a single detail of your face once I’ll be gone.”

At that moment, She realized nothing existed beyond them alone. This fraction of time would be frozen in her memory for as long as she lived and she forgot about the rest, surrendering to him.

“Kiss me,” She almost didn’t recognize her own voice, then. It wasn’t a question, nor a pleading. She needed him and she knew he needed her just as much. God only knew what would become of them come morning.

Something flashed quickly through his eyes. Surprise? Relief? Fear? Claire didn’t know and had no time to linger on it. His face came closer and their lips touched.

It had not been her first kiss but it erased all the ones she had before. She didn’t remember any of them and she never would, again.

Tentatively, at first, their lips overlapped chastely, testing the other,  to slowly grow into something more. Something feral.

Lips parting, their tongues started a slow dance that soon turned into a primal need to possess the other and to feel for the reassurance of being alive.  As their lips grew hungrier, so did their bodies. Now pressed against one another, only a layer of clothing preventing to reveal their secrets.

When Claire reluctantly pulled away for air (lips swollen and warm),  her whisky eyes got lost in his again. Her leg was wrapped around his waist and one of his hands was firmly planted on her arse. They were both breathless.

Cupping his cheek, she sealed their lips again, pressing herself against him and feeling his arousal. God, she wanted him. Like she had never wanted anything else in her life. Her hand tucked at his T-shirt and pulled it out of his trousers but he stopped her.

“Sassenach…” Jamie looked at her, a sudden expression of panic all over his face.

“I havena done this before,” He barely spoke loud enough that she almost didn’t hear him but she did. And the knowledge he had never been with a woman was anything but a turnoff.

“We don’t have to… if you don’t want it,” Her index finger stroked along his jaw, the scruff grazing her delicate skin. When he first arrived and his arm was injured, she helped him shave in the mornings. Though she had to admit she preferred him like this. 

“Christ, ‘tis no’ a question of wanting ye,” He rested his forehead against her, “I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe,” He whispered, something caught in his voice.

“I dinna want to disappoint ye,” His eyes dropped down, his jaw tensing.

Lifting his chin for him to look at her again, Claire stroked his bottom lip with the tip of her fingers, “You will not,” She leaned close to him, her lips barely an inch away from his, her breath tickling them.

Jamie swallowed audibly. If it wasn’t for the fire, Claire wouldn’t have seen his eyes go from blue to black with lust, “What if somebody sees us?” He quickly looked around, the thought occurring to him.

She cupped his cheeks and kissed him, again. Slowly but with enough passion that his knees (and hers) would have given in if they had been standing up. She felt his arms tightening around her waist and Jamie made some deep noise low in his throat.

“Are you done talking?” She asked in a whisper after pulling away from him.

“Oh, aye,” He licked his lips, eyes gazing into hers.

“It’s just you and me, no war, no front, no danger. Just us, right here and now.”

“It is.”

“Then make love to me, Jamie,” She purred, her nose rubbing against his.  

That’s all he needed to hear. His hands reached between them to open her fly and pull down his trousers while she did the same to him. Once her task was done and no layers of clothing prevented them to be together, Jamie rolled them over, looking down at her.

His lips found the delicate skin of her neck and stamped kisses all over it, descending slowly to her collarbones before he started to open her shirt. Each button gone revealed her porcelain skin and her brassiere. It was pink and silky but it didn’t stay on for very long. He pulled it off and buried his face between her breast for a moment, his warm breath creating goosebumps all over her.

His hand went to cup one of her breasts, perfectly made to fit into his palm, and massaged it slowly. It felt cold against her flesh and it sent electricity through her entire body. A body she arched towards him in a desperate plea.

“Jamie,” She rasped, reaching in between them to take hold of his cock, and making him groan by the same occasion, “I need you.”

“And I ye,” he whispered against her skin, kissing up her bosom and neck before planting a kiss on her lips. With one swift move, he was inside of her.

Neither one of them moved, then. Both completely blinded by something other than need. Something far less superficial and more powerful. They were also too afraid to have this end. It felt like a long moment before one dared to do anything at all.

Claire moved her hips forward, pulling him closer and Jamie started to move, his eyes lost in hers. She had been with men before, not many but enough to know what it should feel like. This was different…unlike anything she had ever experienced before.

Jamie was slow and tender at first but his pace hastened quickly, a groan escaping his lips, “Sorcha.”

“Faster,” She commanded, her hands resting on his arse, pressing him deeper inside of her.

They moved together frantically, desperate to feel, to belong…to make this last a lifetime but even a lifetime wouldn’t have been enough. Claire didn’t know where her flesh stopped and his began and she was blinded. By lust. By love. 

She would never forget the look on Jamie’s face as a wave of pleasure took over his body and hers along with it.  Panting, Claire cupped his cheeks between her palms and brought his face closer to hers before sealing their lips for as long as she could.  

After a while, they laid tangled together, in silence. Holding one another in fears the other would disappear if they let go. Their bodies were aching with the remnants of their lovemaking and the night had gotten chillier but they didn’t care. 

Stroking her hair back, he looked into her eyes, “Did ye like it?”

“Yes,” She answered truthfully, leaning up to kiss their lips, “I liked it very much, Jamie.”

“Can I ask ye somethin’? Ye dinna have to answer if ye dinna want to but I’m just curious…” He looked down, holding her close to keep her warm.

“Do you want to know how many men I’ve been with?” Grinning, she lifted his chin to make him look at her. He didn’t need to answer for her to know it was his question. Before he could say anything, Claire answered it, “Two.”

“I was just curious is all,” His ears turned bright pink. 

“Thank ye for doin’ this for me, Sassenach. Now if I die, I ken I wouldna lived in vain,” He smiled, tasting her lips.

“You’re not going to die,” She cupped his cheek, stroking his bottom lip with the base of her thumb. She didn’t know who she tried to reassure most with those words. Him or herself? 

“Och, one day I will,” His lips curled up into a smile.

“Yes but not during this war nor for many more years to come,” She sealed their lips, as a promise for her words.

“You called me Sorcha earlier,” She smiled, “What does it mean?”

“Light,” He said simply, “‘Tis what yer name means  in Gaelic.”

“You’ll teach me to speak it, one day?” She rubbed her nose against his.

“Aye, I will, mo nighean donn,” Smiling, he kissed her.

“And what does that mean?” She chuckled, hiding her face in the crook of his neck.

“My brown-haired lass,” He ran his hand delicately through her curls, their softness tickling his fingers.

“I want to give you something,” Sitting up, Claire grabbed for her shirt before reaching into the front pocket to take out a silver necklace, careful not to let his drawing slip out.

Jamie sat up in turn, watching her curiously, “What are ye doin’?”

“Keep it with you,” She kissed the locket before sliding the chain over his head, “It will keep you safe and you’ll think of me whenever you’ll see it.”

Jamie smile widened, “I dinna need it to ken I will think of ye,” He took her hand, bringing it to his lips, “Always.”

He held her, then, tightly and close to his heart, where she had taken residence way before the day they had met. Everything around them was quiet and the night was fading quickly, too quickly.

“Tha gaol agam ort” Jamie whispered in her curls, kissing the top of her head.

“What did you say now?” She looked up at him, eyes shiny with unshed tears, no matter how much she wanted time to stop, she knew it was slipping through her fingers.

“I’ll tell ye what it means when I’ll see ye again, Sassenach,” Jamie said softly, stroking her bottom lip.

“Is that a lie to make me feel better about you leaving in a few hours?” She couldn’t help the tear escaping her eye

“Nay, ‘tis a promise,” Jamie kept a brave face not to crumble to pieces in front of her but come morning, the tears would flow until they were no more left.

“I want time to stop and to be here with you, like this, forever,” Her lips brushed against his tentatively before wrapping her arms around his neck and laying down with him, both on their sides.

“Aye, me too…” He whispered, pulling her closer, his hand on her hip, “But maybe in a warm room wi’ a big bed. Where I could cherish ye properly from dusk til dawn, Sassenach. The Laird’s room at Lallybroch, wi’ the fire burnin’ like tonight, reflectin’ on yer porcelain.”

“You’ll take me to Lallybroch, one day?” She couldn’t prevent the tear that slipped down her cheek and felt his thumb brush it away quickly. 

“Aye, I will,” He sealed their lips, like a promise for his words. 

Without a word, Claire guided him home one more time, one last time.

They moved in unison, hands exploring their bodies, which felt like a new territory as well as a familiar one. Bodies made to co-exist forever and even beyond that. Jamie took hold of her leg and wrapped it around his waist, pulling her closer.

Whisky eyes staring into ocean blue, Claire started to rock her hips in slow motion, caressing his cheek and smiling sweetly. They moved together, just savouring one another, every touch and every kiss, climax creeping in slowly and yet, too quickly.

They came together, this time. Climax bringing it with a bittersweet realisation. 

“Never let me go,” She whispered against his lips, tears strolling uncontrollably down her cheeks.

“Never,” He promised, his own voice breaking with sadness. Jamie kissed her tears away and held her close against his heart. Cradling her head, he closed his eyes, letting his own tears roam free in silence.

They laid close together for the rest of the night, sometimes talking or briefly drifting off to sleep for longer than they both wanted to. They talked about the war and what would come after it. If such a thing would even come. They talked about a future together but omitted to mention that maybe they would be apart.

They talked about summer in England and autumn in Scotland. About customs and traditions. They talked about long walks by a river and kisses under the stars, just like tonight.

They talked about everything and anything but they didn’t talk about tomorrow.  They simply prayed, in silence, that tomorrow wouldn’t come but it did. Too soon, too quickly and ripped them apart. Brutally.

Tomorrow came to take him away.

Since that day, Claire had felt as if a limb had been taken away from her body and a piece of her heart was missing. She started to count the days to see him walk back to the hospital but stopped one morning when the news of his regiment being killed reached her ears.

She had cried that night. And the one after that. She had cried so much, she was sometimes surprised to see she still had tears left to shed.

After a few months, she met Joe Abernathy. An American correspondent for Life Magazine who lost his legs in a bombing in a village nearby. The two quickly became friends, bonding over photography and other shared interests. Joe told her about his lover, perished in the bombing that took his limbs and Claire told him about Jamie. Her soldier, her love.

When the American told her about what was going on beyond these walls, the nurse had realised then that there was a world outside. A world even more bruised than she had suspected while she was stationed here. The military hospital wasn’t the safest place to be but it was relatively fine compared to the rest. And when Joe asked her to continue what he had started, Claire accepted in a heartbeat.

The simple sight of the military hospital drove her mad, anyway. She couldn’t stand to stay there any longer.  Saving soldiers were not enough for her anymore, she needed to leave, no matter if she would perish. 

With a farewell to Joe, his camera and a few belongings, Claire left France to go back to London. She didn’t count how many miles she had walked, nor how many nights she had slept outside, she didn’t care. She had nothing to lose, anyway.  

She became a reporter, for the likes of Life (upon Joe’s recommendation) and then Vogue. For the next two years, she photographed the everyday life of the war, the atrocities and the bombed towns but also the people who remained. Sometimes she would see a flash of red hair through her lens and feel her body almost convulse before she realised it wasn’t Jamie. It was never Jamie.

She made her way through England and Germany. She saw everything. She documented every bit of life and death. History was not only stamped on rolls of film but also through her eyes. Claire had been the only female combat photographer and correspondent in Europe during the war. 

Following her attachment to the American troops, she took picture upon picture, revealing to the world what had really been going on. After trudging through the liberated concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau, photographing piles of human bones, S.S. officers in prisoner uniforms who attempted escape and failed, and glass-eyed, barely living prisoners standing around in groups, waiting to see what happens next—Claire took off her muddy boots, making sure to wipe their horrific mud on the clean, fluffy bathmat, and posed in Hitler’s bathtub. To this day, her work would be remembered, talked and written about in books and documentaries. 

She had been in Paris the day the war ended. Those were still the most joyous photographs she had ever taken but she had never looked at them once they had been published. After the end of the war, she moved to the English countryside and picked up the pieces to start living normally again. Whatever that meant. She knew she wasn’t the only one in the situation, everyone else had to adapt and move on. The ones that remained. 

Claire never knew what became of Jamie, she had heard tales, of course. But even knowing what happened to his regiment, she liked to think he was in the Highlands, with his family and spent his days painting at Lallybroch. She tried to look for him but so many people had perished, it was still hard to find any trace of the victims. 

When she wasn’t home or on a photography trip, Claire went back to London twice a month to drop some films. The city was still a dreadful sight, even two years later and rebuilds being done. And on days like today, the rain was not helping either. It had been a thin and misty one when she had arrived, doing nothing for her mass of curls that puffed up even more at the slightest humidity but as soon as Claire left the lab, it had started to pour.

Most things were closed at this time of the day but she managed to take refuge in a little gallery. Her hair was a mess and her clothes were soaked, making her shiver, but at least she was inside a warm place and there was art to look at. 

Art by whom? she wondered.

The place was empty and quiet, with no one behind the desk. She decided to walk around anyway, waiting for the rain to calm down and her clothes to dry.

Most of the paintings were huge. Portraits of various people beautifully painted and executed. They were all so realistic, they almost looked like photographs. It was only when she walked further down the gallery that one canvas caught her eyes. It was the last one,  at the back and the closer Claire came to it, the more she felt something shifting in the pit of her stomach.

The woman painted on it was sitting by a fire, dressed in a khaki nurse uniform, wild brown curls framing her porcelain face and big brown eyes the colour of whisky. She reached in her satchel and carefully pulled out Jamie’s drawing. She carried it with her everywhere and sometimes, she still wondered how she managed not to lose it. Her hands shaking, she unfolded it. 

It couldn’t be but it was.

She stared at the painting for a long while, firmly holding the paper in her hand. After a while, she leaned closer to the painting’s description and almost fainted.

“Mo Nighean Donn,” - Oil on Canvas
Alexander Malcolm, 1947.

Her mouth went dry and her mind raced a mile a minute. She didn’t understand and yet, she did at the same time. She heard footsteps approaching, then, and tensed, straightening slowly.

Claire wanted to turn away but she couldn’t – frozen in place. If it wasn’t him, her heart would break again and she had spent her time carefully mending it back together since the morning he had left for the front. He had died and she was tired of his ghost following her around. 

She turned her head slightly, her eyes catching a glimpse of fiery red hair.

Then, she heard it. The voice as warm as a whisky cascading down her throat and burning her inside. The voice she had desperately tried to hold on to and to never forget. The voice she never thought she’d hear again.

“Sassenach.”

                                        

Chapter Text

Lieutenant James Fraser had seen war. PainDeath. He had seen it all. 

He was also sure he’d seen what an angel looked like. With riotous curls the colour of hazelnuts, and skin like porcelain, that seemed carved in white marble by Michelangelo or Raphael. She cursed like a sailor and her eyes were the colour of whisky, reminiscent of home to him. Jamie could still clearly see the day their paths had crossed. 

He couldn’t think. Blinded by the pain. Vision blurred with agony. But he saw her. She was leaning over him, muttering words he half heard because he was too busy staring at her. She had bloodstains all over her shirt. His blood. Her hands on his skin burned with something foreign. Something he’d still be able to describe even years later. 

“Stay awake!” Her voice rang into his ears. Weirdly calm and collected no matter the pressing task of removing the bullet from his shoulder she was attending. 

Jamie thought he was dying. Felt it, even. He surrendered himself to it. Not death but her hands, the healing emanating through them against his skin. He knew he wouldn’t last long but at that moment, he didn’t care. He felt his body being possessed by an enormous sense of peacefulness too pleasant to fight against.

His eyelids were heavy. So heavy. He couldn’t bring himself to close them, no matter that fact. It would break his heart not to see her face. And those eyes. Just from their shade, he could smell the wood of the fireplace in the big living room at Lallybroch. He could feel the warm whisky cascading down his throat and hear his sister’s laugh and his father’s jokes.

Maybe it was the bullet or maybe it was love. Either way, he didn’t care, he just wanted to look at her forever and feel this good. He didn’t feel pain anymore, he couldn’t hear the screams and the only thing he smelled was her perfume. A mixture of vanilla and patchouli soap. Heaven. That was surely it. His time had come and he had seen an angel.

Jamie woke up some time later, disoriented and thirsty. His mouth was dry and he couldn’t feel his arm. At first. It took a few seconds but the pain came back with a vengeance. That surely couldn’t be heaven, or God had a weird sense of humor. His ears rang and he couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes just yet. So heavy. So tired.

Then, he felt it. A warm hand touching his chest. Careful and tentative, as if not to hurt him. He heard it again. A soft voice with a thick British accent asking, “Can you hear me?”

He didn’t answer. He simply smiled, eyes still closed. Maybe he was in heaven after all.

“Come on, soldier,” Were the last thing he heard before a cold wave crashed against his face and he sat up at once, panting.

“Welcome back,” The nurse smiled warmly, empty glass in hand, “I thought we’d lost you there for a second.”

Jamie blinked, looking at her. His face was drenched, so was his bloodstained T-shirt but he was very much alive. “Christ –”

“No, it’s just me,” She smiled, “You lost a lot of blood but the bullet is out and your joint is back where it’s supposed to be,” He barely heard what she was saying, he was too busy observing her delicately drying his skin with a clean cloth.

“Do you remember your name?” She asked, looking at him with a mixture of amusement and affection.

“James,” He said at once, his voice low and still rather faint, “James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, ma’am.”

“If you can remember all of those, you might be alright,” she smiled, “And it’s nurse Beauchamp. Or Claire.”

Claire. Sorcha. His light in the midst of all this darkness.

“Claire,” He repeated after her carefully. He knew that name had been made just to roll off his lips delicately. Like a precious gift.

“You need rest, a lot of it and I will make sure to get you something to eat once you’re awake again,” she smiled warmly. A smile so beautiful he thought his heart would combust on the spot.

“Thank ye,” He answered faintly, laying back down. He was indeed famished, yet, he would have gladly settled only for her lips. Their plumpness and their rosy colour were calling to him like a magnet. And her Cupid’s bow seemed carved by Aphrodite herself.

He watched her walk away, his eyes drifting to her arse tightly held in her uniform trousers. He knew a respectable lad wasn’t supposed to have lingering eyes on a lass but some things about Claire Beauchamp made him want not to be respectable at all.  

He could tell she was feisty and smart. He could tell she was strong and willing to do anything to survive this mess and yet, all he wanted was to shield her. From harm and pain. To protect her. Up until that day, he only prayed for his family to be safe, after all, to him, death was not more than another part of life. But now, after meeting her, he knew he had more to lose in his war than only his life. Jamie was all of a sudden terrified something would happen to her and he’d be powerless to do anything about it.

The Scot didn’t know what it was that connected him to this woman as soon as he’d seen her, he couldn’t explain it but it was there. A bond of two strangers. Created way before they had even met. Fragments of the same soul implanted in two bodies, just waiting to be reunited again. Nurse Beauchamp was a stranger, yet, she wasn’t one at all. It didn’t take him long to find out.

Claire made a point to visit him several times a day to check on his injuries and made sure he wouldn’t get infected. At first, he laid with fever, barely hearing what she was saying. Most times than not she was cursing him or his fever for not going down. Other times, when he was in so much pain he wanted to die, she soothed him back to a peace of mind he had never known existed before. She talked about Scotland and the Highlands. Each time, it worked.

When Jamie started to get better, he realised two things. 

First, he never wanted to fully heal and to go back to the front. Not that the prospect thrilled him all that much anyway before meeting Claire, but now it was unbearable. Then, he had felt something odd deep in his bones. A feeling of giddiness no one should ever feel in the middle of wartime. He was in love. It was as simple as that. Not to him, at first. He had never been in love before. And what he felt for her seemed even deeper than that. He had no words for it. None were necessary. He just knew it was beyond everything he had ever felt for another person.

He would spend his time watching her from afar. She moved with a sturdy gracefulness all the other nurses around were deprived of. It was fascinating. He noticed the looks the other men gave her and it drove him mad. Mad not only because he couldn’t tell them to stop. But also because he had no right of it.

Claire had told him a few things about herself. Born in Oxfordshire. Orphaned by the age of five. Raised by her uncle. Travelled the world.  She never talked about a potential fiancé nor husband. She was not wearing any indication she belonged to someone. Something that soothed his worries slightly whenever he caught the sight of her bare ring finger. If it turned out she had a man. He had hoped he would perish in the war. He never wished ill on anybody. It was not even something against the man. It was a possessive need of his to know she belonged to him. And him only.

He wasn’t sure Claire Beauchamp could belong to anybody, though. She seemed too free. Too independent to give herself up for such low standards. She was her own and whole. With no need for more. Yet, sometimes he caught her looking at him. Something hidden in the whisky of her eyes. Something, no matter how brief it was, gave him hope that one day, she might be his.

Their first, and last, night together had been bliss. Even as an old man, he had not been able to describe the way he had felt, then, with Claire in his arms. Too much and not enough all at once. Being inside of her was like second nature. Hearing his name escape her lips when she completely abandoned herself to him had brought a whole new meaning to his existence. He had known then what he was born for. He was born for her.

She took his virginity that night, his soul and heart along with it.

The morning Jamie left the military hospital, his mind was as foggy as the weather and his heart was out of his chest, living in Claire’s palms. She could take care of it or crush it, it was all the same to him, as long as she’d still have it the day they’d meet again. He didn’t know when this day would be but he knew that eventually, the universe would bring them back together again. 

They had sneaked behind a shack to kiss one last time, both desperate to find a solution to their misery. The last kiss they shared had lingered on his lips for a long time after he had left. 

When Jamie had to pull away for air, a single tear strolled down his cheek, mirroring Claire’s own. He had no words. He didn’t know how to say goodbye. He wanted to promise her he’ll see her again but had no guarantee of it and he couldn’t lie to her.  He was racking his brain to say something. Anything. But she talked first.

“We will find each other, trust in that,” Claire whispered, touching his cheek and he melted against her touch. So soft. So comforting. 

Nodding, Jamie cupped her face into his palms and looked at her for what seemed like an eternity. He needed to remember her face. All of it. Most importantly, he needed to remember the way she looked at him. He just watched at her, then, until their frozen moment in time was shattered by voices calling his name.

“‘Tis my time to go,” He said softly, resting her forehead against hers and his arms tightly wrapped around her waist, “Please dinna cry, a nighean, I canna bear it.”

Claire wiped her cheek with her palm, “Be careful.”

“I promise, I will,” Jamie brought her hand to his lips, stamping her left ring finger with a kiss. He took all the courage he had to walk away from her and to let go of her hand. Jamie knew she was crying and almost didn’t turn around to take a last look at her beautiful face. But he did, he wouldn’t have forgiven himself if he hadn’t. As he walked, he looked over his shoulder, retaining his own tears for a tad longer.

He smiled, then, a warm and genuine smiled, deprived of any sadness. If it had to be the last image she’d have of him, it would be that one.

Claire. Her name like a sharp dragger sliding through his heart.

Jamie had been afraid to forget what she looked like but he quickly realised it would never happen. She was stamped in his mind and in his heart, no matter what he did. Even when his regiment got ambushed and he believed his moment had arrived, the last thing he saw before closing his eyes was her face. He heard her voice calling him but when he woke up, he wasn’t in heaven. He was back at Lallybroch and the realisation broke his heart as much as it warmed it.

When he eventually got better, he spent his days sitting by the front door and stared at the pathway coming up to the estate. Every day, might be rain or sun, he sat there and prayed Claire would suddenly appear, in her nurse uniform, her riotous curl free around her face and the widest smile on her face. That’s the image he had of her. That’s the image he drew over and over again, alone in the privacy of his room at night.

Slowly he started to paint again. Waiting for the hours to pass and his injuries to heal. Hours dragged into days, months and then years. Being at Lallybroch could make him forget the pain, seeing his family alive and well, no matter how hard it was to live through a war. Yet, he was hollow. Not because of what he had seen at the front but because of Claire. She haunted his dreams, his days. He needed to know if she was alright but he had no way of leaving Scotland to go back to Normandy. All he could do was wait for the end. And pray. Pray she would be fine until he found her again.

One day, it was over.

Jamie remembered vividly the rush of giddiness taking over his body when the news that the war ended reached Lallybroch. It almost felt like a rebirth. For far too long, he had shielded himself away from everything, even himself, because he saw no issue out of his misery of not being with Claire and not knowing what happened of her.

Without thinking twice about it, Jamie packed a bag and left home, with not much explanation as to why he needed to do such a thing. His family wasn’t foolish, they had seen the ghost he had become since he came back but they never asked questions. He had seen atrocities, suffered and kept quiet about it, they knew. He would talk in time when he would be ready. They never knew about Claire nor that he left to find her. His Sorcha.

Since being a lad, he had felt as if his life was happening somewhere far away, without him. He had never known if he would find out where exactly until he met Claire.

Jamie spent weeks on the road. Months even. Where each time his eyes got a glimpse of brown curls, his heart stopped for a brief second, long enough to realise it wasn’t her. It was never her. He never suspected it would be so hard to find any trace of her once he got to London. After all, all the military hospitals were listed, along with the nurses and doctors who were stationed. His research became almost obsessional, he found nothing. Nothing subsequent enough for him to have the slightest idea of where Claire Beauchamp could be.

He didn’t find her uncle. Nothing. It seemed as if she had vanished from the world, or never existed at all. Maybe he had been mad all along and she had been some kind of hallucination when the pain was too agonizing to go on. Nothing more than his subconscious playing tricks on him. He eventually found a trace of her. A trace he had hoped to never find. The military hospital she had been stationed and where he had stayed for a month had perished in a bombing six months before the end of the war.

It took him a long while to believe it. To this day, he sometimes still thought it was all a bad joke and Claire had not perished there while doing what God sent her to do. Sometimes, he dreamt that she was travelling the world with her uncle, perfectly fine and not scarred by the war. So many people had perished, it had been impossible to be sure she was one of them but he had no proof she wasn’t either.

Heartbroken, he found himself in a pub in London one night drowning his sorrows in whisky. Or trying to. He was too busy staring at the liquid to drink. In it, he saw Claire’s eyes. He heard her laugh and the way she called him a “masochist” once because he removed his bandage when his wound wasn’t properly healed. 

That night he met Yi Tien Cho. A Chinese exile who lived in London and owned a little gallery. Both men avoided talking about the War. It was too soon. Too much. Instead, Jamie had learnt about the man’s background and how he found himself in London for love in the middle of the 30s. Yi Tien Cho was slowly getting back on his feet and was looking for new artists. Jamie scribbled Claire’s portrait on a napkin and promised the man he would show him his paintings one day.

That’s how he became Alexander Malcolm and emerged himself into his craft. Driven by one thing and one thing only, his muse: Claire Beauchamp. When he wasn’t painting her, he saw her in his dreams. He was haunted and it was the only thing that kept him alive.

Morning would rise and he would with it. Going on with the day as best as he knew how. Carrying her in his heart and soul while at the same time continuing to live because he knew that was what she would want him to do. He sometimes wondered how it was possible that one person could alter his entire life’s perception so drastically. How some brief time with someone could have impacted him so much. He had no answer to that other than what his heart told him. Love.

He had dreamt of her again that night. Like every night. Except that this time, she had been calling to him from afar, her soothing voice like a siren call. She was dressed in a white dress and seemed to be floating towards him, her hand held out to him. He tried to grab it but each time he almost did, he receded further away from her. He woke up suddenly, breath hissing and chest heavy with guilt.

After that, his day had started normally. With no sign it wouldn’t bring anything out of the ordinary. He got up and had a cup of black coffee with too much sugar. He left for the gallery and stopped at the newsstand to get The Telegraph. He walked through the narrow streets, newspaper tucked under one arm and umbrella in his hand. The day was gloomy -- typical London --  and the rain was misty, just the way Jamie liked it. He wasn’t supposed to be at the gallery that day, he was simply replacing Yi Tien Cho who had some meetings. He knew no one would come in to have a stroll around and look at his paintings but he didn’t mind the quietness of it. He spent most of the morning listening to the rain, getting heavier with each passing hour and listened to some Jazz in the back room.

The bell brought him out of his lecture and Jamie reluctantly got up, placing the newspaper on a stool. He wiped some crumbs off his shirt and walked out of the back room, sleeves rolled up. The woman had his back to him and seemed quite taken by his painting of Claire by a fire. Her clothes and hair were drenched by the rain and she was shivering from the cold. He was about to say something when he remembered it. The mixture of vanilla and patchouli.

Her scent. So intoxicating. How often he had tried to remember it exactly but never quite could. He froze. It couldn’t be Claire. Not here. Not now. Not after all this time. Two years had seemed like an eternity and yet, it felt like only yesterday he had kissed her goodbye.

“Sassenach,” The word escaped his lips before he realised it and watched her carefully as she stiffened. She seemed hesitant to turn around, he knew why. His hands were damp. His heart in his throat, beating too fast and ringing his ears.

When she turned and revealed herself, Jamie had to steady himself against the wall and blinked a few times. Surely he was going mad. It wouldn’t be the first time she had come to him. Always smiling, always in her uniform and her curls let down.

Everything about her face was the same – eyes, mouth, nose – except for a wee scar on the top of her cheek. He felt a need to kiss it immediately and ask what had happened but his feet seemed nailed to the ground.

“Jamie,” Her voice brought him back to reality and he realized she had stepped closer. He watched as her hand reached up and touched his cheek. Surrendering into her touch, Jamie closed his eyes for a brief second.

When he opened them again, it occurred to him that she wasn’t a ghost nor a vision. She was there, standing in front of him and looking at him with a mixture of incredulous delight and fright. He had seen her so many times. She had come to him so often. When he dreamed sometimes. When he lay in fever. When he was so afraid and so lonely he knew he must die. When he needed her, he would always see her, smiling, with her hair curling up about her face. But she never spoke. And she never touched him.

His arms came around her and she melted into him, resting her head on his chest. He held tightly, cradling her head, feeling the tears about to spill, “Christ, Sassenach, ye’re shivering.”

Claire looked up at him, her own eyes moist with tears, “I got caught in the rain – “

“Let me get ye a towel,” His mouth curled up into a warm smile, the base of his thumb stroking her cheek. Before she could answer, he had disappeared into the back room. His head was still spinning and his heart might as well have burst. He noticed his hands were shaking as he reached for a towel. It was the first time he had such a visceral reaction to seeing someone again.

On his way back towards her, he tried to find things to say to her but his mind was blank. He couldn’t tell her she had been haunting him for all this time. He didn’t even know why she found herself in the gallery on what seemed like any other Tuesday morning.

Jamie handed her the towel and watched her attentively. She seemed as shocked as he was. He didn’t know if it was a good sign or not. After all, something had happened between them, once. Something he still tried to figure out what, exactly. Something he didn’t think he would ever have again.

“Thank you,” Claire smiled as she dabbed her damp curls with the towel, “I’m just going to look like a poodle now,” She chuckled softly but stopped when their eyes locked.

He found himself getting drunk on her eyes, again. He had missed that feeling of reckless abandon he had every time it happened. He had missed so many things about her. Just standing there, with her, Jamie felt as if he could finally breathe again. Another thing that came back to him was the tingling sensation on his lips. The need to kiss her was overwhelming. It killed him not to be able to do it as he pleased.

“I thought you died, Jamie,” Her voice was low, her tone masking some underlining of something. Something he couldn’t exactly pinpoint but sounded like sadness.

“Almost, aye,” He closed his eyes briefly, brushing off any image of the dreadful day his regiment had been ambushed. He always wondered why he had been the only one to survive that day. The guilt of it suffocated him at night.

“I’m sorry…” Claire touched his arm, unknowingly soothing him, “I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you, I’m just…You were the last person I’d ever expected to see again. When the news of the ambush reached me…they said nobody survived.”

“I thought ye had died too, Claire,” He watched her, “After the ambush I woke up at Lallybroch, I dinna ken how I ended up back there but I was and when I got better and the war ended, I tried to look for ye but the hospital had been bombed and –”

“I know…I had left by then, it’s a long story,” She smiled softly, something flashing briefly in her eyes. He knew she had seen terrible things, they all had. But it seemed there was something else buried in her.

“Ye’re here now and I’m in no’ rush…Ye can tell it to me and I’ll tell ye mine,” He touched her cheek, smiling.

“Yes I feel like you have a lot of things to tell me, Alexander Malcolm,” Her brow rose in amusement as she looked around the gallery. “These are truly beautiful, Jamie, even better than what you drew me.”

“Och, well canvas are different surfaces than papers. ‘Tis easier, at least for me, to work on them,” He noticed she was holding a folded piece of paper. He didn’t need to look to know it was the drawing of her he had made back during the war, “Ye kept it?”

Claire looked down at her hand and nodded, “Yes I…I somehow never lost it so I took it as a sign I should always carry it with me. I guess it might still be more practical than the huge canvas over there,” She tilted her head towards the painting of her and Jamie felt the tip of his ears burn.

“I’m sorry…I can have it down if ye’d rather no’ see that hanging in a gallery –”

“No, it’s alright,” She smiled, “It’s just another thing I wasn’t expecting when I walked in here earlier. But not a bad one,” She started to walk around, hands behind her back as she observed the other artworks while Jamie observed her.

“Who are all those other people?” She asked, looking at him. He knew she had noticed she was the only woman painted and the other ones were men.

“Soldiers I met durin’ the War, some from my regiment, others I worked wi’ briefly, people from the hospital,” He ran his hand on the back of his neck. It was more painful to look at her than anyone had ever warned him it would be.

“Well you really are talented –”

“Would ye have drink wi’ me?” He asked before she could finish, “The rain has calmed down and there is a pub next door…Only if ye dinna have to be somewhere else.”

“No, I don’t. Let’s have a drink but I think I’ll need something a bit stronger than a tea,” She smiled and walked over to him.

“Aye,” He chuckled softly, grabbing his coat, “Me too, sassenach.”

As he followed her outside of the gallery and locked the door, he finally realised it was all real. She was here. She had found him. Just like she had promised she would. Yet, it was a bittersweet feeling.

Claire had never been a calm blue sea, she was a storm, he knew it. About to give his life a new meaning all over again. A rush of panic crept on his neck because Jamie was aware he could never be with her. Not the way he wanted. Not the way she deserved.

Chapter Text

When Claire stepped outside of the gallery, the cold air hitting her face was the only reminder of reality. She still couldn’t quite comprehend how Jamie was alive and well, walking next to her towards the pub. She was shocked. Surprised. Scared. So scared of finally having to face all the loss she tried to bury deep inside of her heart.

It was early afternoon in the middle of the week, the pub wasn’t very crowded. Chatter muffled by the radio, a thick fog of cigarettes hung in the air, mixed with the scent of distilled spirits. Claire followed Jamie at the back, carefully observing the way he moved, still quite removed from the situation she found herself in and took off her jacket.

“Whisky?” He asked her whilst she sat down. He seemed as nervous as she was. Alcohol would surely help.

“Yes, please,” Smiling, she watched him go towards the bar. She used to wonder if what she had felt for him then was love or simply infatuation, fueled by a fear of no tomorrow. Deep down, she had always known what it had been. Claire simply tried to convince herself of the contrary not to hurt.

Seeing him now, alive and well, feeling the heavy crushing weight on her chest finally evaporate, she had no more doubts. Seeing him, though, brought back painful memories she tried to avoid more times than not. And how badly she wanted to kiss him. Things had changed. Years had gone by. He had a life now, a life without her. A life she had no idea about. Just as much as she didn’t know how he felt about her.  

“A wee dram for ye, Sassenach.” Jamie deposited the drinks on the table and sat down next to her. They were in a booth, almost touching. She could feel his warmth emanating out of his body and through his clothes.

“Thank you,” she took the glass and raised it, “Well to…” She looked at him then, eyes locking, and lost all common thoughts.

“To you and me, no war, no front, no danger. Just us, right here and now,” Jamie’s voice was so soft as he quoted what she had said to him that night. So soft and tender. She had to bite the inside of her cheek not to spill the tears rising up to her eyes.

Nodding, Claire smiled and clinked their glasses as an answer. She took a sip of her drink, letting the liquid burn her throat. Her only anchor to reality. A proof she was, in fact, not dreaming as she had so many times.

“Do you own the gallery?” She looked at him, finding a topic to start their conversation.

“Och, no,” he smiled, “‘Tis owned by a friend of mine, Yi Tien Cho. We met one day and he saw me scribbling on a napkin –” Little did Claire know it was her face he had been drawing again, that day.

“Then he told me about his wee gallery and how he was lookin’ for artists to work with. One thing led to another and I got my own exhibition.”

Claire smiled, listening to him, “The first of many.”

She noticed something flashing through his eyes. Something she couldn’t pinpoint exactly. It had been too quick, too brief. 

“Aye.” He took a sip of whisky and swallowed, jaw clenched.

They sat together in a heavy silence. Claire was aware he didn’t know what to do, what to say, as much as she did. No matter what happened between them, they were different people now. Grown and shaped by what they had lived through, what they had seen. She couldn’t assume what was between them was more than one perfect night. She had to put aside what she wanted or what had happened after that. 

The past was the past. 

“I tried to look for ye,” Jamie finally said, breaking the silence. “When I got better, the war ended and I decided to find ye. I kent ye were at the hospital, there were records of everyone stationed there at some point but –”

“You found out it had been bombed in 1944,” she finished his sentence with a quiet voice before taking another sip of whisky and closing her eyes. She often wondered if leaving the hospital had been a spontaneous decision or something spurred by God to avoid a fatal end. Maybe the sign he had sent her had a purpose, after all. Not that she truly believed it at the time.

“Aye.”  

“I left a year before the bombing, about four months after you did and the day after I learnt about your regiment being ambushed and killed,” she explained, heart heavy like a piece of lead.

“Why did ye leave?” Jamie touched her hand and she let his warmth comfort her before she could finally tell him.

Claire stayed silent for a while, taking a long sip of her drink. She felt everything coming back up. Everything she had spent the last two years carefully burying deep inside of her. In a dark place she often avoided. 

“I had a miscarriage,” Her voice was barely audible with the noise and the music in the background but he heard it. She saw it in his eyes. The way they became shiny all of a sudden, with realisation and pain taking residence. She let the words hang in the air for a bit longer while she gathered the courage to keep going.

“I didn’t know I was pregnant until it happened,” she continued, trying to control the shaking in her hands and her voice. “You remember how it was? We barely had food, barely slept, and my body was too weak to carry a life properly. That’s what Mother Hildegarde said anyway. She said that maybe, it was a sign from God, a sign of something, but she didn’t know what. When this happened and I heard that you had died, I realised God had a terrible sense of timing.”

Claire didn’t know if she should have said anything to him, at all. She could have spared him the pain of knowing, yet she couldn’t keep carrying this by herself. Once, she thought she had to because Jamie was dead. Now that she knew he hadn’t, she owed him the truth not only for him but for herself. To know that the night they had shared had meant something.

Jamie stayed silent, letting his own tears stroll down his cheek, holding her hand tightly.

“I kept wondering what sort of signs those things were. I didn’t know, it drove me insane. I had become friends with a wounded war correspondent named Joe.” She felt Jamie tense next to her at the mention of another man, but she continued.

“He had lost both of his legs in a bombing in a nearby village, along with his partner, John. He was a photographer and we bonded over this shared interest. One day, I told him I wanted to leave, that I didn’t see the point of staying and trying to make a difference. I thought I might as well go die somewhere, I just needed an excuse to go. Joe asked me to take his camera and to continue the work he had been doing before he had to stop.”

“I lied to him, then.” She admitted, “I told him I would continue when I knew I most likely wouldn’t. But then I actually did. I took pictures and travelled all around with a troupe of American soldiers, I got injured a few times because I didn’t listen,” her mouth curled up into a soft smile then and Jamie’s did the same as he knew how stubborn and careless she could be.

“What I’m trying to say is that I guess Mother Hildegarde might have been right, after all. Those signs made me leave the hospital and avoid the bombing. That’s why I’m alive today. I don’t understand it, I’m not sure I’m at all grateful to be when so many perished but here I am.”

Jamie didn’t say a word. Instead, he wrapped her in his arms, as if to shield her. From pain. From harm. He held her close for a long moment. Claire let her tears roam free. For too long, she hadn’t allowed herself to feel the pain. For too long, she avoided it because she thought she wasn’t entitled to it. She had seen so many atrocities, her own tragedies had seemed light in comparison.

“Once, I told ye tha’ ye were brave. Ye told me it wasn’t true, that none of us were,” he whispered, stroking her curls back. “Ye were wrong, Claire. Ye are the bravest person I’ve ever met.”

Looking up, Claire’s vision was blurred with tears but his eyes pierced through her like they always did. She almost kissed him, then. Almost.

“I’m sorry I told you about the miscarriage like this,” She said sincerely, wiping her cheeks with her palms, “I thought you deserved to know.”

“Thank ye for telling me,” he stroked her cheek with the base of his thumb. “I always wondered why I survived, I ken now we both had a wee angel lookin’ over us.”

“That’s what I like to think as well,” she looked at him and smiled, “Well, I thought I had two angels looking over me.”

“Ye know…When I first met ye,” He stopped mid-sentence to smile, “I was convinced ye were one.”

“An angel?” She couldn’t help but chuckle softly, “I don’t expect them to curse so much.”

“Aye, ye cursed quite a bit but ‘tis was effective, I healed,” Jamie squeezed her hand, a simple gesture to say thank you.

“What about you, then?” Claire immediately noticed the change in his eyes. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, Jamie…”

“No, I want to,” He smiled softly, “‘Tis just like ye, I dinna ken why I am alive while the other are no’.”

“That’s not something we’ll ever get an answer for, no matter how many times we ask the same question.”

“Ye’re right,” he touched her cheek, “Ye always are anyway.”

“Tell me what happened,” Claire moved closer to him instinctively, still holding his hand. She knew all too well the need to talk about something to someone who could understand.

“We got ambushed at the Belgian borders,” he started, tensing and taking a sip of his whisky for some courage it seemed.

“‘We were no’ supposed to go through Lille but our chief decided to change the itinerary last minute, thinkin’ it would be a safer option. It wasna,” he swallowed, closing his eyes for a brief instant, “Actually ‘tis was even more dangerous but we realised it too late.”

His voice lowered, “I dinna remember what happened really, just that the bomb exploded near me and sent me flyin’ across the field. When I woke up the first time…My body burned so much, I immediately fainted from the pain again.”

“I dinna ken who found me, I dinna ken why the German soldiers didn’t make sure we were all truly dead but when I got back to myself, no’ hallucinating from the fever or the pain, I was at Lallybroch, surrounded by my parents and my sister. They told me I got taken in at a makeshift hospital in Roubaix, they took care of my injuries and my fever before they sent me home wi’ another regiment of soldiers on their way to Scotland. I dinna remember any of it.” His tears flooded again silently.

“Do you realise what kind of miracle it is that you made it back in such a state?” She touched his cheek, letting him melt into her touch. She couldn’t imagine what kind of scars not only his body but also his soul, had gotten out of this.

His eyes got lost into hers as he nodded, “Aye, I ken ‘tis, Sassenach, I thank God every day for it but…” He let his sentence die.

“But?” She looked at him, lightly stroking his cheek.

“I canna help but feel guilty for it. ‘Tis never stops. When I wake up, when I go to bed, or simply when I go about wi’ my day.”

It was Claire’s turn to hug him now. Close against her heart that had started to beat again just for him.

Jamie looked at her after a minute, his blue eyes calling for hers. She felt her lips tingle, again. She didn’t care to count how many times it had happened since they reunited at the gallery. She had to fight another urge to kiss him and receded her head from his.  

“I havena been able to paint for a while,” he said in a low voice, “I sit and try but nothin’ comes out.”

“You have to give it time.” She looked at him, wiping his tear with the base of her thumb, “You can’t rush it and it will come back, I know it will.”

She cleared her throat and asked, “Would you like another dram?” Her eyes quickly drifted over at their empty glasses.

Nodding, Jamie smiled softly and ran his hand on the back of his neck as if he had a sudden  hot flash, “Aye, Sassenach.”

“I will get them.” Quickly, Claire grabbed the glasses and got up, walking towards the bar. She felt his eyes on her the whole time she stood there, waiting for the barman to refill their drinks.

There was something off about Jamie. Something he wasn’t telling her, she could sense it. Or maybe it was all the unloading they had been doing taking a toll on both of them, her perception was overshadowed by it.

Claire made her way back to the booth and sat down holding the refilled glasses, “Here you go.”

“Thank ye,” He smiled softly, taking his drink. He took a long sip, closing his eyes and she simply watched him.  

“Do ye live in London then?” 

“No, in Surrey,” She smiled, “I don’t need to be here every day and I’d rather see the countryside than the sight of this city still wounded by what happened. At least things are finally starting to look normal again, but there’s still something uneasy about it. I only come up here when I need to.”

“I understand that. Some areas are still so…” He didn’t need to finish his sentence for her to know what he meant. Some places still looked like they were in the middle of the war and the sight made her stomach turn.

“And you? You live here then?”

“Aye, in a wee studio near the gallery but I’m goin’ back to Scotland verra soon,” his eyes dropped to the floor.

“How is your family?” She looked at him, making her glass roll between her palms.

“Oh good, thank Christ,” His mouth curled up into a smile but it didn’t reach his eyes. “And yer uncle?”

“Lambert is in Egypt,” she smiled, “Safe and sound, working on his researches. He writes often and even calls sometimes. I don’t know when he will be back in England but he promised to visit soon.”

“How do ye like Surrey?”

“It’s very nice,” she smiled, thinking of her little cottage, “It’s so quiet and relaxing. Everyone is just so friendly, too. It’s nice to finally have a place to call home after so many years of war and before that constant travelling around.”

“I’m glad ye’re happy, Sassenach,” Jamie said sincerely, with a smile. She wasn’t miserable but she wouldn’t call herself happy. That simple word made her heart sting.

“Are you going back to live in Scotland, then?” She noticed his smile fading immediately at her question.

Jamie nodded, staying silent.

“To work on the farm?” Her eyes called for his. Begging them to look at her but he didn’t.

“Aye,” Jamie took a sip of whisky.

“What about your paintings? You said you’re not inspired right now but it happens, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever be again – ”

“I have obligations in Scotland, Claire,” He looked at her, then. She understood everything and felt a lump forming in her throat. She simply waited for the worded confirmation that came soon after. 

“I’m engaged to be marrit.”

Silence. Quickly masked by the noise around them. Claire felt like the air in her lungs had completely evaporated and been replaced with a thick fog, suffocating her very slowly from the inside. Pressing around her rib cage until it would crack open.

She managed to mutter a “Congratulations” and could have sworn Jamie had flinched. It was a quick and brief movement but it had been there. 

“So you are just going to go back and abandon your paintings?” And me, she almost added. She had no right over him. No claim other than one perfect night. Nothing tangible enough to claim him as hers. So she didn’t say anything else.

“‘Tis no’ as simple –”

“I’m not judging your choice, Jamie,” He had his reasons. Love most likely. It killed her to acknowledge that but who was she to say anything about it? She took a sip of whisky and finished her second glass, letting the warmth burn her throat up to her ears.

“Claire…” Jamie finally looked at her but she needed to leave. She needed air.

“Can you tell me what time it is?”

Frowning, he didn’t answer her sudden question but he looked at his watch, “‘Tis half past four,”

“I have a train to catch.” She finished her drink and managed a smile as she got up.

“Wait,” Jamie got up at once. Their eyes locked and Claire felt her heart squeeze again.

“I’m sorry but I have to catch that train. Edouard is waiting for me at home.” She noticed Jamie’s jaw tightening at the mention of a man’s name but he didn’t say anything. Neither did she.

“Let me walk ye to the station, at least,” It was a pleading. She didn’t know that.

Nodding, Claire grabbed her coat and put it on before gathering her satchel. Jamie quietly did the same with his own and let some money on the table for the drinks.

Together, they made their way outside of the pub. Claire came out first and closed her eyes for a brief second as the cold air hit her face again. It helped briefly with the feeling buried in her chest and the rain had stopped, letting everything around them seemed as fresh as new. Sometimes she wished the rain would have that effect on her, too.

“You don’t have to walk me there, Jamie. It’s not very far,” she looked at him, adjusting her collar. At that moment, she realised all they had truly been to one another were strangers. They were young and fools. Afraid of no tomorrow. Desperate to feel and hang onto something.

“I want to,” he said sincerely, his blue eyes piercing her.

They walked together through the narrow and grey streets of London towards the train station. In silence, not one of them daring to say a word. Claire knew she wasn’t entitled to such a reaction but she couldn’t help it. She had imagined many times how things would have gone if they had stayed together or found one another after a war. In reality, it had turned out completely differently.

It was life. There was nothing she could have done about it.

Before Claire realised it, she was standing on one of the platforms at King’s Cross, about to board. Jamie stood next to her, hands in his pockets and an unreadable expression on his face.

“I’m glad you are alive,” Claire said sincerely and turned around to face him. She didn’t know if she’d ever see him again. Or when. But she needed to tell him. She felt her fingers tingling to touch his cheek but instead, opened her satchel to look for her ticket.

“Aye, ye too, Sassenach,” He lifted her chin slowly, “‘Twas good to see ye.”

“Would you mind if I take a picture of you?” She asked, looking into his blue eyes.

“Och, no,” His mouth curled up into a smile, “I think I owe ye that much.”

Claire plunged into her bag once more and took out her trusty Leica camera. The very same one Joe had given to her before she left the hospital. The one she had used to photograph life for the past three years. Her own little portable memory.

“What do ye want me to do?” He asked, running his hand through his hair. He almost seemed nervous, all of a sudden.  

Claire placed the camera in front of her left eye and closed her right one, looking at Jamie through the lens. She didn’t need the picture to remember how he looked. She wouldn’t forget that. She needed the picture to capture one last time how he looked at her. Like no one ever had. Like no one ever will.

“Just look at me.”

And that’s what Jamie did. It was a brief moment. Someone else wouldn’t have caught it but she had. On film and in her mind, forever. She didn’t need the photograph to remember the look. She needed it as proof it actually existed and it wasn’t simply a fragment of her imagination of that peculiar feeling only Jamie could make her feel.

“Well, I should go,” she put her camera away and looked at him.

“Aye,” Jamie said quietly, “I’ll always be here, Claire. I hope ye ken that.”

She nodded and smiled, even if she wasn’t truly convinced about those words, “Goodbye Jamie.”

“Goodbye, Claire.”

Claire stepped in the wagon and made her way to a compartment. She sat by the window and watched him, even if he couldn’t see her. She let her tears finally roam free as the train started. The sight of Jamie receded further and further away. 

In the space of one brief afternoon, her heart had been mended and broken all over again. She was going back to Surrey. To her house. To Edouard. She was the same woman she had been when she arrived in the city this morning. Only one knowledge about Jamie, one tiny detail, changed everything. 

At that moment, she realised not all love stories have happy endings. That doesn’t mean they have not been great.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t unusual for James Fraser to lie awake at night, thinking about the choices he had made in life. The places he had visited. The people he met. Claire.

Moments in time burned into his heart forever, while others faded in the mist. When he was a lad, he saw no path before him other than the one presented to him by his family. He simply took a step and then another. Ever forward, ever onward, rushing towards someplace, he knew not where. And one day, he turned around and looked back and saw that each step he had taken was a choice to go left, to go right, to go forward or even not go at all.  

That was when he realised that every day, every man has a choice between right and wrong. Between love and hate. Sometimes, between life and death. And the sum of those choices would become his life.

But sometimes, he wondered if he had made those choices that made his life himself or if the choices had been decided for him long before he was even born. Was it a question of fate or destiny? He didn’t think it mattered too much now. After all, no matter his choices, Claire wasn’t his to have and never would be.

Now, he not only knew she was alive but that something else had happened. Something he had never expected. Something so far off his imagination, it didn’t feel real. She had carried his child. Briefly. It had ended abruptly. But nevertheless, she had. For that alone, he owed her his soul.

There was a crack forming over his heart as he imagined Claire round and plump with child. Their child. Claire holding a red-haired baby in her arms. Soothing it to sleep. Her sweet voice humming a lullaby. He wondered what they would have named it. He wondered so many things, he started to weep. Alone, in his bed. Wept for what he could have had. What he had lost. What he would never have.

He never wanted to return to Scotland. Not to live there, anyway. Lallybroch didn’t feel like home to him anymore. Everything felt foreign and far removed. As if it had only been a fraction of his imagination all along. Before the knowledge of Claire being alive hit him, he had been happy in London, spending his days at the gallery or painting. But he didn’t mind going back; picking up the work at the farm and marrying Mary.

At least, not until now. Now, everything had shifted. Everything was different again.

Mary McNab had been a childhood playmate. One Jamie had spent many days running around with in the fields near their homes. A friend he thought he was in love with, once, when he was barely fifteen and with no real knowledge of what true love was. Mary had lost her husband during the war and had to raise two young children on her own.

Jamie had stepped in, because of his deep friendship with Mary and the knowledge her children needed a father figure. Maybe that was why he was alive. Why he had survived. But he wasn’t so sure of this anymore.   

His sister and his mother had arranged for them to wed and, at the time, he had no real objections to it. He simply waited for his exhibition to be over and he would return to Lallybroch, marry in the spring, and take his place as Laird. Like his father asked of him.

He never thought his career as a painter would go anywhere. Never believed the love of his life would reappear, out of the blue, on a rainy Tuesday morning.

From the moment he woke that day, Jamie believed his day would follow the same pattern. The same routine all the ones before that did. Yet, it did not. Sometimes, he was thrilled it didn’t. Sometimes, he was terrified it did. She was alive. She was well. Sometimes, he remembered: she wasn’t his.

His mind drifted towards the last thing she said before leaving abruptly: “Edouard is waiting for me at home.”

He didn’t understand how he could hate a man he had never even met. But he did. With all his being. He had no right to feel this way. He knew it. It couldn’t be helped. Even before he kissed Claire for the first time, he had been possessive towards her. Like she had always been his own. Mo chuid fhìn -- he whispered, in the dark of the night, where no one could hear him.

He saw how all the other men at the hospital looked at her. Christ, he even saw how some women looked at her. And she never seemed to notice. To him, the most enchanting thing about Claire Beauchamp was she was blindly unaware of her own beauty. She floated through life as if she was the most random thing in the world, when in fact, she was bewitching. No matter how much he hated that Edouard, he couldn’t blame him. He tried.

Jamie had not painted for weeks. Months, even. Each time he sat in front of a blank canvas and stared at it, it stared back. A few times, he would almost brush colours on it but would stop at the very last second and sigh, then deposit his brush and his palette back on the table.

Now, awake and his mind taken over by Claire, something switched. He didn’t recall how many times he had drawn her. Painted her. He couldn’t count the times he had seen her. But she never spoke. And she never touched him. She spoke now and touched him. Awoke him.

Jame stood and walked down the stairs of the mezzanine towards his main living space. Most of it was taken up with canvases and pigment pots, brushes and other accessories. He had a small kitchen on the side and turned on the lamp before making himself a cup of tea.

There was something comforting about being awake and finishing small tasks while everyone else was asleep. His house was quiet, save for the noises he made while preparing his cuppa and Jamie let himself bask in the silence and solitude surrounding him.

He sat on a stool, blank canvas standing in front of him, and sipped his beverage, letting the warm liquid run down his throat and burn his insides. Just like Claire would. He sat for a long time. A very long time. His eyelids were heavy with sleep, laying the foundations for a headache. But he was determined to paint again that night.

So Jamie did.

He started with the outline of a face. Delicate features, straight and fine nose, luscious lips, cupid's bow…Jamie finished his cup of tea and stood to grab the various colours he would use. He needed to mix some to get the shades just right.

The shadows of her face. The peculiar shade of her eyes. Like whisky. Good whisky. Gold mixed with hazel, that turned like well aged-sherry when lust took over her.  Her curls. His brown-haired lass. Once, she told him she found the colour brown to be rather dull. But it wasn’t at all. It was like...water in a burn, the way it ruffled down the rocks. Dark in the wavy spots with little bits of auburn when the sun touched it.

He could hear her laugh even as he tried to concentrate on his task. Her voice. The way his name rolled off her lips so naturally. So easily, yet so erotically. Whenever his body caved in and surrendered to memories of her, unwillingly sometimes, he could always hear her moan his name. She would whisper it near his ear and goosebumps would erupt on his body. When that happened, Jamie asked God to forgive him for giving in into the temptation.  

Jamie painted until the night faded and morning arrived unbidden, sunlight coming through the curtains. He finally laid his brush on the table and rose, taking a step back to admire his work. Claire. 

Un chef-d’œuvre.

******

Claire used to think her nights were haunted. By the war. By what she had seen. But they were not. They were haunted by something far more powerful than grief or fears. Her love for Jamie. She dreamt of what life would have been if they had met under other circumstances. If the war never happened. If he hadn’t died.

She believed briefly that knowing Jamie was alive would bring back peace into her nights. She was mistaken.

Since meeting him in London two weeks ago, her nights were even more haunted than before. There were no “ifs” anymore. But there was another reason preventing her from being with him. One reason far worse than death, yet just as much final: He belonged to someone else.

Now, she didn’t lie awake at night wondering what had become of him. She laid awake wondering how he met that woman. What they talked about. What he felt like when he kissed her. How he proposed.

Sometimes, she even went to bed praying she would think of the war instead, knowing it’d be less painful. Nothing worked. James Fraser haunted her and would keep on doing so for the rest of her life.

Claire couldn’t fall back to sleep so she lay in bed, letting the chill of the morning sneak slowly under the duvet. She shivered, pulling the cover over her head.

She didn’t know what time it was. She couldn’t see the clock and it was still dark outside. Everything around her was silent, except for the wind whistling near the window. It was pointless to force herself to sleep now but she didn’t want to get out of bed just yet. It was too early. Too cold. She closed her eyes again, more for comfort than anything else. As if in doing so, she would be enveloped in a cocoon of peace. It worked, briefly.

“Maman?” A whisper wafted over the air from the foot of the bed. The soft little voice always managed to make her smile.

“Yes?” She whispered, not removing the cover over her head.

“May I get in bed with you, please? I can’t sleep,” Claire could hear the smile in the voice and she didn’t need to see his face to know the little look of mischief floating into his green eyes.

Slowly, she pulled the cover down, looking at him with one eye. The light from the hall was coming through the bedroom and she could see his sleepy face, “If I say no, would you be very mad at me?”

His laugh echoed in the room but then he quickly pouted dramatically, like all children do to make their parents feel terrible about themselves,  “I said please.”

Claire lifted the cover, letting the crisp air crash against her legs but she didn’t mind. Patting the mattress, she smiled, “Allez, viens.”

“Did you have a bad dream?” She asked, pulling the cover over them once Edouard had settled in bed next to her. It got better but he had nightmares often.

He snuggled against her, shaking his head of curls, “Non.”

“Well,” she kissed his head, holding him close, “Let’s get some more sleep, all right? It’s still dark outside. It’s not a reasonable hour to wake up, let alone get up.”

He muffled his giggle in the crook of her neck, “Yes, Maman.”

Edouard Beauchamp.

Claire would never forget the day she met him. Or to be exact, found him, hiding behind a pile of bricks that used to be a house. He was barely five. Scared and crying. Shaking from the cold. The war had been over for two days by then.

He wasn’t physically hurt, just a bit dirty from being in the street for God knew how long. He was hungry, she could tell. And thirsty. He was so paralyzed with fear that when Claire wrapped him in her jacket and lifted him, he didn’t move. He was like a deer caught in headlights, waiting for what would happen next. But he stayed silent, and somehow, her embrace soothed him.

Claire had returned to the little room she had started renting in Paris and nursed him back to health. She wondered how she would ever find his parents--if they could ever be found. At first, he barely spoke English and the crumbs of French she had made communication tricky. He had nightmares. Panic fits. All the things she had but couldn’t imagine a child dealing with. They spent long times awake, just talking – or, trying to communicate with one another. He would learn her French words and she would do the same for him in English.

At first, she called him Edward, like the posh English woman she was. But each time, he would shake his head, laugh and say, “Non! Ed-ou-ard!”

When she told him her name was Beauchamp, he shook his head again and corrected her, “Beau-Cham.”

Slowly, they forged a  bond between them that became unbreakable. Claire was determined to find his parents, or any member of his family, no matter how much her heart would break the day they would have to part. One morning, when life had started to settle back to relative normality, she finally found them, Jeanne and Antoine. They had been deported to Auschwitz a few months before the end of the war and perished there, like so many other innocents.

The little boy kept a picture of them, safely tucked into his pocket and had escaped the Germans by hiding in an attic with the help of his neighbour, Madame Liliane, as he affectionately called her.

Claire went to visit her, to talk about Edouard and the possible family members he would have left but it turned out, Madame Liliane too was gone.

She was now all Edouard had in the world. They had found one another in the midst of all the tragedy and they had both known they needed each other. She adopted him then decided the English countryside would be the perfect setting to raise him and for them to heal together after the tragedies that had befallen them.

Edouard eventually became Eddy and he liked to laugh every time Claire used words like reasonable or incomparable. He told her the British accent had that effect on him and he couldn’t help it. He was almost seven and spent his time either playing outside or reading, curled up on her lap.

Sometimes, he would sneak into the little office and spend hours looking at the various cameras or photography books Claire left scattered all over her desk. Her adopted son was shy, though he secretly loved her taking candid pictures of him. And his favourite activity was waking her up by jumping on her bed. Preferably early. Really early. On Sundays.

In a way, Edouard reminded Claire of herself as a child with his large eyes and crazy curls. He was curious and always asking questions. He, too, had lost his parents. He was fascinated by the stars and didn’t like to eat vegetables, a cause for quarrels around the dinner table. Not that Claire could blame him, she was a terrible cook.

Except for breakfast. She had perfected that.

“Do you want another pancake?” she asked later, as she leaned against the counter, spatula in hand. She looked at the little boy who was busy swallowing his last piece and shaking his head.

“I am full,” he sighed happily, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his tummy, giggling.

“All right then,” Claire smirked and began cleaning the kitchen.

“Maman?” Eddy stood and walked over to her, still in his pyjamas.

“Yes?” She looked down at him, smoothing his curls back. He hugged her side.

“Can we go to London today? You said we’ll go buy books,” he asked softly in his thick French accent.

London. Claire’s heart lurched at the simple mention of the city but she brushed it off. London was huge and their favourite bookstore was nowhere near the gallery. Surely she wouldn’t bump into Jamie today.

“Yes, we can go do that,” she said and leaned down to kiss the top of his head. “Go get dressed and we’ll catch a train, all right?”

“Oui!” Smiling widely, he ran out of the kitchen and to his room.

There were times before when Claire would wonder what kind of mother she would be. She never thought she’d be one, especially after her miscarriage.

But with Edouard, it was easy.  The minute she had known he was an orphan, she knew in her heart she was going to care for him as her own. In a way, he was why she had coped so well after the War. Why she didn’t let the pain crush her. She wasn’t alone, anymore. She had a reason to get up in the morning -- and it was him.

Chapter Text

Strolling around post-war London had always made Claire happy. Even now, when bombed-out buildings still stood, skeletal figures harking back to the bloody War. But all in all, some prosperity had returned to the city. Clearing debris and rebuilding had begun as soon as the atrocities ended, lifting the spirits of locals and visitors alike. The city was like her heart. Bruised but not completely broken. There was hope. 

“I like big buses!” Eddy said nonchalantly as they were walked, admiring his surroundings. “I like being in the first seat upstairs. C’est drôle,” He let out a giggle. “But I do prefer the train.”

“You like everything, Eddy.” She smirked, looking at him. “Which is a lovely thing, it’s an endearing quality.”

He giggled even more, “You always use complicated words, Maman.”

Edouard had started to call her that about six months ago. It came up naturally, as they were taking a walk through the village to have breakfast at the bakery. Claire had been surprised. Delighted. And since then, she was Maman.

“It means you’re attachant, my darling.”  

“Your French is getting better.” He looked up, lips pursed and eyebrow furrowed. “Have you been practising with someone else?” he asked suspiciously.

“Non, I only learn from the best,” she answered, ruffling his curls.

“Le meilleur!” he giggled, and took her hand, leading the way to their destination.

Eddy ran off to the back upon entering the bookstore. Claire followed slowly, pausing to look at the selection on the table. She liked their little escapades to London, but now, she couldn’t help but feel nervous she’d run into Jamie again.

It had been two weeks. Two weeks of constantly thinking about him, wondering what he was doing. Has he moved back to Scotland? Would he be getting married anytime soon?

She pushed thoughts of Jamie resolutely behind her. She would do her best, she promised herself. With that resolution set firmly in her mind, Claire searching for Eddy. Finding him already seated at his favourite table, book in hand, she took out her camera to snap a picture.

“Sassenach…”

That name. That voice. The way her skin prickled. It only meant one thing.

She turned slowly, heart hammering in her chest to see Jamie making his way to her. Still dashing. Able to make her weak at the knees with a simple look. 

“Hi,” he murmured, as he drew neat. “I saw you through the window. I dinna ken ye came to this bookshop.”

“Well, it’s our favourite,” she admitted, looking behind her for Eddy. She didn’t notice the way Jamie’s expression hardened or that he dropped the hand he was beginning to extend toward her.

“Maman!” Edouard ran over to her, holding out a book, “I found this one.”

“Then we’ll get this for you,” she smiled and took it from him.

Eddy looked up in surprise at Jamie and smiled. “Hello,” he said.

“Och, hi,” Jamie smiled back, face softening.

“Are you Maman’s friend? You’re standing awfully close to her.” he pointed out. “But that’s okay. A lot of people do that anyway. What’s your name?”

Claire burst out laughing partly out of nervousness and at Jamie’s obvious confusion. “Jamie, this is Edouard,” she managed to get out.

Eddy took Jamie’s hand and shook it. Claire’s heart burst at the sight of the two of them together.

“Edouard,” Jamie repeated with a warm smile, “What a braw lad.”

“Can I get a second book, Maman?” Eddy asked.

“Of course, go and choose,” she said, kissing his head.

Eddy looked at Jamie quickly and ran off again.

“Well, that was Edouard,” Claire said, clearing her throat.

“Ye have a son then…”

“Adopted son, yes,” she answered and smiled. “It’s a long story. I might tell it to you one day.”

“He seems like a sweet lad,” he said, looking in the direction Edouard had run off to.

“He is indeed,” she agreed, then fell silent. She had run out of easy topics to talk about.

“How have ye been, Sassenach? I never saw ye again near the gallery.”

“I’m quite well, thank you. I haven’t been to London since then,” she answered formally. “And you?”

“Aye, so am I. ‘Tis good to see ye again and meet Edouard.”

“I didn’t know when you’d be returning to Scotland.” She didn’t want to know. Why was she even asking?

“No’ for another awhile…time to settle everythin’ here and such.”

He thrust a hand in his trouser pocket, avoiding her eyes. “Uhm, would ye and the lad want to eat somethin’? ‘Tis almost lunch time.”

“Fish and chips?” Eddy asked, reappearing between them. He looked up at Jamie with a smirk.

“Aye, if that’s what ye fancy, lad,” Jamie smiled sweetly. 

Eddy looked at Claire with a mischievous smile. “Can we, Maman? J’ai faim.”

“Well if you’re hungry, I guess we could go,” she agreed with a smile. “Let me pay the books first.”

“Go, Sassenach, I’ll look after the lad and make sure he doesna run off while ye pay.”

Shaking her head with a smile, Claire walked to the counter, unaware that Jamie’s eyes remained on her.

“You have a funny accent,” Eddy remarked, crossing his arms. “Where are you from?”

Jamie smirked at him. “Scotland. Ye have a funny accent as well. France?”

“Oui. Can you speak French?”

“Aye, un petit peu.” Jamie said as his eyes returned to Claire at the counter.

Eddy giggled and seeing where Jamie’s eyes were directed, ran over to Claire.

Kneeling down, she handed him the books, “Can you carry that, darling?”

“Oui!” Eddy smiled, kissing her cheek. “Now, can we go eat with the tall Scot?”

Claire burst into laughter and looked over at Jamie. “Yes, let’s go eat with the tall Scot.”

She stood and taking Eddy’s hand, walked back to Jamie. “We’re ready to go.”

“What’s so funny?” Jamie’s eyebrow quirked as he smiled.

“You are a very tall Scot,” Eddy said nonchalantly, holding Claire’s hand. “Très grand.”

“I canna fault yer observations, lad.” Chuckling softly, he led the way out of the store. “If ye eat your vegetables, ye’ll be as tall as me.”

“Will I or are you just saying so because Maman told you I don’t like to eat them?” Edouard said, narrowing his eyes at Jamie.

“Nay, she never told me anythin’ but ‘tis the truth, if ye want to be strong and verra tall, ye need to eat them.”

“Exactly.” Claire agreed.

“Monsieur Jamie, may I go on your shoulders?” Eddy asked as he let go of Claire’s hand and looked at Jamie with green eyes full of hope.

“Aye, come on because once ye grow too tall, I couldna do it anymore,” Jamie said as he picked Eddy up and settled him on his shoulder.

“Maman! Look!” The little boy giggled, “I can see everything from here!”

Jamie looked at Claire with a grin and a silent thank-me-later-for-his-new-found-love-for-vegetables look. They started walking again but she stopped to take a picture of the duo.

She watched them, tears burning the back of her eyes and understood that, no matter what, she and Jamie had something special.

******

Orphaned at five, Claire had never quite grasped the concept of home. It could have been due to her solitary nature–which preferred solitude to the company of others. Or, the dramatic shift her life had taken after her parents’ death. Regardless of the reason, she had never felt alone.

Lamb was a gipsy. She had no home to return to after school. There wasn’t any school either, other than Lamb’s lessons in the middle of Peruvian ruins or the Sahara desert. It wasn’t until she grew older …that she realised her upbringing – with its tragic origins – had been a blessing, peculiar as it was.

Now, she had a home. A tangible place with walls and a fireplace; with bookshelves and vases on tables. She had a study. A kitchen. A living room. She had the stability she had always craved. And she had Edouard. Edouard who trusted and loved her unconditionally. But something was missing. And right now, she had an inkling of what that might be.

Sitting at the table, watching Eddy and Jamie sharing laughter and chips, Claire realised what was missing was the essence of home itself. And home was not a place. It was a person. It was Jamie.

Her heart soared at the realisation–then shattered when she remembered he wasn’t hers to have. And never would be. He was promised to another woman. In Scotland. Soon he’d go away to get married, leaving her behind. Forever.

“Maman?” Edouard’s voice took her out of her thoughts.

She smiled at him. “Yes?”

“Monsieur Jamie was a soldier!” he exclaimed, his smile broadening, “A real one!”

“Oh, I know,” she answered, stroking his dark curls back and shooting a quick glance towards Jamie.

Eddy looked up at Jamie with admiration, “Did you win the war monsieur? You were with the good guys, right?”

“Aye lad,” he answered, smiling wryly. “I was wi’ the good soldiers but I didna win anythin’. I got injured and was sent home before the war ended.”

“Maman has a scar because of the war.” The little boy pointed towards Claire’s cheek, smiling mischievously, “She wanted to take a picture and didn’t listen when they told her it was dangerous.”

Claire chuckled softly. “That’s right, I didn’t listen and I got hurt. See what happens when you don’t listen, Eddy?”

He ate a chip, still grinning. “I always listen!”

“Do ye lad?” Jamie crossed his arms, looking at Edouard with a comical expression that immediately made Eddy collapse with laughter.

“I do! Ask Maman, I swear!” Giggling, he cuddled up to Claire, holding her tightly.

“Yes, he does.” She smiled, kissing his head. “He’s a really good lad.”

“Good,” Jamie smiled, watching them with so much tenderness, Claire felt the urge to weep.

“So tell me, Sassenach, how did ye get that wee scar?” His hand tentatively reached over to touch her cheek. His finger lightly stroking it. Igniting a fire within her.

“I wanted to take a picture but had to climb up some bricks to get the view I needed. Someone did warn me as it wasn’t very stable.” She smiled ruefully, recalling the event. “Well, he was right and the stack of bricks collapsed. My first thought, that very second, was to protect my camera. So, I did.” She shrugged and added, “I landed on my side and my cheek grazed the gravel.”

“But she got to take the picture she wanted,” Edouard added, smirking. “That’s my Maman!”

“Aye, she’s a determined wee thing, yer mother,” Jamie said softly, eyes locked on Claire’s.

“Determined would be one way to put it, yes,” she smiled, “I’d say reckless would be more appropriate.”

“What is reckless, maman?” Edouard asked, intrigued by the new word.

“It’s a description of someone who does something dangerous without first thinking about the risks and consequences of her action,“ she explained, her eyes drifting back to Jamie.

“Sometimes, ‘tis better not to think,” Jamie said so quietly that Claire wasn’t sure he had spoken. She was sure Edouard didn’t hear him either in the noisy pub. Or, if he did, he made no comment, preferring to eat and leave the adults to their conversation.

Claire ignored what he said and, taking another sip of her drink, continued stroking Eddy’s curls. She knew quite well about being reckless and stubborn. 

She had been an impetuous five-year-old who refused to enter boarding school. She had insisted on covering the war, heedless of the inherent danger of doing so. And, she’d been careless that night she’d spent with Jamie. She now had to live with the unintended consequences of their tryst. There was just no escaping it.

Clearing her throat, Claire looked at Edouard. ”Are you done eating, my darling?”

“Oui. What time are we supposed to be at the train station, Maman?” he asked, looking up at her.

“We’ll be on our way shortly.” She stared at Jamie over Eddy’s head, heart aching at the thought of leaving him again.

“May I bring ye back to the station then, Sassenach?” Jamie asked softly.

“Yes please, monsieur Jamie!” Edouard answered before Claire could say no.

“The lad said yes,” she said, finishing her drink. “It’s only a little way down the next street. It shouldn’t take us more than ten minutes to get there.” She looked down at Eddy, carefully wiping his mouth. “Even with your full tummy, darling,” she added, then poked him.

In the middle of Eddy’s delighted giggles, Jamie answered, “If the lad says yes, then I must.” Then blinked both eyes in his version of a wink.

Claire knew being around Jamie was dangerous. Confusing. She didn’t know how much more she could take before she’d get up and kiss him. She had always felt comforted and protected in his presence. Even in the midst of war. But she couldn’t think straight. They had to leave before she did or said something imprudent. Like begging him to stay with them. Or declaring her love for him.

She stood, helping Edouard into his coat, then putting on hers. She stole a look at Jamie and stared. He was shrugging into his coat, the interplay of muscles on his back clearly visible through his thin shirt.

She was hopeless, she admitted wryly. Openly ogling a man was so unlike her. It was a good thing he couldn’t see her face.

It was warm in the restaurant and she had forgotten her cares in the past hour they spent together. But they had to leave their little bubble of contentment or they’d be stranded in the city that night.

“Time to go, mon petit,” Jamie said, holding out a hand to Eddy.

“Non, non,” Eddy protested, as he allowed Jamie to hoist him on his shoulder. “I am a big boy now.”

Claire kept silent during their walk to the station, allowing her companions to talk. She realized they had stayed far longer in Jamie’s company than she had initially planned. They had talked and talked. Like old friends catching up. Or, like old lovers who were never parted.

Deep down, they were still two strangers. Strangers who had shared something profound that neither of them dared to talk about. Maybe it was better this way. Nothing would change what happened between them. She would cherish the experience for the rest of her life and keep it tucked away, in a secret place in her heart.

“Thank you for the lunch and the walk back to the station, Jamie,” Claire said as they stood on the platform.

“There’s nae need to thank me. I’m glad ye both came to London today and I got to meet the lad,” he answered sincerely. She wasn’t sure but he sounded relieved.

She wondered if Jamie could have believed Edouard was a man.  Could he have perhaps, been jealous? It was a titillating thought, she admitted, one she wanted to believe. But she didn’t think so. She didn’t have proof.

“Well, I hope to see you soon,” she said then paused, trying to ignore the ache in her heart. “And if not, safe travel back to Scotland, whenever you leave.”

“Come have dinner at la maison next week,” Eddy suddenly said. He looked up at Jamie and whispered loudly, “Please?”

“That is something for your Mam to decide,” he said gently then returned his gaze to her face.

Claire wanted to hug Eddy for inviting him. She wanted to run away while a part of her urged her to brazen it out and ignore the question.

Jamie. In her home. It wasn’t the smartest idea to have. She should have said no, to avoid herself another heartbreak and another goodbye but it was beyond any will power she had.

She did none of those. Before she could change her mind she answered him, “Yes, you should take him up on his invitation. That is, if you aren’t busy–”

“Whenever ye want me to come, Sassenach,” he cut in swiftly “Let me know the time and the place, I’ll be there.”

“How about next Saturday? Six-ish?” she said and immediately berated herself. It had slipped out and it was too late to take back the invitation.

“Aye, ‘tis perfect,” He smiled warmly before kneeling in front of Edouard, “Works for ye, lad?”

“Oui!” Smiling widely, Eddy threw himself into Jamie’s arms and held him tightly.

It was a sight that melted Claire’s heart.

“Let me give you our address,” she muttered as she rummaged into her bag for a pen and her notebook.

Jamie stood, carrying Edouard in his arms, and watched her scribble their address onto a piece of paper.

“There you go,” she said as she handed the piece of paper to him. “I added our phone number…just in case. If you ever need anything or–”

“Thank ye, Claire,” he smiled, pocketing the piece of paper she held out to him. “Truly.”

“All right.” She looked at Eddy. “Time to go, my darling. Say goodbye to Jamie and we shall be on our way before the train leaves without us.”

“Goodbye monsieur Jamie,” Eddy said softly, hugging Jamie again. “See you very soon, yes?”

“Aye,” Jamie said as he gave a last hug before letting Eddy down. “I promise, verra soon. Be a good lad, eh?”

“I promise!” he answered, taking Claire’s hand.

“Goodbye, Jamie,” Claire said softly. She so hated saying those words, especially to him.

He didn’t answer. Instead, he leaned closer and delicately kissed her cheek. His lips were warm against her cold cheek. So soft. So gentle. But she felt as though he had branded her with his kiss.

As the train pulled away, Claire wished Jamie had kissed her lips instead.

*****

Jamie watched as the train left the station, carrying his heart within it. So many things were racing through his mind, he couldn’t think properly.

Watching her leave again had shaken him. But unlike their first unexpected meeting, this time, they had made concrete plans to see each other again. To have dinner together. In her home. It wasn’t much, he admitted. But the promise of having dinner with them would have to be enough to see him through the next eight days. It was the only thing helping him to breathe properly.

Jamie tucked her note safely in a hidden pocket in his jacket. He would guard it like it was the most precious thing in the world. And it was. To him. Without the information on the note, he would have no way to reach or see her.

As Jamie made his way to his studio, he went over the invitation. The idea of dinner at Claire’s home had seemed like a good idea at first but now, thinking about it, Jamie was suddenly terrified. Terrified he’d inadvertently reveal the truth to her. About how much he loved her. How much he needed her. How much he couldn’t have her.

He made an effort to pull himself together. He wouldn’t allow his self-doubts to rule his life. And, one of the barriers to Claire had been cleared up that morning. Edouard wasn’t her lover or husband. And that knowledge alone soothed his heart more than he could put into words.

She was his. He was hers. It had been decided way before they had even met. And it would be the case long after they’d departed this earth.

Watching Claire with Edouard made his heart swell as much as it broke it. She was so tender and attentive to her son. So sweet. He had begun imagining her with their children all through lunch. Children they’d never have because they would never be together the way it was intended.

The rest of his afternoon passed in a blur while he sat down to paint. He remembered taking short breaks for the occasional cigarette or cup of tea. And during these periods of rest, he allowed his mind to drift at will to either Claire or Lallybroch.

The more he thought about it, the less he wanted to go home. But Jamie was a man of his word and his family was expecting him back in a few weeks. Not only to marry but to finally take his place as Laird and run the farm. He had given his words to his family. He couldn’t disappoint them. 

His thoughts kept him up that night. Like any other night since Claire had walked back into his life. He reached for the little note she gave him at the station, reading the address over and over to make sure he had memorised it.

His eyes drifted to the phone number.

It was late. He shouldn’t call her.

But he did.

His fingers trembled as he dialled the number onto his battered phone. His heart was racing. She wasn’t going to pick up. She was asleep. Or if she wasn’t, why would she pick up in the middle of the night?

Claire picked up.

“Hello?” She didn’t sound sleepy but her voice was low and husky. And confused.

He couldn’t say a word. He was panicking. His hand began sweating as he held the phone horn. What was he going to say to her?

“Hello?” She repeated in a slightly louder voice. This time, she sounded nervous.

“Sassenach…” Jamie finally said, barely hearing his own voice for the pounding of his heart in his ears.

“Jamie–” He heard her voice softening all at once. Soothing his own worry at the same time. And he smiled, the way he always did whenever he heard her say his name.

“Is everything alright?” She sounded actually worried now and he hated himself for it. “Are you hurt?”

“Och, no no, I was…” He paused, closing his eyes for a brief second before he continued, “I couldn’t sleep, I dinna ken why I called ye –I shouldn’t have, I’m sorr–”

“No, it’s alright,” she assured him. He heard a smile in her voice as she said lightly, “I don’t even know what time it is.”

“‘Tis late, I’m sorry if I woke ye.”

“I wasn’t sleeping…I was reading,” she assured, vague rustling sounds in the background. Jamie listened, wondering if she was moving around and what her home looked like.

“Ye having trouble sleepin’ too?” Jamie sat on the wooden floor, leaning against the wall, his head resting against it. Eyes closed. Imagining her.

“I’m sure we aren’t the only two troubled souls awake right now.”

“Och, nay we aren’t.”

“You couldn’t sleep or you haven’t gone to bed just yet?”

“A wee bit of both,” he admitted, curling the phone’s cable around his finger, “And ye?”

“I started reading and I didn’t see the time pass, I guess.”

“What are ye readin’?” He didn’t know why he asked. He knew what she was reading.

“Farewell to Arms* – ”

“Hemingway,” He added, closing his eyes again. “Don’t ye ken that book by heart by now? I recall ye readin’ it quite a lot.”

“Well it’s been a long time…I lost my copy so I got another one a while back. I thought I’d read some of it again. And well, I’m almost finished.”

“Ye used to read it to me…back at the hospital,” he said softly, almost afraid of the memory. Maybe she didn’t remember such an occurrence. He didn’t know how he could, given he had been weak and feverish, every time she did. But it was stamped in his mind. As clear as day. Her voice.

“I remember,” she admitted, the smile back in her voice.

“Read me some, Sassenach,” It wasn’t a question. More a pleading.A desperate need for hearing her lyrical voice reading to him. No matter the words. No matter the author. Claire reading to him was the most erotic thing in the world.

“Just read to me, Claire. Whatever passage ye are at.”

He heard her clearing her throat. Almost as if she was nervous all of a sudden. But then she read:

“*I know the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started.”

Her voice warm and smooth. Like caramel. The kind you’d burn your fingers if you’d touch it. He let her read. He didn’t know for how long. His eyes closing and opening to look at the painting of her he had done. At that moment, he felt happy. Simply and completely. A feeling he had almost forgotten about.

“Do ye feel lonely, Sassenach?” 

“No,” she answered simply. Not fazed by his sudden question at all. He knew Claire had always been alone during her life. Alone but not lonely. However, Jamie didn’t know she had felt lonely since the day they had parted.

“Not right now, anyway,” She added as a whisper in the night.

A comfortable silence settled between the two. One neither of them wanted to break. Remnants of their first and only night together. Also spent in silence. Rocked by heartbeats alone.

“Jamie?” Claire called softly.

“Aye?”

“I thought you’d fallen asleep,” She chuckled.

“Och, nay,” He shook his head, smiling to no one in particular, “Though maybe we should try to? ‘Tis very late and ye are crawlin’ wi’ sleep, a nighean, I can hear it.”

“Well,” He heard her smile broadening, “I can’t fault you there. My eyelids are starting to get heavy and it would be embarrassing to fall asleep on the phone.”

“Go to sleep, Sassenach,” Jamie licked his lips in a vain attempt to recall the taste of hers. He didn’t want to say goodbye. He never did. “I’ll see ye and the lad soon.”

“Goodnight, Jamie,” she answered in turn –  heart pinging at the goodbye, echoing his own.

Jamie let her hung up first before doing the same and closing his eyes again. Head resting against the wall. He could hear the rumble of the city outside his window. The noise was restraint. Not overpowering his turmoil within. God, he loved her so.

Getting up, he went and poured himself a glass of whisky. Claire’s voice still echoing in his mind. Reading over Hemingway’s words. Over and over again. Along the years, he had recalled her reading this very book. And one passage in particular always stood out to him. Summoning what had happened during a day of Spring in 1943, when his life had been entwined with Claire’s for the rest of time. When his eyes met hers for the very first time:

“*God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with anyone. But God knows I had and I lay on the bed in the room of the hospital in Milan and all sorts of things went through my head but I felt wonderful…”

Chapter Text

Roasted chicken.

Roasted chicken would do. With oven cooked potatoes — Mrs Graham’s rosemary and thyme recipe— and a salad. Or carrots. Surely that would be alright. At least, Claire hoped it would, because her culinary range wasn’t vast enough to try and impress Jamie with anything else. 

She had spent the previous week rummaging through her pantry, wondering what on Earth she would cook for the Scot, and she hated herself for it. Who cared? Surely not him. Maybe he wouldn’t even show up for the dinner, anyway. Sometimes, she hoped he would cancel. Other times, the simple idea of him cancelling gripped her mind in a state of panic, her chest tightening.  

After all, it was just dinner. Between old acquaintances. And Edouard would be there. Nothing about it was romantic. Nothing about it was supposed to be romantic. It wasn’t some grand, charming gesture in order to wow him into marrying the perfect housewife she was. She was far from it. The concept alone actually repulsed her far more than she cared to explain. She wasn’t a good cook. She didn’t care to look perfect with polished nails and impeccable hair. Not that her hair would ever look half-impeccable, anyway.

If a housewife what was Jamie wanted, he wouldn’t find it with her. After all, she knew he had found it already and she was patiently waiting in Scotland for him to return to her. She would make him dinner. Give him children. Keep the house together. Never need to work. Never need to be independent. She would be the perfect wife. Something Claire could never be and never wanted to be.

It’s not that she hated the idea of marriage — it was actually romantic. She just hated the norms that came with it in 1948. Being a wife wasn’t everything. She needed to be her own woman, too.

Only a dinner.

Claire repeated it silently as she got ready in a pair of high waisted beige trousers and a white cotton shirt. She slipped into some black leather loafers — the impeccable ones, not the ones she wore every day — and then looked at herself into the mirror. She knew her nest of curls wasn’t worth taming, so she didn’t try. She applied a thick layer of moisturizer to her porcelain skin and some smudge red lipstick on her cheekbones to give them a little bit of colour. Not too much.

Edouard spent the afternoon reading on the sofa while Claire prepared everything for the dinner. Sometimes, she would stop her preparations and bring him a snack and a cuddle to ask him how he was doing. Since knowing Jamie would come to dinner, Ed had been ecstatic at the idea alone. 

“I am happy Monsieur Jamie is coming,” the little boy had stated, a broad smile on his face as he looked at his mother.

Claire was happy too. Though, for other reasons. However, she decided that no matter the situation, Jamie coming over for dinner wasn’t a bad thing after all. She was in love with him. That much she knew. However, his company as a friend was already valuable enough to soothe her existence. Jamie was home. He was peace. And if she couldn’t have a home with him, she would take advantage of the peace until he would leave.

“I know you are, my darling,” she replied while kissing his temple, “I’m sure he’s really happy to see you again.”

“And you,” Ed looked at his mother with a mischievous grin. One which made her heart crack slightly. She had no doubt Jamie was glad to see her — she just wished she could explain to her son the reality of the situation.

“You should go and get ready,” she rumpled his hair, “it’s almost six and Monsieur Jamie will arrive soon, I suspect.” She hoped more than she suspected. Jamie had called her again last night to confirm his presence and to ask what kind of wine he should bring with dinner. She had no reason to think he wouldn’t come.

Edouard gave her a kiss on the cheek before practically jumping off the couch and running into his room. Claire smiled, watching him go. Remembering that no matter what, her son would always be there for her to come home to. Always there as a reason to get up in the morning.  

She looked down at her flat stomach, one that briefly carried Jamie’s child, and swallowed back her tears. She couldn’t think about this now. She wouldn’t think about this now. Yet, she was perfectly aware she couldn’t command when to think of things, especially things such as this. A memory that ripped her heart. Ripped her soul. Ripped her beingIn the midst of chaos. 

She had been about three months along when it happened. She had not been aware of her state. Attributing her sickness and tiredness to her environment, to the fact she had not been eating a lot nor sleeping a lot ever since the War had started, and even less after Jamie had left the hospital.

At times, she saw it. The memories still clear and vivid. Her waking up in the middle of the night. A pain aching throughout her body from the inside. Her cot soaked with blood. Then, it was blurry. Apart from Mother Hildegarde’s distant voice talking to her. Begging her to stay. The only thing she recalled after that was waking up a few days later to the news she had lost the baby she didn’t know she was carrying. She never told it to anyone. She never thought she’d tell it to anyone. Until Jamie came back.

Claire closed her eyes for a brief second, collecting herself. She swallowed back her tears and got up to start setting the table.

The cottage wasn’t grand, but it had a decent amount of space and the big windows let the light seep in at any hour of the day, whether it be sunlight or moonlight. There was a fireplace in the middle of the living room and in two bedrooms. Claire had a little office with way too many books and photographs scattered around, and she had converted the shed in the garden into her dark room — one she used when she didn’t bring her films up to London. It was cosy and warm. The walls stamped with more memories than they had the day before, but less than they would have tomorrow. It was home. The materialistic aspect of it, anyway. A place of peaceful abandon at the end of a long day. A place where laughter resonated. A place full of love.

The doorbell rang at 6 p.m. sharp, and Claire’s heart began galloping like a racehorse. She abandoned her task of roasting the carrots and made her way towards the front door, brushing her hands onto her apron.

Edouard ran past her, exclaiming happily, “Il est là! Monsieur Jamie is here!”

She had not yet answered his remark when the little boy opened the door to reveal a tall Scot wearing his Sunday Best shirt, with curls impeccably brushed back and the most piercing blue eyes looking directly into hers.

“Hello, Sassenach,” Jamie said, his smile illuminating his face. She didn’t know why she thought he would turn out to be less dashing than the last time she had seen him in London. Eight days ago. Instead, he actually looked even better, and she felt a little bit faint at the realisation.

“You’re right on time,” was the only answer she could mutter while she took the few remaining steps toward the entrance.

“Hi,” Ed looked up at Jamie with a broad grin, “did you bring maman those flowers?” He pointed to the bouquet of wildflowers Jamie was holding in one hand. A bouquet Claire just noticed.

“Aye, I did, lad,” Jamie answered, “and wine for ye.”

Edouard laughed, “I do not drink wine, Monsieur Jamie! But once, maman made me taste and it wasn’t very good.” He made a disgusted face for emphasis.

Claire chuckled slightly, “okay, let Jamie get inside at least, darling before you start telling him my more than questionable motherhood practices.”

The little boy giggled slightly, hugging Claire’s leg, and Jamie walked inside, his smile unremoved. Handing Claire the flowers, he leaned slightly down and kissed her cheek. His lips were warm and delicate against her skin.

“Ye look lovely, Sassenach,” he said softly, looking at her.

Claire rested her hand on Ed’s shoulder, almost as if to steady herself, feeling a rush of hot air inside her shirt. Pulling herself together quickly, she smiled and took the flowers, “Thank you. I…I hope you’re hungry.”

“Famished,” he answered, closing the door.

“Maman made a roast chicken and we went to the bakery this morning to get a chocolate cake for dessert!” Ed said happily, taking Jamie’s hand, “Come in, I will give you a tour.”

Jamie looked at Claire sheepishly and handed her the bottle of wine. “If ye excuse me, Sassenach, I will follow the lad for his private visit.”

“Do that,” she smirked, taking the bottle. “I’ll go finish dinner and find a vase for the flowers.”  

******
“Did you take the train, Monsieur Jamie?” Edouard looked at him, interested, before taking a mouthful of cake.

“Aye, lad,” he confirmed, taking a sip of wine.

The dinner had progressed rather well — Claire managed not to burn anything, and the chicken and sides were delicious if she could say so herself. They had talked about anything and everything. Claire counted on Edouard to do most of the conversation with his eager questions towards Jamie.

Claire could tell her son was enamoured with him as much as she was. Not only because the Scot, like most Scots, was a born storyteller. But because, for Edouard, it was also the first time he had such a reassuring male figure in his life. If the circumstances were different, they would make a lovely family. She was sure of it.

“Have you ever been to Surrey before?”

“Nay, ‘tis the first time,” he smiled, watching her, “but I shall come back for a village visit.”

“Oh oui!” Ed exclaimed and smiled widely, his mouth full of chocolate, “I will show you my school and the park we go to with maman, and we can have hot chocolate at the bakery!”

“‘Tis sounds like a verra great plan, lad.”

“It’s a lovely little town,” Claire added, resting her head against her palm as she watched the two loves of her life having a casual conversation.

“Yer house is lovely as weel – “

“Thank you,” she smiled in response, not adding a “you should move in, sometime”, and instead sipped some wine before something else slipped out of her mouth.

“I have an old whisky bottle my uncle shipped me a while ago, do you want to taste it and tell me if it’s any good? I was waiting for someone to share a dram with.”

“A connaisseur?” Jamie asked with a grin, and Claire nodded.

Edouard giggled, “Your French is funny!”

“Are ye making fun of me again, duine beag?” Smirking, Jamie raised an eyebrow.

“What does that mean?” Ed frowned at the Gaelic.

Duine beag means ‘little man’,” he responded, his face softening a bit more every time he talked to the little boy. Claire didn’t understand how a man who looked so strong, so tough, could be so tender and sweet.

“Ahh,” the little boy smiled in response, “Dui-ne bee-aag?”

“Aye, ye’ve got it lad,” Jamie affirmed as he rumpled Edouard’s curls, making him giggle.

“How do you say grand monsieur? Big man?”

Fear mòr,” he answered in a deep voice. Anytime he spoke Gaelic, he sounded lyrical. Not only because the language was, but it was also the way the words molded into his mouth, like warm apple pie. It drove Claire mad.

“You are fear mòr and I am duine beag, yes?” Ed smiled widely.

“‘Tis sounds good to me, lad,” Jamie said, returning the smile.

“Parfait!” Ed wiped the chocolate off his face with his napkin before turning to Claire. “Maman, can I go play a bit before I go to bed?”

“Of course, but change into your pyjamas first,” she ordered, wiping the last of the chocolate off his cheek with her thumb and kissed his cheek. 

Edouard shimmied out of his chair and ran out of the living room and towards his room, leaving behind him a silence that Jamie and Claire were too familiar with.

Immediately getting up, Claire ignored the silence and started to clean up the table. Quickly, Jamie did the same and helped her, smiling softly in return as she looked at him. Their hands brushed a few times during their tasks, but neither one of them said anything. Together, they brought the dirty plates into the kitchen — Claire first, closely followed by Jamie, whose wandering eyes were lost on her.

“Thank you for the help,” she said, depositing the plates into the sink, “I’ll get to that later.”

“I dinna mind, Sassenach,” he responded, leaning against the counter, “my mam raised me well.”

“I know she did,” she gently teased, grabbing two glasses for the whisky. “Shall we get the dram? The bottle is in the living room.”

“Aye, after ye, Sassenach.” Jamie waited for her to start walking back to the living room and followed her.

Claire realized she had been enveloped in a state of suffocation since he had arrived. That was how Jamie made her feel. Nervous. Excited. Out of breath. It seemed terrible when in fact, it was blissful. He drove her mad. In the most wonderful way of madness possible.

“Can you pour the drinks? I will start the fireplace.” Claire put the empty glasses on the table, gesturing toward the bottle resting on a shelf.

“Och course,” he answered, “or I can do the fire, if ye’d rather?”

“No, I can manage that,” she smirked, kneeling in front of the fireplace. She heard him make a low Scottish noise deep in his throat while she rummaged some wood and started the fire. She was aware Jamie was watching her. Too aware. 

She knew the feeling of his eyes on her. A feeling she craved. A feeling she shouldn’t be igniting. It was reckless — slowly burning up, more and more, like the log in the fire itself.

Once she started the fire, Claire got up slowly, brushing her hands on her trousers. As she turned, Jamie stood there, smiling and presenting her with a glass. Their eyes locked. Her breath hissed.Kissing him was a temptation growing deep within the pit of her stomach.

“Ye ken how to do that alright,” he remarked softly, his breath tingling against her cheek.

“Well…” she beamed, letting her sentence die. She took the glass he was offering her and moved towards the couch to sit.

“Ye made a good life for yerself here.” Sitting down, he watched her with a grin.

“I have,” she smiled in turn at the truth of his words. Only one thing was missing, but she couldn’t tell him what it was.

“Let’s taste that whisky of yers, eh?” He raised his glass, “Slainte.”

Slainte,” she repeated softly and took a sip, letting the alcohol slide down her throat. Warm and burning as it went down her gullet.

Claire watched him attentively while he tasted the liquor. She noticed he carried himself rather stiffly. As if his body hurt. “Is it good whisky?”

“Verra good whisky, Sassenach,” he confirmed, leaning back, “yer uncle has great taste.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted to know he indeed does” She couldn’t resist the smirk forming on her lips, thinking about Lambert’s extravagant nature. He indeed knew the best liquors. The best books. The best museums. Everything about Lambert Beauchamp seemed to be pulled straight out of an Oscar Wilde novel, except Lambert was far more fascinating.

“Do ye…” Jamie paused, sipping his drink, “do ye think about the war a lot, Claire?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say a lot, but it’s hard not to think of it. Mostly because it was only barely three years ago, and I have all those pictures to remind me of every second after I left the hospital.”

“I’ve seen some pictures ye took, Sassenach,” he said softly, looking into his glass, “ye saw things ye were no’ supposed to see.”

“Some people had to so others would and history wouldn’t get lost, Jamie. And weirdly, having those memories frozen on negatives and photographs completely stripped them from my mind, which means I’m not really haunted by them at night. At least, not every night anyway. Sometimes they find me when I’m awake,” a hint of a smile crossing her face.

“Where were ye on VE day?”

“I was back in Paris after strutting around in Germany and Austria with a troupe of American and Russian soldiers. I had arrived a few weeks before the 8th,” she reflected, rolling the glass between her palms. It was the first time Claire had talked about the war with someone.  

“How was it? We heard the news on the radio at Lallybroch and I recall how ecstatic everyone was —”

“It was…crazy. I had never seen so many people collectively happy. Screaming, hugging, drinking. I don’t think I’ll ever take photographs of such happiness again. Well, I hope I won’t, because if I ever do, it means we would’ve lived through another war, and I can’t think about that. I’m not scared of what we went through, all of us. We made it but I’m scared it might happen again.”

“Me too, Sassenach,” Jamie agreed softly. So softly that she almost didn’t hear it over the crippling fireplace.

“Not another fucking war…I couldn’t,” she closed her eyes briefly, swallowing the lump in her throat and trying not to let tears slip. But one did anyway, and Claire felt the base of Jamie’s thumb brush it away. Gently, he scooped Claire into his strong arms while she let her tears silently stream down her cheeks. Tears she cried for the first time in a long time. No one better than him could understand what they went through. Their experience so closely entwined. Forever. No matter what.

“I’m sorry…” She looked at him, eyes locked with his and her stomach tightening. She didn’t want another war. But she would live it through all over again just for one more night with him.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach, I understand.” He cupped her cheek in his palm, looking at her. Something flashed in his eyes. Something quick and agonizing that seemed to come from the deepest, darkest part of him. It would have scared her if she didn’t have the same something in her.

“You keep fidgeting,” she finally remarked, pulling herself together. “Is something bothering you? Or hurting you?”

“Just some old battle wounds,” he answered in reassurance, his lip flicking up slightly.

Claire had been a nurse before she became a photographer. She knew whenever something wasn’t right. She felt it too, since she had a few scars bothering her whenever the weather got colder.

“I make a soothing balm with chamomile and lavender from the garden. It helps with the ache and the pulling,” Claire got up instinctively, “I have a spare jar, let me go and get it.”

“Ye dinna have to,” he watched her, “it’ll pass eventually—”

“Don’t move,” she gently ordered, “I’ll go check on Ed by the same occasion, he’s being too quiet which means he has either fallen asleep or he’s preparing something.”

“Do ye want me to go check on him, Sassenach?” Jamie proposed, getting up before she answered.

“Sure.” Nodding, she touched his arm, feeling his toned muscles under the soft fabric of his shirt. “His room is down the hall.”

“Noted.”

Claire placed her glass on the coffee table and quickly made her way towards the bathroom. Once inside, she closed the door and let out a long breath she had been holding for hours, most likely since Jamie had arrived. 

She stood in front of the sink, looking at herself in the mirror. She ran her fingers under the cold tap before rubbing her pounding temples with them to soothe the headache forming. She had no idea what it was. Talking about the war. Jamie. A combination of those two things. All she knew was how heavy her heart felt in her chest. Heavy, like carrying a piece of steel inside her ribcage.

After a minute or two, she walked out of the bathroom, carrying the jar of balm in her hand. She stopped by Edouard’s bedroom, leaning against the doorframe. Without a sound, she watched Jamie carefully tuck him in bed, whispering some Gaelic words. A prayer she had heard him say a few times during their month at the hospital.

Without another sound and before he could see her, she went back to the living room to wait for him.

******

Jamie watched Edouard sleep for longer than he should have. His mind had been racing with thoughts of Claire. The war. His past. His future. So many things to figure out. So many things to forget in order to finally move on. But forgetting some bits meant also forgetting others. Those, he never wanted to get rid of.

His scars reminded him of the worst every day. He didn’t need to see them to know they were there. On days like today, he would feel their pull under the fabric of his clothes. It hurt. However, they didn’t hurt nearly as much as his heart did.

He carefully walked out of Ed’s bedroom, not completely closing the door, and went back to the living room. Palms sweaty. Heart racing. All he wanted to do was fall on his knees and beg Claire to love him — to love him like she did that one night. He took a breath before stepping into the living room and plastered a grin on his face “The lad’s asleep. I tucked him in because he was sleepin’ on the rug, surrounded by his wee cars.”

“Thank you,” Claire said sincerely, smiling in response. She walked over to him, handing him the jar, “you can go and put some balm on in the bathroom if you think that’d help your displeasure right now, Jamie.”

“They—” he looked at her and took it, swallowing hard. No one had ever seen the state of his back. He knew eventually his future wife would have to, no matter how ashamed he was of it. He couldn’t fathom such an idea. “They’re on my back, Sassenach. I canna get to them easily.”

“Do you want me to do it?” Her question disarmed him completely. He had vividly remembered the effect her healing hands had on him ever since their first meeting. Never did he think he would feel such a thing again. He couldn’t ask that of her.

“Nay, I’ll…I’ll manage back at home.”

“I really don’t mind. It’s not like I’ve never healed your scars before,” she gently responded.

“I dinna want ye to see that, Sassenach.” His eyes swept the floor, a shame taking over him at what Claire would think of him. How repulsed she would be.

“Jamie…you said it yourself, I’ve seen things I was never meant to see. Scars don’t scare me. Not yours, anyway. I’ve seen you with a dislocated shoulder and a bullet wound, covered in blood and I think you had peed yourself that day.” Crossing her arms, she couldn’t help but smile when he chuckled softly.

“Ye have a point, aye.”

“Let me.” Her voice was low when she took the jar from his hands again, her fingers brushing against his skin. Soft as feathers.

“Claire…”

“Let me,” she repeated once more, looking up at him.

Upon meeting her, Jamie had quickly learned he could never say no to Nurse Beauchamp. Old habits die hard, it seemed.

Nodding, he started to open his shirt. Button by button. Once off, he placed his shirt on the couch. He stood in front of Claire, not meeting her eyes while he pulled his undershirt over his head. Slowly, Jamie turned to reveal the state of his back. Splattered with streaks of swollen skin. A mess. Like a Pollock painting.

He didn’t hear a sound. Not a gasp. Not a scream. Nothing.

Instead, he felt her fingers brushing against his skin, and his breath hissed at the gentleness of her touch. His skin erupted in goosebumps. He hoped she didn’t notice.

Claire removed her hand and scooped some balm out of the jar. A strong scent of chamomile and lavender began taking residence in his nostrils. A pleasant odour, mixed with her own perfume to materialise the scent of his desires.

The balm was cold on his skin, but Jamie didn’t wince because, underneath it, Claire’s hand was warm. Her gentle touch was still the only remedy to his sorrows.

Jamie closed his eyes, letting her heal him. LIke she had done many times. Like he needed her to do for the rest of his life, might it be long or short.

“It’s done,” she finally said, her breath tingling against the skin of his back.

Standing straighter, Jamie turned around. Surprisingly, he felt not one ounce of shame of his body. He was afraid of what he would find in her eyes. Disgust? Repulsion?

He found none of that. Instead, Claire was smiling warmly, with a look of utter tenderness on her beautiful face. A look that almost made him want to weep as much as it made him want to kiss her.

Kiss her.

That was all Jamie could think about just now. Eyes locked, getting drunk on the whisky. Their bodies coming closer and closer, like magnets until they touched.

Bodies against one another, their faces came slowly together then. Lips tingling. Burning.

Kiss her. Almost.

Jamie would have kissed her if the voice of Edouard hadn’t immediately resonated in the hall at that moment, pulling their bodies apart at once.

“Maman?!”

Chapter Text

Whispers in the death of the night. His name cascading like a waterfall from her lips. His rumbling voice murmuring prayers. His calloused hands travelling the pathway of every curve. Her lips stamping his skin with a trail of goosebumps. Ecstasy, until complete abandonment.  

Claire woke up at once, her nightgown drenched with sweat and her hand firmly pressed between her legs.  Everything around her was quiet, save for the heavy sound of her breathing echoing in her room. It was still dark. Still early. Too early. She shut her eyes tightly as if to hopefully catch back her dream. Jamie.

It had been the fifth night in a row that she had dreamt of him that way. Since the dinner and a kiss that almost happened. Almost. He was rooted in her mind, her body, and her heart even more than he was before. Claire didn’t know what to do or how to stop thinking about him.  

Rubbing her eyes, she stared at the ceiling without seeing much of anything in the dark. She was restless. No point in trying to fall back asleep when morning would rise soon, anyway. She took a slow and long breath, trying to rid herself of the heavy crushing weight pressing against her chest. She let some more minutes pass. Maybe eight. Maybe twenty. 

Claire flung the cover off and practically jumped out of bed before walking in the dark towards the bathroom. She knew her surroundings by heart. It might be the point of home, after all. Knowing where to go. Even in the dark. Blindly unaware of the time.

She let the water of the shower warm up while she undressed slowly. Tossing her nightgown into the dirty laundry pile, she ran her slender fingers through her tangled curls. The mirror and window were stamped by steam in the enclosed environment, already giving her body the warmth it craved.

Stepping into the shower, she stood under the water — eyes closed. Her mind replayed the images of the dinner over and over again. His arrival. Their shared discussion around the table. Jamie tucking Ed into his bed, unaware she was watching him. His body. His scars. The way his skin prickled the minute she had touched it. His eyes piercing through her. His lips calling. Then, Ed’s voice ripping them apart before they even had the time to seal them.

After that, Jamie had quickly left, ensuring that he wouldn’t miss the last train, and Claire sat in front of the fire, soothing her son back to sleep after a nightmare.

She let the boiling water wash away the layers of memory of Jamie’s touch from her porcelain skin, reddened by the temperature. She grabbed the chamomile soap, generously rubbing it between her palms before the scent hit her nostrils — bringing with it, once more, a little piece of the Scot.

Truthfully, she didn’t know when Jamie was headed back to Scotland. She didn’t dare to ask, knowing that each passing day would bring his departure dangerously closer and closer. Just like their time at the hospital. The sooner she stopped thinking about the Scot, the better it would be for everyone. Not that she was confident she’d ever could do such a thing. She realized no matter where she was, no matter what she did, he stayed in her mind and was not going anywhere.

She washed her body and hair thoroughly, rinsing once more with the ever-warming water. Her eyelids were getting heavier by the second, sleep deeply rooted behind them. Her body grew more acute with the hypnotic power of the steam that also made her heart rate increase.

Claire stepped out of the shower. Dried her body. Dried her hair. Wrapping her damp curls in a towel, she put on her bathrobe and headed in the direction of her office. It wasn’t a very big room, and the messy desk and shelves didn’t help with the lack of space much, either. But the room was her memory materialized in one space, feeling as if she was looking inside her brain every time she pulled a box full of photographs or a book from a shelf.

Sitting at her desk, she turned on the little lamp and opened one of the drawers to take out her pack of cigarettes. Gracefully putting one between her lips, she grabbed a match, igniting some fire to light it. Closing her eyes, she took a long inhale, letting the fume burn down her throat.

She was awake early. Too early. Nevertheless, Claire decided she might as well occupy her mind with the work she had to do and had put off for far too long. Afraid of opening a Pandora’s box of images she was in no hurry to relive, Claire never gave a second look to the pictures she had taken during the war once they were off to press. Not that she needed to, since she knew each one by heart. Even the ones taken during the liberation in Paris didn’t seem to ease her anguish. So she never looked at them again and instead stored them in boxes. By dates. By cities.

Her work had been remarked by many, and now her first exhibition was approaching,  as well as the publication of a book. The National Gallery in London was about to introduce a new floor reserved for photography and they had asked her to be the one to usher it in with a retrospective of the work she did during the war.  She had agreed, and now the exhibition was meant to take place in two weeks.  

She looked through her work for a while. Cigarette dangling from her lip, giving her a sophisticated air like she was a Parisian author at a café. Curls drying as dawn crept in slowly. Day rising along the sun.

When Claire realised time had passed, she removed her glasses, turned off the lamp, and left her office. Going to the kitchen to start on breakfast, she was met in the hall by a sleepy-eyed Edouard.

Rubbing his eyes, he walked over to her, hair and pyjamas dishevelled with sleep. “Bonjour,” he said softly, his drowsy voice melting her heart.

“Good morning, my darling,” Claire responded as she picked him up and kissed the tip of his nose.

Ed wrapped his arms and legs around his mother without a word, resting his head on her shoulder and smiling.

Their routine was always the same.

On weekdays, they had breakfast, got ready, and then Claire would walk him to school before going back home to work. If she had to go to London, their neighbour Mrs. Graham would pick him up from school and keep him at her home until Claire came back.

On weekends, the mornings started slightly later. Breakfast – sometimes in bed –  before reading a book together and either spending a lazy day at home or going out for walks. Bakery and library dates were also a crucial part of their time together.  

Claire relished in the normality of everyday life — of mundane things she never experienced for most of her life until Edouard came around. She was simply thankful. Thankful for the knowledge, no matter what was happening around her, that her son was there to keep a hint of routine. Of home.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked, carrying the little boy into the kitchen.

“Yes,” he answered, yawning, “you too?”

“Comme ci, comme ça,” she smiled, kissing his cheek. She sat him on the counter and started on the tea. “What would you like to eat? Toast?”

“Aye!” he said enthusiastically, making Claire look at him at once. “Toasts are good.”

“Aye? Since when do you say that?”  She knew where he had picked it up, but she asked him nonetheless.

“Monsieur Jamie says it a lot,” he giggled. “He told me it means yes but I like aye better.”

“It sounds like aïe,” she grinned, pouring him a glass of milk, “which doesn’t really mean yes in French, my darling.”

“You’re right,” he made a face, “but if I’m hurt and say aïe you’ll know the difference because it would sound more dramatic!”

“Okay,” she chuckled as she put him down from the counter. “Go sit down, I’ll make the toasts.”

Nodding, Ed opened the fridge and took out the jam and butter before placing them on the table and sitting down. He watched his mother, swinging his legs happily and resting his head in his palms. “Maman?”

“Edouard?” Claire smiled in response, setting the rest of the table and giving him his glass of milk. She loved him and his curiosity, especially the way his brows furrowed any time he was about to ask her something.

“Will Monsieur Jamie ever come back here? For dinner?” The look of utter hope floating in her son’s eyes broke the last part of her heart that wasn’t yet broken.

“Darling,” Claire kneeled down, stroking his hair back, “Monsieur Jamie is from Scotland, right?”

He nodded, watching her. She had a glass face, it was nothing new. But she couldn’t show him how sad she was about this. “Well, he’s going back to live there very soon—”

“Why?” he frowned, confused this time. “He doesn’t like us?”

“Of course he does,” she reassured, stroking his cheek, “but his family is there. His sister. His parents.”

“I thought we could be his family one day, Maman,” Edouard said softly, a hint of sadness overwhelming his sentence.

“I’m sorry, my darling.” She was. She really was. She scooped him into her arms and held him tightly, closing her eyes. She had thought it too the second she had seen Jamie again. Alive, standing in front of her in the gallery. The thought of the three of them as a family was the first thing that came into her mind. Then, seeing how tender and gentle Jamie was with Ed only reinforced not only her love for him but also the hope that one day, they’d be a family.

Hope was all she had and all she would ever have.

“Why are you sorry, Maman?” Ed looked at her as his face softened and he smiled warmly, “it is Monsieur Jamie that’s the fool for not wanting to be with us.”

“It’s not as simple as that, darling,” she answered, kissing the tip of his nose. “Don’t be mad at Monsieur Jamie, alright?”

“D’accord,” he kissed her cheek, “will we write him? I would like to write him once he’s gone back to his home.”

“Yes, you can do that.” She kissed his temple and got up.

Claire went back to the tasks of pouring herself some tea and toasting some bread before going back to the table. She helped Ed butter his toast and added some raspberry jam on top, doing the same for herself.

“Well, it’s going to be a beautiful day today. Would you like to help me in the garden? It’s time to start seeding some bulbs.” She took a bite of toast, watching him.

“Okay,” he ate, smiling.

It was around ten thirty when the doorbell rang, taking Claire and Ed out of their casual morning conversation around the breakfast table. They were talking about different flowers and what Claire wanted to plant in the garden, both still in their morning wear — pyjamas for him, bathrobe for her.

Frowning, Claire finished her tea and got up. “I’ll go see who that is.”

On her way towards the front door, her heart started to race. They weren’t expecting anyone and she didn’t want to believe it could be Jamie. After all, why would he show up at her door on a Saturday morning? It was surely Mrs Graham. It wasn’t unusual for her to visit on weekends to bring freshly-made pastries or bread.

She reached for the door handle, hand shaking nonetheless, and opened the door to reveal, indeed, someone she wasn’t expecting.

“Uncle Lambert!” She couldn’t hide her surprise, even less her delight at seeing her uncle standing at the door. Dressed in his signature attire of a beige suit, a wooden smoking pipe dangled from his lips and round golden glasses sat on the tip of his nose.

“A lady shouldn’t be lazing around in her night robe at this hour of the day, Claire,” his lip flickered up and he removed his smoking pipe. “Did I not teach you anything?”

“There is no lady in this house,” she smirked, realising how much she missed his posh and thick accent messing with her.

Laughing, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “Oh Claire, I’m so happy to see you!”

“Well so am I!” she said sincerely, holding him, “and surprised. You were the last person I was expecting to see.”

“I guess I arrived before my letter,” he shook his head, smiling, “oh well.”

“Well I’m delighted to see you,” she grinned widely, “do you need a hand with your luggage? It seems you brought back the entire population of Cairo with you.”

“Quentin Beauchamp has never been a light packer and you of all people should be aware of that,” he quipped, picking up his bags, “but fear not, I still can carry this inside myself, dear.”

“After you, then.” Claire stepped aside to let him in and closed the door.

“Where is le petit homme?” Lamb asked, as he put his bags on the floor and looked around.

“In the kitchen, enjoying the last bits of his breakfast I prepared for him,” she grinned, “are you hungry?”

“Well to tell you the truth, my dear, I’m famished,” he admitted, crossing his arms. “What’s on the menu?”

“Toasts,” she grinned, making him laugh. “You didn’t expect my culinary skills to improve in such a short amount of time since the last time you saw me, did you?”

“I cannot toast bread without burning it, so who am I to judge? I should have spent more time trying to teach you how to cook instead of how to dig for bones in the middle of ruins.”

She wrapped her arm around his neck in response, “if you believe that I’m mad at you for not teaching me how to be the perfect housewife, you’re sorely mistaken.”

“That’s the spirit, my darling!” Lambert chuckled and followed her to the kitchen.

******

“You haven’t told me how is life treating you?” Lamb asked, looking over his sunglasses at Claire who was knee-deep, gardening.

The day was one of the first warm ones of the season. Not yet spring, but not winter anymore. Where the sun was blinding and warm, but the wind had a reasonable chill and outside activities were to be enjoyed without scarves or coats. Lambert was resting on a long chair, enjoying the sun, while Ed was playing in the grass.

“It’s treating me well,” she responded, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand.

“Are you sure you don’t mind me staying here for a bit, darling?”

“Of course I’m sure.” She got up, brushing the dirt off her pants, “why would I mind? You’re always welcomed here and you’re just in time for my exhibition. I’m happy to have you around.” She smiled, shooting a look at Edouard, “and so is he.”

“He’s grown up so much since last year,” Lamb sat up slowly, removing his sunglasses, “A real petit homme.”

“Yeah,” Claire answered proudly as she sat down next to her uncle.

“Oh!” Lamb exclaimed, getting up, “I almost forgot, I got you something else too! Don’t move, it’s in my bag.”

Claire watched her uncle disappear inside the house and smiled, sipping some homemade lemonade. He had brought back books and relics for her, and a few toys for Edouard. What else did he get?

“I saw this and I couldn’t leave it!” He reappeared a minute later, smiling broadly.

Sitting down again, he looked at her with a smirk and took her hand, depositing a necklace in her palm.

Claire’s heart stopped at the sight.

It was the exact same necklace she had given Jamie during the war — the one she had received from her uncle when she was a young girl. She had never taken if off — until that night. It was an antique silver medal. Lamb thought she had lost it — at least, that’s what she had told him.

“Thank you,” she said softly. She looked at him and smiled warmly, trying not to show her slight distress.

“What is on your mind, sweetheart?” Lamb touched her arm, frowning, “I can hear you thinking from here, and something tells me it has nothing to do with Eddy or your exhibition coming up.”

“Oh it’s nothing…nothing important, anyway,” she lied, looking at the necklace.

“I apparently never taught you how to lie properly.” He couldn’t help but smile, “you know you can tell me anything, right?”  

“It’s…” she looked at her uncle and then at Edouard quickly, who was lost in his thoughts while he played, “it’s a rather long story.”

“You know how fond I am of long stories,” he responded and took the necklace from her, putting it around her neck. “Come on, tell me what it is.”

“It’s a man.” She looked back at her uncle once he was done with his task.

“It’s always a man.” His mouth curled up into a smile and she chuckled softly.

“I guess so…” She took her glass of lemonade and sipped some, as if it was some sort of liquid courage, even though the beverage itself was deprived of any alcohol.

“A man I met during the war when I was stationed in Normandy. A Scot named James Fraser.” She couldn’t help but smile at the mention of his name.

“He was injured and was admitted to the makeshift hospital. He stayed a month before he was sent back to the front.” Her smile disappeared then, Lambert noticed.

“Did he…” The Englishman let his sentence fade, but she knew what he meant.

“I thought he had, yes. A few months after he left, the news of his regiment being ambushed and killed reached me and I thought he had perished. That is, until I met him again, a few weeks ago.”

Lamb frowned, looking at her, “why are you so gloomy about it, darling?”

“Because it was slightly less painful to believe him dead than to know he’s alive and not mine to have.” She let a tear escape her eye and she quickly wiped it away, her eyes glued on Edouard.

“Oh my darling,” Lamb wrapped his arm around her and held her close, “he is a fool if he doesn’t want you.”

“He thought me dead as well and then moved on. He didn’t know,” she said softly, “and I’m fine with him being engaged to someone else…”

“You don’t have to be fine with it, you know,” Lamb looked at her. “You don’t have to pretend not to hurt, thinking it will make you weak, Claire. Because you aren’t weak for feeling.”

Nodding, she smiled softly, “I know. I just want him to be happy.”

“You are a beautiful soul, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Strong and brave. You don’t know how proud I am of you and the woman you turned out to be.” He stroked her cheek, continuing on, “A man missing out on that is a man not worth your time.”

She couldn’t help but smile, “well, I was raised by a great man so he taught me well —”

“Oh no, I’m not taking any credit for that,” he quipped, holding her close.

“Thank you for the necklace, Uncle Lamb,” she uttered as she held him tightly, “and for being here.”

******

Her appointment at the museum had concluded more quickly than she thought it would. Now, Claire found herself with time to kill in London before the next train to Surrey.

The city was buzzing. Like any Monday afternoon. She could go to a library or a bookstore. She could go to another museum and wander around, or have some tea at a bakery. She could do all these things — and yet, her feet were taking her towards Yi Tien Cho’s gallery.

She had thought about it for a while. All the time during her train ride in the morning and even during her meeting, pretending to listen to what other people were telling her when, in fact, all she thought about was Jamie and if she should go and see him.

She had no idea why but it was too late now, given the fact that she was two minutes away from the gallery and she had no intention of turning back. She didn’t know what she would tell him. She didn’t care. She had to see him one last time, at least. 

The gallery still had the same paintings hanging on the walls and Claire realised she would never grow accustomed to the feeling of seeing herself on canvas. Even more when the painting looked so realistic. Sometimes, it seemed like she was looking into a mirror.

“Good day miss,” came the voice of a Chinese man behind the desk.

She had never met Yi Tien Cho but after everything Jamie had told her, she had no doubt the man in question was him. He wasn’t very tall, but his smile had a radiating kindness, putting her at ease immediately. She also noted that he was probably one of the most elegant men she had ever met.

“Hello.” Smiling in response, she walked over to him.

The closer she came, the wider his smile broadened, “welcome here. Can I help you?”

“Well yes actually —”

“Are you…” he frowned, looking at her briefly before turning his head toward the painting of her by Jamie.

Claire followed his gaze. “Uh yes, that is me.”

“Oh.” Looking at her again, he held out his hand, “nice to meet you, Miss Claire.”

“Ah, you know my name.” She shook his hand, smiling.

“I like to know who the people are that my artists paint,” he winked, bringing her hand to his lips. “It did take me a while to get that information out of Jamie’s mouth, I have to admit. I knew his paintings were realistic, but I hadn’t realized how much until now.”

“Yes, he is very talented,” she smiled, feeling a sense of pride for Jamie.

“Talking about Jamie…” She looked around quickly, feeling nervous all of a sudden. After all, she didn’t know why she had come here in the first place but it was too late, now.

“Is he here?”

“I’m afraid not,” Yi Tien Cho answered, bringing with his answer a feeling of slight disappointment to Claire.

“He has gone back to Scotland —”

“Excuse me?” Claire frowned, not sure she had heard his response properly due to his accent.

“He has gone back to Scotland,” he repeated, more clearly this time. “I’m sorry –” 

Blinking, Claire simply looked at the man in front of her, at loss for words.

The only thing she managed to mutter was a faint “excuse me, I have to go,”and fled the gallery as quickly as she had come in. She let the wind hit her face and she stopped in an alley after a minute.

He has gone back to Scotland.

As she heard those words replaying in her mind, over and over again, she heard something else. Standing still, vision blurring, she heard her heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem.

He was gone.

Chapter Text

The train journey to Scotland was always the same. Jamie knew it by heart. The sight of the battered city, slowly turning into the yellows of the countryside, before merging into tableaux of green and brown mountains. It was lyrical to him, like the songs of his childhood that his mother sang before bedtime. It wasn’t the first time he made this journey, but it might be the last and he very well knew it.

Scotland. The land of his ancestors. His childhood. Running through his veins. He was a Highlander, born and bred.

Heart heavy, he sat in the compartment, eyes fixed to the window. Eyes constantly moving. Up, down. Left, right. In search of something. He wasn’t sure what, exactly. But something. Anything to soothe his sorrows, like the view of Scotland usually could. He tried to stop thinking about Claire — about the kiss that almost happened at her house. His lips still tingled with a burn for it. He knew what it felt like to kiss her. How could he forget? He knew what it was like and he refused to settle for less.

For the past few days, he had laid awake at night, thinking about what to do. He knew he belonged to Claire — he might as well stop lying to himself and to the world. He wasn’t sure she wanted him. He wasn’t sure he deserved her. He only knew he couldn’t marry a woman out of obligation, no matter what.

That’s why Jamie was on his way home to cancel his wedding.

Claire was his own. Air to his lungs. Beat to his heart. Blood to his system. Without her, he was nothing. He was a ghost, an empty carcass.

Jamie had lived with a burden that stemmed from his belief that she was dead. No matter how painful it had been, he carried her within his soul, trying to get up every morning with the thought that that’s what she would have wanted him to do. Living with the knowledge that she was alive and well was quite another thing — practically an impossible thing to do. She was alive. He needed her.

It wasn’t much more complicated than that.

He had made promises. He had agreed to what his family asked of him. But that was before the love of his life walked back into his life. His head told him something while his heart said another. His life was in London — with his paintings, the gallery, his art. And, hopefully, Claire. 

Not in Scotland anymore.  

Jamie drew for most of the journey, as it served as the only way to empty his mind. He attempted to draw mountain views, yet each time, his pencil drew a curve. The curve turned out to be Claire’s body. Claire laying on her side. The lines of her. Sensual. Then, he drew her hair: a mess of curls, darkened by his pencil. A nest. The most perfect mess. His finger blurred the lines softly, stamping his skin with the pencil lead.

Doing that reminded him of what it felt like to touch her. To run his fingers through her soft curls, down her back, and over her lips. He had lost many memories of the war after the bombing, but the ones of that night were still as clear as day. Cherished and hidden in his mind.

The Scot thought about calling home to tell his mother he was coming back. He had picked up the phone numerous times and started to dial the number, but decided against it in the end. It was better to say those things in person, anyway.

As a lad, he had constantly imagined himself running the farm alongside his father before he eventually became the Laird in turn. Many times, he had felt happy — giddy, even — at the idea of taking over, of being in charge. Now, the entire prospect gave him a feeling of nauseating dizziness. The sight of the mountains made him utterly sad.

In Scotland, he didn’t feel at home anymore. Jamie had realised that home wasn’t a place. It was a person. Home was Claire. It would always be her.

Standing in front of the estate, army bag over his shoulder, Jamie felt a cold rush of panic creep up his spine. He felt like a stranger in his own land, as if he was coming back from the war all over again; except this time, he was conscious and not crippled. Nevertheless, the sunken feeling in his chest was identical to the weight he carried when he spent his days roaming the house like a ghost during his recovery.

It felt as if years had passed since he last came home, when in fact, the last time he had been here was six months ago. A time much more different from now. A time when he thought his path was all clear and laid out before him. A time when he thought he was ready to follow it.

Everything was different now, and everything would be even more different once he left Lallybroch in a few days.

“Mo Mhac!” His mother’s voice snatched him out of his thoughts. Blinking, he turned softly and saw her standing on the porch, hands resting on her hips and a bright smile gracing her face.

Ellen Fraser was tall and red-haired, just like her son. Very fair-skinned, her eyes were grey and full of kindness, fringed with the most graceful black lashes. Walking towards her son, she couldn’t hide the mixture of delight and surprise she felt upon seeing him.

“I wasna expectin’ ye home so soon, lad!” Her arms came around him, pulling him in for a hug.

“Och, aye, I ken mam.” Jamie held her close for a moment, closing his eyes briefly.

“Ye look tired, a leannan,” Ellen noted as she took a step back to take a good look at him. Cupping his cheeks, she frowned. “Are ye eatin’ well?”

Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her maternal worry. “Aye, I am eatin’ well, mam. Dinna fash, I’m tired from the journey is all.”

“Some rest and some good food for ye then!” Winking, Ellen hugged him tightly one more time before practically pulling him toward the house.

“Everyone will be so glad to see ye home!” she exclaimed happily, her wide smile still stamped on her face. “Yer Da is in the fields, but I reckon he’ll be back soon enough, eh.”

“Aye,” Jamie answered simply, following his mother.

His heart broke slightly, seeing his mother so happy. He knew why he came. He knew what would happen. He felt the cold metal of the necklace Claire gave him under his shirt. It didn’t erase his fears, but it slightly soothed them. 

“I’ll go bring my bag upstairs, mam.” He didn’t wait for her answer, instead simply taking the stairs on the familiar path to his bedroom, the one he had lived in since he was a lad.

He shoved his bag into a corner before sitting on his bed, softly bouncing on the mattress. Looking around, he realised that his bedroom never truly changed. In this room, he had dreamed about being a painter. He had spent countless nights reading art books and artist biographies. He recovered from his war wounds, physically and psychologically. He dreamt of her.

The walls of this room held his deepest secrets, his aspirations, and everything else that made James Fraser the man he was today.

******

Jamie sat at the dinner table, silently eating his broth; his mother, father, and sister around the table for company. Mary lived in the village nearby, and he had assured his mother he would go see her first thing tomorrow — something to which she didn’t comment on, even after giving him a suspicious glance.

He swirled his glass around, getting lost in the whisky and its colour. Seeing her eyes. Always her eyes. So intoxicating. So warm.Burning his soul like the liquor burning down his throat.

“Are ye listenin’ to me, ye dafty?” Jenny nudged his arm and looked at him.

“Aye, what?” Reluctantly, he removed his glance from his drink and looked at his sister.

“What are ye tryin’ to find in the whisky, eh?” She smirked, leaning her head against her palm. Jenny wasn’t very tall, barely five feet, yet she took her remaining physical attributes from her father. Jet black hair and a straight nose. The only trait the siblings shared were sea blue eyes and stubbornness. Being slightly younger, she loved to annoy her brother to no end.

“Nothin’, I was just thinkin’ is all,” he mumbled, taking a long sip to finish his drink.

“Are ye good, lad?” his father asked, his brow furrowing slightly. Jamie’s father had eyes like a cat — piercing, in a way that always made his son incapable of lying to his face.

“I’m good, Da,” Jamie said sincerely, putting his napkin onto the table, “but I need to talk ye all about somethin’.”

“Is somethin’ amiss?” Ellen asked, looking first at her husband and then back at their son.

“Nothin’s amiss, no,” he answered as he watched his parents. “‘Tis about Mary…I thought about it for a while, and I realized that I canna marry her.”

Silence.

Jamie continued before anyone would have the chance to respond, “I canna marry her, because I’m no’ planning on coming back to live in Scotland. I want to stay in London and keep painting.”

“Pardon, lad?” Brian questioned, depositing his glass onto the table rather loudly.

“I’m stayin’ in London, Da. My paintings are doin’ well, I have a good life there. I dinna want to compromise it all to come back here. I dinna love Mary, it wouldna be fair to be her husband when I ken I could never love her the way she deserves to be.”

“‘Tis no’ about love, Jamie. Ye gave her yer word. Yer word that ye would take care of her and her bairns. And ye told us ye would take over Lallybroch as the Laird—”

“Aye, I ken I have, but I canna anymore.”

“Oh ye canna?” Brian huffed, shaking his head. “That’s yer excuse then? Ye canna do it? I thought ye were a man, Jamie, and no a lad, but I guess I was mistaken.”

Sighing, Jamie tried to find the right words. As a child, he always wanted to impress his father. Now, seeing Brian’s disappointment all over his face broke Jamie’s heart.  “Ye dinna understand—”

“No! I dinna understand!” Brian got up, looking at him, visibly upset.

“I dinna understand why ye are abandonin’ yer family this way for a frivolous life in London. We let ye have yer time. When ye left after the war, we stayed quiet because we thought ye needed to heal. Then, ye came back and agreed to get married and take over as Laird when the time would come. We let ye go to London for a while before the weddin’, and now ye’re back to tell us ye dinna plan on followin’ through? Do ye ken how many people were countin’ on ye? I thought I had raised ye better than that, James.”

“Just let me explain—”

“No,” the older man said firmly. “If ye decide to leave to go back to London, I dinna expect ye to ever walk back through this door. And I dinna expect to call ye my son again.”

With those words, Brian Fraser walked out of the dining room without taking another look at his son.

Jamie was heartbroken by what just happened with his father — heartbroken at the stubborn nature of this old man who didn’t even want to listen to him. Slowly, he turned to look at his mother.

Ellen sat at the end of the table, an unreadable look on her face. Before he could say a word, she spoke, “Jenny, leave us alone a minute, aye?”

“Aye,” the last of the Fraser clan answered softly and got up. She gave an empathetic look to her brother, one that said “I understand”, as she disappeared from the room.

“Mam…”

“Well go ahead, explain yerself.” She watched him, taking a sip of whisky.

“I’m in love, mam,” Jamie said softly, noticing the expression on his mother’s face softening as soon as he spoke those words. Words he never spoke out loud before, he realised.

“I’m in love wi’ a lass, and I have been ever since we met durin’ the war.”

Getting up, Ellen looked at him. “Come wi’ me, a leannan.”

Jamie got up and followed her toward the Chesterfield where they both sat down, fireplace crackling in front of them.

“I want ye to tell me everythin’,” Ellen stated as she took Jamie’s hand and squeezed it, a reassuring smile on her lips. Jamie was suddenly aware that it would be the first time that he’d tell someone from his family about the war.

“Her name is Claire.” His lip flicked up at the mention. It always did. He couldn’t help it.

“Claire Beauchamp. She was a nurse at the military hospital I stayed at in Normandy. I had injured my shoulder and I was shot, but ye ken that part.”

His mother nodded, holding his hand.

“She’s the one who took care of me, then. The one who nursed me back to health. She healed my wounds, my fever. She was no’ only my nurse, she became my friend during those long days I spent on that cot.”

“Christ, ye should see her, mam. She’s so beautiful. Even with blood stains and her cursin’ over me not to die.” Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle softly at the memory. “She was the first thing I saw when I woke up at the hospital. She saved me that day.”

“I’m verra grateful for that, a nighean,” Ellen said softly, looking at him.

“Do ye recall when I was a wee lad, ye told me I would ken the right lass the second I laid eyes on her?”

“I recall,” she smiled softly.

“Weel at the time I found it a foolish thing to say. I was sure ye were lyin’ to me to ease my worry, but ye were right. The second I saw Claire, I just knew. Just like ye knew it was Da.”

“What happened then?”

Jamie closed his eyes for a brief second, trying to grasp any image of that night from his memory. “The night before I had to go back to the front, I promised her I’d find her. I promised her we would be together again, and she promised me the same thing, but then the bombing happened.”

He moved slightly, his tense scars paining him. “It happened, and when I gained my consciousness back, I was here. My body crippled and without a way to go back to her until I got better. And then I left, determined to find her.”

“That’s why ye had to leave, then?”

“Aye.”

“Took me a while to find any information about her until…” he stopped, a shiver running through his body at the recollection of the day he found out Claire was dead, “until I found out the hospital where she was stationed had been bombed and everyone there had perished.”

His mother frowned slightly, continuing, “So yer lass, she is…”

“I thought, aye. I thought she died Ma but by the grace of God she dinna.” A single tear strolled down his cheek,  a tear of relief from speaking those words. He realized he was still quite in disbelief that Claire was truly alive.

“She came by the gallery one mornin’ and since then, I havena stopped thinkin’ about her. About what I should do. All I ken is that I canna marry Mary, no matter what. I understand why Da is upset. I dinna break a promise lightly—”

“I ken ye dinna, Jamie,” Ellen answered softly, her thumb stroking away his tear.

“I lived my life thinking Claire had died. Thinking that I would never see her again. But I was wrong. Now, I canna live my life without at least trying to have her in it. I’m sorry…” he croaked, looking at Ellen.

“A leannan.” Wrapping her arms around her son, she held him tightly against her — like she did when he was a wee lad. He wept in her arms for a while — weeping for all he had never wept before.

“Ye gotta be selfish sometimes, Jamie,” his mother said softly, stroking his curls back. “Ye ken when I married yer father, my family was against it. Ye ken we had to fight to be together. I refuse to let yer father do the same thing my father did. He just needs time, but please tell him what ye told me.”

“But ye heard him—”

“Aye, I did. But I ken yer father better than anyone else. He has the biggest heart. He willna hold it against ye if ye explain to him what changed in yer life. If I ken somethin’ about Brian Fraser, it’s that the man loves love.” His mother’s smile at that moment soothed every worry he carried about disappointing his father.

She stroked his arm. “But ye have to talk to Mary. Ye owe her that much.”

“I will talk to her tomorrow, I promise,” he reassured her.

“Good.” She kissed his temple and got up. “Now I’ll go and see where ye father has gone.”

“Aye,” he looked up at her, “and mam? Thank ye, truly.”

“Just bring me this Claire one day,” she smiled warmly, “I’d like to thank her.”

“Aye, I will. Maybe I should tell her how I feel about her before I do that.”

“I have a feelin’ ye shouldna worry too much about that, lad. I dinna ken the lass, but I think she feels the same about ye,” she winked and walked out of the room.

Jamie leaned back into the couch, praying his mother was right.

******

The village where Mary lived was a few minutes away from Lallybroch, and she lived in the same home she had grown up in. As a lad, Jamie had ventured to Mary’s house many times to share afternoon cake with her and her late brother before they would go and play in the fields.

Mary was so different from Claire. She was discreet and removed — always quiet and without many opinions. She was content to simply be a wife to someone. Something, Jamie was very well aware of, Claire would never settle for.

He never thought spending his life with Mary as his wife would be terrible. They had been friends for many years, and had shared laughs and tears. They got along very well, just like friends. And, Jamie realized, friends was all they would ever be.

Her husband, Rabbie, died at the front. Rabbie had actually served in the same regiment as Jamie. Agreeing to marry her had been a sort of compensation from Jamie as he tried to shut out the guilt of being alive while his friend was not. Rabbie had a wife and children waiting for him at home when Jamie had no one like that. He never understood why he had lived.

Until he saw Claire again.

He knocked softly, waiting for an answer. The house seemed quiet, which meant the children — Elias, eight; and Tammas, ten — were probably not home.

Mary opened the door slowly, a smile illuminating her face when she saw him. “Jamie!”

“Hello,” he greeted her nervously, “I hope I didna come at a bad time?”

“When is it ever a bad time, eh?” Chuckling, she hugged him tightly. “I wasna expectin’ ye, that’s for sure. Do come in!”

Smiling softly, Jamie walked in and looked quickly around. “Are you by yourself today?”

“Aye, the lads went down to the village wi’ Mrs. Crooks.” Mary closed the door, still smiling.

“Och, nice.” He looked at her, hands in his pockets. How could he tell her? Was there even a right way to do it?

“Are ye alright, Jamie?” She walked over to him slowly, a worried expression on her face.

“We need to talk, Mary,” he finally blurted out, voice soft and hesitant.

“‘Tis sounds serious.” She couldn’t help but smile, something that relaxed him slightly. “Come sit then, and let’s talk.”

“How are the bairns?” he asked as he sat down.

“Good,” she cheerily answered, sitting next to him. “Verra good.”

“Och ‘tis good,” he grinned in response, yet feeling full of guilt.

“Sae ye wanted to talk to me? Tell me what’s wrong.” Mary took his hand, and he noticed how different he felt with Mary in comparison to the rush of emotions he felt when Claire did the same simple gesture.

“Aye, I do want to talk to ye but I dinna ken how I can start —”

“Start with the beginning,” she responded,  giving him a reassuring smile. He wasn’t sure if it helped or made matters worse.

“I canna marry ye,” he started, carefully watching her expression shift slightly to confusion.

“I canna marry ye, Mary, because my heart belongs to someone else. Someone I thought had died durin’ the war but who I found out recently was still alive and well. She walked back into my life, and I finally feel like I can breathe again. I have known ye since I was a bairn, and ye are one of my dearest friends, Mary. I canna lie to ye and act like nothin’ has changed since the last time I was here.”

“I understand, Jamie.” Her face softened and she squeezed his hand.

Mary kept her eyes on Jamie’s, taking a deep breath as she responded, “I ken our marriage wouldn’t have been one of love. At least, no’ the kind that binds a husband and a wife. Ye are a dear friend to me, James Fraser. One I can count on, no matter what, but I canna be angry at ye now because ye tell me the person ye love the most is alive and well.”

“Aye, it wouldna be fair to ye and the lads—”

“No it wouldn’t,” she interrupted, “and it wouldna be fair to ye, as weel. I ken what ‘tis like to love someone so much.” A tear strolled down her cheek.

“And if Rabbie walked through the door right now, whether it be tomorrow or in ten years, I would feel like the happiest woman on earth. So aye, I understand, Jamie.”

Without a word, Jamie gathered her in his arms and held her tightly. They were both in the same situation, after all, except he had been lucky enough that Claire wasn’t actually dead.

Now he just hoped she’d still want him. He could only pray.

“I dinna ken if she even wants me, but I have to find out, no matter what.”

Mary gently broke free from Jamie’s hug, finding his hands and squeezing them again.“She’d be a fool not to want ye, Jamie,” Mary quipped, looking at him, “and I’m sure she isna.”

“Thank ye, Mary,” he answered, smiling in response. “Truly.”

“Dinna thank me, Jamie. Just be happy, aye? Cause ye deserve to be.” She hugged him again, this time putting Jamie in her arms.

“Ye too,” he muttered against her cheek, closing his eyes.

“I have my bairns, a roof over my head, and work in the village. Dinna fash for me,” she said with an air of reassurance “And I ken I have a great friend I can call, no matter what.”

“Always,” he asserted, stroked her cheek. “No matter what ye or the boys need, just tell me.”

“I will, I promise.” Smiling, Mary got up and Jamie quickly did the same.

“Are ye leavin’ now? Because I have some whisky and I want to ken everythin’ about yer lady,” Mary smirked, and Jamie couldn’t help but smile.

“Aye, I guess I have some time to tell ye and share a wee dram of whisky.” He followed her into the kitchen, his heart feeling lighter and his guilt evaporating.

Jamie spent the next few days at Lallybroch surrounded by his family. He talked to his father and explained the situation, just like he had with his mother and Mary. As it turned out, Brian Fraser was indeed a romantic and understood where his son was coming from. He gave him his blessings and hoped to meet Claire very soon. Like the rest of the Fraser clan.

As the days passed and his return to London approached, he started to feel nervous. Anxious. His mind haunted by Claire and what could be. What should be.

Deep down, Jamie had no doubt that they were meant to be with one another. He simply hoped Claire felt the same way. What they had shared was too powerful — too consuming — not to continue. He loved her, like he had never loved anyone before and would never love again. What was between him and Claire wasn’t usual. It was more. So much more. Surely, hopefully, she still felt it too.

When Jamie walked away from Lallybroch, he promised his family he would come back one day. And silently, he hoped it would be with Claire and Edouard by his side.

As a family.

Chapter Text

Claire had never been anxious by nature. As a child, she wasn’t afraid of the dark or of the monsters under her bed. She wasn’t afraid to sleep under the stars in the middle of the Sahara Desert, or inside a pyramid, surrounded by centuries-old relics. Growing up, she wasn’t even afraid of death. After her parents’ accident, she had quickly understood that it was simply another part of life. A part no one could avoid; thus, she might as well get used to the idea. She didn’t recall being afraid even during the war. Not until she met Jamie, anyway.

However, tonight, she was terrified. A nervous feeling groping her gut. A cold rush of panic creeping up the back of her neck.

Tonight, her exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was opening. Not only was it the first photography exhibition there, but it was also the first one by a female photographer, at that. When the call came to ask her about opening an exhibition, she almost said no. She didn’t want to showcase those pictures again. Not after the war, with everyone trying to rebuild life as they had once known it. But the more she thought about it, the more she realised that in order for people to remember what happened, those pictures had to be shown. 

History shouldn’t be forgotten, and she would make sure this part of history wouldn’t be. Too many people had perished. Too many lives had been taken. Too many innocents. They deserved to be remembered.

It had been a week since she had talked to Yi Tien Cho at the gallery. One week spent shutting out any thought of Jamie and the life he was about to start back at Lallybroch. One week where Claire threw herself into work as her big night approached. During that time, she realised she could never be mad at him. After all, she knew he was bound to go back to Scotland eventually. She simply hadn’t asked him when exactly, because she didn’t want to start counting the days like she had in 1943.  

No, Claire couldn’t be mad at him. She loved him too much. So much, that as long as he was happy, with or without her, she would be happy for him. It would simply take some getting used to. She decided to keep the moments they shared safely tucked in a secret place. A place only she would revisit, sometimes, when she’d need it the most.

She arrived in London in the middle of the afternoon. It felt like it could have been around 3 or around 4, but she didn’t care to check.

The opening started at 7:30 p.m., which meant she had a good amount of time to kill before having to show up at 7. She had booked a little hotel room to stay at overnight, since the last train to Surrey was at 8 p.m., and she went there immediately after arriving at King’s Cross.

Lambert went with her to London a few days prior to check out the exhibition before it would open to the general public. She didn’t want her son to attend the exhibition and see pictures that a child was never meant to see. Therefore, Uncle Lamb had proposed to take him on a camping trip for the weekend while Claire spent her time in the Big Smoke.

Her room wasn’t very big, and the walls were coated with wallpaper that felt as if it mainly existed to give her a headache, but she didn’t mind. The pieces of furniture consisted of gorgeous oak, and a canopy bed took centre stage. She already couldn’t wait to laze around in it with a good book tomorrow morning. 

Claire put her leather bag on the bed and opened it, carefully taking out her dress and heels for the event. She hung the seafoam blue piece on a hanger by the door and brushed off the fabric to get rid of a few creases. She then put the dark brown velvet heels on the floor by the dresser and went to take a shower.

Under the warm water, she tried to make her mind shut up, but she couldn’t. Everything brought her back to Jamie, no matter what. And she was tired. Tired of longing for a man she couldn’t have. Tired of loving him so much. Tired of not being able to stop. She was exhausted. Her mind was even more troubled than it had felt when she believed him to have perished during the War. It also broke her heart to see how sad Edouard was not to see Jamie again.

The little boy didn’t ask for him, but she knew he wanted to. Thankfully, since Uncle Lambert had shown up, he was busy following along with Lamb’s adventures. But deep down, she knew Eddy missed Jamie just as much as she did. It would get better with time. At least, she hoped it would. 

******

The first floor of the National Portrait Gallery looked exactly the same as it did when she had left it two days ago after spending all day hanging her pictures. Now, there were a few more people around, dressed in impeccable white shirts and holding drink trays for the arriving guests. She smiled politely at them and removed her trench coat before taking a look around, experiencing her exhibition in full for the first time.

It was an odd feeling to see her work printed and hung on the white walls. The black and white pictures framed in thick black frames, making them even more impactful on the eyes. It was different than seeing them printed in the newspapers back then. She knew them all by heart. She remembered exactly where and when each photo had been taken. And she often wondered what became of the people she photographed.  

The biggest print took centre stage. It was the one and only picture of herself. Taken in 1945, in Munich. She had been travelling on her way from Dachau, images of the camp stamped in her mind — and on her rolls of film — forever. She was with a troupe of American soldiers and the journalist Jane Sheeman when they discovered Hitler’s house.

She didn’t exactly remember for how long she had stood in the impeccable pink-tiled bathroom. The scent of mandarin soap took residence in her nostrils, giving her a strong urge to throw up. She stood there for a while, the contrast from what she had just seen at the camp and nearly making her dizzy. That’s when she decided to take that picture.

The picture that would have her known around the world and in the photography world forever. The picture of her, naked in Hitler’s bathtub. Her army boots — still muddy from the camps — lying by the pink tub, on the perfect clean mat. Her uniform thrown on the chair. And her face turned slightly away from the lens.

Guests started to arrive around thirty minutes after Claire had arrived, and she spent most of her evening walking around and making small talk. As she continued thanking people for coming, the nervous feeling in her stomach slowly disappeared. She was even starting to enjoy herself. Or maybe it was just the champagne she kept on drinking.

Either way, the evening went far better than she could have imagined. She even managed not to think of Jamie so much.

“You are a remarkable woman, Signora Beauchamp,” a dark-haired man exclaimed, coming to stand next to her.

Claire turned her head slightly to have a better look at him. He had a seductive Italian accent and the most piercing green eyes. He was dressed in a dapper navy suit over a crisp white shirt. She smiled as she responded, “well, thank you.”

“May I introduce myself,” his smile grew broader, “Tomaso Carisi—”

“Oh, the art dealer from Rome,” she tilted her head, smirking, “I know who you are. Everyone kept talking, or more so whispering, about you coming here tonight”

“It tends to happen,” he responded, almost embarrassed. “Not that I enjoy it immensely.”

“I actually believe you do enjoy it, far more than you care to admit.” She sipped her drink, looking at him.

“The sharp wit of the Brits,” he chuckled softly. “Never not charming.”

“I do hope you are enjoying your evening—”

“Very much so.” He watched her, smiling in his seemingly default charming manner., “Your work is indescribable, and I rarely find pieces that leave me speechless these days. You are very talented.”

“That is very kind of you but I simply took pictures of what was happening around me. I’m not sure if I would call it art, even if it hangs in a gallery for a while.”

“You’re mistaken, Signora Beauchamp. The way you took those pictures, capturing so much of humanity in a time where humanity was almost lost. The way you froze those moments with such empathy, it’s remarkable. You are an artist.” Tomaso smiled, touching her arm in a friendly gesture. “Veramente.”

“Thank you,” she said sincerely, her smile growing wider until something behind Tomaso caught her eye. A mop of red hair. One she was too familiar with.

She didn’t hear any more of what Tomaso was saying to her. She didn’t even know if he was actually still talking, as her eyes were glued on Jamie. Standing in a corner, watching her, his lip flicked up in a reserved smile. Her heart was pounding in her ears. So much so, that she believed it was going to stop at any second and she’d drop on the floor, unconscious. She gripped her glass tightly, but quickly stopped before it could explode in her shaky hand.

“Signora Beauchamp?” Tomaso frowned, looking at her. “Is everything alright?”

Blinking, she reluctantly took her eyes off Jamie and turned her eyes back to the Italian man. “Yes, sorry, I was lost in my thoughts. You were saying?”

“I’d like to talk to you about potential exhibitions in Rome and even in New York. We could go have dinner once the opening is over?”

“Tonight?” She looked at quickly at Jamie and then at Tomaso again. “I’m not sure I could tonight.”

Claire could. She absolutely could. But she didn’t want to. Yet, a tiny bit of herself resented Jamie for showing up here after disappearing to Scotland to get married without a word. She almost accepted Tomaso’s offer upon a second thought.

“I’m sorry. I—I have to go for a moment.” She managed a polite smile. “Thank you for coming —”

“I will leave my hotel room number with your gallerist in case you want to reach me? I’m in London for the next two weeks—”

“Do so,” she answered quickly as she finished her drink.

The place was packed with people, walking around and studying the pictures. Small groups. Large groups. Everyone talking about one thing and one thing only — Claire’s photography. Nevertheless, that knowledge was lost on her as she made her way towards Jamie. Her footsteps heavy and slow, almost paralyzed by fear. The last time she had seen him, she had naively thought that maybe — just maybe — he loved her. She had been wrong.

“Claire!” Raymond, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, grabbed her hand and grinned.

“I want you to meet some people, dear.” He was very French and eccentric, reminding her of her Uncle Lambert in the way he dressed and carried himself, always with a tiny pair of glasses hanging on the tip of his nose.

She had no time to answer Raymond, as he was already leading her towards the other side of the room, leaving Jamie to disappear behind the crowd of people. She had caught his eye, and that had been the last time she saw him during the evening.

******

Claire finally managed to extract herself from the opening two hours later. Her eyes kept scanning the room for Jamie, but she didn’t see him. She started to believe that maybe he had simply been a fragment of her imagination and he had not been standing there, watching her. It wouldn’t have been the first time she imagined him. Nor would it be the last, she painfully thought.

Trench coat on, Claire made her way outside the Gallery, and the fresh air hitting her face was a welcome distraction. Droplets of water hit her porcelain skin, notifying her of the gentle stream of the rain, almost like a breeze. She was about to start her walk back towards her hotel when a certain voice made her freeze in her steps.

“Claire...”

Claire turned around slowly, almost scared of the possibility that the voice didn’t belong to Jamie, even though she knew perfectly well it did. He stood there, flesh and bones.

“Hi,” she answered faintly, feeling the rain against her cheeks. “I didn’t know you would be here.”

“I couldna miss yer big opening, Sassenach.” Jamie approached her, steps slow and hesitant, almost as if she was a wild animal ready to run off if he came too close.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t talk to you sooner. I feel like I talked to a million people tonight and when I looked for you again, I couldn’t find you—” She let her sentence die and swallowed the hard lump in her throat.

“Dinna fash, ‘tis is yer big night,” he smiled tenderly. “The exhibition seems to be a success already. Would ye join me for a wee dram?”

“Now?” She watched him, wanting to scream yes. “I…..I don’t think I could Jamie, I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” He seemed genuinely disappointed, but his reaction made something inside of her boil. Something she knew perfectly well that she had no right to feel.

“It was really nice to see you again...Goodbye, Jamie,” It took the little courage she had left in her to give him one last look and begin walking away from him.

At first, he didn’t follow her, which both equally pained and relieved her. Her pace increased, finding herself in a hurry to get away from him and from the rain.

“Sassenach, wait—” Jamie appeared again in front of her and she stopped abruptly, looking at him. She was glad it was both too dark and her cheeks were too wet for him to realise that she had started to cry.

“Claire, have I done somethin’ to upset ye? Is it me showin’ up here? I’m sorry if—”

“Congratulations,” she said softly — so softly, she wasn’t even sure he had heard her.

“What for?” Jamie frowned, confused at her sudden change of subject.

“For your wedding,” she spat out more aggressively than she had intended to communicate. She couldn’t help it, though. He wasn’t hers to have, but she couldn’t let him go and it drove her mad.

“I came by the gallery and Yi Tien Cho told me you went back to Scotland. I didn’t know you’d be around again, but since you are, congratulations.”

“Claire, what are ye talkin’ about? When did ye come by the gallery?”

“It doesn’t matter now, does it?” she scoffed, starting to walk again. The cold was sliding under her trench, and she cursed herself for wearing such a dress when the weather wasn’t cooperating.

“Aye, it does matter,” Jamie yelled above the rain as he followed her. 

“Claire!”

She didn’t stop. She didn’t turn. She kept on walking and began the process of convincing herself that she didn’t want to look at his face ever again.

“Tha gaol agam ort!” His deep voice resonated into the empty street of London. 

That made her stop at once. Her heart rate increasing and a shiver creeping up her spine. She had heard him say this before. Once before. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to recall the exact moment he had said these words to her for the first — and only — time. The words took her back to Normandy. To that night. She had never known what they meant. She had never wanted to know. Knowing him dead, it was unnecessary.

“Sassenach, please look at me.” His voice was starkly different. Pleading, his voice sounding like one of a little boy.

Claire turned slowly to look at him. His hair and clothes were starting to get drenched by the increasing pour of the rain, just like hers.

“You promised me you would tell me what it meant when you saw me again.”

“Aye, I did.” Jamie took a step closer, reaching to touch her cheek. “And I’ll never break a promise to you, Sassenach.”

She closed her eyes, melting into his touch. For a moment, she let herself go, knowing that it might be for the last time with him. 

“Then tell me,” Her eyes opened, locking with his. She’d be happy to drown in them for the rest of her life if he let her.

“I love ye, Claire.”

Claire shivered, his words like a punch to her guts. A mixture of shock and joy, rushing altogether.

“We spent one night together,” she halfheartedly rationalized, “you can’t love me.” 

“Yet, I do. Do ye no’ love me?” Jamie stroked her bottom lip with his thumb. 

“Look at me and tell me ye never once felt for me what I’m feeling for ye right now, Claire. Look at me and say so, and I’ll be on the first train to Scotland and ye’ll never have to see me again.”

“You’re married,” she concluded in defeat, her eyes dropping to the floor and therefore missing the confused expression beginning to take over Jamie’s face.

“What are ye talkin’ about, Sassenach?” Jamie lifted her chin and she reluctantly followed his direction. “I’m no’ married, why do ye keep sayin’ so?”

“ Yi Tien Cho told me you went back to Scotland—”

“Aye, I did.” His lip flicked up, almost amused.

“I went back to talk to my family and to Mary. To tell them I couldn’t get married to her.”

Claire blinked, feeling her knees wobble under her weight. “But—”

“I canna marry another woman when I ken ye are alive, Claire.” His arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her close.

“I canna spend the rest of my days wi’ anyone else but ye. I dinna want to. And if ye dinna want me, well I’d rather live alone than in a vain hope to find someone who makes me feel half as good as ye do forever, because I ken it isna possible.”

“You love me,” she whispered, almost in disbelief,  cupping his cheeks.

“Aye, I do. from the first moment I saw ye. When I woke on that cot in France with you sitting on my chest, cursing me for bleeding to death. I said to myself: Jamie Fraser, for all ye canna see what she looks like, and for all she weighs as much as a good draft horse, this is the woman.” He couldn't help but smile even wider as he stroked her damp cheek. 

“Since then, I never stopped. But I told ye...if ye dinna love me, Claire, tell me so and ye willna have to ever see me again.”

“I thought I would never see you again,” Claire answered in a cracked voice. 

“More than once, I tried to persuade myself I could live without you. That I had to live without you because I didn’t have another choice. I couldn’t do it again. I don’t want you to go back to Scotland. At least not without me.”

“I willna,” he whispered, his face coming closer to hers. “I promise ye. And ye ken I dinna make promises lightly.”

“I ken,” she answered, eyes locked with his. She could feel his warm breath tickling against her lips. Tingling with the need to kiss him again. Finally, after all this time.

“Kiss me,” Claire rasped, lips almost touching his. It was neither a pleading nor a question, and the Scot knew it perfectly well.

Their lips touched chastely at first. Carefully. Testing the territory. The memory. Slightly terrified one or the other would disappear, or that they would wake up from a hazy dream.

Claire felt his arms wrapping tighter around her waist, holding her against him as his tongue parted her lips, overlapping together. It took all the willpower she had not to let a moan escape. Instead, she held him close and kissed him slowly. The familiar taste clogging her senses like she had last only kissed him a minute or two ago.

The rain had not stopped. It actually worsened, but neither of them minded just now. They had made love amidst the chaos of war. Kissing under the pouring rain wasn’t that terrible, after all. And this time, their kisses wouldn’t have to stop tomorrow.

Chapter Text

In all her life, Claire didn’t recall feeling freer than she did just now. Running through the streets of London under the pouring rain, holding Jamie’s hand. Her clothes were soaked. Her hair a mess. But she didn’t care. She loved Jamie and he loved her back. They could finally be together now and the sheer idea of it brought an inexplicable sense of relief over her. A lightness.

Jamie’s apartment wasn’t very far. It wouldn’t have taken them much more than fifteen minutes if they didn’t stop every so often just to kiss like giddy teenagers. As if it was their first kiss. As if it would also be their last.

“Jamie…”She mumbled against his lips, droplets of rain strolling down her cheeks. She should be shivering from the cold but she wasn’t. Far from it. She was breathless, however.  

“We’re going to be sick if we don’t make it inside soon enough –”

“‘Tis no’ verra far, Sassenach,” He answered between two kisses, a tender smile forming on his lips.

“That’s what you’ve been saying for ten minutes now,” She couldn’t help but laugh, the sound echoing in the empty street.

“Ten minutes, eh?” He nuzzled her neck, making her lean back against the wall. “Have ye been countin’?”

“Not counting per se,” She smirked, holding him close. “But I don’t want us to get sick come morning.”

Looking up, Jamie gave her the most tender expression. His face lightened by the street lamp. “Come,” The scot held out his hand and she took it. The warmth contrasting against her cold palm.

His apartment was situated in a narrow alley, the door up some stairs to the right. Claire followed him there, fingers still entwined with his.

Jamie turned slightly before turning the key into the lock, his mouth curling up into a smile, “‘Tis no’ much, Sassenach. And no’ verra big – ”

“Just open the door,” She smiled, kissing his cheek. She couldn’t help but feel nervous to be alone with him again.

“After ye, Sassenach,” The scot opened the door and let her in. “Dinna mind the mess, aye? Pretend it doesna exists.”

Claire couldn’t help but chuckle, walking inside, “Edouard showed you my office, I wouldn’t judge your mess.”

“Oh aye, the lad did. It was quite messy,” Jamie followed her and turned on the light.

Grinning, Claire nudged him before looking around.

The place wasn’t very big but it felt homey. There was a little kitchen on one side while the rest of the main living space was taken over by his canvases, a table with pigments and brushes, stacks of books and drawings. On the other side, under the big windows, laid a battered leather coach and almost next to it, stairs going up a mezzanine she believed to be his bedroom.

“Tis no’ much but…’tis my wee home,” He stood behind her, a smile on his face she couldn’t see but heard in his words.

“Why are all the canvases turned away?” She asked softly, moving her head to look at him.

Jamie shrugged, almost embarrassed, “I dinna like to look at them so much. I never had.”

Claire turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck. She didn’t know where the ease came from but it seemed to be so easy to be around him – like they never parted five years ago. 

“You are talented, you might as well accept it at some point,” She smiled, the tip of her fingers stroking the back of his neck.

“Ye are biased, Sassenach,” He whispered, leaning his face closer to hers.

“Yes, I’m absolutely biased,” She rubbed her nose against his, her breath tickling his lips, “But I’m right, anyway.”

“I dinna think I can have the last word wi’ ye, can I ?” He licked his lips, his hands on her waist, pressing her closer. Both their clothes were drenched and clinging to their bodies but neither of them was cold. Quite the contrary.

“At least not about this subject, no,” Claire closed the distance between them and kissed him once more. She didn’t count how many times she had done so since their reunion on the sidewalk barely thirty minutes ago. But each time felt like the first time all over again.

The kiss was slow – almost painfully too slow. And Claire felt the heat rise up her body once more. Want. Need. She knew the same thought was up in both their minds. It could scarcely be otherwise.

“Claire…”Jamie rasped against her lips, his voice barely a whisper. “Will ye come to bed wi’ me, then?”

Pulling back, their eyes locked at once, both breathless from their kiss. His words made her feel suddenly very bold. A boldness she only experienced once with a man – that night in 1943. With him.

Without an answer, she stepped back and watched him. His expression almost confused as to what she was about to do next. She reached out behind her and unzipped her blue dress in a swift but slow motion. Sliding the fabric up her body, she revealed her undergarments and saw Jamie’s eyes shift to a dark blue – almost black in the subdued light of the apartment. 

She let the dress fall on the floor and removed her shoes before she stood in front of him, in her matching set of black lace, her garter belt holding up her stockings. 

“Christ, Claire…” His voice cracked, his eyes shining with something but she couldn’t pinpoint what exactly. She felt the heat rise up her cheeks – probably turning crimson at this point, she thought. She knew her undergarments left little to the imagination. All of a sudden, she felt shy.

Her arms came around her, and a mixture of a chuckle and a sob came out of her mouth, “Would you bloody well say something?”

Jamie took a step closer, taking her hands slowly. He brought them up to his lips, kissing her knuckles,  his eyes never leaving hers, “Ye are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Sassenach. And the only woman I want to see for the rest of my days.”

“I haven’t done that in quite some time,” She said softly, her index finger stroking his scruffy chin.

“I have only done it once…” He admitted, his smile mischievous and tender.

“If I recall correctly, it was twice,” Her own smile erupted at the memory of their night together all those years ago and at the knowledge of being the only woman who knew what it was like to see James Fraser surrendering himself to love.

“Aye…’tis was,” He licked his lips once more as her hands came up his shirt and started unbuttoning it slowly, each button removed revealing an inch of his skin.

Her eye caught on something and she stopped all a sudden. Her finger tracing the silver chain around his neck. 

“You…you kept it?” She couldn’t prevent the way her voice cracked as she asked him about the necklace. The one she had given him and she never thought he’d still have.

“Of course I did. Barely took it off,” He rested his forehead against hers, “It kept me safe…like ye promised me it would and whenever I felt it against me, I knew you were there somewhere, protectin’ me. I dinna needed it to think of ye but it was a great comfort to me durin’ all these years.”

“I’m glad it was,” She said sincerely, looking up at him, vision blurred with unshed tears.

“Do ye want it back?” He asked softly, stroking her cheek.

Shaking her head, she smiled, “No…It’s yours.”

He cupped her chin, eyes piercing through hers, and rasped, “And ye? Are ye mine?”

“I believe you already know the answer to that…”

“Remind me,” He whispered softly, his fingers stroking a stray curl behind her ear.

She knew her hair was most likely a frizzy mess but she didn’t care. Not answering, Claire finished unbuttoning his shirt and took it off, followed by his under-shirt to reveal his toned body that managed to almost rendering her speechless. Need growing in the pit of her stomach. She almost stroked his chest before her hands started their travel down his fly but she didn’t, afraid to burn herself on him.

Jamie watched her skilled hands opening his trousers and she could feel his eyes on her, feeling his heart – and her own– beating with anticipation. But she took her time, they were in no rush, after all. That simple knowledge made her heart almost burst. It was such a stark contrast that the first – and only – time they had been together like this.

With the slightest tremble from both of them, Claire placed her hand over the front of him, feeling how badly he wanted her. A breath left his chest as he glanced down at her and his trousers fell to the floor. Then, she took a small step backwards, her eyes never leaving his.

“I want to look at you,” she whispered so softly he barely heard.

Jamie held her gaze, hooking his fingers into the waistband of his boxers and pulled them down, letting them join the rest of their clothes on the floor. Her amber eyes moved downwards, over his chest and flat toned stomach, to the dark rust coloured hair in between his thighs. He was more than ready and he was aching for her – just the sight of her made him almost beg.

“Sorcha…” Jamie whispered and Claire reached behind her to unhook her bra, her shoulders shrugging off the material and it dropped to the floor. “Christ.”

She took a step forward, her heart hammering in her ears and placed her hands on his chest, using him as her anchor. “I want you, Jamie,” Claire looked up at him through thick lashes and then in the next instant he bent down, placing one hand behind her knee and the other behind her back, carrying her over to the mezzanine and then the bed.

“One more thing,” Jamie chuckled as he laid her back and moved his hands to her garter, working on unhooking them.

“Here,” she sat up and helped him. His cheeks were tinted pink and he placed a soft kiss to the inside of her palm before lifting one leg and removing the thin material slowly. Once the stockings were both off, Jamie laid his hands on her hips, feeling the lace of her panties against his skin.

“I want ye so much, Sassenach… Ye dinna ken how much I longed for ye…to kiss ye…to touch ye,” he said before pulling off the last remaining article of clothing and leaving her bare before him. His eyes moved slowly across her body, drinking her in. “Will ye have me now?”

Claire leaned up onto her elbows, cupping his cheek and kissed him slowly. “Yes, I’ll have you. Always,” she smiled against his lips and he positioned himself over her.

Slight anxiety crept on her. So brief, Claire did not notice it as her eyes were lost in his – drowning in the ocean. She had dreamt of his hands on her body for so many nights. She had craved his kisses. His voice. His touches. She had craved him and she was finally free to have him. All of him. Free to give herself to him, just like she did once. Just like she wanted to do for the rest of her life might it be long or short. 

The foreign yet familiar feeling of their bodies meeting again after all this time was almost too much for her. Starting to thrust inside of her, Jamie wrapped Claire’s leg around his waist, his fingers pressing into her thigh. Surely come morning, she would be bruised with the touch of his love. She craved him. It was primal. She knew neither of them would last long but it didn’t matter. After all, they had all the time in the world now. 

His mouth was all over her burning skin. Her lips. Her neck. Her breasts. Claire arched her body, her eyes glued on his toned chest, vibrating with each thrust.

Bodies joined, they danced a slow dance together as one. In the privacy of the little apartment on Middletown Road. Together again. One soul divided into two hearts.

*****

When Claire woke up, she didn’t know what time of the day it was. Sun barely crept in through the windows under the mezzanine and her eyes were too heavy to open completely. Yet, she knew exactly where she was and she couldn’t help but smile at the thought. Reminiscences of fractions from the night before coming by to her bit by bit. His smell clogging her sense. His touches stamped her body.

But the bed was cold. She could feel that much.

However, she wasn’t worried. She could hear Jamie rummaging in the kitchen down the stairs and the kettle boiling. The noise far enough not to wake her completely but close enough for her to know it hadn’t been a dream. Smiling, Claire kept her eyes closed and turned on her belly, yawning.

She must have dozed off again, at some point because she got woken up sometimes later, by a trail of kisses on her bare back, coming up her spine. Goosebumps erupting all over her porcelain skin.

“Good mornin’, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered, his breath tickling against her skin.

“Morning,” She mumbled against the pillow, smiling.

Slowly, Claire turned around and looked at him – his piercing blue eyes still rooted with sleep, his sweet smile. He looked like a cherub and she felt a bit faint at how handsome he was.

Without a word, Jamie leaned up and sealed their lips tenderly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer, “Mmh…”

“How did ye sleep, mo nighean donn,?” He asked softly, his index finger brushing a rebellious curl away from her cheek.

“Rather good,” She admitted, smiling. “I haven’t slept so well for a long time…I was afraid to fall asleep last night, actually.”

“So was I, a nighean,” He kissed her again, “I was too afraid if I did, ye might disappear come mornin’”

“I haven’t,” She stroked his cheek. “I’m not a ghost, at least not anymore –”

“I was one…” Jamie said softly, something passing through his eyes briefly.

“Until I saw ye again,” He added, his lips brushing against hers. “I was dead, my Sassenach, and yet, all this time, I loved ye.”

“So long as my body lives, and yours – we are one flesh,” he whispered. His fingers touched her, hair and chin and neck and breast.

“And when my body shall cease, my soul will still be yours. Claire – I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you. No’ anymore, anyway. Not again.”

“I could never let you go,” She watched his eyes, cupping his cheek.

“I tried hard enough but you were always there. Somewhere. No matter what I did or where I was. You were there with me. Keeping me safe. And sane, in a way. Even when I was so lonely and afraid I knew I must die. I knew that I had to keep going, that it was what you would have wanted for me. But it was bloody hard,”

“I ken, Sassenach,” He stroked her bottom lip with his index finger. “The same happened to me.”

“And when I saw you again…After the initial shock of realising you were alive, I hoped you’d feel the same way I did about you but I didn’t want to assume. Then you told me about your engagement,” Her eyes dropped, her chest tightening at the memory.

“It wasna something I did out of love, Claire,” Jamie lifted her chin softly, eyes locking with hers. 

“At least no’ the kind of love that bound us. That isna something to be found more than once in a lifetime, Sassenach. I’m no’ even sure we could find it again in another one. But I had made a promise at a time I didn’t think I’d ever see ye again and when ye appeared at the gallery that day, I could barely believe it. I dinna want ye to think I loved another the way I love ye because it wasna the case.”

“I don’t think that,” Her thumb gently stroked a tear away from his cheek. “I have no doubt about it now.”

“Mary and I have been friends since we were bairns back in Broch Mordha. She played wi’ my sister and I and we’ve always been close,” He explained, moving them both on their sides and held her in his arms.

“Her husband, Rabbie was in my regiment,” His voice grew silent after his statement and Claire felt a shiver run up her spine at the thought of his regiment’s end.

“When I woke up at home, after the bombin’ and I learnt that Rabbie had died, I immediately thought about Mary and their two bairns. Two boys,” He smiled at the mention of the children. “One of them is around the age of Edouard.”

“When I realised Mary had lost the love of her life, I couldn’t understand why a man who had a family waiting for him had to die when I didn’t. Then, I immediately thought of ye and that I had to find ye because if I had survived, it must have meant something. I remembered the promise I had made to ye. Not to die. To find ye again.”

Claire nodded, listening carefully and stroked his cheek as Jamie was slowly telling his story.

“So when I was better and I started to look for ye, I was so full of hope. Like I could breathe again. Knowing that I would see ye soon and be reunited wi’ ye…”

“But you found what happened at the hospital,” She added softly, closing her eyes for a moment. 

“Aye,” His voice cracked, his arms tightening around her as if she would disappear. 

“And I thought about Rabbie and Mary. How our stories were no’ the same but similar in a way. Here I was, alone wi’out the one person I loved the most and Mary was in the same situation. Except she had two bairns. Two boys who would grow up wi’out a father. I went back to Scotland for a bit and my mother talked to me about the wedding. How it was time I take my father’s place as the Laird and how marrying Mary would be a good thing for everyone. I believed them.”

“They weren’t wrong, it would have been a good decision,” Claire said softly, forcing a smile. She had no reason to feel jealous of Mary. In reality, she wasn’t. But the faint idea of it made her heart drop, a little bit. She couldn’t help it.

“Aye, it wouldn’t have been a bad marriage, I ken that much,” Jamie smiled softly. “But then ye came back and I knew immediately I couldn’t go through wi’ it…I was just afraid ye were not seeing me the way I was seein’ ye. After all, we only spent one night together, during a time where everything was uncertain and we both wanted comfort. We were afraid.”

“Now we both know it wasn’t just comfort,” She stroked his chin, his scruff rasping against her skin. “It was more than that.”

“Aye, ‘tis more than that, Sassenach,” Jamie sealed their lips for a moment, entwining their hands, “I dinna ken what it is between us. When I kiss ye…When I lie wi’ ye…When I touch ye…but I ken it’s more, mo nighean donn. It’s no’ usual what it is between us.”

Claire shook her head slightly, smiling,” I don’t know what it is either but it’s not usual, no.”

“I’m glad it hasna changed since that night,” He whispered against her lips before kissing her, his hand sliding under the cover to stroked her side.

“So am I,” She whispered against his lips.

“I want to draw ye,” His lip flicked up into a mischievous smile and she chuckled softly.

“Draw me?” Claire raised her eyebrow, “Again?”

“Aye,” He kissed the tip of her nose. “I’ve drawn ye from memory countless time and only once did I do it wi’ ye in front of me. I want to do it again, Sassenach. And seeing ye like this, wrapped in the sheets, yer porcelain skin glowin’ in the morning light – I’ve never seen ye so beautiful, mo ghraidh.”

Claire blushed, running her hand through her curls, “I must be looking like a poodle after being caught in the rain.”

“No, mo nighean donn, ye look perfect,” Jamie stroked her cheek before getting up to grab a pencil and his sketchbook. He sat by the bed and watched her for a moment.

“What do you want me to do?” She asked softly, her eyes not leaving his.

“Dinna move,” He said softly, smiling.

So Claire didn’t and watched him at his task, fascinated by his concentration and how he didn’t look once at the paper while he drew her.

“You look all serious,” She noted, smirking. Her observation made him chuckle softly.

“Are ye makin’ fun of me, Sassenach?” His eyebrow rose up in question as he was meticulously drawing her.

“I was just making an observation is all,” She smiled, “I wish I had my camera right now to take a picture of the master at the task.”

Jamie grinned, not making a comment on that. “I hope no one was expectin’ ye home last night…”

“No,” Claire smiled, “My uncle is in town and took Edouard camping for the weekend. I didn’t want him to see the exhibition. He doesn’t need a reminder of those atrocities now. It’s too soon.”

“Ye’re right,” Jamie watched her, smudging the paper with the tip of his finger. “But one day he’ll have to see the work his mother did because ‘tis important.”

“One day,” She smiled, moving slightly.

Silence fell into the room again while Jamie concentrated on his drawing. His eyes briefly leaving her to look at the paper. He looked like a little boy, biting his tongue softly and frowning while he graced the paper with dark lines of her.

“Edouard loves you, you know,” Claire finally said, breaking the comfortable silence.

Jamie looked up slowly from his sketchbook, his eyes shining. “He does?”

Claire sat up slowly, smiling and nodded, “He does, very much. When I told you about you going back to Scotland, he told me he thought we’d be a family one day…”

“There is nothin’ I’d love more than that, Sassenach,” Jamie kneeled on the mattress and put his sketchbook away.

“You know,” She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down with her. “The cottage isn’t very big but…it’s big enough for the three of us. Even if you’re a giant,” Her smile grew wider.

“What exactly are ye askin’ me?” He rubbed his nose against hers.

“I think you know exactly what I’m asking you”, She stroked his cheek, smiling. 

“London is smoggy and clogged. I think the countryside will do you some good and the garage is mostly unoccupied…It’s big enough to make you a painting studio and all that jazz.”

“Are ye sure the lad will approve?”

“I’m sure,” Claire held him close, resting her head on his chest. “There is nothing he’d wish more than have you around. He looks up to you a lot, you know. I love raising him but often I wondered if I would be enough for him –”

“Ye ken ye would have,” He kissed the top of her head. “Ye’re a wonderful mother, Claire.”

Turning around, she laid on her belly and watched him – her heart squeezing. “We didn’t get to raise our child but we can get to raise Edouard. Together.”

“Aye,” Jamie’s smile grew wide. “Together.”

Claire leaned up, cupping his cheeks. A feeling of utter happiness taking over her body. She had Edouard and Jamie. She didn’t need anything more to finally be complete. She straddled him slowly as her lips found his. Overlapping.

Jamie wrapped his arms around her waist, sitting up and whispered, “I didn’t finish my drawing yet, Sassenach.”

“Later,” She whispered between two kisses, slowly sliding down on him. “We’re not in a rush, are we?”

“Nay,” Jamie groaned, his hands travelling down her back to take a firm hold of her buttocks, “We’re no’ in a rush at all, Sassenach.”

Claire started to move her hips in slow motion. So slow it was almost agonizing for both of them. She cupped his cheeks, her whisky eyes lost into his own. In them, she saw the past. Their night together in France. The months after their parting. The first year after the war. And she saw the future. Their future together as a family.

At that moment, Claire realised that even now, after all the pain and death and heartbreak that followed their night together, she still would make the same choice.

                                                      The end.