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First Time Here?

Chapter Text

“Nice place,” Garret said, looking around the dimly lit pub.

“Yeah,” I agreed, trying to look at the mahogany furniture, the tartan wall tapestries, and hear the soft plucking of guitar from the eyes of someone who’d never seen it before. But I was very familiar with Fraser’s Ridge…especially of late.

“Kind of kitschy though,” he said, and I bit back a retort of defense.

It had been like a second home in college, my friends and I had relied on it for a late-night greasy burger on school nights, and cheap beer and whiskey shots on the weekend. And when Frank and I had started dating, it had more or less become our place.

But after four years of dating, and an additional three years of engagement, I discovered that Professor Frank Randall was providing study help with a certain buxom, blonde student named Sandy that didn’t end with flash cards.

Maybe I shouldn’t have relied on my best friend Joe’s advice, which had been to get off the sofa, put away the ice cream, and get back out there and date. Date as much and as frequently as possible. And if those dates ended with a good shag, all the better.

Well, none of my dates so far in the four months since I’d gotten back in the proverbial saddle had ended up in my bedroom, but I had been rather hopeful that maybe Garrett would be the lucky one.

He was tall, handsome, and since we met at the gym I’d seen him shirtless and found the sight very pleasing.

But the way he was sticking his nose up at the pub was making me start to wonder if he wasn’t a bit stuck up himself.

Meanwhile, my other friend, Louise, had advised me against continuing to bring my dates to the pub.

“They’ll know you’re a regular,” she had said. “Someone is bound to ask about the other guy you took there last week. Not to mention it was where you and Frank used to frequent.”

But the pub was where I felt most comfortable, had been long before Frank, and I wasn’t about to let him take it away from me.

And besides, I had an unspoken arrangement with the owner and bartender, Jamie Fraser.

“First time here, lass?” he said, appearing on the opposite side of the bar, wiping a glass.

“Yeah, for the both of us!” I said cheerfully. “What do you recommend?”

“Our cheeseburgers can’t be beat,” he said, simply offering my favorite item on the menu.

“Sounds good to me,” I said. “And a whiskey, please.”

“Same for you?” Jamie asked Garrett, a little less cordially than he had spoken to me.

“God no,” Garrett wrinkled his nose and quirked a grin at me. “You think I got abs like this eating red meat? What vegetarian options do you have, mate?”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at my date, looking like he was just barely managing not to roll them. “Weel, ye can have a cheeseburger…minus the cheese and burger.”

“I’ll just have a wine spritzer,” Garrett said impatiently.

Jamie froze, his rag and glass hanging limply in his hands as he just stared at Garrett in disgust. His gaze slowly drifted to me, and I fixed my own eyes on a water ring on the bar instead.

“I’ll…just get those started for ye,” Jamie said quietly, and I looked up in time to see the bastard’s shoulders shaking as he walked away.

“Weirdo,” Garrett muttered before beginning to regale me on the amount of weight he was able to bench press.

Jamie returned a few minutes later with our drinks. One wine spritzer, and one whiskey – two fingers, a splash of water, exactly how I took it.

He gave me a quick searching look, then one of his characteristic “winks” which amounted to him just blinking with both eyes like a sleepy owl, before walking away again.

“Can you believe that guy?” Garrett said once Jamie was out of earshot. “Here you are on a date and he’s checking you out.”

“He is not,” I laughed. “He’s just being a good bartender.”

Garrett snorted. “Yeah. Sure. How much you think he lifts?”

I glanced over at Jamie, at where his biceps bulged under his rolled up sleeves. “How would I know?” but I did know that while he spent his nights working at the pub, he spent his mornings at his family’s farm, breaking horses, hauling hay barrels, carrying calves. I imagined he could probably lift twice what Garrett could, only in the form of bags of feed.

When I’d been in college, Fraser’s Ridge had been run by Jamie’s father and godfather. I had the fondest memories of Brian and Murtagh bickering behind the bar, teaching a teenaged Jamie how to mix drinks.

When Brian died, Jamie took over his father’s share of it, and the family farm had been left to Jamie’s sister and her husband.

Because I knew all of this, I knew Jamie hardly had time to frequent the gym.

The date never really looked up after that. All Garrett would talk about was exercising and clean eating, and he stared in disgust at my burger.

All of that didn’t stop him, however, from asking to come back my place.

“Um, no thanks,” I said, trying to remain polite about it. “I think I’m going to just call it a night.”

Garrett’s brow furrowed. “The hell you mean? I thought we had an understanding here.”

“Understanding?” I asked. “And just what does that mean?”

He scoffed. “Come on, you hit on me at the gym, flashing your low-cut tank top, invite me to a bar you admit is down the block from your apartment. I buy you some drinks and a burger. What am I supposed to expect?”

I straightened up on the stool, glaring at him. “You’re supposed to expect to have a nice evening of getting to know me. That’s all you get to expect. As for the drinks and burger, thanks, but I can pay for my own.”

“Don’t be a bitch!” he snapped, catching the sight of a shadow appearing over the bar beside him.

Jamie stood there, large and forbidding. “Everything alright here?” he asked, his voice calm and polite, while his eyes were anything but.

“Could I get another drink?” I asked quietly, resignedly. It was our code. If the night was over, but I had no intention of leaving the bar with my date, I’d ask for another drink. Jamie knew that to mean my date needed shown to the door.

“Aye lass, right away,” Jamie said, eyes never leaving Garrett. “You can settle your tab wi’ Murtagh over there, sir. And it will include th’ burger and whiskey.”

Garrett leapt to his feet, chest puffed out. “Like hell it will.”

Jamie slowly came around the bar to our side. What I don’t think Garrett realized was that there was a step there that brought Jamie up to his true height, which…even though Garrett was tall…Jamie had almost a whole head on him.

Garrett snorted and backed down, heading for the register where Murtagh was standing, glaring as forebodingly as his godson.

I sighed in relief once Garrett was gone, and slumped against the side of the bar. And here I’d gone and bought a brand new little black dress for this. Jamie sat down on Garrett’s vacated stool and eyed my sympathetically.

“Are ye alright, Sassenach?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just…” I groaned. “Tired.”

“Well I must say, I didn’t think I’d ever see a date of yours I like even less than Frank, but that one came close.”

I chuckled. “Oh come off it, you didn’t dislike Frank when I was dating him. You only hate him because of why I do.”

Jamie wrinkled his nose, but it was considerably cuter than when Garrett did it. “Och, no. I only put up wi’ the bastard for your sake.”

I laughed and shoved at his shoulder. “Well you might have said something sooner! Maybe I would have dumped him before he had the chance to cheat on me.”

“If I’d known ye would have listened to your bartender, I would have!”

I smiled in thanks at Murtagh, who set two glasses of whiskey before us. “Come on, Jamie, everyone knows there’s no one in the world you can trust more than your bartender. Besides, you’ve known me forever.”

“Aye, I have,” he said softly, and I looked over at him puzzledly, wondering at that tone.

He shook it off though and straightened, taking a sip of whiskey. “How many is that, anyway?”

“How many drinks or how many guys?” I clarified, and he gave me a teasing look.

“I ken exactly how many drink’s ye’ve had, Sassenach.”

 I rolled my eyes up to the ceiling. “That’s…oh God…six! Six different first dates in four months…and no second ones. What’s wrong with me, Jamie?”

“Not a thing,” he said firmly. “You’re intelligent, witty, no’ to mention gorgeous.”

My eyebrows raised in surprise. In all the years Jamie and I had been friends, he’d never showered me with compliments like this…nor had he ever looked at me that way before.

“Ye may no’ have th’ best taste in men though,” Murtagh muttered as he passed by.

“Be nice, ye auld coot,” Jamie chuckled.

“He has a point,” I admitted. “But I’m done. I am swearing off of men. I’ve lasted this long with only my vibrator for company, after all.”

Jamie had been mid-sip when I spoke, and he inhaled suddenly, causing him to cough and splutter and turn a marvelous shade of red that matched his hair.

“Christ!” he exclaimed, but whether it was about choking or what I’d said, I didn’t know, but I laughed hysterically either way.

“You’re so easy to fluster!” I cried, nearly falling off my stool.

He glowered at me, though he face was still pink. “Not as easy as that other guy. What, two, three dates ago? Karen?”

Casey,” I corrected drolly.

“Casey,” Jamie scoffed. “Ye crossed your legs in that wee green skirt of yours and he near went into cardiac arrest.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, he was cute.”

“So why didn’t ye see him again? At least he was a gentleman.”

Shrugging, I re-crossed my legs, and didn’t miss the way the movement drew Jamie’s eyes. “I don’t know. I just didn’t feel any spark with him I guess. Hey wait…you remember what I wore three weeks ago?”

Jamie huffed and shrugged his own shoulders. “Oh…well…I didn’a know for sure. Lucky guess.”

“Sure,” I said, smirking. “So…how are things going with that girl you were seeing?”

“Annalise?” he asked. “Oh…no, we broke up months ago.”

I frowned. “Really? You didn’t tell me. What about that other girl? The one Murtagh said was following you around like…and these are his words…a dog in heat. Leghair?”

Jamie laughed, and my eyes were curiously drawn to the way his jugular moved. “Laoghaire? Christ no! After trying to let the lass down gently, I later found out that she’d gotten hold of a lock of my hair somehow and made a fucking voodoo doll!”

I laughed along with him, hand over my mouth. “How do you think she got your hair?!”

“Dinna ken…but I think she paid one of my nephews for it.”

I shook my head. “So basically we’re both bad at relationships.”

Jamie frowned in affront. “I’ll have ye know I’m a verra good boyfriend.”

“That so?” I asked, wondering how a man could smell so damned good between working at a farm and a bar.

“Oh aye. If you’re ever in the mood tae find out, just let me know.”

I glanced up at him in surprise, and found him looking away, his fingers tapping nervously on his jean-clad thigh. I reached over and covered his hand with mine, drawing his eyes back to mine.

“And just…what would you do? As my boyfriend?”

“Well…” he began, smiling shyly. “I’d start wi’ taking ye out to a nice dinner. Watching ye eat a burger is a treat tae be sure, but our first date should be different. We could go dancing, then walk through the park.”

“Sounds romantic,” I said. “And I suppose you’d walk me home?”

“Of course I would. Straight to your door, as is proper.”

“And then what?”

His cheek dimpled as he fought down his smile. “Weel, a kiss on th’ first date may no’ be proper, but perhaps if the night has gone well, I might ask if it’s okay.”

I let my hand run over his, delighting in the feel of the calluses on his palm. “And if I say yes?”

“Then I will,” he said quietly. “I’ll try tae make sure it’s one to remember.”

“And then?”

He chuckled. “And then I say goodnight, and that I’ll call ye the next day, only I’ll probably text you that night, since I can hardly wait to talk to ye again.”

“And…what if I ask you inside for coffee?”

Jamie affected a mock scowl. “Now then, lass, I’m no’ that kind o’ man. Ye’ll have to wait until at least the…third date.”

I nodded solemnly. “Quite right. No sense rushing. I suppose the only step now is…to ask me out.”

A hand suddenly slammed down on the bar next to us, making us both jump. Murtagh leaned over, eyes dancing behind his scowl.

“If you two dinna stop your blathering and get out of here, I’m going tae pour a bottle of seltzer on ye.”

“You heard the man,” I said, hopping off my stool and dragging Jamie with me.

“But all th’ restaurants will be closed now,” Jamie pointed out.

“You can still take me on a walk through the park. Besides, how many drinks have you bought me over the years? If you count those as dates, this has been our, what, fiftieth? Don’t you think it’s time to…come over for coffee?”

Jamie’s eyes widened comically, and I used his surprise as distraction so that I could stand on tiptoe and kiss him.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t always somewhat wondered what it would be like to kiss Jamie Fraser. And right then the only thought it my mind was…

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ why haven’t I done this sooner?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Jamie whispered, and I blushed at the realization that I’d said the words out loud.

We left the pub hand in hand, Murtagh shaking his head at us as we went.

Chapter Text

I was only a tiny bit lightheaded as we headed out into the park. Well, maybe more than a tiny bit, but I’d had three glasses of whiskey and Jamie poured with a heavy hand.

But more than the alcohol, my head spun with the way everything had changed so quickly.

I liked Jamie. I’d always liked Jamie. I remember being in my early 20s and he an adorable, gangly lad of 17, riotous red curls always a mess, seeming to forever have a smudge of something somewhere on his face, making my friends and I laugh with his exaggerated tales of life on a Highland farm.

I also remember the day he returned after being away at University and Louise and I both had to pick our jaws up off the floor at the sight of the unbelievably handsome man he’d become.

But I’d been with Frank by then, and I suppose I’d just let Jamie settle in my heart as an old, trusted friend, even after my relationship with Frank was over.

Then tonight he began looking at me in a way no friend would look, and it had taken my breath away.

Or…maybe it hadn’t just begun. Maybe I’d only just noticed.

It hadn’t been easy for me, resigning myself to abstinence after seven years of having a consistent partner, and initially it had seemed like a matter of course that I would take the next willing man to my bed, just to let off some steam if nothing else. But I hadn’t been able to. As much as I enjoyed sex for its own sake, something had been holding me back. I assumed it was trust.

And I trusted Jamie, I trusted him possibly more than any man I’d ever known, except for Uncle Lamb. He’d always been there with a listening ear, always been there with a dangerous glare and ready fists in case they were ever needed to protect me from drunk pub patrons. He made me laugh, he treated me like he valued who I was, not just as a body, like most men.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, I’d gone and fallen in love with Jamie Fraser…and I hadn’t even noticed.

“Shh,” Jamie hushed laughingly, interrupting my rousing rendition of Oops I Did it Again. “Ye’re a loud drunk, aren’t ye?

“I’m not drunk,” I said primly. “Besides, you tell me all the time that you can’t be drunk if you’re standing up.”

I had to choose that moment to stumble over a stick in the path, and he had to pull me to him to keep me from falling. He quirked an eyebrow at me, and I playfully smacked him, pulling away even though I didn’t particularly want to.

“How long have you liked me?” I asked him suddenly.

Jamie looked up at the sky, as if the answer was written up there somewhere. “Hm, how long have we known each other again?”

I chuckled, but it trailed off when he didn’t, and I realized he was serious. “Wait…really? Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

He snorted. “Weel, in the beginning I didn’a think ye would’ve been all that enamored by havin’ a green whelp lusting after ye, and you a grown woman o’ twenty-one. And by th’ time I came home from University wi’ a few more years, a few more inches, and a few less pimples, you were with Frank.”

That struck me with a rather sad feeling. I’d been happy with Frank for a time, but what might it have been like if Jamie had come home and we’d both been single? Where might we be now? “But Frank and I have been broken up for six months,” I said. “You should know. I literally cried on your shoulder.”

“And what kind o’ man would I have been? Hittin’ on a woman whose heart has just been broken? No, Sassenach, ye mean far more tae me than that.”

I pulled on Jamie’s hand, tugging him to a stop. He turned and looked at me with those impossible blue eyes of his, and there was no way I could keep from kissing him just then.

Jamie threaded his fingers through my hair, tilting my head a little so he could slant his mouth over mine, his tongue slipping past my lips and finding places in my mouth that made my knees weak.

“Get a room!” some guy shouted as he biked past us, and we broke reluctantly apart.

“He has a point,” I said slyly, pulling on his hand again. “Coffee, Jamie?”

His look was warm and soft, and I just kept thinking I’d better get him home soon. “Aye,” he said. “I’d verra much like some.”

 

My mouth was on his the moment my door was shut and locked, and my hands on the buttons of his shirt, but when I noticed how stiff he was (and not in the way that was expected at the moment,) I backed off, looking up at him worriedly.

“I’m sorry…did you not want…I mean if you really do just want coffee…”

“No,” he interrupted, his breathing labored. “It’s no’ that, it’s just…are you sure, lass? I dinna want to rush into this and you regret it. If you regretted it tomorrow I…”

He trailed off, and the look on his face right then damn near broke my heart, and I framed his head with my hands, kissing him lightly.

“Truth is, I’ve liked you for a long time, too,” I said. “I just…wasn’t ready to admit it yet, I guess.”

He smiled. “Are ye ready now, Sassenach?”

I kissed him again. “I like you, Jamie. I really like you,” it was far too soon to admit the much more powerful feelings thundering in my chest, but this would have to be enough for now.

“I like you, too,” he whispered, leaning down and taking over the kiss.

God but he was a good kisser.

Before I was even aware that we were moving, my back was being pressed up against my bookcase, causing the books to rattle and a small ceramic apple to tumble off and land with a dull thud on the carpet, cracking in two.

Shit,” Jamie hissed, looking down. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I chuckled, coaxing him back to me. “I forgot that was even there. It was a gift from Frank…I hid it up there because it was so damned ugly.”

Jamie smirked and kicked at the hideous apple with the side of his foot, swiping the pieces away, then slid his hands behind my back, protecting it from the edges of the bookshelf and lowered his forehead to touch mine.

It was an oddly intimate gesture, innocent though it was, and the pause made me realize that Jamie was shaking.

I made a soothing, shushing sound and ran my hands up his arms and across his chest, feeling the way his heart was about ready to hammer right out of his chest.

“Sorry,” he whispered again. “I…haven’a done this…in a very long time.”

I huffed a wry laugh. “You needn’t apologize. I haven’t either,” I wasn’t going to be specific, but then I thought he might have been politely fishing about my history, and I didn’t blame him, with the revolving door of dates he’d been forced to witness. “Six months. Not since…well, you know.”

Jamie winced, though he was blurry, so close to my face as he was, and I could have sworn he was beginning to blush. “I win,” he muttered through his teeth. “I…Never.”

I was already nodding in understanding before his words registered and I pulled back, squinting at him in shock. “Wait…what? You’re saying you never….

He shrugged self-consciously and leaned away, relaxing his grip on me, like he was expecting me to flee. “Never. I’m a virgin, alright?”

I struggled to close my mouth, and knew I should have just politely let it go, told him that was perfectly fine…because it was…but I found I couldn’t.

“But…how?”

He snorted. “What do ye mean, how?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry it’s just…look at you! You must have women beating down your door. In fact I know you do! I’ve seen the way they throw themselves at you at the pub. And men, too, for that matter. I always assumed you had someone new to take home every night.”

“That’s what ye get for assuming,” he sniffed in mock affront. “What? Just because I’m a man I should be whorin’ about, is that it?”

“Oh shut up,” I laughed, swatting at his arm. “All I meant was I certainly wouldn’t have blamed you. You’re a very attractive man.”

“Well, I thank ye,” he said, preening. “But th’ truth is…I just dinna really…” he grimaced and looked away, as if looking for the words to describe it. “It’s hard tae explain, ye ken. But I dinna feel attraction most of th’ time…not…sexually that is. I can look at a woman, and see that she’s beautiful, but I dinna want her. It was mightily difficult at Oxford when all of my mates were discussing their conquests. And I let them foist women on me a couple times, and I tried, but it didn’a work. They uh…they laughed at me.”

“Oh Jamie,” I sighed, rubbing his arms, having an irrational urge to go back in time, take that younger Jamie in my arms and hold him. “I’m so sorry you went through that.”

He chuckled breathily, trying to make light of it. “Doesn’a pain me anymore. Annalise was verra understanding and sweet about it, but eventually it wasn’a enough, and understandably so. I even…well ye ken my friend, John? I even…well…I dated him. Briefly. Because I thought maybe that was my problem. I hope that doesn’a put you off.”

“Of course not!” I assured him. “Although you do know he’s still into you?”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh aye, I know. I feel bad, but he’s good friend. I’ve been trying for years to find him a man worthy of him.”

I had a lot of feelings just then, all warring for dominance. There was fury at the bitches who laughed at him, unbearable tenderness for the sweet man, surprising arousal, and then finally wondering what this meant for right now.

Was he telling me he couldn’t have sex with me? I so desperately wanted to be the woman who could truly handle that, but knowing myself, I was terrified that it wasn’t true.

But then he pressed against me again, and I could feel him, hard against the top of my thigh.

“You can’t help the way you feel,” I said softly. “But I do need you to tell me what that means for right now. Jamie, please, if you don’t want this please don’t try to force yourself for my sake. Or even if you just don’t want this right now. We can just kiss, or cuddle, or whatever you want.”

I looked at his face to find him smirking in amusement. “Oh, mo cridh,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, I didn’a make myself clear. What I’m trying to explain is I canna feel that sort of attraction wi’out my heart being involved, ye ken? I dinna want to make ye run for the hills by moving too fast, but I have to be honest. I’ve wanted ye since the moment I saw you.”

He pressed his hips against mine again to prove it, and I gasped. It was quite a responsibility to lay on someone’s shoulders, and a bit overwhelming when it registered that Jamie was essentially telling me that I was the only woman he’d ever wanted.

It was a little frightening, but also exciting.

Very exciting.

If I could have devoured him with a kiss I would have, and tried. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, but I couldn’t reign myself in. I clawed at his shirt, desperate to feel his skin. When I finally got it open I raked my nails over his chest and he let out an anguished moan.

“Come on,” I whispered, getting hold of his hands and leading him to my bedroom.

“That’s what I’m worrit about,” he growled, making our journey difficult by remaining plastered to me, not that I was complaining. “I dinna want this to be over too soon.”

I smiled. “Just don’t you worry, lad.”

Once I got him to my room I pushed him to sit on my bed. He landed with a thump and I took a step back to look at him. He looked positively wild, with his shirt hanging open, his hair standing on end, and his pupils blown so wide I could barely make out the blue.

Normally I might have expected a man to take control at this point, but it was a rather heady feeling to know that the in-control person would likely need to be me for the time being. I remembered the night I lost my virginity, worrying constantly that I’d do something embarrassing, and thought Jamie might be feeling that way too.

But mostly he just looked almost painfully turned-on, so I thought we’d probably better keep the foreplay to a minimum or risk the poor man imploding.

I smiled reassuringly at him before turning around and offering my back. For a moment nothing happened, and then he inhaled suddenly, realizing what was being asked of him. I felt him hunt with large fingers for the tiny zipper, then slowly drag the tab down, the sound oddly loud in the otherwise silent room.

Once the zipper was down I felt him run his callused fingers lightly down my spine, causing chills as they went.

I turned around slowly, and kept eye contact as I let the dress slip of my shoulders to fall into a black puddle on the floor.

By necessity owing to the cut of the dress, I hadn’t been wearing a bra underneath, only a simple nude thong. I privately cursed myself for not opting for the lacy black one, or anything more sexy, and I had to admit to myself then that I had never intended to bring my other date home at all.

What had been his name? It felt like years ago…not hours.

But Jamie didn’t seem to notice or care, his eyes were too busy trying to burst out of his head and were focused solely on my breasts.

I’d often wished I’d been endowed with a slightly more generous bust, especially after Frank’s betrayal, considering his new fling had to be at least a double-D cup. But the way Jamie tentatively reached out and touched me, almost reverently, drove that thought far away.

He glanced back up at me from under the curls that were forever hanging in his face, with a downright boyish grin. I took his hands and brought them slowly to my hips, a gentle invitation.

Jamie looked at his hands then back up, and I could see the muscles in his neck work as he gulped, and he hooked his thumbs into my underwear and dragged them down so slowly it was all I could do not to swat his hands away and finish the job myself.

Once I’d stepped out of my clothes and kicked them carelessly away, I paused to let him look, which he did in abundance.

“You’re the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen,” he rasped, and I chuckled and briefly crossed my arms before forcing them back down, feeling ridiculously shy all of a sudden.

“Well, then,” I said, a little surprised by how husky my own voice sounded. “Fair’s fair. Your turn.”

Jamie shrugged out of his shirt before standing up to work on his belt buckle. I watched very contentedly as he quickly divested himself of his jeans and boxers and…oh my.

He was…well…magnificent. Broad chest covered in red curls that trailed down past a taut stomach, slim hips, and finally to a part of him that was straining and flushed almost purple. And…well…to be quite truthful…it turned out he was a big man all over.

I decided I wanted a better look, and I circled around him, letting my hand run across his adorable little arse and nipping gently at his shoulder all while he stood rigidly still with his fists clenched. When my hand brushed his hip, his cock twitched, along with the rest of him. I so desperately wanted to touch him, I wanted to do a whole lot more than just touch him, in fact. But I knew he wanted this to last as long as possible, and I wanted that for him.

When I stopped in front of him again, I wrapped my arms around his neck and brought him down for a kiss. He groaned and pulled me tightly to him, so that we touched from head to foot. It was bliss.

I was already resigned to the fact that I likely wouldn’t find satisfaction this time, but to be honest I didn’t care. I’d never in my adult life been so focused on my partner’s pleasure, at the expense of my own. All I cared about was making Jamie’s first time memorable, and I couldn’t have cared less if I came.

But in truth I was so wound up it wouldn’t take much to take me over the edge either.

Without warning, Jamie took me by the shoulders and spun me around, and for a second I thought this was the way he wanted to do it. Just exactly what sort of ideas had he gotten from life on the farm? (Or dating John?)

But then he surprised me by, instead of entering me, snaking his hand down between my legs and making a cry burst out from my lips as he began expertly stroking me, somehow managing to find all the right spots in just seconds.

“Fuck,” I hissed, writhing against him. “Where did you learn that?”

He chuckled in my ear, making shivers run down my spine. “I said I’m a virgin…no’ a monk.”

He managed to bring me to the brink of orgasm in an almost embarrassingly short amount of time, but I grabbed at his wrist just before I could fall over the edge, wrenched his hand away and spun around to face him.

Jamie’s look was so heated I could have come just at the sight of it, and he reached down to grab my thighs, picking me up as if I weighed nothing and laying me gently down the bed.

He pulled back for a moment, looking down at me worriedly. “P…protection, I dinna…”

“I’m on the pill,” I told him, and it was a damned good thing too because I had no condoms and even if I hadn’t been on contraception, I was far past the point of caring anymore.

He nodded once, but the look of worry hadn’t left his face. I brushed my fingers along his cheek, and reached up to kiss him. “It’s alright,” I told him. “Don’t hold back, Jamie.”

I reached down and took hold of him, delighting in his low moan, and guided him to me.

Just like that, he snapped, and drove himself into me hard and fast. He filled me and stretched me in the most delicious way, and though his movements were jerky and unpracticed, he somehow managed to hit something inside that I hadn’t even known was there.

As fully expected, Jamie was finishing within seconds, spilling himself inside of me as I clutched desperately at him. I was so close myself, so I brought my own hand down to finish the job, coming so hard I saw stars.

He hadn’t pulled out yet, so I was clenching around him, drawing a sharp cry from him that was music to my ears.

I wasn’t even sure how long we laid there, boneless and barely conscious, letting our breathing slow until it seemed to sync up on its own.

His full weight was resting on me, and it was a bit crushing but I couldn’t find the will or energy to ask him to move.

But eventually he must have realized on his own, because he inhaled suddenly and rolled to the side, taking me with him until I was wrapped up securely in his arms.

I looked up at him from under my tangled hair, chuckling at the sight of his dazed expression. “So?” I prompted shyly. “Was it like you thought it would be?”

He huffed a laugh, one that shook his entire frame. “I thought it would feel good. But with you…Christ, I thought my heart would burst,” he paused a moment then looked at me, his brow furrowed. “Was it…did you like it? I ken it wasn’a what you’re surely accustomed to…”

I rolled onto my stomach and rested my hands on his chest, propping my chin up on them. “Didn’t you feel it? When I…”

His eyes widened. “Was that what that was? I wasn’a sure…except that it sure felt amazing tae me.”

“Well let me inform you,” I said. “It’s practically unheard of to make a woman come so fast on a first try like that. You should be very proud.”

He chuckled. “Not proud, but I feel up to a challenge. I’d like tae do better…if I’m given another chance, o’course.”

I laughed, and kissed his chest. “Oh my sweet lad, I’m ready when you are.”

“Oh aye?” he said, intrigued, rolling onto his side so that he could slide a hand down my body. “Right away, then?”

“Mmhm,” I moaned, rolling into him. “But then it feels like you’re not far behind.”

“I’m a twenty-eight-year-old virgin, Sassenach. I have a lot of time tae make up for.”

“Damned right you do. But Jamie…”

“Hmm?” he hummed, his mouth busy on my neck.

“You aren’t a virgin anymore.”

 

Chapter Text

He couldn’t have known until he was older that he’d had a pretty unconventional childhood.

Where most kids’ lives revolved around school, after-school cartoons, and playgrounds, Jamie Fraser’s life had been quite different.

His school had been learning to muck stalls, drive tractors, shoe horses, and birth foals, all by the age of six. (And in between, of course, had been strict reading, math, history, and language lessons sat between his brother, sister, and neighbors, as opposed to the hour-long trip to the nearest schoolhouse.)

Lallybroch hadn’t gotten the gift of cable until his adult years, so little Jamie sought entertainment from playful foals, goats, dogs, and also from generally being a wee shite and pestering his siblings.

And his playground…his playground has been a pub.

Perhaps that was the most unusual of all. How many children spent half their lives in a smoky pub, mastering darts and pool and earning a whole college fund in tips just by delivering food to tipsy ladies and giving them his most charming, cheeky grin?

But he wouldn’t have traded his upbringing for the world. He was brought up in a fun, safe, secure world, sure in the knowledge that we was ever beloved by his parents, siblings, and family.

But much of that sureness and security was destroyed when Jamie was ten, when his mother and big brother were killed in a car accident on their way to the hospital to deliver Jamie’s new baby brother.

Jamie and his sister, Jenny had both been at the pub with their da and their godfather, Murtagh. Jamie’s mam had allowed Willie to drive only the distance to the pub to get da…something thirteen-year-old Willie had done a hundred times…because she was in labor.

It hadn’t been Willie’s fault. No, it was the fault of the tourist who thought he could navigate the mountains just fine after a six-pack of beer. The tourist had lived, but at least Jamie knew that the bastard would have to live his life knowing his choices had taken the life of a woman and two children.

For a while after that, Jamie was lost. Everything he’d known to be so had been altered.

The one thing Jamie had always been most certain about had been that William could do anything. He could ride half-wild horses, dive off cliffs into the loch, charm any girl with naught but a wink. And yet he would never leave Jamie behind.

Where many older brothers treated their little brother like the nuisances they were, Willie made sure Jamie was always included, and always protected. Willie had been Jamie’s role-model, confidant, and best friend. And Jamie had had visions of himself being the same for his new wee brother. And the pub. The pub was meant to be Willie’s, and half the farm would be Jamie’s, the other half Jenny’s. Jamie didn’t mind inheriting the pub, but he would have traded it for his brother in a heartbeat.

In the blink of an eye all of that assurance was gone, along with his beautiful mother and her warm embrace, all-knowing gaze, endless kisses, and musical laugh.

And his father…his father had just never been quite the same. But how could he be? He’d lost his first born child, and Ellen McKenzie had been the love of Brian’s life. Jamie had spent his young childhood seeing firsthand what true love looked like, and he knew that he would never be able to settle for anything less.

He couldn’t have possibly known how true that was until much later. It all began the night he met her.

He’d been all of seventeen, and had yet to hit his final growth spurt, so he was still gangly of limb, narrow of chest, a voice that still cracked on occasion, and worst of all a baby-smooth face that just refused to grow more than a fuzzy mustache.

Da called him a late-bloomer, and assured him that he would wake up one morning and it would be like the boy he’d been had simply vanished. Murtagh suggested that maybe he just took after his sister is all…and if Jamie could have gotten away would pommeling his godfather, he would have.

Every day after school Jamie would head straight for the pub, where he would hurry to do his homework before work. He still mostly bussed tables, cleaned floors, and served food and drink, same as he had since he was wee, but at least now Da and Murtagh had taken to teaching him how to make the drinks, and of course the ins and outs of business itself.

It was a slow night, as most Thursday nights were, but since the town did boast a small University, it wasn’t at all uncommon to find tired college students loitering about after the restaurants and cafes were closed.

It was one of such groups that Jamie had been ordered to keep an eye on. Bored college students were known to cause trouble once alcohol was involved, and of course they were all wary of anyone leaving the establishment three sheets to the wind with car keys in their hands.

But this group of five appeared fairly innocuous. In fact none of them had had more than one beer, mostly focused on steadily devouring their burgers and fries.

“Can I get ye anythin’ else?” he asked as he passed their table.

“Can you draw a diagram of the aortic valve?”

Jamie arched a brow down at the lass to his right, the one with all the hair who’d been sitting with her back to the bar all night.

But when Jamie saw her properly for the first time, he could have sworn his heart stopped.

To say she was bonny would have been a terrible understatement. He may have been only seventeen, but she was easily the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Pearl-like skin, bonny wee freckles, full lips, and the most remarkable eyes…the very color of a fine whiskey.

Those eyes were staring at him, sparkling and full of mischief.

“Ignore her,” the lad sitting beside her said, laughing. “She’s just had it with test prep.”

“If I have to look at one more word tonight, I will explode,” the lass said. “Boom, aortic valve everywhere. And then my friends would have to double your tip for the mess it would make.”

“Leave him alone, Claire,” another lass said. “You’re embarrassing the kid!”

“Claire,” Jamie croaked, not having meant to…not aloud at least.

“That’s me,” she said, still grinning teasingly, but not in a way that Jamie felt made-fun of. “And what’s your name, good sir?”

Jamie gulped, willing his bloody brain to work damn it! He’d never been a fool around girls before, why the hell did he have to start now?!

“J…James,” he said at last, his voice blessedly unwavering. “James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser.”

The rest at the table laughed, except for her.

“That’s quite a distinguished name, James,” she said.

“Jamie, please,” he told her, mentally kicking himself for pretentiously offering his full name like that.

“Jamie,” she amended.

“Jamie,” Murtagh barked from behind the bar. “Ye gonna stand over there blathering or are ye gonna get to work?”

She still didn’t laugh as the others continued to, just grinned at him some more before turning back to his friends.

He didn’t think he’d ever see her again. Didn’t think he was that lucky. But the next Friday she was there, with the same friends as before. Only instead of jeans and a t-shirt; the standard wear for tired college student, she was dressed in a blue skirt and white blouse and it was all Jamie could do to keep his eyes in his head where they belonged.

Unlike Thursdays, Fridays were very busy, so Jamie could only glimpse her from time to time as she laughed with her friends, drank an impressive amount of whiskey, and slaughtered the lads at darts.

He knew she wouldn’t talk to him. And he wasn’t about to go say hi only for her not to remember him at all. But to his surprised, he looked up from wiping a glass to find her leaning on the other side of the bar, that same wee grin on her face.

“Hello, Jamie!” she chirped.

“H…hello,” he stammered. “Ye remember me?” Idiot!

“School hasn’t fried my brain that much,” she laughed. “I swear though I desperately wanted to come over here and recite your full name but I chickened out. Afraid I’d butcher it.”

Jamie laughed. “Ah, dinna fash. I would have let ye think you’d gotten it right either way.” Oh. Not bad. Much better, at least.

Her nose wrinkled adorably, giving him the ridiculous urge to kiss it. “Dinna fash? I have to say that’s not one I’ve heard before.”

Jamie blushed. “Oh, aye. It’s a bit old fashioned, but my godfather says it all the time. It only means don’t worry.”

“Ah,” she nodded solemnly. “Hakuna Matata.”

He laughed and rolled his eyes. “Aye, more or less. Ye’re clearly no’ from here.”

“No,” she admitted. “I’m from Oxford originally, but my uncle went to school here. He moves around for work a lot, but I liked the idea of carrying on his legacy by attending here.”

“You live wi’ your uncle then?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” she looked away and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “My parents died when I was small. He raised me.”

Jamie winced in sympathy. “My mam died when I was young. It doesn’a leave ye.”

“No,” she agreed, smiling again. “What about you? Are you in university here?”

Jamie inwardly groaned, face surely flushed as red as his damned hair. “Uhh…no, I’m um…S6. Final year of secondary.”

She nodded. “Are you going to go to university here?”

Every fiber of his being wanted to tell her yes. He had sudden, vivid images of them in university together, her showing him the ropes, he her willing pupil…

“No,” he admitted at last. “I’ve already been accepted tae Oxford.”

Her eyes widened. “Impressive! Congratulations! It’s like we’ll be switching places!”

He grimaced. Why was the universe so cruel? “Aye, now I’ll be th’ Sassenach.”

Claire paused and narrowed her eyes. She didn’t look that serious, but it still gave Jamie a bit of a chill, and he hoped never to be on the other end of her true anger.

“Are you calling me a Sassenach?” she said. “Because I have been called that and I am aware that it isn’t complimentary.”

“It only means that’s you’re English!” Jamie protested. “Or at worst, an Outlander. And ye are.”

“Does it now?” she said suspiciously. “Well, I suppose I am at that.”

“Claire!” one of her friends called. “What are you doing? It’s your turn at the board!”

“Better go,” she said. “See you around…” she narrowed her eyes again. “James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser.”

He couldn’t help but laugh, just impressed that she really had remembered.

“See ye around,” he said as she turned to walk away. “Sassenach.”

She spun back around on her heels, shooting him a playful middle finger, then disappeared in the crowd.

“Get that tongue back into your head, boy,” his Da said, sidling up beside him and slapping him on the back. “Ye look like a mongrel.”

Jamie smiled sheepishly. “Do I have tae go to Oxford?” he said, only half joking.

Brian rolled his eyes, and slapped Jamie on the back again. “You’re going to Oxford. There’ll be plenty of bonny lasses for you tae chase once you’re there.”

Jamie figured his father was right. But would any lass be like her?

 


 

 

I rolled over with a moan, shoving impatiently at my quilt. It was hot! Why was it so…oh…

When my hand came into contact with someone else’s skin, my eyes flew open.

At first all I could see was a tangled mixture of curling hair; dark brown and red. And then I moved my own mess of hair out of the way and could finally see Jamie’s face, relaxed in sleep.

For a long moment I just stared at him. He looked unbearably sweet and young, and when I slowly reached over to brush the hair out of his face, his lips quirked up in a smile.

I rolled back over onto my back and sighed, trying to stretch my limbs without disturbing him. I was aching in the best possible way, but otherwise felt boneless and deliciously debauched.

I’d slept with Jamie Fraser. No, more than that, I’d taken the virginity of Jamie Fraser. It had been impulsive in the extreme, totally unlike myself, and yet I didn’t regret it in the least. On the contrary, I couldn’t wait to do it again.

I looked back over at him, at his chest as it rose and fell, at the sheet that draped over his lower half, but doing nothing to conceal the little…well, not so little…morning issue.

My brain ran through several different scenarios. I could wake him with a kiss…slowly coax him to wakefulness and hopefully draw his attention. Or…

Smirking to myself I grabbed hold of the sheet and slowly pushed it down, careful not to wake him. He shifted at the sudden feeling of cold air on his lower extremities and I paused until he settled back into sleep.

Once he had, another dreamy smile on his face, I inched down the bed, letting myself admire the part of him that was most definitely awake already, standing proud in the early morning sunlight.

I lightly ran my fingers up the length of him, watching him twitch in mindless interest. I’d never much cared for this particular act with Frank. It had always been uncomfortable and awkward. He’d loved it of course, but he disliked reciprocating, so oral sex was just something we didn’t do.

So it baffled me that I so desperately wanted to do it for Jamie. He’d probably received it before, he wasn’t a monk after all, but I doubted he’d ever been awoken that way.

Jamie’s breathing was starting to become less even, so I knew he would be waking soon. Leaning up, I first pressed a kiss to the tip before opening my mouth and sinking down over him, hollowing my cheeks.

He woke with a gasp, his entire body going rigid before relaxing just as suddenly, a sleepy hand landing heavily on my head.

“Sassenach,” he whispered. “What…”

I pulled away just long enough to shush him, then got back to work, stroking the parts of him my mouth couldn’t cover with my hand.

“Christ,” he hissed, followed by a string of Gaelic that impressed me. I hadn’t known that many people spoke it fluently anymore.

His fingers wound themselves into my hair, but he didn’t try to control the motion of my head, only clung to me like a lifeline, and I loved the slight sting where he pulled accidentally.

“Claire,” he breathed. “I’m goin’ tae…”

It was at this point I would have normally moved away, finishing him with my hand. But with a mental shrug and a fuck it, I sucked harder instead, shocked by the way the feeling and taste of him finishing in my mouth sent shockwaves of pleasure right to my core.

I released him was a satisfying pop and crawled back up to lie beside him, grinning smugly.

“Good morning,” I said, playfully circling one of his nipples with the tip of my finger.

“Verra good,” he gasped, struggling to catch his breath. “That was…I…um…is it right tae thank ye?”

I laughed and cuddled into his side. “Well, it doesn’t hurt.”

He grinned and rolled over, pinning me beneath him. “Thank ye. And I suppose now it’s your turn, aye?” he started to kiss his way down my chest, and the idea wasn’t an unfavorable one, but I thought about the way Frank recoiled with a grimace, or the boy I’d dated in high school who had tried but had given up when it took too long for me to relax enough to let it feel good.

I knew Jamie would be much sweeter than that, but I just didn’t think I was quite ready to open myself up that much.

“Hmm, maybe later,” I said, making sure to smile so he wouldn’t think I was just being nice. I grabbed his face between my hands and dragged him back up to my face for a kiss, and I must have had it bad since even his morning breath didn’t bother me.

“But…” he muttered against my mouth, and I grabbed his hand before he could argue and brought it between my legs.

This was something Jamie knew how to do, and do well, so he did it with abandon. His large, callused fingers sank inside me while his thumb pressed against the side of my clit, making me buck and write against him. All the while he was no doubt leaving marks up and down the column of my neck, until his lips fastened around my nipple, and I’d never even realized just how sensitive I could be there.

I latched onto Jamie shoulder with my teeth, hoping to leave a mark of my own, and whimpered as my orgasm washed over me long and hard.

He stroked me gently through the aftershocks, then pulled me tightly into his embrace before we both dozed off into very satisfied sleep.

 

When I awoke again it was mid-morning, and there was an annoying tapping sound that just didn’t seem to want to stop.

I opened my eyes, face-to-face with Jamie’s chest. He was still sound asleep, and I couldn’t fight a smile at the knowledge of just how cuddly he was in sleep.

The tapping sound started again and I sighed when I realized finally that it the door, and it also didn’t sound like they were giving up any time soon.

“It’s my day off,” I whispered in annoyance, gently detangling myself from Jamie’s grasp so I could roll out of bed. Whoever it was, they were still knocking, so I hurriedly patted around for something to put on, unearthing Jamie’s wrinkled button down shirt from among the tangle of blankets. I smirked as I put it on, checking to make sure it covered everything before tip-toing out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind me.

I snatched up my phone first, which had been left on my coffee table, and rolled my eyes with a groan. Seven missed calls, and eighteen text messages from both Joe and Louise, which at a glance seemed to contain the same general sentiment of YOU NEVER CALLED AFTER YOUR DATE, ARE YOU ALIVE?!

It was absolutely no surprise at all to glance out the peephole to see Joe on the other side of the door, so I rolled my eyes again and opened it.

Damn it, Lady Jane!” Joe exclaimed as soon as the door opened. “Louise and I have been trying to get ahold of you since last night! You know the rules; you go on a date with a new guy, you check in afterwards! I’ve been worried sick!”

My shoulders slumped. “God, Joe, you’re right, I’m so sorry. I left my phone on silent and I just didn’t think about it.”

Joe looked me up and down, seeming to finally register my apparel, and he chuckled in amusement. “Well, you clearly look well. More than well…I daresay you look well laid. Good, job, Lady! I take it the date went well!” he glanced over my shoulder into the apartment. “Shit, is he still here?”

“Actually, the date was a bust,” I said, leaning against the doorjamb.

Joe frowned in confusion. “Really? What, was it a wham, bam, thank you ma’am?”

I laughed, grimacing even as I did so. “God, Joe! Who says that?! I didn’t bring Garrett home. He was a prick.”

“Then what…”

“Sassenach, are ye…”

Jamie trailed off, and I turned around to find him standing like a deer in the headlights outside my bedroom door, thankfully wearing boxers. “Oh…hey Joe,” he said nervously.

“HEY JAMIE!” Joe exclaimed loudly, his mouth open in a goofy grin and his eyes wide and sparkling before they flicked back to me, so alight it looked like he’d just seen a fairy.

I smiled wryly at him. “Yeah. Anyway, thanks for checking on me Joe, and I’m sorry I didn’t call.”

“No problem!” Joe said, backing out of the doorway. “NONE at all! You two just…carry on, and I’ll talk to you later, Lady Jane. Bye Jamie, see you later!”

“Bye Joe,” Jamie said bemusedly as I closed the door. “Sorry, lass,” he said, wincing.

I chuckled. “Don’t be, I’d have told him later either way. Wasn’t quite expecting him to react like that though.”

“He looked…well he didn’a look mad, at least.”

I laughed. “No. And just wait.”

“Wait for what?”

I leaned back against the door and held up my phone so he could see the screen, and ticked my fingers off with my other hand, three, two, one

My phone buzzed repeatedly as text after text lit up the screen in rapid succession.

Jamie came closer so he could see the screen.

“From Louise,” he read aloud. “Omg Claire, Joe just fucking told me that you fucked Jamie Fraser from the bar is this true…” he chuckled and read the next one. “Erm, that’s just a bunch of random letters, and bitch you better text me back before you go back to screwing Mr. Hot Highlander. How could you do this and not tell me? What the fuck took so long…”

I laughed and turned the phone off before tossing it onto the couch. “I’ll text her back later.”

Chapter Text

8 Years Ago

It had never occurred to Jamie to be nervous about the academic side of Oxford University. For all that his schooling up to that point had been informal at best, Jamie truly loved to learn.

And in truth, University was an intellectual challenge of the likes he’d never known. But he loved it.

No. His real challenge came from the unfamiliar brands of socialization he was being exposed to.

He’d always been outgoing and friendly, but he’d always been very sheltered, and he’d never before in his life been around so many people from so many different places and walks of life.

There were rules and social cues that he couldn’t have imagined outside of history books depicting the lives of the upper class in 18th century Versailles. He would never have imagined that a girl might sneer at him for opening a door for her because she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself. And he supposed it was considered odd to simply walk up to people and introduce himself.

But he fumbled through and learned, and it wasn’t long before he had accumulated a few good friends.

The closest of who was John. They met in Economics; he sat behind Jamie and teased him lightly for Jamie’s eagerness in class. Later they went for a drink, and John introduced Jamie to his other friends, and for the first time in Jamie’s life he was part of a group that didn’t involve family or people who had known him long enough to be considered family.

John was also gay, which didn’t bother Jamie. In fact, he rather appreciated that about his friend because that meant he didn’t usually take part in everyone else’s mission to hook Jamie up with any woman within a 20 foot radius.

“Come on Jamie, what about Geneva?” Gavin asked, hooking a finger over his shoulder toward the brunette girl sitting with her friend at the bar they frequented, where the whiskey was shit but the beer was cheap.

Jamie took a sip of his beer, turning his body slightly so that he could discreetly take a look at who Gavin was referring to.

Geneva Dunsany was a beautiful socialite from London, majoring in business, like Jamie. Which meant that in addition to beautiful and rich, she must have a pretty good head on her shoulders as well.

“Aye,” Jamie acknowledged judiciously. “She’s bonny.”

Bonny,” Kenny scoffed. “Geneva is more than just bonny, Braveheart. And she’s into you.”

Jamie arched a brow, both at the statement and the nickname. “How do ye figure?”

“Because right now she’s staring at you like she’d like to climb inside of you,” Gavin said, causing them to all start chuckling.

Caught off guard, Jamie lost his discreetness and spun to look, just catching Geneva in the act of staring.

“She doesn’a even know me,” Jamie said, turning back to his friends.

“What’s that got to do with it?” Gavin said.

“I’m afraid I have to agree with them on this one,” John said, leaning forward. “Attraction is just the first step, kiddo. Getting to know one another comes later.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Yes, I ken that.”

So after much badgering, some childish dares, and a few shots, Jamie approached Geneva carefully, like he might one of his more skittish mares. The caution was unneeded, however, because Geneva had turned to him the moment he walked up, grinning becomingly and requesting he buy her a drink.

A drink turned into two, and before he knew it, Geneva was taking his hand, and pulling him up from the stool.

“My dorm isn’t far,” she told him. “And my roommate is at her boyfriend’s tonight.”

Jamie nodded, slowly, fairly sure of her meaning, but afraid to assume.

Geneva chuckled at his dumbfounded expression, and tugged at his hand again. “Come on.”

Jamie looked to his friends’ table in a mild panic, but Gavin and Kenny both grinned and gave him the thumbs up, while John just shrugged.

This wasn’t what he was expecting. He thought he’d ask her on a date, and take her to a nice dinner, maybe a movie. He’d be a gentleman and she’d be pleased with that. Then maybe…later…if the time was right, they’d take the next step. But he didn’t even know this girl.

When they reached her dorm, he had only a moment to take in the décor before she was kissing him messily.

He tried to get into the kiss, but just couldn’t, so he pulled back, hoping maybe he could convince her to ease into it a bit more. Maybe if he could just relax.

“Ye like horses?” he asked breathlessly, pulling away. He nodded up to the cork board display of blue ribbons and photographs of a smiling young girl atop a black and white thoroughbred. He grabbed onto that hint of a shared interest with both hands.

“Oh, yes,” she said, flapping a hand dismissively. “I’ve been in competitions almost since I was big enough to sit in a saddle.”

“My family raises horses,” he said. “I never competed, but I learned tae ride before I learned tae walk.”

“I bet you ride well,” she said lowly, staring at him intently.

He gulped. “I…erm…haven’a fallen off yet. So…erm…tell me about these ribbons…”

“Later,” she said, sitting on her bed and pulling him down after her.

Jamie tried to relax into kissing her again, but it was all teeth and spit, and nothing at all like he thought it should be. Nothing even like the stiff, closed-eye kisses he’d shared with girls back home due to curiosity and silly games of truth or dare.

But he kept trying. He threaded his fingers into her wavy hair, and suddenly imagined riotous curls. He wondered if they would be as soft as they looked.

He pulled back with a gasp, feeling utterly wretched for thinking of Claire while kissing another girl. “Lass…maybe we should uh…slow down?”

“Slow down?” Geneva snapped, sitting back from him with a disgusted look on her face. “What is with you?”

“I just…I haven’a…” he sighed in defeat, letting his fists rest on his knees. “I haven’a done this before.”

Geneva blinked in surprise. “Oh…seriously? Well, I haven’t either, so it’s fine.”

She leaned in to kiss him again, but he pulled back, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Then…don’t you want your first time to be more…special?”

She rolled her eyes. “The only reason I’m still a virgin is because I was practically kept under lock and key back home. I’m done waiting. And now my father’s trying to fix me up with some rich heir…I’d rather my first time to be with someone like you, Jamie.”

Jamie smiled. “Weel…I’m flattered, lass. But I want my first time to be special too, ken…so why don’t we…”

“Ugh, if you don’t want to just say so,” Geneva snorted, standing up. “God, and men say women are overly sentimental.”

“I think I should go,” Jamie said quietly, rising to do just that.

“Call me when you grow up,” she said over her shoulder, but she was texting someone, and already ignoring his existence.

Jamie wanted to make a growing up quip about the dozens of dolls and sparkly pony posters decorating her room, but opted not to in the end.

He went straight to John’s apartment after that, related to him the failed experience. John had patted his back sympathetically, and suggested he needed to find a nicer girl.

 

So it was John himself that set Jamie up on a blind date with his own sister, Dottie. The date had gone well, and had turned into two, then three. Dottie was nice, enjoyable to be around, and not nearly as forward as Geneva. But despite being pretty, Jamie just wasn’t attracted to her, and the feeling turned out to be mutual. They parted as friends, and immediately after she began dating the man who would eventually become her husband.

Gavin and Kenny tried to set him up a few times, and Jamie would approach girls around school. At first he was open about his state of virginity, but he quickly learned that for a man, it wasn’t anything to be proud of, especially after he reached his 20s. And during one particularly bad encounter when he’d gotten pished and brought a girl home, she’d laughed right in his face when he’d confessed, and again when he’d been incapable of getting it up.

He’d had to hide in his bathroom and call John to come and save him when she passed out in his room and wouldn’t leave the next morning.

And, then, finally, in his third year of University, during a study session at John’s that had turned into a session of Jamie whining that there must be something wrong with him, John had made the careful suggestion that maybe his problem with attraction had to do with…gender.

Jamie certainly didn’t think he was gay, but nor was he afraid to acknowledge when he found a man attractive. So, he felt like he had nothing to lose by giving it a try, and agreed to go on a date with John, thinking at the time that John was only doing him a favor as a friend.

It had felt like any other time he and his friend had gone out, but this time John would occasionally touch his back, or hand, and smile at him in a way a friend normally wouldn’t.

They went on two dates, with Jamie going through the motions but feeling more like he was putting on a play for some invisible audience, and then when Jamie walked John home, laughingly opening the door for him like a true gentleman, John had kissed him.

He hadn’t been expecting it, and after the shock had faded, he’d tried to evaluate how it made him feel.

“Well?” John asked, pulling away, and Jamie’s heart sank at the hopeful look on his friend’s face.

Christ, he felt like a fool and an outright jerk for not realizing the depth of the feelings his best friend had for him. And there he’d been…pretending for the sake of an experiment when John had been genuinely hoping for something more.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie whispered. “God, John…I’m so sorry.”

John smiled, but Jamie could see the hurt and disappointment in his eyes. “Ah, it’s alright. I knew it was a longshot. Definitely not gay, huh?”

Jamie shook his head. “No. I think…I think I’m not anything.”

“Everyone is something,” John said. “And asexuality is certainly a thing…but I don’t think that’s it.”

“I want to want sex,” Jamie said in frustration. “But I just don’t…want anybody! That’s not normal!”

John hummed. “Oh? And what about…what was her name again? Claire?”

Jamie admitted that in the midst of school and the frantic search for a mate, he hadn’t really thought all that much about Claire of late, but hearing her name was like sending an arrow straight to his heart and cock simultaneously.

“I thought so,” John chuckled, seeing Jamie’s face redden. “What is it about that girl? Maybe that’s what you need to think about.”

“If you’re going to suggest I find someone like Claire, ye’d be wasting your breath. There’s no one like her.”

“Then, there you have it,” John said, holding out his palms. “That’s why you don’t want just anybody. Because you want her.”

Jamie shook his head. “But that…that’s still not normal! She was just a girl I knew back home who was way out of my league. We never even dated. Am I supposed to just spend my life pining after her? Any other guy I know can just march up to a beautiful, willing woman, and take her to bed, no problem.”

“Well, I guess you’re not normal,” John said. “But that isn’t a bad thing. It just means you’re a rare man who thinks with his heart, not his dick. But don’t feel like it’s Claire or nobody. You’re bound to meet someone else eventually that you can give your heart to. In the meantime…don’t worry about it.”

After that, Jamie felt a lot more at ease, and finally quit worrying about losing his “V Card” and focused on finishing school. He considered what John said about finding someone else, but in the back of his mind he still held out hope for her. A hope, that unfortunately, was dashed to pieces when he finally graduated and went home.

 

Present Time

Claire turned off her phone, ignoring the texts that were popping up rapid fire from her friend, and tossed it carelessly away, before fixing him with those golden eyes of hers.

For his part, Jamie couldn’t stop staring at her, wearing nothing but his own shirt; long, pale legs extending endlessly from the bottom.

When he’d woken up alone in bed, he hadn’t thought much of throwing on his boxers and going in search of her, but now he felt absurdly shy…more naked than he had the night before.

Claire’s expression shifted from heated to soft, presumably able to see his unease, and Jamie wondered when she was going to tire of his cowardice and decide she wanted a real man instead.

“You must be hungry,” she said, mischief coloring her tone and banishing his dark thoughts. “You certainly did enough last night to work up an appetite.”

Jamie felt his cheeks warm, and he cursed himself. What was it about this woman that turned him into a bashful lass with a look?

“Aye,” he admitted.

“I’m not much of a cook,” she said, swanning into her small kitchen. “But I can manage some bacon and eggs.”

“Sounds good,” he said, unable to keep from following her. “Ye should let me cook for ye one day.”

“Oh?” she sang, turning and grinning at him. “You cook?”

“Oh, aye. I like to. My mam taught me. John and my other friends at school would have survived on naught but beer, takeout, and ramen noodles if I hadn’t been there tae feed them.”

“Then it’s a date,” she declared, turning back to the stove.

Jamie preened. He hadn’t thought that last night was a one-time thing. If for nothing else, he knew that Claire would not be so careless with his heart after what he had confessed to her last night. But still, it sent a thrill through him to hear her speak of future plans.

The coffee, bacon, and eggs were good, but Jamie scarcely thought he’d have noticed if they weren’t, too captivated with the way Claire slumped in her chair, eating messily, her eyes still drooping sleepily.

He’d seen her in much the same state – and even with as much skin showing – on nights at the bar. But this was so different. Her hair was mussed from his hands. Her neck reddened by his unshaved face. The neck of his shirt draped open to reveal a light bruise where he’d bitten down a bit too hard. Not that she’d complained.

“What?” she asked teasingly, and he realized he was probably staring too much.

“Sorry,” he said, turning to focus on the last of his coffee. “You’re just so bonny…is all.”

She snorted. “Make no mistake, I’m a veritable beast in the morning. I’m only in such a good mood now because I had a very good night.”

He chuckled. “You’re being kind.”

Claire tilted her chin up, eyeing him down the bridge of her nose, and he loved how regal it made her look. She stood up, running a hand through her already wild curls then deposited herself with a graceless plop into his lap.

His cock roared to life, no matter that he’d come harder than he ever had in his life not even an hour ago. Jamie knew that the sight of her mouth wrapped around his cock would be something that he would think about on his death bed.

Though Annalise and he had touched one another on occasion – the only reason he actually wasn’t useless when it came to bringing a woman off with his hand – they had never progressed farther than that. Somehow oral sex seemed even more intimate to Jamie than intercourse, and although he was probably the only man alive willing to turn down a blowjob, he’d heard mixed opinions from men on performing the act on women.

But it came as no surprise to Jamie that he wanted to do that for Claire even more than he wanted to be inside her again.

Her hands ran themselves over his bare chest, nails scratching lightly at his nipples her she draped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him in for a kiss.

Jamie didn’t think he would tire of kissing Claire for the rest of his life. A theory he wanted nothing more than to prove – but he fought to reign in his emotions, afraid to scare her off with the depth of how he felt for her.

Claire was wiggling her hips, rubbing her plump arse on his cock, and Jamie had to bite his tongue to keep control of himself. He was determined to take it slow this time, actually see to her pleasure before succumbing to his own. Show her he was willing to learn. Show her he could be a good lover. Keep her with him.

Standing up suddenly, he lifted Claire into his arms, her legs wrapping immediately around his hips, and carried her back to her room.

He hadn’t paid any mind to her bedroom the night before, with good reason. It was decorated simply, much like the rest of her apartment. Everything arranged more for comfort and usefulness than looks. But here and there were hints of her personality; a framed painting of a person’s opened chest surrounded by flowers, an Egyptian-looking vase, dried flowers hanging from her vanity mirror, polaroid photos of her and her friends. And perhaps most amusingly of all, a stuffed animal shaped like a human organ, complete with a cute little cartoonish face. It must have been placed on her bed, but had been knocked to the floor some time in the night.

She must have seen his look, because after he sat her on the bed, she leaned over and plucked it up from the floor. “Do you like him?”

Him?” Jamie asked, taking the plush from her and turning it upside down. “Isn’t this a uterus?”

“Yes,” she giggled. “I saw him online and I couldn’t help myself. His name is George.”

“George the uterus,” Jamie said, nodding solemnly, though he couldn’t keep the smile from making the corners of his mouth twitch.

“What,” she teased. “Don’t men name their parts?”

“Oh aye,” he leaned in close. “It just so happens, my part is named George too.”

Claire laughed. “Is that so?” she took the smiling uterus and tossed it back onto the floor, and Jamie let out an exaggerated gasp.

“Hey! Be nice tae wee George!”

“I intend to,” she said, grabbing him by the neck and pulling him after her as she lay back on the bed.

Jamie kissed her, but wasn’t quite finished hearing her laugh. “Didn’a anyone ever teach ye to pick up your toys?”

She obliged him, chuckling low in his ear and making him shiver. “You’ll have to remind me to show you my other toys later.”

Jamie froze as he worked out her meaning, eyes widening and cock throbbing when it clicked into place. “Christ,” he mumbled.

Before he could gather back up his wits, Claire was hooking a leg around his hips, flipping him over as easily as if he didn’t weigh twice as much as she did and straddled his hips with a cheeky smirk on her face.

Jamie framed her hips with his hands gently, as if she were fragile, even though he knew very well that she was anything but.

“See something you like?” she asked teasingly, and Jamie realized he’d been staring slack-jawed at her body.

“Verra much so,” he said, finding no effort in focusing on her eyes, because they were just as mesmerizing as the rest of her. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Instead of smiling, or thanking him, or even rolling her eyes, Claire looked suddenly shy and uneasy, and Jamie couldn’t help but wonder why.

She shook it off quickly, however, and Jamie was unable to pursue the subject since all thought was dashed out of his head the moment her hand wrapped around…well…George’s head.

She guided him gently to her, then sank down on him in one smooth movement, making his eyes roll and groan force itself up his throat.

It was impossible to look away, the sight of her sliding up and down the length of him almost more than he could handle. But then he did look away, back up to her face, the way her eyes shut and her head tilted back in abandon. Her nails scored little indentions in his chest, the slight pain helping to keep him grounded.

When it dawned on him that he was just lying there like a fish, letting her do all the work, he tightened his hold and canted his hips up to meet her, focusing on keeping time with her rhythm, ignoring his own impulse to go faster. He was determined to bring her pleasure first this time.

One hand slid forward, grazing the slight but soft curve of her belly, spreading his hand out until his thumb found her clit.

Fuck!” she hissed, opening her eyes and fixing him with a look that made his hips snap up in reflex, and she cried out again, leaning farther other him, pressing herself into his hand. “Don’t stop.”

“Never,” he ground out, grinning when he realized that now he could reach her breasts if he leaned up a bit. Giving in to something he’d wanted to do almost since he met her, he fastened his lips around her nipple, sucking hard.

“Oh God,” she moaned, before launching into a litany of curses that would have impressed even Murtagh.

Now that he understood what the clenching of her body meant, now that he recognized the way her voice went up several octaves, he was able to let himself go, and not a moment too soon.

Ifrinn!” he breathed as Claire slumped bonelessly atop him.

“I’ll take that to mean, ‘that was good’,” she chuckled.

Good doesn’a quite cover it,” he said, his eyes already fluttering shut.

He was already half asleep when she spoke again, but he thought he heard her say, “My God…how are you so damned good at this already?”

Chapter Text

Three Years Ago

The same year that Jamie left for Oxford, was the year I met Frank. He had been wandering campus, looking like a lost puppy, and I asked him if he needed help finding his class, and he had. What I hadn’t realized at the time was he wasn’t a student, but a newly appointed professor of History.

I wasn’t taking History, so it felt like nothing to ask him out for a drink. He was hesitant – dating between staff and students being understandably frowned upon if not outright forbidden. But in the end we started a casual relationship of drinks, dancing, theatre, and before too long, sex. He wasn’t my first, but he was my first love.

Our first time together was nothing spectacular. First times seldom are. But in time, as we learned one another moods and likes and dislikes, we developed a satisfying physical relationship. Two years later, we moved in together.

I didn’t see Jamie once in the four years he was away at school. On most school holidays, I was either visiting my uncle or taking trips with Frank. The one break I did stay home was the one where Jamie went to stay with relatives in France. I missed his banter, kind smile and easy blush at the bar, but admittedly, I didn’t think about him much.

I was celebrating my new residency at Raigmore Hospital the night Jamie came home. I was sitting next to Louise when he walked in. There was no mistaking that vibrant red hair of his, nor the fact that he was almost a carbon copy of his father, except for his coloring and eyes.

But the adorably awkward boy I had known had gone off and returned a stunningly attractive man. I didn’t know why I was surprised. He’d always been handsome, and it would have been clear if I’d been paying attention that he’d been one growth spurt shy of becoming a giant like Brian.

But more than just having grown tall, he’d grown into himself. All lean muscle, chiseled chin, and most of all an easy confidence refreshingly devoid of the conceit often found in exceptionally good-looking individuals.

That eager boy was still there, however, when he rushed to greet me, grin stretching from ear to ear. Even then, I saw the way his face fell when I introduced him to Frank, and I felt bad, but hoped that any lingering crush young Jamie might have would fade and that he and Frank would become friends.

And to my knowledge, it did. And although our friendship never really progressed very much beyond what time we spent together at the pub, Jamie eventually became one of my favorite people. Frank was tolerable of our friendship, more so than he was of my closeness with Joe, but he never seemed to understand why Jamie and I were friends.

It was that which led to our first real fight. When Brian Fraser died.

“Claire, I feel sorry too, but you have no place going over there.”

“Maybe not,” I said. “But I have to at least let Jamie know I’m here for him.”

“Can’t you just call him?”

I scowled, but flushed, because I didn’t have Jamie’s cell number, only the number to the pub, which had been temporarily closed.

“See?” Frank said, with an unattractive gleam of victory. “You’ll look like a fool traipsing up to their house when you don’t even know these people.”

“You’re the one being a fool,” I hissed, slamming the door on my way out.

I wondered if Frank was right all the way to the Fraser estate outside Broch Mordha, but I didn’t let that stop me. If all I did was knock on their door and offer my condolences, then at least I’d done that much.

“Claire?” Jamie’s sister, Jenny said in surprise when she opened the door, her eyes dry but red-rimmed.

Before I could say anything, Jamie was coming around the corner, asking Jenny who was at the door. He took one look at me and stepped around his sister, who took her quiet leave, and pulled me into a rough hug.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, knowing the words fell flat, but not knowing what else to say. “I’m really going to miss him.”

“Thank you,” Jamie mumbled into my shoulder, his voice tight.

I didn’t stay long, but before I left I programmed my number into Jamie’s cell, insisting he call me for anything, even just to talk.

We began texting back and forth after that, and one night he called, almost in tears.

“I dinna ken what to do,” he confessed. “Fraser’s Ridge…it’s his.”

“Yeah but…it was always meant to go to you,” I reasoned. “That’s what you went to school for.”

“We were meant tae run it together.”

“I know Jamie…and it isn’t fair. I may not have known Brian all that well, but I know that he would have wanted you to take over. And not just run it the way he did, but make it your own. He believed in you so much. While you were at school, he would talk about you to any customer willing to listen. Bragging about your grades, awards you were given. He was so incredibly proud of you, Jamie.”

Jamie was silent for a time, though I could hear him sniff, and a rustling sound that was perhaps him rubbing his face. “Thank ye, Sassenach,” he said at last. “That…that’s what I needed tae hear.”

Fraser’s Ridge reopened not long after that, and soon it was better than ever with updated menus, open mic and trivia nights, and the blessed addition of craft coffee.

I think Frank never really got over that situation with Jamie, and certainly never came to terms with us texting or otherwise communicating outside of the bar. Maybe he just saw something that I wasn’t able to at the time.

After four years of dating and living together, marriage had felt like the obvious next step. We went to a nice restaurant, Frank took his hand in mine, presented me with a 2 carat diamond ring, and asked me to marry him. My answer was enthusiastic, both at the restaurant and later at home. Everything was perfect.

“I suppose congratulations are in order,” Jamie said, eyes narrowing in on the sparkling solitaire while I tapped my fingers distractedly against the bar while I studied some medical essays in preparation for a tricky surgery I would be assisting in.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling at the ring. “He just proposed last night.”

“And he’s no’ here wi ye?” he asked, looking around like he was expecting Frank to materialize from the wall or something. “If I was newly engaged tae…someone, I’d be right here, makin’ sure the world knew!”

I chuckled. “He had a late class. What about you Jamie, when are we gonna find you someone?”

He grinned and shook his head, shooting me one of those lazy blinks that served as his version of a wink, he being incapable of closing only one eye at a time. “S’pose when we find me a girl who can put up wi’ me.”

It honestly didn’t take that long. It may have even been the next time Frank and I went to the pub that I found Jamie leaning over the bar, his head close to that of a beautiful blonde, grinning devilishly at her.

Annalise was gorgeous, smart, sweet…and for reasons I couldn’t fathom at the time…I didn’t like her one bit.

To me she was too simpering, too coquettish. She fawned over Jamie’s every word, and it rankled on my last nerve. I just thought that Jamie needed someone with a bit more depth. But I knew how incredibly unfair that was.

Just as unfair as it was to feel pangs of jealousy every time she flounced into the pub and kissed him.

 

Present Time

We procrastinated parting ways as long as we could, but fact was real life was waiting, and even though I had the day off, Jamie did not.

“Murtagh and Rupert are covering the late shift,” Jamie said, shrugging on his coat over his plain white undershirt, (his plaid shirt was still being worn by me,) “I’d like tae take ye out, tonight, if ye like. A proper date, ken.”

“I would like,” I told him, grabbing the ends of his coat and rising up on tiptoe to kiss him. My heart was thundering, a baffling anxiety twisting my gut, making me want to drag him right back to my room to make him forget work even existed, much less that he needed to go to it.

It was completely irrational of course, but I felt like if he left, it would pop this sort of bubble we’d made ourselves and we’d never get it back again.

Jamie easily relaxed into the kiss, his tongue softly swiping over mine, but then he pulled back, giving me that uncanny look of his that made me think he was reading me like a book. “I’ll be here tae pick ye up at seven, Sassenach. Trust me, if I had it my way, I wouldn’a leave this apartment until ye tired of me and booted me out.”

“How do you do that?” I asked him. “How do you always know what I’m thinking? Is that something they teach you when you become a bartender?”

He chuckled. “While reading people can be a useful knack tae have as a bartender, fact is ye wear everything you’re thinking right on your face, as clear as day. I dinna ken what you’re worried about though…will ye tell me?”

I huffed, hating that I was acting like a clingy girlfriend when we hadn’t even been on a real date yet. “I don’t know. I guess this has just all happened so fast. Last night I was going on my hundredth first date with some loser and now…” I raised my arms and let them drop, not feeling like I was explaining it well, but unable to find any better way of putting it. “This just feels fragile somehow, I guess.”

“Is it…too fast?” Jamie asked, worry knotting his brow. “Lass…we can slow down if ye want. We can wait and go out this weekend…we…”

“No,” I interrupted. “That’s not what I meant! I just…” I sighed and rolled my eyes. “I’m being stupid, I’m sorry.”

“Claire,” he said firmly, taking me by the shoulders. “Ye’re many things, but stupid is not one of them. Maybe it would help if we really talk about this…about what we want…this to be. Tonight?”

“Tonight,” I agreed, smiling.

We kissed again, for a good three minutes, but just when he started working up the hem of his (my) shirt I reluctantly pushed him away.

“You have to go to work, remember?” I said. “Besides, I have a hot date to get ready for.”

He smirked, still fingering the shirt. “Just out of curiosity, am I ever getting this back?”

I shook my head in the negative with a serious expression, and he laughed.

“I thought not. Looks better on you anyway. Until tonight, Sassenach.”

“Until tonight,” I said softly after I’d already shut the door, before spinning around and pouncing on my phone, wondering if I ought to call Joe or Louise first.

I decided on Joe, because Louise would be at work by then and because I needed someone to talk me down and keep from overthinking everything, and Joe was the one for that job. Besides, he lived in my building.

Come over,” I texted him. “Hurry up.”

You sure?” he responded after a moment. “Figured you’d be busy the rest of the day!”

“He went to work. But we’re going out again tonight and you need to come over. Now.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll let myself in. But you go take a shower. I don’t want to talk about what you smelled like when I was over earlier.”

I rolled my eyes, but was already headed for the bathroom when he texted again. “I mean, yeah I do wanna talk about it. I definitely want to talk about the momentous event where Claire Beauchamp finally bangs the long-suffering Jamie Fraser. But still. Shower.”

“Ugh shut up. I’m showering. Be over in 20.”

 

When I emerged from the bathroom, wrapping a towel around my head, Joe was sitting on my couch, eating my leftover pizza.

“Rude,” I muttered.

“So tell me,” he began, eyes twinkling when he turned around on the couch to look at me. “What was it that finally clicked with you? Did he actually get up the nerve to ask you out, or were you just so ready to take someone home last night and he started looking awfully good once your date turned out to be a dud?”

I made a face. “Damn Joe, thanks for making me sound desperate. The date was a dud alright, but it’s not like I just dragged Jamie home because he was the closest available male. After I got rid of Garrett, Jamie and I got to talking. One thing led to another and…” I shrugged, letting Joe fill in the blanks.

“So, it was a one-night-stand?” Joe asked.

“No,” I said, realizing I was making the whole affair sound shallow and meaningless. “Well we haven’t…really defined it just yet…that’s what we’re going to talk about tonight. But it definitely wasn’t a one-time thing.”

Joe whistled. “Wow. I always knew you had a thing for him, but you sound pretty serious.”

“How did you know?” I asked him. “I didn’t even know. And you keep saying finally, too. Has Jamie ever said anything to you?”

He chuckled. “No. But it astounds me that you’ve never seen the way that boy looks at you.”

“Like what?” I asked quietly.

Intensely. Like you’re the only person in the room, all the time.”

I shook my head. “I can’t believe I never realized. Well…I guess at one point I did think he had a crush on me, but I thought that’s all that was.”

“Alright, but seriously,” he said, flicking his hand. “And I realize I might regret asking this. But how was it?”

I got up, padding toward the refrigerator. “How was what?” I asked innocently.

“For fucks sake, Claire. You know damn well what I meant!”

I bit my lower lip. Jamie didn’t ask me not to tell anyone that I was his first, but it definitely felt like something personal he might not want me blabbing to my friends. Yet he insinuated it wasn’t something he tried to hide from his own friends, and if there was anyone I could trust not to tell anyone else, it was Joe. Quite frankly I just needed to talk to someone.

I grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, popped them open and returned to the couch, handing one to Joe.

“You reticence must mean it was either that bad or that good,” Joe said, taking the proffered bottle. “So which is it?”

“Okay,” I began. “If I tell you something, will you promise not to talk to anyone else about it? Not even Gale, or Louise. Especially not Louise. She can’t keep a secret worth shit.”

Joe fixed me with a look. “Have I ever betrayed your trust Lady Jane? Have I ever told a soul about the time you got drunk and sang Unchained Melody outside the monastery? Or the time you laughed so hard at a douchy teenager wiping out on his skateboard that you wet your pants? Or how about the time you and that duck…”

“ALRIGHT!” I cried, punching his shoulder. “Point made! Jesus,” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You really never told your fiancé about all that?”

He shook his head. “Gale’s a rare soul, LJ. She understands that she’s the girl I love, even though you were my girl first.”

“That is rare,” I said, remembering how bitter Frank was about my best friend being a man. “Gale’s awesome. But seriously. It’s personal, not just for me.”

“Ok,” he said, sobering. “Talk to me. Is it Jamie? He doesn’t have anything does he? You remembered to use condoms right?”

“It’s nothing like that,” I said. “He…Jamie was a virgin…before last night.”

Joe just sat there a minute, blinking slowly, as if waiting for a punchline. “You’re joking…right?”

No,” I droned. “And how messed up is it that it’s such a shock that a man is a virgin? Or any adult, for that matter.”

“Nah, you’re right about that,” Joe said, blowing out a breath of air. “Damn. I guess when someone’s got looks like ol’ Fraser, you just don’t expect that. Did he say there was any specific reason?”

“Just that he’d never really wanted to…with anyone else.”

“Woooah…are you telling me you’re the only one he’s ever wanted…wait a second,” Joe scrunched up his face. “You don’t think this was some kind of line, do you?”

“No!” I snapped. The thought had honestly never even occurred to me, which was a little surprising considering how cynical of the opposite sex I’d become. “He’s too sincere. Too…no, Joe. He wasn’t pretending.”

“So. You popped Jamie Fraser’s cherry. What was that like?”

I couldn’t have fought the smile creeping across my face if I tried, and Joe started laughing at the sight of it.

“Wow, was Fraser a quick study?”

I buried my face in my hands, feeling it heat up. “Oh God, Joe! I mean, you think of your first time and you remember awkward fumbling and embarrassing mistakes, right?”

“Right,” he agreed. “All knees and elbows and surprised realization of the sheer messiness of it all, yep.”

“Yeah, well, maybe there was a tad bit of awkwardness at first but Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, it was unlike anything I’d ever felt in my life! He’s so…enthusiastic, to say the least. And unbelievably eager to please.”

“It probably doesn’t hurt that you’ve known him for ages, and are already half in love with him.”

I didn’t bother trying to deny Joe’s assumption, a fact the wiggling of his eyebrows told me he’d noticed.

“I feel kind of out of my depth here, Joe,” I confessed. “We went from zero to sixty like that,” I snapped my fingers. “And it’s no use ignoring the fact that being his first is a big deal. It’s all kind of…”

“Scary?” Joe suggested.

“Yeah.”

Joe scooted closer, putting an arm around my shoulder. “You were burned big time, LJ. No one can blame you for being a little gun shy. But don’t let that bastard, or societal norms, keep you from something that could be great.”

“I don’t want it to,” I muttered, leaning into him. “What if I end up hurting him though? He’s the sweetest guy ever, Joe. What if I fuck him up for any other woman?”

Joe chuckled and rubbed my arm. “Aw, Lady Jane. I get the strong impression that you fucked him for any other woman a looong time ago.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” I whined.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I mean, aww, poor, poor Claire…she has a tall, ripped Highlander fresh off the cover of the latest bodice-ripper who desires her and only her – an eager student in her school of sexual education. Whatever is she to do?”

I sat back, glowering at him. “I asked you here to talk me down, not psych me out.”

Joe laughed. “I’m sorry, I am. But come on, you may be living every straight woman’s and gay man’s fantasy here.”

Huffing, I got off the couch, tossing the towel from around my hair at him. “Are you going to help me decide what to wear tonight, or do I have to call Louise?”

“I’ll help, I’ll help,” he droned, beating me to my closet. “Now let’s find something that’ll knock that poor bastard off his feet.”

Chapter Text

Four Months Ago

“Th’ usual, Sassenach?”

“Uh, thanks, but I’ll wait,” I said, distractedly.

Jamie stood there, watching the way I was bouncing my leg and glancing at the door every five seconds. “Ye alright, lass? Ye look like you’re expecting a team of ninjas tae come barging through th’ door any moment and cart ye away.”

“That wasn’t dramatic at all,” I teased him. “I’m fine. I’m just waiting for someone.”

An expression I couldn’t quite read flickered across his face before it was replaced with his characteristic joviality. “Ah…a date, ye mean?”

I smiled ruefully. “A blind date. Louise set me up with her coworker, and I’m having serious second thoughts here.”

“Why?”

I shrugged. “Well for one thing, blind dates are notorious for being disasters. All I have to go on with this guy is Louise’s assurance that he’s good looking and not crazy. But honestly…I’m just not sure if I’m ready, you know? Everyone keeps saying how I ought to just jump back into the pool, so to speak but…”

“Sassenach,” Jamie broke in, leaning on the bar. “No one can decide if you’re ready but you, ye ken? I canna imagine that…what happened…would be easy tae just forget. And there’s no law that says ye even have to be dating anyone at all.”

“Well that’s sort of what I thought but,” I sighed, dropping my head to rest in my hands. “I dunno.”

“Weel,” Jamie pushed himself back off the bar. “As ye’ve already got th’ date for tonight, might as well go through wi’ it. If nothing else, ye get free meal and drinks out of it, aye? And ye never know, ye might have fun.”

“I guess,” I said. “But what if he’s a weirdo? Or what if he’s nice but I’m just not ready after all?”

“Ye needn’t be scairt o’ that, Sassenach,” he said, smiling. “Ye’re perfectly safe, as long as you’re here. I’ll keep an eye on things, aye? From a distance. If things dinna feel right, if he’s a jerk, or you’re just no’ feeling it, you should uh…ask me for another drink. Then I’ll ken he needs tae go. Deal?”

“Deal,” I said, feeling better instantly. That was the main reason I told Louise to have Aaron meet me at Fraser’s Ridge, not only because I was comfortable there but also because I knew Jamie and the rest of his family and employees would look out for me. Maybe in didn’t quite fit into the strong independent woman motif I liked to exhibit but in this day and age, a girl can’t be too careful.

“Claire?”

I spun around on the stool, coming face-to-very good looking face with a slim, well-dressed man.

“Aaron?” I clarified, and hoped.

He smiled, dimples appearing on his cheeks. “Yeah! Hi! So nice to meet you…”

I glanced over at Jamie, who smirked back at me with one jump of his eyebrows.

“Nice to meet you, too,” I said, shaking his hand. “Louise has told me a lot of about you.”

“Same here, have you ordered anything yet?”

“No, I…”

Jamie reappeared opposite us, wiping a glass clean, he glanced over us briefly, as mere customers. “First time here, folks?”

 

 

Present Time

If Joe had had his way, I would have been wearing the cheesy “slutty Highlander” costume I’d worn for Halloween several years ago in effort to annoy my Scottish friends. The “kilt” could barely serve as a bandana.

Instead, I settled on the green skirt Jamie had apparently “noticed” before, and a slim black top with a high neckline to counter the length of the skirt, but a cutout in the back and a bow tied behind my neck kept it from looking boring. Joe wouldn’t let me even consider not wearing my lace-around 6-inch black heels, known affectionately as my ankle-breakers and almost never worn.

“At your height, you should just embrace that you can wear that shit and still be shorter than him,” Joe reasoned. “Besides, they make your legs look killer.”

I also made sure to wear much more appealing undergarments, and took a lot more care with my grooming habits than I had the night before.

I was ready a half hour early. Completely unheard of for me. But all that accomplished was to give me way too much extra time to sit and fret and come up with a thousand different ways I could screw all of this up.

A ridiculous part of me just wanted to race down to the pub, sit at the bar and pretend none of this had ever happened. That Jamie was still just my friend and confidant and erstwhile protector. It would be safe, and easy.

I was just straightening my bookshelf for the fifth time, and glaring at the wall clock that seemed to have been reading 6:45 for the past hour when there was a knock at the door.

I rolled my eyes and went to the door, expecting Joe or maybe Louise. I hadn’t given the poor woman much information yet, but she’d no doubt been talking to Joe (sans certain details) and would be seeking the story from the horse’s mouth.

Whatever I had been about to say dried up into an embarrassing peep when I swung open the door and it was neither Joe nor Louise.

“I know, I’m early,” Jamie said apologetically. “It wasn’a busy and…” he trailed off, looking me up and down. “Ye look…ye look beautiful, Sassenach.”

“I could say the same about you,” I said, giving him the same once (or twice) over. He was dressed in his traditional dark jeans, plaid shirt, and brown leather jacket, but I could tell he’d taken care with shaving and combing his hair back out of his face. And even from a couple feet away, he smelled amazing.

“Are ye ready?” he asked, holding out his arm in an old fashioned but utterly charming gesture.

And just like that, all my nerves and doubts flew out the window. Okay, maybe not all of them, but all the ones that had previously been making me want to hide under my bed. “Ready,” I said firmly, grabbing my purse.

 

“Where are we going?” I asked him as we made our way to his truck.

“All your other first dates are at the pub,” he said, and at my look, he grinned. “So I’m thinking anywhere but a pub.”

I smiled at him as he opened the truck door for me and handed me in. “The reason I kept taking dates there is because I love the pub, and I feel safe there. And that’s because of you, you know.”

He climbed into the driver’s seat, and I was struck for a moment at how even though the cab was very spacious, he filled that space almost entirely. I realized then that I’d never been in a car with him before. He looked almost strange there at the wheel, like he’d look more at home on horseback.

“Regardless,” he said. “I think it’d be better no’ tae have Murtagh, Angus, Rupert, and any number of your friends there tae watch us.”

“Quite right,” I agreed laughingly. “Speaking of, what did the boys say when you told them?”

I watched in admiration as Jamie’s face turned a becoming shade of scarlet. “Murtagh told them how we…erm…the way we left, ken? They’ve been ribbing me constantly since. But they were happy for me. I uh…I told them…about, ye know. Last night.” he glanced at me uncertainly. “I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course,” I assured him. “I assumed you would.”

“It’s doesn’a bother you? I mean…I wouldn’a tell them anything verra personal about you. I just…I couldn’a keep it in.”

I reached over and grabbed one of his hands where he was gripping the steering wheel a bit too tightly. I brought it to my lap and squeezed it. “Jamie, it’s perfectly fine to want to talk about it with your friends, and your cousins. I uh…” I grimaced, hoping against hope that I wasn’t about to anger him not ten minutes into our date. “Since you mention it…I have to confess something to you.”

He gave me a quick, concerned glance before focusing his eyes back on the road.

“I called Joe to come over today,” I said. “I wanted to talk to him about…you know.”

He nodded. “Aye, that’s alright. I did th’ same.”

“I…I told him, Jamie. That it’s…that it was your first time. I’m sorry! I had a tiny panic moment after you left and I just needed to talk to him. He won’t talk to anyone about it, not even his fiancé. I swear. I feel like I betrayed your privacy, though.”

I thought he looked uncomfortable for a moment, but then his expression cleared, and he smiled at me. “Joe is your best friend. If ye trust him enough tae let him into your private life, then he must have earned it. I imagine ye felt much the way I did when I left…” he chuckled. “Which is why I immediately called John. Besides, my virginity was never really a secret.”

“I still should have asked you if it was okay, first,” I said. “So what did John have to say?”

“Fina-fucking-ly, were his exactly words.”

I laughed. “Funny, Joe said pretty much the same thing.”

We were silent a moment, and I even though I was making every effort not to compare Jamie to Frank, I couldn’t help but think about how comfortable our silences were. In the seven whole years I was with Frank, I couldn’t think of a single time that we just sat in easy silence. If we weren’t talking, we were either watching TV or having sex. Any actual moments of wordlessness were because we were angry with each other. Lapses in conversation had to be filled with something, even if it was leaving the room. I didn’t know why that was, but I also didn’t think I ever would have realized it without first realizing that I could sit with Jamie and be perfectly content in his company alone.

After a time though, he did speak, a bit hesitantly. “Sassenach? Ye said ye had a…moment of panic, when ye called Joe. Can I ask…why th’ panic? Was it something I did?”

I wanted to go ‘aww’ at his fretful tone, but I didn’t think he’d appreciate that, so I refrained. “Of course not, Jamie. It was nothing you did. I guess I was just a little overwhelmed with how everything had changed between us in such a short amount of time.”

“I understand,” he said. “I know ye said ye didn’a need to slow down…but, maybe we should.”

My heart sank, and I looked away from him to focus on the passing scenery. “You’re having second thoughts,” I stated, not sure if I should feel disappointed or relieved.

“No!” he said quickly. “That…that’s not what I meant! I just mean…we’ve gone about this a wee bit backwards, didn’t we? Even in this day and age, don’t most couples start with a few dates before taking that…erm…next step? I just thought maybe we should take some time tae do things proper.”

I looked up at him from beneath my eyelashes, but he was keeping his own firmly on the road. “Is this your charming way of suggesting we should hold off on sex?”

Jamie’s face reddened, and he grimaced, as though the idea didn’t exactly appeal. But before he could answer, we were arriving at our destination.

“Where are we?” I asked, not recognizing the large, nondescript building. “Is this a restaurant?”

“Aye,” he said, leaping out of the car and jogging to my side while I was still distracted in order to open my door for me. I smiled again at his gallantry and took his proffered hand. “It used to be a warehouse at one point,” he explained. “I ken it doesn’a look like much from this side but…just wait, come on.”

“I trust you,” I said, laughing as he pulled me excitedly along like a little boy unable to wait to show off a secret fort.

We followed a gravel pathway around the hulking white building, and I realized that I could hear waves. When we turned a corner, I had to stop and blink in surprise as my mind came to terms with the incredible change.

The building sat right at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, the full moon casting a soft blue glow over the water below. The area close to the warehouse was dotted with tables, and illuminated by white fairy lights and paper lanterns. Heaters placed here and there kept away the chill from the sea air, along with a sizable bonfire in the middle of it all.

There was a small stage where a band played, and a few couples were dancing near the fire, while others wandered to the edge of the cliff where only a low fence was there to keep them from toppling over. I couldn’t help but wonder how safe that could be, considering there was also a full bar.

“This is amazing,” I breathed. “How have I never heard of this place?”

“One o’ th’ Highland’s best kept secrets,” Jamie said, chuckling. “It’s mostly locals who come here.”

We were seated by a smiling hostess in between the fire and the cliff, so we were able to enjoy the warmth as well as the view.

“The fish stew is tae die for,” Jamie said after we’d ordered a bottle of wine. “Or th’ halibut.”

“Everything sounds delicious,” I said, looking over the menu. “Do you come here often?”

He quirked a grin at me. “If ye mean do I take all th’ many dates ye ken fine well I don’t have here, then no. But I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager.”

The waiter returned with our wine and took our orders, (I settled on the halibut, Jamie got the stew,) I folded my hands in front of me on the table and gave him a long look. “Now, about what we were talking about in the truck…”

Jamie flushed again, though the glow of the oil lamp on our table disguised it some.

“Jamie,” I said seriously. “You’ve asked me a couple times now if I wanted to slow down. You know that it’s okay if you need to take a step back, right? I’m not going to be angry or anything.”

I held my breath though, feeling a little worried that maybe he really was having second thoughts about all of this.

“It’s no’ that,” he said, seeming frustrated with himself. He looked at me, and I felt my heart give an odd thump at the look in his eyes. “I like ye, Claire. I think ye ken that’s an understatement but…I just want to do this right.”

Smiling, I reached across the table to grab his hand. “I like you, too, Jamie,” and he was right, the words did fall woefully short. “But there’s no right or wrong way to do things. All that matters is that it feels right for us.”

I bit my lip, mustering the fortitude to ask my next question calmly. “Do you regret last night?”

Jamie’s eyes widened almost comically. “Dhia, no! No, Claire…I don’t regret a single moment of it,” I smiled in relief, and he shrugged ruefully. “I guess I’m dinna want the um…physical aspect of things to be all there is. Does that make sense?”

I squeezed his hand, then smiled politely at the waiter who brought us our meals. His concerns weren’t unfounded, if perhaps a little antiquated. In the decade that I’d been sexually active, it felt like just a matter of course that sex and dating went hand in hand. It sometimes did feel like all there was in a relationship. Hell, even as long as I was with Frank, I could easily admit that if the sex hadn’t been good, we never would have stayed together. There would have been nothing really there to keep us together. And that sounded sad, if I thought about it.

But I didn’t feel like that with Jamie. I wanted to be around him, to get to know him better. As much as I’d enjoyed our night together (and I did enjoy it!) it actually came second to just the sheer pleasure of spending time with him.

However, I liked sex. A lot. So I just hoped that I could be as patient as he seemed to want me to be.

“I don’t want that either,” I told him softly. “But neither do I think we’re in danger of that. But whatever you want to do Jamie, is fine with me. I’ll be ready when you are.”

Jamie’s shoulders relaxed, and it was only in that moment that I realized that he’d been tense until then.

Dinner was delicious, but I ate quickly, waiting for Jamie to set down his fork before snatching at his hand and yanking him to his feet.

“What are ye doing?” he asked, but his grin told me that he was willing to go wherever I led him.

“Dance with me!” I commanded, pulling him nearer the bonfire where the others were.

He screwed his facial features up. “I dinna dance much, Sassenach. Don’t have much ear for music at all.”

I chuckled. “I know. I’ve heard your rousing rendition of Loch Lomond at closing time. But you don’t need to be able sing to move your feet to the rhythm. Come on.”

Though his ears were red, Jamie obligingly swayed to the upbeat music, and I found he could keep rhythm, but kept his feet firmly planted on the ground.

“Oh come on,” I needled, pulling on his shirt. “You’re not dancing, you’re see-sawing.”

Jamie laughed. “I told ye! I’m no’ good at this!”

“Because you’re too tense,” I said, pulling his shirt again, this time untucking it from his jeans, enjoying the brief glimpse of toned stomach I was afforded. “Loosen up. No one here cares if you’re not dance battle ready,” I raked my fingers through his hair, mussing it up, then did it again just for fun. “Now, dance with me, Jamie Fraser.”

There was a twinkle in Jamie’s eyes as he finally began to move, and the reason for that quickly became apparent when he raised loose fists to chest, bobbing his shoulders in time to his head in the single most middle-aged white dad at a wedding dance I’d ever seen.

He really cut loose after that, and I wasn’t even able to keep up for the way I was laughing. People were starting to stare, but I didn’t give a rat’s ass about it. Neither did Jamie, as he dropped to his knees, playing air-guitar.

“Oh God,” I wheezed, gasping for breath as I doubled over with laughter. “I regret everything about this!”

The band must have decided to show mercy on the other poor diners by switching to a slow song, and this time Jamie easily fell into a dance with me - this time holding me in his arms.

“Idiot,” I said, infusing the word with so much affection it couldn’t be mistaken for anything but an endearment.

“And yet ye continue to want to be seen wi’ me,” he said, pulling me closer so that our bodies were pressed together. “Ye should see me at Hogmanay after a few glasses of Jenny’s special punch.”

A warmth infused me at his words, imagining a warm family holiday at Lallybroch. It would be a far cry from the quiet ones I’d shared with Uncle Lamb and Frank. But I bit my lip so I wouldn’t say that aloud, since it hadn’t exactly been an invitation.

“Sounds like a sight I’d like to see,” I said instead.

We continued to rock back and forth, not able to do much actual dancing as close together as we were, not that I was complaining. Jamie’s head dropped down so that his forehead rested on mine, and suddenly all I could see, smell, and feel was Jamie.

The song was an old one sung in Gaelic, one that I vaguely recognized but didn’t understand any of the lyrics. But the melody was soft and hopeful, and Jamie was murmuring tunelessly along, making me wonder what the words meant.

By the time the song ended we’d all but stopped moving, and parted reluctantly with shy smiles.

When we returned to our table, there was a bowl of strawberries waiting for us, along with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and little cubes of cheesecake.

“What, are you a magician?” I asked him teasingly. I wanted to make a joke about trying to seduce me right after the talk about taking things slow, but I decided last second not to.

He chuckled. “I told ye, been coming here a long time,” he picked up a little card leaning against the bowl. “Compliments o’ th’ chef. Says here th’ waiters have all been in the kitchen talking about the Fraser’s boy’s date…I think this is a congratulations, of sorts.”

“Well are you going to share, or…”

Jamie chuckled and dipped one of the strawberries in the chocolate before offering it to me. I could tell he was expecting me to take it with my fingers, but instead I leaned over the small table and took a bite with him still holding it. I grinned at his slack-jawed expression, and he shook himself out of it before popping the rest of the berry into his mouth and offered me some of the cheesecake.

We polished off the dessert in no time, going back and forth between feeding bites to one another and stuffing our own faces. At least he didn’t seem to be the type to be put off by my substantial appetite, but then again he’d been around me in the pub enough to see me put away enormous burgers, entire baskets of fries, and several rounds of hot wings on many occasions.

After we ate we admired the view off the cliff, standing close, Jamie’s coat around my shoulders, and the backs of our hands brushed against each other every now and then. After the second time that I wondered if he was doing it on purpose, one large thumb questioningly grazing my skin, I laced our fingers together, his preternaturally warm palm a rather pleasant compliment to my own chilly one.

I mentally rolled my eyes at myself. What was wrong with me? I was getting a fluttery stomach and a face reddened from more than just the cold, all because a boy was holding my hand. The one, chaste contact making me have to bite my lips to keep from giggling like a lovestruck teenager, no matter that those same callused hands had touched every single inch of me scarcely twelve hours before.

By God, Jamie was right. We’d gone out of order. We’d known one another as friends for years. And we now knew each other biblically. What we hadn’t yet worked on was the task of figuring things out as a couple.

I looked up at Jamie’s face, the vibrant color of his hair mellowed by the moonlight. We’d been tip-toeing around labeling what we were, which was normal for two people who had just started dating. But I suddenly felt that it was important that he knew.

“You know, I’m in this,” I said quietly, hoping he knew what I meant without having to elaborate.

From the blank look on his face, he didn’t, so I continued.

“Whatever…this is. I’m in. I want this, Jamie. I can’t say it’ll be easy, because quite frankly, I feel like I’m as new at this as you are…for different reasons. I can be distant when I’m stressed, and sometimes I let work take priority over everything else, including but not limited to sleep, food, and spending time with people. And trust is going to be something I’ll need to work at.”

Jamie’s face melted into a soft, understanding smile, and it almost frustrated me how easily accepting he was. “I keep odd hours,” he said. “The life of running a pub often wars with my deep-seated farming instinct to wake wi’ the sun. I’ve a temper, but I let it out through running, horseback riding, or rarely, finding an inanimate object to hit. But I can swear tae ye, I’d never in a million years raise a hand to ye. As furious as my sister has made me through th’ years, it never even crossed my mind tae harm her…even when we were bairns and her answer tae getting back at me was tae kick me in th’ balls. And then…we both know about my shortcomings when it comes to erm…experience.”

“I’ll stop you right there,” I said, holding up my free hand. “We’re just going to go ahead and clear this up…but as far as I can tell, you have no shortcomings in that department. Trust me.”

Even in the dim light, I could see Jamie’s face darken as he smiled bashfully, and Lord it was all I could do not to just drag him to the car and back to my apartment…or maybe just to the shadows of those rocks over there…

We ended up closing up the place, the hostess giving us a knowing look as we finally headed out.

I thought it might take some getting used to, having Jamie leap to open doors for me. With anyone else I thought my first instinct might have been to tease them and insist I was perfectly capable of opening my own doors…but with Jamie there was no pretense with it. I somehow knew that it wasn’t a form of showing off or asserting his masculinity, and I suspected that it wasn’t a habit that would taper off as time went on. It was just the way he was raised, by a loving, old fashioned family.

We walked as slowly as possible to my door, but inevitably we made it there, and were standing facing one another, both wondering how this night would – or should – end.

“I’m torn between not wanting to seem pushy by inviting you in, and being afraid I’ll make you think you’re unwelcome if I don’t,” I said honestly.

He chuckled. “I ken what ye mean. I’m hav’n a bit of a debate in myself, as well. Several different parts o’ me are arguing wi’ each other.”

Or…I could invite you in for a drink, and we could simply have that drink…”

He smiled. “Sassenach…it’s after midnight. Don’t ye have work in th’ morning?”

“Shit, you’re right,” I moaned. “I have to be up in…” I looked at my phone. “Four hours. “

“I shouldn’a kept ye out so late,” he said apologetically.

“It was worth it,” I said. “In that case, I suppose this is goodnight.”

“S’pose it is. Goodnight, Sassenach. I’ll talk t’ye tomorrow?”

I nodded, and we paused, staring at one another like a couple of idiots. I wasn’t sure which one of us moved first – maybe we did at the same time. But then we were kissing. Gently at first, and then less gently, until his hands were running up and down my back, each sweep bringing them closer to my arse, my hands were in his hair, and our tongues were becoming even more acquainted.

By the time we finally separated, we were both breathing heavily, and I officially had three hours and forty eight minutes before I had to be up.

“Goodnight,” I said again.

“Goodnight.”

Sighing at my own foolishness, I gave him one more quick, hard kiss, and went inside before I could be tempted to give up my entire night’s sleep. I stood in front of my door, listening for his retreating footsteps that didn’t happen for a solid thirty seconds. When they did, there was a scraping and stumbling sound followed by a hissed curse that made me think he’d tripped over my neighbor’s potted plant.

All in all, a pretty great first (official) date. But even as I crawled gratefully into bed, grinning stupidly to myself, I was wishing sorely that there were a strong pair of arms around me.

Chapter Text

Six Months Ago

“Evenin’, Sassenach,” Jamie said, smile turning the corners of his mouth without conscious thought. He’d been in a pissy mood all day, disappointed about his breakup with Annalise. But the sight of Claire never failed to brighten his day.

The breakup was needed, for both their sakes. Annalise was sweet, and so understanding, but she needed much more from their relationship than Jamie had been able to give. He wasn’t hurt, or angry, and he wished her nothing but happiness, but he was just...disappointed.

He had honestly believed that he could learn to love Annalise. He thought that with love, would come the desire for more. But it never came. He did love her, but no differently than the way he loved John. And that just wasn’t fair, to either of them.

The proof that breaking it off had been a good idea was never more apparent than when he saw Annalise while he was in the city last week, looking utterly infatuated with the man on her arm, and Jamie had simply felt happy for her, instead of jealous.

So no, the pissy mood wasn’t because he’d broken up with his girlfriend and she’d already moved on, it was just frustration that he couldn’t do the same.

But then Claire came into the pub, looking as beautiful as ever, hair wind-swept and cheeks red from the cold, and even though she’d probably be followed soon by that fiancé of hers, making Jamie feel even worse, he was always so glad to see her.

But Frank didn’t follow her in, and it was clear the instant he could see her face that something wasn’t right.

“Claire?” he called, forgoing teasing nicknames, and growing more concerned the closer she got. Had she been crying?

“Hello? Buddy? My drink? Or are you just gonna stand there gawking at chicks?”

Jamie scowled at the American tourist in front of him, roughly sliding the beer toward him without bothering to open it. “Rupert, I’m taking my break,” he called over his shoulder.

“But we’re swamped!” Rupert protested, but then he followed Jamie’s line of sight to where Claire was taking the only available seat at the end of the bar, and his protestations stopped.

“Claire?” Jamie said again once he neared her. “Are ye alright, lass?”

“I’m fine,” she said, though it was obvious she was anything but. Her eyes were puffy and red-rimmed, and her face was even paler than usual. It made his heart ache to see.

“Ye look like ye’ve been through the ringer,” he said, trying for lighthearted. He motioned at Rupert, who promptly slid a glass of whisky their way.

“Oh, wow, thanks,” Claire snapped. “That’s just what every woman loves to hear.”

“I’m sorry,” he said lowly. “I only meant ye look upset. I ken you’re not fine, Claire. Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

She took a breath, seeming to be preparing to open up, when the tourist broke in again. “Yo, buddy, another beer over here!”

Rolling his eyes, he offered her his hand and picked up her drink. “Come on, lass.”

She hesitated briefly, but then her hand slid into his and he helped her to her feet before leading her into the break room.

“I’ve never been in here before,” she said, looking around as if she were in some other dimension instead of a small, plain room that hadn’t been redecorated since this seventies, with a couple of sofas, a table and chairs, and a TV with Angus’s Xbox hooked up to it. 

“Sometimes I think Rupert and Angus would just live here,” he said. “They leave their stuff around like they do,” to demonstrate he picked a jacket up off the sofa and tossed it into a chair before inviting her to sit and handing her her whisky.

She took a healthy sip of her drink, blinking her eyes rapidly in apparent effort not to cry. It was then he noticed her hand wrapped around the glass, and the absence of a certain diamond ring.

“What happened?” he asked.

She followed his eyes to her hand and sighed. “Yeah. The engagement is off. Frank’s been cheating on me.”

She spoke so flatly and emotionlessly, but Jamie could see the hurt and anger in her eyes.

What? ” He gasped, biting his lip when he realized he’d spoken so loudly, and took an iron grip on his temper.

Claire let out a humorless chuckle, resting her head on the back of the couch and staring up at the ceiling. “It’s been going on a while. I came home early from work, thinking all the while how surprised he’d be. Well, he was surprised all right. Very surprised when I walked into our bedroom and found him playing cowboy with one of his fucking grad students.”

Jamie squeezed his fists, fighting the urge to find Frank and rip him apart. “Claire…” he whispered.

“And you know what else?” She continued, the tears she’d been fighting beginning to fall. “The bastard had the nerve to put the blame on me, saying I hadn’t been emotionally available . As if that somehow makes it okay for him to fuck someone else instead of just breaking up with me. But no, that would have disappointed his parents. So screw my feelings, I guess.”

Jamie had felt unsure of the best way to comfort her, not certain if she would even want an embrace from a man at that point. But he just couldn’t sit there and watch her cry and do nothing, so he put an arm around her, giving her plenty of space and opportunity to pull away. Instead of pulling away though, she leaned into him, so he wrapped his other arm around her and held her tight as she cried. Just as she did for him all those years ago when his father died.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured, stroking her hair and trying not to notice how soft it was. 

He was sorry, too. He’d never liked Frank, never thought that he was good enough for Claire, and he certainly wouldn’t be sad that they were done.

But his heart broke for her. He hated seeing her in pain, and only wished there was something he could do to fix it.

He said as much, and she sighed, pulling back. He mourned the loss of her in his arms, but released her at once.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying,” she said, rubbing angrily at her eyes. “He doesn’t fucking deserve my tears.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Jamie agreed. “But ye’ve every right tae cry, Sassenach, and feel sad.”

“I’m just so…” she huffed. “ Disappointed . In myself for not seeing it. In him for being a grade-A jackass. And just...I wasted seven years of my life on this relationship for what?”

Jamie jumped on the opportunity to share in her anger. “Aye, he is a jackass. He threw away something great, and I’ve no doubt he’ll regret it down th’ road.”

She smiled at him, sniffing. “Thank you, that’s sweet of you to say.”

He handed her a box of tissues and she chuckled as she took one, before groaning. “Frank comes here with his coworkers once a week. Now I’m going to have to deal with making sure I don’t run into him. I do not want that bastard ruining this place for me.”

Jamie chuckled, perhaps a little evilly. “That’s one thing ye needn’t fash yourself over, Sassenach.”

The first time Frank walked in on his usual Thursday night with a few of his fellow professors, he was met with a sign that normally read Have a Seat but have been covered with one that said No Cheating Bastards Allowed .

Frank was red-faced and furiously spluttering as he was politely shown the door by Rupert and Angus, while Jamie watched from behind the bar, smirking. Frank’s coworkers followed him out, looking bewildered and a little shocked. And, Jamie admitted that it was probably a step too far, but he couldn’t resist calling out “There are no grad students here tae get your hands on!”

It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless, and Claire had been delighted when she found out, so had Joe and Louise. 

Jamie didn’t know if he’d ever have a chance with Claire, but he was happy enough to be her friend.



Present Day

Jamie went home and collapsed into a deep sleep, unbelievably happy and amazingly tired, then awoke the next morning with a spring in his step.

It was an odd feeling, finally getting what he’d hoped and dreamed for for so long - Claire. 

People often talked about how it could be disappointing achieving a long-sought after dream, but Jamie was anything but disappointed. He was over the moon. He was ecstatic. He supposed the only negative feeling he felt just then was...fear.

Fear that just as quickly as it had been given to him, it’d be taken away. Fear that he would move too quickly and scare her off. Fear that he’d fuck things up somewhere down the line and lose her.

He’d been a disaster when he’d called John the day before.

“Hey Fraser, how’s it going?”

“I slept with Claire,” Jamie blurted without preamble.

There was silence on the line for just a moment, and then incredulousness. “Wait...you... what ?! You do mean Claire Beauchamp, right?!”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “No, Claire Thomas, the eighty year old widow down th’ road. Yes Claire Beauchamp, ye numpty.”

After that had been a load of questions and a big congratulations, and once John realized how panicked Jamie was, he started to try and talk his friend down.

“You’re okay, right? You don’t regret it or anything?”

“No,” Jamie said. “Not at all. I’m just petrified because...because I’m petrified.”

“Look, I don’t know Claire like you do, but she seems like a pretty genuine person. Honest...to a fault maybe. I really don’t believe she’d string you along. You need to be honest with her, though. Not...like, pledge your undying love honest...but, you know, “ I’m looking for a committed relationship not a booty call honest.”

And Jamie had been honest. They’d had an open conversation, and Claire had even been the first to say that she wanted to go for long term. He felt good after their date, so why was he still so damned scared ?

There were two people who might not yet know, not unless Rupert or Angus had made their way to Lallybroch just to tell them.

Jamie had never confessed to Jenny his feelings for Claire, but Ian had sussed it out ages ago, so Jamie doubted that it was a secret. They were both also aware that he was (had been) a virgin, and he hoped his sister and brother-in-law wouldn’t nag him for details on that matter.

“Oh, weel, look what th’ cat dragged in,” Jenny scoffed as Jamie came through the back kitchen door. “Ye’re out all night before last, come skulking in late last night, then gone before the house is up.”

“I was selling those sheep tae Martin Grant, ye kent that, he said.

“Aye,” she agreed. “Is that supposed tae explain where ye were last night? Or the night before that?”

Jamie arched a brow at her. “I’m a grown man, Jenny, and you’re no’ my mam. I dinna have tae report my comings and goings to ye.”

Jenny narrowed her eyes at him dangerously. “Oh, so I’m just supposed tae not care? Is that it? Ye could be dead in a ditch and it will’na matter tae me because you’re a grown man?”

“Don’t say things like that,” Jamie sighed. 

“Leave him alone, Jenny,” Ian said, entering the kitchen. “Besides,” he smirked. “Word is, Jamie had a date.”

Jenny whirled around, dark hair flying. “A date? With who? D’we know her?”

“Aye,” Jamie said, shaking his head and chuckling at his sister’s way over-protectiveness. “Ye know her. It’s Claire. Beauchamp, from th’ pub.”

Jenny blinked. “Ye’re joking? That woman ye’ve been drooling after since ye were a bairn?!”

Jamie sighed. “Since I was a teenager, yes.”

“Didn’t she just break up wi’ her boyfriend?”

“That was months ago, Jenny.”

“I saw her on a date just last week .”

“Aye,” Jamie said, starting to get annoyed. “So did I. It was a first date, and there wasn’a a second. What of it? What are ye trying to say?”

Jenny shrugged and started wiping down the counter. “I’m just saying, seems she has quite the revolving door of men. I dinna want ye caught up in that door and getting your heart broken when she inevitably gets bored and moves on.”

Stop it,” Jamie snapped. “Claire isn’a like that. She was wi’ Frank for seven years until he cheated on her . So she’s been dating around a bit, big deal. That doesn’a mean she’s going to just drop me.”

“Doesn’t mean she won’t.”

Jamie put his hand down on the counter, a little harder than he meant to. “Ye don’t even know her, so you don’t get tae stick your prime little nose up at her. You’re not some perfect saint, Janet .”

“But you are naive, James ,” she shot back. “And if ye think I’m just going tae sit back and watch ye get hurt because th’ girl ye have a crush on finally gave ye th’ time of day…”

“She is not a girl and I don’t have a crush ,” Jamie roared. “I…” he snapped his mouth shut, realizing he was about to say words to his sister that should be said to Claire first.

Jenny rolled her eyes. “What, you think you’re in love wi’ her? You’ve idolized her, Jamie. Ye’ve barely spent any time wi’ her outside of the pub, so I dinna think ye know her as well as ye think ye do either. I’m no’ a perfect saint, but neither is she.”

“I know she isn’t,” Jamie spoke more quietly, trying to calm himself down. “But you’re acting like I’m getting marrit tae her tomorrow. How th’ hell else am I suppose tae get to know her better without dating her?”

Jenny took a breath, seeming to try and calm herself down too. “Because I know you , Jamie. I know you feel things wi’ your whole heart, or not at all. I know ye…” she hesitated. “I knew ye dinna have that much experience, which there’s nothing wrong with, of course. I’m just afraid you’re going to fall hard, and possibly without her.”

“I ken what you’re saying,” he said, declining to inform her that he was a wee bit more experienced now that he’d been a couple of days ago. He smirked at her. “But what’s th’ point in life if ye dinna take chances now and again?”

Jenny rolled her eyes, and made a sudden dart to the living room when one of the kids started crying, but Jamie feel like he’d made his point.

“Well, I for one am happy for ye,” Ian said after his wife had gone. “And so is Jenny, even though she won’t show it.”

“Thanks, Ian,” Jamie said, grinning at his friend. “Claire and I talked last night. She told me she really wants tae give this a go. I would have told Jen that if she had let me.”

Ian chuckled and patted him on the back. “Oh, you know her. She’s just trying tae look out for ye. I dinna know Claire well either but she’s always seemed like a level-headed, kind lass. I hope ye’ll bring her around tae dinner soon.”

“I plan to,” Jamie said. “So long as Jenny promises tae play nice.”

“So…” Ian said, glancing over toward the hall that led to the living room before speaking lowly. “Think Claire might be...th’ one?”

That question might normally have meant “the one” a person would marry, to which Jamie’s answer would very definitely be yes, but he knew fine well what Ian was asking.

“She already was,” Jamie said, under his breath.

“She...ye’re serious?!” Ian gasped. “That’s why ye didn’a come home?! Holy shite, I honestly thought ye might hold out for an engagement, at least.”

“It wasn’t like I was trying tae wait,” Jamie said. “Or...maybe I was...but what I was waiting for was…”

Ian chuckled. “Claire.”

Jamie shrugged, looking away. He hated how talk about his experience or lack thereof made him feel like a child. 

“I’m really happy for you,” Ian repeated, with more feeling. “And I’m proud of you, too, for never letting the world pressure you into being what it thinks a man should be. Did Claire know?”

“I told her...before,” Jamie said. “She was verra understanding. Actually...I sort of think she was…”

“Into it?” Ian laughed. “I’m not surprised. She strikes me as a take-charge type.”

Jamie laughed too. “Oh aye,” he said, feeling his face heat at the memory. “She is.”

Ian ruffled Jamie’s hair, and shoved at him. “Alright, horndog. When are ye seeing her again?”

Jamie blanched, feeling his stomach drop. “I...we didn’a set another date! Is that bad?”

“Calm down, it’s fine! Just text her.”

Jamie walked away, already pulling out his phone, while Ian chuckled behind him. 

Hey, he typed. Hope work isn’t killing you.

Knowing she was busy, he didn’t expect a response for a while, so he was surprised to feel his phone buzz the second he put it back in his pocket. He nearly dropped it trying to read the text, glad no one was around to watch his clumsiness and what was probably a stupid grin. 

It is, slowly but surely , she responded, the next text popping up right away. And you? You at the pub today?

Tonight , he said. Just got back from selling some sheep.

Nice. Well I’m glad you’re working tonight because I’m dying for a drink and a visit with my favorite bartender.

Jamie chuckled. Ah. Murtagh you mean? Or Angus?

Definitely Murtagh. What time does he get off?

He’s closing, unfortunately, which means I can probably fuck off early if I want.

Yeah? And what are your plans after that?

Not sure yet. Since Murtagh’s busy, want to go out?

Well…

Jamie waited, not sure why he felt nervous, watching those little dots flash teasingly.

I think that sounds like a plan :) I work tomorrow, but it’s the later shift, thank god. So I don’t have to be up really early ;)

Jamie grinned, formulating his response when a handful more from her appeared suddenly

Not trying to insinuate anything!

Not trying...NOT to insinuate anything...I just meant we can hang out late, that’s all. I’m still totally cool with taking it slow.

JHRC I’m making this worse aren’t I.

I’m sorry.

Please ignore me.

Shit I have to go back to work would you please answer so I know you don’t think I’m a total idiot?!

UGH

Laughing, Jamie hurried to try and respond before she had to go back to work, but her quick messages weren’t making that easy.

I’m TRYING to answer, Sassenach! I knew what you meant, lol. And I’m glad, because it’s hard to say goodbye to you at night, but I also don’t like making you tired for work.

It wasn’t too bad today, after like, five cups of coffee lol. You could stay over, you know. It doesn’t have to mean...ya know. Sleep is also an option, lol. As is cuddling...making out...etc.

Jamie seriously doubted he could spend the night at her place and just sleep, but it did sound nice. You’re gonna get tired of me.

Lol, we’ll see who gets tired of who first, ;)



“If you don’t quit lookin’ at th’ door, I’ll give ye somethin’ else tae look at,” Murtagh warned.

“I was looking up ,” Jamie said. “Th’ door happens tae be directly opposite th’ bar.”

“Bullshite,” Murtagh glanced up himself. “Alright, now ye can look.”

Sure enough, the door had opened to admit Claire, looking awfully fresh and put together for having just got off work. She often showed up still wearing her scrubs, or if she’d changed, just leggings and an oversized sweatshirt. She was wearing leggings but it was with a nice sweater and heeled boots. Her hair was up in a bun but the damp curls around her face suggested she must have gone home first to shower and change. Jamie didn’t think she’d ever primped to come to the pub before...unless it was for a date.

“Hey,” he said, trying not to be too embarrassingly obvious, and not sure how to greet her. Should he kiss her? Come around the bar and hug her, just act like nothing was different until he got off work?

But Claire took care of that for him, propping a foot on the rail underneath the bar and rising up to lean over it, kissing him so quickly he didn’t have time to react.

“Hey,” she said then, grinning cheekily. “Have a good day?”

“Better now,” he replied, fully aware of what a cheesy line that was. She agreed, judging by the smirk she gave him. “Whisky?”

“Always.”

It was almost like normal. Claire sitting on the other side of the bar, savoring her drink, filling him on the ins and outs of her day while he provided a sympathetic ear to her frustrations and encouragement when things were going right...and generally ignored the other customers. He couldn’t believe he’d never noticed before how the regulars tended not to ask him for anything when Claire was around.

But there were differences. The way she reached across the bar to tug on his shirt when he teased her. The way their hands lingered when he handed her a new drink. The wee sparkle in her eye when she looked at him. It was different, and completely new to Jamie. Sure, he’d had girlfriends, but none that had ever made him feel the way Claire made him feel. He’d like to tell her, but didn’t want to sound daft.

“Oh ye’ve got tae be kidding me…”

Jamie looked up at Murtagh, concerned by his godfather’s sudden tense posture. He followed Murtagh’s gaze toward the door, his hands clenching to fists to see Frank of all people, being dragged in - and looking like he was being led to his execution - by a half-dressed blonde who Jamie had to assume was the woman Frank left Claire for.

“You want tae kick him out, or should I?” Murtagh asked.

Jamie froze in panicked indecision. He would have liked to have removed the problem without Claire noticing, but she’d already picked up that something was amiss and turned. Anger flared within him anew at the way her shoulders tensed. 

Frank was being led to a table full of cackling women at their dates, and hadn’t even noticed Claire yet.

“Should we kick him out, Sassenach?” Jamie asked. It was his first instinct, of course. It hadn’t even been necessary since that first time months ago. But it should be her decision.

“No,” she said at last, her voice low. “He isn’t worth the drama.”

“Then d’ye want tae leave? We go can right now.”

She turned back to him, taking a large sip of her drink and sticking her chin up. “No. I am not running out of my pub just because my ex is here. I don’t care,” she blinked, thinking a moment, then smiled at him. “I really don’t.”

He smiled back. “I’m proud o’ ye, Sassenach,” he glanced over her shoulder. “He’s noticed ye by th’ way, and looks properly uncomfortable, if that’s any consolation.”

“It is,” she said. “And I’m happy you’re proud of me, but being alright with it doesn’t mean I’m not still a wee bit petty. Could you come around?”

Arching a brow, he did as she asked, hearing Murtagh chuckle, and wondered if the older man got a joke he didn’t.

He understood Claire’s aim once he reached her side, however, and she crooked her slender finger at him. 

Grinning wolfishly, he went to stand between her parted legs, the height of the barstools putting her at just the right spot. Claire grabbed a handful of his shirt and yanked him roughly to her, kissing him feverously.

He’d never been overly comfortable with public displays of affection - from anyone, much less himself. But this he couldn’t find it in him to care, and kissed Claire back with every bit as much abandon as she kissed him, hearing a few wolf whistles from down the bar.

Just to make sure Frank got the message, he slid a hand underneath Claire to get a handful of her arse, and she chuckled against his mouth.

He broke away before he could get too carried away...it was a public place after all.

“Think he got th’ point?” Jamie said a bit breathlessly.

Claire wrapped her arms around his neck. “Did who get the point?”

“Alright, alright, enough,” Murtagh said. “I ken ye had a show tae put on, but people are trying tae eat. Besides, Jamie owes me another hour before he can run off wi’ ye, lass.”

“Get to work,” Claire said, smacking his arse as he turned to go back to his side of the bar. 

Once Jamie was facing Claire again, he glanced over her shoulder to see if Frank had even noticed. 

Oh, he’d noticed. He was staring holes into the back of Claire’s head, his face suffused with red.

The hour dragged by, but finally Angus arrived to take over the rest of Jamie’s shift, and he all but ran out, Claire’s hand in his.

 

Chapter Text

Six Months Ago…

 

I shouldered my way through the front door, and promptly tripped. Growling and cursing under my breath, I kicked Frank’s loafers out of the doorway. For someone as fastidious as Frank, he had the horrible habit of leaving his things in annoying places. Louise had assured me that was usual for men, and sure, I was probably guilty of similar things sometimes, too. But did he have to leave his shoes right where people walked?

I shook my head and put my bag down before shrugging off my coat. I was in a bad mood, but wasn’t looking to pick a fight.

It had been a hard week, but an even harder day. A young man had taken a bad tumble while hiking and was brought into the hospital. 

Initially, I believed that we could save him, but the brain bleed had been too severe, and there was nothing anyone could do.

He hadn’t been the first patient I had lost, even in my limited years of being a resident, and I knew he wouldn’t be the last, but it was hard, very hard.

They’d sent me home after that, and I was looking forward to laying on the couch with some ice cream and bad TV, and hopefully Frank would be willing to distract me in other ways as well.

Hopefully, being the operative word. Things had been a little strained between us of late. But I was determined to work it out. We’d been together too long to just throw in the towel without at least trying . Our anniversary was coming up, so I was planning on convincing Frank to take a little holiday, just the two of us, to reconnect, and maybe even set a date for the wedding.

I didn’t see him in the living room, or kitchen, but the presence of his shoes and briefcase told me that he was home. I smiled, thinking he was probably in the shower. I was exhausted , but maybe I would surprise him by joining him.

I opened the door to our bedroom, the smile freezing on my face.

“Claire…” Frank gasped, jolting upward in bed.

For a long beat, I could only stare, waiting for the image before me to make sense.

But then all the pieces...bare skin, blonde hair, shocked eyes... came together to form the truth, and I backed out, calmly shutting the door behind me.

I shook my head slowly, mind racing. From within the room I could hear shuffling around and hushed curses. I wanted to leave, but where was I supposed to go? I lived here . They were in my bed. I’d never exactly had a lot of attachment to the sparsely decorated but high-end apartment, but never had it felt less like home.

After a few minutes, the door opened and a flushed young woman who I recognized as Frank’s perky little grad student that he favored so much ran out of the apartment, not meeting my eyes.

Frank followed a moment later, robe tied hastily around him. I grit my teeth, resolved against succumbing to tears, ready to hear whatever shit he had to spew out before I walked away from him forever. And it was then that I knew exactly where I wanted to be. And who I wanted to see.

 

Present Day…

 

“I can’t believe we did that,” I laughed as Jamie and I strolled down the sidewalk. “Though I won’t pretend it wasn’t pretty satisfying.”

Jamie chuckled, squeezing my hand. “It was verra satisfying. Was that really th’ girl he cheated on ye with? What was it, Candy?”

My grin widened, and oh how I...well, that was a treacherous train of thought wasn’t it? We hadn’t been dating nearly long enough to start thinking the L word, no matter how I was feeling.

“Sandy, actually,” I chuckled, though Jamie’s smirk told me he knew that. He was very good with names, after all. “And yeah, that was her.

He snorted. “What the hell was he thinking?”

“That’s sweet, but come on, she’s gorgeous. Can’t even say she’s dumb or anything, because she’s at the top of her class.”

Jamie wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “If ye say so. But I’ll maintain that Frank was a right eejit for having you and letting ye go for anything.”

I leaned my head briefly on his shoulder. “Thank you, but I think he did us both a favor, in the end. I wish he could have just grown a pair and broken up with me the minute he decided to be with her, but we weren’t good together anyway. I think it was just stubbornness that kept me holding on so long.”

Jamie looked down at me from the corner of his eyes. “Canna say I’m disappointed, either.”

“Want to have a drink at my place?” I asked him. “Or yours?”

The face Jamie made was comical. “ My place? Christ, I live wi’ my family, Sassenach. Ye really want me tae take ye there ?”

I shrugged. “You said you have your own, like, wing or something.”

“Wing? It’s no’ the Beast’s castle! It’s big, aye, and I do have my own suite of rooms, but trust me my sister still finds ways o’ being a busybody.”

I shrugged. “How would I know? I’ve never seen it.”

Grinning, Jamie stopped suddenly, then pulled me back, leaning against the corner of a building, partially in the shadows. “You’re not very good at being coy, Sassenach. I do intend tae bring ye home tae them, but perhaps for dinner, and no’ sneaking in at midnight like a pair o’ teenagers?”

In anyone else, I might have found this hesitance in taking me to his house to be a little immature, or even shady, but with Jamie it simply came off as him trying to do things right, especially considering our relationship had gone from zero to holy fuck in record time.

“My place then,” I said decisively. “Everything is closed by now, and I’m not ready to part ways just yet, are you?”

He shook his head, hopefully understanding that I wasn’t trying to presume anything by inviting him in. “No,” he agreed. “I’m not.”

 

I toed off my shoes in the doorway, nudging them out of the way before making my way toward the kitchen. “Wine?” I called back. “Beer?”

I glanced over my shoulder, smiling as Jamie was carefully setting his boots next to mine behind the coat rack. “I’ll take a beer,” he replied. “Thank ye.”

Grabbing two beers out of the fridge along with the leftover slice of pie that Joe had given me, I joined Jamie in the living room.

“Gale’s specialty,” I said, handing him the pie and a fork. “It’s apple.”

Jamie made a pleased humming sound as he took an eager bite. 

I chuckled at his enthusiasm. “Sorry it’s not much of a dinner.”

“Don’t know what ye’re talking about,” he said around a sip of beer. “Best dinner ever. Here,” he scooped up a bite of pie, then held the fork out to me.

I could tell that he was being innocent about it, but I couldn’t help myself. Holding his hand still with mine, I leaned in close and slowly wrapped my mouth around the bite of pie, holding eye contact with him the whole time. 

I could see the muscles in his neck flex as he swallowed reflexively, his eyes glued to my lips as I licked them. “Delicious,” I purred, feeling a little ashamed of baiting him so, but damn it, he was just so adorable when he was flustered!

But he’d asked to take things slowly, and not only did I agree with him, I wanted to respect his wishes, so I pulled away, getting a firm hold on my shameless flirting.

We sat in silence for a little while, sharing bites of pie and sipping beer.

“Sunday,” Jamie said suddenly.

“You think it needs ice cream?” I asked, arching a brow.

He chuckled. “No, I meant, how about Sunday? For dinner, wi’ my family.”

I grinned at him. “Sunday works for me. I’m off.”

“I know that.”

I set down the empty plate on the coffee table, looked at him again, then bit my lip. “You uh...you have something there…”

Jamie blinked. “What?”

Oh this just wasn’t fair at all. “Just there,” I said, pointing to my own face in the approximate area where the blob of apple pie filling was stuck to Jamie’s chin, just under his mouth.

He swiped as his face, missing it entirely. “What? Did I get it?”

I groaned and laughed at once, enjoying his befuddled expression far too much. “You know, I’m trying to be good. I really am!”

Jamie laughed as well, though it was clear he didn’t get it. “Will ye tell me what you’re on about, Sassenach?”

Mentally throwing up my hands in defeat, I grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him closer. “You’re a messy eater, Jamie,” I murmured, before slowly licking the sugary mess off his chin, delighting in the feel of stubble beneath my tongue.

I felt his intake of breath, his entire body both freeze and relax at the same time.

Helpless to resist temptation, what with his mouth right there and all, I licked a light, short line to his lips, taking the lower one into my mouth and sucking gently once before drawing away. “Delicious,” I repeated.

He was staring at me, wide-eyed, his face adorably flushed, lips slightly parted, and now wet thanks to me.

Slowly , I thought to myself. Slowly, Beauchamp. Slowlyslowlyslowly.

“Sorry,” I said aloud, not entirely contrite.

“What the hell are ye sorry for?” he breathed, but instead of waiting for an answer, got his arm around my waist, hauled me to him, and kissed me hard.

Beer, apple pie, and Jamie. My new favorite flavor combination. I raked my hands through his hair, getting one of my legs up and around so I straddled his knee. He had one hand gripping my thigh, while the other stroked up and down my arm, across my shoulder, my collarbone. His hand could wrap completely around my neck, and did, his thumb pressing gently underneath my jaw.

I wasn’t close enough, so I scooted forward, bearing down on his leg, feeling him hard against my knee.

It took me a moment to register the pressure his hand was applying to my thigh, the push and pull, but then it did and I was rocking against him, letting him guide me into rubbing myself off on him. 

I broke the kiss, gasping for breath. “This isn’t slow,” I pointed out the obvious, without stopping my rocking motion. 

“No,” he agreed, leaning over to fasten his mouth on the side of my neck.

“Do we care?”

“Fuck, no.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Everything was a flurry of flying clothes after that, as we raced to get skin-to-skin. We couldn’t even be bothered to go to bed or lie down, so I straddled his lap fully, sinking down on him in one stroke. 

“Claire,” he breathed against my chest, then something else I couldn’t understand and didn’t have the presence of mind to ask what it meant.

Hands on my hips raised me bodily up before pulling me back down, again and again, and the combination of the angle, the force, and the sheer display of how strong he actually was had me unraveling in seconds, and I cried out, heedless of my poor neighbors. 

All I could really do was give myself over to him, let him do whatever he needed, but he seemed to need something else, so I dug my teeth into his shoulder, then licked a stripe up the column of his neck before whispering “ Harder ,” into his ear.

He came with a shout, shuddering beneath me, and it went on for an impressive amount of time.

After, we laid as we were, in a sweaty, breathless lump of warm skin and sated smiles. 

“Well then,” I murmured once I’d mustered the strength to say anything at all. “So much for slow.”

When he didn’t answer right away, my heart constricted in worry and I sat up.

“Oh God, Jamie, I’m sorry. Are…are you upset?”

His eyes, which had been closed, opened and fixed me with an incredulous blue stare. “Upset? Christ, Sassenach, I’m half dead is what I am!”

“You’re not mad? That we…”

Jamie grinned and shook his head. “It takes two tae tango, mo gradh. You’re acting like ye forced me tae do something that I assure you I wanted verra much tae do.”

“But...you said…”

“I said I wanted tae do this right,” he said. “Maybe, for us, this is right. Do you regret it?”

“Hell no!” I exclaimed, making him laugh.

“Then there we have it.”

Sighing, I rested against his chest, feeling like I could spend the whole night like that, but our legs would probably fall asleep before we could.

“What does mo gr-eye mean?” I asked. “You called me that...during, too.”

He kissed my temple. “It’s...a pet name, is all. Like sweetheart. Old fashioned.”

“Oh,” I said, grinning. “What is that other thing that you’ve called me before? Before...all this. “Mo...mo nee-ann…”

I glanced up at him, and saw that he was blushing again. 

“Mo nighean donn,” he murmured. “It’s just a foolish nickname I’ve always had for ye. Didn’a realize I’d ever called you that aloud.”

“Well what does it mean?”

He looked down at me, then twirled a lock of my hair around his finger. “My brown haired lass. It’s from an old song, in Gaelic, of course.”

“How is it that regular words sound so much more romantic in Gaelic?”

He chuckled. “That’s why my father insisted I learn it. One o’ the reasons, anyway.”

“Well, I like it,” I rested my head again, hearing his heartbeat. “How many other nicknames do you have for me? Sassenach, mo nighean donn…”

“Sorcha.”

“Which means…”

He grabbed my chin, tilting my face up so he could kiss me. “Claire. It means your name.”

I wondered if someone could actually melt, because he was getting pretty damned close to making me do it. “Suppose I’d better come up with a nickname for you.”

“Ye could,” he said. “But, if it’s all th’ same tae you, I dinna think I’ve ever loved th’ sound of my own name as much as when ye say it. Particularly when ye say all of it.”

I pulled myself up straight, draping my arms around his shoulders. “Well, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser...why don’t you take me to bed, hmm?”

His muscles flexed around me, and he stood up, effortlessly taking me with him. I would never get tired of that.

“Your wish is my command, mo nighean donn .”






Chapter Text

Four Years Ago…

 

“Feel good to be home?” 

Jamie smiled, breathing in deep the clean, natural smell of the Highlands. A relief, after what felt like an age of car exhaust and throngs of people.

“Very,” he replied.

He and Ian were making their gradual way to the stream, to fish as they had when they were but lads. Jamie was grateful that he and his oldest friend could still have this, despite the busyness of their lives that came with adulthood.

“Your da going to have you start taking over th’ pub?” Ian asked.

“Aspects of it. He’s starting me on th’ books on Monday. Thankfully he’s no’ ready to just hand it over just yet. Good, because I’m no’ ready tae take it!”

“Sure you are,” Ian said, without even a hint of teasing. “But it’s good, besides, that you get to ease into it.”

Ian hadn’t gotten to ease into his life as his family’s breadwinner. His da had passed when Ian was only thirteen, and he’d been forced at an early age to abandon dreams of being a professional rugby player to help his mother keep their sheep farm afloat, and eventually they entered into a merger of sorts, the Murray and Fraser farms. The two families, who had long been friends, now worked and ran the two farms as one. Raising sheep, horses, crops, and someday soon if Jamie and Ian had their ways, whisky. 

“Dinna ken how Da’s done it for so long,” Jamie wondered aloud. “Ran th’ farm and th’ pub.”

He’d had help, of course. From the Murray’s, from Jamie’s uncle Murtagh, from various cousins. But for so long Brian and Ellen Fraser had been a unit, and Jamie knew how much his father had struggled since her passing, no matter how he tried to hide it.

“Well, he’ll have it easier, now that you’re on board,” Ian said. “Ye find it hard, so far? Getting back into th’ slowness of things here, after living in Oxford so long?”

Jamie resisted the urge to encourage Ian to try it out for himself sometime. Ian hadn’t gone to college, opting to focus on the farm instead, and Jamie sometimes wondered if he regretted it. But Ian had always seemed so happy and content in the country. Not an ounce of the wanderlust that Jamie seemed to have been born with.

“A little, but it’s nice, being home. I missed it more than I thought I would.”

“You haven’t told me much about it. I see your posts on Facebook. Looks like ye made a lot of friends.”

Jamie grinned at him. “Jealous, a charaid ?”

Ian rolled his eyes. “The point I was trying tae make is, ye’ve posted a lot of pictures of girls...Christ, ye gonna make me ask it outright?”

“Ye want tae know how much luck I had?”

“Oh, come on, tell me!”

Jamie chuckled. “I dated a girl for a bit, but it didn’a go anywhere.”

Ian arched a brow, and Jamie shoved him.

“Th’ answer to your question is no . I haven’a lost my damned virginity, alright?”

“I have tae say, I’m surprised,” Ian said. “It isn’t like ye had many options here, but in Oxford?”

Jamie flexed his shoulders, feeling awkward. He and Ian had been open with one another their entire lives, so he wasn’t embarrassed to talk to him about it, but neither did he want his friend to think there was something wrong with him.

A thought struck him, and Jamie realized that in the last four years, they hadn’t really gotten to talk all that much. They texted, and Jamie came home for most holidays. He knew that Ian had dated two girls in the past four years, but neither relationship had lasted long. Last Jamie knew, Ian had been a virgin as well, though that had been when they were eighteen.

“What about you? ” he asked.

Ian looked away suddenly, turning a little red. 

“Well, come on!” Jamie laughed. “Ye’re always on me about it! Who was it? Was it Mary?”

Ian shook his head. “No. Look, Jamie...there’s something I’ve been meaning tae tell you...I just hadn’t figured out th’ best way tae say it. We thought it ought tae be in person, no’ over th’ phone.”

“We?” Jamie asked. “Alright, Ian, you’re starting tae worry me. Out wi’ it.”

Ian stopped walking and leaned his fishing pole against a rock, almost as if he were preparing himself for something and needed his hands free.

“I’ve been seeing a girl, Jamie. For about six months now. It’s serious.”

Jamie’s eyebrows went up. “For real? Damn, Ian, why didn’t ye tell me?! That’s great! Who is she? Do I ken her?”

Ian chuckled, almost nervously. “Oh aye, ye ken her. It’s uh...it’s Jenny.”

Jamie snapped his mouth shut, then blinked dumbly. “Jenny...wait, Jenny ? You’re dating Jenny ?”

Ian nodded, avoiding his eyes. “Yeah.”

“You…” but then the meaning of what Ian was saying fully clicked into place. “You son of a bitch ...did ye sleep wi’ my sister ?!”

Ian did meet Jamie’s eyes then, and they were unamused. “Just stop, Jamie. Jenny is an adult, and so am I, but I am not talking tae ye about that, understand? That’s no’ the point I’m trying tae make. I love her, Jamie.”

That shut Jamie right up, and he gaped in shock. “Ye do? Truly?”

“Yes,” Ian said with a sigh, smiling and almost looking like he could cry. “More than anything. We want tae be married. We haven’t spoken tae your da yet...and she insists we don’t need his approval and certainly no’ yours, but...Christ, man. You’re my best friend and I…”

Jamie took a step forward, and Ian flinched, as if expecting a fist to his nose. But instead, Jamie only hugged him, slapping his back heartily. “Ye have no idea how happy this makes me!”

“It does ?!” Ian exclaimed, his voice high. “Shit, I thought ye’d be furious!”

Jamie shoved him away playfully, but was still grinning. “Well I’m no’ happy at all about ye sleeping wi’ my sister before marriage, but how could I be angry? If there’s anyone who I feel could deserve my sister, it’d be you. We really will be brothers!”

Ian laughed, and scrubbed a quick hand over his eyes. “Jenny likes tae tease that I dinna want tae marry her for her as much as I want tae make us brothers. Truth of it is, I just canna imagine being with anyone else, but her.”

Jamie smiled softly as they resumed their walk, happiness and contentment at war with slight envy. 

“Hey, you’ll find her soon enough,” Ian said, able to read him better than anyone, as always. “Or...him?”

Jamie cut his eyes over to him in amusement. “I’m not gay.”

Ian held up his hands in defense. “Sorry! I only wanted ye tae know that we wouldn’t mind, is all. Ye seem really close wi’ that John guy is all, and if he were it for ye, it’d be just fine by us.”

Jamie chuckled, thinking how strange it was hearing Ian use words like we and us and knowing he meant himself and Jenny.

“I appreciate it,” Jamie said wryly. “John is gay, but we’re just good friends, that’s all. There was a minute there that I wondered...but, no. I dinna think I’m anything.”

Ian frowned. “Are you just...not attracted to anyone, then? Because that’s a thing.”

Jamie shook his head. Seemed like someone had been utilizing Google. “I dinna ken, Ian. I canna say I’ve never been attracted tae anyone, because I have. I just dinna get the desire tae be wi’ women like most men seem to. I mean, didn’t you? Before, you know, before Jen.”

Ian nodded. “Aye. Jenny was…” he glanced over at Jamie, gouging how the conversation might be received, but then decided to chance it. “She was my first, and God willing, she’ll be my last. But I won’t lie, it was more a lack of opportunity before that, than lack of desire.”

As long as Jamie was careful not to picture it, it wasn’t as awful to hear about his best friend and his sister’s relationship as he might have thought it would be. Plus, it was a relief to know there were other men out there who didn’t already have a dozen notches on their belt, and seemed just fine with that.

“I can see that a woman is beautiful,” Jamie said. “There are women I find attractive, and women I don’t. And, if I’m honest, the same goes for men. But I dinna want them. Any of them. Just…” he sighed. “Just one of them.”

“Claire Beauchamp,” Ian said immediately, and Jamie’s eyes widened in surprise. 

“How’d you know?”

Ian rolled his eyes. “Please, she was th’ first, and, God, only girl ye’d ever shown th’ slightest interest in. Ye were like a puppy, chasing after her. What is it about her, specifically?”

Jamie shrugged. “Dinna ken. Well, that’s no’ exactly true. She’s beautiful, for one. Her eyes...God...and her voice . But it’s more. She’s funny, confident, smart, kind, can drink any man three times her size under th’ table…”

“But there’s bound to be other women out there like that. Why her ?”

“Why Jenny?” Jamie shot back.

“Fair, but that didn’a happen all at once, mind. It happened slowly, over time.”

Jamie shrugged again. “I don’t know what else to say. I can’t help it. Not that it matters. She has a boyfriend.”

Ian shook his head. “I don’t like thinking of ye pining over someone your whole life who doesn’a return your feelings. I want tae see ye happy. I want ye tae feel what I do.”

“And I thank ye,” Jamie said, smiling. “But I just...I don’t think it’s anything I can help. And I wouldn’a say I’m pining . I like Claire, aye. Probably always will. But she’s my friend, most of all. So long as her boyfriend is good to her, I’ll be just fine.

Ian patted his back as they reached the stream, and they parted ways to take up position in their traditional spots. “Well, even if it’s no’ a woman, or man, or whatever, I hope ye find it someday, Jamie. What makes ye happy.”

“And I hope,” Jamie began, casting his line. “That ye’ll be understanding that after we’re done here, you and I will have tae have a loong talk about your intentions wi’ my sister.”

Ian laughed. “I told you my intentions!”

“Aye, ye did. However, I may be your friend, but I’m her brother, and I have a duty to uphold.”

“Right. But take it easy, alright? I dinna want tae go to your da wi’ a black eye.”



Present Day…

 

Jamie’s stomach was clenched in anxiety. 

He didn’t even know why . It was just dinner with his sister and brother-in-law, no reason to be acting like a lass bringing her prom date home to her da.

Regardless, he was nervous. Jenny, Ian, and Claire had all known one another for years, but it had been only in passing. She’d never been to the house, save when his father died, and that wasn’t a time he liked to think on much.

He wanted Jenny and Ian to like her, of course, and he couldn’t find it within him to think why anyone wouldn’t like her, but more than that he wanted Claire to like them .

If she liked them, she’d want to come around more often, meaning she might be open to becoming part of the family one day. Jamie loved his family, and he wasn’t the sort who could set them aside if his significant other didn’t care for the “in-laws.” He didn’t think Claire was the type to ever try and make him choose, but she wasn’t very good at pretending to like people that she didn’t.

Claire and Ian would get on famously, he knew. But Claire and Jenny…

They were too similar, was the problem. Two strong-willed women with loud opinions and stubborn minds and a lack of ability to hide their true feelings. He was terrified that they would clash, and he knew Jenny rarely changed her mind after a poor first impression.

He stepped into the kitchen, mouth watering instantly at the smell of roast beef and vegetables. 

“Smells amazing, Jen,” he said.

“It better,” Jenny said. “You’d think we were expecting th’ pope th’ way you whirled into here, demanding this and that for dinner.”

“I didn’a demand ,” Jamie said, stealing a roll. “I believe I used the words please and thank you .”

A ear-splitting shriek proceeded the thunderous rumble of feet - all far too loud to be so small - as three-year-old JJ chased two-year-old Maggie, who in turn chased a barely walking sixteen-month-old Katie into the kitchen.

“Jamie, unless ye want them ruining yer precious dinner get them out from under my feet!”

“Alright,” Jamie said with false gruffness. “Settle down, th’ lot of ye!”

He scooped up Katie first, who giggled uproariously. “Now,” he said, propping her on his hip. “Who here needs a bath?”

That did the trick, as JJ and Maggie shrieked again and barreled out of the kitchen and into the back yard.

“Great, now they’re going tae get filthy.”

“Filth can be cleaned,” Jamie pointed out, kissing Katie’s head before setting her on her feet and shooing her outside once he saw that Ian was out there. “But at least they’re out of your hair.”

“Well, you’d best go clean up yourself,” she said. “Unless ye want tae greet your girlfriend at th’ door smelling of manure.”

Jamie stole another roll, neatly avoided his sister’s swinging spatula, then went to do as she suggested. A shower, shave, and a nice shirt. The...yellow one? No, not yellow. Made him look like ketchup and mustard. Blue? No...gray. Yes, gray was nice. Or maybe green?

 

Smoothing back a stubborn curl - curse his mother’s genes - he went outside at Ian’s request to make sure the kids didn’t decide to make mud pies or something. It was better than sitting and twiddling his thumbs, anyway. 

He checked his phone.  5:35. Claire was supposed to arrive at 6:00. He’d offered to go and pick her up, of course, but she’d laughed and called him ridiculous and assured him that she could find the place on her own.

“Look, Unc-a Jamie!” JJ exclaimed, running up to him with a toad firmly, but carefully in his grasp.

“Ah, what have ye found there?” Jamie asked, kneeling. 

“Ew,” Maggie said, scrunching up her weird nose. 

“It’s not ew,” Jamie said. “Why don’t ye try kissing it? It could turn into a prince!”

“EW!” she exclaimed more loudly, but unfortunately it gave her big brother an idea, and he started chasing after her.

“KISS! KISS!” JJ cried, waving the unfortunate amphibian toward her as they both ran away.

Shaking his head, he looked around quickly, checking on Katie’s whereabouts. She’d been getting into everything, of late. Sure enough, she was toddling a bit too close to the horse corral, which was fine as long as someone was standing right with her, but some of the horses were young and jumpy. He resisted the urge to run over to her, afraid of chasing her right into the corral, so instead he stopped a few feet away and held out his arms.

“Katieee!” he sang. “Wanna fly?!”

On cue, Katie whirled around and ran as fast as her chubby, unsteady legs would take her. He snatched her up, swinging her above his head, as she howled with laughter. 

“My turn, my turn!” Maggie cried, launching herself at his leg and latching on. 

“I canna pick ye up when ye do that!” he laughed, lifting his leg and jolting her around.

“Unc-a Jamie!” JJ called. “Found anudder one!”

Jamie looked up, then sighed in defeat. JJ had, indeed, found another toad, and evidently he’d procured it in a mud puddle, because the lad was now covered in it. At least, Jamie hoped it was mud.

“Shit,” he muttered.

“Shit!” Maggie parroted. 

“Oh, no no, dinna repeat that!”

All at once, Jamie became aware of familiar laughter, and not his own, or the children’s. He looked toward the door to the house, then back, toward the road, and there stood Claire.

She was grinning from ear to ear, though she tried to hide it behind her hand. She was dressed in a simple gray and ivory dress (which happened to match his shirt. Gray, good call!) and maroon peacoat. Her eyes sparkled with laughter. God, she was beautiful.

“How long have ye been standing there?” he asked, holding Katie on his hip as he waddled over to Claire with Maggie still attached to his leg.

“A couple of minutes,” she said sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I know I’m early.”

“No matter!” he assured her. “Please come on in...well, I need tae deal wi’ that one first...and then we’ll go inside.”

Her shoulders shaking, she looked down at JJ who was staring back in intent curiosity. “What have you got there?” she asked him.

“A toad ,” JJ said solemnly, holding it up for her inspection. 

To Jamie’s surprise, she took the toad from JJ and held it up to her face as if examining it. “Oh, what a fine toad he is! What should we do with him?”

JJ thought a moment. “Let him go?”

“Hm, that’s probably best. He’s probably going to be called home for dinner any moment!”

JJ took the toad back and ran away to wherever he’d found it.

“Jenny thanks ye for not having tae find another creature in JJ’s room,” Jamie said, chuckling. “I’d better get him.”

“Can I help?” she asked, looking at Katie.

“Oh, aye, thank ye,” Jamie said, passing the baby to her. “Christ, where are my manners? This here is Katherine, or Katie. And this ,” he bent and picked up Maggie. “Is Margaret, or Maggie. And th’ hellion with th’ toad is James, or JJ.”

Claire grinned, bouncing Katie in her arms, who Jamie was pleasantly surprised to see seemed happy to be there, since the wee’un didn’t care for strangers usually. “James? Named after you?”

“Oh, aye, but mostly our da, who’s middle name was James.”

“Why didn’t they name him Brian?”

“Well, they knew that I…” Jamie trailed off, eyes wide. No. That was not something you say to a woman you’d only been dating for a week.

He’d hoped Claire would be distracted by the baby and forget it, but he wasn’t that lucky. “Knew that you what?”

When Jamie still hesitated, Claire’s smile grew soft.

“That you want to name your son Brian?”

Jamie grinned sheepishly. “Aye. If I ever have one, of course.”

“Shit!” Maggie chose that moment to suddenly remember the new word she’d learned.

“Maggie no! ” Jamie admonished. “Your mother will have my hide if she hears ye say that!”

Claire laughed, a lovely, musical sound that had Jamie smiling in response. “God,” she said. “You’re so good with them. I’m terrible with kids.”

Jamie arched a brow. “Oh? Wee Katie seems tae disagree.”

Claire blushed, and turned her attention to the baby, tickling her pudgy cheek.

“Jamie!” Jenny called, sticking her head out the door. “Did you...oh! Claire! You’re here!”

“Hi, Jenny,” Claire said, waving her fingers from underneath Katie’s rump. “Sorry I’m early, it didn’t take as long to get here as I’d thought.”

Jenny waved her off. “No matter. Come in, ye must be cold! Jamie, did you…” whatever it was that Jenny wanted to know would forever be a mystery, because it was at that point she locked eyes on JJ.

“Oh for the love of...IAN! COME GET YOUR SON!”

Jamie shared a grin with Claire as he led her inside with the lasses. A harried Ian bid Claire a quick hello before going out to hose off his son.

“Sorry,” Jamie said again. “It’s hectic.”

Claire shook her head. “I like it.”

She never could have known how her words warmed Jamie’s heart. And he wouldn’t tell her...not yet anyway.

“Can I help?” Claire asked Jenny, a bit shyly, which was unlike her.

Jenny gave Claire an appraising look over her shoulder. Normally, Jenny would shoo a guest out of the kitchen to relax until dinner was ready. But if Jenny expected the person in question to be a frequent guest…

“Would ye mind takin’ the rolls out of the oven and putting them into the bowl?” Jenny asked, graciously giving Claire a safe, and easy task.

“Of course!” Claire exclaimed, passing Katie to Jamie and hurrying to his sister’s side.

Far from feeling abandoned, Jamie stood back, arms full of wee lasses, and watched Claire and Jenny talk over the stove, then laugh at something Claire had said. 

Ian came back inside then, hauling a naked, dripping JJ under his arm. “Ah, going well it seems?” he asked.

Jamie nodded. “So far.”

 

“So, Claire,” Jenny said as they sat at the table, enjoying dinner as the children made a mess at the smaller table in the corner. “Why did ye stay on in Scotland after graduation, instead of going back tae England?”

Jamie winced, but it wasn’t one of the most invasive questions his sister could have asked. 

“I like it here,” Claire said simply. “Yes, I’m English, but my uncle always had such a soft spot for the Highlands. I can see now why,” she grinned up at Jamie with that, and he flushed.

“Ye want tae stay here, though?” Jenny prodded. “Ye dinna have mind tae take a job at a bigger hospital?”

“Well…” Claire began slowly. “Once I finish my residency, it’ll all depend,” she met Jamie’s eyes again. “It could depend, on where the job takes me.”

“But th’ hospital here is in need of talented doctors,” Jamie said. “They couldn’a do better than you, I’m sure.”

Claire chuckled. “I hope you’re right.”

But that realization had hit Jamie, and hit hard. Claire was a talented doctor. He knew that from the scores she proudly showed him, and the word from her fellow students at the pub. Surely she was bound for greater things than Inverness. If she was offered a position elsewhere, say, in London...or, Christ, the U.S...what would he do? He couldn’t just up and leave the pub, or his family. Would she even ask him to?

He shook his head, mentally rolling his eyes for getting way ahead of himself. No sense worrying about something that may or may not ever happen.

“You were engaged before, weren’t you?”

Jamie had been so absorbed in what ifs , he almost missed what Jenny was saying.

“Janet,” he snapped lowly.

“What?” his sister asked innocently. “I’m just making conversation.”

“It’s alright, Jamie,” Claire said, putting a comforting hand on his. “Yes, Jenny, I was engaged. But I’m not anymore. Bastard cheated on me. I’m very happy to have found someone I can trust not to do such a thing.”

Jenny nodded. “And I’m sure, since ye ken what that feels like, you’d never do such a thing either.”

Ian sighed, looking like he wished he could leave the table. “Jenny…”

But Claire only narrowed her eyes a bit, a smile still on her face that would look pleasant to most people. But Jamie could see the coolness. 

“Never,” she said firmly. “And to answer your next questions...No, I don’t play games. Yes, I’ve been tested since breaking up with Frank and I’m perfectly healthy. No, I don’t have any serious debt. My uncle paid for most of my schooling, and my inheritance from my parents paid for the rest. I make a good living now, and fully support myself. No, I’m not particularly religious but I know Jamie is and far from having objection to that, I rather like that about him. Yes, I like children but I haven’t been around them very much. And as to your questions about my and Jamie’s relationship specifically, I respectfully state that that’s between us, though I understand your concern for him.”

Claire halted her rapid fire one-sided questionnaire abruptly, looking around at her audience before turning back to Jenny. “Did I cover everything?”

Jamie’s eyebrows must have been in his hair at that point, as he and Ian looked back and forth between the two women, waiting to see Jenny’s response.

At first, Jamie was afraid Jenny was going to be angry, but then a smile worked its way across her face and she gave a tiny nod before looking at Jamie with something like approval on her face.

“I think that just about covers it,” Jenny said, and then just like that, switched the conversation over to Claire’s dress, and where did she get it?

Jamie would never be sure how it happened, but the rest of the evening went by with Claire and Jenny talking and laughing like old friends. Katie even returned to Claire after they’d all moved to the living room for drinks, showing off her baby doll.

Jamie was mesmerized, watching Claire with the wee’un. He could almost imagine what she would look like with a child of her own, and it was a beautiful sight.

As the evening wound down, Jenny and Ian left to put the children to bed, and Jamie invited Claire to his apartment.

“Ooh, I finally get to see your room?!” she asked, actually clapping her hands in glee.

Jamie laughed. “I assure ye it’s nothing tae get excited about.”

In truth, it was nothing but a series of three rooms and a bathroom in the back of the house that had, at some point in the past, been servants quarters but had been remodeled into an efficiency while Jamie was away at school. But it was far enough away from the main hub of the house to offer a little privacy while still letting him feel like part of the household.

“Here it is,” he said, opening the door to what he’d made into a living room. He had a refrigerator and microwave, but no kitchen, though he usually took meals with the family anyway.

Claire strolled in like she owned the place, making him smile. “I like it,” she said, without a hint of sarcasm. “Total bachelor pad. All that’s missing is a poster of a half-naked woman draped over a sports car.”

Jamie wrinkled his nose. “Surely ye think I have more taste than that. Unless ye’re volunteering for a photo shoot, of course.”

She smirked at him over her shoulder. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that’s completely off the table. But maybe something a bit more artistic in style would suit your decor better. Actually, I do really like how you’ve decorated the place.”

He gave it a quick look around, warming at her praise. He did take some pride in his living space, small as it was. His furniture matched, though it was definitely bought for comfort over looks. He’d taken care in what he hung on the walls; a painting Jenny had done of the barn, one of the old whisky advertisements from the pub, pictures of his family. He supposed the only relics of childhood he still had on display were in his bedroom, and he’d debated about putting them away before she came, but had decided against it. Now he wondered if she should have, after all.

“Do I get to see where you sleep?” Claire asked, tilting her head back to smile at him.

He nodded his head toward the door behind her, and looking like a child let loose in a candy store, she spun around and opened it.

Simple but soft light gray comforter, navy sheets, mahogany bed frame and dresser. And on a shelf, a little wooden snake, and a stuffed rabbit.

Claire zeroed in on the rabbit at once, as he had expected she would.

With a soft gasp she went right for it, taking it down and cradling it to her chest. “Was this yours when you were little?!”

Jamie didn’t answer right away, which he should have known would have startled her, but he had just been so caught up in watching her.

But her eyes widened and she hurriedly replaced the toy on the shelf. “I’m so sorry! Here I am, touching everything without asking.”

Shaking his head and chuckled, he went to her side and took the rabbit back down, handing it to her. “Ye needn’t ask permission, Sassenach. And aye, my mam made me that bunny when I was wee. Never been able tae part wi’ it.”

“Well of course not,” she said, cuddling the stuffed animal like it was as precious to her as it was to Jamie, and could one’s heart actually burst? “And what’s that?”

“Sawny Snake,” Jamie said, handing her the wooden carving. “My older brother, Willie made it for me.”

She turned it over in her hand, running her thumb around the engraving. “What does Sawny mean?”

“A nickname, for me,” he said. “An old-fashioned play on my middle name, Alexander. It’s what Willie always called me, for some reason.”

Claire smiled, then carefully replaced the snake on the shelf, then the rabbit, but not before kissing it on its worn nose. 

She turned then, draping her arms around his neck. “There now. I’ve had dinner with your family, and saw your room, and the world didn’t implode. Not a bad night, was it?”

“No,” he admitted. “Did ye have a nice evening, even wi’ Jenny’s interrogation?”

She chuckled. “Oh, I’d expected as much. I know how protective she is of you, and quite honestly I find it sweet. I actually really like her. I hope she likes me, too.”

“She does,” Jamie said with utmost certainty. “Ye’d know, if she didn’t.”

“Good,” she sighed. “I was a nervous wreck about tonight.”

That caught Jamie off guard. “Ye were?”

“Of course! I know how important your family is to you! So they’re important to me, too. I’ve never had a family like yours before. I want to get it right, for you and me.”

Claire couldn’t possibly know how it made Jamie feel to hear her talk about his family in terms of being a part of it, if she even realized she was doing it. He wanted so badly to tell her, but even though they’d loosened up on some of their restrictions for taking things slow, he knew better than to push it.

Since he couldn’t tell her, he kissed her instead, and well, that was even better anyway. 

It was a bit overwhelming, having her there in his private space, kissing her, feeling her. He hadn’t actually planned on inviting her to stay the night but…

“D’ye have tae go home tonight?” he asked against her lips, sighing as she ran her hands up his chest.

“Depends,” she whispered. “Is that an invitation to stay the night?”

“Ye dinna need permission,” he reminded her. “Or an invitation. But if ye’d like one, ye have it.”

She pulled back, biting her lip. “I have an overnight bag in the car, but I didn’t want to seem super presumptuous by bringing it in earlier.”

He laughed, then kissed her again. “I’ll get it for you. Later.”

 

Chapter Text

Eight Years Ago...

 

Exams passed, classes finished, lectures done, I was high on the knowledge that I was facing a much-needed school break with excellent grades. 

Medical school was a challenge - to put it lightly. A challenge I enjoyed, but God was it ever good to not have to think so much for a little while!

Louise and I had gone out for celebratory drinks at the pub, and allowed ourselves to have about four or five too many. Joe was having his own celebration with his fiancé, Gale (and thank God Gale was the single most confident, unjealous person in the world because any other woman might have taken exception to two drunk women sending her man encouraging texts at 11:00pm that basically amounted up to variations of get it, Joe! All night long, all night long !)

But then Louise caught the eye of a tall, dark, and handsome forensics student at the end of the bar and had unapologetically abandoned me. 

I somewhat envied her easy loss of inhibitions, that allowed her to just go off with a man for a night of fun without a hint of fear or guilt. 

As I stumbled sleepily out of the pub alone, I was wishing that I, too, was on the arm of someone tall, dark, and handsome to giggle off home with. 

No...actually I didn’t wish that. I wished I had someone to go home to . To wrap up warm, drunk, and happy in bed with and know that when I awoke with a raging hangover he’d be there with a glass of water and an aspirin.

Speaking of men, there was one leaning against the wall of the closed pharmacy next door to the pub. I wasn’t afraid; it was a fairly safe area, but I kept myself aware of him regardless. Couldn’t be too careful.

“Where ye going, sweetheart?” he called out to me then, his words slow and slurred.

I rolled my eyes and ignored him. He was just a drunk from the pub, out for a smoke.

“Hey, hey! I’m talkin’ tae ye!”

He started to walk out into the sidewalk ahead of me and I hesitated. He sounded very drunk, but he moved awfully quickly.

“What’s a sweet thing like you doin’ goin’ home all alone?” he asked, and even though he sounded friendly, the way he looked me up and down didn’t seem so. 

I didn’t recognize him as a regular, but it was dark, and all I could really make out was that he was big, and the self defense classes I’d taken half my life at Uncle Lamb’s insistence could only do so much.

“My boyfriend is picking me up,” I ventured, debating on whether to try to go around him, cross the street, or turn back to the pub. 

“Is he?” he asked, not sounding convinced. “Weel, why don’t I keep ye company till he comes?”

“No, thank you,” I said, making up my mind to go back to the pub, and turned on my heel.

“Hey! Where d’ye think ye’re going?!”

I opened my mouth to say that I’d forgotten my purse, but gave it up and just picked up my pace, blinking hard against the world spinning around me. 

“Ah come on! Dinna be like that!” he called after me, and I could hear quick footsteps coming up from behind.

Either I was too drunk to move fast, or the guy was just really quick, because suddenly there was a hand around my wrist yanking me backward...so I screamed.

I was pushed against the wall, his putrid breath in my face begging me to shut up. I got a knee up into his groin, but he only grunted and held me tighter, likely too drunk to feel much pain.

Up until then, I’d been nervous, but not all that afraid. Now, panic seized me, all but immobilizing me. I thrashed out, hitting whatever I could reach, using my fingernails, and then suddenly, he was gone.

I blinked dazedly, surprised and bemused by what I was seeing, the bastard was on the ground, out cold, and someone else was standing over him, a fist still clenched and shaking in fury.

For a brief second, my drunk and terrified mind didn’t recognize him, but then that long and fanciful name came back to me with staggering clarity. 

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I whispered in amazement.

The boy couldn’t have been older than seventeen, still long and gangly though clearly athletic. That he could down a 6ft, 200 pound man with one punch, no matter that he was drunk, was decidedly impressive.

“Are ye alright?” he asked, voice wavering and cracking slightly in worry and fear.

“I...I’m fine,” I managed, realizing that he was holding out his hand to me. 

I took it readily, letting me guide me out from between the unconscious man’s feet and toward the pub. But I stumbled and nearly fell, except Jamie’s arms were around me in an instant, holding me up.

He was only trying to help my pitiful, drunken ass, but the fear of what could have happened just then caught up to me and I wrapped him into a hug instead.

“Shh,” he hushed, rubbing my back a little awkwardly. “Dinna fash, Sassenach, ye’re safe.”

“Thank you,” I murmured into his shoulder, realizing then that I was trembling. 

“Dinna be scairt,” he said, then started steering me toward the door.

“How did you know?” I asked him. There was a live band still playing inside, and the music was blaring. Surely he hadn’t heard me scream?

I glanced up to find him blushing and smiling sheepishly. “I was...weel, it’s only that I saw ye leaving alone, ken, and I came out tae make sure ye were safe on on your way. Then I heard ye scream.”

I leaned over to kiss his cheek, smiling at how his face darkened to a shade of magenta. 

We went inside where I was bundled up behind the bar with a cup of coffee while Brian and Murtagh fussed over me like a pair of old ladies and scolded me roundly for leaving alone. Rupert and Angus went out to keep an eye on the man until the police came, and a new picture was added to the wall of patrons who were forever banned from the establishment.

The fear of that night faded over time, but the feeling I had when Jamie protected me, and comforted me, never did. I remember thinking that night, as his warm, concerned eyes refused to leave me, that he would sure make someone a marvelous husband one day.



Present Day…

 

I wasn’t used to waking up in someone else’s bed. It was a novel experience, but one I found I rather liked. At least, in this situation, surrounded by warmth and Jamie’s scent. 

I snuggled into his side, my head on his shoulder, and my hand on his chest. He inhaled slowly, nearing wakening, and shifted slightly, unconsciously accommodating me better by curling his body toward me and tightening his arm around me. I smiled into his skin.

While I waited for him to wake up, I looked around his room in the daylight.

It was clear he didn’t really spend a lot of time in his apartment, which was unsurprising since he really didn’t really allow himself a lot of downtime between the pub and the farm, and lately, me. But then, I didn’t have a lot of downtime, either, so I could relate. Everything was neat and tidy, granted I was sure he’d cleaned before I came over. Still, it was nice to know he was a man who could clean. 

The only mess right then were our clothes, strewn half-hazardly around the place. How in the world had my bra ended up on his lamp?

Jamie shifted again, so I turned my focus back to him, circling one of his nipples with the tip of my finger.

One blue eye peeked up at me, and the corner of a mouth quirked up in a smirk and oh God ...how could he do that to me with just one sleepy smile?

“G’mornin,” he murmured, the hand that had been resting on my waist moving down to my hip.

“Good morning,” I said, pressing a kiss to his chest.

“Did ye sleep well?”

“I need to be very honest with you, Jamie.”

As I’d anticipated, his eyes opened fully, brows furrowing in concern. 

I grinned. “I hope you’re prepared for a frequent slumber party guest, my dear lad, because your bed is insanely comfortable.”

His face split into a beaming smile, making me adore him so much it almost hurt.

“I’m a man of few luxuries, Sassenach,” he said, barely able to hide how pleased he was. “My bed is one thing I dinna spare any cost on.”

I nodded solemnly. “Sleep must be very important to you, then. Shame on me, for keeping you awake half the night.”

He twisted toward me more, using his free hand to brush hair out of my face. “I forgive ye.”

“Oh you do?”

“Mmhm. I forgive ye for tonight, too, and tomorrow...the next night…”

I giggled. “Oh ho, then, someone has grown awfully sure of himself!”

Jamie’s face fell, and I could have kicked myself. 

“I didn’a mean it like that,” he said. “I only…”

I put a finger to his lips. “Jamie I was teasing . You know fine well I wouldn’t leave this bed ever, if I didn’t have to,” judging by the look on his face, he didn’t know fine well, so I thought I’d better make myself clear. Sitting up, I straddled his waist, feeling him hard against my thigh.

“I like being with you, Jamie,” I said softly. “I’ve always liked being with you. But this…” I rocked my hips slowly, barely caressing him, delighting in the way his jaw slackened. “I don’t think I could ever get enough of this.”

I didn’t mean just sex, which, I meant that, too. I also just meant the warm, quiet intimacy of waking up with him. I hoped he understood that, but I found myself having a hard time coming up with the words to convey that to him.

I reached between us, guiding him into me. Some of his virginal urgency was starting to fade, and he was growing more confident. On one hand, I regretted the loss of some of that exuberance, but I did so enjoy being witness to the honing of his natural talent. 

I looked into eyes, seeing happy excitement no matter that this was already the fifteenth time we’d done this, and maybe he hadn’t lost that virginal urgency yet after all. I was beginning to think that maybe I hadn’t, either.

I moved faster, as thought gave way to feeling. Jamie rose up into a sitting position, bringing us face-to-face. He curled up his legs, getting better purchase on the mattress to buck up into me, while keeping me securely cradled by his body. Almost every inch of my skin was being touched by him, and still I wanted more. 

As if able to see my need, Jamie kissed me, tongue entwining with mine. I could feel his heart thundering in his chest. It matched my own. 

It had never felt like this before. Nothing had ever felt like this. It was too much, and yet not enough.

Jamie came with a low groan, and I followed in an instant, my body pulling and drawing at his, trying to keep him with me. Neither of us moved at first, too warm and comfortable to budge. But then Jamie was looking at me oddly, and he cupped the side of my face, thumb brushing underneath my eyes, and I only realized then that it was wet.

“Are ye alright?” he asked. “I didn’a hurt you, did I?”

“No,” I told him, kissing him. Where had the tears come from? “I’m fine, I promise.”

Jamie smiled, kissed me back, then fell back against the mattresses with a huff, taking me with him. 

I heard a buzzing, and I looked over at his nightstand. “Is that yours or mine?”

Jamie reached over, picking up first my phone, which was silent, then his own, and he rolled his eyes. “It’s Jenny. I better answer, or she’ll just be bangin’ on my door in a minute,” he hit answer and brought the phone to his ear. “Yes, Jen?”

Due to our close proximity, I could easily hear Jenny on the other end.

Are you two going tae lie in bed all day, or are ye going to eat breakfast?”

My eyebrows rose, and I bit back a chuckle. Didn’t miss much, that Jenny. 

“Breakfast, Sassenach?” Jamie asked me, sheepishly.

I nodded, feeling my cheeks warm, and he relayed the answer to his sister before hanging up.

“We better get dressed,” he said. “She’ll no’ be pleased if we’re late.”

I rolled off of him, and we both started collecting our clothes. “I’m glad I brought a bag,” I said. “Saves me from having to do the walk of shame in front of your family.”

He chuckled. “Hey, I did it when I left your house.”

“About…” I bit my lip, hesitating. “About, you know, tonight….I do work late tonight.”

Jamie nodded. “Oh, aye, I ken. Before, I only meant…”

“I know,” I interrupted. 

“Ye could still come,” he said. “Just, for th’ record. Ye’re always welcome here, Claire.”

“Thanks,” I said. “And...you’re always welcome, too. At my place. You know, it’s actually closer, on nights when you’re working late at the pub.”

He glanced at me in surprise. “Thank ye, but, I get off well before ye…”

Feeling ridiculous for how nervous I felt, I pulled my shirt and underwear on, then went over to the dresser where Jamie had left my car keys after getting my bag the night before, and pulled off a nondescript silver key.

“My neighbor gave this back to me a couple weeks ago after she’d watered my plants for me when I went with Louise to London and I forgot to take it off. Here.”

“A key?” he asked, taking it from me and holding it in his palm. “T...tae your apartment?”

I nodded, trying to shrug it off as no big deal, and not quite succeeding. “No pressure or anything,” I assured him. “But I mean, if you wanted to come over, and I wasn’t home yet, you could just let yourself in. Or whenever.”

Jamie closed his fist around the key, then walked over to where he’d left his own keys and added it to the ring.

Neither of us quite knew what to say then. Funny, how a little piece of carved metal could hold such weight.

“Unc-a Jamie!” 

The little voice was our only warning before the whirlwind that was Jamie’s nephew barged through first the door to Jamie’s apartment, then his bedroom in rapid succession, making us jump and fly apart like guilty teenagers, no matter that we’d been doing nothing but standing close.

JJ appraised us with a comically bored expression, but seemed to find nothing at all amiss with me struggling to tug my shirt down past my panties and Jamie standing there not wearing a stitch at all. 

“It’s time for breakfast Unc-a Jamie,” JJ said, sounding most put out about having to complete this errand for his mother. “But you have’ta get dressed . Can’t be nekkid at the table. Mam said.”

“Oh aye, that wouldn’a be good manners at all, would it?” Jamie said, giving me an amused expression. “Sorry, Sassenach, I thought I’d locked it.”

While Jamie worked on putting on pants, and JJ turned his attention to sorting out the shirt Jamie had tossed onto the bed, I hurried to finish dressing, only relieved that I hadn’t been in a state like Jamie when the boy arrived. True, he was too little to care, but that just was not a story I cared to have him tell his mother.

“Ye alright, Sassenach?” Jamie asked me as we made our way back into the main living area of the house, JJ running on ahead. “He’s no’ even quite four yet, lass, he didn’t know.”

“Oh, I know,” I said. “But what if it had been fifteen minutes sooner?”

Jamie grimaced. “Oh aye, that would have been embarrassing. But, he accepted Jenny and Ian’s explanation that they were wrestling when he walked in on them a couple o’ weeks ago, and he hasn’a seemed traumatized.”

“Oh God ,” I laughed, covering my mouth. “He did?!”

“They all did,” Jamie said, chuckling arching a brow at her. “But only JJ asked questions. Nothing like that ever happened tae you when you were wee?”

I shrugged. “If I ever walked in on my parents, I don’t remember. And Uncle Lamb never had any guests when I was around. I can’t even imagine, nor do I want to!”

“I got them!” JJ announced as he proceeded us into the kitchen.

“Good lad,” Jenny said. “Bout time these lazy bones get up, aye?”

“Aye!” JJ agreed cheerfully. “But I made Unc-a Jamie put clothes on, ‘cause it’s no’ good manners tae be nekkid at th’ table. Right, Mam?”

“Right,” Jenny agreed, giving us a wry look while Ian practically fell out of his chair, laughing. I hoped perhaps the floor would open up and swallow me, but no luck.

And just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more awkward, JJ trotted up to me, a question clearly plaguing his mind. 

“Are ye my auntie?”

Jamie, who evidently already helped himself to muffin, started choking. 

“Arms up,” I said, patting his back while he shot me a teasing glare and took a sip of coffee.

“Ye can call her Miss Claire, laddie,” Jenny said.

JJ shrugged, said, “Okay,” then moved on to making trouble elsewhere, and whatever it was caused Maggie and Katie to start squealing.

I sat down at the table, feeling like my face could probably cook the eggs some more. Ian reached over, and patted my arm.

“Welcome tae mornings at Lallybroch, Claire. Glad you’re here?”

I looked around, hearing the happy children, smelling the delicious food, seeing both Ian and Jenny smiling at me, seeming completely unfazed by everything that had been causing me extreme embarrassment. And Jamie, who was eating his breakfast like nothing had happened, ignoring the toy plane whizzing over his head, with his free hand on my knee, and a look of absolute contentment on his face.

“Yeah,” I said in answer to Ian’s question. “I am.”

Chapter Text

Nine Years Ago…

 

“Okay, okay, one more...smile!”

“Daddy, enough! We’re going tae be late!”

Jamie smiled obligingly for probably the thirtieth photo since arriving at Sadie Grant’s house to pick her up. Her parents; big, round, jolly folk who in no way looked as though they could have made the petite Sadie, were beside themselves.

It was the night of the school formal, and for some reason, everyone had seemed to decide together that year that you must have a date. It had honestly never occurred to Jamie before to ask a girl to the dance, so he’d asked the first girl who seemed remotely interested, and that was how he found himself wearing his father’s old tux, and suffering photograph after awkward photograph in her family’s living room.

“Now, James,” Sadie’s father said firmly, taking him by the arm. “Ye’re tae have my wee Sadie home by ten o’clock, no’ a second later, ye understand?”

“O...of course,” Jamie stammered.

“Daddy, th’ dance isn’a over until ten!” Sadie protested.

“It’s alright,” Jamie said, hoping to win her father’s favor so at least the man would stop glaring at him. “I’m sure it’ll be winding down long before then!”

Sadie looked unimpressed with his answer, but at least her father was appeased.

Sadie’s mother took two more pictures once Jamie and Sadie reached Jamie’s father’s truck, and he thought that they were home free, but then Mr. Grant caught up after Jamie had gallantly handed Sadie into the passenger seat.

“Ye’re a good lad, Fraser,” he said. “And yer da is a good man, no doubt about it. But I ken what it is tae be a lad, mind, and so I’ll be warning ye only once; if ye behave at all inappropriately wi’ my daughter, I will find out, ken?”

Jamie gulped, resisting the urge to take a step back. “Of course, Mr. Grant. I assure ye, I’ve no other intentions but having a good time at th’ dance.”

“Aye, but see ye dinna have too good a time, if ye take my meaning?”

Jamie didn’t, but he nodded anyway, and was eternally grateful to get into the driver’s seat of the pickup. 

“Sorry about him,” Sadie said with a roll of her eyes. “He still thinks I’m five years old.”

“He’s only protecting ye,” Jamie said, remembering when Jenny had her first date, and how he and his da had felt. “Canna fault him for that.”

She huffed. “Sure, but don’t worry about it. All his threats are just bluffing. We’ll have a good time tonight, right?”

Jamie smiled at her. “Right.”

 

And they did have a good time. They danced, ate, hung out with their friends. Sadie was sweet, and pretty, but she honestly didn’t contribute much to the conversation, preferring to chatter with her friends about some reality show. He supposed then that there was a reason they didn’t hang out in the same circles. But still, it was his first official date, and he felt like it was going pretty well. 

“How’s it going?” Ian asked after Sadie and all of the other girls had gone to the washroom together.

“Good,” Jamie said. “I think Sadie is having a nice time, don’t you?”

“According to Mary, she sure as hell is,” Ian chuckled. 

“What’s that supposed tae mean?”

Ian shrugged. “I guess she’s told some o’ th’ other girls that she’s looking tae hook up tonight. Ye might just get lucky, Fraser!”

Jamie scowled. What? Surely Ian had misunderstood, or maybe Sadie had only been joking around. Why would she want to hook up with him? They barely knew each other, and it was only their first date.

He decided to brush it off, and by 9:30, starting ushering Sadie out the door. Her house was barely ten minutes away, but he wanted to make sure he had her at her door before 10:00.

Sadie seemed ready to leave, and giggled as she grabbed his hand and they made their way out of the school gym and into the cold night.

“Did ye have fun?” he asked her.

“Sure!” she said. “But I was glad tae leave.”

Jamie frowned, feeling a little disappointed. He supposed he hadn’t been a very good date, if she was so excited to go home. 

He opened the truck door for her, as his father had always instructed him, and Sadie gave him a grin about it as he circled around to get into the driver’s seat.

But the moment he got in, Sadie was suddenly on top of him, without warning, kissing him.

For a second, he was excited. Other than a brief peck on the lips with one of Ian’s cousins when they were six, Jamie had never kissed a girl before. 

But as it went on a moment, nothing but wet mouths, the taste of fruit punch and tobacco, her hands fumbling at his shirt...he came to his senses and pushed her away.

“What are ye doing?” he asked. “I uh...I have tae get ye home.”

“Not yet ,” she said, clearly trying at coy. “There’s plenty of time tae play around first!”

She lunged again, kissing his neck, one hand landing right on his crotch.

His cock twitched automatically at the contact but the rest of his body recoiled, a feeling not quite disgust but surely not arousal making him almost shove her away.

“What’s wrong wi’ you?” she asked. “Don’t ye want me?”

Jamie thought a moment, the answer sort of taking him by surprise. “No. No, I don’t.”

Sadie was a beautiful girl. Fair skin, long legs, enormous breasts. Every guy in school thought so, and several of them had been jealous that she’d agreed to go with him. Even if his principles prevented him from taking what she so freely offered, he still should have felt desire , right? Temptation? Instead he felt...nothing. Being kissed by Sadie felt no different than being kissed by an aunt.

The drive to her house was spent in awkward silence, and she had the door open before he could do it for her. He still walked her to the porch, and was thankfully saved from figuring out whether he was supposed to offer a goodnight kiss by the appearance of Mr. Grant’s gaze keeking out from the window. 

Sadie never spoke to him again after that. He thought maybe she was embarrassed instead of angry, because no one else ever seemed to find out either. Before the month was done, she was on the arm of a strapping member of the rugby team.

It was the first time Jamie began to realize there was something...different about him. Until that dance, he’d never really paid any attention to girls. He’d never had a crush. Never eyed them in the halls of school the way his friends had begun to around the time they were ten.

It wasn’t that he didn’t think about sex...he did. Sex scenes in movies aroused him, although straight porn made him a little uneasy. But when he imagined sex, in the privacy of his bedroom, it was a faceless person of indeterminate gender, and trying to insert an actual living individual into his fantasy only made him feel uncomfortable.

It made him feel angry, and humiliated, the knowledge that there was something clearly wrong with him. People were either gay, straight, or bi, right? What the hell was he who wasn’t any of the above?

There was a change about a year and half later, and that indeterminate person developed a face, a personality, a heart. It was encouraging to learn he could be attracted to someone, but less so when he realized that she wasn’t within his reach.

Eventually he learned to live with the way he was, though it didn’t stop him from trying to find the companionship he longed for like anyone else. 



Present Day

 

The key weighed heavy in his pocket, there, settled innocuously with the keys to his truck, the pub, Lallybroch, and the several outbuildings there.

She’d done it so easily, handed it over to him with explicit permission to let himself in whenever he felt like it, whether she was there or not.

But he knew her. He knew by the way she didn’t meet his eyes, and the way her fingers curled protectively around it in the brief second before holding it out for him to take, that it was no small thing she offered him. That she was willing to put not only considerable trust in him, but open her life up to him that way so soon after being so betrayed by another, was humbling to Jamie.

But more than happy, Jamie was kicking himself. 

He hadn’t offered her his own key. 

Surely that was proper protocol, wasn’t it? She gave him her key, so he should have given her his. He didn’t have a spare, but he could have told her that, and assured her he’d have one made. But he hadn’t. Why?

He of course had zero qualms with her being there whenever she wanted. Hell, if she came up to him and told him she wanted to move in, he’d be delighted. So why didn’t he?

He spent the rest of the day worrying that he’d offended her. When she left Lallybroch, she kissed him and sweetly told him that she hoped to see him later. She hadn’t seemed upset, but what if she, like him, had taken time to think it over and realized she’d been slighted?

He hadn’t heard from her all day...which made sense of course, because she was working. He felt utterly daft for worrying, but damn him, he couldn’t help it.

“Can I get ye ladies another drink?” he asked the pair of young women sitting at the bar. They’d already had three vodka and Diet Cokes each, but he knew Murtagh had been pouring with a light hand the moment he heard their American accents. It was clear they were no older than eighteen or nineteen, because they were far too excited about the prospect of drinking in a bar.

“Yeah,” one of them said, while her friend giggled uncontrollably. “So long as it comes with a side of you .”

Jamie smiled politely, but mentally rolled his eyes. “Ye canna afford me, lass,” he said with a wink.

The girls nearly collapsed in giggles.

“Oh my God , his accent!” one of them squealed.

Shaking his head, he turned to fix their drinks. Definitely pouring 80% Coke. Maybe 90.

“Oh my God, his accent !” Rupert mimicked in a high-pitched voice. “I have th’ same accent, why don’t they fawn over me like that?”

“Because they have noses as well as eyes,” Murtagh said. “Now get in th’ back, we got a delivery,” he eyed Jamie. “Bat those eyelashes, laddie. Ye’ll get yourself a good tip.”

Jamie leveled his uncle with a flat look and took the drinks back over to the wee hyenas.

“Ask him!” he could hear one of them whispering to the other. (He wondered if they were sisters, as they looked more or less the same.) “No, you ask him!”

He set the drinks in front of them, and they both grinned up at him. “So, what’s your name?” one asked.

“Jamie,” he responded. “Can I get ye anything else, then?”

“Jamie,” she giggled. “My friend here and I have never been to Scotland before. Any advice on any must sees ?”

“Oh, aye,” he said, relieved by the innocuous question. “Th’ Isle of Skye is beautiful this time o’ year…”

“Maybe you could come with us!” she broke in while her friend covered her mouth with her hand and laughed. “I’m sure you could show us a lot !”

He inwardly sighed. It hadn’t been the first time he’d been asked such a question, but he knew better than to purposely insult customers. “Sorry, lass, I’m afraid I’ll have tae pass. But I can give ye a brochure…”

“Well, what are you doing tonight?” she asked, getting a scandalized look from her friend. “We have an AirBnB not far from here. Why don’t you come over for drinks?”

Bold one, she. After a pause, he smiled. “Oh, sure, but d’ye mind if I bring my girlfriend along?”

The two girls turned redder than their drunkenness had already caused, murmured excuses, then turned away from him.

Chuckling to himself, he moved down the bar to some more customers, finding himself faced with a trio of familiar ones, each giving him matching Cheshire grins.

“You enjoyed that,” Joe said.

“What, th’ flirting or turning them down?” Jamie asked, already getting him a beer, as well as ciders for Louise and Gale. 

“Getting to use the line my girlfriend as an excuse to turn someone down and actually mean it this time!”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at Joe playfully and set the beer hard down in front of him. “I’ll have ye know, I’ve never told a girl I had a girlfriend when I didn’t. And...yes, I did enjoy it.”

“So,” Louise began, propping her chin on her hands. “It’s been, what, a week? Week and a half? And you guys are already using titles?”

Jamie blinked, thinking. Actually, no, they hadn’t called one another boyfriend or girlfriend, but they’d mutually decided to pursue a relationship, wasn’t that the same thing?

“Stop it, Louise,” Gale said. “Don’t over think it, Jamie. I heard Claire refer to her “boyfriend Jamie” just today when I picked up Joe at work.”

“You did?”

“We heard she gave you a key to her apartment,” Louise said, still grinning.

Word traveled fast, didn’t it? “Aye,” he said, wondering if he could ask him about not giving her a key, then deciding against it. He’d sound like an immature eejit if he did. Next he’d be asking them to pass Claire a note for him in history class.

“After everything that happened living with Frank,” Joe said. “And I don’t just mean the cheating, that was kind of big step for her, man. I hope you realize that.”

“Of course,” he said. “But...what d’ye mean? Not just th’ cheating? What else did Frank do?”

“Simmer down,” he chuckled. “Nothing any worse than that, it just wasn’t easy living with him, that’s all. Let’s just say sharing her space in general isn’t easy for her. Only child syndrome.”

“That’s not a thing,” Gale said, giving her husband a nudge.

“Is too.”

Jamie wondered what that meant for any future possibility of Claire joining his family. Would having a big family be exciting for her...or stifling?

“Uh oh, you guys are starting to scare him,” Louise said. “Abort! Abort!”

You started it!” Gale exclaimed. 

“Will you two calm down?” Joe said, looking back and forth between the two women then shook his head. “Look, Jamie, all we’re trying to say is, Claire may act all confident all the time, but that doesn’t always mean she is, you know? Tread careful. I know you two have had a thing for each other since...well...forever, but I just don’t want to see that girl get hurt again.”

“I’d never do anything tae hurt Claire,” Jamie said firmly. 

“Maybe you wouldn’t mean to,” Joe said...then sighed. “You’re a good guy, Jamie. That’s for sure. Claire deserves a good guy.”

“And a good lay ,” Louise added. “Which, from what Claire has said…”

“Down, girl!” Joe snapped teasingly. “Anyway, all we’re trying to say is, don’t keep her on a pedestal, that’s all. She’s human, she has insecurities and imperfections like the rest of us, make sure you understand that.”

Did he have Claire on a pedestal? He supposed he could understand how it might seem that way, as long as he’d had feelings for her, and evidently everyone knew that.

“Wait,” he said. “What did ye mean before, that we’ve had a thing for each other . Claire barely gave me a second thought until recently.”

For some reason, that was apparently hilarious to Joe, Louise and Gale. Jamie quirked a brow.

“Oh, you sweet thing,” Gale said, wiping an eye.

Jamie wasn’t thrilled with being laughed at, but requests for more information were met with more laughter.

“Are ye quite done?” Jamie asked, smiling despite himself.

“Yes, yes,” Louise said, sighing. “We like you, Jamie. We all think you’re good for her, but you know, we have to look out for her, right?”

He nodded. “Aye. She’s lucky tae have friends like you.”

“You gonna take her up on her offer?” Joe asked.

“Offer? Ye mean stay at her apartment tonight?”

He’d considered it, but ultimately decided maybe he ought to wait for a night she was home. What if she got home from work tired and decided she didn’t really want him already there hanging around her apartment? Or...maybe he was just being a coward.

Louise stood up. “Come on, Gale, our booth’s free,” she glanced back at Jamie, and winked. “It’s up to you, of course, but she uh...she’s expecting you.”

Jamie watched the women go, indecision warring within him. Joe stood, but lingered behind.

“Claire’s been my best friend for...oh...eleven years now. She was there when I met Gale, offered advice when we had our first fight, and sat with me when I was so nervous about asking her to marry me that I puked. I was there during all those same events with her and Frank, and I still kick myself for not at least trying to make her see that he wasn’t really making her happy. I won’t make that mistake twice, but thing is...you do make her happy. Always have. You know who she went to the night she caught Frank cheating? Not me, not Louise. You . I know you’re crazy about her. Hell, that’s plain to anyone with half a brain. But I wouldn’t be a very good best friend if I didn’t give you a warning, at least,” Joe leaned across the bar, his naturally amiable smile completely at odds with his words. “You ever hurt my girl, I’ll make you live to regret it.”

Jamie smiled back, fully believing that Joe meant every word. “If I ever hurt her...well...I’ll be honest, I dinna think Claire would leave much behind for ye tae kill, but I’ll turn myself over, regardless.”

Joe laughed, toasted him with his beer, then went to join Gale and Louise.

Jamie shook his head after them. He had a decision to make but had three hours left before the pub closed to make it.

Chapter Text

Thirteen Years Ago



“Alright, one more!”

“You said “one more” four pictures ago, Uncle Lamb!”

Lamb grinned unapologetically from behind his camera. The same camera he used to document ancient artifacts was now pointed at my face, and I blinked at the unexpected flash. 

“I wasn’t ready that time!”

He chuckled. “I was going for candid! Now, look out the window. Like a doctor.”

I propped a hand on my hip. “How in the world can I look out the window like a doctor?”

He shrugged. “All smart-like I guess. Put your hand under your chin.”

I sighed and shook my head, but it was with a smile. “Uncle Lamb, we’re going to be late .”

“Right, right,” he said, hurrying to put his camera in its carrying case. “We can’t have that! It’s not every day my little girl graduates!”

I giggled, leading the way out the front door holding my cap in my hands. I could barely believe the day had finally come. Graduating school felt like crossing the finish line of a race I’d been running for the past twelve years. Uncle Lamb had been beside himself for weeks leading up to the big day. I didn’t think anyone in the whole of Oxfordshire had escaped Lamb bragging about how his niece had graduated top of her class and was accepted into one of the most prestigious medical programs in Oxford. I’d already been taking classes there throughout my twelfth year, and was already well on my way to my doctorate. 

What he didn’t know yet, however, was that I’d chosen my training hospital, and it wasn’t one there at Oxford. 

Inverness Medical wasn’t nearly as big or renowned, but it was attached to the University that Lamb himself had studied at, had excellent research facilities and when the time came, I thought it would be nice, being at the school he’d been so very fond of.

I looked over at him as we drove to my graduation. He didn’t like it that I did the driving now, but he knew that with all the medication he was on, it wasn’t wise for him to do it. 

He was in good spirits today, and seemed to be feeling relatively well, but I could see the strain around his eyes, the tiredness there.

In the span of just a year, Uncle Lamb seemed to have aged ten. My whole life, he’d never seemed to change at all. White hair, bushy mustache, wire-rim glasses, portly belly. And always, always a cheerful smile. Almost like a real-life Santa Clause, although no Santa I’d ever heard stories of could drink and curse like Uncle Lamb. 

His hair was still white, his smile still cheerful, but he was thin now, and lacked that boundless energy he’d had for so long.

The day we got Uncle Lamb’s diagnosis was the day the world stopped turning for me. From the day I was five years old and lost two parents to a horrific car crash, Uncle Lamb had been my world, and I his. No girl could have asked for a better man to step in and become her father. 

I didn’t know if I could do it, say goodbye to him. I still needed him so badly. The doctors said that there was still time yet. Possibly ten more years with chemotherapy...or perhaps five, without.

He’d decided, and I’d agreed, that five good years were better than ten miserable years of sickness. The tumor, while inoperable, wouldn’t start to cause him much pain until the time drew close, and then it would be manageable with medication. In the meantime, he could live almost a normal life. So he’d stopped chemo just the week before, determined to feel good for my graduation day. 

He was taking me out for a celebratory dinner that night, and that was when I intended to tell him my plan, hoping he would agree to move to Inverness with me. I thought perhaps getting him out of the city, and into the clean air of the Highlands would be good for him. He was half Scottish after all, and most days I swore he was more Scot than Englishman anyway.

He’d never let me stall my studies while he was sick, that was for sure. But I didn’t want to anyway. It was a long shot, I knew, but a part of me couldn’t help but hope that I could be the one to discover some way of saving him. And Inverness Medical, while small, was known for their great strides in cancer research. 

“I’m so proud of you,” Uncle Lamb said suddenly.

I smiled at him. “Thank you.”

He smiled back. “I don’t mean for graduating, which, of course I’m very proud of that, too. I just mean, you, in general. You’re such a good girl. Strong and independent. I find that I’m not really worried about you at all. You’ll do just fine, on your own.”

I swallowed thickly, wishing he wouldn’t talk about that today, but unwilling to stop him from saying what he needed to say.

“I’d rather you were with me,” I said.

“Oh, me too, love. Me too. And of course I’d like it if you found yourself a good young man one day, just so that I could see you happy and settled. No rush, of course. You’re still young and have plenty of gallivanting around to do before you strap yourself to anyone!”

I laughed. “Gallivanting? Is that what you’ve been doing the past sixty-three years?”

“Oh, you know me, too scatterbrained full of wanderlust to strap myself down anywhere!”

“Me too. The wanderlust part, not the scatterbrain part.”

“Says you.”

I reached over to punch his shoulder, which amounted to nothing more than a gentle tap. 

We pulled into the school parking lot and I got out, adjusting my gown. 

“Do I look okay?” I asked.

He came around to my side of the car, smiling and tucking a rebel curl behind my ear. “Absolutely stunning. Now come on, I want to find a good seat so I can see my little girl graduate.”

I grabbed his hand as he made to walk away, pulling him into a hug. “I love you, Daddy,” I murmured. 

“I love you too,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. He’d never asked me to call him that, out of respect for his brother, but memories of my father were distant. I’d had only one parent growing up, and though I regretted my parents’ deaths, I’d never found myself wishing for anyone other than Lamb.

“Let’s go,” he said, a bit gruffly so that he didn’t get too emotional. “It’s your time to shine, Claire.”



Present Day

 

The time on my phone read 5:42am, and I sighed, letting myself into my apartment. I was supposed to have been off hours ago, but it had been a busy night. I was glad I’d showered at the hospital when I’d changed out of my filthy scrubs, because what energy I had then was now all gone, and all I wanted was to fall into bed.

I’d gotten a perfunctory “good night, Sassenach!” text from Jamie around the time the pub had closed, but nothing else. Oh well, I was too tired for anything anyway.

I kicked off my shoes, uncaring where they landed. I’d be annoyed with it later, but that was Later Claire’s problem. But as I hung up my coat, I realized that there was already one there, and when I looked down, there was a pair of boots, lined neatly and out of the way beside the door.

There was no reason that sight should have made the breath catch in my throat, but it did, and I went to gather my sneakers and set them properly beside the boots.

The living was dark and empty, so I tiptoed into my bedroom. 

Jamie was lying there, on top of the covers, dressed in sweats and a t-shirt - so he’d obviously changed after work, but I knew that wasn’t how he went to bed. He wore boxers to sleep, if anything at all. 

He must have been trying to wait for me, but fell asleep, poor darling. But the sight of him there, asleep in my bed, filled me with something I’d never felt before, and I wanted nothing more than to curl up beside him. 

I quietly changed into the t-shirt he’d left behind last week. It wasn’t exactly sexy lingerie, but it was huge on me and so comfortable, plus it was his.

Jamie didn’t stir as I crawled into bed, not even when I struggled to get the covers out from under him so that I could cover us both. But when I cuddled up along his side, my head on his chest, I felt his intake of breath that came with waking, and his arm curled around me automatically.

“What time is it?” he murmured sleepily.

“Almost six. Sorry I’m so late. Go back to sleep, Jamie.”

He rolled over on his side, pulling me closer. “No matter,” he said. “Adso kept me fine company.” He kissed the top of my head, and despite my tiredness, I couldn’t resist tilting my head up for a more proper kiss, one he gave readily.

“I’m happy you’re here,” I whispered.

He smiled, eyes still droopy and oh so adorable. “Aye, me too, Sassenach. And I need tae apologize…”

“For what?”

He grimaced. “Ye gave me a key, and I didn’a offer you my own.”

I chuckled. “There’s no rule saying if I give you mine, you must give me yours. You live with your family. You can’t be expected to go handing out keys to your girlfriend when there’s a whole household of people to consider.

He smiled when I said girlfriend and it made me want to kiss him, so I did. 

“Ye ken you’re welcome there all of the time, don’t you?” he asked.

“I ken. Now go to sleep. Your sexy, sleepy face and you smelling like my body wash is kind of turning me on, but I can barely hold my eyes open, so I want us both fully rested when we revisit this in the morning.”

“Agreed. Goodnight, Sassenach.”

And oh, how that sounded so much better with his sleep-gravelly voice saying the words, instead of reading them on my phone. “Goodnight, Jamie.”

 

It was probably noon when he woke me. I’d turned away from him in sleep, and his body was melded to mine. He kissed down the column of my neck, to my shoulder, my spine. 

Under normal circumstances, I’d have whined for more sleep, but I could no more ignore his questioning touches than I could ignore a bullhorn sounding in my ear.

“I was lookin’ for this,” he teased, sliding the shirt up my torso.

I wanted to tease him back, but his hand skimming the inside of my thigh chased all the words away.

He was unhurried, but methodical, and I became aware the more I woke up that he was almost examining me. I recognized that thoughtful gaze as he ran his tongue along the long white scar that stretched from the outside of my hip to just above my pubic bone, remnant of the accident from when I was a child. It was the same look he had when he was making big purchases for the pub.

But far from feeling like a purchase, I felt more like a very important decision was being made. He watched my face intensely, and I had but to let out a breath or shudder for him to know what it was that brought it on. I’d never known anyone to take such care in my pleasure. It was intoxicating...as well as intimidating, in a way.

I came under his hands and mouth with something that was almost a sob, my body shaking from more than just the force of my orgasm. I’d cared about Jamie from the time I met him. I’d wanted him for longer than I cared to admit. But that was the first time I realized that I could no longer imagine being with anyone else.

Oh, I wanted a relationship with him. That was easy. I could even see myself marrying him. 

But the idea of being with one person forever felt strange. Not unpleasant, but strange. And I was suddenly terrified that I couldn’t do it.

The day before at the hospital, I was informed of a new program at NYU for surgery, and if accepted, I could continue my residency under some of the best surgeons in the world. 

I loved Inverness, but it was a fantastic opportunity. However, that would mean leaving Jamie...because he could never leave his pub, the farm, or his family. Nor could I even think to ask him. 

My decision to study in Inverness had been for Uncle Lamb. My decision to go into surgery instead of immunology had been at Frank’s suggestion. I didn’t regret either decision, but they’d still been made with someone else in mind instead of myself. 

What if this time, I made a decision for me?

I wrapped my legs around Jamie’s waist, drawing him as deep into me as I could.

He wanted forever. I knew that. And in my heart I believed I wanted it too. But could I really give that to him? Could I risk it?

For my own heart, I would have risked it, no hesitation. But for Jamie’s...he was too wonderful. Too understanding, and kind. He’d bend over backward to make sure my dreams came true, possibly at the expense of his own. And I couldn’t do that to him. He deserved nothing but absolute commitment and certainty...and love. God, he deserved to be loved.

And I wasn’t sure I was capable of that.

 

The next week was, for a lack of a better term, bliss. We went to the movies, the shops, for walks along the shore, and every night was spent at either my place or his.

Evenings at his house were full of boisterous conversations, laughing children, board games, and drinking, and I loved being nestled at Jamie’s side surrounded by the warmth of a family. Evenings at my apartment were quiet and intimate, as Jamie and I continued to enjoy his education of the world of lovemaking. 

On nights when I worked, I came home to not only find him curled up sweetly in my bed, but also the apartment tidied, and leftovers of takeout waiting to be warmed because he knew I didn’t always take the time to eat dinner.

It was too perfect. Too easy. Somewhere, somehow, the other shoe was going to have to drop. And now matter how much I tried to pretend otherwise, it just became more and more clear to me that the longer it went on, the heavier that shoe would become.

 

One night, when we were both off, we sat on my sofa, watching a movie.

“I have tae take a trip tae Edinburgh next week,” he said suddenly while we sat with his arm around my shoulders and my hand on his knee, neither of us paying close attention to the crappy action movie.

“Oh,” I said. “How long will you be gone?”

“Not but a day or two,” he said. “Meetin’ wi’ a man about possibly selling his wine. John has a house there that he rents out to vacationers sometimes and said I could use it. I’d like ye tae come, if ye have th’ time tae take off. We could make a wee holiday of it.”

I grimaced. “Sorry, but I don’t think I can.”

He smiled, then kissed the top of his head. “Ye work too hard, Sassenach.”

I pulled away from him, sitting up on the sofa. “I’m working to become a surgeon . I have to work hard.”

Jamie blinked, clearly surprised by my vehemence. “I know, Sassenach. I didn’a mean anything by it. I’m proud of the work ye do. But even surgeons take time off.”

“Well, maybe I’ll have that luxury when I’m finished with my residency, but not now.”

“Alright, alright. I’m sorry, lass. I didn’a mean tae upset ye. It’s only Edinburgh, after all. Maybe one day we can plan a real trip, th’ two of us.”

I bit the inside of my cheek, not knowing where the sudden surge of anger was coming from, and not knowing how to stop it. “Weren’t you listening? I can’t take the time off, Jamie. This is too important to me!”

Jamie simply stared at me a moment, and I wanted nothing more than to apologize and then drag him to my bedroom, but I didn’t. I just sat there, on the edge of the cushion, gripping it like a lifeline.

“I know it is, Claire,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. Forget I mentioned it.”

“And now you’re mad!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. 

“I’m not mad!” he cried. “I dinna ken what’s going on! What’s wrong with you?”

It was the wrong thing to say, and I could tell he knew it as I whirled on him. “What’s wrong with me?! What the hell does that mean?”

Jamie stood up, grabbing my shoulders firmly even as I tried to pull away. “Sassenach, what is going on? If you’re upset, tell me why!”

I pulled away from him, retreating toward the kitchen with my arms wrapped around myself. “What if I told you that I had the opportunity to study at NYU?”

Jamie stared at me, seeming to be trying to catch up to my sudden change of subject. “New York? You’re going tae New York?”

“I could be,” I said. “If I’m accepted. What would you say?”

Jamie said down heavily on the sofa, and my chest hurt at the expression on his face. “Well...I...you’d be accepted, I’ve no doubt about that. Is that what ye want? Tae complete your residency in New York?”

“I’d be taught by some of the world’s top surgeons,” I said instead of answering his question. “Afterward, I’d have my pick of practically any hospital I wanted to work at.”

He nodded, clenching his fists in his lap. “I canna go with you, Claire,” he said softly.

“I know,” I replied, just as soft. “I wasn’t going to ask you.”

His eyes when they met mine again, held such hurt, that it shattered me. “Are ye asking me tae wait for you?”

I shook my head, wishing I could throw something. “Would you stop being so perfect?! Why? Why did you pick me? Out of every woman on earth? Why me?!”

Jamie jumped to his feet then. “Ye think it was like picking ye out of a catalogue?! I didn’t choose tae be this way, Claire. As for why it’s you... Christ don’t you know by now?!”

“Then it wasn’t even me you wanted! You only wanted me because I’m the first person you’ve ever been sexually attracted to!”

“Ye ken fine well that’s not how it was! Why are you doing this, Claire? Are ye trying tae break up wi’ me, is that it?!”

“Wouldn’t it be easier?! I’m always going to wonder if I’m living up to what you wanted. I’m always going to feel like you deserve better. And you’re never even going to know what you’re missing, because I’m the only person you’ve ever slept with!”

Jamie recoiled like I’d slapped him, taking a quick step back. “Is that what ye want? Ye want me tae go fuck someone else just so ye know I’ll be faithful? Is that it?!”

Until he put it into those words, I hadn’t realized that it was true. All this time, in the back of my head, I hadn’t been able to fully believe that Jamie would be satisfied by having me alone for the rest of his life. I just knew , that one day, maybe next month or maybe twenty years from now, he would feel like he’d missed out on something and want to find it with someone else. And I knew that the longer I had him, the harder it would be to lose him.

Shaking his head, Jamie stormed over to the door, yanking his boots on before grabbing his jacket.

“Jamie…” I called weakly, though what I would say to him if he turned back, I didn’t know.

He didn’t turn back, and once he was gone, I sat down hard on the floor. 

If pushing away the best thing to ever happen to me was what I’d wanted...well...I’d succeeded.





Chapter Text

Fifteen Years Ago

 

“Twenty-four eggs!” Jamie exclaimed, carefully setting the bucket on the counter. “And look! The light brown ones are huge !”

“Very good!” his mother said, peering into the bucket. “Those big ones must have come from Penny and Lissa, since they’re the ones ye dote on so.”

“Yep, ‘cause they’re good, smart chickens,” Jamie said proudly, of the two chickens he’d claimed as his own since they were hatched. “Can I go play now?”

“Aye,” Mam said. “But dinna get dirty. It’ll be time tae go tae town wi’ your Da, soon.”

“I won’t,” Jamie promised, already halfway out the door. 

“Where are ye going?” Jenny asked as he trotted through the yard. 

“Nowhere,” he snapped, waving her away. “Go inside. Mam is callin’ for ye.”

His da wouldn’t like him lying of course, but anything to keep his sister from following after and acting like a mother hen, constantly wondering what he was about and bossing him around.

He ran through the woods, hop-skipping along as he pretended to be a buck racing through the trees.

Willie had said earlier that he was going to the creek to fish, and Jamie had been unable to go along unless he finished all his morning chores.

He slowed as he reached the creek, wondering if he could manage to sneak up and scare his big brother. He never had before, but there was a first time for everything.

But when he neared the area where he and Willie normally fished, he heard a high-pitched giggle. Frowning, Jamie crept around the bushes and peered through the leaves, surprised to find that Willie wasn’t alone.

Annie Murray, one of Ian’s cousins, was there with Willie, and they were standing almost nose-to-nose.

Jamie watched, confused and transfixed, as they drifted closer together, slowly, until their lips met.

Willie had always been older and all-knowing in Jamie’s eyes...but Jamie had never stopped to imagine the day when Willie would be old enough for girls

They kept kissing, hands firmly at each-other’s shoulders, for a full two minutes at least until they finally parted. 

Jamie wrinkled his nose, wondering why on earth any two people would do that. His parents did, all the time. But why ? It wasn’t like kissing your mam. It lasted too long, and seemed like too much spit was shared. 

“See ye tomorrow, Willie,” Annie said, with exaggerated sweetness.

“See ye,” Willie said in response, in a tone of voice Jamie had never heard from him.

Jamie waited until Annie was long gone before he started down the bank where Willie was stood, staring in the girl’s direction.

“How long have ye been there?” Willie snapped when Jamie tumbled into view.

“Long enough,” Jamie groused, grimacing. “What were ye doin’, kissing Annie Murray?”

“None of your business,” Willie said, snatching up his fishing pole. 

Jamie followed, starting to wonder. “No, really, why?” he asked. 

Willie looked back at him. “Why? Why do ye think?”

“I don’t know .”

“Because I like her, ye numpty ,” Willie laughed. “She’s pretty, and funny.”

“Have ye kissed her before ?”

Willie turned red. “Yeah. Are ye gonna tell Da?”

“No,” Jamie said at once. “What was it like? Kissin’ her?”

Willie shrugged. “I dinna ken how tae say it. It feels nice, I guess. Haven’t ye ever liked a girl?”

“No. Well, I like Mary fine. But I dinna wanna kiss her!”

Willie grinned at him. “Ye will someday. If not her, then someone.”

Jamie had serious doubts about that, but Willie had never been wrong before, so he didn’t argue. 

“Are ye going tae th’ pub tonight?” Jamie asked as they lowered their lines into the water. 

“No,” he said. “Da wants me tae stay wi’ Mam. He doesn’a want her lifting, or doing any work this close tae th’ baby coming.”

Jamie smiled at the reminder of the impending arrival of their baby brother. Finally he wouldn’t be the youngest anymore, and he could be the sort of big brother Willie was for him!

“Too bad ye’ll miss th’ concert,” Jamie said. Their cousin Rupert and his friend Angus were performing that night with their new band, and everyone was turning out to watch them.

“Ah well,” Willie said, shrugging, then laughed. “I doubt they’re any good anyway.”

Jamie laughed too. “No, I’ve heard Angus sing, and he sounds like a dying hippopotamus!”

Willie laughed even louder. “Ye dinna even ken what a hippopotamus sounds like when it’s alive!”

“Sure I do! Like Angus’s singing, only better!”

They didn’t have much luck fishing, and after a while, Willie declared that it was time to head home. Mam was at the door waiting for them, her hand on her great big belly. 

“Get cleaned up, boys!” she called.

They did as asked, but not before Jamie ran to wrap his arms around his mam as best he could, feeling a sharp thump against his chest that must have been his wee brother saying hello.

 

Rupert and Angus’s band was as bad as Jamie and Willie had predicted, but it was a fun night. Da even let him have a small glass of beer under the solemn promise that he wouldn’t tell Mam. He wouldn’t tell Mam of course, but he couldn’t wait to tell Willie!

As the night wound down, Jamie cheerfully helped clean up, only glad that he was allowed to stay up way past bedtime. He and Jenny put the chairs up on the tables, and swept the floor. They picked up loose change in the process, and were allowed to split it between them to keep.

Then Officer Grant walked in, despite it being past closing time. He didn’t look in search of a drink, however, his hat held in his hands, an upset look on his face.

Jamie was sat with Jenny at one of the booths, meticulously dividing the change, but he watched over his sister’s head, curious about the serious conversation being had. His Da’s face turned into something Jamie had never seen in his life, and even Uncle Murtagh, who never got upset about anything, covered his mouth with his hand and looked away.

A sick feeling made its way into Jamie’s belly. A part of him wanted to run to Da, if only so Da could tell him that everything was okay. But his body wouldn’t move. He felt frozen.

“What’s wrong, Jamie?” Jenny asked.

“Somethin’s wrong,” Jamie murmured, then Jenny turned around.

“What do you think it is?”

“Dinna ken...but I don’t like it.”

They sat there and watched silently until Officer Grant left. Jamie waited until Da came to them, but he didn’t. He walked out of the pub instead into the icy rain.

Uncle Murtagh came to them instead, his face pale, his eyes red. 

“What’s wrong, Uncle Murtagh?” Jenny asked. “What did Officer Grant want?”

“Something…something has happened,” Murtagh said. He sat beside Jamie, then motioned for Jenny to join them in the booth.

“What?” Jamie asked, feeling like his throat was all closed up.

“Oh, laddie,” Murtagh said shakily, wrapping an arm around him and Jenny both. “There...there was an accident, a bhalaich . Willie was bringing your mother tae town tae have th’ bairn...and...”

Jamie buried his head in Murtagh’s side as the next words were spoken, wishing that he could just cover his ears so that he couldn’t hear them...that if he couldn’t hear them, they wouldn’t be true. 

But they were true.



Present Day

 

Jamie stormed out of Claire’s apartment, shaking his head, cursing under his breath.

He knew that she was just lashing out, that she didn’t really think the things she was saying, or if she did, then she certainly had reasons to be so frightened. But those things had angered him nonetheless, and so he left, when he probably ought to have stayed and had it out with her.

He knew she was scared, and he could hardly blame her. But what did she want out of him?! What the hell could he do to prove to her that he wasn’t going to leave her for the first pair of tits that walked his way like that jackass of an ex had?

If she wanted to go to New York, he’d do nothing to stand in her way. He’d heard that long-distance relationships were hard, but he was more than willing to try. But if she wasn’t willing to try...well...he couldn’t very well make her, could he?

He was still parked at the pub, having walked to Claire’s apartment that evening. He supposed it was just as well, as the walk in the cold night air helped cool his temper some.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he snatched it out, hoping against hope that it was Claire, asking him to come back so that they could talk. 

Instead, it was Ian, texting to ask if he would be home in time to help unload some hay the next morning. 

Jamie shot a quick reply saying he would, then typed out another text asking his brother-in-law how to deal with a woman when she wasn’t being reasonable. But then he deleted it, figuring he could just talk to Ian when he saw him.

When he reached his truck, he hesitated at the door, debating. Should he just go back and try to talk to her? Or perhaps it’d be better to give her some space first? He certainly wasn’t going to give up, not after one stupid fight. 

Heaving a sigh, he got in the truck and took off for home, thinking his bed was going to be awfully big and cold without Claire there to warm it. They hadn’t spent a night apart in almost two weeks, and true, that wasn’t a long time, and he shouldn’t be so accustomed to it already.

And maybe that was the problem. Despite their agreement, they’d gone too fast. He was too inexperienced, and she was too burned to jump into a committed relationship like that.

But how could they go backward without ending things completely?

He wished for the thousandth time that his Da was there to give him advice...or William. 

Willie may have only been a kid when he lost his life, but Jamie had always just known that he would have known what to do in nearly any situation, and if he didn’t, well, he would have been damn good support, at any rate.

“What would ye do, Willie?” he asked aloud as he turned down the winding mountain roads. He’d taken the long way home, wanting extra time alone with his thoughts.

No one answered him, of course, but he was still given the very strong feeling of don’t let her go .

Well...he didn’t plan to...but first he had to wait until she wasn’t being such a stubborn mule to talk to her.

Don’t put her on a pedestal ,” Joe had said. Pedestal indeed. Claire was a stubborn, bull-headed, sharp-tongued, unbending wee thing. She left the toothpaste tube open on the counter, and hair all over the bathroom. She kicked him in her sleep, and kept her toenails too long so that they scratched his legs. She had a pillow that she insisted was hers and wouldn’t let him sleep on, but always wound up with her head on his anyway. She worked far too hard, with no consideration for her own health.

And he loved her...more than life itself. 

He would tell her, next time he saw her. It couldn’t scare her away more than she already was, and it didn’t matter anyway, because she needed to know. She deserved to know. And he would say it again, and again if necessary, until she heard it. 

He slowed down on a curve, frowning when a little sedan swerved around the same curve from the other direction, nearly running him off the road. 

“Fucking tourists,” he muttered, belatedly shooting them the finger. 

He could always tell by the little white rental cars, and the fact that they never looked like they knew where they were going.

As his Da always said, tourists spent a lot of money, but damned if they knew how to drive.

One mistake they always seemed to make was taking the turns too fast. You could never be too careful on the mountain. You never knew when there could be black ice, a rock slide, a washed-out road...

Or a deer, appearing out of nowhere, not giving you time to think before you were swerving off the road, and down the rocky cliff into the inky black nothing.




Chapter Text

Twenty-Five Years Ago

 

“Au clair de la Lune, mon ami Pierrot. Prete-moi ta plume, pour ecrire un mot…”

I didn’t know quite what the words of my favorite song meant, only that I liked it because Mum sang it lots, and it also because it had my name in it.

“She pronounces those words well,” Daddy said. “Think we should put her in French classes?”

“She’s five years old, Henry,” Mum laughed. 

“So? Some people have their kids in all sorts of classes by her age. Language, piano, violin. It makes them advanced.”

“You can’t make a child advanced. They just are, or not. I happen to think Claire is quite smart,” Mum said that last bit louder, looking back into the backseat at me.

We were on our way home from the movies, where we watched Jumanji . It had been a little scary, but Daddy had let me sit on his lap, so it wasn’t too bad. I thought the monkey boy was funny.

“Oh, of course she is,” Daddy said. “That’s what I meant.”

“I know what you meant. But I think I’d rather her just enjoy being a little girl before worrying about classes and all that. Besides, she took ballet last summer and you saw how that went.”

Daddy looked in the mirror and smiled at me. “Yeah, that didn’t last long. But she was the cutest damn ballerina there, wasn’t she?”

“Ohh, Daddy said damn!”

“Henry!”

“Of course she’d listen to that part.”

“She’s always listening. She’s just too good at pretending she’s not.”

“Claire,” Daddy said, looking in the mirror again. “We don’t say that word.”

“No, but you did.”

Daddy and Mum laughed.

“I swear, she’s gonna grow up to be a lawyer, the way she argues!”

“What’s a lawyer?” I asked.

“Someone who does a lot of arguing,” Daddy said. “Would you like to do that when you grow up?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“No? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I thought on that a moment. “A cowboy.”

“A cowboy ?” Mum asked, laughing. “Where did you get that?”

I shrugged. “I like horses. And shooting.”

Mum looked at Daddy. “You’ve been letting her watch those old John Wayne movies, haven’t you?”

“Well I watch them, I can’t help it if she absorbs everything around her.”

“Wouldn’t you rather be a cow girl ?” Daddy asked.

I supposed I did, but cowgirl didn’t sound right to me. “No. I wanna be a cowboy.”

“Why? Boys are icky.”

“Nuh-uh!” I cried. “Boys aren’t icky! Boys are cute !”

“Oh God…” Daddy moaned. “Julia…”

“Relax, darling,” Mum said, patting his hand. “The earlier you get used to the idea, the better. There’s a little boy in the neighborhood she likes.”

“Michael!” I told them happily. “He’s cute .”

“You are too young to like boys, Claire Elizabeth,” Daddy said sternly.

“Well, when am I old enough?”

“When you’re forty.”

“Really, Henry?”

I looked out the car window, wondering if Michael would be at the park the next day. He said that he would bring his new cap gun, and we could play cowboys. Maybe Mum would buy me a cowboy hat. Did the store have cowboys hats? Did the pet store have horses? The headlights coming from the other street were bright, and fast.

“Henry...I don’t think that truck is stop...HENRY!”

“SHIT!”

A squealing sound. Then a bang, and another bang, and for a minute it felt like we were flying. 

I closed my eyes, waiting for Daddy to make the car stop. It felt like it went on for a long time, but then it was over, and quiet.

“Mummy?” I cried, but I couldn’t see her or Daddy in the dark. I was upside down, and my head hurt, and my belly hurt. I thought maybe I’d wet myself, too. 

Maybe I slept, because suddenly there was another bright light, and also red flashing ones, then the car door opened with a loud creak .

Hands pulled me out of my car seat, but they weren’t Mum’s hands, or Daddy’s.

“It’s alright, love,” the woman said, putting me down on a little bed with wheels, tucking me in with a blanket.

I tried to look back at the car, look for Mummy and Daddy, but the woman stood in my way. I did get one quick look though as they pushed the bed into the white truck, but all I could think was that it didn’t really look like a car anymore.



Present Day .

 

I couldn’t sleep a wink that night, as the whole stupid argument replayed over and over in my head. I’d acted like a total lunatic. Most of what I’d said to Jamie hadn’t even made sense.

I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d written me off for good. We’d only been dating a few weeks and I’d already gone off the rails at him. He’d do well to run, and run fast.

But it didn’t change the fact that I felt like shit, and needed to apologize, and maybe attempt to explain myself.

I waited until morning, giving him time and space, but once it was dawn, and I knew he’d be awake, I texted him, asking him if we could talk.

I got out of bed, feeling even less rested than when I got in it, and carried my phone in my hand as I made coffee, anxious for a reply. After half an hour, I tried again.

Jamie, I’m sorry. I don’t have a good excuse for how I acted. You didn’t even remotely deserve that. Please, talk to me?”

No answer. I tried calling, but it just rang, then went to voicemail. I knew he kept his phone in his pocket when he did morning chores, so he had to have been ignoring me.

I’d only make things worse by pestering him, so I forced myself to put my phone down on the coffee table, and promised myself I wouldn’t look at it again until it buzzed.

When it did buzz ten minutes later, I almost tripped as I darted to it.

But it was just Joe, sending me a picture of his breakfast.

Lovely, ” I texted back, shaking my head at his very American breakfast of blueberry Poptarts.

Made it myself! ” he said. “ Anyway, you and Fraser want to have dinner with me and Gale on Friday? I’ll let her do the cooking, I swear, lol.”

“Not sure…” I replied, grimacing as I did so.

Uh oh...something wrong in paradise, LJ?”

“We had a fight. Well, no, I had a fight. I don’t know what happened...one minutes we’re cuddling on the sofa and the next I’m yelling at him for no fucking reason.”

“Give me ten minutes, I’ll be right over.”

It was barely 10:00am, but I decided that it was late enough, and went to pour myself a glass of wine.

“Wine? Before breakfast?” Joe asked, letting himself into my apartment. “Not even the decency to make it a mimosa?”

“It is a mimosa,” I said flatly. “I’m just out of orange juice.”

“Fair,” he chuckled. “Now, out with it, Lady Jane. What happened with Jamie?”

I shook my head, sitting back down on the sofa. “I don’t even know. I snapped! You heard about that program at NYU right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Why, did you apply?”

“No,” I admitted. “I was going to, just to see if I could get accepted. But truth is, I don’t want to go to New York. I like living here. I like the hospital, being near you and Gale…”

“And Jamie. Don’t forget Jamie.”

I sighed. “Yes, of course Jamie. But I can’t let a guy affect my decisions about my career!”

Joe made a face. “There’s kind of a difference between letting “a guy affect your decision” and taking your significant other into consideration about what you do with your life. I didn’t apply either. I miss the States sometimes, but Gale’s family is here, and her job is here. She’s here. That’s enough for me.”

“You’re married,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, well you and Fraser have been married for the past nine years, practically. Now, what else is it? I know damn well this isn’t about the NYU program that you have showed exactly zero interest in since it was posted a month ago.

I shook my head. “I just...I don’t know. I can’t get the feeling out of my head that I won’t be enough for Jamie. Not forever.”

“Bullshit,” Joe said. “Jamie isn’t Frank, Claire. He’s not going to cheat on you, he’s not going to get tired of you. Think I would ever do that to Gale?”

“Of course not!” I said at once. 

“She knows, too. Otherwise, her response to me showing her your text earlier might not have been, ‘well, damn, Joe! Go over there!’”

Joe got up from the recliner and sat down next to me on the couch, putting his arm around me. “I know you’re scared, Lady Jane. You’ve been burned, and bad. I don’t blame you. But you’re not being fair to Jamie or yourself.”

I couldn’t help it...I started crying, and I covered my face with my hands. “He’s too good for me! I’m not afraid he’ll hurt me...I’m afraid I’ll hurt him!”

“Aw,” Joe murmured, rubbing my arm. “So, what, you thought you’d hurt him now and get it over with? Jesus, Claire. I know you can be a bit pig-headed, but it isn’t like you to be downright dumb.”

“Is this honestly your way of comforting me?!”

“When you’re acting like a child, hell yeah! This doesn’t have to be so hard, you know! Yeah, relationships take work. They have their ups and downs, but it’s not like you and Frank where every day was a chore. If you’d just calm down and let yourself be happy, you’ll be on easy street. There’s always gonna be fights, but if you respect each other, like I know you and Jamie do, then they can be resolved...and the makeup sex is great!”

I chuckled, taking the tissue he offered from the end table and wiping my nose. 

“And yes,” he said more gently. “There’s always a chance you can lose them, just like there’s a chance you could lose anyone. You know that as well as anyone. I know, that at the root of it, that’s your real fear. You don’t want to draw him too close because that’ll make it that much harder if you were to lose him. But that’s no way to live, Lady Jane.”

I leaned my head on his shoulder, sniffling. “You’re right. As usual. Why are you so much smarter than me?”

Joe laughed. “Hell, you really are in a state. I wish I’d recorded that! But I’m not smart at all. I’ve just been married for eight years so I’ve learned a thing or two...and still learning, trust me. But I love Gale, and she loves me, and at the end of it, that’s all that matters. How do you really feel about Jamie? And I mean your feelings, disregarding everything else, including his...unique disposition.”

“I love him,” I said, surprising myself a little when it was without even the slightest hesitation. “I love him more than I’ve ever loved anything in the world.”

“All of him? Tell me, what are some of his flaws? I know he seems perfect but I refuse to believe the guy doesn’t have some downsides. Seriously, come on, I need to hear this.”

I chuckled wetly. “He snores, and takes up way too much of the bed. He talks through movies, and has terrible taste in them anyway. He’s got a temper...but so do I. Sometimes he forgets to wash his hands after the restroom.”

“Thank God…” Joe said then paused. “Now wait...I sure hope he washes his hands at the pub…”

“I would assume so.”

Joe snorted. “Now, does any of that bother you to the point of not wanting to be around him?”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t care. I love him.”

Joe smiled, and kissed the top of my head. “There, you see? You guys are going to have some shit to work out. Maybe…I don’t know, maybe you ought to think about seeing a therapist one day. But if you love each other, really love each other, and want to try and be the best versions of yourselves for each other, you’re going to be okay.”

I sat up, feeling immensely better, but when I looked at my phone, I wanted to cry again at it’s blank face. “I might be too late. He won’t talk to me.”

“Did you try calling?”

“Yeah. He didn’t pick up, and he’s not answering my texts. What do I do? Wait until he answers? Go to the pub?”

Joe shook his head. “No, don’t corner him at the pub. It’s not a conversation you should have in front of an audience. Is he working today?”

“Not till tonight.”

“Then go now, to his house.”

I grimaced. “I can’t do that! If he won’t answer my texts, he’s not going to want me showing up at his door.”

“What if the roles were reversed and he was the one who fucked up? Wouldn’t showing up at your door with his proverbial hat in his hands say something to you?”

“I guess...but what if I end up seeing his sister instead? If he told her what happened, she’s probably going to want me strung up in the barn.”

Joe chuckled. “God, you’re dramatic sometimes, you know that? Worse than Louise. If you get strung up, give me a call. Unless it’s Jamie doing the stringing...then keep me far away from your kinky shit.”

“Joe!”

“Go,” he said, shoving me off the couch. “Go talk to him so you can make up, have sex, get married, and quit being such a fucking soap opera .”

“You like soap operas,” I pointed out.

“Yeah...well...still. Go. I’ll see you and Jamie on Friday for dinner.”

 

I saw Joe out, thanking him, and decided to shower first, to wash off the tears and the sleepless night before heading out to Lallybroch. 

I sent Jamie a text, letting him know I was on my way over. My first instinct would have been that it only gave him a chance to hide, but I dismissed that thought as quickly as it arrived. It was unfair to Jamie. He wasn’t that childish, or that petty. He’d probably just left his phone inside while he was working, and hadn’t gotten any of my messages anyway. I fully expected him to still be upset, but had no doubt that he would talk to me, and let me apologize. What I didn’t know, was whether he’d be ready to give us another chance. If he wasn’t, well, I’d wait for him. However long it took.

I pulled into the driveway at the big house, frowning when I didn’t see Jamie’s truck. Maybe he was out?

He told me that I was always welcome at Lallybroch, and I told myself that it wasn’t conditional on whether or not he was mad at me. He cared about me, and we’d been friends long before we were in a relationship. I’d go and ask his sister where he was, and wait for him in his apartment.

I knocked, smiling when I heard the usual ruckus of children inside. When the door opened, JJ stood there, grinning up at me. 

“Hi!” he chirped. 

“James Johnathan Fraser!” Jenny snapped. “What have I told ye about answering th’ door wi’out me?!”

“It’s just Miss Claire,” JJ said.

Jenny appeared behind her son, shaking her head ruefully. “Morning, Claire. Sorry about that. Come on in.

“It’s alright,” I said, smiling at JJ then her in turn before following them into the house. “I uh...is Jamie out?”

Jenny turned and gave me a funny look. “What? He didn’t come with you?”

“No,” I said, frowning. “He left my place last night.”

“Good morning, Claire!” Ian greeted, coming in from the kitchen.

“Ian,” Jenny said. “Have you heard from Jamie today?”

Ian looked at her in confusion. “No? Not since last night. I thought he stayed over at Claire’s.”

“So did I. JJ, go check and see if Uncle Jamie is in his room.”

JJ nodded and took off, as an unsettling feeling made its way into my gut. 

“We had a fight last night,” I admitted. “It was all my fault. He left around 11...I assumed he’d just come straight home.”

“Uncle Jamie’s not there!” JJ reported upon his return.

“His truck’s not outside,” I said quietly.

Ian looked back and forth between us. “Okay, now no one panic. Maybe he was just tired and slept in the back room of the pub. Or maybe he didn’t want someone ,” he narrowed his eyes at his wife. “prying about it. I’ll tell Rupert to go over and check.”

While Ian started texting, I checked my own phone again, hoping maybe he’d responded. I hit his speed dial, but felt my stomach drop when instead of ringing, it went straight to voicemail.

“Jamie Fraser,” I said when it beeped. “I know you’re upset but you’d better call me or your sister right fucking now because you’re not home and this isn’t funny!”

“For heaven’s sake,” Jenny huffed. “One wee fight and he goes runnin’ away from home?”

I paced their living room, trying not to panic. Surely he was just at the pub, and we’d all feel silly for worrying. But something just didn’t feel right.

“Rupert says he’s not there,” Ian said solemnly. “Hadn’t heard from him, either.”

“Well, where could he be?!” Jenny exclaimed.

“I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation, Jen.”

I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling like I was going to be sick. “He was so upset when he left,” I said, trying to swallow back tears. “I was being an idiot, and got mad at him for no reason. I’ve been texting and calling all morning to try and apologize...I thought he was just ignoring me!”

“Call John,” Ian said to Jenny. “I’ll call Murtagh.”

I kept pacing, feeling utterly useless. I sent another desperate text to Jamie, begging him just to answer, and then texted Joe, telling him what was going on.

Neither John nor Murtagh had heard from Jamie since I last saw him, but John wondered if Jamie had driven down to John’s rental house in Edinburgh that was currently unoccupied. He said that Jamie knew the code to the lock, and if he’d wanted to get away, it’d be as good a place as any to go. It sounded reasonable enough, reminding me that he’d been trying to invite me there with him. Maybe if I’d just said yes like I’d wanted to, none of this would have happened.

“It’s not like Jamie, though,” Jenny said. “He wouldn’t just take off without telling anyone.”

Ian shrugged. “No, it’s not, but he’s never really been through a fight with a girlfriend before, has he?”

“You’re talking like he’s a teenager,” I snapped, without meaning to sound quite so harsh. “Jenny’s right, he wouldn’t do that. Not to you, or me.”

Ian looked at me and nodded. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m going to drive to Edinburgh.”

“What?” Jenny said. “Why?”

Ian gave her a long look. “To look for him along the way. Just in case.”

As the meaning of his words sank in, the sick feeling increased. Judging by Jenny’s expression, she felt much the same way. “Claire, could you call the hospital?”

I nodded, biting my lower lip. I closed my eyes before looking at my phone again, wishing it’d just ring.

 

For the next hour, I called every hospital between there and Edinburgh, and Jenny resignedly called the jails. I even tried finding Jamie’s phone with GPS, but it appeared to have been turned off. 

“This is insane,” I huffed. “Where the hell could he be?”

“I don’t know,” Jenny said. “I just can’t help but feel like he wanted some time alone, and his phone is out of service or something.”

“No,” I said insistently. “I know I don’t know him like you do, but Jamie just wouldn’t do something like that. He doesn’t run from his problems. Something’s wrong , I just know it. And if something happened to him...it will have been all my fault.”

Jenny sighed. “You think you’re the first couple to have an argument? I can’t even count the number of times Ian or I have stormed out on each other. Or how many times Ian has slept in the den. Or me, at my friend’s house.”

I understood what Jenny was saying, but it didn’t change the fact that if anything happened to Jamie, I’d never forgive myself.

“What about that back road?” I said. “The one the winds around the mountain?”

“Aye? What of it?”

“Jamie took me that way last week on our way here. He called it the scenic route.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “I see what you’re saying. Christ, people fly around there sometimes. Jamie lectures me all the time about being careful.”

I had sat down, briefly, but jumped back to my feet. “I’m going to go look for him.”

I started out, but Jenny called me back. “Wait! That road goes for miles, and there are any number of places a truck could go off and never be seen. But there are hiking trails all along there, and we’d be able to see more that wouldn’t be visible from the road. We can take the horses.”

I hesitated, but only for a moment. I hadn’t been on a horse in years, and had never exactly been an experienced rider. But Jenny knew what she was talking about, and I’d do anything to actually try and find Jamie, instead of just sitting around worrying. 

I ran to my car while Jenny saddled the horses, to get the first aid kit I always kept there. I wanted to be prepared, just in case. Once Ian’s cousin arrived to watch the children, we set out at a gallop.

I hung on for dear life, only grateful that I was on Sammy, a calm gelding with an easy gate who was content just to follow along behind Jenny’s horse, Olive. I’d have been in trouble if my only option had been Jamie’s enormous stallion, Donas. I’d not have survived long enough to find Jamie.

 

We rode all around the mountain and countryside, pausing only every now and again to let the horses drink and to check our phones. Ian called once he reached John’s house in Edinburgh to report that there was no sign of Jamie.

Joe had taken it upon himself to call the hospitals again, and then the police. But the police only told him that Jamie hadn’t been missing long enough for them to get involved.

My heart was in my throat the entire time, every scenario that went through my head was worse than the last.

For the first time in I didn’t know how long, I thought about the car accident that took my parents. I had few memories of that horrible night, or really any time before that unfortunately. But I did remember seeing the car, smashed beyond recognition. 

I lost the two most important people in my life that night. Years later...I lost Lamb. And now…

But no . I refused to believe it. Maybe he was hurt. Maybe he was lost. But he wasn’t gone. 

“It’s getting late,” Jenny said, taking a sip of water. “We should head back.”

“No!” I exclaimed. “We can’t stop now! We haven’t checked everywhere yet!”

Jenny gave me a sad smile. “Claire, we canna look for him in the dark. It’s not safe. We’ll go back to Lallybroch, get some rest, and start back first thing in the morning with Ian, too. I’ll call Rupert and Angus, and have them bring out their ATVs. We won’t stop until we turn this mountain upside down.”

I gave her a long look, then shook my head. “No. You go back, see to the kids, but I’m going to keep looking.”

“Claire! You’re not going tae be any good tae Jamie if ye get yourself killed!”

I turned the horse, guiding him back up the hill. “I’ll be fine! Jamie’s already been missing one night, I’m not leaving him out here for another one!”

“We don’t even know for sure he’s out here! And that horse isn’t going to be able to keep going indefinitely!”

I looked down at Sammy, seeing the sweat on his lean brown neck, and slid out of the saddle. “Take him back,” I said, leading him to Jenny. “I’ll keep going on foot.”

“Oh, now you’re just being insensible,” she sighed.

“I can’t stop, Jenny,” I said, fighting back tears again. “I just can’t .”

“Aye, I ken,” she said more calmly. “Just come back wi’ me now, Claire. We’ll trade out th’ horses, get some lights and some food, go right back out.”

Finally, I nodded, seeing that she was right, no matter how much it killed me. 

 

Ian was waiting for us when we got back, and he didn’t like us going back out after dark, but he helped us saddle up two of the other horses and gather more supplies, including two powerful lanterns. 

“I’ll take the truck and go along the highway,” he said. “But it ought tae me riding out into th’ dark.”

“Ye know ye can’t,” Jenny said gently. “No’ th’ way your leg has been bothering ye lately.”

“What’s wrong with your leg, Ian?” I asked.

Ian smiled and raised his pants leg, showing me that he had a prosthetic. “Farming accident. I have damage to my hip, too. Makes riding difficult.”

“Well, when I bring Jamie back, we’ll talk. I might know of a thing or two you can do to alleviate the pain.”

Ian touched my shoulder. “Thanks. Now come on, let’s find my brother.”

“Maybe I should take Donas,” Jenny said, watching me in askance as I cautiously approached the enormous beast.

“N...no, it’ll be fine,” I said, with far more certainty than I felt. Jamie himself had been thrown by the horse a time or two, for all that he adored him, he complained about his “manners” all the time. “Donas and I know one another, don’t we boy?”

I didn’t know if horses typically had facial expressions, but I was pretty sure this one was narrowing his eyes suspiciously at me.

“Please, Donas?” I said quietly where hopefully only he could hear as I made to climb into the saddle. “We have to find Jamie.”

Maybe Donas actually understood his master’s name, or maybe he was just in a good mood, because he didn’t even flinch as I settled myself into his saddle and Ian adjusted the stirrups. 

It was infinitely better actually doing something to find Jamie, but it didn’t assuage the gnawing fear. 

“I’ve only just found him, Donas,” I murmured as we started on. “I will not lose him now.”



Chapter Text

“First time here, lass?”

Claire grinned at him. It was a mischievous grin, not merely a polite one, so Jamie knew at once that she was up to something, and maybe tonight would be more fun than the others.

Her date of the evening was another set-up by her well-meaning friend, Louise. A plain-looking guy, thin, not terribly intimidating. Claire could definitely take him, which was what Jamie liked in these circumstances, particularly with blind dates. 

“James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, if you don’t know me by now I don’t think you ever will.”

Jamie chuckled, seeing that evidently this was not the evening for their little game.

“I think I remember ye, Sassenach. Whisky then? Neat?”

Claire grinned again, in that way of hers that had stolen his heart from the beginning. She hadn’t even looked at her date since they came in. It was clear that she wasn’t impressed.

The man in question suddenly started mumbling excuses before making a hasty retreat.

“That was easy,” she said, still smiling at Jamie. “It wasn’t that he doesn’t believe in drinking alcohol, it was just that he had the personality of cornstarch!”

Jamie laughed, not even bothering to question her analogy. “Oh well,” he said, setting her whisky in front of her. “There’s always next time.”

“Yeah, well, I agreed to out with this guy I met at the gym last week, but if that one doesn’t work out, then that’s it. I’m done.”

“Ye’ll find someone, someday,” he said. “I’m sure of it, Sassenach.”

 

Jamie woke up as the sun rose on his second morning, unimpressed that he was still in the same place he’d been when he went to sleep. 

He tried again to get his leg free, groaning with the effort, but it was no use. It was trapped between the door and the dash, and nothing he’d tried yet had made it budge.

That damned deer. The crash had sent the truck rolling down the rocky hill, flipping he didn’t know how many times before finally landing on the driver’s side, facing uphill. Jamie didn’t think he was badly hurt, but he was badly stuck .

His leg hurt, but not, he didn’t think, enough to suggest that it was broken, but it was swollen, further lodging it in place. He had a nasty cut on his forehead, though the blood had ceased trickling into his eyes, and he ached all around, but it definitely could have been much, much worse.

The bad part was that it seemed like the truck had slid down into the trees, out of sight from the road, meaning no passers-by would see him, and even once his family started looking for him, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

And damn him...how long would it be before anyone started looking? He hadn’t told Ian or Jenny that he was on his way home, much less that he was taking the mountain route, and Claire was angry at him, meaning it was entirely possible that none of them would realize he was missing until he missed his shift at the pub later than night, but even then...he was the owner. Rupert and Angus could assume he was just off with Claire and not bother checking, being more than capable of keeping things running alone.

The first morning, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, he could hear his phone ringing off and on, but it had been thrown from the truck somewhere, and was too far away to even try to reach. It had already been close to dead, as he’d left his charger at Claire’s, so it wasn’t long until the ringing stopped. He wanted to hope that maybe it had been Claire. Would she think he was purposefully ignoring her calls?

He tried yelling for help all that first day until his voice gave out, and then he tried honking the horn, but it wasn’t long before what was left of the truck battery died too.

He wasn’t about to just lay there and die, but he was running out of ideas, and he was growing weak from fatigue, hunger, and most of all thirst. 

The only thing that hadn’t been thrown from the truck beside him was a fast-food cup, empty, but at least with it he wasn’t forced to lay in his own piss when he was no longer able to hold it. After a day and night without water, that was no longer an issue either.

Figuring that time would go more quickly and he wouldn’t be as uncomfortable if he was asleep, he closed his eyes, resting his head against a part of the window that hadn’t been shattered.

Jamie dozed for a while, but woke again to a rattling sound. He was alert in an instant, thinking that it was a vehicle, but it was only a moment before he realized that it was rain

“Shit,” he hissed, feeling a few drops slipped past the broken windows. 

He wasn’t too worried about getting flooded, but a mudslide was an entirely different question. The crash would have weakened the slope, and could send rocks and mud either on top of him, or push him farther down the cliff. He opened his mouth, desperate for even a little moisture, but the wee drops that made it through the broken windows were only enough to frustrate him.

He tried to pull his leg out again, but it didn’t budge, and he cried out in pain and anger. He had a delirious thought of trying to cut it off, and the thought of trying to saw through his leg with his pocket knife made me laugh a little madly.

“Well fucking done, Fraser,” he muttered, thumping his head against the glass and willing himself not to cry.

Jamie!”

Jamie gasped, sitting up as much as could be managed. Had he been hearing things?

Jamie!

No...no he had heard it...and he’d know that voice anywhere. 

“Claire!” he tried to yell, but it came out in nothing but a croak. “Sassenach!”

He could hear Jenny now, too. They were close, but would they see him from the road?

He cast around for something, anything to make noise, and came across a screwdriver that must have fallen out of the glove compartment.

He jabbed at the already shattered windshield, breaking a small hole in it, then started banging on the roof with the screwdriver’s handle. 

“Claire! Jenny!

He kept trying to shout, kept trying to get their attention, suddenly overcome with panic that they might not hear or see him, and then move on.

It couldn’t happen, not like this. His sister and his Claire had both lost people they loved to a car accident, and he would not let that happen to them again. He did cry then, tears of pain and fear rolled down his cheek, seeping into his mouth and making his already dry tongue even dryer. “CLAIRE! For God’s sake I’m OVER HERE!”

“Jenny!” he heard her shout, coming from much closer. “Oh my God...Jenny! I see something!”

Jamie slumped in relief when he heard a whinny and the sound of hooves. 

“Jamie?!” Claire cried, scrambling down the hill. 

When her face appeared through the windshield, he let out a sob and a laugh at once.

“Jamie…” she gasped. “God, Jamie, are you okay?!”

“Just fine, Sassenach,” he croaked, wishing he could kiss her. “I’m only having a wee lie-down, is all.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, her face pale and eyes wide with fear. “We’ll get you out, everything will be fine!” She leaned up, calling up the hill. “Stay up there and flag Ian down! And call an ambulance!”

She stood, and then he could hear her climbing up on the side of of the truck, then her grunts and curses of frustration as she got the passenger door open.

“Careful,” he said as she slowly lowered herself into the cab, coming to crouch behind him, wedged between the back window and the headrest. 

“Don’t try to move,” she said softly when he attempted to turn his head to see her. She leaned over him, her hair brushing his cheeks, and she gently touched his face as she examined him. “Where are you hurt?”

“M’leg is stuck,” he said. “It doesn’a feel all that bad...fell asleep a while ago though. And I hit my heid.”

“Does your neck hurt? Your back? Can you still feel your leg?”

“My everything hurts,” he admitted, not bothering to try and sound strong. “And aye, I can feel it.”

“Good,” she said. “Hurting is better than nothing at all, trust me. Just try to be still, alright? We’ll wait for the paramedics to get here.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “For runnin’ out like that, for getting myself in this mess.”

“Oh Jamie,” she sighed, and he could hear a hitch in her voice. “Don’t apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was my fault. Everything was just getting so real all of a sudden and I panicked, then got defensive as a result.”

“We went too fast,” he said. “I got overly attached too quickly. My fault.”

“No! Please, don’t say that. I was getting attached too, believe me, that’s why I got scared. This has never happened to me before, Jamie. But listen, I don’t want to slow down, and I don’t want to go to New York. I never did.”

She struggled to lean over him again, so she could meet his eyes. 

“I love you, Jamie, so, so much. I went to your house this morning to tell you that, and to say how sorry I was, and that’s how we realized you were missing.”

“I love you too,” he said, feeling happier than he had any right to in his situation. “More’n I can ever say, Sassenach.”

She leaned down to kiss him, but all she could reach was his cheek. He wanted to turn to kiss her properly, but she’d told him not to move, and he knew better than to disobey a direct order Dr. Beauchamp.

“Claire!” Ian shouted.

“I’m inside!” Claire called back. “He’s alright,” she said when Ian knelt by the windshield. 

“The rain’s picking up,” Ian said hurriedly. “The slope is starting to wash away. This truck is about go off the mountain, we have to get him out of here now !”

“His leg is stuck!’ Claire exclaimed. “Didn’t you call for help?”

“Aye, but it’s gonna take another forty-five minutes at least until anyone else gets all the way up here! We don’t have that kind of time!”

“I’ve been tryin’ all day,” Jamie said, grim resignation settling in. “I canna move. Get Claire out of here, Ian.”

“I’m not leaving you,” she said firmly.

“Ye’re not going tae sit in here and die wi’ me!”

“No one’s dying!” Ian snapped. “I’ve got Jenny trying to flag down a truck that we can hook the winch to. I…”

There was a rumble as Ian suddenly disappeared, the truck lunging backward, and Jamie and Claire both cried out in alarm. Ian reappeared, this time covered in mud, then started kicking in the windshield.

Claire scrambled over Jamie, no longer taking the care she was before. It hurt when she put the weight of her body on him, but he relished the feeling. She laid on top of him, sheltering him from the glass until Ian was able to pull the sheet away.

“Please go,” he begged. 

“Not happening,” she said, using a knife to cut his jeans leg.

“Are ye going tae cut it off?!”

She gave him a flat look. “Now, don’t you go being dramatic. That’s my job. I’m just trying to see what I have to work with. Ian! Is there anything out there like a metal rod or something?”

“I had a crowbar in th’ bed,” Jamie said.

“I’ll find it,” Ian said.

“Sassenach...if anything happens…”

Nothing is going to happen,” she said firmly, twisting his leg painfully. “I’m going to get you out of here, you’re going to heal, and then we’re going to have mind-blowing makeup sex.”

Jamie chuckled. “Promise?”

She nodded, her eyes tearing up even as she smiled. “And then we’re going to work out our issues, and maybe I’ll see a therapist, and I won’t hold back anymore, Jamie.”

“Maybe we both ought tae talk tae someone,” Jamie said. “Maybe together?”

She nodded. “Together is good.”

“I found it,” Ian said, passing the crowbar through to her.

The truck lurched again, and they all tensed as it slid at least a few feet.

“IAN!” Jenny yelled from the road. 

“I’m alright!” he yelled back. “She’s flagged down a truck. I’m going to try and hitch it up.”

“Go,” Claire said, picking up the crowbar.

“You go, too,” Jamie said. “Help Jenny.”

She shook her head, wincing when the truck groaned as she moved. “Alright, this is going to hurt. I haven’t really got the time or space to go about this the right way.”

“Do whatever,” he said, bracing himself.

Claire wedged the crowbar between his leg and the dash, and he gritted his teeth to keep from making a sound that would upset and distract her.

He got his hands on her waist, supporting her as she tried to pry a gap open enough for his leg to go through, having to practically contort her body in a painful-looking way to get in the right position.

There was clanging outside, he could hear the winch turning, shouts from Jenny, Ian, and the other driver...Murtagh, but the sound of it. The rain had increased, and there was a growing puddle around his head.

Claire pulled at the bar, the metal dug into his leg, and he could no longer keep quiet.

“I’m sorry!” she sobbed, though she didn’t let up until there was a sharp crack that he wasn’t sure if it came from the dash or his leg.

“There! Try to pull your leg out!”

Jamie turned his body, getting his leg free just in time for the truck to start to slide again. He wrapped his arms around Claire, trying to shield her, but their descent was halted with a jolt, and the sound of squealing tires and popping metal told him they better get out fast.

“Go!” he shouted, pushing her out the the windshield. She climbed out only far enough to turn and reach for him, and he grabbed her hand, letting her pull him out with impressive strength.

They were free of the truck just in time for the winch mount to break, sending his vehicle somersaulting the rest of the way off the cliff.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Jamie muttered, using one of Claire’s favorite phrases.

“My words exactly,” she said.

“Come on!” Ian cried as he and Murtagh reached them, pulling Jamie up between them and half-carrying, half-dragging him up the slope.

“Claire…” Jamie tried to turn and see that she was following, but Murtagh had one hand out, holding hers, and he breathed in relief.

They laid Jamie on the road, and for a long moment he just closed his eyes and breathed, letting the rain hit his face. Then he felt something warmer, and opened his eyes to see Claire, her hand on his cheek. Ian passed her a bottle of water, and she tilted it to his lips, supporting the back of his head with her other hand. He tried to gulp it down, but she wouldn’t let him, warning him to go slowly.

When he’d had enough to take the edge off his thirst, he looked back up at her, at red swollen eyes, a face pale with fear and exhaustion, hair half unbound from a half-hazard bun and sticking up every which direction. She was filthy, soaked, and shaking...and she’d never looked more beautiful to him.

“I love you,” he said, enjoying the freedom to say so.

“I love you, too,” she said, then kissed him, the way she hadn’t been able in the truck.

“That’s sweet but I’m going tae kill ye,” Jenny said, hovering over them with her arms crossed. “Ye had us scairt tae death Jamie Fraser!”

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, before smiling. “Just get me tae my bed and I’ll be happy never tae leave it again...assuming ye put Claire there, as well.”

“Jamie,” Claire scolded lightly, though her cheeks reddened and her eyes sparkled.

“Sorry, but the next stop for you is a hospital,” Ian said. “I hear the siren.”

Jamie wrinkled his nose. “Claire’s a doctor, can’t she just treat me at home?”

The look Claire gave him said that there would be no chance there, so he gave it up.

“Hmph,” Jenny huffed. “She only needs a look tae make ye behave. I say we definitely need Claire around more often.”

 

Chapter Text

Seven Months Ago

 

“First time here, lass?”

I grinned at Jamie, but had no intention of playing our little game tonight. There was nothing particularly wrong with Richard, but it had barely been an hour into our date and he was already boring me to tears. And besides, someone who didn’t believe in drinking would probably never be happy with someone who’s favorite place in the world to be was a particular bar with a whisky in hand. 

I watched as Jamie gave Richard an appraising look. He did that with every date of mine. Sizing them up, taking their measure, whatever you wanted to call it. I always got the feeling that they were falling short from Jamie, sometimes before I even got the feeling from them myself. Almost like he knew what I needed more than I did.

As we sent poor Richard running for the hills, Jamie handed me a whisky, and I propped my chin on my hand, settling down to watch him work.

Women with flushed faces and fluttering eyes would always crowd the bar when Jamie was at it, writing their numbers on napkins and slipping them to him with generous tips. Jamie would always look at the numbers, smile, and once the women were gone, throw them away.

I’d noticed. I’d noticed for a long time. He paid very little attention to even the most beautiful women, except for what was needed to be an attentive bartender. 

Then every chance he had, he’d come back over to me, and we’d talk, and catch up, and make fun of drunk patrons together.

He could have had his choice of any woman who came in. He was, quite honestly, a gorgeous man. I’d always known that. Even back when he was more of a gorgeous boy. 

And he was the sweetest thing. Respectful, and protective. 

Sometimes I couldn’t help but wonder...what it’d be like to date him ?

“It’s late, ye need someone tae walk ye home, then?” Jamie asked me as I readied to leave for the night.

“It’s fine, I drove,” I said, hurrying to add when he gave me a look. “I’ve eaten and had plenty of water after my drink, I promise that I’m fine.”

He smiled, it was really a beautiful smile. 

“Aye. See ye next week, Sassenach.”

“See you.”

I walked out in the cold night air. I had another date next week with Garret, someone I’d met at the gym. I was hopeful, but then again, I’d had a pretty bad track record. If he turned out to be a dud, I thought maybe I’d just give dating a break.

I knew one thing, I’d insist on meeting Garret at the pub instead of a restaurant, because I felt so much better being under Jamie’s watchful gaze. 

If it didn’t work out, I was done. Unless…

I looked back, seeing Jamie watching me from the window, to make sure I got to my car safely. Ever since that night when we were young, he never failed to make sure I was okay.

Always watching, always smiling, always ready to give me a drink and a funny quip and an understanding ear. 

Always, since my first time there.



Present Day

 

I sat, staring straight ahead, a cup of coffee gone cold and forgotten in my palms. It tore at me, not being the one in there, helping Jamie, but Louise was right when she told me that I was too close to be in there, not to mention I was running on twenty-four hours without sleep.

 

The moonless, overcast night had been long, and cold during our search. The darkness of the woods had been oppressive, overwhelming. Stretching out beyond the halos made by my and Jenny’s lights as if it went on forever. Like you could step into it like a waterfall and be lost in it.

Donas, bless him, was tireless. He navigated the rocky, treacherous terrain without fault, and in fact I had to hold him back, so that Jenny didn’t get too far behind.

“Claire, be careful!” she called up to me. “It’s steep here!”

“I think we’re too far from the road,” I yelled back. “He couldn’t have come this far.”

Jenny was taking calls and texts all through the night from worried family members, neighbors, and friends. Come morning, if we still hadn’t found him, there’d be dozens of people looking. In the light of day we could check the bottoms of cliffs...but that was something that didn’t bear thinking about.

It was nice, that there were so many people who cared about Jamie. Not surprising in the least, of course. Jamie had only but to speak to someone a moment before they were counting him as friend, and Jamie never hesitated to go the extra mile for anyone in need.

My own circle consisted of far fewer people, not that I minded that. But as Jenny continued to bark orders at me to be careful, as callers had to be reassured by her that I was fine, too, I realized that maybe my circle was growing a little.

 

I called Joe, updating him on Jamie and letting him know that we were bringing him in, and then I called Louise, who I knew to be working the emergency department that night.

From just looking him over while the ambulance made its way up the mountain, I counted three contusions, including the one on his head which had likely given him a concussion, myriad of bruises, and a badly broken leg. 

I rode with him in the ambulance, his hand stretched out to hold mine even as the paramedics worked on him.

“Well, what do we have here?” Louise called as they wheeled him into the hospital, with me right behind.

Jamie managed a small smile, but didn’t respond with a quip of his own, and my stomach knotted up in worry.

Louise’s expression turned warmer, and she looked up at me. “I’ve got him, Claire.”

“I’m not leaving him,” I said immediately.

“Claire,” she said again, this time more firmly. “Go get cleaned up in the locker room, then get something to eat. You can see him after that.”

“Do as she says, Sassenach,” Jamie croaked. “I’m no’ dying.”

I watched as they wheeled him into the back, reminding myself that Louise was a good doctor, and was better off tending to Jamie than I was, especially considering my exhaustion.

Rest was the farthest thing from my mind, though, and I just sat there in a daze, waiting for news. 

“Hey, Lady Jane,” Joe said softly, sitting beside me and putting a hand on my back. “How is he?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “No one’s been out yet.”

“Where’s Jenny and Ian?”

I checked the time on my phone. “They went to check on the kids, they’ll be here soon. I told them I’d text them once I heard something.”

As if on cue, the door opened, and Louise appeared, looking worn out.

I was on my feet before I even knew it, Joe’s hand still on my back as he followed.

“He’ll be fine,” Louise said, smiling. “His leg required surgery to set the bone, and we had to put a pin in, but knowing him he’ll be running circles around us in no time.”

“Thank God,” I breathed, leaning gratefully against Joe. “And his head? He had a pretty bad looking contusion.”

She nodded. “A mild concussion, needed three stitches. He was considerably dehydrated, so we have him on fluids, but thankfully there wasn’t enough blood loss to warrant a transfusion. I assure you, Claire, Jamie will be fine. Of course you’re more than welcome to examine him yourself,” she leaned over and gave Joe an exaggerated wink, making me laugh, which in turn eased some of my panic and leaving me very tired.

But I wouldn’t be resting until I could see Jamie for myself.

 

After calling Jenny, I let myself into Jamie’s room, feeling my chest clench painfully at the sight of him there, hooked up to wires and tubes, his leg hanging from a sling, face pale.

I’d seen countless patients in similar states as him, and many that were far worse. But seeing Jamie like that was worse than I could have ever imagined.

I pulled the hard, uncomfortable visitor’s chair up close to the bed and sat down, taking his hand. 

Jamie’s eyes opened at once, first looking all around blearily before finally landing on me. 

“Sassenach?” he said, his voice thick and drowsy.

“Shh,” I hushed, brushing back his dirty, matted hair. “It’s alright. I’m here. You’re going to be just fine, Jamie.”

He gave a ghost of a smile, eyes already drifting shut again. “I love ye.”

“I love you, too,” I said, feeling the tears start rolling down my cheeks. He was thankfully sound asleep as I rested my forehead on his hand and cried.

 

They couldn’t have pried me from Jamie’s bedside with the crowbar I’d pried him out of the car with, not until Jamie was awake and alert enough to scold me himself, insisting quite firmly that I go home and not return for at least twelve hours. I reluctantly did as he asked, but it was only the sheer exhaustion that let me sleep at all, because I was sure I’d never have been able to otherwise.

When I did return, (a full fourteen hours later!) showered, fed, and rested, I did feel exceptionally better, and so did Jamie.

He was propped up in bed, eyes bright and alert, and his complexion pink with health.

But he groaned at the sight of me, which would have been insulting had it not been followed by “Thank God!”

“Hey, you’re the one who told me to go home,” I said, perching on the bed beside him.

“Aye, and I’m glad for it. Ye looked like a zombie before. But I missed ye!”

I smiled, but cut my eyes over to Jenny who laughed. “I’m sure he did, but th’ old grouch is just tryn’a get them tae send him home.”

“Ye’re a doctor, Sassenach,” Jamie whined. “Make them set me free.”

I fixed him with an unamused look. “You’re a patient, Jamie, not a prisoner. And your truck went over a cliff not even four days ago. What’s your rush?”

“I just dinna like bein’ here,” he said, twisting uncomfortably. “Th’ bed is hard, ‘tis too bright and loud tae sleep, and th’ food is shite.”

“Those aren’t very nice things to say about my hospital.”

Jamie squinted at me. “There are improvements that can be made. Although I’ll no’ deny that they’ve hired some verra braw doctors.”

“Why, thank you,” Louise said, swanning in. “But you didn’t mean me, did you?”

“Nonsense,” Jamie said. “I’m verra obliged tae ye, Louise. Ye’ve healed me so well, I think I just ought tae go home now.”

Louise shook her head, looking at me. “Shameless. You’re well on your way to recovery, Mr. Fraser. But that leg is going to need time to heal. We’re talking plenty of rest to start with, then intense physical therapy.”

I exchanged a look with Louise and Jenny, before turning back to Jamie. “I had a talk with Jenny on the phone this morning, and with Louise just outside. You’re going to be laid up for a while, Jamie. You won’t be able to even start physical therapy until the surgical site is healed, which is going to need care itself.”

“Ye ken I’d be more’n happy tae take care of ye, Jamie,” Jenny said. “But wi’ Ian’s leg, it will be hard tae get ye all th’ way tae th’ doctor and back, so Claire just thought she could cut out th’ middle man.”

“You’re going to stay with me while you’re healing,” I finished for her.

As I’d expected, Jamie scowled. “Sassenach, no. I’ll no’ have ye takin’ up what little free time ye have by carin’ for a cripple!”

“She’ll have plenty of free time,” Louise said. “Her time off was just approved.”

Jamie looked at me in surprise, and I smiled. “That’s right. I’ve racked up quite a bit of leave time over the years, and I’m cashing some of it in now. Three weeks, and so long as you’re doing well enough by then, I’ll go back to work, and take the other two weeks off once you’re completely better, and we’ll take that trip you wanted.”

Jamie smiled softly then, but still looked unsure, and I knew exactly why without having to ask.

I took his hand and squeezed it. “Don’t be stubborn, okay?”

“We haven’a been together that long,” he said. “No’ long enough for ye tae have tae take care of me like that . I canna even get up tae take a piss myself!”

“And who would you prefer to help you? Me, your sister, or some nurse?”

“And besides,” Louise said. “You make it sound like you met at the pub last week and started dating. You two have been practically married for ten years.”

I chuckled, then looked at him seriously. “If our roles were reversed, Jamie, and I needed someone to care for me, what would you do?”

“I’d care for ye myself!” he exclaimed hotly before slumping back into the pillows. “Fine. I’ll do as ye say, Sassenach.”

“I know what his real problem is,” Jenny said. “He just doesn’a want ye to see what an absolute beast he is when he’s sick and scare ye off.”

“Oh believe me,” I said with a smirk. “I can handle him,” I turned my smirk to Jamie and he exaggeratedly gulped.

“Jenny...I think I’m scared.”

“Good,” Jenny said. “Maybe ye’ll behave for her.”




Chapter Text

It was another three days before Jamie was given the all clear to be released from the hospital, and that was only because of my influence, and the knowledge that he was going home to a doctor.

To say that I was nervous was putting it lightly. No matter how much confidence I showed to Jamie and Jenny, I was a wreck. 

Caring for patients was what I did. It was second nature. I wasn’t a bit worried about any of the intimate aspects of Jamie’s recovery, but I knew he was, and I understood that perfectly. I worried because this was probably the ultimate test of a relationship, and there were still other problems that we needed to work out. But if we could get through this, what couldn’t we get through?

It was just that for the first time in my career, I was taking care of someone that I loved. In a way it made it easier. In other ways, it made it harder. 

I was a veritable hurricane the day he was to come home, trying to make my apartment ready for him. 

It was definitely the best place for him. I’d briefly considered simply staying at Lallybroch with him, but my apartment was close to the hospital, the bathroom was bigger and close to the bed, and I also thought that it might be a bit easier for him without his whole family around to fuss over him.

I rearranged my furniture to make it easy for a wheelchair to get through, even going so far as to having a dresser removed entirely and stored temporarily at Joe’s. A sling for Jamie’s leg was brought in from the hospital, along with all the bandages and other implements I would need.

Jenny and Ian were picking him up and bringing him over, so I was left to just wander around the place, cleaning things that didn’t need to be cleaned. When I heard a knock, I sighed in relief.

“Glad this place has an elevator,” Jenny said as she wheeled Jamie inside.

I took one look at Jamie’s face, and knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The poor man looked miserable, and I knew it was only partly due to pain.

“I’ve never been to your house before, Auntie Claire!” JJ exclaimed, barreling into the apartment.

“Careful,” Jamie called, “Dinna get into anything” But his warning fell on deaf ears because JJ already was already in my bedroom, and returning with George, my stuffed uterus.

“Look!” he cried, hugging George to his chest.

“Give me that!” I laughed. 

“We dinna mean tae drop Jamie and run,” Jenny said tiredly, snatching up her son and taking George away to toss to me. “But Maggie has come down wi’ a sore throat, and we need tae get home and see tae her.”

“We’ll be just fine,” I said, putting a hand on Jamie’s shoulder.

“D’ye need help getting him intae bed before we go?” Ian asked.

“I can manage,” Jamie said gruffly, and I nodded to Ian in agreement.

Once they were gone, I turned to Jamie, who was looking everywhere but me, and I sighed, hoping we could get back from this awkwardness soon.

“What do you say we get you comfortable, hm? The sling is in the bedroom. You need to keep that leg elevated.”

“Aye,” Jamie said lowly, reaching down to wheel himself in the direction of the bedroom. 

I bit my lip as he struggled; the rest of his body still battered and sore from the accident, but I didn’t offer to help him, determined to let him do as much as he could on his own.

Once he reached the bedroom, however, I watched his face turn a bit gray at the prospect of getting into bed.

“Alright,” I said, clapping my hands together, perhaps with a little too much enthusiasm. “Let’s get you into bed.”

“Certainly no’ for th’ reason I’d like for ye tae say that,” he grumbled.

I laughed, admittedly a bit too loudly. “Me either, but it’s going to be just fine. Now hold on,” I stopped him when he made to try and stand. “There’s a way to go about this.”

He gave me a skeptical look. “How? Ye canna lift me, Sassenach.”

I batted a hand dismissively. “I’ve dealt with patients heavier, and more incapacitated than you many times. I’m stronger than I look.”

Jamie finally smiled then, which soothed my raw nerves. “Oh, I ken that well, Sassenach. But ye’re still no’ but a wee slip of a thing.”

I shook my head at his shameful flirting and reach down to put the break on the wheelchair. “I’m not small, you’re just enormous. Now, it’s very important that you don’t put any weight on that leg, not even for a second. So I need you to get my size out of your head and lean your weight on me, got it?”

Jamie took a breath, and nodded. “Aye. As you say, Sassenach.”

Standing in front of him, I guided him to put his arms around my shoulders, while I braced mine underneath his.

“Use your good leg,” I said. “Lean on me.”

In truth, Jamie was one of the heaviest patients I’d had, but I wouldn’t tell him that.

To his credit...or perhaps due to the fact that he was weak as a kitten and had no choice, Jamie let me bear all his weight, and I carefully turned us both until he could sit on the mattress.

“Before we put you in the sling, do you want to change into a fresh pair of pajamas?”

“I suppose,” he said. “I also suppose a shower is out o’ the question.”

I smiled. “‘Fraid so. We can get you washed up later, but you’re worn out and need some rest first. You’ll feel better with clean clothes on.”

I went to the bags Ian had brought in, and pulled out a clean t-shirt and a pair of loose-fitting shorts. 

“Okay,” I said, reaching for the waistband of the sweatpants Jamie was currently wearing. “Just push yourself…”

“I can do it!” Jamie snapped, surprising me with the bite in his voice. “I’m no’ a bairn!”

I took a step back, the shorts still clutched in my hands. “I know that,” I said softly. “Jamie you’re just injured, this is temporary.”

Jamie deflated, regret evident in his eyes. “I ken that. I ken you’re only trying tae help. But I’ll no’ have ye fussing over me. Ye get that enough at work. This is your time off.”

“I took the time off to help you, Jamie. Because, let’s face it. You need help. Now, here are your shorts and shirt. Do not try to use your bad leg to prop yourself up, understand?”

Jamie gave me a strained smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”

I turned away to give him privacy, while still keeping half an eye on him through the mirror while I pretended to straighten my bookcase.

It killed me not helping as he laboriously changed clothes, and once he was finally done, he was sweating with exertion, basically ruining the point of changing in the first place. 

“All done?” I asked with false brightness, pretending I didn’t see how pale he was. “We have to get your leg into the sling now.”

Jamie was quiet and compliant as I maneuvered him into the sling, either too tired to complain or too ashamed of his earlier outburst.

He was practically asleep by the time I got him settled, so I sat back a moment and just watched him. I knew it couldn’t be easy for someone like him, someone constantly on the move, someone strong and fiercely independent, to be laid up like this, and I just wondered how I could convince him that it was okay to be weak once and a while, especially with someone you love.

 

A few hours later, I peeked into the bedroom to see if Jamie was awake. He must have been, or near to it, because his eyes flicked open as soon as the door creaked.

“Hey,” I said softly. “How are you feeling? Are you in a lot of pain?”

“No’ terribly,” he murmured, pushing himself up into a sitting position.

“Jamie,” I scolded lightly. “If this is going to work at all, you’re going to have to be honest with me.”

“It doesn’a feel good ,” he said. “But no’ enough yet for more of those pills. I dinna like how groggy they make me feel.”

“That’s understandable,” I said, coming in to sit next to him. “But don’t go being a hero and suffer needlessly, deal?”

He nodded. “Deal. I am a bit hungry, though.”

I grinned at him. “Good. I have some beef stew simmering on the stove. Now, I won’t claim to be as good a cook as Jenny…” I trailed off, then rolled my eyes. “Okay, I’m probably not as good a cook as JJ but I do think I can manage a basic stew, and Jenny said she’d be bringing meals over later this week.”

Jamie chuckled. “I’m sure it’ll be delicious, Sassenach.”

“And then after dinner you’ll take your meds,” I called over my shoulder as I went back to the kitchen. “They might not make you as groggy on a full stomach.”

I pulled a chair up beside the bed to eat with Jamie, and I had to admit, it wasn’t half bad if I said so myself. Jamie was being so quiet, which was unlike him, and I knew it couldn’t be entirely due to pain and discomfort, because he’d been much more talkative at the hospital.

“This is verra good, Sassenach,” he said.

“Well, you’re on your second bowl, so I do think you must mean that!” I teased.

He gave me a level look. “I mean what I say, Claire.”

I blinked in surprise at his seriousness. “I...I’m sorry. I was only kidding.”

“Well, ye never seem tae believe me, no matter what I say. I’ve never lied tae ye before and I dinna plan tae start now.”

“I know you won’t, Jamie. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”

Jamie deflated, and sighed. “I knew ye didn’a, lass. But please, if I say I’m fine, or dinna need help, will ye listen?”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Only if you promise to actually let me help when you need it. Maybe you’re not lying to me, but I don’t think you’re being honest with yourself . If this is going to work at all, you have to set your damnable pride aside and let me in.”

Jamie gave me one of those half-smiles of his that never failed to make me melt, and leaned back on the pillows. “I’ll try my best, Sassenach.”

I got up and retrieved his medication, which he took without complaint. By the time I’d cleaned up the kitchen, he was dozing, so I went about my nightly routine.

I came out of the bathroom after my shower with a towel wrapped around me, humming quietly to the song stuck in my head. I found the oversized t-shirt I liked to wear and tossed the towel over the back of the chair.

Right away, I heard rather smug “hmm” and looked over my shoulder to find Jamie watching me with a lewd grin and glassy eyes. 

“Enjoying the show?” I asked him with a smirk.

“Verra much,” he said, his speech slow and drowsy. “Now turn around, let me see th’ rest o’ it.”

I rolled my eyes fondly and shook my head, but the man was injured after all, so I turned around to give him a peek, shaking my hips suggestively. 

“Happy?” I asked, pulling my shirt on.

Jamie’s smile fell suddenly, and in its place was a pitiful frown, and the biggest puppy dog eyes I’d ever seen. “No,” he said sadly.

“What? What’s wrong?” I asked him, sitting beside him and taking his hand.

“Ye’re sae bonny,” he said, and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing at the way his accent had deepened comically. “Sae bonny I cannae stand it, and I want ye...but…” he glared down at his lap. “My fooking cock isnae cooperating.”    

I lost my battle against laughing, and Jamie glared balefully at me for it until I kissed him.

“You’re hopped up, my darling,” I said. “You’re going to have to be patient because there might not be any cooperating for a while. Now go to sleep, love.”

“Will ye be naked for me later, then?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“Good.”

I helped him adjust until he was comfortable, than stood up to leave. I didn’t make it far thought, before he was calling me back.

“Where are ye going?”

“The living room,” I said. “But I’ll check on you in a few hours.”

“Ye’re no’ sleeping in yer bed?”

I smiled patiently. “Not a whole lot of room with the sling, Jamie, and I’d be too afraid of jostling you.”

Shaking his head emphatically, Jamie started pushing himself up on his arms, though where he thought he was going, I had no idea. 

“No. Absolutely not,” he said firmly, coming a little bit out of his medicated buzz. “I can stand for a lot, Sassenach, but no’ that. Ye will be sleeping in your own bed, even if we have tae take down the sling.”

I sighed, not terribly surprised that he would fight me on this one. “We can’t take it down, you need it.”

“I want ye wi’ me,” he said firmly. “I’ve been in th’ hospital, and that damned truck, and I haven’a slept beside ye since before we fought. I ken we still need tae work some things out, but for now...for now I dinna need all this. I just need you .”

My resolve didn’t have a chance, of course, but since Jamie did need the sling, I made do with helping him move over as much as was safe and comfortable for him, and curling up beside him as gently as I could.

Jamie wrapped his arm snugly around me, pulling me when I resisted putting my head on his chest. “Ye’ll no’ hurt me,” he murmured.

Stubborn man. Giving in, I rested my cheek on his chest and sighed happily, comforted by the reassuring sound of his heartbeat. 

“I love ye, Sassenach. Sae verra much.”

“I love you, too, Jamie. More than I can say.”





Chapter Text

“Jamie?” I said, rolling over in alarm when he suddenly made a grunt of pain. “What are you doing?” I asked, still half asleep, but coming to wakefulness when I realized he was acting like he was trying to get out of bed.

“Didn’a think ye’d appreciate if I pissed th’ bed,” he growled irritably. 

I sighed, well aware it was only the pain and embarrassment making him sound so grouchy. “Jamie, I left that bedpan down there for a reason. You know damn well you can’t walk to the bathroom.”

Jamie didn’t answer, and I stared at the tense line of his back a moment until I understood. 

“Jamie,” I murmured quietly. “What’s it going to take to convince you to ask me for help?”

He still didn’t answer, but I rolled to my feet and came around to face him. “Would you prefer a nurse? A male one, perhaps?”

“No,” he sighed. “Suppose ye’re gonna want tae wipe my arse, as well?”

I smiled and shook my head. “No, sir, that you can do all on your lonesome. Come on, let’s get you into the wheelchair.”

Jamie’s face was burning red the entire time I helped him get situated to attend to business, and the process was quite a chore for the both of us. I wondered if maybe I should employ a male nurse, even for just part of the day to help Jamie with things that involved moving him, but I reminded myself that his ribs would be healed enough in just a matter of days that he should be able to tolerate crutches for the short distances around the house and he’d be granted a great deal more independence. 

After a while, I heard the toilet flush and the sink turn on, so I knew that he was pulling himself up on the counter, but I decided not to fuss and let him manage on his own if he felt able. 

The door was pushed open with a rough bang, and he wheeled himself back to the bed, and though I was ostensibly staring at my phone, I could see from the corner of my eye that he looked drawn and exhausted. He stopped at his side of the bed, and just sat there a moment before speaking quietly.

“Could ye please help me back intae bed, Sassenach?”

I looked up from my phone and smiled. “Of course.”

We got him back under the covers with relative ease, having found a good rhythm to it together.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m trying no’ tae be so short wi’ ye, I’m trying tae let ye help me but…”

“I know,” I said, stroking the hair back from his face. “Really, Jamie, I know.”

“If ye think I ought tae have a nurse, ye should hire one,” he said. “If nothing else than tae help you .”

“In a few more days you’ll be able to get up on crutches, you’re already able to get into the wheelchair alone. We’ll be fine.”

He gave me a darling, sleepy smile. “As ye say, Sassenach.”

 

~~~

 

Ian arrived to help get Jamie back to the hospital for X-rays on his ribs to check on their healing. Joe declared that Jamie was healing so quickly it must have been due to sheer stubbornness, and Ian joked that that was the Fraser in him. 

Jamie was so pleased by the news, he insisted on returning to the car on his crutches, sneering in disdain at his wheelchair and insisting they leave it behind. He knew fine well that it was in the boot of Claire’s car, but so long as it stayed there, he didn’t care.

“Just don’t forget to be careful,” Claire cautioned when the entered her apartment. “I don’t want you getting too cocky and falling and reinjuring yourself.”

In the very beginning, her constant fussing grated on him, but then there had been a moment the day after he’d come to her apartment where her careful mask had slipped, or rather he was just too good at reading her, that he’d seen the worry written there, and he’d felt terrible for being annoyed.

Since then, he’d started to see how sweet it really was when she clucked at him like a mother hen. The more annoyed she got, the more sure he was that he was well on his way to complete healing. It didn’t mean he wasn’t still frustrated with his own body’s limitations, but he was resolved to never again take that frustration out on his Sassenach.

“I’m sick of sitting and laying down,” he said honestly. “Why can’t we go for a walk or something?”

“If you want to sit in the wheelchair we can, but if you overdo it on the crutches you’re going to be laid up in bed all day tomorrow.”

Jamie sat - or rather fell - onto the couch with an annoyed sigh. “Being laid up in bed all day sounds great until it’s a reality.”

Claire chuckled. “That’s the difference between desire and necessity,” she said. 

Jamie was quiet a moment, his fingers tapping a rhythm on his thigh. He’d had a sudden thought, but debated if it was a good time to bring it up. Then again, he was now more vividly aware than ever that later wasn’t a guarantee, so now was better than later. “I’m getting better,” he stated.

“Better every day,” she agreed. “You’ll be back running daily 10Ks a day in no time.”

“No...I mean...we agreed once I was on th’ mend, we’d talk.”

Claire blinked in incomprehension briefly before her eyes flooded with understanding. “Right,” she said, and right away her body was tense in discomfort.

It was probably the wrong response, but Jamie chuckled. “Sassenach, ye’re acting like I’m trying tae break up wi’ ye. You don’t honestly think that?”

“Of course not,” she said, but he could hear the nerves in her voice. “Not while you’re still at my mercy, here.”

This time, Jamie didn’t hesitate to laugh. “Oh, mo cridhe , I’ve been at your mercy since I was seventeen years old. Surely ye ken that.”

Claire’s smile grew a little more relaxed. “It’s just...we seem to be doing okay, now, right?”

“Aye,” he agreed. “But this accident only interrupted th’ fact that we have a lot of things tae work out.”

“I know,” she sighed, leaning back against the couch cushions. “I know, and I agree. I just...I hate rocking the boat once things are finally calming down.”

“That’d be fine, if this were just a casual relationship, but I think we both agreed it’s not...didn’t we?”

Claire scooting closer to him, taking his hand. “Nothing casual about this,” she said lowly. “I have trust issues,” she said bluntly. “And it’s bizarre because I do trust you but…”

“Your mind is at war wi’ your heart?”

“Not even that. My mind says to trust that you’re sticking around. My heart says it doesn’t matter because I want you either way. It’s something else that makes me afraid. I just don’t even know what that something else is.”

“I dinna really ken how tae be in a relationship,” he said. “I mean, I’ve always had my family tae think about, but in reality I’ve never really had to focus on anyone but myself. I ran into this headlong wi’ a Hallmark movie-fantasy that it was as simple as date ye for three months, propose, get married, have a dozen children, and that’s it.”

“Three months...a dozen children ?” Claire asked incredulously. “You really did think about this, didn’t you?”

Jamie flushed, but didn’t bother denying it. “I never stopped tae even consider that it’d be anything but easy.”

Claire looked down at their joined hands, lacing and unlacing their fingers. “And? Do you think you can handle it if it’s not...Hallmark movie-easy?”

Jamie laced their fingers again and squeezed. “My da always said that th’ best things in life take work tae achieve, and he was never wrong about anything else he told me. Besides, it is easy. I love ye, Sassenach, simple as that. Everything else...is just life. I just want ye to know that ye’re not on a pedestal. You’re imperfect, so am I. I look forward tae finding out all the ways of just how imperfect ye are. 

“Careful what you wish for,” she teased. “I could wake up tomorrow and not bother to rush right into the bathroom to brush my teeth and smooth down my hair. I could just subject you to all my morning glory.”

“I’ve already subjected you tae my…”

“STOP!” she exclaimed, cackling as she fell against him, and he was thrilled at how she rested her weight against him and didn’t try to be overly careful. “I did NOT mean to make a dick joke!’

“Regardless of intention, Sassenach, that was way too easy.”

“Shut up, you dork.”

Jamie slid back in the seat, wrapping his arm tightly around her. “So long as I’m your dork, I’m content.”

“Joe recommended someone,” she said. “A therapist,” she sat up, looking at him. “If you’re still interested in seeing one together.”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, I am.”

“But...I think maybe I ought to see her on my own, too.”

He nodded again, stroking her back. “Okay. Whatever ye need, lass. Just know I’m here, no matter what.”

Claire kissed him, and he took the opportunity to inhale the scent of her, pulling her closer and deepening the kiss.

When he slid a hand under her shirt though, she pulled away, and he almost wanted to cry.

“Jamie…”

“It’s been weeks , Sassenach,” he said, trying not to actually beg . I’m no’ so doped up anymore. Look, full cooperation!”

Claire glanced down automatically at where he was already hardening hopefully. He felt almost as pent up as he had before he’d lost his virginity to her.

“It could hurt your leg,” she said. “You’re still healing , Jamie.”

“I’m fine, Claire I…” he stopped himself, having promised himself not to argue with her anymore when it came to his medical care. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Wait, why are you sorry?”

“Ye’re th’ doctor,” he said firmly, removing his arm from around her if for no other reason than to get a little space between them so he could try to cool his jets. “Besides, I went my entire adult life wi’out sex. It’s ridiculous for me tae be so needy now .”

“Jamie,” she cooed, running a hand through his hair, which really wasn’t helping matters. “There’s not a thing ridiculous about that. It’s totally natural to want sex more once you’ve started. I miss you, too,” she kissed his jaw and he bit back a groan, wishing she wouldn’t work him up again if she really wasn’t going to do anything about it.

“I could…” she began, sliding a hand from his knee, up his thigh. “I could take care of you…”

“No,” he said quickly, catching her hand and removing it. “I dinna want that. I want you .”

Claire sighed and bit her lip, staring at him appraisingly, then she stood, and he thought she was finally going to let him be, and he regretting wishing she’d stop kissing him, because if he couldn’t make love to her he at least wanted to touch her. But then she was handing him his crutches and bidding him to follow her, and he did so as quickly as his battered body could manage.

She’d changed the bedding once they’d gotten up that morning to go to the hospital, and it was made up all neat and clean. She quickly yanked back the quilt and top sheet though, and motioned toward it. “Get into bed.”

She’d been bullying him about like that for weeks, but never before had it made his blood rush like that, and he hurried to obey, sitting down the way she’d instructed him and turning his body to lay down on his back.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” she said, her voice low and rough and doing something a little surprising to him. “You are going to lay there and not move , do you understand me?”

“But…”

“No buts,” she broke in. “Yes or no?”

“Yes,” Jamie said immediately, wondering if this demanding side of her was always there or if it was just a result of concern about hurting him. Either way, he’d take it.

Claire helped him remove his oversized basketball shorts and t-shirt as efficiently and business-like as she always did, but there wasn’t normally a raging erection waiting for her when she was done, one that twitched madly when she looked at it and licked her lips.

She undressed herself much more slowly, taking her time to bare her body for him. How in the hell was he supposed to just lay like a lump and not touch her everywhere he could reach?

She climbed on the bed, straddling his torso, still too far away from where he wanted her, but he could feel the heat of her on his stomach, and it made him suck in a breath. She took his hands, kissing one of them before raising them above his head and pressing them down there, informing him without words that they were expected to stay right there.

“Shall I just lie back and think of England?” he asked breathily, gazing at the English breasts right in front of him.

“If it gets you off,” she chuckled.

Claire leaned down, her nipples brushing against his chest as she kissed up his neck, sucking hard on the underside of his jaw. He was suddenly uncomfortably aware that he hadn’t had a proper shower in about three weeks, and although he took pains to keep himself as clean as he could, sponge baths just didn’t make up for a shower, even when a bonny Sassenach was helping give it.

“Maybe I should have cleaned up first,” he muttered.

“Why?” she smirked up a him. “You’re just going to get dirty anyway.”

He groaned as a pair of sneaky fingers pinched his nipple, and his fists twisted in the pillow above his head, fighting to keep from reaching for her.

“Sassenach…” he ground out from between his teeth.

“Ooh,” she pouted her lip at him, and Christ he wanted that lip between his teeth. “You’re not in the mood to be teased, are you?”

“No,” he hissed, which turned into a long moan when her hand wrapped around him, giving him one slow stroke before lining him up with her.

She sank down on him in one quick stroke, and he was buried all the way inside her. The shock distracted him from his promise and he grabbed her by the hips, jutting his hips up into her.

But then all of a sudden, she was rising up and off of him, and the sound he made when he slipped out of her was downright pitiful. 

“You said you’d be still , Jamie,” she said, glowering at him. “This won’t work if you don’t do as you promised.”

“I’m sorry,” he gasped, throwing his arms back over his head and getting a grip of the headboard. “I’m sorry. I willn’a move, I swear it.”

Arching a brow at him, as if to evaluate his sincerity, she finally must have decided that he meant it, and guided him back inside, closing her eyes as she allowed herself to enjoy the sensation.

“Please, Sassenach…” he whispered, forcing his body not to move. The effort actually made his leg ache, not that he’d dare admit that to her and make her stop, but it did make him realize that he really could hurt himself if he didn’t relax and let her take over, so he focused on releasing the tension in his body.

Claire must have felt it too, because she rewarded him by moving her hips. She didn’t move up and down, but rather rocked against him like he was one of those mechanical pony rides outside of the grocery store. 

He would have liked it to be harder, faster, but he let her do whatever she willed, and found that by relaxing and handing himself over to her capable care, he could focus on every place where their skin touched, on the feel of her tight, wet passage on his cock, the little sighs and squeaks she made. And when he opened his eyes, he was able to watch her breasts bounce verra tantalizingly, her chest flushed a bonny pink, her head thrown back as she gave herself over to chasing her own pleasure.

“Christ, ye’re beautiful,” he said, surprised when she gasped and clenched around him. Well, she said he couldn’t move , but that didn’t mean he couldn’t talk . “Fuck, I want ye so much, Claire. I’ve never wanted anyone like you. Only you. Come for me, mo nighean donn .”

Her eyes opened, and he gasped at the way her pupils were blown so wide, all he could see was black. “Not without you,” she said.

“Then come here, give me your mouth.”

Doing as he said for once, she leaned down and kissed him, never slowing her pace though it grew more urgent. 

When he felt the fluttering of her body that began her orgasm, he let go, using his good leg to push into her, needing just a little more friction to send him over the edge. 

To her credit, she didn’t scold him for moving, nor did she protest when he wrapped his arms around her as she slumped bonelessly against him. 

“Fuck,” she hissed, trying to sit up. “Am I…”

“No, lass,” he said, pulling her back down. “Ye’re no’ hurting me.”

Truth was the weight did hurt, but only a wee bit, and it was worth it to feel her naked skin against his. In a moment he would admit it, ask her kindly to lay beside him instead, and she would be pleased with his honesty. 

But in a moment.

 

Chapter Text

Present Day

 

“How did it go today?” Jamie asked, grinning up at me from his place on the sofa.

I smiled back, though I could feel that it was a little strained. Jamie, using that incredible innate perception of his, picked up on it immediately and got as quickly to his feet as he could given the large walking boot he was wearing. “Ye alright?”

“I’m…” I started to say that I was fine, but caught myself. Honesty...I needed to be honest about how I felt. “I just never could have imagined how tired I would feel after therapy.”

Jamie grimaced in sympathy. “Come sit down, mo cridhe , let me get ye something. Is this a tea or wine sort of feeling?”

My grateful smile was a lot more genuine. “Thank you, darling, but you should really take it easy since you had PT today. I’ll get it.”

Jamie started to sit back down, but then stopped. “No, I feel fine. You’ve been running yourself ragged between takin’ care o’ me and going back tae work. You’re clearly exhausted, why can’t I take care o’ you for a change?”

Once Jamie was well enough for me to return to work, I’d made good on my promise and started seeing a therapist. That day had been my third visit, and only the first time I’d really been able to start opening up about the effect on me from losing my parents at such a young age, and later my uncle. We hadn’t even touched on my issues surrounding my love life prior to Jamie. 

Jamie was still busy with recovering physically - attending doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, but soon he was going to start going with me. As it was, we’d both been reading some of the books my therapist had recommended to us and were trying hard to be more open with each other, as well as listening more to what the other had to say without just making assumptions.

I let my shoulders drop. I was worn out, physically and emotionally, and Jamie was getting around quite well in his boot. 

It took giving myself a little mental talking to, but I allowed myself to be bundled up in my favorite fuzzy blanket with my feet propped up on the sofa, giving a shy request for one of his hot toddies that were so good. When Jamie returned with two drinks, he situated himself behind me with his arms around me; my favorite comfort spot.

“How was PT?” I asked him.

Normally, I talked about my therapy appointment as soon as I came home, but that day I wasn’t really in the mood, and Jamie, bless him, didn’t ask.

“A pain in th’ arse,” he snorted. “Or, leg, I suppose. But he said I’m comin’ along well. Jenny, she…”

“What? I prodded, tilting my head up to look at him.

“She uh...she asked me when I’m planning on moving back...now that I’m on th’ mend.”

“Oh…” I leaned back against his chest again. “Well um...what did you tell her?”

I felt him chuckle. “Weel, guess ye’re probably ready tae get your space back, eh? Canna blame ye.”

“And I suppose you’re probably ready to go home,” I said, then I smiled and craned back to look at him. “We’re doing it again, aren’t we?”

Jamie laughed. “Seems we are. Sassenach, I verra much like living w’ ye. I love waking up and seeing your face every morning. I enjoy being here wi’ ye, having privacy and space of our own even though I do miss Lallybroch. Even though I have tae wade through fields of your hair that ye shed everywhere like wee poodle.”

I laughed as well, and butted him in the chest with the back of my head.

“I dinna want tae move out, but I completely understand if ye’re no’ ready tae take this step permanently, and ye willn’a hurt me, or upset me, if ye tell me so.”

“I sort of feel like I should tell you so,” I admitted. “After everything I went through with Frank I feel like I should want my space and independence for a while,” I looked at him. “But I don’t. I’d be sad if you left, Jamie. Even though you sometimes make this place smell like a locker room after you exercise.”

Jamie grinned and hummed happily, then kissed the bridge of my nose. “Suppose that’s that, then. We’re uh...living together.”

I chuckled. “Not that I could ever be glad about your accident, but it sure made this process seamless didn’t it?”

He shrugged. “I canna say I’m not glad about th’ accident. It made us both think about things in a different way...plus I had weeks of your undivided attention. Canna complain about that . But now...now it’s your turn.”

I whined when he slid out from behind me, but he made it better by moving to where my feet were, and started rubbing them.

“Oh, I can definitely get used to this , my lad.”

“That’s th’ plan, Sassenach. That’s th’ plan.”

“So we have to make sure we stay honest with each other. No holding things in, no missed communication. And…”

“And what?” he asked, making me laugh and twitch by running a finger lightly up the sole of my foot.

I met his eyes, and made sure to hold his gaze so that he knew I was serious. “When I didn’t know where you were...it was the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life...and that’s saying something. But even more than the fear was the cutting regret about the way we’d left things. Even though I was only little when my parents died, there were still things I wished I could have said to them, you know?”

He nodded. “Aye, I understand what he mean perfectly,” he looked away, no doubt thinking of his own parents.

“We can’t control what happens to us,” I continued. “But we can control what we say and how we leave things, say, after an argument or whatever.”

“Ye mean, even if we’re no’ happy wi’ one another, we shouldn’t part on hateful words.”

I sighed, glad I was making sense to him. “Right. And...I know I’m not great at actually saying the words…”

He smiled. “I get it. I’m not that used to that, either. But we could work on it, aye? I love ye, Sassenach.”

Grinning, I leaned over, getting a handful of his hair in order to pull him close enough for a kiss. “I love you, too,” I said, finding it much easier to say than it ever had for anyone else in my life.

Jamie deepened the kiss, and before I knew it, I found myself pressed back against the couch cushions, Jamie’s weight atop me. 

“You are feeling good,” I whispered teasingly.

Jamie pulled back. “I’m sorry, Sassenach, are ye too tired? We dinna…”

I cut him off by lifting my hips, grinding against him and making him groan. “Hush, you. You know, you haven’t been on top since the accident…”

Jamie grinned wolfishly, propping his good foot on the ground for traction and wedging his booted one between the cushions to keep it out of the way. “Oh, I know. And I’ve already worked out the best way to go about it. Been thinkin’ on it while you were at work.”

I looped my arms around his neck, pulling him back down to me. “And to think not long ago at all you were a virgin.”

“Glad I was able tae give my virtue to you , Sassenach.”

“You and me, both. Now get back down here, James Fraser.”

 

~~~

 

Some Time Later…

 

Jamie set down the glass in front of her, giving her a charming smile. Christ, but she was a bonny lass. “First time here?”

She giggled and put her chin on her hands, and he knew that with nothing but a wee bat of her lashes, he would be putty in her hands.

Da ...why do you always ask me that?!”

Jamie chuckled again, sliding the tumbler of chocolate milk closer. “Long story, a leannan, long story. But remind me tae tell ye of it, someday.”

“Hmm...yes, someday , but not today,” Claire said, sidling up behind the lass. “Bree, honey, go get your backpack, time to go.”

Brianna threw the chocolate milk back in one shot like a champ, then skipped off to gather her things. Jamie beamed in pride, but his dear wife gave him an unamused look.

“It’s one thing that our eight year old daughter spends her afternoons after school at a pub , but do we have to start conditioning her so early for her college drinking days?”

“Ah, come on, Sassenach, those were some of th’ best days of our lives!”

Claire rolled her eyes, but he could see the grin threatening the edges of her mouth. That mouth that he’d yet to kiss.

Reading his mind, she leaned over the bar, getting hold of the back of his neck and pulling him toward her.

“Ew, Mama!”

Claire pulled back, and eyed Brianna. “What? I can’t kiss your Da hello after a long day at work?”

Brianna wrinkled her nose. “I guess.”

Claire hopped down from the bar and smoothed down her blouse. “Alright then. Let’s get you home. Tell Da goodnight, since he’ll be home late.”

Brianna ran around the bar, and Jamie met her halfway, scooping her up into his arms. “Ah, I love ye, my wee lass. I’ll see in th’ mornin’, aye?”

“Aye,” she agreed, squeezing his neck hard enough to cut off his air supply. “Night, Da!”

Jamie set her on her feet, gave her bum an affectionate swat, and she was off again, getting caught near the door by Murtagh and swung into the air with a squeal.

“Are Jenny and Ian still keeping Bree this weekend?” Claire asked.

Jamie nodded with a grin. “Oh aye, Jenny says Katie has been speaking of nothing else but their big slumber party all week. Says we can expect an exhausted and sugar-drunk lass when she’s returned tae us on Sunday.”

“Good,” Claire said with a smirk. “It’s been a while since we’ve had the house to ourselves.”

Jamie grinned in return, his mind running through all the possible ways they can spend their Saturday night. At least now that Brianna was older, they hopefully wouldn’t just fall asleep like they did the first time Jenny kept Brianna overnight when she was a toddler. No, there’d be very little sleep indeed, if he had anything to say about it. 

“Canna wait,” Jamie murmured. “Dinna forget tae give Bree an extra goodnight kiss tonight for me.”

“I never do,” she said, and Jamie watched the way she swung her hips as she walked away. “Love you.”

He smiled softly, even though she was no longer looking. Christ, but he was happy. How could someone be so lucky as to find the one person in all the world who was made for him? He watched as she and their daughter joined hands and headed out into the brisk spring day. Sometimes he still felt a pang of fear when they left, knowing, as he did, that nothing was ever certain. Claire admitted that she often felt the same way, but that was why they made sure never to take each other or their lives as a family for granted.

To that end, Jamie realized he’d been so absorbed in looking at his beautiful lasses, he’d let his wife slip away without answering her. Grinning, he called her up on her cell, and he could hear the smile in her voice when she picked up. “And I love you, Sassenach.”



“Can we have hot dogs for dinner, Mama?” Brianna asked, swinging our joined hands as we walked home. 

I rolled my eyes fondly at her while I was grinning indulgently at my silly, yet wonderful husband who’d just called me seconds after we’d left the pub just because he’d forgotten to say “I love you” back to me. 

“Hot Dogs?” I echoed. Ever since our recent vacation to the United States, Brianna had been obsessed with hot dogs, even though I could never make them quite the same as from those hot dog carts. “I don’t think we have any of those at the house. But how about homemade pizza?”

“Okay!”

I grinned down at her, enjoying the way the late afternoon sun shone on her bright red curls. Just like her Da.

As much as I knew I’d miss her when she went to Jenny and Ian’s, I was looking forward to spending the weekend alone with Jamie. I was planning on all manner of x-rated activity, but also thought it would be the perfect time to break it to him that our nights of good sleep were about to be interrupted again by a second wee Fraser.

I touched my stomach, nearly bubbling over with nerves and excitement, much as I had back when I’d learned I was pregnant with Brianna, (which happened to be a week before Jamie’s and my wedding. We’d tried valiantly to keep it under wraps until after, but the fact that I didn’t have a drop of alcohol at the reception was a dead giveaway to anyone who knew me.)

Jamie had been incredible all through the pregnancy, taking care of me with more tenderness and love than I could have thought possible, even when I felt disgusting with morning sickness, enormous and fat, or just plain irritable. I had no reason to doubt that he’d be no different this time, and I bet he would be looking forward to the other things that come along with it - namely enlarged breasts and increased libido.

“Mama, can I stay up until Da gets home?”

“‘Fraid not, my darling. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell Da to peek in at you, and if you happen to be awake, you’ll see him. Deal?”

“Deal.”

I didn’t bother to tell her that Jamie peeked in on her every time he worked late, ever since she was born. I rather hoped our next would be a little boy, and I hoped he was just like Jamie in every way. And I hoped that they both would grow up and find someone the way Jamie and I did. By making a best friend, and falling madly in love with them.

“Does your stomach hurt?” Bree asked, eyeing the way I was still cupping my belly.

I chuckled and moved my hand away. “No, I’m fine. Just thinking.”

“So why does Da do that thing where he asks me if I’ve ever been to th’ pub?”

“It’s just kind of an inside joke, hon. He does it to me, too.”

“But why ?”

“Because he wants us to know he loves us, just as much as he has since the first.”

 

The End