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The Ties That Bind

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Now, whilst not exactly in possession of ‘a good fortune,’ Jamie Fraser certainly had reached (at the age of thirty two) a point in his life where he was what people refer to as comfortable - good job as Chief Financial Officer in the family’s long established distillery business, his own home in a smart but not too elite suburb of Glasgow, new car every three years, with enough spare cash to enjoy both summer sun and winter skiing holidays.

Not that he was complacent. He worked hard and enjoyed the benefits. It was just… not as satisfying as it once had been.

******

Jamie woke at his usual time, even though it was Saturday morning and a three day bank holiday weekend stretched out in front of him. He showered quickly, wrapped the towel neatly round his torso and made his way to the kitchen, picking up the newspaper from the front door en route.

Armed with a cafetière of strong coffee, orange juice, a pen and his newspaper, Jamie made his way into the conservatory that looked onto his back garden. Already, at 8 am, the sunshine streamed into the room, a promising start for Rupert and Fiona’s wedding day. He sank down into his favourite chair, old and well-worn, sipped his coffee and turned to the crossword, enjoying a few minutes of peace and quiet before the frantic activities of the day.

The clatter of the letterbox disturbed the contemplation of 13 across (River, run - 4 letters). Depositing his coffee cup in the dishwasher, Jamie picked up the post, quickly sorting through the pile- broadband deals and ‘epic’ coach holidays straight into recycling, brown envelopes set aside for perusal later and one thick, cream envelope opened immediately.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Duthie request the pleasure of your company at the wedding of their daughter Kirsty Ann to Mr. Angus Mackenzie...

Another raucous stag weekend beforehand no doubt. Jamie chuckled, thinking of the five (five, really?!) weddings he had been to in the last eighteen months. With most of his close friends settled, that left, well, him in the minority, unattached, unhindered, not tied down, fancy free, uninvolved… on his own. Realistically, Jamie knew he could ‘get a girlfriend,’ that wasn’t the problem. Wanting to keep said girlfriend, now that tended to be the issue.

But I’m no thinking on that today, he told himself. Jes’ focus on the job at hand and get a move on afore Jenny starts mitherin’ to see where I am.

And with that, he headed upstairs, mentally preparing for the duties expected of him that afternoon.

******

From his vantage point at the front of the church, Jamie had a good view of the wedding guests. All the usual suspects of course, his friends scrubbed up nicely, all wearing their dress kilts, their wives and girlfriends sporting a complicated array of hats and, what did Jenny call the wee, poofy ones? Aye, fascinators that was it. The only fascinating thing about them, Jamie mused, was why the hell anyone would want to wear some of them in the first place.

Jamie turned his attention to Rupert, who was standing next to him. The pale green of Rupert’s face matched nicely with the floral arrangements strewn around the church. Jamie noticed he was sweating profusely.

“Dinna fash,” he said, trying to be comforting. “Ye ken she’ll turn up. ‘S’all part of the ritual, turning up late.”

Rupert gave a hesitant grin. “Aye, but what if she changed her mind? What if she’s driving ‘round now thinking of the quickest way tae the airport? I dinna ken…”

Jamie interrupted. “Now why would she do that? She kens exactly what she’s getting into. Remember she was the one who cleaned you up after the projectile vomiting incident of 2016. She kens not tae talk tae ye fer twelve hours after a Scottish rugby defeat, she puts up wi’ yer snorin’ and fartin’ in bed, and she knows when ye say ye’re off tae the gym, you’re really headin’ out fer coffee and doughnuts. Nah, she’ll be here.”

Rupert smiled. “Aye, reckon ye’re right. I got meself a good one. I canna tell ye what she means tae me. What would I do wi’out her?”

And as the organ started up the opening bars of Trumpet Voluntary, Jamie watched Rupert discretely wipe his eyes and move to take his place at the altar.

******

Several hours and several whiskies later, Jamie felt himself start to relax. The reception was now in full swing, the hotel function room full of wedding guests becoming noisier as the alcohol flowed. In the corner he could see the DJ setting up for the evening disco. He wandered from group to group, accepting praise for his best man speech.

“Och, I never kent it was Rupert who painted the neighbours’ dog that time...”

“Weel, now I know how he got that crescent scar on his hand...”

“Good job, Jamie. I guess it must be yer turn soon. Are you no’ courting jes’ now?”

Jamie smiled and shook his head, politely extricating himself from the group of Rupert’s elderly relatives. He started to cross to his sister Jenny who was sitting, no doubt with her shoes already off, a bowl of trifle balanced on her seven month pregnant belly. Beside her, wee Jamie, red faced and sweating, gulped at his lemonade. Jamie’s heart swelled with pride at the sight of his wee nephew and namesake. He thought that…

“Hello there. Good to see you. Nice speech you did there”

Jamie turned slightly to the woman who had just spoken. “Geneva! How are ye doin’? Enjoyin’ yerself? Ye’re looking well.”

Not just idle pleasantries, Jamie thought she was looking well, not to say glamorous. Geneva had always managed to maintain a well-groomed air, her sleek black hair never out of place, even when throwing the television remote control at his head, never breaking into a sweat even as she paced frantically round his living room listing some of his many apparent shortcomings.

“Yes, well, it’s nice to have something to dress up for. And you, you’re looking, er, well too. That kilt always suited you.” Her hand brushed the tartan fabric, so lightly that Jamie wasn’t sure whether he had imagined it.

“Aye, thanks. So, er, well…so, how long has it been since I’ve seen ye?”

“Seven months,” Geneva replied, not missing a beat. “Seven months since you, er, that is, we broke up.”

Jamie felt his ears start to flush at the memory. “Geneva, I…”

“No, it’s fine. For the best. We did have some good times though. Remember that huge slide at the water park?”

“Oh aye,” Jamie grinned at the memory. “That was such a good day. Apart from the wee bit of nausea on…”

“...The lazy river ride,” Geneva laughed.

“Well…” Jamie hesitated as he felt a sharp tug on the sleeve of his jacket. He looked down to see his nephew smiling up at him.

“Unca,” his nephew began, still pulling at his sleeve. “Unca, I need pee, now.”

Jamie shrugged apologetically at Geneva. “Can yer Da not take ye?”

“Nah, Unca, Mam says ye do it. Do it now!”

Wee Jamie’s hand snaked into his uncle’s large hand as he forcibly pulled Jamie out of the function room and into the hallway beyond.

As soon as Jamie was through the door, another hand tightly grabbed his elbow and pulled him into the wooden panelling. For all that she was tiny and seven months pregnant, Jamie knew that Jenny was a veritable force of nature, and from the look on her face, she was gearing up to give him a piece of her mind.

Her face softened briefly as she looked down at Wee Jamie, still holding his uncle’s hand. “Thank ye, mo bhailach beag, now go tae yer Da. He’s right over there. And walk, don’t run.” She called after her over excited son.

“I dare say Wee Jamie will be keeping ye up tonight. He’s that excited…” Jamie started.

Jenny stared at him. “And what do ye think ye were doin’ in there? Just now?”

“In celebrity circles, do they no’ call it ‘working the room’?” Jamie tried, but Jenny was not in the mood for levity.

“You ken fine well what I mean, bràthair. I have eyes, I could see ye laughin’ and jokin’ with Geneva. And she lookin’ at ye like ye were a tall glass of water in the desert. Ye’re a catch and she means to reel ye in again.”

Jamie shook his head. “Nah, ’twas just being friendly. We’ve no’ seen each other fer seven months, since we broke up.”

“And remember, there was a reason YOU broke up with her,” said Jenny, jabbing her finger into his chest. “What was it ye told me, about the clinginess, the snobbishness, the, and I quote ye, the inane drivel that comes out of her mouth?”

“Perhaps I was a bit harsh in my opinions, Jenny, she’s no’ a bad lass really.”

“Aye, and a crocodile’s no’ a mean spirited killing machine, either. I warn ye, Jamie Fraser, dinna go down that road again. Remember ye had reasons to break it off with Geneva.”

“But did I?” Jamie looked directly at Jenny. “Did I really? Or did I no’ give it a chance? Did I just run when the first little thing pissed me off? Is that what I do? Was she just frustrated with me, no’ trying to make it work?” Jamie sighed. “Jenny, look around, look at all our friends, look at ye and Ian. Ye’re all complete. Ye’ve all found yer other halves. And I havena … Or what if I have, and I just havena recognised it.”

Jenny reached up to stroke Jamie’s cheek gently. “Believe me, ye’d recognise it.” she said softly. “It’s out there fer ye. Ye just need tae find it.”

Jamie sniffed and kissed his sister’s cheek. “And on that note, I think it’s time fer a piss, meself”.

**************

Claire Beauchamp certainly appreciated the sentiment behind the birthday gift from her closest friend, Geillis - a relaxing night away at a hotel and spa, leisurely dinner, couple of drinks in the hotel bar followed by a day of pampering treatments seemed ideal. Claire had, as usual, been working far too hard at the hospital and, in Geillis’s opinion, Claire’s ‘me-time’ was in seriously short supply.

On paper, the hotel looked great. The spa facilities were excellent and Claire could not remember the last time she had tasted such wonderful food. Now, sitting in a leather chair in the traditionally styled hotel bar with Geillis, sampling some of the hotel’s wide range of whiskies, the downside was clearly apparent - the wedding that the hotel was hosting.

The plan had been to spend the evening in the bar, watching the flames in the huge stone fireplace, the only noises a calming murmur of voices and the tinkle of drinks being poured. The reality was that the overspill from the nuptial celebrations resulted in numerous male guests taking root at the bar recounting, in loud voices, tales of rugby hangovers from hell, Calcutta Cup matches through the ages or the questionable songs wedding DJs seem to play (“C’mon, man, gi’e us a wee bit of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, no this disco shite!”).

Geillis touched Claire’s arm to attract her attention.

“Claire, ye have tae admit, there is something about a man in a kilt. Is that no’ one of yer reasons for staying up here even when Frank moved back tae England?” She nodded her head in the direction of the group of kilted men propping the bar up and laughed. “And what better reason could there be? Best way tae get over a man is tae get under a new one, ye ken.”

Claire looked around the bar and laughed. “Well, G, about the kilt situation, I’m not convinced in all cases, but…” Through the door into the foyer, her eye was caught by the rather striking rear view of a tall, broad, red haired Viking stooping down to kiss the cheek of a petite brunette “...there are certain attractions to it, I dare say. About the Frank situation, I’m over him, just not sure I’m ready for a new relationship yet.”

“Who mentioned a relationship?” Geillis winked. “No’ me…just a wee bit o’ fun. And speakin’ o’ fun, I’ll be getting us two more whiskies, then.” Geillis rose and headed for the bar, firmly wedging herself between two of the burliest men there.

Claire smiled and shook her head at her friend. She looked back to where that Viking had been standing but he was gone.

For the rest of their time in the bar, Claire kept a surreptitious look out for ‘her’ Viking . She chose not to mention it to Geillis - much as she loved her, Geillis would have boldly dragged Claire straight into the wedding party making her walk past every guest until she found him. Geillis had many endearing qualities, but discretion was not one of them.

**************

It was reaching that time of the night. The more elderly guests and the children had already retired to their beds (Wee Jamie included, protesting loudly all the way), and the alcohol imbibed by the remaining guests ensured that everything was lit by that rosy glow of sentimentality. Rupert and his bride stood together in the middle of the dance floor, swaying gently to the music.

“And now,” the DJ’s muffled announcement came through the speakers. “all you lovers out there, it’s time for the last song, so come and join Rupert and Fiona on the dance floor with ‘I Will Always Love You.’”

As the opening bars of the Whitney Houston rendition sounded, Jamie became aware of Geneva approaching. She held out her hand to him. “Come on Jamie, for old time’s sake, yes?”

Jamie took her hand and together they walked to the dance floor. As they started moving in time to the music, Jamie could feel Geneva’s hands on his shoulders, her fingers lightly stroking his neck, her chest pressed tightly against him, her hair tickling his nose as he breathed. God, she smelt lovely. He closed his eyes and thought about his conversation with Jenny. Perhaps he had been a wee bit hasty seven months ago… perhaps he needed to put more work into a relationship… perhaps he should try again with Geneva. He wrapped his arms around her, his hands resting at the base of her spine, pulling her closer still.

The music died away and the harsh overhead lights switched on, abruptly ending the cosy intimacy of the wedding party. Laughing and shouting (dubious) words of encouragement, everyone followed Rupert and Fiona out to the grand staircase, sending them on their way to the bridal suite.

**************

Claire heard the whoops and shouts from inside the now peaceful bar. Once they had died down, she stood up. “I think that's our cue for bed, need to get our money’s worth in the spa tomorrow.”

Together, Claire and Geillis headed up the grand staircase to their rooms.

**************

Geneva stood in front of Jamie in the foyer. Tentatively, she took a step towards him tilted her head up to his, lightly running her tongue over her lips. “I guess you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you?”

Jamie nodded.

“I wasn’t planning to,” she continued. “But I could be persuaded…”

“Best not, lass. We’ve both had too much tae drink tae be making wise choices. I still have yer mobile number. I’ll give ye a call.”

Wrinkling her nose up in mock annoyance, Geneva pulled his head down to hers. Jamie closed his eyes as Geneva pressed her lips to his, her tongue gently sliding into his mouth. As she lengthened the kiss, moaning slightly, Jamie opened one eye.

Over Geneva’s shoulder he caught a glimpse of a woman ascending the stairs. Wild brown curls cascaded over her shoulders and onto her back. Her long, shapely legs, clad in blue jeans, looked amazing and the way her hips rolled with each step seemed to ignite a spark within him. He broke away from the kiss as the vision disappeared from view.

Chapter Text

The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only. -Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Jamie groaned and hoped that the banging inside his head would stop soon. This was the problem with drinking wine. Generally Jamie tried to steer clear of ‘grape’ and stick to ‘grain’. However, last night, he had supped copious quantities of both and now was suffering the consequences. He stretched his hand out hoping to find a glass of water and possibly even two aspirins left on the bedside table by his more responsible alter ego yesterday. There they were. Gratefully, he sank back onto the pillows and waited for them to do their work.

Parts of his alcohol-induced dreams came back to him… miles and miles of hotel corridors and he was chasing, chasing... a woman with the most gorgeous legs he had ever seen. He kept chasing her, but she wouldn’t stop and she wouldn’t turn round. A flash of wild dark curls and…

The banging in his head seemed to be louder now. “Unca,” a cross little voice added to the general cacophony. “Unca, get up now. Mam says now. ‘Tis beckfast and then ‘wimmin’. Mam says.”

Jamie forced himself out of bed. Fastening the towelling bath robe, he opened his door. His little nephew rushed past him and started jumping on the bed. Jenny stood in the doorway, her eyes darting all round the room.

“I go ‘wimmin’ with ye, Unca, wiv Spideyman shorts. What ye shorts, Unca?”

Jamie sighed and looked at his sister. “She’s no’ here. She didna stay. Nothing happened.” He grabbed Wee Jamie round his middle, lifting him high up in the air. “And who said I would take ye swimmin’, ye wee fishie?”

“Mam said so, she did.”

Jamie gently set his nephew on his feet. “Aye, well, yer mam makes an awfa’ lot o’ decisions fer the men in this family. But I guess I canna refuse, no’ if I ken what’s good fer me.”

 

**************

 

Claire lay on one of the day beds next to the swimming pool and wiggled her toes, admiring the newly applied scarlet polish. She set aside the copy of Hello! she had been skimming through and turned to Geillis.

“This was such a good idea of yours, G. Total battery recharge today… and we’ve even had the whole pool to ourselves. I don’t reckon we’ll be seeing any of that wedding party any time soon. Not if last night was anything to go by.”

“I am rather full of brilliant ideas,” Geillis agreed. “Although I feel we may have missed an opportunity last night. So many men...”

“... And no doubt so many wives and girlfriends!” Claire interrupted.

“Och, well,” Geillis dismissed Claire’s interruption. “Guess we’ll never know.”

“Anyway, so I’ve a body wrap, then hot stone massage in twenty minutes. I’m going to head into the sauna for ten minutes first. You coming?”

“Aye, may as weel. I don’t reckon there’ll be anything worth hangin’ round here fer today.” Geillis gathered up her belongings and followed Claire into the sauna.

 

**************

 

Jamie sat in the male changing room, blowing up his nephew’s armbands (Spider-Man, obviously a theme here) while Wee Jamie hopped excitedly from foot to foot.

“Now, afore we go in the pool, are ye sure you dinna need a wee? Ye ken what I told ye, as how if ye wee in the pool, the water turns bright blue?”

“Nah, Unca, c’mon now. Wanna go ‘wimmin’.” The little lad pulled his armbands up, grabbed Jamie’s hand and headed for the door. “C’mon, c’mon.” He paused and stared intently at his uncle. “Ye no Spideyman shorts?”

Jamie looked down at his blue checked board shorts and tried to look sad about this. “Sorry lad, I’m too big fer such a fine pair.”

As they entered the pool area together, Jamie looked around. It was totally deserted, which, Jamie thought, was hardly surprising based on the amount of alcohol that had been consumed the day before. An abandoned magazine lay on one of the day beds.

Wee Jamie pointed to a small passage way on the other side of the pool. “What’s ‘at?”

“Ah, nothing for ye. Just the sauna... it’s awfa hot and no’ fer children and the girls’ changing room is down there too. That’s definitely no’ fer us lads, eh?”

Following Jenny’s instructions to “wear the lad out, we want him tae sleep in the car going home,” Jamie stayed in the pool, playing with his nephew until he noticed the lad’s eyelids start to droop. He scooped him up and carried him back to the changing room, intending to just wrap him in a towel and leave the tricky drying and dressing to Jenny.

Wee Jamie held tightly to his uncle’s neck. “You fib, Unca. Ye did. I wee’d and I wee’d but no blue.”

Jamie chuckled. God, he loved this little lad something fierce and maybe someday, God willing...

 

**************

 

Claire picked up the two whiskies from the bar and made her way to the table where Geillis was sitting. The pub was quite empty at the moment, just a handful of people, like them, having a quick drink after work before heading home.

Geillis looked Claire up and down appraisingly. “Ye ken I love ye, Claire, but could you no’ wear something a bit, weel, more alluring when we’re out?”

Claire gazed down at her old jeans and plain black tee shirt. “G, I’ve been on my feet in theatre for the past 8 hours. I’m so knackered, you’re lucky I managed to change out of my scrubs and into this! Besides, however can I compete with your alllllluuure?” She drawled the last word out jokingly. “Maybe you have the allure for both of us? I can be your duff.”

Geillis raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“Designated ugly fat friend.” Claire explained with a smile. “According to the movie, every friendship group has one. You and me, we’re a friendship group, ergo, I must be it.”

“Claire, ye may be many things but fat or ugly never.” Geillis said, “Yer hair’s a wee bit wild, mind. Do ye no’ fancy a Brazilian blow dry?” She ran her fingers over her sleek strawberry blonde locks.

“And here’s me thinking a ‘brazilian’ was about a different part of my anatomy altogether!”

Geillis smiled, then a serious expression crept over her face. “But, Claire, ye dinna think ye’re fat or ugly really, do ye?”

Claire stared at the beer mat on the table, her fingers picking at it, ripping it into tiny shreds of paper. She really thought she’d outgrown that nervous habit.

“Well, no, but, it’s difficult to explain. Frank...” She could hear Geillis tutting at the mention of his name. “Frank had certain… er, expectations of how I should be. How I should behave, how I should look. The disapproval on his face if I took an extra roast potato, ordered dessert, poured myself another glass of wine. There was always someone younger, more self-controlled, thinner. So, for a while I tried to become the person he wanted me to be. I tried to see myself through his eyes and I saw the fat arse, the lack of control, the not-really good enough...”

Geillis leaned closer and gently placed her hand on Claire’s. “Thank God ye got out of there. That wasna a healthy place tae be, Claire. Ye know ye’re worth a lot more than that.”

“I know. And I am joking about that duff business but occasionally, old habits are hard to break. That’s why I’m not after a serious relationship. I’m not sure I’m ready to let someone see me as I really am.”

“But a fling will do ye no harm at all. It will do ye the world of good, let ye see how another man treats ye. In fact, we need a list. A checklist. When ye’re in theatre, ye dinna start cuttin’ till ye know everything is in place, all the boxes are ticked. So we make a list of what ye want and ye dinna start, er, flingin’ till a man ticks all the boxes.”

Claire finally put the mangled beer mat down. “A list, really?”

“Aye, it’s scientific, ye ken.” Geillis picked up her bag and rooted around for a piece of paper. Finding an unused paper napkin, she smoothed it flat on the table, extracted a pen from the depths of her bag and sat poised ready to write. “Ok. Point one…” She scribbled something down quickly.

“Come on, Let me read it.” Claire laughed, turning the napkin round. “Must look good in, and out of, a kilt. G, you have a one-track mind.”

“Och, it’s a fling we’re talking about, ye only need one track, I reckon. So, what about point two?”

“Well, I may as well play along. Point two must be no complications.”

Geillis obligingly wrote that down. “Next point. Enjoys a drink. Likes to let his hair down.”

Claire took the pen from her friend and added another line. Geillis read it upside down. “Really, it’s a fling ye’re after. Ye’re tellin’ me if they dinna like the X-Files, that’s it? Is that a deal breaker?”

“What can I say? The heart wants what the heart wants.”

“Fine, but I’m adding this one then. Fancies ye as ye are. No changing ye.”

The pub was starting to fill up. Most commuters had already made their way home, to be replaced by those heading out for the evening, coming into the pub for a quick drink before their evening plans properly began. Even on a drizzly Thursday evening, it was getting to be standing room only. Claire noticed several people eyeing their table enviously. She drained her whisky glass and stood up.

“I think that’s me done for this evening. Any more and I’ll have to be put to bed right here. I’ll just pop to the loo and meet you outside, G.”

As Claire crossed the room to the toilets, Geillis started to gather her stuff together to leave.

Immediately a woman rushed to the table, plonked herself in one chair, and stuffed her bag on the other chair. She eyed Geillis, willing her to hurry up and be on her way. Geillis ignored her and continued rifling through her bag, her movements deliberately slowing. Eventually, Geillis decided she’d had enough of the game, turned away and walked to the exit.

**************

 

Geneva caught Jamie’s eye as he moved away from the bar, drinks in hand, and pointed to the seats she had found for them. He sat down, taking a deep slug of his whisky as he put Geneva’s vodka, lime and soda on the table next to a tatty old napkin.

“Someone’s shopping list, no doubt.” Geneva dismissed it with a wave of her hand as Jamie picked it up and carried on telling Jamie about the difficulties in trying to find the correct colour for a new bedroom throw. “...Not really a teal, but not quite a cerulean colour either…”

Jamie knew his role in this. It was just to nod and murmur appreciatively at appropriate points in the story. That gave him time to think… unfortunately. Thinking made him realise that Jenny had been right three weeks ago at the wedding. Geneva was not the one, he didn’t need to try again just to see. And she did talk utter shite.

He groaned, which Geneva seemed to take as indication of his deep interest in her tale of home furnishing trials and tribulations. He should never have slept with her. He hadn’t intended to but last night, as the blood left his brain and migrated south, he had lost the capacity for rational, coherent thought and had followed his baser instincts. Which had been a very bad idea.

Jamie glanced at the napkin he was still holding. Straightening it between his fingers, he began to read. A woman with long strawberry blonde locks suddenly leaned over and gently took the napkin from his fingers.

“Thanks, it’s fer scientific research, ye ken.”

He watched as she walked to the door, to her waiting friend. Her friend with the long shapely denim clad legs and mad curly hair and her face, so full of life with sparkling eyes he longed to dive right into.

“What an odd thing to want.” Geneva interrupted his contemplation. “That couldn’t have been scientific research. On a used napkin. Some people are just strange.”

Jamie felt his breath catch in his throat. Jenny had been right - he recognised it. What to do now?

Chapter Text

If you marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons, then no matter how hard you work, it's never going to work, because then you have to completely change yourself, completely change them, completely - by that time, you're both dead. Anne Bancroft

Jamie was not a coward, but as he rang the doorbell of the Geneva’s smart townhouse, he could feel his palms sweating. He wiped them on his jeans and pressed the doorbell again. The decision had been made last night, while in the pub. He could have told her then but he needed time to plan what he would say. Every time he thought about it though, he felt more and more like a bastard. He didn’t want Geneva to think that he’d used her for sex. In fact last night, when she had invited him back to her house again, he’d politely refused, pleading the onset of a sudden migraine. Not too far from the truth, he told himself.

Jamie heard Geneva’s footsteps coming to the door. As the door swung open, he wiped his palms again. Band-aid approach needed, he told himself - quick, clean, and less painful in the long run.

Geneva held her face up for a kiss as he stepped inside. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and bent down to take his shoes off before she had to remind him (again). She grabbed his belt buckle and pulled him into her immaculate living room. Stopping suddenly, she swivelled to face him, placing her hands on his chest, working her fingers between the buttons of his shirt.

“Seeing as how you had that migraine last night,” she breathed against his neck. “We’re going to have to make up for it tonight. I hope you’re up for it.” Her hand slid down his body and cupped his groin. “Oh dear, looks like I’m going to have to work even harder…”

Before she had chance to fumble for his zip, Jamie pulled her hand away. He sat on the grey tweed sofa and gestured for her to sit. Instinctively he quickly scanned around, checking there was nothing hard within easy reach for Geneva. Just the mustard accented throw pillows… not too bad.

Jamie cleared his throat. “Geneva, can we talk?”

“About us?”

Jamie saw the excitement flare in her eyes. He realised she had expectations to rekindle their relationship, become boyfriend and girlfriend once more.

“Aye. When I saw ye at Rupert’s wedding, I didna plan tae get wi’ ye. But I did wonder if mebbe I’d been a wee bit hasty last September. I thought we should see. But, I ken now, it’s no’ right, this. And we should stop afore anyone gets hurt.”

Geneva stared at him in disbelief, her hands curled tightly round one of the pillows. So tightly, her knuckles showed white against the light tan of her skin.

“Anyone gets hurt... anyone gets hurt? You fucked me, remember, two nights ago? You fucked me and now you come here ready to give me the ‘it’s-not-you-it’s-me’ speech.”

“I’m no’ proud of my behaviour. I am sorry, I shouldna have slept wi’ ye. But I ken this is no’ right between us. I would only make ye miserable...”

“Here it comes. It’s not you it’s me.” She sneered.

“Aye, you’re right it is me. But it’s ye as well, it’s us. There is no us. I think ye ken it too”

Geneva stood up and walked towards the large picture window. She stood there silently for a moment - her face a calm mask. Her voice started low and controlled.

“You know, when I saw you again at the wedding and we were talking I thought, perhaps he’s changed, perhaps he knows what he wants now… maybe he’s not holding out for some perfect woman.”

She turned to face him, her cheeks reddened with anger. Her fists were clenched tightly as though ready to deliver a knockout blow.

“You know, your fucking ideal woman is a fucking dream.” Her voice grew louder and became harsh, discordant. “Leave me then. I hope you and your fantasy are happy together. But let me tell you now, you’ll come crawling back here, when you realise what you’re holding out for doesn’t exist and all your friends are in their nice little couples’ world and all you’ve got is your right hand for company. Just fuck off.” She screamed the last words. “Fuck you.”

“Truly I am sorry, I dinna ken what else tae say. I hope in time ye can see this is fer the best. I dinna mean for it tae turn out like this. Geneva, I really wish ye well. I do. I want ye tae be happy.”

Jamie got to his feet and stood still, unsure of what his next move should be. Tentatively, he took a step towards Geneva as if to give her some comfort. She deliberately turned her back to him and rested against the marble mantelpiece.

Through the mirror above the fireplace, Jamie could see the reflection of Geneva’s face, eyes closed, lips locked in an angry grimace. Knowing there was nothing more he could do or say to alleviate the situation, he headed out of the room.

A crystal tea light holder hurtled past his ear, narrowly missing him, before ricocheting off the door frame and smashing to pieces on the reclaimed oak floor. It was closely followed by a white orchid and pot which sailed over his left shoulder, depositing a shower of soil in its wake. Jamie quickly picked up his shoes by the front door, rushed out of the house and down the path. Once he judged he was no longer within accurate throwing distance, he stopped to put on his shoes.

Jamie reached his car and sat in the driving seat for several minutes. Breathing deeply, he felt the sweat trickle cold down his back. Am I really such a bastard?

He hadn’t meant for it to happen like this, he had really thought it was worth trying. But sleeping with her had been a mistake, he should have resisted her advances. It was not about another woman… not about that woman he had glimpsed twice now. Even if he never found out who she was (and his stomach turned over at that possibility) he knew he was never meant to be with Geneva.

He switched on the engine, pushed the controls to retract the roof on the silver BMW and set off for home, hoping that the rush of fresh air might clear his head and blow away his lingering feelings of shame.

Chapter Text

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always. Hippocrates

 

Jamie sat on the hard plastic chair and shifted uncomfortably. The fluorescent strip lighting overhead was giving him a bit of a headache and he was conscious of the mobile in his pocket, silent now, but Jamie knew at any minute it would start chirping away and he would have to talk to his sister.

Wee Jamie, on the other hand, seemed in fine spirits as he sat on the trolley in the little cubicle, curtains partitioning them off from the other Emergency Department patients. “Wot’s ‘at?” He asked his uncle, pointing.

“Hand sanitiser, makes yer hands nice and clean, gets rid of wee germs.”

“Wot’s ‘at?” He repeated, pointing in a different direction.

“Box of gloves, sae the doctors and nurses can put them on when they have tae examine ye… are ye sure ye’re feeling alright? How’s yer arm now?”

“‘S poorly.” Wee Jamie looked down at his left hand, motionless in his little lap. “Ouch… sweetie?” He added hopefully.

Jamie laughed despite his worry. “Ye wee gomerel. Ye never miss an opportunity, do ye? Dinna fret, afore I deliver ye back tae yer Mam, we can get some sweeties. Seeing as she’s goin’ tae shout at me anyways for letting ye hurt yerself, we can just add ruining yer teeth tae the list.”

The curtains parted slightly and a young nurse poked her head into the cubicle. “Mr. Fraser, we’re just waiting for the orthopaedic surgeon on call to come and take a look at your nephew. Shouldn’t be too long now.” She smiled coyly at Jamie. “Can I no’ get ye anything? Tea, coffee, sandwich?”

Jamie smiled politely. “No thank ye. But have ye a wee bit of juice or milk for my nephew?”

“I’m no’ sure he should have that, in case they need tae operate. Let me check”

Jamie blanched at the thought of a possible operation. His nephew was so small, to see him have to go through that would be unbearable. And with Jenny so close to her due date, too.

“Unca, wot’s ‘perate?” Wee Jamie still seemed unconcerned by everything going on around him. Easily distracted, he quickly added to his requests whilst his uncle was in the mood to spoil him. “Chips too an’ sweeties, pease?”

“Aye laddie. Chips and sweeties it is. After we’ve seen the doctor.” Jamie leaned over and planted a kiss on his nephew’s forehead.

The rustling of the hospital’s paperlike curtains took Jamie’s attention away from his nephew. He looked up as the doctor came into the cubicle. His breath hitched in his throat, no... more than that, the expression ‘take your breath away’ had never been so true.

After mere glimpses of her at Rupert’s wedding last month and in the pub less than a week ago, here was the woman who had invaded his daytime thoughts and his nighttime dreams. Her long legs were encased in baggy green hospital scrubs with the matching top camouflaging her curves. Her dark curls were haphazardly tied back in a ponytail, with corkscrew wisps escaping and gently feathering her forehead and cheeks. She was all that he remembered and more. He forced himself to stay calm. This was about his nephew, not him.

Claire’s hand flew instinctively to her hair, trying, ineffectually, to tidy the wild ponytail. She looked straight at the Viking who had captured her imagination at that hotel the month before. And he was here… with a small child. Great, Claire tried to compose her thoughts, pull yourself together, Beauchamp. He’s here, worrying about his child and you’re busy feeling disappointed that he’s already taken. Get a grip!

“Hello.” Claire directed the greeting to the small boy now sucking his thumb. “My name’s Claire and I’ve come to see how I can make you feel better.”

Without removing his thumb, Wee Jamie eyed her up and down before silently passing judgement and snuggling closer to his uncle. Jamie pulled him fully onto his lap.

“ Now, Jamie, that’s no way tae greet the doctor who’s gonna make ya feel better.”

“That’s no matter.” Smiling, Claire pulled up a chair and spoke directly to Jamie. “Well, Mr Murray, I’ve reviewed your son’s x-ray…”

“He’s no my son, I’m Mr...er... Jamie Fraser.” Fearful of Claire getting the wrong idea, Jamie quickly interrupted. “I mean… that is… he’s my nephew… my sister’s laddie. I was mindin’ him today and... weel…”

“Ah, sorry, ok… is his mother on her way?” Ignoring the butterflies fluttering in her stomach at this welcome piece of news, Claire maintained her professional demeanour.

“I’ve left her some messages, just waiting fer her call. She’s probably nappin’... she’s eight months pregnant, ye ken.”

Fed up with being sidelined, Wee Jamie decided to join in the conversation. “Aye, Mam has big baby tummy, Da says.” He confided.

Claire smiled. “And I’m sure she’s thrilled every time he says that.”

She turned to the computer next to her in the cubicle and quickly pressed a few keys, waiting for the screen to fire into life. “So, would you like to see a picture of the inside of your arm then, Jamie?”

As the x-ray image appeared, Claire began to explain. “So, Mr. Fraser, from the nature of the accident and the pain localised at the base of the thumb, I was concerned that there was a scaphoid fracture of the wrist. But, as you can see,” she pointed at a small white mass on the x-ray. “There’s no fracture there. Which is a relief as that would have needed a cast at best and possibly even surgery. So, we’re looking at a bad sprain, which will get better on its own. Just make sure to rest it plenty, young man.”

Fascinated by the image on the screen, the little lad wriggled in his uncle’s lap and pointed. “Dat my arm?”

Claire nodded. “It’s a picture of the bones in your hand and arm. See, here’s your thumb and fingers…” She leant in as she started to explain. So close, Jamie could almost smell the shampoo of her hair, almost feel the heat from her body. His knee almost grazed against hers in the confined space of the cubicle.

A insistent chirping broke into Claire’s explanation.

“Sorry,” Jamie shrugged. “This must be Jenny, my sister. I’d better take this.”

In a low voice, Claire continued to talk to Wee Jamie, gently stroking his arm as she named the various bones in his hand and arm. With one ear, she tried to listen in to the conversation Jamie was having with his sister (albeit one-sided).

“Aye… Aye… Och, ye ken what he’s like with the ducks… He loves tae chase them… Aye… We didna see the tree root… just went flyin’ and put his hand out… it’s no’ bad, just a sprain… Aye… the doctor’s here now… Aye, the orthopaedic surgeon… she says it’s no’ bad… ok...”

Jamie passed the phone to Claire. “Sorry, would ye mind having a quick word with ma sister?”

Claire took the phone. “Mrs Murray? Claire Beauchamp here. Don’t worry, your son is fine. Your brother did the right thing and brought him in to be checked out. There is no fracture, so the sprain should heal itself. Just make sure he rests it… ok… not a problem… I’ll pass you back… Goodbye.”

“Jenny, I’ll see ye in a bit. Jamie and I are goin’ fer a bite to eat… Aye, healthy, I hear ye… no, no chips… bye.”

As his nephew’s lower lip started to tremble, Jamie reassured him. “Dinna fash, lad, we’ll get some chips on the way home. But, shhhh, dinna tell yer Mam.”

Claire pulled her chair back and stood up. “Well, I’d hate to stand in the way of you and your chips, Jamie.” She stroked wee Jamie’s hair briefly. “You enjoy and I hope I don’t see you in here again!” Claire looked at Jamie, trying to keep her professional face together. “Nice to meet you, Mr Fraser.”

Jamie hesitated and looked at his feet. Would it be wrong to ask for her number? Would I look like a sleazebag, trying to pick her up as she was doing her job, caring for my nephew?

The rustling curtain gave him his answer. She had gone, decision made. Well, at least he knew her name, and where she worked, that was a start.

Jamie stood up and lifted his nephew in his arms. “Come on then, there are chips waiting fer us tae eat them.” He drew back the curtain and headed for the exit. A hand on his arm halted him.

“Sorry tae bother ye.” The nurse talking in a quiet voice seemed familiar to him, her strawberry blonde hair neatly tied up in a bun. He just couldn’t place her. “I ken the lad’s alright, but, just in case ye need tae consult with the orthopaedic surgeon…” She placed a piece of paper in his hand and walked away.

Chapter Text

I just have a few more questions for you, Ann. What if he shows up with another woman? What if one of my sleeves catches on fire and it spreads rapidly? What if, instead of Tic Tacs, I accidentally pop a couple of Ambien and I have to keep punching my leg to stay awake? -Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

 

Although the discreet lighting gave the Italian restaurant an intimate atmosphere, very few of the rays cast by the old, smoked glass lamps actually made it into the wooden booths favoured by Claire and Geillis on their frequent visits. Fortunately, this didn’t bother them, even though reading the menu proved to be a challenge.

“You did what, G?” Claire stared intently at her friend.

Geillis continued to focus on her menu. “Ye ken, I canna read this damn thing. How do I decide what tae have?”

“Stop ignoring my question and put the bloody menu down, G. We come here all the time. You always have the same thing. Talk to me.”

Geillis peered over the top of her menu. “Ach, all I did was give yer phone number tae a certain gentleman I saw in the Emergency Department. I think his name was Jamie Fraser. I kent he was wi’ his nephew and I thought, just in case he may need some more medical advice for the wee lad, ye ken.”

From the corner of her eye, Claire could see the white shirt of a nearby waiter. She beckoned him over. “Hi, could we have two spaghetti with meatballs, please, with garlic bread to share and a bottle of Pinot Grigio? And could we have the wine as soon as possible, please?”

The waiter disappeared with assurances that the wine would be there straight away. Claire’s mind was in a whirl. On the one hand, the emotional side of her brain seemed to be doing its own little happy dance, complete with rockets and confetti, but was being tempered by the logical side, which featured disciplinary panels, codes of conduct and probably a deafening silence from Mr. Jamie Fraser.

A click of glasses announced the arrival of the wine. Declining the offer to taste it, Claire gratefully accepted a half full glass from the waiter and took a large gulp.

“But, why would you do that?” She resumed her questioning of Geillis. “Did you not think about professional conduct?”

“The way I see it is… point one…” Geillis counted off the points on her fingers. “Point one, Jamie Fraser isna and has ne’er been your patient. Point two, you gave a consultation tae his nephew, who has since been discharged from yer care. Point three, I didna give yer number tae yer patient, merely a relative. Point four, he has a useful contact if he’s worried about the wee laddie. And most importantly, I reckon he fits the first criteria for yer fling. I ken he was wearing jeans today, but they were verra well fitting, did ye no’ notice? So tall and broad, he has tae look good in a kilt… and no’ a disappointment out of it, I’m sure.”

Claire drained her wine. “Christ, these glasses don’t hold much, do they?”

She helped herself to a second. The happy dance in her head was being liberally pissed on by her brain’s logical side. “I’m still not sure about a relationship… sorry, fling. Besides, that’s not the point, he won’t ring, I know. Passive rejection, that’ll be.”

“For an intelligent woman, Claire, you do talk some shite sometimes. Frank really messed up yer mind. Can ye no’ see - ye’re beautiful and bright and funny? What man wouldna want a fling wi’ ye? God, if I were that way inclined, I’d have a go meself!”

Claire snorted into her wine. “I’m sure Dougal would have something to say about that!”

“Aye, that he would... including the words, ‘please,’ ‘do it,’ and ‘can I watch’... bless him.”

Two plates of spaghetti and meatballs appeared in front of them followed by a waiter brandishing a huge pepper mill. Geillis shook her head as the pepper mill hovered over her plate.

“I’m sure my friend would be interested in some, though.”

Claire nodded and tried not to catch Geillis’s eye as the pepper was added to her meal.

“D’ya like that grinder then, Claire?” Geillis giggled. ”Length and girth there, as with certain other things, I imagine. I’d be verra interested tae find out, wouldn’t ye, eh?”

**************

Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a very long and trying day. He loved looking after his nephew. He enjoyed their games, the time spent building with Duplo. He was looking forward to the day when they could progress to proper Lego. In fact, he had a whole box of it up in his loft, just waiting, including the seven and a half thousand pieces needed to build the Star Wars Millennium Falcon. It said ages nine to fourteen on the box, but Jamie was sure they could tackle that next year - once Wee Jamie had got out of the habit of licking all the blocks.

But today had been exhausting. The park had been fine until they started to chase the ducks and then, bang, Wee Jamie had gone flying over a partially concealed tree root, scattering the food for the ducks all round and bursting into noisy sobs. When even the promise of an ice cream had not halted the flow of tears, Jamie had suspected a more severe injury and whisked him straight off to the Emergency Department. Thankfully, it was only a sprain and Jamie had deposited his nephew back with Jenny and Ian generally undamaged, once he had made sure that the smell of chips no longer lingered on him.

Jamie poured himself a large whisky, added a dash of filtered water and settled down on his large burgundy sofa. He flicked idly through the channels on the television, before switching it off, enjoying the silence of his living room and contemplating the other interesting part of the visit to the hospital.

He now had the mobile number of Doctor... no, she was a surgeon, so it should be Miss… Claire Beauchamp. At least he hoped she was a miss, not a missus. But in that case, would that nurse have given him the phone number? Well, maybe she would have if it was just for professional reasons. So, was it professional only? That nurse said...

Things clicked into place in Jamie’s memory. He had seen that nurse before, when he was in the pub with Geneva last week. She was the one who leant over and claimed that tatty old napkin. Jamie tried, unsuccessfully, to remember what had been written on it but his mind was a blank. He must have been too busy gazing at her friend in the doorway… Claire Beauchamp, orthopaedic surgeon and owner of a mobile phone. He reached into the pocket of his jeans and unfolded the small piece of paper. With his other hand, he lifted his phone and dialled.

**************

Having managed to finish the meal without actually throttling Geillis to stop her constant stream of double entendres and suggestive comments, Claire was looking forward to taking advantage of the light summer nights and taking a refreshing walk back to her flat. However, as she stared out of the restaurant, she could see that was not going to happen. The sky was already dark, filled with heavy grey clouds. Rain lashed against the door and windows, with large puddles already forming on the pavement.

“Have to be a taxi, then, G.” Claire fumbled in her oversized handbag for her mobile. “Oh, I’ve a missed call here… not one of my contacts. Probably one of those pain in the neck marketing calls. You know, you have recently been involved in a no-fault car accident and so on. Funny, you think I’d remember if I had been.” Claire felt herself babbling, suddenly feeling nervous.

“Let me see,” Geillis made a quick movement and snatched the phone from Claire’s hand.

“It’s a mobile number. You have such an unoriginal passcode, Claire.” She unlocked the phone and pressed redial, ignoring Claire’s feeble sounds of protestation.

“Here, it’s ringing.”

She passed the phone back. As Claire put the phone to her ear, she heard the call connect.

“Hello?”

Claire immediately recognised the deep, Scottish burr from earlier in the day. She swallowed and tried to move further away from Geillis, who was straining like a dog on a leash to get as close as possible to the phone, avid to hear every single word of the conversation.

“Hello, this is Claire Beauchamp. I’ve got a missed call from this number? Who is this, please?” She was conscious of how formal and English she sounded and how she was lying.

“Hello, this is Jamie Fraser. We met earlier today at the hospital with ma nephew, Jamie Murray?”

“Ah yes, is there a problem? Is your nephew alright?”

Jamie’s heart sank. So the nurse had given her number for professional reasons. “Aye, he’s grand. No, it’s no’ that…” He hesitated.

Jamie was rarely lost for words, with an appropriate phrase for every occasion and a set of charming chat up lines - none of which he wanted to use on this woman. No cheesy chat up line for Claire, just plain honesty.

“I’m glad that nurse gave me yer number. In the hospital, I was wondering if I should ask ye for yer number. But then ye disappeared afore I had chance. So, I was wonderin’ if ye would like tae go out wi’ me sometime this week or next week. Fer a meal, or a drink. If ye’re no’ able, I understand. I ken ye must be busy.” Jamie decided to shut up before he managed to talk her out of this date completely.

Claire turned her back on Geillis who was now making kissing noises and licking her lips seductively.

“Yes, thanks, that would be very nice.” She screwed her nose up in disgust. I must sound like a old maiden aunt to him, she thought, enough to make him go off me before anything’s even begun. “Lovely. I’d like that very much.”

“OK, weel, now ye have my number, how about ye text me when ye’re free. As a doctor, I guess ye’re no’ too flexible… with dates, I mean.”

“I’ll check my diary at home and get back to you. Bye, Jamie”

“Bye then Claire.” Jamie put the phone down and finished his whisky. Now he just had to wait for Claire to text him.

Claire turned to Geillis. “I think I’ve got a date”

Geillis made an exaggerated bow. “Thank ye. My work here is done. I would say to name yer firstborn after me, but as this is a fling that willna happen. So, all I ask is that ye tell me all the gory details. Every little, or no’ so little, thing. Dinna leave anything out. Deal?”

Claire laughed “G, you are obsessed.”

“Aye, But ye love me anyways!”

**************

Claire: I’ve checked my diary and I would be free on Thursday evening. Are you ok with that date? Claire

Jamie Fraser: Thursday is fine with me too. Any type of food you don’t like?

Claire: Sorry, hope I didn’t wake you with that text. Didn’t realise the time.

Claire : I’m fine with most food, although I have a confession

Jamie Fraser: That’s ok. I wasn’t asleep

Jamie Fraser: Confession? That sounds interesting. Should I get a priest?

Claire: Haha. Not that serious, although you may be shocked when you hear it

Jamie Fraser: Go on. Not sure I like where this is going

Claire: I don’t like haggis

Claire: ...

Claire: or deep fried mars bars

Jamie Fraser: Well that’s all my restaurant choices gone then. Maybe go for Italian? Would that be ok?

Sassenach: That would be lovely

Jamie Fraser: OK. I will book it and let you know the arrangements.

Sassenach: Goodnight Jamie

Jamie Fraser: Night Claire

Chapter Text

You meet thousands of people, and none of them really touch you. And then you meet one person, and your life is changed forever. - Jamie Randall, Love and Other Drugs

 

Claire twirled in front of the mirror for the third time. That was the problem with Scotland, four seasons in a day. Although it was a clear evening at the moment, whether it would stay like that was another matter.

It seemed like half of Claire’s small and mostly practical wardrobe lay strewn across the bed as she hesitated between outfit choices. The black pencil skirt and white shirt reminded her too much of a waitress; her go-to little black dress was too dressy for a casual first date. Having finally made her choice, she took a quick selfie in the mirror and forwarded it to Geillis for confirmation.

Geillis’s response was almost instantaneous: “hot momma,” followed by three fire emojis. The black jeans and patterned satin shirt had passed the test.

Geillis quickly sent another text. “Unbutton the shirt a bit.”

Claire ignored it and hunted for some heels in the bottom of her wardrobe.

Another ping, again from Geillis. “I mean it, unbutton a bit. This is potential fling material here. Love ya xx”

Sighing, Claire undid a couple of buttons, letting the black lace of her camisole peep though.

Glancing at the clock, she fastened her high-heeled black sandals. It had been some time since she’d worn anything so high. Whilst Claire herself was not overly tall, Frank had been most particular about her not appearing as tall or even, heaven forbid, taller than him. So her very few pairs of high heels had been relegated to the back of the wardrobe for the duration of their relationship (apart from the odd ‘gentleman’s choice’ bedroom dress-up sessions - they tended to feature quite heavily there). Besides, they weren’t really practical in her day to day life, suitable only for dates and other ‘romantic assignations’. And seeing as this was Claire’s first ‘first date’ for six years, walking in them felt very strange indeed. Although, Claire thought as she executed a final twirl in the mirror, they really did make her legs seem longer.

She collected her black clutch bag and leather jacket, ignored her umbrella and headed for the door.

******

The taxi dropped Claire off at the restaurant ten minutes before the agreed meeting time. Fortunately the evening was still rain-free, so Claire decided to have a quick peek in and, if there was no Jamie, take a ten minute stroll before going in. Somehow it seemed important to her not to be the first one to arrive.

She gazed through the window into the restaurant’s bar area. She immediately saw him sitting at the bar, the broad lines of his back easily recognisable, as were the soft, red curls nestling against the collar of his denim blue shirt.

Claire took a deep breath and gave her reflection in the glass a final inspection before pushing the door open and stepping inside.

Through the mirror behind the bar, Jamie had a clear view of the door and kept one eye on it, the other one on his watch as he sipped his whisky. He had arrived early, he knew, but it seemed important that he was there to wait for her as his guest. With ten minutes to spare, he looked up and saw her reflection as she entered the restaurant. Even at this distance, he could see how special she was.

As she approached he turned to face her, smiling. Her dark hair was loose about her face, the wildness somehow tamed slightly into defined curls. From the top of her satin shirt, he caught a glimpse of black lace. The black jeans that she wore accentuated the shape of her legs, and, Jamie was sure even without looking, her arse.

He stood up as she drew closer, ready to greet her.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Claire.”

Jamie leant in to give Claire a small kiss on the cheek, just as Claire extended her right hand, ready to shake his. Quickly, she withdrew her hand, her cheeks reddening as she brushed against his abdomen.

“Shall I see if our table is ready or would ye like a drink at the bar first?” Jamie asked, tactfully ignoring the hand placement issue.

“I don’t mind.” Claire suddenly felt nervous. Her first date since Frank and she’d forgotten how to behave. She felt awkward and her mouth was suddenly very dry. “Actually, could we have a drink here, would that be ok?”

“Aye, that’s fine. We’re a wee bit early anyways. What do ye fancy?”

“Whisky, please, Glenmorangie.” Jamie raised an eyebrow in approval at her choice of drink.

Claire perched herself on a high bar stool next to Jamie as he tried to attract the barman’s attention. She watched him, admiring how his shirt enhanced the blue of his eyes. Eyes she could drown in. His cheeks and chin wore a trace of stubble. She longed to reach out and stroke those tiny bristles. She had forgotten how this felt, this attraction, now a spark in her stomach but ready to ignite with white-hot intensity.

The clink of her whisky glass roused Claire from her reverie. She leant over and added a couple of ice cubes to her drink.

Jamie suppressed a shudder and decided not to comment on her preference, certainly not on a first date.

They engaged in casual chat for a few minutes - the weather (could I be any more English, Claire despaired), the state of Wee Jamie’s health - until they were escorted to their table.

The high-backed semi-circular booth provided an air of intimacy. It also meant that they did not have to sit formally facing each other across the table, so automatically positioned themselves at an angle to each other as they slid into the booth. Close enough to touch… but no, not yet. Jamie watched Claire as she read the menu, biting her bottom lip in indecision as she struggled to make a choice. The waiter hovered expectantly.

“Have ye decided?” Jamie asked.

“Not quite. You go first…” Claire knew how indecisive she was in restaurants. She always preferred to hear everyone else’s choices first and then make her decision.

“I would like the bruschetta con gamberi, followed by the trofiette con agnello, please.” He spoke the Italian phrases with confident pronunciation.

Claire studied his choices. “I’ll have the same, please”

“What wine would ye prefer?”

“I usually drink white - Pinot Grigio.”

“A white would get swamped with the flavours of the lamb, ye ken? How about we try a red, and if ye dinna like it, we can get yer Pinot Grigio?”

Claire nodded as Jamie ran his eyes down the extensive wine list. “A bottle of Pinot Nero Trentino 2015 please. It’s no’ as heavy as some of the reds here.” He explained to Claire as they handed their menus to the waiter.

“So, are you ‘into’ your wines then?”

“Aye, I suppose. I have an uncle in Paris who has a wine export business. I spent a couple o’ summers working wi’ him while I was at university. It gi’es ye a taste for a nice wine.”

“And after uni, did you not fancy working with him in Paris?”

“Nah, I reckon I couldna live anywhere but Scotland. It’s part o’ me… in ma blood. So, why are ye here in Scotland, ye Sassenach?” He teased.

“I do know what that means.” Claire retorted. “I get called ‘bloody sassenach’, and worse, plenty in the Emergency Department on a Saturday night.”

“‘Twas no’ meant as an insult.” Jamie said hurriedly, anxious lest Claire get annoyed or upset. To him it was a term of endearment, the first of many, he hoped, but not one that could scare her off so early with declarations of love and passion. In his mind, and in his contact list, he had been referring to her as his Sassenach since their phone call earlier in the week.

“That’s fine, I know you didn’t invite me here just to insult me!” Claire smiled in reassurance. “To answer your question, I came up to Glasgow for my residency programme after university. Then I sort of, well, stayed…” She tailed off, flustered. She didn’t want to bring Frank into the conversation tonight.

The waiter appeared at the table with the wine, presented label uppermost. He poured a small amount in a glass and passed it to Jamie, who sniffed, then sipped at the wine, letting the liquid roll around his mouth before swallowing. “Aye, that’s grand. Thank ye.” The waiter poured two glasses before departing.

Jamie looked at Claire as he lifted his own glass. “Slainte. Now try that wine… see what ye think.”

Claire sipped tentatively. Surprised, she took a larger mouthful and nodded enthusiastically.

“I’m sorry about before. I dinna mean to ask ye questions ye dinna want tae answer. I willna ask ye to tell all yer secrets.”

“No, that’s ok. I stayed up here when I finished my training because of a relationship.”

“With a Scot?”

“No, an Englishman working at the university. Anyway he moved back to England several months ago and I decided to stay here. I have my job and my friends here and, well, I love the city.”

“Do ye no’ have family in England?”

Claire shook her head, her curls swaying with the motion. “No, I’m an only child. My parents died when I was five, and I was adopted by my only other relative, Uncle Lamb. He died about four years ago, so there’s nothing, or no one, to lure me back to England.”

Jamie reached across the table and lightly stroked her fingers, wrapped around the stem of her wine glass.

“Och, lass.” He said softly.

The arrival of the first course lifted the mood at the table and the conversation between Claire and Jamie flowed as easily as the wine. As they consumed the main course and a second bottle of wine, Claire realised that she could not remember the last time she’d had this much fun on a date. Even during the best times with Frank, there had always been an underlying tension: Another glass of wine, Claire? Is that wise? Wouldn’t the salad be a better choice? Is that appropriate for dinner conversation?

Jamie was entranced. The date was progressing better than he could have hoped. This is what had been missing with Geneva, this natural flow of conversation. He felt relaxed, could be himself. God, he was enjoying it.

Finally admitting defeat, Claire leant back, full of good food and wine. “So, you’ve not told me what you do, if you’re not in the wine business.”

Jamie finished his mouthful of lamb and put his fork down. “Well, I’m Chief Finance Officer for a distillery - Broch Tuarach. D’ ye ken it?”

“Ooh, yes. Never tasted it though. Supposed to be one of the best? But don’t you work here in Glasgow? I thought Broch Tuarach was in the Highlands.”

“Aye it is. No’ far from Inverness. That’s the production side of it. The finance, marketing and the like is based here in the city. I go up tae the distillery every couple of weeks. There’s no place quite like it. One of the oldest in Scotland, ye ken?” He added proudly. “I like tae wander round, imagining what it would have been like when it first started in the late eighteenth century. There’s a collection of ledgers and such up there right from the start. Fascinating! Weel, at least I think it is…”

Jamie tailed off, worried that Claire might think him boring or a geek, to get excited about such things.

Claire only saw the brightness in his eyes, heard the passion in his voice. “It sounds really interesting. You must be quite the expert on the whisky’s history.”

“Aye, I’d love for ye tae see it…” He stopped. Dinna get ahead of yerself, one step at a time. “...Sometime, perhaps.”

Claire looked directly into his eyes. “Yes, I’d like that… I'd like that very much.”

Chapter Text

Maybe the past is like an anchor holding us back. Maybe you have to let go of who you were, to become who you will be. - Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

 

Claire was roused by a very loud knocking at the door of her flat. Never great when she first woke up, she squinted at the numbers on her mobile. 7:45. She had been hoping for a bit of a lie-in on her day off, mainly due to the combination of a bottle of red wine and a couple of whiskies together with a late night out. It must have been about midnight when she and Jamie had finally rung for a taxi from the restaurant, Claire having made it very clear that it would be making two stops. Plus, her sleep had been very disturbed, vivid dreams unsettling her mind. Dreams predominately featuring whisky bottles, broken bones and a sexy red headed Viking.

Claire peeped through the spy hole in the front door to see Geillis standing there in tracksuit and full makeup, clutching a paper bag which Claire hoped contained almond croissants.

As she opened the door, Geillis hurried past and made straight for the kitchen. Totally at home in the flat, she opened the fridge, extracted the fresh orange juice and poured it into two glasses, collected two plates, knives and pieces of kitchen tissue. Balanced on a tray, she placed them on the coffee table in the lounge, opened the bag and added an almond croissant to each plate then settled herself on the sofa, tucking her feet under her.

“So,” Geillis started abruptly. “Spill. Tell me all about it. What’s he like? What does he do? Is he worth a fling?”

“And how did you know he wouldn’t be here this morning?” Claire joined Geillis on the sofa and greedily began to eat the croissant. Considering how much she had eaten last night, it surprised her how ravenous she was.

“Because, my dear girl, ye dinna let anyone into yer wee home, yer safe haven until ye’re sure about them. And, fling or no’, the same goes for beddin’ them. Buuut, anyway tell me all about him. Was it a good date? Did he have any annoying habits? What did he wear? Could ye tell if he dressed tae the left or the right?”

Claire laughed, scattering croissant flakes over her lap. “To answer you… yes… none so far… blue shirt and navy trousers… how do you think I would know that?”

“Well, come on, tell me what happened! Dougal’s working away this week, and I’m just one horny bitch trying tae get some excitement wherever I can!”

Claire licked the tip of her index finger and idly pressed it on to each flake of pastry residing on her lap, transferring them onto her plate. She thought back to her recollections of the night before.

Excitement and apprehension mixing to create that long-forgotten sensation in the pit of her stomach. The light graze of his kiss on her cheek in greeting. Feeling as naive as a fourteen year old girl on her first date. The easy flow of conversation and teasing. The swell of pleasure as her chatter made Jamie shake with laughter. Their eyes making connection over the wine glasses. The touching of hands, accidental at first, then deliberate but tentative, his thumb stroking across her knuckles, hers mirroring the action against his palm. Their bodies inching closer together in the seclusion of their booth, until their thighs lay tight against each other. The arm casually around Claire’s back, pulling her closer.

Jamie’s mouth next to her ear, his warm breath tickling her neck. The question whispering in her ear “I would verra much like tae kiss you, may I?” Her nodding in acquiescence. Their lips pressing together, softly at first then opening to allow their tongues to meet and explore sinuously. Fingers running through curls, both red and dark brown. Then pulling apart, each conscious of this as the start of something. Jamie’s lips kissing Claire’s hand then muttering: “I would like tae see ye again”. Claire responding: “Yes, I would too.”

“Claire, Claire, are ye with us? Or were ye miles away with yer man?”

Claire laughed, her thoughts returning to the present. “Sorry, miles away. The date was lovely, G, I’d forgotten what it was like. It’s been so long since I’ve had that. He seems really nice and a total gentleman.”

“Oh.” Geillis pulled a disappointed face. “I was hoping fer tales of himself being a wee bit of a beast. But gentlemanly is good, as long as he has hidden depths. So, any plans tae see him again?”

“Yes, we’re going for a drink on Sunday evening.”

“Cool. I love it when a plan comes together. But…” Geillis reaches into her tracksuit pocket and pulled out the creased and tatty napkin. “Let’s do a quick review, shall we?”

“Really, are we still doing that? Can’t we get rid of that crappy bit of tissue now?”

“Ach, no. It’s all pair of the plan, ye ken… so, first thing. Looks good in a kilt and out of one too. Now we havena yet seen the evidence, but having seen him in jeans and a polo shirt, I dinna doubt that at all. I mean, have ye seen the size of his thumbs? Next, no complications?”

“None so far, never married, no children, last relationship broke up last year. If there’s any complications, they’re well hidden. He has a sister, that little lad’s mother. They’re very close. His nephew is a real sweetheart.”

“Aye, weel, I dare say he is, if ye actually like bairns. But ye ken my thoughts on that subject.” Claire knew Geillis’s views on children very well. They were fine as long as they knew their place, which had to be a long way away from Geillis. “Anyway, moving on… likes a drink?”

“No problem there, he works for Broch Tuarach distilleries.” At this Geillis raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow, clearly impressed. “And he knows his wines too. His uncle exports wines in France.”

“Aye well, remember yer best friend when he’s passing round the free samples. Now, X-Files?”

“He actually watches the show including repeats. See, the truth is out there.” Claire smiled.

Geillis looked pityingly at her friend. “And did ye quote bits of the show at him?”

Claire nodded sheepishly.

“Well, that answers me last question. Ye quoted X-Files at him, like some sort of beautiful nerd. And he still wants to see ye again. Like Billy Joel said: ‘He likes ye just the way ye are.’ Ye’re on tae a winner.”

Chapter Text

“Her cuisine is limited but she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotchwoman.” Sherlock Holmes― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval Treaty

 

Jamie hesitated for a minute before he knocked on the door of the flat. He was slightly nervous, which he didn’t really understand. Since their first dinner, they had met twice more - once for a walk and a coffee before Claire had to return to work, and once for a drink. In his eyes, both had gone really well. And presumably in Claire’s eyes too, as she had extended this invitation for Jamie to come to her flat for dinner. Perhaps that was where the nervousness came from. Jamie felt like Claire had built a safety barrier around her, for her own emotional protection and for him to be willingly invited through the barrier into her safe haven was a great honour. Jamie didn’t want to let her down. He took a deep, calming breath and knocked on the door.

The door opened and a rich smell filled Jamie’s nostrils. Claire stood on the threshold, her hair a wild array, wearing a striped butcher’s apron and brandishing a large wooden spoon. She greeted him with a warm kiss, her mouth tasting of garlic and tomato. She nimbly pulled away before Jamie had a chance to extend the kiss.

“Welcome, welcome. Come on in.”

Jamie followed Claire through the hallway and into the main living room.

“I’ve brought ye a bottle,” he said, handing her a bottle bag emblazoned with ‘Happy Birthday’ in silver sparkly lettering. “Sorry about the bag, picked it up in a hurry. Consider it a late birthday gift for yer last birthday, Sassenach.”

Claire lifted the bottle out. “Oh, wow, that’s really special. And possibly the latest or earliest birthday gift I’ve ever received.”

She careful placed the bottle of Broch Tuarach Special Reserve whisky on the coffee table. “Thank you so much. I’ll look forward to some sampling after dinner.”

Gently running her fingers down his forearm, she looked into his eyes and smiled. Returning to her normal brisk manner, she explained, “I can’t cook many things, but my lasagne is not bad at all. Pour yourself a glass of wine. It’s on the dining table; I just need to pop it in the oven. Be back in a minute.”

Jamie poured himself a glass of wine - red, he noticed, the same as they had ordered at the restaurant the week before - and looked around. Although the room itself was decorated in neutral tones, creams and beiges on the walls, natural wood plantation shutters at the large bay window, there was a relaxed and homely feel due to the accessories Claire had chosen. Earth toned plaid throws and cushions adorned the cosy-looking sofa. A yucca plant, standing at least as tall as Jamie himself, graced one corner. Another corner held a floor to ceiling bookcase crammed with an eclectic mix of books: some medical, some on plants and herbs, some murder mysteries, Jane Austen novels, Beatrix Potter tales and Winnie the Pooh. One shelf was dedicated to old history textbooks. Entwined around the bookcase was a set of fairy lights, casting a glow over all the books. Jamie reached over and ran his fingers over the spines.

With the lasagne in the oven and the salad already made, Claire knew that dinner was well in hand. She took a big gulp of her wine. Really, she seemed to be developing quite a taste for red wine. The key thing, she told herself, was not to drink too much tonight. She wasn’t totally sure yet how the evening would end, but she wanted to be sober enough to make conscious decisions, and to enjoy herself no matter what happened. Sex with Jamie had featured heavily in her thoughts over the past week. Claire wasn’t sure it had ever been like this with Frank, or perhaps it had and those memories had just faded away to be replaced by those of criticisms, nit-picking and uncomfortable silences.

Claire took another gulp of wine as she picked up the salad bowl. What will be, will be, she told herself, heading back into the living room.

As she entered, she found Jamie standing, looking at her books. “Quite a wide selection ye have here.” he commented.

Claire felt herself reddening slightly. The books were her treasured possessions, they were what defined her. She didn’t usually explain their importance to people, didn’t usually want to. But she wanted Jamie to know her, to understand her, to deepen the connection she knew was there.

“Those books are so important to me. The medical ones, obviously, for my job, my vocation. Medicinal plants and herbs is a real passion of mine, one I’d like to develop in the future.”

She moved closer. “As a teenager I fell in love with Jane Austen’s books. Feisty women, strong men… what’s not to love? I even had pictures of Mr. Darcy on my bedroom wall. The history books belonged to Uncle Lamb. I kept them with me after he died. He was a professor at Oxford, specialising in the Crusades. Every holiday, we’d be off, following the steps of those Crusaders.”

“Like Indiana Jones?”

“Not nearly so adventurous, lots of walking, lots of libraries, lots of late night discussions with fellow historians, occasional digging. No spies or nazis. Most danger was being chased by dogs in Antakya. Me running ‘til I thought my chest would burst, Uncle Lamb panting beside me and yelling insults in Turkish to the dogs. I must have been about nine or ten.”

There was a brief silence before Claire started talking again. “The Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh are mine from when I was a child. I don’t have many things from my mum and dad, don’t even have many memories of them. I was only five when they died in a car accident. But what I do remember is lying in my bed, Mum on one side of me, Dad on the other and them reading these to me… Mum doing the narrative bits, dad doing the voices, you know, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet and so on. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world, having parents who could read stories so well. And that image, that memory, that’s what I want for my children...” Her voice tailed off, now afraid she had shared too much.

Jamie pulled her close, her head nestling against his chest. She could hear his heartbeat, calm, steady, reassuring. One large hand cradled her head, the other spanned her back. He radiated warmth and security.

“Och, lass.” he whispered.

“And the fairy lights,” Claire continued. “I know they’re a bit twee, but after my parents died, when I went to live with Lamb, I had difficulty sleeping, was scared of the dark. Lamb set up fairy lights in my bedroom, told me that mum and dad were now stars in the sky and the fairy lights represented those stars, to remind me that they were watching over me as I slept. So they’re always here with me. Silly, I know.”

“It’s no’ silly at all. It’s beautiful, Sassenach. Yer uncle must have been a rare man.”

“Oh, he was. To take on someone else’s child, full time… I never felt unloved or a burden to him. Even though I must have cramped his style no end!”

A bell rang out from the kitchen. Claire pulled out of Jamie’s embrace. “Time to eat.”

“Just one more question… why the murder mystery books?”

Claire turned as she headed for the kitchen. “Never know when those techniques may come in handy.” She grinned and waggled her eyebrows mischievously.
******

Claire was wrong, Jamie thought as he leant back in his dining chair, stuffed with lasagne. Her lasagne was not ‘not bad’, actually it was fantastic.

“That was great.” He complimented enthusiastically.

“Now you know the extent of my culinary skills… lasagne, salad… oh, and I can do a pretty good bacon sandwich. But that’s more a breakfast thing though.” She stopped abruptly, scared of giving him the wrong (or was it the right?) impression. “Would you like a dessert? I have some ice cream, or sorbet. Or would you like a coffee? I can make some proper stuff.”

“Nay, I’m fit tae bursting here. What I would like is fer us to sit on the sofa and I will educate ye in the proper way tae drink that whisky.”

“Suits me fine. I’ll go and get some glasses.”

Claire returned to find Jamie sitting on the sofa, opening the whisky bottle. She placed the heavy crystal tumblers on the table together with an ice bucket. Jamie looked at her and pursed his lips tightly.

“First rule of whisky: no ice. It crushes the flavour, ye ken. And when it melts ye canna control how it dilutes the whisky. If ye like ye can add a wee bit of water tae open up the flavours, but try it w’out first. Glasses are good, though. Heavy base, nice. If ye want tae sniff it first, ye can use tulip-shaped glasses, but these look better.” He poured a generous measure into the glasses and handed one to Claire. “Slainte. Tell me what ye think.”

Claire sipped the whisky, savouring the complex flavours. “That’s wonderful. There’s a sweetness to it, it somehow reminds me of fruit cake, like at Christmas.” She lifted the bottle, studying the label.

“That’s verra good. Ye’ve quite the palate. This is aged in sherry barrels, that’s the sweet fruitiness.”

“Hang on,” Claire read the label again. “The distillery name here, it says ‘Fraser and Sons’. Is that you?”

“Aye, I’m the son... weel, technically I’m the great, great, great however many times grandson. But, aye, my da heads up the distillery. He’s the CEO. He lives up there in the village, Broch Mordha.”

“And that’s what you’ll do when he retires?”

“Nothing’s ever certain. Perhaps. We have shareholders, ye ken. Mebbe they’ll no’ want me. But it would be an honour to follow on from my da. He’s a great man.”

“And I’m sure his son will be just as great.”

Jamie shrugged nonchalantly, but Claire could tell he was pleased by the compliment. Claire took another sip as Jamie watched, her lips moistened by the whisky. She looked up at him as he lifted her glass and placed it gently on the table. The room was suddenly filled with tension, like static electricity, sparks shooting between them, emanating from their very cores.

Almost as if in slow motion, Claire raised her hand and placed the palm on Jamie’s chest, feeling the hardness of those muscles and his heartbeat speeding up with each breath. As she moved her fingers, she could feel his wiry chest hairs though the thin fabric of his shirt. He was so strong and big and… and any thoughts of playing it cool rushed right out of her head as she leant forward to touch her lips to his. She felt Jamie’s arms wrap around her tightly and she was lost. She opened her lips under his, letting her tongue slide inside his mouth, feeling his entwine with hers. His hands rubbed against her back as he pulled her onto his lap. His arousal pressed hard against her and she felt her own response deep within.

Jamie was the first to break the kiss. Locking eyes with Claire, he asked hoarsely “Are ye sure about this? I dinna want ye tae do anything ye may regret. Ye’ve no’ had too much tae drink, have ye?”

In response, Claire stood up and pulled Jamie to his feet. With fingers intertwined, she led Jamie out of the room, across the hallway and to her bedroom. He stopped her at the door, keeping her firmly in his grasp.

“Are ye sure?” He asked again, running his hand down the side of her face.

She nodded wordlessly and pulled him into the room, closing the door behind them.

The room was dimly lit with one small bedside light. Claire moved to turn it off. Jamie stopped her. “If ye dinna mind, I want tae look at ye.”

Standing beside the bed, Claire ran her hands up under Jamie’s shirt, over his chest, and down his back. She slid her hands under the waistband of his jeans to his firm buttocks.

Jamie lowered his head to her neck, peppering her skin with a trail of feathery kisses from her earlobe and down her neck. His fingers hurriedly undid the buttons of her shirt creating a path for his kisses to continue their descent into the cleft between her breasts. Claire threw her head back, letting the sensation of his lips wash over her and then gasped as Jamie lifted her up and placed her on the bed in one motion. She smiled up at him as he sat down beside her and pulled her shirt off her shoulders. She raised slightly from the bed and shrugged it off, not caring where it landed, just desperate for the contact of skin on skin.

Turning his attention to her jeans, Jamie quickly unzipped them and tugged them down as Claire lifted her hips to aid this process. Finally free of the jeans, Jamie groaned out loud at the sight of her lying on the bed, clad in her cream lace bra and panties. Jamie could clearly see her nipples outlined through the fabric, already erect demanding his touch. Through the lacy panties, he could see the dark shadow of her pubic hair. He knew, if he touched her, how wet she would be.

Claire pulled at his shirt. “Take it off.” She pleaded.

Jamie rose from the bed and pulled his shirt over his head. Claire reached out to pull him down to her but teasingly he stepped away, prolonging the tension. He undid his trousers and bent down to pull them off, fumbling momentarily on the ground.

“Socks,” He explained, grinning. “They’re no’ verra sexy.”

Claire could clearly see the extent of his arousal through his tight white trunks. Sitting up, she ran her hands up his thighs, cupping his balls before curling her fingers in the waistband and pulling the trunks cleanly down. They joined the rest of their discarded clothes on the floor as he stepped out of them. Without thinking, she ran her fingers along his length, revelling in the contrast of hardness and velvet softness. She could hear his intake of breath at her touch.

Still without touching her, Jamie lay on his side next to her on the bed. His eyes moved back to the cream lace of her bra, staring intently. His tongue moistened his lips. Claire felt desperate for his hands on her body.

“Jamie,” she whispered.

Finally, he touched her, his hand lazily moving across her abdomen, tracing circles round her navel before coming to rest with the underside of her breast nestling in the palm of his hand. His thumb stroked her lace covered nipple. She looked into his deep blue eyes, filled with lust and could hold back no longer.

Claire pushed him onto his back and stretched one leg over to straddle his hips. Kneeling up, she reached behind and unhooked her bra, letting it fall down her arms. Instinctively, his hips rose up, his erection pressing insistently against her core, sending sparks of excitement through her body. Jamie tugged her forward and she fell against his chest. Cupping her breasts, he moved under her, fitting her against him so he could taste her breasts, each one in turn.

As Jamie alternated from breast to breast, Claire began to grind against him, striving to increase the sensations through her body. She moved against him restlessly and slid down his body, licking and nibbling down his chest then lower and lower until he felt her head resting against his groin. He bucked against her mouth and pulled her back up.

“Not now,” he growled against her throat, “I need tae be inside ye.” With one swift move, he lay Claire on her back, hovering above her and slid her panties down. Claire kicked her legs to free herself from them.

“Wait.” Claire reached into a bedside cabinet, producing a small foil packet. “Please.”

She handed it to Jamie. He quickly ripped the packet open with his teeth and rolled the condom on. Claire opened to him and Jamie slid one large finger down, slowly teasing her.

Finally, he could stand it no longer. Claire stared up into his eyes as she felt him moving within her. Her pleasure built in time with the rhythm of Jamie’s movements back and forth, plunging deeply and withdrawing almost completely, trying to prolong the excitement he felt. He reached his hand between them and quickly found what he was looking for. Rubbing in time with his strokes, he could feel Claire’s muscles tensing round him, her deep moans growing in intensity.

As Claire’s orgasm took hold of her whole body, Jamie withdrew his hand and with a guttural cry, he climaxed. They lay together, still joined, breathing heavily as their heart rates slowly returned to normal. Moving onto his back, Jamie nestled Claire against his chest, kissing the top of her head.

He whispered something against her hair. Claire raised her head.

“What did you say?” She asked.

“Sorcha - your name in Gaelic. It means light. Like in the French, aye? Clair is light. Ye have yer fairy lights and now I have ye, my Claire, my Sorcha.”

Chapter Text

Then I examined my own heart. And there you were. Never, I fear, to be removed. - Jane Austen Emma

Sunlight through a chink in the curtains woke Jamie up. Initially disorientated in these unfamiliar surroundings, he reached for his watch and squinted, 5:50. Lying on his back, he looked round the bedroom as best as he could, trying not to move, not wanting to disturb Claire sleeping next to him, her round arse rammed tight against his hip, her feet resting against his calves. He gently ran a finger down her spine. A brief moan sounded from Claire before she resumed the regular breathing of deep sleep.

Like the living room, the bedroom was decorated in neutral tones with light oak furniture. Although last night Jamie’s mind was otherwise engaged, he could now appreciate that the bed linen, a simple coffee and cream design, was very luxurious cotton. The aroma of essential oils permeated the room, mingling with the musky scent of sex.

In contrast to the classic simplicity of this room, the wall opposite the bed was dominated by a huge print of a single scarlet poppy, painted as if under a microscope, one flower filling the entire frame. To him, it was a very powerful and somehow sensual image. This room was the embodiment of Claire, outwardly very calm and ordered but with an undercurrent of passion and sensuality. Jamie found it a very arousing combination.

He rolled over to spoon Claire. Instinctively, she moved her hips, snuggling her bottom in closer to Jamie. He reached round and cupped her breast, feeling the nipple harden. Claire sighed contentedly as Jamie drifted back to sleep.

******
Claire woke to find herself enveloped by a giant Scot, one breast cupped in a large hand, with an insistent stiffness prodding her bottom. She reached behind to touch him.

“Turn around. Hold me properly.” Jamie’s voice rumbled into the back of her neck.

“Don’t want to breathe on you… garlic breath.”

“Dinna be daft, Sassenach.” The rumbling continued, the breath on her neck sending little spasms of pleasure through her body. “We both have garlic breath. That means we canna smell it. So, like I said, turn around and hold me properly.”

Claire turned to face Jamie. “Good morning.” She smiled.

“Aye, ’tis...’tis a good morning.”

Claire’s hands roamed over Jamie’s chest, enjoying the feel of the wiry ginger hairs. Her mind couldn’t help but think about the differences between Jamie and Frank - a warrior's body and an academic’s body. Even though Jamie had obvious intelligence and emotional sensitivity, he still exuded strength and controlled power, a throwback to his grandsires that founded the distillery and even earlier. With Frank, on the other hand, it had all been cerebral, with an artist’s physique, yet somehow missing that emotional sensitivity. She cast the thought of Frank and his inadequacies aside and focused on the man that was in her bed, her mind and, dare she say, her heart?

Jamie took her hand and guided it lower to caress him fully. “Aye, that’s it. Like that.” He moaned.

Licking his chest, she slowly trailed her tongue down his body, swirling in his belly button before reaching her goal.

As she took him in her mouth, he spoke hoarsely. “If ye dinna want tae do this, that’s fine, I understand.” The longing and hunger in his voice made a lie of his statement.

She put her finger to his lips to hush him as she set about her business.

******

“Five more minutes lying here, then I’m going to have a shower.”

“Ye said that ten minutes ago, Sassenach.”

“I know, but I’m so comfy… and sweaty. It’s like sleeping next to a radiator. Are you always so warm?”

“Aye, I must jes’ be a hot blooded creature.”

Jamie blew gently in her ear. Looking up, he added. “That picture on the wall…it’s very powerful.”

“Oh yes, it’s a print of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. I love it, there’s something about her work. Definitely a power to it. You know, despite her denying it, art critics have argued that her flower pictures actually depict female genitalia. Can’t really see it with that picture, but I get what they mean with other paintings. Intentional or not, there is a certain eroticism to them. Perhaps it’s because we’re just not used to seeing art created from a female perspective? Or because female power is erotic? I don’t know… I just love it.”

Claire slipped from his grasp and climbed out of bed. Jamie watched as she headed for the bathroom, an idea forming in his head.

In the shower, Claire closed her eyes and let the water rush over her. She wasn’t sure how long she had been in there and was about to get out, when she heard the shower door open and Jamie stepped in behind her.

Claire didn’t turn around or say a word. Jamie lifted her damp curls and kissed the back of her neck, running his fingers down her spine, all the way from neck to the cleft of her cheeks – his touch so light. He did this again and Claire felt her insides melt. Still not turning round, she put her hands against the wall for support.

Jamie came closer to her, pressing his body against her back, putting his arms around her, all the while kissing and nibbling her shoulders and neck. Claire could feel how aroused he was, his hardness rubbing against her back. His hands moved to Claire’s breasts – his fingers played with the already hard nipples, pinching and teasing, then gently massaging them with a barely there touch as he ground his erection into her back. One hand slowly travelled down her body. Claire set her legs apart slightly, and allowed his hand to move between them and start rhythmically rubbing and caressing. She could feel her climax start to build in her core, sending sparks shooting all over her body, now feeling very sensitive. She moaned involuntarily, causing Jamie to increase the rhythm of his strong fingers. With a huge great explosion of pleasure, Claire reached her peak and collapsed on to Jamie. She turned to face him, her legs feeling very unsteady. He smiled and kissed her tenderly on the lips. She pushed him out of the shower and reached for two towels. Taking his hand, she led him back into the bedroom and onto the bed.

******

The angry grumbling of Jamie’s stomach finally forced the pair to get out of bed. Jamie wrapped a towel around his middle as Claire quickly donned a thin strapped vest top and pair of running shorts. He grabbed her round her waist and held her close.

“How can ye be jes’ as sexy in clothes as naked, Sassenach? I would throw ye tae the bed and ravish ye again, if it wasna for ma belly complaining.” His stomach groaned in agreement. “Have ye any bacon?”

Claire pulled away laughing. “Yes, you go and sit yourself down, I’ll make some coffee and a bacon sandwich. You definitely deserve it.”

Jamie moved into the living room and sat on the sofa, contentedly listening to Claire pottering in the kitchen, brewing coffee and grilling bacon. He moved a cushion to settle himself more comfortably. Down the side of the sofa cushion, he noticed a bit of tissue. Pulling it out, he saw it was an old napkin, with writing on. He read:

Standard Operating Procedure for a Fling

1. Looks good in a kilt and out of one too
2. No complications
3. Enjoys a drink, likes to let hair down
4. Loves the X Files, watches repeats
5. Fancies you as you are

Jamie suddenly remembered where he’d seen that nurse before. She was in the pub when he was with Geneva, she came back to retrieve this manky old napkin for ‘scientific research’. Was that what Claire thought this was, just a fling? That he was just some man who happened to fit these criteria? For a bit of fun and then move on? Jamie’s stomach lurched. Surely not, Claire wouldn’t share those stories of her childhood if this were a fling? Would she?

Claire came in carrying two mugs of coffee to see Jamie sitting ashen faced holding… Oh God no, not that blasted list. He handed it to her, not quite making eye contact.

“Is that what this is… a fling, then? Did ye and yer wee friend just look fer any suitable man tae meet yer needs?”

Claire shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “No, not at all… Geillis and I did that list as a joke. I told her that I didn’t think I was ready for a new relationship just yet. And she reckoned that a fling would be the best way to move on. But, believe me, I’m not cut out for a fling. And I saw you before this damn list. You were at a wedding last month, talking to a petite lady, pregnant. I wondered then… but I never saw you again. And I hoped that I would the next day at the pool, but no.”

Jamie finally looked at her. “I saw ye at the wedding too… well mainly yer arse and yer curls. I wanted tae see ye again. Then I saw ye in the pub wi’ yer nurse friend. I couldna believe it when ye walked intae the cubicle to fix Wee Jamie’s arm. But, much as I want ye, I dinna think I could stand it if what it is between us is only casual. So, tell me now, please, do ye want me… and no’ fer jes’ a bit o’ fun?”

Claire reached over and held his face in her hands. “James Fraser, I want you… and not for just a bit of fun. This is different, and I want, I want...”

“A real relationship.” Jamie finished the sentence, moving closer.

“Aye,” breathed Claire as their lips met.

Chapter Text

They say nothing lasts forever …dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style. Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

“So, any word from Geneva?” John asked as he and Jamie climbed off the exercise bikes and moved across to the rowing machines.

Jamie shook his head. “Nah… we didna exactly part on the best of terms. Canna say I really blame her. I didna mean tae lead her on, ye ken. Just thought it might’ve been worth another try. But we only went out fer a couple of drinks… although, er, I dinna suppose it helped that I slept wi’ her.”

“No, what were you thinking?”

“Weel, if I’m honest, I wasna exactly thinking at the time, leastways not wi’ ma brain. However, I’d rather her think badly of me, cursing my name than gi’ her any false hope.”

“Talking to you certainly makes me happy about my lifestyle choices at the moment.”

John set the controls on the rowing machine and started off. Jamie quickly followed suit, determined not to be outdone in the gym by one of his closest friends.

As John slowed down and stopped the rowing machine, Jamie kept going for a few minutes longer, making his friend wait until they could move to the next piece of equipment. John waited, of course, keen to continue the conversation. After meeting each other at university, a strong bond of friendship had developed over the years. John sometimes longed for something more, which Jamie tacitly knew and ignored and Jamie offered his full and platonic friendship, which John tacitly treasured deep in his heart. Jamie valued this long-standing friendship and often relied on John as an emotional sounding board when negotiating his relationship woes.

John, for his part, seemed to have made the conscious decision to abstain from any real relationships, choosing a series of flings, easily found and just as easily discarded. Jamie couldn’t fully understand his friend’s somewhat cavalier attitude to romance, but accepted that, for the foreseeable future, at least John, amongst his friends, would not be sending out wedding invitations.

Satisfied that he had clearly surpassed John’s distance, Jamie relaxed and stood up. “Do ye never want tae meet the one, John? One that ye can spend yer whole life with, build a family?” Jamie continued the conversation.

One obvious answer jumped into John’s mind. One response he could never give to Jamie. “I don’t know. It’s not something I dwell on. I guess, maybe, if it happens, it happens. Why?”

“John, ye ken what my Da has always said, when ye meet the right woman...”

John coughed.

Jamie gave him a wry smile and continued “... the right person, ye’ll ken. Well I ken, this past couple of weeks, I ken.”

“Not Geneva?” John sounded shocked. “Because you’ll have a lot of bridge-building to do there, my friend.”

Jamie shook his head. “No’ her.” He sniffed. “Man, I need a shower. Have ye time fer a coffee after? And a catch up.”

******
The coffee shop was conveniently located across the road from the gym. Jamie often wondered if that was a deliberate ploy. People worn out from their intense workouts would pop in here on their way home for a quick sugar fix, guilt-free because of all the exercise. He tried to resist the baked goods on offer, but generally the lure of them was just too great.

He and John sat together at a table, each with their coffee and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. John started the conversation, wanting more information on Jamie’s sudden declaration in the gym.

“So, the one… are you sure?”

“Aye, this feels different from the others.”

Jamie carried on talking. “Her name’s Claire. She’s a doctor, a surgeon. We met at the hospital when Wee Jamie hurt his arm. Weel, I’d seen her before, just glimpsed her at Rupert’s wedding and one evening in the pub. But the hospital was the first time we’d spoken. Since then, we’ve seen each other a few times and…”

“And…?” John prompted.

Jamie felt his ears turned a delicate shade of pink. “And I ken. I’ve asked her tae come up tae Lallybroch wi’ me next week.”

“To meet Brian?”

Jamie nodded.

“Does, er, Claire feel the same, about you?”

“I think so.”

“Well, I’m happy for you. Truly. But, take things slow, please. Far be it for me to piss on your bonfire, but I see couples every day in my office who thought it was different and now they’re fighting over selling the house and who gets custody of the cat. Don’t let that be you.”

“Nah, that willna be me… I dinna like cats.”

**************

Claire loved the park in early summer. She could stroll for hours through the gardens or sit by the small lake watching the children feed the ducks, families enjoying the warm sunshine. She wondered if she had ever done that with her parents. She assumed so, but had no recollection of any such trips. She would have to make those memories afresh with her children. Many memories to make.

Today, however, was not a day for strolling. Jamie had asked her to go up to the Highlands with him to visit the distillery and Claire had the distinct impression that the visit would also include considerable amounts of tramping through the heather. So, today was a day for power walking, getting in some much-needed practice. And Geillis had volunteered to assist her with this. Which, Claire thought, might have been a mistake.

“Claire, I’m verra disappointed in ye,” Geillis panted as they made their way round the park. “Here I go tae all the trouble of settin’ ye up fer a fling, and ye dinna even gi’ me any details. What is the point of havin’ a friend wi’ a fling if ye dinna get to hear about it? Ye ken, I’d willingly tell ye all about Dougal’s, er, wee habits if ye wanted. That man is a beast, I tell ye. Why do ye always refuse?”

Claire shuddered at the thought of what Dougal’s wee habits might include. And judging by the expression on her friend’s face, calling him a beast was to be viewed as a compliment.

“Think that falls under T...M...I… too much information, G. How could I look Dougal in the eye ever again?”

“Och weel, suit yerself. I offered tae share. Now ye share.”

“What do you want me to say, G?”

“I dinna ken. Size, stamina, imagination? That’ll do fer starters. Can we no’ let up from all this walkin’ now? I think I’ve a stitch.”

Claire halted her walk and headed for a nearby bench. Geillis plonked herself down fanning her face with her hand. “I’m no’ cut out fer this exercising. Anyway, tell me about Jamie.”

“It’s early days really, but it’s going great. I like him.” The words sounded false to her ears. ‘Like’ was an understatement, nowhere near what she felt for Jamie, but she didn’t want to put into words exactly what she felt. It was a secret she wanted to keep, hugging it to herself, not letting anyone else into the little bubble that was their relationship.

“Is that it? Nothing more tae tell me?”

“Ok, I'll tell you. He looks good in a kilt.”

“How do ye… ah, I get it… role play.” Geillis winked conspiratorially. “Dougal and I like tae…”

“No.” Claire immediately halted her friend’s story. “No role play, no dressing up. I saw him before briefly. When we went to the spa, he was at that wedding. I noticed him in the foyer. Of course he was in a kilt, practically all the men were.”

“Why did you no’ tell me at the time? We coulda gone lookin’ fer him.”

“And that’s exactly why I didn’t. Anyway, he’s asked me to go to visit the distillery with him, spend a few days up there.” Instinctively, Claire smiled at the thought of spending three whole days with Jamie, staying in his childhood home.

“Bit o’ whisky samplin’?”

“I assume so.”

“Ok. My advice is: take an empty water bottle wi’ ye. If they gi’e ye more tastings than ye can manage, pour them intae yer water bottle, on the quiet, mind, and bring it hame. That Broch Tuarach is expensive stuff, ye ken.”

“Thanks, G, I'll bear that in mind.”

Chapter Text

I never realise how much I like being home unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while. Juno MacGuff, Juno

As they drove out of the Glasgow suburbs and into the countryside, the clouds lifted and the sun shone out of a perfectly blue sky. They had not spoken much since Jamie picked Claire up and dumped her overnight bag in the back of the car next to his rucksack, walking boots and walking poles. Somehow, the silence between them wasn’t awkward. It seemed calm and peaceful, as though they had no need to fill it with meaningless chatter. As Claire’s hand rested on Jamie’s thigh, she turned to gaze at him, admiring his chiselled profile, high cheekbones and full lips. She thrilled at the thought that he was hers and happy to be so.

Jamie briefly turned his head to Claire as her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

“What ye staring fer, Sassenach? Have I got food on ma face?”

“No, sorry. I was just wondering, can we have the roof down?”

Jamie smiled and pressed a button. As the roof retracted, swirls of wind invaded the car, whipping Claire’s hair into a Medusa-like tangle of curls.

“I hadn't really thought this through!” Claire shouted, pulling the hair from her mouth.

“What?” Jamie yelled back as he pushed the car faster.

Eventually, the car began to slow as Jamie pulled into a picnic area at the side of the road. He laughed as Claire frantically ran her fingers through her hair, wincing as she pulled at the tangled mass. He leaned over and kissed the top of her head before climbing out of the car.

“Look at this, Sassenach, just look around ye. Have ye ever seen anywhere more beautiful? On my way hame, I always stop here. Just tae take in the scene. The peaks, the waterfalls, everything. Doesna matter what the weather is… sunny and the colours sae bright, or grey wi’ great dramatic clouds. It doesna matter. Ye must have been here afore, aye?”

Claire moved around to join Jamie.

“Oh yes, quite a few times… Frank’s area of expertise at the university was the various Jacobite risings, so he’d come up here to Glencoe many times...”

She turned to face him, noticing the unconscious look of distaste that passed over his face at the mention of Frank’s name. “But we never really stopped to look around. Frank was not an outdoor kind of guy.”

Jamie headed back to the car. “Come on then. I want tae get ye hame tae Lallybroch.”

With the roof of the car firmly in place (“I am not turning up to meet your father looking like something the cat dragged in, James Fraser!”), the drive to Lallybroch continued. Up through Fort William and Fort Augustus to the lower reaches of Loch Ness, then alongside the Loch to the instantly recognisable sight of Urquhart Castle, where Jamie veered from the main road to a series of smaller roads.

Claire had visited Fort William and Fort Augustus in the past, had even gone as far north as Inverness and Culloden, but those journeys had inevitably been accompanied by details of the quashing of Highland uprisings, English army manoeuvres and a way of life condensed into a series of bloody statistics. All delivered with Frank’s characteristically detached manner. This journey was very different. Jamie recounted a stream of stories about the areas they passed through. Some true historical events, some fanciful myths, their origins lost in time, but all delivered with the passion and pride of the Highlander with an accent becoming more pronounced the further north they travelled.

“Tell me about Lallybroch.” Claire prompted as Jamie finished his tale of kelpies.

“Och, weel, the family ha’ lived there for nigh on three hundred years. Da still lives there, wi’ Murtagh, who’s a cousin and looks after the production side of the distillery. Since Mam died, and Jenny and I moved tae Glasgow, the hoose is tae big fer them, but they willna move. There’s always been Frasers at Lallybroch, he says, and he willna be the last. No’ even the English redcoats could force the Frasers tae leave. Ye can still see the marks of the English swords in the door frames … always there tae remember.”

“Oh dear, will I be welcome do you think? Or should I practice my Scottish accent?”

“Dinna mock,” Jamie chided gently. “‘Twas a long time ago. Besides...”

His lips made a lopsided smile as he reached out and squeezed her knee reassuringly.

“Ye may be a sassenach, but ye’re my sassenach and ye’ll always be welcome in our hame.”

Eventually, they pulled off the road and onto a short drive and Claire caught her first glimpse of Lallybroch. While not huge, it was certainly much larger than the average family home, spread over three floors with, Claire was sure, attics and cellars in addition. An imposing grey stone house, designed for function rather than beauty, built to withstand the fiercest of Scottish weather and hostile visitors. And it was home for Jamie. Claire had never had that attachment to one place. The flats and houses that she had shared with her uncle had all been nice, but they had always moved to the next without a pang of regret or sorrow.

Jamie lifted their bags out of the car and walked round to a door at the side of the house. Claire followed him through a small hallway filled with wellies, walking boots, waterproof jackets and umbrellas into a large square kitchen dominated by a huge wooden kitchen table. Jamie dropped the bags and headed for the tall American-style fridge. “Ah, Mrs Crook has left us a wee snack. It’ll be a fair while till dinner and we havena had lunch. So, how about we go and drop our bags upstairs, then we can have a wee bit of refreshment afore I show ye round.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Before Claire had chance, Jamie picked up her bag and led the way out of the kitchen, down a stone floored passage and through a door into a large wood panelled hallway, with several doors off it and a large wooden staircase ascending to a first floor galleried landing.

“When ‘twas built, the kitchen was no’ fer guests,” Jamie explained as Claire looked round admiringly. “And sae the panelling and the finery ended at that door.”

He pointed to where they had come from. “Now the kitchen’s the room we use the most.”

Jamie climbed the stairs as Claire trailed behind, looking at all the family pictures on the walls. This was a place that Uncle Lamb could happily have called home. He opened one of the heavy doors on the landing. Claire stepped into a bedroom with oak furniture and a massive stone fireplace, currently unlit.

“Am I in here?” She asked.

Jamie nodded. “Aye, we’re both in here. This is ma room.”

Claire tried to imagine this room as it had been when he was a boy, full of toys and books with Lego strewn across the carpet, or when he was a teenager with posters and video games and that particular adolescent male aroma - three parts testosterone, two parts stinking sports wear and one part sheer horniness.

She wandered around, noticing the framed photographs dotted round the room, the various rosettes and silver cups and the airfix model airplanes placed on the highest shelves of the bookcase - the room of a man too old for such juvenile pastimes, yet loath to get rid of his boyhood achievements. She guessed there was probably a Nintendo N64 tucked away in some cupboard, ready to resume a Super Mario game last played in 2004.

Her attention fixed on the large bed in the centre of one wall. “Is your father OK with us both sleeping in here?”

She kicked off her sandals and primly sat on the edge.

“Sassenach, I’m thirty-two years old. I have my ain hoose. I think he kens what goes on between a man and a woman.”

Jamie pulled off his shoes and joined her, grabbing her around the waist. “Besides, I’m living oot fifteen year old Jamie’s fantasy, a bonnie woman in his bed, with a round arse jes’ made fer fondling.”

“So, I’m not going to find anything I might regret here in your room, am I? Like porn magazines or...”

“Porn mags, Sassenach?” Jamie appeared horrified. “What d’ye think I am? There are no porn mags in this room, I promise ye... ye can get everything ye need off the internet nowadays.”

Claire playfully punched him on the shoulder. Jamie responded by drawing her closer to him.

“I dinna need porn,” he whispered, his breath hot on her neck. “I have ye… and my imagination.”

Bringing his lips to meet hers, he teased them open and his tongue ran between them. She moaned against his mouth as she felt his arms tighten around her and she met his tongue with her own, rubbing it seductively around, licking the inside of his mouth, her fingers tangling in his hair.

“Claire, what ye do tae me...” he breathed as he pulled away, looking into her eyes.

She smiled and ran her hands down his back to the bottom of his shirt scraping her nails lightly over the bare skin she slowly uncovered. He moaned and closed his eyes briefly before lowering his head again and claiming her mouth.

Jamie’s lips moved lightly across her cheek to her neck and he smiled as he felt her quiver in his arms. His fingertips traced her jawline as he sucked her ear lobe, loving the feel of her pressed against him, her head thrown back in pleasure. His hands slid along her body, pulling her on top of him as he sank back on to the bed.

Copying Jamie’s actions, Claire began to kiss his neck. He inhaled sharply as her warm mouth found his earlobe and nibbled at it gently. Rising up, she threw one leg over his body to straddle him. As her hands caressed the hard muscles of his arms and shoulders, she instinctively moistened her lips with her tongue. Jamie grew harder as he watched his Claire astride him, her breathing becoming more ragged as he ground his hips against her.

Jamie’s hands reached up to fondle her breasts through her t-shirt. She moaned at his touch and instinctively rolled her hips. Her hands roamed over his muscled stomach and chest as she unbuttoned his shirt.

Claire moved her head back a little and smiled at him. “What time does your dad get home?” She teased.

"Oh god, is this like a teenage makeout session then?” Jamie groaned as he began to push at her top, trying to get it off. She moved her hands down to help him, and together they removed her top and her bra.

“Kind of, although I think we may be going all the way this time.” Claire giggled as she climbed off him.

Lying next to him, she pulled off her jeans and panties. Jamie watched momentarily before quickly stripping off his own jeans and underpants. Claire ran her eyes over his naked body. “Jamie...” she reminded. “...socks.”

There was a playful quality to their lovemaking. Laughing together as they sought each other’s mouths, limbs entwining with accidental collisions of elbows and knees, their movements together becoming more heated and urgent with every breath.

Jamie paused momentarily, and leant over the side of the bed, fumbling with his rucksack before returning to Claire, foil packet in hand. Together they eased the condom on before Jamie positioned himself and entered her. Claire’s body wrapped around him, her thighs around his waist, arms around his neck. Locked into another deep, passionate kiss, she clung to him as their moans blended together.

Their bodies grew slick with sweat as they moved in unison. Claire closed her eyes as she began to feel her orgasm wash over her. Jamie felt her tighten around him, pushing him over the edge as she cried out his name.

Still panting, Jamie rolled off Claire and lay on his side to face her.

“I need a shower now…” Claire began.

Jamie interrupted her with a gentle kiss. “Fifteen year old Jamie thanks ye, from the bottom of his heart. Better than any of his imaginings!”

Chapter Text

Whisky is liquid sunshine - George Bernard Shaw

 

Due to the unscheduled teenage makeout session, there was little time for refreshment or a guided tour before Brian and Murtagh were due to return home from the distillery.

“We havena time fer a bite afore dinner now.” Jamie complained to Claire as they headed downstairs, fresh from their uneventful showers. “I dare say Mrs Crook will have made a tasty dish fer dinner. She makes stews and the like while she’s here during the day and then Da and Murtagh jes’ have tae heat them through. I dinna ken what they’d do wi’out her.”

Jamie quickly showed Claire the rooms on the ground floor. The formal living room and dining room were both immaculately clean with a strong smell of lemon furniture polish thanks, no doubt, to the efforts of Mrs Crook and were beautifully decorated in tones of claret and forest green, but were obviously little used. The study cum library was clearly in regular use, as was the morning room with its large television and matching recliner chairs.

Back in the kitchen, Jamie headed straight for the fridge, emerging with a large chunk of cheese, two apples and some grapes.

“Ye want some?” He muttered through a mouthful of cheddar.

“No thanks, and I thought we didn’t have time for any refreshment before dinner.”

Jamie swallowed the cheese. “That’s right, we don’t. But this isna proper refreshment, Sassenach, this is just a wee amuse-bouche. As soon as Da and Murtagh get home, we’ll open up the bar.”

“You’re just an appetite on legs, James Fraser.”

“Aye, weel,” Jamie moved to put his arms around Claire, walking her backwards until she felt her bottom make contact with a granite countertop. “I have tae keep my strength up. I have an awfa demanding woman to service, ye ken. Always wanting my body...” He nuzzled into her neck, muffling his words. Claire laughed and drew his lips to hers.

“Och, sorry there. Are we interrupting? Shall we go out, knock and come in again?”

Embarrassed, Claire broke from the kiss and tried to extract herself from Jamie’s embrace. Jamie just smiled at the two men and pulled her even closer to him, one hand secretly snaking down her back to squeeze her bottom. Claire blushed a deeper shade of crimson.

“Da, Murtagh… this is Claire.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

Claire finally escaped Jamie’s arms and shook the hand of the fiercer looking man, a large proportion of his face covered by a black, bushy beard and thick black eyebrows. The rest of the face looked serious with a ‘mess-with-me-and-you’re-in-for-it’ expression.

“Evenin’.” The face responded.

Turning to the other, kinder looking man, Claire was immediately wrapped in a huge hug.

“We dinna stand on ceremony here, lass. I’m Brian, Jamie’s Da and I’m verra happy tae meet ye.”

Even though Brian’s hair was black, shot through with silver, there was a strong resemblance between himself and his son. Jamie was a couple of inches taller and broader than his father, but they both projected the same air of leadership and benevolent authority. In centuries gone by, they would have been lairds or war chiefs, protecting and commanding.

With introductions made, and the casserole in the oven to heat through, Jamie poured four whiskies as they sat round the table. Conversation was mainly between Jamie, Brian and Claire, with the odd interjection from Murtagh. Jamie sat back in his chair watching as Claire explained her role as orthopaedic surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, making Brian laugh and even Murtagh smile at her anecdotes from the wards.

Nothing could be better than this, he thought to himself. The tantalising smell of Mrs Crook’s lamb casserole and baked potatoes; the taste of the whisky, smooth and warming on his tongue; the sound of good conversation; the sight of loved ones and the touch of Claire’s hand resting on his thigh under the table, her thumb lightly stroking, all made for a more perfect evening than he had expected. He had known that his father would like Claire, but to see them together, laughing and chatting with no awkwardness, well, it filled his heart.

As the men made the preparations for dinner, with a well-rehearsed choreography borne from years of similar meals, Claire asked “Do you need me to do anything? Set the table, perhaps?”

“Och, no Claire, Dinna fash. We’re all fine. Ye jes’ relax.”

Unsurprisingly, the casserole tasted as good as it smelt. Jamie had opened a bottle of red wine and all four sat round the kitchen table savouring the food and drink.

“Mrs Crook is a marvellous cook.” Claire commented contentedly.

“Aye, that she is. Murtagh and I would be lost wi’out her. She runs this house… er, has Jamie cooked ye dinner yet?”

A knowing smirk passed between Brian and Murtagh. Claire glanced at Jamie, his eyes fixed firmly on his plate.

“No, why?”

“Our Jamie may have many skills, but cookin’ isna one o’ them,” Brian began. “Remember when he thought he could make cheese sauce by grating cheese into a saucepan, melting it then adding milk… we had tae throw that pan away.”

“Or when he tried to roast a chicken in the oven,” Murtagh joined in. “But put it in a dish with plastic handles… we had to throw that away too.”

“Or when he thought a clove of garlic meant the whole bulb. That bolognaise wasna good.” Brian was now on a roll.

Jamie covered his face with his hands.

“Or when he came home drunk and...”

“Enough!” Jamie stood up. “I canna take this character assassination. I’m going fer a piss.”

As Jamie left the kitchen, Brian turned to Claire. “‘Tis only teasin’ ye ken, Claire. Our Jamie is a fine man and he thinks the world o’ you. I can see it.” He placed his hand over hers and gently squeezed.

Jamie returned with another bottle of whisky and refilled the glasses. As Claire sipped, she realised this was what a home felt like. “Would you like me to do the washing up?” she asked Brian.

“Och no, lass. We have a dishwasher. He’s called Murtagh… only kiddin’, we do have a dishwasher, nae bother.”

“Please excuse me, I must just pop to the bathroom.”

Brian waited until Claire was out of the room, then spoke to his son. “It’s a grand lass ye have there. Much better that any o’ the others.”

Murtagh nodded vigorously in agreement. “Dinna do anything daft tae scare her away.”

“I wouldna… it’s only been a month, but it’s like I’ve known her forever… d’ye understand what I mean?”

Brian’s eyes moved to the wedding photo on the kitchen dresser. “Aye, lad, I do. I understand ye… totally.”

********
Brian and Murtagh had already left for the distillery by the time Jamie and Claire made it downstairs the following morning. The original plan had been to travel the ten miles together, but since there was no sign that Jamie and Claire were awake, Brian made the decision to leave them at home to join him later.

Jamie and Claire had, in fact, been very much awake but, since he was determined to work through a large number of fifteen year old Jamie’s fantasies, they were not ready to leave when Brian called his farewells. Eventually fifteen year old Jamie was sated enough for them to get ready and head for the distillery.

Driving towards Broch Tuarach, the road followed alongside a river. “That’s the River Glass,” Jamie explained. “That’s where we get the water fer our whisky.”

As they pulled into the car park, Claire was surprised to see a coach parked there, people chattering animatedly as they climbed out and congregated in the middle. A man with a distinctive navy Broch Tuarach sweatshirt herded them together.

“Are we joining that group?” Claire whispered as she deliberately pushed her full lower lip out in a (half) joking pout. She had been hoping for a more personal ‘behind the scenes’ tour. She was keen to see his office up here. She loved to imagine him at his desk, forehead screwed up in concentration, poring over ledgers, glasses perched on the end of his nose - even though in reality she knew he would be more likely to be poring over a computer screen and didn’t wear glasses.

“Nah, we’ll wait for that lot tae head through before I show ye the works. Mind, it’s good business, these tours. Many of the distilleries do them, especially ones like us wi’ a real history. There’s a full malt whisky trail on Speyside but we dinna do too bad wi’ visitors - a drive down Loch Ness, a wee keek at Urquhart Castle and then ontae us. And we do different tours too. There’s a general tour and specialist tasting events. Jenny’s husband Ian, he manages the marketing, events, PR and the like. Over there we’ve a wee shop and we’ve plans for a wee cafe to open in the summers.”

“Like a pop-up cafe?”

“Aye,” Jamie put his arms round Claire and pulled her close. “I’m verra fond of a pop-up myself, would ye no’ say?”

Jamie led Claire into one of the stone buildings surrounding the car park. As they walked down a corridor, Claire studied the portraits hanging on the walls, all images of sombre, dark-haired men, the only real difference being the gradual evolution of their attire. At the end of the corridor Claire recognised the portrait of Brian, not so dour as the others, a slight smile playing on his lips.

“Are these all your great great, whatever grandfathers?” Claire asked.

“Aye, stretching all the way back tae Robert Fraser in the late eighteenth century.”

“And there’s always been a son to carry on?”

Jamie nodded. “There’s been a fair few daughters too, but aye, there’s always a son.”

“So your picture will be up here one day?”

“Perhaps,” Jamie shrugged. “Or mebbe Jenny’s will. She works for the company too, weel, she’s on maternity leave at the moment.”

“You’d stand out like a sore thumb!” Claire laughed, teasing him. “That red hair against all these brunettes.”

“My mam had red hair too, that’s the MacKenzie in me.”

******
After a cup of coffee in Jamie’s office (no ledgers, no leather bound volumes, no old fashioned desk lamp, just a large slightly battered wooden desk, immaculately tidy dominated by a computer screen), Claire felt slightly disappointed, even though she knew her imagination had leant more to Dickens than actual real life.

There were several photos dotted round the office, some obviously were the distillery team, all dressed in logoed sweatshirts but the majority featured the same faces. Claire recognised Jamie, Brian, Murtagh, Jenny and Wee Jamie. The others, she surmised, were Jenny’s husband, Ian and Jamie’s mother, Ellen.

Jamie didn’t talk much about his mother. Claire recognised that the wound ran deep and he tried to hide it, probably as a defence mechanism. She knew Ellen had died when Jamie was twelve and his sister was fourteen, but unlike her own, the loss of a parent had not halted a traditional, close-knit family life. He still had a parent, a sibling, cousins, aunts and uncles, and a nephew. Claire felt a sudden pang. Jamie had a family history, traditions, silly inside jokes and roots and she, much as she had loved Uncle Lamb, had none of those.

“Come on now,” Jamie broke her reverie. “The next guided tour begins in two minutes. Time fer a quick loo trip first, if ye need it, but I wouldna keep yer tour guide waiting. I hear he’s a wee bit of a tyrant.”

Walking through the various buildings of the distillery, Jamie explained to Claire the long process to turn grain and water into whisky -from the germination, malting, mashing, fermentation and distillations to storing the whisky in large barrels to age.

They ended up in a large warehouse with rows and rows of barrels on the floor and on huge wooden shelves. Claire looked around, fascinated. “So, if all distilleries use the same process, why don’t all whiskies taste the same?”

“Weel, if ye’ve a blended whisky, you’ve room tae do a bit o’ playing aboot. We only produce single malt here. Differences in taste can be due tae several reasons: the shape and material o’ the stills, the skill of the makers, the water from different rivers - or even the same river in different places - and the type of barrels we put the whisky in tae age. We mainly use sherry barrels, but those over there are rum barrels fer a special twenty year old limited edition.”

Jamie moved behind Claire, his chest pressed tightly against her back. He bent down to whisper in her ear. “Och, Sassenach, if there were no’ sae many people around, I reckon the barrels are jes’ the right height. I would have ye bending across one o’ these barrels, wi’ yer shirt undone and yer breasts wobbling free and then I’d pull down yer jeans and...” She could feel his hot breath on her neck as he gently nibbled her skin.

Putting her hand up to caress his cheek, she enquired, “Is that another one of fifteen year old Jamie’s fantasies? He seemed to have a fair few.”

“Ooh no, Sassenach, this one is thirty two year old Jamie’s fantasy. Jes’ thought of it meself. I mean, what could be a better combination, whisky and sex with the woman you lo...” Jamie stopped himself. “...lust after.”

Chapter Text

When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen. -A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

So even the sexual fantasies of fifteen year old adolescent boys are finite, Claire reflected as they managed to clamber out of bed at a reasonable time the following morning.

“Do ye have any hikin’ boots wi’ ye, Sassenach?” Jamie asked as his head emerged from the neck of his shirt. “It’s a bonnie day and I’d like tae take ye for a walk.”

“I’ve some walking trainers in the car. Will they do or will I need full mountaineering gear? I reckon you’ve climbed a few mountains in your time.”

“Aye, I’ve bagged some Munroes, but no for a good while. Nah, the walk willna be too difficult, I’ll keep it easy fer a city slicker like yerself.” Jamie joked and headed out of the door.

Claire made her way downstairs to the kitchen, where she found Jamie with his arms wrapped tightly around a small white-haired woman. He kissed her cheek and let her go as she reached up, practically on tiptoes, and gently ruffled his red curls.

“Claire, you’ve no’ met yet, but this is Mrs. Crook. She runs this whole hoose and keeps Da and Murtagh under control, which is no’ easy. Mrs. C, this is Claire, ma girlfriend.”

Claire looked at Jamie, taken aback. In her head, she had practiced introducing Jamie as her boyfriend or partner or significant other but hadn’t plucked up the courage to broach that topic.

Jamie felt himself blush slightly. He wondered if that had been an error in judgement and that Claire would think it was too soon to attach these labels on their relationship. But, in truth, he thought of her as his girlfriend and wanted everyone to know. Besides, him having a girlfriend would make Mrs. Crook happy. He knew she worried about him being alone. Jamie returned Claire’s gaze and visibly relaxed as she smiled warmly at him.

“Hello, Mrs. Crook. It’s lovely to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you. And thank you for the delicious food. I can’t remember when I last ate so much or so well.”

“Och, look at ye. There’s nothin’ o’ ye. Ye come and stay here fer longer and I’ll feed ye proper. Tell ye what, I’ll gi’e ye some casseroles and the like from the freezer tae take hame wi’ ye. Jamie always heads back doon the road wi’ a car full.” Mrs. Crook leaned closer to Claire conspiratorially. “He’s no’ too good at cooking, ye ken. I remember when he tried tae…”

“Ah, Mrs. C, dinna be telling Claire all me secrets. We dinna want her tae go off me now, do we? Claire and I are goin’ fer a walk over at Loch Raibhachain. Have ye anything we can take fer our lunch and mebbe a wee snack or two?”

Mrs. Crook moved over to the fridge and looked inside. “Weel, there’s ham and cheese, chicken, fresh bannocks, grapes, tomatoes, a nice bit o’ chutney, pork pie, leftover sausage, apple pie...”

She stood back from the fridge and tutted. “I wish ye’d told me ye were after a picnic. I’d have got some stuff in fer ye.”

******
With the picnic safely packed in Jamie’s rucksack together with a tartan blanket, thermos of coffee and hip flask of whisky, Jamie and Claire set off for the Loch. Claire had tied her hair back tightly with no stray curls escaping, so she allowed Jamie to open the roof of the car.

The noise of the car and wind meant that talking wasn’t really an option. Neither Jamie or Claire minded. Claire rummaged in her bag and pulled out her phone. Looking around, she started to take photos of the landscape.

Jamie focussed on the road and thought about what he had nearly said the day before. He had almost told Claire that he loved her but changed his mind at the last minute. Now whilst he had no doubt that he did love her, he was unsure when to make that first declaration. He came from a family where love, affection and other, not so agreeable, emotions were freely expressed. Claire had never had that level of openness, always being more guarded with her feelings. Jamie would hate to make her uncomfortable or for her to feel obliged to respond in kind (although he doubted that would happen, as honesty was very important to Claire). He hoped he would know instinctively the right time to tell her.

Besides, he thought, smiling to himself, he really didn’t want his first statement of love to be uttered in the same breath as a fantasy about sex over a whisky barrel.

Claire caught his smile, reached over and stroked his thigh.

******
As Jamie led the way on the small path through clumps of gorse and heather, Claire tailed behind him. There were certain perks to following him, Claire thought as she admired his body from the rear. It was such a warm day, both of them had made the decision to wear shorts. Jamie’s legs were strong and muscular, dusted with red gold hairs. She loved to run her hands up those solid thighs. Perhaps that was an activity for post picnic time, a little reward for all this exercise.

With his long strides and seemingly limitless energy, Claire found herself slightly out of breath trying to keep up with his pace. She pretended to stop to admire the scenery. It was a beautiful sunny day, the clear blue sky made the green hills all round them even more spectacular. There was nobody else in sight. It was as if they were the only two people on this path, on this hill.

Jamie realised she was no longer following him, turned around and sauntered back to her.

“Have I worn ye oot already, Sassenach?” He asked with a small smile of victory.

“Not at all, I was just admiring the view.”

“Ye’ve a glass face, Sassenach. I can tell when ye’re no tellin’ the truth. Would ye like tae stop here for a bite tae eat?”

Relieved, Claire sank to the ground. Jamie rummaged in his rucksack, unfolded the tartan blanket, placed it neatly on the ground and proceeded to unpack the provisions from Mrs. Crook. Packet after packet of delicious food emerged from the rucksack, enough for at least five people.

They ate enthusiastically until, with very full stomachs, they lay companionably side by side on the blanket, hands behind their heads.

“I think you’ll have to roll me down to the car, the amount I’ve just eaten.”

Jamie crunched an apple. “Aye, Mrs. Crook does spoil us all. And since her husband died and wi’ her only daughter living in Canada, it gi’es her a purpose, looking after us.”

Claire rolled onto her side to look at Jamie. “Do you mean the only thing giving her purpose in life is looking after men? Does that apply to all women or only ones that tend to you and your family?”

“Nah, Sassenach, that’s no’ what I meant at all. I dinna think that of ye and I wouldna expect it from any woman. But, ye ken, Mrs. Crook is from a different generation. Ye were trained as a doctor and that’s what ye always wanted tae be. Take that away and ye’d be cast adrift. Weel, it’s the same wi’ Mrs. Crook. She wanted tae be a wife and mother, wanted tae be needed. And isna that what we all really want?”

Claire placed her hand on Jamie’s chest. “I need you.”

Jamie leaned over and kissed her. “Aye, ye do, if only tae carry the rucksack. Come on, I’ve a wee place tae show ye. We can rest a while there.”

Reluctantly Claire got to her feet. She would have been satisfied lying there in the warm sunshine all afternoon. But Jamie appeared eager to show her this place. They continued further up into the hills. Jamie made a real effort to slow his pace down and tried to match her stride length. As they walked through a crevice in the rocks around them, Claire was entranced to find that they were suddenly at the head of a tiny glen, a stream running the length of it into a tranquil pool surrounded by rocks and boulders, before continuing its journey towards the loch.

“Here we are!” Jamie exclaimed triumphantly, arms outstretched, presenting the scene. “This was always a favourite place for me and ma family. We’d come up here, Da leading the way wi’ the picnic, Jenny and I at the back moanin’ aboot our legs achin’ and Mam in the middle encouragin’ us on. But ‘twas worth it when we got here. If it was warm enough, Jenny and I would go swimming doon there. Then, we’d come oot all blue and shiverin’ and Mam’d wrap us in towels and gi’e us hot chocolate and fruit cake.”

They made their way down to the pool. Jamie sat on a rock at the water’s edge. Claire joined him there.

“And Da,” Jamie continued his reminiscences. “Da would teach us how tae guddle fish. Jenny didna have the patience, but I got it jes’ fine.”

Jamie moved to lie on his stomach, his hand still in the water.

Seeing the look of incomprehension on Claire’s face, he explained. “It’s an old Scottish skill, tae catch fish with yer bare hands. Ye have tae be very quiet and patient and wait for a fish tae come tae yer fingers, then ye can tickle its belly and grab it quickly. Shhh, now.”

Claire dared not move, scarcely breathing in case she made a noise to disturb the fish. Jamie lay still, the tip of his tongue peeping out from his lips in concentration. A slight movement on the surface of the water told her that he was lightly moving his fingers. She moved, her head now close to the water, as he shifted, ready for action.

There was a sudden frantic movement as Jamie splashed, soaking Claire with icy water. Instinctively she screamed.

Jamie rolled onto his back, laughing.

“Christ, yer face…” He snorted. “I’m sorry, Sassenach, I couldna help it. Ye were there sae close and my hand jes’ wanted tae splash ye.”

Claire wiped her damp curls off her face. “So, where’s the fish? Has it been scared off?”

“What fish?”

“The fish you were guddling - is that the word you used?”

“Sassenach, there wasna a fish. I dinna ken how tae guddle, neither does Da. I jes’ wanted tae play a wee trick.”

“Oh, you did, did you? Well, you’ll get what you deserve!”

Claire leaned towards the water, prepared to retaliate. Jamie quickly captured her arms and pulled her on top of him. He lifted his head to kiss her as she turned her head away in mock disgust. His kiss landed on her ear.

“You. Are. A. Brute.” She said crisply.

“Aye, I ken. And I’m sorry, truly. But yer face was a picture. Am I forgiven?”

Claire turned her face to his and gently kissed his lips. “I suppose so.”

Jamie wrapped his arms tighter round Claire’s back. “Claire,” he paused for a moment before diving in. “I love you.”

Claire pulled her head back and stared into his deep blue eyes. She knew that he spoke the truth, he did love her. The barriers around her heart - built up piece by piece, her parents’ deaths, the loss of Uncle Lamb, Frank’s betrayals - began to shatter.

“Jamie…” Claire whispered hesitantly. “I…I love you too.”

Chapter Text

“The baby is real pretty, dressed up in its nice little clothes. It has black eyes and the dearest, tiny hands.”

“I must go and see it. I just love babies,” said Anne, smiling to herself over a thought too dear and sacred to put into words.

- L. M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

 

Jamie entered his living room, precariously balancing two mugs of tea, a packet of chocolate Hobnobs and two Kit Kats.

“Jamie, really, more? Are you not stuffed after that dinner we’ve just eaten? Mrs. Crook certainly believes in hearty portions.”

Claire snuggled into the end of the sofa as Jamie deposited his goodies on the coffee table and joined her. He stretched out along the length of the sofa and rested his head in her lap. He checked his mobile then reached for the remote control and switched the television on.

“Alright, so, Bread week.” Jamie said joyfully, as the opening credits for The Great British Bake Off started.

“I don’t get it.” Claire responded. “For someone who is not culinarily gifted, you do like to watch a lot of cookery programmes.”

“Weel, I suppose ‘tis the end product I’m interested in. But ye watch them too, Sassenach, and ye’re no’ talented in that department either. But hush, now, Signature Challenge and it’s teacakes.”

They sat and watched the television in silence, broken only by the occasional unwrapping of a biscuit.

“Dear God!” Jamie exclaimed during the Technical Challenge. “This is the filthiest thing on tv! Can ye hear him talking about making this loaf? Going on about making yer balls tight and driving yer finger through? And now she’s goin’ fer it too, asking if he flours his finger or oils it! Food porn, that’s what this is!”

Jamie reached for his phone again, checked the screen and placed it back on the arm of the sofa.

“Why do you keep looking at your phone?”

“Weel, mebbe I’m mitherin’ unnecessarily, but I texted Jenny nigh on four hours ago and I’ve no’ heard back. That isna like her. I reckon she’s havin’ the bairn. ‘Twas due three days ago.”

“If that was the case, wouldn’t you be asked to look after Jamie?”

“Nah, Ian’s parents have come down tae stay and take care o’ him. I couldna do it, if I was at work.”

“Well there’s nothing you can do, just relax and you’ll find out soon enough.”

Jamie tried his best to relax and think about other things. That proved to be surprisingly easy as, with his head still in her lap, Claire slowly ran her fingers through Jamie’s ginger curls. He moaned in pleasure as her fingers pressed against his scalp, finding and releasing points of tension.

Jamie shifted his head and reached his hands up to Claire’s face, bringing her lips down to his.

“Jamie,” Claire pulled away slightly. “Do you not want to watch the end of Bake Off?”

“Nah,” Jamie’s eyes never left her face. “I ken how it ends. Someone wins star baker, someone else is going home and someone else has made a bread sculpture that looks like a cock. It’s always the same.”

“But ye, Sassenach,” Jamie continued as he began to unbutton her shirt. “Ye are never the same. So, switch off that television, go upstairs and get in ma bed.”

“And if I don’t?” Claire challenged, teasingly.

“Ye’re no’ that heavy. Now if ye willna walk, I shall pick ye up and throw ye over my shoulder. D’ye want me tae do that?”

Claire ran her hands up his arms and across his shoulders, feeling his muscles flex under his shirt.

“Ooh, yes. Yes please.”

******
The red digits on the clock radio by the side of the bed flashed 11:30. They hadn’t drawn the curtains earlier when Jamie carried Claire into his bedroom, so the room was gently lit from the street.

To Claire, this room was the very essence of Jamie. The clean, strong lines of the furniture, primarily functional, were softened by the many family photos dotted around. A set of dumbbells lay in the corner of the room ready for Jamie’s morning routine. And the smell was an intoxicating mix of fresh fabric softener and cedar and sandalwood from his favourite Chanel cologne, cut through with a scent that was uniquely Jamie.

Claire snuggled closer into Jamie’s chest and inhaled deeply. Frank had always preferred sharp, citrus scents and, fastidious almost to the point of obsession, there was never any other male aroma. Even straight after lovemaking, Frank would head to the bathroom and emerge freshly scrubbed and antiseptic. Claire preferred to lie and cuddle… yet another example of her inadequacies.

She stretched her aching limbs. There was a whole range of facets to her and Jamie’s lovemaking, from the slow and languid - their every move seemingly in slow motion, every individual touch appreciated and savoured - to the hot and heavy, their bodies coming together frantically in desperate need, a race to reach their peaks together. Tonight had been more of the latter, with their orgasms coming quickly and in pretty close synchronisation. And now she felt relaxed, satisfied and content. She inhaled again, breathing in that particular eau de Jamie.

“Are ye sniffing me? Do I smell that bad? Should I go take a shower?”

Jamie lay on his back. Claire flung her leg across his abdomen, pinning him to the mattress.

“No, stay here a while, like this. You don’t smell bad, you just smell like you… and us… and sex.” Claire nibbled his earlobe.

Laughing, Jamie pulled her on top of him. “Well then, come here. Bite me some more.”

The ping of Jamie’s phone interrupted them. Claire rolled off as Jamie read the message.

“It’s from Ian. Jenny’s had the bairn. Born at 10:48 this evening,” he read to Claire. ”A little girl, Margaret Ellen, weight six pounds and five ounces. Normal delivery. Labour 5 hours. Everyone fine. Coming home tomorrow.”

Jamie sat up. “That’s great news. See, I knew something was amiss. Did I no’ tell ye? We can go and see her and the bairn tomorrow afternoon. Ye said ye’re no’ working.”

Claire followed suit and leant back against the headboard. “Really, tomorrow? You want me to invite myself round to your sister’s for the first time eighteen hours after she’s given birth?”

“Aye, weel, I’m goin’ round and I want ye tae come wi’ me. And like Ian said in the text, ‘twas a normal delivery and the labour was no’ too long, Jenny’ll be fine.”

“Be fine? And how many times have you given birth? I did a rotation in Obstetrics and let me tell you, there’s a reason it’s called labour. It’s bloody hard work, even with a normal delivery. Imagine trying to push a bowling ball out, while you’ve got food poisoning and you’re being kicked in the gonads every two minutes. No? Can’t imagine? Well that’s what I’ve heard it compared to.” Claire went into full doctor mode as Jamie’s face screwed up. “Not to mention any ripping or…”

“Enough, enough. I get it. How about a compromise? I text Ian in the morning and we’ll go round if he thinks Jenny feels up tae it?”

Claire nodded.

“Fine. Now, I believe ye were jes’ about tae bite me some more.” Jamie said as he pulled Claire down onto the pillows.

*************
Ian opened the front door, a small child clamped tightly to his leg. “Come in. Welcome and ye must be Claire. We’ve heard a awfa lot about ye. And ye ken this wee chap, don’t ye?” Ian lifted the little boy into his arms. “Jamie, look who’s come tae see ye. Remember the doctor that fixed yer arm? She’s come tae see ye with Uncle Jamie. Are ye goin’ tae say hello?”

Wee Jamie held out his arms toward his uncle. Jamie grabbed him and pulled him close.

“‘Lo.” He greeted Claire with a sweet smile and wiggled his hands. “Look. All better now.”

Claire took his hand. “That’s really good. Hello Ian, pleased to meet you.”

Jamie moved into the hallway. “Are they in there?” He nodded in the direction of the living room.

His nephew pulled Jamie’s face close to his. “Ye’ve come fer see me, Unca.”

“Aye, we have, lad. But I jes’ need tae say hello tae yer mam. Manners, remember.”

As they walked into the room, Ian whispered to Claire. “There’s been a wee bit of jealousy this morning. Jamie’s no’ too good at sharing his mam. I’ll jes’ go and put the kettle on, shall I?”

Annoyingly, Claire had to agree that Jamie was right. Considering she had given birth less than twenty-four hours before, Jenny looked remarkably well, not to say blooming, with only the slightest grimace on her face as she shifted position. The baby was asleep in a Moses basket next to her chair.

Jamie leant over to kiss his sister. “Jenny, this is Claire.”

As Claire was about to extend her hand to shake, Jenny reached up and pulled Claire to her, kissing her warmly on the cheek. “Och, I’m that glad tae meet ye. Sae nice to put a face tae yer name. Jamie’s been bletherin’ on about ye for weeks.” She paused for a second. “Ye ken I mean my brother, no’ Wee Jamie.”

“Nah, dinna be tellin’ her that. She’ll be thinkin’ I’m a softie. Now, let me see my niece.”

Jenny gently lifted the sleeping baby out of the basket. Wee Jamie reluctantly allowed their uncle to set him down. Jamie sat next to Jenny and cradled the new addition to the family.

Wee Jamie scowled at this latest indication of treachery and moved over to Claire.

“We have a present for you, Jamie.” Claire said, rummaging in her bag.

“Fer me, no fer Maggie.”

“Weel,” his uncle joined in the conversation. “We have a wee present fer yer sister too. ‘Tis only fair now, is it no’?”

Jamie nodded reluctantly as he unwrapped the box Claire had given him. “Oh, oh, Spideyman blast ‘n’ go bike. ‘Sno fer babies, though.”

Claire handed another present to Jenny. “It’s Marks and Spencer. So if you don’t like it, you can return it. I’ve got the receipt.”

Jenny lifted up the pink gingham top with matching pink leggings. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Thank ye. Ye have verra good taste and no’ jes’ in men!”

Claire watched Jamie with his niece. She knew that for such a large man, he could be remarkably gentle but nevertheless, she still thrilled as he lightly cupped Maggie’s head and traced his finger along her cheek then pressed his lips to the soft, dark down on the top of her head. A warm feeling engulfed her. This could be them in a few years’ time.

Without a word, Jamie looked across at Claire and passed the baby over.

Ian came in with a tray laden with mugs of tea and biscuits and began to pass them around. He set a mug to one side for Claire.

Claire instinctively lowered her face to the baby, breathing in that essence of newborn baby. She looked up to see Jenny watching her, before exchanging glances with her brother and smiling in approval.

******

After visiting for an hour or so, Jamie could see that Jenny was starting to tire, so they made their goodbyes and promised to return a few days later.

As they buckled their seat belts in the car, Jamie turned to Claire and, with far too studied a casual air, enquired, “Do ye think ye would like children? At some point, I mean, no’ right now obviously?”

“Yes, not at this moment, but I would like a couple of children. How about you?”

“Same as ye, I think. Mebbe in a couple o’ years and mebbe three or four. I do like to think about that, doing things as a family, campin’, walkin’, playin’ games.”

“So that’s what the future holds for you, then, is it?”

Jamie reached over and entwined his fingers with Claire’s. “I like tae think that’s what the future holds fer us.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t know what to do,” he said.

“ No harm in that. I’ve never known what to do, said Rincewind with hollow cheerfulness. “Been completely at a loss my whole life.” He hesitated. “I think it’s called being human…” - Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

 

As a rule, after a gruelling gym session or an energetic game of squash, Jamie and John would catch up over a coffee and cake, or sometimes, a beverage of a more alcoholic nature. Of course, Jamie’s tipple was always whisky. John could occasionally be persuaded to partake in whisky, but generally preferred a gin and tonic. For the sake of their friendship, Jamie tried to ignore this character flaw.

The landlord of the pub they frequented turned a blind eye to their tracksuit bottoms, training shoes and shower-damp hair, provided they sat in a discrete alcove and nobody tripped over their gym bags.

Jamie sat nursing his whisky, while John sipped his gin and tonic.

“So, how are Jenny and Ian doing with the baby?”

“Jes’ great. Three weeks old now. She’s a wee sweetheart. Jenny says thanks fer the gift. She will write ye a proper thank ye when she has a spare minute!”

“No, she doesn’t need to bother, honestly. And how’s Jamie coping with the little usurper?”

“Ah, gettin’ better. He reckons she’s not too bad as long as she doesna play wi’ his toys and he doesna have tae give up his Spiderman bedroom. I think…”

Jamie was interrupted by the ring of his mobile. He pulled it out of his pocket, glanced at the screen, frowning, then rejected the call.

“Geneva, again. She’s started sendin’ me texts and callin’, wanting tae meet up. I’m ignorin’ her at the moment, but if she keeps on mitherin’ I’m gonna have tae tell her straight.”

“Have you told Claire?”

“Nah, didna want tae bother her. Nay point if Geneva stops.”

A brief chirp told Jamie that a text had arrived. “Geneva again. Wants me tae go round tae talk.”

“Look, why don’t you just go? Explain to Claire what you’re going to do, but just put an end to it. Otherwise she will keep on.”

“Aye, guess ye’re right. Face it head on.”

************

The hospital coffee shop was not the most ideal place for a date, but with Claire on call, it would have to suffice. Jamie had already ordered and was sitting at a table with two large Americanos by the time Claire arrived.

“Sorry, I’m a bit late, I know.” Claire pulled her chair around to sit next to Jamie, rather than facing him. “I had to change out of my scrubs. They won’t let you sit in here with them on. Maybe it upsets the visitors, but they didn’t have any blood or any other bodily fluid on them, so I don’t know why. God, I needed this.”

She took a huge swing of her coffee. “OK. Out with it. You, sitting there with those puppy dog eyes. Either you’ve done something that you think I won’t like, or you’re about to do it. Tell me.”

Jamie cleared his throat and nervously tapped his finger against his coffee mug, beating out a random rhythm. “Weel, you ken I told ye about Geneva…”

Claire nodded. She folded her arms across her body, ready to provide protection if, or when, the blow should fall. She felt his tension radiating outwards.

Jamie saw her instinctive move. “Nay, Sassenach, dinna worry, it’s no’ bad. Jes’ wanted to let ye know, she’s started tae mither me wi’ texts and calls. Doesna seem like she’s willin’ tae give up. I need to get her tae stop. I’m no’ interested and she kens that.”

He ran his hands through his hair, the curls now sticking up around his head as if he had just woken. Claire unfolded her arms and stroked it, straightening it into a slightly neater hairstyle.

“When we went out last year, I never gave her any promises, never told her… weel, what I’ve said tae ye. So, I’m goin’ tae see her, jes’ tae put her straight once and fer all. Are ye alright wi’ that? I want tae always gi’e ye honesty. I want ye tae trust me completely.”

“I do trust you, Jamie, I really do. This is new to me - trust and honesty in a relationship. You know, when I was with Frank, I don’t think there was ever honesty between us. He wasn’t honest to me about the phone calls, the so-called out of hours department meetings, the extra tuition pretence for his attractive students. And me, I wasn’t honest to him: playing along, pretending I believed all his excuses. But, I trust you. Go and sort things out with Geneva. And make it clear about us.”

“Seems like we’ve both had some dodgy exes, eh?” Jamie joked as the tension between them lifted.

Jamie shuffled his chair closer to Claire. He whispered in her ear. “I’ll make sure she knows I’m completely in yer power and happy tae be there. I love ye, Sassenach.”

**************

Deja vu, Jamie thought to himself as he stood at Geneva’s front door. Wiping his sweating palms on his jeans, he tried to calm the rolling in his stomach before he pressed the doorbell. He really didn’t want to hurt anyone, but once again, he was standing here waiting to give Geneva the bad news. He wished he hadn’t seen her again at Rupert’s wedding nearly three months ago, hadn’t gone out with her, hadn’t slept with her. Two more deep breaths and he rang the doorbell.

Geneva answered the door almost immediately, obviously waiting for him to arrive at the agreed time. She ushered him in with a tight smile. Not saying a word, she pointedly looked at the doormat. Jamie, knowing the drill, quickly pulled his shoes off and followed her into the living room. He moved to the middle of the room as she hovered by the door.

“Would you like a drink - tea, coffee, water, juice?” Geneva ran through the list of possible beverages.

“Nay, I dinna want anything tae drink. I’m no’ stayin’ fer long. I dinna want tae upset ye again, but I’m in a serious relationship and…” Jamie began his practiced speech.

Geneva interrupted him abruptly. “No, it’s not that. Did you think I’d come begging for you? Jamie, I’m pregnant. About eight weeks.”

The colour drained from Jamie’s face. Feeling his legs start to shake, he sat down hard on a nearby chair. “Wh…”

He cleared his throat and tried again. “What?”

Geneva spoke slowly and clearly, almost as if explaining to a child. “I’m pregnant. About eight weeks. That means due in February. And it’s yours. I haven’t slept with anyone else in over a year.”

Jamie rested his elbows on his knees with his face in his hands. No one spoke. Finally he raised his head.

“But when I asked that night whether ye were still on the pill, ye told me ye were. What happened?” His voice was hoarse and trembling.

“I was. I don’t know what happened. There was a sickness bug going round at work, I caught a touch of that.”

Was it Jamie’s imagination, or was there a tiny hesitation in Geneva’s words, a momentary downward gaze, the slightest reddening of her cheeks?

“Listen, the important thing is I am having a baby, your baby. I can show you the pregnancy test if you don’t believe me. I can even go and do another test right now if you don't believe me. I’ve been to the doctor. You can contact them. I’m not getting rid of it either.”

“My God, did ye think I would ask ye tae get rid?”

Jamie rested his head against the back of the chair. His eyes prickled and he rubbed them harshly. A thousand thoughts cascaded through his mind, too many to focus on clearly. A baby, an unplanned and truthfully, an unwanted baby. And was this pregnancy really unplanned? How was this going to work? What would his role be? And, oh God, how much will this hurt Claire? He couldn’t bear to see her upset. Tears welled up in his eyes, but this time he made no attempt to stop them.

A hand touching his knee brought him back into the conversation.

“So what happens now?” Geneva asked quietly. She was sitting on the footstool by his chair. The hand remained motionless on his knee.

“I dinna ken. Has yer doctor no’ made an appointment fer yer twelve-week scan at the hospital?”

“I didn’t mean that.” The hand started moving, the fingertips drawing lazy circles round and round Jamie’s knee. “I meant us. What happens now about us?”

“Geneva, I will support ye as much as I can through this. I dinna want tae be harsh, but it doesna mean that there is an ‘us.’ I was tellin’ ye, I’m with someone, someone I mean tae have a future with and I’m no’ lettin’ go of that.”

“But surely, you’ve been together such a short time. How can you know? Could we not have a future together- you, me, and the baby? I know you’ve always wanted a family.”

“Aye, I have, but we shouldna be together, no’ jes’ for a bairn. It’s no’ right. We will figure something out. Other people do.”

The hand crept steadily up Jamie’s thigh. “We could make it work, you and I. I’m sure of it.”

Jamie deliberately lifted Geneva’s hand and stood up. “Nah, I mean it. I ken ye’ll be goin’ through a lot over the next months. And I mean what I say, I will support ye and the bairn. But more than that I canna do. I will go wi’ ye to the scan. Let me know the date. And please dinna tell Rupert and Fiona until I’ve had chance tae tell Da and Jenny. Have ye told anyone yet?”

“Only my sister.”

He made his way to the front door, Geneva following. Once he had put his shoes back on, they stood there, face to face, unsure of the next steps.

“So, text me the date and I will come tae the scan wi’ ye. We can work out what I’m tae do, tae help ye.”

Geneva nodded and bit her lip, as though willing herself not to cry. Jamie stood still, his hands by his sides, drumming his fingers against his leg. How strange it felt, he thought, to be so awkward around someone, having previously shared each others’ bodies in the most intimate way and to be starting this journey of parenthood together as virtual strangers. He bent down and touched his lips briefly to her forehead before walking back to his car.

***************

Jamie wasn’t quite sure how he managed to drive home. Restless and unsettled, he wandered through the rooms of his house and tried to imagine them filled with all the paraphernalia that follows with a baby. How would that work? He supposed that there would have to be two sets of baby ‘stuff’- one lot for him and one for Geneva.

In the kitchen, Jamie opened his fridge and stood there for a minute, unable to decide what to do next. One of Mrs. Crook’s cottage pies was defrosted and ready for his dinner this evening. He had taken it out of the freezer that morning, when he still had an appetite. He let the fridge door bang shut and moved to the kitchen cupboard. Opening the door, he stood contemplating the whiskies on offer before closing that door as well. He wasn’t sure that he would be able to swallow anything. The lump in his throat was so large, he was surprised it was allowing him to breathe.

Suddenly, the whole house seemed airless and claustrophobic. Jamie ran upstairs, stripping his shirt off on the way and quickly donned his running gear.

**************
Jamie set a steady pace as he pounded the pavements. He tried to clear his head. The only decision he needed to make was whether to turn left or right at each junction. Even that seemed too much of a challenge as his feet automatically led him to the park.

He speeded up as he entered the park, forcing his legs faster and faster, his calf muscles beginning to complain. Jamie relished the pain, focussing his mind on that stopped him from thinking about any other pain. Like the pain he knew he would have to inflict on Claire. Because of him, she had allowed her barriers -- built over years of sadness and an unhappy relationship -- to break down and to let herself become vulnerable. And he knew he was now about to hurt her to her very core.

He stopped abruptly, seething with pent up anger. Anger at Geneva, anger at the prospect of a baby, and anger at himself. He turned and, balling his fist, drove it into a tree trunk several times before continuing his run.

As he exited the park, he realised where his feet had brought him. He slowed to a walk and tried to get his breath. He stopped at a tall Victorian building, entered and climbed a single flight of stairs. He hesitated slightly before knocking.

The door opened.

“Claire. Sassenach...”

Chapter Text

I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed- why should I not admit it? - at that moment, my heart was breaking.
-Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

 

Claire opened her door to find a sweating Jamie leaning against the door frame.

“Claire, Sassenach...” He managed, between gulps of air.

“Oh, god, look at you. Come in, sit down. Have you run all the way from yours?”

Her eyes were immediately drawn to his scraped and bloodied knuckles. She ushered him into the living room and gathered her first aid kit, ready to tend to his injuries.

Jamie tried hard not to wince as the sting of the antiseptic cream hit his hand. Claire gently massaged the cream into his skin with her fingertips. Soothing and relaxing, she held his hand between hers before lifting it to her lips and lightly kissing his palm. His throat tightened, the pain in his knuckles was nothing compared to what he knew he had to do.

“So, can you flex your fingers for me?” In professional mode, Claire took Jamie’s hand through a range of exercises and movements, finally confirming that it was fortunately not broken, merely bruised.

“And how did it happen?” Claire released his hand and sat back.

“I banged it on a tree.”

“Did you lose your balance then? Are you hurt anywhere else?” She scanned his body for further signs of injury.

Jamie shook his head. “Jes’ ma hand. I… I may have punched a tree.”

Claire began to laugh. “Punched a tree? Is this some sort of male testosterone-y thing? You’re never going to…”

She paused as a thought struck her. Her face grew worried. “Geneva. You’ve been to see Geneva. And now you’re in a bad mood. Because you’re going to have to tell me something. That I’m not going to like. Oh, fucking hell, Jamie, you said you weren’t going back to her. How could you say you love…”

Claire stood up, about to move away. Jamie grabbed her waist and pulled her, protesting, back on the sofa beside him.

“Claire, please listen tae me. Aye, something has happened, but…”

Claire struggled to pull away as Jamie’s arms wrapped even more tightly round her.

“Listen, LISTEN, PLEASE.” Jamie’s voice raised, then softened again as Claire relaxed her struggles. “Claire I love ye and only ye. I want us tae have a future together and I have told Geneva that. Ye are my girlfriend and nothing will change the way I feel about ye.”

Jamie could feel the tension in Claire’s body start to disappear. He took her hands in his and looked into her amber eyes, those amazing whisky-coloured eyes, looking right into his with complete trust. She smiled encouragingly.

“I’m listening.”

Jamie took a deep breath and looked down at his hand. “Ye ken I used tae go out wi’ Geneva last year and we met up again at that wedding, where I first saw ye. After that we went out for a couple of drinks but I knew it wasna right, so I ended it, before it had begun really. And most definitely before ye treated Wee Jamie and I asked ye out. She didna take it too well but I hadna heard from her since, until she started callin’ this past week or sae.”

He hesitated and looked up to Claire. Anxiety was etched on her face, her forehead furrowed, her eyes half closed, her teeth gnawed her lower lip. Waiting for the killer punch she knew was to come.

“Why Geneva wanted tae talk tae me is… is… weel,” Jamie stumbled over the words. This was the first time he had had to say them aloud. “She’s pregnant, she’s having a baby and…”

“But you said you knew it wasn’t right between you. You said you only went out for a drink a couple of times. What’s it got to do with you?”

Jamie felt his cheeks burning red hot. Claire pulled her hands out of Jamie’s grasp.

“Ah, I see. You idiot. You fucking great idiot. You knew it wasn’t right between you. You knew she wanted a relationship with you. And yet you still slept with her. Was it that important to get laid? To have a shag? Was the fuck worth it?”

The words of recrimination poured out of Claire, each sentence cruder than the one before, little barbed arrows designed to smart and sting.

Claire’s voice grew hoarse. “How can you have done that? Is it too great a distance for common sense to travel from your brain to your dick? Or is all your thinking done by your dick anyway? Was Geneva just a convenient and willing hole for you to stick your prick in? Is that what I am to you, just another hole for your cock?”

Claire stood and walked to the kitchen. Jamie remained seated, ashamed. She returned with a glass of water, slowly sipping it.

“Talk to me, James Fraser. Explain it to me.” She sounded calmer.

“I’ll tell ye. I’m no’ proud of ma actions, but it wasna all me either. I made no promises tae Geneva, didna lead her on. I dinna ken what went on in her head. But when she asked me tae go tae bed, I did. ‘Twas jes’ the one night and when she asked me again, I said ‘No.’”

Claire sat down next to Jamie, on the edge of the seat, tightly coiled ready to spring up again. Jamie placed his hand on her leg. She let it remain there but didn’t react to its presence. Her eyes were focussed, not on him but over his shoulder, towards her shelves with the twinkling fairy lights. Even without looking at him though, he knew she was listening, processing the information, hopefully giving him a chance to explain. He took a deep breath and continued.

“That’s why she was tryin’ tae get hold of me. Tae tell me. I canna tell ye how much of a shock it was, how much it upset me knowing how I'd have tae make ye feel. And, yes, Geneva did suggest that she and I could make it work. But I told her, I told her straight that I was wi’ ye and that I love ye. And that wasna goin’ tae change, bairn or no. Ye must believe me. I willna lie tae ye. I said I will support her and help, but not wi’ out ye.”

Claire exhaled. Jamie hadn’t realised she had been holding her breath. Still not willing to look at him, she asked shakily, “How do you know she’s pregnant? What if she’s not and it’s a ploy to get you back with her? What if she conveniently fakes a miscarriage and has to rely more and more on your emotional support? She could drag you back into her world. There’d be no room for me. Or what if it’s not your baby? What if she slept with someone else?”

“Nah, I believe her. She’s no’ lyin’.”

An image briefly flashed into his mind of Geneva’s face when he asked about the pill. The unwillingness to make eye contact, the hesitation in her response. He thrust it aside. Now was not the time to dwell on that.

“Nah, ‘tis mine. I’ve nae doubt. The dates...they match”

Claire sat quietly for a moment then gasped as another thought suddenly manifested. “But how… we always use protection. Why didn’t you? Or would it somehow have ruined the moment?” The sarcasm was obvious in her voice.

“D’ye really want tae know these details?”

Claire nodded.

“Weel, when we were together last year, she was on the pill. I asked her, afore… afore we… er, and she told me she was still on it. She now says she got a wee bit of a sickness bug. I suppose the pukin’ would’ve affected it.”

Claire emitted a typically Scottish sound of derision, making her opinion on that very clear. “So what happens now? About the baby, I mean. I assume she’s keeping it.”

“Aye, she is. Weel, I have tae tell Da and Jenny. I’m piss scared o’ Jenny. I’m sure she’ll have ma balls in a vice if she could. I said I would go with Geneva tae the twelve week scan. And then we will have tae figure something out.”

Claire turned and rested her head against Jamie’s chest. He felt her start to shake as her tears mingled with the sweat stains on his running vest. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her head.

“Claire, hush, ye are ma love. This willna come between us, I know.”

“But, with me now, it’ll never be the first. Never the first time you hear the heartbeat, or see that blurry image, or hold your baby in your arms. I’ll never have those firsts with you. That’s been taken away from me. They’ll always be reruns.”

“There’ll still be firsts. The first time ye tell me ye’re pregnant and I ken that bairn was conceived in love, the first time I go to sleep wi’ my arms around yer belly feelin’ the kicks within ye. The first time I’m there fer the birth. And even the reruns, as ye call them, will be all the more special because I’m sharing them wi’ ye.”

Claire sat up and wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve. “I’m sorry. I was getting ahead of myself there, talking about having children with you. We’ve only been together for such a short time, my thoughts there were somewhat premature.”

“Dinna apologise, Sassenach. I have the same dreams, meself, wi’ ye.”

Finally, Claire looked up at Jamie. So many thoughts crowded inside her head, a jumbled seething mass of emotions too complicated to unpick tonight. One stood out, a beacon in this whole mess. Jamie was hers and he loved her. As though seeking affirmation, she brought her hands up to his face, holding him before bringing her mouth to his for a moment then breaking away.

“Jamie, come with me.”

Jamie recognised a note of urgency in Claire's voice.

Claire took Jamie’s hand from her leg, pulling him up and leading him into the bedroom.

She pushed him onto the bed and straddled him, one leg either side of his hips. She pulled at his vest, peeling it off his body and flinging it to the floor. Her fingernails raked down his chest, leaving thin red paths through his ginger hairs, until they reached the waistband of his shorts. Jamie rolled his hips towards her, his arousal clearly defined through the thin material. Claire climbed off him and quickly pulled off his shoes and socks before tugging his shorts down his legs to join his vest on the floor.

Jamie watched as, without any ceremony or teasing routine, Claire quickly removed her shirt and unhooked her bra. He reached out to capture a breast but Claire moved just out of reach. She raised her hips and pulled her yoga pants and knickers down together in one motion. For a moment, she stayed still kneeling next to him, watching as he ran his eyes all over her body. Then swiftly she moved, bringing her mouth to his stomach, biting and nipping around his abdomen, red marks showing the path of her lips and teeth. Her hands cupped his buttocks, pulling his hips closer into her.

Her movements became more frantic as she raised herself up Jamie’s body. Her mouth pressed hard against his, her tongue pushing and probing, before biting his lower lip. Her hands moved through his hair, grabbing it in her fists. Jamie groaned in pleasure as Claire reached for his hand and placed it between her legs.

“Do you want me?” She whispered harshly in his ear, sending shivers down his spine. “Do you want to fuck me?”

“Oh, God, Yes.”

He rolled Claire onto her back, positioning himself between her legs. Stilling himself for a moment, he leaned over and opened the drawer of the bedside table, pulling out a foil packet.

“Do you want tae put it on me?” he asked.

Claire opened her eyes fully and stared at the little square packet. Snatching it from Jamie’s fingers, she threw it across the room.

“Oh yes, have to take precautions. Can’t have any little accidents with your girlfriend, can we? A one-night stand, well, that’s a different matter.”

She pushed him off her and rolled away from him, pulling the cover over her body.

“I think you should go.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes, just saying that you hate something, and having someone agree with you, can make you feel better about a terrible situation. - Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

Jamie: How are you doing today?

Sassenach: OK. Lot of thinking

Sassenach: How are you?

Jamie: Worried. When can I see you?

Sassenach: Not yet. Will let you know

Jamie: I love you x

Sassenach: ...
Sassenach: …

Sassenach: I know

Sassenach: ...

Sassenach: Love you too

 

******
The day at work dragged by. Jamie felt detached and sluggish, fuelled only by industrial-strength espresso. He really thought they had worked it through last night. After the initial anger followed by hurt and sadness, Jamie had believed there was an acceptance of the situation. He had let Claire take the lead in their lovemaking, realising her fierce need to possess his body and brand him, mark him as hers. But Claire's wound was still raw, with no time to scab over, and his unintentional teasing with the condom had been enough to open it wide again. He considered himself to have a degree of emotional intelligence, but it had totally failed him last night. And the result was being told to leave Claire’s bed and return home, in a taxi, his arousal having quickly dissipated when he realised his own insensitivity.

The day had been incredibly unproductive too, constantly checking his phone for signs that Claire was willing to meet him. Apart from the terse responses to his texts, there had been no further communication.

The screen of his phone lit up, announcing the arrival of a message. Greedily, he picked it up, disappointed when John’s name appeared.

John: Gym in 20?
Jamie: yh. See you in there

******
John was already pounding away on the treadmill when Jamie arrived. He quickly adjusted the settings, plugged his headphones in and set off. His legs and hand still ached from the strenuous activity yesterday, so he kept it easy, not even trying to match or outdo John’s pace as he usually did.

John glanced over to his friend, his face questioning Jamie’s unaccustomed slow speed. Jamie shrugged and carried on.

The process was repeated on the rowing machines and cross trainers. By the time they reached the hand bikes, Jamie had had enough. He pulled out his headphones and tapped John’s arm.

“That’s it fer me. I’m headin’ fer the shower.”

“Are you ok? You don’t seem your usual, er, bullish self.”

“Aye, well, things on ma mind.”

Wrapping a towel round himself, Jamie left his shower cubicle and headed to his locker as John walked into the changing room. John stared momentarily at Jamie’s stomach, before hastily shifting his gaze upwards.

“Er, good night then, was it?” He nodded his head in the general direction of Jamie’s lower body.

Jamie glanced in the mirror. The evidence of Claire’s ministrations the previous night was clearly visible, livid red circles across his abdomen with faint pink tracks down his chest.

“No’ sae good as ye’re thinking. Have ye time fer a drink? I could do wi’ one.”

******
John brought the drinks over to their usual table. Unusually, John had chosen neat whisky. It seemed more appropriate to him, joining Jamie in a dram or two while listening to, he was sure, Jamie’s current relationship problems.

Jamie took a sip of his drink, then another. John waited in silence.

“I dinna ken where tae start.” Jamie began, tapping his glass with his fingers.

John shrugged.

“We’ve known each other, what, ten, eleven years? And in all that time, have ye ever known me to fall for a woman? I mean, really fall, hard?”

John shook his head. “No, plenty of girlfriends, plenty of relationships, but none that I thought ‘this is it, this is Jamie settling down.’ Not until now.”

“Aye, ye’re no wrong. No’ wishin’ tae sound too soppy, but this is the first time I’ve felt like this. Claire is the one I see a future with… did see… no, do see. But I’m feared she willna want tae carry on. And it’s all ma fault. I canna believe it, everything was going sae well.”

He took a larger gulp of his drink before carrying on. “I went tae see Geneva, like we spoke about.”

“Oh, did Claire not know? Has she found out?”

“Nah, I told her what I was doin’. That was fine. It’s no’ that… Geneva’s pregnant. With ma bairn. I told Claire last night.”

John was stunned into silence at this revelation, before bursting forth with a barrage of questions. “Oh my god, Jamie, pregnant? Really? Yours? Are you sure? And telling Claire? How did she take it? Sorry, stupid question… of course she’ll have taken it badly. But does she think you’d slept with Geneva while seeing her?”

“Aye, I’m sure ‘it’s mine. I’ve kent Geneva for a good while and the way she thinks. And Claire, weel, she kens it was just afore I met her. She took it as well as anyone would… blamed me fer being led by ma cock, no’ ma brain. Blamed me fer leading Geneva on when I’d no mind tae have a relationship wi’ her. Then took me tae her bed. Like a vixen she was, till… weel, till I wasna as sensitive as I shoulda been. And she told me tae go. Jes’ a couple of texts since then. And I’m worried, John. What if I’ve screwed it all up? What if she doesna want tae be wi’ me? I dinna ken what I’d do. What will I do, John? ”

“I don’t know, Jamie, I really don’t know.”

John had never seen his friend this upset about a woman. To Jamie, girlfriends had always been like buses, if you missed one, just hang around and another will be along soon enough. He realised that Claire must be really quite special.

“All you can do is talk to her and listen to her too. I’m sure she won’t want to throw away what you have. But you must realise it’s a lot for Claire to deal with, a child and an ex! She knows you weren’t unfaithful to her. And you’ll need to reassure her that you won’t be going back to the woman. That’s not what Geneva wanted, was it?”

“Aye, she did suggest we could try again. But I made it clear that wasna going tae happen. And even if Claire and I canna…” Jamie paused for a moment before taking a deep breath and continuing. “Even if Claire and I willna be together, I will never be wi’ Geneva. John, dinna tell anyone about this, please. I want tae have it all sorted afore I have tae start explaining tae people... Another one, eh?”

Jamie drained his glass and stood up. John wasn’t sure he could stomach another neat whisky but felt that asking for some ginger ale to go with it might send Jamie over the edge. He just nodded and passed his empty glass over.

Jamie returned with two whiskies and two packets of salt and vinegar crisps. He ripped one open and shovelled a couple of handfuls into his mouth. Conversation between them stopped until Jamie finished crunching. He wiped his hands on his tracksuit and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.

“And do ye ken, while all this is goin’ on in ma head… what about Claire… what about Geneva… how do I explain tae Claire… what do I tell Jenny and Da… the one thing that’s no’ gettin’ a look in is the poor wee bairn that’s goin’ tae be arrivin’. I mean, I dinna want tae have a baby this way.”

“I know... but It’s awfully convenient for Geneva isn’t it? She wants to be in a relationship with you. Suddenly she’s pregnant. Call me a cynical lawyer, and I know accidents can happen but... think about a DNA test when the baby’s born. Just remember, I’m here for you as a friend but I’m also here in my professional capacity. I hope you don’t need that but bear that in mind.”

Jamie’s phone, resting on the table, bleeped. He snatched it up.

Sassenach: xan we taiolk???
Sassenach: im aa bit pissssed, och aye xx

**************
Fortunately for Claire, and more fortunately for her patients, she had no theatre or outpatient sessions, so she could spend the day in her office, fortified by strong black coffee, dictating patient letters and catching up on other paperwork.

She found it difficult to focus though. Her mind kept replaying the conversation between herself and Jamie last night, culminating in forcing Jamie to leave her flat, in a taxi, with a bad case of blue balls, no doubt.

It had been unkind, and possibly not rational of her to do that, but just when she had reached a level of acceptance of the situation, he had tried to include contraception as part of foreplay. That had hit hard, not only Geneva’s pregnancy, but his goddamn lack of sensitivity.

Claire’s secretary tried to keep her spirits up by frequently bringing her pots of tea and rounds of toast. (“This is what keeps the NHS goin’, ye ken, pet. Nice bit of hot tea and a bite of toast. Soon put the colour back in yer cheeks.”)

Her phone rested on the desk, distracting her from her work. She kept picking it up, poised to send Jamie a text, but unsure what to say, she would put it down again. The messages she had sent to Jamie were short responses to his, giving away nothing.

By mid afternoon she had had enough. The caffeine from the copious amounts of coffee and tea had given her a headache so she decided to walk home, trying to clear her head. As she gathered her papers together, shoving them into her bag, the screen of her phone lit up, announcing the arrival of a message. She picked it up, disappointed when Geillis’s name appeared.

G: r u ok. Didn’t c u 2day
Claire: it’s complicated. Come round later for a drink?
G: ok. C u l8r

******
The door was unlocked, so Geillis let herself in and headed straight for the living room. She sat down as Claire appeared, struggling to carry two whisky tumblers, an ice bucket and a bottle of Broch Tuarach.

“Celebratin’ are we? Ye’ve brought out the good stuff, I see.” Geillis commented

Claire poured two very large whiskies and passed one to her friend. She dropped three ice cubes into her whisky, letting the contents splash over the rim of the glass and onto the table.

“Oh bugger... I’ll have bloody ice in my whisky if I want. I might actually want it to dilute the flavour, he doesn’t bloody know what I want, that’s for sure.”

Claire tried to mop up the spillage with the hem of her shirt, succeeding only in spreading the moisture over a larger area. Geillis began to suspect that this was not her first drink of the evening.

“So, I take it we’re no’ celebratin’ here then. What’s the problem, Claire? My hunch is it’s man-related, am I right? Come on, tell me, while I savour this fine dram.”

“I don’t know where to start. We’ve been friends for, what, seven years now? You saw me with Frank and know what shit he put me through. I’m so relaxed with Jamie. I don’t want to be soppy but I love the way he makes me feel. I see a future with him, or, well I did and it’s suddenly got so complicated.”

Claire swigged her drink.

“Basically, last year Jamie was in a relationship with a woman called Geneva. Stupid bloody name. Anyway, he finished with her, but they briefly got back together just before I met him. He ended it again. Then a few days ago she started sending him messages asking to meet up.”

“Oh, did he go and no’ tell ye? Is that it? And ye’re right, ‘tis a daft name.”

Claire took another large swig. The ice was starting to hurt her teeth. She fished a couple of cubes out of her drink and dropped them back in the bucket.

“No, He told me he was going to see her to make it plain there was no chance. That was fine. It’s not that… Geneva’s pregnant. It’s his baby. She’s keeping it. He told me last night.”

”Ye dinna think he shagged her while he was wi’ ye? Christ, a bairn. Why would anyone want a bairn?”

“I know it…” Claire drained her whisky. “Him and her… them… was before me. But I hate the thought of him screwing that cow. I’ve never met her but I’m sure she’s a cow. Anyway, I got mad and accused him of thinking with his cock.”

Geillis raised her glass in salute and nodded. “He’s a man, that’s what they all do. Can work to our advantage, though.”

“And I accused him of leading Geneva on. Then I got all maudlin about our babies.”

Geillis eyed Claire’s midriff. “No’ ye too? ‘Cos the amount of alcohol ye’re shifting would no’ be good.”

“G, of course not. I meant hypothetical babies.”

“They’re the best kind,” Geillis muttered. “Dinna get under yer feet, or smell, or cry or…”

“Focus, G. So after rage and tears, I then turned into some sort of vixen and practically pounced on him. Until he suggested that I put the condom on him, all sexy-like. So I asked him to leave. That’s it. What should I do, G? I want him, but it’s all getting so messy.”

“I dinna ken, Claire. Mebbe another drink?” Geillis handed Claire her glass in expectation as she carried on talking.

“Ye have tae figure out what ye want. That’s ye, no’ Jamie or that woman or a bairn. Think about jes’ yerself. What are ye willin’ tae deal with? And then all you can do is talk tae him. If ye want him, ye have tae remember he wasna unfaithful. He needs tae gi’ ye reassurance that he willna go back tae the bitch. But if ye dinna feel ye want these complications, think carefully about what ye’re givin’ up. Either way, it’s gonna be difficult... Now pour that Broch Tuarach. I could develop quite a taste fer this.”

Claire poured two more very large whiskies and drank deeply.

“And I need to remember,” she started, slurring her words. “I can be angry, really really mad as hell with Jamie and totally pissed off with Genevieve, sorry, Geneva who I bet is a total dog breath and always coordinates her handbag with her shoes. And I bet she gets one of those really neat bumps, not fat or all round… sorry, what was I saying? Oh, I remember. But there’s going to be a li’l baby with red hair and curls and I’d have to meet it. And it might not like me and cry for Gennifer, sorry, Genevieve, I mean Geneva.”

And with that, Claire closed her eyes and rested her head on Geillis’ shoulder. Geillis patted her curls affectionately and carefully removed the glass, now at a precarious angle, from Claire’s hand.

“What I’m thinkin’ is, ‘twas verra handy how she got pregnant by accident, is it no’? Verra suspicious. Well, Claire, ye need tae talk tae Jamie as soon as possible and get this sorted. And remember, I may no’ be tall, but I’m verra strong and I’ve a friend who works with horses and can always lend me a castration tool. In case ye need it.”

******
Claire woke up as Geillis shut the front door and headed home. Still drunk, Claire fumbled in her bag for her mobile and started typing.

Claire: xan we taiolk???
Claire: im aa bit pissssed, och aye xx

Jamie: Of course. When? Now?

Claire : tomrw. need sleeep noo. want crosssant. sooooooo hungry. byeee
Claire:stupid fukin sperms

Chapter Text

“Jane, I never meant to wound you thus… Will you ever forgive me?"
Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot.
- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

Claire groaned and pulled the duvet over her head. The curtains had not been closed last night. She obviously had had other things on her mind, and the sun was streaming into the bedroom. She debated whether she had the energy to get out of bed to draw them. Her decision was made as her stomach suddenly lurched unpleasantly and she rushed to the bathroom.

Sitting on the bathroom floor, her arms wrapped around the toilet bowl, Claire thought about what she had to do today. In her own mind, she had made her decision, whether rightly or wrongly, but she still had to talk to Jamie and sort out a way forward - a workable solution. But first, another nap was in order. She got up very slowly and eased her way back into bed, remembering to close the curtains en route. Snuggling down under the covers, she drifted back off to sleep.

Claire had just started a conversation with the rapper Vanilla Ice about jam sandwiches when she felt Prince William’s hand on her arm, prodding repeatedly to attract her attention but somehow speaking with a Scottish accent. She rose slowly into consciousness and screamed as a tall, ginger Viking loomed over her bed.

“Christ, Sassenach, I could have been anyone. Ye dinna lock yer front door last night.”

“Oh, right.” Claire sat up and tried to run her fingers through her hair. Her mouth tasted like an old sock and, looking down, she realised she had slept in the t-shirt she wore the day before, now adorned with dubious stains. She recognised whisky and toothpaste, but blackcurrant jam and ketchup?

She tried not to breathe on Jamie as she spoke. “What are you doing here?”

“Weel, when ye texted me last night…”

“I did?”

“Aye, ye did. Check yer phone. Yer spelling was no’ too good, by the way. Ye said ye wanted tae talk tomorrow, which is now today. I’ve rung ye about a dozen times this morning wi’ no answer. I see why now. Anyway, I rang yer office and they said that ‘twas a day off. So I came over here, knocked on yer door, no answer, came in and here I am.”

He patted Claire’s head affectionately. “So get up and I’ll make ye a coffee.”

As Jamie moved into the kitchen, Claire flopped back on the pillows, trying to gather up the energy to join him. The smell of fresh coffee finally motivated her. Wrapping her faded old bathrobe around her, she stumbled into the living room.

Jamie had been busy. The debris from the night before had been cleared away and on the dining table he had laid out glasses of orange juice, coffee mugs, plates, knives, butter and napkins. From a white bakery box, delicious smells wafted towards Claire’s nose. Her stomach rumbled appreciatively as Jamie came to the table with a cafetière of strong coffee.

“I hope that means ye’re hungry and no’ that ye’re goin’ ta puke. Either sit down or head tae the bathroom.”

Claire chose to sit. Jamie poured the coffee and opened the box. “Ye said ye wanted croissants and I dinna ken which tae get, so I got a selection fer ye.”

Claire’s hand hovered over the pastries, dithering between a pain au raisin and an almond croissant. Finally selecting the almond croissant, she dropped it on her plate and looked across at Jamie. Outwardly he seemed quite calm, but she could feel the table vibrate slightly as his knee waggled up and down nervously. Dark circles ringed his eyes, the result of a couple of nights of poor sleep. Claire knew they had to finish their previous discussion, but needed coffee and food before tackling that.

“When did I say I wanted croissants?” She asked between mouthfuls.

“In yer text last night, can ye no’ remember?”

“I can’t even remember where my phone is, let alone what’s on it!” She scanned the room and eventually located the phone. She retrieved it from the yucca’s plant pot and scrolled through the screens - twelve missed calls from Jamie, four from Geillis - until she found her messages to Jamie.

“I have no recollection of sending those.”

“Aye weel, I could tell ye were well gone. Drunk textin’. But, as they say, in vino veritas. And I think ye were putting the blame squarely on the wee sperms.” Jamie immediately winced, regretting his flippancy. He and Claire seemed to be regaining some sort of equilibrium in their relationship. Now was not the time to jeopardise it with careless jokes or teasing.

Fortunately, Claire decided to ignore his last statement.

“Jamie,” she sighed. “We do need to discuss what’s going on and how it’ll affect us…”

Jamie opened his mouth to interrupt and Claire held her hand up to stop him, shaking her head.

“It has to affect us. It can’t not. We have other people to consider and we need a way forward. But I can’t focus while I need a shower. Please give me ten minutes, then we can discuss this.”

She headed towards the bathroom.

“Claire, I dinna want this tae come between us.”

At the doorway, Claire turned, looked at him and smiled. The first real smile he’d seen from her since he told her the news. A smile that reached her eyes and touched his heart.

“I know, Jamie, neither do I.”

******
Showered and dressed in clean t-shirt and shorts, Claire felt much better. Better than she ought to, considering the amount of whisky she had consumed. Not bothering to dry her hair, she made her way into the living room to find that Jamie had cleared all the breakfast plates away and was in the kitchen, bending over the dishwasher.

“Ye made good inroads intae the whisky last night, I see.” He commented without looking up as he rearranged the crockery to his liking. “But did I see an ice bucket there? Adding ice tae the twenty-five year old special reserve, what were ye thinkin’?”

“At the time, I was thinking that you were a dickhead and I wanted to prove you wrong.”

Claire leant against the kitchen counter. Jamie closed the dishwasher and stood up.

“And, was it…” He turned to face her. “Christ, Sassenach, I forget how beautiful ye are all fresh and clean from the shower.”

He snaked his hand round her waist. She pulled away and walked to the living room.

“No distractions, Jamie. We have to talk. Keep your libido under control.” She stopped and pulled a face.

“See, this is one of the things that is worrying me. Will we have no-go areas? Jokes we can’t make? Will I not be able to tease you about being insatiable? Will you worry about me every time we walk past a pram? Every time you open up a condom, will you be worrying about how I will react? Will I be thinking about…? You see, I find it difficult even saying her name to you. I want us to be together but there’s so much to consider. So many problems.”

Claire sat down. Jamie joined her, carefully positioning himself, close but not quite touching. Seemingly calm, only the drumming of his fingers against his knee reflected his anxiety. He waited, knowing Claire had more to say.

“I can’t even say her name to you, and she would be part of our lives. Of course I’m worried. She used to be your girlfriend, you obviously had some connection. What if, when you see her getting bigger with your child, feeling the baby move… what if you want to be a family?”

“Claire, what can I say that I havena said already? I’m sorry that this has happened. I’m sorry fer ma behaviour the other night. And I love ye and that willna change. If I’d have wanted tae be in a relationship with her, I would be in one, bairn or no bairn. A baby willna change that.”

Jamie placed his arm round Claire. She let him, but made no move to draw closer to him.

“And as fer all yer other questions, I dinna ken. ‘Twill no doubt become easier with time, although it’s awkward now. I wish this wasna happening, but it is. What I can answer I will. So, what is yer next question?”

“I’m just going to be direct here. Do you really think it’s your baby? Could it be someone else?”

Jamie sighed. “I really do. How can I say this? She wanted a relationship and thought I’d go back tae her, even when I told her it wouldna work - she told me that. She wouldna risk a bairn by another man. If it wasna an accident, I suppose she thought she’d have more chances when I went back tae her. Turns out she didna need those chances.” He added bitterly.

Claire was silent for a moment, before speaking. “I’ve just realised, in all our talking, I’ve not asked you. How are you with this news, Jamie? You’ve been so worried about how it affects me, and really it’s you who will have to deal with the biggest changes.”

“Truthfully?”

Claire nodded.

“Honestly, I’m beyond scared. I want a family, aye, but at some point in the future, in a lovin’ relationship. And now, the decision has been made and I’m goin’ tae be a father. Wi’ a woman who, truth be told, I dinna particularly like. And I have tae figure out how tae support her, wi’out leading her on and set boundaries as tae what I will and willna do. I will go tae hospital appointments wi’ her but I willna be in the delivery room. I’ll give her sister, Isobel, a call. Ye’ll like her… she’s nothin’ like Geneva. Then once the bairn is born, I can arrange me visitin’ and then havin’ the bairn at home wi’ me. But I want ye tae be there, to be part of it.”

Jamie looked at Claire and lightly ran his thumb down her cheek, now damp with tears. “The thing that scares me most about this whole thing is that I’ll lose ye. Ye say that ye worry about me going tae her… but I worry that I’ve screwed up so bad that ye canna be with me. And there’s nothin’ I can do. I’ve complicated yer life, brought ye sae much worry, I jes hope ye think it’s worth it.”

For the first time since Jamie told her the news, Claire felt the tension in her shoulders start to dissolve. She knew, complications or not, that this was where she wanted to be. Not the easy option, with a number of challenges over the coming months, but together they would be able to handle them.

Jamie ran his hands through his hair, frustration clear on his face. He realised there were so many questions they couldn’t yet answer, but as long as he had Claire with him, he was confident of the future.

His mind allowed his body to relax for the first time in two days. He could feel his muscles unclench. He tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a yawn. Claire caught his attempt and laughed. The sound of it made his heart leap.

“Is this all getting a bit boring for you?”

“Sorry, Sassenach, I’ve no’ had much sleep these past two nights.”

“I’ve got just the cure for that. Come with me.”

Claire led Jamie to the bedroom. He paused at the doorway.

“Wait, tae bed or tae sleep, because I’m no’ sure…”

Claire got into bed, pulling the covers down and patting the space next to her.

“Oh, definitely to sleep. I’ve not slept well either. And my drunken coma last night was not what you’d call refreshing. Now come here and spoon me.”

Jamie needed no further invitation. Stripping down to his briefs, he crawled into bed beside Claire. Pulling her close into him, his chest to her back, her arse wedged tightly at his groin, he sighed. Another thought sprang into his mind.

“I have one more question, Sassenach. I have tae tell Da and Jenny about all this. Jenny, Ian and the bairns are heading up tae Lallybroch next weekend. Are ye on call or no’?”

Jamie could feel Claire’s curls, still damp from the shower, tickling his nose as she shook her head.

“Grand. Will ye drive up wi’ me? We… that is, I, can tell them together.”

“So you want me for moral support, huh?”

“Actually, Sassenach, I want ye as a human shield. Jenny scares the hell out o’ me.”

Chapter Text

Manny: I understood "crazy old witch," "go kill yourself," then "I love you."
Jay: I'll never get this; how you all yell at each other.

Gloria: That's how you know that your family loves you, when they feel free to scream at you.

- Modern Family

 

Geneva: Ultrasound is on 15th. 11:40. Princess Royal Maternity hospital.

Jamie: Fine. I will meet you there, coming from work.

Geneva: I will be telling people after this scan, so better tell your family before then.

Jamie: I’m going up to Lallybroch this weekend, will tell them then

Geneva: I can come with you to tell them. Be nice to see Brian again

Jamie: Thanks but that’s ok. Claire is coming with me

 

Geneva: ok.

******

The weather was perfect for the journey through the Highlands, another day of blue skies and warm sunshine, thanks to an unusual but very welcome heatwave.

Jamie should have been in his element driving his favourite route home to Lallybroch. Instead he clenched the wheel with grim determination, eyes focussed on the road ahead, willing the journey to be over.

Claire was silent and did not even comment when they sailed past their customary stopping point. She realised he was best left to his own thoughts at the moment.

Jamie still hadn’t planned how to break the news to Brian, Murtagh and, God help him, Jenny. He knew none of them would be thrilled with the news, but it was Jenny’s quick temper and razor sharp tongue that he was dreading.

Claire glanced over at Jamie, noting the tension in his jaw, teeth clenched tightly together. She rubbed his arm, feeling his strong muscles through the thin shirt. His strength was obvious, but this weekend, she knew he would be relying on her to be strong for him.

Jamie smiled tightly. “The thing is, ye ken,” he spoke as if they were just continuing a conversation, rather than having spent the previous fifty minutes in silence.

“The thing is, Mam told me always tae think about my actions, and whether I would be ashamed tae tell her and Da about it. If I felt ashamed and wanted tae keep it hidden, I shouldna do it. Weel, I’m no’ exactly ashamed, but I’m no’ verra proud either. Although...”

He paused, working out how to put his thoughts into words. “...no, I am ashamed. Ashamed of no’ considerin’ the consequences of my actions, ashamed of sleepin’ wi’ a woman I dinna really care for, ashamed of conceivin’ a bairn in this way.”

Jamie picked up Claire’s hand and brought it to his lips. “But, one thing I am verra proud of is ye. And, idiot dickhead that I am, that ye still love me.”

Claire smiled. “You may be many things, James Fraser, including an idiot dickhead, but I do… I do love you.”

******
Claire was relieved when they turned into the driveway to Lallybroch and finally pulled up outside the house. She clambered out of the car, her legs stiff after four hours with no breaks, and headed for the side door with Jamie just behind.

Before they reached the door, Brian appeared around the side of the house, stooped over a vision in Spider-Man blue and red. Clad in a Spider-Man tracksuit, with a Spider-Man helmet perched on his head, Wee Jamie sat astride a Spider-Man tricycle, making no attempt to pedal whilst his grandad steered and pushed him forward. He rang the tricycle’s bell.

“Stop now… pease, Grandab.” He instructed his grandfather.

Wee Jamie quickly dismounted and rushed over to his uncle who scooped him up in his arms for a kiss, tickling the lad’s cheeks with his bristles. Wee Jamie pushed him away, giggling helplessly, and held his arms out to Claire. She held him tight, pretending to bang her head on the helmet he was still wearing before giving him a kiss.

“And what is all this finery ye have here, mo laochain?” Jamie asked his nephew with mock seriousness.

“‘S from Maggie. Imma big brover… a good one, aye?”

Jamie caught the eye of Jenny, who had just emerged from the house, and smirked.

“From yer wee sister, eh?”

“Aye,” Jenny said firmly. “Because he is such a good brother and Maggie loves him.”

“And ‘afore ye say anything,” Jenny spoke to Jamie in a low voice. “It’s no’ a bribe, it’s jes’ reinforcing good behaviour towards the baby.”

“Right.” Jamie laughed and hugged his sister.

Brian abandoned the little tricycle and came over to join them.

“Ah, Claire, ‘tis good tae see ye again.” He kissed her cheek. “Murtagh has jes’ gone tae the village fer some provisions. Mrs. Crook’s no’ too well, so we have tae do some cookin’ tonight. If we pitch in together, we can manage, nae doubt… but not ye, Jamie, son. Anyway, come in, come in, and we’ll put the kettle on and mebbe a wee bit of cake. Here, Claire, gi’ the lad tae me. Ye can freshen up if ye want.”

Brian held out his arms and his grandson flung himself into them. He led the way into the kitchen.

“Where’s Ian?” Jamie asked.

“Och, Maggie had a wee accident, a wee bit o’ nappy leakage. He’s jes’ cleanin’ her up.”

Claire looked across at Jamie and nodded at him meaningfully. He blushed slightly and pushed Claire ahead of him into the house.

*****
In Mrs. Crook’s absence, dinner had been surprisingly good, thanks to Murtagh creating his version of beef chilli, served with enough rice to feed the whole village. Now the adults all sat companionably round the kitchen table. The baby monitor, placed on the dresser, provided a background of gentle snores and snuffles from Wee Jamie and Maggie asleep upstairs.

Jenny picked up her cup of decaffeinated tea reluctantly, staring at the strong coffees and whiskies of the others with jealousy. “It’s no’ fair.” She muttered. “No alcohol, no caffeine.”

She looked at her husband accusingly.

Ian smiled. “Tell ye what. Fer the next bairn, I’ll gi’ them all up wi’ ye. Is that fair?”

“It’ll no’ be fair till we can share the pukin’ and the swellin’ and the pain too. Still I appreciate the offer. But, Ian Murray, yer daughter isna even six weeks old, and ye’re thinking about another! Gi’ me a break first, please.”

Jamie felt Claire’s hand squeezing his knee, her finger tapping against his skin repeatedly, prodding him to start his confession. He took a sip of whisky and sat back in his chair. His eyes sought hers, begging: ‘I’m no’ ready yet… let me enjoy this family moment a wee bit longer, please.’ Claire stilled her finger but her hand remained on his knee.

“Wee Jamie seems tae be gettin’ more used tae sharin’ his Mam.” Brian began. “I ken the wee gifts help, but it’s good fer him tae learn tae share his Mam, his Da, weel, all of us wi’ other bairns. Call me a sentimental old fool, but I love it when Lallybroch is filled wi’ family and bairns rather than jes’ Murtagh and me rattlin’ ‘round all these rooms. The more the merrier, I say.”

Jamie felt his cheeks start to burn. He dropped his gaze and took a few deep breaths, trying to calm the bubbling sensation in his stomach. Claire squeezed his knee reassuringly as he sat up straight.

“I have something I have tae tell ye all.”

He noticed Jenny’s eyes leap straight to Claire’s left hand, wrapped around her whisky glass.

“It’s no’ about Claire and me. Weel, I suppose it is… no’ directly… I mean, it affects Claire… and me.”

Conscious of his ramblings, he paused before blurting his confession out in one breath. “I’m having a bairn. Geneva’s pregnant wi’ ma baby. I’m no’ wi’ Geneva. But I will support her with the bairn. No’ sure how yet. Claire kens all this. And, as ye’re nae doubt thinkin’ about it, ‘twas ‘afore I met Claire.”

The room was silent. Jamie looked at each of his family members in turn. Brian had closed his eyes, processing the information. Murtagh’s thick brows were drawn together in a deep frown. Ian gazed into his whisky, shaking his head slightly. Jenny, God help him, had gone white, her lips pursed together, her chest heaving, ready to let rip. Claire brought her arm up and slid it around Jamie’s shoulders, bringing him closer to her, a visible show of support.

Suddenly, a baby’s cry rang out. Jenny stood up and stared at her brother. “I have tae see tae Maggie, but this isna over, brother. I have a few things tae say tae ye.”

Claire could feel Jamie untense slightly as Jenny left the kitchen. “Weel, does naebody want tae say anything tae me, or are we tae wait fer Jenny tae gi’ me a tongue lashing?”

Brian spoke first. “Lad, I canna say I’m no’ shocked at yer news and, truth be told, a wee bit disappointed. And I have tae question what ye were thinkin’ tae be sae irresponsible. I could sit here and lambast ye fer what ye did. But lookin’ at ye, I dare say ye’ve been punishin’ yerself plenty over it. If it’s yer bairn, as ye say, and ye’re man enough tae accept responsibility, then that’s as it should be. We’ll welcome the child intae the family. Jes’ gi’ us time tae get used tae the news. But, Geneva… nah, I’ll no’ say anything about her. She’ll be my grandchild’s mother.”

“Weel, if ye willna say anythin’ aboot that, I will.” Murtagh interrupted. “Sgliùrach! Tè innleachdach! I never liked that one.”

Claire looked questioningly at Jamie who shook his head slightly.

Murtagh turned to Claire and continued. “And are ye alright, m’eudail? If yon bod ceann isna treating ye right ye tell me now. If ye stick wi’ him, it’s a lot fer ye too.”

Claire was touched by the usually gruff Murtagh’s concern. Although she didn’t understand the Gaelic words he used, she understood enough from his tone of voice and his hand reaching across the table to pat hers.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

Jamie looked across at Ian. “And have ye nothin’ tae add?”

Ian smiled weakly. “I dare say Jenny will have enough tae say for the pair o’ us. Good luck wi’ that.”

Everyone grew silent again, awaiting Jenny’s return. Finally, with Maggie settled, they heard her footsteps along the stone corridor. Claire felt Jamie tense once more. Jenny came and stood by Jamie, leaning against the table.

“Sae,” Jenny started, sounding surprisingly calm. “Has everyone said their piece? What’s the thoughts?”

This was obviously a rhetorical question as, poking her finger at Jamie and now sounding significantly less calm, she continued without pause.

“What were ye thinkin’ man? Tae get yer end away in a one-night stand is one thing, and I’ll let that pass for the moment, since we all know how easily men can be led by their cocks. But, tae bed her wi’ no thought fer protection, like some sort o’ desperate teenager, that is jes’ too much. And this is Geneva, ye ken what she’s like. Did ye no’ remember? Or were ye sae consumed wi’ lust, ye jes’ had tae go fer it. And bugger the consequences. ”

Jamie tried, against his own better judgement, to interrupt. “She said…”

“Ah, she said, she said. Nae doubt she said, ‘oh, it is absolutely fine. Do not worry about it James. I will take care of that.’” Jenny affected a high-pitched posh English accent in some sort of impression or caricature of Geneva. Then, mindful of the current audience, she added. “No offence, Claire.”

“None taken, Jenny.”

“Aye, but lots taken here, sister…”

“Did I ask ye, James Fraser? No?... well then… Cast yer mind back tae Rupert’s wedding. Correct me if I’m wrong, bràthair, but did I or did I no’ say to ye that I could see the way she was lookin’ at ye like ye were a catch and she meant tae reel ye in again? And that’s exactly what she’s tried tae do. Unfortunately for her, a combination of ye fallin’ fer Claire here and Geneva’s awfa personality means ye got off her hook again. But, mark me, she’ll no gi’ up tryin’.”

Jenny took a sip of her now cold cup of tea and grimaced. Ian handed her his whisky glass and she took a large gulp.

“Christ, that’s good…” She forgot herself for a moment as she savoured the taste of the whisky before getting back to the task of berating Jamie. “See what ye’ve driven me tae, Jamie, ye’ve driven me tae drink. Now I canna feed my own child for hours because of this.”

“I think ye’ll be ok with that wee bit…” Ian began, then quickly stopped as Jenny shot him a withering look.

“What I will say tae ye then, Jamie, is this. Ye have been a damn fool and an absolute arse with nae more sense than a sixteen year old trying tae get laid fer the first time. I wouldna blame Claire if she upped and left ye. Ye’ve given her a lot tae put up with. And more yet tae come, nae doubt, because I dinna think that Geneva will gi’ up so easy. She’ll try to catch ye again, this time wi’ a bairn as bait. But I will be civil tae Geneva if I have tae be, for the sake of my niece or nephew. And we will all love the bairn because, in spite of the fact of who its mother is, it will be yers.”

And with that Jenny gave Jamie a kiss on his cheek and sat down next to Ian, taking another swig of his whisky, as Murtagh gave her an exaggerated thumbs up.

******
Jamie lay in his bed, watching Claire potter around his bedroom. He loved how well she fitted into his life and his family. This would have been so much more difficult without her here. He felt fully relaxed for the first time in a couple of weeks. Claire rummaged in her bag for her night shirt.

“Leave that, Sassenach, please?” Jamie asked. “I dinna want ye tae wear anything. I want tae feel yer skin on mine. In the night, I love tae know there’s nothing in between us.”

Claire didn’t answer but stripped her clothes off, leaving them neatly by her bag, then walked over to join him in bed.

“Ye’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Claire. Christ… wi’ the coldest feet. There’s a heatwave in Scotland, how can yer feet still be cold?”

“It’s this house, the stone floors downstairs.” Claire laughed as she curled her legs up and manoeuvred her feet to press against Jamie’s thighs.

Jamie switched the light off and they lay curled up together in the dark. He thought that Claire had drifted off to sleep when she started to speak.

“You said you love to know there’s nothing in between us, but there still is something. You know, when we make love.” Fearful of being misunderstood, she quickly continued. “Do you want me to go on the pill?”

“I wouldna ask ye tae do that, unless ye wanted tae.”

“I do want to. I want there to be nothing in between us either, but… would you get tested, please? I’ll do it too. Although Frank and I always used condoms and I know you believe that she… er, Geneva didn’t sleep with anyone else, you can’t know for sure. So would you?”

Jamie moved to rest on top of Claire. “Aye, ye ken I’d do anything fer ye…” he whispered as he placed a trail of kisses down her body.

“...anything at all.” His voice became muffled as his mouth reached its exquisite destination.

Chapter Text

Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they're allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.
- Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

 

“Dinna forget ye have the dentist today.” Jamie’s secretary stood in the doorway to his office.

Jamie looked up, bemused, from the Excel spreadsheet he was working on.

“Yer calendar, ye’ve blocked out the time this morning fer the dentist.”

“Aye, right, thanks fer the reminder. Best be thinkin’ about heading, then. And I’m no’ sure what time I’ll be back.”

Jamie saved the spreadsheet and powered down the computer. He had marked the appointment as dentist in his calendar to prevent any office gossip, which would probably come soon enough, especially if he took paternity leave. He wasn’t even sure if he was entitled to that. Yet another thing he would have to find out about.

The traffic as Jamie drove to the maternity hospital was diabolical as usual. Buses, taxis, roadworks, pedestrians and delivery vans all seemed determined to make him late for the appointment. He was concerned about seeing Geneva for the first time since she’d given him the news anyway, but if he was late, who knew how she might react. He wasn’t a coward, but the combination of Geneva and pregnancy hormones filled his very being with dread.

Frustrated as a refuse truck ground to a halt right in front of his car, Jamie wished he had listened to Claire this morning. She had warned him about the traffic around the hospital, but he hadn’t really been paying much attention to what she had to say. In all honesty, he had, at the time, been more focussed on the little vest top she was wearing. It was his favourite, the black one with extra large arm holes so that when she turned or stretched out her arms, Jamie got tantalising glimpses of creamy white side boob. And matched with the little black panties that revealed her luscious round arse every time she reached into a kitchen cupboard or bent over the dishwasher, the ability for coherent thought had totally abandoned him this morning. It had taken all his strength to tear himself away from her and head to work. But at least he was planning on meeting her for lunch before heading back to the office.

The traffic problems hadn’t ended once he entered the hospital site. It had taken two circuits of the car parks before he found a space, and then he had scrambled around in his pockets and the car for change for the meter. Next time, Jamie vowed, he would be better prepared.

He finally arrived, hot and bothered, in the Maternity ultrasound department with ten minutes to spare. Geneva was already there, looking immaculate as usual.

She stood up as Jamie approached. Her glossy curtain of black hair swung on her shoulders, not a hint of pregnancy spoiled the lines of her tight pencil skirt, her high heeled black patent shoes gave no concession to pregnancy comfort. Geneva turned her cheek for Jamie to kiss, which he obediently did.

“You’re very nearly late, Jamie.” Geneva complained.

“Och, we have plenty of time. These appointments always run late.”

They sat down in the waiting room. Jamie looked around. Plenty of men were waiting with their partners. None of them, he noticed, looked as awkward and uncomfortable as he felt. Was it clear to everyone, how reluctant he was about all this?

“How’ve ye been then?” He started the conversation.

“Fine, thanks. No problems at all.”

“Nae sickness, then? I remember when our Jenny was expecting Wee Jamie, she couldna keep anything down but toast and chicken broth…”

“You’ve told Brian and Jenny then? About us… the baby. How did they take it?”

“Aye, well, I canna say they werena shocked about it, but they’re supportive. And Claire too.” Jamie thought it wise to include Claire’s name in this discussion, especially after Geneva’s use of ‘us’ in her last question. He wanted it perfectly clear that in this Venn diagram of relationships, there would be no interlocking circles for him and Geneva.

Geneva gave a small sound of derision. “Hmm, Jenny being supportive. Right? I know she doesn’t like me, even though…”

“Geneva Dunsany. Room 2.” The message crackled in the still room.

Geneva stood up. “This’d better be quick. I’m not sure how much longer my bladder can hold out.”

Once inside room 2, they were greeted by a friendly sonographer who settled Geneva on the adjustable bed and pulled up a seat for Jamie.

“Hello there. My name’s Alison. I’m jes’ going to put some gel on yer tummy and then we can look fer yer little one. There’s no pain, jes’ may have tae prod a wee bit tae get tae the right position. From the measurements, we can gi’ ye a better due date. Are ye excited? So, let’s find your baby shall we, Geneva, dearie?” The sonographer asked in a friendly manner.

Geneva, not appreciating the over familiarity, just nodded and turned to the monitor. Jamie, as it seemed to be expected of him, fixed a smile on his face and nodded animatedly.

At the sonographer’s request, Geneva shimmied the skirt down past her hips and lifted her top, exposing her toned and tanned stomach. She rearranged the tissues that Alison had tucked into her clothing, only leaning back once she was satisfied that her clothes were totally protected. Geneva drew in a breath as the cold gel was applied to her abdomen.

Alison pressed the transducer against Geneva’s stomach and slid it around the skin, prodding with her other hand to encourage movement to a suitable position.

“Oh, er, wee one’s no’ cooperating… wait, aye, there it is.”

She stilled her hand. “Can ye see? The head and the limbs? And the flickering, there, that’s the heartbeat.”

Jamie’s smile was no longer faked. Despite all the turmoil of the last few weeks, he suddenly experienced a feeling of protectiveness towards that little heartbeat and even, yes, excitement. Instinctively, he took hold of Geneva’s hand. Geneva turned to him, her eyes bright with hope, but Jamie’s gaze was fixed on the image on the screen.

Alison coughed and the mood was broken. Jamie gently disentangled his hand from Geneva’s.

“Right, weel, I can let ye have a couple of copies of this, for a small donation. I have tae take a few more measurements and then we can have a better idea of yer due date.”

“What sex is the baby? Can you tell?” Geneva asked.

“Do ye really want tae know? Can it no’ be a surprise?” Jamie asked.

Alison looked from one to the other. “We canna tell from this scan. Yer one at twenty weeks will be able tae, but ye better discuss it first. Canna have one knowing and no’ the other, how would that work?” She laughed. “Right, from these images, it’s giving yer due date as 27 February. But gi’ or take two weeks… babies tend tae come when they’re ready, due date or no’.”

******
Jamie and Geneva stood awkwardly in the corridor outside the antenatal clinic.

“What are your plans now? Maybe we…” Geneva began.

“I said I’d meet Claire. Show her the picture.” He patted his pocket. “But I do think we need tae meet up regularly, every couple of weeks or so for a coffee, or some other more suitable beverage.”

“That’s fine. Yes. Actually, I’m meeting Isobel now. Going to do a bit of shopping. Although I can’t really do anything with the nursery yet. Still no harm in getting ideas. There’s a Sleigh Royale cot bed and dresser in textured washed oak I want to take a look at. And there was an interesting article in ‘Ideal Homes’, actually… so I’m thinking underwater mural on one wall, or maybe forest scene… but nothing Disney, urgh! Gosh, I’m desperate for the loo now. This full bladder thing is going to be the death of me. Goodbye, text me to arrange meeting.”

Jamie, hoping that his eyes hadn’t glazed over too much during Geneva’s monologue, hurriedly said goodbye and left as Geneva rushed to the Ladies.

**************
The hospital building that housed the coffee shop was located between the maternity hospital and orthopaedics, so it was a convenient place for Claire and Jamie to meet. Claire arrived first and, unsure of how long it would take Jamie to arrive, ordered one coffee.

She sat down at a table near the door and waited. For some reason, she felt very nervous about seeing Jamie after this ultrasound. This was the first real proof that Geneva was telling the truth and that he would be a father. It wasn’t, she told herself, that she doubted Jamie or his love for her, but with Frank, she had become used to not being one of his priorities, being pushed further and further down the list. His academic research, his career aspirations, his attractive female ‘private tuition’ students, his personal family tree research, his family, all were before Claire.

As Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, she had found herself disappearing from view, to be moulded into whatever convenient shape Frank wanted, willing to be placed in the little part of his life he allowed her to inhabit.

With the loss of her beloved uncle, her dependency on Frank grew. The need to be loved was so great she had allowed that to happen, allowed Frank to treat her so. Ignoring the concerned interventions from her friends, Geillis in particular, she clung to that relationship. Until Frank had made the decision, for both of them, that they would move to Oxford, for the sake of his career (and possibly a new crop of malleable students), ignoring her promising career at the hospital. Only then did she wake up and see the relationship as it really was. It wasn't a partnership, or a democracy. And so she had finally made the break and refused to leave Glasgow. Frank had been stunned at her refusal, convinced she would go running back to him rather than be on her own. Looking back, Claire found it amazing that she, such a strong woman at work, had become so passive with Frank.

Claire knew Jamie was not like Frank, and would never treat her in that way. And although she knew logically that she was not in competition with Geneva, a little extra reminder to Jamie would never hurt. That was why she wore his favourite vest top with little panties at breakfast this morning and judging by the reaction on his face, and elsewhere, it had been a very good idea.

She saw Jamie enter the coffee shop and waved. He made his way over to her table, bent down and kissed her warmly on the lips.

“Sassenach, let me show…”

A tap on his shoulder made Jamie spin round. “Isobel, hello…”

He gave Geneva’s sister a hug.

“Isobel, this is Claire, my girlfriend.”

A momentary look of confusion passed across Isobel’s face. “But, I thought, oh…” She quickly composed herself. “Hello, Claire, pleased to meet you.”

“Geneva said she was meeting ye tae go shopping. Christ, are ye meeting her here? Claire, we should go, I ken ye need tae meet Geneva, but here’s no’ ideal. Sorry Isobel, will catch up wi’ ye another time.”

Claire stood up and gathered her bag. Jamie took her hand and squeezed it tightly.

“Too late,” he murmured out of the corner of his mouth.

Claire looked over to the door to see a woman walking towards them. To Claire, her whole being projected elegance and sophistication, from her sleek, black bob to her high heeled shoes. Unconsciously, Claire tried to smooth her curls, glancing at the flat, pink birkenstocks she chose to wear today. She felt Jamie tense.

“Jamie… Isobel… there you are. Hello.” Geneva turned to Claire and smiled. “I’m Geneva. You must be Claire. Lovely to meet you. Jamie and I, well, we have had such a good morning. It was amazing, wasn’t it? Hearing the heartbeat of our baby. Well, I'm sure he will tell you all about it. What a special moment for us.”

“Hi, nice to meet you too, Geneva.”

Isobel spoke to Geneva. “Gen, I’ve had a quick look here, there’s only toasties and sandwiches. I fancy something a bit more substantial. Let’s head out to John Lewis for lunch, then we can look at that nursery furniture you were talking about. Bye Jamie, bye Claire.”

With a flurry of ‘goodbye’, ‘see you soon’ and ‘take care’, Isobel and Geneva left the coffee shop.

“So, that was Geneva.”

“Aye, that was her.”

“Her sister seems very nice.”

“Oh, Isobel, she’s great, jes’ lovely. They’re like chalk and cheese. Ye wouldna ken they’re sisters.”

“Geneva's very glamorous, isn’t she?”

Jamie sighed. “I willna be able tae win, will I, Sassenach? If I say she’s no’ glamorous, ye will accuse me of lying. But if I say she is glamorous, then ye can accuse me of wantin’ her. So, I will say this. When ye go tae a bookshop, ye see a book ye like the look of, so ye pull it off the shelf, open it and start tae read. There are some books ye put down straight away if ye don’t like the story and some ye try tae get on with, but canna, so ye put them down too, no matter what the cover looks like. Then there are some ye read and read and never want the story tae end. Guess which one Geneva is and which one ye are?”

“Are you comparing me to a book, James Fraser?” Claire teased.

“Aye, a book wi’ a beautiful cover and a great story, full of love and sex and laughter and fun and…” he moved closer and whispered in her ear. “...little panties clinging tae yer round arse.”

Chapter Text

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

Jamie sat in the conservatory, fingers drumming against the arm of his chair, waiting for the call to connect. He needed to get something clear in his mind.

“Hello, Isobel? It’s Jamie here, Jamie Fraser.”

“Oh, hi Jamie. Hope you’re ok. Sorry for rushing off the other day. I just felt it was possibly for the best.”

“No, dinna fash, I understand. It’s jes’, weel, before Geneva arrived, when I introduced ye tae Claire, ye seemed a wee bit confused. I ken Geneva had told ye about the bairn, but did she no’ tell ye anything else?”

“All she told me was about the baby, and that you’re the father. She said she had told you and that you were supportive. She never mentioned a girlfriend. In fact…”

Jamie urged Isobel to continue. “Go on, Isobel, what?”

“Now don’t get mad, she didn’t actually say this, but I got the impression that it was only a matter of time before you and her, well, became an item again.”

“I told her straight away about Claire, ye ken. Geneva did suggest tae me that we could try again, but I told her clearly that Claire was ma future.”

Jamie could hear Isobel’s sigh through the phone.

“I have no doubt you did, Jamie. But since when has being told no ever stopped Geneva? You and I both know how much she gets, and has always got, her own way. Privilege of being the favoured child, I guess. I wouldn’t know. Anyway, Claire seems really nice. I’d like to meet her properly.”

Jamie was touched by Isobel’s initial reaction to Claire. “She is and ye shall. We can sort something out. I get the feeling we will need tae keep in regular touch anyway over the next few months.”

“Agreed. Oh and one more thing, Jamie. Geneva’s now told Mummy, who plans on making frequent visits up here during the pregnancy and is planning a prolonged stay when the baby is born…”

Jamie instinctively clenched his fists, nails digging in his palms, and grimaced.

“I can tell you’re pulling a face even over the phone!” Isobel continued. “Mummy wants to be involved. Perhaps she feels Geneva’s the only one who’s likely to give her grandchildren. She’s always seen me as a bit of a non starter in that respect.”

“Nay, Isobel, any man’d be lucky tae have ye.”

“Oh, yes, I’m just fighting them off. Bye Jamie. Speak soon.”

*************
It was another glorious day in the heatwave that Glasgow was experiencing. Claire longed to be outside in the warmth, strolling around the park, enjoying an ice cream or perhaps a slushie. Instead she was being led, patiently it must be said, around chilly air-conditioned department stores by Geillis. She only had herself to blame.

When she happened to mention to Geillis that she was Jamie’s plus one at his friend’s wedding, Geillis immediately took charge of the situation, promising her an outfit that would ‘have all eyes on ye, and fer all the right reasons.’

Claire would have been happy to browse several internet sites, with a glass of wine in hand, and order a few outfits. She could then have tried them on in the comfort of her own bedroom before making her decision and returning the unwanted items. But she knew how much Geillis loved this - the shopping, the style advice, even down to helping with makeup. And, Claire had to admit, Geillis did have a pretty good knack for this type of thing.

So Geillis systematically moved from rack to rack picking out dresses that she thought might be suitable for the occasion.

“What do ye think ye’ll fancy tae wear, Claire?” Geillis asked over her shoulder as she carried on flicking through the rows of hangers.

“Well, G, it’ll be the first time I’m meeting some of Jamie’s friends, so what I really want is a dress that says classy, understated elegance but that also says sexy and that Jamie finds irresistible.”

“Plus it also has tae say ‘in yer face, Geneva’.”

“Really, G, that thought never crossed my mind.” Claire giggled. “She’s not even going to the wedding.”

“But there will be friends there who’ve seen Jamie wi’ Geneva in the past and nay doubt you want tae make a favourable impression. Make them think our Jamie’s gone fer an upgrade.”

Claire bit her lower lip. “I’m not sure about that. Honestly, when I met her after the scan… you should see her. Immaculate, sophisticated, not even dressing for comfort now she’s pregnant. And no hint of a bump. If it were me, I’d be hitting the Jaffa Cakes as soon as I knew I could get fat without being judged.”

Claire’s voice cracked a little. Geillis stopped and turned round to her. Her hand poked through the armful of dresses that she held and squeezed Claire’s.

Claire continued. “But not just that, you should have heard her. It was all ‘Jamie and I’ and ‘we’ and ‘us’. Like they were the couple.”

“But ye ken, that’s all in her head, do ye not? Ye have nothin’ tae worry about. Jamie is no’ Frank, who was a git on a epic scale. That relationship has left ye wi’ these insecurities and feeling that ye’re no’ good enough. But ye are… and I ken it… and more importantly Jamie kens it too. Dinna think that he will treat ye like Frank did. Alright?”

Claire nodded with a small smile.

“So, let's go try these dresses on and whichever dress says ‘who the fuck is this Geneva anyway’, that’s the one ye buy.” Geillis smiled sweetly at the woman browsing the racks next to them, who was visibly shocked by the casual profanity.

******
Claire stood in the changing room in her bra and panties waiting for Geillis to pass her the next dress to try. Every one so far had looked good on the hanger but each had something not quite right - too short, too long, too baggy, too tight. Geillis’s hand appeared in the doorway, passing another dress to Claire.

“G, this is red. I’m not really sure about red.”

“Actually, I think ye’ll find this colour is oxblood. Jes’ try it on and let me see.”

Claire looked at herself in the mirror before stepping out of the changing room to show Geillis. Quite a simple dress, really. A red, no, oxblood, sheath dress with black lace overlay, the v-neck gave the merest hint of cleavage, the above the knee length highlighted her long legs, while the cut of the dress accentuated her curves without clinging. Claire loved it and she loved Geillis for choosing it.

Claire stepped out of the cubicle. Geillis wolf whistled. “Wow, Claire, this is the one. And I think ye ken that too. Ye jes’ need yer high black shoes and I’ll lend ye ma black clutch bag and pashmina.”

She leaned forward and looked at the store label. “And it’s on sale too!”

Claire peered down at the label. “That’s the sale price? Gosh, I’ve never spend that on a dress before!”

“Dinna fash, Claire. It’s an investment.”

“Investment in what?”

“In yer future, Claire. Money well spent.”

*************

Claire applied her lipstick and blotted it carefully for the fifth time. She gently patted her hair, feeling the unfamiliar carefully styled ringlets, so different from her usual unruly curls. She put her shoes on and smoothed her dress over her hips as Jamie’s knock reverberated through the flat. With a final glance in her bedroom mirror, she headed for the front door.

Claire was unprepared for the vision on the other side of the door. Whilst she had glimpsed him briefly in a kilt, Jamie, looked incredible close up. His kilt was predominantly red and dark blue with touches of green. The dark blue carried through to his jacket, waistcoat, and tie, worn with a crisp white shirt. The red of his hair blazed in sharp contrast to the dark tones of the jacket. At the front of his kilt he wore a simple black sporran, unadorned save for a silver clasp.

She reached out and stroked his hip, enjoying the roughness of the wool on her fingers. He appeared even more masculine in the kilt than in trousers. Or perhaps, Claire thought, it was the confidence that he exuded in this traditional attire, as if this was what he was born to wear.

Jamie watched as Claire moved her hand over the woollen fabric. He had never seen her dressed up like this. Much as he loved her jeans that showed off her luscious arse so well, this dress tantalised him, revealing hints of her body: the swell of her breasts, the curves of her waist and hips, her long legs encased in sheer black…

He drew closer to her, pressing her against the wall. “Are those stockings ye’re wearin’?” he asked.

Claire nodded. “Yes.”

“And…” he lifted a hand and traced a line with his finger from her chin, down her neck to her breasts, gently cupping one before continuing his path down to her stomach. His hand rested there, just above the pubic mound. “... do ye have yer panties tae match? Are they black and lacy?”

“Perhaps... something for you to find out later.”

“Dinna be saying that, Sassenach. How am I goin’ tae concentrate on the wedding, when all I will be thinkin’ about is when I can have ye alone and naked, save fer yer stockings and mebbe those shoes.”

Jamie nuzzled her neck, breathing in the light floral fragrance she always wore. His warm breath against her skin sent shivers over her body. Her hands crept around his kilt to hold his buttocks and pull him closer. He moaned slightly before pulling away.

“Sassenach, ye canna be doing that tae me now. How am I goin’ tae get through this when jes’ the thought of ye is making me sae hard?”

“Thank goodness for your sporran then, hiding all evidence. Shall we go?”

“Aye, suppose we must, ye cruel temptress.” Jamie sighed.

“Jamie…you’re being a true Scot, aren’t you?”

Jamie looked quizzically at Claire before he realised what she meant. A grin spread across his face. “Aye, I am.”

“Now how am I going to concentrate on the wedding, knowing that under that kilt it’s just you?”

Jamie kissed her cheek before pushing her out of the door. “Guess this afternoon is going tae be hard work fer the both o’ us, then.”

*************

Jamie stood next to a large pink and white flower arrangement as Claire ‘nipped to the bathroom, while she had chance’. He noticed that the hotel air conditioning thankfully was functioning very well as his woollen jacket, waistcoat and kilt was not an ideal outfit for this unusually warm day. It was not, however, helping with the heat in his groin which had been building up ever since they drove from Claire’s flat to the hotel. Just the sight of Claire next to him, crossing her legs and the rasp of her nylon stockings made him feel like he would burst into flames on the spot. Christ, he thought, it’s goin’ tae be a long, long day.

He spotted the rotund figure of Rupert coming over to greet him.

“Jamie, lad, it’s been a wee while. Sorry ye werena at Angus’s stag do, it was a rare old pub crawl. I dinna think I’ve ever seen Angus sae shitfaced. He doesna remember how he got home nor why his underpants were in his pocket!”

“Aye, I’m sorry I missed it, but it couldna be helped. I had a bit of urgent business tae attend tae up at Lallybroch.”

“Weel, we ken ye said that, but then when I was talking tae Angus last week, he reckoned it was that he didna get permission tae come from Ge…”

Jamie felt a light touch on his arm as Claire joined him and Rupert. He smiled down at her, still feeling a reciprocal tug in his nether regions.

“Rupert, can I introduce ma girlfriend Claire tae ye?”

As Claire held out her hand to Rupert, there was no mistaking the look of confusion on his face. He quickly recovered and shook her hand.

“Hello, Claire. Very nice tae finally meet ye. So, remind me, how long have the two o’ ye been together, now?” Rupert looked between the two of them.

“About four months, give or take.” Claire answered.

“Och, the things I could tell ye about our Jamie here. It would fair make ye blush.” Rupert teased.

“Dinna be saying that, man. Ye’ll be putting her off me.” Jamie put his arm round Claire and drew her closer. “Anyway, I ken Jenny and Ian are savin’ us seats, so we’d better all head in, eh?”

As Jamie and Claire moved across to the function room, he was aware of the look in Rupert’s eyes, tongue sticking out slightly, moving his fingers, clearly doing some calculations.

******
With the dinner and formal speeches over, the wedding guests all started to relax as the alcohol continued to flow. Belts were loosened, shoes slipped off, ties undone and buttons unfastened.

Jamie and Ian both sat with their jackets off and shirt sleeves rolled up. Jamie rested one hand on the back of Claire’s chair, while the other held a glass of whisky. Claire sipped her red wine, her carefully applied lipstick long since worn off, her hair reverting back to its usual wild curls.

Jenny leant her elbow on the table, eyes glazed, her fingers wrapped tightly around a half-full wine glass. Ian gently tried to prise the glass out of her hand.

“Dinna do that, Ian Murray. This is my first real drinkin’ for nigh on a year and I dinna mean tae stop jes’ yet.”

Ian smiled apologetically. “Are ye no’ sure ye’ve had enough?”

Jenny stared accusingly at her husband. “Nah. I spent the best part o’ the morning tied up tae a bloody milking machine so Maggie doesna have tae have my alcohol-y milk. So I’m goin’ tae bloody enjoy myself.” She turned to her brother. “And it was ye, James Fraser, who drove me back tae drink wi’ yer news, so ye canna lecture me either.”

And with that she reached over for the bottle and topped up her glass of wine.

Jamie caught the eye of John making his way across the room.

“Hello, John. Jes’ come fer the evening do, then?”

“Yes, I’m here with my brother. He’s gone to the bar for drinks.”

“John, this is Claire.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Claire. I’ve heard so much about you from Jamie.” John pulled a chair up.

“Nothing bad I hope.” Claire smiled.

As Claire and John talked, John watched Jamie out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t think he had ever seen Jamie like this, the constant need to watch Claire, or touch her, insignificant yet incredibly intimate gestures such as the way he pushed a rogue curl behind her ear or lightly ran his fingers down her forearm. Claire was the same, as she rested her hand on his thigh or rubbed his back between his shoulder blades.

John’s brother, Hal, appeared carrying two gin and tonics. He greeted Jenny and Ian warmly before directing his attention to Jamie.

“Jamie, how the devil are you? I heard…” Hal stopped suddenly as he registered the closeness between Jamie and Claire.

“Hal,” Jamie growled. “This is my girlfriend Claire. Now can ye please tell me what is wrong. I’ve had Rupert, Angus and now ye stammerin’ around.”

Hal stared meaningfully at Claire.

“Hal, Claire kens all my secrets and I do mean all, so come on, tell me.”

“It’s just I bumped into Geneva the other week and she told me the news… about the you-know-what and she, well, kind of inferred that you and she might be… you know. Sorry Claire.” Hal smiled apologetically at Claire and continued. “She didn’t exactly say that but somehow managed to give me that impression.”

Jamie smacked his hand on the table, causing guests on neighbouring tables to look up. “Shite. Hal, the truth is, aye, Geneva is having a bairn and it’s mine. It happened afore I met Claire. I’m no proud of it, but it is what it is. Claire and I are verra much together and that willna change, bairn or no’. So whatever Geneva had led ye tae believe, that’s no’ true. And I must explain that tae Rupert too. Sorry Claire, I have tae find Rupert now and sort this out.”

Jenny, who had been resting with her head on Ian’s shoulder, half asleep, suddenly roused. “Claire, come on. I need tae dance, its ‘Night Fever’. Ye canna beat a bit of Bee Gees.”

Grabbing Claire’s hand, Jenny stood up and dragged Claire to her feet.

Laughing, Claire bent over to kiss Jamie’s cheek. “You go, talk to Rupert. I’m fine. I’m going to boogie on down.” She joked.

Claire had forgotten how much she enjoyed to dance. There hadn’t been a lot of it with Frank. He had once classed Claire’s dancing as an ‘act of public embarrassment’ which had made her stop that activity pretty quickly. But now, as she shimmied and twirled around with Jenny, she realised that her real friends would never think of her as an embarrassment.

A few songs later, Jenny was obviously flagging. Ian escorted her off the dance floor, saying their goodbyes en route. As Claire started to wander back to the table, an arm snaked around her waist, halting her.

Jamie pulled her to his chest. “Will ye dance wi’ me?” He asked.

She wrapped her arms round his neck and nodded. As if by magic, the song changed to ‘You’re The First, The Last, My Everything’. Jamie’s hands stroked up and down her back as they swayed in unison to the music.

“Did you ask for this song?” She asked, pulling away slightly.

“Aye, I may have done. I want ye tae know ‘tis how I feel. We’re goin’ tae ignore any stupid rumours. Ye are ma first, ma last, ma everything.”

Claire reached up and kissed his mouth. “I love you.”

Jamie smiled. “And can we ring fer a taxi, please? I’ve been thinking about ye in yer stockings all day and I dinna think I can wait much longer.”

Claire pushed her hips into his. “I’ll go and get my bag.”

Chapter Text

Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don't let it spoil you, for it's wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the one you want. Louisa May Alcott, Good Wives

Jamie shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This was not his idea of a welcoming environment. He didn't think that it was deliberate on Geneva's part to choose to meet in a place he disliked, merely that she would not have taken any preferences of his into consideration.

It was, no doubt, an achingly hip coffee shop. He could cope with the exposed brick, concrete and steel heating ducts running overhead. It was the fact that it had all the atmosphere of an aircraft hanger and seemed to be furnished with rejects from a primary school, judging by the lilliputian dimensions of the table and particularly the chair he was currently folded into. And he felt very out of place, dressed for work in his suit and crisp white shirt.

Clearly, Geneva was totally at home here, addressing the staff by name as she walked through the room to his table. At nineteen weeks, there was now a hint of a belly, just visible as she turned to beckon a waiter over.

The waiter sauntered over, ready to take the order. Geneva ordered a fennel tea and looked across at Jamie.

“A large latte please.”

The waiter smiled patronisingly at Jamie's simple order.

His hackles raised, Jamie returned the smile and continued. “Wait. That's no foam, one percent milk, three shots columbian, extra hot, two pumps sugar-free cinnamon. If ye havena got the one percent, i'll have half skimmed, half full-fat… oh and two scones please.”

He sat back, satisfied.

Geneva looked at him questioningly. “Very specific taste in coffee you've developed there.”

“Actually all I wanted was a latte but yon wee man was so patronising I jes’ had to complicate it fer him. So, how are ye doin’? Any movement yet?”

“I've started getting a sort of bubbly feeling. Like I've drunk too much fizzy stuff. It's the baby moving round. Now it's bigger I can feel it. That started last week.”

“Why did ye no’ ring or text tae tell me?”

“I didn't think that would be a good idea. It might have upset Claire.” Geneva said pointedly.

“Claire is…”

The waiter arrived with their order and placed it on the table between them. Geneva took her cup of tea.

“Jamie, I didn't want a scone.”

“Aye, I ken. They're fer me. Have ye seen the size of them? There's no’ but a mouthful in each.”

“You haven't changed.” Geneva smiled at Jamie. “I remember your appetite so well. How you used to have a snack before we went to bed. Said it gave you energy.”

Jamie’s cheeks reddened slightly. He needed to get Geneva away from this line of conversation. To use Jenny's analogy, he felt Geneva was about to try and reel him in again with a series of sweet reminiscences. Actually, he thought, now would be an ideal time to mention the discussions he'd had at Angus's wedding, head her off at the pass so to speak.

Jamie finished his scones and wiped his hands on his napkin, trying to figure out how to start this conversation with Geneva. He knew she would deny everything - after all she hadn’t actually said anything about them getting back together. She had just somehow managed to spin it so friends believed Jamie and Geneva would soon be a couple again. And this is why, Jamie told himself, she works in PR.

“I went tae Angus and Kirsty’s wedding…” he began.

“Oh yes, I’ve seen some photos on Instagram. Lovely day they had. She went to London for that dress, you know. And Alice Temperley wedding dresses don’t come cheap. Not sure about the veil though, bit too 2009 for my taste…”

“Geneva,” Jamie felt the conversation slipping away from him. Trying to bring it back on track, he continued. “Aye, it was a bonnie day, right enough. Lots of people there and I had a few… er… interesting conversations. Wi’ Rupert and Angus and Hal…”

Geneva sat back in her chair, listening. Jamie noticed her hand move to her small baby bump and start to rub it gently, discreetly drawing attention to their brief reunion and its outcome.

“They all were verra surprised that I was at the wedding wi’ Claire. They all knew about the bairn and somehow thought we would be getting back together. What did ye say tae them?”

Geneva’s eyes widened in surprise. “Me? What did I say? All I said was that we were having a baby together and were very pleased. I can’t help it if people jump to conclusions about our relationship status. Very natural conclusions, you might say. After all, I’ve been in your life a lot longer than some.”

Putting on a concerned face, she placed her hand over Jamie’s. “But it must be a strain on Claire. All these assumptions and strange looks. Is it really fair to her, all this? This isn’t what she signed up for. Are you being cruel to her, carrying on with the relationship? Have you really thought about what’s right for Claire?”

Jamie swiftly pulled his hand away from Geneva. He hoped the look on his face would tell her that she had gone too far.

“Geneva, I’ll thank ye to keep yer opinions about Claire and me tae yerself. We have talked about all this at some length and the fact that she is willin’ tae stick wi’ me shows what an incredible woman she is and how lucky I am tae have her in my life. I have made it clear tae our friends that I am with Claire and that willna change. Ye need tae understand that and stop with the misleading. I dinna want tae be mean, Geneva. Ye may have my bairn, but Claire, she has my heart.”

Jamie caught a glimpse of sadness in Geneva’s eyes, before her calm mask fell back into place.

“I’m sorry, Geneva, I dinna want tae hurt ye.”

“Hurt me? Why would you think that?” Geneva asked defensively as she stood up. “Look, I have to go, I’ve an appointment at quarter past. See you at the scan.”

She raised her fingertips to her lips and kissed them before lightly touching Jamie’s forehead.

“Take care,” he called after her. “Text me with any news.”

******
Jamie lay in bed, his hands behind his head, as Claire finished her bedtime rituals. In many ways this was his favourite time of day, just the two of them here with no external distractions and the anticipation building as he waited for Claire to slide into bed next to him - once she took that damn onesie off, of course.

Having been unseasonably warm for so long, autumn had arrived quickly with cool mornings, dark chilly evenings and Claire’s onesie - wrapping her from toes to the top of her head in pink fleece. To Jamie, who had his own internal heating system all year round, it was a unnecessary item of clothing that hid Claire’s luscious curves and long legs from his gaze and made any access to said curves nigh on impossible. To Claire, it was, together with her hot water bottle, a winter necessity. But, Jamie consoled himself with the thought that she never came to bed wearing it and in many ways, the excitement as she slowly unzipped it in front of him made it worthwhile.

Claire finally put her moisturiser away in the drawer Jamie had set aside for her and moved over to the bed. Jamie rolled onto his side and waited expectantly for the unveiling. Which did not disappoint, Claire seemingly unaware of the effect she was having on Jamie as she stepped out of the onesie, followed by the little vest top and pants she was wearing underneath. She slipped into bed and reached to turn out the light as Jamie halted her and pulled her tightly to him.

With her head on his chest, she could feel the vibrations as he spoke to her. “Sassenach, can I tell ye about my meeting wi’ Geneva today?”

Claire nodded, his chest hairs rubbing against her cheek. She wasn’t thrilled to be talking about that, but knew it must be important to Jamie.

“She felt the baby move, like bubbles, aye? Last week it started.”

Her eyes pricked with tears. She tried to blink them away, unsuccessfully. It was the hint of excitement in his voice that cut her to the core. Excitement in this experience he was sharing with another woman. She remained silent, afraid her voice would betray her.

Jamie continued. “I reminded her tae text me wi’ new developments. Are ye ok with that?”

Claire nodded silently again. Jamie shifted onto his side, forcing Claire to change position and he brought his face close to hers.

“Claire, look at me. I ken this is hard fer ye. I love ye and only ye and I dinna want tae cause ye more hurt than I already have. But these things that are goin’ on in my life, I want tae share with ye. If it hurts too much, if ye dinna want me tae tell ye about these things, let me know. I dinna want tae keep things from ye, but it’s yer choice. Ye had a choice tae make when I first told ye about the bairn and ye chose to stay with me, for which I am eternally thankful. Now, ye can choose how much ye want tae know, fer me tae share.”

Claire shifted her gaze to Jamie’s face, a look of concern etched there. She suddenly felt guilty for worrying him, surely it was better that he shared these moments with her, rather than keeping them between himself and Geneva, perhaps even forcing them closer together.

“No, you can tell me. I won’t always want to hear what you tell me, but I want you to want to tell me everything. Do you know what I mean? And I’ll always listen. You know that. I’m... glad you want to share it with me. And, truthfully, it may sometimes make me sad but nowhere near as sad as what I’d imagine if you didn’t tell me. Am I making sense? I feel like I’m rambling.”

“Aye… I mean no...aye, ye’re makin’ sense and no, ye’re no’ ramblin’. So, are we agreed… honesty and truth it is between us?”

“Yes.” Claire forced a smile. “Jamie, it’s small steps. Neither of us really knows what we’re doing… just making it up as we go along...together.”

Jamie gave a sigh of relief. “I spoke tae Geneva about what she’d told people… about her and me. Of course she denied sayin’ anything. She reckoned people came tae their own conclusions, but I put her right about us.”

“Again.” Claire turned her head away from Jamie. He lightly stroked her cheek and brought her face back to his, sharing the same pillow, their breath intermingling.

“Aye, again. I’m bein’ honest wi’ ye here. I think Jenny is right. It’s no’ that I’m biggin’ meself up, but I dinna think Geneva is goin’ tae stop trying tae…”

“Get you all to herself? Get me out of the picture?”

Jamie sighed. “I dinna think this is about ye at all. In her eyes that’s jes’ collateral damage. I’m no’ defending Geneva, but…”

Claire tried to pull away.

“...I’m no’ defending her, but ye have tae understand how she’s been brought up. She’s always been the favourite in the family, the pretty wee pet. Always indulged, always got what she wanted.”

Claire finally relaxed in Jamie’s arms as he continued to talk. “Ye ken Isobel. She’s a couple o’ years older. She told me that, as a child, she can remember Geneva havin’ tantrums if she couldna get her ain way. And she meant real tantrums... screamin’, bitin’, pukin’ tantrums. So her parents always gave in. And that’s how she’s grown up. She’s never learnt ‘no’. Even now her mother spoils her. No’ Isobel, jes’ Geneva.”

And now Jamie was keen to draw the conversation to a close, finding the naked woman in his arms far more enticing.

Claire, however, wasn’t finished. Ignoring the big hand that had descended down her back and was voluptuously kneading her left buttock, she continued.

“But what about Isobel?”

“Ye’d think that all this would make Isobel bitter, would ye no’? But far from it, she’s a lovely wee sweetheart- a teacher in a tough school. And surprisingly, she still loves her Mam and sister. No’ that they always deserve it. But I promise ye, Sassenach, I will always say no to Geneva.”

As Jamie’s hand continued it’s exploration, Claire finally decided to join in with the proceedings. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she rolled onto her back, bringing Jamie to lie on top of her.

“But you’ll never say no to me, will you, James Fraser?” She muttered in his ear.

“Oh God, Sassenach, no… I mean, aye.” Jamie spluttered before Claire brought her lips to his and the time for talking was over.

Chapter Text

I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. — These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay. - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

The Glasgow office of Fraser and Sons Distillery was located in a solid nineteenth century building, originally designed to showcase the wealth of some Victorian industrialist. There was still an old-fashioned feel to the rooms, even with the state-of-the-art technology housed within.

Jamie’s office was no different. The generous proportions of the room were accentuated by the large pieces of furniture. Dark wooden bookshelves lined one wall. The enormous desk was of the same wood, commanding the centre of the room and two large bottle-green leather chairs were against another wall next to a tall cupboard and side table. The furniture had obviously been in place for many years but it didn’t look old or battered, merely as though it belonged. There were newer additions to the office: a coffee machine in the corner, a large screen on the desk, wireless speaker on the windowsill, but to John, as he looked around waiting for Jamie to return, it always reminded him of an Edwardian gentleman’s club or, at least how he imagined one to be. John knew that in the cupboard next to him there would be several bottles of whisky and Edinburgh crystal glasses. The only things missing from the picture were a haze of cigar smoke and the quiet murmur of elderly gentlemen.

John moved over to the shelves behind Jamie’s desk. He recognised many of the photos, the collection built up over the past couple of years since Jamie took up his current position in the company. There were a few new photos that he had not seen before. A black and white posed portrait of Ian and Jenny with the two children and a formal photo of Jamie and Claire dressed up for Angus’ wedding.

The third photo was a candid close up of Claire, obviously surprised by a sudden gust of wind, laughing as her curls flew around her face, her hands ineffectually trying to calm her hair. John was struck by her sheer...no, not beauty… Claire was beautiful, no doubt, but then so was Geneva… it was, John realised, her vitality, her warmth, her charm. Hard as it was for John to admit, he could see why Jamie was so in love.

“That’s a grand picture, is it no’?”

John had been concentrating so intently on the picture of Claire that he hadn’t heard Jamie enter the office.

“‘Twas taken at Lallybroch the other week. She had been chasin’ Wee Jamie round the garden and I jes’ snapped her.”

John returned the photo to the shelf and joined Jamie on the leather seats, declining the whisky that was offered.

“So,” Jamie continued. “Now ye’ve met Claire, what do ye think? Ye can see why she’s the one?”

“She is pretty special. It was great to meet her.”

“Ye must come round for dinner some night soon.”

“That’d be great… wait, you’re not planning to cook are you? Hopefully, Claire can cook?”

Jamie laughed at his perceived shortcomings. “Aye, weel, a wee bit more than me. She does a mean lasagne.”

“Sounds like she's a keeper.”

“She definitely is and, er, the thing is...er…” Jamie appeared flustered. “John, ye mustna tell anyone this, naybody at all. I want tae marry her. I mean it. This is no’ some fancy. I want tae be wi’ her all the time.”

John was not surprised at this pronouncement, but was unsure of the reason for Jamie’s hesitancy. Based on his observation of Claire and Jamie together, he did not, for one minute, believe that Jamie’s feelings were not returned in full.

“So, have you decided how you’re going to pop the question? Great romantic gesture planned?”

“That’s the thing.” Jamie ran his hands through his ginger curls, forcing them on end. John longed to reach out and straighten them but common sense prevailed and he focussed on the topic in hand.

“I’m no’ goin’ tae propose. No’ jes’ yet anyways. I want tae, but wi’ all that’s goin’ on at the moment, the engagement would get lost in all the other noise. Nah, when I do it, I want the focus tae be on Claire. And I dinna want her tae think I’m doing it tae make meself feel less guilty about the bairn. I want her to ken that I’m doin’ it for the right reasons. Plus there is one more thing…”

“Geneva, I’m guessing.” John knew where this conversation was heading.

Jamie forced a weak smile. Unconsciously, his fingers tapped against his leg. “Aye, Geneva. I do need tae think about how it’d look. Geneva could play the part o’ the wee wronged woman. She’d be all over it, with me as the bastard who dumped a pregnant woman and Claire as a homewrecker. The fact there never was a home tae wreck, she wouldna even consider.”

Having known Geneva for several years, John had no doubt at all. However, he did have deeper concerns than this potential movie-of-the-week scenario. “Jamie,” he began tentatively. “Please, think about this, I’m not an expert in family law, but I can give you the name of a good lawyer who is. Is it not worth consulting him now, find out exactly where you stand, get it all sorted?”

“John, I ken ye’re tryin’ to help but I dinna think we need that. Geneva has her faults, but she wouldna deprive a bairn of its father, if that’s what ye’re thinkin’. And if I have tae tread careful round her for the next few months, that’s what I’ll do. It’ll all work out, ye’ll see. And who knows, mebbe this time next year we’ll be planning a wedding at Lallybroch.”

*************
This time, Jamie made sure there were no last-minute problems. He gave himself extra time for the journey to the hospital, the drinks holder in the car was full of change. Claire, he knew, was in theatre, so there would be no chance of an unscheduled meeting with Geneva.

He actually arrived at the ultrasound reception before Geneva with plenty of time to spare. The selection of waiting room magazines and leaflets didn’t exactly inspire him. He bypassed the ‘Postnatal care of your Perineum’ leaflet, although he did pocket a couple of breastfeeding leaflets for Geneva. He settled down with his phone to wait. A message appeared from Claire wishing him luck. For the scan, he presumed, although, of course, it may have been luck in handling Geneva.

Finally, Geneva arrived. She was still not giving in to pregnancy comfort, dressed today in black spike high-heeled shoes and a figure-hugging dress. Jamie was conscious of eyes, both judging and admiring, following her as she made her way over to him. He wasn't quite sure how that dress would work with the scan - she iwould perhaps have to take it off, or was that what she had planned?

She kissed him briefly on the cheek and sat beside him, crossing her long, tanned legs. The toe of her patent shoe lightly nudged his shin.

“Are you excited?” she asked, resting her hand on his jacket sleeve. “About finding out the sex, I mean?”

“Are we findin’ out, then?” Jamie shifted in his seat, dislodging her hand. “We havena talked about it. Can we no’ discuss it? Do ye no’ want a surprise?”

“We’re talking about it now, aren’t we?”

“Nah, we’re no’ talkin’ about it… we’re talkin’ about the fact that ye already made the decision. And ye dinna even ask fer ma opinion at all.” Jamie spoke in a whisper, aware that other people in the waiting room were bored and keen for some entertainment.

Geneva lowered her voice a fraction. “My body, my baby, my choice. Besides I need to know to decide on a colour palette for the nursery, and then there’s the printing for the baby shower invitations that Isobel is sorting out... and do you think we should have a gender reveal for family and friends?”

Jamie folded his arms across his chest. “No’ sure why ye ask me. Ye do what ye want. But, let me be clear, I will no’ be hostin’ any parties wi’ ye, gender reveal or no’, nor attendin’ and neither will my family. I’ve already told ye plainly that there is no ‘we’ and never will be…dinna be thinkin’ I will change ma mind on this.”

“Geneva Dunsany, room three please.”

Silently they gathered their belongings and headed into the ultrasound.

*************
Jamie sat in his car, breathing deeply, trying to stop trembling. Leaning over, he fumbled in the glovebox, pulled out a tissue and ran it across his eyes, trying to process calmly the events of the last thirty minutes.

The first realisation was that Geneva, despite the conversation they had when they last met, hadn’t given up trying to create a ‘Jamie and Geneva’ relationship. She wasn’t stupid but obviously thought that if she pushed hard enough she would get her own way… again. And her own way did not consider his opinions at all.

The second was that she would use any opportunity, including an antenatal appointment, to achieve it. Her knowing glance to Jamie as she pulled her dress up, briefly revealing her black lace panties before the sonographer modestly placed a sheet across her hips confirmed as much.

So far, so predictable.

But the third realisation struck him like a thunderbolt. When he heard the whooshing heartbeat and then the sonographer saying “Good positioning, I can see… it’s a boy,” Jamie absolutely realised that he was going to be a father and he felt a sudden rush of love for that little, blurry, slightly alien image on the screen. And, as much as he smiled at Geneva and offered celebratory words, there was only one person he wanted to share it with.

Jamie checked the time as he pressed the redial button on his phone. Hopefully, the theatre session would not have overrun.

“Claire, Sassenach, are ye around? Can I come and see ye? It’s a boy, Claire. I’m havin’ a son.”

***********
Jamie had a quiet evening in ahead of him. Claire had decreed tonight to be a girls’ night, which meant the opportunity to catch up with Geillis and a couple of other friends. With Frank, she had felt herself slowly becoming alienated from them all. Fortunately the friendships were strong enough to withstand Frank’s isolationist tactics, but Claire was not going to let history repeat itself, no matter how wonderful the man.

And by now, Jamie thought as he idly flicked through the television channels, they would probably be on their second bottle of wine and comparing notes about their respective partners’ faults. Weel, they'll have plenty tae talk about there wi’ me!

The sound of the doorbell roused him from his contemplations, its frequent buzzing conveying a sense of urgency, if not panic. Jamie rushed to open the front door, expecting some emergency to be awaiting him in the door step. It was much worse.

Geneva's mother stood on the doorstep. She had, in her youth, been considered pretty, if not beautiful. Qualities which had attracted and held onto the wealthy landowner William Dunsany. Her prettiness had, over the years, transformed into a hard, majestic facade. Her only link to her glorious youth was the beauty of her much beloved daughter Geneva, who greatly resembled her and who she had always indulged without question. Isobel, who took after her father, had been more of a disappointment.

“Good evening, Louisa. Do ye want tae come in then?” Jamie was taken aback by her appearance at his door but chose to remain polite to minimise the unpleasantness that he presumed was about to head his way.

Without a word, Louisa brushed past Jamie and made her way into the living room.

Settling herself in the middle of the sofa, she began her speech. “You can be at no loss, James, to understand why I’ve come here this evening. Your own conscience must tell you. I believe in frankness, so I’m not going to beat about the bush.”

Jamie’s face assumed a passive air. He decided to let Geneva’s mother have her say without interruption.

“I’m here to remind you of your responsibility towards my daughter. You can’t think to leave her to do everything on her own.”

Jamie’s hands curled into fists, his nails digging into the palms, but still he remained silent.

“Geneva deserves a partner in this, you have an obligation to her. And what about the baby, my grandson? He deserves two parents, needs to be brought up in a normal family. Now...” Her tone softened, as if she was offering him a gift, a solution to his predicament. “Now, I’ve heard you have started a new relationship, and I’m sure she is very nice but you’ve not known her that long and it would be easier to make the break now than let it run on and hurt her more with a messy split. And remember, you have a history with Geneva.”

Louisa looked round the room. ”At least you’ve had the sense not to let her move in with you. That makes it easier.”

“Her name is Claire, and I’ll thank ye not tae bring her into this. I dinna mean tae upset ye but even if Claire wasna around, Geneva and I wouldna be together, bairn or no’. I agree, this laddie needs two parents and that he will have. I will do my share and when he is a wee bit older and able tae leave his mam, I will look after him here too. We can sort out the arrangements.”

Jamie’s voice was calm and level, in direct contrast to the feelings building up inside him. He was trying to remain fair to Louisa, who, he assumed, was doing what she had always done - made sure Geneva got what Geneva wanted, whether it be the latest toy, another pet… or him.

“I’m no’ goin’ tae explain the reasons why Geneva and I are no’ and willna be together. That’s between her and me. I have said I will support her and I will, I promise ye that, but only as the father of the bairn. And I willna be giving Claire up, I can assure ye. If ye think ye can come here into ma home and make me change ma mind on this, well ye will have had yerself a wasted journey.”

Louisa stood up and moved closer to Jamie. “You have no regard, then, for the feelings of my daughter? What she must be going through?”

“Louisa, I have nothing further tae sa tae ye. I have told ye the truth. I will not be moved on this. And I resent the fact that ye think ye can tell me what I should or shouldna do. This is no’ all ma fault, so dinna be acting like I’m some sort of … of...”Jamie felt his self control start to slip, his voice beginning to rise in anger. “... evil seducer. I willna change ma mind, no matter what ye say. And ye can go and tell that tae yer daughter too.”

“Very well.” Louisa headed to the door, not waiting for Jamie to stand up. “I just hope this woman of yours is worth it.”

And with that she flounced out of his house, slamming the front door behind her.

Chapter Text

‘Excuse me,’ said Granny, empowering the words with much the same undertones as are carried by words like ‘Charge!’ and ‘Kill!’, ‘Excuse me, but does this pointy hat I’m wearing mean anything to you?’ - Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Brian Fraser had always been keen on traditions. Not just maintaining those established by his ancestors but also in creating his own. Which was why, when Jenny and Jamie were very small, Brian and Ellen launched the annual Samhain festivities for the Broch Tuarach Distillery employees and their families. Over the years it had grown into an amalgamation of traditional Hallowe’en, with children’s scary costumes, carved pumpkins and plenty of sweet treats, and Bonfire night, with sausages and baked potatoes, treacle toffee and a grand firework display. As the distillery grew, so did the party. It was still held at Lallybroch, but had outgrown the house and now required a marquee and a couple of portaloos.

Brian always insisted that his family attend this event. Originally hosted by Ellen and Brian, Jenny and Jamie, always suitably costumed, now assisted in the duty. Murtagh lurked on the periphery, choosing a less visible role - changing the beer barrels, replenishing the platters of food and deep bowls of sweets, and providing mugs of coffee and glasses of water to those who had overindulged.

Jamie had driven up to Lallybroch the day before the party on his own. Claire was still at the hospital when he set off, unable to change her rota, but was planning on getting the train to Inverness the next day, where Jamie would meet her.

Jenny was already in the kitchen when Jamie arrived. Maggie was contentedly asleep in her arms as Jenny adjusted the buttons on her shirt. Jamie took Maggie from her and settled himself in the old rocking chair in the corner of the room.

“Where is everyone?” he asked.

“Och, they’re all admiring Wee Jamie’s costume.” Jenny yawned and stretched. “Spider-Man, of course. Have ye got yers sorted? Does Claire ken she’s expected tae dress up too?”

“Aye.” Jamie nodded as Maggie roused slightly and grabbed his finger, pulling it to her mouth. “Clean hands, by the way.”

Jenny gazed at her brother who, having reclaimed his finger, was now busy blowing soft raspberries against his niece’s cheeks. “That suits ye, bràthair. Seein’ ye fussin’ over a wee bairn. I still canna say I’m thrilled about Geneva, but I’m lookin’ forward tae times here wi’ yer wee lad. What’s the latest, anyway? How’s Madam doin’?”

Before Jamie could answer, the sound of footsteps along the stone corridor heralded the arrival of Wee Jamie, closely followed by Ian and Brian. Wee Jamie rushed to greet his uncle, only hesitating slightly when he noticed Maggie in Jamie’s arms. Jamie shuffled Maggie to one side, allowing his nephew to clamber onto his other knee.

“Unca,” Wee Jamie cried happily, his fingers rubbing back and forth against the bristles on Jamie’s jawline. “‘S party tomorrow. What’s ye wearin’? Mine is secret. I’m gonna have sweeties and pop and play games and stay up till verra, verra late. Aren’t I, Mam?”

“Aye, weel, only if ye go tae bed nicely tonight. Come on now, say goodnight tae everyone. I’ll take ye and Maggie up the wooden hills tae Bedfordshire.”

With great dramatic rolling of eyes and dragging of feet, Wee Jamie reluctantly allowed his mother to lead him to bed, all the while moaning to himself. “I’m no’ tired… and I’m a big boy… I dinna go tae bed when a baby does.”

The sounds of the little lad complaining about his bedtime faded away as Brian fetched the whisky and glasses and placed them on the kitchen table.

******
Jamie, Ian, Brian and Murtagh sat round the table, each with a glass in hand listening to the battle coming through the baby monitor. Jamie looked over at Ian.

“D’ye think one of us should go and give Jenny a hand?” he asked, concerned, as a spirited ‘nooo’ sounded round the room.

“Och no,” Ian took a sip of his whisky. “Jenny has it all in hand. Jes’ wait, here it comes.”

Jenny’s stern voice came through the baby monitor, raised to speak over the whining of her son. “James Ian Brian Murray, if ye dinna settle down this instant, there will be no sweeties, no pop, no party and absolutely no Spider-Man for ye, do ye understand?”

Immediately the monitor grew quiet, then Jenny continued. “And as I ken yer da, grandda, uncle and Murtagh are all listening in, there’d better be a wee nip down there waiting fer me. Now goodnight, Jamie lad. See ye tomorrow.”

******
As requested, a whisky was waiting on the table for Jenny’s arrival. She settled herself, took a large sip, then addressed her brother, picking up the conversation from an hour before.

“So, Jamie, ye were about tae tell me how it goes wi’ Geneva?”

“Ah, the pregnancy is goin’ fine, seems tae be. Geneva herself, that’s another matter.”

Jenny and Murtagh made snorting sounds in unison. Brian moved his chair closer to his son and placed a reassuring hand on his arm.

“And yes, Janet Ellen Murray née Fraser, ye dinna have tae remind me of what ye said. I ken.” Jamie managed to raise a smile, contemplating the recent antics of the Dunsany family. “I had a wee chat with Geneva after Angus’ weddin’. Made it clear…”

“Agin!” Jenny muttered under her breath.

“Alright, Jenny, agin, aye, that we willna be together. I’m still no’ sure how much went intae her head though. Seems she wanted us tae have a gender reveal party together.”

A look of scorn came over Murtagh’s face. “A what? Gender reveal? Party? Why in God’s name would ye do that? It’s a boy, ye’ve already ‘revealed’ it tae us.”

“Weel, I’m no’ doin’ it, no couple-type things. But I don’t think she’s given up jes’ yet. And then, last week, I had a visitor.”

“No’ Geneva, fer a booty call?” Ian suggested.

“Nah, no’ Geneva… her mother, Louisa, standing on the doorstep, ringing the bell like the divil himself was after her. She jes’ popped by tae remind me of my responsibilities tae her daughter… and tae tell me tae give Claire up and be wi’ Geneva.”

Even across the table, Jamie could hear Jenny breathing heavily, trying to control her temper. “I kent it. They’re like two peas in a pod, her and her blasted mother. Jamie, what ye ever saw in that woman in the first place is beyond me. And now look at this mess!”

Brian quickly interrupted his daughter. “No, Jenny. Enough! Jamie doesna need that. He’s doin’ his best and we support him no matter what his decision. If he decides tae be with Geneva, then we will make the best o’ it.”

“Like hell we will!” Murtagh banged his empty glass on the table and poured himself a large refill. “I tell ye, lad, Claire is a rare lass, ye dinna want tae let her go. And if yon stuck-up madam joins this family, I will be looking fer alternative accommodation whenever she’s at Lallybroch. I canna be dealin’ wi’ her pretensions and vanity and selfishness. She shouldna be a Fraser.”

“Can everybody let me finish?” Jamie wanted to draw this conversation to a close and quickly. “I will say this once, and then the subject is closed. I’m having a son. I’m no’ havin’ a relationship wi’ his mother, nor do I ever intend tae. I intend ma future tae be with Claire, no matter what. So ye can all breathe again and let’s talk about the party tomorrow.”

***********
Claire relaxed in her train seat, by the window and with a table as requested. By placing a bag on the seat next to her, she hoped to deter anyone from sitting there. Three hours to herself to read, snooze or daydream didn’t happen very often and she wanted to make the most of it without interruption.

She breathed a sigh of relief as the 12:09 pulled out of the station with no one claiming the seat. Three hours and then Jamie would meet her at Inverness station and take her to Lallybroch.

The rhythmic sway of the carriage was very soothing. Claire didn’t bother with her book or magazine, she just rested her head and gazed out of the window as the scenery changed with every passing mile.

The party that night was an important event for the Frasers and Murrays. Claire was excited for several reasons. This would be the first Fraser family function she had been invited to and she relished that feeling of inclusion, of being part of something, of belonging.

Then there were the fireworks. Ever since Claire was a little girl, she loved watching fireworks. It had been an annual treat for Uncle Lamb to take her to the local display, where she would try to write her name in the air with a sparkler and would inevitably develop a sore neck from staring up into the sky, keen to enjoy every last flash of colour. There had never been any fireworks while she was with Frank, either literally or metaphorically.

The last reason was her costume. Jamie had stressed the importance of the costume. He had given her no clue about his, so Claire had been unsure what to do. Could she cut two holes in a white bed sheet and be a ghost, or was a more ‘polished’ outfit required?

Even Geillis, when asked, had been of no use. All her suggestions had a common theme: slutty nurse, slutty zombie, slutty witch. Eventually Claire decided to trust her own instinct and a bit of Google. And at last she had come up with a costume which she thought would do very nicely.

******
The sun was setting by the time Jamie and Claire were pulling into the driveway at Lallybroch. Lights had been set up along the path to the marquee and the whole area was a hive of activity with caterers, pyrotechnicians and entertainers rushing to and fro.

Claire gasped in amazement. “I didn’t realise it was such a big deal…“

Jamie smiled. “Aye. This was my mam’s thing, ye ken. She always loved this party, she loved the autumn afore the weather turned too cold, but still cool enough tae light the fires. And how she loved the fireworks. So Da does this every year for Mam.”

Jamie sniffed and cleared his throat. “Anyway, let's get inside. Ye must be cold. Everyone’s started getting ready. We never tell each other what our costumes are, it’s part of the fun.”

******
Claire examined her reflection in the mirror in Jamie’s room, Jamie having been banished to a guest bedroom. She knew she had spent too much money on a fancy dress costume, but viewing it now from all angles, it was money well spent.

Not knowing how close to stick to the scary Hallowe’en theme, the decision was made when she found the dress. Black and knee length with a floaty handkerchief hem, it had a tight laced bodice with shoulder straps, underneath which were off-the-shoulder, long, gauzy sleeves, worn with black stockings, black kitten-heeled ankle boots, and black lace fingerless gloves. Claire left her curls loose around her face and added the finishing touch- a witch’s pointed hat.

A face peeped round the door. A face with round glasses and a lightning scar drawn on his forehead. “Can I come in now?”

Claire laughed as Jamie opened the door fully. Clad in school trousers, white shirt and school tie, he also sported a Gryffindor scarf and black wizard robes. “That’s brilliant. A six foot three Harry Potter.”

Jamie walked over to Claire and put his arms around her. “And ye, Sassenach, are the bonniest witch I’ve ever seen.”

His hand moved across her bodice, his fingers softly grazing the tops of her breasts, just visible above the dress. “That dress is verra becoming.”

Claire ran her hands through his curls, pulling his head down to her.

“Well, hopefully we’ll both be coming later.” she whispered, her breath hot against his ear.

Jamie grinned. “Was that a wee witchy joke there, Sassenach? I shall be looking forward tae it, especially as I believe ye are wearing yer stockings agin. Am I right? Ah, tae see the white of yer luscious thighs against the black, ‘tis verra verra exciting…”

Clutching her bottom, he pulled her close.

“Jamie,” Claire giggled. “I think I’ve found your wand.”

******
The family gathered in the morning room, before joining the party. Claire could tell how seriously they took this evening. Wee Jamie was clearly Spider-Man and his sister, in her father's arms, was a cute little pumpkin. Claire instantly recognised Jenny and Ian as Sandy and Danny from Grease. Brian, in faded beige trousers, shirt and battered leather jacket was Indiana Jones with fedora in one hand and coiled whip in the other. Claire was relieved that she had made an effort with her dress.

“Claire, that dress is gorgeous. You make an amazing witch.” Jenny was full of praise.

“Thanks, you all look incredible too. But…” she spoke softly to Jenny, subtly looking over at Murtagh, who had just come in wearing jeans and a white t-shirt.

“Ah weel, ‘tis a bit of a joke now after sae many years. Murtagh doesna like tae dress up and Mam always told him that he had tae. So every year since Jamie and I were bairns he puts the same thing on. He’ll add a checked shirt, wool hat and his walking boots and be a lumberjack, he willna change. It’s jes’ a tradition, ye ken.”

“Mam, can we go now, pease?” Wee Jamie excitedly grabbed his mother’s hand. “I wanna go now.”

He turned to Claire. “Care bear… ye no’ a scary witch. Ye too pretty tae be scary.”

“Thank you, Jamie. And you’re a very handsome Spider-Man.” Claire looked up to see her Jamie staring intently at her. His gaze burned white hot into her very core. Everything around her disappeared, all that existed in that moment was Jamie. Swiftly he came to her side, their eyes locked together...

“Care bear… come wi’ me now.”

She felt a tug on her arm.

“C’mon… and ye too Unca. We’re goin’ tae the party.”

Laughing, they both looked down at Wee Jamie, excitedly pulling them out of the room.

******

The marquee was magical, Claire decided. There was no other word for it. Delicate wisps of cobwebs blew gently in the breeze, suspended from the ceiling next to hordes of friendly spiders. Cauldrons bubbled with coloured lights and smoke from dry ice. Pumpkin lanterns decorated the tables and fairy lights were strung around the walls.

Jamie stayed by Claire’s side, introducing her proudly to all the guests, only moving aside when his nephew dragged her onto the dance floor during the children’s disco. He watched as Claire, grinning broadly, tried to teach Wee Jamie to dance gangnam style. Murtagh, now clad in his full lumberjack costume, wandered over to stand beside him. He patted Jamie on the back and gave a thumbs up.

Nodding his head towards Claire, he spoke quietly in Jamie’s ear. “She's a fine lass, that one. Dinna let her go. This stramash wi’ the other will sort itself out. Make sure Claire kens that. She’ll be a fine addition tae our family.”

As the song ended, Wee Jamie ran back to Jenny and Claire made her way to Jamie, Murtagh having conveniently vanished. She fanned her face with her hands. Jamie could see tiny beads of sweat along her upper lip. He longed to taste them.

“I’m so hot. Can we get a bit of fresh air?”

“Aye, weel, it’ll soon be time fer fireworks, we need tae find a place tae view them. Wait here.”

Jamie rushed out of the marquee, but returned a couple of minutes later, carrying a small hold-all. “Come wi’ me.”

“Really, Mr. Fraser, leaving your guests, and…” Claire gestured to the bag. “It’s almost as if you had this planned.”

Together they left the party and moved deeper into the garden, Jamie leading the way, following an old familiar route, until they reached a secluded corner of the garden, on a slight slope. Unzipping the hold-all, Jamie pulled out some thick woolen blankets. He quickly unfolded one and set it on the ground before sitting down and pulling Claire down next to him. Unfolding another blanket, he wrapped it around her shoulders.

“Lie back, ‘tis the best place tae see the fireworks.” Jamie encouraged.

Claire laughed, but obliged. “Really, what a line… want to see some fireworks, come and lie down next to me. And how many girls have you brought here to ‘watch the fireworks’?”

Jamie could see her fingers making air quote movements. He leaned over and lightly kissed her lips, running his tongue along her upper lip. She tasted of spiced apples and whisky with the hint of salt lingering on her skin.

“No other lass here, ever. Ye are the first, Sassenach.”

Claire placed her hands under her head and stared up at the night sky. “You know I love fireworks, right? I told you that. It was an annual outing, me and Uncle Lamb, every bonfire night. But I’ve not told you why. It wasn’t just the excitement and the colours of the fireworks…”

They could hear everyone leaving the marquee now, ready for the fireworks to begin.

Claire continued. “When a firework goes off and you see it shooting high into the sky, I used to imagine that was a message to my parents from me. Then there’s a moment of dark before the burst of colours and sparks and light. And that was the message back from mum and dad, the huge explosion in the sky was them saying ‘we love you.’ Pretty fanciful, huh?”

“No’ fanciful at all, Sorcha. Jes’ a wee girl tryin’ tae find some comfort.”

Jamie could feel Claire’s heartbeat quicken as the first rocket blazed into the sky, trailing silver and gold before shattering into a shower of sparks. Appreciative ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ came from the audience below.

Claire shifted and adjusted the blanket to cover both of them. Her hand found his and clasped it tightly. Jamie brought hers to his lips.

“Claire, I want ye tae know that I love ye and I see ma future as yer future, weel, as our future together. I dinna want tae ever be wi’ out ye…”

Claire brought her fingertips to his lips. “I love you too, I never want to be without you either. I will be there for you with the baby and dealings with… well… you know. But, how can I put this? I think we have to be careful for the next few months. Do you know what I mean? Otherwise someone could cause problems.”

“Aye, I ken ye’re right. As long as we ken we’re goin’ tae be together, anything else can wait.”

Jamie brought his hand to the hem of Claire’s dress and rolled it up towards her hips. He could hear her breath become ragged as he found the soft skin just above her stocking and gently stroked it. His hand moved higher, pushing aside her lace knickers, his fingers fluttering at her very core before settling into a stronger rhythm. Claire closed her eyes and let the waves of pleasure wash over her as the fireworks reached their own crescendo, lighting up the sky.

Chapter Text

Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper. - Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

 

For Claire, Christmas had never been a time for family or traditions. She always supposed that before her parents’ deaths, they had celebrated together. Indeed she did have hazy recollections of being taken to meet Santa Claus, of the mince pie, sherry and carrot being left out on Christmas Eve, of the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. So hazy were these memories that she was never sure whether they were really hers, or if she had borrowed them from some Christmas film or television advert.

Once she went to live with Lamb, Christmas became something very different. The holidays were usually spent in some far-off location following the footsteps of the Crusaders. Gifts were exchanged, but usually before or after their travels and there were some years that the archaeologist and his niece lost track of dates, only realising days later that Christmas Day had been and gone and that Christmas dinner had consisted of nothing more fancy than bread, and cold meat and cheeses.

Even when Claire was with Frank, Christmas was never celebrated in a traditional way but usually involved a formal dinner in a smart hotel with Frank keenly observing Claire’s food and alcohol consumption (Christmas pudding and a mince pie, Claire? Is that really necessary? Another glass of wine?). Consequently, she frequently offered to cover some of the more unpopular shifts at the hospital over the festive period.

This year, she felt, was payback time. As early as possible she requested the full Christmas and New Year period off, knowing no one would refuse that based on her willingness to work over previous years.

And so, when Jamie asked in early November whether she was working over Christmas and New Year, she confidently told him that she wasn’t. That was the end of the conversation.

By the end of November, the conversation had still not resumed. Claire was getting decidedly nervous about the holiday plans and sought reassurance from Geillis as they had their regular get-together at their favourite Italian restaurant.

“So, why do you think he hasn’t mentioned Christmas plans yet? Am I not invited? Is it like the Royal family, you know, where you have to be married to one of them before you’re invited to spend Christmas with them at Sandringham?”

“Claire, have another glass of wine and dinna fash. There isna any doubt in ma mind that ye will be snuggled up wi’ yer man fer the holidays in the Highlands. I reckon he thinks it’s a done deal that ye’ll be spending Christmas together, or that he’s already spoken tae ye about it. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Ye come along and spend it wi’ me and ma family. Ye’d be verra welcome, ye ken. And the family Christmas dinner will be grand, as long as we keep Granny away from the rum.”

Claire did as she was told and poured herself another glass of wine. “Okay, but if he hasn’t said anything by the first week in December, I’m going to tackle him about it. I know he’s got a lot on his mind with… Geneva… but…”

Geillis poured the remains of the bottle of wine into her glass, motioning to the waiter for another bottle as she placed the empty one upended in the ice bucket. “How is the stuck-up bitch doin’?”

“She’s actually doing ok, I believe from what Jamie tells me. But she’s taken to texting or ringing him with every little twinge or ache. Last week she rang to say that her fingers had swelled and she needed help with preparing dinner.”

Geillis, mid sip of her wine, snorted with laughter. Dabbing the spilt wine up with her napkin, she finally caught her breath, coughed and carried on talking.

“Oh, fer fuck’s sake, it went right up ma nose.” She blew her nose on the napkin. “He didna go round did he? He’s no’ feelin’ that guilty that he has tae jump every time she clicks her fingers?”

“No, thankfully, he has a new tactic. Any twinge, pain or swelling he now tells her that I will go and see her, since I’m a doctor. She really doesn’t want anything to do with me, so the ailment suddenly vanishes… Are you sure I don’t need to worry about Christmas, G?”

********
Jamie finished his phone call to his father and walked into the kitchen where Claire was loading the dishwasher. He stood for a minute admiring how her arse wiggled slightly from side to side as she positioned the crockery and saucepans to her satisfaction before closing the door. He was frequently tempted to deliberately load it in a haphazard way, just so she would have to spend longer over that activity. Her old, comfortable yoga pants were very worn, the fabric stretched so thin that Jamie could clearly see the lines of her panties. He adjusted himself discreetly as Claire stood up, then trapped her between his arms, each hand resting on the countertop behind her. She lifted her face up for a kiss and Jamie dutifully obliged.

“That was Da. He said tae remind ye about the tacky Christmas jumper competition.”

The look of incomprehension on Claire’s face made Jamie pause for a moment. “Fer Christmas, I told ye about our tradition every Christmas Day. Worst jumper wins the prize. I reckon we should drive up to Lallybroch Christmas Eve morning if that’s ok wi’ ye.”

“Well, yes, you told me about the tradition but you never asked me to come to Lallybroch with you for Christmas.” Claire freed herself from Jamie’s embrace and stood, hands on hips, lips pressed together.

“Aye, I did. I said a few weeks back, I remember askin’ ye if ye were off work fer the holidays and ye said ye were.” Jamie retaliated.

“Which does not equate to asking me to Lallybroch for Christmas.” Claire was now in no mood for backing down. “How am I expected to know if you don’t ask me? I might have made other plans.”

“Weel, have ye?”

“No,” Claire admitted. “but that’s not the point. You can’t make decisions without asking me. I’ve been in a relationship like that with Frank and…”

Jamie inhaled sharply at the mention of that name. “I did ask ye. Ye knew what I meant and ye said yes.”

“Do not suppose to tell me what I know or don’t. You cannot do that. Frank was always trying to…” Claire’s voice was icy calm.

“Frank!” Jamie exclaimed loudly, banging his fist on the countertop. “I dinna want tae hear that name. I am no’ like Frank!”

Claire stepped closer to Jamie, her face now flushed with frustration, her finger jabbing against the solid muscle of his chest. She desperately wanted to slap his face, inflict some pain but held herself in check. “You don’t like it when I mention Frank, my ex boyfriend. You’ve never met him, he has no place in our lives, contact with him is zero but you don’t like it.”

The jabs with her finger continued. Jamie winced, not from any pain but he knew what was coming.

“But I have to have your fucking ex rammed down my throat. Her and her attempts to play happy families with you. And I take it with no complaint. But please excuse me if I mention a man’s name once in a while. I don’t mean to upset your delicate constitution.” Claire’s voice now dripped with sarcasm.

She moved away from Jamie. “I don’t want to talk to you right now, don’t even want to look at you. I’d storm out but this is my fucking flat, so just leave me alone.”

She rushed out of the kitchen and into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

******
Jamie sat down, wondering what to do now. He had no intention of actually leaving the flat, but realised that he needed to give Claire some time alone before he began to try to make amends. He knew he would have to do some serious apologising. The fault lay with him not communicating with Claire properly about Christmas; assuming she would go along with his decisions and then going mad when the comparisons with Frank were made. He never wanted to make Claire feel like Frank had made her feel, and yet he’d done just that. And she was right, she had to put up with his ex being a very real part of their lives whereas Frank was just a name.

Jamie decided to give Claire some more time and then try to apologise.

******
Claire had donned her onesie as some form of comforter and was curled up on her bed. She knew the argument wasn’t about Christmas really. Jamie had to learn that she wouldn’t put up with behaviour like Frank’s. Plus the whole Geneva situation niggled away at her. Most of the time she could handle that, but every so often it just bubbled over and needed a release valve. The valve tonight had been Jamie’s performance as jealous boyfriend and first class dickhead.

Months ago, when she and Geillis first discussed having a fling, one of the criteria was no complications. Well, Claire smiled ruefully, that had well and truly been blown out of the water.

There was a tentative knock at the door. Claire said nothing. The door opened slightly and a hand appeared waving a white teatowel. The hand took Claire’s silence as permission to enter, and pushed the door open wide.

Jamie dropped the towel and came over to the bed. Claire shimmied over to make room for him to sit next to her. She said nothing, waiting for him to make the first move. He settled himself on the bed, shuffling his bottom up the mattress and leaned back against the headboard. His hand reached across the pillow and stroked Claire’s hair, tucking that insistent rogue curl behind her ear.

“Claire, I’m that sorry. That was all ma fault back there. I kent you’d want tae spend Christmas up at Lallybroch but I shouldna have planned it wi’out askin’ ye. I shoulda spoken tae ye about it. I dinna want tae be like Frank.”

Claire pulled Jamie’s arm, forcing him to lie down next to her, face to face, so close they could each feel the other’s breath against their mouths. It was now her turn to run her fingers through his hair, scratching his scalp with her nails. He groaned slightly in pleasure at the sensation.

“And ye’re right, I am… was… am a jealous prick. I ken Frank means nothin’ tae ye and the only time ye mention him tae me is tae speak badly of him. I have nae right to shout at ye and ye have every right tae shout at me. I dinna have tae live wi’ Frank in our lives save as an unpleasant memory, but ye have tae put up wi’ Geneva in our lives all the time and know that it isna goin’ tae go away.”

Jamie kissed her lightly on the lips, gratified that he could feel her respond to him, pulling him closer.

“Jamie, nobody said relationships were easy, especially with all the baggage we seem to have accumulated, but we need to work at it together and make decisions together. We are a team, remember.”

“So, will ye come tae Lallybroch wi’ me fer the holidays?”

“I would love to.”

He pulled apart from her, bringing his hand to her chest, struggling to find the zip on her onesie. He paused, momentarily, from his search.

“Wait, did ye just call Geneva an old bag?”

“I was actually talking about emotional baggage, but hey, why not?” Claire laughed.

“Fair point. Now, as a team, can we work at getting naked together? Starting with this blasted onesie.”

Chapter Text

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more! ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Three days before Christmas Day and Claire had officially started her holiday. Much to the amazement of many of her colleagues who couldn’t quite believe that this year, there would be no Miss Beauchamp to cover gaps in the rota or deal with unscheduled emergencies. She had made it clear that she would be absolutely unreachable.

Claire filled two mugs with fresh coffee and placed them next to two of Mrs. Crook’s homemade mince pies on the serving tray. She hesitated before adding a third pie and went to join Jamie in the conservatory.

Snuggling next to Jamie, Claire sipped her coffee and gazed out of the wall of glass. The garden was blanketed with a heavy frost, glittering in the winter sun. Snow hadn’t reached this far south yet, but they had been assured, or warned, depending on one’s viewpoint, that there was already “a wee smatterin’” on the hills around Lallybroch.

Claire stretched contentedly. Ahead of her laid two whole weeks, the longest break she’d ever taken from the hospital. Her Christmas shopping was complete, her clothes sorted for the festive season at Lallybroch. All she had to do one pick up one present for Jamie and she was done.

The chirp of Jamie’s phone announced a text. He finished chewing his second mince pie as he read.

“Christ. Season of goodwill and all that but I could do wi’out this.”

“Is there a problem?” Claire asked, worried.

“Nah, just the usual. Geneva wants tae pop round, her words no’ mine, this evening tae give me ma present. Ye’ll be here, won’t ye, Sassenach?”

“If you want me to, of course. Have you got her a present?”

“God, no. Didna think it would be a good idea. I have some boxes of biscuits left over from work. I can give her one of them.”

“James Fraser, we may not be fond of the woman, but she is the mother of your child. You can’t give her biscuits. That’s for work colleagues and elderly neighbours. Besides, I don’t think she’d even touch them unless they were Fortnum and Mason’s at the very least!” Claire playfully punched Jamie’s shoulder

With quick reflexes, Jamie grabbed Claire’s fist and brought it to his lips.

“Sassenach?” He whispered.

Claire sighed and waited. She knew exactly where this conversation was going.

Encouraged by her silence, Jamie continued. “Ye’re headin’ intae the shops this morning, are ye no’? D’ye think ye could buy something… er… suitable for her?”

“Suitable? And what do you think is suitable for a woman who’s been trying to steal you away from me for months? I know what I’d like to give her…”

“Please, Sassenach. Just dinna get her anything too personal, no smelly stuff, nothing like that.” Jamie made pleading, puppy dog eyes at Claire. “Ye’ll ken what tae get her. Ye’re much better than me. Look at all the lovely stuff ye’ve bought Maggie. I couldna have chosen any of that…”

“Enough.” Claire cut his pleading short. “Spare me the helpless man routine. I’ll do it. But only because I love you.”

Jamie smiled and, rising, pulled Claire to her feet. He kissed her soundly on the lips while fondling her bottom. “Alright, so, d’ ye want me tae drop ye off at the shops on ma way tae the gym?”

***********

The initial agreement, made several weeks before, had been not to bother with Christmas decorations at either Jamie’s house or Claire’s flat, since they would be spending a lot of the holiday season at Lallybroch. They both confirmed this was a logical decision, as there would be plenty of time in the future for all that.

First it was a pair of candle holders, that Claire noticed during her shopping. Clear glass beakers with frosted pine trees etched all around. Subtle, they agreed, but with scented candles would provide enough Christmas ambience for the house. Next it was a wicker reindeer that Jamie spotted on his way to a meeting. Then quickly followed the baskets of pine cones, wreaths of holly and berries and a carved wooden nativity scene. By the time Jamie arrived home with a large Norwegian spruce tied to the roof of his car, they both realised that they should give in and fully embrace the Christmas decorations. So, they spent the next weekend wandering the Christmas markets, drinking too much mulled wine and buying ornaments and lights for the tree.

And now, as Claire looked round the living room, she was thankful that they had ignored logic and dived right into Christmas. Feeling nicely full from Mrs. Crook’s beef stew, all she wanted to do was snuggle on the sofa with Jamie, watch a bit of festive television and maybe have a whisky mac or two. As it was she was sitting literally on the edge of her seat, listening out for the doorbell and Geneva.

Finally, the doorbell rang. Her stomach filled with butterflies as she heard Jamie’s footsteps in the hall and the door open.

Geneva strode into the room. Now in her seventh month of pregnancy, she still managed to exude an air of glamour, dressed in a simple black tube dress with a scarf draped across her shoulders and, as Claire had suspected, a very neat baby bump.

She seemed momentarily surprised by the sight of Claire, but quickly recovered. “Claire,” she drawled. “How lovely to see you.”

The look in her eyes said just the opposite.

Jamie hovered in the doorway unsure what to do before realising his duties as host. “Geneva, would ye like a drink? We have some soft drinks if ye’re interested.”

“No, thanks. I can’t stop.” She eyed Claire coldly. “Just wanted to give you your present and see what you were doing for the holidays. I suppose it’s a busy time of year for you, Claire, at the hospital. Too much alcohol and icy pavements will keep you occupied, I’m sure.”

Jamie moved to Claire’s side. She felt his reassuring warmth next to her. “Actually, Geneva, Claire’s no’ at the hospital fer two weeks. We’re headin’ up tae Lallybroch fer Christmas and Hogmanay.”

“Oh, well that answers my next question. I’m off to Mummy’s for Christmas, but was planning on having a New Year’s Eve party up here. Wondered if you wanted to come… er... both of you?”

Despite the invitation being extended to both of them, Claire recognised that in Geneva’s eyes, she was the unwelcome and unnecessary tag along. She smiled sweetly, her smile as insincere as Geneva’s words.

“Sorry Geneva, we canna come. Thanks for the offer, though… anyway, how are ye, and the bairn?”

“Yes, we’re fine… Merry Christmas, Jamie.” She handed him a large gift bag.

“Thanks. And jes’ a wee gift from us.” Jamie picked up the beautifully store-wrapped picture frame Claire had bought earlier and passed it to Geneva.

“Jamie, would you mind opening it now, please? Just need to check something.”

Jamie shrugged and dived into the bag, his hands delving through layers of tissue paper, and pulled out a midnight blue linen shirt.

“Ach, ‘tis verra fine. Thank ye.”

“No, hold it up against you. I need to see if I have the right size. It’s been a while…”

Reluctantly, Jamie unfolded the shirt and held it against his chest. “Aye, it fits fine.”

Geneva reached out to try to smooth a crease against Jamie's chest as he quickly folded the shirt roughly and dropped it on the coffee table. Claire openly looked at Geneva in amazement. There was no point in faking sincerity or subtlety. Geneva was being as subtle as a sledgehammer, and was now seemingly oblivious to Claire’s presence.

It was as if, Claire thought, Geneva viewed this as a competition with Jamie as the prize. Well, Claire was not going to compete. She knew it was Jamie's decision and he had made it.

Suddenly, Geneva winced, placing her hand on her belly. She reached over to try to take Jamie’s hand. Claire felt her stomach lurch, seeds of self-doubt beginning to spring up in her mind. Jamie moved his hand abruptly away from Geneva’s and looked across at Claire. Geneva, ignoring Jamie’s snub, rubbed her bump.

Still trying to remain polite, Jamie edged towards the door. “Weel, er… Merry Christmas tae ye, Geneva.”

“Yes, Merry Christmas to you too, Jamie.” Geneva smiled warmly at Jamie, the smile cooling considerably as she turned to Claire.“... … Claire.”

Message apparently received, Geneva made her farewells and left. Claire settled on the sofa as Jamie pottered in the kitchen, returning with two Whisky Macs and a dish of peanuts.

He handed her a glass. “Reckon ye could do wi’ one, Sassenach. Ye’re thinkin’ sae hard I could hear ye in the kitchen. Talk tae me.”

“That shirt, Jamie, the one that’s currently in a heap on the table. That’s Turnbull and Asser… linen… that could easily have cost a couple of hundred pounds.”

“Am I no’ worth it? Is that what ye’re sayin’?” Jamie joked.

“I thought Geneva was treating this as a competition.” Claire ignored his interruption and continued. “Her against me with you as the prize. But then I just realised, that’s not her plan. She’s not trying to get you to leave me. I think it was me she was targeting tonight. She wants me to leave you. If she makes it as uncomfortable as possible for me in this relationship, she thinks I will go. And then perhaps you’ll fall into her comforting arms and that’s her goal. But she underestimates me.”

Claire paused and sipped her drink. “Now, I know there are uncomfortable bits in this relationship and things we need to adapt and get used to. But I’m not going anywhere, James Fraser!”

“And Sassenach, neither am I.”

Claire relaxed against Jamie, her head nestled against his chest. Kissing the top of her head, Jamie picked up the tv remote control and began to flick through the channels

“Enough tension tonight. Let’s have some Christmas entertainment and no’ think about that woman any more… Ah, Love Actually...”

“I love this film. But, I’m warning you, it makes me cry. I mean real, ugly cry.”

Jamie turned Claire’s face to his. “‘Then ‘tis jes’ as well I’m no’ wearing that fancy, expensive shirt, with all the snot there may be around.”

His lips lightly kissed her forehead and nose before reaching her lips. Gently, his index finger traced the same path. Suddenly serious, he continued “Claire, I ken, these last few months with me have no’ been the easiest fer ye and I’ve given ye cause to shed a fair few tears. And fer that I am truly sorry. I dinna ever want ever tae make ye cry… but I do. I love ye and I sometimes wonder how ye've stuck by me through all this. Ye're a rare woman… I’m no’ sure what I've done tae deserve ye.”

“Or,” he added with a wry smile. “What ye’ve done tae deserve me.”

Claire returned his smile. “I ask myself that all the time. My plans for a fling with no complications didn’t exactly work out, did they?”

She rested her head on his chest, listening to the steady pounding of his heart. Her fingers worked their way between his shirt buttons and idly played with the copper hairs. She thought for a moment, before speaking. “Honestly, sometimes, you’re right it’s not easy. When I see the way she looks at you, or rubs her bump, it hurts. I don’t like to admit that, but it does... But that feeling, that hurt, isn’t there all the time, it passes. The feeling that stays with me all the time is how you make me feel. And I don’t want to not have that in my life. I know, even with all these complications, I would still make the same choice. And, I remind myself, it’s Geneva who looks at you that way, not you looking at Geneva… and it’s Geneva who, despite all her trying and games, still goes home alone... Just, please, no more complications.”

Jamie kissed the top of her head. “Aye, Sassenach, I promise. And now, let’s watch the film, and ye can ugly cry tae yer heart’s content.”

Chapter Text

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne

Robert Burns

The grandfather clock in the hall chimed three. A medley of creaks and rumbles echoed around as the house settled down for the night, its occupants all finally retired, worn out after the Hogmanay festivities which had carried on until the wee small hours.

Jamie lay peacefully asleep on his back, exhausted from the evening’s celebrations and the enthusiastic lovemaking that followed. A brief post orgasm cuddle and Jamie had swiftly descended into a deep slumber, not quite snoring, but emitting a definite wheeze with each exhale.

Claire sometimes envied the way that men could switch off so completely after sex. The race to the finish and that desired explosion, then collapse and coma. But for Claire, though she felt satisfied and content, sleep never came that easily. Not that she minded tonight. It was a chance for quiet reflection on the past week.

A snore next to her made Claire giggle to herself. Jamie would never believe that he occasionally snored, but all things considered that wasn’t a bad fault. There were worse, obviously. Claire pulled a face in the darkness, determined not to dwell on that. It had been quite a Geneva-free week… just the three texts on Christmas Day, a reminder about her party mid week and the three missed calls after midnight tonight.

Claire settled herself into Jamie’s warmth, shuffling her bottom up against his hip and pulling her cold feet up to his calf. He gave a slight groan of complaint and then resumed his loud, regular breathing.

With these Hogmanay celebrations, Claire was in a place she could never have imagined twelve months before - not just here at Lallybroch, but in her relationship with Jamie and the feeling of family and home. Claire had spent last New Year’s Eve at home alone (ignoring all invitations and hospitality), wondering whether she had made a mistake in not moving to Oxford with Frank and seriously contemplating trying to rekindle their relationship. Indeed, it was only a well-timed phone call from Geillis that had prevented her from reaching out to Frank in that lonely predawn darkness.

Claire breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of her friend’s fortuitous intervention. The past seven months with Jamie had been wonderful, if somewhat complicated, culminating in this holiday week. She had a lot to be thankful for.

Claire remembered, many years ago, being told to count her blessings if she couldn’t sleep. As a child she had found this difficult to do. Tonight, however, she had a plethora of Christmas memories ready to be counted as blessings.

The trip had been magical from the start. As they drove north, the snow had begun to appear. At first, a slight dusting of icing sugar on the top of the hills, then, as the mountains came into view, the snow had covered the slopes, brilliant white against the clear blue sky, a perfect crisp winter's day. By the time they had reached Lallybroch, the snow lay all around, softening the hardness of the stone building.

With Jenny, Ian and the children already there, it had been a noisy Christmas Eve, but so full of warmth and affection. The house had been carefully decorated. Garlands and wreaths of fresh greenery and berries on every mantelpiece and door added to the wonderful aromas throughout. The turkey was sitting in a large bucket of brine with oranges and Christmas spices in the utility room, ready for the next day. There seemed to be an endless supply of Mrs. Crook’s mouthwatering mince pies and fruit cake. Claire could not remember celebrating a family Christmas, and so all these experiences, all these traditions, were new to her.

Wee Jamie had been practically vibrating with excitement, bouncing from adult to adult, chattering animatedly. His sudden worry that Santa wouldn’t know where he was staying (and Maggie too, Murtagh had reminded) or would be scared by the thought of the real fires in the hearths had been quickly assuaged by a note (in bold, black permanent marker) attached to the front door, giving Santa and his reindeer very clear directions.

Later on, Jamie, Claire, Brian and Murtagh had gone to Midnight Mass at the local church to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet amidst the flurry of festive activity before returning to Lallybroch for mulled wine laced with Amaretto and eventually bed.

Christmas Day itself had been more than Claire could have ever imagined. Even though early morning foreplay had been rudely interrupted by loud knocking on their door (‘Unca, Care Bear, c’mon. Mam says Santa’s been’), it was worth it to see the look on Wee Jamie’s face as he first glimpsed the presents under the tree and then noticed the empty sherry glass, mince pie crumbs and half-eaten carrot. Closer inspection might have revealed that the tooth marks were less reindeer and more Jamie, but his nephew was too wrapped up in the magic to consider the details.

To Claire’s amazement, there had been a pile of presents labelled for her. She felt as giddy as a child as she tore off paper to reveal an assortment of treasures from Jamie’s family and Jamie himself... perfume, stationery, snuggly knitwear, CDs … Jamie’s final gift was a platinum necklace, delicate and discreet, two intertwining hearts on a chain, their intersection marked with a diamond. As he fastened it around her neck, he had whispered his promise for the future into her ear.

But, for Claire, it had also been a time for giving. The hours spent deliberating over what to buy for the family had all been worth it as she shared their delight when they opened their gifts from her - from Maggie’s drooling grin as the teething necklace was put to immediate use, to Murtagh’s hug as he tried his new tweed cap on - and Jamie’s genuine pleasure as he unwrapped his presents… CDs, rugby DVDs, a beginners’ cookbook, a shirt ( not of expensive linen, but certainly to be valued more highly), and a watch engraved with their initials on the back.

Everyone had joined in with the Christmas jumper competition, although Jamie had discretely informed Claire that Murtagh had worn the same sweater for the past fifteen years. Jamie’s jumper bore the slightly wonky image of the ugliest snowman Claire had ever seen, whilst she herself had a somewhat over the top image of Santa on a sparkly unicorn. The winner, announced with much formality by Brian, was Wee Jamie with a bright green Tyrannosaurus rex wearing a Santa hat emblazoned on the front of his jumper. Claire suspected this competition might have been rigged, as the prize, joyfully received, had been a golden medal and a Spider-Man chocolate selection box.

The rest of Christmas Day had passed in a whirlwind of activity and fun. Mrs Crook had joined them for lunch and to supervise its preparation. Everyone had been assigned their role - Jamie’s having been to pour the drinks and stay away from the cooking.

The food had been superb. Served in the formal dining room, everyone had stuffed themselves, then had wrapped up and headed outside to walk it all off in the snow while it was still daylight.

The evening had been the time for games, although none too mentally taxing, while they nibbled on cheese and Christmas cake before finally retiring to bed, too full and too tired for anything more energetic than a cuddle.

And now, once more in the predawn darkness of New Year’s day, Claire snuggled further into the warmth of Jamie.

He turned onto his side, spooning her and muttered sleepily into her ear. “Are ye no tired, Sassenach? Yer thinkin’ so hard it woke me up. What’s amiss?”

She pulled his hand round to cup her breast and rested her hand on top of his. “Nothing amiss, just thankful for this holiday and your family…”

“Is that all?”

Claire felt his breath warm on her neck. “And you, James Fraser, I’m thankful for you.”

“Even wi’ everything I’ve put ye through?”

Claire’s curls tickled his face as she nodded in agreement. “Even with all that. And even with everything I know will be coming for us this year.”

Jamie pulled her even closer to him. “And I’m sae glad ye’re mine, Sassenach. I love ye, truly.”

Chapter Text

The more Susan waited, the more the doorbell didn't ring. Or the phone.― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

“Hello, Jamie. It’s Isobel. How are you? Just wondered how you and Claire are doing? We haven’t spoken since before Christmas.”

“No’ too bad, Isobel. How’s yerself? Listen, come round fer brunch this Sunday, if ye fancy it. John’s comin’ too.”

“Gosh, thanks. I’d like that. I haven’t seen John for ages… wait… you’re not planning on cooking are you? Can Claire cook?”

“Weel, she can make a bacon sandwich and fry an egg.”

“Without setting the fire alarm off? That’s an improvement on you then, Jamie. Do you remember that time at university when you…”

“Aye, so we’ll be seein’ ye on Sunday then. ‘Bout eleven? Bye Isobel.”

*****

“Sassenach…”

Jamie stretched out in bed, impatient for Claire to come and join him. The sounds of her bedtime routine filtered through the closed en suite bathroom door as she applied her various wee creams and potions to her face before cleaning her teeth. She didn’t really need to bother with them but he loved how she would slide into bed next to him, her skin still moist from her ministrations, her neck smelling delicately of rose and almond. And when she lifted her hands to his face, the scent of lavender would fill his nostrils.

“Sassenach…” He called her again. “I’ve asked Isobel fer brunch on Sunday as well. That’ll be ok?”

The door opened and Claire stuck her head out, her hair tied up with a scrunchy and cheeks pink from scrubbing. “Fine with me. Just need to buy a couple more croissants… wait, you’re not trying to match John and Isobel are you? I mean you know them better than I do, but I think that would be a hopeless challenge.”

Jamie snorted with laughter as Claire’s head disappeared back into the bathroom. “Nah, jes’ thought it would be a good catch up fer us all. I’m goin’ tae have tae rely on Isobel more over the next few weeks, ye ken. Now, woman, are ye no’ finished in there wi’ all yer potions and such? Yer man is awfa lonesome in here.”

The ping of his phone distracted Jamie from his solitary status. He quickly opened his message. “Christ!” He exclaimed.

Alarmed, Claire rushed into the bedroom, settling herself beside him. “What’s the matter, love? It’s not the baby, is it? It’s too early.”

Jamie shook his head and hesitated for a moment before speaking. “I’m no’ hidin’ this from ye. Trust me...Geneva’s sent me some photos.”

Noticing the look of alarm on Claire’s face, he quickly added. “They’re of Geneva...jes’ her.”

“Can I see?”

“Do ye really want tae?” Jamie asked before passing the phone to Claire as she nodded.

The image on the screen was a studio portrait proof of Geneva - a very pregnant and very naked Geneva - her modesty only protected by an arm barely covering her nipples and a strategically bent leg. A second image, from behind showed no hint of a baby bump, just her elegant profile and shapely back descending to two perfectly placed dimples above the cleft of her buttocks. Claire’s initial reaction on seeing the pictures was a blend of jealousy and admiration mixed with a tinge of inadequacy.

“I have to say, Jamie, I think they are beautiful. Being able to have that memory of your baby must be very special to treasure. I think I would do that… if it were me…” Claire tailed off.

“Aye, I ken that, but this is Geneva. I think ye’re too generous, Sassenach. She’s no’ sent them to me fer no reason. This is another attempt of hers tae play happy families. I canna be doin’ wi’ it. Jes’ delete them, would ye? I dinna want tae even look at them.”

As requested, Claire pressed delete. Jamie pulled her closer to him, inhaling her scent and slowly unzipping her onesie, his phone discarded on the pillow. His hand snaked inside and underneath her vest, its gentle strokes making her squirm and bring her body even tighter against his.

With his mouth warm against her ear, he whispered, “When it’s ye that’s carryin’ our bairn, I will take as many photos as ye like and will cherish each and every one of them… because it’s ye and me and our love.”

Claire looked into his deep blue eyes. “Oh, Jamie, I do love you.”

********
“Sassenach, are ye sure ye dinna want me tae try ma hand at some drop scones? We have everything we need in the cupboards.”

Claire brushed past Jamie, playfully pushing him out of her way and towards the kitchen door. “Nooo!” She said laughing. “We want a stress free time. I can manage scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and make sourdough toast without burning. We have plenty of croissants and pastries. Make the coffee, you do it so well… and the washing up!”

Only pausing to fondle her arse, Jamie left the kitchen. Claire could hear him in the living room pottering around. Her guess that he was looking for some background music was proved correct as Biffy Clyro poured through the speakers set up in all the downstairs rooms. The sound of the doorbell interrupted Jamie’s tuneless singalong.

Claire ventured out of the kitchen to greet John and Isobel as Jamie gathered up coats and bottles. After the general exchange of hugs and greetings had died down, Claire excused herself to continue with the (minimal) preparations, while Jamie was left in charge of mixing up the Buck’s Fizz. Isobel followed Claire into the kitchen.

“Can I lend a hand? Anything you want me to do?” Isobel offered.

Claire shook her head. “Not much to do, just need to make the scrambled eggs and some toast. Even I can manage that.”

“Well that’s more than Jamie can do. I remember when he was at university, one evening, he…”

“Och, what’s all this then? Gossiping in here? What are ye doin’ tae me, Isobel?” Jamie handed them both a glass with a smile. “I dinna tell all yer secrets now, do I?”

******
To Claire’s relief, brunch had gone surprisingly well. By no means a natural cook, she had always worried in the kitchen and had often been made to feel inadequate when preparing food for Frank and the occasional guest. But she hadn’t burnt anything, everyone had eaten their fill and now she could relax with a large cup of coffee dutifully prepared by Jamie.

“Thanks to our hostess for this brunch.” John raised his mug in a toast to Claire. “So, is this official? Are you two living together now?”

“No…” Claire and Jamie responded in unison.

“Well,” John continued. “When were you last at your place, Claire?”

“Yesterday.” Claire said emphatically.

“Hmm. For how long?”

Claire suddenly found the contents of her coffee cup remarkably interesting. “Er, about an hour…”

“And before that?”

“I ken what ye’re gettin’ at, John, ever the lawyer. And, aye, we are together most of the time. But it’s no’ ‘official’, as ye call it. We canna rock the boat at the moment. Until Geneva’s had the bairn and ma name is on the birth certificate, we have tae be careful.”

“And you genuinely believe Jamie is the father?” John asked Isobel.

Isobel considered the question. “I really do. Once she saw Jamie again at the wedding, she told me this was her second chance. Even when he told her it wouldn’t work, she still believed he’d come back, that the split was temporary. She wouldn’t have risked that.”

“She’s no’ finished playin’ her games though, has she?” Jamie turned to Isobel.

Isobel thought for a moment before responding. “I’m not sure, Jamie. She doesn’t tell me what she’s about to do. She thinks I’ll disapprove of her ideas, or try to talk her out of them. Not that she listens to me. You saw the photos, I take it?”

John looked quizzically over to Jamie who answered his gaze with an almost imperceptible shake of the head.

“Aye, we saw the photos,” Jamie replied to Isobel. “And then we deleted them…”

“I know. I did try to tell her not to send them to you, but she went ahead anyway. You didn’t respond with a flurry of compliments and she went into a massive sulk. She found a game she can’t win, no matter what tactic she tries. It’s not like when she wanted a pony, or a skiing holiday, or a new car. This is something that Mummy can’t fix for her, though I know she’s tried.”

Jamie nodded at the recollection of Mrs. Dunsany storming into this house demanding that he “do the right thing” by her daughter.

“Aye, I think in days gone by I’d have been marched off tae the kirk wi’ a shotgun at ma back. I ken I’m no’ popular wi’ yer mother, but ye think I’m ‘doin’ the right thing’ by yer sister, do ye no’?”

“I do, Jamie. I think part of it with Geneva now is the challenge of being told no. Everything’s been given so easily to her and she wants to win so badly.”

Jamie reached across the table, covering Isobel’s hand with his own. “Ye’re a real treasure, ye ken, Isobel. Claire and I both would be lost in this situation wi’out ye.”

Smiling, Claire nodded in agreement.

“So, what’s next in this situation?” John asked. “Have you discussed the birth? Not long to go now.”

“Well, for once we’re all in agreement. Geneva doesn’t want Jamie around during the delivery… which is just as well as he doesn’t want to be there either.”

Claire laughed. “She probably doesn’t want him to see her looking less than her usual immaculate self. I’m surprised, though, that she’s not having an elective caesarean.”

“Actually that was the original plan but she wasn’t convinced that the surgeon would do a good enough job with the scar, so it’s a normal delivery if possible. I’ve agreed to be her birthing partner. So I’m going to ring Jamie when Geneva’s in labour, and then when the baby is born and he can come and visit.”

John looked across at Claire, suddenly silent, gazing into the depths of her coffee cup. Her fingers stroked the delicate necklace nestled at the base of her throat.

He knew all too well what she must be feeling - the pang of sadness and envy as someone else was about to share special experiences and memories with Jamie. Experiences that he could not be part of. He wanted to reassure her, explain that she could live with these feelings, accept them, bottle them up even, for years, until they became part of the fabric of everyday life, just like him. He was the master at that. And he also knew he could never share any of this with Claire.

“More coffee, anyone?” Claire pushed her chair back and headed to the kitchen in search of a distraction.

*************
As Geneva’s due date grew closer, Claire found herself becoming more and more anxious and tense. She had to make a conscious effort not to flinch every time she heard Jamie’s phone signal the arrival of a text.

It was a nervous time for Jamie, preparing to meet his son, but to Claire it marked the end of a part of their relationship. The little insular bubble that they had been living in for the past eight months was about to burst and then there would always be other considerations, other demands on Jamie’s time.

To compensate, Claire tried to throw herself wholeheartedly into the plans Jamie was making. She spent a weekend with him carefully decorating a spare bedroom, turning it into a nursery fit for his son. She spent hours looking at cots, changing stations and nursery furniture, helping Jamie decide which to buy. She even helped him select a suitable gift for Geneva. Actually, more than helped, she created the gift, buying a large wicker hamper and filling it with carefully selected goodies for mother and baby - the softest cashmere baby blanket, the cutest teddy, vests, babygros, memory books and a huge selection of Neal’s Yard aromatherapy products for mother and baby. The kind of gift, in fact, that Claire herself would love to receive, if it were her...

Jamie’s heart filled as he saw Claire so involved in the plans for his child. He loved and admired her so much. He recognised that this was a difficult time for her and yet she was there, by his side, supporting and loving him. He tried to take time to reassure her, show her what she meant to him.

His regret was simple. He didn’t wish his son away, not now, he knew that he would love him and cherish him. No, he wished tat it was Claire carrying this child, that they were making all the preparations together for their bairn.

It would be their turn, together, in the not too distant future, he hoped.

**********

Jamie watched from the doorway as Claire, seemingly unaware of his presence, opened drawers and cupboards, putting away some of their latest purchases and hand-me-downs from Wee Jamie. He crept up behind her, resting his chin on her shoulder.

“How can ye do this?” he asked.

“Well, this stuff Jenny gave for the baby needed to be put away and so…”

“Nah, I dinna mean that. I mean, being here, supporting me… loving me.”

“Say it was me.” Jamie looked confused as Claire continued. “Say I was the one who had a child when we met, would you have still wanted a relationship?”

“Aye, I get what ye're saying. But Geneva as part of the package? That would be enough tae try the patience of a saint.”

“Well, what about if Frank was part of the package, what would you do?”

“I dinna ken,” Jamie admitted. “Mebbe punch him?”

“Well, I’m sure Geneva would love that, if I hit her… she could make me out as the evil homewrecker, charge me with assault, who knows? No, she wants me to react, create a scene… so the nicer I am, the more frustrating for her.”

Claire turned around to face Jamie. “You know, for months I hated Geneva, despised her for what she is doing. But not now.”

“Ye dinna hate her?” Jamie looked surprised.

Claire shook her head. “No. Look at the little games she's playing… getting more and more desperate and obvious. It's just sad, pathetic really. So no, no I don't hate her. I pity her.”

“Ye pity Geneva. God, she'd hate that.”

“I know.” Claire said happily.

********
For Jamie and Claire, Saturday night meant a takeaway curry, samosas, bhajis and a stack of poppadoms, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Indian beer. Perched on the sofa, watching the television, they had just started eating when Jamie’s phone rang.

Nervously, he answered. Claire listened intently to his side of the conversation.

“Hi… hello… Isobel.”

“Ok… everything ok?”

“Aye… like a torrent, ye say?”

“Thanks… keep me posted.”

“Oh, and Isobel, please wish her well from me. I dinna ken what else tae say. Bye…”

Jamie turned to Claire, his food now forgotten. “Ye ken what that was, Sassenach, I take it.”

Claire nodded and took his hands, now slightly trembling, in hers.

“Isobel says her waters broke and she’s started wi’ the pains, so they rang the hospital who said tae go in. She’s only early stages yet, so a long ways tae go. Isobel’ll ring when there’s news.”

Jamie pulled Claire close and kissed her soundly on the lips. Despite his nervousness, she could see the excitement in his eyes.

“Christ, Sassenach, a baby… my son.”

Chapter Text

James: Look, you gotta use Lamaze. It works. My sister-in-law used it. You don't use drugs, and it's better for the kid.
Mollie: You know, the only people who say stupid things like that are men, because they're idiots!

-Look Who’s Talking

Claire woke with a start, suddenly conscious of the cold space next to her. The bedroom was still dark, the clock flashing 6:30. It had been a fitful night’s sleep for both of them. Jamie had turned to her in the night, assuming their spooning position, but with his hand wrapped around his phone, rather than its usual place gently cupping her breast.

Shivering, she slipped out of bed and quickly donned her onesie.

Downstairs, she could see Jamie sitting in the dark in the conservatory, sipping a coffee. She poured herself a mug and went to join him. Without a word, he caught her hand, bringing it to his lips as she sat next to him. She leant into him, relishing his body heat though his old hoodie.

“Everything’s going to change.” Claire said quietly.

“Aye.” Unfocused, Jamie stared out into the garden, his mind a million miles away. Then suddenly he refocused, shook his head, and spoke clearly.

“Weel, no’ everything. What willna change is ye and I, Sassenach, and the way I feel about ye. We’ll adjust, we’ll manage… it’ll still be us. Promise me ye’ll stick around?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good, because…”

The phone suddenly interrupted their conversation. Jamie pressed the speaker button and positioned it between himself and Claire, his hand trembling slightly.

“Jamie, he’s here. Arrived about thirty minutes ago.” Isobel’s voice sounded thrilled but exhausted. “Normal delivery. No complications. They’re just sorting Geneva out now, but the baby is fine. Nine pounds one. And a fine pair of lungs on him. Screaming fit to burst as soon as he emerged.”

“Ah, that’s great news. Thanks for this, Isobel. When can I come and see him?”

In the dawn light, Claire could see Jamie’s eyes: the tears shining brightly, ready to fall.

“Come at eleven, if you can. Hopefully, they can come home later this afternoon, if all goes well. See you later then, Jamie.”

Jamie turned and buried his head in Claire’s neck, his tears now falling freely. Eventually, with a huge sniff, he composed himself and pulled back slightly.

“Do ye...are ye...do ye mind…?” Jamie struggled to find the right words.

“I’m not coming to the hospital with you today.” She interrupted his struggle, saving him from having to say those words to her. Today was not the day for Claire to deal with Geneva, or, God forbid, her mother.

“I’ll have plenty of time to meet your son. Today is between you… and your son.”

And just like that, she felt a little piece of her heart break.

************

Isobel was waiting for Jamie at the maternity reception. Greeting him with a warm hug whilst managing to avoid the large hamper and flowers he carried, she beamed with happiness. “Jamie, he’s beautiful, just you wait and see. And Geneva did so well too, she really surprised me. Anyway, come and see for yourself.”

Jamie followed Isobel through the hospital corridors, just another father excitedly heading to see his child, and much less excitedly, that child’s mother.

He stood for a moment at the door of the private room Geneva was in. She was sitting on top of the bed covers, chatting animatedly to her mother. Unsurprisingly, Geneva’s face looked weary, but fully made up.

When she spotted them, Louisa Dunsany rose from her chair and made her way to Jamie and Isobel. She caught Jamie’s arm momentarily, preventing him from entering the room and spoke in a whisper.

“Geneva’s been magnificent. Look at her, I mean really look at her and think about what she’s done for you… and how you should repay her for it.” In a louder voice, she added: “Come on Isobel, let’s go and find a cup of tea that’s half decent… I don’t know what some of the staff here have been making but it certainly isn’t tea.”

Jamie barely registered the comments. His eyes were fixed on the little Perspex crib by the side of the bed. As Isobel and her mother left in search of a proper cup of tea, he rushed into the room, depositing the hamper and flowers carelessly on the table, desperate for the first glimpse of his son.

He gazed down at the baby lying asleep in the crib. He had seen newborns before, but this one was more beautiful, more perfect than any other. He reached out a finger and stroked the red down on his head, running it around the shell-like ear and on to a tiny fist, practically hidden in the sleeve of a white babygro, too big for the newborn boy. The baby let out a tiny half-cry then settled back into the regular pattern of breathing.

“I hope your hands are clean.”

Staring at his son, Jamie had forgotten the presence of Geneva.

“Aye,” he responded. “I used the hand gel on the way in. Can I hold him? Let me take a couple o’ photos first.”

Geneva nodded. Having taken multiple snaps of the baby, Jamie carefully picked him up, head nestled in one large hand, bottom in the other. He sat down as the baby lazily opened his eyes to stare at his father for a few seconds. Approval having been given, the baby yawned and resumed his nap. Jamie shifted him in his arms, bringing him close to his chest.

“Geneva, he’s beautiful. Thank ye, thank ye. I dinna ken what else tae say. God, he is just sae.. .sae… beautiful… jes’ amazin’. Can ye take a picture of us, me and him on ma phone, please? I want tae have a memory of this moment.”

Geneva obligingly took Jamie’s phone.

“How are ye feeling? I bought ye some flowers, by the way, and the hamper is a gift fer the two o’ ye,” Jamie continued.

“I’m tired and sore and achy. I don’t think I can stand upright. I’m still feeling nauseous from the pain relief. I need a long bath. My breasts are painful and I am forced to wear an industrial strength bra. But, he is lovely isn’t he? Sweet William…”

“William? Ye’ve decided on a name, without discussing it wi’ me?”

“William, it’s a family name. William Dunsany, it’s something Mummy wanted, well, we all wanted.”

“It’s a fine name, but could ye no’ have spoken tae me about it? What about middle names? I ken his surname is Dunsany, but could we mebbe include Fraser as one of his names?” Jamie tried to keep his patience and focus on what really mattered - his son, here in his arms.

“I’ve not decided yet. It depends.”

“Aye? On what?”

Geneva remained silent. Jamie, focusing only on his son, did not question the lack of response.

“Weel, we need tae decide afore we register his birth. We have three weeks tae do that, and I have tae come wi’ ye, ye ken. Then we can start tae make plans.”

“Plans, what sort of plans?”

The hopeful tone in Geneva’s voice made Jamie finally tear his eyes away from his son and look at her. She was staring intently at the two of them, father and son.

“Plans for how we share lookin’ after this bairn, when he’s a bit bigger and can stay wi’ me overnight. And how much child support I’ll give ye. We’ve been decorating a spare bedroom as a nursery for Wee Willie…”

“His name is William, not Willie.” Geneva interrupted harshly.

William began to stir, turning his face into Jamie’s chest, rooting for milk.

“Och, Lad. I’m yer Da, there’s nothing there fer ye. Let me pass ye tae yer Mam.”

Reluctantly, Jamie passed William over to Geneva as she unbuttoned her shirt. He turned his head away, for Geneva’s sake, as she guided the baby to latch on, turning back once he heard the rhythmic sucking sound.

“I’m glad ye’re tryin’ the breast feedin’.” He smiled encouragingly. “Jenny says it’s no’ always easy, mind.”

“Hmm, spare me the details from Saint Jenny, please. I’ve been told, it’s very good for helping lose the baby weight. And also, do not refer to me as ‘Mam.’ If you’re talking about me, please say Mummy.”

“I’ll try tae remember.”

Having managed to find an acceptable cup of tea, Louisa popped her head around the doorframe.

“Everything alright?” she asked her daughter, who gave a tight smile and a small head shake in response.

Louisa immediately came bustling into the room, settling herself on the bed next to Geneva. “Well, I think it’s time we started to get sorted. Doctor will be round in a minute and then we can get off home. Jamie, I expect you’ve got lots of things to think about at home too.”

Jamie recognised the tone of dismissal in her voice. Regretfully, he bent to kiss William a final time.

“Once again, Geneva, thank ye, he is the bonniest bairn I’ve ever seen. Can I come ‘round tomorrow and see him again? I’ll give ye a call first. Oh, and can we arrange a time when Da and Jenny can meet wi’ him? Mebbe bring him round to ma house, if that’s easier. I ken it’ll take a while tae adjust. Goodbye, Louisa, Isobel.”

************
Once Jamie left, Claire needed something to occupy her mind, to save her from dwelling on what was happening at the hospital.

Wandering around the house, she searched for something to do that would engage her fully. As she washed the coffee cups, she decided that she would prepare dinner, add a couple of recipes to her somewhat meagre repertoire.

A quick search of the internet and she found a couple of recipes that seemed simple enough- chicken cacciatore and an apple and cinnamon crumble. Grabbing her coat, she hesitated for a moment. Did this make her seem like she was somehow competing for Jamie, proving she had value as a partner? She let the thoughts cross her mind, but quickly decided not to over-analyse her actions and headed to the shops.

**********
Jamie opened the front door to be greeted by a tantalising smell of casserole, apples and cinnamon. He sniffed appreciatively, his stomach suddenly remembering that he had not yet eaten today, excitement having overridden the usual hunger pangs.

“Sassenach…” he called out as he walked into the living room.

Claire greeted him with a huge hug.

“How is he?”

Jamie disentangled himself from Claire’s arms and, grinning, delved in his pocket for his phone. He quickly flicked to the photos, first of the baby in his crib and then in his arms.

“He is the bonniest bairn ye ever saw. Christ, I tell ye, the sight of him and ma insides turned to jelly. And the little noises and snuffles he was makin’... he looked at me, he kens his Da already. And look...”

Jamie pulled a small photo out of his wallet. “See, this is me as a baby. We could be twins. His name may be Dunsany, but nae doubt he’s a Fraser.”

Claire studied the pictures. She could see the obvious look of joy on Jamie’s face as he held his son. As happy as she was for Jamie, she suddenly felt like crying. Why was she suddenly feeling so sad? Would Jamie’s love for the baby make him reconsider their relationship? And how terrible a person must she be to have these thoughts, to doubt Jamie?

“He is beautiful. And how is Geneva?” Claire tried to keep her voice level.

“Geneva is as she ever was. Havin’ a bairn has no’ improved her personality. But Isobel said she was verra good durin’ the birth, and she is tryin’ tae breastfeed William.”

“So you’ve decided on a name then?”

“Weel,” Jamie admitted. “I had no say in that. She had already decided. I’m hopin’ tae include Fraser as a middle name, but she’s no’ decided on that yet.”

“I canna wait fer ye to meet him, Sassenach…” Jamie continued. “But I havena mentioned that tae Geneva jes’ yet. I dinna ken how she’ll react. I have said that I want Da and Jenny tae meet the bairn. And ye will soon, I promise.”

Claire forced a smile. “I know. Do you want some food?”

“Aye, I havena eaten today. The food smells grand. Who made it?”

“Me,” Claire said proudly. “All by myself, from scratch. Chicken Cacciatore and apple crumble.”

Jamie drew Claire close to him, her cheek pressed against his chest, his chin resting on the top of her head. “Thank ye, Sassenach.”

“It's only dinner…”

“Nah, it’s no’ the food. Thank ye for everything… fer today, fer lettin’ me blather on about the bairn, fer yer patience, fer still bein’ here, fer lovin’ me. Today will have been difficult fer ye, I ken. And ye dinna complain..ever.”

He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her tighter. “We'll work it out, together, Claire. It'll all sort out.”

Chapter Text

Why shouldn't I hate her? She did the worst thing to me that anyone can do to anyone else. Let them believe that they're loved and wanted and then show them that it's all a sham.― Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

Over the next few days, Jamie developed a routine, trying to see William every day even if only for a short visit. He rang Geneva every morning. The phone was invariably answered by Louisa, who gave him an update on the previous night’s activity, stressing each time that, although Geneva was doing a marvellous job, she could not possibly be expected to do this all on her own, and the support of a partner would be required. This message became stronger and clearer with each passing day. Jamie politely listened in silence before arranging a suitable time to visit.

The visits themselves took on a predictable pattern. After taking his shoes off in the hallway and cleaning his hands with the sanitising gel offered by Louisa, he was shown into the living room. Louisa then tactfully withdrew leaving Jamie with William… and Geneva.

Conversation between Jamie and Geneva was stilted and awkward. Jamie was preoccupied with spending every moment holding his son, and Geneva started conversations in which he had no interest. When Jamie did try to raise the subject of his father meeting William, or the choice of a middle name for the baby, Geneva quickly shut it down.

As the eleventh such visit drew to a close, Jamie reluctantly handed William back to his mother. Standing together in front of the mantelpiece, he glanced into the large mirror positioned there, a reflection of the three of them. Geneva’s eyes met his. He quickly looked away and started to walk towards the door.

“Has there been any change?” Geneva asked.

Jamie looked confused, not understanding the question.

“Any change,” Geneva repeated. “With this, with our situation? I saw us there, reflected as a family. Don’t tell me you want William growing up without a family.”

Jamie sighed. “Geneva, William will always have family. He will have ye, and Isobel and yer mother and the other Dunsanys. And he will have me, Da, Jenny and more. He’ll have a mam... sorry, mummy, a da, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. That’s a lot more than some folk. His parents dinna have tae be together fer all that.”

His hand rested on the door handle. Pausing for a moment before leaving, Jamie added. “I thank ye, Geneva, fer William, from the bottom of ma heart…”

“Well, I think William needs feeding. Bye then.” Geneva interrupted, dismissing Jamie from the room.

 

********************
As the days passed, Claire felt the knots in her stomach start to dissolve, the weight of sadness begin to lift, the crack in her heart heal. Jamie returned from his daily visits enthused and full of love for the baby, but also desperate to share this experience with Claire as much as he was able. She knew he was waiting for the right time to introduce William to her but had to be mindful of his unsecured position.

At the moment, they were all in a kind of limbo - nothing sorted, nothing planned, nothing permanent. The controlling, logical side of her brain longed for the time when everything was written down and agreed, and she knew exactly when Jamie would be seeing William and bringing him to stay here. But Geneva was calling the shots and seemed to want to make Jamie sweat.

The thirteenth night after William’s birth, Claire and Jamie lay in bed. She turned onto her side, her back against Jamie’s body, a tacit invitation to assume their usual spooning position. He ignored this invitation and remained on his back, body rigid with tension, his fingers drumming a random rhythm against his abdomen.

“And you, James Fraser, accuse me of thinking so hard you can hear it,” Claire said.

Jamie sighed. ”Aye weel, there’s a lot tae think about, ye ken.”

“Tell me.”

“William is nigh on two weeks old now and Geneva hasna registered his birth. She has tae do it afore three weeks, and I have tae go wi’ her tae be registered as father, legally, ye ken. Since she and I are no’ married."

“In many ways, it would be simpler if you and she were married.”

Jamie heard the catch in Claire’s voice as she spoke.

“Aye, I s’pose it would be… simpler… aye. But then it would be simpler if Geneva hadna got pregnant, simpler if I hadna slept wi’ her, simpler if she was a different type of person, simpler if her Mam hadna spoiled her rotten. There are millions of what ifs, we canna dwell on them. And I dinna think I would change any of them… it’s brought me tae this. It’s brought me tae ye, it’s brought me tae love.”

Claire turned and rested her head on Jamie’s chest as he continued talking, the low vibration of his voice thrumming through her body.

“I’ve decided. Tomorrow, I shall arrange the appointment meself tae register the birth. We canna put it off any longer jes’ so she can play these games wi’ me. Enough is enough.”

Suddenly Jamie shifted, bringing Claire onto her back. Hovering over her, he whispered. “Sassenach, I’ve been feeling awfa tense. As a doctor, do ye have a potion or a cure fer that?”

Claire said nothing. Bringing her hands up to his face, she pulled him in for a kiss. Her mouth opened to his, her tongue exploring his mouth, slowly at first then faster and deeper. Her hands moved down his back to his buttocks, pulling him fully on top of her.

Jamie broke momentarily from the kiss. “Aye,” he moaned. “I think yer healing touch will cure it. God bless the NHS.”

***************
Claire smiled contentedly to herself as she reached across and stripped the sheets off Jamie’s large bed. The ache in her thighs was proof of the success of her tension relieving ‘healing’ the night before, and then again this morning when she had been woken by his hand, insistent between her legs, encouraging them to fall open and accept his fingers, tongue and cock. The bedsheets were now in need of laundering, carrying the lingering aromas of sweat and other bodily fluids.

Her pleasant reverie was broken by the banging of doors downstairs, so loud she feared for their survival. She rushed down the stairs, concerned.

“Fuck, fuck, where are ma fucking car keys? Have ye moved them?” Jamie turned to Claire, white-faced, and spoke through gritted teeth.

She ignored the last comment. “What’s happened? Is it William, is he alright?”

“Aye,” Jamie carried on looking around. “He’s fine. Fatherless, but fine. I have tae go... that fucking bitch. I canna believe her. I have tae talk to her.”

He paced around the room, frantically looking for the keys.

“I canna fuckin’ find them. What the fuck is going on here?” Jamie yelled.

Claire tried to remain calm and not take this behaviour personally.

“Jamie, please,” she reasoned. “You can’t drive yet… Please calm down… Tell me what’s happened... We’ll figure it out… Please sit…”

Jamie stood still in the middle of the room, hands by his sides, beating a rhythm out on his thighs and glared at Claire before sighing and coming to join her on the sofa.

“Now, tell me what’s happened.” Claire repeated.

Jamie breathed deeply for a moment before talking. “I’d decided, ye ken, tae make an appointment fer the Registrar. Weel, I’ve jes’ been on the phone tae Geneva, actually Louisa, who informed me that Geneva registered William’s birth yesterday… wi’out me. That means…” he closed his eyes and tried to take some more deep breaths.

“That means that I’m no’ on the birth certificate. Where it says father's name, she left it blank. I have nae rights tae that bairn of mine, nae rights at all.”

“I canna believe she would do that.” Jamie’s voice began to rise again. “No’ jes’ tae me, but tae William. Because I dinna want tae be wi’ her, she would deprive William of his Da, jes’ tae hurt me.”

“But you’re William’s father. God, she's told enough people about it. You must be able to do something.”

“Aye, I’m goin’ to go round now and gi’ her and her blasted mother a piece of ma mind. How can they do this? They didna let me name ma son, and now they’re not goin’ to let me raise him. And I still need ma keys. If ye want tae help me, Claire, find ma keys.”

Claire stroked his hand. “You can’t drive just yet. You need to calm yourself first…”

“Dinna tell me tae calm meself! ” Jamie brushed her hand aside and stood up. “I’ve spentthe last few months treading on eggshells jes’ so as no’ tae upset that woman and fer what? Jes’ so she can turn round and say ‘Ye have nae part in yer son’s life.’”

He collapsed back on the sofa and covered his face with his hands. Claire could hear his muffled sobs. Unsure of how to comfort him, she rubbed his back before bringing her hand up to stroke his curls. Eventually, the sobs died down and Jamie rubbed his hands over his face before sitting back and turning to Claire. She felt tears prickle her eyes as she looked at the sadness etched on his face. She longed to be able to take that pain away.

Jamie cleared his throat and spoke, now sounding calmer. “Aye, there will be a way. Even if i have tae go tae court. I need tae talk with John. I ken he has a friend who deals wi’ family law. I shoulda done it months ago. But mebbe I can talk tae Geneva, sort it out wi'out lawyers. But first I need ma keys.”

“Alright,” Claire said as she passed him a tissue. “Go, talk to her, but don’t get into an argument with her… or her mother. That won’t help you in the slightest. And you must speak to John, he’s your best hope. Now, where did you last have your car keys?”

“If I kent that, I wouldna be askin’ ye, would I?” Jamie snapped, then gave Claire a tight smile. “Sorry, it’s no’ ye I’m mad at. I dinna mean tae snap. It’s jes’...”

Claire’s stomach was once more in knots. It wasn’t just Jamie that Geneva was hurting, but all those around that loved him and wanted to welcome his son into the family. She felt so helpless. All her medical training and she could do nothing to relieve the pain that Jamie was feeling. All she could do was support him and try to understand. But, honestly, right at this moment, her fingers itched to punch Geneva in the face.

Jamie put his arms around Claire and brought her close to his chest. “Claire, Sassenach, I’m sorry. I dinna mean tae take this out on ye. I dinna ken how this must be fer ye. It’s no’ ye I’m angry with… ye ken that.”

She smiled back at him. “I know, love. I know it’s not me. But that bitch has been playing these games for months… when will she stop? You have to get this sorted, once and for all. We’ve been patient for long enough. Time for a lawyer. Make that clear to them. Then ring John. No more being nice… Now, let’s look for those keys.”

Jamie now started to demolish the sofa, upending cushions and scattering them about him on the floor. Claire wandered into the hall and promptly found the keys, in a bowl on the hall table, clearly visible. She held back her natural instinct to accuse him of ‘man-looking’, correctly sensing he was too upset for jokes of any kind.

“Found them!” she called, as the doorbell rang.

Jamie rushed past her to the door. “Mebbe it’s Geneva or Louisa comin’ tae explain,” he said optimistically.

Jamie opened the door to find Isobel standing there, looking shaken. She stepped forward and hugged him warmly.

“Oh Jamie,” she cried. “Are you alright? I tried to ring you but your phone must be switched off. I only found out this morning what Mummy and Geneva had done.”

Jamie led Isobel into the living room as she continued to apologise profusely for her sister's and mother's actions. He hurriedly put the sofa cushions back in place.

“Seriously, Jamie, I only knew this morning. Mummy and Geneva had this planned between them. I think they never told me because they knew I wouldn’t agree and would tell you what they were planning. Mummy is adamant that you had your chance to be William’s father and by not wanting to be with Geneva, you gave up that right.”

Jamie sat down next to Isobel. “Dinna fret, Isobel. I ken this is nothin’ tae do wi’ ye. And we will sort this out, I’m willin’ tae take this as far as I need tae. William is ma son and I mean tae have that recognised. I’ll do whatever it takes…”

He looked across at Claire as he uttered those words. She nervously was chewing her bottom lip, the worry clear on her face.

Jamie continued quickly. “Nay, Sassenach, I dinna mean that… I mean I’ll go tae court if I have tae, I'll pay for lawyers. I canna tell ye what I think about Geneva now. I ken she’s her sister, Isobel, but tae do this? How could she? John tried tae get me tae talk tae a lawyer a few months, but I dinna pay any heed. I kent she was playin’ games but I never on God’s earth thought she would take it this far. I thought the games would stop once the bairn arrived. Yer mother’s played her part in this too, Isobel. The pair of them have stitched me up.”

He stood up. “ I have tae go and talk to her now. Where are ma keys?”

Isobel interrupted. “Jamie, I’ll drive you. Think you could do with a bit of support, if you like, facing Mummy and Geneva.”

She turned to Claire. “Don’t worry. I’ll look after him.”

Chapter Text

Professor Callahan : Would you rather have a client who committed a crime malum in se or malum prohibitum?

Elle: Neither.

Professor Callahan: And why’s that?

Elle: I would rather have a client who’s innocent.

Legally Blonde

Jamie said nothing as Isobel drove them across the city to Geneva’s house. He sat still, his jaw clenched in tension, hands splayed on his knees. Isobel did not try to start any conversations. She wasn’t really sure what she could say anyway… nor what she should say to her mother and Geneva, especially if they expected her to ‘choose a side’.

Contemplating the situation, she felt that her best role would be to try to provide a calming and objective influence, much as she did with her students when dealing with hormone-fuelled teenage arguments.

Jamie was also contemplating the situation, but was not as clear as Isobel on his best role. His instinct was to go in all guns blazing, ready to shout and swear at Geneva and her mother, demanding that he be legally recognised as William’s father. He knew, however, that threats and demands would not help here, and could potentially harm his case, should it end up in court.

But there was also a sadness. He had believed that Geneva and her mother would stop the game-playing once William had arrived, that they would understand there were no winners or losers, just everyone wanting the best for the baby. And now, realising that his trust that they would ‘do the right thing’ had been totally misplaced, he was hurt and, being honest, was annoyed with himself and his naïveté. He had assumed everybody possessed a vein of decency, no matter how deeply hidden. John had tried to counsel him, to get him to seek advice, but he had been sure it would all work out, that there was no need to involve lawyers. And now he was paying the price.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply as Isobel pulled up outside Geneva’s house. Unfolding himself from the confines of Isobel’s Fiat 500, he quickly strode up to the door and pressed the bell. A murmur of voices floated out from the other side of the door before it was opened by Louisa. Geneva was nowhere in sight.

“Jamie.” Louisa acknowledged his presence sternly.

“Louisa, can I come in? I dinna think we want tae be havin’ this conversation in the street.”

Reluctantly, she stepped aside to allow entry into the hallway, but no further.

“I think I made our… that is, Geneva’s position clear over the phone...” Louisa began, before noticing Isobel standing behind Jamie. “Isobel, what are you doing here?”

“I went round to see how Jamie was doing after your, er, news this morning. You can’t expect him not to be affected by it, so I wanted to check he was ok.”

“He was ok? Ok?” Louisa’s voice began to climb in pitch. “It’s not him you should be worried about. He had his chances, plenty of them. Both before and after William’s birth. A father should support his child and the mother. If he can’t, or won’t do that, then he’s no right to be called a father. It’s about honour and decency.”

Jamie had remained silent throughout Louisa’s diatribe, but could no longer hold his tongue.

“God, how can ye talk about decency tae me? I have been nothin’ but decent throughout these months. I’ve treated Geneva with respect, even wi’ the games she’s been playin’. She told me and ma friends that the bairn is mine. So now, what is she sayin’? I’m no’ the father? And that makes her, what? A liar and a fr...” Jamie quickly stopped himself from telling Louisa what he really thought of her daughter. This was not the time or the place.

“That’s right, Mummy. She said that to me too. She can’t just change her mind because it’s not gone the way she hoped!”

Louisa turned angrily to her daughter. “How dare you stick up for him? Where’s your support for your sister? Do you not want her to be happy?”

Isobel opened her mouth to respond as a baby’s cry cut through the air.

Jamie reached his hands out to Louisa, tears filling his eyes. “Please, Louisa, that’s ma babe, let me see him. Ye canna keep me from him. Let me through.”

Louisa remained motionless, her face like stone.

“Geneva!” Jamie yelled. “Come out here. Let me talk tae ye. Let’s clear this up. Geneva… Geneva!”

Gradually, William’s cries died away. Geneva remained out of sight. Jamie slumped against the wall, not knowing what to say.

Louisa broke the silence. “I think you should go.”

Isobel took his arm. “Come on, Jamie, I’ll see you home.”

Jamie passively let Isobel lead him away. Just outside the house, he paused and turned back to Louisa, framed in the doorway.

He spoke quietly, his eyes blazing, his voice cold with fury. “William is ma son. We all ken that. Geneva has been tryin’ to play me fer months but tae resort tae this… blackmail is what it is. Well, I hope ye’re proud of yer daughter. Ye talk about honour and decency, but the two of ye dinna even ken what the words mean. If ye did ye wouldna even think about depriving that bairn of his father jes’ out of spite. And this isna the end of it, Louisa, I mean it. Get a lawyer. I’ll go tae court if I have tae. What lies will the pair of ye tell under oath, eh?”

*************
Once Isobel and Jamie had left, Claire drifted aimlessly from room to room unable to settle, her mind whirring with all the possible scenarios that could be playing out over at Geneva’s. She was thankful that Isobel was with Jamie, providing a calming influence and hopefully preventing him from doing, or saying, something he would regret.

She opened the door to the recently decorated nursery. It was all there, just waiting for an occupant. The pale wood cot, the matching changing station and wardrobe, and the rocking chair in the corner all stood barren and unused. The set of twinkling fairy lights she had bought that week were still unopened in their packaging. Who knew when that would change now? She sat down on the floor, leaning against the cot’s bars and wept.

The tears were not for herself, as she had not had the opportunity to meet William, to form any bond with him. No, the tears were for Jamie and for William. Jamie had had several months of anticipation, readying himself to be a father, only to have that snatched away from him. And William, unaware though he was, was losing a parent.

Drying her eyes, Claire switched into her practical mode. If they had to go to court, they would. John would give them details of a suitable lawyer and they would win. Surely no Sheriff court would decide in favour of that bitch and her mother.

But until Jamie returned, she needed something to occupy her mind. She suddenly remembered the half stripped bed, and then planned to clean the bathroom.

********
Finally, after thoroughly cleaning the bathroom followed by a much-needed shower, Claire heard Jamie’s key in the front door. She rushed downstairs to meet him. Jamie sat on the bottom step, his face tired and drawn.

“I couldna see him, Claire. I heard him greetin’ but Louisa wouldna let me near him. Geneva didna show herself either. I hope that's due tae shame, but I am no’ holdin’ ma breath on that.”

Claire sat on the step above him. He leant back between her legs and looked up into her eyes, searching for comfort. She stroked his face, her hands gently trying to sooth.

“I’m goin’ tae ring John. He’ll ken what tae do, won’t he, Claire? It’s goin’ tae be alright, isn’t it? It has tae be.”

She brought her face close to his, her curls, still damp from the shower, falling onto his cheeks.

“Of course,” she replied, forcing a bright smile. “It will all work out, you’ll see.”

************
The floor to ceiling windows of the ultra-modern city centre office block afforded magnificent views across the city. However, the spectacle usually went unnoticed by those waiting in the chrome and glass reception area - they tended to be more preoccupied with the legal issues that were about to be discussed (and also the bill that would no doubt swiftly follow).

Jamie and Claire were no exceptions to this, and John took no interest either, having looked upon that view many times before. The three sat together, Jamie in the middle. Claire’s hand rested reassuringly on Jamie’s constantly jiggling knee. Only the chewing of her lower lip gave an indication of her nervousness.

John broke the silence. “You know I’m here as your friend, Jamie. The only lawyer charging his usual hourly rate will be Ned. Don’t be misled by the way he looks, by the way. He’s one of the best in family law. He can be an absolute arse when he needs to be, scares the shit out of other lawyers too.”

“Mr. Fraser? Mr. Gowan will see you now.”

John led the way into a large office dominated by a wall of floor to ceiling windows. The furniture was a light wood throughout. One corner of the office housed a black leather sofa next to a bookshelf full of children’s games. The whole room was bright, airy, and modern.

John warmly greeted the human anachronism seated behind the desk. “Ned, good to see you again. How are you?”

“John, man, I’m champion.” Ned moved from behind his desk to shake Jamie and Claire’s hands.

A small man, he was dressed in a three piece tweed suit in earthy greens and browns, with a green paisley bow tie. A pocket watch chain dangled across the waistcoat. He in no way resembled a serious lawyer commanding an eye-watering hourly fee, but appeared more of an Edwardian gentleman ready for a spot of shooting or deer stalking across the Scottish moors.

“Mr. Fraser, I’m Ned Gowan, and ye are…?” He addressed Claire.

“I’m Claire Beauchamp, Mr. Gowan”. Claire held out her hand to him.

“Claire is ma girlfriend,” Jamie interjected. “She’s here fer a wee bit o’ moral support, as is John.”

He thought for a moment, then hurriedly carried on talking. “But she wasna ma girlfriend when all this started. That was afore I met her, ye ken.”

Ned smiled politely. “Och, Mr. Fraser, I’m no’ here tae pass judgement on ye or yer choices. Jes’ to sort out any, er, inconveniences from the choices ye may have made.”

Ned returned to his chair and motioned for the others to sit. Ignoring the large computer screen perched on his desk, he rifled through a stack of folders before selecting one and opening it.

“Now, John here has given me, wi’ yer permission, the background tae this, er, situation, but I do have a few questions I need tae ask ye before we agree the next steps. It may become a wee bit personal. I dinna ken if Miss Beauchamp will wish tae hear the details.”

“Thank you for your concern, Mr. Gowan, but I am fully aware of the details. I’ll stay if that’s ok.”

Ned nodded his assent and, unscrewing the cap of his fountain pen, began to make notes. “Right so, a few questions, Mr. Fraser. Were you in a relationship with Miss Dunsany at the time of the child’s conception?”

“No’ at that time. We had been in a relationship the year before, but I… we… had finished a few months before the, er, conception.” Jamie was unsure how to answer the lawyer’s questions, but decided on a formal response.

“Mm hmm. But you did have sexual relations with Miss Dunsany around the time of the child’s conception?”

“Aye, we went out for a drink and I… slept wi’ her. But I decided it wouldna work between us and told her so. Then I had nae contact wi’ her until she told me about the bairn two months later.”

“So, at that time, you only had sexual relations once?”

Jamie blushed and studied his hands.

“I shall rephrase that question, Mr. Fraser. You had sexual relations with Miss Dunsany on only one occasion?”

“Aye.”

“And did you use any form of contraception?”

“Geneva, that is Miss Dunsany, told me that she was on the pill. I had nae reason tae doubt her as she’d been on the pill previously.”

“When she informed ye that she was pregnant, did she explicitly state that ye were the father?”

“Aye, she did. She told me straight that the bairn was mine. And she told our friends and her sister that same thing. I can gi’e ye names. I visited the hospital wi’ her.”

Ned finished writing and leant back in his chair. “Why do ye think she has no’ included ye on the birth certificate?”

“Geneva made it clear that she expected us tae become a couple again. When I told her that wouldna happen, she spent the next few months trying tae get us together and fer me and Claire tae break up. As ye can see, we are still together, so I think Geneva has done this tae spite me. She couldna get her own way, and, like a child, she is lashin’ out. Trying tae hurt me.”

“And what do ye want, Mr. Fraser? What are we workin’ towards here? Full custody o’ the child? Shared custody?”

“I want tae be on the birth certificate, I want parental responsibility. I’m no’ looking for full custody, jes’ a fair access tae ma son, wi’ agreed times fer him tae stay wi’ me.”

“A fair ask, Mr. Fraser. I will write tae Miss Dunsany’s lawyer and ask fer a meeting tae agree to a settling o’ this wi’out goin’ tae Sheriff’s court. If that meeting does no’ resolve this issue, we will make it clear that we are prepared tae go tae court, and that there are people willin’ tae testify that she acknowledged ye as the father. And we can remind her that denying this in court could lead tae a separate case against her fer perjury. The court can also demand a DNA test be carried out. But we hope it willna get that far.”

Claire sensed Jamie relax in his seat. She felt a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. There was light at the end of this tunnel.

Ned carried on talking. “Now, if ye are looking tae share the child’s upbringing, her lawyer will no doubt be askin’ for assurance about yer personal life and stability. Which is where ye come in, Miss Beauchamp.” He turned and spoke to Claire directly. “They will be askin’ questions about ye and yer relationship wi’ Mr. Fraser. Are ye currently co-habiting wi’ Mr. Fraser?”

“No…” Claire started to answer.

“Aye,” Jamie interrupted. “Ye are. I mean it’s not official and ye still have yer flat, but we’re together more than we’re apart. We’ve spent months tiptoeing around Geneva, trying no’ tae upset her, but nae more. I want it tae be official. I ken this is no’ the most romantic place, but ye canna get more reliable witnesses, so what do ye say? I love ye, Sassenach and I ken ye love me. I’ve not planned this like this, but it’s been on ma mind fer months now. I have nae ring...”

Jamie took Claire’s hands in his and knelt beside her chair. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, I love ye, I ken I always will. Ye’ve been with me when it’s not always been easy for ye. Ye are the only one fer me and I want tae spend ma life wi’ ye. Truly, ye are more than I could have hoped for and I count ma blessings every day that ye are with me still. Sassenach… will ye marry me?”

Claire stared into Jamie’s deep blue eyes, so hopeful and focused only on her. She tried to speak, but somehow the words wouldn’t come.

“Come now, ma dear,” Ned said encouragingly. “Remember, ye’re still on ma time and I’m chargin’ by the hour.”

She felt the tears welling up in her eyes and spilling over onto her cheeks. “Oh, Jamie, yes. Yes I will.”

Jamie reached up and pulled her head down to him, laughing and kissed her tenderly, tasting the salty tears on her cheeks. She held him close, oblivious to Ned and John watching with some amusement, pleasure and perhaps just a hint of jealousy. Breathing in the scent of Jamie’s hair, a new sensation crept over her, a feeling of unbounded happiness and… home.

Chapter Text

"How do you spell love?" asked Piglet.
"You don't spell it, you feel it," said Pooh.

A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

 

“Sassenach, can ye pass me the milk, please?”

Claire reached across the breakfast table awkwardly with her left hand and passed the milk to Jamie. She watched the simple diamond solitaire ring as it glistened in the light with her movements. Jamie chuckled.

“Are ye no’ tired of lookin’ at it yet, Sassenach?” Jamie captured her hand and lifted it to his lips.

“I am sorry, Sassenach. That wasna how I was plannin’ it wi’ no ring and an audience of lawyers. But I couldna help it. I’d been wantin’ tae do it fer months and there, in that office, I couldna wait any longer. I dinna care who knows what ye mean tae me. I want everyone to know that I want tae marry ye, Claire Beauchamp. I dinna care what Geneva or her blasted mother have tae say about it. I dinna care about rockin’ the boat. Nae more game playin’ or hidin’, nae more emotional blackmail. Me askin’ like that, well, it jes’ came out… but ye ken it was straight from ma heart.”

Claire moved round to Jamie and sat in his lap, winding her arms around his neck. He gave a mock groan of pain as she adjusted her bottom on his thighs and received a playful slap in retaliation.

“I know and I’m glad you asked. But it makes for an interesting story… how many people receive a marriage proposal with lawyers as witnesses? Just imagine if I had to sue you for breach of contract? You would never stand a chance! Did you have it planned, though? Did you think how you would ask me?”

“Aye, I thought about it a lot. I always imagined a picnic somewhere near Lallybroch, perhaps that wee glen I showed ye, or mebbe where we watched the fireworks, remember?”

Claire blushed slightly at the memory of that Hallowe’en party - the fireworks lighting up the night sky while Jamie’s hands ignited a flame deep within Claire’s core, the noise of the spectators drowning out her moans and cries of pleasure, the two of them only returning to the house once the guests had departed. Whilst not exactly a ‘walk of shame’, her wayward curls and lips swollen from kisses had left Jamie’s family in no doubt as to the reason for their disappearance. The fact that her black lacy knickers had been residing in Jamie’s trouser pocket at the time, fortunately, was not so obvious.

And now, judging by the insistent hardness against Claire’s thigh, Jamie was also thinking back to that evening.

“James Fraser, please!”

Jamie grinned as Claire stood up. “Not now… you know we have to be at Ned Gowan’s office by ten. Aren’t you nervous about the meeting today?”

“I dinna think I am, Sassenach. Since meeting wi’ Ned, I feel like a weight has been lifted. I ken there’s a way forward. What’s the worst that could happen? Geneva willna agree to our plan and we have tae go tae court. I have enough witnesses tae say William is mine and a DNA test would prove it. Fer the first time, I have the upper hand.”

***************
For all his confidence at breakfast, butterflies were gathering in Jamie’s stomach as he and Claire waited in the reception for Ned Gowan to appear. Unable to sit still, he wandered over to the large windows and stood watching the people, small as ants, on the pavement below.

Claire watched him. Even after all these months together, the sight of him still sometimes managed to take her breath away. From an objective point of view, he was, in the word of Geillis, “a rare hunk of a man”, the breadth of his shoulders accentuated by his charcoal grey suit jacket, the light through the window setting his auburn curls ablaze. But, more than that, he was a genuinely good soul. Not perfect by any means, but generally thoughtful and considerate… and he loved her. Loved her as she was, not how she could be in the future, or if she only tried harder.

Claire actually felt a momentary pang of sorrow for Geneva. She had had a relationship with Jamie, experienced all these qualities and then he was gone. It was hardly surprising she had wanted him back. But then, as she thought about Geneva’s actions over the past few months, Claire's sympathy instantly disappeared.

“Mr. Fraser? Mr. Gowan is ready for you now, in conference room one.”

Jamie returned to Claire’s seat, and bent to kiss her cheek. His hands felt clammy as she squeezed them. “It’s going to be fine, remember? Upper hand?” She whispered. “I’ll be here when you’ve finished.”

“Cup of coffee while you wait?” The receptionist took pity on Claire, nervously chewing her lip as Jamie disappeared into the conference room.

Claire nodded and moved to the window, looking for distractions. Reflected in the glass she could make out three people heading for the reception desk- an older lady, a man in a dark pinstripe suit and Geneva.

“Miss Dunsany to see Mr Gowan.” Geneva’s voice sounded loud and confident.

The older lady, the infamous Louisa, Claire presumed, spoke in a low voice, too quietly for Claire to hear.

Geneva’s response reached Claire’s ears perfectly clearly. “Mummy, no. You stay here and wait. Don’t fuss, I’ll be fine.”

********
Waiting in the conference room, Jamie relaxed a little as Ned recapped on the proposal and the steps to be taken depending on the outcome. Clad in a blue and brown Prince of Wales check three piece suit, with burgundy bow tie and pocket square, he still didn’t look to Jamie like a successful and feared lawyer, but as long as he got results, Jamie couldn’t care less.

Ned stood up courteously as the door opened and Geneva and her lawyer walked in. Jamie automatically followed suit. Just six weeks after giving birth and Geneva looked to be back to her pre-pregnancy figure. Not that Jamie cared. Any lingering shred of friendly affection that he held for her had evaporated in the four weeks since he had seen his son. He would be civil, but he doubted that he could ever really forgive her.

Ned greeted the arrivals as if he was welcoming them to his home. “Mr. Grant, good to see ye ag’in. Miss Dunsany, how nice tae make yer acquaintance. Would ye care fer any refreshments? No? That’s grand. So I suppose we may as well start.”

The butterflies in Jamie’s stomach started up with renewed vigour. He now severely doubted John and his assurance that Ned was a killer in court. He seemed more like a benevolent uncle welcoming guests for afternoon tea. He looked across at Geneva. Her face bore a slight smile, as if she knew already that Ned would be a pushover for her charm. His eyes flicked across to her lawyer, already swallowing nervously… or maybe John had been right.

“I presume ye have read ma client’s proposal tae end this situation…” Ned began.

“Yes, and…” Mr. Grant spoke hesitantly.

“Excuse me, Mr. Grant, I hadna finished wi’ ma introduction. I trust ye are no’ sae precipitous in all aspects of yer life. As I was saying, ma client feels that this is a reasonable plan providing reasonable access tae his son and involvement in decisions regardin’ said child”

There was silence in the room.

“Ye may speak now, Mr. Grant.”

“Thank you, Mr. Gowan. My client has read this proposal and has raised several issues with its contents. Primarily, that with no defined parental responsibility, Mr. Fraser is in no position to be dictating access, or any other arrangements, concerning Miss Dunsany’s child.”

Ned sat back in his chair, looking relaxed. “Ah yes, parental responsibility. Ye are correct. All this proposal presupposes that Mr. Fraser here is named as the child’s father on the birth certificate, which at present he is no’. Let’s no’ play games here. We all ken that Mr. Fraser is Master William Dunsany’s natural father. We could all agree now tae have the birth certificate amended and continue nicely discussing the custody arrangements today or we could close this meeting now and continue in court. Let them decide. In which case, we would be able tae provide numerous witnesses tae support his claim and would be requesting a DNA test.”

“Is that a threat, Mr. Gowan?

“Och, nay, lad. I dinna ever threaten. I merely promise. And I promise, in that court I would pose all these questions tae yer client, under oath, and would remind her that perjury is a crime that the legal system takes verra seriously. Now, would ye care fer some time wi’ yer client tae reconsider yer position?”

*************
As Claire sat trying to read the newspaper, nervously awaiting the outcome of the meeting, she became aware that she seemed to be under intense scrutiny. She looked up to find Louisa clearly staring at her and making no attempt to hide this.

“So, you’re the girlfriend, then?”

Claire instantly realised that Geneva’s personality traits were a reflection of her mother’s. She marvelled that Isobel had somehow managed to escape this family resemblance.

“I’m Claire Beauchamp.” Claire replied in the same curt tones. Part of her wanted to correct Louisa, to inform that she was actually Jamie’s fiancée, not just a girlfriend, but that seemed too childish… satisfying but petty. There were other ways to deliver that message.

“And you’re a doctor, are you?” The interrogation continued.

“Actually, I’m a consultant orthopaedic surgeon.”

“So, how long have you been together then?” Louisa was relentless.

“Why?” Claire spoke coldly.

“And your ‘relationship’,” Louisa continued, emphasising the word with distaste. “Is it serious?”

“I don’t believe that is any of your business.”

“It is undoubtedly my business when it affects my daughter and my grandson. Did you not feel some moral obligation to step aside months ago?”

Claire inhaled deeply and thought for a moment before speaking calmly, in measured tones. “How can you speak about morals to me after the way you and your daughter have behaved? I cannot tell you how your daughter has acted towards me the past few months, how low she would stoop to get what she wanted. She has been relentless in trying to break Jamie and I up with no thought for anybody but herself, no thought for other people’s feelings, no consideration even for the impact on your grandson. And, what has it brought her? Nothing… You know what, I pity her.”

Louise appeared shocked at Claire’s last comment and started to interrupt. Claire held her hand up to stop her and continued.

“Yes, I pity your daughter… please tell her that. Make sure to let her know. Her desperate and pathetic games, which you knew about and wholeheartedly supported, have brought us here, and maybe even to court. And you both deserve it. So, don’t feel you have some superior right to question me... either of you. It will not work. I owe you no explanations, no discussions... And now, please allow me to drink my coffee in peace.”

Claire reached for her coffee cup… with her left hand. It was awkward, but she was improving with all this left handed activity.

Louisa stared at Claire’s hand, opened her mouth as if to speak, slowly shook her head, then retreated behind her newspaper.

************
“So, Mr. Grant, have ye had sufficient time tae consult wi’ yer client?” Ned spoke confidently as Geneva and Mr. Grant returned to the conference room.

Jamie looked on admiringly, the butterflies having disappeared absolutely. Ned, bless him, was worth every penny.

“Yes, we have and Miss Dunsany wishes for me to inform you that she will agree for Mr. Fraser to be named on her son’s birth certificate and has accepted all access arrangements defined within the original proposal, including the annual review of access arrangements with legal representation. We will, of course formally document this agreement”

“Weel,” Ned resumed his benevolent uncle persona. “Miss Dunsany, Mr Grant, that’ll do nicely. Shall we make an appointment for the review in twelve months time, then?”

“Just a second, please.” Jamie interrupted. “Geneva, I ken ye agree the access arrangement, but have ye agreed the other bit? Will ye change his name? Will ye gi’ him Fraser as a middle name?”

Geneva pursed her lips for a second, as if contemplating one last spiteful action to hurt Jamie, before finally speaking. “Ok. Yes. I’ll make the appointment at the registrar’s then.”

As they walked towards the door, Jamie corrected her, his voice cold. “No, Geneva, this time I make the appointment.”

******
Claire could tell the outcome from the expression on Jamie’s face as he burst into the reception. Paying no attention to Louisa, he hugged Claire tightly, lifting her off her feet. “Sassenach, it’s agreed. I’m tae be on the birth certificate, and I get shared custody, just like we wanted. I canna wait fer ye tae meet him… William… ma son”

Laughing, Jamie placed her back on her feet and turned to shake Ned’s hand. Claire watched as Geneva, Louisa and Mr. Grant headed for the exit. Jamie refused to acknowledge their leaving or even cast a glance in their direction. Louisa whispered something to her daughter and Geneva paused, turning back to where Claire and Jamie stood. Claire smiled coldly and lifted her left hand, placing it around Jamie’s waist. Geneva’s shoulders drooped as she gazed at Jamie, his arm now around Claire’s shoulders, pulling her closer to him.

The moment passed and Geneva continued out of the office with her mother.

**************
Jamie looked at the clock by the side of the bed. He wasn’t sure what had woken him. He rolled over to Claire’s side of the bed - now cold and empty. He got out of bed, stumbling in the darkness, and headed onto the landing.

A light was on in the adjacent bedroom, and he could hear low murmur of a voice. He pushed the door open and stood watching in the doorway.

“... from the top of the tree, there came a loud buzzing noise. Winnie the Pooh sat down at the foot of the tree, put his head between his paws, and began to think…”

Claire sat on the rocking chair, the light from the reading lamp highlighting the auburn and golden tones in her hair, the motion of the chair causing her curls to sway gently. In her arms, she held William, his eyes fixed on her face, thumb firmly in his mouth.

Jamie felt like his heart was going to burst - his love and his son together. An image, a memory, he knew he would treasure forever.

Claire looked up at him and smiled softly. “Hey. Sorry, did we wake you?”

Jamie shook his head. “Nah. I didna hear him greetin’?”

“Oh, no, he wasn’t crying. I just wanted to check on him. This is all new for William, you know, first night at his Da’s and he was wide awake. So I thought a cuddle and a bit of a story might settle him down… come join us. We need someone for the voices.”

Jamie walked over to the rocking chair. He kissed the top of Claire’s head, then knelt down beside them, kissing William’s forehead. Claire moved the book closer to him.

Jamie began to read: “...then he thought another long time, and said: ‘And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.” And then he got up and said: “And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it’...”