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A Beautiful, Wild Country

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“For fuck’s sake,” I muttered under my breath when I realised that I had somehow managed to get pen all over scrubs. I stuck my index finger into my mouth and began furiously rubbing at the stain, only making it worse in the process. I was two hours into a ten hour shift, pretty short in the scheme of things, and it had been a slow night. My Nikes carried my feet through the Geriatric floors at St Thomas’ Hospital in London as I stuck my head into the wards periodically, adjusting pain medications and lending a helping hand to the nurses who always worked tirelessly. Winter always meant that geriatrics had a boost, icy pavements meant broken hips aplenty but it had been a quiet night although nobody was admitting it, not wanting to tempt fate.

“How are we doing Mr… Robertson? Any pain? Nausea?” I asked in my hushed voice, trying not to wake the others in the ward as I dealt with a patient who was a few hours post-surgery for a broken femur. A hard bone to break but by the looks of his scans, he’d given it a pretty good go. He smiled gingerly at me as I poked and prodded him as quickly as I could so that he could go back to sleep.

“Nae bad quine, nae bad. Fair scunnered though, ye ken,” he grumbled. The accent made my heart drop a little bit. “And it’s Goldie, neen o’ this ‘Mr Robertson’ pish.”

“Right you are, Goldie. You’re far from home by the sound of it,” I said, trying to take his mind off of what my hands were doing that was obviously causing him discomfort. “Where are you from?”

“Am fae Meldrum,” he said, his accent thickening causing me to scrunch up my eyebrows. He grinned mischievously at me, enjoying the confusion on my face. “Am fit ye’d refer to as a teuchter.”

“Never heard of Meldrum before. Where about is it?”

“Aberdeenshire. Bonnie wee place, be glad to be gettin’ hame, gi’ a bosie tae i’ bairns.”

I removed my hands from his abdomen and shoved them into my pockets, smiling at him.

“I’ll make sure to visit next time I’m in Scotland,” I said with a single nod of my head.

“Ye’ve folk in Scotland, dae ye quine?”

My stomach started to twist and I tried to paint a smile on my face, hoping that it wasn’t coming out as more of a grimace.

“Something like that.”

I left him to sleep after placing his call button within reach if he needed anything and began to walk the wards again. There was a strange sort of calm to be found in the night shift, even in one of the busiest hospitals in London. There were pockets of quiet to rejoice in if you found yourself on the right ward at the right moment. Tonight was one of those nights. Saying a silent prayer of thanks to Uncle Lamb, as I tended to do when things went well, I found myself grabbing five minutes with a cup of tea on a sofa in one of the staff break areas that this ward was lucky enough to have. Fumbling with my phone, I shot a quick text to Jamie.

Claire: Quiet night on the floor tonight (fingers crossed!). Miss you. x

Of course, he replied almost immediately. I had asked him on the phone just the other night how he always managed to be awake when I was, despite my crazy work pattern. He had told me that he had set a very loud alarm to wake him every time he received a message from me. I had laughed and called him an idiot.

Jamie: I miss you too, Sassenach. What I would give to be there with you right now. X
Claire: Trust me, nothing to be missed in my current state. Covered in pen, running on caffeine and a prayer. Cute Scottish guy in my ward though. x
Jamie: You leaving me for another man? I’ll fight him for you.
Claire: He’s 68 with a broken femur and he’d still kick your ass.
Jamie: Aye maybe but I’ve got one thing going for me that he doesn’t.
Claire: And what’s that?
Jamie: You’re already mine. X
Claire: Is that so?
Jamie: I would hope so. Hope you don’t send those kind of photos to just anyone…

The space between my legs started to tingle as I remembered the previous night where we had gotten bored of just texts and calls. He had sent me a picture of him, proudly hauling a huge Christmas tree on his shoulder, his short sleeved shirt pitifully trying its best to contain the muscles of his chest and arms. I had replied with enthusiastic heart-eye emojis, much to his disdain. That night on our regularly scheduled phone call that had taken place every night of the two weeks that we had been separated for, he had asked me to send him a picture back. And I willingly obliged. A few photos sent back and forth, each showing a little more skin and he had me moaning down the phone to him, my own fingers a poor excuse for his. We had built to a crescendo together, trying to stifle our orgasms so that our respective housemates wouldn’t hear.

Claire: There’s only you for me, Jamie. x
Jamie: Aye, Sassenach. And I for you. X

Sighing deeply, I pocketed my phone again and soon found myself absent mindedly flicking through some gossip magazine when the door opened and a colleague came in to join me.

“Evening Beauchamp,” he said quietly as he busied himself with making his own strong black coffee.

Henry Foster wasn’t a bad doctor or, as I had been told by my other colleagues, a bad guy but there had always been something with him that just didn’t sit right with me. He had started at the hospital two years before I had and to begin with, we’d barely been in each other’s circles. But over the past few months, our rotations had begun to match more than usual and more than once, Joe had made a joke that maybe it was intentional.

I shoved the thought out of my mind and turned my head back to the magazine, hoping that he would mistake my indifference towards Gemma Collins’ new beau as utter fascination and leave me to drink my cup of tea in peace.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed.

“Long night, huh?” He moved over to join me on the sofa, sitting down gently as he extended his arm across the back of it. My autopilot shifted me slightly further back from him and he stiffened slightly, recognising the increase in distance between us.

“Oh, it’s not too bad, I’m only just really on myself,” I said nonchalantly, not raising my eyes from the magazine.

“What’s going on in the world of showbiz then?” His hand moved towards mine, reaching for the magazine and I wrenched it away quickly, looking at him straight in the eyes. He held up his hands defensively. “Hey, you’re jumpy tonight!”

The tension in my body slackened as I leaned back into the sofa and mentally castigated myself for being so on edge.

“Sorry, just haven’t been sleeping well,” I sighed as I dug my fingers firmly into my occipital bone, closing my eyes. Before I knew what was happening, his fingers had replaced mine.

“Sore neck? Let me help,” he whispered as I came to my sense and immediately got to my feet, spinning to face him and seeing the very clear look of arousal in his eyes.

“No, it’s fine, I’d rather you didn’t.” He was looking at me like a big cat stalking it’s prey and not in a good way.

“Come on, Claire,” he scoffed at me, “We’re both single-“

“I’m not single,” I said firmly which caught him off guard, his eyebrows leaping upwards.

“That’s not what Joe Abernathy said when I asked him last night. He said you were on the market.”

What the fuck, Joe?

“Well, he’s wrong. Bye Henry.”

I made my way quickly towards the sink and dropped my half full cup of tea into it, not caring if it smashed. I needed to get out of the situation as quickly as possible and I pulled on the handle of the door, trying not to wrench it open, to not let him see how much he’d unsettled me.

“See you tomorrow night, Claire.”

***

My keys turned in the lock and the smell of coffee immediately hit me. It was around 11am and I was home from the slowest night shift of my life. Kicking off my shoes at the door, I walked through to the kitchen and saw Joe standing as he patiently waited for the toaster to pop. He looked over his shoulder at me and smiled.

“Hey, Lady Jane! Long time no see!”

We had been on opposite shifts for a few days now, always narrowly missing each other in the flat and at work. I hadn’t had the chance to confront him about what Henry Foster had told me but I could feel it bubbling in my gut now, his cheery disposition making me feel even worse.

“Had a shift with Foster the other night,” I said quietly as I put my keys on the kitchen table. His toast popped out, making me jump slightly.

“Oh yeah? He on Geriatrics too?” Joe was busying himself with a knife and butter and I resisted the urge to throw something at his head.

“Did you tell him I was single?” I asked bluntly and Joe turned around to face me, a laugh bursting out of him.

“What? No!”

“Well, that’s not what he said. He said that you told him I was ‘on the market’,” I tried my best to keep my face neutral, not wanting him to see the hurt that was hiding itself under anger.

“No, he asked me if you were single and I said that he’d have to ask you yourself. And then he told me that was a good an answer as any and walked off,” Joe explained, his voice level. I felt my hackles fall just that little bit. “Is this about the rumour?”

Oh, fuck.

“What rumour?” I was almost scared to ask and Joe’s reaction to my question didn’t make me feel any better. He looked down at the ground and then straight in my eye and I could see that he was trying to be gentle with me when he said,

“Foster was talking about you and Dr Abraham.”

What?

Dr Abraham had been my mentor through my training, always championing my ability when I had doubted myself and keeping me focussed on the task at hand when I would become overwhelmed. I was actually a bit embarrassed about how much trust I put in him. Not that I’d ever admit it or even say it out loud but when Uncle Lamb died, he had sort of filled the role of my pseudo-father figure. But we had never shared more than a handshake.

Joe shuffled from one foot to the other as he took a bite from his toast, pouring me a coffee as I sat down at the table.

“I heard Henry telling a few nurses. He was being a jackass, I don’t think they believed him. Did you turn him down or something, make him mad?”

I placed my head in my hands on the table and felt the tears begin to prickle at the corners of my eyes.

“What did he tell them?”

“Claire, he’s a-“

“Joe… please,” I implored him, looking him straight in the eye as he looked sadly at me.

“He was saying that the reason you did so well in training was because you were sleeping with him. That your lack of talent was the reason you hadn’t specialised in surgery. And that you’d thrown yourself at him to try and get a place on the surgery rotation.”

“That fucking bastard!” I whispered. Joe quickly sat down beside me and put his hand on mine. I gripped tight enough to feel the bones in his hand and I started naming them in my head, trying to calm down.

Scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform…

“People know how he is, Claire, they won’t believe him.”

“It doesn’t matter if people believe him, he’s said it. Even if people don’t believe him, the idea, the thought of it is out there now.” I sipped my coffee, cradling it in my hands as though the warmth would ease the situation.

“You’re dead on your feet, Lady Jane. Go and get some sleep, everything will look better in the mor- well, early evening,” Joe smiled as he touched my arm lightly and I nodded, my weary feet pulling me towards my room. The fatigue allowed my emotions to overwhelm me and not for the first time since returning to England, I curled up under my covers and sobbed.

Claire: You busy? x
Jamie: Not for you. I can call? X

Not even giving me an opportunity to respond, my phone immediately began to buzz. A picture of the two of us that he’d snapped at the top of Fionn Bhienn flashed onto my screen, his brilliant white smile next to my over exaggerated pout. My fingers accepted the call and I tried to steady my breath although failing miserably.

“Sassenach, what is it?” His voice was the salve that I needed, the deep timbre soothing the parts of my soul that felt battered and bruised.

“Just a bad night, it’s nothing. Just talk to me?” I asked, hearing him breathe heavily down the phone as I burrowed further under the covers.

“Well, what is there to say? Snow’s here already. Wee Jamie only broke three of Jenny’s baubles while we were decorating the tree so that’s one less than last year. At this rate, we’ll have no casualties by the time he’s eight.” I could hear the smile in his voice and my heart thawed. “Jenny’s been pestering me about what I’m getting ye for Christmas, saying that it’s no good enough to just get ye some perfume and a book which wasnae even the plan, Sassenach, and I’ve told her that but she doesnae believe me.”

“And what am I getting then?” I asked, not able to hide the childish giggle that erupted from my throat.

“Och, I cannae tell ye that, Sassenach, it would ruin the surprise.”

“Can’t have that, can we?”

“Certainly no,’ he agreed before pausing slightly, “Coincidentally, what have ye got fer me?”

I laughed into my phone and heard him laugh too. The effect that he had on me was almost instantaneous, I was already forgetting the whole mess with work after only a few minutes speaking with him

“I could still book ye a flight, ye ken,” he said quietly, my heart clenching unpleasantly.

“I can’t, Jamie. I’ve only got Christmas day off by some miracle but I’m right back in again on Boxing Day and then straight through until the 30th.”

“But ye’ll come to Lallybroch for Hogmanay?” The hope in his voice was just shy of excruciating.

“I’ll see,” I replied, “I do want to come, you know that, don’t you?”

“Aye mo chridhe, I ken that. I just want it so badly to be so.”

***

The street that I lived on was lit by the harsh streetlamps as I trudged the distance of my hospital, feeling decidedly un-Christmassy even with it being Christmas Eve. Strangely enough, Christmas seemed to bring out the worst in some people. We had stitched up split skin as a result of family fights and pulled glass from the hand of a sobbing woman who had drunkenly fallen on her work’s Christmas night out, shouting at her colleague all the while about the bitch in the office who kept stealing her milk to make her tea. It was busy and tempers were fraying left, right and centre, made worse by the strange edge that everyone seemed to have around me after Henry fucking Foster and his rumour.

I put the tip of my gloved index finger between my teeth and pulled, my glove slipping off as I tried to dig in my bag for my front door keys. The darkness of the night made them hard to make out and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with myself.

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!” I exclaimed, exhaustion rippling over me.

“Such language on Christmas Eve, Sassenach, what would the baby Jesus say?”

His voice appeared out of the darkness and my eyes instinctively snapped towards it’s source.

He stood there, the collar of his dark grey peacoat pulled up to protect from the wind. His hair was tied back in a bun at the nape of his neck and his blue eyes were burning into mine, a small smile playing on his lips. I exhaled his name into the air and my feet brought me to him in three steps as he met me halfway and crushed me into his chest. We stood silently for what felt like the longest time, grasping each other as I really let myself come to terms with the fact that he was right here, right in front of me. My heart was beating out of my chest and I felt tears sting at my eyes.

“Did ye miss me, Sassenach?” he joked, his words being lost in the mess of my hair. My only response was to hold him tighter. “Aye, suppose I missed you too.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked, the disbelief still coursing through my body as I pulled away and was stunned again at the sight of his face. He pressed a kiss to my forehead and looked me in the eyes, his hands coming to the side of my face.

“I came to spend Christmas with the woman I love.”