We touched down at Inverness airport without much issue, despite the snow and ice trying its best to scupper our plans. I was becoming accustomed to my shoulders dropping slightly in relief as I took my first step on Scottish land, it now becoming synonymous with the man I was in love with. Jamie grinned and kissed my temple as he secured an arm around me, sheltering me from the cold air as we hurried from the plane into the building.
“Come gather in my lungs Scottish wind…” his low timbre had grumbled in what I guessed was a rather inaccurate approximation of whatever tune the words usually followed.
His arm barely left its tight coil around my waist as he easily lifted our luggage from the carousel. After a few short exchanges of indeterminable Gaelic on the phone to Ian, we were stood in the pick-up area of the carpark as Ian’s Land Rover pulled up in front of us. He came around the car with his arms wide open, engulfing me in a hug before Jamie, much to his upset.
“Failte! Claire, it’s so good to see ye again! Yer looking well,” he placed both hands on my upper arms as he kissed my cheek before he turned to Jamie and the two men clapped hands on each other.
“A charaidh, I’ve missed ye,” Jamie muttered into his friend’s thick tartan scarf that was wound around his neck. Ian nodded in agreement and the men fought over who would pick up the heavier case to deposit into the boot as I settled myself in the back passenger seat. Once we had made our way onto the country roads, Ian ramped up the speed despite Jamie’s hissed protestations. Not that I knew any of what was being said.
“Tha thu ‘draibheadh ro luath,” he grumbled as Ian waved him off. (You’re driving too fast.)
“Duin do bheul!” (Shut up!)
“Tha an rathad sleamhainn!” (The road’s slippery!)
“A bheil thu ‘g iarraidh a droll a-mach a choiseachd?” (Do you want to get out and walk?)
“For the love of God, am I going to need a translator this whole trip?” I sighed exasperatedly at both of them as Ian’s eyes regarded me in the rearview mirror.
“Sorry Claire, sometimes I forget that I’m doing it,” he smiled apologetically and I winked back at him.
“Dinna fash Sassenach, we’ll teach ye the Gaidhlig soon.” I could hear the grin in Jamie’s voice and I laughed as I rolled my eyes, looking out the window at the beautiful scenery that was starting to unfold.
“How are ye finding it then, just the same?” Jamie asked Ian who’s shoulders shrugged noncommittally.
“Much and such, aye. Still getting used to it but it’s none sae different.”
I smoothed my hands on the warm leather seats, “Is it a new car then?”
Jamie and Ian shared a quick look of amusement between themselves and I knew that I wasn’t privy to something that they both found quite amusing.
“A new car, no,” Ian said, his voice dripping with mirth as Jamie couldn’t hold back any longer and let a bark of laughter burst from his chest.
“Do I get to know then?” I asked before thinking better of it, “Actually, do I want to know?”
Ian snorted a laugh and his eyes found mine in the mirror again, “Mebbe we didna get around to speaking about it when I saw ye last Claire but I’m an amputee. Right leg.”
I’m not sure what reaction they expected me to have but it didn’t phase me having seen multiple amputations of various limbs in my time at the hospital.
“Oh,” I said, nonplussed before my professional curiosity got the better of me and I found myself asking, “Above or below the knee?”
Ian burst out laughing at that and clapped a hand on Jamie’s arm who was chuckling along with him.
“She’s a keeper, Fraser,” he remarked as Jamie’s eyes caught me in the mirror, twinkling with humour and love.
“Aye, I ken that just fine.”
As Ian pulled the car through two tall stone pillars, I finally got my first view of Lallybroch. Although as a child I had seen many beautiful places all across the world, there was something that hit me about the sheer history of the place that I was looking at. As I exited the car, I was conscious of Jamie’s nervous eyes on me, watching for my reaction just as he had when we first went inside his bothy the first time we spent the night together. The courtyard that we were standing in was surrounded by high walls made from granite blocks that glistened in the frosty weather and the piece de resistance was a huge building that already felt like home. I could picture a small Jamie running around with his siblings, wreaking havoc amongst the calm country setting. I sent a huge smile Jamie’s away and saw his shoulders relax, almost as if my acceptance of Lallybroch was by extension an acceptance of him and the potential future that lay before us. As I turned back towards the house, Jenny’s impossibly quick feet trickled down the worn steps that lead to the front door, hugging her cardigan around herself.
“Come in out of the cold, ye dafties!” She ushered her husband, myself and Jamie into the warmth of the house, closing the door behind herself with an exaggerated shiver. “There’s soup on in the kitchen, go on through.”
Jamie’s hand appeared on the small of my back as he gently lead me towards the kitchen, a huge room with a tall ceiling that seemed to have been built to accommodate the massive range that proudly sat against the wall with a big pan of simmering soup on top of it. His fingers gently prised the coat from my shoulders and he disappeared to put it away and get the bags from the car with Ian as I stood anxiously in the vast room. Jenny stirred at the pot and then turned to look at me, hands on her hips.
“Thank you for having me for a few days, I really appreciate it,” I smiled in an attempt to put myself in her good graces. I watched her bottom lip quiver before she set it straight again in a hard line.
“Yer welcome,” her reply came, short and to the point. The hard expression on her face faltered slightly again before her shoulders slumped, one eyebrow cocking up, “I hope ye can be comfortable in yer time here, Claire. I know I can be… mercurial sometimes. But ye are clearly very important to Jamie which means ye are important to me.”
It was the last thing I expected to hear from her and I had to take a minute for it to really sink in. Jenny was giving me her blessing, practically handing the care of her brother’s heart into my hands and I was incredibly appreciative of it.
“Thank you, Jenny, that means a lot. I hope you know how much I love him,” I said quietly, hoping she heard the sincerity in my voice. Her smile twitched, threatening to become a little bigger before she reeled her emotions back in.
“Aye well, ye better,” she joked before turning back to the stove and getting busy. Without having heard any footsteps, a strong pair of arms wrapped themselves around my middle and Jamie’s chin set itself to rest on my shoulder.
“And just what are my twa favourite women speaking about when the menfolk are away?”
I batted his hands with my own and he only squeezed me tighter to him, making me laugh.
“Just about how much time and attention ye require, mo brathair. Like a wee house plant,” Jenny joked as she began to dish the soup into bowls, Jamie’s arms guiding me to sit as he settled himself beside me.
“Tapadh leat,” Jamie muttered as he took the bowl from Jenny after I had received my own. After Jenny had shouted for Ian, he appeared at the table with wee Jamie, setting the little boy in his chair after he had stopped wriggling with excitement at the sight of his uncle.
“Do ye remember Claire, mo ghraidh?” Jenny asked as she kissed her son on the head, handing him a spoon. Wee Jamie eyed me nervously and shook his head, earning a laugh from the table, myself included.
“We met the last time I was in Scotland but it was very quick. Do you think we could maybe be friends this time?” I asked him, his steady eyes never wavering from my face as he sized me up. After a quick consideration, he nodded his head firmly and I gave myself a little high five at having earned his trust for at least the night. Jamie’s lips nuzzled against my temple as he pressed a kiss there and Ian announced to the table,
“Guess that means yer part of the family now, Claire!”
Hogmanay at Lallybroch was like something from a dream. Jenny had occupied every surface going with food, drinks and candles that bathed the vast house in a warm glow and I felt myself fall in love with it quicker than I had anticipated. As the last minute party tasks were being dealt with, Jamie led me by the hand to his old room, stopping outside the door nervously.
“Now I ken why ye were nervous to take me into yer wee flat, Sassenach, this feels very personal,” he chewed his bottom lip nervously and it made me ache to claim it as my own.
“Open the door, Fraser,” I said in a vague approximation of what he had said on Christmas Eve. He grinned and held my hand to his lips before opening the door and leading me in.
The room was exactly as I had anticipated it to be, walls covered in Scotland rugby posters and ticket stubs from gigs he’d been to, plane rides he’d taken. There were a couple of photo frames that sat at home on a huge bookshelf that was fit to burst, books arranged in no order at all and squashed in at all angles. The bed was a huge four poster queen made from dark wood with dark navy sheets.
“Much better size than the one in your bothy,” I said jutting my chin towards our sleeping arrangement, earning a grin from him.
“Aye weel when Mam realised I was at 6ft and wasnae slowing down, I got to swap rooms wi’ Jenny for the bigger bed,” he laughed as his hands found my waist and he fell backwards onto the soft mattress, taking me down with him with a yelp.
“James Fraser, we need to-“ The telling off that he was about to receive was cut short as he groaned appreciatively, fondling my ass in his big hands.
“I love it when ye call me James, Sassenach,” he joked making me burst into laughter as I buried my face in his neck.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Aye but I’m your idiot,” he grinned, “And dinna ye forget it.”
“Wouldn’t dare, James” I said dropping my voice to an overly husky tone to make fun of him. He laughed as he kissed me, his tongue slipping past my lips as I felt him twitch underneath me, against my stomach.
“Wee teenage Jamie dreamed about an awful lot of girls in this bed but none as beautiful as ye, Sassenach.”
“Aye but an honest one. If only I could go back in time and tell him, I’d say there’s a rare woman coming yer way Jamie so just haud on, even if she does step on your toes during yer mate’s wedding ceilidh.”
I dug my fingers into his ribs and began to tickle him before his strong hands gripped my wrists and flipped us over as he pinned my hands above my head. Slowly, he ran the tip of his nose down the length of mine, grinding his hips against me as the mood in the room began to charge.
“I’d tell him that he was going to fall in love with the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and nae to let her go no matter what,” his lips found mine again, fitting perfectly as he sighed contentedly against my mouth. His hands began to wonder as I threaded his hair through my fingers in a futile attempt to pull him closer. The space between my legs started to tingle and I bucked my hips to try and find some delicious friction against him. He dragged him tongue from the corner of my mouth down my neck as my breath began to come short, his lips finding their destination at the open collar of my shirt.
“Jamie, please,” I keened as he sunk his teeth into the juncture of my neck and shoulder, his hands beginning to undo the zip of my jeans.
“BEAUTIFUL BEAUCHAMP, FAR ARE YE?”
Hands immediately halting, I rested my forehead against him with a pained laugh as he tried to kiss me again, urging me not to stop.
“It’s no use,” I sighed, “If we don’t go down to her, she’ll come and find us and I’m not wanting to hear the story of how she caught us fucking at every party I attend with her in the future.”
Jamie snorted, zipping my jeans back up slowly and pressing his mouth to mine in a final, chaste kiss, “To be continued, Sassenach.”
“I’m holding you to that.”
“Live from Edinburgh Castle, I’m Jackie Bird and if you’ll count down with me in ten, nine, eight…”
The TV blared across the din of the twenty or so people that were huddled in the living room, all getting to their feet and clutching drinks, Jenny steading a very bleary eyed wee Jamie against her hip. Jamie quickly made his way to me from across the room, pulling to my feet from the couch and hooking a large, warm arm around my waist as he grinned down at me, counting along with the group.
“Three, two one,” he whispered against my lips, whisky and the promise of a new year on his breath.
“Happy Hogmanay!” The room loudly announced as his mouth descended on mine, his arm crushing me to his chest as he held me tightly. I kissed him back fervently, pouring all of myself into the kiss in a display of commitment and adoration. Our kiss lingered as I became aware of everyone else moving around the room offering well wishes to everyone around them. Suddenly, Jamie’s teeth clashed against my own and he grunted, one hand going to rub the back of his head as Geillis came into view behind him, her hand held aloft.
“We all ken very well that you two lovebirds cannae keep yer hands off each other but I’d like to wish my best friend a good new year!” She said impatiently but with humour in her voice as Jamie smirked at her and stepped aside. Laughing, I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face in her wild hair.
“Happy New Year, Geillie,” I said, my voice catching as the alcohol began to make me emotional. I would’ve been embarrassed had Geillis not been openly crying with happiness, her being the most drunk out of the entire party.
“Happy New Year, Beautiful Beauchamp. I’m sae happy that ye’ve found love,” she said sincerely, her green eyes blazing at me as I kissed her on the cheek.
Jamie was beside me again, not wanting to stray far as people came to us, Murtagh, Rupert and Angus, Jenny and Ian with their newly energised son bouncing between them. I was embraced by everyone, smiling faces on each one of them as they kissed my cheeks and held my hands in theirs. Looking around the room, seeing the love and goodwill emanating between everyone and realising that they now considered me part of them made my heart beat that little bit faster. The orphan who never quite fit in anywhere, who always flitted from one place to the next, never putting down roots had found her people and as Jamie pressed a kiss to my temple, I realised that I was finally home.