After five busy days, when Wee Jamie was no longer infectious, he was swept into the arms of his father at our doorstep, squealing with delight at the sight of Ian in front of him. Ian pressed a wet kiss to his son’s cheek, sticky with the remnants of the honey from his breakfast, and clapped Jamie firmly on the arm in thanks.
“We’re fair indebted to ye, tae both of ye,” Ian sighed as he pulled his son’s wriggling body closer to his own, hooking an arm through the strap of the tiny backpack that Jamie handed to him.
“Dinna fash, ye ken it’s nae bother. What else is family for?” Jamie smiled, ruffling the hair of his nephew with love in his eyes.
“Hope he wasnae too much of a hindrance for ye, Claire. Bet the wee rascal has put ye off of the idea of kids for a while, eh?” Ian cast a look at me with humour in his eyes and I smiled tightly, my heart constricting in the way that it had become accustomed to doing so for the past few days. Jamie’s arm instinctively wrapped itself around my side and anchored me to the tall column of his body, offering strength.
“Not at all,” I managed to reply, clearing my throat quickly to stop the panic from rising.
With a wave goodbye, the door of our flat shut and I immediately split from Jamie’s side. The silence fell between us and I could feel the weight of all the things we had yet to discuss. Caring for Wee Jamie and being busy at work had meant that we hadn’t spoken about the problem that had appeared in our relationship. In all honesty, I had been actively avoiding any discussion of the whole thing. And he could feel it.
“Will ye sit wi’ me for a moment, Sassenach?” He appeared at the doorframe of the kitchen as I busied myself with pouring coffee into a travel mug.
“I can’t, I have to get to the surgery. We’ve got a delivery today and I want to organise it how I prefer it before Laoghaire puts it how Dr Beaton always did. Have you seen the lid for this thing?” I pulled a cupboard door open, removing his large body from my line of sight as I allowed myself to close my eyes and take a deep breath.
“Try the dishwasher,” he mumbled, taking a step closer to me, ducking around the open cupboard door and putting a hand gently on my waist, “We’ve barely spoken these past few days, Claire.”
“We’ve been busy and I need to get to work-“
“Would ye just… stop for a minute?” The frustration was evident in his voice and I subconsciously let the weight of my body lean into his grip as he brought his other hand to my face, forcing my eyes to meet his. I knew that he was confused, hurt, and there was definitely the potential for anger. But the thing that was the most prevalent in his gaze was desperation. My confession had left him adrift, out at sea with no land in sight. He was drowning. “Please, we need to talk about this.”
“Talk about how I’m unable to give you the future that you’ve wanted since you were a boy?”
“Claire, will ye stop tellin’ me what I want? And how I’m supposed to feel about this? Please? Ye keep talking in absolutes and I am yet to be able to tell ye how I feel about the whole situation.”
“Because I already know how you feel about it, Jamie! I met you through Murtagh, for Christ’s sake, a man not even related to you by blood but who basically stands place as your father! Even with dead parents, you have the whole family unit and you always have. You have been a family man since the day that you were born and I have grown up with no idea of what family even looks like! You deserve someone who can give you the life that you have. Jesus, even someone like Laoghaire-“
“Laoghaire? What the fuck does she hae to do wi’ anything?”
“Well, clearly something happened between the two of you when you were younger! Or else why would she obsess after you for all these years-“
“Christ, I dinna love Laoghaire and I never have!”
“Well, maybe you fucking should!”
He flinched. My voice had been colder than I had anticipated but in true Beauchamp style, my defensive side had come out in order to protect myself. I immediately regretted it.
His hands fell from my body and dropped listlessly to his side. Silence hung heavily in the air as he looked at the floor, the red hue to his skin rising from the collar of his t-shirt. Everything in my body and mind wanted to move to him, to reach out and bring him to me so that he would never doubt what I felt for him. But I kept still, my feet fixed to the floor.
“How are we ever meant to fix things if we canna keep calm enough tae talk about them?”
His voice was dangerously quiet and I was instantly aware that he was restraining himself from experiencing the true depths of what he was feeling. I shuffled anxiously and turned my back to him, the quiet environment of the kitchen shattering as he slammed his hand against the open cupboard door, causing it to bang shut with a deafening crack.
The shock sent my coffee cup flying from my hand. My stomach was in my throat as I moved as quickly as I could, removing myself from the room and flying out the flat. My fingers thankfully remembered to grab my keys before the door slammed itself shut behind me.
I held my hand up in front of my face, examining the pruny fingers as I let my mind drift. The water that I had engulfed myself in had grown lukewarm from it’s previous scalding heat but my mind hadn’t noticed the length of time that I had been in the tub. Candle wicks were burning low around me and a cursory glance out of the window told me that it had gone from dusk to black night. With a heavy sigh, I pulled myself to my feet and enveloped myself in one of Geillis’ fluffy white towels.
I hadn’t even been aware of the fact that I wasn’t driving back to my and Jamie’s flat after my last house call of the day, not until I turned the keys to switch the engine off and my heart relaxed at the sight of the warm light coming from Geillis and Murtagh’s cottage. My day at work had been hectic and I’d relished in the opportunity to switch my emotional brain off and concentrate on the job at hand. With a practiced ease, I hadn’t let myself switch it back on during my drive home, pushing all thoughts of Jamie out of my head lest I break down at the wheel. Geillis had, thank God, been home. At the sight of her, the dam that I had been keeping up all day came shattering down and with it, a tidal wave of emotion. She didn’t ask any questions, didn’t push at anything I had said, she just let me sob in her arms on her sofa in front of the fire.
When I had tired myself out, she lit some candles and ran me a bath with the promise that she was right downstairs if I needed anything. Thank God for friends like Geillis Fitzgibbons.
I stood in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror pensively as I let the towel drop to the floor, puddling around my feet. Slowly, I explored my body with my hands, pressing light finger tips into the bends on the inside of my elbows, the hollows of my collarbone, the curves of my ears that were hidden under my hair. As if to torture myself, I let my hands gently fall on my abdomen, my heart twisting when it didn’t find the imperceptibly small bump of a life growing inside of me. A child, half me and half Jamie. Eyes the colour of my own but the shape of his, cat like and with their ability to cut through people like a knife. Long, elegant limbs, a gift from the both of us. Maybe they would inherit my curls or perhaps his inability to wink was a genetic trait, like rolling your tongue. Maybe they would have hair like fire. And a temper to match.
My eyes shut tightly at the memory, the deafening blow as Jamie smashed his fist into the cupboard door. My hands clutched the sink in front of me, fingertips digging into the ceramic as I forced myself to meet my gaze in the mirror, dead on.
“He would never hurt me,” I said loudly, firmly to myself. The thought of his face, contorted in rage and one of those big fists curled around my arm so tightly that it felt like the bones squeaked against each other, made my stomach flip. I pushed myself away from the sink and grabbed the towel from the floor, hastily covering my body as if it would make the memory of the bruises disappear. “No! He is not Frank!”
I jolted around, my breath escaping me in a gasp as Murtagh came into view.
“Christ, Murtagh! What are you doing?” I pulled tighter at my towel as he came out from behind the door, holding both hands above his head in surrender. One of them was holding a glass of whisky.
“Geillis made me take this upstairs,” he handed it to me, not meeting my eye as I reached out a shaking hand to accept it. At the burn of the alcohol on my tongue, I relaxed slightly and quietly laughed at the situation.
“It’s fine, sorry. Not like you saw anything anyway. Thank you.”
“What did ye mean, Claire? About Frank?” His bushy eyebrows were knitted together. It wasn’t a look I saw on him often and it made me uneasy, his piercing eyes fixing me where I stood.
“Oh, nothing, just muttering to myself,” I waved a nonchalant hand and willed myself to keep a similarly disinterested face, praying that it would work at least this one time.
“Ye said he wouldnae hurt ye. Did Frank hurt ye?” His voice was impossibly low, a sound that was so rare for him. He was almost whispering.
I took another drink from my glass and turned my back to him, looking at myself in the mirror, looking anywhere but at my friend.
“Don’t be so silly, you must’ve heard me wrong. I’ll get dressed and come downstairs, just give me a moment,” my voice shook slightly and I knew immediately that he heard it.
“Claire,” I watched in the mirror as he took a step towards me, hand out to offer comfort and the mix of shock and anger that flashed over his face when my entire body flinched involuntarily, “Jesus Christ, Claire-“
“What are ye two doing in here, dinner’s ready!” Geillis pushed the door open wider and surveyed the scene in front of her. Me, wrapped in a towel and still wet from the bath that still held its water and the look on Murtagh’s face that she couldn’t make sense of, “What’s going on?”
A tear fell onto my cheek and I looked between the both of them, trying to reassure them with a smile, “Let me get dressed and we can talk downstairs. Please?”
“If we had known…” Murtagh exhaled for the hundredth time, his gnarled fingers squeezing tightly against my one hand as Geillis held my other, gentle and warm. She had barely spoken throughout my entire recollection of the ugliest part of Frank and I’s relationship. While it felt like a lifetime ago, actually talking about the whole situation made it feel like it had happened yesterday. I had amazed myself at my ability to keep myself steady, not to devolve into a fit of tears, but then I supposed I had cried them all out.
I started at the beginning, telling them of the first time that Frank had shown me what kind of man he was. We had been having dinner in his apartment, having cooked it together all the while stealing touches, bumping hips and enjoying a glass of wine. It had been flirty, easy, enjoyable. At one point when we were sat at the table after having eaten our delicious starter, my phone had beeped with the tone that I had designated for work messages and without thinking, I had reached into my jacket pocket to check it.
“Don’t you think that’s quite rude, my dear?” He had asked innocently enough, jerking his head to the side as his eyes narrowed. But his mouth still had the ghost of a smile. Sheepishly, I had checked the message and put the phone back.
“Sorry, just an update on a patient. He’s doing much better,” I replied quietly. He looked at me closely, his fingers tightening their grip around the stem of his wine glass.
“It’s okay, dear. Just didn’t realise that I was spending time with such an unthinking little bitch.”
The words hit me but didn’t really register as I sat there, unaware that I was gawking at him. He smiled a cruel smile and rose quickly to hit feet, making me jump. His smile widened and I realised that he was enjoying my discomfort and my confusion. Chills crept into the base of my spine and I had the overwhelming urge to hide. He walked towards me slowly as I noticed that I was beginning to sweat, my clammy hands resting on my lap under the table as I began to pick at the skin on one of my thumbs with my forefinger. Dumbfounded, I looked down at my hands, recognising a nervous tick that I had developed after the death of my parents, one that I thought I’d grown out of years previous.
Not content with my head being bent towards my lap, Frank’s fingers curled around the back of my neck and pulled my head sharply upwards so that my eyes met his. The pain registered first and then I became aware that what I was experiencing was fear.
After that night, I had decided that I wouldn’t see him again. He made me too uncomfortable and there was something dark behind his eyes. But having come home late, I hadn’t been able to apprise Joe of the situation so when I walked into my kitchen the next morning, there was Frank. Sat with fresh coffee from my favourite place, a paper bag that contained my favourite pastry and a bunch of white tulips. He apologised for his ghastly behaviour, explained that he was stressed from work and if I gave him another chance, he would never treat me badly again.
For whatever reason, I believed him. And it was better. For a while.
He never actually hit me. Never raised his hand to bring it down against my body with force. And that was how I rationalised it with myself, that it could be worse. As I picked up broken pieces of the vase that he had just shattered on the wall a couple of inches from my head or wore a long sleeved shirt in the height of summer to cover the bruises from the time that he had dragged me home from the bar after not liking how the barman looked at me. Yes, he might have a firm grip but he never took his open palm to my face. He only ever punched the wall beside me as he pinned my shaking body against it, he would never punch me.
I let a single tear fall down my cheek as Geillis burrowed her face into my neck and Murtagh got to his feet, pacing in front of the coffee table.
“So today, when Jamie slammed the door…“
“I just panicked,” I sighed. And I ran straight out the door, throwing myself into my work and ignoring the calls and messages that Jamie had been sending all day. The last I had received just after 4pm where he had said that he understood that I needed space and would respect that. But that he would be waiting for me when I got home.
“That bloody idiot, I’m gan’ tae kill him,” Murtagh seethed as his pacing became faster.
“Rationally, I know that he wouldn’t, couldn’t, have known that I would react like this. It’s not Jamie’s fault,” I tried to soothe Murtagh’s anger, not enjoying the sight of a man feeling uneasy about a man that he viewed as his own, a man he considered family. A very Scottish noise came from Murtagh’s throat but his pacing came to a halt at the sound of a heavy fist rapping against the door in the kitchen.
Geillis righted herself to look at her husband and then her green eyes flicked to me as I watched her switch from her role as comforter to that of the protector.
“I’ll tell him tae go, Claire, jus’ say the word,” she said firmly, unfolding her legs from beneath her and preparing to stand. Instead, I stopped her as I got to my feet and squaring my shoulders.
“Thank you but it’s fine,” I tried to reassure her as I left the living room and moved through to the kitchen, steadying my hands on the iron dead bolt of the door that was between me and the man that I loved. My numb fingers pulled it open and revealed Jamie, soaked to the skin and larger than the doorframe itself. I had never seen such pain on his face but a shadow of relief flitted over it at the sight of me.
“Sassenach, thank God yer alright! When ye didnae come home-“ he managed to choke out before he rushed to me, crushing me against his chest without a thought. The rain soaked through to my clothes and for the first time all day, I felt my body relax at his presence.
He’s here. Jamie is here and he would never hurt me.
I only had to see him to know the truth in the words that had been running through my head all day.
“Get off her!”
My body jerked suddenly as I was taken from Jamie’s strong arms and cuddled against Geillis once more. Murtagh stood between me and his pseudo-nephew, the small wiry frame looking up to the large man who’s face was full of confusion and hurt.
“What are ye doin’, man?” Jamie hissed, his eyes darting from Murtagh to me, Geillis’ arms tightly around me. His brow furrowed as he tried to move towards me again as Murtagh intentionally put himself in his way again.
“I swore an oath to yer father and yer mother to look after ye as my own, and I have, but Christ Almighty, this girl has become as much my flesh and blood as ye are. So I am tellin’ ye now, if ye hurt one hair on her head, I will kill ye,” Murtagh’s voice was low, deadly and full of intent. Part of me wanted to get between them, to get them to stop the male posturing and hyperbolic threats of murder, but the other part was touched by Murtagh’s sentiment.
“What on earth are ye on about?” Jamie asked, his eyes growing desperate as nothing in the situation made sense to him. I reached out and put a hand on Murtagh’s shoulder, easing him back towards his wife as I came to stand in front of Jamie. His chest was heaving, breath being forced from his lungs and down onto my face as I resisted the urge to bury myself into his broad chest. Turning to Geillis and Murtagh, I opened my mouth but Geillis interrupted me.
“We’ll leave ye two be. It’s late and we should be in bed,” Geillis nodded curtly at Jamie, put a quieting hand on her husband and sent me a reassuring look that said ‘I’m upstairs if you need me’.
When they left the room, the tension loosened slightly and I moved to face Jamie once again. He was looking at me intently, trying to puzzle out the interactions that he had left him unclear. My fingers rose to the zip on his jacket and I pulled it down slowly as his shoulders rolled, allowing the fabric to fall from them.
“You’ll get sick if you sit in wet clothes,” I said quietly as I laid his wet jacket on the kitchen table as he toed out of his trainers and kicked them to the side, “Let’s go upstairs and get you warm.”
When I turned away, he grabbed my hand in his and pulled me back to him, his eyes beseeching me.
“Claire, ye have tae tell me what’s going on,” he pleaded. I reached up to cup his cheek in my hand and he instinctively leaned into it, closing his eyes beneath still furrowed brows.
“I will. Come with me.”
He was sat on the edge of the bed, hands held tightly together and facing away from me as I gathered my knees under my chin, my back leaning against the headboard of the bed in Geillis and Murtagh’s spare room. So much had changed since the last time we had been in this room together. It had been the night of our first proper fight when he had come to me, both of us desperate with the need to show each other how in deep we were. And months later, as we were joking about it whilst making our morning coffees together, I had asked him what he said that night. He had laughed at my attempt at the Gaelic, my lack of knowledge of the language coupling with my inability to remember exactly what sounds he had so effortlessly made. When he admitted that it had been Gaelic for ‘I love you’, I had kissed him deeply and we had returned to the bedroom.
A shiver ran over my skin at the memory as a sigh escaped my lips, causing Jamie to flick a glance back towards me. His eyes met my own for a split second before he cast them back to the spot on the carpet that he had been staring at for the past half hour. I had told him everything, finding it somewhat easier having done it once already that evening but still exhausting nonetheless. He had listened, only offering any indication of what he was feeling by the tightening of his jaw or the wringing of his hands. While I knew that he was staying silent to be respectful, to allow me to tell the entirety of the story without interruption, it was beginning to unnerve me. He was usually so reactionary, so quick with a question or a reply that this absolute silence pushed me into the waves of uncertainty.
I cleared my throat, “I- uh, I realise that it’s a lot of information. And maybe you’re questioning why I didn’t leave him or-“
My words were cut off by the sudden feeling of his lips on mine. His hands held my face tightly, as though he was scared to let go as he kept his mouth still, not looking for anything deeper. Just wanting to be connected to me in the way that we knew best. When he finally pulled away, his hands stayed in their place as his blue eyes burned into mine.
“You are the bravest woman I have ever known, Claire,” his voice was dripping with sincerity and I knew that he meant every word, “I am sorry that ye went through that but I promise ye, I will never-“
“Please Claire, let me say this. Let me prove to ye, show ye that I will never behave like I did this morning again. I was a brute and I’m too hotheided by far but I will never…” he trailed off, pressing his forehead against me before he was immediately gone, moving to kneel on the floor as his hands pulled against mine so that I was sat at the edge of the bed. He kissed the knuckles on both of my hands and kept them held to his mouth, looking at me once before closing his eyes solemnly.
“I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus and by the holy iron that I hold to give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised in rebellion against ye, I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.”
I was stunned into silence when he looked at me with a look of pure desperation, the tears threatening to spill from his blue oceans.
“An old oath, usually with a knife handy but ye ken,” he muttered quietly, the corner of his lip quipping up into an attempt at a smile before he sobered, “Is it no’ enough, Claire? Do ye not want me anymore?”
The pain in his voice was the last brick to be torn from the wall that I had built inside myself. I let myself slide down from the bed, landing on his lap as his face changed from anguish to surprise.
“I shall want you forever, James Fraser.”
And my lips descended on his.