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Letting Go : A Christmas Ficlet

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I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

Mariah Carey/ Walter Afanasieff


One year ago

“It’s been such a lovely day, Jamie but I feel guilty now, just sitting here watching the fire. Are you sure we shouldn’t be doing something? Helping someone?”

“Och no. Jocasta’s fine, supervising Da and Murtagh washing up. Jenny and Ian have their own routine putting the bairns tae bed and yer uncle seems content studying those old maps he found.”

“Ok, you win. We’ll stay here just a little bit longer. What’s that under the tree?... Are you sure everyone opened their presents this morning?”

“I dinna ken, Sassenach. What does the tag say?”

“It says ‘Sassenach.’ Don’t try and look innocent, Jamie. What have you done?”

“Well ye’d best open it and find out, then.”

“Oh. Oh, Jamie, it’s beautiful…”

“I’ve never loved anyone but ye. I never want tae be apart from ye ever again. This is it... us fer ever. Sae, Sassenach, I ask ye, will ye marry me?”

“Jamie, yes, of course I will. I love you too.”

**************
“Sassenach, what do ye want fer Christmas?”

Claire rested her head against the back of the sofa and sighed. Not a deep sigh, her lack of lung capacity at present prevented that. She shifted uncomfortably, trying unsuccessfully to encourage an awkwardly positioned foot to move.

“What do I want for Christmas?” The frustration was clear in her voice. “What do I want for Christmas? Oh, just a few things. I want to be able to paint my toenails, or at least actually see my feet. I want to sleep through the night without having to pee at least three times. I want to drink a cup of coffee, full of caffeine, without the smell making me heave. Oh, and most of all, I want evolution to rethink the whole childbirth scenario. Why does the baby have to come out the way it went in?”

Jamie chuckled. Claire glared at him. He stopped abruptly.

“I mean it, pregnancy needs a whole rethink. I can’t walk properly, I can’t sleep properly. I can’t get out of the bath unaided. I feel like a beached whale. My bras are like industrial scaffolding. Every midwife takes one look at you and then tells me what an ‘awfa bonnie’ size my baby is going to be. Quick translation, I’m going to give birth to an enormous baby. God knows how I’ll manage that. And you men, you just keep getting congratulated on the fine job you’ve done with the impregnation, which was no hardship on your part in the first place and, I might add, purely incidental.”

She sniffed, fighting the overwhelming urge to cry… again. “And I’m a complete hormonal, irrational mess. Every time any of the Christmas adverts come on, that’s me… in floods.”

Jamie kissed her cheek before lifting her feet into his lap and starting to rub them. “Ye’re allowed to be irrational and hormonal. Ye’re carrying our baby around.”

He placed his hand on her stomach, relishing the feel of the little elbow -- or heel -- pushing hard against his palm.

“Our very active baby,” he continued. “And I’m sorry that she may be a fair size. I ken that’s ma fault. But every time I see ye, getting bigger and tae feel her moving around, weel, ma heart feels fit tae burst with love fer ye and fer the wee, or no’ sae wee, bairn.”

Claire burst into tears.

“Jamie,” she cried between noisy sobs. “That was so lovely. Can you get me a tissue, please? And maybe a chocolate biscuit?”

*************
Claire and Jenny sat together at the kitchen table, enjoying the temporary peace and quiet. The occasional muted giggle or yell of excitement floated in from the living room where Jamie and Ian, with help from Wee Jamie, Maggie and Kitty, were busy decorating the large Christmas tree.

“Are ye no’ worried about the aesthetic quality of the decoration?” Jenny asked with a smile.

Claire took another Hobnob from the packet in front of her. “Not really, no. I don’t think I could stand for long enough to do the decoration myself, so anything that lot do will be fine for me.”

“Are ye sure ye’re up tae having us all here fer Christmas? I mean, ye’re, weel…”

“Fit to burst?” Claire rubbed her bump affectionately. “I’ll be fine. Midwife says the head’s not even engaged yet, so I don’t think he’ll be putting in an early appearance. And there’ll be so much help around here. Murtagh and Jocasta are driving up on Christmas Eve with Uncle Lamb. She’s bringing all the veg, she says. And Brian and you all will be here Christmas Day of course. I won’t have to move a muscle. And now my mat leave has started, I’m a real lady of leisure.”

Jenny snorted. “That’ll change, just ye wait.”

Right on cue, the kitchen door burst open and three giggling children rushed in, closely followed by Jamie and Ian both bedecked with tinsel and glitter.

“We done the tree.”

“We done Da and Unca”

“Dey all pwetty.”

Jamie swept Kitty up in his arms before moving to Claire’s side and stooping to plant a kiss on her curls.

“Baby.” Kitty announced, pointing excitedly at Claire’s belly.

“Aye, baby.” Jamie agreed.

“Cheesus.”

“Nah, Kitty,” Jenny laughed. “That’s no’ baby Jesus in there.”

“Cheesus,” she repeated.

“Alright, jes’ like baby Jesus. And now, c’mon ye rabble, I think it’s time we went home. Bath and bed fer the lot of ye... and fer Da too by the look of him.”

************
Claire shuffled awkwardly onto her side, bringing one of her pillows down under her belly and leant on her elbow. She kicked one leg out from under the bedclothes, relishing the fresh air cool on her permanently overheated body.

The bedroom curtains had not been fully drawn and the full moon cast an eerie mix of light and shadow around the room. As usual Jamie was asleep on his back, fingers interlaced across his chest. Claire studied his face, blanched white with the moonlight, the fine lines around his eyes smoothed with sleep, his mouth relaxed into a small lopsided smile.

The remembrance of eight years without this face beside her and all the what-ifs littering the path to their reunion made her shudder instinctively. Carefully, she reached out to touch his face, as if to reassure herself he was truly there. Her fingertips brushed the growth of ginger stubble on his chin before she ran one finger lightly around his lips.

Still asleep, he scrunched his nose as if to sneeze, then his face relaxed once more in repose.

Now sufficiently cooled, Claire returned her leg back under the covers, positioning it against Jamie’s calf.

“What? What’s matter? Is it the baby?” Startled by the unexpected cold next to his skin, Jamie immediately awoke in a state of agitation. “Are you ok? What’s wrong?”

“Shh, shh,” Claire soothed. “Everything’s fine. It’s not the baby. I didn’t mean to wake you. I couldn’t sleep... I was too hot, but now my feet are cold.”

She rubbed her foot against his calf.

Jamie flinched. “Christ, woman, yer foot is like ice. I dinna understand how the rest of ye is like a furnace, but yer feet are freezing.”

She pressed her feet more firmly against his leg, ignoring his protests. “Just more of the joys of pregnancy, I guess. I would wear bedsocks, but then I’d get too hot and it’s just too much of an effort to actually get them on.”

Jamie closed his eyes. Now he knew there was no cause for alarm, he was eager to return to sleep. He tried to relax and clear his mind, forcing his breathing to a steady pace. But…

“Are ye watching me?” Even without opening his eyes, he could sense Claire’s gaze on him.

“I’m sorry. Had you gone back to sleep?”

Jamie opened his eyes and rolled onto his side to face Claire. “Not anymore. What’s the matter?”

“I can’t get to sleep. I can’t get comfortable.” She shuffled around a bit as if to prove her point.

“Och, Sassenach, I’m sorry but it’s no’ fer much longer, ye ken, and —“

“I know, I know, you’re going to say ‘it’ll be worth it.’ And you’re right, it will. But right now, all I want is an unbroken night’s sleep, which, I think, I’m not going to get for, ooh, another five years.” Claire’s voice cracked a little.

“And I keep thinking—“

“Never a good idea, Sassenach.”

“I keep thinking…” she pressed on. “...about us. What if Jocasta and Murtagh hadn’t rented Lamb’s house, what if I hadn’t bought the flat above John, what if you…”

“Shhh.” Jamie stroked Claire’s cheek, now damp from tears. “Dinna upset yerself. Life is a series of what-ifs and that’s a fact. But we’re here now, together, the soon-tae-be three of us and that’s all that matters. And I ken we were meant tae be together. Call it fate, call it karma, we would have found a way tae each other with or without Jocasta or John.”

He kissed her mouth before yawning and rolling onto his back. “Now, go back tae sleep. We’ve a busy day tomorrow.”

“Jamie, I love you.”

“I love ye too.”

Claire groaned. “And now Dalhousie is awake and I’ve got to pee… again.”

********************
Claire wandered around the house, (or more appropriately ‘waddled,’ in her opinion) from room to room, checking everything was in order for the guests. Jocasta and Murtagh as well as Uncle Lamb would be staying; Brian, Jenny and family would visit just for Christmas Day.

She truly loved Lallybroch, and somehow she felt that the house knew it and loved her too. The creaks and rattles as the old building shifted and settled were a comfort -- Lallybroch welcoming her as she went about her business. She still found it hard to believe that Brian had been willing, no, more than willing, happy and relieved to pass the ownership of Lallybroch to Jamie. He now resided in a single storey cottage one mile away.

The guest bedrooms needed no attention. They were ready for the arrivals, even down to the tins of shortbread on the bedside tables, should the mass of Christmas food resting in the fridges and freezers prove to be insufficient. Claire opened a tin and removed a large piece, holding a cupped palm beneath it to avoid crumbs as she munched.

The nursery door was slightly open. Claire smiled. Jamie had obviously snuck in for a moment’s reverie before heading to the stables that morning. She perched on the edge of the rocking chair and looked around.

The decoration in this room had only been finished the week before and Claire visited several times a day, still not quite believing how it would soon be occupied. The cot, the changing station, chest of drawers and wardrobe were all now in place, a few simple babygros and cardigans in neutral colours put away inside. She was convinced the baby was a boy, Jamie equally convinced about a girl.

Bracing her arms against the chair, she pushed herself to her feet once more. As she passed the cot, she lightly tapped the mobile suspended above and stood for a moment, watching the brightly coloured animals slowly rotate before continuing her inspection of the house.

Downstairs, everything was ready for Christmas. Claire noticed Jamie had moved her hospital bag and the car seat to a prominent position by the front door. In case of a quick get away, she supposed.

The scent of pine hit her nostrils as soon as she entered the living room. Fortunately not one of the myriad of aromas that made her nauseous. The enormous Christmas tree dominated the room, extravagantly (and somewhat lopsidedly) decorated with tinsel, baubles and other glittery objects. Claire spotted two sequinned hair clips and a lilac ‘My Little Pony’ nestling in the branches near the base of the tree. It certainly wouldn’t win any design awards, but, in her eyes, it was perfect.

She wandered into the kitchen, unsure what to do with herself. Ever since she awoke, there had been a feeling of restlessness in her limbs, an air of unsettledness over her - presumably due to the anxiety of hosting her first Christmas here at Lallybroch. She knew it would pass as soon as all their guests arrived and Christmas started properly.

Jocasta’s head suddenly appeared around the back door.

“Hello, the house.” She came into the kitchen, laden down with bags and boxes. “I thought I’d come in this way, ma dear… jes’ tae drop all the food off.”

Jocasta huffed as she deposited the boxes and bags on to the kitchen table. She enveloped Claire in a warm hug before holding her at arms’ length to study her from top to toe.

“Sae, Claire, how are ye doin’? Ye’re blooming nicely.”

Claire laughed. “Which is a polite way of saying I’m huge. No, don’t worry, I’m not offended. I’m blaming those damn Fraser genes… Jamie’s a Viking throwback.”

“Och, the baby’s sure tae be bonnie, nae doubt.” Jocasta took off her coat and rolled her sleeves up. “Sae what do ye want me tae do? I left Murtagh and yer uncle tae unload the bags and take them upstairs.”

“Oh, no nothing needs doing at the moment. Jamie can take the bags upstairs when he’s back from the stables. Let’s make some tea and relax. I’m defrosting a beef casserole for dinner. Nice and simple.”

Claire reached into a cupboard for the teabags. She winced slightly as she stretched, then straightened up, rubbing her belly. Jocasta immediately rushed to her side and guided her to a chair.

“What’s the matter, Claire? Is it the bairn?”

“No, Jocasta, I’m fine. It’s just Braxton Hicks contractions. I’ve been getting them for a few weeks now. That one was a bit sharp, but nothing to worry about.”

“I bet Jamie is on tenterhooks, is he no’?”

“Well, I do have to carry my phone with me at all times, just in case. And he’s all prepared ready for the hospital… including a variety of biscuits and crisps to keep his strength up during the labour. I tell you, Jocasta, if he thinks he’s going to be eating while I’m in pain he’s sorely mistaken.”

Jocasta patted Claire’s hand. “Ye dinna have tae worry about Jamie. He’ll do whatever ye ask, ye ken.”

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

Present day, Christmas Eve 9:10pm

“Jamie, I’m in the kitchen. Either the dishwasher has sprung a major leak or my waters have broken.”

“Don’t tell anyone yet but come h”

****************
Claire didn’t have time to finish the second text as Jamie burst into the kitchen, breathing heavily as if he’d run a marathon, rather than just strode across the hall.

“Sassenach,” he breathed. “Are ye in pain? What happened? What do we do?”

Claire smiled. “First you need to calm down. We can’t have you hyperventilating. Then I’m going to ring the delivery suite while you clean up the floor. Then presumably we head to the hospital.”

“Sae ye’re in labour then? Have ye been getting any pains?”

“Well, I don’t know… I’ve had some twinges today, but I thought they were just Braxton Hicks again. Then I come in here for a mince pie and suddenly whoosh.”

Claire waggled her hands expressively, mimicking the sudden release of fluid.

“Sassenach, ye’re a doctor and ye’re telling me ye dinna ken whether ye’re in labour or no’.”

“Jamie, I’m a cardiologist. Totally different bits of anatomy. Now grab that cloth, while I make the call.”

Jamie knelt down and tried to focus on his assigned task, while Claire made the phone call. He was amazed at how calm she appeared to be. Still, he was thankful one of them actually seemed to know what to do… and very relieved that he had only had the one whisky a few hours earlier, intending to save the more serious drinking for Christmas Day itself.

He listened as Claire explained the situation over the phone, clearly and succinctly, one medical professional to another. Eventually, after what seemed like an age to Jamie, Claire ended the call with “We’re on our way,” and turned to Jamie.

Her calm demeanour now slipped and her face, to him, looked as terrified as he felt. Her voice cracked slightly as she spoke. “Midwife reckons it’s definitely early stages of labour… probably been going on all day…”

“No’ Braxton Hicks then?”

Claire shook her head. “Apparently not. So, hospital it is.”

Jamie got to his feet and quickly rinsed his hands. He pulled Claire close to him, very conscious of the large, hard, bump between them. He ran one hand over the contours of her belly.

“I canna believe it’s happening. This is it, Sassenach. The last time it’s just the two of us. Are ye ready?”

He felt Claire’s head, nestled on his chest, nod in agreement. She pulled away and sniffed.

“Oh god, here come the waterworks again,” she whispered.

Gently, Jamie wiped the tears away with his thumb as the door opened and Jocasta stood there, a variety of dirty glasses in her hands.

“What is it?” She looked from one to the other. “Is it the bairn? I kent that was no’ jes’ a twinge today.”

“Aye, we’ve tae go tae the hospital now.”

“But what about Christmas lunch?” Claire felt the tears prickle her eyes once more. “I was going to do a lovely lunch for all of you.”

“Dinna fash,” Jocasta quickly took charge of the situation. “Ye canna be worrying about that at a time like this. We dinna have tae change any plans. I can do the cooking, it’s nae bother. It’ll be jes’ as if ye did it , except ye two willna be here.”

“Come on then,” Jamie was itching to get moving now. “We can ring Jenny and Da from the hospital.”

He took Claire’s hand and led her towards the hall.

“Oh and, Jocasta,” he called over his shoulder. “Make sure ye save us some dinner. I’ll be fair famished by the time we get back.”

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

Nine years ago

“Sassenach, do ye ever think about bairns?”

“Bairns? You mean children, plural? That’s some sort of forward planning there, Jamie.”

“But do ye?”

“Mmm, sometimes I suppose, yes. Why?”

“I jes’ ken we’ll have a family together. Do ye think about names?”

“Yes, Henry and Julia… after my parents. What about you?”

“Same idea… Ellen after my Mam and William, ma brother who died. Sae we could have Julia Ellen and Henry William.”

“Not Julia Ellen Fraser. That’d be ‘Jef.’ Ellen Julia has a nice ring to it.”

“Aye, Ellen Julia and Henry William it is then.”

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

Claire glanced up at the clock again. Everyone is so keen to tell you about the pain of childbirth, she thought. No one actually tells you about the sheer boredom. She’d walked up and down a bit, bounced on the big ball and now was trying to get comfortable on the bed.

A rustling sound came from Jamie’s general vicinity. Claire turned to see him rifling through the hospital bag, pulling out her toiletries bag, maternity pads, nursing bra.

“What are you looking for?” she asked, more than a bit irritated.

“I thought I’d put a couple of Crunchies in here. Jes’ fancy one.”

He stopped as she glared at him and quickly tidied everything back into the bag.

Suddenly she closed her eyes and bit her lip, her fists tightly clenching the hem of her nightgown. Jamie quickly started the timer on his phone. Gradually, Claire’s fists relaxed and she opened her eyes, panting slightly.

Jamie jotted some figures down in a notebook. “Getting closer together now, aren’t they?”

Claire nodded. “Mmm.”

“Sae, based on a scale of one tae ten, how intense was that one?” His pen was poised ready to make a note.

“How the hell do I know? I don’t know what ten feels like, so it’s all subjective at the moment,” she snapped.

“Just put down it smarts a bit,” she added sarcastically.

“I need the loo. Back in a moment.” Jamie almost bumped into the midwife, Morag, as she came into the delivery room.

“So, dear, can I jes’ check on ye?” Morag asked as she took Claire’s pulse before putting on her gloves for a further examination.

“Jamie’s made the notes you asked for. Time, duration, intensity.”

“Ah, weel,” Morag straightened up and removed the gloves. “We dinna actually need that. But yer man was sae keen tae be involved, tae feel useful, we set him a wee task tae keep him busy.”

Jamie came back into the room.

“Good job on the notes, Jamie,” Morag complimented him. “Sae Claire, ye’re progressing nicely, six centimetres dilated now—”

She paused as Claire screwed up her face. A small moan passed her lips.

“That's it, Claire. Breathe through it. Every contraction is one closer tae meeting yer baby.”

Jamie moved to Claire’s side and took her hand, wincing slightly as her nails dug into his palm.

As Claire’s breathing returned to normal, Morag made for the door.

“I’ll be back tae check on ye shortly.”

***************
Claire slumped back onto the pillows, grateful for a moment’s reprieve. Sweat plastered her curls to her forehead and she could feel the dampness of her nightgown against her back. She savoured the coolness of the damp cloth which Jamie pressed against her forehead.

“Sassenach,” he whispered. “Ye’re doing grand. I am sae proud of ye.”

She smiled weakly. “How much more, Jamie?”

Morag spoke reassuringly. “Ok, Claire, another one’s on its way. Just keep pushing, as hard as ye can. Focus all yer energy on that push.”

As the contraction hit again, it seemed, to Jamie, that Claire went deep inside herself, gathering every hidden reserve of strength. She made no sound, no unnecessary movements, conserving all her energy for the push. Resting her chin against her chest, she gritted her teeth and pushed.

“Daddy… come here. Ye can see the head crowning.”

Jamie momentarily left Claire’s side for his first glimpse of their baby. Returning to her side, he bent down, his head next to hers.

“Our baby, Sassenach. Ye can see our baby.”

He made no effort to stop his tears flowing as Claire bore down for the final onslaught until, at 5:17 on Christmas morning, Ellen Julia Fraser took her first breath as she was delivered onto her mother’s chest.

*************
With all the checks and cleaning up complete, the new family were left alone for the first time. Jamie slipped off his shirt and sat next to Claire on the bed. Tenderly he took his daughter from Claire’s arms and held her close to his chest, next to his heart. Blue eyes stared solemnly up at him.

“Jes’ when I think I canna love ye more, ye give me a daughter… our wee daughter.” He grabbed the baby’s hand now flailing outside the pink blanket, marvelling at the size, so tiny, and yet so perfect, against his palm.

“And she got's red hair too.” Claire kissed the top of the baby's head.

“But not so wee.” She shifted uncomfortably. “Three weeks early and still nine pounds eleven. Every muscle in my body aches. I feel like I’ve run a marathon.”

“Ye were truly amazing, Sassenach. I canna believe what ye went through.”

Claire laughed. “Neither can I. Not sure I’m ever going to let you near me again, James Fraser.”

Jamie looked at her from the corner of his eye.

“Well, ok, you know I don’t mean it.”

The baby started fidgeting, rooting for a nipple, emitting little squawks of dissatisfaction at the lack of sustenance provided by her father.

Jamie passed the precious bundle back to Claire and watched, with pride, as his daughter quickly found what she wanted and settled down, sucking ferociously.

Jamie and Claire sat quietly for a moment, studying every detail of their baby before Claire broke the silence.

“A Christmas Day baby, then. Kitty was right. You know when you asked me a couple of weeks ago what I wanted for Christmas. Well this is it, right here.”

Tears filled her eyes as she gazed at her baby. “All I want for Christmas is you, Ellen Julia Fraser.”

She looked at Jamie, his eyes glistening too, and stroked his cheek. “... and you, James Fraser. Merry Christmas.”