Actions

Work Header

Crash Course Love

Chapter Text

I slammed my tiny shot glass down hard on the bar top. It earned me a dirty look from what’s-his-face, the bartender.

“Hey… hey! Yeah, another one over here, please.” My words weren’t quite slurred yet, but I was getting there fast. Bloody fuck.

I swiveled on the barstool, just enough to get a real good look at the people who were milling around the crowded Glasgow bar. Which bar was I at again… Prince Edward? Prince Charles? Some royal name.

I was past being discreet. I craned my neck and checked out every booth and table just to make sure they were really gone. The bartender nudged my arm with my new drink and I felt for it blindly, never taking my eyes off the tiny dance floor.

“Cheers, Robert.”

“It’s Rupert,” he grunted.

“Whatever.” I pulled the tequila hard and fast, barely grimacing as it burned its way down.

“Och. Tha’ looks painful. I might have to try that.”

The voice came from my left, a slightly slurred Scottish burr. I turned slowly, wiping my mouth rather sloppily with the back of my hand. I squinted in the dim light.

His hair was the first thing I noticed. It was an attractive mess, and I couldn’t tell if it was the shitty lighting or his natural color, but it was so red it looked fake.

I realized I’d been staring at the top of this lad’s head like an idiot, before finally meeting his gaze. Deep blue eyes—a rare form of sapphire—looked back at me, also squinting through the haze of cigarette smoke and dim lighting.

Bloody fuck, he was a hot mess. I felt a twinge of equal parts guilt and self-righteous anger. I thought maybe it was a bit too soon for me to notice other attractive men, but the anger spoke up even louder. Why shouldn’t I engage in interesting conversations with random, gorgeous men? The anger in me won.

Wait, he’d said something. What was it? He wanted to do a shot?

“Um, it’s Cuervo. I think I might go blind if I keep drinking this, but that’s okay. Then I won’t have to see that arsehole walking around with that stroppy cow.”

Oops, overshare. At least I hadn’t hurled tequila and pub mix all over him. Yet.

Attractive blue-eyed lad raised his eyebrows. He was just as shit-faced as I was, maybe even a bit more. “Arsehole? Who would that be?”

Oh, might as well. “My ex. Turns out those late-night work meetings that went on for months were late-night sex marathons with Sandy. The arm-candy.”

“Sandy? The stroppy cow, I assume?” He smirked and tossed back the remainder of his own drink. “Which would make you…?”

“Claire. Spurned but pissed ex-girlfriend.” I held out my hand.

He took it in his and squeezed it gently. “Jamie, spurned and sad ex-boyfriend.” The tequila must have kicked in; my hand and arm felt all tingly and a warmth sparked in my belly.

“So. Any particular sorrows you’re drowning in cheap liquor?” I faced the bar again, looking at him out of the corner of my eye.

“Och, aye. But I daresay they’re halfway gone now.” Jamie shook his empty glass and the ice clinked. “My third.”

I snorted. “Fourth.” I held up my own shot glass in Ronald’s—or was it Reuben’s?—direction. “My good man, two please.” I glanced at Jamie, smiling wickedly. “You need to catch up.”

“Aye, but I really dinna want to risk going blind.” He called out to Rodolfo (Riley?), “Make it Patron, please.”

“Patron, huh? Is she worth it?” I caught his gaze.

Jamie’s eyes hardened, but I could tell it wasn’t towards me. “No. But I am.”

“Fair enough.” The glasses were placed in front of us and I raised mine to his. I stood, wobbling a bit and he did the same. “A toast—to Jamie and Claire. May their exes catch amoebic dysentery and shit till they die.”

“Amen.” He held his own shot aloft and touched the rim to mine. We looked at each other for a moment before we downed the golden liquid.

“Argh!” Jamie shook his head, making a face and coughing once. “Nice.”

“What were you drinking?” I nodded towards the chunky tumbler filling fast with melted ice.

“Whisky. I probably shouldna be mixing Laphroaig and Patron, but fuck it. I dinna care.”

Now both our eyes were kind of swimming and I stumbled into him as I tried to hike myself back onto the barstool.

“Easy there,” he chuckled. I straightened up, pushing away slightly. I gripped the bar top. The world was tilting crazily now. Bloody hell.

“I think that last shot was a mistake.” Now my words were blending together in strange ways.

“Aye, for me too.” His Scots accent had broadened more over the past minute.

I laid my head on the bar, not caring if my hair got dirty. I groaned, and I felt Jamie pat my back gently. “Um, thanks.” I managed to raise my head off the surface after a few minutes.

“Anytime.” He hoisted himself onto the stool next to mine. We endured silence for a bit until he grabbed a nearby salt shaker, tapping it rhythmically on the bar top. I waited.

The music suddenly changed; slow, mellow notes filled the air. I was about to make a snarky comment about the DJ’s song choice when I noticed Jamie’s hand next to me, palm up.

“Dance?” he asked softly.

“Only if you promise not to twirl me,” I found myself answering.

We made our way onto the makeshift dance area in the corner. He pulled me close, his hand at my back and the other clutched mine tightly against his chest. My left hand went on his shoulder as he led me expertly around the floor. My head threatened to drop, nestling perfectly into the center of his chest. God, he was tall.  The alcohol was finally achieving its purpose, numbing me.

We swayed back and forth; I was still trying not to vomit as we danced. I found that the scent coming off Jamie’s skin was helping—something fresh like citrus, tinged with his own male musk.

“I proposed to her.” His warm breath tickled the shell of my ear.

I gripped his shoulder hard. He proposed? Jamie’s story sounded more fucked up than mine. He took my touch as a sign to continue.

“It was our 2-year anniversary. Fancy restaurant, candles, romantic shite—ye ken? Movie style.”

“What’s your ex called?” I slurred, surprised I could focus on a question.

“Annalise.” Jamie’s voice had a sneering quality as he pronounced her name with a French accent. “We’d met when I studied a semester abroad in Paris, but she actually lived here. After I’d pulled the ring from my pocket, and knelt in front of the entire restaurant—she said she didna want to hurt me, but that we should remain friends.”

Friends. Classic. Only if being friends means you get to punch them in the mouth after a speech like that,” I laughed bitterly and he joined me.

“That was exactly a year ago—tonight. I just found out she’s dating some arsehole—something something Saint Germain. Hence, whisky.”

The song ended and Jamie looped my arm through his, and we collapsed at a table; barstools were a little complicated in our current state. I took a deep breath and reciprocated my own sob story.

“I walked in on Frank and Sandy a few months ago. In our bed. Bloody hell, we’d known each other since we were teenagers. We were living together. Was ‘I think we should see other people’ so hard to say?” I flagged a waitress, holding up two fingers.

“Och, lass, another one?” Jamie looked concerned. I was no lightweight, but I was really feeling the previous shots.

Fuck it.

“Yeah. I need it.” I sucked on a lime and upended the shot glass. I barely acknowledged the burn this time.

“That bad, eh?”

“It is.” I winced, remembering how I still hadn’t managed to take down the pictures of us. That was just bloody unhealthy.

“Oh. It’s really no’ my place, since, well… I’m completely pissed too, but… do ye drink this much every weekend, just to forget? I mean, I worry about yer liver and all.”

“No. It’s just I ran into the Frank and Sandy here tonight, who’s sporting a rock the size of a peach pit on her finger.” I swallowed hard. “And very, very pregnant.” Much too pregnant for their affair to have begun only a few months ago. She looked ready to pop.

“Och.” Jamie looked chagrined. “Aye.” He downed his own shot and gestured for more. He raised his glass in a toast like I had.

“To ye. Because at this point, I think yer story sounds worse than mine. And ye’re still standing.” We slammed a few more shots, until finally, sweet oblivion.

No more pain, no more misplaced guilt, no more what-ifs. A moment’s peace.

It could be found at the bottom of a glass.

- - -

Sunlight streamed through the pale, gauzy curtains. It felt like a fucking drill through my eyes.

“Oh God,” I mumbled, rolling over and trying to ignore the pounding like a sledgehammer between my temples.

I hit something soft and warm beside me.

My eyes flew open, light hitting me painfully. As they adjusted, I caught sight of a tousled red head peeking over the top of the covers.

Oh my God. Oh my God.

How did this happen?

Chapter Text

“Wake up!” a voice hissed in my ear.

Holy shit. My tongue felt as though it was covered in sock fuzz, and my eyes were glued together.  I reached up to rub them open and found my hand brushing against soft, curly hair.

I jerked my eyes open. What the fuck? I scrambled back against a headboard. Where am I?

“Where am I?” I croaked, and my head immediately retaliated. Pulsing, throbbing pain flared up everywhere.

“This is my flat. Care to tell me why you’re here?” Her voice. English accent. The Sassenach.

Claire. Sorcha. Light. From that pub. The one who was cheated on by her boyfriend. I recalled some dancing… and Patron. Lots of whisky and Patron. Fuuuuuuck.

“I… dinna ken?” I pinched the bridge of my nose with my fingers, trying to stop the pounding. My hand was rudely smacked away.

“What? Focus! Please, answer this. Are you… are you naked?” Claire’s voice was slightly panicked.

Mary, Mother, and Bride. Had I… did we…?

I wasn’t wearing a shirt, that much I could tell. I reached under the covers tentatively, trying to ascertain whether I was naked. Mercifully, my fingers brushed against the waistband of my boxer briefs.

“Uh, no. I’m dressed. Sort of.” I glanced down at my bare chest. My curly red-gold chest hair stood out starkly in the bright light of her bedroom. Clearly, something had gone down last night. Or someone.

“Shit. Thank you, Jesus H. Christ.” Claire was gathering the bed sheet around herself.

“Wait, are ye naked?”

The light from the window hit her from behind, burnishing her hair into a rich brown. A deep pink blush spread down from her face, across her chest. Was she naked? I could feel my cock stirring and I willed it into submission. Clearly, now was not the time.

“I’m wearing underwear too. You think we—”

“Fuck! I hope not!” I exclaimed. Immediately, her face turned red again, but this time I could tell it was in anger. Then, I realized what I’d said and how it sounded. Blunt again.

“Oh, sweet Bride, I mean, no’ that I… ye’re totally gorgeous, I would definitely want to—shite,” I groaned. Too much thinking for what little brain cells I had left.

“You definitely want to shite?” she asked, raising her eyebrows in mock confusion. At least she seemed mollified by my ranting apology.

“No, I mean, ye ken, not that I’m glad we didna do anything… but I wouldna take advantage of you, but it’s not…” I trailed off lamely.

Claire chuckled softly, shaking her head. “I get it. Sorry. I’m just a little sensitive on that point. Thanks to that arsehole. I, uh, I better get some clothes on.”

“Aye, me too.” I pushed the covers aside, trying to ignore the thumping in my head. I spotted my jeans heaped in a corner, so I pulled them on while I searched for my shirt. I found it, sniffed it. Quite rank. No helping matters now.

I noticed Claire still huddling in the sheet, and I stopped, looking at her. “What?”

“Um, would you mind giving me some privacy? I know we woke up together and all, but I still don’t feel comfortable flashing you.”

Now it was my turn to go red. “Aye, of course. I’ll just… put on some coffee or something.” As she turned away from me, still wrapped in the bed sheet, I caught a glimpse of a tattoo on her right shoulder. It looked like spiraling scrollwork, or flowery vines; it trailed across her shoulder blade and disappeared beneath the sheet covering her ivory skin.

Ifrinn.

I nearly tripped on my way out. My foot caught on something. I shook it off, noticing as I did that it was her bra. Mallaichte bas. I tossed it at her and shut the door behind me.

I looked around as I made my way to the kitchen. The furniture looked very thrift-store-esque, but comfortable. The colors were mismatched, but somehow they fit.

On the walls, there were many framed pictures and paintings. Some photographs were black and white, offset by colorful flowery art. I noticed a lot were missing, the bare spots on the walls and tables glaringly obvious. I wondered where they’d gone.

I couldn’t figure out her coffeemaker, and soon gave that up in favor of a glass of water instead. I called out to Claire who was still in her room. “Do you have aspirin?”

“Here.” Her quiet voice startled me as she came up behind me. She pressed two pills into my palm and pulled a bottle of water from the fridge for herself. “Jason, is it?”

“James. Jamie.” I swallowed them quickly. I could practically feel the water rehydrating my brain. I leaned against the counter while Claire rummaged for food.

“Well, Jamie, I have cereal and cereal,” she said, frowning at the expiration date on the milk carton. “This is still drinkable. I think.”

“Uh, no, thank ye.” This would be awkward enough without a morning-after breakfast. Or was it, technically, since there hadn’t been a… before? I shrugged at myself, quickly gulping down more water.

We sat down at the kitchen table while she tossed Weetabix into a bowl. I grinned at her cereal choice—a little tame for the tequila-drinking tattooed lass. Claire caught me looking at her and blushed.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just… never mind.” I clutched my glass and an awkward silence fell between us, the only sound the clinking of her spoon.

“So,” she finally spoke. She glanced at me and back at her cereal.

“Aye.” I pursed my lips and took a sip of water.

“What do you remember?”

“Mmmphm… tequila. Lots of it,” I grimaced, scratching my head.

“I think I remember… dancing? Did we dance?” she asked skeptically.

“We danced,” I said, nodding emphatically.

“Was I drunk by then? I can’t think of any other way that would have happened.”

“A bit. Ye were past tipsy then, but ye did manage to express certain reservations.”

“No shit.” She glared at her cereal bowl, then stood up to dump it in the bin.

“Och, well, maybe—” I began.

“What the fuck!” Claire exclaimed. She had tossed half the mushy mess inside the bin when she cried out. She picked up the trash bin and set it on the table. She reached in, scrunching her nose.

Claire pulled out a stack of pictures, burned and charred. They were drenched in milk and speckled with soggy cereal.

“Oh, I wondered why there were pictures missing from the walls.” I gestured toward the small living room.

“It’s Frank.” Her voice sounded flat, but I thought I heard a hint of sadness.

“Cheating arsehole Frank?” I asked, taking some of the pictures from her. They were pretty good; the angles, the lighting, it was all very original and artistic. Some featured both Claire and Frank together, laughing or kissing. Others were just him, pensive and brooding. Bloke looked slim and posh. I could probably take him in a fight, I reasoned.

Claire found an empty plastic lighter in the bin too. She frowned. “After we came here, I took these off the walls and you said—”

“That I would help ye—”

“—and we would take out the trash together,” we finished, catching each other’s eyes. I wondered if she regretted what we’d done with part of her memories, before Claire’s face broke out into a smile—the first real smile I’d seen on her face. It was luminous.

“Thanks.” She took the pictures I’d been holding and dumped them in the bin again.

“Anytime.” 

Chapter Text

Despite the fucked up situation, it was the best I’d felt in a long time. Seeing Frank’s pictures burnt and in the bin was strangely cathartic, even if I didn’t remember setting them on fire. There was probably a lot of Frank’s shit around that I had overlooked that I could also burn.

Jamie and I stood awkwardly in my tiny kitchen for a few minutes, his Viking warrior frame towering over me. I had a hard time meeting his deep blue gaze; it wasn’t uncomfortable, just strangely intimate given our surprise encounter this morning, and possibly last night. Finally, I cleared my throat.

“Um, well. It’s Sunday…” I trailed off. I didn’t have anything to do, but didn’t really want to prolong the morning-after-that-wasn’t.

“Och, aye, I’m sorry.” Jamie looked embarrassed. “I should go. Do ye work on Sundays?” He patted his pockets, probably searching for his phone or keys.

“No, but I should go down to Sainsbury’s for groceries. It’s just a short walk. St. Enoch is a couple of blocks away if you need it.” I began washing the bowl in the sink.

“I usually take the tube, but I do have a car. It’s mainly for driving up to see my family, though. I took an Uber to the pub. Since I’d planned on getting pissed—ifrinn!” he exclaimed suddenly.

“What?” I dropped the bowl, startled. It didn’t break, but it clattered noisily.

“I was supposed to meet my sister Jenny for lunch at St. Judes.” Jamie turned his phone to face me and I saw it was already noon. He ran a hand through his hair in desperation, making it even more tousled.

“No problem. I can take you in the van.”

“The van? Ye just said—”

“I’ve a van, for my flower shop. Beauchamp’s Blooms,” I said, not a little proudly.

“Yer last name’s Beauchamp?” He pronounced it the French way, and it sounded beautiful, but I corrected him.

“Bee-cham. I guess we were French at some point in history, but we’re English now.”

“So what’s a bonny sassenach such as yerself doin’ in Scotland?”

Sassenach. I bristled. “An Englishwoman like myself followed her dickhead boyfriend who had a teaching position at the University of Glasgow. I opened my own flower shop, got dumped, and now, I’ll be staying here for the foreseeable future. Unless it bothers a Scotsman such as yerself.” I imitated his brogue as much as I could, injecting it with a fair amount of venom.

Jamie turned bright red. “Och, Claire, I didna mean any disrespect. Sassenach just means English, or outlander. It’s nice to see ye’ve made a home here, and a business as well, despite yer hardships.” His tone softened. “Have others made ye feel unwelcome here in Glasgow? I apologize on our behalf.”

“A couple.” I sighed. “I Google-translated sassenach the second time it happened. Sorry if I came off touchy about it. When they said it, it didn’t sound very nice, that’s all.”

“I think ye should appropriate the word then. May I call ye sassenach? As a wee nickname?” Jamie smiled impishly.

I laughed. “Alright, why not?” I dried my hands on a tea towel and laid it next to the sink. “Well, let me find my keys and we’ll be off.” I found them in my purse and hoisted it on my shoulder as we left my flat.

We traipsed down the steps of my apartment building slowly, no doubt his head pounding as much as mine. The aspirin had helped some, though.

“Are ye a photographer then, Sassenach?” he asked conversationally.

“Oh, the pictures. No, Frank took those. It is—was—his hobby.  I personally like herbs, flowers, and medicinal plants. I’m a botanist, actually. Hence, the flower shop.”

“Ye kept some on the walls.”

“They were the best ones. And the flowers, those are mine. I think we can spare them a fiery death.”

“I couldna help but notice…” I glanced at Jamie, who was turning all shades of red as he rucked up the hair on the nape of his neck in embarrassment. “Ye have this tattoo on yer back, like…”

“Oh, yes.” It was my turn to go a bit red. “It’s a gladiolus. It means strength.”

“Bonny.” Jamie smiled crookedly at me while he pushed the entrance door to the building and held it open for me. “It’s funny, I dinna even ken where in Glasgow I am. I havena been…” he trailed off as we came down the steps onto the street. The chilly November wind nipped at our exposed faces.

“Is it familiar now?” I laughed, jingling my keys. I sobered up when I saw the look on his face. “Are you alright?”

“Och, aye. I—it’s just that yer apartment building’s right next to my—”

“James?” A high-pitched, accented voice pierced the air.

“—ex’s building,” he finished weakly.

I turned to the source of the voice. A woman about my age walked towards us. She had sleek brown hair—perfectly coiffed—and fashionable matching boots and purse. Her eyes were green, and were trained on Jamie, who stood next to me, pale and silent.

I tried to whisper discreetly, “Jamie, that’s your ex?”

Before he could answer, the woman was upon us. “James! I thought it was you! What are you doing here?” She gave Jamie a kiss on each cheek, hugged him tightly, and pulled back before he could react.

Jamie swallowed visibly. “Hello, Annalise.”

Oh, no. I could sense anxiety rolling off Jamie in waves. He was speechless, while there was something smug about Annalise’s own smile. The cow probably thought he was stalking her; still pining, after all this time. No wonder Jamie looked so panicked.

He was almost shaking, while Annalise waited for him to explain why he was there. And she was pointedly ignoring me completely.

Oh, this wouldn’t do.

“Hello! Did you just move in? I’m Claire, I haven’t seen you around!” I chattered brightly, channeling one of my old friends from university. Keeping it light and bubbly, but still honed like a knife. I practically shoved a hand in her face, forcing her to step away from Jamie.

Finally, Annalise took my proffered hand gingerly with her fingertips, like it was a dead fish. I flashed another insincere smile, even though I wanted to wipe my own hand on my jeans.

“Well, Claire, as it happens, I’ve lived here for quite some time now.” Her tone was condescending and forced. “James and I… we used to go out awhile back.” She glanced at Jamie as she said this, and he stared at his shoes. He looked trapped and desperate.

Admittedly, I had known him less than 24 hours, but he had helped me forget about a hellish night and torch some of Frank’s memories; I was his unconditional ally now.

Fuck her. Let’s do this.

“Oh really? Jamie, darling, you didn’t mention that!” I giggled and pressed myself against Jamie, lacing our fingers together.

Jamie only had time to look at me with wide, stunned eyes before Annalise butted in. “James, you are dating her? Since when?” Her nostrils flared, though she tried not to show her agitation.

I ignored her implied insult. “Hmmm, let’s see… about six months?” I replied. I leaned in and kissed Jamie’s surprised open mouth. “Best six months ever, am I right darling?” He still tasted faintly of booze.

“I, um, I think that…” Jamie stammered.

“So, we have not seen each other in almost a year, have we James?” Annalise crossed her arms over her chest, heel tapping. Where did this bitch come off acting self-righteous? I nuzzled Jamie’s neck lightly and turned to Annalise.

“Well, we’re moving in together. We just clicked, and everything happened so fast and it’s so intense, but just wonderful!” I gushed. I gave Jamie a light pinch on the arm; he shook his head as if to clear it, and I took the opportunity to stand on my tiptoes (damn his Viking height!) to plant another kiss on his cheek this time.

Moving in?” Annalise’s naturally high-pitched voice went up another octave, sounding strangled.

“Oh, yes, which reminds me, we’re late for the meeting with that realtor, so we should get going.” I nudged Jamie and stepped on his foot.

“Ann—Annalise, it was… good seeing you… again, and I, um…” Jamie gave me a side-long glance, urging me to help us escape.

“James, you never liked for me to call you Jamie,” Annalise said, still ignoring me.

“Actually, I do like it. ‘Twas you who didna care to call me that,” he managed, finding his voice at last.

“So, anyway, nice to meet you, Annalise! Have a good day!” I grasped Jamie’s forearm, locking it with mine and dragging him away.

Annalise stood there for a moment or two, before stomping off on her chunky-heeled boots, coat swinging. I tugged on Jamie, who was still out of it.

“Come on!” I hissed in his ear, and then we rounded the corner. Jamie slumped against the faded brick wall, and I let go of his arm.

“Oh Christ. It’s like I couldna even think, she made me shut down…”

“Breathe, Jamie. She’s gone.” I patted his back gently.

“It’s just… I didna think she still had that effect on me,” he said, wincing.

“The power to make you hurt?” I supplied. A feeling I knew all too well.

“Aye,” Jamie grimaced. He inhaled deeply until some color returned to his face.

“Are you feeling better now?” I asked, stamping my feet in the cold. The wind was still whipping against us.

“I think so. Where are we goin’, by the way? I thought the van was—“

“Well, I wanted to walk away from your ex in the opposite direction, so she wouldn’t know which was my car.”

“Why?” Jamie looked puzzled.

“You know, in case she felt inclined to scratch it with her fingernails or key the paint job, throw eggs or something.”

“Och, exacting revenge on the new girlfriend?” he teased, nudging me with his massive shoulder as we turned back; the coast was clear and blessedly Annalise-free.

It was my turn to stutter and flush red. “By the way, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. You know, with the kissing and hand-holding. Annie there was getting to me too.”

“Nah, ‘tis fine. That was some quick thinking. Thank ye for rescuing me like that.”

“My pleasure.” I stopped in front of the delivery van. “Here we are.”

Beauchamp’s Blooms was printed on the side of the van, in curly script, with purple orchids and violets in the background. Jamie traced his finger over the letters.

“I like it. The purple suits ye.”

“Those flowers are some of my favorites. Orchids mean love, luxury, beauty, strength. The violets symbolize that the giver’s thoughts are occupied with love about the recipient.”

“Ye speak the language of flowers,” Jamie said with a smile.

“It’s an easy one to learn,” I replied simply, before we climbed into the van and drove off. As Jamie fiddled with the radio on the van, I let the sounds wash over me.

For the first time in months, it felt like things would be alright.

Chapter Text

I owed Claire enormously for saving the last scraps of my dignity when faced with Annalise. Once I’d recovered from the shock of seeing her and Claire’s quick words (not to mention the kissing and cuddling in front of my ex-girlfriend), I rather enjoyed remembering the stunned-as-shit look on Annie’s face. I snorted to myself, knowing how much she truly hated being called that.

Who knows what could have happened if it had been just me in front of Annalise? I shuddered to think. I glanced at Claire as she made a left turn. I remembered the spiraling tattoo on her shoulder, now hidden beneath layers of clothing. I had the urge to ask more about her, her life, to know her as a friend. My gaze must have lingered on her for too long because she turned to me, a self-conscious blush spreading on her cheeks.

“What?” she asked, with a flick of her curls.

“Nothing. I was just thinkin’, I’m so grateful for what ye did. I was wondering if perhaps there was something I could do fer ye, make it up to ye?”

“Do for me? Like what? Jamie, you don’t owe me anything. I was simply helping out a friend in need.” Claire flicked on the wipers as a light Scottish rain began to fall.

“Friends? Aye, is that what we are?”

“Well, of course. Anyone who drinks that much whisky with me and wakes up in my bed can be considered more than a mere acquaintance,” she said with a nervous laugh.

“So, friends. I like it.” I cleared my throat. “Nothing to help ye with, then? Is there anything else of Frank’s you’d like me to help burn?”

“I think we got most of it. He packed up and left a while ago.”

“Do ye ken where he lives now? I could get my brother and trash his car with lead pipes,” I offered, half-joking.

“Lead pipes? Who are you?” Claire asked, giggling. It was a beautiful sound. It echoed in the empty van, light and free.

“Weel, my family runs a distillery, but my brother William’s a contractor. He knows some tough Glaswegians who could rough Frank up a bit. Ian—that’s my sister Jenny’s husband—and I could help too. Free of charge.” I tried to wink but as always, wound up blinking owlishly.

Claire laughed even more at that, coming to a full stop at a red light. “I’ll think about it and get back to you. So, William and Jenny?”

“Aye, that’s the three of us, and my parents, Brian and Ellen. They live up by Broch Mordha, family farm. And the whisky business too, of course. What about ye, any family about, Sassenach?”

She tilted her head, curls brushing her shoulder. I felt the sudden urge to push them behind her ear, touch her silky skin. I pressed my hands beneath my legs, willing them to be still. “I grew up with my Uncle Lamb. My parents died when I was five, in a car accident.”

“Och, lass, I’m so sorry.” I did feel bad for her, not really knowing her own parents while I was so close to my own.

“Thank you. It was a really long time ago, though, and I was so young. I remember bits and pieces, with my uncle’s help; he’s my family.”

We grew silent once more until the restaurant loomed up in front of us. Claire parked and set her hands in her lap. The rain still pattered steadily on the windshield, the sound contrasting with the squeaky wipers. The silence became charged all of a sudden.

“Alright then.” She bit her lip and drummed her fingers on her thigh, anxious-like.

I reached over and held them still. “Thanks again, Claire,” I said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

“You’re welcome,” she said simply, returning a squeeze of her own. I pushed open the heavy door and hopped out. I tugged my coat around my shoulders. I was about to walk away when a thought occurred to me.

I raced around the front of the van and tapped on the glass. “Oi, Claire?”

She glanced up, slightly startled. She rolled down the window. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just think, uh, it might be a good idea to exchange numbers,” I said, pulling my mobile from my pocket. I tried to shield it as much as I could from the rain. “Ye ken, in case of emergencies, flat tires, designated driver rides—”

“Encounters with exes?” Claire smirked. She rooted in her wee bag and gave me her phone. I programmed my number while she did the same on mine.

“I’m not getting the number to the local curry place, am I?” I joked, wondering if she might do just that.

“Nope. Just me. After all, you know where I live anyway,” Claire grinned.

“Dinna worry. I’m no a stalker or anything.” I peered through the restaurant window and noticed Janet already seated, looking straight at me and gesturing with her finger to get my arse in there.

“Thanks for the ride and all, Sassenach,” I parroted once more. I gave a halfhearted wave, dripping water.

“Anytime. See you around, Jamie.” Claire started rolling up the window. Before I lost my nerve, I leaned in quickly and pecked her on the cheek. I mean, she’d already kissed my slightly open mouth before anyway, right? She flushed red and her mouth quirked up at the corners.

“Bye, Claire.” I loped to the restaurant door and resisted the temptation to look back as she drove away.

And now, to face the Inquisition.

I shook water from my hair and made my way to my sister’s table.

“I just received the most interesting phone call, Jamie,” Jenny began. I gave her a brief hug, just to hear her protest at my sopping clothes. She had already ordered me a pint. I tasted it slowly, in case my hangover wouldn’t allow such a treat. It went down easy though, and I took a bigger swallow.

“Who called?” I grabbed a menu and perused my options.

“Annalise.”

“Wha’ the fuck?” I slammed the menu on the table and nearly knocked my pint glass over. A few of the other patrons turned to us, and I ducked as much as I was able.

“I was just as surprised as ye seem,” Jenny said coolly, signaling the server. “Minus the foul mouth, of course.”

“What did she say? What did she want?” I seethed, gripping the table for dear life.

“Hold yer wheesht.” She turned to the server. “I’ll have the halloumi fries, sticky chicken bites, and the mac bites. For him…” she trailed off pointedly.

“Burger. Cheeseburger. Whatever.” I took Jenny’s hand and wouldn’t let go until she looked at me. “Janet Flora Murray, so help me God—”

She laughed, enjoying her torture. “Jamie, relax. Ye ken I hate that hoor almost as much as ye do. It was just strange to hear from her after… ye ken…”

“After she broke my heart and left me standing there, a complete arse with a ring and a lease on a house? Aye, I’d say I hate her more.” I breathed in deeply, attempting to calm myself. I gulped down my pint, and gestured for another.

“Alright, I’ll tell ye word-for-word what Annalise said on the phone, but first, would ye answer a question fer me?”

“Aye, go on then.”

Jenny cocked her head curiously. “Who’s Claire?”

Chapter Text

Somehow, that kiss Jamie gave me right before he left made me feel stupid and giddier than waking up next to him. Even though nothing had happened. Maybe I kind of wished something had happened.

I wasn’t the type for one-night stands. I’d been in a committed relationship with Frank for so long… even if it was only really committed on my part. The wanker.

I pulled into Sainsbury with these thoughts in my head. I grabbed a trolley and scouted the aisles for the groceries I needed. I pulled a milk jug from the refrigerator and suddenly remembered Frank’s photographs, torn and burnt, covered in Weetabix and sour milk. I wondered why Jamie had refused breakfast that morning. Was he more of a Cookie Crisp kind of fellow?

I realized I knew practically nothing about him, other than his name, his ex-girlfriend, and his penchant for Laphroaig. I took my phone from my bag, hoping he had at least put in his last name. My thumb scrolled down the contact list. There he was.

Fraser. Jamie Fraser.

I had vaguely heard of the family name. I recalled he had mentioned they ran a distillery. I felt better, as though he wasn’t a perfect stranger anymore.

Jamie was handsome (alright, just plain bloody beautiful), fun to hang out with, had a steady job, a family. He danced, had blue eyes, and was willing to beat Frank with lead pipes.

I tossed in some instant macaroni and cheese, water crackers, a hunk of cheap brie. I considered an equally cheap wine bottle, but settled on sparkling water instead. I wondered what Jamie had thought of my sad food staples at home. I decided to go looking for cereal options and turned abruptly, accidentally bumping my trolley against another.

“Oh, sorry.” I pulled it back hastily and was about to drive away when I heard my name.

“Claire? Mon Dieu, is that you?” Before I could react, I was engulfed in a tight hug and lots of fluffy brown hair in my face. I recognized the accent—French, but thankfully not Annalise’s.

“Louise?” The trolley’s handlebar was really digging into my stomach. I pushed her away gently and met her luminous grin. I hadn’t seen her since we graduated 6th Form College.

Comment ça va? What have you been up to?”

“Oh, well, you know, work. The usual. I own a flower shop.” I shrugged. She might have known, although we were not following each other on social media, but we had friends in common, like Geillis. I should really give Geillis a call to tell her about Jamie. Then I realized that Louise was talking.

“That is great! I think us meeting today was meant to be! I’ll be needing a florist soon. Guess what? I’m getting married!” Louise shoved her left hand in my face and wiggled it around. A white gold band with a brilliant diamond sparkled on her third finger.

“Congratulations!” Jesus H. Christ, another engagement. I faked a smile for her. “Who is the lucky fellow?”

“Charlie, Charles Stewart. He’s a banker, very well-off financially.” She lowered her voice. “Works at Coutts, you know.”

“Oh.” I did know. His name caught my attention. “Did you say his name is Charles—”

“Ah, yes! Like Bonnie Prince Charlie! Family name, and all that,” Louise said proudly.

“Well, whenever you have time, look me up. It’s Beauchamp’s Blooms, I’m on Facebook and Instagram.”

“Of course, merci! You know, I’d just been thinking about you.” We both moved out of the way of an elderly lady who wanted to go by. I dragged the trolley out of the middle of the aisle and nodded absently. “I would like for everyone from our class to come to the wedding. So, expect your invitation in the mail soon, oui?”

“Absolutely, thanks!” I smiled and went to push my trolley away. Everyone in our class? But that would mean…

“Oh, Claire?” Louise’s tone was careful, curious. Oh, fuck.

“Yes?” I turned, gripping the handlebar with white knuckles.

“I was recently catching up with Frank Randall—works with the Duke of Sandringham, you know, close friend of Charlie’s—and he happened to mention that you two were no longer together.” It was a question.

Frank still found ways to humiliate me.

“Um, no, we’re not… together. Anymore,” I stammered, blushing to the roots of my hair.

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that. I only mention it now because the invitations are at the printers and are labeled ‘plus one’. But if you are not comfortable with that, I mean with Frank there, you do not have to—”

“You know, Louise? That is perfectly alright. I’d be delighted to come to your wedding. I appreciate the thought and I will be there. Plus one,” I said brightly, manufacturing a smile and pasting it on.

Bien! Well, I will call you about the flowers soon. I cannot wait for you to meet Charlie! He is really wonderful.” Louise smiled.

It was then that I realized I was being a bloody bitch. God, could I be more cynical, that I could begrudge Louise her happiness when it took nothing from me?

I relented and caught her by surprise when I leaned in again for a hug of my own. “Congratulations again, Lulu,” I said, using her old nickname. “I look forward to meeting your Charlie.” I let go of her quickly and made my way to the next aisle, no doubt leaving her a bit confused.

In that moment, I understood Jamie’s breakdown in front of Annalise. Were we so incapable of moving on that we resorted to feeling attacked and vulnerable every time someone else was remotely happy around us?

Jamie’s breakdown. Jamie.

James Fraser.

Bloody hell. Now I needed a date for Louise’s wedding. When we had given each other our numbers for emergencies, I didn’t realize I’d be having one five minutes later. How desperate would it be if I called him? Did it qualify as an emergency or just pathetic and sad? There was about a month to go before the wedding, I calculated.

I went through the check-out line and put the carrier bags in the back of the van. I raced home as fast as I dared in the slick streets to stash the groceries away.

I went to my room and flopped onto the unmade bed. I caught a whiff of scent on my sheets. It was part delicious cologne, part stale cigarette smoke, and a little bit of whisky fumes. It was strangely enticing.

I yanked my phone from my bag again and found Jamie’s contact information. I put my thumb over the name, barely touching the screen. To call him, or not to call him, to ask him for a major favor. I should call him. Just do it. And say what? Hey, it’s Claire. Remember me? The half-naked girl from this morning?

The phone rang.

Jamie Fraser flashed on the screen.

Bloody hell. Was he psychic? What could he be calling for? I had just seen him a couple of hours ago. The phone kept ringing. I dropped it on the bed and my clumsy fingers fumbled among the sheets. Quick, answer before he hangs up!

“Hello?”

Chapter Text

“Och, a ruadh, I dinna think I’ve seen ye blush this hard since ye fell off the swings into a mud puddle in second grade.”

“Shut it, Janet,” I muttered. Why was I so nervous over a girl I’d just met? I was twenty-five, not fifteen.

“No, ye promised you’d tell me who Claire was, if ye want the dirt on Annalise,” Jenny said smugly.

“Well, what did she say, specifically, about Claire?”

“Annalise claims Claire’s yer girlfriend,” she answered matter-of-factly. “Since when do ye have a girlfriend? Since when do ye even date, a brathair?”

“Oh God.” I bent over and banged my head on the table. The cutlery rattled to the beat. “She’s no’ really my girlfriend.”

“Dinna get me wrong. I’m thrilled for ye, but why would Annalise think she was?” Jenny sipped her drink slowly.

I raised my head, exasperated. “Look. I was at a pub last night. It was our… anniversary. It’s been a year since… ye ken?” I pleaded with my eyes to Jenny. Don’t make me say it. Jenny nodded, understanding. “So I was getting my drink on, and Claire was there, also getting sloshed over her own arsehole of an ex. We got completely pissed, we danced a little, and then one thing led to another and—”

“Sweet Lord! Ye slept with her?” Jenny squealed. Half the patrons turned to us and I grimaced, hunkering down in my seat. “I canna believe this, Jamie!”

“Would ye keep it down? No, I didna sleep wi’ Claire.” I ran my hands through my hair. “We woke up together at her flat, but we were both clothed.” I omitted exactly how clothed we really were. “I swear to ye nothin’ happened.”

“Are ye sure?” Jenny had a strange look on her face, like she hoped something actually had happened.

“Aye, completely. We’re both not entirely clear on last night’s details, but she offered me a ride here, and when we left her flat, it turned out her building’s right next to Annalise’s.”

“But why does Annalise think Claire is yer girlfriend?”

“Weel, when Annalise appeared from nowhere, I froze. I couldna think clearly, and Claire helped me save face in front of her. She told Annalise we were seeing each other. Just so I wouldna come off as the tosser I am.”

“Jamie, ye’re no tosser.” Jenny held my hand in hers. “Ye’re hurting. Who wouldna be? Ye gave her everything—”

“And she didna want any of it,” I said bitterly. Jenny didn’t respond; she simply shifted closer and put her arm around my shoulder.

I leaned into her a bit and that’s how we sat until the server brought our food. Jenny sighed and gave me one last squeeze.

“Alright, lad, let’s eat.” She pulled away and settled in front of her own plate.

“How’s Ian?” I asked, attempting to change the subject to less depressing matters.

“Och, nay, Ian’s braw. Ye havena finished telling me about this amazing girl who sent little Miss Annalise into a tailspin.” She dug into her fries, chewing deliberately.

“Hell, Janet,” I groaned, grabbing ketchup and mustard and spreading it inside the bun in a spiral.

“So, her name’s Claire,” she prodded, kicking me under the table.

“She’s my age, I think, or close enough. She owns a flower shop,” I told her.

“Is she Scottish?”

“Nah, she’s a sassenach.”

“James Fraser!” Jenny exclaimed, kicking me again but harder, on the shin. I winced and rubbed at the spot. “Ye dinna say that about people!”

“Jenny, ‘tis alright. ‘Tis my wee nickname for her.” I smiled, recalling our conversation on the matter.

“Still. What else?”

“I… that’s it. We didna exactly get a chance to talk much.” Jenny whispered something under her breath (man-hoor, I thought it was). “Oh, she has an uncle. Things were kind of awkward in the morning. We didna get into details.”

“Well, Jamie, ye might want to brush up on the details surrounding this lass.” Jenny popped a fry into her mouth. “Mam expects ye and yer new girlfriend for lunch next Sunday.”

I did a spit-take, spraying my pint all over the table. It dripped from my chin as I stared at Jenny, who was wiping the front of her blouse.

“Wha’ the fu—”

Jenny clamped her hand over my mouth before I could swear, then wiped it on my own shirt. “Calm down! Ye are so jumpy today!”

“How the hell did Mam find out about my girlfriend?” I hissed furiously, making air quotes around the word.

“Well, she called after Annalise, before ye arrived.” Jenny had the good grace to look a bit chagrined. “It was such big news, Jamie. I had to tell her.”

“And?”

“Jamie, she sounded so happy for ye. She was thrilled at the idea.”

“Of my girlfriend? Who is fake?”

“God, I canna eat this now. Ye sprayed it,” she mumbled, poking at her chicken.

“Janet, how am I supposed to get a pretend girlfriend by next Sunday?”

“Christ, Jamie, ye’re not getting a random lass to come to our parents’ house.” She smiled with satisfaction. “Ye ask Claire.”

“I canna use her like that.”

“Ye’re not using her. Ye tell her what happened, and I’m sure she’ll be happy to go along with the idea that she’s dating ye.”

“I dinna ken.” I swallowed. “Sounds like a cheap thing to do.”

“Jamie, if she’s yer friend… I mean, she already did it the once. Explain it to her.”

“I think it might be better to tell Mam the truth.” I signaled the server for the check.

“Really?” Jenny raised her eyebrows. “Tell Mam and Da that ye got pissing drunk and went home with some lass who claimed to be yer girlfriend in front of yer ex? Ye may be an adult, but Da would still have yer hide.”

Damn. She had me there. I sighed. “Fine, I’ll give her a ring.”

Jenny insisted on paying for our pint-soaked lunch. I pulled out my mobile reluctantly.

“I kent ye had exchanged numbers!” she said, eyes gleaming.

“Shut it. Were ye spying—I mean, watching the whole time?”

“Too rainy to get a good look in. Get on wi’ ye.”

I pulled up my contacts and scrolled. She wasn’t under Claire. I panicked briefly and thought perhaps she hadn’t saved the number properly before a thought popped in my head. I typed in the search bar at the top.

Sassenach.

Jenny was peeking over my shoulder and gave a mphmm of disapproval. “She put it in!” I said defensively. “Her last name’s Beauchamp, by the way.”

My finger hovered over her name, but just before I pressed it, panic set in. “Wait. What do I even say to her?”

“The truth would probably be a good place to start,” Jenny suggested.

“I guess.” I squeezed my eyes shut, and hit the button. A few seconds later, it began ringing on the other side. My stomach fluttered—hunger or nerves, I couldn’t tell.

It kept ringing.

Jenny kept her eyes on me quizzically while I drummed my fingers on the table. She wasn’t picking up. Shit shit shit.

What if she’d seen my name on the phone and didn’t want to talk to me? What if she thought I was a stalker? It was too soon to call, I knew it. If I got her voicemail, what message would I leave? What if—

The beeping stopped. “Hello?”

“Um. Hello. It’s Jamie. Remember me? The, uh, half-naked lad from this morning?” I glanced at Jenny to gauge how I was doing so far. She smacked me upside the head.

Chapter Text

He took the words right out of my mouth.

Say something back quick, you idiot!

“Oh, hi, Jamie. Of course I remember you.” I sat up straight on the bed, crossing my legs. My heart pounded strangely.

“Are ye busy right now? Am I interrupting anything?”

“No, not at all. I—I’m glad you called.”

“Really?” Jamie’s voice sounded tinged with relief. “Why?”

“Uh…” I was flustered. This was so awkward. “I was just about to call you, actually.”

“Are ye alright?” I could hear the bustling noise of people chattering and the occasional rattling plates. He was still at the restaurant.

“Oh, I’m fine! No, no, no, it’s nothing like that, but…” I decided to just tell him, like ripping off a plaster, quick and dirty. “I did have a favor to ask.”

“Sure. And, och, weel… so did I. That is, I have a favor from you. I mean, no—that came out wrong. I wanted to ask a favor. From ye. Obviously, you, that’s why I called ye—fuck,” he muttered.

I laughed at his rambling. “Alright, no problem. What kind of favor do you need?” A sexual favor, flashed through my mind. Oh, shut it you; it’s nothing of the sort! I gripped the phone and waited.

“It’s a bit complicated. See, after Annalise left, she called my sister Jenny. Ye remember I told ye about Jenny?” He took a deep breath. “So Annalise told her about us, ye ken. Dating. And then my mam found out because Jenny told her and—”

“Jamie?” I interrupted. “Please, just say it.” He was making me even more nervous about asking for my favor.

“My mam invited me and my new girlfriend to lunch next Sunday.”

“New girlfriend… oh. Oh. Meaning me, Claire, your girlfriend.” I blushed ten different shades, thanking my seldom lucky stars he couldn’t see me right now.

“Och, aye,” he said sheepishly. I could almost picture that lopsided grin as he spoke.

“Next Sunday you said?”

“Aye, ye’re probably busy, it’s nae bother. I’ll just say to my mam—”

“Next Sunday is perfect, Jamie,” I cut in, smiling stupidly.

“Is it?” He let out a relieved sigh, and I could hear a woman laughing in the background.

“Yes, absolutely. Is that Jenny I hear?”

“Please, ignore her. Now, next Sunday, and forevermore after that. Ouch.” I heard a small scuffle. “Stop it. Ye did not just pinch me, Janet Murray.”

“I like her already. So she knows the truth? About us?”

“She kens it all. Dinna fash. So, um, ye also meant to ask me something?”

“It’s just that… I ran into this old classmate at Sainsbury. She invited me to her wedding, and I… I need a date?”

“Are ye asking me to be yer date?” he teased.

“It’s a month from now. Yes or no?”

“Och, weel, if ye put it that way, how can a fellow refuse? It’s a yes from me,” Jamie laughed.

“Thank you.” I stood up and paced around my room. An idea occurred to me. “Jamie, if we’re going to pretend I’m your girlfriend to your parents, I think it might be a good idea to, you know, practice or something.”

“Practice?”

“You know, get our stories straight, where and when we met, all of that.”

“Aye, I see what ye mean. It’s a fine idea.”

“Shall we meet for coffee?”

“Now?”

“No, sometime this week.” My heart pounded again. I tapped my chest, wondering if I had stood up too fast to account for the sudden dizzy feeling in my head.

“Sure, how about Wednesday?” Jamie said, and Jenny squealed loudly through the phone. “Say, seven?”

“There’s a Costa Coffee near my flat. Can’t miss it.” There was another scuffle and a clear “You’re not invited, Janet,” more exclamations of mild pain, and phone static.

I grinned. “Say hello to her for me, will you? Looking forward to meeting her in person.”

“I’m looking forward to it myself, Claire!” Jenny said, before I heard Jamie yell for her to give him back his phone.

“Alright, I’m hanging up before they kick you out of the restaurant. I’ll see you Wednesday.”

“It’s a date. Goodbye, Sassenach.”

I ended the call and threw myself on the bed, very much dazed. I stared at the ceiling and inhaled Jamie’s lingering scent on the pillow. Wait a minute.

I sat straight back up. Date?

Chapter Text

This is not a date, not a date, not a date, I kept chanting in my head.

I walked through the door of the Costa Coffee, the aroma of roasted coffee beans sharp in my nose. It was mildly busy, a few customers milling around tables and a few others queued up for their evening caffeine fix. I scanned the tables, but she wasn’t here yet.

Of course, I was fifteen minutes early. One could say I was a bit overeager. I was also willing to admit (but only to myself) that I had spent close to an hour deciding what to wear.

I couldn’t believe I had said the words, “it’s a date” to her when we hung up last Sunday. I felt the strong urge to wipe the grin off Janet’s face as we bid each other goodbye after our lunch, except I was pretty sure she’d give back as good as she got, the wee meddling besom. So now I waited for Claire, coffee cup in hand, fingers tapping on the table.

I felt much better than I had in months. Not only was my ex-girlfiend mortified at the idea of me being happy and dating someone, but the lass I was supposed to be going out with was Claire: beautiful, witty, strong. And in turn, I was to accompany her to a wedding. As her date. We could also pretend to be dating there; I’d hold her hand, sit very close to her, maybe even slow dance again with her body pressed against mine—

With the chime of bells above the door, Claire’s appearance in the coffee shop distracted me from my increasingly lascivious thoughts. She shook off the light rain from her tangled curls, and then she spotted me. A smile lit up her face. Well. My memory had not done her justice. Granted, we had both been a bit pissed when we met, and then afflicted with massive hangovers, but now beautiful did not seem an apt enough description. She wore jeans, boots, a green sweater, and a thick black parka.

Claire strolled over to the small table and slid in front of me. She shrugged off her coat, with a simple, “Hi, Jamie,” and ducked her head shyly. I realized then that I hadn’t said a word, and I was still staring.

“Jamie?” Claire folded her hands in front of her, looking back quizzically.

“Oh, aye, lass. Sorry. How are ye?” I managed a crooked smile. A light blush colored her cheeks. Was it overwarm in here?

“I’m fine. Just closed down the shop. Could I have sip of that?” She gestured towards my coffee cup and I pushed it towards her, amused.

“I can get ye a coffee, if ye’d like. I just didna know what ye would fancy.”

“No, it’s alright. It would keep me up all night.” Her pale pink lipstick left an imprint on the rim, and I immediately thought about putting my own lips there. Focus, man!

“So, Sassenach. We have Sunday lunch coming up, and then a wedding to attend. As… a couple.” I could feel the tips of my ears burn. They’d almost match my hair. “Is that the way of it?”

Claire grinned sheepishly. “I guess so. We can always break up right after. No harm done.” She fiddled with the edge of her sweater. “How do you want to do this?”

“Do what?”

“This. Us. You know. On Sunday. For instance, how should we tell them we met? I doubt ‘blind drunk at a pub and wound up in bed together’ is ideal.”

“Guess not,” I laughed. “How about if we say we met here, at a coffee shop?”

“A little boring, but it works. We can say you spilled my coffee—”

“I’ve seen ye dance, Sassenach. More like you spilled the coffee.”

“Fine. And then I offered to buy you another one.”

“I asked ye out to dinner, since ye were so bonny and clumsy,” I said, trying to play it off.

“Or I asked you. This is the 21st century, you know.”

“They’ll probably find that more believable, since I’ve not been out with a lass in—a year.” I gulped, and took a swig of my coffee to cover it up.

“Okay. That’s sorted then. What other questions should we expect from your family?”

“Och, the usual, I’d say. Where ye grew up, yer parents, yer job.”

“Alright. It’s simple enough. I was born and raised in Oxford, until the age of five. I already mentioned what happened to my parents, and that I was taken in by my Uncle Lamb.” My breath caught at her recitation of the facts and I instinctively reached out to touch her hand in sympathy.

“And how did ye get involved with botany and flowers?”

“My uncle taught archaeology at Oxford. After I arrived, Lamb stopped traveling and focused on his teaching career. He kept a garden and tended it every free second he had. I used to help him and grew to love flowers. Lamb helped with the money to open the shop.”

“It sounds… peaceful.” My fingers were unconsciously tracing patterns on the back of her hand; she accepted the gesture, moving her fingers gently under my touch.

“It was. He’s still back in Oxford, retired, devoted to growing things.” Claire smiled fondly before turning her attention to me. “Was growing up on a farm peaceful too?”

“Sometimes.” I laughed. “Whenever Willie and I were not causin’ mayhem. Janet was easier, I suppose, but she never refused to play wi’ us unruly lads. She’s actually an artist – she designs the labels and paints in her spare time. Not a lot of that, with a son and daughter.”

“And the distillery?”

“That’s the Fraser family business. My uncles Dougal and Colum MacKenzie were the investors, my mam’s brothers. But the whisky we produce carries my father’s name – Fraser Fire. I run the business end, distribution and such. Jenny and Ian help with that, since they live close to Lallybroch. Willie lives in Edinburgh with his own lass, Mary MacNab.”

“That sounds lovely,” Claire sighed. “To have such a large, tight-knit family.”

“I canna say it’s easy sometimes, Sassenach, but we love each other. For the most part.” I grinned. “I wanted to murder Jenny last time, for what she said.”

“I don’t mind. I like her. She looks out for you. She wants you to be happy.”

We spent the next hour trading tidbits of our lives. We learned each other’s favorite color, favorite food, favorite place to travel. How she took her coffee (cream and sugar), if she liked movies (historical romances), how much her tattoo had hurt (a lot). I filed away all of this information for future consideration. 

A comfortable silence fell between us, once we had exhausted topics. Our hands were still intertwined, and I marveled at the normalcy and ease of touching Claire. It did not feel forced or awkward, but utterly right.

“Sunday then,” she said, breaking the spell. She removed her hand gently from mine, to check the time on her phone. “Should we meet somewhere beforehand?”

“I’ll pick ye up at eleven, yes? I ken fine were ye live, after all.” I smiled. “‘Tis a bit of a journey and we’ll need the four-wheel drive on my Jeep for a stretch of it.” The thought of a long road trip with Claire lifted my spirits immensely. “Do ye have to go?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. I’ll be doing a wedding in a few weeks and have to get the centerpieces designed, seasonal flowers ordered in, meeting with the bride to review all the details.”

“Would that be the wedding?” I raised my eyebrows and she laughed.

“That’s the one. We have a few weeks, though, so I’ll let you know about it later. We’ll tackle your family first.” We stood up and headed for the exit.

“My mam’s a good cook. If nothing else, ye can look forward to a great meal,” I offered, pulling the door open for her.

“I can look forward to so much more than that, Jamie.” Her honey-hued eyes held mine, piercing, suddenly bright and intimate in the middle of the coffee shop. I stopped breathing, the world grinding to a halt.

For a minute, I thought she would kiss me. We stared each other down, seeming to get closer and closer; our gaze flickered between meeting and tracing our mouths until all I wanted to do was close my eyes and lose myself in her.

Claire was suddenly stumbling, nearly falling into a slushy puddle. I caught her around the waist while an angry customer pushed past us, muttering about inconsiderate time-wasters.

“Are ye alright?”

“I am now,” she managed, our eyes locking again.

I held Claire close to steady her, fine strong fingers gripping my arms. We stood there in the misty cold rain, holding on to each other. I tried to recapture the intensity of the moment we had just lost.

But it was gone.

Chapter Text

“We’re here,” I said, glancing through the Jeep’s windshield.

“Oh, wow. I didn’t think the ride would feel so… short,” Claire said, peering up at the house. It was kind of intimidating, I supposed; a giant stone manor in the middle of rolling fields. Like something out of a fairytale.

Except the wolves were waiting inside, ready to pounce on us.

“Are ye nervous?”

“A little. I’ll be fine.” She turned to me and gave me a smile, shouldering her black purse. I smiled back and ducked out of the Jeep to open her door. Claire climbed out, stepping carefully. “Wait! The flowers!” She turned to the backseat door and pulled out yellow lilies wrapped in butcher paper and tied with a silver ribbon. Slamming the door behind us, we walked up the steps to the door.

I wondered if we should hold hands to make it seem more realistic. When I’d picked her up at her flat—my eyes darting around like mad in case Annalise appeared—and I saw her dressed up, I’d wanted to reach out and take her hand immediately.

We had driven over in comfortable silence. Claire had mentioned she didn’t know what to expect from lunch, so she’d had a small breakfast—more Weetabix. I laughed when I thought of the amount of food Mam always cooked. She commented occasionally on the songs from my Spotify playlists, and we kept up an easy conversation.

My hand was halfway to the doorknob when my mother appeared, and immediately engulfed Claire in a hug. I stood there like an idiot while my mam practically suffocated her; all I could see of Claire was her bewildered expression over my mother’s shoulder.

“Um, hello?” Claire managed.

“Oh, Christ, I’m so happy to meet ye, Claire! Ye are Claire, aren’t ye? Oh, do come in, ye must be freezin’! Can I take yer coat? What’s this?” My mother interrupted her gushing welcome as Claire tried to press the flowers into her hand.

“Aye, Mam, good to see ye too,” I grumbled, leaning in to kiss her cheek. Completely ignoring me, she patted my back and turned to Claire once more.

“They’re just flowers, you know, as a thank you for the invitation,” Claire stammered, blushing. She gestured with her hands as she spoke, clearly nervous. “Sorry I didn’t bring a vase.” My mother hugged her again tightly.

“They’re beautiful! Ye shouldn’t have!” Mam sniffed the lush blooms and ushered us further into the house. I trailed behind them, all but forgotten. I took off my own coat and followed them into the living room.

Mam was introducing Claire to my Da, William, and Jenny. My siblings, in turn, presented each of their partners. Jenny lost it completely and practically hurled herself at Claire in a vise-like hug. Claire couldn’t seem to lose the bewildered expression when confronted with the whole Fraser clan at once.

“Jenny, let the poor lass breathe,” I called out. I gave my Da a one-armed hug and clapped William and Ian on the back. I gave Jenny a gentle shove to get her to release Claire, which she returned twice as hard. “Ifrinn, Janet, that could bruise!”

“Jamie, language!” Mam warned. She led Claire over to Mary, who gave her a peck on the cheek and a warm smile. Jenny glanced over at me and gave me a discreet thumbs-up. I rolled my eyes at her approval.

“Where are the children, Jenny?” I missed the sounds of my rambunctious niece and nephew.

“Oh, off with Ian’s parents this weekend. Give us a bit of a break, ye ken.”

“When’s lunch then, Mam?” William asked.

“Will ye leave anything for the rest of us, Willie?” Ian joked, leading Jenny into the dining room. They both traded quips and insults while everyone made their way to the table.

“Here, Claire, sit next to Jamie.” Mam pointed out her seat and raised her eyebrows at me. I immediately stood behind the chair and held it out for Claire. She sat with a soft murmur of thanks. Da took his seat at the head of the table and winked at Claire, who smiled back and seemed more at ease.

“I’ll just bring the dishes in,” Mam called over her shoulder as she walked to the kitchen.

“Can I help with anything?” Claire asked, half-rising from her chair. Jenny and I both reached out to stop her.

“Nah. This is my mam’s thing. She doesna like for people to interfere with her cookin’. Even if it’s just servin’ it,” I said, while William nodded in agreement and stuffed a roll into his mouth.

“Really?” Claire looked around the table. Da leaned over to explain about Mam’s love affair with cooking, engaging her in conversation.

Mam came in with multiple dishes and trays, all laden with meat, chicken, salad, fresh bread, ham, and vegetables. It was all artfully arranged, in true accordance with her Cordon Bleu education.

Everyone dove in, while Claire watched in horrified fascination as food was served. I reached for her plate when she showed no inclination to dig in herself; she regarded me gratefully when I got her a bit of everything, unsure of what she’d like.

There was no silence at the table. Forks and knives clattered on dishes and conversations sprang all around. Mam gave Claire the third degree about her life; she tried to answer as politely as possible around a mouthful of food. Da insisted Claire call him Brian and asked about her flower shop, being somewhat of an amateur gardener himself.

Finally, after everyone had eaten their fill (and then some), my mother moved in for the kill. “So, Claire, how did ye and Jamie meet?”

Claire looked at me, and I nearly choked on the last bite of carrots. “Um, well…”

“It was at a coffee shop. She spilled her drink on me and offered to buy me another.”

“Yes, that’s it. And then we got to talking and exchanged numbers—”

“I asked her out and she said yes, that was a few weeks ago, and now here we are!” I added hastily.

My mother seemed on the verge of spilling joyful tears and Da positively beamed. Claire squeezed my hand under the table while we regrouped.

“Mrs. Fraser, everything was delicious. Could I help you clear up, make some tea or coffee?”

“Dear, please call me Ellen. And no, ye may not make the coffee, ye are our guest! Let's leave the dishes to the men, shall we? Ladies, care to join me in the living room?”

“Should I be worried, do you think?” Claire asked as she looked at my mother and the women.

“I think I’m the one who should worry,” I muttered, as Jenny and Mary pulled Claire away from me. Next thing I knew, Mam would pull out old photo albums of me with braces or as a toddler in the bath.

I was dragged into the kitchen to help wash up. The rule was, since Mam cooked, the rest of us had clean-up duty. Seemed only fair—except my mother used a ridiculous amount of kitchenware and appliances which had to be left spotless again. I kept my hands busy scrubbing away, until William sidled up to me.

“Sawney, a brathair,” Willie said, using my old nickname and clapping me hard on the shoulder. I jerked and he laughed, mussing up my hair.

“Stop it, ye eejit, I’ll break something,” I growled, spraying him with water.

“Well, I can certainly see what ye saw in Claire, she’s lovely,” Da commented, setting empty glasses next to me. I felt a twinge of guilt.

“Aye, Jamie, she’s grand,” Ian agreed, leaning against the kitchen island. “Ye look good together. Ye have a real connection.” I couldn’t tell from his tone if Jenny had appraised him of the truth.

“Have ye slept with her yet?” Willie asked.

I dropped the glass I was rinsing and it bounced in the sink with a clatter. I turned to gape at William, who was grinning.

“Willie, that is none of yer business!” Da chided, glaring at his firstborn.

“Arsehole,” I mumbled under my breath. Ian cleared his throat behind me.

“We understand if ye dinna want to tell us, it’s yer private life and—”

“I’m not telling ye anything about my sex life, aye?” I finally said, chucking the scrubbing sponge at Willie’s head. “And you!” I turned to Ian. “We could hear ye and Jenny in yer room at Christmas last year, and man, for Christ’s sake, it’s my own sister!”

They both had the good grace to look abashed for a moment, before offering apologies and heading back to the dining room for more dirty dishes. Da frowned, but said nothing.

I fetched the sponge from the floor and got back to scrubbing a frying pan before he spoke up.

“So Jamie, lad, are ye being safe?”

- - -

In the living room, Claire was perched on the big couch, with a photo album on her lap.

“Jamie, these pictures are amazing. Your mum has saved all these memories of you,” she commented, obviously delighted with the albums. Fortunately, Mam had updated the technology and newer photographs were stored in ‘the cloud’.

“Aye, she keeps one for each of us, full of birthdays, Christmases, all of it,” I said, casually claiming the space next to her. Claire bit her lip for a moment, misty-eyed. Having lost her parents so young, I didn’t imagine she had much in the way of photographs. A peek at her expression confirmed it. I touched her hand lightly in sympathy and she smiled.

“You’re lucky, you know. To have all of this. Your parents, your brother and sister.”

“I do know. They seem to really like ye, too.”

I realized that my family had left the room, and there was only Claire and me, our hands touching on our laps. I turned to look at her, and I could catch her scent—something like growing green things and jasmine. That strange spark from the coffee shop surfaced again, vibrating in the empty room, and I felt the urge to lean in and kiss her like I had almost done before. I was drowning in her amber eyes and they seemed to get closer and closer…

“Oi, it’s snowing!” William called out suddenly, and Claire and I sprang apart in shock.

The family all crowded around the windows in the living room, watching fat flakes fall in a white flurry.

“Well, the roads will be impassable,” Da said with a frown.

“There’s a snow storm headed this way, according to BBC,” Ian commented, scrolling on his mobile.

“Och, weel, ye’ll just have to spend the night here,” Mam said briskly. “Ye can sleep in yer old rooms.”

Ifrinn! Share a room with Claire? My parents would expect that? A hint of panic welled in my chest.

“Oh, Mrs. Fraser,” Claire began, glancing at me with worry in her eyes, “I can take the couch right here. If you have a few spare blankets—”

“It’s Ellen, dear, and please, dinna be silly! We’re all adults here. Ye can sleep wi’ Jamie in his own room.”

Chapter Text

We couldn’t really put up much of a fight about sleeping in the same room. Jamie and I smiled awkwardly and slunk off to a corner of the enormous living room by the newly kindled fireplace. To any onlooker, it might seem as though we were deep in an emotional or romantic conversation. The truth was, we needed to discuss our next move in this fake relationship of ours.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered, holding his hand and smiling so we wouldn’t give the game away.

“I dinna ken, Sassenach. My mam is clearly over the moon about us.” Jamie bit his lip, shaking his head.

“I think we may be a little over our heads here. How do we keep this up? For how long? I really enjoy your company, you must know that. But I think any future family lunches are off the table. I don’t like lying to your family, Jamie. They’re much too nice.”

“Aye, it’s hard for me too. I couldn’t ask that of ye anymore, after this.”

“Although, you still owe it to me to be my wedding date.” I flashed a smile at Jenny in the distance, who grinned back and returned to her conversation with Ian.

“I havena forgotten, dinna fash.”

Silence fell between us, broken occasionally by the rising howl of the approaching blizzard outside. It was terribly cozy in the house, though. Perhaps staying the night wouldn’t be the ordeal I was imagining; it had to be better than a lonely night in my flat.

We sat in companionable silence, our legs touching. I was immensely comforted by the warmth of the fire, the soft murmur of conversation, Jamie beside me. I hadn’t felt so homey in a long time. Eventually, William and Brian pulled out a chessboard and sat by the fire. My interest was immediately piqued; Jamie noticed and smiled.

“Do ye play?”

“Well, Lamb taught me when I was young. Oxford winters were long, you know.” Lamb and I would spend hours poring over a chess board; Jamie had no idea how skilled I actually was at chess.

“Hey Da,” Jamie called. “Let Claire play against Willie.” He smiled mischievously. “He was president of the chess club at school and at university.”

“Oh, really?” I regarded Willie innocently. “I guess I could play a game.” I took the seat Brian graciously offered me and faced William. He set up the board and I chose the white pieces. Jamie sat beside me – I hoped it wouldn’t prove a distraction. I opened with the Queen’s pawn to D4. I kept my expression as neutral as possible, knowing my glass face could betray my next moves. Willie’s eyebrows shot up as we continued to play, countering each other’s moves. Jamie’s smile kept widening as Willie began to visibly sweat.

After half an hour or so, when I had captured many of the black pieces, I carefully positioned my knight and waited. Brian and the rest of the family surrounded us, their eyes trained on Willie. Finally, with a sigh, he toppled over his king and conceded the match.

The Fraser family cheered, and to my surprise, rallied around me.

“I canna believe ye used the Queen’s Gambit!” William exclaimed. “I didna see that coming!”

Brian swept me up in a hug; I looked over his shoulder at Jamie, who positively beamed. “No one’s beaten Willie in ages—this is a first, Sassenach!”

The room suddenly fell silent at Jamie’s use of the word. Ellen looked aghast with shame and her cry of “Jamie!” brought us out of our reverie. Brian held me even tighter and his face like thunder demanded an explanation from his son.

Jamie’s cheeks burned as bright as his hair as he stammered, “Och, no, Mam, ye dinna understand—”

“How could you?!”

I jumped in myself, and Brian let me go as I tried to explain. “No, Ellen, it’s alright, really. I know what it means, and I know it’s usually used as an insult, but that’s precisely why I’ve co-opted the word, you see. As a nickname. But only Jamie gets to call me that.”

Slowly, the tension in the air diffused as they understood I really meant what I said. Jamie led me away from his father’s side and tucked me into his own. As he laid a soft kiss to the crown of my head, I wrapped my arms around his middle; this display of affection served its purpose, and everyone relaxed.

As the evening grew later, we eventually trooped into the kitchen to reheat the lunch leftovers—no sense in letting so much food go to waste. Willie sat next to me and we discussed chess strategies. It got so, I managed to forget what awaited us at bedtime. Until the men started clearing up the dishes again, and Jenny made a big show of yawning and saying how tired she was. I gave her a dirty look, and she had the nerve to wink at me.

“Weel, I suppose Ian and I are calling it a night. Thank ye, Mam, everything was delicious.” She gave Ellen a kiss on the cheek and whispered something in her ear. Ellen nodded and smiled; I didn’t like that at all.

“Jamie?” she called out. “A bhalaich, why don’t ye head upstairs with Claire. The lads can finish up in here.” Ellen smiled at me like she offered a delightful treat. Jamie stepped out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his jeans. He looked at me and I shrugged helplessly. He kissed his mother goodnight as well and hugged his father. We trudged upstairs, well aware that Ellen was staring at us with a rapt expression.

When we reached Jamie’s room, he closed the door behind us with a soft snick. I glanced around the room, trying to get a sense of who Jamie was at Lallybroch. There was an old-fashioned mahogany bedstead, a reclining sofa, a fireplace, and dresser. It was simple, beautiful, and comfortable, much like Jamie himself.

He went over to the dresser and pulled a couple of drawers open. “I keep some clothes here; they’ll be a bit large on ye, but they’re warm enough.” Jamie handed me a pair of flannel pajama trousers and a sweatshirt; when I held them against my body, the trousers trailed about a foot on the floor and the sweatshirt reached my knees.

“Thanks. I’ll just fold up the bottom bit for the trousers.” The room, mostly unused, was quite chilly. Jamie set about lighting up the fireplace. I walked around, looking at everything in the room; I touched the spines of battered old books by Robert Burns, J.K. Rowling, and Ian Fleming.

Finally, when the flames were hot enough, Jamie stood up and stretched, groaning in satisfaction. “All set, Sassenach. Um, would ye like to… use the toilet first?”

“Alright, thank you.” Even though the house was old, it had had its own bathroom added sometime in the forties, or so Jamie informed me. He flipped the switch and the bathroom was flooded with light.

“All yours,” he said. “There’s fresh towels under the sink.”

I slipped inside and closed the door. I washed the makeup off my face, brushed my teeth with my finger, and combed through the unruly curls. I shimmied out of my clothes, pulling on Jamie’s borrowed pajamas. They were soft and worn in all the right places, smelling of fresh laundry detergent and faint traces of Jamie’s own scent. I hugged my arms about me after rolling up the sweatshirt sleeves to my elbows to make it fit. I was suddenly startled by a knock on the door.

“Claire? Do ye need anything?” Jamie’s voice was muffled.

“No, I’m done.” I clicked the door open, and gestured him inside. “Take your time.”

I was pulling back the duvet and blankets from the bed when he emerged, dressed similarly to me. I couldn’t help myself; I pointed at us and laughed. Jamie smiled, looking down at his choice of sleepwear. Then he noticed me turning down the bed.

“Och, Sassenach, dinna fash. I’ll be taking the floor.” I knew he was remembering my words about sleeping on the couch downstairs.

“Jamie, it’s freezing. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable for my sake.”

“I willna be uncomfortable. The duvet alone is like a mile thick. I’ll be fine.” He pulled the goose down comforter away from my hands gently and took a pillow from the queen-sized bed to lay them on the floor.

I climbed onto the tall bedstead, curling up on my side; I refused to take up all of the space when Jamie was going to sleep on the floor.

“Are ye alright?” he said from somewhere at my feet near the fire.

“Yes, absolutely. Are you sure you don’t want—”

“Sassenach, ‘tis fine. Will ye get the light, please?”

“Sure. Goodnight.” I reached over to switch off the lamp on the nightstand, and not two seconds later there was a knock at the door.

“Jamie? Claire? May I come in? I have some pajamas for Claire.”

Ifrinn!” Jamie hissed. He scrambled to his feet and almost tripped over the duvet.

“Quickly, get in!” I whispered, flipping the blankets over. He paused for a second before tossing the comforter on top of the bed and sliding in next to me. I tucked myself against his side, resting my head on his shoulder and Jamie put his arm around me. I shivered; was it the cold or something more?

“Aye, come in, Mam!” Jamie called.

Ellen poked her head through the door and smiled, seeing us cuddling on the bed.

“Claire, dear, I brought ye some of Mary’s pajamas. I thought Jenny’s might be too small for ye to wear.” She gestured at the pile of clothes in her hands.

“Oh, thank you Mrs. Fra—um, Ellen, but Jamie already lent me some of his own clothes.” I smiled as sincerely as I could. I could feel the heat radiating from Jamie’s body next to mine.

“Well, if ye’re comfortable then. Jamie, yer da brought in some extra wood if ye have need; it’s in the kitchen. If ye want anything, we’re right down the hall. Good night.”

“Goodnight,” we repeated as she shut the door. We glanced at each other and burst into a laugh. I could feel his heart pounding beneath my hand resting on his rib cage, and imagined it was the adrenaline rush of almost being discovered by his mother. A thought occurred to me.

“Jamie, what if she comes back?” I asked softly, trying to look up at him but only seeing his chin.

“I dinna ken. She might, just to check on us. It’s rare that she has all three of us under her roof.” Jamie’s grip tightened across my shoulder involuntarily.

“Let’s just both stay in the bed. We’ve done it before, after all. And nothing happened, you know? I trust you.” I blushed furiously, hoping he wouldn’t see it in the dim light.

There was a sharp intake of breath. “Of course, I would never… take advantage. It’s just, the situation, ye ken—” he stammered.

“I do know. Thank you for that. Um, sleep well.”

I tried to extricate myself gently from his side, before he caught on and pulled away, embarrassed. We stared at each other for a beat, two beats… then we turned away from each other. We kept a foot of distance between our bodies on the bed. Jamie switched off the lamp and lay on his side, as far away from me as he could get.

“Goodnight, Sassenach.” His voice was quiet in the dark. All we could hear was the crackle of flames in the fireplace and the wind howling outside the stone walls. I still had something I wanted to say.

“Jamie?”

“Aye, lass?”

“Thank you for asking me to Lallybroch.”

“Ye’re most welcome,” he said softly. After a few more minutes, there was only the sound of his deep breathing. Jamie was asleep.

I was very much aware of his body, large and warm, slumbering beside me. Nothing’s going to happen, I reasoned. I wasn’t afraid it would. Perhaps I was finally more afraid that it wouldn’t—not with Jamie. A feeling within me I thought long-dead was waking up, like a root taking hold before it blossomed into something more.

Bloody hell. I was in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

Consciousness dawned slowly. I was warm and cozy under the blankets, firmly tucked up to my chin. I was curled on my side, like a wee shrimp. I nestled my head further into the pillow, trying to burrow even deeper. Something tickled my nose. It smelled like jasmine and green growing things. Why did my pillow smell of flowers?

My eyes flew open. I tried to focus on my surroundings. Stone walls, rich dark wood, a crackling fire. This wasn’t my flat. Where the hell was I?

My left arm was draped over a shapely lump under the covers. I was also spooning said lump. My hand gripped something soft and warm. I struggled to rise, trying to dispel the fog in my brain. The shape felt vaguely familiar.

“Oh!” I cried, flopping back down. My hand involuntarily squeezed, and another voice mumbled, “Isn’t it a little early for that?”

Claire.

It all came rushing back. Sunday lunch, the photo albums, the chess game, enough food to feed an army, and a snow storm that wouldn’t let us leave my parents’ farm.

Ifrinn—Claire. She was the shape I was spooning. It might be her breast I was clutching. To make matters worse, I could feel a bit of a situation pressed against her backside. I shifted, trying to move away from her; however, Claire apparently wasn’t having it. She nestled harder against me, her lovely round bum seeking the hollow of my thighs. She found her target, grinding gently against me. This really wasn’t helping matters below.

I tried once again to disentangle my arm from her side, but she clung to my hand, molding it firmly to her breast. I could feel her nipple rise beneath the cloth of the sweatshirt she wore, and she moaned softly. I had to speak up.

“Claire?” My voice was low and raspy with the dregs of sleep and the slow burn of desire.

There was a pause in her movements and the air was suddenly charged. I was certain she was awake now.

“Jamie?”

“Aye. We’re at Lallybroch, remember?”

“Oh. Yes, I—I know.” Claire lay still, processing the information and her surroundings. I gave her time, until her silence became unbearable.

“Claire? Is everything—”

She turned unexpectedly in my arms, her lips urgent on mine. She was kissing me, and I was kissing her back. We were still pressed closely, so thoroughly I could feel every line of her body, firm and alive and wonderful. As her tongue delicately traced my lips, asking for admittance, I dimly realized my hand was still on her breast; it seemed to be kneading and caressing of its own accord. Claire’s hands wandered down my back and grabbed my arse in generous handfuls.

“Jamie?”

“Mmm?” My mind had slipped into a haze, my own hands now trailing over her curves, hidden beneath the clothes I had lent her. I wondered, not for the first time, if anything similar to this had happened on that fateful night we met.

“Is this alright? I mean—” her breath hitched as she crushed her body to mine and I felt exactly how alright this really was. “Do you want this?”

“I want nothing else, Sassenach.” I managed that coherent sentence before I slipped a hand beneath the sweatshirt, fingers following smooth skin along the groove of her spine. I remembered her tattoo and was overcome with the desire to see it, to touch it, to taste her there. As if reading my mind, the overly large sweatshirt slid off Claire’s shoulder.

I was finally able to discern the scrolling shapes of her tattoo. It was a gladiolus as she had said, the black lines of the marks swirling and intricate. I traced them all with my fingertip, and Claire moaned and bit my neck gently.

“It means strength, ye said?” I said into her skin as I kissed my way down her shoulder.

“Yes,” Claire murmured. “I got it after… you know.” She crossed her arms at her navel and pulled the sweatshirt off. My breath caught in my throat at seeing Claire, half-naked, luminous in the early morning light that crept through the window. She tugged at the hem of my shirt, and I obliged, putting my arms up as she removed it. Skin to skin, I drew the duvet over us, creating a pocket of warmth. Blue and amber met, and our hands intertwined.

I swallowed. “What do ye want, Claire?” Her hands were small in mine, warm and delicate like flowers themselves.

“I want you to… to touch me, Jamie. I don’t think I’m ready for more right now, but… could you just…” Claire guided my hand to the edge of the elastic on her trousers, nudging my fingers beneath the waistband.

“Aye, Sassenach.”

Our lips met in a kiss again, as I touched her where she wanted. I found the apex of her thighs; I pressed and circled and rubbed, feeling her writhe against me. I touched her further down, in the slippery cleft between her legs. Moaning, Claire reciprocated, taking hold of my cock and stroking, pulling, tugging. My eyes rolled back in my head with pleasure.

“Holy God,” I muttered, my body hurtling towards release. It had been far too long since anyone besides myself had touched me like this.

“Don’t stop now,” Claire panted, nipping my ear as we urged one another to completion. With a muffled cry, I spilled myself into her hand, shuddering uncontrollably. Barely lucid, I increased the speed and pressure of my fingers; her own climax followed soon after.

We lay together, legs tangled and our morning breath mingling. Eventually, she removed her hand from inside my pajama trousers. I winced, thinking of the mess.

“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” I apologized, and handed her my t-shirt to wipe her hands.

“It’s quite alright,” she smiled, suddenly shy. “I think I’ll take a shower, if you don’t mind.” She extricated herself from my side, and awkwardly climbed off the high bedstead, searching for her sweatshirt to cover her chest. The ink of her tattoo contrasted sharply with the pallor of her skin, moving sinuously as she made her way to the bathroom. I had to say something.

“Claire, I—I hope ye dinna have cause to regret this.” I cleared my throat as she paused and turned her head. “Ye are lovely, and beautiful, and I… weel. Can I ask ye something?”

“Of course.”

“Did ye like it?” My hands twitched nervously, fiddling with the blankets. My question revealed something else about Claire Beauchamp—she had a glass face, and every thought she had could be read flitting across her expression. I saw surprise, shock, and finally, truth.

“I did like it, Jamie.” She gave me a lopsided smile, her gaze candid and tinged with a happy sort of embarrassment.

“Oh.” I grinned back, feeling suddenly boyishly foolish and glad. “Well, we aim to please.” Nodding, she stepped into the bathroom and shut the door behind her. I cleaned myself up as best I could while waiting for my turn in the shower.

I thought briefly about knocking and asking to join her. I thought about touching Claire again, kissing her, perhaps making love to her…

A Dhia. I was in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

I’d been dreaming of Jamie.

I had dreamed of his hands roving all over me, touching me, pleasuring me. I thought I had dreamt his hand on my breast, his arousal pressed against my bum, and I shamelessly ground my body on his, in my lust-fueled dream. The sound of his voice had hit me and it had stopped being a dream.

I’d made it become reality. I’d gone for broke and kissed him, and more. What on earth had possessed me to do that?

You’re insanely attracted to him, that’s why.

He hadn’t rejected me, and for that I was grateful. But now paranoia had set in and I was worried about what our encounter would do to our budding friendship. Afterwards, I had felt a little stilted and awkward. He gave no outward sign of discomfort, but was attentive and polite as usual.

But now that I knew what Jamie looked like in the throes of passion, starting a conversation became doubly hard. The roads had been cleared, the snow storm having spent itself in a night. After breakfast with his family and being hugged goodbye by everyone (including my vague promise to Ellen about coming back soon), he had driven me home; the radio was on a little bit loud, breaking up the silence between us. We managed a few half-smiles, a brush of hands here and there, and a promise to call each other soon. We had a wedding to attend, after all.

I had a few texts from Louise and a voicemail, who wanted to go over the flower arrangements one final time, now that the wedding invitations had been mailed and RSVPs were pouring in, including mine. The wedding was set in a few weeks, right before Christmas. The shop was closed on Mondays, but I texted her back so we could meet up later that week. I did a load of laundry. I went over some invoices for the shop. And all the while, in the back of my head, the memory of Jamie’s mouth and hands on me lingered.

The ringing of my phone startled me out of my reverie; Jamie Fraser flashed on the screen, and my heart pounded in double-time. The tension in my shoulders eased and I felt something unclench in my stomach I hadn’t even realized was there.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Sassenach, it’s Jamie. Well, o’ course ye ken that, mobiles show ye who’s calling, don’t they. But why do we always answer the phone like we dinna ken who’s calling, right?”

“Hi, Jamie. You know, you’re right about that. I’ll start answering my phone differently from now on.” I laughed, set further at ease by the Scottish burr of his voice.

“Och, weel, I just wanted to thank ye for accompanying me to lunch. And being so nice to my family. They absolutely loved ye, I think ye could tell. And I wanted to say… sorry. I guess. For the… this morning, ye ken. In case ye were regretting it. Or if ye think I was out of line.”

“Actually, Jamie, I was hoping you didn’t think I was out of line.” My hands fiddled with the papers on the table. “I think I was pretty clear about what I wanted. But maybe you didn’t want to be pawed at and I don’t want you to think that it’s all I wanted from you. You’re my friend, and I wouldn’t want this to come between us.”

“Friend?” Jamie repeated.

“Of course, I consider you my friend,” I said, confused. “Aren’t we friends?”

“Aye, of course, Claire.” He paused. “There was one more thing I wanted to ask ye. As friends, then.”

“Sure.”

“I meant to ask ye out. On a proper date.” Jamie’s tone went up on the last word, making it sound like a question.

“A date.”

“A real one. Not just coffee—unless that’s what ye would like, of course. But I thought perhaps dinner.”

“Yes.” I didn’t hesitate any longer. My fingers gripped the phone tightly, and the swooping feeling of butterflies was back in my stomach, but for a good reason.

“Really?” Jamie asked, incredulous.

I laughed again. “Yes, Jamie, I’m saying yes. Would this Friday be alright?”

“Sounds perfect. Shall I pick ye up at 7? Did ye have anything in mind that ye’d like?”

“Whatever you choose will be fine. I trust you.”

He didn’t know how much.

- - -

For the rest of the week, I spent my days dreaming about my date with Jamie. Date, date, date. A real date. I put in flower orders for bouquets and tended to the indoor plant boxes that held rosemary, parsley, and thyme, but all the while my thoughts were with Jamie.

After meeting Louise on Friday morning for some final wedding details, I left the shop in a hurry, already planning my outfit in my head. Dress up, or seem casual? Maybe a mix of both? As I ransacked my closet, pulling out shirts and jeans and the few dresses I owned, I decided to call Geillis.

“I have a date tonight.” I didn’t even bother to say hello as soon as she answered.

“Ye do?” Geillis Duncan was one of the few people in Glasgow who’d made Frank and me feel welcome back when we were new to the city. She owned a small but popular café near the flower shop. Our friendship had survived my breakup; it dawned on me that we hadn’t talked to each other in a couple of weeks, and she knew nothing about Jamie. I filled her in on some of the details, keeping the most recent private ones to myself.

“So he’s picking me up in like, an hour, and I don’t know what to wear!” I wailed, trying to zip up the back of a dress and giving up in frustration.

“It sounds like ye’re overthinking this, Beauchamp,” Geillis said. “Why don’t I come over now and lend ye my black skirt ye like so much and the yellow top? It’ll bring out the color of yer eyes, I’m sure Jamie will love ye in it.” She was giggling madly at the idea.

“Don’t tease me, Geil, I’m so not in the mood right now. But thank you.”

We hung up, and twenty minutes later she was at my door, helping me with my hair and make-up after I had dressed. I knew there was an ulterior motive to her being at my flat, and she confirmed in no uncertain terms that she wanted to see Jamie herself.

“Geillis, please don’t—”

“Relax, Claire. I just want to see the lad’s whose bonny red hair has ye in such a fluster.”

You have red hair, you know.”

Geillis clucked. “’Tis not the same, and ye ken it. When will he be here?”

Before I could respond, there was a knock at the front door. It was promptly seven o’clock, and I glanced at Geillis in a panic. She smoothed down the skirt and pushed me towards the entrance. Heart pounding, very much aware that Geillis was peering gleefully around the hall for a glimpse of Jamie, I opened the door to find a very dapper Jamie. In dark jeans, a pressed sky-blue shirt and a black coat. The hues of his outfit brought out the intense sapphire of his eyes as his own gaze raked me over and seemed please at what he saw. I blushed.

“Hello, Sassenach.” He leaned in to kiss my cheek and his fingers lingered briefly on my arm. I caught the scent of his cologne, like tart lemons and spice.

“Hi, Jamie.” We stood there for a few seconds that seemed an eternity, before a loud harrumph and a fake cough from Geillis broke us out of our reverie. Jamie peered into the flat as I quickly grabbed my purse from the kitchen table where I’d left it before.

“Is there someone here with ye, Sassenach?”

“It’s my friend Geillis, but don’t worry, you don’t need to meet her and she was just leaving. Weren’t you, Geil?” I raised my voice for her benefit as I led Jamie out of the flat. “Lock up when you go!” I shut the door on one of her loud laughs; I was sure to hear from her later.

We walked to the stairs and Jamie tentatively reached for my hand. I grasped it firmly and squeezed in reassurance. Traipsing down the stairs, and remembering the last time we had done so together, I felt stupidly happy and shy all at once.

The restaurant he’d chosen was a low-key pub tucked into one of Glasgow’s winding alleys. We ordered wine and the awkwardness that I’d feared after our previous encounter was gone. Jamie and I talked animatedly about our week; my preparations for the upcoming wedding and flower arrangements, and he told me of the distillery and all the Christmas orders they had to fill.

“I was thinking of a new special blend; aging whisky in tequila barrels, not regular oak. The flavor is more complex, so different from what I’ve tasted. I plan to call it something like da anam, two souls.”

“That sounds very different! Where would you get the barrels?”

Jamie spoke of partnering up with several tequila producers in Mexico, as I speared rosemary potatoes with my fork; all the while we poured glass after glass of ruby wine for each other. Conversation flowed between us just as effortlessly.

Over dessert sometime later, I felt the back of my neck prickling. I sensed eyes on me, and they weren’t Jamie’s. It felt wrong, somehow.

I turned my head slightly and found Frank looking at me. He was with Sandy; he quickly bowed his head and shifted his attention elsewhere. I felt my face flush. I swiveled back and dropped my fork with a clatter.

“Sassenach? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t—it-it’s Frank.”

“Where?” He looked around wildly and I shushed him and clamped my hands on his arm in desperation.

“He’s back there, with the blonde. Just—be discreet.” Jamie got a good long look and then leaned in to whisper quietly.

“Didn’t ye say Sandy—his fiancée, with the giant ring ye mentioned. Wasn’t she supposed to be pregnant?”

“She might have had the baby, I don’t know. Her stomach was pretty big last time I saw her.” I sneaked another look.

It wasn’t Sandy.

She was blonde like Frank’s fiancée, but this wasn’t her. She looked even younger, fresher-faced, and was definitely not pregnant.

Cheating, lying, bastard.

I took deep breaths and Jamie ran a hand soothingly down my back. I shivered and grabbed my coat off the back of my chair.

“Jamie, I’m sorry, can we go?”

“Of course, Sassenach.” After quickly settling the check, he stood up as unobtrusively as a six-foot man ever could and pulled out my chair. He put his arm around me as we walked quickly to the exit.

It was inevitable that we pass by Frank’s table, though. The restaurant was a bit crowded and the layout made it impossible to avoid him. As we did, I got up the courage to meet his eye, bolstered by Jamie’s warm hand on my back. He wore a shamed expression, and could not hold my gaze. The woman stared back curiously at us, and I heard her ask him who I was.

“No one,” Frank replied, a slight tremor in his voice. Jamie tightened his grip on me, and I knew he’d heard him too.

Jamie came to a sudden halt near their table; he turned to face me, and with a soft whispered, “I hope ye dinna mind this,” pressed a soft kiss to my pursed lips. I opened my mouth in surprise, and he continued to probe gently. I found my arms rising to encircle his waist, clutching at the back of his coat. I dimly heard Frank clear his throat and murmur something unintelligible. I had ceased to care, though, lost in the fog of kissing Jamie.

Jamie’s mouth trailed across my cheek. “Dinna listen to him, Sassenach,” he whispered as he nuzzled my ear. “Ye’re so much more than ye know.”

Chapter Text

The encounter with Frank had shaken Claire deeply. To find him being unfaithful again—and this time, to the woman he was engaged to, who carried his bairn—for me, was unforgivable.

I thought over and over about my words to Claire. While I drove her home, her hand clasped in mine, I realized that I had spoken true—she was so much more than she knew, to me. I wondered how to win her affections. Despite our heated close encounter at Lallybroch, I knew for me it meant more than physical release. I had felt a deeper sort of intimacy, in spite of not knowing each other for very long, and I thought Claire did too.

But I had to tread carefully. She was still quite sore in her heart from what that arsehole Frank had done to her—wounded her pride and idea of self-worth. If I was to have half a chance with her, I needed to prove first how much I truly cared for her.

We reached her flat. I walked her up the stairs and we lingered for a minute outside her door. I wanted to say something to take away the sting of Frank’s words but before I could speak, Claire threw her arms around my neck. Her grip was vise-like, and I understood she was seeking comfort and reassurance. When her body pressed mine against the door with a soft thump, I realized something else.

“Claire, I dinna think—”

“I’d like you to come inside, Jamie.” Her voice was muffled against my shoulder, and I felt my own face redden at the double-entendre—whether she intended it or not. I was reluctant to leave her alone while she was so low, but I also didn’t want to accept her invitation for the same reason. However innocent my intentions, my instinct told me it wouldn’t be wise.

I extricated her arms from around my neck, and cradled her small hands in mine. “Claire, I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe.” Truer words were never spoken; my heart pounded at the thought of touching her again, and I swallowed hard, throat bobbing. I leaned forward to rest my forehead against hers. “But I also ken ye’re hurting right now and feel I would be taking advantage of the situation if we… if we were to take things further. Tonight, at least. Do ye understand that?”

Claire nodded slowly, her fingers tangling with mine. She sniffed, her eyes swimming with tears as she glanced up to meet my gaze. It broke my heart; I squeezed her hands gently and ran my thumbs slowly on the back of her hand.

“Sassenach, I’d like verra much to kiss ye. May I?”

She nodded as I came forward, and pecked her softly on the cheek. She seemed surprised, and it elicited a small laugh from her. Relief welled in my chest and I smiled back.

“I don’t think I told you,” Claire began, as she fished for the keys to her flat in her purse. She jiggled the lock and pushed the door open, flicking the lights on as we walked in. “Frank’s invited to the wedding as well.”

“What? Why?” I sputtered. This was getting worse and worse.

“We were all in school together. Louise—my classmate who’s getting married—invited everyone and their grandmother to the wedding. She’s marrying a very wealthy man who works in banking.”

“Sassenach, I canna for the life of me see why ye would attend at all.” She led me to a soft plushy couch and we sat next to each other, knees bumping.

“Pride.” Claire stared at her hands, knotting her fingers in her lap. “I want to show Frank that I’m alright. That he didn’t break me. Even if—”

I reached out and laid a tentative hand on hers. “He didn’t, mo nighean donn. Ye are strong. Ye wrote it on yer skin, didn’t ye?”

She touched the spot over her shoulder where the tattoo was inked. “It was… not so much what he said, but how – how dismissive he was. Does that make sense?”

“I understand, Sassenach. I’d be willing to engage in a crass amount of public displays of affection at the wedding as well. How does that sound?”

“Alright.” She laughed briefly, before turning serious again. “But I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, Jamie. I don’t want you to feel…”

“Used?”

Claire nodded, biting her lip worriedly.

“I dinna feel that, not at all. We agreed we’d help each other, did we no?” I didn’t move my hand away and it wasn’t long before our fingers twined together. We each found it was easier to talk that way; it took away some of the awkwardness that lingered occasionally, knowing what we did about each other.

Claire was the first to break a minute of silence. “What it is between us, Jamie. Is it… usual? When I touch you?”

My heart redoubled its pace. Did she feel as I did? Not wanting to urge her in my direction, I smiled back as neutrally as I could. I wanted more than anything to turn to her, offer her comfort, assure her with my body and words that what lay between us was more than a convenient arrangement. It was the truth of it that stopped me.

“No. I dinna think this is usual at all.” It wasn’t a simple infatuation either. Nothing could be less simple.

“We don’t have to figure it out now,” she said softly. “Despite everything, James Fraser… I think I—perhaps I…”

“Aye?” I encouraged, when her words trailed off; we were so close that I could breathe in the scent of her hair, her perfume, note the delicate swirl of her ear and the hollow of her clavicle above the collar of her blouse. I leaned in another fraction, but Claire turned her head.

“Never mind,” she said with a rueful smile. “I get very maudlin when I drink. All that wine, you know.”

I stood, still holding on to her hands and Claire rose with me. “I should get home then, leave ye to rest.”

“Thank you, Jamie,” she said suddenly, biting her lip. “For what you did tonight.”

“Ye did it for me as well, Sassenach. I’d do anything for ye, gladly, mo nighean donn.”

Mo nighean donn?

“Och, it’s Gaelic. It means ‘my brown-haired lass’.” It was my turn to feel mildly embarrassed, but she seemed to take it in stride.

“So… the wedding. It’s December 21, noon reception, Crossbasket Castle. I don’t plan on attending the ceremony itself, since I will be at the venue early and set up the flowers.”

“Will ye need any help? I’d be happy to—”

“I’ll be alright. I have Mary to help me.”

“Shall I meet ye there, then?” I walked towards the door, fumbling in my coat pocket for my car keys.

“Of course, that would be fine. I’ll see you then.” Claire leaned against the doorframe as I stepped outside. “And don’t worry, I won’t make you dance with me.”

“Worry?” I reached out swiftly and took Claire’s hand again; I pulled her against me, arm sliding about her waist. “My mam taught me how to dance. It’s all in the leading.” I spun her around, and she tripped on her own feet. I caught her, dipping her back like we were in a black-and-white film, and brought her up, both of us breathless and laughing.

“Well, then. There will be dancing. I apologize in advance for your injured toes.” Claire extricated herself from my arms and made to go inside.

Well, then.

I seized her arm lightly, turning her to face me. I took a few seconds to look into her eyes before I pressed her against the wall; I watched as they transformed to molten gold under the heat of my gaze.

“Claire, I’d like verra much to kiss ye. May I?” I saw her swallow hard and nod once more.

My lips brushed her rosy mouth. “Goodbye, Sassenach.”

The door had barely closed behind her before I pulled out my phone to call Jenny. I had a plan, and I needed some help.

Chapter Text

“Oh, fucking hell.”

I tripped once more over my heels as I checked for the thousandth time that all the centerpieces were arranged properly; this I did from a corner of the enormous hall at Crossbasket Castle. The ceremony had gone off without a hitch. Louise had been thrilled with the aesthetics of the Stewart Room, where the service had been held; the petals of the flowers she’d chosen softly illuminated with candles here and there.

Once the space was decorated, my job was pretty much over until I had to dismantle the flower arrangements at the end. Mary had driven the van back to Glasgow, and I had remained as a guest. A single guest.

Jamie was not there.

I had tried to call him, but realized there was no signal at Crossbasket, no bars at all on my mobile. I had found my place on the seating chart, and was infinitely grateful that Louise had had the forethought to seat me far away from Frank. Nevertheless, there were many of our old schoolmates to greet, some with genuine warmth and others with fake smiles. Some asked outright, others merely questioned with their eyes—are you here alone?

Why? was all I could think. Why had I even opened the smallest crevice of my heart to James Fraser, told him some of my deepest sorrows and fears and loves, touched his body, let him kiss me, memorized the burr and cadence of his broad Scots, only to have him break his promise to me? I wondered how I could even begin to dull the steady ache that had settled somewhere in the vicinity of my sternum. I tried with quite a few glasses of champagne, though.

I had thus far managed to avoid Frank and Sandy, but I knew he and his fiancée held court much too close for comfort. I circled the periphery of the enormous ballroom, lifting the skirt of my gown away from the spike of my too-tall heels, footing slightly less than secure. Despite my frustration at Jamie’s absence, where is he where is he where is he was all my heart could pound in my chest.

Finally, I hit upon a solution. I had already put in an appearance. I had congratulated Louise and her new husband Charles Stewart, and writhed enough under the scrutiny of our old classmates. This was stupid; I could just go. Firm in my resolve, I weaved my way back among the tables to retrieve my small clutch purse, useless phone in hand, and ask the manager at the castle to get me a cab.

“Sassenach.”

A hand on my waist made me whirl in surprise at the sound of Jamie’s voice. The familiarity made my head spin even more, as I scanned him from head to toe. A Highlander in full regalia was an impressive sight — any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range was breathtaking, to say the least.

The coat, the crisp white shirt, the kilt, the boots, and a sporran; he was magnificent. All of this registered in a matter of seconds, along with the heady, spicy scent of him. In my inspection of Jamie, however, I found absolutely nothing physically wrong with him that could account for this extreme tardiness. 

While I was relieved to note this, the casual greeting that I had planned was swiftly replaced with a shaky, “Where were you?” I threw my arms around his neck in a sort of relieved panic, holding him tightly against me.

“I’m deeply sorry, Sassenach.” Jamie was out of breath, anxiously apologetic in my ear. “Do ye want the short explanation, or the long one?”

I inhaled slowly. “The short one, please.” I released my stranglehold on him so I could look at his gorgeous face. We sat, knees touching.

“Aye, weel, I did suffer many misfortunes that prevented me from getting here earlier. I came as fast as I could. I do apologize, mo nighean donn.” His fingers brushed an errant curl behind my ear, lingering on my skin.

The sound of Gaelic—and his touch—did wonders to soothe my rumpled spirit. I leaned into his hand, and something settled in my chest, like glimpsing a stone at the bottom of a pool once the ripples have disappeared. Jamie pushed his chair as close as possible to mine, cradling my head on his shoulder. The lights, the music, his steady breathing flowed together, and I melted against his body completely.

“I did try to call ye, lass. But my phone—”

“Doesn’t matter. There’s no signal here anyway.”

Jamie chuckled, his hold on me tightening. “I imagine dancing’s out of the question then, Sassenach.”

“Damn right, Fraser.”

“Ye look beautiful, Claire. I meant to say that first.”

“Thank you,” I replied softly.

I no longer cared if anyone saw me with Jamie, my wedding date. The real reason he was here vanished in the trembling air. We sat in silence for an innumerable amount of songs, the bass lines reverberating through the soles of my shoes. Eventually, all the champagne I’d drunk made its way through my system and I needed the loo.

“Excuse me, I need to find the ladies’ room.”

He stood up as I did, offering me his arm. I waved off his suggestion of escorting me all the way to the foyer, reassuring him I was fine and would just be a moment. I remembered this time to lift my skirt slightly to avoid falling, and tottered over to the hall’s entrance, where the toilets would be. Bingo. Once I took care of business, I was set to return to the ballroom when someone grabbed my arm.

“Claire.”

It was Frank. I cursed my glass face as I tried to remain impassive. I yanked my arm out of his grip and stepped back; he moved closer, and my heart pounded. I immediately realized that what I was feeling was not nerves, apprehension, nor any trace of tender feelings towards him. It was pure loathing.

I stared him down, wondering at what point in the past year I had stopped yearning for what could have been, and now found myself glaring back with nothing but contempt. Frank must have read this in my expression; his demeanor changed, turning charming and seductive.

“Claire, please. I need to talk to you.”

“There’s nothing to say, Frank. Leave me alone.” I tried to step around him, but he moved with me easily, hand outstretched. I slapped it away.

“What you saw at the restaurant—she’s a colleague from work. There was nothing inappropriate in it at all—”

“So why talk to me? Afraid I might go to Sandy and tell her? I’m not that petty, Frank,” I said, venom in my tone.

“There is nothing to tell. I just wanted to clarify—”

“Just go, Frank. Go, live your life, and try not to make Sandy’s life miserable. For the sake of your child if not her own.”

“Darling?”

I peered around Frank’s head to find Sandy standing there, hands cradling the enormous swell of her stomach. His face flushed crimson as he turned to look at her and he put his arm around her. All I could do was shake my head and move past them. I could hear Frank begin to make excuses, saying I had approached him, and that felt like the final straw.

I stopped to touch her briefly on the shoulder. “I wish you the very best. Truly.” I managed a sincere smile for Sandy and saw her lip quiver. I understood then she knew about Frank and his honeyed words, his excuses and twisted lies, and was trying to make the best out of a complicated situation. I walked away resolutely, blessedly free. I couldn’t wait to share my epiphany with Jamie.

Once back in the ballroom, all I wanted to do was find Jamie and pick up where we had left off at my apartment. Grab him by the lapels of his fancy jacket and press against him, kiss him senseless, and maybe, later, discover if it was true what they said about Scotsmen and kilts.

The floor was packed, and I struggled to make my way through the dancing crowd. Finally, I could make out Jamie’s tall form from afar, the flashing lights making his hair a bright beacon. When I snagged two flutes of champagne from a passing waiter, I nearly tripped again on the hem of my dress. I managed to regain my balance, catching my hip on a chair—but not a drop spilled. I glanced up to try and catch Jamie’s eye, to see if he was also smiling foolishly at my graceless feat.

When I spotted him, he wasn’t looking at me. I stood still, vision blurring, and in that moment, I heard my heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a tulip’s stem.

Jamie was kissing Annalise.

Chapter Text

Mac na galla!” I shouted.

My phone was in the toilet, water rippling in its wake. I watched helplessly as the screen shorted out, bubbles floating swiftly to the surface. I fished it out gingerly, laying it on a wad of toilet paper on the floor to dry. No mobile meant no way to contact her now.

I was already running horribly late to meet Claire at the wedding reception. I’d thought to wear my kilt, which I only did for special occasions such as this—my thought in wearing it was to honor Claire, by trying to look my very best. But then I’d spilled the last dregs of my coffee on it. I washed out the stain as best I could, which I realized belatedly was pointless since the plaid pattern hid most of it. Then I aimed a small travel hairdryer at it, trying to dry out the wet patch I’d made worse.

Finally dressed, I headed to the toilet and accidentally dropped my phone when I took it out of my sporran; I’d heart the chirp of an incoming text message and thought it might be Claire. I cursed my clumsiness over and over as I also managed to break off a bootlace (hastily replaced with a tennis shoelace), found a gaping hole where two buttons were missing on my dress shirt (but mercifully the waistcoat and jacket would cover it), and my bow tie had another unrecognizable stain from Hogmanay (but had no time to do anything about it). At least my gift for Claire was still safe inside my sporran. I patted it reassuringly as I resolved to take better care of my formalwear, hurriedly climbing into my Jeep and plugging the key into the ignition.

Nothing.

A faint clicking noise from the engine, but no roaring motor as usual. I laid my head on the steering wheel, gripping it tightly as I tried to turn the key one more time. Still nothing. Alright. What to do? I reached instinctively into my pocket to grab my phone and call an Uber before I remembered. Fuck.

A cab trip to the venue would be astronomical; but the expense would be worth it if I could just get there soon. I reached into my sporran again and found I’d left my wallet at the flat.  I almost tore my hair out by the roots as I raced back up the stairs of my building and retrieved my wallet; traipsing back down, I prayed I’d find a cab within the next thirty seconds or I would go berserk.

- - -

Claire was beautiful.

She wore a midnight blue dress, in dark contrast with her ivory skin and the honey of her eyes. The sight of her was enough to make me forget all I had endured to finally make it to the wedding. Tucked into the back of a warm Glasgow cab, I’d finally made it to my destination.

As soon as I spotted her, I wanted nothing more than to kiss away the worried line between her eyebrows. I imagined I was partly to blame for it; the way she gripped my neck in greeting and then relaxed against my body confirmed my thoughts. With her words, I knew all was forgiven.

I sat back, enjoying the feeling of Claire’s head tucked into my shoulder. I could smell her perfume, something light and fresh and redolent of green growing things. I inhaled deeply, discreetly trying to bury my nose in her hair. I hadn’t felt such peace in a long time. I caressed her bare arm, my eyes almost closing in absolute bliss.

I thought perhaps it was time to give her the gift I’d brought. I was trying to figure out a way to open my sporran without dislodging Claire from her comfortable position when she stood up to excuse herself to the toilets.

“I can go wi’ ye, I mean, to wait outside, Sassenach—”

“Oh, no, don’t bother, Jamie. I’ll just be a moment.” She waved me off with a reassuring smile and I watched her walk away. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I thought she had added an extra sway to her step. God, I hadn’t ever seen a more beautiful, rounder arse—

“Bonjour, Jamie.”

I froze. It couldn’t be.

I glanced in the direction of the greeting and saw Annalise, sauntering over in what I assumed she thought was a sexy manner. She wore a bright red dress, and entirely too much makeup. Her hair fell in waves; she tossed it over her shoulder and she put her hand on my arm. She had long, pointy, acrylic nails. I shuddered as they dug into my skin.

“Are you not happy to see me?” Annalise gave me a seductive smile, but all I could manage was to blink at her.

I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. Where there had been blind panic on other occasions was now simply an empty space, and I breathed with relief. Annalise thought I was gathering my wits about me; she stepped closer to me and pressed herself against me. The perfume she wore was heavy, sugary, cloying. I remembered Claire’s evocative scent and the feel of her body next to me and I knew for certain that’s exactly what I wanted. Not this French woman, ever again.

“Annalise. What are ye doing here?” I pulled away out of her grasp, but she did not get the message.

“I’m a guest, of course. Louise is an old friend of my family. Even my parents were invited. I am sure they would love to see you.”

“Would they,” I said flatly, glancing around and wishing Claire would come back so we could walk away together, hand in hand. I decided to go find her myself. “Excuse me.”

I had barely moved a foot before she blocked my way, her hands on my chest. “Jamie, I have realized. J’ai fait une erreur. When I saw you with her, I just knew it. She is all wrong for you. Je voudrais être avec toi encore…”

With a quick glance behind her, Annalise stood on the tips of her toes and pressed her mouth against mine. She was insistent, rough even, and I tried to step back, but she moved with me easily. Finally, I had no choice but to touch her. I broke away, laying my hands on her shoulders and pushing her away.

“No. Do ye want it in French? Non, jamais. It’s over, Annalise. Please go now.” My tone was harsh and strong, rising over the pounding music.

Annalise’s playful, sultry smile vanished into a hideous sneer. I imagined it had been lurking just beneath the surface. “You would give me up for that sad, mousy little—” She gestured behind her and I looked up.

Claire.

She stood watching us for a split second before she turned and fled.

Chapter Text

Tears spilled over, and I wiped them away angrily. Not again—not ever again.

I’d instinctively grabbed my mobile to get an Uber before I remembered there was no signal. Bloody fuck. I thought to my original plan to get a castle employee to call me a cab, and was just about to search for one when Jamie burst through the ballroom doors, frantically pulling his hands through the beautiful red mop of hair.

No, it’s not beautiful, you can’t think like that anymore, Beauchamp.

He spotted me immediately and I ran again, clumsily pulling up the hem of my dress.

“Sassenach—would you listen to me, please, it’s no’ what ye think—”

So he knew I’d seen them kiss. Why he felt the need to explain was beyond me. We were only each other’s alternative to loneliness, fake dates, no more than a convenient placeholder.

Why are you running then?

This small bit of logic caught up with me; I stopped abruptly in my race to the car park and Jamie ran into me, almost knocking me down. He grabbed me by the arms to keep me upright and turned me to face him. I hoped to hell I was not crying anymore, but my makeup had to be smeared across my face. I pasted what felt like a horribly false smile and slowly pulled my arms out of his grasp.

“Mr. Fraser! Thank you for accompanying me to this… event. It is almost over, though, so I think it’s alright if you leave now.” My voice shook, but I couldn’t help it.

“Sassenach, I just—”

“Don’t call me that!” I burst out, my hands cupping my elbows across my stomach. I was shivering and couldn’t seem to stop. I’d forgotten my coat inside. Jamie noticed and pulled off his fancy jacket, throwing it like a cape over my shoulders. I tried to shrug it off, but he held it firmly.

“Ye might no’ want to listen to me, but I willna have ye suffer cold or sick, Claire. Annalise and I—”

“Are none of my business. I know I’ve no right to complain; I was with you for selfish reasons too, but I have a small bit of pride left, you know.” I looked down at my fancy heels, mumbling that last bit.

When Jamie didn’t say anything, I stole a glance; I saw his expression—completely dumbfounded, mouth working open and closed but no words coming out. I huddled inside the jacket, much too big for me and inhaled the wonderful scent that permeated it.

No, stop it, Beauchamp, you can’t do that anymore.

Finally, Jamie sighed, shaking his head. “Sass—Claire, first of all, I didna ken she would be here. It turns out she’s an old family friend of the bride. Bein’ French and all, I suppose, ‘twas a great coincidence. Secondly, she kissed me. She was spoutin’ off some nonsense about makin’ a mistake, and that she wanted us to try again. I was workin’ out a way to put her off and go find you, when she was kissin’ me. I want ye to ken that I did not encourage her, or want it at all.” He shook his head again; crimson waves fell over his forehead but he made no move to push them away. I resisted the urge myself.

“What I realized then, Claire, is that the one person I did want—was you. At some point in this pretend relationship, ye became the person I wanted to see all the time, to talk to, to laugh with, to touch.” Jamie stood motionless, holding a hand over his heart. I trembled, but with something more than mere cold. “Do ye feel somethin’ like it, as weel?”

Forced on me by circumstance, he would force himself on me no longer, if I chose to reject him. We probably could not remain friends after this, however; we knew too much about each other and had endured things that took friendship off the table for good. But here was my chance to let him know, that he too had become my refuge, a best friend of sorts, in a short time—that little by little, he had provided the mortar with which I had filled the gaps left in me. I took a deep breath, my eyes drowning in the blue sea of his gaze.

“I do. Feel something like it, I mean. But Jamie… you know as well as I do what would happen if we didn’t work out. I survived it once, but I don’t think my heart could take it again.”

James Fraser, damn him, smiled widely and reached into his sporran. “Aye, Claire. Maybe this will convince ye.” He pulled out a sheaf of thick papers, and held them out to me. “Jenny made it—I just told her what I wanted to say.”

I reached out slowly, perplexed. Once in hand, it seemed like a small picture book, sewn together with twine. The cover read simply Sassenach in beautiful modern calligraphy. Scrollwork decorated the space around my name. It took me a minute to recognize the small flowers embedded in the loops—gladioli. I opened it gingerly, and my breath caught at the first image.

Bright purple heather leaped off the page. I rifled through some of the pages quickly, and realized they were all flowers. Heather meant admiration and beauty, as well as being singularly Scottish. Page two – daffodils, meaning new beginnings. Page three – violets. Loyalty and devotion. Page four – red asters for patience. Then, chrysanthemums for honesty, white camellias for destiny, morning glory for affection.

I traced the outline of a gardenia next, as tears began to pool in my eyes; like the flower, my tears symbolized joy, and I began to understand the depth of his message. A blue iris for faith and hope. I dared glance up at Jamie, who stood before me with a slight smile touching the corner of his lips, and the fingers on his left hand tapped nervously on his kilt-covered thigh. I gave him a watery smile, and tried to speak.

“Jamie, this… you—”

“Roses, Claire.” He reached over with a sure hand and turned to the last page. “Red roses.”

I heard myself gasp quietly as I took in the deep red of unfurling roses, my own name cleverly spelled out in the petals. Red roses meant longing, desire, and love.

Jamie loved me.

I felt as fragile and as brilliant as glass, as though I would shatter with a touch, and fall in glittering fragments on the floor. If I had meant to spare either Jamie’s emotions or my own, it seemed I was very much too late—I loved him too. I couldn’t speak, but I held out my hand to him, fingers trembling. I was glad of my glass face for once, and while I worked past the knot in my throat, I hoped my expression conveyed my own feelings.

He pulled me close against him, and I felt the heat of him radiating through the layers we wore. Cradling my face in his hands, he wiped away the tears with his thumbs and his mouth inched closer to mine.

“Tell me,” he whispered. “Tell me what ye want, Claire.” His lips touched mine fleetingly, the barest brush. The words slipped out before I could think.

“You. I want you.”

- - -

“Will it ever stop?” Jamie half-whispered, half-groaned in my ear. “The wanting you.”

“God, I hope not,” I said fervently, gasping at the sensation of his mouth on my neck. Frantic fingers made short work of my dress, his shirt and waistcoat, my undergarments, and his kilt. Jamie was indeed a true Scot.

As he lay me down on the plush duvet, I thanked God over and over in my mind that Crossbasket Castle was a hotel of sorts. After our car park declaration, we’d been too eager for a temporary refuge. Jamie then proceeded to explain the absence of his Jeep and his phone while I cackled with insane relief about the absurdity of our situation. We loved each other, we desperately wanted each other, and had no way of getting home.

“Well, I suppose I could ring Mary from the castle landline and have her drive us back after the party, but that would mean—”

“Sassenach, we need not go anywhere,” Jamie interrupted after rummaging in his sporran. Producing a credit card, he took my hand firmly in his and took me to the front desk. Right—Crossbasket had rooms as well. I stood breathlessly at his side while he booked us a room and tried not to blush as we received our key, waved the concierge away when he inquired about our luggage, and practically ran for the staircase that led to our room.

Now, in the room, I stifled a cry as Jamie’s tongue met the sensitive flesh between my legs. Arms encircling my thighs, his hands held my hips as I bucked and tried to both pull away and get closer.

“The walls are thick enough, mo nighean donn,” Jamie grinned, stopping in his task for a moment. “I want to hear ye.”

I obliged until release flooded through me, my back arching so I thought my spine would break in half. Jamie climbed his way back up my body, kissing and nipping and licking as he went. I took hold of his anatomy briefly and captured his mouth. Jamie gasped, shying away and I stared at him in confusion, my own body still tingling with aftershocks.

I half rose on my elbows. “Don’t you want me to—”

“Sassenach—Claire—I want to be inside you. Please.” His expression was that of pure lust mixed with wonder and adoration. All I could do was nod, but it was not enough for him. Jamie now came closer, his hands delicately framing my face. “I want to hear ye, lass,” he reminded me, his nose butting mine. “Will ye have me?”

“Yes, Jamie,” I breathed, tugging at his waist until he was positioned right above me, the length of him pressed against me. “Yes, I’ll have you. With all of my heart.”

That was the consent and encouragement he needed. Jamie entered me with exquisite slowness; I could feel every inch of him until he was seated to the hilt. There he paused, savoring the moment with a soft kiss. My roaming hands mapped the firm grace of the muscles and bones of his back as he began to move, sliding in and out creating a delicious friction.

“I mean to make ye mine, Sassenach,” he whispered, his forehead touching mine as our hips met again and again, my nails raking his sides, legs around him, trying to push him deeper and deeper. “Mine, and mine alone.”

Jamie paid me court with a humble patience I recognized as reparation—reparation for the previous year of pain, loneliness, and insecurity. While none of that had been of his own making, he understood my need, which I recognized was his own as well.

Together, we sought pleasure for each other; I pushed against his shoulder, and he took my meaning, flipping onto his back. I rode him for all I was worth, his hands on my breasts, on my neck, between my legs again. My vision finally fractured, lights bursting, spiraling sweetness coursing through my body. Jamie was not far behind; he shook in my arms at his own finish, shuddering with the effort not to move, not to hurt me by thrusting, letting the moment shatter him as it would.

I lay against Jamie’s chest, trying to catch my breath and he did the same. I was reluctant to sever our connection, and so it seemed was he. Jamie shifted my body, and we lay facing each other, his hand on my face and mine on his. I memorized the tilt of his eyebrows, the slant of his cheekbones, the slight dent in his chin. He traced the edge of my nose, the bow of my lips, and my tongue darted out to nip his finger. We laughed together, which did interesting things to the way we were joined. With a soft sight, Jamie rolled on top of me once more, the weight of him heavy and perfect in the hollow of my thighs.  

“Ye were no’ the first lass I kissed, but I swear ye’ll be the last.” As I felt him move inside me, Jamie’s words crept into my ears, persistent enough to almost drown out my cries for him. They finally found their way to my heart, where they settled for good. 

Chapter Text

One year later

“Christ, he needs a fresh nappy!”

“So? Do it yourself!”

“Oh, dinna give me that. I changed him last time!” I held the baby away from me, cringing at the pungent smell emanating from the nappy. “He went number two!”

Young Jamie gurgled happily, oblivious to my discomfort. His wee legs pumped in the air excitedly as he tried to stuff his fists into his mouth. He was adorable in the extreme, which was why Claire and I had agreed to watch him for a few hours and give Jenny and Ian some respite from their growing brood.

“Number two? What are you, five? Give him to me,” Claire said, rolling her eyes. She took my nephew, cradling him gently, and pulled a fresh nappy from the diaper bag. “Go watch Young Ian and Maggie, I’ll do it.” She swatted me playfully upside the head with the nappy as she made her way to the guest bathroom.

“I dinna ken how you manage to weasel yer way out of changing Young Jamie’s nappies, a bhalaich,” my da chimed, leaning against the doorframe and wiping his hands on a tea towel. “’Tis good practice for when ye have bairns of yer own.”

“Da!” I hissed, hoping that Claire hadn’t heard. I settled on the floor to help Young Ian and Maggie with a puzzle.

“His own? When will that be? Anytime soon?” Jenny chose that moment to saunter in as well, arm around Ian’s waist. “I’m sure you and Claire are practicing plenty!” I looked around for something to chuck at her head while she, Ian, and Da laughed fit to burst.

“Jamie? Are you all in here?” Claire returned to the living room, Young Jamie nestled in the crook of her neck, eyes drifting closed. Something tugged at my heart to see her so, with a bairn in her arms, the soft smile that played in the corners of her mouth. I threw a meaningful glance at Da, who took the hint.

“Here, I’ll take him, lass,” he said, carefully extricating the baby from Claire’s grasp. “I’ll go fetch William and Mary, and then we can eat.”

I sent Young Ian and Maggie after their parents and I rose from my spot on the floor, grabbing Claire’s helping hand as we made our way to the dining room. She nudged my shoulder with hers, a big smile on her face. The light caught her eyes, making their whiskey depths seem fathomless. I kissed her, catching her by surprise. Sudden inspiration flashed, and I pulled her away from the dining room.

“Och, Sassenach, I would like to, um, step outside for a moment. In Da’s garden, there’s something I’d like to show ye. Do ye mind?”

“Alright. Let me get my coat first, it’s quite cold.” I waited for her in the hall, fidgeting until she reappeared with a dark blue trench coat I’d gotten her last Christmas. She was so lovely; I felt my heart racing and feared she might hear it.

I closed the door behind us, stepping out into the December cold. Our breath trailed away in little white puffs, and Claire’s cheeks turned pink almost immediately. We walked across the yard, gravel crunching under our feet until we reached my father’s wee garden. Despite the cold, the remaining perennials like geraniums and heather dotted the green with color. While I had grown more proficient in identifying certain plants, I was still no expert, unlike my Sassenach lass. She stopped to admire some bright red blooms, before I touched her cheek gently, caressing. She leaned into my hand, smiling.

“What is it, Jamie?”

“Aye, weel… I just wanted to get ye alone for a bit. Before ye’re swamped by the Frasers in there.”

“I’m all yours.” Claire tangled our fingers together, cuddling against my side. We stood in comfortable silence, my arm around her, tracing wee patterns on her shoulder. I could still feel my heart pounding furiously. I thought about her words—she was mine.

I thought back to the year we had shared. Like every relationship, it had its ups and downs, but mostly ups. I remembered that day in the castle car park, where we had finally found each other (again). The first time we made love (many, many times). The day she took me to get a tattoo (a Celtic knot). The night the distillery debuted the new whisky (an event she and Jenny put together, cementing their own relationship). Our first argument (then the riotous making-up). The time we went to Oxford so I could meet her uncle Lamb (the surviving link to her family whom I loved like my own). Each of those events a way to say I love you.

I took a deep breath.

“Sassenach?”

“Hmmm?”

“Just so ye ken, I mean to propose tonight.” I swallowed hard and felt my arm tense around her.

Claire gave a little gasp and turned to look at me. “What?”

“I plan to ask ye to marry me. During lunch. Maybe make a toast, give a speech, I dinna ken exactly. I’m even considering going down on one knee.” My hands were trembling something awful.

Claire gaped for a moment, before seemingly recovering her powers of speech. “Why are you telling me this now?”

“Och, weel, I thought I’d give ye a fair warning. In case ye wanted to leave before we ate, and save me a really embarrassing anecdote for future family reunions.” I shrugged, trying hard to seem nonchalant about it, but actually feeling my heart drop in the vicinity of my wame. What if she said no?

“Oh.” Claire bit her lip, a deep flush coloring her petal-smooth skin.

“What do ye think?” I took her left hand in mine, squeezing gently.

She was quiet for a few moments. I think my heart was dangerously close to stopping when she turned to me with a beautiful smile.

“If it helps, I’ll say yes.”

“Ye will?” I felt relief and love—an overwhelming, all-encompassing love for this woman—wash over me. I grinned like an idiot and pressed kisses all over her face.

“Well,” Claire managed between my onslaught of affection and our hands roving everywhere, “I can’t in good conscience just leave you there kneeling, and I certainly can’t go without tasting Ellen’s cooking. I just couldn’t.” Her smile turned playful and she gave my hand a squeeze in return. “Besides, I’m completely in love with you.”

“Aye, that helps.” I kissed her once more, before pulling a velvet box from my coat pocket. I opened it, showing her the ring nestled inside. Claire smiled, tears glistening in her eyes. She traced the delicate carvings on the white gold ring, Scottish thistles and English roses intertwined. No diamond—I knew my Sassenach lass would prefer simple blooms to extravagant stones. I slipped the ring onto her finger.

“I love ye, Claire—Sassenach. I have loved ye from the first moment I saw ye, I think. I will love ye ‘til time itself is done, and so long as ye are by my side, I am well pleased wi’ the world.”

Her arms came around me, and I drew her even closer, my face burrowing in the mad collieshangie of her hair. The chill December wind blew around us, tugging at our coats but we refused to budge, standing fiercely to face whatever might come.

“Do ye trust me, Sassenach?” I asked, pulling away briefly to meet her gaze. Her nose pressed against mine, but her eyes didn’t blink. Neither did mine.

“With my life,” she said softly, and I knew it to be true.

“And with your heart?”

I felt the object in question skip a beat, and knew my answer as well.

“Always,” Claire whispered, as I closed my eyes, and kissed her.

FIN