It had been twenty-eight days since I’d last laid eyes on Jamie Fraser — since I’d left him half-asleep and smiling in a rumpled hotel bed in Tel Aviv. I’d whispered a promise to see him again soon, and his hand had snaked out from under the covers to find mine, drawing me down to him for a parting kiss.
“Til we meet again, Sassenach,” he’d murmured, his voice groggy with sleep and tender enough to warm me to my bones. I’d left the hotel room smiling, touching my lips and daydreaming about the next place we’d meet, and what we’d do with and to one another when we got there.
Anxious to expedite the process, I began lingering at restaurants and coffee shops in the Delta terminals, scanning the crowds for him in every airport where I had a layover long enough to do so. It was only a matter of time, I reasoned; since our first night together at Heathrow, we’d never gone longer than eleven days without bumping into one another by sheer coincidence. I thought that surely choosing central locations near Jamie’s potential gates would shorten that duration significantly.
Of course, I came to find out much later that Jamie had been doing the exact same thing — hovering near the Virgin Atlantic gates, hoping to bump into me.
And so we missed each other, every time.
For twenty-eight days.
The night I finally saw him again was an unremarkable Tuesday in Vancouver. I was sat on a metal barstool in the international terminal, nursing a rum and Coke, half-watching a football match on the telly. I’d flown in from London an hour ago, and my return flight didn’t leave until morning. It had been a bloody long day, and I was knackered; at that moment, the idea of curling up at the hotel with a book, some room service, and a few bottles of liquor from the mini-bar sounded like bliss.
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to turn in without at least trying. Not on a night like this, when we could actually have time together if I did find him.
But after so many fruitless days spent doing exactly this — waiting and watching, hoping for a glimpse of him in the crowd — my hopes of actually spotting Jamie were at an all-time low. I had just about decided to pack it in, call it a night as soon as I finished the last of my drink.
So, naturally, that was the moment he finally reappeared, out of the clear blue sky.
I’d glanced up at the telly to watch Spain score a goal, taken a deep drink of my rum and Coke. When I looked back down again, I choked on the burning mouthful.
There he was. Standing just across the hallway, not twenty feet away, waiting in line at Starbucks. His back was to me, but even without the glimpse of soft red curls peeking out from beneath his pilot’s cap, I would have known that silhouette anywhere.
For a moment I simply stared at him, completely dumbfounded, unable to believe my eyes. I must have stopped breathing, because I could feel the blood rushing to my head, and the world suddenly began to swim precariously around me. I forced two quick, shallow breaths through lungs that felt like a vise, and then I was moving, my heart hammering frantically against my sternum.
I hardly recognized my own voice.
He did, though.
He stiffened at once, his spine going ramrod straight beneath his suit jacket, the muscles of his neck and shoulders clenched tight to the bone.
My steps faltered at his response. For a fleeting, terrible moment, the thought occurred to me that perhaps it hadn’t been an accident that I hadn’t seen him in nearly a month. Perhaps… perhaps he’d been avoiding me this whole time. Perhaps he’d found someone else, or…
But then he turned to me — agonizingly slowly — and the look on his face burned the last of my doubts to ash.
His eyes had gone round and dark, an ocean of blue turned to ink. For a moment he simply stared at me in disbelief, his mouth slightly agape, apparently as stunned to see me as I was to see him. Then suddenly his whole face split in a grin, the lines etched deep around his eyes and mouth, his brows quirked upward in astonished relief. Tears sprang to his eyes, and he let out his breath in a shuddering pant.
I choked on a hitching sob and ran to him.
Jamie leapt over the barrier rope and caught me as I barreled into him, wrapping me up in impossibly strong arms and lifting me clean off my feet.
“Claire,” he choked out again, his breath warm and shaking against my skin. He swayed me a few times from side to side before setting me down again, his broad hands smoothing up and down the length of my back, over my arms, through my curls, as if he were desperate to touch every inch of me he could reach.
“Christ, I missed ye,” he whispered into my hair.
I knew better than to try to speak past the lump in my throat; I simply buried my face in his neck and nodded hard in agreement. My chest burned with both the effort to smother sobs of relief and the overwhelming, nearly frantic need for him.
And underlying it all, something I wouldn’t dare name for several weeks more, no matter how my veins pounded with it.
But there was one new, heart-stopping revelation I did acknowledge in that moment: I didn’t just want Jamie for sex. If he would have only held me that night — if we’d gone back to the hotel room to eat greasy takeaway, laugh and talk and fall asleep wrapped in each other’s arms, fully clothed and spooned together — it would have been enough.
More than enough.
I knew, though. I could tell by the tension in his shoulders, the desperate way he held me. The fact that he’d been in line for coffee at 8 PM.
We didn’t have much time.
Suddenly conscious about ruining his collar — the pristine presentation of a pilot’s uniform was something I understood acutely — I righted myself, sniffling hard, and looked up into his face.
“How long do we have?” I asked softly.
Jamie swallowed, his eyes already swimming with apology. He glanced at his watch and winced. “I’m supposed to be onboard in ten minutes,” he admitted. I dropped my gaze, trying to smother my disappointment, but I knew damn well I had a terrible poker face. Jamie reached out to brush a thumb over my cheek, then tipped my chin up to look at him again. “I could mebbe stretch it to fifteen…?”
“No, you don’t need to do that.” Much as I would have liked to steal those five extra minutes, a pilot’s sterling reputation for punctuality was nothing I would have ever asked him to tarnish on my behalf, any more than he’d ever ask it of me. I let go of him long enough to scrub my hands over my salt-stiff face, trying to get a bloody hold of myself. “Let me, uh…” I gestured behind me, remembering the carry-on I’d abandoned under the bar-top. “Let me just grab my bag and I’ll walk you to your gate.”
“Aye,” he whispered, and put a hand to the small of my back as we crossed the hall together. He waited for me at the entrance to the bar while I gathered up my things, and when I came back out to meet him again, the look of mingled tenderness and misery on his face forced me to swallow several times to keep another wave of tears at bay.
Twenty-eight days. And God only knew how many more it would be before I saw him again.
I watched the same idea register on his face as I closed the last few strides to meet him.
“Jamie, I—” I began at the same moment he said, “I ken we—”
We both smiled shyly, and I slipped an arm around him with an encouraging nod. “Sorry, go ahead.”
“I was just going to say,” he explained, lifting his own arm to drape around my shoulder as we began to meander slowly toward his gate. “I ken we agreed at the outset to leave our meetings to chance, Sassenach, but at the time it didna ever occur to me that we’d go this long wi’out—”
“No, I agree,” I told him quickly, squeezing his waist. “I was going to say the same thing. Maybe it’s time we… tried to be a bit more organized about this?”
“Aye.” He let out his breath in a sigh of relief. “Aye, if we could text one another, mebbe, find out where we were going to be next—”
“Right, exactly.” I fished my mobile out of my pocket and pulled up my contacts list, then handed it over to him to enter his info, and Jamie did the same. We paused in silence for a moment, tucked over to the side of the hallway as we tapped into one another’s screens. I coyly put my entry under the name Sassinak (still had no bloody idea what it meant, and Google results had pulled up nothing — which I’m sure meant I was spelling it wrong), and delighted in Jamie’s grin when I handed it back to him. I, in turn, felt a warmth bloom in my belly when I got my own mobile back and found every last contact space filled in: full name, cell number, personal email, and home address.
We were doing this. Semi-officially.
The security of having that information — that ability to reach out to him any time, find out where he was in the world, and where he would be next — was a comfort to me on a level I didn’t care to examine too closely. In truth, it terrified me how quickly and deeply I’d become attached to this man; how bereft I felt in his absence; how right it felt to have him inside me.
It wasn’t usual, whatever this was between us. But it was there.
And to have to lose it again, so soon…
I couldn’t look at Jamie when we reached his gate. He took me by the shoulders and turned me to face him, and I leaned in to him, tucking my face into his neck. We were both still for a long moment, holding fiercely to one another with white-knuckled fists.
Then, finally, reluctantly, Jamie relaxed his grip and smoothed his hand in a circle over my back, then eased it up to cup the back of my head. I nudged my nose tighter against him, breathing him in one last time — his skin, his aftershave, his shampoo, the starch of his collar — before slowly forcing myself upright. I trained my gaze on the wings on his lapel as he stroked the fine curls at the nape of my neck, but I could feel his eyes on me, searching my face.
“May I kiss ye, Claire?” he asked in a whisper, soft enough that even those passengers waiting closest to us couldn’t hear.
My gaze did snap up to his then.
He’d kissed me a hundred times before. Passionately. Slowly. Savagely. With impossible tenderness.
But never in public. Never where anyone else could see.
I held his eyes for a moment, letting the understanding pass between us unspoken before I gave him my answer.
“Always,” I whispered back, and rose on tiptoe to capture his lips with mine.