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It Was Always You

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Pics-Art-08-22-07-25-29

"How do I look?" I asked my best friend Geillis. I spun around and subconsciously pushed a stray piece of hair out of my face. I'd made more of an effort than I had in years, and I hoped the fruits of my labor were worth it.

"Ye look gorgeous," she answered. "What are ye so worried about? It's no' like it matters what these people even think. Remind me why we're going tae this again?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Isn't going to your 20th reunion just a thing people do, whether they want to or not? Do you like these earrings? Or these?"

"The silver. Yer skin always looks better with silver."

I put my earrings on and turned once again to the full length mirror. Geillis stood beside me as we gave ourselves a final assessment. She was beautiful as always, long red hair and striking green eyes enhanced by the green dress she was wearing. Her skin shone and was still as flawless as it had been twenty years ago.

I also looked mostly the same, which wasn't saying much. My curly hair was now tamed by a straightening iron every morning, but it was still the same boring brown it had always been. My body wasn't too bad, I thought. Some stretch marks and cellulite, and of course gravity had caused some things to shift , but overall not too shabby. I was developing crow's feet in the corner of my eyes and had used no small amount of concealer to cover the dark circles that never seemed to go away no matter how much sleep I got. Still, while I didn't hold a candle to Geillis, I figured I would look better than at least fifty percent of the rest of the women there.

"Are you ready?" I asked.

"Claire," Geillis said, looking at me inquisitively, "Are ye hoping to run into a certain someone tonight?"

"Who would I be hoping to run into?" I asked, throwing a lipstick in my purse and draping it over my shoulder.

"I dinna ken. A certain, Jamie Fraser, perhaps?"

If I'd been drinking at that moment, I would have spit the liquid across the room in shock. "Jamie Fraser? Geil, you can't be serious? He completely fell off the face of the earth twenty years ago."

"Still, ye have tae wonder…" she said, picking up her own purse and grabbing her car keys. 

"There's nothing to wonder, Geillis. He's gone, probably dead for all I know. Do you know how hard I tried to find him at first?"

"I ken, I ken. Would make for an interesting night though, don't ye think?" She winked at me as we left our hotel room.

"To see someone raised from the dead? I should think so."

***

We arrived at the reunion fashionably late. Geillis and I grabbed our name tags and headed toward the ballroom of the hotel. Laoghaire MacKenzie, one of our old classmates who I had never liked, stopped us at the door. She handed us both small slips of paper and those tiny pencils that they give you at a mini golf course. "We're doing a vote for King and Queen, just like at prom! After ye've mingled a bit, make sure tae cast yer vote!"

Geillis crumpled the paper up and tossed it into a nearby trash can. "Of all the stupid ideas. Who came up with this one?"

Laoghaire's face fell. "It was my idea. I'm head of the reunion committee."

"Oh, well, great job with the decorations," Geillis responded, pulling me away and giggling. As soon as Laoghaire was out of earshot she whispered, "That woman will never grow up. She'll be a lass until she's in her nineties."

I laughed and walked with Geillis into the ballroom. Drinks were obviously the first priority, but once we had them in hand -- a martini for me, a gin and tonic for her -- we roamed the large room looking for people we recognized.

"Oh, there's Mary Hawkins," Geillis pointed out. "She was such a shy wee thing. Looks like she managed to get herself a nice husband though."

"That's Alex Randall! I never would have put those two together, but I suppose they were both quiet and bookish." I smiled. "A key for every lock, I suppose. Oh, look, there's Rupert and Angus!"

Geillis groaned. "Those two were the biggest pains in the arse. Why would ye want tae say hi tae them?"

"Well we should say hi to somebody , shouldn't we?"

Geillis shrugged. "I dinna see why. I'm having plenty of fun drinking and gossiping with you."

"That's what we do every time we get together."

"Aye," she replied, "But this time we're gossiping about different people. Variety is the spice of life." She held up her glass and I clicked mine against hers, laughing. 

Geillis and I had grown up together in Inverness. Inseparable all through school, we'd gone to college together. We were separated for four years at different med schools but then both landed residencies at Gartnaval General Hospital in Glasgow, then both stayed on as surgeons after our residencies ended. 

"Look at that," Geillis said, suddenly sounding very interested in mingling. "Dougal MacKenzie showed up."

I rolled my eyes. "Seriously Geillis? He was such an asshole."

"Such a lovely cock, though."

"Well it looks like he's married now." I pointed to the short, homely woman standing next to him.

"Well, he certainly didn't trade up," she responded, sipping her drink.

"You're terrible!" I said, trying not to laugh.

We started to move and mingle amongst the groups of people, reminiscing about the past and catching each other up on the years in between. I was laughing riotously at something my old friend Louise said when Geillis grabbed my arm. "Claire. Claire, look."

I turned around and felt the color drain from my face. Grabbing onto Geillis to keep me steady, I mumbled, "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ."

Geillis took a gulp of her drink and said wryly, "The family picnic tomorrow just got infinitely more interesting."

I flashed her a look and grabbed her arm, yanking her away into a dark corner. "Brianna isn't coming tomorrow. And don't you dare bring her up."

"I ken. It was just a wee joke. Are ye going tae talk to him, though?"

"What would I even say? Long time no see? Glad you're not dead?"

"Claire-" Geillis attempted to interrupt me, but I went on.

"’How's life been treating you?’ Yes, Geillis, I'm just going to walk up -"

"Sassenach?"

His voice was so familiar, even after twenty years. My heart jumped into my throat, so when I turned around I was unable to speak. He grabbed my hand and brought my knuckles to his lips. "Christ, it's good tae see you again."

I smiled at him, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks. My brain could not form a coherent thought; my mouth could not remember how to make words.

"Well," Geillis finally said. "I see you two have a lot to catch up on. I'll just...right…" She quietly slipped away, leaving me alone with Jamie.

"Are ye alright, lass?" he asked.

I nodded and cleared my throat. "Yes," I croaked. "Yes I'm alright. I'm just shocked to see you. Christ, Jamie, it's been twenty years."

"Aye, and ye havena changed a bit."

"You have, but only a little. What happened to your nose?"

What happened to your nose? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, Beauchamp.

His hand shot up instinctually, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Wee mishap. Nothing tae fash about. Would ye like tae sit?" He gestured to a hightop table nearby.

I nodded and Jamie led me there, absent-mindedly placing his hand on the small of my back as he did. I hopped up into the chair as Jamie asked, "Would ye like me tae get ye another drink?

"Yes please," I replied. "Whisky. Neat."

His eyes wrinkled at the corners as he grinned at me mischievously. "Aye. I'll be right back. Dinna go anywhere!"

Geillis (20:13) : I suppose I shouldn't expect you to be back at our room tonight….

Jamie returned with our drinks and I quickly put the phone away in my purse. He sat down in the tall chair, barely needing to lift himself to get in it. "Sassenach," he said in that way that had always made me weak in the knees. It was a nickname he had given me years ago, being one of the only British students in our high school. "Ye havena said much."

I picked up my whisky and took a hard swallow. Setting it down, I responded, "I just never expected to see you again. It's quite a shock."

He smiled cheerily. "Aye. I never expected to see ye again either."

"It's been a long time. Where have you been? You basically fell off the face of the earth."

"Have ye been looking for me, Sassenach?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Well, I'd be lying if I said I haven't done a few internet searches over the years," I replied, my face flushing.

"Well, here I am."

"Here you are."

We locked eyes and I couldn't look away.

Oh shit, I'm in trouble.

Forcing myself to look away, I actually giggled ( dear god, what is wrong with me?) and then said, "You're trying to distract me. Where have you been all this time?"

"South America mostly," he said casually. 

"You don't look very tan," I replied, eyeing the large bicep that overflowed from his short sleeve polo shirt.

"Well, I've been back for about a month now, so I've lost most of it" He leaned forward on the table and examined me closely. "Yer still as fair skinned as ever." His hand reached across the table and caressed my shoulder lightly. "Yer skin has always been like ivory."

I shuddered at his touch. Oh please don't let him notice.

"Well, that happens when you live in Scotland."

"Have ye been here all this time?" he asked, slowly dropping his hand and bringing it back to his drink. He took a large swallow before setting it back down.

"Well, yes. Not in Inverness, though. I live in Glasgow now."

"And what have ye been doing with yerself all these years?’

I shifted in my seat, the spell between us broken. "I'm a surgeon now. And I was married for quite a long time."

He sat back in his seat and gave a wry smile. "Was married?"

"Yes," I answered. "But my husband died about a year ago.

He made a low grumbling noise in the back of his throat, impossible to interpret. "Ye always wanted to be a surgeon." I nodded. "Do ye have any bairns, Sassenach?"

I took a deep breath, unprepared to tell him about Brianna just yet, but unable to change the subject without looking like I was trying to hide something.  "Yes, I have one daughter. Brianna."

"Bree ahnuh," he said, putting his own Scottish twist on her name. "Lovely. I'm happy for ye, Claire."

"How about you?" I asked. "Did you marry? Have children?"

"I never married," he answered. "But I do have a son. Willie. He's eight years old." He pulled out his phone and swiped to a picture of a boy with dark curly hair. He had caramel skin and the same cat-like blue eyes as his father. 

"Gorgeous," I said.

"He doesna live here though," he went on, his voice strained. "He's staying wi' friends in Brazil, and I havena seen him since I've been back. It's verra complicated."

"Were you in a relationship with his mother?"

"No. She died in childbirth. He lives with friends of mine right now. I'm hoping to get him back soon." His fist was clenched hard and his forehead was etched with pain.

I reached over and placed a hand over his. "What is he like, your son?" I asked.

His face relaxed and he smiled. "He's spoiled. Stubborn. Ill-mannered. Loud, wi' a wicked temper. And braw, bonny, canty and strong."

"And yours," I said, absent-mindedly caressing his hand.

"Mine." He nodded and flipped our hands around so he was holding mine in his. We both sat like that for a moment, his thumb gently caressing my knuckles. Finally he said, "I kent when I came here in hopes of finding ye, that ye would have had a life." He paused, considering his next question carefully. "Were ye happy with yer husband?"

I took a deep breath before answering. "I was happy raising my daughter with him. He was a good father to her."

"And you?" he asked, picking up on what I wasn't saying.

"It was not a very happy marriage, but he loved Brianna, so we made it work."

He nodded and we both sat together in silence until our preoccupation was broken by a voice coming over the loudspeaker. "Welcome back to Inverness High School everybody. Now, it wouldna be a celebration here wi'out picking a King and Queen."

I rolled my eyes and whispered to Jamie, "Of all the ridiculous things."

"The votes are in, and...well this should come as no surprise. I feel like I'm back at prom again."

Fuck. No. No. No.

"The King and Queen of the reunion are…Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser!"

My heart sank into my stomach, pounding and twisting my innards. I didn't need a mirror to know that I was flushed beet red. 

"Come on up and collect your crowns." 

I looked at Jamie for help, but he had a crooked smile on his face and I could see the amusement in his eyes. He stood and held my hand firmly, gently pulling me from the chair. I hit the ground and my legs started shaking. Jamie took a firm hold around my waist and walked me to where the DJ was set up. 

Everything around me was a blur. My old classmates parted to make an aisle for Jamie and I to walk down, but I couldn't make out any of their faces as the lights from the DJ's set up swirled around me.

Somehow I made it. I realized the announcer was our old friend Angus and I gave him a weak smile. He placed a ridiculous plastic tiara on my head and then Jamie bent down to have a similarly absurd crown placed on his head. Angus turned us around and everybody clapped. My eyes finally focused when I saw Geillis's face clapping and laughing at the same time. I'm glad she's enjoying herself, I thought, wanting to die inside.

"All right," Angus went on. "It wouldna be a proper coronation wi'out a dance between the King and Queen." He nodded at the DJ.

I shook my head in protest, but Jamie was already turning me toward him and moving us to the center of the crowd. I took a deep breath and let him take the lead, thankful for his height and broad chest so that I didn’t have to see everybody watching us. 

I looked up at Jamie and he smiled at me. "Do ye hear what song they're playing?" he asked.

I hadn't heard, actually. My ears had been ringing, but when I focused I realized it was the same song we'd danced to when we'd been crowned all those years ago, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. My heart was pounding in my chest as the memories of the boy I had loved mixed together with the reality of the man before me. 

There was no denying that the connection we had all those years ago had never been severed. Hadn't it hung like a dark cloud over my marriage for fifteen years? Had I ever really stopped loving him, hoping for him to walk through the door as he finally did that night? No.

I looked up into his eyes and saw my expression reflected in his. Was the feeling mutual? Did he still love me too? I couldn't be sure, but it sure felt that way. He held me close, his hand gently rubbing the small of my back. His arms felt strong and safe.

He moved his face closer to mine and I gasped. He pulled back slightly and whispered. "I would verra much like tae kiss ye now. May I?" I swallowed and nodded. 

His lips met mine tentatively at first. I responded, slowly at first and then with more confidence. Suddenly we were the only two people in the room and his lips on mine were the only thing I could feel, all my other senses had gone numb. I didn't even realize I had tears rolling down my cheeks until he pulled away and wiped them away with his thumb. My eyes coming into focus, I saw that his cheeks were stained as well and I placed both my hands on them and brushed the salty trails away.

"The song's over," Jamie said as I leaned my head on his chest. 

"Mmmmm," I answered.

He lifted my chin with his hand, pulling my eyes up to meet his. "Ye'll come upstairs wi' me?" He asked, his eyes dancing with excitement. "If ye dinna think it too scandalous."

I smiled at him and whispered hoarsely, "Yes."

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-08-25-08-04-23

In the matrix of possible pairings within the social structures of high school, Jamie and I were probably the least likely couple you could pick. He was popular, an athlete, and a bit of a bad boy, or so his reputation would lead one to believe. His family was rich; his father was one of those charming men with so much charisma that he took up the entire room, and his mother was a gorgeous, regal woman who was the head of every committee known to man. His older brother, Willie, had been a star athlete at the school before going on to study at Oxford and his sister Jenny was the Queen Bee of the entire school.

I, on the other hand, was quiet, bookish, and a bit of a loner. My family was ridiculously small; my parents had died when I was five and my Uncle Lamb had taken guardianship of me. We moved from Oxfordshire to the Scottish Highlands, where he had been offered a professorship at Inverness College. We lived a quiet, modest life together.

Despite all of our differences, Jamie began to show an interest in me during our freshman year. I actually spurned his advances for the entire year, but that summer he started just showing up at my house to hang out, and I saw a whole new side of him. He was smart and loved to read. He was funny, but not in a telling-coarse-jokes type of way. He was witty with a wonderfully dry sense of humor. And he was kind, nothing like the group of popular athletes I had lumped him in with.

By the time school was back in session we were inseparable. Whenever we didn't have a class together, he would race from his classroom so he could walk with me. His friends teased him a bit at first for being under the power of such a nerd, but after a while, it was just accepted that we were a couple. People would refer to us as JamieandClaire as if we no longer existed as separate beings.

Such a deep attachment might have inspired a feeling of suffocation in some, but it never felt that way with Jamie. We did still have separate interests, but we were always there to cheer each other on. I went to all his football and shinty games; he would be by my side at science competitions. Our relationship was a beautiful balancing act in which we rarely slipped.

I experienced all my firsts with him. He technically had kissed another girl before, but he proclaimed that it didn't count because it was his little cousin who had cornered him at a family gathering and kissed him. Apparently, nobody had taught her about social taboos yet.

Though most people probably thought we were sleeping together from the beginning, we actually took our time and waited until both of us were sure we were ready. And when we finally did, it forged us even closer together.

It would be easy to think that I was simply looking back on puppy love with rose-colored glasses, but we were the real deal. We knew each other with an intimacy even long married couples would be jealous of.

During our senior year, our worlds started to shift, but we were unshakeable. We clung to each other even more vehemently as things started to fall apart. Jamie’s mother committed suicide in the fall, and we grieved her death together, holding each other up, helping each other get through each day one step at a time.

The fog of grief that followed Jamie everywhere that year obscured his view of the other ways in which his family was falling apart. Willie dropped out of university and joined the army. Soon after, Jenny eloped and moved to Australia with her new husband, Ian.

Money was suddenly and inexplicably tight for the Frasers. When it came time for prom, the lavish plans Jamie had for us slowly evaporated. When he told me he didn't even have money to take me out to dinner before the dance, I kissed him gently and told him, "It's ok. I don't even care if we go to prom; I just want to spend time with you. We can dance in my living room if we have to."

We did make it to prom, though. Jamie’s spirits lifted considerably as we laughed with our friends and danced together. At the end of the night, our friend Rupert stood at the front of the room and pronounced us Prom King and Queen. As we danced together, Jamie held me close and whispered, "I dinna want this night tae ever end."

The night did go on well past the official end of the dance. We went to a party at Geillis's house and soon found ourselves drunk and sneaking off to one of the rooms upstairs. I always made Jamie wear a condom despite the fact that I was on the pill, but we had forgotten to bring one. I knew that doubling up on protection was just my paranoia anyway, so we didn't think twice about going without just that one time.

As graduation approached, we started making plans for moving to Glasgow. Jamie, Geillis, and I had all been accepted at university there and would be getting an apartment together off campus.

The morning of graduation, I woke up and immediately had to run to the bathroom to vomit. I figured it was just nerves; as Valedictorian, I was giving a speech that night at the ceremony. I tried getting in touch with Jamie, but nobody answered the phone at his house. He had relatives coming to visit to see the graduation, so I didn't think anything of it. We had already planned to meet before the ceremony, so I wasn't too worried.

Geillis came over to keep me company that afternoon. "Christ, Claire, ye look like absolute shite."

"I've been puking on and off all day."

She felt my head with the back of her hand. "No fever. Must just be nerves."

A few minutes later I ran to the bathroom again. When I returned, she eyed me suspiciously. "When did ye have yer last period, Claire?"

I thought back, trying to remember. "A week or so before prom. Remember? I was relieved it came early. Why?"

"Claire, that was six weeks ago."

Realization washed over me in a sickening wave. "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ."

"Ye need tae take a test, Claire."

I whispered, despite the fact that we were the only ones home. "I can't walk into the chemist and buy a pregnancy test. What if someone sees me?"

"Who cares? Oh fine, I'll pop out and get one fer ye."

A thousand emotions stormed through me while I waited for her return. How would I tell Uncle Lamb? How would I tell Jamie? What would we do? But even in that moment of turmoil, I felt a small twinge of awe and anticipation. This baby, if it existed, was something that Jamie and I had made together. And even though I was scared and anxious and wondering what my life would become, I knew all at once that if there was a positive on that test, I would be keeping the baby.

Geillis returned and I took the test into the bathroom, shutting the door. Taking a deep breath, I did what I had to do and then sat down on the edge of the tub, waiting for my fate to be sealed. I kept my eyes closed so I wouldn’t be tempted to look. Finally, Geillis called, “Claire! It’s been five minutes! What does it say?”

I opened one eye and peeked at the stick. Two bright pink lines stared back at me. I gasped and brought my hand to my stomach, wondering what secrets were held within. Leaning on the sink, I stared at myself in the mirror, looking for a physical sign for the change I was already feeling within me. It wasn’t the plan, but we would make it work.

I stuffed the pregnancy test and the box back in the plastic bag from the store, tying it up to hide the evidence. Then, I washed my hands and brought the bag to the kitchen, stuffing it deep in the garbage can. “Are ye gonna say something?” Geillis called from the living room.

I went to the living room and flopped down on the couch. “It’s positive,” I said finally.

Geillis gasped. “Oh, Claire. What are ye going tae do?” She moved to the couch and wrapped her arms around me.

“I’m not exactly sure, but I need to tell Jamie.” I sniffled a little, overcome with emotions.

“Ye should call him.”

I shook my head. “No. Nobody has been answering the phone. Besides, it’ll be better if I tell him in person.”

“What do ye think he’s gonna say?”

“I truly don’t know, but I do know that he will support any decisions I make. Beyond that…” I shrugged.

“Well,” she said. “Let’s get some tea in ye and get ready to go. We’ve only got a few hours before we have to be there.”

I take a deep breath and nod. “Thank you, Geil.”

A few hours later, we were at the high school, decked out in our caps and gowns. I waited outside the school for Jamie, my panic rising as it got closer and closer to start time and he still hadn’t showed.

Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer, lined up with the rest of my classmates. They filed in and sat on the stage, an empty chair between Aileene Forsythe and Hamish Fullerton. I went through the ceremony in a daze, gave my speech on autopilot, took my diploma from the principal with a somber face.

I skipped the parties that night and stayed home, calling Jamie’s house periodically. Either the power went out or the answering machine was unplugged, because it just rang and rang and rang. I finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.

The next day, I woke in the afternoon, the bright June sunshine casting a beam of light across my bedding. I took a deep breath and told myself that today Jamie would show up and everything would be explained and cleared up.

I walked into the kitchen for some coffee; Uncle Lamb was sitting at the table with some scones. “Have a seat,” he told me.

I gave him a skeptical look but poured my coffee and sat down. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Claire-bear,” he said, reaching across the table to take one of my hands in his, “I was just down at the pub, and I found out some disturbing news.” I shook my head vehemently, not wanting to hear what was coming next. Lamb squeezed my hand softly and sat still, looking at me until I met his eyes again. “The Frasers, Jamie and his father, are gone. They had the power shut off, abandoned the house. Their housekeeper showed up today and said the house was a mess. There were papers strewn everywhere, furniture turned over. Nobody knows where they went.”

It took me a while to process what I was hearing. Jamie was gone, disappeared, vanished. Nobody knew where he was. But surely, we would hear from him soon? He wasn’t going to just fall off the face of the earth.

A week went by with no word, and I was overcome with worry that he had been hurt, kidnapped, or even killed. When I ranted at Uncle Lamb about my theories, he sat me down again with a cuppa. “Claire-bear, Brian Fraser has always been involved in some risky business dealings. I don’t know the extent of it, and I never mentioned it to you because I know Jamie is not his father. But the word around town is that he had somehow gotten mixed up with a cartel. I don’t know if they were kidnapped, or hurt, or, god forbid, killed, but what I do know is that you are going to need to let go of the idea that they might come back.”

Hearing Lamb, my sensible, even-keeled, logical Uncle, say that Jamie wouldn’t be coming back was too much to bear. The dam broke and I put my hands over my eyes and sobbed, deep wracking sobs that went through my entire body.

He is gone. How many times did that mantra play on a loop in my head? It was my constant, inescapable playlist for the next several weeks. I repeated them until I believed them, and then I broke down because they were true. On and on it played, through the summer, as Geillis and I settled into our apartment in Glasgow, and as I started classes.

I was a ghost. I felt like my ties to the earth were broken. I floated through rooms without feeling my own footsteps. I could hear people speak to me, but I couldn’t make sense of it. I might have floated away completely if I hadn’t woken up one morning and felt the baby kicking. I had pushed the pregnancy to the back of my mind, or maybe it had moved there on its own, crowded out by the overwhelming drum beat in my head (He is gone. He is gone). But the moment I felt her moving within me, I felt myself suddenly anchored back to the earth, to life.

That weekend, I drove home to Inverness and told Uncle Lamb my news. We talked well into the night and through our normal rhythm of problem solving, we came up with a plan. That I was keeping the baby was never in doubt, even from the very beginning. Uncle Lamb supported my conviction and we figured out how to make it work. He would retire a year early, get an apartment nearby in Glasgow so that he could help with the baby, so I could continue school. I would have to take a bit of time off to recover from the birth, but I was sure I could stay caught up with his help.

My heart began to feel lighter. Jamie was not gone, because I had a piece of him with me. Soon I would soon have a little human who was half Jamie to hold in my arms. I started to come back to life.

Brianna Ellen Beauchamp was born on a bitterly cold day in late January. When I held her in my arms and looked into those beautiful blue, cat-like eyes and rubbed my nose over her copper hair, breathing in her intoxicating scent, I knew I had regained a piece of him. No matter what happened to him, where he was, if he even was anymore, he would live forever.

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-08-27-05-37-36

I felt drunk as I followed Jamie to his room, even though I hadn't had that much whisky. He slipped his key card in the door and gestured for me to go in ahead of him.

The room was much larger than the one Geillis and I were sharing. There was a mini bar, which Jamie headed to. "A night cap, Sassenach?"

"Yes please," I answered, perching myself on the arm of a chair. The spell had been broken, and I was suddenly extremely nervous. 

He handed me a glass of whisky and we clinked glasses before sipping, our eyes locked on each other the entire time. We sipped in silence, unsure where to begin. Finally, Jamie stepped away and started fumbling through his bag. He pulled out a small speaker and fiddled with his phone a bit. "What would ye like tae listen tae? A little NSYNC, maybe?" he teased.

"You know, I don't think I'll ever forgive you for not being there for me when Justin Timberlake went solo," I joked, breaking the tension.

He laughed heartily, "OK but really, what do ye want?"

"How about some Dave Matthews?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him. The corner of his lips curled into a boyish grin. Dave Matthews Band had been our band . Lover Lay Down had been our song . As he started swiping and typing on his phone, I added, "But nothing after 2005, please. It all kind of sucks after that."

"All right, I'll see what I can do." His forehead wrinkled in concentration as he looked back at his phone. Finally, with a triumphant look on his face, he hit the phone with his index finger. The Space Between filled the room, and Jamie held out his hand to her. "Would ye like tae dance again?"

I placed my hand in his and he pulled me closely to him. I leaned into his chest, breathing him in, marveling at the feel of him in my arms; so big, so solid and warm. Real, after the years of longing for a ghost I could not touch. I could hardly believe this was happening. All these years, it had been easier to tell myself he was dead. And when Brianna was old enough to ask about her biological father, that was the story I told her, too. 

But here he was, in the flesh, and I was with him. He kissed the top of my head before resting his chin there. I moved one of my hands down to his chest and rested it there while we swayed together.

There were so many things we needed to say to each other, so many questions to be answered, secrets to be revealed. But tonight was going to only be about the two of us, reconnecting.

"What are ye thinking?" he asked me quietly.

"I'm thinking that I can't believe this is really happening, that you're here. You're real," I murmured into his chest. 

"Aye," he sighed. "So are you. Ye ken, I saw ye sometimes. During some of the worst times of my life, I would see ye standing in front of me wi' yer hair curled around yer face, smiling." His hand went to my head and he twirled one of my curls around his finger. His voice hitched as he spoke, "But tae have ye here in my arms again." 

I shivered a little at that and squeezed him tighter. He squeezed me back and then gently pushed me back so he could look into my eyes. “I have burned for you for twenty years, Sassenach,” he said softly. “But I’m no' the man ye knew, twenty years ago. We know each other now less than we did when we first met. Sassenach, will ye take me—and risk the man that I am, for the sake of the man ye knew?” His hands were trembling as he reached down to stroke my face gently.

I looked up into his eyes, searching in vain for some fundamental change in him. "Whoever you are now, Jamie Fraser—yes. Yes, I do want you. And what about you? How do you know what I’m like? You don’t know what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years, either. I might be a horrible person, for all you know." 

“I suppose ye might," he responded, returning my investigative stare. “But, d’ye know, Sassenach—I dinna think I care.”

"Neither do I," I answered, standing on my tiptoes and pulling his head down closer to mine so my lips could find his. We kissed softly at first but soon we were unable to quell our desires; Jamie’s fist curled in my hair as our tongues danced a routine that was both achingly familiar and fascinatingly new. A moan escaped my mouth when he finally pulled away, both of us panting. He held my head back by the hair and asked, "Will ye come tae bed with me, Sassenach?"

I gave him a crooked smile. "To bed, or to sleep?"

"Either way, ye're not likely to sleep in yer dress. Turn around and I'll help ye wi' the zipper." I did as asked and Jamie brought his hands to the back of my neck, gently pushing my hair away. I could feel his breath, hot and moist on my skin as his hand moved down and pulled on the zipper. He went painstakingly slow; I could feel each tooth breaking apart, one by one. 

He finally reached the bottom and pushed the fabric from my shoulders so that my dress spilled to the ground in a puddle. His hands ghosted over my shoulders and slid halfway down my arms before moving onto my back and fumbling with the clasp of my bra. I sighed deeply as it released.

His hands continued their trail down my spine until he reached the hem of my panties. Thank God I decided on my good underwear. His hands fell to my hips and he gently pushed them down. I wiggled a little to help them reach the ground as he caressed my bottom.  "I've missed this round lovely arse," he breathed into my ear before turning me around. 

Suddenly, I was overcome with a flash of self-consciousness, and I stepped back, covering my chest with my arms. The last time Jamie had seen me naked was when we were eighteen. I remembered my pert breasts with nipples that had stood at attention; now they were angled downward, ravaged by pregnancy and breastfeeding and gravity. My abdomen had been flat, an unmarked terrain; now it was convex and marked with stretch marks, as if my daughter had permanently staked a claim on my body. My thighs touched at their peak and my ass was dimpled with cellulite. 

Jamie stared at me, looking me up and down with an inscrutable expression on his face. “Would you bloody say something?” I finally pleaded.

“Christ, Sassenach. Ye’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he said breathily.

“You ought to get your eyes checked,” I teased, feeling more comfortable standing naked before him. He sat down on the bed and gestured for me to come closer. I moved toward him and stood between his legs. His hands tentatively rested on my hips as he pulled me even closer and placed a tentative kiss on each breast. I inhaled sharply at even that small contact. It had been a very long time since I had any sort of sexual contact with anybody. Frank had died in the fall, and we had stopped sharing a bed about four years before that. 

Jamie’s hands began to roam, cupping and massaging my breast. A sigh of satisfaction escaped his lips as he took my nipples in his mouth, one then the other, sucking and licking. I moaned and pressed my pelvis against his body. "To touch ye, Sassenach," he whispered in between the kisses he trailed down my stomach. "I couldna look at ye, Sassenach, and keep my hands from you, nor have ye near me, and not want ye.” His lips ghosted over my stretch marks and I pulled back slightly, cringing.

He stopped and looked up at me, his hands resting again on my hips. "Do ye want me tae stop?"

"No," I replied. "I'm just self-conscious about my stretch marks."

He moved his hands and traced the lines softly with his finger tip. "They're beautiful, Sassenach. They're yer badges of honor for being a mother. Ye should wear them proudly." He bent down and left a trail of kisses over their miniscule peaks and valleys.

I breathed in deeply. "You really don't mind?" I asked.

He sat back and pulled his shirt over his head. He was a fucking Adonis; there was no other way to describe it. His pecs and arms were large and well formed; his abs hard and well-defined. I reached out to do some exploring of my own, but he stopped me by gently grabbing my hand. "Do ye mind, Sassenach?"

He turned his body and I gasped involuntarily when I saw his back. Before me was a map of some torture he had been subjected too. White scars criss crossed everywhere like chaotic hiking trails interspersed with silvery scar tissue that glistened like water in a stream. Where larger patches of skin had been flayed off completely there were divots and peaks denoting an elevated terrain. 

Slowly I reached my hand out and began tracing my finger along the different routes of his back. He instinctively pulled away at first, but I persevered, boldly learning this new part of him from all directions. I moved onto the bed and kneeled behind him, molding my upper body to his back and gently kissing him on the back of his neck.

"It doesna fright ye, nor sicken ye, Sassenach?" he asked with a slight tremble in his voice.

"Of course not," I replied. "I'm a surgeon, remember? I've seen much worse. But how?"

"I'll tell ye, but no' tonight," he promised. Suddenly, in one swift move he had me on my back and was hovering over me. "Tonight is only about you and me."

"Alright," I replied, lifting my head to kiss his nose. "But I’m also going to want to know what happened to your nose."

"Aye, all in good time, Sassenach." He nibbled at my neck and then stood to remove his pants. 

The sight of him naked before me took my breath away. I drank him from top to bottom; I'd forgotten how big he was -- in all ways. As he crawled back on the bed and hovered over me, I began to tremble uncontrollably. "Are you as scared as I am?" I managed to ask.

He traced the back of his hand along the goosebumps on my arm and I could feel that his hands were also shaking a little. "I dinna think I'm scared, but I do want ye very badly, Claire."

Pushing aside my fear, I reached my arm up and around his neck, pulling him into me. He licked his lips quickly before greeting my open mouth with his. Our tongues tangled together and we both pushed into each other fiercely, trying to absorb each other through our mouths. 

When we broke apart, he slipped his hands under my back and lifted me closer to the head of the bed. As he let me down I tipped my head back and crashed it against the headboard. 

"Are ye alright, Sassenach?" he asked, lifting my head to inspect it.

I grimaced and then started giggling. This set Jamie off in a fit of laughter as well. Somehow our mutual laughter made me feel our connection strengthen. When the laughter died away, he stared into my eyes, his pupils blown, and bent down to kiss me again. He settled his body on top of mine, the familiar bulk of him better than any weighted blanket. 

Our hands and mouths roamed over each other’s bodies. I could feel his need pressed up against my thigh and I was consumed with desire. As he reached down between my legs, cupping me firmly, my entire body filled with burning desire. I needed him. 

His head was buried in my chest, licking and sucking. I tangled my hand in his auburn curls and pulled his head up. Looking at him straight in the eyes, I growled, "Do it now, and don't be gentle."

He needed no further invitation. His knees pushed my legs further apart and drove his cock into me. I cried out as he filled me completely, deeply. Before I could catch my breath he was thrusting again. He reached up and grabbed onto the headboard with one hand, driving madly into me over and over again. My fingernails raked down his back, marking my territory on top of his scarred skin. 

He adjusted his arms again, reaching one arm under my leg allowing him to press deeper. Each thrust reverberated through my entire body as I threw my head back and cried out. The sound of my pleasure only encouraged him more as he continued his relentless assault. 

He pressed one hand against my cheek, bringing me back to him. "Give me yer mouth, Sassenach," he commanded. 

Our mouths crashed together again and as our tongues crashed together, I felt heat spreading throughout my core. I was dangling on the precipice of my peak, ready to fall over the edge. Jamie’s thrusts began to lose their rhythm and I knew he was close as well. As he slammed into me erratically he said hoarsely, "Come with me, mo chridhe ," before clamping down on my shoulder with his teeth.

With the sound of that endearment, my heart , and the pleasantly painful bite, I mercifully fell apart. As I imploded around him I screamed his name and suddenly I felt his cock throbbing inside of me.

"Oh god, oh Claire," he choked out, collapsing on top of me.

We stayed like that, with Jamie still inside of me, holding each other. I rubbed my hands up and down his back, wishing I could stay in that moment forever. It had been a long five years without the touch of a man, and twenty years without this passionate, animalistic fire that Jamie had stoked in me again.

Frank had been as bland as plain porridge, an unimaginative, unsatisfying lover. When we'd first gotten together, I was too shy to voice my needs and desires. I'd attributed my lack of pleasure to possible damage caused by Brianna's difficult birth. It hadn't been until I bravely told Geillis about my frustration that it dawned on me that I might not be the problem;  Frank just sucked in bed.

By then, a tension had already started building in our relationship, and I felt it better to keep my thoughts to myself lest he assume, rightfully so, that I was comparing him to Jamie. So, I'd kept my mouth shut, used a lot of lube to make up for my lack of arousal and borne his clumsy thrusting when it couldn't be avoided. Eventually the palpable tension pervaded all aspects of our relationship and our unsatisfying joining became, mercifully, less and less frequent.

I pushed aside my thoughts of Frank, focusing on the giant Scot lying next to me. He slipped an arm under my neck and lay my head on his solid chest. His heart thumped steadily under my ear and I closed my eyes, counting the beats. 

Running my hand over his chest, a small smirk came to my face. "Do you know, you have more hairs on your chest than you used to?"

Jamie snorted, laughter vibrating under my body. "No, I dinna count them," he said with amusement. "Did anyone ever tell ye that ye should work on your pillow talk?"

" Pfffftt . I don't remember any complaints from you in that department before."

He gave a low chuckle and caressed my back with his strong, callused hands. The roughness of them is different, but I like it.  "So," I started tentatively, "when are you going to tell me where you've been all this time?"

He shifted, sitting up against the headboard and I adjusted with him, laying my head on his shoulder. I threw my legs over his and ran one foot up and down his calf muscle. "I told ye, Sassenach. I was in South America."

"You know what I mean," I responded, slapping him lightly on the chest. "I mean, what were you doing and why did you…"

"Disappear?"

"Yes," I answered quietly.

He kissed the top of my head, inhaling deeply. "There's no' a quick and easy answer for that question."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Ye might once I tell ye." He squeezed me tightly, his fear palpable.

"Jamie," I said, sitting up and turning his head so I could look in his eyes, "I just want to know. I'm not here to judge you."

Clasping my hands between his, he took a deep breath. "Ye must listen tae me with your whole heart." I nodded, and he went on. "First I need ye to ken that I would never have left ye if I'd had any choice in the matter. It nearly destroyed me, leaving ye like that." 

A single tear ran down his cheek. I flicked it away with my thumb and left my hand resting on his cheek reassuringly. 

"My father's business took a turn for the worse, and he got involved in some shady business dealings. It wasna illegal at first, but he didna ken that the people he was getting involved with were working for a cartel." He paused and swallowed hard looking at me sheepishly.

"When did this start?" I asked.

"Around the time Ma died. There was so much going on wi' my family I didna ken about. Kids can be pretty stupid, aye?"

"Parents are very good at protecting their children," I pointed out.

He nodded thoughtfully. "Aye, 'tis true."

"So what happened? Did the cartel come after your father?"

"No, the NCA did. Da had gotten involved in some money laundering schemes and wasna being as careful as he thought he was. He caught wind that they were closing in on him and we just left in the middle of the night. Claire, ye have tae ken that I tried no' tae go wi' him. But he told me…" his voice broke off in a sob. "He told me that if I stayed they would come after me. Maybe even you. I couldna get ye involved in something like that. I'm so sorry, Claire."

By then, tears were running down my face too. I went up on my knees, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling his head to my chest. I ran my fingers through his auburn locks and whispered, "Shhhh. Jamie, please stop apologizing. I was never angry with you. I was worried , but it never once occurred to me to be angry with you."

"God, what did I do tae deserve ye, Claire?"

I kissed the top of his head and then gently nudged at his chin. When he tilted his head up to see what I wanted, I kissed him, gently but firmly. "Can you tell me the rest?" I asked as I pulled my lips away.

"Aye," he answered, pulling me back into him. He was so warm; I'd forgotten that I could use him as my personal furnace. "We went tae Brazil and my Da started working for the cartel outright. And eventually I did too."

"What did you do?" I asked, trying to imagine Jamie and Brian running guns or roughing up someone who wouldn't pay up. It was impossible, not my sweet, gentle giants.

"Banking scams mostly, wire fraud and such. Setting up shell corporations. I wasna a ruffian running around and kidnapping fer ransom if that's what yer thinking."

"Oh, you're a mind reader now?"

"No. But I can read yer face like a book."

I changed the subject, embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about what cartels do . "And William? Where does he fit into all this."

Jamie sighed. "I met his mother at a party. We ended up sleeping together. It was just a one-night stand, but she ended up pregnant. That would have been fine except it turned out she was the daughter of one of the big bosses. When Gabriela, his mother, died giving birth to him, it was no' as if I could keep him from them. I was in constant fear that they'd take him from me."

"Is that why he's still in Brazil?"

"Aye. I couldna take him wi' me without raising suspicions. Ye see, I was arrested and taken into custody last year. They'd been surveilling me for a while. When they found out what I kent and the skills I had, we worked out a deal. I gave up some information, a few names,  and they would get me out of the country. The NCA saw me as a valuable asset, so part of the deal was that I would come here and work for them, put my abilities tae good use, I suppose. But I couldna take him." He was crying again, and I reached over on the nightstand to get him some tissues. "Thank ye, Claire," he said, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose. "I had no choice; it was either take the deal or spend the rest of my life in jail. Either way I would have had tae leave him."

"You said he was living with friends?"

"Aye, I left him wi' his godfathers, John and Hector. They love him as their own, and they have the means to protect and care for him until I can figure out a way to bring him home wi' me."

It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him about Brianna but I decided the morning would be better for opening that can of worms. "You miss him?" I asked instead.

"Terribly."

"You'll get him back soon. I know you will."

He nodded and blew his nose again. "I ken. It’s just hard. I never spent more than a couple nights away from him since he was a bairn."

Unsure of what I could possibly say to give him comfort, I snuggle closer into him. We laid in silence for a while, and I was almost starting to drift off when he said,  "Ye dinna want tae leave then?"

"No. I've missed you for far too long to let something like that make me turn heel and run away. I know your heart, James Fraser, and that's all that matters."

He turned on his side and started tracing the lines of my body with his fingers. “I could watch ye for hours, Sassenach, to see how you have changed, or how ye’re the same. Your hair—I called ye mo nighean donn , d’ye recall? My brown-haired lass.” He reached up and wrapped a ringlet of my hair around his finger, pulling it gently and then letting it spring back.

"Mmmmmmm…" I said in agreement, turning my body to face his. He reached behind me, gripping my buttocks and pulling my hips into his body so that I could feel his hard length against me. 

"And this sweet, round arse," he growled, giving it a squeeze. "When I came in and saw ye, hovering in the corner with Geillis, it was the first thing I noticed."

"I don't know if I should be flattered or pissed," I responded, though I was giggling. He made me feel like I was sixteen again. 

"Shhh...listen," he said suddenly. I stifled my laughter and listened. "It's our song, Sassenach."

Don't be us too shy

For knowing it's no big surprise that

I will wait for you

I will wait for no one but you

Jamie pulled my knee up and rested it on his hip. He moved closer and pressed against me. "My god, I've missed ye all these years, mo ghraidh."

My mouth met his gently. Our inferno from earlier that night had become burning embers. The same heat was there, but it was quieter, less chaotic. He slid inside and we moved together, our hips gliding back and forth in a perfectly choreographed dance. Our eyes were locked in as we panted and breathed in each other’s air. 

He built me up slowly and when I was inching closer and closer to the edge, he moved his hand down between my legs and rubbed at my clit, his rough fingers moving in a figure eight. As I met my release, I moved my head forward so our foreheads were touching, still staring into those ocean blue eyes. As I pulsed around him, he let go, gripping a handful of my hair and crying out in Gaelic. 

With one final kiss, I turned around and Jamie spooned me from behind. He was asleep in minutes with his face pressed against my hair. I sunk into oblivion soon after, his entire body formed against mine, a sense of safety and security and satisfaction washing over me.

He came back.

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-08-30-09-57-25

"Do ye want me tae order room service?" Jamie mumbled in my ear when he felt my stomach grumble under his large hands. 

"Mmmmmmm," I replied sleepily. "But I think you already had a full English breakfast."

"Aye, terribly satisfying, but no' so filling," he teased, nibbling at my ear.

I chuckled and rolled over to face him, placing a hand on his face. I needed to feel a connection with him at all times, his skin against mine in as many ways as possible. "I am quite hungry."

"Aye," he replied, kissing me on the forehead before rolling away from me and getting off the bed. I admired his firm, taut ass as he walked around looking for the hotel guide book that would have the number for room service. "What do ye want me tae order?"  he asked as he retrieved it from a drawer in the desk.

"Pancakes...No, eggs and toast." I paused. "Actually what about French toast?"

Jamie laughed, returning to sit on the bed next to the phone. "I see ye can still put food away like a rugby player, Sassenach." I smacked him on the arm, laughing. "It's alright," he went on, leaning down to kiss me. "I like that ye look well fed." To illustrate his point, he gave my plump arse a nice smack.

I crawled over Jamie to get off the bed then, searching for my phone, while Jamie placed a large food order. When I found it, there were 12 messages, ten from Geillis and two from my Brianna. My stomach flipped as I realized I needed to tell Jamie about her without further delay. First, though, I opened my messaging app to see what Geillis was going on about.

Geillis (20:15): Where the hell did you go Claire?

Geillis (20:30): Laogharie just said she saw you going to the elevators with JAMMF.  IS SHE RIGHT?!?!?

Geillis (21:30): I'm going back to the room Claire. Fair warning if you're in there humping that giant red head.

Geillis (21:31): I don't know if you ever told me...does the carpet match the drapes?

Geillis (21:35): Well at least you two had the sense to go to his room.

Geillis (24:00): I'm just going to assume you won't be back tonight.

Geillis (24:00): I would tell you sweet dreams but I actually hope you don't get any sleep tonight.

Geillis (24:01): I expect a full report in the morning.

Geillis (9:00): I'm going to report you missing soon. 

Geillis (9:01): Seriously though please text me when you get up.

Geilis (9:30): Claire, I am dying for details. Please meet me for breakfast.

Shaking my head and laughing, I shot off a quick text to calm her down.

Claire (10:05): I'm ok. Everything is great. Think I had more orgasms last night than I had in 15 years of sleeping with Frank. Will give you details later. I have to drop the B bomb now…

I opened Brianna's messages next.

Bree (21:05): Miss you mama. I hope you're having fun with Auntie Geil.

Bree (8:18): Let's get coffee together when you get back tomorrow so we can catch up. 

Yes , I thought. We do have a lot to catch up on. I sighed, and Jamie looked over at me. "Ye alright, Sassenach?" He was so in tune with me already. It was like we hadn't missed a beat. How was that even possible?  

I gave him a smile, moving to the closet to see if there were any robes. Every muscle in my body ached deliciously. I wrapped myself in a fluffy white robe, noting I would have to go back to my room to get my clothes at some point. I hoped Jamie and I would be spending the day and night together, but I knew he might need some space after I told him about Bree.

I turned to see Jamie sitting on the bed looking like a Viking warrior with his red hair wild with bed head and chiseled features. The only thing that gave his true self away was the adorable smirk on his face, reminding me of the boy I had known so intimately twenty years ago. "Come sit with me again, Sassenach. I like tae have ye near me." 

I smiled, though I felt tears welling in my eyes. I went back to the bed, bringing my phone with me, and cuddled up to him. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed the top of my head. "Christ, I canna tell ye how good it feels to have ye in my arms again."

"It's amazing," I replied. "Like we're picking up right where left off."

"Do ye remember I asked ye once what it was between us? That...that feeling of being on another plane of existence when I'm wi' ye?"

"Mmmmmm….yes. I said I didn't know, but I felt it too."

"I still dinna ken what it is."

"But it's still there." I grabbed his hand and we twisted our fingers around each other's.

"Aye."

After a few comfortably silent moments, I sat up and looked at him, reaching out with both hands to cup his face. "I have to tell you something, Jamie."

His body immediately stiffened, his eyes searching mine for an answer. "Is there..." he swallowed hard, choking on his words, "Is there someone else?"

I gave him a sweet smile and caressed his cheek with my thumb. "Yes," I replied. "But not the way you're thinking."

He gave me a curious look as I opened my phone. My hands were trembling so badly it took me three tries to get the thumbprint to register. I opened my photo gallery, shielding the phone from Jamie’s prying eyes. I pulled up a picture of Brianna I had taken when I dropped her off at University the previous fall. I took a deep breath but my voice still trembled. "Jamie...I want to show you a picture of Brianna. Our daughter."

I'd never seen someone's face take on a pallor so quickly. "Daughter? Our daughter?" His voice was still choked, as if he couldn't get enough air.

I was already crying. "Yes," I said, handing him the phone.

He turned it over slowly and gasped when he saw it. Beautiful red hair, blue cat eyes and a strong, yet feminine, jawline. His fingers reached out to the screen, tracing the shape of her. Tears that he didn't bother to wipe away poured down his face. " Bree anuh," he whispered. As a realization dawned on him, he turned to me. "After my father?"

"Yes," I replied, giving him a small smile. "You always said you would name your first boy after your father. Remember when we did that project with the egg in health class and you insisted we name it Brian? I knew there wouldn't be a second chance for us, so I gave it to our daughter instead. Brianna Ellen ."

A sobbing sound emitted from his throat. "How?" 

"I got pregnant on prom night. Such a fucking cliché. But I didn't know until…" I couldn't even say it.

"Until I left."

I nodded and tried to clear my throat. Finally, I squeaked out, "The morning of graduation."

" Christ ," he whispered. "I was already gone." He couldn't take his eyes off the picture. I rested my head on his shoulder and looked with him, seeing her through his eyes. "Does she ken about me?" he asked.

"Yes. I've told her all about you. But...she thinks you're dead. I'm sorry, Jamie. I didn't know what else to tell her." I buried my face in his shoulder.

" Mo grhaidh. It's all right." He stroked my hair, and a wave of guilt washed over me. There he was, comforting me when I'd just dropped the biggest bomb of his life on him. 

"I'll talk to her as soon as I get back, that is, if you want her to know," I said hesitantly. 

" Christ , of course I want to know her. I wish I could have her here right now. Do ye have any more pictures, Sassenach?" 

"Of course!" I started swiping through my photos, showing him any of Brianna that showed up.

" Ah dhia! She's so beautiful."

"She's just like you," I told him as he swiped.

"Aye, I can tell."

I smiled and stroked his arm while he looked. "I don't just mean looks, though. She's...charismatic, a natural leader. She was president of so many clubs in school, I couldn't keep track. And she's bright and witty. She was roasting me with witty comebacks as soon as she could talk." He chuckled at that and kissed me on my temple. "She loves to read; she's constantly finding something that interests her and diving into it head first; books, documentaries, podcasts. She once listened to a podcast that was just ten episodes all on the Salem Witch Trials. And she's stubborn, strong-willed, with a fierce temper."

"Aye. Sounds like my daughter all right." 

I took the phone back from him and searched in my online albums for pictures from her childhood. "Here she is playing shinty!"

"Shinty? Wi' the lads?" His face was a combination of pride and horror.

"Yes. She'd come home bruised and battered, just like you, but she could hold her own. She played football, too." I swipe to a picture at age ten, red hair thrown up in a ponytail, hands on her hips, balancing with one foot on the black and white ball.

"She's braw." His lips pressed together, trying to somehow create a dam against another flood of tears.

"Oh, and I forgot the best part! She speaks Gaelic. When I told her that her father spoke it she became super into it and ended up taking lessons for years. She may even be more fluent than you."

He made a low grumbling noise in his throat, something akin to harummmph . It was a uniquely Scottish sound, something that must be interpreted within the context of the conversation. I was about to continue, when there was a knock at the door. "Room service!"

"Yes!" I had forgotten about the food but now that we had everything settled, I was starving. I went to the door to grab the food since Jamie was still in his boxers. 

We sat down with the absolute feast Jamie had ordered before us. He'd even thought to get a bottle of champagne for mimosas, the perfect way to start a morning where I already felt like the world had shifted under my feet.

I mixed the drinks and we clinked our glasses together in a toast to each other. Then we dug into the meal in companionable silence. When we were finally slowing down, Jamie crunched a piece of bacon and then offered me some. I bent over the table and took a bite without using my hands, making us both dissolve in giggles. "Ye are a beast, Sassenach," Jamie teased.

"Careful," I warned coquettishly, looking at him over my champagne flute. "I might have to take a bite out of you."

"I think ye already did." He pointed to a round ring of teeth marks on his abdomen near his ribs that I didn’t remember making. 

I shrugged. "I like what I like."

We were quiet again, the sound of chewing the only thing breaking through the silence. Finally, Jamie asked, "What now, Sassenach?"

"Well I suppose we can either go to the family picnic today and spend the night again or go home today. If you're eager to meet Bree it might make sense to get back soon...Wait! I don't even know where you live!"

"Dinna fash. I live right outside Glasgow. But that's no' what I meant. I mean, what about you and me? Ye're the mother of my child, and for that I owe ye my soul, but, do ye want to be with me or do ye just want me to be in our daughter's life?"

I reached across the table and grabbed his hand. "Jamie, I have prayed for you to come back to me everyday for twenty years. I do not intend to have a one night stand with you and then go back to living a half-life. If you are here to be with me, I want to be with you. I know we've both seen a few years and all that goes with it, and I'm not naive enough to think there won't be bumps along the way, but if you are willing to take a chance on me for the sake of the girl you once knew, I am willing to do the same."

Jamie leaned over the table and kissed the knuckles in my hand. "Christ, I'm so happy I decided to come to this reunion."

"How did you even find out about it?" I asked, sipping some much needed coffee after starting my breakfast with champagne.

"Well, when I came back, I joined Facebook tae try tae track ye down, but I couldna find ye."

I cringed apologetically. "Yeah, I don't do social media."

"Aye, I figured that out. But I did find out about the reunion. I messaged Laoghaire to see if ye were coming but she acted like she didna ken where ye were or what ye were doing. But, I figured I'd take the chance anyway. I'm glad I did."

"Laoghaire said that? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, she hasn't changed a bit, the fucking liar. She knew I was coming." I sat back in my chair and crossed my arms over my chest.

"She always was a wee besom. Remember when she tried to spread rumors that I was cheating on ye wi' her?"

" Pfft ," I replied. Having lived in Scotland most of my life, I could make a close approximation of a Scottish noise, but I liked to reserve it for really desperate situations. Laoghaire wasn't worth it. "As if you would ever. That went over like a lead balloon. Still, you would think she would have grown out of it by now. What a fucking psycho."

"Ye curse more than ye did when we were young," he observed, his mouth twitching up at the corner.

"Well, I have a lot more to curse about now," I pointed out. "Now, as we were saying earlier, should we stick around for another day or head back to Glasgow?"

"Truth be told, Claire, as much as I would like tae stay here and ravage ye all day, I canna stop thinking about Brianna. I just ken the sooner ye get back and talk to her, the sooner I can meet her, if she's willing." He smiled at me sheepishly, as if he were embarrassed to admit he wanted to meet the daughter he hadn't known existed until an hour ago.

I smiled at him. "I understand. And I'm sure she's going to want to meet you. I really did tell her all about you, and once she gets over the shock of you not being dead, I'm sure she's going to want to meet her father." I reached over and grabbed his hand again. "Just remember that she also had another father she loved very much. This will be a difficult adjustment for her. You can't take it personally if it takes her some time."

He swallowed hard and said hoarsely, "I ken."

"Alright then," I said, getting up from the table. "I'm going to take a shower. Do you mind going to my room to get my things so I don't have to get dressed in last night's clothes and do the walk of shame?" I reached into my purse and pulled out the key card, handing it to him. "I'll text Geil and let her know you're on your way." 

"Yer wish is my command, madam." He stood and gave a small mock-bow before searching for his pants. I texted Geillis quickly and then sent a message to Brianna.

Claire (11:30): Coming home early. Everything's fine! Don't worry! Be home around fivish. Would like to have dinner with you. Need to talk. Everything's fine!

I sent it off, hoping Brianna wouldn't think I'd lost the plot. Jamie had managed to get himself dressed but before he left, he pulled me in close to him and kissed me passionately, as if he couldn't stop himself. I melted in his arms, but had enough of my senses left to pull away after a bit. "Jamie," I said hoarsely. "If we start in again, we'll never get out of here. And I'm very sore, anyway."

"Aye," he replied with a goofy grin on his face. "I am too. It's, ehrm, well, it'd been a long time for me."

"Me too." I grinned back at him, giving him a light smack on his bottom. "We'll have to ease back into it. Build up our conditioning."

He gave me one last kiss before heading out to get my things. I stepped into the bathroom and dropped my robe, turning on the shower to get the water ( hopefully ) hot before stepping into the tub. When I was satisfied with the temperature, I stepped in and let the water wash over me. 

In less than 24 hours my life had been completely turned on its head. I examined my body for the evidence of the night before. A couple bruises on my thighs and hip, a large hickey on my left breast, a bite marked on my inner thigh. I couldn't help but smile. Jamie is here

As I soaped up, I thought about his bravery in coming here. It could have been a total flop. We could have turned out to be two very different people now. We had been so young then and so much had changed, but he was still Jamie. My Jamie

I drew the washcloth between my legs and cringed at the soreness as I washed. I could feel my heat rising at the thought of being with him last night. He'd certainly acquired a few new tricks since I'd last seen him, not that I was complaining.

As I was rinsing my hair, I heard Jamie come back in the room. "Ye almost ready, Sassenach?" he called from outside the bathroom door. "Yer gonna set off the fire alarms wi' all that steam."

"Yes," I called, "I'll be out in a minute." Turning off the water I took a deep breath, the impending conversation with Bree becoming more of a reality. 

In five hours, I would have to tell my daughter that her biological father wasn't dead. I'd never felt both ready and not ready for something so strongly ever in my life.

 

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-09-03-07-27-05

Brianna was in the living room when Jamie dropped me off. I'd barely put my bags down when she sprang up from the couch, hurrying toward me with her long red hair swishing against her back. "Who was that ? That wasn't Auntie Geil's car."

I rubbed my hand on my temple and sighed. "I'll tell you over dinner, Bree. But I need to put my stuff away and take a breath, ok?"

"Fine," she said huffily. "Are we ordering in?"

"Would you like Indian?" I asked her, walking toward the stairs. "How about Shish Mahal?"

She followed behind me up the stairs. "Perfect!" She grabbed her phone and pulled up an app, punching in her order.

"You are a walking appetite, Brianna Ellen," I replied, opening the door to my bedroom.

She flopped down on my bed with a groan."It's not that I'm hungry, Mama! I just want to know what happened at your reunion. Here, pick what you want," she finished, tossing her phone to me.

I caught it, giving her an admonishing look. I quickly placed my usual order of Saag Paneer and naan and handed the phone back to her. "Did you and Phaedra do anything last night?" I asked her as I began unpacking my bag.

"No, we just ordered take out and watched TV. Pretty boring Saturday night." Her lip twitched at the corner and my stomach did flips, as I recalled seeing that same mischievous look on Jamie’s face only a few hours before. "I'm guessing you had a pretty exciting night though," she teased.

I zipped my overnight bag closed and put it back in the closet before laying down on the bed next to Bree. "I'm not saying anything until the food gets here," I tell her, though I can't control the playful tone in my voice.

"You're killing me, Mama!" she groaned. She scooted over a bit and leaned her head against mine as we both stared at the ceiling. Quietly she asked, "Do you believe in love at first sight?"

Flustered, I answered, "Well that’s a bit out of the blue, isn't it?"

She rolled over onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow, a thoughtful look in her bright blue eyes. "It's just that Phaedra said she doesn't believe in love at first sight. But I knew I loved her from almost the minute I first saw her. "

"Well that doesn't sound that unusual," I replied.

"But does that mean she doesn't love me as much as I love her?" she asked, biting her bottom lip nervously.

"No," I answered, smiling. "It doesn’t mean that at all. Just because you two started off in different places doesn't mean you can't end up in the same place. What's got you worried about this?"

She hesitated, taking a deep breath. "I know you didn't love Daddy as much as he loved you. And when Phaedra said she didn't believe in love at first sight, it made me think of you and Daddy. It just sent me spinning a little."

I pulled myself up to a sitting position and rested a hand on her shoulder. "What it was like between me and Frank...it had nothing to do with who loved who first. There were a lot of things that...complicated the way I felt about him. There's no reason for you to worry based on that, ok?"

She nodded and gave me a small smile. "Thanks, Mama."

"You're welcome," I replied, planting a quick kiss on the top of her head. "Now, please go wait for the food while I get my pajamas on."

When she left, I laid back on the bed again, covering my eyes with my arm. What had I done to Brianna by marrying someone I didn't love? I thought I had done a good job keeping the secrets of my heart hidden away from her, but my clever girl had picked up on much more than I had given her credit for. And now, as if she wasn't confused enough about love, I was about to turn her entire world world upside down. 

I pulled myself up and threw on a tank top and pajama shorts. I was about to join Brianna in the kitchen downstairs when I remembered to check my phone to see if I had anything from Jamie; it had been a long time since I'd had anybody texting me besides Brianna, Geillis, or my work-husband, Joe. I located my phone where I had tossed it amongst the clutter on my dresser and pressed my thumb to the fingerprint sensor, a sense of anticipation building in my stomach. 

Sure enough, he'd already sent me a message. I made a mental note to get a picture of him next time I saw him so I could see his face whenever he called or texted.

Jamie (18:03): Thinking of you. I hope things go well with Brianna. Call me when you can. XOXO

The tension in my belly erupted into butterflies. Christ, he's making me daft.

Claire (18:24): About to have some takeout with her and will tell her then….nervous x

The three little dots indicating he was replying appeared immediately. 

Jamie (18:24): I'm sure it will all be fine. I'll be thinking of you xoxo

The doorbell rang and Brianna called, "Food's here, Mama!" I took a deep breath and steeled myself before going downstairs to join her. 

In the kitchen, we pulled the various cartons of food out, the aromatic spices making my mouth water. We plated everything and carried it into the living room, settling in on the floor, as was our routine. Unsure of how to start, I nibbled at my naan, stalling.

Brianna glanced at me sideways and said, "Alright, Mama. Out with it!"

I swallowed the bread and took a sip of my water. I'd had a four hour car ride to rehearse this, but I'd instead spent it flirting with Jamie. This man will be the death of me. Finally, I started, "You know, I told you that your father, that is, your biological father, and I were high school sweethearts?"

"Yes, of course," she replied, exasperated with me already. "You dated all through high school and then he knocked you up on prom night right before leaving to join the Army."

"Knocked me up? Well I guess that's one way of putting it."

"Come on, Mama!" she whined, taking a small bite of her curry.

I sighed and went on, "I told you that he died in the Middle East." She nodded. "But that's not quite exactly what happened."

Her eyes went wide with interest and fear. "What are you saying, Mama? What happened to him?"

Why didn't I pour a glass of wine for this? "I only told you that because I thought it would be easier than the truth, which is a lot more complicated than I could have ever told you as a small child. And as you got older, it didn't seem that there was any reason to tell you what really happened because either way, he was gone."

" Was gone?" she asked, arching her eyebrow at me in a way that was thoroughly her father's. This was a lot harder with the images of him so fresh in my mind. I'd always known she looked like Jamie, but now that I could truly compare them, with his face and mannerisms fresh in my mind, it was almost unnerving how much she resembled him.

I set aside her question momentarily, wanting her to understand the full truth first. "You see, he disappeared the day of our graduation, him and his father, without a trace." Her face went pale and I realized what she was thinking. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "He didn't know about you. I had just found out that morning. I never got a chance to tell him. If he'd known...well, maybe things would have been different."

"And he was there last night?" she asked quietly.

I felt tears stinging behind eyes as I remembered seeing him standing there when I saw him for the first time last night, standing under a ridiculous archway constructed of cardboard, looking like a Viking warrior. "Yes," I managed to choke out. "He was there. I...I can't really get into the reason why he was gone for so long; it's really not my story to tell. But he came back."

Her eyes were an ocean of confusion, curiosity, and fear. "Did you tell him about me?"

I set my untouched plate on the floor beside me and pulled her in for a hug. "Of course I did. Brianna, you are the most important person in my life. I wouldn't hide you from him."

"What did he say?"

I smiled at her as I tucked her hair behind her ear. They stick out a little, just like his. "He said you were beautiful when I showed him your picture. And he wants to meet you." She looked as if she still didn't quite believe me. "He was very happy to find out about you, at least after the initial shock."

"Did you tell him that his daughter is a big ole lesbian?" she asked. She tried to hide her anxiety by making it into a joke, but I could see right through her.

"No, but not because I thought he wouldn't take it well. It's just that...well, I don't think that's something I should need to tell someone. It's not like if you were into guys, I'd introduce you as 'my daughter, the straight girl.' And besides, that's for you to share when you're ready. Or not," I teased her. "You could just say nothing and then make out with Phaedra in front of him."

She couldn’t help but laugh at that, the tension easing in the room a bit. But when our laughter died down, she bit at her lower lip. "This is all a lot to take in."

"I know, darling. I know. Take your time." We both picked up our plates and started eating our food in silence. When Brianna was trying to figure out her next move, she often went quiet, calculating her next steps before making her feelings known. 

After awhile, she finally put down her fork and said, "I do want to meet him. But I need a little time."

"However long you need," I answered, hoping it wouldn't be too long. 

We finished our food and took care of our plates, carefully putting away our leftovers. "Do you want to watch a movie?" she asked. I told her to pick something out and we cuddled up on the couch together until the movie was over and we both went to bed.

As soon as I closed my bedroom door, I checked my phone. No messages from Jamie, but I was sure he was anxious to hear from me. It was getting late, though, so I sent him a text.

Claire (23:36): Are you awake?

Jamie (23:36): How could I not be? How did it go?

Claire (23:37): It went well. She wants to meet you, but she asked for a little time.

Jamie (23:37): Oh thank christ.

Claire (23:37): It won't be long. I think she just needs time to process.

Jamie (23:38): I understand. Just happy she wants to meet me.

Jamie (23:38): when can I see you again?

Claire (23:39): Soon, I hope. I didn't really get into any details about us, so we'll have to lay low for a bit.

Jamie (23:40): But I miss you already. Can you send me a picture of what you look like right now…

I blushed and held the phone to my chest as if I were trying to hide it from somebody. After taking a minute to catch my breath, I sat up on the edge of my bed, pulled my tank top down just a little, and snapped a photo. I hit send quickly, before I lost my nerve.

Jamie (23:43): You look bonny. I wish I had you here right now. Yer making my balls ache.

Claire (23:43): you'll have to tend to that yourself tonight. But fair is fair. I want to see you.

My breath quickened as I waited for his response. 

The photo he sent did not disappoint. He was lying on his side in bed, wearing nothing but boxers. His hair was tousled and he was giving me a cheeky grin. The hand that was not holding the camera was resting on the erection that was bulging against his underwear.

Jamie (23:48): Claire?

Claire (23:48): sorry. Lost my head for a minute there. 

Jamie (23:49): there's more where that came from, you know

Claire (23:49): oh I'm well aware of that. But it's late and I could use some sleep. I'll call you tomorrow, ok?

Jamie (23:50): I'll be waiting for it. Good night, Sassenach XOXO

Claire (23:50): Good night, Jamie

***

As it happened, there hadn't been an opportunity to see Jamie, at least in person, until the following Friday. Between spending time with Bree and a busy work schedule, the stars just wouldn't align for us. 

Every part of my body craved his touch. I'd spent twenty years without him, but after just one night together, all I could think about was the weight of his body on top of mine. I wanted to feel him filling me, driving me to my release with our connection. When we spoke on the phone at night, I would find myself absent-mindedly fondling my breasts, my nipples hard with anticipation and need. By Friday, I was mad with desire.

That evening, when I got home from the hospital, Brianna told me she would be spending the night at Phaedra's. As soon as she was out the door I picked up my phone and texted Jamie.

Claire (19:13): Tonight, now. Netflix and chill, my place.

We never got to the Netflix. And there wasn't much chill either.

Jamie stood in the doorway looking like a lion about to pounce on its prey. His eyes were nearly black with his desire, his hair a bit disheveled, the light coming in through windows bouncing off his auburn curls. He looked me up and down, biting his lip as he took in the skimpy sundress I had thrown on. He closed the front door behind him and I stood on my tiptoes to give him a gentle kiss. 

He was not interested in being gentle.

He pressed his lips against mine hard, his teeth crashing against mine, tongue reaching deep toward my throat. Breaking away from me only long enough to survey the space, he pushed me backwards into the kitchen, one hand on my waist while the other groped one of my breasts greedily.

Then both of his hands were on my hips and he was lifting me onto the kitchen table. I put my hands on the flat surface behind me for balance and he stepped back for a moment, as if calculating his next move. I breathed heavily, waiting to see what it would be.

Finally, he reached over and gently pulled the hair tie that was holding up my messy bun and gave me a  satisfied smile when my curls fell down onto my shoulders. The way he was looking me up and down sent a shudder of anticipation up my spine and before I realized I was going to say it, I moaned, "Please."

His grin took on a devilish quality as he took two steps forward and pushed my legs apart, standing between them. His arm slipped around my waist and he pulled me right to the edge of the table. I could feel his heat close to mine, and my hips rocked forward, my body desperate for any touch. 

He pushed my dress up and groaned when he realized I wasn't wearing any panties. "Ye wanted this, didn't ye, ye wee vixen?" he growled in my ear. Slowly, he ghosted his finger up my thigh until he reached my hot center. "Oh Christ," he panted in my ear. "Ye're so wet already." Then he pushed two fingers inside of me and withdrew them quickly. Holding them up to my face he said, "Do ye see what a mess yer making already?”

I was panting, barely able to speak. In answer to his question, I grabbed his belt buckle and pulled him in as close as I could, trying to rub against his bulging cock straining against his pants. Suddenly he pushed my hands away and stepped back again. He quickly undid his buckle and dropped his pants and boxers at the same time. His erection sprang free and all I wanted was to feel it inside of me.

I didn't have to wait long. He lunged forward and grabbed hold of my hair at the nape of my neck, angling me back slightly so that he could plunge himself into me. I cried out at the intrusion, throwing my head back as he thrust into me.

His hand was still tangled in my hair and suddenly he pulled my head forward.“Look down," he growled in my ear. "Watch while I take ye. Tell me what ye see."

I tried to focus myself enough so that I could do as he commanded. My stomach clenched pleasantly as I watched his shaft slamming into me. "Tell me dammit," he demanded, yanking on my hair. "Describe to me what ye see."

My voice shook and I was gasping every couple of words. His head was pressed into the top of my shoulder so I spoke directly into his ear. "I...I see...your cock."

"And what is it doing?"

"It's...slamming...into my...pussy."

"More, Sassenach. Tell me more and dinna stop till I tell ye," he groaned, keeping a steady pace with his hips.

I had never talked any dirtier than what I had just said. But I felt safe with Jamie, so I let go of my inhibitions and continued. "I can…..see...how it's...stretching me. It’s so...big….it makes...my pussy...feel so...full." He was fucking me so hard by that point that I couldn't get any more words out. Only moans and cries escaped my lips.

He wouldn't last much longer at such a punishing pace and he must have known it, because he finally released my hair and slid his hand down between my legs. "Dinna stop watching, lass."

I couldn't, even if I'd wanted to. I was mesmerized by the sight of him, his cock slamming into me while his fingers found my clit and started rubbing in deliberate circles. I cried out as the tension began to build rapidly, my orgasm getting closer. He must have sensed it because his fingers increased their pace. "Come for me, now, Claire," his voice rasped in my ear. "Come for me but dinna take yer eyes off me."

My release broke through and I sobbed as I leaned forward and pressed my head onto his chest. As I throbbed around him, his hand slipped lower and he guddled me, his fingers stretching me further while I continued to quiver and shake. " Ah dia !" he cried out. "Christ, I can feel ye quaking against my hand." He thrust into me again and held himself there, his hot juices pouring into me.

My orgasm began to ebb and my body seemed to collapse as it did. My head leaned against his chest and I clung to him for support. "Are ye alright, lass?" he asked, gently rubbing his hand over my hair. I could only nod.

I felt completely undone. Having spent years with Frank-the-missionary-man, I hadn't had the opportunity to experience such unbridled passion. Even with Jamie, before, the sex had been good, but it was the sex of inexperienced teenagers learning as we went along. This was on another level in many ways.

Jamie lifted me then holding my nearly limp body in his arms. "Where's yer bedroom, a nighean? " he asked gently. I pointed toward the ceiling and he carried me out of the kitchen and up the stairs. "First room on the left," I muttered, burying my head in his chest.

He laid me down on the bed and took off his shirt, as if he knew I needed to feel his skin against mine. I was still wearing my dress, so I quickly slipped it over my head and tossed it across the room. 

When he was settled snugly behind me, the front of his body pressed into the back of mine, he whispered, "I'm sorry, Claire."

I reached back and patted his thigh. "What on earth are you sorry for?" I asked.

He buried his face in my curls. "Fer takin ye so fiercely. I just couldna help myself when all I could do the entire week was think about all the ways I would take ye when I could see ye again." 

I couldn't stop myself from laughing a little. "Jamie," I said, amused, "If I'd wanted you to stop at any point, don't you think I would have said something ?"

"Aye, I suppose ye would have," he replied, his voice echoing my own mirth. "Christ, Sassenach, I couldna stop thinking of ye, and then when I saw ye standing in the doorway in that flimsy piece of fabric, I felt like I'd lost it all together."

His hand was resting casually on my stomach and I picked it up, twisting my fingers around his. For the first time I noticed the scars on his hands and the stiffness of his middle finger. Experimenting, I gently tried to bend it, but it was nearly frozen in place. "What happened?" I asked quietly.

He pulled the hand away from me gently and rolled over on his back, putting the offending hand behind his head. "It's nothing, Claire, just another casualty of my life in South America."

I turned to face him and reached up to pull his arm back down, kissing his injured knuckles gently. "You don't have to be embarrassed, Jamie."

"I'm no' embarrassed," he scoffed. "I just dinna want tae scare ye away by telling ye about all that's happened."

"Jamie, you're not going to scare me away." I snuggled up to him again, wanting to reassure him that I wasn't going anywhere. "Please tell me what happened."

He took a deep breath and started, "I was taken a few times by a rival cartel. They had one particular thug who specialized in...unique ways tae get information. His name was Joãozinho Ranhel, but they called him João Negro, which translates roughly to Black Jack.

"It wasna just that he was good at what he did, it's that he enjoyed torturing people. He could get verra creative and he seemed to be particularly interested in torturing me. I canna say why, but he seemed downright gleeful when he could get his hands on me.

"This one particular time he was trying tae get me to disclose the information on some banks I had hacked. I refused tae do it. He duct taped my hands onto the keyboard for twelve hours and I still wouldna break. Finally, he'd had enough wi' me and he smashed my hand wi' a mallet."

I gasped and wiped a stray tear from my eye. "I'm so sorry, Jamie."

His jaw clenched and he said, through gritted teeth, "Please dinna feel sorry for me, Claire. I couldna stand it if ye did."

I sat up and took his face in my hands. "I didn't mean it like that, Jamie." I pressed my lips to his and nuzzled his nose with mine when I pulled away. "Thank you for sharing that with me."

He made one of his Scottish noises and kissed me on the forehead, wrapping his arms around me. We laid together quietly; I could feel his heart beating under my ear, lulling me into a state of deep relaxation. "Make sure you don't fall asleep," I murmured. "I don't know when Brianna will be home tomorrow."

"Dinna fash," he mumbled back. "I'm just resting my eyes."

The next thing I knew, I was being jolted awake by a piercing scream. Brianna. I wrapped myself in my bathrobe and hurried out into the hallway to see what was going on.

Brianna stood outside her bathroom, cursing and screaming. "Brianna!" I yelled, rushing towards her. "What the hell is going on? Why are you screaming?"

She turned on me and pulled herself to her full height, towering over me. "I just opened my bathroom door and there was a...a...very large man in there, peeing in my toilet."

Shit.

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-09-10-02-51-46

Jamie woke up, confused about where he was for a moment. As he came more fully to his senses, he felt Claire’s warm body against his and remembered. Christ, I wasna supposed tae stay. He gently rolled Claire off him, took a quick moment to admire her ass, round as a plump peach, and quickly tiptoed off to find the bathroom.

He opened several doors, a guest room, a closet. As he peeked in the third room, he let out a small gasp, realizing it must be Brianna's. Feeling a bit like an intruder, he couldn't help but step inside and take a look around. The room was decorated as he supposed was typical for a college-aged girl. Her bedspread, neatly made, was a pale green with a pattern of light pink flowers, matching curtains on the windows. There was a desk in the corner with a closed laptop on top. He picked up a framed photo sitting next to the computer, Brianna with a girl about her age. She had skin the color of coffee with just a wee nip of cream and brown, almond shaped eyes. Her head was tilted to the side, her tight curls resting against Brianna's looser, auburn locks. Their arms were around each other and it looked as if the picture had been taken mid-laughter, their eyes both crinkling with their broad smiles.

"Hmmm," he said to himself, setting the picture down thoughtfully. When he turned to leave the room, he noticed a poster on the back of her door. It was rainbow striped and had the words "Glasgow Pride: 2017" printed in bold letters. Quickly, he picked the picture back up and examined it again. This time he saw it, the loving look in each of the girl's eyes, the way their arms were draped comfortably around each other, Bree's other hand resting on the girl's knee. He smiled and ran a finger gently over the glass. His daughter was in love.

Realizing he'd spent entirely too much time snooping around his daughter's room, the daughter he hadn't even met, he crept out, closing the door behind him. Thankfully the next door he tried was the bathroom. He lifted the seat and began to relieve himself.

Suddenly, the door swung open, brushing against his arm. He looked up in shock and horror, covering himself with both hands. Brianna screamed as he started yelling "Sorry! Sorry! Close the door!" Finally, his body thawed slightly, and he managed to close the door in her face.

He sat down on the edge of the tub trying to quell the panic in his chest. As he took deep breaths, he realized that Claire had joined Brianna outside the door.

"I just opened my bathroom door and there was a...a... very large man in there, peeing in my toilet," he heard from a voice that must be Brianna's, something halfway between a Scottish and English accent.

"Brianna, calm down, please. I can explain. Just give me a minute."

"Was that my…. was that Jamie? You didn't tell me you were sleeping with him!"

"Just because he's here does not mean…"

"He was stark naked, Mother!"

"Brianna, please, go into your room and let me talk to him for a minute. I'm sure he's just as embarrassed as you are!"

Jamie put his head in his hands and sighed. You could say that twice.

He heard a door slam and then Claire came into the bathroom. The minute the door closed she put a hand over mouth to stifle her laughter. "Oh, very funny, Sassenach. The first time my daughter sees me, I'm in my birthday suit taking a pish. Not exactly the first impression I wanted to make."

Claire’s shoulders shook and tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry," she gasped. "It's not funny at all."

Her laughter was contagious and slowly Jamie felt his shoulders relax as they began to shake along with hers. He looked up at the ceiling with his lips pursed, trying to suppress the laughter that was threatening to escape. Claire stepped closer to him and squatted down in front of him, taking his hands in hers. "I know it's not what you were expecting, but at least the hard part is over. You've both seen each other now."

He bent forward and placed a kiss on top of her head. "Aye, though she's seen more of me than she ever wanted."

This set them off on another fit of giggles. Jamie wrapped his arms around her and laughed into her messy curls. Finally, Claire lifted her head up and asked, "Where are your clothes?"

"My shirt is in yer bedroom, but I think my pants and underwear are in the kitchen."

She bit her lip to stave off another fit of giggles and stood up. "You wait here; I'll go get them."

When she left, he stood up and went to the sink, first washing his hands. He didn't have a toothbrush, but there was some mouthwash on a shelf. He tipped back a generous amount and swished it around, trying to destroy his morning breath. After he spit, he fumbled around on the same shelf until he found a comb and ran it through his hair.

Claire came back then, cracking the door open and handing him his clothes. "I'm going to go talk to Bree."

"Aye," he replied. "I'll go downstairs and make some coffee after I get dressed." Claire closed the door and he dressed quickly. Luckily, he had worn his work clothes when he came over the night before, so he looked presentable. He couldn't be meeting his daughter in his sweatpants, especially after what had just happened.

When he got to the kitchen, he located the coffeemaker and checked the cupboard just above it. Wrinkling his nose at the Starbucks coffee in the cupboard, he made a mental note to get Claire some real coffee.

With the coffee brewing, Jamie nervously tapped his fingers against the side of his leg and looked around the room for something to do other than pacing. He walked over the sink and squatted down, opening the cupboards below, and pulled out a bottle of all-purpose cleaner. Grabbing the paper towels, he walked over to the kitchen table and gave it a thorough scrub down.

He cautiously walked over to the bottom of the stairs and tried to listen. No yelling, which was good, but it didn't sound like they were making any moves to come downstairs, either. Well, I suppose we'll need tae eat breakfast at some point. He went back into the kitchen and checked the refrigerator, pulling out eggs, butter, and bacon. After checking a few cupboards, he located the frying pans and started cooking. With the bacon popping, he whipped up the eggs in a bowl and poured them into the pan before putting bread in the toaster.

Within a few minutes, he heard a door open upstairs and Claire called down, "Do I smell bacon?"

"Aye," he called back, taking a deep breath to steady himself, "It'll be ready in just a minute."

"We'll be right down!"

Nervously, he started looking through the drawers and cupboards for plates and utensils. "Need some help?" came a voice from the doorway.

Jamie turned around slowly. Brianna stood in the doorway giving him an amused grin. Christ, she's so tall. He swallowed hard and answered, "Aye. If ye dinna mind setting the table, I'll just finish up the cooking."

She came in the room and started opening cabinets; Jamie returned to the stove, turning his back to her so that she wouldn't see the tears that were already welling in his eyes.

"Mama's just getting dressed," she said casually, setting the plates on the table.

He turned at the sound of her voice and nodded. "Would ye mind getting me some plates for the toast and bacon? And a bowl for the eggs?" She went back to the cupboard and brought him some serving dishes. "Thank ye," he said politely.

"Coffee?" she asked, reaching for the mugs.

"Aye, please." He quickly plated everything and brought it to the table before Brianna handed him a mug. "Should we sit?" he asked. Brianna nodded and took a seat; Jamie sat across from her. Where the hell is Claire?

They started filling their plates. Jamie stood up suddenly and went to the fridge. He came back with a bottle of ketchup. Brianna wrinkled her nose. "What's that for?"

"My eggs!" he responded. "Ye canna eat eggs without ketchup." To make his point, he swirled the condiment on his eggs and took a bite.

She gave him a skeptical look but picked up the ketchup bottle, squirting a tiny drop on her eggs. Slowly, she lifted the fork to her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "Ok," she said after she had swallowed, "I have to admit that wasn't bad."

Jamie took a sip of his coffee and gave her an I-told-you-so look from behind his mug. They chewed quietly for a minute while Jamie wondered, again, what was taking Claire so long.

"I'm sorry I walked in on you in the bathroom. And screamed at you," Bree said finally.

"Dinna fash," he replied. "I'm sorry I was in your bathroom naked."

She chuckled and rolled her eyes. "Can we never speak of that again?"

"Aye, that would be fine with me," he replied, laughing with her.

She stuck out her hand across the table. "Hi, I'm Brianna. I'm the long-lost daughter you never asked for."

He reached out and took her hand in his, squeezing it gently instead of shaking it. "Hi. I'm Jamie, yer long lost Da ye thought was dead."

She gave him a warm, shy smile as he released her hand. "Da? Is that what I should call you?"

His breath caught in his throat at her familiarity with him. He hadn’t even thought about what she should call him. Clearing his throat, he managed to choke out, "Aye, if ye like."

She reached for a piece of bacon and chewed on it thoughtfully. "This is cooked perfectly," she said, closing her eyes and savoring it. "Mama always makes it too crispy."

He also grabbed another piece, "I prefer it this way too."

They ate and sipped their coffee quietly. Jamie couldn't keep his eyes off her, and he just hoped he didn't look like a daft creep, staring at his daughter's face. She looked nervous for the first time, face screwed in concentration, as if she were trying to find the words to say something to him.

Realization dawned on him, and he put his coffee down and gave her a sheepish smile. "I have tae admit something tae ye." She arched an eyebrow at him, and he went on. "When I was looking fer the bathroom, I accidentally found yer room. I, uh, looked around...just a wee bit. I'm sorry for the intrusion."

Her eyes were wide, and she swallowed hard. "Oh. That's alright, I guess. Did you, uh...did you…"

"Aye," he interjected. "I saw yer picture. Ye look very happy. I'd like tae meet her someday. When ye’re ready. "

Her shoulders relaxed and she gave him a small smile. "Phaedra," she said. "And I'd really like for you to meet her sometime."

Claire appeared in the doorway then. "Sorry it took me so long. I decided to shower." She traced her finger along Jamie’s shoulders as she walked past him on her way to the coffee. After pouring herself a cup, she sat at the head of the table, between Jamie and Bree.

Jamie reached over and placed his hand on Claire’s, and she flipped hers around to interlace her fingers with his. He choked up again, seeing the easy way she intertwined herself with him, and he could only hope he would be able to slip himself back into her life as effortlessly as he'd already done in her bed.

To say the last twenty years had been difficult would be the understatement of the century. Torn away, with no warning, from everything he'd ever known, forced into a life he did not want, he felt like he'd spent the past two decades adrift on an open sea. Devastated by all he had lost, he'd allowed life to happen to him, the waves lapping against him until he wished he could just let go and let the water take him.

The only thing keeping him alive for many years had been the thought of one day seeing Claire again. So many nights he had laid in his bed, wondering if it was worth waking up the next day. Even worse, there were times when he’d been held hostage, tortured, by João Ranhel, that he’d actively wished for death.

The worst time, he had almost died. Ranhel had managed to keep him hidden away for just over a week before he’d been located by his father and rescued. The first night, chained to the wall, Ranhel had unveiled his new toy to him; an old-fashioned cat o’ nine tails. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized the depths of Ranhel’s depravity.

He had been flogged that first night. Ranhel had one of his subordinates execute the thrashing while Ranhel had looked on, a wide Cheshire cat grin on his face. He might have said other things, but all Jamie could remember was the counting; he’d endured one hundred lashes before Ranhel was satisfied.

When he was done, Ranhel had released Jamie from the chains, letting him collapse on the floor in an excruciating heap. He hadn’t even attempted to move for the first twelve hours; it was only when his thirst had become more tortuous than the pain that he’d pulled himself across the floor to where he’d been left a pitcher of water and a filthy glass.

As he agonizingly lifted the glass to his mouth, he paused, considering if he should let the thirst take him. It would only take a couple of days; if infection set in his wounds in his back, possibly more quickly. Was it worth it to live like this? Unfulfilling relationship, unfulfilling occupation; what was the point? He felt like a ghost; why not be one?

At that point, Jamie had set the cup back down on the floor and lain with his head on his arms. He would bear the thirst until it lulled him into unconsciousness. It would be excruciating, but eventually he would find a blissful release from all of his pain.

He’d closed his eyes, and focused on his breathing, trying to empty his mind. Painful breath by painful breath, he’d begun to lose himself, feel his consciousness slip away. He could feel himself letting go. The pain was no longer happening to him; he was merely observing it.

His mind had slowly gone blank. Everything was dark at first, and then he saw a pinpoint of light, far in the distance. He had a fleeting thought that it was the light that people claimed to have seen during near-death experiences, and he’d moved toward it, eager for the despair to end.

But as he got closer, he’d realized it was not a light at all. It was Claire, his Sorcha, that shone in the darkness. When they were mere inches apart, she’d bent down and whispered in his ear, “Don’t give up on me, Jamie,” before turning around and walking away.

That was when he’d woken up and drank the water.

A week later, just as the pain was starting to be bearable, Ranhel had returned. Jamie still wouldn’t give up the information Ranhel wanted, so he was whipped again. That second time, Rahnel had done the flogging himself, relishing the task, tearing Jamie’s skin open to the bone.

He would have died after the second beating if he hadn’t been located and rescued by his father. They couldn’t go to the hospital, but Brian had been able to arrange for Jamie to convalesce with John and Hector, a married couple loosely connected to the cartel who lived on a sprawling, and secure, estate outside of São Paulo.

His body had healed under the care of a discreet physician who did house calls for the right price, but his soul was healed by his new friends. Jamie had opened up to them in a way he hadn’t been able to with anyone for a long time. When he was finally able to leave, he’d done so with a lighter heart.

He started dating again shortly thereafter. There were several women over the years that he spent his time with, though the relationships never really moved beyond casual. Then there was the fateful night he’d met Gabriela. After Willie was born, he stopped dating again and focused on being a father.

And now he was sitting in Claire’s kitchen, his daughter across from him, and his heart felt so full. When he got Willie back, and he was determined he would, his heart would be whole again.

Claire was speaking to him, and he focused his attention back to her. “Do you want to do something today?” she asked him.

“Aye,” he replied, “But I have tae go back to my place for a bit. I’ve some errands to run and a few things to take care of.”

“Why don’t you do that,” Claire said thoughtfully, “And Brianna and I will make a big family dinner for us tonight. After that, maybe we can play some board games or watch a movie.”

He glanced over at Brianna to gauge her reaction to the plan. She nodded and smiled at him, so he said, “Sounds like a perfect plan.” Claire squeezed his hand and he thought his heart might burst.

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-09-17-08-13-12

"Are ye sure ye have everything, Brianna?" Jamie asked. His daughter stood before him in leggings and several layers of shirts, carrying a backpack.

"Water, compass, trail map, snacks; I think we're set." She smiled at Jamie and reached back to pat the pack.

He looked at her feet and confirmed she was wearing good hiking boots. "Alright, let's go."

During their family dinner the night before, Jamie had asked Brianna if she wanted to go hiking with him the next day and was surprised at her eager response. Claire gracefully bowed out of the trip before they even invited her, and Jamie had flashed her a grateful smile for understanding he needed some bonding time with his daughter.

Claire was still sleeping, so Jamie scribbled a quick note letting her know where they would be and when to expect them back. Then they headed out the door and climbed into Jamie's SUV. "Roomy," Bree said, stretching her legs, "I'm used to being cramped up in Mama's tiny cars."

Jamie turned on the car and plugged in his phone. Music filled the small space and as he backed out of the driveway, he saw Brianna quietly singing along. "Ye ken this music?" he asked.

"Of course! Mama had Barenaked Ladies on repeat my entire childhood."

Jamie smiled to himself, glad that Claire had shared so many of the things they had enjoyed together with their daughter. It made him feel as if he'd had a presence in her life even though he hadn't been there. "Well dinna be shy, lass. I'll sing with ye."

They drove down the highway, happily singing One Week, laughing with each other as they fumbled over the rapid lyrics. The music became a glue, filling in the cracks that still lay between them. By the time they reached the trailhead, much of their stiff reserve with each other had faded away.

They got out of the car and donned their backpacks. “I’ve never hiked here before,” Brianna told him.

“No? I came here wi’ my parents and siblings when we were on vacation here a few times. It’s no’ too difficult and there’s some beautiful sights to see.”

It was a lovely July day; the sun was actually shining for once and the temperature was warm, but not so hot that it would be uncomfortable to get some exercise in it. As they walked into the main part of the trail, they were surrounded by rich green grasses and plants as well as moss covered trees and rocks. The sunlight barely peeked through in spots, giving the whole trail a magical, other-worldly feeling.

“It’s like being on the set of Lord of Rings,” Brianna said breathily.

“Aye,” Jamie said as he walked on, marking another connection between them on his internal list. I’ll have to watch that with her sometime soon.

They walked in silence for a time, side by side when the trail allowed; when it was too narrow, Jamie followed Brianna, always with a hand ready to catch her if she tripped. He remembered when Willie was a baby and he had been overcome with panic at the idea of keeping him safe. He'd wanted to wrap his little boy in bubble wrap so that no harm could come to him. He now felt the same for Brianna, who was obviously no longer a baby in need of bubble wrap. Still, the newness of her in his life made her all the more precious to him.

“Just up ahead,” he told her, “is the Devil’s Staircase. We’ll have to be careful on that; it’s etched into the rock and can get verra slippery. And it’s steep.”

She turned and smiled at him. “I’ll be careful, Da. I promise.”

“Still...I’ll go ahead o’ ye tae make sure that everything is safe.” He smiled back sheepishly, almost an apology at his over-protectiveness. He’d been out of her life for so long, what right did he have to feel protective of her?

But something about her face told him that she sensed his hesitancy. She'd clearly inherited his ability to read people and intuit their intentions and feelings easily. “I appreciate it, Da,” she told him, before turning around and continuing on the hike.

When they got to the Devil’s Staircase, Brianna looked down and gulped. “Now I see why you told me to wear my good boots.”

“Aye,” Jamie said as he stepped ahead of her. “Ye follow close behind and hold the rail, m'annsachd.”

He started down the strange, uneven staircase, gripping the railing and glancing back to ensure that Bree was alright. She smiled at him and teased, “Da, just watch where you’re going! Don’t worry about me.”

As if that would ever be possible.

They reached the bottom of the stairs in one piece and Jamie sat down on one of the giant tree roots that stretched along the ground all around them. He gestured for Bree to join him. Reaching into his backpack, he pulled out two apples and handed one to Bree. She chugged down some of her water and then bit into the apple eagerly.

“Ye must do a lot of hiking to have such nice hiking boots,” Jamie pointed out.

“Not as much as I used to. My fa--...I mean Fra--....” her face turned red and she looked away from him.

“It’s alright, a leannan. I ken ye had a man in yer life who was a father tae ye. Ye dinna have tae feel like ye canna talk to me of him.”

“I feel disloyal to him even being here with you,” she admitted.

“I dinna wish tae replace him,” he told her as he cautiously draped his arm around her shoulder. “I’m grateful tae him.” She raised her head and looked at him curiously and he squeezed her shoulder, pulling her closer to him. “He raised ye fer yer mother’s sake, the child of another man. He stood by ye, and he loved ye, though he didna see himself in ye.”

Bree’s eyes glistened with tears and she rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder. “Thank you. It means a lot to me that you don’t want me to forget him.”

“Never,” he said, giving her a quick kiss on the top of her head, “I just hope ye’ll be able tae make room for me in yer life now that I’m here.”

“Of course, Da. I want that very much. I guess I’m pretty lucky if you think about it.”

“Oh?”

“When Frank died, I felt so lost. For a while, it felt like there was a huge piece of me missing that would never be filled. But now, you’re here and I get to have a Da again,” she took a deep breath and went on. “I know it sucks that we didn’t get to spend the first twenty years of my life together, but at least I get to have you in my life now.”

Jamie cleared his throat. “Yer my flesh and blood, Brianna. Since I’ve found out about ye, I’m finding ye’re my heart and soul as well.”

They sat together for a few more minutes and then Jamie quietly stood up, reaching out a hand to pull Brianna up with him. They continued on their hike, asking each other questions, learning the ways they were the same and the ways they were different. He skirted around the topic of his work in Brazil as best as he could for her own safety, but otherwise did his best to tell her about his past and her Fraser family.

The sound of the waterfall ahead filled their ears, and as they moved, it got louder and louder until it was difficult to hear each other. Jamie reached out a hand and led her around the bank of the water, pointing to a rock-wall over which the water was falling.

“Ye see that?” he yelled in her ear. She nodded. “There’s a ledge right there, ye can walk on, behind the waterfall, if ye dinna mind getting wet.” She nodded and gestured for him to lead the way.

He shed his backpack, leaving it in a fairly dry spot on the ground nearby. Carefully, he reached with his long leg until his foot was solidly on the ledge. He rested one hand on the side of the rock and pulled his other leg up so that both feet were firmly planted. Then, he offered his hand to Bree; she gripped it firmly and gracefully stepped onto the ledge with him. They stood with their backs flat against the rock wall as the water roared past their heads and fell in front of them. Jamie turned his head to the side to see Brianna laughing. A look of shock came to her face as she realized she could hear herself for the first time since they’d gotten close to the waterfall. “Oh my god,” she said, turning her head toward Jamie. “It’s like some sort of soundproof chamber in here.”

“Aye!” Jamie said. “Isn’t it amazing? My Da took me here when I was ten, and I was fascinated.”

“You’ll have to tell me more about my grandda soon.”

He nodded. “That’s probably enough of this for today, aye? Let’s head back. It will take us a while tae get back.”

They slid across the rock wall. When she reached the ledge, Bree expertly hopped onto the bank. She reached out a hand and helped Jamie do the same. It was again too loud to hear each other, but they both turned and started walking back the way they had come. When they reached the foot of the staircase, Brianna took the lead. They were both winded when they reached the top. Brianna gestured to a nearby rock and they sat down again.

“That was awesome, Da. Thank you so much for bringing me here,” Brianna said after they caught their breath.

They both drank their water and Brianna handed Jamie a protein bar. He held it in his hands, turning it over nervously until he finally said, “I need tae tell ye something, Brianna.” He reached into the front pocket of his backpack and pulled out his phone. Swiping through a few pictures, he found one of Willie and looked at it for a moment before showing it to Bree. “Ye have a brother,” he told her. “His name is William, after my own brother, and he’s still in Brazil right now.”

Brianna plucked the phone from his hands and stared at the little boy on the screen as Jamie went on. “I couldna bring him wi’ me when I first came back, but I’m hoping he’ll be joining us here soon.”

Brianna was quiet as she examined the picture. Finally she said, “He has the same eyes as me.”

“Aye, he does. He looks a lot like ye, though his hair favors his mother.”

“Is he with his mother now?” she asked.

“No. His mother died in childbirth and I’ve raised him on my own. He’s living with his godparents right now, my best friends John and Hector. I’ll explain it all to ye someday, Brianna, but dinna think I would have left him there if I’d had any other choice in the matter.” He took the phone back from her and put it back in his pack. “Before I kent about ye, he was the best thing in my life. Now, I have ye and yer mother, too. I canna wait tae have my whole family taegether.”

“Does he know about me?” she asked.

“No’ yet,” Jamie answered honestly, “But I plan tae tell him about ye when I video chat with him tomorrow. I wanted tae wait til I met ye and kent ye didna hate me before I got his hopes up about havin’ a big sister.”

“Why would I have hated you?” she asked.

“Oh, my mind thought up a lot of reasons why. Maybe ye couldna get over me no’ bein’ there for ye all these years. Maybe ye’d think less of me when ye found out I had a child with another woman.” He raised his hands and shrugged. “We better get going. Yer mother’ll be sendin’ the Scotland Guard after us if we dinna get home soon.”

They stood and finished the rest of their hike. When they reached the trailhead, they both slid into their seats wearily. Jamie put on some quiet music for the way home. When they pulled into the driveway, Jamie moved to get out of the car, but Brianna reached out and placed her hand on his arm to stop him. He looked at her and she smiled sincerely. “Thank you, Da.”

He nodded and smiled at her feeling choked up. “Thank ye too, a leannan.”

***

I heard the car pull into the driveway and my heart fluttered. “That will be them,” I said to Phaedra. She’d come by about an hour before and had been hanging out with me until Brianna and Jamie got home. Both of us stood and walked to the front door.

I opened the door and saw them getting out of the car looking weary. I could tell by the way they walked closely to one another, their heads bent toward each other as they talked, that they'd had a good day. Phaedra called out to Bree who, upon hearing her voice, broke away from Jamie and ran the rest of the way to greet her. When she reached her, I stepped aside as they embraced each other. They kissed chastely, but their bodies told the story of their deep affection. I looked up at Jamie and he watched them for a moment, beaming.

Then I climbed down from the porch and greeted him, putting my arms around his waist and burying my face in his chest. "You stink," I teased.

He lifted my chin up with his hand and kissed me. "Christ, yer so beautiful."

"You look positively knackered," I replied.

"Ye need tae learn tae give better compliments," he teased.

"Come on, let's go in and we'll order some pizza. You can shower while we wait for it," I said, wrapping my arm around him and walking up the porch steps.

We walked in the house to find that Bree was already cuddled up in a chair with Phaedra. Jamie walked over and stuck out his hand. "Dinna get up," he told her. "I just wanted tae introduce myself. I'm Brianna's father; ye can call me Jamie."

Phaedra smiled and took his hand, shaking it firmly. "It's nice tae meet ye Jamie."

The pizza took so long to get there that Jamie and Bree were both able to shower before it arrived. We watched The Office as we ate our dinner in the living room, laughing and joking together easily.

After we finished eating, I dragged Jamie out of his seat and said goodnight to Bree and Phaedra, who were curled up together on the couch, Bree half asleep with her head on Phaedra's lap.

Once we were in the bedroom, Jamie stripped down to his boxer briefs and flopped face down in the middle of the bed. "That's perfect, actually," I told him. "Stay right there."

"I dinna think I could move if ye wanted me tae, Sassenach," he mumbled into the duvet.

I stripped down to a tank top and panties then reached into one of my dresser drawers, pulling out a small bottle of massage oil. It was a special blend I'd gotten from one of the massage therapists at the hospital containing several oils known to have pain-relief qualities. The smell of eucalyptus and rosemary filled the air as I poured some of the oil out and warmed it in my hands.

Starting with his feet, I used my thumbs to press into and rub the balls of his feet and his aching arches. He groaned as I stretched and rotated his ankles. I moved up to his calves and Jamie hissed when I began kneading the back of his legs but the muscles soon began to relax under my firm movements.

When I started on his thighs, Jamie let out a different kind of groan. Working my way up his muscular thighs, I went slowly, enjoying the feel of his strong body in my hands. When my fingers met with the material of his underwear, I pulled them down and shimmied them all the way down his body. Then, I resumed my work on his inner thighs, working my way up and touching every inch of his skin except where he wanted me to. "Christ, Claire, ye'll be the death of me, he growled." In response, I sunk my fingers into both sides of his buttocks. I could see him gripping the duvet.

"Jamie," I teased, "you won't get much benefit out of this if you don't relax."

He grumbled under his breath and I continued working out his tight gluteal muscles. When I was satisfied with my work, I nudged his legs together and straddled him. I poured more oil into my hands and started working on the muscles of his back. I was already wet by this point and started craving friction between my legs, so as I kneaded his muscles, I started rocking my hips back and forth in rhythm with my hands. Jamie was moaning and bucking his hips backward into me and I soon abandoned any attempt to use actual massage techniques as I rubbed my hands up and down his scarred back.

Suddenly Jamie flipped over and his cock immediately stood at attention. He looked down at me and raised one eyebrow, licking his lips in anticipation. I pushed my panties down and climbed on top of him. We both sighed when I sunk down on him and I resumed rocking my hips. I moved slowly, but with intention, grinding into his pubic bone as I moved my hips in circles and figure eights.

I pushed my hair away from my face and looked down at Jamie. His face was relaxed with fulfillment, but his eyes were open, watching me. I realized in that moment that being with me didn't just mean sexual pleasure for Jamie, but also a beatific contentment in his soul. I knew this because the look in his eyes as they met mine mirrored my own feelings of completeness.

I bent my head down and kissed him, trying to pour all the words I didn't know to say to him into that simple act. We moved together, gasping and moaning, Jamie's hands in my hair, our bodies melting together. When I began to tremble around him he ground his hips up against me until we were both crying out each other’s names.

I climbed off him and curled up against him, resting my head on his chest, his heart beating against my ear. As my life shifted into a perfect state of homeostasis, I whispered, "I love you," to him for the first time in twenty years.

He rolled over and pulled me closer, my knees bent to my chest, his legs bent under mine. My head fit right under his chin and his arms held me protectively. I heard his voice catch as he whispered back, "I love ye too."

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-09-26-08-45-50

August 2019

"Do ye have everything ye need, a leannan?" Jamie asked, putting the last of Brianna's bins in the car. "Are ye sure ye dinna want me tae come? Who's going tae help ye carry yer stuff up tae yer dorm room?"

"Da," Brianna laughed. "I'm fine. I'm pretty strong, you know."

He reached out and pulled her in for a hug. "I ken m'annsachd. I just dinna want ye tae hurt yerself." He kissed her temple and squeezed her harder. "I'm gonna miss ye so much."

She hugged him back and put her head on his shoulder. "I know, Da. I'm going to miss you too. But I'm only going to Edinburgh. I'll be back to visit soon."

"And we're coming out for Parents’ Weekend," Jamie reminded her.

She pulled back and rolled her eyes. "Yes, Da. I know." Even though she had told him over and over again that only freshman parents went to Parents’ Weekend, Jamie had insisted.

Jamie closed the boot while Brianna hugged Claire goodbye. As Brianna walked around to the driver’s side, Jamie leaned into the passenger window and smiled at Phaedra. “Ye’ll take care of my girl?” he asked.

Phaedra lowered her sunglasses and looked at Jamie with her round, dark eyes. Jamie could tell she was suppressing the urge to roll them at him. “I will,” she said instead. “I promise.”

“Aye, I ken ye will.” He smiled at her and gave her a small kiss on her cheek. “Take care of yerself too.” Brianna had gotten into the car and Jamie gave them both one last look. “Take care of each other.”

“Oh my God, Da! Enough!” Brianna said in mock exasperation. Jamie stepped away from the car and put his arm around Claire, both of them waving as the car pulled away.

Once the car disappeared around a corner, Claire turned to face Jamie, wrapping her arms around him. “Are you ok?”

“Aye,” he said, his voice choked. “I didna think that would be so hard. I’ve only had such a short time wi’ her.”

"She'll be back in two weeks to do her laundry, I guarantee it." She kissed him gently and reminded him, “At least we have the house to ourselves now.”

Jamie hadn’t officially moved in, but over the last six weeks, he had certainly spent more time at Claire’s house than his own. The time he’d been able to spend getting to know Brianna was a very special time for him. There was nothing especially earth-shattering about how they’d spent their time together; instead, they’d assimilated to each other through the mundane: picking movies on Netflix, discussing books they both liked, helping Claire tend to her gardens. And through those ordinary experiences, they’d grown closer, developing a father-daughter bond he’d never imagined possible.

“Aye, we do, Sassenach,” he replied, kissing Claire back and trying to look on the bright side of things. Getting to hear all of Claire’s wee noises in the bedroom was definitely a positive.

He couldn't believe how easily they'd fallen back into each other. It felt natural; they were both changed by varying degrees during their twenty year separation, but both were the same at their core, their souls, and that was where they had always connected. Jamie didn't think he would ever stop feeling grateful for Claire's grace and forgiveness; she was a rare woman, and he intended to love her well for the rest of their lives.

"Let's go inside, Jamie," Claire said quietly. "We'll just have a nice relaxing day, and I'll try to keep you from getting too sad about Bree." She turned to walk back into the house, making sure to slap Jamie’s bottom on the way.

***

"What time is our video chat with Willie?" I called from the kitchen. Jamie was brooding in the living room while I cleaned up after lunch.

"No' for another hour, Sassenach," he answered. I could hear the low murmur of the football game he'd put on but wasn't really watching. Hopefully our chat with Willie would set him in a better mood. I found it difficult to do anything but smile in the presence -- albeit online -- of the sweet boy who had already started calling me Mãe Claire.

He was so much like Jamie, but in a different way than Brianna. Our daughter had gotten Jamie’s looks, stubbornness, and tenacity; but her sardonic humor and hyper-logical mind were all me. Willie also looked strikingly like Jamie, with only the dark hair and skin giving away a hint of his mother. He had also inherited Jamie’s sweet nature and charm. Though Jamie had assured me Willie also shared his hot temper, I had never seen it in our brief encounters

I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer that either Ned Gowan, our lawyer in Scotland, or the lawyers John and Hector had hired in Brazil, would soon find a way to bring Willie home to us. I knew it ate away at Jamie’s heart, keeping him from ever being fully happy, even surrounded by Brianna and me.

It was no wonder he was so upset about her leaving. I couldn't even imagine how much pain he was in every day that he was separated from his son. Willie's absence pained me and I'd never even met the boy in person. Soon, I thought. Soon we will have our whole family together and whole.

I imagined Brianna coming home for Christmas, greeting her little brother with a hug and a tousle of his brown curls. Jamie would be in his element, wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and teasing both of them about getting nothing but coal in their stockings. Phaedra would join us for Christmas Eve and we would all laze about in our pajamas, drinking eggnog and listening to jazzy holiday music under the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights.

Soon, I reminded myself again.

I washed my hands and joined Jamie in the living room, threading my arms around one of his and resting my head on his shoulder. He kissed the top of my head and turned back to the TV. My original plan had been to distract him with his favorite activity, but I took one look at his face and knew the mood wasn’t right. Instead, I reached out wordlessly, leaning back and pulling him down with me. His head rested on my chest and I gently stroked his hair, using my fingernails to lightly trace curlicues and figure eights on his scalp. His weight on me was comforting; it made me feel secure and safe.

A few minutes before two, we switched off the television and Jamie opened his laptop on the coffee table. I grabbed his hand as we sat, eagerly awaiting the notification that Willie was trying to connect to our call. As the minutes passed, Jamie and I both checked our text messages and emails to see if we had missed a notification; perhaps John or Hector had needed to reschedule the time.

At ten after two, Jamie texted John, impatiently tapping the fingers of his bad hand against the side of his leg. “It’s ok,” I told him, placing my hand on his thigh to keep us connected. “I’m sure they just got held up doing something. Or something came up.”

“Then why no’ send a text, Claire? Something isna right; I ken it.” I took a deep breath and clamped my mouth shut. Nothing was going to convince Jamie that his son was okay until he saw for himself.

By 2:30, Jamie was pacing, his nervous energy filling the room; the house was bursting at the seams with it. I was completely helpless; I could not say or do anything that would make him feel better. My phone dinged, and I jumped, grabbing for it.

“It’s just Bree,” I told Jamie, who had launched himself toward the couch as soon as he’d heard the message notification. “She said she and Phaedra are all settled in their dorm and everything is fine. She said to tell you she loves you.”

Jamie made one of his Scottish, “Hrrrmph” noises, which I interpreted to mean, I’m happy to hear from her and I love her too, but I just can’t focus on that right now.

Time went by agonizingly slow. Finally, at 3:30, Jamie’s phone rang. He flashed the screen at me quickly to show me it was John, and then put the phone to his ear.

“John, is everything alright?” Jamie was pacing around the room with his phone to his ear. I held my breath, silently praying that everything was all right.

“What?....where is he?” I could see the muscles in his neck tensing, and when he turned to pace toward me his pupils were blown with panic.

No. It felt like my heart was frozen in my chest.

“Who?....Nonononononono.” I looked up and his face had gone completely white. He gripped the back of a chair to steady himself, his fingertips turning white with the effort. Bile rose in my throat and I had to fight the urge not to vomit.

“I can’t...No...John, ye ken I canna do that!” His voice rose progressively as he spoke until he was practically roaring. “Stop trying tae tell me tae stay calm; he has my son!”

A squeaking sound involuntarily escaped my mouth and I threw my hand up to cover it. This cannot be really happening.

“I’m coming….Yes I am...I’m no’ going tae argue about this. I’m getting on the next plane...Yes.” He hung up the phone and threw it across the room. His fists were clenched at his side and he spoke through gritted teeth. “Willie’s gone. João Ranhel has him.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

I knew all about Ranhel. He was a sociopath, his target locked on Jamie, intent to destroy him. And now he had his son. Our son. The sweet little boy with his crooked grin, several missing teeth, and eyes that lit up when he saw his father. I closed my eyes and pictured the way he threw his head back when he laughed, just like Jamie. He was so perfect, so innocent. And he was in the hands of a monster.

“I have to go,” Jamie said, frantically looking for his car keys. “I have to go get him.”

I’d been frozen to my spot on the couch, but at this, I stood. I ran over to Jamie and grabbed him by the shoulders. “No! You can’t go. This is exactly what Ranhel wants; he’s taken Willie to lure you back to Brazil as revenge for turning in some of his men. You’re going to be walking right into a trap.”

Jamie pushed my hands away angrily, his face red with fury. “Do ye think I dinna ken that, Claire?” He was right in my face, spit flying out of his mouth as he spoke. “I ken that Ranhel wants me; he always has. I ken that I might die saving my son. It doesna matter. I will do whatever I have tae do to get him out of that monster’s hands. Even if it means sacrificing my own life.”

“No!” I yelled back. “No! I will not let you do this! I will not let you run off to Brazil knowing that your life is in danger there. I will not do it Jamie. I will not lose you again.” My last words came out in broken sobs, tears running down my face. “I will not spend another twenty years wondering if you are dead or alive.”

When Jamie saw my tears, his face changed, eyes softening, jaw relaxing. He pulled me into his chest and held me, stroking my hair with his hands, whispering Gaelic in my ear. When my sobbing calmed, he pushed me away a little and looked in my eyes. “Claire, ye ken I have tae do this. It’s my child. What if it were Brianna? Would you no’ want me tae do the same?”

“Not if we had any other option. John and Hector will get this sorted out. We’ll have them get in contact with your father. Please Jamie, there has to be another way.”

“Claire,” he said quietly. “I must do this.”

He turned to look for his keys again, but I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. “Then I’m going with you.”

“No, Claire.” He shook his head vehemently. “Absolutely not. I willna put your life in danger too. Brianna needs ye.”

“Brianna needs you, too. Do you know how devastated she’ll be if you disappear again? I have to go with you. No matter what happens, I have to know. I can’t be left here wondering again.”

“Claire, I dinna have time tae argue with ye about this. Yer no’ going.”

“If you don’t take me with you,” I said through gritted teeth, “I will get on the next plane anyway. I will show up in Brazil and find you.”

Resigned, he let out a deep sigh. “Fine,” he said. “Go pack yer things. I have tae go back tae my place and get some things together too. After ye pack, book us the tickets and wait for me. I’ll be back in an hour.”

He started to leave but stopped. Turning around, he pulled me close and kissed me passionately; our mouths were open wide and our tongues wrestled frantically. He pulled away just as abruptly and kissed me gently on the forehead with his swollen lips. “I love ye, Sassenach,” he said hoarsely before walking out the door.

I ran upstairs to pack, throwing clothes, toiletries, books, and phone chargers in a large suitcase. I grabbed some of Jamie’s clothes that he had in my drawers and threw them in as well. Once downstairs again, I threw some snacks into a backpack and opened the laptop to book our flight. After paying an exorbitant price for last minute tickets, I pulled out my phone to make some calls.

The first was to my department head at the hospital. I explained that I had a family emergency and would need at least two weeks off; she told me she would find coverage for me and not to worry. Next, I had to call Geillis, which was a little trickier.

“What kind of family emergency has ye runnin’ off tae Brazil? Ye ken if ye wanted a vacation wi’ yer man, you coulda just requested the time off!”

“It’s complicated, Geillis.” I hadn’t told her about William yet, because I knew that would have just opened the door for more questions about Jamie’s life in Brazil. “Jamie has a son in Brazil. We have to go get him.”

“What?!?!?” she screeched into the phone. “Did he just tell ye about this, or have ye been holding out on me?”

I sighed and rubbed at my temples. “Geillis, I promise that I will explain everything to you when I get back. Just please keep an eye on the house for me?”

“Of course, I’ll collect yer mail and such.”

"And if Brianna needs anything, can I tell her to call you?" I had never spent more than a couple of nights out of Brianna's reach.

"Och, of course! She's my goddaughter, is she no'?"

"Thank you, Geil. I promise to explain everything when I get back."

Finally, I dialed Brianna's number. After several rings, she finally picked up. "Mama? What's going on? Did Da tell you to call and check on me?"

"No, Bree. Listen, I don't have time to explain everything to you right now, but something has come up and Jamie and I need to go to Brazil to get Willie." Bree had already been getting to know Willie during our video chats, so I knew she would be worried.

"Is everything ok? What's going on?"

"It's ok," I lied. "We just have to go get him. We'll be gone a couple weeks." I heard a car pull up and peeked out the window. Jamie was sprinting toward the front door. "I have to go, love. I'll call you when we get there...the flight is seventeen hours, so don't get worried if you don't hear from us right away. I love you, Bree."

Jamie burst in the front door as I was hanging up. "Is everything ready?" He was practically buzzing with nervous energy.

"Yes," I said, reaching out and putting a calming hand on his arm. "Our flight leaves in two hours so we should probably leave now."

He nodded grimly, brushing my hand away and grabbing my suitcase. It physically pained me to see him so upset. "Jamie, it's going to be ok. We're going to get him back."

"I hope so, Claire. Because if anything happens to him, it's my fault."

"Jamie, don't. You can't think like that."

He pushed past me and walked out the door, leaving me behind wondering what I had done wrong. An hour ago he had kissed me fiercely and told me he loved me, and now he looked at me like I was a fly buzzing in his face. I watched as he walked to the car, his shoulders hunched over with tension. My stomach churned with dread as I locked the door and headed to the car.

He had put my bags in the trunk already, so I slipped quietly into the passenger seat. His hands were gripped on the steering wheel, and I reached out a hand to massage his shoulder. He shrugged it off coldly and started the car. I shrunk back in my seat and looked out the window as we drove away, wondering what the hell I was doing flying to Brazil with a man who wouldn’t even let me touch him.

Chapter Text

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After an eighteen hour flight during which Jamie mostly communicated with me through grunts and single words, I was exhausted. I'd tried to sleep on the plane, but the most I managed was some fitful catnaps. Jamie and I had sat in those two tiny seats trying not to touch each other the entire time.

We deplaned and made our way to Customs with the rest of the crowd, but when I saw the line, tears burned at the back of my eyes. I was dead on my feet, and the line looked like it stretched for miles. I quickly veered out of the crowd to a relatively quiet spot near the bathrooms, sank down to the floor, and cried. It was a ridiculous, embarrassing thing to do, but I didn't care anymore.

Jamie doubled back when he realized I was missing, the annoyance on his face fading to tenderness when he saw my emotional state. He squatted down in front of me and lifted my chin with his hand. "Mo nighean --"

"No!" I hissed, slapping his hand away. "Do not even think of calling me that when you've barely spoken to me this entire trip."

"Claire, I --"

"No! I've had enough! I don't know what I did or why you're mad at me, but I have had enough." I put my hands on the floor to push myself into a standing position once more. "If it's all the same to you, I'll just catch the next flight back." I pulled my backpack off the floor and turned to leave, but Jamie grabbed my arm.

"Let go of me or I'll scream," I warned him.

"Claire, if ye'll just listen tae me, for Christ sake!" His voice was a mix of frustration and fear, but I heard no anger in it, so I relaxed my arm and gently pulled it from his grip.

"Go on, then."

He led me to a row of seats near one of the gates. When we were both seated, I stared straight ahead, still too hurt to look at him. "I'm no' angry wi' ye, Claire," he said gently, grasping my hand in his.

"Then who?" I spoke sharply, but I didn't pull my hand away.

"Who else but me?" he answered quietly.

I sighed deeply and turned to face him. His head was hanging, hovering above my shoulder. I put my hand on the side of his face. “Everyone. No one. João Rahnel himself. But not you.”

He lifted his eyes to mine; they were begging me for love and patience and forgiveness. I gave it freely. The truth is I’d already forgiven everything he’d done and everything he could do long before that day. “Jamie, please don’t turn away from me. I know you’ve had to handle everything on your own all these years, but you don’t anymore. I’m here, Jamie. I’m here.” I pulled his face to mine and kissed him firmly.

“I dinna deserve ye Claire,” he confessed. “I dinna deserve ye or Brianna. I canna keep ye safe.”

“Jamie, we’ve been keeping ourselves safe for twenty years. We don’t need you to keep us safe. We need you to love us. That’s what’s been missing all this time. Don’t shut me out. I can’t bear it.” I rested my forehead on his, relief washing over me. “Promise me you won’t shut me out again.”

“I promise,” he replied, and I wrapped my arms around him.

“Let’s focus on the most important thing right now, finding Willie, ok? And I’ll be right here with you through it all.”

Lord, let me be enough, I thought.

We got up and made our way to the line for Customs. It was interminable, and then our luggage had been removed from the carousel because we took so long, so dealing with that was a whole different debacle. By the time we got in the rental car, we were both ready to collapse. I slid in the passenger seat, and, as Jamie drove, I placed a hand on his knee, assuring him that I was there.

I closed my eyes as we made our way down the road and fell asleep quickly. Only when the motion of the car ceased did I open them again. We were stopped under a breezeway in a large circular driveway in front of what could only be described as a mansion. Jamie put the car in park and opened his door. I moved to open mine, but before I could reach the handle, it was being opened for me. Stepping out, I was face to face with John. I’d seen him on video chats before, but they didn’t do him justice.

He was handsome, in a way that was completely opposite Jamie, but just as beautiful. His features were delicate, his frame slight, reminding Claire more of a diver, versus Jamie’s swimmer’s frame. “Claire, dear,” he said in a soft, soothing voice, “It’s so wonderful to finally meet you.” He kissed both of my cheeks before turning to Jamie and embracing him. My strong, steady man practically collapsed into the arms of his best friend, and I realized, though I barely knew John, how lucky we all were to have him in our lives.

Hector came out the door then, wearing only a silk robe over very tiny swimming shorts. He was carrying a tray of drinks which he quickly handed out to each of us before setting the tray down and embracing me. “Claire, querida, I’m so happy to finally meet you in person.” His Brazilian accent was calm and soothing, and I relaxed into his embrace. I knew we were in good hands.

“What do we know?” Jamie asked anxiously.

Hector gently let go of me and walked over to Jamie, putting an arm around him. “We don’t know anything new, amigo, but we’ve got alerts out all over the city. We will find out where he is. Come inside where you can sit and eat something, then we’ll talk more.”

They had our bags brought up to our room by one of the many house staff, and we followed John and Hector into the large sitting room. Everything was decorated in light colors and the floor was so pristinely shiny, I was sure I would be able to see my reflection in it. Having lived many years with my home as a magnet for filthy children and sloppy teenagers, I wondered how Hector and John managed to keep everything so clean with young Willie around.

My heart clenched at the thought of our boy being taken from this beautiful home full of warmth and love. He must be so scared. Just the idea of it made my legs feel weak. Jamie placed a hand on the small of my back and led me to the couch. John and Hector sat across from us and almost immediately, a tray was brought in piled with fruits, pastries, toasted breads, meats, and cheeses. I hadn’t even realized how starved I was until the food was before me, and I dug in voraciously. Another of the house staff walked over with a large, gleaming silver pot of coffee and poured some for me. Despite the grim nature of our visit, I knew I could definitely get used to being spoiled like this.

Jamie didn’t touch the food, leaning forward and listening intently as John filled him in on what they knew so far, which was very little. Whoever took Willie had managed to disarm the sophisticated security system and take Willie from his bed undetected. Not wanting to involve the corrupt police, any number of which could be in Rahnel’s pocket, they had contacted Brian Fraser, who had some of their best men working on locating Willie.

“Have ye seen my father?” Jamie asked.

“No, but we’ve talked to him quite a bit,” John told him. “He’s shaken up, but he knows better than to go off half-cocked and do something stupid, just as I hope you do.” He raised an eyebrow at Jamie who had started pacing the room with that caged animal look in his eyes again.

“Jamie, please,” I pleaded, holding a pastry out to him, “You can’t be any good to Willie if you don’t take care of yourself. Sit and eat.”

He didn’t sit, but he did take the pastry from my hand and bite into it while he kept up his pacing. “I think the two of you should go get some rest,” Hector declared. “After you have some sleep, you can go out and enjoy the pool or the hot spring.”

“I’m no’ here on vacation, Hector,” Jamie spat out, glaring at him.

John stood with his hands raised in peace. “No, you’re not. But there’s absolutely nothing you can do right now but take care of yourself. Get some sleep, take a shower, and try to keep your mind occupied. I’ll arrange for you both to have some reiki and perhaps a couple’s massage later this afternoon.”

I furrowed my brow, wondering if John and Hector actually had a masseuse and Reiki master on staff, but decided I would just wait and see. I took Jamie firmly by the hand and followed John upstairs and into a bedroom that was as big as almost the entire second floor of my house. A four poster bed covered with mosquito netting was at one end of the room. I had never felt so grateful to have a place to lay my head. John excused himself, and I collapsed in a nearby chair. “I can’t decide if I want a shower or to just crawl into bed and sleep.”

Jamie looked at me and must have noticed how exhausted I was for the first time. “I’m sorry mo nighean donn. Why dinna I run a nice bath for ye, aye?”

I nodded and fumbled in my bag for my phone and charger. I plugged it in and turned it on. The moment it powered up, I was bombarded with notifications. Ten messages from Geillis, five from Joe, and twenty from Brianna, each one increasingly more panicked. The voicemail indicator appeared at the top of the phone; Brianna had also called me at least five times. Sighing, I listened to the most recent one.

Mama, please call me as soon as you get this. I know I’m being obsessive but I just don’t feel right and need you to tell me that everything is ok. Is it my brother? Please Mama, I need to know. I swear to God if you don’t call me back, I’m going to hop on a plane and come to Brazil myself!

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I blurted out as I hung up the phone.

“What’s wrong, Sassenach?” Jamie called from the bathroom.

I stood and walked to the bathroom, leaning on the doorway for support. “Bree is spiraling about our impromptu trip and is threatening to get on a plane if we don’t call her and tell her what’s going on.”

Jamie turned the faucets off and wiped his hands on his jeans. “Alright, then we call her and tell her. I’ll no’ have her putting herself in danger too.”

I handed him my phone and walked over to a small loveseat; Jamie joined me and I curled up with my head on his shoulder. He kissed my forehead before dialing.

Brianna answered on the first ring. “Mama? Is everything ok?”

“Yes, Brianna, everything is fine. I’m here with your father; you’re on speaker.”

“Will one of you please tell me what is going on? There’s no way you just took off to Brazil on a lark. Is something wrong with my brother?”

“Brianna,” Jamie said soothingly, “a leannan, please calm down. I’ll tell ye everything, but I need ye tae take deep breaths for me, aye?” The man would have had a lucrative career as a crisis negotiator. I could hear Brianna breathing in and out shakily.

“OK,” she said finally, “Please tell me what’s going on.”

Jamie told her everything, from his criminal past to his dealings with Rahnel. I knew this wasn’t the way he wanted to tell her, but given the situation, there wasn’t much else that we could do. When he finally told her about Rahnel taking William, she gasped. “I need to come help you.”

“No, Brianna,” I practically yelled into the phone. “That is exactly what we are trying to avoid by telling you the truth. You absolutely cannot come.”

She made a Scottish noise, but conceded. “Fine, but how am I supposed to just sit here and do nothing when my little brother is missing? When he’s in the hands of that sadist?”

“Please just leave it to us, a nighean. I ken it’s no’ easy to sit and do nothing, but ye must. I willna put ye in danger too.”

“What about Mama?” she sniffled. “What about you, Da?”

“I promise I’ll take care o’ the both of us, and we’ll be back in Scotland with William in no time. I will bring him home, Brianna. I promise ye.”

“I trust you, Da. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to worry about you.”

When we got off the phone, Jamie returned to the bathroom and started the water again. I stripped off my filthy clothes and slid into the tub while Jamie finished filling it. The tub was quite large, and when Jamie turned to leave, I grabbed his arm. “Come in with me?”

He nodded and undressed silently, climbing in and pulling me close. “I’m so sorry for all of this, Sassenach,” he whispered in my ear. “I canna help but think ye would have been better off if I’d stayed away.”

"How can you even say that?" I asked incredulously. "I love you so much, James Fraser. Having you back in my life, in Bree's life, has been a gift. Don't ever wish to take that back."

He picked up the washcloth, lathering it with soap, and began gently washing me."When we get Willie back, and take him home wi' us, it will be the end of all this shite, I promise ye Claire. It's just you and me and the children and we won't have tae deal with any of this anymore."

"I know, Jamie. I trust you so much more than you let yourself believe."

We took our time washing each other. Both of us were too tired for it to lead to anything else, but it was a way of physically connecting that was just as beautiful. We both sorely needed it after all we'd been through in the past twenty-four hours.

I washed his hair first, and he practically purred as I massaged his scalp. I recalled how, on the rare occasions we were able to spend the night together all those years ago, he would always fall asleep when I played with his hair.

He did mine next, carefully working his fingers through the tangled mass of curls. When it was rinsed thoroughly, he stepped out of the tub and then leaned down to help me out. We dried each other off and wrapped ourselves in warm, fluffy robes and collapsed onto the bed. I took him in my arms, wrapped myself around him, and we both fell into a peaceful sleep.

***

I awoke in a post-nap haze, briefly wondering where I was and what day, let alone what time, it was. The comfort of Jamie’s arms anchored me, as did his erection pressing into my arse cheek. I wasn’t feeling particularly in the mood, but I yearned to give him whatever comfort I could. If he wanted me, he could have me.

Jamie stirred and his hands roamed, first on my hips and belly, and then up to my breasts. He pushed my half open robe aside, allowing himself free access. I was doing this for him, but as his hands kneaded my breasts and playfully pinched my nipples, I felt myself opening for him.

His need was urgent, almost desperate, as he pulled the knee of my top leg toward my chest to admit his entrance. He grunted with relief when he slid inside of me, burying his face in my neck. We moved together almost desperately, his cock sliding in and out of me as he clung to me.

He moved his hand around and pulled my knee up even higher, and I cried out as he reached the deepest part of me. My climax came in a hot rush as he slammed into me haphazardly, and he spilled himself into me while I was still pulsing around him. He stayed inside of me while we laid together quietly, as if he didn't want to sever the connection we had just forged.

We laid that way together for a while, both drifting in and out of sleep again, until I was suddenly jolted awake by a jarring thought. I pulled away from Jamie and rolled onto my back, slapping my hand on my forehead.

"What is it, mo nighean donn?" he asked, scooting closer to me again.

"I just bloody realized I forgot to pack my birth control."

Jamie made a Scottish noise and moved his hand to my stomach, as if there were already a baby growing inside. "And if ye did get pregnant, mo ghraidh? If ye did have my child growing inside ye again? Would that really be so bad?"

I lay silently for a bit, mulling the question over in my mind. I had truly thought I had closed the door on that phase of my life. Of course that had been when I had a husband who was both sterile and not my favorite person.

I think every parent both dreads and looks forward to the day their children become independent. With Bree a young adult, and me being still quite young, I had resolved myself to being happy that my child was grown while I still had years of freedom ahead of me.

But I had Jamie back in my life, and William was only eight, adding at least another ten years onto the parenting stage of my life. I suppose that would make some people hesitant, but I had truly enjoyed Brianna's childhood, even when I was a young mother. I never felt trapped as some mothers do, or resentful. The truth was that I was very much looking forward to having a child in my home again, even if it meant stinky socks, crisps all over the floor, and a fresh gaggle of friends traipsing in and out of my house.

Would I be alright adding yet another baby into that mix? I was getting a bit old for the sleepless nights, and my current career was certainly not conducive to having a baby. But when I thought about snuggling a newborn to my chest again, and getting to do the whole thing with Jamie this time, the way it always should have been,my heart swelled with love.

I shook my head and told myself to slow down. I was not pregnant nor did I know if I ever would be again. Still, the possibility was so overwhelming it brought tears to my eyes, and I turned to Jamie, finally, and said, "No. It wouldn't be terrible at all, Jamie. It would be wonderful."

He pulled me in closer and said, still hesitating, "Maybe ye could just stop taking yer wee pills all together then, aye?"

"Alright, but you're going to have to make an honest woman of me."

"Dinna fash about that, Sassenach. I've been waiting over twenty years tae do that. Ye willna have tae wait much longer."

The loud trill of my phone stopped our conversation short, and I fumbled at the nightstand to find it. Brianna's name popped up on the caller ID, and I answered quickly, putting it on speaker. "Hello?"

"Mama, are you there with Da?"

"Yes darling we're both here. What's wrong?"

"I think Phaedra may have figured out where Willie might be."

Chapter Text

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"Mama, are you there with Da?"

"Yes darling we're both here. What's wrong?"

"I think Phaedra may have figured out where Willie might be."

I looked at Jamie in disbelief. "Phaedra? How could sh-"

"Phaedra's a hacker, Mama. A really good one, ok? I don't want to waste time explaining it to you, okay? Da, are you there?"

Jamie cleared his throat. “Aye, a leannan, I’m here. I just dinna understand what’s going on. Where is Willie?”

There was some rustling on the other end of the phone and then Phaedra’s voice came through the line, “Not on here. Do your hosts have a secure internet connection?”

“Aye, they do,” Jamie said. I looked at him curiously. Jamie had spent the last twenty years doing no small amount of hacking himself, so he knew his way around technology in a way that I never would. I’d grown accustomed to letting him take over whenever anything was more complicated than entering a password or updating an app.

“Good. I want you two to disconnect from the phone network and use only the WiFi. Then, I’ll send you a link to a VPN I set up. Then I’ll get you set up in a video chat so I can show you what I found. OK? Let’s hang up now and send me a thumbs up when you’re off the network.”

Jamie hung up the phone and I stared at him with my eyes glazed over. “What the hell does any of that mean?”

“Christ, just let me do this, Sassenach. I dinna have time tae explain it all to ye. Could ye just give me the laptop, aye?”

“Fine,” I pouted, getting up to fish it out of my bag.

Jamie rolled his eyes as I handed it to him. After a lot of clicking on both our phones and messing with the laptop, he sent Phaedra a message and waited for her to send the info that we needed. When the necessary links arrived, we logged into the video chat.

“Alright,” Phaedra started, sharing her screen. “I’m going to do this quickly just in case the connection gets compromised. When Brianna told me about Ranhel and what happened with Willie, I decided to hack into the real estate records and look for any potential leads.”

“John’s people have been trying tae do that fer days. I - “

“Right, but these databases and stuff are blocked in Brazil. You’d have to be, like, a way better hacker than me to get into them from inside the country. BUT, because my connection is coming from Scotland, some of the roadblocks put in place aren’t there.” Phaedra beamed smugly at her cleverness.

“Aye, so what did ye find?”

“Well, Ranhel does own a lot of property, so it took a little while. He uses shell corporations and different LLCs so that the properties aren’t under his own name. Even so, most of them are legitimate businesses.”

“And Ranhel would never mix his criminal activity with a legitimate business,” Jamie chimed in.

Phaedra tapped her nose twice and pointed at the camera. “BINGO. So I narrowed it down to the properties that appeared to be unused or just not associated with any of his business. Most of them are vacant lots in the middle of nowhere, and at first I thought he might have some kind of bunkers built on them or something like that.

“But then I remembered what Brianna said about him using Willie to draw you back to Brazil, so I figured that he wouldn’t put Willie out in the middle of nowhere because the whole point is for you to find Willie and go to rescue him.”

Jamie rubbed his chin and nodded slowly. “Aye, that makes sense.”

“And then, I found this.” Phaedra clicked on her screen and a picture from google of an abandoned motel outside of Sao Paulo popped up. Jamie and I both leaned in to look at it more closely.

“Ranhel just closed the sale on this last month, which means that he probably bought it specifically for this purpose.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

“Oh, wait, there’s more. I was able to get access to the security cameras. Ranhel must have just set them up recently because their history doesn’t go back very far. Now watch this.”

She clicked play on her screen and a slightly grainy video popped up. It showed a car pulling up to the front of the hotel. It was dark out, so I could barely make out the two people in the front seat of the car. They were just two dark blobs, but one was significantly smaller than the other.

“Willie…” Jamie said, reaching a hand out to touch the screen. The driver exited the vehicle and walked toward the building; moments later, the camera cut out. When the video returned, it showed the driver walking back toward the car, getting in, and pulling away.

Jamie and I looked at each other. “It has to be,” I said.

“I hope so,” Brianna chimed in. ”We’ll send you the address, but please don’t do anything stupid. Please. Remember that there is a camera and they’ll be looking for you, Da.”

“I promise we won’t do anything stupid, Brianna,” I assure her. “We’ll have to talk to John and Hector about a plan, but this is just...amazing. Thank you so much, Phaedra. I don’t even know how we can ever repay you for this.”

“Aye,” Jamie replied hoarsely, “Ye’re a clever lass, Phaedra. We’re so lucky tae have ye in our family.”

We assured Brianna again that we wouldn’t put ourselves in danger and then ended the video call. Jamie pulled me close and kissed me. When he pulled his lips away he kept his forehead pressed against mine. “We’re going tae get him back, Sassenach.”

“I know, Jamie. I know.”

***

Coming up with a plan to get him back proved to be more difficult than I had initially anticipated. I had assumed that John and Hector would just know a guy who would be willing to execute the rescue mission for a price. I quickly realized how little I actually understood about Jamie’s former world.

“No,” John said. We were in yet another living room, this one decorated more cozily with rich, brown leather furniture and a fireplace, though I couldn’t imagine when there would ever be a time when it would be of use. John and Jamie were both pacing the floor while Hector and I sat watching them like tennis match observers. “We’ve already made some inquiries. Nobody is willing to mess with Ranhel right now. He’s a loose cannon on his best days and has apparently gotten worse over the last few months.”

“So what now?” I asked. “Can we involve the police? What about the NCA?”

“We canna trust the police; they might go straight tae Ranhel and warn him. And the NCA willna get involved,” Jamie said.

“Why not? You work for them, for Christ sake!” I was starting to feel trapped and suddenly understood Jamie’s compulsion to pace all the time.

“He’s no’ a Scottish citizen, Sassenach. They willna interfere in the kidnapping of a Brazilian child in Brazil.”

“Why don’t I pour us some drinks?” Hector said, already getting up and heading toward the bar on the other side of the room.

“What about your father?” John asked.

“No, I willna involve him,” Jamie replied vehemently.

“Why not?” I asked, taking the drink that Hector offered.

“I dinna want tae discuss it. Just leave it, Sassenach.” He and John both took long gulps of the drinks Hector handed them. I looked down at mine, but found I didn’t have the taste for alcohol right then, and set it on the end table closest to me.

“So what now?” I asked. “We know where he is, but we just sit here and do nothing?”

“Christ, woman, would ye give me time tae think?” Jamie snapped.

“Oh,” I said. I stood up and moved closer to him. “I see. Is that what I am, just a woman who’s getting in the way?”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Ye ken I didn’t mean it that way.” His voice was not at all apologetic.

“Then how did you mean it, Jamie? I came here to help and since the beginning you’ve been hot and cold with me. Let’s not forget that the only reason we know where he is now is because of our daughter’s girlfriend. You know, the daughter I raised on my own while you were off fucking whores in Brazil?”

Jamie and I stood nose to nose, both of us breathing heavily. I barely registered the sound of the door closing as John and Hector tiptoed out of the room. “Ye take that back, ye foul mouthed bitch!”

“I’ll do no such thing! I am not some convenient accessory you can keep around to fuck and use for an insta-family and then push aside whenever I become inconvenient.”

Jamie stepped back and swept his arm across the end table, knocking my drink and a lamp that probably cost more than my entire house to the ground. “Well I’m damned either way, aren’t I? I suppose if I’d spent the last twenty years living like a monk, ye’d find fault wi’ that too! Meanwhile, ye see no problem wi’ marrying another man and letting him raise my daughter!”

I stepped back, my emotions plummeting from fiery heat into an icy chill. “You think I just married Frank and lived happily ever after?”

“I do, and everytime I think of that man sleeping wi’ ye, touching ye at night, and raising my bairn, I could kill ye fer it!”

“Yes, Jamie, you certainly have the moral high ground here. One night stands are completely acceptable, but marrying a man so that I could give our daughter a good life, that’s just an unforgivable sin.” My entire body was seething.

Jamie steadied his breath, but I could still see the fire in his eyes. He stepped closer to me and grabbed my arm. “Ye are mine. Nobody else’s.”

“You don’t own me,” I said haughtily, stepping on my toes so I could meet him at eye level.

The look in his eyes was frightening but I stood my ground, waiting for his next move. I didn’t think him capable of physical violence, but it sure looked like he was on the verge of it.

Suddenly he reached up a hand, and I cringed, but instead of the sting I expected on my face, I felt the grip of his fingers in my hair. He pulled me close and kissed me violently, his teeth pressing against my lips, his tongue invading my entire mouth.

I pulled away and slapped him across the face. “Don’t you dare.”

His eyes were still black with anger, but his mouth twitched slightly at the corner. “Oh, I do dare,” he said before pulling me in again and taking my mouth in his.

I pushed him away and he lost his balance, stumbling to the floor and pulling me down on top of him. My head told me to push myself up, get off of him while I had the advantage but my hands were already unbuckling his belt. He reached up and pulled my breasts out of the top of my dress and kneaded them violently. My hips were moving as if of their own volition and I went up on my knees to pull my panties off. He took the opportunity to push his pants down far enough so that I could lower myself on his already hard cock.

I rode him ferociously, taking my pleasure with no regard for his. My clit ground against his pubic hair creating an electric friction that I felt down to my toes. It wasn’t enough for him, though. He needed to possess me; I could see it in his eyes.

Suddenly, he rolled us both over and started to slam into me at a punishing pace. I was already near the breaking point and when he growled in my ear, “Ye’re mine, mo nighean donn, now and forever,” I fell apart around him. The noises that emitted from my mouth were feral, primitive as my entire body convulsed. He continued his relentless onslaught until his already erratic rhythm devolved into fitful thrusts ending with him crying out, “Claire!” as he released himself inside me.

He collapsed in a heap on top of me and I rubbed my hands on his back, trying desperately to keep our connection for as long as possible. Finally both of our breathing slowed and he slid off of me, burying his head in my neck like a contrite schoolboy.

I reached my hand up and patted his cheek. “Feel better now?”

He laughed and nibbled at my ear. “Aye, I do.”

“I suppose we have to get up and figure this out now,” I said, reluctantly disentangling myself from Jamie’s grip. I sat up and looked around the room and then looked down at my torn dress and bruised breasts. “Is there a blanket or something I can wrap myself in? I think we need to apologize to John and Hector and then I need to get changed.”

Jamie sat up and kissed my shoulder. “Did I hurt ye, Claire? I’m so sorry.”

I laughed and turned to kiss his cheek where I could still see the imprint of my hand. “Not anymore than I hurt you, I suppose. Besides, I rather liked it.”

Jamie raised his eyebrows at me cheekily. “Aye, so did I.” He stood up and looked around the room. He quickly retrieved a throw blanket from the back of one of the couches and threw it over my shoulder. He reached his arm out and I grabbed hold of it, pulling myself up to my feet. Jamie pulled me close again and kissed me tenderly. “I love ye so much it makes me a little crazy sometimes.”

I gave him a warm smile. I would have liked to spend a few more minutes with him holding me, but I could already feel the warm, slimy liquid starting to drip down my leg. “Why don’t you go and apologize while I just pop upstairs and get changed?”

“As ye wish,” he said, doing his level best to wink at me. What resulted, as usual, was a cartoonish blink, and I laughed as he escorted me out of the room.

***

By dinner time, we had made no further progress with our plans and everybody was feeling deflated and frustrated. We sat in John and Hector’s opulent dining room eating quietly; the only sounds were chewing and the occasional scraping of a fork. The food was delicious, though, and I’d never felt so ravenous in my life. Even Jamie looked at me in wonder. “The food down here seems tae agree wi’ ye, Sassenach.”

“I’ve never seen a gringo eat spicy food with such vigor,” Hector chimed in.

John kicked him under the table and Hector gave him a puzzled look. “What? It just means foreigner.”

I laughed and wiped my mouth with my napkin. “Jamie has been calling me Sassenach since I met him, so I take no offense to being called gringo down here.”

When the food was taken away, we retired to the living room we had been in that afternoon. I blushed from head to toe when I saw how neatly it had already been cleaned up. A new lamp had even replaced the broken one. We all sat down with after dinner drinks and continued to talk things through. I noticed that Jamie was much calmer, and gave myself a pat on the back for my assistance with the situation.

Finally, Jamie spoke up. “We’re wasting our time here. It’s been two days and my son is still in the hands of that fucking sadist. I’m just going to go after him.”

He stood up and I grabbed his arm, pulling him down. “Jamie, no. That is exactly what Ranhel wants. He’ll kill you, for Christ’s sake! And then what will happen to Willie?:

“She’s right, you know,” John chimed in. “As long as Ranhel doesn’t know where you are, Willie will be safe. But as soon as he finds you, who knows what he’ll do.”

“So where does that leave us then? I hear everybody rejecting ideas, but nobody is offering any solutions.” Jamie looked around the room at each of us accusingly.

“Here’s an idea,” I said, raising an eyebrow at him. “I’ll do it.”

Jamie’s response was swift and expected. “Have ye lost yer mind, Claire? I wouldna put ye in harm’s way like that.”

“Well, I’m not seeing you offer a better solution,” I shot back. “It didn’t sound like Ranhel had someone guarding the place 24/7. All we have to do is have Phaedra review the video footage and find out when people are coming and going and just show up when they aren’t there.”

“And how are ye planning on getting in? Are ye goin’ tae break the door down?”

I shrugged, “First thing’s first, lad. Let’s find out what we can from the video. And then, we can talk logistics.”

Jamie made one of his Scottish sounds low in his throat. “I like the idea of having Phaedra watch the video so we can get more information, but I’m no’ letting ye put yerself in danger.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Jamie glowered, but he couldn’t fool me either. The way his eyes looked at me with a curious admiration told me all I needed to know.

***

We spoke with Phaedra and she told us she would review the video and let us know her findings in the morning. Jamie and I curled up in bed together and he was soon snoring lightly beside me. I watched him for a while, his face relaxed in sleep; he looked peaceful, very much like the boy I remembered from all those years ago.

He was different now, we both were, but I still felt like the teenager who fell in love with him twenty years ago.

I should have been exhausted after forty-eight hours that felt more like one long, surreal day, but my mind was racing. I'd been plunged head first into Jamie's other life, and I was having a hard time reconciling the man who made me heart-shaped pancakes on Saturday mornings with the man who survived in this world of constant threat for twenty years.

Sighing, I threw the covers back and carefully extricated myself from Jamie's protective grip. I threw on a robe and made my way downstairs, first into the kitchen, pouring myself a glass of water and plucking a cluster of grapes from a bowl in the refrigerator. Unable to sit and relax, I wandered out the back door and stepped into the fresh night air.

The air was mild and refreshing; it was the end of winter in the Southern hemisphere, and the humidity was low. I walked over to the pool and dipped a toe in. The water was perfect. Setting my snack on a nearby table, I looked around cautiously and then slipped out of my robe. I had gone to bed in a tank top and shorts, and I quickly shed those too.

I slipped into the pool quietly and sighed with relief. The water soothed a tension in my muscles I hadn't noticed. I flipped to my back and floated, my nipples bobbing above the water. My ears were partially submerged and I reveled in the sensory deprivation, closing my eyes and letting my mind go blank.

I barely registered the disturbance in the air, thought vaguely that I heard quiet footsteps, but in my near meditative state I let the sound pass through me without acknowledgement. It wasn't until a voice floated above my head that I opened my eyes.

John stood at the edge of the pool looking down at me with an amused smile on his face. I flailed in the water until I was on my feet with my arms wrapped around my chest. "Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, you scared me!" I hissed at him.

He threw his head back and laughed. I scowled and he threw me a towel and turned his back to me, but I could see his shoulders still shaking. Quickly, I climbed out of the pool and began dressing myself behind him. "What are you doing out here?"

"I could ask the same of you," he replied.

"You can turn around now." I told him. I sat down in one of the poolside chairs and pulled my robe closer together.

He settled himself in the chair across the small table from me. I plucked a grape off the vine and popped it in my mouth. "Well?"

John smiled and ran his fingers through his wavy brown hair. "You tripped one of the security cameras. I came out to make sure everything was alright."

"Oh," I replied. "Well, it's good to know you aren't a pervert."

He laughed again and, despite myself, I found comfort in the melodic sound. "Well," he said, "I didn't say I wasn't, but you aren't exactly my type."

"Very true. I'm sorry I woke you; I couldn't sleep."

John brushed away my apology with a wave of the hand. "It's no bother. I wasn't sleeping." He reached over and took one of the grapes, rolling it around in his fingers before tossing it into his mouth. "Penny for your thoughts?"

What was it about this man that made me feel like I could bare my soul to him? I'd barely known him for a day, but instead of being reticent, I sighed and said, "Just thinking about how hard this life must have been for Jamie for all those years."

"Ah, yes." He leaned back in the chair thoughtfully. "Jamie is a man of contradictions. When I first met him...after what happened with Ranhel, he was completely broken, you know. And not just physically. We had his body healed quickly, but his soul... I could tell it was tortured."

"He was so happy when we were young. It's hard to explain. He was just..full of life. He put his entire self into everything he did. I can't imagine what it was like for him to have to live such a hidden life. And then to be tortured like that." I shuddered. "He said you and Hector healed him. But how? How did you get him back?"

He shrugged. "Love. Safety. Reiki. But mostly I think it was you that saved him."

"Me? How is that even possible? He hadn't seen me in years by then."

"He told me he did see you though. You came to him when he was ready to give up, and you told him not to give up on you. He decided then to live. When he came here, and his body was healed, he started making plans to get out of here. And that’s what started to heal his soul. We were helping as much as we could, but such things take time. You can't imagine how dangerous and complicated it is. Most people never manage even if they try."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Jamie hadn't told me any of this. "Why did he stop?" I asked.

"Willie," John said quietly.

We sat in silence until John finally spoke again. "He's such a good man, Claire. I know he'll probably always be a bit rough around the edges, but he's still such a softie inside."

Tears stung my eyes and I blinked them back. "I know that." I reached over and took John's hand, giving it a squeeze. "Don't worry, John, I won't be leaving him. No matter how infuriating he can be, I literally cannot resist him. He's my kryptonite."

John smiled broadly, his eyes wrinkling at the corners. "Good. Now, what are we going to do about Willie?"

"Jamie feels so much responsibility toward all of us. He carries so much weight on his shoulders. But I think I have a plan so that we can take care of him for once. Will you help me?"

"My dear, nothing would make me happier."

Chapter Text

Pics-Art-11-23-10-06-29

The next morning, we were on video chat again with Phaedra as she went over her findings with us.

"Right, so from what I can tell, he is being guarded at all times. It seems to be the same person, as I never seen anyone else going in or out except for the people that are delivering food twice a day,"

"Interesting," I said, "Is there any pattern to the drop off times?"

Phaedra laughed. "Yes, they're like clockwork. Either they're extremely incompetent or they really don't care if they get caught."

Jamie grunted and mumbled, "I suspect it's a wee bit of both."

"Anything else we need to know?" I asked. "Any other visitors?"

"No one, not since the other day when someone dropped Willie off there and when the guard showed up."

I looked at Jamie, wondering if he had any more questions. He shrugged. "Alright then, I suppose that's everything. Thank you, Phaedra. We can never begin to repay you."

Phaedra smiled and waved a hand at us in dismissal. Brianna came on the chat then so we could chat for a few minutes before we hung up.

I curled my legs up and rested my head on Jamie’s shoulder. "Penny for your thoughts?" I asked as I absent-mindedly played with the buttons on his polo shirt.

He grunted and kissed the top of my head. "I dinna ken what we're going tae do wi' this information."

"Don't worry, Jamie. I already have a plan," I told him.

I felt the tension rise in his shoulders immediately. "Are ye ever going tae tell me this plan so I can tell ye it's too dangerous? Then we can try tae figure out the real plan."

I kissed his shoulder and then made a trail to his neck. He moaned softly and reached his arm around to bring my face to his, pulling me into a deep, lazy kiss. I slung one of my legs around, so I was straddling him face to face, and slowly rocked my hips.

Jamie groaned into my mouth and then took a handful of my hair and pulled my head back gently. "Are ye trying tae distract me, mo ghraidh?"

"Maybe," I teased. "Is it working?"

He cupped one of my breasts in his large hand and bent his head and took my earlobe in his mouth. "Aye…" he answered, his breath tickling my ear.

I sat up straight, pulled my shirt off and then unhooked my bra and let it fall to the floor. "Christ," he groaned, moving his head down and taking one of my nipples in his mouth reverently and teasing the other with his fingers. Then, he took both his hands and pushed my breasts together, burying his face between them. "Ye could smother me here, and I'd die a happy man," he said. His tone was so serious, I couldn't help but giggle.

"Are ye laughing at me?" he asked, looking up at me with puppy dog eyes.

"Yes," I said. I grabbed his ears and urged his head up so I could kiss him again then went up on my knees. Jamie reached down and undid the button and fly of his jeans, pushing them down far enough so his erection sprang free. I followed suit with my shorts and panties.

Jamie's hand slid up my thighs, and he growled, biting his bottom lip. I gave him a playful smile and reached down to grab his cock, hard and ready for me. I lowered myself down and we both let out relieved sighs as I took all of him inside me.

He thrust up, eager for friction but I shook my head and leaned forward to whisper in his ear, "Stay still; I've got you."

I began rocking my hips back and forth, his cock keeping most of its depth. I adjusted my angle until it reached my g-spot and continued my undulations. My clit was grinding on his pelvic bone so that I was overwhelmingly stimulated inside and out. This was not the fiery, lustful fucking of the previous afternoon, but rather a slow dance that we could easily lose ourselves in, letting the outside world melt away.

Jamie’s lips stayed parted slightly - panting, moaning, and whispering words of love with every breath. My arms clung around his neck and I rested my forehead against his as my climax rose from a low burning fire between my legs and spreading in both directions until I was bursting with an unexpected heat that exploded into a thousand tiny firecrackers all throughout my body. My whole body was trembling as Jamie took my mouth in his and came hard inside of me. His hands rubbed my back reassuringly and I let my head drop to his shoulder.

I realized I was crying when I felt the wetness against my cheeks mingling with the salty sweat of the both of us. “Shhhhh….” Jamie whispered, “I’ve got ye now, mo ghraidh.”

I had intended to lull him into a state of stupefied satisfaction, so that he’d not have the strength or will to argue with me about the plans I had made with John the night before, but as usual, Jamie managed to turn the tables and turn me into a melted puddle of safety and comfort in his arms.

Eventually I climbed off of him and cuddled close to him, my head resting on his strong, broad chest. When I finally regained my senses, I kissed one of his pecs and asked quietly, “Are you ready to hear the plan?”

“Aye,” he replied with a sigh, “But if it involves John and Hector, best get dressed and go downstairs to talk about it all together.”

***

We went over the plan together over a large breakfast served in a screened-in room overlooking the pool. Less opulent than most of the other rooms in the large house, it was furnished with mostly wicker and had a comfortable, domestic feeling. After John and I relayed what we had talked about the night before, I filled in the information we had learned from Phaedra’s research and proposed a way to execute the plan. As expected, Jamie immediately bristled and put his foot down.

“Absolutely not,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s too dangerous for all of ye. I canna have it.”

“You keep saying that, Jamie, but what choice do we have?” I reasoned. “We’ve been through this a hundred times; there’s no other way.”

“I told ye, I’ll do it myself.”

John rolled his eyes. “You know that’s ridiculous. The plan we just laid out involved a minimum of three people. Even if you didn’t get yourself killed before you even made it to the motel, there is no possible way you could pull off the rescue alone.”

Rather than try to argue with John’s solid logic, Jamie simply leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “I willna allow it, Claire. I canna stop Hector and John, but I willna allow ye tae do it.”

John and I had known this would be coming, and we’d talked about the best way to manage the stubborn Scot acting like a chauvinistic horse’s arse. My instinct was to let him get my hackles up, ultimately distracting us both from the end goal. Instead I remained calm and told him evenly, “You can’t stop me either,” I shrugged. “Unless you plan to use bodily force on me. And if that’s the case, I suppose I’ll just head back to Scotland on my own after I know that Willie’s safe.”

Jamie opened his mouth and then closed it again, obviously thinking better of it. Finally, he said, “Fine, I’ll go with John and Hector, and ye can stay here safely.”

Sometimes I had patients who were hesitant to take the medications I prescribed or have surgeries I recommended. I spoke to Jamie then just as I usually spoke to them. “You are being stubborn for no good reason. The facts we’ve laid out for you clearly show that it’s much more dangerous for you to try to rescue Willie than it will be for me, yet you insist on being stubborn about it out of some foolish male pride.”

Jamie dropped his fork and turned to me. “Maybe my pride is all I have.”

“I can assure you that will be the case if you don’t let me go through with this.”

Finally, Hector pushed his chair back dramatically and stood, moving toward Jamie. “Pare! Enough! Jamie, you are being a cabeça-dura!” Hector rapped his fist on the top of Jamie’s head in demonstration. “Now, you’re going to let us take care of this once and for all so we can all go back to having some peace and I can stop worrying about meu afilhado. And if you don’t agree, then I will find someone who is big enough and strong enough to physically restrain you. Você entende?”

Shocked, I looked from Hector to Jamie as they stared each other down. Finally, Jamie lowered his eyes and pouted. “Fine. But I dinna like it.”

“You don’t have to like it,” Hector told him. “You just have to agree to it.”

Jamie nodded like a chastised schoolboy and Hector stalked out of the room. A few minutes later, Jamie stomped out, too. I heard him go out the back door, slamming it behind him.

“Do you want to tell me what that was all about?” I asked.

John chuckled and took a sip of his tea. “Hector may seem like just my innocuous queen of a husband, but he’s actually a very powerful man in our world. He knows a lot of people and could easily call in somebody to force Jamie to let us handle this, and Jamie knows it.”

“Never would have guessed,” I mumbled, still a bit taken aback. “But surely if he’s that connected, he could have just gotten somebody to help rescue Willie in the first place.”

John threw his head back and laughed. “My dear, as I told you, no one in our business would mess with anybody in that business.”

“I’m so confused,” I said. “I thought you were all in the same business.”

John smiled, shaking his head. “My dear, Hector and I are art dealers, exclusively. We don’t have anything to do with the cartels unless it involves obtaining a piece of art for someone involved in them. That’s how we met Brian in the first place.”

Art dealers?!?” I responded incredulously. My head was spinning. John sat back and took another sip of his tea with a smug, self-satisfied grin on his face. “I have so many more questions,” I said finally.

“And we will answer them in good time,” John replied, patting me on the shoulder. “But right now, let’s get ready to rescue Willie.”

***

Phaedra’s review of the surveillance cameras had revealed food was delivered to the motel every evening around 8:00 PM. After a long, anxious day of waiting, we left before Jamie even returned from wherever he had gone during his fit of anger and were in our positions by seven, leaving no room for error.

We had parked at a gas station about a half mile away and walked to the motel to try not raise any suspicion. The sun had gone down and the air had cooled just enough to be tolerable. The three of us waited in silence, squatting in the shadows against the side of the motel. “Remember,” John reminded me, “If you need to refer to Jamie at all, call him Alexander.” I nodded, hoping I’d be able to remember under pressure.

Finally, we heard the crunch of rubber hitting gravel in the parking lot, and Hector quietly crept out of hiding, hoping to catch whoever was delivering the food off guard. John and I peered from the corner of the building carefully and watched Hector disappear around the driver side of the car.

The door opened and I could make out the shadow of a man exiting the vehicle. Before he could even stand upright, Hector popped up and clubbed the unsuspecting miscreant over the head with the butt of his gun. John scurried out to help tie the man up. Within a few seconds, I saw the trunk of the car pop open and then they stood at either end of his body and picked him up, carrying him to the trunk.

Hector closed the trunk silently and I ran out from my spot. Hector stood by the car to keep lookout while John grabbed the bag of food and moved quickly to the door to the room. I followed behind him and pressed my body against the side of the motel near the door.

He knocked on the door and held the bag of food up in front of the peephole as we’d discussed, hoping to not raise any suspicions about an unfamiliar delivery person. My heart pounded in my chest as the door creaked open and a gruff voice spoke in Portuguese.

John responded in English, for my sake. “Put your hands up and walk back into the room slowly.”

I watched carefully, my body thrumming with anticipation. Just as the door was about to close, I stuck my foot in the crack and grasped it in my hand, pulling it open and stepping inside of the room. Willie sat at a table near the opposite wall, his eyes wide with terror. John had already pushed the guard into the bathroom; he was to duct tape the man up and stay in with him until I was able to get Willie to safety.

I made a move toward Willie and he noticed me for the first time. He opened his mouth, but I quickly shook my head and I reached out my hand, beckoning for him to come to me quietly. He scrambled out of the chair and ran to me, throwing his arms around my waist and burying his head in my stomach. I hugged him quickly and then crouched down so I could use all of the strength in my legs to lift his oversized Fraser body up in my arms.

He threw his arms around my neck and wrapped his legs around my waist. The eight year old was much bigger in person than he had seemed on our video chats, but I was able to balance him enough so that I could at least get him out of the room safely. “I’ve got you now,” I whispered to him.

I whistled in signal to John and then turned to exit the room. Two steps and I would be out the door and on my way to freedom.

A man stood in the doorway with a gun in his hand, blocking our path. My stomach dropped into my feet and immediately, in my gut, I knew it was João Ranhel.

He spoke in Portuguese, stepping into the doorway. I took a few steps backward and glanced quickly at the bathroom door. Ranhel asked me something in Portuguese and I shook my head and said, “English.”

His eyebrows raised in surprise. “And what in God’s name is an English woman doing, getting involved in this?” he asked.

“Please,” I said. “Please just don’t harm the boy. Let him go free and you can have me.”

“Oh, I don’t think either of you will be going free,” he responded. “Put the boy down, and don’t try any funny business.”

Willie clung tighter to me, and I whispered in his ear, “We have to do what he says, ok? Just do what he says and we’ll both be alright.” Carefully, I bent down and set him on the ground next to me.

“Good,” Ranhel said. “Now both of you sit on the bed.” We did as instructed and sat on the edge of the bed furthest from the door. Ranhel sat across from us on the other bed. I glanced over his shoulder at the door and he chuckled sardonically. “I don’t think your man out there is going to rescue you. He’s a little…. tied up.”

“You better not have hurt him,” I sneered.

Ranhel laughed again. “You’re very feisty for a woman who is in no position to be right now. You’re no coward, I’ll give you that. In fact, you’re a match fit for our fiery Scot, and I can’t give you a better compliment than that.”

Unsurprisingly, he had figured out my connection to Jamie, and my only hope was that I could exploit that knowledge to keep Willie safe, even at the expense of my own welfare. “Look,” I said, “If you want Ja -...Alexander, I can take you to him. I’ll tell you exactly where to find him, but not unless you let Willie go safely.”

“You, senhora, are in no position to be negotiating,” Ranhel said with a pleased smile.

Just then, John appeared from around the corner, gun pointed at Ranhel. Ranhel quickly grabbed me and lifted me off the bed, bending my arm behind my back. I felt the cold metal of his gun under my chin and bile rose into my throat. “Run, Willie!” I yelled.

Willie stood and made to run toward the door, but Ranhel stuck out a foot and tripped him. He skidded across the floor and hit his head on the bureau, falling to the ground. I screamed and my instincts had me pulling away from Ranhel, trying to reach Willie to help him, but he twisted my arm harder and I knew if I offered anymore resistance, he would break it.

“If any of you make another move, your brains will be decorating the ceiling, senhora,” he said with a sick calmness.

My head reeled as I tried to pull my thoughts together and figure out my next steps. My chest was heaving and Ranhel moved the gun, tracing it down my neck to my chest and around my breasts. “Quite a lovely little gata, you are. It’s a shame you’ve lowered yourself to be with such filth.”

“Let me go, you piece of shit!” I said through gritted teeth.

He bent my arm again and hissed in my ear, “If you don’t stop speaking to me like that, I’ll have to teach you a lesson.” He moved the gun further down my body so that it was pressed against my pelvis.

Suddenly, the door burst open and Jamie stood towering in it, a gun in each of his hands, both pointed at Ranhel. “I’ll thank ye tae get yer hands off my woman,” he said in a calm, commanding voice.

Ranhel was so caught off guard that he loosened his grip on arm, and I lifted one foot, kicking backwards. My foot connected with Ranhel right between his legs, and he let go of me completely. I dove toward Willie and quickly checked for a pulse. His breath was steady, and I sighed with relief before looking to Jamie for my cue. “Take the boy and run, Claire,” he instructed me.

I scooped my arms around Willie up and tried to scramble to my feet. When he’d been fully conscious, he’d felt heavy, but knocked out cold it was nearly impossible for me to lift his deadweight. I rose to my feet for leverage and heard the sound of one gunshot, followed by many. A hot searing pain ripped through my arm and then everything faded to black as I fell to the floor.

Chapter Text

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I woke to the smell of antiseptic and the distinctive beeps of the machines that monitor a patient’s vital signs. My head throbbed and I carefully cracked one eye open. The room was bright and I closed it again quickly. Then I heard Jamie’s voice. “Claire?”

“Hi,” I answered without opening my eyes. “I take it I’m not dead.”

He grabbed my hand and squeezed. “No, Sassenach. Ye’re no’ dead. Just a wee gunshot wound tae the shoulder. Nothing tae fash about.”

Despite the considerable pain I was in, I laughed and then opened my eyes to look at him. Though his voice had a light tone, I could tell by the dark shadows under his eyes and the disheveled state of his curls that he’d had a rough night. “Willie?” I managed to croak.

Jamie stood and poured me a cup of water. He raised the bed so I was more upright and then held the cup to my lips. “Willie’s fine, as are Hector and John,” he told me as I sipped the water slowly.

“Oh thank goodness! Where are they?” I pushed the water away and he set it on a small table next to my bed.

“They all went back tae John and Hector’s after being cleared by the emergency department,” he told me.

“And you?”

“We’re all fine, Sassenach.” He sat back down in the chair next to my bed and took one of my hands between both of his. “And the doctor said ye’ll be going home today, too. The bullet went right through ye, so they didna have tae operate. Ye’re just going tae have tae rest and take it easy for a few days, aye?”

I nodded and squeezed his hand back. “Is it over then?” I asked.

“Aye. Ranhel is dead. I dinna ken if it was my bullet or John’s that got him, but it doesna matter. He willna be bothering us anymore.”

Relief washed over me and I closed my eyes, holding back the tears that threatened to escape. The whole ordeal was truly over. We could take WIllie home and get on with our lives.

Just as I was starting to drift off to sleep again, I heard the low timbre of another male voice in the room. “Senhora Beauchamp?” he said, unsurprisingly butchering the pronunciation of my last name.

Groggily, I opened my eyes again. The doctor stood at a table at the end of the bed looking at a laptop. “Yes?” I finally replied.

He stared at the screen, using a small pen to scroll through whatever was on it. “We received all of your lab results back from last night, and there is one other test I would like to run, only to ensure there was no harm to o bebê.”

I whipped my head toward Jamie who leaned forward in his seat. “Baby?” he asked. “Ye must be mistaken.”

“Ah, you did not know then? Parabéns! We’ll get you scheduled for an ultrasound before we discharge you. Do you have any questions?”

I was too shocked to do anything but shake my head slowly. The doctor nodded and walked out of the room, leaving Jamie and I to sit in stunned silence.

Finally, Jamie said, “A bairn? So soon? I thought ye just stopped taking yer wee pills a few days ago.”

“It must have happened before that,” I murmured. “I guess we’ll find out when they do the ultrasound.”

Jamie laughed and brought his hand to his mouth. A tear glistened in the corner of his eye. “This is wonderful news.”

My own eyes burned with tears. “It is. I’m just in shock. Oh, Jamie. We’re going to have a baby.”

He stood from his chair and leaned over me, kissing me gently and trying not to jostle me too much. “I dinna think I’ve ever been so happy, Sassenach.”

***

An hour later, my legs were in stirrups as an ultrasound tech carefully guided a small probe inside me. Jamie stood by my head, grasping my hand tightly as we both stared at the small monitor. After a bit of prodding, the blurry screen came to life, and I immediately recognized the small blob as a tiny fetus.

“There she is,” I murmured.

“I dinna see it, Sassenach,” Jamie replied, squinting and moving closer to the screen.

I laughed and pointed out the little splotch that was our baby while the tech took her measurements. “It’s right there,” I said.

Jamie grunted and furrowed his brow. “It doesna look much like a bairn tae me, but I’ll trust ye.”

“It looks like you’re about eight weeks along,” the tech said. She pointed to a series of spikes on the upper corner of the screen. “And there’s the heartbeat.”

Jamie and I both froze as we watched the steady movement of the lines on the screen that indicated our baby existed and was thriving. He rested his chin on top of my head while the tech froze the screen and pulled the probe out. She handed me some pictures and said, “I’ll give you two a minute.”

When she closed the door behind her, Jamie let out a sob and squeezed my hand. “Ye were aff yer heid, going out and almost getting yerself killed, Sassenach. And wi’ our wee bairn. If anything had happened to ye, I’d never have forgiven myself.”

I held him as tightly as I could with my good arm and assured him, “It’s alright, Jamie. Everything is alright.”

***

I was released from the hospital a few hours later with some paracetamol and strict orders to visit my GP once we were back in the states. Hector and John arranged for a car to drive us back to their place. I curled up in the back seat with Jamie and rested my head on his shoulder. He kept one arm around me and the other resting on my still flat stomach the entire time. “Eight weeks,” I murmured.

“Hmmmmm? What’s that now Sassenach?” Jamie asked. His voice was soft and faraway, as if I’d barely been able to infiltrate his thoughts.

“She said I was eight weeks along,” I repeated. “Jamie, I must have gotten pregnant the night of the reunion.”

Iffrin,” Jamie uttered under his breath. “How did ye no’ ken, mo chridhe?”

“I usually take my birth control continuously, so I always skip my periods. For years it didn’t matter because I wasn’t having any sex regardless. I suppose I should have paid closer attention, but I was a little distracted.” I gave his thigh a quick squeeze. “These past two months have been a complete whirlwind. It feels like the blink of an eye, but at the same time, it’s hard to believe that you haven’t been here all along.”

“Aye, it’s true, Sassenach. But I only have tae think of Brianna to remember how much I missed.”

“Jamie, don’t - “

“It’s alright, mo nighean donn,” he interrupted. “It still pains me; it probably will until the day I die, but I’ve made my peace with it. I get tae be there for everything now, and that’s all that matters. I canna live in the past. And now, we have Willie, and a bairn on the way...I’ve been given a second chance, and nothing will stop me from being there for all of ye.”

I knew some people would think I was crazy to trust Jamie after all I’d been through, but I didn’t care. Nobody knew him as intimately; nobody could understand the bond we shared. It was a bond that was so strong, on the first night we saw each other in twenty years, we’d fallen back into place like not a second had gone by. And now I knew that we’d created a child then, too. I needed no other proof of his loyalty than his strong arms around me and the beating of his heart thumping in my ear as I laid on his chest.

***

When we got back to John and Hector’s house, all I wanted to do was crawl into the giant, luxurious bed waiting for me upstairs. I was quickly reminded, however, that I had become a full-time mother overnight, when Willie ran and crashed into me as soon as I walked through the door.

“Easy lad,” Jamie told him, but I was already squatting on the ground, my arms around him. I’d spent two months mentally preparing myself for imminent motherhood to this lively, intelligent eight year old boy, but when I held him in my arms, the feelings were infinitely stronger than I ever could have imagined.

“You sweet boy,” I whispered in his ear, “Are you sure you’re alright?”

He gulped and clung to me even tighter. “Estou bem. I’ve been worried about you!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that and Willie gave me a curious, slightly hurt look. I stood up and ruffled his hair. “I’m sorry, darling. I’m only laughing because you reminded me so much of your father just now.”

"Alright, Willie," Jamie cut in, gently prying away from me. "Ye need tae let yer...erhm...Claire get some rest. Besides, I've missed ye so much myself, lad. How about we go play some video games, aye?" He turned to me and gave me a kiss on the forehead. "Go up and get some rest mo ghraidh. Call for me if ye need anything."

Willie slipped his hand inside Jamie’s and they walked off together. I marveled at their silhouettes; one tall, one short, but they had the same gait, the same cock of the shoulder.

My heart melted at the sight of them together, and if I hadn't been dead tired and in increasing pain, I would have followed  just to watch them together. I never had the chance to see Jamie as a father, not to an actual child anyway. I realized my hand was resting protectively on my belly, and suddenly felt overwhelmed with how everything had changed in the past twenty-four hours. It was like Jamie and I had been waiting for our real life to begin, and all at once it had.

"Are you alright, Claire?" I jumped at the sound of John's voice.

"Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, you scared the shit out of me." I laughed at my own jumpiness and turned to smile at John. "I'm fine, John. Really. I just got lost in thought."

He looped his arm around my waist and led me toward the stairs. "You look absolutely exhausted," he said. His voice was soothing, a calming lullaby. "Go on upstairs and I'll have some food brought up."

As soon as I got to our room, I collapsed on the bed. My arm was throbbing, and I popped a couple of paracetamol and a dose of the antibiotics I'd been prescribed. Sinking into the pile of pillows, I closed my eyes and started to drift off.

Just when I was on the precipice of sleep, my phone started buzzing on the nightstand next to me. I reached up to grab it and hot pain shot through my injured arm. “God dammit!” I seethed. I scooted over on the bed and reached my other arm over to pick up the phone. Brianna.

“Hello, darling?” I answered, trying to sound as normal as possible.

“Mama!” She sounds like she’d spent most of the last day hysterical.

“Bree, honey, I’m alright. Didn’t Jamie keep you updated?”

“He said you were resting, and I’m sorry, Mama, but I was just so worried about you.” Her voice cracked and she left out a small squeak. “I just needed to hear you.”

My poor girl; I felt terrible that she’d been sitting around worried about me. She was such a fierce protector of the ones she loved, and to not be able to do anything must have been torture for her. I sighed, realizing that it was about to become a full-time job managing the combined anxiety of all my Frasers fretting over me. “I promise I’m fine. Have you had a chance to chat with Willie?” I asked, changing the subject.

She whooped with laughter. “Yes, I have, Mama. And boy does he think you hung the stars. You should have heard him telling me about the rescue. He’s in awe of his new badass mom who saved the day.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “I would hardly say I did all that. Your father was the real hero. If he hadn’t shown up, I don’t know what would have happened.”

“Oh, I heard about that too, but I think Da being a superhero is old news to my brother. It’s you he couldn’t stop talking about.” She paused and then continued on more quietly. “I can’t wait to see him in person, Mama. I miss him, even though I’ve never met him in person. Does that make any sense?”

My eyes teared up and I sniffled. “It does, darling. It makes perfect sense. I promise we’ll all be together very soon.”

“You sound tired, Mama. I’m sorry I bothered you. Call me later when you’re feeling better.”

“You’re never a bother, Bree, but thank you. I’ll call you this evening. Maybe we can all video chat. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

***

I woke suddenly and nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw Willie sitting in a chair next to the bed. “Willie!” I gasped. “What are you doing in here?”

Eu estava preocupado com você.” he said sheepishly.

“English, please. I’m sorry but I hardly know any Portugues.”

“I was worried about you,” he said even more quietly.

“Oh, you dear boy,” I said, struggling to sit myself up,

“Here, let me help you!” He jumped out of the chair and started rearranging the pillows around me.

“Where’s your father, Willie? Does he know you’re up here?” I asked gently.

“Da fell asleep, so I came up here to make sure you were okay. I’m sorry if I bothered you.” His face was scrunched with worry.

“It’s not a bother at all. You just surprised me; I didn’t expect to see you there when I woke up.” I settled into the pillows comfortably and Willie took a step back.

“I can go now, if you want,” he said, backing out of the room slowly.

It dawned on me that he was nervous, unsure of how to act around me now that we were under the same roof. The boy had never known his biological mother, so he had little experience to go on in terms of expectations. And there I was, a stranger to him two months ago, suddenly taking on the role of one of the most important caregivers in his life. He was looking to me for cues, and it was going to be up to me to start the process of setting the terms of our relationship.

“You don’t have to go, you know,” I told him. “Would you like to come sit with me for awhile?” I patted the side of the bed next to me. “Or you could sit in the chair if you’d rather. It’s up to you.”

He hesitated only a moment before crawling onto the big bed and sitting next to me against the headboard. I tried to figure out what he might like to talk about, but his face was as inscrutable as his father’s. “Do you want to talk about what happened?” I asked finally.

He tapped his fingers against his leg thoughtfully and shook his head.

“Is there anything you would like to talk about?” I prodded.

He shrugged.

We both sat silently while I wracked my brain for what to say next. He was obviously looking for company, and I was sure the events of the last week had caught up with him. I made a mental note to email one of my colleagues in Scotland so that I could have therapy appointments set up for him as soon as we returned. In the meantime, though, what did he need from me? What could I, a stranger in so many ways, offer him?

I thought back to the times when Bree was struggling at his age. She was Willie’s age when Uncle Lamb died. He was a grandparent to her, and they were very close. Her school bus picked her up and dropped her off at his house every day, and they would spend hours together after school until Frank or I came to pick her up. She was devastated when he passed away.

I don't remember if I handled it the right way, but I had done the best I could. I made myself available to her but didn't push, moving my schedule around to spend more time at home. In the evenings, I made it a point to give us extra time to be together before she went to bed each night. It was me that she needed the most, and I gave her that.

"Do you want to look at some pictures of our life in Scotland?" I asked.

"Aye!" he replied, moving closer to me. I stifled back a laugh at the way I never knew what language was going to come out of his mouth as I leaned over and grabbed my phone off the nightstand.

"Here," I said, opening my photo gallery. Willie leaned closer to me as I scrolled through the pictures. "There's Brianna and your Da getting ready for a hike. And here she is with her girlfriend Phaedra. I think you've video chatted with her, haven't you?"

He nodded and scooted even closer to me. I continued scrolling through the photos, telling him stories as I went. I was struck by how intuitive and thoughtful his questions were. It was clear he was curious about what would be his new home, and I realized that on top of all he'd been through, he was likely very anxious about being taken out of the only place he'd ever known as home.

"Here's a museum Brianna and I go to often," I told him. "Would you like to go there with us once you're settled in Scotland?" He nodded and snuggled in closer to me, resting his head on my shoulder.

I kept going until he was laying with his head on my belly and I felt his breathing fall into the steady cadence of sleep. I doubted he'd slept much at all the night before, so I Iet him sleep. I gently played with his hair and watched the rise and fall of his chest. Maybe it was the mothering hormones already coursing through my blood, but my heart ached with the love I felt for him.

The door clicked open and Jamie poked his head in. I put a finger to my lips and pointed at Willie. He smiled and walked in the room quietly, climbing into the bed on the other side of Willie. "Did the lad bother ye, Sassenach?" he asked.

"No," I answered. "We had a lovely time together. He's just wonderful, Jamie."

My hand was resting on Willie's back and he gently put his over it. "Ye look worried, mo nighean donn. Is something on yer mind?

"I'm just worried he's going to resent me. Will he see me as the evil stepmother who took his father away and then took him away from the only home he's ever known?"

He reached up and cupped the side of my face with his hand. I leaned into it, letting him support me for a moment. "Claire," he said finally, "Do ye see where the boy is laying? Now, I've tried to be everything he needs, and I've done a fairly good job. But for him tae have a mother? And a big sister? And another little sibling soon? Nah, he willna resent ye, Sassenach. He's already head over heels fer ye."

"The feeling is mutual," I murmured.

He moved his hand to my belly, right next to Willie's head. "And the bairn?" he asked. "Are ye happy about it now that ye've had time for the idea to sink in?"

"I can't believe I'm starting this phase of my life over again, but yes, I'm very happy."

"It's going to be a new beginning for all of us, Claire," he said, bending his head over to kiss me.

"I can't wait."

Chapter Text

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Willie had fallen asleep in the bed between me and Jamie, and when I woke the next morning, he was lying flat on his back, a carbon copy of his father. I couldn’t resist reaching over and brushing the soft curls away from his face, and when I did, his lips twitched, turning upward into a smile. Definitely a Fraser. Of course, this made me think of Brianna. I missed her terribly, and couldn’t wait to get home so we could all be together as a family.

Jamie stirred and opened his eyes. He rarely slept late and most certainly did not if I was up. “Did ye sleep well, Sassenach?” he asked quietly.

“I did, better than I’ve slept in a long time.” I pulled myself upright and leaned over Willie to give Jamie a chaste kiss. “Just knowing everyone is safe, and that soon we’ll all be together. When do you think we’ll be able to get a flight out of here?”

“Hopefully tomorrow morning or perhaps even tonight. I’ve got some arrangements to make, but I’m hoping that can all be done quickly.” He reached his hand over and stroked my hair, pushing my wild curls away from my face. “Dinna fash, Sassenach. We’ll be home by the end of the week.”

“Are we going to Scotland today?” Willie mumbled, his eyes still closed.

Jamie reached over and pulled his son close. “Perhaps. Is that alright with you, a chuisle?” Willie kept his eyes closed and stayed quiet. “I suppose if ye’re no’ going to answer me, I’ll have to tickle it out o’ ye,” he teased.

Willie’s eyes popped open and he erupted in giggles as Jamie started tickling him and making growling noises. “Help! Mother Claire, help me!” he squealed, reaching out his arms to me with a big smile on his face.

Knowing I still wasn’t able to do much with my arm, Jamie gently tossed Willie to me and I pulled him into my arms. Jamie scooched over and we all cuddled together. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so content.

After a minute, Willie asked, nervously, “Will I have my own room at your house, Mother Claire?”

“Of course you will,” I told him. “But we’ll need to redecorate it for you, because it’s just a guest room right now, and we have to make it your room.”

Está bem,” he replied. “I’m ready to go then.”

“Good,” I said, laughing at his sweetness. He was easy to please, at least. “Now let’s get some breakfast and get ready to go to your new home.”

***

We didn’t leave that day or the day after. A week went by and we were still boarding with John and Hector. I’d tried all the amenities available to me: massages, Reiki, 3D movies in their home theater. I’d spent a day following Jamie around on their private golf course, baking in the sun. I’d swum in the pool, ridden horses, and sampled every kind of Brazilian food imaginable. I was more than ready to go home.

Unfortunately, we had a huge roadblock: Willie’s birth certificate.

The entire time that Jamie had been in Brazil, he’d been known as Alexander Malcolm. So of course when Willie was born, that was the name that had gone on Willie’s birth certificate. Officially, in Brazil, they were Alexander and William Malcolm.

All of this would have been fine, except that Jamie was not Alexander Malcolm anymore. For his own safety, he’d traveled to Brazil on his UK passport. Furthering the issue was the fact that WIllie was not a Scottish citizen. We were caught in the middle of a giant tangle of red tape, and there was nothing we could do. The lawyers were figuring it out; the NCA was doing everything they could to assist, but it was a waiting game.

In the meantime, we did our best to distract ourselves. Jamie was sullen, blaming himself for the entire debacle, and Willie was clingy. Both understandable but between the two of them, I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

“I love them both,” I told John as I sipped my virgin margarita by the pool. Jamie and Willie had gone off to play tennis, giving me a few hours to myself. It hadn’t taken long for John to join me out by the pool, but I welcomed his company. He was unintrusive, happy to just sit in my company quietly if I wanted. This time, though, I need to get some things off my chest.

“But I cannot take another minute of Jamie’s pouting,” I went on. “Between that and Willie being glued to both of our hips, I’m afraid I’m going to lose my mind altogether.”

“That’s how Willie was with us when Jamie first left. He’ll get better once things are a little more certain.”

I sighed deeply. “I know, and I feel terrible even complaining about it because he’s been through such an ordeal. It’s just that this has all been a bit much.”

John lowered his sunglasses and looked at me intently. “Claire, have you and Jamie had any alone time together since Willie came home?”

I felt the heat rise in my cheeks and knew I couldn’t blame it on alcohol. “Well, um...no...we haven’t.”

“Hmmmmm…” John replied, running his finger along the rim of his glass. “I think what the two of you need is a date night.”

“That would be wonderful,” I said, “But it’s still not safe for Jamie to be going out in public.”

“Don’t you worry about that, my dear. We have everything we need here to make a perfect night for both of you. Just leave it to me and Hector.”

***

When John told Jamie he was planning a "date night" for him and Claire, he sighed with relief. He hadn't had her in a week, with Willie clinging to one or both of them, including in the bedroom. He was feeling the lack of acutely.

He'd had years of celibacy when he arrived in South America, and then only had sex sporadically for a year or so -- a few random, regrettable hookups. After Willie was born, he lived the life of a monk, a penance for what had happened to Gabriella.

But Claire: her body was a drug, intoxicating and addicting. The more he had her, the more he needed her again. When her body was anywhere near him, he could feel the magnetic pull, practically hear her body calling out to him.

And they'd had a traumatized eight-year-old between them for seven nights.

He fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat and asked John, "What are we going to do about Willie?"

"He'll have a special movie night with his uncles and if he doesn't want to sleep alone, he can share the bed with Hector and me. He did so frequently after you left, so it won't be anything new to him."

Willie was not as amenable to the plan John thought he would be.

“Please don’t go!” he cried, as Jamie ran a comb through his hair, slicking back his curls. He was in desperate need of a haircut, but he also knew that Claire liked them a little longer, liked to tangle her entire hand in them while he drove her to ecstasy. The very thought would have given him a terrible cockstand if he didn’t have a whining child flailing about at his feet.

“William.” His voice was stern, but he spoke as evenly as he could manage. “Ye need to stop this right now.” Then, he squatted down and grabbed his son gently by the shoulders. “What’s troubling ye, a chuisle? If ye tell me what’s wrong, maybe I can help fix it.”

Willie gulped in several breaths before his voice was steady enough to speak. “Só não quero que você vá embora.”

“Por que, filho?”

Willie shook his head and threw his arms around Jamie, sobbing again. Claire walked in the room then, wearing a dress he’d never seen before. It hugged every one of her curves and made the changes that had already started in her body very apparent. Jamie’s mouth went dry.

She walked in and got down on the floor with the two of them, kneeling and putting her arms around both Willie and Jamie. “What’s wrong?” she whispered. Willie shook his head vehemently and clung to Jamie. “You can tell us, you know. Even if you think you’ll sound silly.”

Willie paused in his wailing and turned to face Claire. She’d hit a nerve for sure. Jamie backed off and watched with admiration as she dealt with the lad.

“The last time your Da went away, he was gone for a long time, wasn’t he?” she asked. A rhetorical question, but Willie nodded his head nonetheless. Claire went on. “And a bad thing happened to you while he was gone, didn’t it? And even though you know nothing bad is going to happen, and that your Da will be right here the entire night, your brain is telling you that you should still be worried.”

Willie sniffled and wiped the back of his hand across his snotty nose. He reached out to Claire, but she quickly grabbed his arm and handed him a tissue. When he was cleaned up, she pulled him close again. “John and Hector will keep you safe; I promise. And if anything happens, we’ll only be on the other side of the estate. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable for you at first, but you will be ok.”

Willie loosened his grip and backed away from Claire. He bumped into Jamie, who bent down and kissed him on the top of his head. “Ye alright then, mo mhac?” The boy nodded, and Jamie told him, “Alright then, time to go meet yer uncles in the screening room, aye? They’ve got Ralph Breaks the Internet all queued up fer ye.”

He gave both of them one more hug before taking off. “Is that movie even out yet?” she asked.

Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken, but it wouldna surprise me if John and Hector got it early.” With William out of the room, he could finally turn his attention to Claire. “Christ, ye look scandalous in that dress. Quite bawdy for a respectable woman, such as yerself.” He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close, their pelvises grinding together. She moaned softly and Jamie bent his head down. He pushed a curl away from her face and blew gently into her ear before whispering, “I’m gonna have ye a hundred different ways, mo nighean donn. I’ll have ye so sore, ye willna be able to walk for a week.”

Her legs wavered and she gasped. He tightened his grip on her, “Dinna fash. I’ve got ye.”

***

Within hours, Hector and John had arranged for a romantic night for Jamie and me. We took a golf cart out to the small guest cottage on the other side of the estate. Next to the cottage stood a small platform, covered by a tent, containing a table setting for two. Neither of us was thinking much of food at that moment, so we grabbed our small overnight bag and went inside.

The cottage was small and cozy, with a tiny kitchen that had just enough room for a table for two, a small sitting area and an airy bedroom containing a four-poster bed. Jamie followed me into the room, tossing our bag aside and pulling me back toward him.

My backside was pressed against his front, the evidence of his eagerness pressed into the flesh of my buttocks. He ran his hands over my abdomen and then up to my breasts, groping them greedily while he breathed hotly in my ear. "Ye've been walking around the house in those ridiculously short cut-offs and yer wee tank tops with yer nipples staring at me like cherries for the last week. Ye're a tease, and now that I have ye alone, I'm going to punish ye for it."

A soft moan escaped my lips as Jamie slid his hands down to the short hem of my dress. "Do ye ken what ye do to me, walking around in this rigging?"

I tried to reach my hand around to palm his hard cock, but he stopped me. Taking both of my hands in his, he walked me over to the bed and placed both of them on the bedpost in front of me. "I dinna think ye get to do any touching until I say so, lass. Now will ye be good and leave yer hands there, or do I have to tie them?"

The menacing pitch of his voice made me shudder with anticipation. "I don't know if I can keep them still," I admitted. I could feel myself getting wet with just the thought of him tying me up.

"Take yer dress off," he ordered. From behind me, I could hear him removing his belt. I slipped the dress off quickly and then his hands were over mine again, carefully wrapping the belt around them, securing me to the bedpost.

The anticipation was unbearable, and I squeezed my thighs together trying to get any relief I could from the deep ache of need at my core. Jamie pressed his body against mine and put his knee between my legs, spreading them apart. Then he ran his hand softly down the silhouette of my body, stopping at the curve of my buttocks. “Ye’re body has changed, mo nighean donn.” His lips were right next to my ear, his voice deep and raspy. “I can see yer curves changing, making ye rounder, softer. It makes me want tae do unspeakable things.”

“Please,” I pleaded, unsure of what I was even begging for.

“No, no, no, mo chridhe. Ye’ll have yer punishment before ye get yer satisfaction. Now, let’s get these off.” He hooked his fingers into the waistband of my panties and pulled them down slowly, falling to his knees as he did so. “Christ, ye’re so wet for me, Claire. Do ye ken how much more that makes me want ye?”

“Jamie,” I panted. “Please touch me.”

He put his hand between my legs, hovering just above my pussy. I could feel the heat of it, the energy buzzing in the space between, and I groaned. Then, he pulled his hand away quickly and was on his feet behind me again. “Not yet, Claire,” he growled. I could feel him removing his clothing behind me and then his entire body was pressed against me, his erection against my ass cheeks, so close to where I wanted it to be. “I want ye to feel me, mo chridhe, feel what ye do tae me, so ye understand why I have tae punish ye.” He placed his hand on my pelvic bone to anchor me and then thrust his hips. “I ken ye want that inside ye, want me tae fuck ye hard, and I intend to, Claire. I’ll use ye until ye canna take it anymore, and then I’ll use ye some more, but no’ yet.”

I tried to steady my breathing and keep my senses about me, wanted to play this game with him, encourage him to have his way with me. “How are you going to punish me?” I asked, barely recognizing my own voice.

He was still pressed against me, grinding slowly, teasing me. “I’m a fair man. What do ye think would be appropriate?”

My voice shaking, I answered, “You could...spank me…”

He growled, and I knew that was exactly what he’d been planning on doing. Without another word, he brought his hand to my left butt cheek and caressed it in a slow circle. I sighed at the gentleness, all the more so because I knew what was coming next. He lifted his hand and quickly brought it down with a loud smack before returning to the soothing motion. I yelled out at the sensation, my body throbbing for more even as the sting remained.

He did the same to the other side and then back and forth again, always the gentleness before and after. Jamie dipped his hand between my legs, spreading my wetness over his fingertips before slapping me again. My body was thrumming with the conflicting sensations and I felt like I would explode if I didn’t get some relief. “Please Jamie,” I practically sobbed, “I’ve learned my lesson. Please I need you inside of me.”

With a grunt, he slipped his arms around me and thrust into me. It was so sudden and violent that I saw stars, but I needed it, needed him to pound into me so that I felt it through my whole body. “More!” I cried out, and he gripped me close, slamming into me over and over.

Suddenly, he pulled on the belt buckle and released my hands. He picked me up in one swift motion and threw me onto the bed before climbing on top of me and thrusting in again. With better leverage, he hit in harder and harder and I pulled my legs in the air so he could go even deeper. Then he was hitting that spot deep within, over and over again. The pleasure that had been building suddenly erupted like a geyser and I was coming harder than I ever had in my life. I threw my head back and closed my eyes, letting the shockwaves ripple through my body, all while Jamie pounded on.

His rhythm grew erratic, though I was barely aware of it; I was practically outside of my own body. He came with a growl, gripping the headboard above me. He hung over me, panting and dripping with sweat. My orgasm had yet to cease completely when he eased himself down and plunged his face between my legs. My eyes opened and I half sat up so that I could wrap my hands around his curls. “Jamie, it’s too much. Oh god, it’s too much.”

He looked up briefly and asked, “Do ye want me to stop?”

I pushed his face back down and shook my head. I needed it, and he knew it. He licked my entire length and then moved his focus back to my clit. For all he’d denied me earlier, he would give back tenfold now. He knew my body well, knew just the spots that would drive me up again, pushing me to the edge. He licked and teased me until I was keening, my hand slapping against the headboard. Then, he took my clit in his mouth and suckled on it, sending me right over the edge into another orgasm that shook through my entire body.

When I finally came back down and opened my eyes, Jamie had me in his arms, whispering Gaelic into my ear. “Ye’re so lovely, mo ghraidh. God, ye’re so lovely when ye lose yerself like that.” Still unable to speak, I nuzzled into him, purring like a kitten. Dinner forgotten, we both fell into the sleep of two well-sated people.

***

The next morning we were awoken by a relentless knock at the door. Jamie groaned and rolled out of the bed, throwing his pants on before opening it.

“Jamie,” John said, his voice urgent, “you have to leave. They’ve got your papers sorted, but there’s trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?” Jamie asked.

“William’s grandparents found out about the kidnapping. They know you’re in Brazil, and it’s only a matter of time before they come here looking for you. I’ve already got a private plane waiting for you at the airport, but you have to move quickly.”

Jamie turned to look at me, but I was already out of the bed, throwing my clothes on without giving a damn if John saw me naked. “Are ye ready Sassenach?” he asked.

I picked up the overnight bag and slung it over my shoulder. “Je Suis Prest.”

Chapter Text

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There wasn't any time to stop in the house. The car was waiting in the driveway with Willie and our luggage. Jamie and I climbed in the backseat on either side of him. His face was frozen in fear, and he threw his arms around Jamie, clinging like a monkey to its mother.

I rolled down my window and reached with both hands to John and Hector. They each grabbed one hand and squeezed. "Te amamos querida," Hector said. "We'll come visit you when o bebê arrives." He looked past me to William and Jamie. "Be a good boy, afilhado. Take care of them, Jamie."

Hector stepped back so John could poke his head in. He kissed me on the cheek. "Be safe, my dear. We will visit you soon."

Overcome with emotion, I grabbed his face between my hands. "I will never be able to properly repay you for all you've done for us. Thank you for helping Jamie find his way back to me. Thank you for keeping Willie safe. Thank you for so many things I don’t have time to say." I kissed him gently on each cheek before releasing him.

When I turned my head forward and saw the driver giving me a hard look in the rearview mirror. "Nós temos de ir agora," he said sternly.

I nodded and rolled up the tinted window as the driver took off. Jamie reached across William and beckoned me toward him. I moved over on the seat and cuddled against both of them.

Jamie's hand caressed my hair. "Soon, mo nighean donn, our family will all be together, and this life will be behind us for good."

***

As soon as we were safely in the sky leaving Brazil behind us, I had emailed Brianna to let her know when to meet us at the airport. We arrived in the middle of the night, but she was there waiting for us nonetheless.

"Mama!"

I dropped my suitcase as she ran toward me. I put my arms around her, and she sobbed. "Oh Mama, I've been so worried. Thank God you're here."

"Shhhh, darling. It's alright. We're home, and we're safe."

Jamie was behind us, carrying a sleeping William. She went to him and he wrapped his free arm around her. "A leannan; Christ, it's so good to see ye." His eyes filled with his tears as he kissed the top of her head. "And tae have both my bairns in my arms."

"Don't leave me again, Da, ok?"

"I promise, lass. I promise."

***

The next evening, Phaedra joined us, and we all gathered together to have a family dinner. Between my exhaustion and hormones, I found myself tearing up at the idea of us all finally being together. As I stood by the kitchen counter, I took a moment to rest my hand on my stomach and give quiet thanks for all the blessings of the day.

Jamie came in and joined me, wrapping his arms around me from behind and placing his hands over mine. "We're home, mo ghraidh. And we finally get to live the life we deserved twenty years ago."

A wave of emotions washed over me — anger, sadness, relief, and joy swirled through me — and I sobbed, turning to bury my face in Jamie's chest.

His hand rubbed circles on my back and he whispered Gaelic in my ear. I took some deep breaths, letting him comfort me. At that moment my head caught up with my heart, and all at once, I knew that he was really with me. It no longer felt temporary; Jamie was here and he would not be leaving me again.

He squeezed my hand. "Should we tell them about the new bairn tonight?"

I pushed myself up on tiptoe and kissed him. "I think that would be perfect."

We both picked up the final items for the dinner table. I took a deep breath and we headed to the dining room.

When we were all seated, Jamie cleared his throat. He stood with a glass in his hand. "I'd like to make a toast. First, to William, fer being the bravest lad for the last few months, and especially the last few weeks. I ken this hasna been easy on ye, a chuisle, but ye're in yer new home now with yer family around ye.

"To Brianna," he choked up a little and cleared his throat, "You are the greatest surprise of my life, and I thank ye for accepting me as a part of yers. We have so much time to make up for, and I canna wait to be here for everything that is to come.

"And Phaedra, I willna ever be able to thank ye enough fer saving my son's life. Ye're a bonny, smart lass, and I feel honored to have ye as part of this family."

He looked down on me then, his face soft and loving. "Claire, my first love and my last love. Ye'll never ken how many times ye've saved me over the years, and for that alone I'm grateful." He was openly shedding tears by them, but he carried on. "But now I have ye back, and though ye've given me so much already, now ye're giving me another child."

Everybody's eyes shifted to me, and though his toast to me had brought tears to my eyes, I sat back in my seat, smiling and rubbing my belly in affirmation.

Jamie raised his glass. "Everyone please join me in raising a glass… to family. Slàinte."

"Slàinte," we repeated. We all began clinking our glasses and murmuring to each other. I expected Jamie to sit down then, but instead, he went down on one knee.

I gasped as he pulled a small box out of his pocket. His hands trembled as he opened the box and then gently took my left hand in his. "Claire, would ye please do me the honor of being my wife?"

I was beyond speech at that point, but I nodded and let him slip the ring on my finger. When it was snug against my finger, Jamie put his hands on either side of my face and kissed me. Our tears mingled together, and, for a moment it seemed everything else faded away. It was just the two of us, living a moment we'd been waiting a lifetime for. It was quite possibly the happiest moment of my life.

I rested my forehead against his and we clasped hands between us, against our hearts. "I love you," I whispered.

"I love ye too, mo chridhe."

***

Later that night, we laid in our bed, Jamie's head resting next to my breasts with his hand rubbing my tiny bump. I gently massaged his scalp with my fingers, and he was practically purring with happiness.

"Where did you get the ring?" I asked quietly. "It's beautiful."

"It was my mother's," he answered as he traced his finger gently around my belly button. "My Da had it sent to John and Hector's when he kent ye were back."

"Do you ever think you'll be able to reconcile with him? It's never too late to start over," I reminded him.

He rolled over onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. "I dinna ken. There's so many lies and deceptions between us now, I'm not sure it would be possible."

I rolled over on my side, propping myself up on my elbow. "I understand. I just know how important family is to you, and you've lost so much…"

"Mmppphhh."

"Alright, I'll drop it for now, but just think about it, ok?"

He nodded quietly. "Thank ye, Claire."

"For what?"

"For everything."

Chapter Text

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July 2019

We married on a Sunday afternoon, one year from the day we were reunited. The weather was sunny, with a cool breeze across Loch Lomond as our closest friends and family gathered to watch the ceremony.

I watched from the window of my changing room as John and Hector took their seats, Hector bundled up in furs as if he were visiting Siberia in the dead of winter instead of Scotland in July. Gillian soon slid into her seat next to them. They’d all become well acquainted the night before, staying up much later than Jamie and me. Of course, we both knew that we’d be woken several times in the night by a hungry little girl.

Faith. The precious child named for the one thing that had kept our love alive all those years apart. She was outside just then, smiling in Jamie’s arms as he greeted our guests, showing her off to everyone. Her strawberry blonde curls were motionless in the breeze, so protected she was by Jamie’s large arms sheltering her.

His own curls were blowing everywhere, despite his attempts to keep them tame for the day. It was alright; I preferred them in their natural state — they were a reminder of the boy I’d first fallen in love with. That day, he was a sight to behold in his kilt and dress coat. I couldn't wait to get my hands on him.

Willie ran up to him, a miniature of his father also in a dress kilt. As they stood side by side, I could easily see the image of the man our son would one day become, like an aura around him.

He was so smart and sharp-witted. He'd adjusted to his new life with ease, making friends and excelling in his classes, as Jamie had always done. My house had indeed become messy and noisy over the past year as if his presence had breathed new life into it.

Phaedra joined the group outside, and then there was a soft knock on my door. "Come in."

Brianna entered and I stood to hug her. "You look beautiful, Mama. I'm so happy for you."

"Oh Bree, I love you so much." I smoothed her hair gently. "It was just the two of us against the world, and now look at us."

"Mama, please don't make me cry; I still need to get through pictures."

I let go of her and checked myself one more time in the mirror. There'd been no reason for the charade of a white dress, so I'd chosen instead a pale green sleeveless gown that was forgiving of my new curves and wobbly bits. I leaned in and checked my eyes — there was no way to fully cover up the dark circles of a newborn baby, but I'd done a fair enough job. I smoothed my hair back quickly and was satisfied.

"Let's go."

***

Jamie greeted me with a kiss when Bree and I joined him. Then we lined up and prepared ourselves to walk down the aisle as we'd practiced — first Willie, then Brianna and Phaedra, and finally Jamie and me. He held Faith in one arm while I looped my arm through his other. To hell with traditions; we were doing this our own way.

When we reached the front, Brianna took Faith from Jamie's arms and sat down in the front row with Willie and Phaedra. Jamie and I stood before the Reverend Wakefield and finally got the happy ending our love story had always deserved.

***

That night, when it was quiet and just the two of us, Jamie held me close to him. Moments like this were a rare commodity, and we never took them for granted.

"All my life, Claire," he whispered into the dark, "ye've been what's gotten me through. When my family fell apart, and my mother died, it was you who kept me sane. When I was in Brazil, the times when I was so hurt and scared and alone, I thought I was sure to die, it was you who kept me alive. When Willie was missing, it was you who saved him." His arms squeezed me tighter as he kissed me on the forehead. "It was you, Claire. It was always you."