Is it the whisky that burns inside him, or the amber of her eyes?
James Fraser does not know, nor does he care, as he blatantly stares at the curly-haired goddess that sits at the bar in the pub, tipping back a tumbler full of whisky that almost matches the hue of her sharp gaze. Beguiled, he turns his chair to face her, mesmerized by the creamy skin exposed by her low-cut blouse and black skirt—an oddity in the frigid February air.
It has been a long time since he felt attracted to another woman. Jamie wishes he could stand up and go talk to her—ask her name, offer his own, buy her another whisky and discover if he has the courage to kiss away the taste of it from her lips. He sighs; there’s no use imagining things that will never come to pass. He is in no position to want or deserve her. Pulling his mobile from his trouser pocket, he scrolls through his work email, already planning tomorrow’s hectic schedule.
Jamie looks up, hoping it’s the brunette goddess, but instead, is met with a bewitching green-eyed gaze and red hair similar to his own. He offers a polite smile. “Aye?”
“My friend—” She gestures to the woman he has been ogling at the bar, and his wame does a slow roll. “She was wondering if ye would like to join us. Celebrate.”
“What’s the occasion?” He stands, picking up his own drink and twirling it in his hands.
“Ye should come over and find out. I’m Geillis, by the way.” With a raucous laugh, she leads the way to the tall stools that line the counter. A head of bouncy curls turns slowly and the tawny eyes he so admired roll upwards at Geillis, but her mouth—Christ, that mouth! —smiles.
“G, I told you not to bother him. I’m so sorry, we’re both a little past sloshed now.” A rich English accent trembles in his ears, and he’s absolutely enchanted; he didn’t expect she would be a Sassenach in Glasgow.
“No bother at all, lass. James Fraser, pleasure to meet ye.”
“Claire Ra—um, Beauchamp.” She extends a slender white hand to clutch his in a surprisingly confident grip.
“Well, I’ll leave ye to it. I have my sights set on that lad yonder. Let me know when ye want to go, C.” With that, Geillis saunters over to a dark corner of the packed pub, leaving them to get to know each other. He takes the vacant seat next to Claire.
“Yer friend said ye were celebrating. May I ask why?” Jamie signals the bartender for another round, which Claire accepts with a nod.
“My divorce was finalized this afternoon.” Claire smiles charmingly at his raised eyebrow. “It sounds terrible, perhaps, but it was a long time in the making. We’ve been apart for almost a year. I moved here from London to start over. My husband—ex-husband now—and I… turns out we were not as well matched as we had thought.”
Jamie tosses back the rest of his whisky. Desire, unbidden, pricks its way up his spine. “I’m sorry to hear that; how long were ye married?”
“Three years. I’m a doctor, he’s in politics. My career was also ill-suited for his plans to run for MP.” She crosses her long legs, and the tip of her shoe brushes against his trouser leg. He can’t tell if it was accidental or on purpose.
Jamie leans in, and catches a hint of her perfume. It’s intoxicating, but he manages to ask, “How so?” He cannot imagine that this vibrant, intelligent woman could be a hindrance for any man.
“He wanted me to be more of a proper housewife. He assumed I would give up my practice to support his political endeavors full time. He was wrong.” Claire shrugs, and finishes her drink.
She declines another when Jamie offers; instead, she turns the conversation towards him. “And you, James? What is it you do?”
“Jamie, please. I’m a solicitor. I work for my uncles’ company, Leoch Holdings. Publishing division, working out contracts and such.”
“I’ve heard of it. Quite an enterprise, isn’t it, tech and media and others?” Now it’s Claire who leans in a bit closer, and he is drawn to the delicate wings of her clavicle, and imagines what it would be like to trace them with his tongue when he realizes she’s expecting a response.
“It is, keeps me quite busy. They do seem to have their fingers in many pies.” He bites his lip, and deflects back to her. “I must ask. What is a Sassenach doing in Glasgow, practicing medicine? Surely London was big enough for ye and yer ex-husband?”
“A Sassenach?” Claire repeats bemusedly. “Haven’t heard that term in a long time.”
“Och, lass, I apologize, I didna mean it as an insult—”
“It didn’t sound like one. This Sassenach traveled the world with her uncle while growing up. He was an archaeologist; we lived in Egypt, Peru, India, Iran, Mexico, wherever there was a site to dig. When he died I returned to England, met Frank, married him. When we separated, I wanted somewhere foreign yet familiar. Scotland seemed like a good option.”
“Indeed, Sassenach.” Jamie pairs the words with what he hopes is a dazzling smile, and he is rewarded with a silvery peal of laughter. However, Claire hops down from the stool before he can offer any assistance, landing gracefully on her high heels and pulling her skirt down.
“Jamie, I must be going now. Celebration or not, I’ll be pulling an all-night shift tomorrow and should get some sleep.” She offers her hand again, and he stands, towering over her, enveloping her delicate fingers in his warmly. He is disappointed the evening was cut short, but knows it must be this way.
“It was a pleasure, Claire.” He feels the strangest urge to kiss her hand like on the period dramas he secretly enjoys. “Do ye need any help getting home? I can call a company car to drive ye, and Geillis.”
“We’re roommates. I just hope G is through with that one.” Claire motions with her head at the corner where Geillis had gone, and sure enough the bright hue of her hair gives her away. Claire’s friend is—entangled with a gentleman. “I’ll call an Uber. Thank you.” Another dazzling smile leaves him in a fog, wanting to ask for her number, for a rendezvous, anything to prolong his time with her.
But she walks over to Geillis while pulling on her coat without a backward glance. Jamie stares after her helplessly, riveted on the swing of her hips and the most perfect arse he’s ever seen. Claire taps her on the shoulder, and her friend drops the poor bloke, fetching her purse and waving goodbye at the lad. Jamie watches them as they leave the pub, making sure they are safely tucked away into an Uber before calling for a car to take him home.
Claire, Claire, Claire.
The encounter cannot have lasted more than half an hour, but she is all he can think of, consuming every one of his senses. Drunk on the whisky of her eyes, he manages the walk up to the flat. Once inside, the door snicks shut behind him. Jamie walks quietly into the guest bedroom.
Frowning while patting himself over, he pulls his wallet and phone from his trouser pockets, placing them on the nightstand. Stripping down quickly to his boxer briefs and undershirt, he lays on the guest bed in the flat that he shares with his wife.
“What do we think of the wee fox cub?”
Claire whips around, medical chart in hand, to face Geillis. The smirk on her friend’s face is a little too much; Claire rolls her eyes and goes back to jotting notes. They’re halfway through the night shift, and she needs to focus on her patients, not on James Fraser.
“He’s alright, I suppose. Don’t think I’ll meet him again.”
“Ye didna exchange numbers? What is wrong wi’ ye, woman?”
Claire shrugs. “He was fine. Handsome of course, polite, attentive. But the ink is barely dry on the papers, G, and my work hours are intense. So are his, from what I could gather. I don’t want a new relationship that’s doomed to fail from the start.”
“Who says it has to be a relationship, love? Why couldn’t ye just have some fun with the lad? I’m sure he’d be all for it.”
What she doesn’t say is how the mere thought of Jamie’s blue eyes makes her head spin and recalling the coppery red waves of his hair brings a smile to her face. He had been charming and eloquent and seemed just so bloody normal, after everything she’d gone through with Frank. It had felt good to know she was desirable, even if just for one night.
“G, no offense, but I’m not like you. I can’t have a one-night stand to scratch an itch, no matter how attractive he is.”
“None taken.” Geillis grins wickedly. “Ye ken how much I enjoy it, just thought ye might consider it as well.”
Claire says nothing. Finishing with the chart, she deposits it at the nurses’ station before moving on to her rounds; Geillis is on her tail and unwilling to drop the subject.
“Meetin’ for a coffee is not a crime. Ye should look him up. Ye said he works for Leoch?”
“He’s nephew to the owners. Big family business. I’m sure he wouldn’t have time.”
“Ye didna even ask—”
“Well, neither did he! So, I suppose he wasn’t that into me after all.” Claire will not admit how much she had hoped Jamie would ask for her contact information; she had been too proud to offer it herself. A small part of her wonders if he’s the sort who will look her up online. She has almost no social media presence, however, and remembers that all her accounts are under her former husband’s name, Randall.
Geillis’s phone chirps with a text. She huffs, harried, and walks away from Claire. “It’s like ye dinna trust the eyes in yer heid, ye dolt. Anyone could see he wanted ye.” She turns and waves at her. “Rawlings wants me to assist. Talk to ye later, Beauchamp.”
Claire knows she is right. She can’t trust her eyes or any part of herself after what Frank did to her. It has been a year since she found him kissing his executive assistant in his office, but being deceived and betrayed still hurts.
She doesn’t know how much time it will take for her to trust again.
Geillis bursts into the doctors’ locker room, startling a half-dressed Claire.
“C, promise ye willna be angry wi’ me.”
“Why, what did you do?” Claire pushes her mad curls away from her face and tugs her shirt into place.
“I can’t promise to something I know nothing about.” Claire pulls her hair into a messy bun on top of her head. She’s familiar with Geillis’s dramatics and is willing to wait her out.
“I’ll have ye remember that ye did say ye didna want anything to do wi’ him, so I wasna doing anything wrong—”
“Jesus H, Geillis Edgars, out with it!” So much for patience.
“I called James Fraser and gave him yer number.”
“What?!” Claire shakes her head, sure she heard G wrong. “What on earth possessed you to do that?”
Geillis removes her own scrubs, talking as she heads for the showers. “Well, I thought I might have a go at the wee fox cub, given as how ye didna want him yerself. Am I still correct in assuming this?”
“Get on with it, G, before I strangle you. Keep talking or I’ll follow you into the shower stall.”
“I searched online for the Leoch company number, which sent me to an operator. I asked her to connect me to a James Fraser, and that was it. Quite easy, actually.” The steady pounding of the water almost drowns her out, but Claire needs more information.
“Did you ask him out, for a coffee or dinner or drinks?” And why does she care so much?
“Drinks, aye. He politely said no and asked for yer mobile number instead.” Geillis flips the shower off and wraps herself in a towel Claire hands her. “If ye weren’t my dear, dear friend I’d be offended.”
“Would you?” Claire laughs outright. “What else did he say?”
“He wanted to know if ye’d be agreeable to going out. If he could call ye.”
“And what did you say?”
Their conversation is cut short by the shrill notes of Claire’s ringtone. She digs it out of her jeans pocket and glances at the unknown number. Urged by Geillis, she taps the green icon and answers with a breathy, “Hello?”
“Claire? It’s Jamie. Jamie Fraser.”
Thank you all for the wonderful response! I am slowly but surely getting to all your comments. <3
Jamie says he hopes it wasn’t an intrusion, getting her number from Geillis, but between the whisky and the hour and the fact that she’d just signed divorce papers, he hadn’t felt it proper before.
Claire agrees to dinner, almost as soon as Jamie gets the words out. She has been separated for a year, she reminds herself; she’s doing nothing wrong. Geillis is listening in, gripping Claire’s shoulder in excitement. She dresses quickly and practically pulls Claire all the way back to their flat, insisting that she needs time to prepare, and promising to make herself scarce should Claire bring company later that night.
Rifling through her closet, G selects a calf-length midnight blue dress, one of the demurest pieces she owns. Claire is surprised at the choice, but puts it on before Geillis changes her mind and wants to put her in black latex or something. She wonders if she should straighten her hair, opt for a more sophisticated look, but in the end, she leaves well enough alone—if Mr. James Fraser has an objection to mad curly hair, he can bloody well bugger off.
He had offered to pick her up, but Claire feels a bit awkward about it. She gets an Uber to the spot he picked, in downtown Glasgow. Stepping out of the car, she smooths the dress over her body, shouldering the strap of her purse. The heels she wore last night hug her feet, clicking on the wet pavement. A light rain falls, so she hurries inside the restaurant before it can ruin her hair.
Catching a glimpse of Jamie’s vivid red hair at the bar, her insides seem to trip and dance, a warm flare of anticipation settling in her very bones. Claire has a sudden urge to turn and flee, but he spots her at the entrance and immediately stands, making a beeline for her.
Claire knows it’s Geillis’s words in her head making her nervous, and the decision she made earlier. She might just be up for some no-strings-attached fun. Why shouldn’t she? She is still young, and it doesn’t have to mean anything. She had wanted to hate herself for listening to G and donning matching lacy underwear—“Even if Jamie doesn’t get to see it, it boosts yer confidence!”—but now she is glad for it. With a deep breath, Claire channels G’s spirit and is determined to go through with a one-night stand.
Once Jamie reaches her side, she realizes that the connection she felt at the pub hadn’t been her imagination; if anything, the grin on Jamie’s face when he sees her up close confirms it. Claire glows inwardly, happy for once she let G dress her.
“Hello, Jamie.” Claire inhales his clean fresh scent, heady and spicy and purely male. Perhaps her plans for the night wouldn’t be hard to carry out.
“Good evening, Sassenach.” With a brief kiss on her cheek, Claire accepts her new nickname as Jamie takes her hand and loops it through his arm, guiding her into the restaurant. It’s a small, intimate bistro, with low yellow lights; they cast his features into relief, slanted cheekbones and full lips. He leads her to a corner table, away from most other patrons; a server immediately takes their drink order and sets a plate of bruschetta before them, on the house.
“Seems like they know you well.” Claire takes a bite of the crispy bread and tomato concoction and Jamie does the same.
“I come here often on my own. It’s quiet enough to get some work done, and disconnect from long days at the office.”
Jamie’s gaze is piercing blue, and Claire tries to match its intensity. There’s something simmering between them, an unresolved, indefinable else that must have out before the night is through. She has never felt this intense, this fast, with anybody before—not even her erstwhile husband.
“So, Jamie. Why did you call during your long, busy day?” Claire sips her whisky, knowing it makes her tongue and inhibitions looser.
“The easy answer? I wanted to see ye again.” He glances down at his plate, and purses his lips. “But there’s things I have to tell ye, before this goes any further. Am I right in believing, Sassenach, that there might be more between us?”
Claire swallows. “You are. I can’t say what this is, but I do know it’s not usual.”
“Aye, well. There are… complications in my life, things that are out of my control. In my line of work—well, no, that’s no’ accurate to say. What I do, I do to protect my family and people I care about.”
“That sounds—dangerous. Ominous.”
“It is. But what I need you to know is—”
“Listen, James Fraser.” Claire understands that it’s the whisky talking now, and she doesn’t want complications. “I think I know why you called. And I need you to know that it’s alright. I want it. I want you, too.” She wants easy, she wants excitement and pleasure. She wants to grab it while she can, while she still feels the attraction between them. No one knows what tomorrow will bring and she doesn’t really care.
Jamie has no right to her; he knows this. He has no right to her time, her conversation, her smiles, the possibility of more.
Jamie wonders if perhaps Claire is the woman to whom he can reveal the truth. The depth of his feelings for her on such short acquaintance is unexpected. He doesn’t want to lie to her, but he cannot risk Claire, and place her in danger.
She hadn’t let him speak another word as she pushed away from the table and beckoned for him to follow. He had tossed a few bills on the table and gone after her. Claire met him outside under the bistro’s dark green awning and pressed her lips against his. Her mouth was whisky heat and warm honey, everything he had thought it would be. Jamie couldn’t formulate thoughts beyond Claire, and what she was doing to his body. He hailed a street cab and she gave directions to her flat.
Jamie is trying not to think of the implications and possible consequences of his actions. He knows that this shouldn’t happen, it can’t happen, but he feels helpless, caught in the moment and the knowledge that she wants him as much as he does. Neither of them is even the slightest bit drunk, not by a long shot, which makes this moment even more poignant. This won’t happen again, he vows, you can’t ever have her again, so enjoy it now, while it lasts, while she believes in you.
Sorry so short! But we're going places, don't worry :) Thanks for reading! <3
Once inside her living space, he doesn’t stop to examine and wonder at the books, knick-knacks, or décor. The only lights are the street lamps’ glow pouring in through the windows. Claire leads him straight to her bedroom, and he closes the door behind them by pushing her against it, holding her arms above her head by the wrists and devouring her mouth.
Claire frees one of her hands to scrabble at his clothes urgently. She wants to touch him, feel him. He obliges, almost ripping off his blazer, dress shirt, and trousers. Jamie feels half-crazed with desire, heart pounding. But then he remembers something else: the incident, the flames, the pain, the scars on his body.
Standing in nothing but his underwear, already straining at attention, he gives her a few seconds to trace his toned and well-defined body, lithe and strong, before he spins her around, and her palms slam into the door.
Claire gasps, shocked at the sensation. He presses his chest against her body, and she can feel every line, every muscle, contoured deliciously. He grabs a handful of her arse and squeezes gently, eliciting a soft groan from her. He’s been longing to do that since he first saw her. But before they go on, he has to tell her.
“Claire, my back. The skin of my back, I mean.” He swallows hard, the practiced story flowing easier than he thought. “A few years ago, there was an accident. Electric wiring was faulty. It caused a fire. There were substantial burns. I’m alright now, but the skin on my back looks… it feels—”
“It’s alright. It doesn’t matter. I mean,” she amends, trying to look at him, but he won’t let her turn, “it doesn’t matter to me. You’re beautiful, Jamie.”
“No, you are.” His lips nip and bite at the nape of her neck, his nose nuzzling into her hair as he pulls the dress zipper down. He delights in the smooth ivory skin that is slowly revealed by his actions, skin so unlike his own.
Jamie slides the sleeves off her shoulders and lets the garment pool at her feet. She kicks off her shoes, and the difference in their heights becomes even more pronounced. He shifts her now, pupils widening as he notices her matching undergarments. He brushes a finger lightly around the edge of the lacy cup of her bra, before seeking her permission to continue. When she nods, Jamie tugs it down, bending to capture her breast in his mouth.
The heat of his lips and the contrast with the chill air of her bedroom peaks her nipples, and he takes turns laving each of them with his tongue, while his hands knead and her voice moans. Or perhaps it is his own.
Claire puts her arms around his shoulders, and he tenses. Holding his gaze, she tentatively touches the mangled skin of his back, scouting the rough terrain of burns and scars, covering everything to the small of his back. Jamie is like stone, apprehensive, but her eyes never waver from his. He knows others have viewed him with disgust and pity, but he finds nothing like this in Claire’s eyes. He understands she is sorry for what happened, but doesn’t feel sorry for him, and that makes all the difference.
Part of her thoughts switch into doctor mode as she feels the ridges embedded into his skin, conscious of the treatment and procedures Jamie has undergone to heal. The fire must have been monumental, and she is glad he is alive, here with her. Claire knows he is insecure about this part of him, what he thinks of as a great flaw; she finds it endearing and makes him all the more real to her.
Claire can’t wait any longer and she shoves away from the door, grasping Jamie’s arms to bring him with her to the bed. She fumbles with his boxer briefs before he takes her hands, gently pushing them away as he removes them himself. He is now nude before her, glorious and hard and stunning.
Not to be left behind, she undoes the clasp of her bra while Jamie removes the matching bottom half, untangling the underwear from her legs. Claire perceives how his eyes glaze over as he sees her laid bare, and she fights the urge to cover herself with the sheet, suddenly shy. Jamie senses this and crawls up her body instead, taking her mouth again, sheltering her nakedness with his.
Claire reaches down to the solid length of him, roughly caressing and causing him to gasp in her ear. Jamie skims the creamy expanse of her belly and hips before dipping a finger into her warmth; he can’t help imagining if this is how she feels now, what would it be like to be fully inside her? He circles the apex of her thighs with skill until she’s arching her back off the bed, her orgasm ripping through her.
Jamie swallows the sound, his tongue licking at the edges of her mouth. He asks her softly if she has any protection, and is promptly directed to her nightstand. Claire had asked her roommate for supplies. He slips on the condom and settles his weight in the cradle of her hips, where she is wet and yearning. His arms tremble with the effort of his restraint; she craves to break his control. A frown crosses his features, and she tries to kiss it away.
“Sassenach, I—” Jamie’s voice breaks the sacred silence, his breathing harsh.
“Don’t.” Claire presses her index finger to his lips, stopping his words. “Don’t think, don’t say anything. I want this. I want you.” She spreads her legs wider in invitation and he can feel himself instinctively probing for entrance.
With a loud moan, Jamie sinks into her, almost undone by the heat and silk and promise of their bodies joining. Claire encourages him, her heels digging into his arse, spurring him on. Her hands rove all over his back, as though it were nothing, panting in small huffs, and he touches his forehead to hers, wishing he could prolong this feeling forever. Tenderness swells inside her, unexpected, light and airy like hope.
Soon she is coming, crying out, and Jamie goes with her; the last, erratic thrusts of his hips have him groaning as though his heart would burst. Claire feels him pulse briefly as he withdraws, and bends his head to kiss her. She nips playfully at his bottom lip and he laughs, a fascinating sound she’s not heard before. Slowly, he relaxes and she curls into him, her head on his shoulder, spent. Even if this never happens again, Claire knows she’ll remember it forever.
His Sassenach drifts into a deep sleep, her arm across his chest. Late into the night, warm bodies pressed together still, Jamie holds Claire to him in a desperate embrace, trying to keep the nightmares at bay.
Thank you so much for all your comments. I'm swamped with work, so I can't always reply, but please know that I read every single one of them and appreciate them very much! <3
Claire is avoiding Geillis. Her roommate has no compunction in asking extremely inappropriate questions about her night with Jamie, and Claire does not particularly want to share any of the details; she wants to keep them close to her, a memory to warm her on lonely nights.
When she woke, Jamie had been gone, a note folded on the pillow next to her head. She had hesitated to read it, a small burst of unease digging a hollow in her chest, but she quickly tamped it down. Reaching over for the paper, she takes in his neat penmanship and reads:
Mo nighean donn:
Thank you for last night. You are beautiful, inside and out – never forget it.
Claire had immediately used Google to translate the Gaelic—my brown-haired girl. With a huge smile on her face, she had gone about her morning routine and back to the hospital. As she does her rounds, she seriously considers texting Jamie at the weekend, and repeating last night’s activities. Just fun, no strings attached, another night together. It sounds very appealing.
A stethoscope winds around her neck, and Claire reaches up to grasp it. Bloody hell, Geillis had found her.
“Tell. Me. Everything.” Geillis releases her, eyes alight with mischief and curiosity. “How was it?”
“G, you can’t ask me that!” Claire tries to dance away from her but her roommate is nothing if not persistent.
“O’ course I can! I’m yer best friend, I’m entitled. I have to live vicariously through ye. I can just imagine, that fine specimen in the throes of passion, the gorgeous fox cub—”
“Jesus H, woman, stop imagining, please!” Claire buries her face in her hands, red and mortified. “And keep your voice down, I don’t fancy the whole hospital hearing this.”
“Will I get to hear this?” Geillis cocks her head inquisitively, eyebrow raised.
“Look.” Claire takes Geillis’s hand and leads her to an empty exam room. She shuts the door and peeks out the window, but there’s no one to hear. “I’m trying to be casual about it. Just a one-time thing. We didn’t talk a lot about each other, no real basics, not about our families… except about Lamb and me, that night at the pub.”
“So ye dinna ken anything more about him?”
“Not really.” Claire does not think the details about Jamie’s scars are hers to share. “And yes, he is absolutely great in bed and that is all I’m disclosing, woman. Now go away, I have work to do.” Claire yanks open the exam room door and scurries away before she is interrogated further.
“Oh, come on!” Geillis calls out after Claire, who is determinedly not looking back.
It’s nearly midnight when Claire emerges from the hospital. Jamie watches from the shadows near the employees’ entrance.
He feels like such a deviant, stalking her from afar. He knows he cannot hope for more, he cannot let her in—and he fears it is far too late for that. She is in him like a live wire, bringing him back into the world after years in purgatory.
A quick Google search for her name had turned up nothing. So, he had typed in ‘Geillis’ instead—an uncommon enough name. He spotted Claire’s roommate’s picture on Instagram, extracted her last name hitherto unknown to him (Edgars) and seen a picture of her with Claire, both of them smiling tiredly and holding up matching cups of coffee. A caption that read All-nighter with my best lass, location set for Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, and a tag for Claire Randall.
So that is her ex-husband’s surname. Claire had introduced herself as Beauchamp and he is fiercely glad she reclaimed this part of her. But she has clearly not changed any online information or updated social media. After clicking to Claire’s Instagram account, which was set to private, he had wanted to see her. Armed with a place to go find her, although unsure if she was even working that night, he had waited and waited.
His patience rewarded, he can glean bits and pieces about her. She hasn’t changed out of her scrubs and her tired feet are clad in white trainers. Her curly wig is tucked into a messy bun, her face devoid of any make-up—she is beautiful.
Claire seems to be walking towards the bus stop; he remembers when he woke up last night he had called a car to pick him up at Highgrove Road. He considers following her all the way home, just to make sure she was safe, but that borders on serial killer. Jamie chides himself for these intrusive, invasive thoughts when a sudden cry shatters the air.
Last chapter was short, so as promised, here's #6.
Jamie races towards the noise, a scuffle and yelps coming from an alley nearby. He comes upon a stocky man dressed in dark clothes who is pawing at Claire, simultaneously trying to yank her purse away from her and put his hands on her breasts. Claire is valiantly kicking out at the man who is a head shorter than her, while attempting to scratch the man’s eyes out.
Jamie sees red. His Viking berserker heritage kicks in and he charges into the fray, arms swinging. He is not so far gone that he does not protect Claire from the blows he administers. His Sassenach stumbles further down the alley, cowering. Jamie delivers strong uppercut punches to the man’s stomach, until he is laid flat on the dirty pavement gasping for air. He slams his fist one more time into the attacker’s face, knocking him unconscious.
He thinks quickly if he should phone the police, but when he glimpses Claire trembling against the rough brick wall, all thoughts except her are erased. Jamie approaches slowly, hands extended, making sure she understands he means her no harm.
Claire sees Jamie, backlit and tiptoeing towards her, and know she is safe now. She pushes away from the dingy wall and hurls herself into his arms, finally letting the adrenaline surge through her and leave relief and tears in its wake. Jamie holds her carefully, unsure if she is hurt, but making soft shushing noises and stroking her neck.
“Mo nighean donn, ye’re alright. Dinna fear, dinna fash. I’m here.” His breath makes white clouds in the air; she sobs unabashedly into his shirt, clutching him wildly. He leads her away from the alley, making sure her attacker is out for the count. He surreptitiously dials Willie Coulter and gives brief instructions on where to find the piece of shit. Willie can make it go away—it’s what he does, and he’s good at his job.
“Your hands.” Claire speaks for the first time in the whole ordeal, and it’s to notice that he is slightly injured. She doesn’t question what he was doing on that street in the first place.
Jamie glances down at his knuckles; they’re only a bit cut and bloodied. “I think that’s mostly not my blood. Dinna mind that now, Sassenach. I’ll call a company car. Would ye have me take ye home, or anywhere else? Do ye want me to walk ye back to the hospital? Where is Geillis?”
“No, no, I—she was going to her parents’ for dinner. I’m fine, really, he didn’t… I mean, he couldn’t—” Her voice broke and her hands were clenched into fists.
Jamie pulls off his own coat and drapes it over her shivering shoulders. “Sassenach, are ye alright? I do think the hospital might—”
“No, please, I just don’t want to be alone right now.”
“My flat’s nearby. Is that alright?”
His coat on her is huge and all-encompassing, with its scratchy wool surface but warm inner lining; it smells of Jamie and she burrows deeper into it, while its owner has his arm around her and then she starts shaking uncontrollably.
“Sassenach, what’s wrong? What can I do?” Jamie’s voice is anxious.
“I-I-I—I’m going into shock.” Her voice is strangely detached and she observes her hands tremble uncontrollably. She has the most unholy urge to laugh, to whoop and cackle until the lead weight in her stomach dissolves and she can feel like herself again.
“We’re here, mo nighean donn. Let me help you out.”
The walk up to his flat was a lopsided, heavy-footed affair, with Jamie propping her up as she continued to shiver and small giggles burst from her mouth. Jamie eyes her oddly, but chooses (wisely) not to comment.
Inside, Jamie practically carries her to the plushest couch, a grey suede behemoth that is cold beneath her scrub-clad legs. He pours her a generous helping of whisky, neat, and presses the cut glass tumbler into her hands. “Here, drink this. It should help.” He hisses suddenly and pulls away, the scraped skin of his knuckles stinging.
“Do you have a first-aid kit?” Claire tries to stand, but Jamie places a hand on her shoulder gently. “Let me see that.”
“’Tis nothing. I’ll wash my hands at the sink. They willna spoil for the keeping. I’ll put the kettle on for tea. Do ye need anything else?” When she shakes her head, he smiles briefly and goes to the kitchen, flipping lights on as he goes.
Claire takes in the ambience of his flat—dark colors, from wood to drapes to upholstery, seemingly sterile and almost unlived in. Like a flat for realtor showings, nothing seems quite real or ideal. There are striking geometric prints on the walls, but nothing that speaks of a home.
When he returns, Jamie senses her trepidation and shrugs apologetically. “I’m no’ really here much. I spend most of my time at the office.”
“So what were you doing… there? At the hospital?” Claire asks, unwilling to remember just yet what transpired in that alley but realizing Jamie had to have been there for her, wanting to hear the words from his lips.
He rucks up the back of his hair abashedly, suddenly finding his wingtips very interesting. “I think ye can guess. I was hoping to see ye, mo nighean donn.”
“That’s lovely,” she says, remembering his note.
“Lovely? That I’m obviously stalking ye outside yer workplace?” Jamie frowns playfully.
“No,” Claire responds softly, “the other bit. The one about me being your brown-haired girl. In Gaelic.”
“Och, aye.” Now Jamie’s face flares bright red to match his hair. “My parents made sure Jenny and I were fluent. It was important to them that we… I meant every word.” The silence that befalls this declaration is interrupted by the kettle’s shrill whistle. “Tea. I’ll go. Stay, please.”
Claire nods and watches him step into the kitchen. Standing, the coat now forgotten on the couch, she wanders around the flat, hoping he won’t mind; it’s not like she’s intruding in his very bedroom. She is thinking of his hands—his very strong, capable, injured hands, that saved her earlier. Maybe he has a first-aid kit somewhere; she will ask and insist he let her tend to him.
There is a tinkling of crockery coming from the kitchen, noise of cupboards opening and closing, Jamie humming off-key. She is glad she doesn’t have to be alone. Claire peruses the mahogany bookshelf, still clutching the whisky. She takes note of the books displayed there, wishing she had more time to devote to reading. She traces a finger over the spines and stops when the glint of glass catches her eye. There’s something tucked behind the books.
Before she can think of what she’s doing, she reaches behind the stack of hardcovers and paperbacks and pulls out a picture frame. At first, her brain doesn’t quite register what she’s seeing; it’s all just a blur of white and black, but then she can clearly define red hair and a shorter head of blonde locks. Claire starts shaking violently again; her heart slams in her throat and she’s afraid she might vomit.
It’s Jamie’s wedding picture.
Geillis finds her in the darkness of their shared flat, sitting on the floor sobbing desperately with her head on the small coffee table.
“Love, what is it? I could barely understand ye on the phone!” Geillis says, alarmed.
“He’s fucking married, G.” Claire wipes her sleeve across her eyes, but it isn’t enough. She leans back against the couch, letting tears course down her temples into her hair.
“I was at his flat. He took me there after… well, some arsehole tried to mug and grope me when I left the hospital—” Geillis lets out a groan and sits next to her on the floor, but Claire waves her away—“I’m fine! That’s the point, Jamie was there, somehow.”
“Fucking stalker,” Geillis growls.
“That’s what he said.” Claire hiccups, holding more tears at bay. “But he saved me, G. I went into shock.” She ignores another of Geillis’s grunts. “We went to his flat, he gave me whisky and was making tea in the kitchen when I discovered he had hidden his wedding picture.”
“What does she look like?”
“Really?” Claire wants to laugh at Geillis’s inane non-sequitur. She knows it’s also G trying to distract her. “Blonde, I think? I didn’t really stop to look closer. I left the picture next to my glass on his living room table and left.”
“Nice.” Geillis wrapped her arms around Claire. “I’m so sorry, love. That he was such a prick, I mean. I feel partly responsible. I gave him yer number and pushed ye to go out with him!”
“I made my own choices, G. None of it is your fault. I just never thought I’d be that woman.” Claire glances at her mobile, silent and useless on the table. She had turned it off when she left his flat, after using it to call Geillis. She had missed calls, voicemails, and a few texts; she had responded to none. She is unfortunately familiar with betrayal, and doesn’t want to hear the usual excuses, platitudes, lies. It seems he isn’t going to show up at her home, and for that Claire is glad—he has a small sense of shame, after all.
“What happened to yer attacker? Did the police show up? Did ye file a report?”
Claire pauses. “No. There was—I didn’t even stop to think, but Jamie, he… he made a call. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to the other man.” She breaks down sobbing.
Geillis holds her a long time. Over her friend’s shoulder, she can see bruises dotting her wrist. If it hadn’t been for Jamie…
“There’s a patient for ye in four, dearie.” Mrs. Baird hands Claire a chart. “Some sort of accident involving his hands, he wasn’t very forthcoming with information.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’m off at six today, and please let me know how the concussion does through the night.” She walks over to the recessed exam area and pulls the curtain back. That glint of hair is unmistakable and Claire stops in her tracks. It’s Jamie.
He looks as though he hasn’t slept, eyes hollow, unshaved and unkempt. Something tugs at her heartstrings, but she immediately tamps it down, steel in her spine and in her glare.
“Sassenach, please, I must—”
“No.” Such a simple word, no. Claire turns heel towards the nurses’ station, where Mrs. Baird stares at her in confusion.
“I can’t treat this patient. Is there anyone—”
“I’ll do it.” Geillis, out of nowhere, marches to the room and slides the curtain shut. Claire can make out the barest of venomous whispers, including fuck and prick. G is apparently ripping him a new one; the sound of a sharp sudden smack has her speeding back to the exam area against her will.
She peeks inside and Jamie is sitting there meekly, head hanging down, a reddish imprint fresh on his cheek. Claire feels a small vindictive thrill of satisfaction, but that is gone when Jamie glances up and catches her eyes.
“Seems I probed a little too hard,” Geillis says sweetly, hands on her hips. “His hands are a bloody mess. Serves him right.” Jamie nods in agreement, his gaze holding fast.
Claire steps in, unable to stop herself. “But they didn’t look so bad, last night…” She clamps her lips shut, remembering last night. She remembers the shadowed face of her assailant, too. “What happened to him? In the alley?”
“What?” Jamie looks confused.
“The bloke that tried to mug me! There were no police involved, who did you call?”
“Oh. Aye. There’s a colleague at Leoch… his job is to fix things. Anything ye need. Legally. Or otherwise.” Jamie looks sheepish. “Dinna fash, the man is safely behind bars.”
Claire huffs, arms crossed defensively. “So what happened to your hands?”
“I… I met a tree. In Hyde Park. I was upset. Not at ye, of course, never, but at myself. At whatever possessed me to think I could lie to ye,” Jamie says, quiet and ashamed.
“I don’t give a bloody fuck,” Claire hisses, livid at the nerve of the man who thought he could just show up at the hospital and expect her to drop everything and listen to a single word he had to say. “You’re married, and you bloody well should have told me before I slept with you!”
“I tried, but—”
“Jesus H Christ, you tried? My own husband cheated on me! Did you honestly think for a second—” Claire sees him wince at this information and she stops cold. She doesn’t have to explain, she doesn’t have to make him understand.
“C? Let me bandage him up and then I’ll have security throw him out.” Jamie opens his mouth to protest but a single look from Geillis makes him reconsider. “I’ll put the prick on the blacklist, ye willna have to—”
“I married her to protect my family,” Jamie says in a low tone. Claire and Geillis both turn to him, stunned at the admission.
“What?” Claire asks flatly. She is still protective of herself, but caught off-guard by his words.
“Will ye let me just explain why I didn’t tell ye? It wasn’t to trick ye, I swear on my mam’s grave.” Jamie looks at them pleadingly, and Geillis is the first to move.
“Ye ken, I think I hear Mrs. Baird calling. C, I’ll be right outside if ye need me, aye?” With a quick squeeze of Claire’s hand, she leaves them alone once more. Tension hums thickly in the air, and Claire decides the sooner he speaks, the sooner he’ll go.
“Doctor-patient confidentiality?” Jamie asks, and Claire nods curtly. “Her name is Laoghaire. She is my wife in name only. We dinna even wear weddin’ rings, I—she entered into this arrangement knowing it would be a sham marriage. I ken she loves someone else, Joseph Cameron. But we dinna go around advertising how we manage our relationship.”
“An open marriage, is that it? Or why is it a sham?”
“I was… forced to wed Laoghaire. There are circumstances beyond my control. What I said before is true, I meant to protect my family, our livelihood. I ken it all sounds suspect, but—please. If ye dinna believe me, I’d like ye talk to Murtagh Fitzgibbons. He’s my godfather, Chief Superintendent for Glasgow Police Scotland.”
Claire fights against the lump in her throat. She finds herself wanting to believe him, but is much too tired to make sense of it all. “Police? What is this, Jamie? Why?”
“Ye make me feel things I haven't felt, want things I shouldna want—and dinna deserve.” Jamie swallows hard. “I’ve never met anyone that comes close to ye and I’m afraid to reach out and have ye, knowing I’ll lose you.”
Claire bites her lip. “How can I trust anything you say?”
“Because I’m likely to be killed by telling ye the truth.”
Jamie agrees to have Geillis accompany them to Glasgow Centre headquarters, to reassure both women he is acting in good faith. He makes it clear that Geillis will remain in the lobby; what he has to say is extremely sensitive and he does not wish to endanger anyone else. Once their shift is over, and Jamie’s hand has been bandaged, they take an Uber to their destination—a company car would be unwise in this case.
Claire is adamant now that she needs to know the truth; she does not quite believe that Jamie’s life is in danger, but fortunately understands that Jamie is unlikely to go to all this trouble if what he is saying—like the facts about his marriage—are more lies to get his way.
His heart pounds wildly; the idea of someone else allowed into the small circle of people he trusts implicitly, and that particular person Claire, is dizzying in its implications. He believes their meeting was much more than chance, the night they spent together was fate, and the feelings he harbors for her are already love.
Mary Hawkins, Murtagh’s assistant, smiles pleasantly and invites them to sit in the tiny reception area while she calls Murtagh to let him know Jamie’s here. She glances curiously at Claire, who is still dressed in scrubs and clutches a grey pea coat around her tightly.
When the phone on her desk rings, Mary picks up with a bright, “Right away, sir!” and waves them through to the office. Jamie grasps Claire’s hand with his uninjured one, only to find his is clammy. She takes it anyway, and squeezes it hard. Together, they walk into Murtagh Fitzgibbon’s private enclave.
“Jamie, a bhalaich!” Murtagh walks around his desk to greet his godson in a tight embrace. Jamie releases Claire’s hand briefly to return it, clapping the older man soundly on the back. Murtagh notices the bandage on Jamie’s hand, but says nothing. The superintendent has sparkling dark brown eyes that can go from jovial to dead serious in a second, and a grizzled but trimmed beard that adds dignity to his face. Murtagh glances at Claire, and Jamie sees her through his godfather’s eyes; she stands regarding this display of family with tight lips and nervous feet.
“Murtagh, this is Claire Beauchamp. She is—och, well…”
“I’m his potential lover,” Claire interrupts, holding out a hand to shake. Murtagh’s bushy eyebrows rise at the simplicity and boldness of her words, but grips her hand firmly.
“A bheil fios aice?” Murtagh speaks to Jamie, still holding her hand. Does she know?
“Aye,” Jamie says, admiring Claire’s defiance. “She is aware. But I need yer help to fill in the gaps.”
“Are ye sure, lad?” Murtagh gestures for them to take a seat. “Ye ken that ‘twill not be easy. There is no goin’ back from this knowledge.”
“I think I can decide for myself, thanks very much.” Claire sits ramrod straight. “It’s the least Jamie can do after—”
“She found the picture. With Laoghaire.”
“Ye might want to introduce them then,” Murtagh says, and Claire looks taken aback. “She wouldna mind, and ye’ve met Joseph.”
“Meet your wife? How does that even—”
“My uncles from Leoch blackmailed me into marrying Laoghaire.” Jamie swallows hard; it’s the most straightforward approach to ease Claire into this. “They have… documents, pictures, video, that make it seem as though I’m responsible for someone’s death. And in a way, I am.” Claire pales.
“I’d been Jamie’s parents’ friend since childhood. When they passed, I took care of them, as their godfather.” Murtagh stands to pour them a whisky from a decanter set up in the corner of the office.
“I have an older sister, Janet. Jenny. But the entail on the Fraser estate declares that only a male heir can inherit, so the land goes to me even if I’m not the oldest. Jenny manages Lallybroch wi’ her husband Ian, my best mate.” Jamie accepts his drink and tosses it back in a single gulp.
“The family territories of MacKenzie and Fraser adjoin each other for quite some distance, running side by side from the seacoast past the lower end of Loch Ness,” Murtagh supplies. “It’s a fairly rich bit o’ ground, decent fishing and a good patch of forest for huntin’, a small village.”
“Picturesque enough that Leoch Holdings wants to take over it and develop it into a prime bit o’ real estate, with flats, hotels, shops, the works,” Jamie agrees. “But the best land is Fraser land, and the only way the MacKenzies get it is if I die, or I have bairns—”
“With a MacKenzie woman, I presume.” Claire sips the whisky, and it fills her with fiery warmth. She begins to unravel the complications Jamie spoke of.
“Aye, Sassenach.” Jamie smiles at Murtagh’s surprise over the term. “The entail is ironclad, and no lawyer has been able to untangle it. I canna sell it even if I wanted to. MacKenzie and Fraser bairns would inherit both.”
“Is she your cousin?” Claire is mildly repulsed at the thought.
“Only very distant, through marriage, not blood. But what I meant to say—”
“So, you and your wife Leery—if she’s as accommodating as you say—are duty bound to produce heirs. How did she ever agree to marry you?”
“Our uncles, Colum and Dougal, threatened to cut off her and her parents. They begged her to agree, unwillin’ to lose their lifestyle,” Jamie explains.
“And this is where the lad’s legal training comes in as well,” Murtagh adds slyly.
Jamie takes a deep breath. “I’ve never touched Laoghaire. Our marriage is unconsummated, which makes it void in Scotland.”
Claire blinks, visibly baffled. For a moment, she doesn’t even know what to say, processing what Jamie’s revelation means for their own relationship. She shakes her head to clear it. “You say that having children is one way for your uncles to take the land. How do you manage to not… you know?” Claire blushes.
“Och, Sassenach, I’ve told them that the burns may have made me… unable to sire children. Nerve damage and such.” Jamie matches her reddening cheeks. They both know he is perfectly capable of performing.
“The other way they win is if you—you die. Does this mean that they’ve tried that?”
“Not yet. I agreed to marry as well because Jenny has bairns of her own, including boys. They can inherit too, but I dinna wish my uncles to harm them in their pursuit of wealth and power.” Jamie’s voice is hard. “There was the fire, but that was merely a happy accident that didna turn out as well as they would have hoped.”
“The fire? Your scars?” Claire asks, and Jamie and Murtagh exchange glances.
“Start at the beginning, a bhalaich. Dinna confuse the puir lassie.” Murtagh pours them another tumblerful. Claire is still nursing the first drink, her mind reeling with the information regarding Jamie’s marriage.
“A few years ago, I was working late at night at the Leoch office building. I was still inexperienced, tryin’ to prove meself at the job. I had a colleague; his name was Alexander McGregor.” Jamie’s eyes are full of shame, but his voice is steady. “He had stayed that night too. When I was finally leaving, I noticed he was in a private conference room, with the blinds drawn. That was smart, for Alex knew there were cameras in there. I thought it might be something serious, for their talk grew so heated I could hear the argument coming from the room. I thought I’d knock and defuse the situation.” Jamie paused to take a deep draught. Claire is tempted to reach for his hand and comfort him, but senses this is a story he has to tell for himself.
“Before I could turn the doorknob, I heard a muffled gunshot and I broke into the room. I could only see Alex for a second, slumped in a chair, blood pouring from a hole in his stomach. The man struck me in the heid wi’ the gun, and I dropped like a stone.” Claire gasps softly.
Jamie plows ahead resolutely. “I woke up a few minutes later when I smelled the smoke, the gun in my own hand, and it was already too late. Alex was dead, and the room was up in flames. The man had rigged the wiring on the overhead lights when he left and caused the fire, disabling the sprinklers too. Wi’ the closed door, it was an inferno. My back was seared and blistered, the skin peeling off as I tried to get Alex’s body out. Or so the doctors told me. ‘Twas a miracle I survived at all.”
Murtagh clears his throat. “He was in the hospital for a month. Jenny and I were terribly worried, thinking he might not pull through.”
“But why?” Claire bursts out, bewildered. “Why kill Alex?”
“Alex discovered internal documents that implicated men in power, links to bank accounts of several police officers, judges, and politicians on Leoch Holdings’ payroll. My uncles were—are—trading money for favors, overturning convictions, and legislating in the company’s interests.”
“During the investigations, we found no trace of any document in the room, most everything had burned up,” Murtagh says. “There was also no CCTV footage available. Someone had tampered with the video.” With this, the old man stood up, and unlocked a metal filing cabinet next to his desk. Claire watched in fascination as he manipulated a false bottom and extracted a fat manila envelope. “But then we got these.”
“Murtagh took care of my dingy flat while I was in hospital. Alex had messengered over copies of the documents in secret—wise of him, to leave no digital trace. There was a letter explaining what it all meant, and who the man was—Stephen Bonnet, he’s a commander in the force. Murtagh saw it, and could verify that my name was not on the records. Therefore, I was unlikely to be involved in my uncles’ dirty business.”
“Why did he not tell you from the start?” Dread was settling into Claire’s very bones, as she grasped the magnitude of the situation.
“He didna trust me, I imagine. Upon his discovery, he assumed I was in cahoots with my uncles, bein’ family and all. But I made certain comments to him that probably convinced him I was unaware of their dealings.”
“What did you tell him?”
“At the time, when I started at Leoch, my uncles were pressuring me to date and marry Laoghaire. I told Alex this, and said that it was wrong and I plain didna want to, and if they fired me for it, they could go fuck themselves and I’d work bagging groceries at Tesco before I’d let them bully me like that.” Claire almost smiles at this vehement outburst. “I lost on that account.”
“He was listed under an assumed name on the documents. That’s why Alex, poor lad, didna think he might be involved either. Bonnet fixed it so Alex’s body was not autopsied, so no one could ken of the gunshot wound that killed him. The McGregors were told there were no real remains, and they had only ashes to mourn. My uncles—”
“Threatened your life if you exposed them and forced you to marry,” Claire finishes for him. “But there is no proof of you doing any wrong!”
Murtagh sighed. “We thought so as weel. But Colum and Dougal’s reach is much longer than ye ken.”
“They had tech experts alter images and deep fake a video that pin Alexander’s death on me,” Jamie says. Claire shakes her head.
“But surely anyone—”
“’Tis my word against theirs. With their endless resources and contacts in law enforcement and the courts, who would believe me?” Jamie’s tone is final and resigned.
Silence weighs heavy in the air; Murtagh collects their empty glasses and sets them on his desk. “I’ve used my position in the force to continue to gather evidence, more papers, whatever I can use to help bring Colum and Dougal MacKenzie to justice, and absolve Jamie from any blame. I’ve involved Chief John Grey from the SCD, Specialist Crime Division, who works with organized crime, and it’s taken us years to be able to discern who to trust and who is in Leoch’s pockets.”
Claire is stunned at this turn of events. She had expected a godfather who at best, might cajole her into believing that Jamie’s marriage was a lie, an economic convenience of sorts, and that had been true after a fashion. But she had not predicted that this was an issue involving crime, illegal activities, and the death of an innocent man. Jamie appears to read her thoughts.
“That is the truth, Sassenach, and I trust ye enough that I ken well ye willna expose the ongoing investigation, or speak to anyone about what happens at Leoch. I’ve endangered yer very life by making ye privy to my story, and for that I am truly sorry.”
“Jamie, I—” Claire’s voice breaks. She casts about for what she wants to say. “Thank you for trusting me. I won’t say anything, not even to Geillis,”—at this she remembers G is still waiting in the lobby— “and… and I want you to understand, we are what we make ourselves, we use what we have, and we decide what we are. You, James Fraser, are an honorable man.”
Jamie remains behind to spend time going over new evidence with Murtagh. Claire assures him Geillis and she will head straight to their flat, and he asks if she would call him tomorrow. He doesn’t want to assume, he doesn’t want to lie anymore; he will give her time to think, to decide if this is something she also wants, if she feels as he does, their short acquaintance be damned. Can Claire risk her heart?
There is an unbearable weight of sorrow pressing upon Claire’s spirit; as she rides the elevator, descending numbers flashing in the display, she racks her brain trying to figure out if there is anything, anything at all she can do to ease his burden.
When she spots Geillis waiting for her, she realizes how lucky she is to have a friend like her—unconditional, constant, a forever kind of friend. G had been there for her in her darkest times, even when…
Suddenly it hits Claire. Without a word, Geillis follows her out into the rainy Glasgow night.
“What’s happened? Are ye convinced? Was he telling the truth?”
“Oh, G. I can’t even tell you. He’s for real, and he’s just been so unlucky in life… I have to help him.”
“What do you mean? Help him how?”
“I’m going to call Frank.”
“Frank Randall was yer husband?”
“Do you know him? Oh, Jesus H Christ, is he in the documents too?”
“No, Sassenach, he isn’t, but even I’ve heard of him.” Jamie pauses. “Why do you think he would help?”
“To uncover a massive scandal and come out on top as a sort of savior, moral do-gooder, champion of justice? That will surely take him all the way to 10 Downing Street!”
While G is pulling nights, Claire has a week off from the hospital, a mini-holiday that’s long been owed to her. She is still considering her position regarding Jamie, but she has to admit it’s been hard not to see him, only speaking to him on the phone. Her plan is to call Frank Randall in London and have him do some digging of his own. For all his failings (and marital fidelity aside), Claire knows Frank is nothing if not morally upstanding when it comes to his career and political dealings.
Jamie doesn’t sound terribly convinced. “Sassenach, I think I should join ye if ye meet with him, don’t ye? This is my problem, and while I appreciate yer desire to help, I wouldna have ye involved more than necessary.”
“Involved?” Claire is surprised. “Jamie, after everything you shared with me, I’m more than involved. I’m at least knee-deep in this, and I want to see this through. I am willing to do anything to help you, to exonerate an innocent man.”
There is a long pause on the other end, long enough that Claire thinks the call dropped before Jamie speaks hesitantly. “Claire, I’ve asked ye before, what it was between us. When I touched ye, when I lay wi’ ye? Is it more for ye too?”
Claire is silent. The first thing she can think to say in a strangled voice is, “Lie with me? Who talks like that?”
Jamie laughs softly. “I do, I suppose. As for question, mo nighean donn, ye’d said ye didna ken, and I didna either.”
“I still don’t.”
“But it’s there.”
Silence on both ends again, just the sounds of quiet breathing, determining, if what is between them is usual; both conclude that it is different, and strange, and coveted.
A beat more. “Sassenach, may I come over tonight?”
“I’m sure your own flat is never as messy as this,” Claire says apologetically as she rushes around picking up all of Geillis’s shoes strewn around the place and a few take-out containers they’d forgotten on the coffee table.
“My flat is not even mine. My uncles own the building, and gifted us the living space when Laogh—when I married.” Jamie trips over his wife’s name and Claire tries not to tense up. “I received a raise when I left the hospital, but I refused to accept a promotion. What I do for publishing, I keep a hundred percent legal. All of the money, except what I need for food and such, I give to charity. I ken if I tried to leave Leoch Holdings, most doors would be closed to me once my uncles put in a word here and there. That is the only reason I’m still employed there.”
“Can you tell me more about this family of yours?” Claire perches on the couch, feet tucked under her. She and Jamie are sitting on opposite ends of the small living room, despite the seething urge to touch that lingers between them. She understands that it will be completely up to her to initiate more.
Jamie settles back on a kitchen chair, in the traditional Highlander pose of a man preparing to tell a story. “How many generations back?” he replies, with a lopsided grin. He touches the butterfly tapes remaining on his hand lightly, waiting for her answer.
“Your parents, your sister, your uncles.”
“My parents…” Jamie’s eyes take on a faraway gaze. “They were childhood sweethearts. They had a verra happy marriage. My sister Jenny is the oldest by four years. Then I came along. When I was twenty, my mother passed away after battling cancer. My father followed a couple of years after—a stroke.”
“Jamie, I’m so sorry.” Claire wants to reach out and hug him, but cradles her elbows in the palms of her hands instead, holding herself.
“I daresay ye ken something of loss yerself.”
Jamie is perceptive. “My parents. A car accident when I was five. That’s why my Uncle Lamb raised me. I don’t remember them all too well, but I can’t say I regret my upbringing.”
“It made ye who ye are now,” Jamie says, his gaze softening as he looks at her.
“And your uncles?” Claire blushes under his scrutiny, but returning
“Colum MacKenzie is… verra canny. He’s been ill all his life, Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome.” Claire winces, thinking of the hardship the man has endured: a degenerative disease that renders his legs immobile at times and causes great physical pain. “It still doesna excuse the harm he’s done, the crimes he’s committed.”
“Aided and abetted by your other uncle?”
“Dougal. He’s the youngest of the two brothers, and it’s him that actually wields Leoch’s power in his sickly brother’s name. If Colum’s the brains of the operation, it’s Dougal that’s the body, the driving force. I’m sure he canna wait for Colum to die so he can take over the reins.”
“He sounds quite ruthless,” Claire remarks with a shiver.
“He is, that. He’s the one who gave me the wedding picture and insists I bring it out when he visits.” Jamie hesitates. “Is Frank Randall cold-blooded as well?”
Claire shifts at the sudden change in topic, and understands that he is accepting her offer for help. She reaches for her phone and poises her finger, ready to dial a number she’d deleted but still knows by heart. “He is, that,” she says, echoing Jamie’s own words. Their eyes hold, amber whisky and ocean blue.
“Jamie, can I ask you something?” At his nod, Claire continues. “Why aren’t you angry about what’s happening? At your uncles, your circumstances? Don’t you think it’s terribly unfair?”
“I used to be angry, Sassenach, at the beginning. I felt—still do—powerless. But I learned that it does me no good to despair, to ask ‘why me’ at every single thing. I dinna ken the answer to that.” Jamie smiles. “But I’m starting to suspect God kens what He’s about now, and I’m about to find out if I’m truly blessed. Call Frank. We’ll meet him in London.”
Look for another update on Saturday! :) Thank you all for reading, liking, and reblogging!
Jamie thinks his uncles might have kept closer tabs on him if he hadn’t acted so compliant in the last few years. Agreeing to marry Laoghaire, staying on at Leoch, keeping his head down. All the while, they’d let the cuckoo in the nest and he hopes he is preparing the massive downfall of the MacKenzie empire—with Claire’s help.
This is how he is able to create a fictitious acquisition meeting in London, regarding an up and coming author. The author is real, but the meeting is not. He has Louise, his executive assistant, register his schedule into the system, and book his lodgings for two days.
Claire books a room at the same hotel.
Laoghaire bids him farewell at their shared flat, glad to see him go; he knows she’ll spend these days with Joseph. He is happy for her. Now, Jamie boards the train taking him and Claire to London, sitting side by side, surreptitiously holding hands. He had tucked copies of the most basic documents pertaining to the investigation into Leoch’s business into his duffel bag.
“What do you mean, you’ve never toured London properly?” Claire leans back from her position tucked into Jamie’s shoulder to look at him in surprise.
“Aye, well, Mam and Da took Jenny and me when we were weans. We went to the Tower, the British Museum, the V&A and such, but I dinna really remember it.”
“Very culturally inclined, your parents.”
“My mam studied art history at uni. She was very much into art and history and culture and wanted her children to appreciate it too.” Jamie smiles. “Now, what made ye decide to be a doctor?”
Her answer is immediate. “Helping out at dig sites with my Uncle Lamb. I was always one of the few women there and I suppose caring for the people came naturally to me.”
“I admire ye, Sassenach. ‘Tis a noble calling.” Jamie lifts Claire’s hand to his mouth and presses a kiss to her fingers.
“It’s a hard one too. I’m afraid it takes up a lot of my time, days and nights, conferences, emergencies…” She wants Jamie to be aware that, no matter how much she cares for him, her calling to heal often consumes her. It’s something that Frank never understood.
“I dinna mind. I’ll take ye any way I can, Claire.”
They check into the Park Grand separately; their rooms are on different floors. Jamie lingers for a few minutes in the lobby while Claire goes up with her small suitcase. He wishes things were different—Jamie, unattached, a regular lad with a normal job, visiting London with his girlfriend, spending their nights in the same room.
Claire, for her part, closes the door to her own room, resting her palm against the wood, and wishes Jamie had followed her there. Their acquaintance and budding relationship are fraught with so many obstacles and complications, but she is determined to make something of it, to emerge victorious, to help the man she has come to love.
Frank has agreed to meet Claire at the bar in the Royal Lancaster Hotel. Jamie meets her in the lobby and together ride the metro as unobtrusively as possible to the designated location. Claire is nervous; it’s the first time in nearly a year that she’s seeing Frank, but the fluttering is tempered by Jamie at her side.
Claire recognizes Frank by the sharp cut of his hair; he’s sitting at a table in the middle of the bar, his back to them. With a deep, shaky breath, and a squeeze of Jamie’s hand in hers, she approaches and briefly startles her ex-husband with a quiet, “Hello, Frank.”
Jamie notes the way Randall’s neck stiffens and turns slowly to greet Claire. He does a double take when he sees Jamie beside her, holding her hand. He keeps an impassive face while Frank gives Claire a brief peck on the cheek and then gestures to Jamie.
“And who is this? I had the notion we would be meeting alone.” He has a good poker face, but Jamie’s is better.
“James Fraser.” He extends his hand and Randall grasps it out of courtesy, evidently trying to intimidate with the strength of his grip. Jamie matches it and is gratified to see him wince.
“Actually, Frank, he is the reason I’m here.” Claire sits at the table and plasters a smile when the server comes to take their drink order. “Two whiskies, please. Neat.” Left alone once more, Claire lowers her voice and says, “I hadn’t mentioned him before because I thought you might not want to see me.”
“I just didn’t think you would be that… quick,” Frank says, raising both eyebrows.
Claire’s cheeks color slightly, and Jamie suppresses the urge to punch Frank in the face. But his Sassenach is more than equal to the task. “You were quicker, I think, since we were still married.”
Frank offers a tight-lipped smile. “Touché.”
“Mr. Randall, the reason we’re here is that we need yer help with a delicate matter. It’s something that will benefit us both.”
“What is it you think you can do for me?”
“I work for Leoch Holdings.” Jamie senses Frank’s curiosity peak at the name. “My uncles own the business, and I have been made aware of many dealings that are less than… legal.”
“If it’s your uncles’ own company, why are you working against them?” Frank sips casually from a glass of white wine, but it is evident he’s interested.
“They are blackmailing me with false murder charges.” Jamie doesn’t blink even as Frank flinches and he sees Claire clutch her whisky glass tighter at the words. “There is corruption, crime, extorsion, ye name it. My godfather is working within the Glasgow police force to help me, and is in touch with Chief John Grey at the SCD.”
“If you have their assistance, why come to me?” Frank glances between Claire and Jamie, prompting her to reach for Jamie’s hand again and lay them on the table; their connection is evident, as is their support of each other.
“There are a great many people implicated, and there are precious few we can trust wi’ this information. Ye have access to certain resources we do not.”
“Do you have any documentation to go on? Something solid?”
Jamie pulls out papers from his coat inside pocket. “I brought these to get you started. I shouldna have to mention that it’s sensitive information, and the less eyes that see it, the better.”
Randall peruses the documents, rifling through the pages; his eyes widen as he reads the names Jamie has seen time and time again, almost unable to believe the scope of Leoch’s shady operations.
“This is quite an undertaking. Some of these people… the scandal would rock the nation.” Frank’s tone is noncommittal, and Jamie feels his stomach sinking.
“So ye dinna think it’s possible then,” he says dejectedly.
“I didn’t say that.” Frank is quiet for a few minutes, going over the papers once more. “From what I can gather, a key element is finding out where the money is going, all these names and payments… If we can find the accounts, we’d be in business.”
Claire tosses back her whisky. “It’s massive, Frank,” she says quietly, leaning in and he imitates her unconsciously. “There’s politicians, judges, police officers, money, extorsion… if you were to help Jamie—help us—and put an end to this, it will no doubt aid in your efforts to solidify yourself as a model MP. Maybe even PM someday.”
She knows the prospect is like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. She recognizes the old gleam of a challenge in Frank’s eyes, and a small swell of relief takes hold inside her. If anyone can help them, it’s this man; despite the crumbled marriage between them, she can trust him with this. Frank seems to read her mind, and asks:
“Why trust me with this, Claire? After what I did to you?”
“Not only is your name not in the documents—and I didn’t think it would be—but I know exactly how important your political career is to you. Much more important than I ever was.” Claire’s voice is steadfast and Frank does not dispute her statement. “So, you’ll do it?”
“I will.” Frank tucks the papers into his own coat pocket, drinking the dregs of wine. “I believe I owe it to you.”
“You bloody well do, Francis Randall.” Claire and Jamie both feel that spark of hope ignite within, a way out of the dark tunnel Jamie has been in for years and that Claire has also chosen to walk.
As they prepare to leave, Frank remains sitting; Claire can feel his scrutiny, appraising them, judging, drawing his own conclusions about what Jamie means to her.
“Is it worth it?” Frank asks suddenly, his parting shot. Claire feels Jamie stiffen next to her and she is tempted to let him thump Frank, but doesn’t want to undermine their efforts quite yet. Claire holds Frank’s gaze and responds simply.
“Here’s to ye, Sassenach.” Jamie lifts his second whisky tumbler of the day. “The bravest lass I have the pleasure of knowing.” Their glasses clink together and each takes a long swig.
Claire laughs, her face luminous in the Park lounge’s light. “I had an inkling Frank would see it as an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
“It’s quite an undertaking. Are ye sure he’ll be up to the task?” Jamie asks, already signaling for another round.
“Absolutely. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s the chance of a lifetime for Frank Randall.” Claire licks her lips and traces the edge of her glass. “How soon do you think he’ll have something?”
“I canna say, mo nighean donn,” Jamie says, but his shrug betrays his impatience. “I’d hope soon, but it could be weeks, or months.”
“That long!” They are silent for some time, reflecting on what transpired today and imagining a future that holds the two of them together. At length, her wits slightly obfuscated by the strength of the whisky, Claire pushes her chair back, fishing for her keycard in her purse. She hesitates for a fraction of a second, and looks up at Jamie to find him staring back at her with evident hunger in his eyes.
The words in her mouth—I think I’ll be going now—die, and are replaced by the certainty that the choice she has grappled with since his confession has been made, and Claire takes the next step towards her fate.
“Come to my room.”
The words hang in the air between them, and Jamie knows how precious and precarious their time might be. He seizes them, hides them in the spaces of his heart that are already occupied by Claire.
“I want to say something first.” Jamie steps even closer, his hands on her shoulders. “Claire, I love ye. I want this, something real, wi' ye. Do ye want this?” He takes her hand and presses it against his heart, his azure eyes urgent and ripe with love.
“Yes—yes, Jamie,” Claire says fervently. “I want you, this, everything with you too.” She grabs at the lapel of his coat. “Come to bed with me.”
“To bed… or to sleep?” Jamie bites his lower lip, and it’s everything Claire can do not to reach out and tug at it before capturing it with her mouth.
“Whatever you want.” Claire swallows. “Do you want me?”
“Sassenach, I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe.” Jamie touches his forehead to hers, voice rough and low.
“Then have me. I’m yours.”
Everything is reduced to hands, lips, breath, sensation.
It starts with Jamie whispering in Claire’s ear as they ride the elevator to her room: “I couldna look at ye and not keep my hands off ye, nor be near ye and not want ye.”
Gooseflesh stipples her arms at the warmth of his breath on the nape of her neck. Their fingers tangle discreetly until they reach the door to her room. Fumbling for the keycard, she swipes it through the reader and steps inside, Jamie close behind.
As soon as the door closes, Jamie presses against her back, and she can feel the hard length of him clearly. He yanks her blouse up, bunching it in his hands as he comes into contact with the skin of her belly. Claire gasps as his hand slide into the front of her trousers, seeking heat, seeking friction.
“Let me take yer clothes off, Sassenach. I want to look at ye.” Claire nods in acquiescence and raises her arms above her head. Jamie pulls the top off in one swift motion; he takes a moment to appreciate her breasts encased in a simple beige bra (I wasn’t planning on sex underwear, Claire thinks briefly) before slipping the straps off her shoulders and unhooking the clasp.
Not to be outdone, Claire turns in Jamie’s arms and tugs at his belt. She yanks at it and the leather yields through the loops on his trousers. The flick of a button, the whisper of a zipper, and he stands before her in boxer briefs and his shirt. Still too much fabric between them. Claire’s impulse is to rip the buttons open, and Jamie notices the spark in her eye; he quickly pushes each button through its hole and shrugs out of the shirt, tossing it carelessly on the floor.
Jamie takes her by the waist and lifts her, legs locking around his hips. He walks them to the bed, until his shins hit the mattress and he lays her on the bed reverently, caged by his arms. Prowling like a lithe cat, Claire scrambles further up the bed, Jamie on his knees before her. He halts her ascent with a gentle hand on her thigh; she’s resting on her elbows, watching as Jamie hooks his fingers on her plain white undies and slides them down her legs.
Trying to aid his efforts, Claire lies back, drawing Jamie forward, wanting the solid weight of him between her legs and on her body. Instead, he begins nipping at her belly, dotting her hips and the inside of her thighs with kisses. His intentions are clear, and at the first swipe of his tongue on her folds she surrenders, a mewling sound she’s never heard before issuing from her lips.
Jamie settles to his task, locking his arms around her legs to hold her in place. She is flooded with pleasure, his mouth working magic on her most secret of places. She gasps, fire shooting through her veins. She opens her legs even further, her feet at his shoulders, tracing over the scars there. He licks at her clit, inserting a finger, and her knees shake as she cries out, hips bucking off the bed, yielding to the rush spiraling from her core out to her very fingertips.
With a satisfied smile, Jamie rises on his arms to kiss her mouth, with a murmured, “Mo chridhe…”
Claire tastes herself and is aroused even more. Her hands tremble as she pushes on his shoulders, urging Jamie onto his back. She’s not sure her legs will support her at this point, but she doesn’t particularly care.
“Wait, Sassenach,” Jamie says suddenly, realizing they have no protection. “I didna bring… I mean, I didna want to assume—”
“I’m on the pill, Jamie. Do you trust me?”
“Aye, lass. Wi’ my life.” Straddling Jamie, still breathless, Claire lifts herself slightly and finally guides him inside her.
Jamie fills her completely, even deeper than before. She holds still for a minute, relishing the stretching of her walls, before she rocks forward, tentative, testing. Jamie’s hands circle her waist, and Claire places her hands on his, an anchor in her overwhelmed condition. Awash in pure sensation, it’s Jamie’s pulsing cock, her quivering center, the scrapes still present on his knuckles she can feel, and the heat of their union that converge in her focus as she moves on top of him.
He watches her sway, her lovely breasts bouncing slightly, head thrown back as the tip of her tongue peeks out in concentration. Jamie grips her waist tighter, a gentle insistence that she go faster, harder, to take whatever she needs to pleasure herself. His arms are taut, and the sounds that emerge from both their lips are yanking at the chain of his control.
Claire writhes as Jamie’s thumb presses into her clit, swirling small circles that take her over the edge again, pleasure cutting through her body. With a final gasp, she buries her face into the side of his neck, her tongue tasting the salt there as he slips out.
With a soft grunt, Jamie flips her on her back, holding himself up so as not to crush her with his weight. Claire can sense the effort this costs him, rippling muscles and force held in check even as Jamie is ready to plunder, to take, to give. She arches her back in invitation, their hips meeting, and he accepts, entering her slowly. She is still sensitive, and a small whimper is swallowed by Jamie’s mouth on hers, their breath mingling.
He brushes an errant curl from her face as he moves in and out, pleasure building in the pit of his stomach. Claire cries out as she digs her nails into his ravaged back, no hesitation, embracing all that he is. His own orgasm takes him, brutally keen. Jamie shudders, hoisting his weight off Claire, but pulling her on her side on top of him.
“Mo ghràidh,” he whispers, running his fingers through Claire’s wild curls.
“What does it mean?” she asks, still trying to calm the staccato pounding in her chest.
“My love. Mo chridhe, my heart, there’s only you” Jamie says softly. “I want only to worship ye with my body give ye all the service of my hands. To give ye my name, and all my heart and soul with it. Only you.”
They enjoy each other one more time in the shower the next morning, Jamie taking her carefully from behind; he breathes, “I feel like God himself when I’m inside ye,” into her ear, while Claire laughs and gasps in equal measure as her hands scrabble helplessly against the slick tile wall.
Blissfully sated, they lounge about in hotel robes, devouring room service fare which Jamie charges to his own room. They talk of everything and nothing: movies, art, books, hobbies, happy memories from their childhood, favorite foods, anything but the upcoming investigation. Jamie and Claire crave normalcy, taking advantage of their idyllic London respite—pretending, Claire thinks; lying to himself, Jamie feels.
Real life comes roaring back when Jamie’s phone rings with an unknown London number.
“Fraser, it’s John Grey from SCD.”
Something lurches in Jamie’s chest. Although he knows Murtagh has been in communication with Grey, the man has never contacted him directly, all parties involved deeming it too risky, should Jamie’s phone be intervened.
“How did ye—”
“Your uncle, of course. This is a secure line, don’t worry. I’m calling about Randall.”
Claire can barely hear the other voice on the phone, but Frank’s surname comes through clear as day. Jamie gestures for her to come closer, and says, “John, I’m putting ye on speaker.”
“Who else is there?” Grey immediately asks. “I don’t think—”
“It’s Randall’s ex-wife. She’s the one who set up the meeting.”
“Chief Grey, this is Claire Beauchamp.” There is a pause on either side. “What did Frank say?
“Well.” Grey gathers himself to continue. “He does move fast. We’ve been contacted by specialists tracking possible offshore accounts. We’re quite overworked at the department as it is, and Randall is proving a powerful ally.”
Jamie is relieved to hear this. It seems as though an end to all this fucked up situation is within sight. He doesn’t want to get his hopes up, but it’s hard not to do so, especially with Claire at his side.
John Grey prattles on about dates and documents, and urges them to maintain as low a profile as possible, particularly Jamie. Claire climbs off the bed, and while Jamie continues to listen to John, she begins to get dressed and pack her bag. Apparently, their carefree time together is up.
The return train trip goes by faster than she would have liked. Back in Glasgow, Jamie heads off to the Leoch building and Claire returns to her flat—as if they’d never spent time together, or declared their love for each other. It saddens her, but knows it’s necessary, at least for a while. While she sorts out next week’s hospital schedule, Geillis pesters her for details about the trip.
“So, did ye sleep together?”
“G, come on.” Claire waves her away, waiting for Mrs. Baird to check the logs.
“Ye’re not fooling me, ye ken, wi’ yer separate rooms nonsense. I can tell from a mile off that ye certainly had yer fun in London.”
“If you know, why are you even asking then?” Claire says exasperatedly. “We met with Frank, too. He agreed to help. Now we wait.”
“Och, Jesus,” Geillis says soberly. “I hope things work out for ye two, ye ken that, love.”
“I know.” Claire hugs her with one arm. “Even if you’re a nosy witch.”
“Jamie, the Mackenzie want to see you upstairs.” Louise pokes her head into his office, her faint French accent breaking into his reverie. His mind registers the request from his uncles and something in his wame sinks and rises with dread.
Jamie walks slowly to the elevator bank and swipes his ID card; he’s one of the few authorized for the meteoric rise to the penthouse office in the building. The doors open directly into a lavish sitting room; the first thing he notices is the spectacular view of the Glasgow sunset, clear of clouds and mist. The second is his uncles, Dougal standing by a massive desk and Colum, sitting in a comfortable-looking chair. His legs are hidden beneath a plaid blanket.
“Nephew. A dram?” Dougal’s deep brogue rumbles through the room. He gestures to a corner of the room and Jamie sees Angus Mohr, the MacKenzie strongman and mercenary, poised by the liquor cabinet. Jamie’s unease grows exponentially.
“No, Uncle, thank ye.”
“Ye might change yer mind, lad.” Dougal nods and Angus brings over a cut-crystal tumbler of darkly aged whisky. Colum remains impassive as Jamie sips the drink slowly.
“Why am I here?” Jamie asks finally, unable to bear the suspense. Dougal raises both bushy eyebrows, but defers to his brother.
“Your London trip. We ken all about her,” Colum states, and Jamie’s stomach flips. He thinks he might vomit as Colum goes on. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, doctor, daughter to Henry and Julia Beauchamp, now deceased. Studied at Oxford. Need I go on?”
“No.” Jamie’s voice is strangled. Do they also know what they were doing in London? He doesn’t speak another word and his uncles glare at him.
“We gather yer inconvenient… condition… is no more?” Dougal asks, in a tone that indicates an affirmation, not a question.
“Uncle, ‘tis only—”
“A lie. O’ course. Ye forfeit yer duty to family to pursue a woman, this hoor—”
“Ye willna speak of her that way!” Jamie explodes, unable to contain himself any longer and terrified for Claire. He is torn between defending her and distancing himself from her to protect her.
“Nor will ye be seeing more of her, Jamie.” Colum nods in Angus’s direction and the burly man steps forward. He is holding a ball-peen hammer, thumbing lightly at the bright silver head.
“We will, of course, be speaking wi’ Laoghaire. Ye ken yer duty, and so does she. This will be a reminder to fulfill it, and for ye to think twice before betraying family.” Dougal marches towards Jamie and pulls him from the chair by the back of his shirt.
His natural instincts are to resist, but to no avail. Between the two of them, they drag Jamie over to the enormous stone fireplace. There is no fire in the grate, so they step quite close. His left hand is yanked onto the edge of the mantel, and held there fast in Dougal’s iron grip. Jamie’s head swims with thoughts of her, his brown-haired lass, as Angus swings the hammer down mercilessly and he screams.
Jamie cradles his hand to his chest, bleeding all over himself. In the thrall of the excruciating pain of his mangled pinky and ring fingers, he does not notice anything at all: not the elevator ride down to the parking garage, nor being shoved into a black car. Only until he is tossed out on the curb does he realize it’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
“Here’s the x-ray, doctor. Fractures to both fingers, lacerations, bruising...”
Jamie is detached quite a bit due to the painkillers he’s been given, but lucid enough to understand the doctors speaking around him. He lies very still while they poke and prod at his mangled hand. All he can think of is that he is glad Claire is not there to see him like this, and how he could possibly face her now. Despite the debilitating pain, his uncles’ words stand out clearly in his mind, and the need to keep Claire safe supersedes anything else.
After deliberating for a bit, the orthopedic surgeon on call decides he will need surgery due to the instability of the fractures. Everything that follows he captures through a filmy haze: he is stripped down and carefully attired in a hospital gown. He floats in and out while they set up an IV and pump him full of sedatives to prepare for a general anesthetic. As he is being wheeled into an operating room, Jamie thinks he glimpses a sleek red braid and Geillis’s face, but he can’t be sure.
Jamie thinks it’s Claire’s face, with its warm honey eyes, that appears in front of him. His hand aches something fierce despite the medication, and when he comes to a little bit more clearly, he can see it’s blonde hair, not brown curls, and serious grey eyes, not the golden hue he was expecting.
“I’m yer emergency contact?” Laoghaire.
Jamie struggles to connect his thoughts. “I—maybe. I canna think just now.”
Her eyes travel over the contoured foam support that holds his hand up from the bed. “The doctors said ye caught yer hand in the car door.”
“That’s close enough to the truth.” Jamie closes his eyes, remembering the glint of the hammer in the light of his uncles’ office.
“Oh, Jamie.” Laoghaire pulls the plastic hospital chair closer to his bed, and smooths his hair from his face. “Was it Dougal?” she asks softly, worried.
What’s a few more scars, he suddenly recalls his uncle saying in the car.
“I want to be free of them. Don’t ye?” Jamie asks tiredly.
“Yes, o’ course, but not at the expense of yer life!” Laoghaire takes Jamie’s uninjured hand gently. “We may not have wed under ideal circumstances—”
“Ye mean, not lovin’ each other.”
“Aye, that, but that doesna mean I dinna care what happens to ye.”
“Either way, a leannan, it will be over soon.” Laoghaire frowns at Jamie’s words, but doesn’t elaborate further.
“I can imagine what our uncles said to ye, and I know very well what it was about.” She hesitates. “I wanted to ask ye about something that might help distract the MacKenzie for a bit, or it might bring them down harder on us.”
“What is it?”
“Joseph and I are leaving Scotland. We want to move to America.”
Jamie is a bit shocked. Laoghaire knows as well as he does that she will indubitably draw on their uncles’ ire, but it’s a chance to get away, and find some happiness that’s not tainted by crime and death.
“Laoghaire, I—what can I say? It’s yer choice to make. I… understand, but…” Jamie’s thoughts are getting fuzzy, between the heavy medication and the gravity of the conversation.
“What do ye mean, it will be over soon?”
“I canna tell ye. But it could be good for us. For everyone.”
Laoghaire frowns again, and nods. They stare at each other and when her gaze shifts to his bandaged hand in the elevated contraption she seems to make her decision. Laoghaire stands from the uncomfortable chair and gathers her coat and purse. It seems she had been there for a while, waiting for him to wake up from the surgery. She turns to look at him before opening the door, her eyes worried but determined.
“We’ll be gone in two days. If ye need me to come back, for the courts or anything… I’ll do whatever ye need me to, Jamie, to protect the both of us. Isn’t it a matter of time before something like… this, happens to Joseph too, or myself? I want to fight for the same things ye are.” Laoghaire pauses, then walks quickly towards him and kisses him gently on the forehead. “I’m happy that ye’ve found someone too, love. I think…” New determination is visible in her eyes, and she roots around in her purse and draws a set of keys, an old Waitrose receipt, and a pen. “This is to Joseph’s grandmother’s old flat. If ye want, ye can use it.” She scribbles down an address and tucks it under the phone next to the bed.
Moving back to the door, she opens it and waiting on the other side is a fiery redhead—Geillis.
“And ye are the wife, I presume?” Geillis adopts a defensive stance, arms crossed, ready to beat someone down. Jamie can attest to the strength she packs in a slap.
“I am, but I’m leaving. Are ye her? Didn’t think he’d go for a redhead, but then again, I dinna think blondes are his thing either,” Laoghaire says with a laugh that evidently confuses and disarms Geillis.
“Oh, no, I’m—a friend of Claire’s, also a doctor. Just here to check up on the wee fox cub, ye ken.”
“Well, I’m sure I appreciate all ye can do for Jamie as he recovers. Give Claire my best, and I wish you both well.” With a quick wave to Jamie and a wink, Laoghaire vanishes, heels clicking down the hall. Jamie feels a tug in his chest; he hopes she will find peace and happiness—and safety.
Blinking rapidly, he focuses on Geillis, arms still crossed. “Did ye call Claire?”
“Not yet. I wanted to wait until ye came out of surgery so she needn’t worry.”
“I dinna suppose I can convince ye not to tell her?”
Geillis raises an eyebrow. “More lies, Fraser?”
Jamie sighs. “How much longer will I be in hospital?”
“Ye were lucky, as far as these things go. I looked at yer chart, and Dr. Rawlings did a braw job. It wasna as bad as he’d feared, but he did pin some bones with small wires, put in a plate and a few screws.” Jamie winces and Geillis frowns. “What really happened, man?”
“How much has Claire told ye about my—about my story, the truth?”
“Not much. She’s quite cryptic, like ye.” She approaches the bed, checking the IV line and the brace on his arm. “Not a car door, then.”
“No, but let’s leave it at that. Geillis, would ye do me a favor?” Jamie tries to sit up further, but Geillis pushes him back gently, arranging the pillows behind his back instead.
“If I can. After I call Claire,” she says pointedly. “And now that yer wife’s gone, who will look after ye at home? We canna discharge ye if—”
“That’s just it.” Jamie closes his eyes, suddenly bone tired. “There’s a paper with an address just—d’ye see it? Would ye call Claire, tell her to pack a bag, and convince her to move there for a few days?”
Hey everyone. I'm swamped with work, so I've been terrible about replying to your comments and messages; but please know that I read all of them and appreciate every. single. one. Thank you for reading! <3
It’s been five days since Jamie was discharged from the hospital. Two days of antibiotics, some painkillers, and a stubborn Scot who very much dislikes being waited on hand and foot.
Claire sighs, watching Jamie sleep. He lays on his back, one arm crossed over his flat stomach, breathing deeply; the other rests in the support to avoid jarring it. She cannot forget Geillis’s call, telling her that Jamie was in the hospital for an injured hand; she can’t put from her mind the fear, the apprehension while she packed a bag and Ubered to a flat in the Bridgeton area. Geillis met her there, gave her keys, and told her to wait for Jamie.
G is really going above and beyond. Claire turns in the bed, taking in the sparse furnishings. Jamie had told her who the flat had belonged to, and the first thing she had done was change the sheets on the bed.
G had kept her away from the hospital, taking on extra shifts to cover for her; she must be exhausted. Jamie didn’t want Geillis here, said it couldn’t be risked. But still, she had gotten some of Jamie’s clothes from his flat, shopped for groceries, then finally delivered Jamie himself from the hospital.
“He’ll need help showering—not that ye’d mind, I ken.” Geillis waggles her eyebrows mischievously, trying to bring some levity into the situation.
And so, Claire shuttles between her own flat, the hospital, and spends her nights with Jamie. He tells her briefly haltingly what had truly happened to his hand. Claire weeps in horror and despair; Jamie says the best thing is to lay low for now, and he prays fervently that Grey and Murtagh will come through soon.
Claire agrees, hoping for the best, but afraid in her heart—not only for Jamie and the situation they find themselves in, but for them. Jamie, as a fit, healthy young man is understandably frustrated that he cannot do certain simple tasks with an injured hand, and truly puts the word ‘patient’ to the test. He accepts only the bare minimum of care from her, and sends her off to work every morning with a mere kiss on the cheek. Nothing else.
Jamie hasn’t touched her except when absolutely necessary, utilitarian touches to help him step out of the tub, get dressed, being handed a plate. It doesn’t help that Jamie is left-handed, and his dominant hand is the one out of commission.
Claire understands he is in pain, physical and spiritual. He wakes up in a nightmare, lets himself be comforted a bit before pushing her gently away to her side of the bed. He let her glimpse it once only, when he said, “I can bear pain myself, but I canna stand yers.”
And Claire understands.
The rockheaded man doesn’t want to touch her, accept more of her comfort, fearing his uncles would know and come for her, hurt her like they had him.
Jamie spends his days reading, catching up on emails, working from home. The last one he’d read was from Dougal himself, telling him he was expected back at the end of the week, business as usual, injury or no. Murtagh had called only once, to tell him they were uncovering a wealth of information thanks to Randall, and to be patient, sit tight.
He supposes returning to the office would be better than moping around uselessly in the flat. It would help take his mind off lying each night next to Claire, anxious to touch her, but afraid. So afraid.
How could she still want him after all this? Perhaps she remains in the flat, caring for him merely out of a misplaced sense of duty, a physician’s oath to help and do no harm. He can’t imagine she wants to touch him either, with all these new scars he has to bear.
Jamie broods on the sofa, tapping away at his laptop one-handed until he hears the key in the lock. Claire is back, holding a Tesco grocery bag; she immediately proceeds to make dinner. He can see some sort of chicken dish with a side of veg on the counter. What disturbs him most is Claire banging pots and utensils around, her lips pursed and the occasional huff, but she does not address him. In fact, he recalls, she did not even say hello when she walked in. It is not like her to not tell him things, so he finds his voice and asks her.
“Sassenach, what is it? Something at the hospital?”
“No.” Her tone, so icy, gives him a sinking feeling in his wame.
“Is it me?”
“Of course it’s you. It’s always you.” Claire finally turns to him, tears of frustration lining her eyes. How could he be so bloody blind? “Have I not been here for you, helping you? Or at least, trying to help you!” She throws her hands up in exasperation, tossing a tea towel onto the counter. “And you keep shutting me out.”
Jamie swallows hard. “A nighean, I havena… I mean, ye dinna ken—”
“Oh, I ken alright. Haven’t I proved beyond a doubt that I love you, that I’m not going anywhere? I’m in this as deep as it gets, and for you, James Fraser, I am willing to give myself and everything I know because I love you, you idiot!”
The words come out before she can stop them, days of not being able to express how much she is hurting for him, how much she wants to make it better for him, and can’t. Claire takes up the tea towel again and turns her back on Jamie, lips pressed tightly so he won’t hear her cry, but shoulders shaking weakly.
James is speechless, mouth agape. Finally, he says gruffly, “I’m meant to take care of ye, mo nighean donn. It is who I am, how I was raised. I want to take care of ye, cherish ye, protect ye… but how can I do that when I couldna even protect myself?” He raises his injured hand helplessly, a familiar burst of anger in his chest that slowly dissolves as Claire turns her tear-stained face back to look at him.
“Because we can take care of each other, cherish each other. As for protection… I can protect myself too, you bloody fool. It doesn’t make you any less of a man for needing my help.” She takes a deep breath, and Jamie goes to her, his hand on her cheek as he wipes away the traces of tears.
“Mo chridhe, how can you have me like this?”
“I will have you any way I can. Always.”
“Claire, after everything ye’ve done for me—I’ve lied, I’ve cheated, I’ve stolen time wi’ ye I wasn’t meant to have.” He turns to face her, and he finds nothing but trust and love in her gaze. “I have betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest. Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”
Jamie takes her hands in his, splint and all, and Claire kisses the tips of his fingers. Twining hands together, she leads him to their shared bed. She proceeds to divest him of his clothes, and she quickly undresses herself. Jamie frowns at the black, Velcroed contraption on his hand, but Claire turns his thoughts away from it as she touches him where he wants her most.
They make love; Jamie crying out his pleasure over and over again, and only one of those times was because of pain in his hand.
Claire feels Jamie rise from the bed, and she burrows further under the covers as a cold puff of air takes his place. She watches drowsily as he goes to dresser where she stashed the clothes Geillis had brought him.
Jamie rummages inside the drawer, and finds one more thing he had asked Geillis to get from his flat, a small, black velvet bag. Naked, the spotty heating in the flat almost useless, he nestles closely against Claire, before pulling her up against his chest.
Sitting behind her, Jamie clumsily pours the contents of the bag into his hand with a soft, clinking noise. Claire feels something cool and hard settle against her collarbones, as Jamie places a pearl necklace over her head.
“These were my mother’s,” Jamie breathes into her ear, his voice a whisper in the dark. “They are verra precious to me, as are you, Claire.” She feels tears line her eyes again, but for a different reason. “I give them to ye, because I canna give ye a ring yet, but take them as my promise to ye, that we will get through this until I can swear before God that I will be yours and ye can be mine forever.”
“I already am,” she says huskily, fingering the smooth white pearls in wonder.
Jamie leans forward, and kisses the freckles on her shoulder, one by one. Claire tries to turn in his arms to thank him properly, but he won’t let her, trapping her arms against her body as he continues to press his lips against her skin.
“What are you doing?” Claire asks, laughing softly.
“There are constellations here. Let me take my time, Sassenach, that I may name them all. This will take all night.”
A/N: Thank you everyone for your support! A bit of bad news: this story will go on hiatus for a couple of weeks. I’ve been having flaring wrist pains and been diagnosed with tendinitis. Although most of the story is written out (and please know that I know how this will end) the next 3 chapters are not complete. Unfortunately, because of my wrist, this means I cannot take time to type out the stuff I need, until the doctor gives me the all-clear. So let’s take 2 weeks and hopefully my wrist will be better and I can write again. Thank you for understanding! <3
Murtagh’s voice cuts through the early morning fog clouding his brain. He bolts upright, his injured hand twinging.
“What’s happening? Athair-athar?”
“Yer man, Randall, came through. He talked to Grey, and with his support we’re ready, Jamie, my lad. There’s a stint being set up as we speak, Grey’s obtaining a warrant for all of Leoch’s enterprises, bank accounts, payroll, computers, everything. That might take a few days, but this is it.” Murtagh sounds tired, but there is a note of excitement in his tone.
Jamie leaves the bedroom, Claire’s wild curls rumpled on the pillow, still sleeping. In the kitchen, he sits on the dingy chairs and listens to Murtagh give him more information about what will happen. Jamie can’t help it; he begins to fantasize about living a normal life, with Claire at his side—no more hiding, no more pretending, finally free. In the middle of his daydream, he suddenly catches his father’s name and crashes back to reality.
“My father? What did ye say?”
Murtagh clears his throat. “Aye, Jamie. The Fraser surname came up in Randall’s investigations. Apparently, the MacKenzie used Brian Fraser’s name to manage their offshore accounts.”
Hot white rage flares in the pit of his stomach, almost blinding him. To use his father’s name for their lies, their scheming… He swallows hard past the knot in his throat and his left fist tries to curl involuntarily, sending an immediate blaze of pain up his arm.
“What else have they found?”
“Grey got a call from Frank himself,” Jamie tells Claire as she dresses in scrubs for work. The anger from earlier mixes with excitement and hope, making him speak fast. “There’s a video no one’s seen before. Someone saved the originals, where Bonnet’s face is clear.”
“Really?” Claire’s spirits lift and she leans over to kiss Jamie’s mouth. “That’s wonderful! I’m glad Frank came through.”
“Aye, some enterprising soul sent the videos to a centralized data company for storage. It’s the proof we need to clear my name.” Jamie holds her, burying his face in her hair. “Everything’s happening so fast. They dinna want Leoch to get wind of anything and stonewall.”
Claire wraps her arms around him, feeling his heart pound beneath her ear. She can feel the momentum, everything snowballing and she doesn’t know where this will end, but is glad she will be with Jamie, supporting him, no matter what happens. She thinks of the pearls he gave her, now carefully stored in the bag and placed with her other meager jewelry. She’d had some bits and bobs that had belonged to her mother, but this is different, special, sacred.
With another quick kiss, she leaves Jamie at the flat as she heads to work at the hospital. She is intercepted mid-morning by Geillis, and they both go have a quick coffee break in the cafeteria. Claire is aware of just how much she owes her gutsy friend, and knows it is a debt that can never be repaid.
“So, did ye hear? Abernathy called a big staff meeting when the shift ends.”
“Is something wrong?” Claire sips her coffee, almost wincing at the industrial taste of it.
“No’ that I know. He didna seem upset or anything.” Geillis stirs yet another pack of raw sugar into her cup. “How’s things at… home?”
Claire smiles. “Better. Much better.” Geillis perceives she can’t go into detail but is reassured by the expression on her face. “It might… things are looking up, G. I think we’ll be alright.”
The rest of the day passes in a blur, and before Claire realizes, her shift is over. She congregates with the rest of her colleagues and nursing staff in the doctor’s lounge; there is a low-grade buzz of murmurs until Joe Abernathy, the chief, steps forward and asks for silence. Claire likes him very much – American, a sassenach like herself.
“As you all know, we’ve been trying to get funding for new equipment for A&E, new beds, MRI machine, you name it. Well, it seems our prayers have been answered!” He flashes a big smile and the staff chuckles, intrigued. “There’ll be a fundraiser in two-weeks’ time, with all the big Scottish firms sending reps to meet you all, and assess the hospital’s needs. It means a party, good food, booze, the works. And we’re all invited!”
The buzz grew into excited chatter; it wasn’t often that they could enjoy themselves like that. Voices press Joe for more details, and he produces a stack of invitations, handing them out like candy. Claire smiles, wondering if she’ll be on call that weekend, and her colleagues begin to bargain amongst each other, trading favors and shifts for the chance to attend. She thinks of Jamie and wishes they were able to go together, like a real couple.
She’s so absorbed by her thoughts that she returns to Earth only as Geillis presses the square piece of cardstock into her hand, gripping her shoulder enough to hurt.
“Ow, Edgars, what the hell—”
“Read it,” Geillis hisses, eyes wide.
Claire glances down and her blood runs cold. Faint splotches of black dance at the periphery of her vision.
The fundraiser is sponsored by Leoch Holdings.
“Fuck. Fuck, Claire!”
Jamie runs his fingers through his hair, pulling on it with such force Claire’s afraid he’ll rip it from the roots. He paces the length of the flat, his long legs eating up the space in three strides, back and forth.
“We knew they knew. What changes? Couldn’t they have gotten to me at the bloody hospital already? How is this different—”
“Christ, Sassenach, dinna even say that!” Jamie rushes to her side, kneeling beside her as she sits in a kitchen chair, the invitation on the table. “Please, I dinna ken what this means except that they’re targeting you somehow…” The wild look is back in his eyes.
“Even the MacKenzie can’t get away with murder in plain sight of all the hospital staff, Jamie. I think it’s a way for them to manipulate the management or myself, of course, but why not just have me fired?” Claire reasons, stroking the bedhead of red curls.
“Ye are not thinking of going.” Jamie stares at her, panic rising in his wame. The mere thought of Dougal being even fifty feet from Claire is unbearable.
“Of course I’m going. It’s best to play their game. They cannot suspect anything out of the ordinary, especially when we’re so close to the end!” She presses a kiss to the top of his head. “I have no real reason not to go.”
Jamie grips her hand tightly, rising from the floor and lifting Claire from her seat. “We’ll keep our heads down until then. Dougal wants me back in the office. I dinna think, love… our living together is prudent right now.”
“But your hand—”
“I’ll manage. Laoghaire’s in America, and shit is sure to hit the fan when the MacKenzie find out she’s gone. I willna risk ye further, Claire. And if ye’ll go to the fundraiser, I’ll be there.”
“How?” Claire’s arms go around him, head resting on Jamie’s sternum and hearing the steady thump of his heart.
“Dinna mind how. I’ll manage as weel. But for now, give Geillis a ring, and I’ll help ye pack yer things, mo chridhe.” He kisses the top of her head and holds her tight, already longing for her body next to his (under his) at night in bed.
“I’ll miss ye, Sassenach, more than I can say.”
We’re back! Tendinitis is sorted, and I’ve been cleared by the doctor to carry on as usual. Thanks for your patience; Happy Holidays to all, and a better, brighter 2021. All my love! <3
“You must stay close, Fraser.” John Grey’s tone is stern, clipped and anxious.
“I didna intend to let her out of my sight.” Jamie breaks away from the phone for a moment to shove his head through a shirt neckline, and checks his mobile for the hundredth time.
It has been a tense two weeks, while the SCD gets their paperwork and warrants in order. There cannot be any mistakes, or the MacKenzies and their company will get away scot-free, no pun intended. Jamie had returned to the office with little fanfare, but was well aware that he was being watched again. His decision to send Claire away had been a good one.
There had been certain buzz about the upcoming event, but Jamie hadn’t received an invitation himself—for obvious reasons, he thought. He had appraised Murtagh of the fundraiser so he could contact Grey, but no one knew anything; purposefully orchestrated, but no specific details beyond that. Wheedling Louise to add his name to the list to no avail, he’d had to come up with an alternative plan to be close to Claire and protect her as he’d promised.
Grey prattles on in Jamie’s ear, and he looks at the screen once more. No new messages from Claire; the last had been an hour ago, a racy selfie of Claire in her barely-there underwear as she dressed for the fundraiser. Suddenly, a certain word brings him crashing back to Earth.
“What? Ye can’t!”
“Of course I can’t, Fraser,” Grey says irritably. “I only said I wished I could arm you. But you’re a civilian, so that’s a no-go. I’ll have a detail there to help out.”
“I wouldna ken what to do with a gun even if ye did.” Jamie swallows hard, fear in his throat. “Ye dinna think it will come to that?”
“I’m hoping it won’t be. Keep your eyes open and stay alert, Fraser. If you see anything untoward, anything suspicious, call Murtagh.” It would be a very public takedown, and Jamie is equally excited and apprehensive. The videos SCD had discovered apparently show Bonnet’s face clearly, exculpating Jamie from Alexander McGregor’s death.
With a final warning to be careful, Grey ends the call. Almost immediately after, Jamie’s phone beeps with a new text. It’s Claire, in a beautiful yellow gown, blowing a kiss to the camera. Jamie’s confidence is renewed and his spirits lift, to see his Sassenach so beautiful, so brave, so irrevocably his.
The venue is sumptuously decorated, as befits Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. Claire grips her coat as she hands her invitation to the guard at the door and is admitted. Geillis walks beside her, already looking for the servers with drink trays.
“Here ye go, get ye properly soused.” G hands her a flute of champagne. Claire sips slowly, looking around for a tall head of red hair. It’s not noticeable, and she doesn’t know if it’s a good thing that her Viking Scot is well-concealed; she desperately wishes Jamie could be at her side. Claire watches as her co-workers mingle and laugh, eating and drinking. She chats with a few of her colleagues, and while talking to Joe Abernathy, she spots a bright mop of curls skulking behind a set of cubicles acting as the servers’ station. Excusing herself to the loos, she sidles close to the station and faces the room, grabbing another glass flute as she senses Jamie at her back.
“Mo nighean donn, ye look beautiful,” he breathes on her neck, leaning in as close as he dares. He has spent his time hiding out behind the flimsy cubicle walls. Blending in with the servers, he’d made his way through the back-entrance gangway, pretending to be working with them tonight. No one had batted an eye or asked him anything. Donning a white jacket a bit too tight across the shoulders and at least three inches too small at the wrists, he pretended to sort through the champagne glasses and handed full trays out for servers to parade around the museum.
A sudden commotion near the entrance has her craning her neck to see Colum MacKenzie arrive maneuvering in an electric wheelchair, followed closely by Dougal. Claire sees Tom Christie, the hospital director, rush over to greet and flatter them. She can feel Jamie tense behind her.
“Claire, the MacKenzie…”
“I see them, Jamie. Don’t worry.” His hand slips into hers for a moment, warm and strong. She doesn’t dare turn to look at him. His mere presence at her back bolsters her courage, as she downs the rest of the champagne and prepares to walk back into the fray, with Jamie’s parting words in her ears and heart:
Ye need not be scairt, so long as I’m wi’ ye.
They resonate in her mind, steadying her. Claire finds Geillis and they nurse another glass of champagne. Geillis senses her nerves and Claire steers her far away from the gaggle of chiefs and important hospital administrators fawning over the fundraiser sponsors.
“Hey, there you are, ladies!” Joe saunters up to them, clinking glasses together. “What do you think of all this? Pretty swanky, huh?”
“Only the best for Queen Elizabeth’s,” Claire smiles, smoothing a hand down her dress. Her heels are starting to pinch her feet, and she fidgets, wishing she could be in her pajamas cuddled up to her big red Scot. She folds her coat and lays it on the table along with her gold clutch; no chairs have been provided, apparently to force people to stand around and mingle.
“Gowan wanted to see you, Geillis. He wants the donors from Nexus—you know, the hospital beds—to meet you. Can I steal her away from you a bit, Beauchamp?” Joe smiles easily and guides G with a hand at the small of her back. She looks back helplessly at Claire as she’s swallowed up by the crowd.
Claire is trying to find a glimpse of Jamie again at the servers’ station when she feels a strong, callused hand grasp her arm at the elbow. She tenses, fear skittering up her spine—this hand is unfamiliar, rough, and definitely not Jamie’s. She whirls to find Dougal’s grizzled face leering at her, teeth bared into a grin that resembles a snarl.
“Miss Beauchamp—we meet at last.”
Claire tries to wrench free, but that only makes Dougal tighten his grip. She wants to scream, but her throat is dry and she finds they are surrounded by two burly men who block the rest of the attendees from seeing what is going on.
“Let me go.” Her voice aims for strength but there is a tremor of fear.
“I dinna think so, sassenach.” The word takes on its intended meaning, an insult, a slur of sorts. Dougal begins walking her away from the table. “Jamie will heed us, one way or another.”
“Jamie is a good man,” Claire hisses, “not that you know anything about that.” She tries to cast about for Jamie, but they’re heading in the opposite direction from the servers’ station; Dougal yanks her arm again to make her keep up, causing her to stumble. Too late, she realizes she left her clutch—and her mobile—on the table.
“He overplayed his hand. Do ye think we dinna ken about his relationship wi’ ye, what he’s been tryin’ to do these past few months? He broke faith wi’ us, and his wife. Our contract, we willna honor it either.”
“Honor? What do you know about the word?” Claire spits out with as much venom as she can muster
“Honor or no, I ken I always win, lass.” With that, Dougal releases her, but Claire feels another hand descend, this time on her shoulder, gripping, and a small but insistent push at her back. She’s never felt anything like it, but immediately realizes what it is: a gun. Quietly, she is steered away from the crowd, into the exhibits. After hours, there is only emergency lighting barely bright enough to see.
The last thing she hears from Dougal before being swallowed up by the dark is, “I’ll wait in the car.”
Jamie can’t find Claire. He’d spotted her bright gold purse laying on the table where he last saw Claire, and he rips it open; her mobile is in it, and his wame sinks. He has no way of contacting her now, and he fears the worst.
He spots Geillis flirting with an older man, tipping her head back and shaking out her long red hair.
He hurries to her and with a curt, “Excuse us,” takes Geillis’s arm and leads her off to a corner away from the noise.
“What is it, Jamie?”
“Have ye seen Claire? I left for a minute to go to the loo and now she’s gone.”
“I saw her the last time ye did. Do ye think she might have left?”
Jamie’s heart pounds double-time. “Not on her own. I specifically told her not to, not tonight.” He holds up the purse. “She wouldna have left this behind.”
Geillis pales. “I can head home, see if she’s there anyway, or wait for her.”
“Yes, please, do that.” Jamie pulls out his phone, and dials Murtagh. “Uncle?”
“Lad, ye ken ‘tis not safe for ye to—”
“Claire’s gone. They’ve taken Claire.” He knows this with a certainty that shocks him. A series of expletives on the other end before he continues. “Call Grey, tell him to move in now. We canna afford to wait.” Jamie ends the call; he’s on the move now, headed towards the main entrance so he can call a car.
Briefly, he glimpses a broad muscular man in the distance. There is a large black sedan blocking one of the nearby side streets. There is a sense of déjà-vu when he hears a muffled yell, and then he’s racing towards the sound, racing towards his life.
TW: Violence / Gore
Another night, another alley. It’s a secluded employees’ entrance at the back of the museum, much like the one where Jamie once waited for Claire. A lifetime ago, it seems.
Claire is jostled by the burly man; it doesn’t hurt exactly, but he isn’t taking great care to be gentle either. To passersby, it might look like someone helping a person gone with drink—she’s casting about wildly, dragging her feet. He’s guiding her towards a parked car. She knows if he gets her inside, it’s over. She can see the glow of the shops around the corner, and thinks if she can just get a scream in, people might come. Claire quietly inhales but a warm, meaty hand covers her mouth.
“Now, lass, I ken ye arena that stupid.” The man holds his hand in place, the other clutching the gun. Claire sinks her teeth into the skin of his palm, hard. The man yells, yanking his hand away from Claire; she uses the opportunity to try and run away, back towards the museum, towards Jamie.
She collides with a solid male body; arms go around her tightly and she refuses to be taken again. She beats against the man’s chest and prepares to scratch his eyes out with her small blunt fingernails before she realizes it’s Jamie.
“Sassenach, it’s alright! I’ve got ye!” Jamie presses a quick kiss to her forehead as she calms down briefly, then shoves her behind him in the narrow street. The large man lumbers menacingly, a black gun in his hand, and Jamie recognizes him. “Angus, let her go. Dougal’s quarrel is wi’ me. She has nothing to do wi’ this!”
“I’ve got me orders, lad. Ye ken it’s no’ personal.” There is a careless regret in Angus Mohr’s expression; Jamie cannot fathom it until he hears a voice come from the black sedan.
“It’s personal to me, Jamie.” Dougal emerges from the car, buttoning his coat. Angus immediately steps next to him, and hands him the gun. “I’ll be needing both of ye to come wi’ me.”
“Let her go,” Jamie repeats steadily, walking backwards and slowly but surely herding Claire closer to the safety of the museum. “She has no evidence against ye, and ye ken well no one will believe her. Ye have all of Leoch’s resources at yer disposal. She willna say a word.” He can hear Claire breathing raggedly at his back, clutching his arm frantically.
Dougal doesn’t speak; he simply raises the gun to eye level and waits impassively for him to end his tirade. Jamie hopes fervently that Murtagh got in touch with Grey, and that the SCD units are on their way. However, he cannot wait on them much longer, and he knows what he has to do.
“Ye need to go, Sassenach.” Jamie turns to extricate himself from Claire, but she refuses to relinquish her grip.
“No, I won’t leave you, James Fraser!” she cries adamantly. Tears course down her cheeks, and her eyes are wild with desperation. He knows it’s over for him, but he is still not certain Dougal will take her too; Claire might have only been a bargaining chip, meant to lure him into a confession, but of no real use to Dougal. He will not let go of this hope—it’s all he has now.
“Ye can, for I love ye. Go now. Run.” This last word he whispers to her. Jamie can see the glint of contrariness in her eye; perhaps if he steps closer to Dougal and draws attention to himself it will give Claire enough time to get away. He turns to Dougal, a hand held out to appease his uncle’s volatile temper, but to no avail.
Jamie hears the shot ring out before he feels it. A small breeze whizzes past his arm, but misses by inches. Instead, he whirls around in time to see Claire jerk sideways, clap a hand to her side, and fall.
A sledgehammer smashes into her side, making her collapse. Claire doesn’t feel herself fall, but finds herself on the ground, black and white spots flashing around her.
There was a sense of numbness radiating from her right side. She smells damp pavement and cordite and that operating room scent of emergent blood. Shock, Claire thinks dimly. She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. What… The numbness begins to lessen, and she realizes with clinical detachment that she’s curled into a ball, her forearm pressed by reflex into her abdomen. I’ve been shot.
“Sassenach!” Claire hears Jamie’s bellow over the roaring in her ears. He sounds far off, but she can hear the terror in his voice clearly. She isn’t disturbed by it; she feels quite calm.
In the distance, there is a great commotion, movement and din. She sees Dougal slammed to the ground; his grimacing face is now level with hers. There are flashing lights, people running all over, but she has no eyes for anyone else except Jamie.
Blood is welling between her fingers, hot and thick, and it begins to hurt very much. Claire swims in and out of a fog and manages to keep one eye open. Jamie kneels by her; he is touching her, his hands are on her body, but she can’t feel it…
“Sassenach! Claire!” Jamie can’t take his eyes off her face lest she die in the second he looks away. He fumbles at the wound, seizing a fold of her yellow dress and pressing it hard to her side. His broken hand screams in protest, but he barely registers the pain. She makes a horrible sound and almost lets go, but the ground under her is already dark with her blood. He presses harder, shouting, “Help! Help me, she’s hurt!”
Jamie feels the slow trickle of Claire’s blood running over his hands and he shouts again, half-mad with fear. Someone must hear.
Someone does. He hears running footsteps on the pavement and sees a paramedic, racing towards him. “Shot?” she asks breathlessly, collapsing onto her knees beside Jamie. Jamie can’t speak, but nods. Sweat is pouring down his face, but his hands are frozen to her body; he can’t pull them away, can’t let go until the paramedic, who says her name is Rachel, seizes wads of gauze and bandages and jerks Jamie’s hands away to clap them into place.
“Sassenach? Can ye hear me, lass?” Jamie asks, afraid to touch her. Rachel is calling out for a stretcher.
Claire has regained consciousness, and his heart rises into his throat. Her eyes are closed, shut tight in a furious grimace of pain and concentration. She hears him; her golden eyes open and fix on him.
“I won’t let ye die, Claire, I won’t!”
“I’m… not keen either.”
" Tell me ye’re alright, tell me ye'll be fine…” Jamie whispers, his voice low and rough with tears. “Lie to me, Sassenach, if ye must.”
“Of… course Jamie,” she murmurs, eyes drifting shut. “I’ll be fine... Just fine…"
Jamie prays as he has not done so in a long time. He prays on his knees in the hospital’s nondenominational chapel, long enough that there are likely permanent dents in the bone. He lays prostrate on the weathered linoleum, hands held fast in supplication, hands beating at the floor in anger and desperation.
His voice in the empty chapel is rigid with fear and grief. He pleads; he bargains; he threatens; he begs for a miracle out of the lavishness of his God’s grace.
“Dinna leave me, Sassenach. This time I’ll beg. A Dhia, dinna take her from me.”
Dr. Denzell Hunter is listed on a whiteboard as the man responsible for operating on Claire. She had been rushed to the nearest operating room, and it had taken several nurses and a security guard to stop him from going in after her. The threat of being kicked out and banned from the premises had made him acquiesce.
Now, curses mingle with his prayers as he recalls the fabric of Claire’s dress turning almost black with her spilled blood. He vows to destroy the MacKenzie, to strangle Dougal with his own bare hands and watch with fervent glee as the life leaves his eyes.
Jamie had failed, once again, to protect her. That particular thought gnaws at him and will not let him rest. He briefly touches the bright red stains on his white jacket, some already rusted brown; a nurse had offered him clothes from the lost and found to change into, but he had refused. He would wear this until he knew for certain whether Claire lived or died.
He struggled to his feet, knees protesting from the hard floor. He stumbles to the nurses’ station near the waiting room, hoping for an update on her condition. Geillis rounds the corner, in surgical scrubs but an incongruous, fully made-up face from the gala.
“Jamie!” She hugs him briefly and takes in the bloody jacket with a gasp. “I came as soon as I heard. The group chat blew up, saying a doctor had been shot outside the museum. I’d hoped it wasna Claire, but…” she trails off and suppresses a sob. “Hunter’s operating, he’s one of the best. She’ll be alright, Jamie.”
“They dinna ken… they havena—” He gestures helplessly towards the board and the nurses’ station and Geillis grips his hand, squeezing it tightly.
“Aye. They’ll talk to me, let me see what I can find out.” She whirls away through the doors marked for authorized personnel only. Jamie feels time slog by in fits and starts, minutes dragging on endlessly, and before he knows it, it’s already been three hours since Claire arrived in the ambulance.
Geillis returns and takes him by the arm, dragging him to a secluded corner of the waiting room. “She’s stable, for now. The bullet hit her liver, which is very vascular—meaning there was a lot of blood loss, because it has many blood vessels,” she adds, understanding the look on his face. “But the liver regenerates itself, and she’s received blood transfusions to replace it. She was damned lucky.”
“Not lucky enough, to be with the likes of me,” Jamie whispers, dragging his hands through his hair. Geillis pulls his hands back down roughly, shaking him out of his stupor.
“It verra well could have been you, and I’d be having a different conversation with Claire. Now.” She regards his blood-soaked jacket with distaste. “I’ll take you to the doctors’ lounge, and ye’ll have a shower and change into something less morbid. Ye have to take care of yerself too—do it for her, at least.”
Her words tug at what’s left of Jamie’s heart and he agrees, if only to kill more time while the other half of his soul lies on a cold operating table.
“John Grey is here to see ye, Fraser,” Geillis calls into the lounge where Jamie is tying up the drawstring on the too-short scrubs. He fits the brace back over his hand and comes out to meet John Grey.
Jamie’s first instinct upon seeing the chief inspector is to wrench him into a hug. It catches Grey by surprise, but he is quick to return Jamie’s tight embrace.
“Thank ye, John,” Jamie manages, fisting handfuls of Grey’s shirt in his hands, the struggles of the previous night catching up to him once more. “I dinna ken how to thank ye.”
“No need, Jamie.” Grey pulls away and gestures toward the waiting room. “If you don’t mind, there’s someone here from SCD who would like to take your statement regarding the… incident. I know it’s a lot to ask, with what happened to Ms. Beauchamp, but it’s important to have all our ducks in a row. We’re moving ahead with the legal process, and bringing Leoch down. And I brought Murtagh along as well.”
The thought of seeing his godfather lifts Jamie’s spirits. The waiting room holds an elderly couple and a young man reading a French newspaper, and Murtagh surrounded by a few police officers. He sits and at Grey’s prompting, begins to recount everything that happened. Remembering the moment that Claire was shot makes his voice and hands shake with anger, and he glances at the clock behind the nurses’ station. Almost 3 AM. As he signs the affidavit, he’s suddenly yanked to his feet by Geillis.
“Family for Claire Beauchamp?” A tired-looking surgeon with blue paper booties covering his shoes emerges from the direction where they’d taken Claire.
“Are you family?” He has an American accent, odd amongst the Scottish burr he’s accustomed to hear in Glasgow.
Jamie wavers, but Geillis intervenes before he can say the wrong thing. “He’s her fiancé, Dr. Hunter. Jamie Fraser.”
“Very well, Mr. Fraser. Miss Beauchamp is presently in the post-op recovery room. We managed to extract the bullet, and patch up her liver as best we could. The next 48 hours will be critical, as we’ll be watching for infection, but hopefully that won’t be an issue. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. She was very lucky indeed.” Hunter extends a hand to shake Jamie’s, and he feels a small weight lift off his shoulders.
“Can I see her?”
“We’ll make sure to let you know when she’s in a room. She’ll be sleeping most of the time. And yes, Inspector Grey, I’ll appraise your team when she is in fit condition to talk to you,” Hunter adds, anticipating the officer’s comment.
With a grateful handshake, Jamie watches Dr. Hunter walk away. He drops onto the vinyl couch like a stone, his face in his hands, as the storm within finally gives way to racking sobs.
Alive. Claire’s alive.
Claire is aware of her body before anything else. A dull, throbbing ache laces her right side, and it feels rigid. Bandages, her mind thinks fuzzily. Why am I bandaged?
Her eyes still closed, she tries wiggling her toes. Still there. The feeling traverses up her legs, avoiding her abdomen which she instinctively knows will hurt like bloody hell, and then a fluttering of her fingers. She finds her left hand entrapped and she panics for a second. At this, she struggles to open her eyes. She blinks at the harsh white lighting above her head.
Claire glances down as she feels a warm wetness, and she realizes it’s Jamie. Jamie is crying, kneeling by her bedside. She wishes she could cradle his face and wipe his tears away, but decides it would hurt too much to move. She settles for speaking, after clearing her throat.
“I’ve decided… not to die.” Claire’s voice is soft and rusty from misuse, but it still startles Jamie. He comes out of his reverie to see that her eyes are open, a luminous gold in her white face.
Jamie doesn’t know what to say to that, so he manages a strangled, “Oh, good.”
“I could have. This is… bloody awful.” She winces as she tries to shift her body, but Jamie stops her. He is afraid to touch her further, for fear of hurting her, but can’t bear not to. He lays a hand as lightly as he can on her cheek, finding it cool. No fever; the IV pumping antibiotics into her via the needle in her right arm seems to be working.
“I know,” he says roughly, recalling the weeks spent in hospital healing from his own wounds. Jamie brings her untethered hand to his lips. Her bones feel frail. She hasn’t even the strength to squeeze his hand.
“But I… wouldn’t do that to you.” Already this small interaction is tiring her, and she is out of breath, but it seems important to let him know, that she is here, and she is still fighting. For herself, and for him.
“Thank ye, Sassenach. Truly.” He pushes himself off the floor with a groan, knees stiff and painful. He drags an uncomfortable-looking chair from the corner of the room and sits, still as close as possible to Claire. She looks him over, notices the dark bruises under his eyes and how his hands shake slightly.
“You haven’t slept or eaten, have you?” she asks critically; Jamie ducks his head and she knows she’s right. Claire is mindful of how much energy each word expends. She wants to remain awake, to drink him in, to just be with him, but knows the road to recovery is just beginning. “It won’t do me any good to have you sick, either. Go eat, please, and then get some rest too.”
“I dinna want to—”
“Stubborn Scot.” Claire sighs, and exhaustion wants to pull her under again. “There’s a couch. I’m sure it pulls out.”
Jamie offers a small smile. “What I want right now, Sassenach—I want verra much to kiss ye.”
“Come here, then.” Afraid to hurt her but even more desperate to feel her lips against his, he brushes his mouth in the gentlest kiss.
“Do ye need anything, Claire? Shall I call the nurse? Geillis has been around, but ye were still out.” Jamie is anxious to leave her, but understands that he cannot run himself ragged; he would be unable to help her recover and be with her.
“No.” Her eyes are already drifting closed, with a combination of what her body endured and the pain medication. “I just need… you. Go. I’ll be… here.”
With a final peck on the lips, Jamie heads for the door. Even though Claire is sleeping again, he makes her a promise, out loud: “You werena the first lass I kissed, but I swear to ye that ye’ll be the last.”
One more chapter to go! Just a heads up, I know nothing of the Scottish legal system, so for the next bit I'm just pulling it out of my sleeve JSYK. Thanks for all the support! <3
Home is not a place, it’s a person.
Claire ruminates the truth of it as she watches Jamie get ready for work while she enjoys a day off. Gone is the tension in his shoulders; the lines around his eyes became more pronounced, but the light in his bright blue eyes is there all the time, as is a ready smile for her.
Leoch Holdings is no more. Cleared of all charges, Jamie had quickly secured employment elsewhere—with Murtagh’s help—at a book publisher. Fortunately, the home they share at the moment was legally Jamie’s, in no way tied to the industry behemoth that had been his uncles’ empire. They are back in Jamie’s fancy flat for the time being, now that Laoghaire is back from America, preparing to testify. But Jamie’s put it up for sale, and for the tidy sum he will get they have plans to relocate to Broch Morda, the small town near Lallybroch.
She wraps her bathrobe tightly against the morning chill, her hand almost instinctively tracing over the scar on her right side. Her recovery had been slow at first. She hadn’t left the flat for a month, bedridden with her injury. Jamie fussed and coddled, and both discovered doctors really made for the worst patients—like Jamie insisting on practically spoon-feeding her, Claire demanding he let her check the bedpan for any possible traces of blood in her urine, until she could hobble to the toilet herself. They are adjusting, they are managing, they are on the mend.
Six months later, and the courts’ verdicts are finally in—Colum and Dougal MacKenzie guilty on an infinite number of counts: extorsion, racketeering, tax evasion, bribery, and not least of all, responsible for Alexander McGregor’s death. Leoch and all other associated corporations had been practically dismantled, and most of the MacKenzie’s co-conspirators sentenced or awaiting trial. Colum and Dougal themselves were being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure and would face a mandatory life sentence.
Jamie, as a key witness for the prosecution, had spent much of his time at the courthouse for those first few months. As soon as Dr. Hunter had given her a clean bill of health, she had accompanied Jamie to court, offering her steadfast support. It was there that she had finally met the famous Laoghaire, who had greeted her with a hug and a kiss, much to her befuddlement. They had secured an invitation to her and Joseph’s wedding in New York City next summer. Claire finds herself looking forward to it, hoping they will be able to travel. Knowing there would be a next year with Jamie, a future with him… that was more than she had dared to imagine.
The left side of her face quirks into a smile, which Jamie catches in the mirror.
“What is it, Sassenach?”
“Nothing. Just you. Us. All this.” She gestures around them, stroking her side gently. “Sometimes I still can’t believe we made it.”
“We did.” Jamie takes her into his arms. “I am sorrier than I can say for what you went through, mo nighean donn—for what I put ye through.”
“I’d do it all again, for you. Only for you.” She touches her forehead to his, and they stay that way for a few minutes, breathing the same air, listening to each other’s heartbeat. Their hands tangle together, the small but sparkling diamond on Claire’s finger between them.
“Ye willna have to. It’s behind us, and a whole new future before us.” He kisses her forehead. “And when the day shall come that we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’ ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”
“We have time now.” Claire smiles mischievously. Jamie raises an eyebrow as she pulls him towards their bed.
That night, Jamie watches his future wife as she brushes her hair. This ritual holds endless fascination for him; he observes until he stands and takes the brush from her hands, running it through the curls himself. Claire groans in pleasure, her eyes closing, and he bestows a kiss to the nape of her neck. She shivers, half with cold, half with delight.
“Come here Sassenach, let me warm ye.” The winter night outside is bitter, but the heat of their bodies mingling beneath the covers is irresistible.
Claire lies on her left side and feels him slide behind her. “Jamie… with all the media attention, I worry… what if there’s something still out there, waiting to hurt us?” She knows it’s the old anxiety talking; but she is so blissful, she fears the gods don’t like to see mortals too happy.
Jamie curls his legs behind hers, fitting perfectly like two spoons nestled in a drawer. He traces patterns on her lower back, pushing harder on that spot he knows is starting to pain her these days.
“Hush, mo chridhe, my own—none of that. Dinna be afraid, there’s the two of us now. Let me tell ye in your sleep how much I love you. For there's no so much I can be saying to ye while ye wake, but the same poor words, again and again.” Jamie burrows his nose into her hair. “While ye sleep in my arms, I can say things to ye that would be daft and silly waking, and your dreams will know the truth of them, Claire.”
She was his and he was hers, as they ever would be. The moon outside was a Christmas moon, so large it seemed to fill the window. Jamie’s large hand curves over the small swell of Claire’s stomach; the knowledge of their freedom races through their shared blood, their gift to each other.
And the world is all around them, new with possibility.
A/N: That’s all she wrote! Thank you very much for joining me on this adventure, for your patience, your support, your kind words... I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did creating it. <3