Actions

Work Header

Safe

Chapter Text

Chapter One:

The warm breeze billows against her cheeks, cooling her heated skin; the sun's scorching rays are trying their hardest to burn Claire Fraser's pearly, white skin. Her daughters sit next to her in a cobblestoned courtyard in Spain, enjoying refreshments and an afternoon snack. Though the heat is nothing new to them, they're still thousands of miles away from their Georgia home, enjoying the last few days of their vacation.

This week has been just the trip they needed. The girls are on spring break, and Claire had been more than happy to take some time off from the hospital.

She's been working almost non-stop for years, and her best friend and fellow surgeon, Joe Abernathy, had convinced her to take the trip to Spain she and Jamie had always talked about.

It's been six years since his death, and when Joe mentioned Spain, she knew this was a great way to honor him. They'd wanted to come to Madrid for years, always planning it but never getting the chance.

She kicks herself once more, like she's done so many times before. They'd honeymooned in Jamaica but had both agreed that Spain would've been better. By the time they were financially able to plan another long vacation, she'd discovered she was pregnant with Faith.

"Mama, are you listening?" her eight year old daughter asks.

Chuckling at Faith's bluntness, knowing full well she gets it from her, Claire ruffles the girl's curly hair, assuring her that she is. "Yes, darling." She smiles, taking a sip of her cappuccino. "You were saying you loved the Royal Palace."

"Yeah!" Faith squeals, bouncing in her seat as her eyes grow wide. She goes on, explaining, for the hundredth time, how beautiful the palace was and how she wanted to live in a big house like that one day.

"Me too!" Brianna pipes up, giggling along with her sister as they talk about the garden at the palace and how they danced in one of the ballrooms, making them feel like the princesses they wished they were.

Claire smiles, observing her daughters. After months of working without very many days off, it's a relief and much needed break to enjoy this time with them. They look so relaxed, free from the stress of school. She hadn't truly realized until this week how taxing first and third grade could actually be, especially when accompanied by the fact that their mother was a single, working mother—a surgeon, at that, with an ever changing schedule, forcing the girls to spend an abundance of time with her best friend, Geillis, and her husband, Dougal. She hasn't had a day off in a few months, and it's nice to just sit back and enjoy all this time with her girls.

It would be so much easier if Jamie was here. He's been gone for six years, though it doesn't feel like it's been that long. She still feels him every day, his presence always surrounding her. Claire sees him in her dreams at night, hears his laugh, the little Scottish noise that would vibrate in the back of his throat, and she swears she can still feel his hands on hers, holding hers in his larger one. She finds herself often daydreaming of the rich timbre of his voice, sees his blue eyes, but most of all, she sees him in their children.

Faith and Brianna both have red hair just like him; Faith's turned out curly, while Brianna's is straight as a pin somehow, seeing as she and Jamie both have curls. Their ears stick out just a little, the same way their father's did, and her heart aches, wishing Jamie had been able to see them both. Faith had only been two when he was killed, and Brianna was still in her belly, just a month away from being born.

It was the hardest time in Claire's life, becoming a widow and single mother at the age of thirty-two, and she's still haunted by the memory of a police officer showing up on her doorstep instead of her husband.

Shaking her head, Claire comes back to reality, listening to her daughters once again. They're pretending to be princesses, ordering each other around to fetch items from ballrooms and the guest quarters. She snorts, unsure of where they've picked up this lingo, but she embraces it nonetheless.

"Mama, look!" Bree exclaims, pointing to the cobblestone courtyard. There are a few children around their age kicking a ball back and forth, and the girls ask if they can go play.

She's unsure, hesitant to let them, but she looks around. The courtyard is surrounded by several cafés, including their own. There's no way for them to escape. If the ball were to be kicked too far, it would simply roll into one of the restaurants, so she relents, telling them they can but to stay where she can see them.

They cheer and hop out of their chairs, running over to the other kids. She smiles, watching as they're instantly allowed to join the fun, and Claire marvels at how easily children accept others, no matter the language barrier.

Picking up her phone, she sighs, texting Geillis back that they're having a great time, but she misses her terribly. Geillis shoots back to open up her dating app and see what men are available there, and she accompanies the text with a winky face emoji. Claire shakes her head, chuckling under her breath at the younger woman.

She knows realistically she can't. She's got Frank Randall back at home. They've been dating for seven months and it's starting to grow more serious, but, well, she's bored, and it couldn't hurt just to see these guys' ridiculous dating profiles. They always write the dumbest things, and she and Geillis have turned it into a fun drinking game on their girls nights—taking a shot every time a guy has a mirror or gym selfie, says he's not here for drama, or has a picture holding a baby that doesn't belong to him.

Smirking, she opens up the app, then looks out to the courtyard, smiling as Faith kicks the ball to a little boy, while another girl high fives her.

Bree glances over to Claire, giving her a thumbs up. Claire beams in her direction, giving her her own enthusiastic thumbs up right back.

Looking at her phone, she swipes through the profiles. There's Saint Germain, very odd first name, and he's got crazy eyes. He would probably murder the first woman to swipe left on him. She grins, swiping to the next. He's a handsome guy, this Jack Wolvertine, and has a strong jawline, but reading his profile, he sounds like the biggest douche she'd ever meet. The next is a blonde guy, pretty blue eyes, named Stephen, but based on his pictures all at bars and with his arms around other girls, he seems to be a player.

Rolling her eyes, she closes out of the app, deciding to delete it all together. She has no need for it anymore anyway with Frank; she's not even sure why she kept it this long.

Frank. She smiles softly at the thought of him.

He's a sweet guy. He came so unexpectedly into their lives two years ago, but she's so glad he did. He's always been a wonderful friend, helping her live life once more after Jamie and supporting her in whatever way he could. It wasn't until recently that she discovered he had feelings for her, and she'd hesitantly agreed to go on a date after Geillis promised her it wasn't wrong in any way to start dating again. It was strange, and confusing, especially because they were such close friends by then, but he had turned out to be a decent boyfriend as well. Frank cares deeply for her and the girls, and he was honestly a godsend when Geillis introduced them.

She'd been at a dinner party at Geillis and Dougal's house, and Frank had come in. Her friend introduced them, saying she'd met Frank a few weeks before at her yoga studio and the two had gotten to know each other. Claire was all smiles, shaking his hand, and his eyes set on her in a way that drew her to him. He was handsome and a great conversationalist, and it was the first time since Jamie died that she felt some sort of connection to anyone.

He is well-educated, kind, and loves her. It'd taken her a few months to warm up to him enough to say I love you back, but she had after learning how to love again in a new way. It was never the type of love she'd felt for Jamie, but she doubted she'd ever feel like that again for anyone. Frank was a gentleman, though, and someone she could see being content with for the long haul.

She listens to her girls laughing and having a good time, and as she finishes her warm beverage, she looks out at them again.

The sun catches on their red hair, and she smiles once more at how much they resemble their father. Their ears and noses are all him as well, while they both inherited Claire's fair complexion and bone structure. She suspects Brianna will turn out to be tall like Jamie, seeing as she's already almost as tall as Faith.

Faith looks the most like Jamie, her eyes the same color of ocean blue, while Brianna's shine a beautiful golden whisky just like Claire's. She's always loved that she can see herself in those eyes. It's just about the only attribute she can take credit for, so she accepts it gratefully.

Jamie had always joked about Faith looking as if he spit her out on his own, and though it was a running joke, she's thankful now that the gods above decided to give both girls Jamie's genetics so that she can still see him every day.

Brianna squeals in delight as the ball is kicked to her by one of the boys, and she quickly attempts to kick it over to her sister. She's not as coordinated as the older kids, but she holds her ground, and Claire quietly cheers them on, not wanting to disturb the other patrons in the outside café.

Their laughter, like so many other things, always reminds her of Jamie. He had this deep belly laugh that could make her smile even when she was angry with him. She would always get frustrated, claiming if she was mad, she wanted to stay mad, but he would just do something ridiculous to make her laugh even harder, and their fight would be forgotten. God, she missed that. Missed him.

Her heart breaks a little bit more thinking of her husband. Years may have passed, and she's learned to not think of him every second of every day, but sometimes, like today, thoughts of her red-headed Scot consume her.

She dwells upon that fateful night, when she was eight months pregnant and craving cookie dough ice cream.

She'd begged Jamie to go out and get her some, claiming she wouldn't be able to sleep until their baby had some dessert.

"Aye, alright, alright," he'd sighed, playfully rolling his eyes as he slid out of bed. His broad chest glistened from their love making, and she bit her lip, suddenly contemplating if she wanted the ice cream or him more.

Jamie laughed when he turned back around, slipping his shirt over his head. "I ken that look, Sassenach," he teased, "Ye can have yer wicked way wi' me when I return."

She laughed into the kiss he pressed to her lips, groaning, "Mm, sounds good."

Smirking, she tugged him back down for one more kiss. He trailed his head down, pressing a kiss to her large stomach. "Ye take good care of yer mam, aye? And then I'll be back wi' yer ice cream, lass."

Snorting, Claire slapped at his shoulder, telling him to leave so he could come back sooner.

"I'll be back, and then we'll spend the rest of the night drawing out those wee squeakin' noises I love so much."

"I do not make squeaking noises!" she protested for the millionth time in their marriage, grinning as Jamie smirked, chuckling at her as he closed the door softly behind him.

Two hours later, after a few silly texts to Jamie to hurry up before the ice cream melted or she fell asleep, she was stirred from a light slumber by the ringing of the doorbell. There was a police officer at her door, ending her world right then and there.

Jamie had been shot. Killed. Never coming home again.

Claire felt as if the world around her was spinning while her body was completely frozen to the ground where she stood. She couldn't comprehend the officer's words, her hand rubbing her rounded belly and shaking her head, not believing what the man was telling her.

Clearing her throat, Claire wipes a lone tear from the corner of her eye.

Since she's apparently a glutton for pain today, she scrolls through the list of texts in her phone, reaching the bottom. Jamie's text messages.

She bites her lip, reading over his last text to her that she ever received, her eyes misting over at how simple, how mundane it was.

Angus got into some whisky at work. He's hammered lol highly amusing but Murtagh is annoyed and Dougal is not pleased, of course. Be home later to explain more. Love ye

After that, it's just a string of texts from her while she waited impatiently for her ice cream, not knowing that at the time, he was being taken from her for good.

Hurry up! Lol and then another, hope my ice cream isn't melted, baby will be sad… and twenty minutes later, a more worried, where are you?

She remembered falling asleep soon after that, only to be awoken by the doorbell.

She regrets those texts, has spent years beating herself up over them. Why'd she ever ask for ice cream? He could've stayed home and stayed alive. She's punished herself time and time again by reading over those messages, but never bringing herself to erase any trace of him from her phone. The photographs and videos that filled her camera roll would be worn out by now, too, if it were possible. Thank god for technology, for being able to have those reminders of him right there at her fingertips.

Claire focuses back on Faith and Bree, willing her mind to quiet down. This vacation was supposed to help her relax, not bombard her mind with thoughts of her husband and the night he was taken from them so suddenly.

Her eyes roam from the girls to the other cafés around the courtyard. She has this odd sense that someone is watching her and it makes her uneasy; she can feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.

There's a young couple by the fountain taking selfies, a brunette man across the way reading a book, and an older couple sharing a laugh at the café next to hers. Nothing out of the ordinary.

She can't shake the feeling, however, so she trains her eyes back on the girls. Her phone vibrates with a text, and she glances down to see Joe has sent her a picture of her empty office, claiming he misses having her there to yell across the hall to when he was bored. She snickers, snapping a picture of their table and her empty cappuccino cup, saying she wishes he was here.

That's just rude. He responds, causing her to grin.

Before she can reply, she hears Faith's little voice call out in glee, "Daddy!?" and Claire's head whips up, looking toward her children in confusion.

Her eyes focus on the girls, then over their heads in the direction they are looking. Faith and Bree run back to her, Bree appearing more befuddled than anything while Faith is teeming with excitement.

Claire pulls Brianna into her lap, wrapping one arm around Faith's shoulders to hold them close.

"Faith, what did you just say?" she asks, and Faith looks at her as if she had two heads.

Her little hand points in the direction they just came, declaring, "It's Daddy!"

Shaking her head, Claire wonders if they just simply saw a red headed man. The girls have spent their whole lives looking at pictures of Jamie, and Faith has just a few memories of him, really just flashes of his large body or red hair holding her, but sometimes when they would see large redheaded men, they'd associate him with Jamie.

"Sweetheart…" Claire's starts, shaking her head sympathetically as her eyes glance back across the courtyard.

She catches the gaze of that brown-haired man from earlier, his blue eyes piercing her own, and her breath catches in her throat.

She'd know those eyes anywhere. But...

Standing, Claire takes the girls' hands, her breath shaking as she makes her way over to the other café. Her body is moving as if drawn like a magnet, his body the opposite pole pulling her toward him.

The girls have let go of her hand at some point, trailing behind her. Claire can feel her breath coming out in heavy pants, and she feels as if everything is moving in slow motion around her while her heart beats so ferociously against her sternum that she thinks it may stop beating all together.

When she reaches the other side, she's dumbstruck. Unbelieving. Confused. Her eyes are wide, brimming with tears as her head tilts to the side. Her mouth falls slightly agape when he looks from the girls behind her up to her eyes again, a small, uneasy smile gracing his lips as his eyes fill with tears.

She squints her eyes, then blinks, trying to make sure she's seeing what is truly before her.

Licking her lips, she breathes out shakily, "Jamie?"

{*************************}

Thoughts? Please review!

Chapter Text

Chapter Two:

"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ..."

Jamie is here. Right in front of her… and she can't believe it, can't fathom what is possibly happening. She blinks, trying to clear her vision. Maybe it's just a stranger that looks like him. If that's the case, she's well aware that she looks like an idiot right about now.

But no, no… this is him. She'd know him anywhere. Her husband. Her Jamie.

"Mama," Bree gasps, tugging on her hand, "that's not Jesus!"

Her little girl's soft exclamation of indignation breaks her trance, pulling her eyes down to her daughter.

She laughs, and she hears Jamie laugh, a sound she never thought she'd hear again, and it brings tears to her eyes. Her head whips back up to stare into his eyes once more, brows scrunching as a myriad of questions come to her mind.

"How…" she chokes on the word, and before she can finish her sentence, his strong arms are around her, pulling her close.

His tears are trickling down to the nape of her neck, and she's well aware that hers are staining his shirt as well.

They stand there, arms twined around each other's bodies, holding the other impossibly closer as they weep together. They must look like fools, but she doesn't care. Can't care. Her husband is in her arms for the first time in years, a feeling she thought she'd buried right along with his body.

"Mo chridhe," he breathes into her neck, a soft whisper against her skin. "Hush now, I'm here. 'Tis alright."

The tears come even harder then, sobs shaking her body against his when she hears his voice. A voice she's only heard in her dreams and on that voicemail she'd never gotten around to deleting. It was stupid, his message, him simply calling her after work one day.

Sassenach, it's me. Dougal let me go early for once, Christ only kens why. But I'm headed home. I'll pick Faith up from daycare on my way home and start a wee bit of dinner for us, okay? I love ye, mo chridhe.

It was just a message to let her know he loved her, something she sometimes took for granted thinking she'd hear it for the rest of her life. He'd left the message three months before he died, and after his funeral she'd discovered it was still there. She'd been too busy back then to delete messages, and for once, she was thankful for the fact. She spent so many nights listening to that voicemail on repeat, willing him to come back to her and vowing to never delete it.

She found herself, more often than not, curling up into bed after tucking Faith in for the night, listening to his voice, his little chuckle as he said he'd cook dinner that night, and clinging to the way he said he loved her.

Now, though, his voice is here, in her ear, and it sends a shiver down her spine, makes her knees buckle as if she's going to faint.

"I never thought I'd hold ye in my arms again, Claire," he murmurs, crying. "I saw ye so many times, ye came to me so often. When I dreamed sometimes…" he trails off, clearing his throat, "I was so lonely but I'd see ye smiling… but ye never touched me."

His forehead is pressed against hers. When their bodies connected, she isn't sure, but his hand reaches up to cup her jaw, and out of reflex, her hand covers his. "Oh god," she chokes out, "you're real."

"Aye," he says with a watery smirk, "and so are you, mo nighean donn." He tucks an errant curl behind her ear, adding, "I can touch ye now."

"I don't understand," she cries, pulling away reluctantly. "I thought you were dead." She shakes her head again, trying to clear her mind that's clouded. It's like trying to see him through a thick mist on the moor they used to sneak off to while in university.

Coming to her senses, she realizes the girls are still standing there, observing this whole interaction. She wipes at her damp cheeks once more, giving Jamie a nervous, confused smile, before her eyes trail down to Faith and Brianna.

Sniffling, she runs her hand over the girls' heads, trying to be brave for them. She glances back up to him, asking, "How?" and then, "Why? Wh… what?" The questions flood her mind, spewing from her mouth faster than he can probably process them.

Shock is one of the largest emotions in her mind right now, not knowing exactly what to ask, but needing answers immediately.

She's overjoyed and beyond relieved at seeing him, but… there's an odd sense of anger, too. Has he been in Spain this whole time? He's been alive this whole time! Why didn't he reach out to her… let her know where he was, or that he wasn't actually dead? Why is he even here and not home with them?

Jamie tries to smile, though it's more of a grimace, and he glances over her shoulder. His eyes focus back on her as he wipes his eyes, mouth opening as if to answer one of her unfinished questions, but Bree bounces by her side, obviously tired of being left out, and tugs on her hand. She's hiding partly behind Claire's leg, shy but giggling when Jamie's blue eyes catch her whisky ones. He looks over to Faith then, who is standing, mouth slightly agape, looking at him with wide, blue eyes.

He smiles at her, softly, almost questioningly, and reaches his arms out as if to beckon their child to him. He looks hesitant, and it breaks her heart, but she understands. He's been gone for most of her life, all of Bree's life. God, this is so damn disorienting. Faith leaps into his embrace, though, giggling as Jamie whispers a leannan into her red hair like he used to do so often.

Faith begins to softly cry then, hugging around his neck tightly, her little hands wrapping in her father's now brown curls. His hair is no longer red, shorter than he used to always keep it, and it strikes her as odd.

"Daddy," Faith murmurs wetly into his neck, "I thought you were in heaven?"

If Claire's heart could physically shatter, it would've done so right here in this moment. Her eyes gloss over yet again, sniffling as she watches Jamie hug Faith even closer, kissing her ear.

"Oh, Claire…" he mumbles, looking to her for guidance.

Shaking her head, she blows out a breath, trying to discern how to explain this to her children. "Faith, baby, we'll explain everything later, okay?" is what she settles on, knowing in the middle of a café with people all around is not the place to do this.

Faith's lips purse, old enough to try and figure this conundrum out, but eventually she just shrugs, hugging around Jamie's neck once more.

Claire smiles softly, rubbing Brianna's back.

Jamie's eyes brim with tears again as he kisses Faith on her temple before setting her back down beside Claire. "And this must be our other bairn?" he gestures toward Bree, who is still holding on tightly to her pant leg.

His voice jolts her out of the way she'd zoned out, watching Faith and Jamie embrace. It hits her that he's barely spoken, but of course, this would be the first question to leave his mouth.

Nodding, she wonders if the tears will ever dissipate as she stammers out, "Y-yes… this is Brianna."

"Bree-ana," he practices the syllables on his Scottish tongue, face scrunching. It brings a smile to her face, watching him say the name again. He leans closer to Claire at that, conspiratorially, and whispers, "Christ, what a terrible name for a wee lass." He tries to wink at her—something he could never truly do, it was always more of an exaggerated blink—adding, "Ye always loved that one, though, despite me wanting to name her Julia."

Images of the two of them sitting in bed, or around the kitchen table, cuddled on the couch, always debating baby names, flash through her mind. He'd been determined to name their newest baby Julia after Claire's mother, a sweet tribute no doubt, but Claire was always partial to Brianna. Brian, Jamie's father, had been the only parent the two of them had known as adults.

She had met Jamie when they were both in university, her a third year and he a first. They were both at the campus coffee shop, and in her haste to get to class, she'd spun too quickly on her heel, bumping into the large Scot that was standing far too close to her.

"Bloody hell," she exclaimed, bending to pick up the fallen coffee cup.

He leaned down at the same time, their heads bumping together.

"Och!" he hissed, grabbing at his head as she grabbed for hers.

Their eyes met, and they began to laugh. He'd apologized, saying he'd been trying to read the menu and didn't realize how close he was standing.

His accent was adorable. Despite being at the University of Edinburgh and being surrounded by Scottish accents, his drew her in, almost wrapping her in an odd sense of warmth, like she'd known him forever.

After that day, they'd begun meeting at the coffee shop before class several times a week, and before she knew it, she was introducing him to her roommate, Geillis.

There was an instant connection between her and Jamie, something she couldn't explain, but it was a feeling she knew she never wanted to let go of.

After just a handful of months dating, Jamie had invited her to Christmas at Lallybroch, his family's estate in the Scottish highlands. She had no family left—her parents had died unexpectedly in a car crash when she was five, leaving her to be raised by her Uncle Lamb. He'd sadly passed during Claire's first year of university, leaving her truly alone for the first time in her life.

The first year after Lamb died, she'd spent Christmas with Geillis' family. It was nice, but it made her sad seeing a big, happy family, knowing that she'd never have that again.

The next one, the Christmas Jamie invited her home with him, she was simply planning on sleeping through as much of the break as possible to catch up on all the sleep she'd lost that semester, but when he'd smiled at her in that boyish way, she knew she couldn't refuse.

While there, she'd also met his sister, Jenny, and her boyfriend, Ian, as well as a family friend, Mrs. Crook, that had helped take care of their family home since Jamie's mother passed away years before.

Brian was amazing. He'd welcomed her with open arms, as if she was a natural part of the family, and over the years, he became the only father figure she'd had since her Uncle Lamb. He was kind, and funny, and he loved to rib Jamie about proposing to Claire whenever he could.

Three years after her graduation, and a year after Jamie's, they'd finally gotten married. They'd wanted to wait until Jamie was done with school so he could find a job while she attended medical school. Claire was twenty-six, and Jamie twenty-four, and Brian had luckily been able to make it. He'd been diagnosed with lung cancer the year before and passed away eight months after their wedding.

She thinks of Brian, and her own parents that orphaned her so young, and poor Uncle Lamb, feeling consumed with all the loss she's had to deal with over the years. Jamie's death was just another one piled onto an already overflowing stack of grief, but his death hit the hardest, crushed her in a way she never thought anything could. Losing a parent is one type of pain, but losing your other half, your better half, knowing that you could have had an entire lifetime together was a type of pain and heartache she wishes on no one.

Seeing him now fuels that anger back up inside of her like gasoline to a flame. He knew how much she'd lost in her life, how could he have left her to think he was dead?

Despite her agitation toward him she snorts at Jamie's distaste for the name, the moment catching her by surprise. "It's a beautiful name. I wanted to name her after your father," she tells him, giving him a pointed look, trying her best to tamp down the smirk tugging at her lips. "And her middle name is Ellen."

His eyes soften at that. His mother, Ellen, had always been a sore spot for him, never quite healing from her sudden death when he was a teenager.

Claire watches as his eyes mist over, and he chokes out, "Aye, 'tis a beautiful name."

She's glad he approves, knowing Faith had been a big argument before she was born. Claire didn't like the name, but Jamie insisted it was adorable. He'd always been more rooted in tradition than she was, and having a religious name made him happy.

She'd rolled her eyes on more than one occasion, never fully agreeing to the name. They'd settled on Elizabeth as her middle name, seeing as it was also Claire's, but they argued up until she went into preterm labor over her first name. When the day of her birth came, however, it was inevitable.

Faith's birth had been a hard one, Claire losing too much blood and almost dying in the process, part of her placenta not being removed correctly caused a slew of complications that the hospital later profusely apologized for, much to Claire and Jamie's chagrin. Due to the complications and being born weeks ahead of schedule, Faith had been sick, not getting enough oxygen.

Claire had never prayed so much in her life, but from the moment she woke up from her own surgery, she and Jamie begged God to let their child live.

In the end, their little miracle had pulled through, and when asked what name to put on the birth certificate, Claire had looked to Jamie with watery eyes and announced, "Faith."

Her breath catches in her throat at the memory, and she bites down on her bottom lip.

She makes a sound, somewhere between a choked scoff and a forceful exhale, shaking her head in disbelief. "You, uh, you look amazing."

Claire fights the urge to roll her eyes at herself, knowing that was the most awkward thing she could have said in this moment, but it just came to her mind and something about seeing Jamie before her has made her go a little dumb.

He's got stubble now, just a bit of scruff. She always loved when he let it grow out, his tiny hairs delicately scratching at her velvet skin when he'd kiss her.

His hair is shorter now, he always wore it a tad longer, but it's clean this way, she thinks, and it looks good. He's also sporting reading glasses, which he promptly removes at her compliment.

She may not know what's going on, but one thing is for sure, he's still the same attractive man she'd vowed twelve years ago to love and cherish for all of her days.

He smirks, a sheepish tilt of his head as his chin ticks against his chest. "Ye don't think I look like an auld man?"

Huffing out a soft chuckle, she shakes her head, promising him that he doesn't. "You look as dashing as ever with those." She notions toward the glasses in his hand, smiling.

She runs a hand through her hair, suddenly self conscious. "I suppose we've both seen a few years. I've got wrinkles I never had before."

Jamie shakes his head, giving her the most gentle of smiles. "Ye're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

The feeling of a weight crushing her would feel better than the way her stomach twists at his words, but she's pulled from the moment like a crack of lightning when Bree giggles again, saying her friend at school just got glasses, too, and they're really cool!

They both snicker, but Claire asks, "Bree, do you know who this is?" pointing toward Jamie.

The youngest red head nods shyly, looking up at Claire wordlessly with wide, doe like eyes. She motions for her mother to come closer, so Claire bends down. Bree cups her hands around her mouth, whispering far too loudly, "That's my daddy."

She smiles, telling her she's correct, hugging her closely to her body.

This is all so strange, standing here, seeing him, talking as if nothing has happened between them. She doesn't know how to feel or even how to act. She can't cry and scream in the middle of this courtyard, but she doesn't want to turn a cold shoulder toward him either. She wants to do a million things to him—kiss the very breath from him, slap him, hold him...—but most of all, she wants answers, and she knows Jamie well enough to know she'll get them in due time.

They all stand there a moment longer, Jamie's eyes darting between the three of them, clearly unsure of who to look at first. There's an awkward silence growing between them, but he takes Faith in his arms again, then reaches out for Brianna.

She's more hesitant than Faith had been, gripping at Claire's pant leg, but Claire encourages her softly. She's only ever seen pictures of her father, so she can only imagine what is going through her little mind. Bree steps over to him, wrapping her tiny arms around Jamie, and as soon as both girls are in his embrace, he chokes out a tiny sob, tears falling onto his cheeks.

He kisses both of their heads reverently, whispering sweet Gaelic words into the space between them, and Claire stands there, unsure of what to do.

She's elated to see him, but confused, hurt, excited… she loves this man, but she's also angry at him. Her head starts to pound from all the conflicting emotions swirling about, and it's frustrating. She just wants answers.

Silent tears descend down her cheeks, knowing deep down, no matter how confused or angry she feels, there has to be a good explanation for his disappearance. There just has to be.

"Jamie…" she states, knowing she can no longer hold back. She's getting more upset by the second, not having answers to what the hell is going on.

This isn't some family reunion with a relative they haven't seen in years. This is her husband back from the dead. Fuck.

She reaches up, tangling a frustrated hand in her brown curls. She looks at him pleadingly, expecting him to still be able to read her mind after all these years apart.

Apparently he can, because he straightens and releases his hold on the girls, nodding. He looks around, and she can't help but notice that he looks nervous, before his eyes land back on the girls. He smiles at them sweetly, then trains his eyes back on her, a serious look on his face. He takes a minuscule step toward her, saying lowly, "We should get out of here. Go somewhere where we can talk." She nods, just as he amends, "Yer wee glass face is giving too much away to all these strangers."

She knows her emotions have always been just under the surface of her face, always showing in an instant, so she nods silently, a pit of dread forming in her stomach like a rock hitting the murky depths in a pond. Something is wrong, she can feel it.

Taking the girls' hands, she leads them back across the courtyard to their table to collect their items.

When she turns around, tucking her cell phone into her back pocket, she jumps. Jamie is standing right there, close behind her, and images of that eighteen year old boy in a coffee shop whizz through her mind momentarily. He was always stealthy like a cat, and it hits her that he's really here, really the same man he always was.

"Where are ye staying, mo nighean donn?"

She tries not to smile at the nickname, but she can feel her lips twitch. Pointing in the right direction, she tells him the name of their hotel, and he nods.

"Let's go there, then, aye?" he questions, "it'll be easier tae talk."

Taking the girls' hands once again, she leads the way. Faith slips out of her grasp, taking Jamie's hand, and Claire thinks that his smile in that moment could rival the sun with its luminosity. As they make their way down the path, across a few streets, and up the small hill their hotel sits upon, Faith and Brianna excitedly tell Jamie about their hotel room the entire time.

She grins, listening to them talk. They'd been so excited when they landed days before, seeing their hotel for the first time. Knowing they would be here for a week, Claire had booked a suite, and it was the best decision she could have made. It had two bedrooms and a living room with a small kitchen space. It was perfect.

The girls had their own room, which five days in was now scattered with toys, and the kitchen was nice to have so they could cook breakfast some mornings.

When they arrive, Claire gets the girls settled in the living room, turning on a movie and letting them play with their Barbies. She kisses each of their heads, running her fingers through their hair, assuring them that, "We'll be just over there in the bedroom if you need us."

Faith nods, mumbling a distracted, "Mmhmm," while Brianna is already tuned into the movie and blocking out the rest of the world.

Jamie stands behind her quietly, observing her actions and every move. She can tell he's uncomfortable, unsure of what to do, which is understandable since he's missed six fucking years of their lives.

She knows she needs to tell the girls more, but what to say, she doesn't know. They'd handled it surprisingly well so far, but they are children, so she's positive they don't really understand the implications of their father being back from the dead. She knows if her parents had shown back up when she was their age, she would have just been excited, not thinking to question everything else.

This is confusing as hell, though, and she needs answers before she can tell them anything more. She doesn't want to say the wrong thing, worries it will upset them. Will they need therapy after this? Will she? Probably…

Clearing her throat, she pushes those thoughts away, and points toward the bedroom. She pushes on his shoulder slightly, urging him to move.

Once inside, she gingerly closes the door, not wanting to disturb the girls, then moves toward the two chairs in front of the window.

They each take a seat, and she can feel her heart trying it's best to leap from her chest. It's beating so loudly that it's pounding in her eardrums, the sound of the air conditioner and Jamie's heavy, nervous breathing all drowned out. She pleads with her own heart to calm down so that she can hear everything he could possibly have to say, so she takes a few deep, calming breaths, licking her lips as she looks back up at him.

Her palms are sweaty, her breathing shaky, but she wills herself to get through this, to listen and be open to whatever he has as a way of an explanation.

In the last half an hour since they've left the café and made their way to the hotel, her mind has been overrun with thoughts, playing out different scenarios in her head of how this happened—maybe he secretly works for the CIA, or he'd simply left her for another woman and didn't have the heart to be honest… perhaps he's just an asshole who was having a midlife crisis at thirty-six years old and decided living out his days as a bachelor in Spain was a better option—whatever his reasoning was, he better tell her soon.

The longer she has to play out all the different plots in her mind, the more infuriated and annoyed she becomes. She can feel the heat creeping up her chest, her skin flushing as she tries to contain her emotions.

He hasn't said anything, looks almost unsure, so before she can lash out, she takes another deep breath, blowing it out shakily as she glances over at him one more time. With watery eyes, she says, "So… start from the beginning."

{*************************}

Thoughts?

Chapter Text

Chapter Three:

Jamie is nervous, she can tell.

He may have been gone for six years, but including those six, they've been together for going on nineteen now, and she'd know his tells anywhere.

He clenches his jaw, his fingers tap rhythmically against his thigh, and he breathes heavily… All of which he is doing right now.

She longs to reach over, to place her hand over his that's thumping on his leg, wants to soothe him and tell him everything will be okay. But she can't… not until she has some clarification.

She knows it's unfair, and she feels bad for being angry. She's happy as well, relieved, ecstatic, a whole range of emotions, but she's also barely stopped crying since she found him. It's a perplexing situation, one she was never equipped to deal with in medical school. There was never a "What to do if a patient comes back to life" course, let alone your spouse.

He takes a deep breath, then reaches over to her cautiously, like a caged animal afraid to be set free.

Her eyes sink closed, just briefly, before opening them again and opening her hand up to his. Her arm is propped against the armrest of the chair, and he beams when he realizes she's giving silent permission to him to hold it, to ground himself to her in this way.

His eyes are brimming with tears as they trail down to their hands, his eyes fixated on her wedding ring. His thumb rubs over it reverently, almost as if he's not convinced it's truly there.

"I never took it off."

His lips purse, and she knows he's trying to hold back another sob, but he nods instead, the corner of his mouth turning up in a small smile.

"Claire," he begins, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. "I dinna ken how much I'm allowed to tell ye, alright? But I'll do my best."

Confused, her head tilts, but she nods. What is happening?

"We promised no lies, remember?" she asks, thinking back to almost two decades ago, when they were just young adults falling in love and figuring out what that truly meant. They'd promised each other that they could each have secrets, but no lies, and in the twelve years they were together before his death, they'd each held up their end of the deal, so she has to trust that whatever he's about to tell her will be the truth… no matter how much it may hurt her.

He nods at her question, looking back down to her wedding ring. She notices his is still firmly in place on his left hand as well, and she can't fight the smile that brings to her face.

Clutching her hand gently, his fingers pulse around hers before his gaze finds her again.

With a deep, heavy breath, Jamie tells her about going out to get the ice cream she was craving, and once again she's hit with a wave of remorse. All of this is her own fault. If she hadn't begged him for that stupid frozen treat, none of this would have ever happened.

It's a fact that she's berated herself with for so long, one that she's worked hard to stop convincing herself of. But the truth of the matter is, no matter what anyone else says, it was her fault. He never would've been at that convenience store otherwise.

"There was a scuffle outside the store," he explains, shaking his head. He recounts that fateful night, saying that he was just trying to leave and get home to her and Faith.

His tears cannot be contained anymore at the mention of their eldest daughter, and he reaches up to wipe the tears away. Her heart aches watching him suffer like this, and she longs to reach out and touch him.

Speaking around the lump she can hear in his throat, he goes on, telling her how he was just, "in the wrong place at the wrong time, ye ken?"

There were two groups of men, gangs he now knows they were, and they had guns drawn on one another in the middle of the street. "I heard them talking about a shipment of weapons that was coming in, saw a man shoot another across the way, and then everyone started fighting."

Jamie clears his throat, his eyes scrunching shut. It's obvious he hasn't gone over these details in a while, that night haunting his vision, and she squeezes his hand, realizing where this story is going.

It wasn't his fault.

He tried to turn the corner, to slink away without being detected, but luck was not on his side. "One of the men saw me," he says, rubbing his thumb along the back of her hand, "an' he pulled his gun on me. Shot me in the shoulder."

She gasps at that, pulling her chair closer to his. He says he remembers falling to the ground, screaming out in pain as he clutched his wound, and then there was another shot to his leg. "That one hurt even worse, I think," he admits, looking at her sheepishly as if he's ashamed of not being able to bear the pain of a gunshot wound. She would never think less of him for that, ever, and she hopes he knows that. She does all she can do in this moment, letting him garner comfort from their joined hands, squeezing his palm to let him know she's there for him. "I didna ken which bullet wound was worse, so I switched to holding my leg as I tried to crawl away." His tears fall, and he sniffles, adding, "I just wanted to get home."

His voice breaks at the admission, and she can no longer hold back her emotions. She lets out a shuddering breath, crying along with him for the accident.

"I wasna fast enough, I'spose," he drawls, his voice coming out in a whimper, clearly trying to reign in his tears.

He continues his account of that night, telling her how one of the men caught up to him before he could make it into the shadows of the alley way. "They dragged me through the streets," he says, his free hand reaching to rub at his neck self consciously.

Jamie is a large man, so she can only imagine the strength of these men. She knows that even with two gunshot wounds, he would've fought for his life. Would've fought to get back to his family.

"It was that road we always joked would blow our tires out, remember?"

She does. That road was always so bumpy and torn up from years of neglect from the city. She used to make Jamie drive over it at the end of her pregnancies, willing labor to start.

Nodding, she whispers that she does, and he tells her he was there. That was the road they dragged him down. She knows that, had been told by the police where her husband lost his life. She's driven down that road countless times, crying silently as the girls chattered on in the backseat, none the wiser to what that spot held for their family, but hearing it from him for some reason feels like a punch to her gut all over again. "Felt like miles," he declares, "though I'm not sure how far they actually took me. I passed out, ye ken?"

He's not sure of all the details after that, just recalls waking up three days later in a small hospital hours away from their home.

Turns out, it was two rivaling gangs, arguing over an arms deal. One of the men dragging him down the pavement ended up being an undercover cop, and he rescued him, taking him to safety and making sure he lived.

"I had to have surgery, they say, to stop all the bleeding, but my back is covered in scars now from the road."

She curses everything, all of this, knowing that if she'd been allowed to know of what happened, then she could have been at that hospital, cataloguing all of his injuries and helping him heal. She would have taken him in her arms, letting him cry through the pain, helping him to feel human once more.

Jamie smiles small, looking back up to her. He's been staring at the ground at her feet, almost ashamed, and she wishes more than anything she could take that shame away from him. He is not to blame here, and it breaks her heart that he somehow feels embarrassed over this whole thing. "I'm lucky, I guess, that Officer Grey was undercover." He squeezes her hand once more, disclosing, "He's the only reason I'm alive."

When he woke up in the hospital, Officer John Grey asked him what he remembered and took his statement.

Jamie says that John informed him he was now under the protection of the US Marshals. Turns out John wasn't just a police officer, but an agent for the federal government. They'd been trying to capture the mob boss, Master Raymond, for years. He'd been buying, selling and trading illegal weapons internationally, and was slippery enough to weasel his way out anytime the feds got close to catching him. Jamie was unfortunately caught up in it now and would need to testify once it was safe.

"So they put me in witness protection, ye see, moved me to North Carolina to a safe house."

"What about my wife? My child?" he demanded, angrily. "My wife is just weeks away from giving birth, damn it!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Fraser," Officer Grey said, genuinely sounding apologetic, "there is no other choice."

John Grey told him of Master Raymond's weapons dealing, and how they'd been trying to catch him for some time. "I've been undercover for almost two years trying to set up a bust."

He apologized again, saying he had a husband and child, too, so he understood how hard this was.

"So Claire just… thinks I'm… dead?" He shook his head, enraged. "That's all ye could tell her!?"

John nodded again sadly, spewing another meaningless apology.

"I know it's not an ideal situation," John declared, clasping Jamie on the shoulder, "but this was the only way to keep you from being killed by Master Raymond."

Jamie sighed, taking it all in.

Officer Grey told him that he'd be put in protective custody for a few months here in Wilmington, North Carolina, while he and his team worked on the details of the case and tried to get a trial date set.

"So that's where I am, aye? North Carolina?"

That's hours away from his family in Georgia. He longed to see Claire, to tell her he was okay and not to worry. He wanted nothing more than to hold his girls in his arms.

Claire would be all alone. Sure, they had friends, and a handful of family members, but… it just didn't feel the same knowing she'd be without him. He and Claire had landed in Georgia a month after their wedding six years ago. A month before their wedding, Claire was offered a prestigious residency at Emory University Hospital, and it was too good to pass up. So, after their honeymoon, and with a heavy heart, they'd said goodbye to their family in Scotland and headed for America where he'd work for his Uncle Dougal at his distillery. He wasn't particularly close with his uncle, but it was a job, and that was what he needed.

Claire would have Geillis, he knew that. The woman had ended up marrying his Uncle, oddly enough, and Claire had been beyond thrilled when her friend joined them a while back.

She had Joe, and he knew Murtagh would never leave her side, especially not now. His godfather had moved to the states when Claire was pregnant with Faith, claiming he wanted to witness Jamie becoming a da and vowed to be there for them no matter what, just as he had been for Jamie his whole life. Knowing Murtagh would be there was somewhat of a comfort, but… Fuck, this was awful. His poor Sassenach.

His eyes teared up thinking of his wife, and Faith, and the pain they must be feeling. His heart broke at the knowledge that Claire was not allowed to know he was actually alive. She would have to live with the heartache of being a widow when really he was right here, just two states away, longing for her.

Claire's mind is swarming with thoughts and questions, trying to process all of this information. She wants to be present, wants to take all of it in and support him, but holy hell, this is like something from a movie.

She feels her chin tremble, and she realizes she's weeping far harder than she thought. She sniffles, blinking the tears away to see Jamie is crying just as much. Claire takes his other hand in hers, gripping it tightly as she fully realizes that he didn't choose to leave them.

Deep down, she thinks she's known that all day, but seeing your husband after grieving the loss of him for years, makes you conjure up a whole slew of situations to contemplate.

"By time I woke up in the hospital, they'd already told you I was… dead." He chokes on the last word, bringing one of her hands up to his lips, kissing her knuckles and breathing in her scent. "I'm so sorry, mo ghraidh."

Sniffling back the tears, she nods. "I'm just glad you're alive," she whispers, trying to contain her tears. "We have to tell Jenny!"

"No, Sassenach," he says sternly, shaking his head. "We canna do that. No one can know I'm alive. It's already dangerous enough with you knowing."

Closing her eyes, she breathes out slowly, cheeks ballooning out. She knows Jenny will want to hear all about their vacation when it's over, she's already been texting her and asking for pictures of the girls, but hearing her voice will kill Claire. She'll have to avoid calling her sister-in-law, simply in fear that she'll break down in tears and spill the biggest secret of her life.

Her heart is aching, and she feels so conflicted over Jamie's story. She's worked so damn hard over the last few years to grieve, heal, and learn to live life again. She has Frank back home, a man that loves her, and...

Shit. Frank. She feels bad, guilt gnawing at her stomach like hunger pains. She hadn't even thought of him until just now, but she knows she needs to tell Jamie the truth.

"Jamie…" she starts, trailing off again. The look in his eye pains her, those crystal blue eyes staring into the depths of her soul. "I need to tell you something." He studies her face, and bloody Christ, why is this all so hard? She takes a deep breath, preparing herself for what she needs to confess. "I… I have a… a boyfriend." She grimaces at the word, worried how he will react. There was probably a better way to deliver this news, but, oh well, it's out now and there's no taking it back.

She watches as his face falls, crumbles into anger. He drops her hands, standing up abruptly. His hands fly into his hair, tugging at it in obvious anger. She can see the veins protruding in his neck, and she knows from experience that he's about to explode.

Claire wants to feel lousy, but damn it all, he was dead. She had every right to move on, and it's not fair that he gets to be angry but she doesn't.

"A boyfriend," he scoffs, whirling back around to glare at her.

She stands, refusing to be the meek and obedient type who sits by and gets berated. "Yes," she declares heatedly through clenched teeth, trying not to let her voice get too loud with the girls in the next room. "You were dead, Jamie. You left me, what other choice did I have?"

"Left you?" he seethes, stepping closer to her.

And isn't that just so typical of him, trying to intimidate her with his large frame? They'd had their heated moments in the past, this is nothing new to her, though she can't shake the feeling of wanting to smile at how familiar this all feels.

"I didna leave you, Claire," he growls, his eyes growing wide, "I was taken and put into witness protection."

"Yes, I heard you the first time you told me," she spits back. She reminds him that in her world, he was dead, gone and buried. "Was I supposed to stay home and be depressed for the rest of my life? No! I needed to live life again, Jamie."

"Aye, and ye did," he says, his teeth clenched. "Ye healed with yer legs spread for another man!"

The slap to his face was unexpected, but he was just so close, and his words provoked her, enraging her with the accusation. She doesn't care if he's back from the dead, he has no right to speak to her like this.

Thoughts of Frank flash through her mind. They may have been together for seven months, but she hasn't slept with him. It was too much the times they tried to be more intimate—more than just hands roaming beneath belt lines and heated kisses—but she'd always clam up, thoughts of Jamie clouding her mind and making her feel guilty.

Frank had understood, had been so comforting in those moments saying that it was okay, and that they could take all the time in the world. He was there for her, no matter how long it would take her to be ready for sex. He was always so patient and understanding, and she appreciated it more than she could put into words.

She won't tell Jamie that, though, not right now anyway. His words have pissed her off even more; he doesn't deserve the satisfaction of knowing she hasn't slept with anyone since him.

"I would have waited centuries for ye, Claire!" he states, his voice growing louder. "Ye could ha' done the same!"

She scoffs, shaking her head. "Waited!? What was I waiting for Jamie? You were dead."

Her hand lifts again with that, but Jamie grabs her wrist before she can slap him once more, growling for her not to touch him.

"Oh, well, I'm used to that!" she cries, the tears springing to her eyes. "I haven't been able to touch you in six goddamn years because I thought you were buried six feet under the ground!"

He drops her wrist then, tears spilling from his eyes. He takes a few shaky steps away from her, his face a mix of confusion and regret as he sinks to his knees in the middle of the room, covering his face with both hands. "Hearing ye moved on breaks my heart," he croaks, crying, "It's tearing my guts out, Claire, but… I ken ye had a life wi' out me." He looks up to her then, "It would be unfair of me to stay angry over that."

Her shoulders slump, furrowed brow and clenched jaw all relaxing as she kneels beside him, her hand resting on his back. She can feel the scars beneath the thin fabric of his t-shirt, and that knowledge, the feel of his fight to stay alive, jars her.

She sobs into his shoulder, burying her face in the crook of her neck.

They stay like that, arms winding around one another as they cry together. Weeping for all the years lost, for the fact that he missed so much of his children's life, crying over their harsh words spoken in the heat of the moment when they should really be celebrating that by some sheer miracle they've found one another again.

The emotions overwhelm her, and she fears her wracking sobs will draw the girls' attention to them, but she can't help it. She may have been overjoyed but also angry earlier, but now there's nothing but relief.

Jamie is here. Alive. And the sensation washes over her like a shower pouring over her skin after a long, grimmy surgery.

The tears continue to flow as they pull apart, just far enough to see one another, to take the other in once more after all this time. She and Jamie reach up simultaneously, wiping away each other's tears.

"I'm sorry, Jamie," she cries. And she is, for slapping him, for being angry when she should've been listening to him, for moving on when he was actually alive… "Forgive me," she begs on a shaky exhale.

He takes her face in his palm once more, thumb brushing against her skin gingerly. "Forgiven," he breathes, pressing his forehead against hers. "I'm sorry, too. I dinna mean the things I said, I was sore and said more than I meant." He tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, cupping her jaw as he inquires, "Ye forgive me, too?"

She bites her lip to stop it from trembling and nods. Their foreheads are still pressed together, her eyes almost crossing when she opens her eyes to look at him. Her hand is resting on his cheek, but she moves it enough that her thumb can rub against his chin as she declares, "Forgiven," as if it were the most obvious thing in the universe. She says it without thought, without hesitation, knowing there was nothing in this world he could do that she would not forgive him for.

Jamie's thoughts must mirror her own, because he tells her that she needn't ask for forgiveness. "There's nothing ye've ever done or could do that I wouldna forgive ye for, mo chridhe. I love ye too much for that."

He takes her hands in his, gently this time, tugging her up to stand with him. He kisses her wrist where his hand had been holding it moments ago. He hadn't held them tightly, nowhere near being painful, but she can see the guilt in his eyes.

She wraps her arms around his shoulders, and Jamie concedes, "I ken ye thought I was dead, mo ghraidh, and I canna fault ye for trying to move on." He pulls her closer, rocking their bodies back and forth. "It's been six years, 'tis good of you to try an' be happy again."

His words flood her with relief, never truly realizing how much weight she'd been carrying on her shoulders as a widow trying to move on.

They pull apart, both wiping at their eyes. Jamie motions back to the chairs they'd vacated, and she nods.

He stands, reaching his hand down to her. She takes it, and he pulls her up, smiling over at her. She smiles back, a bit nervous, and as he makes his way over to the chairs, she cracks the door open, peeking in on the girls to make sure they were okay. She's afraid their argument, no matter how brief it was, may have gotten louder than she thought.

Much to her relief, both girls are on the couch, Faith's little arms wrapped around Bree's as they watch The Little Mermaid, their favorite thanks to Ariel's red hair.

Smiling, she turns back around, heading for Jamie.

"They okay?" he asks softly, and she grins.

Nodding, she assures him they are safely absorbed in the world of Atlantica and none the wiser to what is happening in here.

"So," he starts, clearing his throat. "Tell me… about this boyfriend."

Biting her lip, she keeps it brief. "His name is Frank… Frank Randall." She tells him they met at Geillis' yoga studio, and Jamie chuckles at the knowledge their friend finally opened her own studio.

Claire tells him that Frank is a professor. He's kind and is great with the girls, but when she sees the uneasy look on Jamie's face, quickly ends with, "We've been dating for about seven, almost eight months, but I've known him for years."

He nods, obviously trying his best not to get upset. He changes the subject soon after, asking about the girls instead.

This is a much safer topic, and she sighs a breath of relief.

Claire beams, pulling out her phone and opening her camera roll. She taps the top of the screen, sending it to the very top. The first few are pictures from when he was alive. She'd gotten a new phone just days before they found out she was pregnant with Brianna, so her entire pregnancy is documented.

"These you remember," she giggles, showing him pictures of him laying his head on her belly and trying to take a selfie.

He laughs, scrolling down the page some more.

She stops the scrolling, showing him pictures that Joe had taken of her, Faith and newborn Bree in the hospital. "Joe was there for the birth," she explains, "and Murtagh, of course," and Jamie beams, saying he's glad.

"No' another pair of men in the world I'd rather be there with you than those two."

She smiles right back, showing him some more photos of the girls. There's one she loves, it's of Faith holding Brianna for the first time, and her little pudgy face beaming into the camera.

Then there's Joe and Geillis smiling over the newest addition. She shows him a handful of pictures with Murtagh, Jamie laughing as he says his godfather has aged.

"I'll be sure to tell him that," she laughs, then stops, realizing she won't be able to. No one can know he's alive. Her face falls, but she clears her throat, flipping to the next photo. "Murtagh loves the girls, of course," she smiles, saying he's been their rock all these years.

Jamie nods proudly, saying he expected nothing less. "And Jocasta?"

She chuckles, knowing they always poked fun at Murtagh for moving to Georgia "for them" but really she and Jamie knew it was because he wanted to be closer to Jamie's long lost aunt, Jocasta, that they'd only discovered lived in Georgia months after moving there when Dougal let it slip oh so casually that his sister lived nearby, shocking them all.

"They're married," she tells him, scrolling to a picture of their wedding. "Finally made it official three years ago."

He smiles widely, bringing the phone closer to his face to inspect the picture. "Good for him!"

They spend a few minutes discussing his godfather, but before long, the conversation goes back to their girls when Claire shows him another picture of Brianna, this one of her and Faith in the kiddie pool in their backyard.

Their swollen bellies are poking out of their polka dot bikinis, and Jamie snorts, shaking his head.

"Adorable," he chuckles wetly, his eyes brimming with tears. "Tell me about her. What was her first word?"

"Dog," Claire laughs. "She loves dogs… and horses. And really anything to do with the outdoors." She smirks over to Jamie, knowing he was always the animal lover out of the two of them. "She started Girl Scouts this year."

"Yeah?"

She nods, opening up her Instagram to show him a picture of Bree in her little brownie uniform from a few months ago.

He smiles at it, then switches back to her camera roll, wanting to see more of her as a baby. She knows it's because he wants to see every little thing that he missed, and she loves him for it.

"What about after dog? What did she say?"

"No."

He snickers, stating, "Aye, they always seem to learn that one fast."

She chuckles, too, remembering Faith's first word was Da and then very quickly after that was No.

"Stubborn wee things, the both of 'em."

They laugh and agree that their genes were bound to create hard headed, independent little girls.

They spend the next twenty minutes or so going through pictures, laughing and crying as Claire shares as much history of the girls' lives as she possibly can.

One picture is of Faith in the background clapping as Bree takes her first steps. "Oh, I have a video of this!" Claire exclaims, swiping through to find it.

Pressing play, she hands Jamie the phone, observing him as he watches their youngest take her first steps, gurgling wildly as she walks toward Claire.

"I remember when Faith learned to walk," he says, wiping away his lone tear.

"Claire! Claire, look!" he shouted, gesturing madly toward little Faith. "I think she's going tae walk!"

Claire rushed in from the living room, joining her husband and daughter in the kitchen. He'd been fixing the broken table leg, Faith playing dutifully with a pile of toys next to him.

They watched as Faith stood on wobbly legs, bouncing where she was and grinning up at her parents.

"Ye can do it, a leannan," he encouraged, taking out his phone. He opened the camera, pressing record as he took a few steps back. "Come to Da, come on, sweet girl!"

Faith's chubby hands reached out for him, her head turning to look at Claire.

Claire smiled, biting down on her lip as she gestured her head toward Jamie. "Go to Da, baby, you can do it!"

She stood behind her, ready to catch her if she fell, and Faith took a tentative step toward Jamie. Once her little leg made contact with the floor in its new location, she started making babbling noises, lifting her other leg and moving it forward. "Da!" she gurgled, arms reaching for him.

He kept motioning with one hand for her to come to him, stretching his hand out for her to grab, while his other held tightly to the camera.

She finally made it the four steps it took to get to him, Jamie scooping her up and peppering her chunky cheeks with kisses as she squealed in delight. "That's my girl!"

Claire joined them on the other side of the kitchen, pressing a kiss to Faith's little foot before connecting with Jamie's.

The rest of the afternoon was spent placing Faith down, encouraging her to walk a few steps, and every time being just as excited as the last.

"I canna tell ye how many times I've watched that video, Claire." He tells her that even though John had the police give his phone to Claire, he'd had his photos and videos transferred to another so Jamie had at least a small part of his life to look back at. "It's probably against the rules," he snickers, "but John is no' one to stick to 'em."

Smiling, she wipes furiously at her cheeks, thinking of Jamie being tucked away, alone, in North Carolina, watching videos of their life together.

She knows that's how he must've spent most of his time, because it's exactly how she spent hers. She realizes that just because he didn't die, doesn't mean he didn't have a life to grieve as well.

With that thought, she plasters on a smile, showing him more pictures and videos of the girls over the last six years and recounting all the joyous occasions in their daughters' lives.

"I canna believe I've missed so much," he mumbles, jaw clenching as he swipes through more pictures of them. His finger traces along the lines of Brianna's face in one picture, saying how much she looks like Claire.

"I've always thought she looked like you," she chuckles, "especially now that your hair is cut short; the curls are gone." She pouts a bit at that, always loving his curls, but knows he had to change his appearance to stay safe.

He snorts, saying she's a good mix, whereas Faith is mostly him with those blue eyes and strong jaw.

"They've both got the Fraser cat eyes," she giggles, showing him another picture of the girls from last Christmas. They're sitting in Santa's lap, grinning madly, none the wiser that the grumpy Santa is really their Uncle Murtagh in disguise.

Jamie's laughter erupts from him, his stomach shaking with the force of it as he looks at his godfather scowling behind the excited little girls' heads. "Please tell me ye have this one framed."

She laughs, swatting at his arm.

He goes to speak again, but before he can say anything, the door bursts open, Brianna bounding inside. She hops onto Claire's lap, head almost knocking Claire in the chin as she declares, "We're getting hungry. Can we eat now?"

Laughing softly, Claire kisses the top of her head and wraps her arms around her belly. "Alright then," she says, "let's order something."

Bree hops off her lap, running into the living room with a yayyyy as she tells her sister their plans.

Claire smiles over to Jamie, and they both stand, making their way into the other room.

{************************}

An hour later, their food has been delivered from the hotel's kitchen. They'd decided that ordering in would be better so they could talk freely. Claire isn't sure how safe it is for him to be out in public, hadn't thought to ask, but she'd rather be safe than sorry.

"Why are you in Spain?" she whispers, taking a bite of her pasta.

The girls are sitting around the coffee table, happily dazed out as they eat and watch another movie, so Claire feels okay asking him.

He smirks, saying that he wanted to get away. "John's husband, Hector, is from here. Well, his family is anyway," he tells her, taking a sip of his water. "When they told me they were coming to visit his relatives and let their daughter, Sophia, meet them, I kind of… weel, invited myself along."

She laughs and blushes a bit, but she takes his hand, saying she's glad he ended up coming.

"Aye," he chuckles, saying once he heard they were going, he just had to tag along, seeing as Spain was always their dream destination.

"I guess Spain was calling us to it," she quips, sipping on her water.

Once the movie ends, Claire asks the girls to listen up. They each turn their attention to their parents, Bree nestling into Claire's lap while Faith sits in the chair next to Jamie's.

She and Jamie try to explain as best they can what has happened, how and why daddy is back from the dead.

Jamie tells them that a bad guy hurt him, and since he's not in jail yet, Daddy has to hide.

"Is that why your hair is brown now?" Faith asks, her little button nose scrunching up with a giggle.

He snickers, tapping her on the nose. "Aye, 'tis. D'ye like it this color?"

Faith pretends to think, a dramatic mmmm coming from her.

"I like it!" Bree says, telling him it's the same color as Mama's.

"You've never seen his real hair, though!" Faith laughs, and Bree crosses her arms, declaring with a pout that she's seen pictures.

"I've seen the same pictures as you," she tells her older sister, sticking her tongue out.

Shaking her head, Claire lightly admonishes, "Girls, no need to argue," but she can't help the warm feeling inside her chest as her girls argue over who has seen their daddy the most.

They explain to the girls that since Daddy is still in hiding, no one can know he's alive, not even Uncle Joe, Aunt Geillis and Uncle Dougal, or Uncle Murtagh and Jocasta.

"Woah," Faith breathes, but eventually nods. She equates it to some kid-spy movie that Claire isn't sure she's even seen, but their eldest seems to understand the situation to some degree, while Claire thinks Bree is just nodding when Faith does, not quite grasping the situation.

Claire can barely wrap her mind around what is happening, so she knows this is confusing for their children.

Once they've explained all they can, as best they can, Claire declares they can watch one more movie. The girls bound over to the couch with whoops of excitement. They watch one more all together, Bree cuddles in Jamie's lap, waving her messy-haired Barbie in his face, causing him to laugh as she rambles on, telling him all about the doll and why she's her favorite.

Faith sits between them, her head in Claire's lap, her feet pressed against the side of Jamie's thigh. She throws her two cents in about the movie every now and then, but as Claire twists Faith's curls with her fingers, she can feel her breath evening out and knows she's growing tired.

When the movie ends, both girls are asleep, Bree snoring softly in the crook of Jamie's neck, while Faith tosses and turns, trying to get comfortable in between her parents.

Claire turns the television off, thankful they'd left the light above the sink in the kitchen on so they could see.

She stands, picking up Faith with a practised ease. She whispers, asking Jamie if he has Bree or if she needs to come back for her, and he shakes his head, promising he can do it.

He stands, his big arms holding onto her protectively, and the sight warms her heart.

They pad gently into the girls' room, the moonlight from the window providing enough illumination to help them see. Both girls had changed into pajamas hours before, thankfully, making this process much easier.

Claire lays Faith down in the twin bed closest to the window, pulling the blanket up over her. When she finishes, she watches as Jamie does the same with Bree, bending down to press a feather light kiss to her temple.

Just when she thought she'd cried all the tears possible in her body, her body revolts, bringing a fresh set of tears to her eyes.

Blinking them back away, she kisses Faith's head, stepping over to Bree's to do the same as Jamie places one to Faith's temple, too.

Once they leave the room, Jamie closing the door softly behind him, they make their way over to the couch again.

Claire removes the Barbies stuck in the cushions, Jamie breathing out a laugh through his nose. "Barbies galore, I see."

"You have no idea," she giggles, tossing the last one onto the coffee table before plopping down onto the couch.

She can see that her you have no idea cut deep, the look on his face one of a wounded animal, and she apologizes quickly.

He waves her off, though, promising her it's alright.

"So," she says, slapping her leg, trying her best to change the subject. "I know you're on vacation now, but... are you safe here? I noticed earlier you kept looking around when we were in the courtyard."

Nodding, he explains that it's just a force of habit these days. He's spent the last few years looking over his shoulder anytime he went outside, and even though there's absolutely no way Master Raymond or any of his gang members could find him here, he never wants to let his guard down.

She can understand that and tells him so. "What about North Carolina, though? Are you safe there?"

Smiling, he informs her that he's been well protected there, John and his team still putting the case all together but working around the clock to make sure he's safe. "They don't want to miss a single detail so that all this work isn't in vain."

She asks him about John, noting he'd mentioned him several times, and Jamie says that he and Hector have become his best friends. "He truly saved me, Sassenach."

Her heart lurches at the nickname, eyes misting over at the sound of it rolling off his tongue. It's a name he'd brandished her with just days into meeting, claiming she was the only outlander he'd met at school, and therefore was his sassenach. He hadn't said it yet today, and she has to speak around the lump in her throat when she answers with, "I'm glad you have him."

"Aye," he smiles, recounting what it was like moving to Wilmington. John gave him a new identity, setting him up with a fake ID and all the proper paperwork he'd ever need to prove that he was, in fact, Alexander Malcolm.

She smiles at the name, knowing he got it from two of his middle names.

James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.

She'd made fun of him back in college when she'd learned his full name, saying it was a mouthful, but when he explained all the family meaning behind it, she conceded that it was a beautiful name.

"It's a good name."

He smirks, "Aye, 'tis."

Jamie goes on, telling her that John and Hector came to Spain before the trial begins in a few months, knowing they wouldn't have time to visit Hector's aunt and uncle for a while if they didn't go now. "I dinna want tae tell you in front of the bairns, ye ken, but John's team has finally gotten a date set for trial in June and they're working 'round the clock to get all their ducks in a row so they can put Master Raymond away for good."

Until the trial begins, he'll continue his life in North Carolina. "Hector owns a farm near my house," he says, smiling brightly as he tells her he works there, grooming the horses.

"You love working with horses."

He smiles again, saying, "Ye askin' or purely making an observation?"

"An observation," she grins, biting her lips. "And the distillery?" She knows he took the job with his Uncle Dougal simply because he needed a job in Atlanta once she took her position at Emory. It was easy, seeing as Dougal owned the company, and he was able to get Murtagh a job, too, but she always feared he was never truly happy with his work.

"Och," he grunts, "Canna say I loved it. I was good at it, but," he sighs, "working wi' the wee beasties on the farm just gives me more of a sense of purpose, ye ken?"

She nods, but before she can say anything, he adds that it's peaceful, and he loves it, "but sometimes it gives me too much time to think."

He admits to spending his days imagining her and the bairns. "I've wondered for sae long what Brianna looked like, or even what her name was." He runs a hand through his hair, taking a sip from his glass of water he'd left on the coffee table earlier. "I ken we'd been going back and forth between Brianna and Julia, but I thank ye for honoring my da like that, Claire."

She tears up at his words, knowing in her mind, there was never a question to it. Brian had been such an important part of their lives, and naming a child after him just made sense.

"Oh, and I have a roommate," he chuckles.

Her eyebrows scrunch, trying to imagine a thirty-six year old man with a roommate. "Oh, really?"

Jamie smirks, saying their house is big enough that it wasn't hard to get used to. "His name's Fergus," he explains, "though I ken that's not really his name. Poor lad got stuck with that as an alias."

She snickers, shaking her head at him. He seems happy talking about his new life, and though there's a twinge of something in her stomach that makes her think maybe he prefers his new life, she's glad that he hasn't been miserable all these years.

Jamie goes on, explaining that Fergus was brought to the house a year ago, which took Jamie some getting used to. "Our work hours are pretty different, though, so we rarely see one another, but he's a great guy. Almost feel like he's a long lost son of mine or something."

Fergus is twenty-four, and Claire can't imagine being that young and being put in witness protection.

"Does he have a family?"

Jamie shakes his head, informing her that they're not allowed to discuss their real lives. "It's part of the protection, ken?" he asks. "But I can tell he probably has a wife and a bairn or two based on the way his face changes when little kids are brought up in conversation or we see something on television."

Claire nods, not able to imagine how hard that must be on them. "I'm sorry, Jamie," she murmurs, a lump forming in her throat, and she curses herself for the tears forming in her eyes again.

He shakes his head, taking her hand in his, and promising her that she has nothing to be sorry for.

"It's all my fault, though," she cries, once again telling him that if he hadn't gone to get her that damn ice cream, none of this would have ever happened. "It should've been me, I—"

"—No, Sassenach," he says with so much passion, she would've fallen to her knees if they weren't sitting. "'Tis better this way. I can bear pain myself, and loneliness, but I couldna bear thinking ye had perished." He shakes his head at the though, gathering himself before he says, "That would take more strength than I have, and our girls needed ye."

She rubs her lips together, wondering if she'll ever stop crying. Wiping away the tears, she nods, knowing she'll never win this disagreement, they're both far too selfless when it comes to the other, so she lets it go.

"Christ, I've missed ye so much," he says, sniffling back more tears.

She nods, knowing she's missed him just as much but unable to form the words to describe truly how much. She can't decide who had it worse—Jamie, knowing they were all alive but couldn't contact them, or her, thinking her soulmate had passed away.

"We both got royally screwed over in this situation," she says dryly.

He agrees with a snort, saying he regrets going out that night, has beaten himself up over it for years because he'd been at the grocery store the day before. "If I'd just grabbed that damn ice cream then… I kent ye'd be wanting it at some point soon, I should ha' just grabbed it then." He blinks back more tears, telling her that he's played that day over and over again in his mind. "If only I hadn't been a wee daftie, we would never have been in this situation. I could've been wi' ye through Brianna's birth, could've helped raise our girls." He chokes on his words then, emotion taking over. "I'm so, so sorry, Claire."

She wraps him in her arms, crying and saying again how sorry she is, too.

"I'd like to sit here and play the blame game," he says, "but truly, after all these years, I ken it was Master Raymond's fault and no one elses."

She dabs at her eyes, agreeing that there's no sense in blaming themselves any longer. It's happened now, and all they can do is move forward.

"Jamie," she says, reaching over to take his hand. Their fingers intertwine, resting on the cushion between them, "what do we do now when we go back to America?"

He sighs, saying he'll have to talk to John. He'd text him earlier, saying he would be back at their hotel later, which resulted in a string of texts from John asking for details, and several missed calls that Jamie had ignored. He tells her that he'd text John to say he'd found her and the girls, and John was giving them tonight to talk before he intervened, followed by several texts to be on the lookout, be safe, and to check in every hour even if it was just with a thumbs up emoji.

"So that's what you've been doing," she giggles.

He laughs, saying John is quite protective, for good reason. "But as far as America goes," he says, pausing to think. "Mebbe now that ye ken I'm alive, ye and the girls can move to North Carolina…" he looks timid, shrugging as he admits, "I hate to ask ye to uproot yer lives like that, but…"

"N-no," she says, stumbling over her words as the thought hits her for the first time. "No, that makes sense, I suppose. You're still under the government's protection, so…"

Thoughts of Frank fill her mind, of how she'll tell him. She's conflicted… Frank has been so good to her, she can't just disappear on him, but can't think of what she'd say. He's helped her through her grief and supported her. She can't just leave him… can she?

She thinks of her job, the hospital she loves so much. She thinks of Joe, Geillis, and Murtagh, how they'll be devastated for her to move states away with no explanation… she can just imagine Murtagh now grunting his dissatisfaction at her and asking never ending questions as to what brought the decision on. He'd probably blame Frank somehow, Murtagh has never liked him.

Her life is rooted in Atlanta, though, so are the girls'. They have their school, their friends, their home. Faith has her ballet class and piano lessons, Brianna has Girl Scouts and horseback riding... It would be a lot, but this is Jamie. Her husband.

She bites her lip, unsure of what to do or say.

"What will I tell everyone?"

Jamie bites down on his lip in much the same manner, clearly just as unsure as she is.

He says he can ask John tonight, and she nods.

After an awkward beat of silence, he stands, clearing his throat. "I should be heading back to our hotel," he states, "John will worry if I don't make it back before ten."

Nodding, she stands, smoothing down her shirt. She tucks her hands in her back pockets, rocking on her heels.

The thought of letting him go right now, of sending him away, pains her, but she also wants to be alone to scream and cry in the shower where no one can hear her.

"I don't want you to leave," she whispers, images of the last night she ever saw him coming to the forefront of her mind. Her fear grips her, terrified that if she lets him go right now, she'll never see him again. She could wake up tomorrow and realize this was all just a terribly wonderful dream. He smiles at her, though, leaning in. Her breath catches in her throat as she thinks he's going to kiss her, images of Frank coming to the forefront of her mind.

His lips instead land chastely on her cheek, and when he pulls back, he smiles sadly down at her. "I dinna want tae either, Sassenach, but I ken ye need some time to think about all of this."

Smiling, she goes to apologize, but he holds up a hand, saying, "Dinna fash," before he grabs his phone from the table.

Tucking it in his back pocket, he takes her hand, leading them to the door. He says John has already ordered a car to come pick him up and it's waiting downstairs, so she sighs, wrapping her arms around his neck.

He breathes into her skin, causing goosebumps to flare as she holds back tears.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" she asks, knowing she sounds like a child, but praying he says yes.

"Aye, of course," he whispers, kissing her cheek once more, his lips lingering there longer than moments before. "I love ye, Claire."

A lump forms in her throat as she feels as if her whole body begins to shake with emotion. "I love you too, Jamie," she states, and she does, no matter how much time has passed or how much of a boyfriend she may have, she does love Jamie. What that means for her, and him, and even Frank, she's not sure, but she'll figure that out.

As she closes the door behind him, her phone vibrates in her back pocket. Too mentally exhausted at the moment, she simply presses her head to the cool wood, wondering what in the hell just happened and what she was going to do.

She pulls out her phone as she steps away from the door, stopping dead in her tracks when she reads the message.

Miss you. Haven't heard from you all day, but I hope you and the girls had a wonderful time exploring. Can't wait until you three are back here with me.

Frank. Fuck.

She needs to tell him, and all her friends, something, but she knows it can't be the truth. As she checks on the girls, seeing that they're still soundly asleep—Bree sprawled out like a starfish, and Faith sleeping straight as a board, save for her one hand resting above her head—only one thought rages through her mind: This is going to be far more complicated than she thought.

{************************)

There we have it! The truth is out… now we have to heal from it and move through this messy situation! lol What did y'all think? :)

(And just a side note for anyone who knows about witness protection: I know that usually with WP, they take the person's family into protection too, but, ya know what? This is a fictional story, and I wanted to write *this* story LOL so… don't come for me hahah)

Chapter Text

Chapter Four:

The next morning, Claire wakes up to a handful of text messages.

Two from Joe, reminding her to take it easy and enjoy her vacation. She snorts at those, knowing things just got so much more complicated on this trip and relaxing was no longer an option.

One from Murtagh, just checking in to make sure she and the girls were having a good time. She smiles, thinking of the old coot back home, and sending him a picture she'd taken of the girls at the royal palace yesterday before her world turned upside down.

And then there's Frank. Claire has four more messages from him since last night, and she sighs, feeling uneasy. She'd responded last night that they were having a great time and she would call him tomorrow, which she wasn't sure if she'd be able to do. She also told him she was excited to see him in a few days, to which he responded with much the same sentiment, telling her he'd found a new restaurant for them to try.

Sighing, Claire locks her phone again, standing from the bed and stretching. Her joints pop and she rolls her neck, trying to wake up and get out of this fog she's in.

She pads over to the bathroom, splashing her face with cool water and washing it with her cleanser. She needs to check on the girls before she plans to shower or anything, so after brushing her teeth, she walks out into the living room and across to their room.

Opening the door, she grins, seeing they're still both in similar positions to last night. She chuckles to herself, knowing that they even sleep like their personalities—Faith a bit more put together, calmer, and Bree more on the wild and crazy side. She loves the differences in their girls, it makes them both so unique and special.

Claire closes the door softly and makes her way to the kitchen, turning on a pot of coffee.

As the aroma fills the space, she closes her eyes, inhaling deeply while the magical dose of caffeine brews.

Before the coffee finishes, there's a light knock on the front door.

Brows furrowed, she walks over, looking through the peephole.

Jamie.

She smiles, biting her lip to contain it. The sight of him stuns her, still wrapping her mind around the fact that he's alive.

She'd spent a good portion of her night after he left sobbing into her pillow, trying to grieve all the years they'd lost knowing they could've been together this whole time.

"Good morning," she greets, opening the door.

He holds up two cups of coffee, kissing her on the cheek.

The action makes her blush, but she takes the cup anyway, opening the door wider to let him in.

"Morning, Sassenach," he says, stepping into the living room. "Seems I beat ye to the coffee," he grins, pointing toward the coffee pot that just finished.

She giggles, taking a sip of the beverage he brought, moaning at the taste. "This is delicious," she says, taking another sip.

He tells her it's from a small café he'd discovered the other day and had since been visiting each morning.

Smiling, she motions for him to join her at the kitchen table, admitting she just woke up. "The girls are still asleep, but I was about to start some breakfast. I'm sure they'll be up soon, begging for food."

Jamie smirks, but stands, saying he'll do it.

She watches as he makes his way around the tiny kitchen nook, rummaging through the fridge and pulling out the only container of eggs. There's a loaf of bread on the counter, so she gets up, buttering the bread while he whisks the eggs together.

The simplicity of the action doesn't go unnoticed by her, nor him either, if the look in his eye is anything to go by. This all feels so domestically normal that it makes her eyes tear up.

Just as the eggs finish, the girls' door cracks open and Faith wanders out sleepily, rubbing at her eye with the back of her hand.

She yawns, looking up toward Claire, then Jamie. "Mornin' Mama, Daddy."

The sound of it coming from her mouth shakes Claire to her core, and she's once again amazed at how quickly children can adapt. She envies it, honestly.

Faith pulls out a chair, yawning again as Jamie sets her plate of eggs and toast down in front of her, kissing the top of her head.

He joins her at the table, speaking softly to her and asking if she slept well. She says she did, then launches into a discombobulated tale of a dream she had.

"And then there was this giant hamburger," she laughs, covering her mouth so as not to wake Brianna. "It was chasing a big container of french fries!"

Jamie laughs, "Och, sounds like an odd thing to dream."

"That's not the weirdest part."

He gives her a questioning look, so she continues with, "The french fries were chasing a polar bear!" She shrugs, giving him a crazy look, as if her dream was the weirdest thing she'd ever seen, which, by the sound of it, it was.

Jamie laughs again, shaking his head, then tells her of a dream he had of him and his sister, Jenny, running through the field at Lallybroch.

"I've been there!" Faith exclaims, "We went last year for Christmas break."

Jamie's face goes soft, looking over to Claire, then back to Faith as he nods, saying he misses it terribly.

Faith smiles, in her most understanding way, and pats his shoulder, "You'll go back one of these days, Daddy."

He smiles brightly, leaning over to kiss her cheek, thanking her before launching into a story about one of the horses at the farm in North Carolina and how it got out of the stables one day.

Claire leans against the kitchen counter, watching the two of them converse. It's adorable, and her heart aches at the knowledge that they've lost six years together.

Faith bounces from one subject to the next in rapid succession, obviously excited to have someone new to talk to. She tells Jamie about her dancing classes that she takes, saying ballet is her favorite.

"A wee dancer, aye?"

Faith nods, and Claire chuckles, joining them at the table. "Well, she tried singing lessons, but that quickly ended."

The little girl giggles, covering her mouth as she finishes a bite of food, then agreeing with her mother that singing was not her skill. "Och, Uncle Murtagh says I'm tone deaf like you," she tells him, her little Scottish mannerisms that she's picked up from her godfather popping out, "I'm much better at dancing!"

Jamie laughs, shaking his head, saying he's sure she would've been just fine at singing, but Faith gives him a strange look, saying even she could admit it was bad.

They all laugh softly, trying not to wake a still sleeping Brianna, but before long, the little hurricane is bounding out of the room.

Her hair is a mess, one side tangled up where she'd clearly slept on it too hard. Her blanket is trailing behind her while she has her baby doll tucked protectively under her arm.

She runs over to Jamie, climbing into his lap.

He scoots his chair back, laughing and looking over to Claire as he makes room for her.

Claire stands, making another plate of food for Bree, then fixing one for herself and for Jamie. He thanks her, and the four of them have a perfectly normal morning together, sitting around and talking about their dreams, Brianna telling Jamie all about her horseback riding lessons and Girl Scout troop, and Faith popping in between bites to tell him about her piano lessons that she loves.

"I just had a concert last month," she informs him, munching on her food.

"How'd that go?"

Faith grins, looking to Claire sheepishly, "Weel…" she trails off, Brianna's laughter interrupting the story.

"She forgot her song!" Bree exclaims, Faith shooting her eyes over to her.

Faith huffs, crossing her arms. "It's called a piece, not a song, and yes, I forgot it," she grumbles, clearly still upset with herself, "but I eventually remembered."

Jamie looks to Claire, and she pats his shoulder, explaining that Faith had practiced so much that she had the piece memorized, so she was insistent on not taking her sheet music with her, but when the time came, her nerves got the better of her and she froze on stage.

"I didn't freeze," she defends, shrugging, "I just got nervous, but I recovered!"

Claire smiles, pushing Faith's curls out of her face, "Yes, and you did wonderfully, sweetheart."

Jamie smiles, reassuring Faith that he's positive she did a great job. "Did ye happen to record it, Sassenach?"

She nods, reaching for her phone and showing him the video.

He watched, enraptured with the sight of his daughter playing the piano, and when the video ends, he smiles, chuckling wetly, "Aye, ye're a braw piano player, m'annsachd."

Faith beams at the compliment, thanking Jamie before taking another bite of her breakfast.

"And what of this one?" Jamie asks, pointing to Brianna, "Any videos of horseback riding or, er, Girl Scouts?"

Brianna chuckles, bouncing in her seat. "Yeah! Mama, show him the picture of me riding Mickey!"

Claire scrolls through her phone, pulling up a picture of Brianna sitting atop of black and white spotted horse. "That's Mickey," Brianna jumps in, taking over the explanation. "He's my favorite horse!"

She tells Jamie all about "her" horse, how he loves to eat sugar cubes and carrots. "His lips are gummy and tickle my hand when he takes the sugar," she laughs, holding out her hand as if Mickey's lips are right in front of her.

Jamie chuckles, nodding, "he's a braw horse, that one. D'ye ride him often?"

Bree nods, saying she goes to lessons every other week. "I was in a show a few months ago. I got to ride Mickey and show him off to people! It was so much fun!"

Before either Jamie or Brianna can ask, Claire pulls up the video, showing Jamie a snippet of Brianna riding the horse around an enclosure, letting everyone see.

"She also demonstrated how to brush his coat to a class of younger students."

"Sure did!" she says proudly, "It's 'cause I'm so good at taking care of him. I brush him and feed him, and Miss Kelly even lets me help with the younger kids' horses when I'm there."

"I bet ye are, a leannan," Jamie preens, ruffling her auburn tresses.

Once everyone has had their fill of breakfast, Claire excuses herself, claiming it time to shower and get ready for the day. She kisses her daughters' heads, smiling softly to Jamie and asking if he's okay to spend a few moments alone with them.

He waves her off with a good natured, "Take all the time ye need," so she slips into her bedroom, trying to hurry. She trusts Jamie, of course, more than she would anyone else with her children, but it's been years, and the girls barely know him, so she's afraid something might go wrong in the twenty minutes she needs to collect herself.

All her fears were for nothing, however, because after a shower, throwing on a small amount of makeup and fixing her hair to at least be somewhat presentable to the public in case they go anywhere, she opens her door.

The sight before her melts her heart, and she can do nothing but lean her shoulder against the doorjamb, watching the three of them.

The girls have apparently dragged out a handful of Barbies they'd brought with them, piling them in the living room.

Jamie is sitting with his back against the couch, the coffee table having been pushed up against the television console so they had plenty of room. Faith and Bree sit on opposite sides of the dolls, each picking out outfits for their dolls while Jamie does much the same.

"Does this look alright?" he asks, showing his Barbie to his daughters.

Bree nods enthusiastically at the orange pants and red top with polka dots, saying it looks amazing, while Faith's nose scrunches, saying as nicely as possible, "I think you could do better, Daddy."

He chuckles heartily at that, agreeing. "Och, okay then," he picks up a different shirt, this one solid white, and switches it out, "This better?"

Faith nods her approval, handing him a little jean jacket to put on his doll as well.

Claire watches with a smile on her face, amused that her children seemed to have packed more Barbie dolls and miniature clothing items than she even packed for them.

She's so happy for Faith and Brianna, elated that they get to spend this time with their father, knowing that when they leave in a few days, they'll have to say goodbye to him, and she's not sure she can handle that right now.

This is all so messy, so complicated.

Her heart and her mind are at war with one another. Part of her wants to throw all caution to the wind, wrap her arms around Jamie, and promise everything will be alright, wants to tell him that she and the girls will move to North Carolina with him and support him through the trial. The other, more rational part of her, thinks of her job, and Frank, and her friends. Her life is rooted in Georgia. She'd just bought a house three years ago, finally moving from the home she and Jamie had chosen when they were engaged. Living there had been too painful of a reminder of him and everything she'd lost. She'd finally started to feel at peace, at home, in her new house and now she was just as confused as ever.

Worse yet, she couldn't talk to Geillis or Joe about it, or even Murtagh. She couldn't give Frank a true explanation if she did move to North Carolina because no one could know that Jamie was still alive.

Fuck.

This really, truly sucks.

She's pulled from her thoughts by Faith's giggles as the curly haired beauty makes her Barbie dance, telling Jamie that it's one of the dance moves she's learning in class.

Just then, Bree spots Claire in the doorway, squealing and inviting her over to join them.

She does, of course, sitting criss-cross across from Jamie, smiling softly at him as he hands her another Barbie. "They've got plenty, take this one," he jokes.

Grinning, she takes the brown-haired doll, picking out a cute outfit for her. They spend the next twenty minutes giving their Barbies voices, Jamie's high-pitched impersonation making all three girls giggle, and having their dolls plan to go to the mall to buy more clothes.

The girls eventually grow bored, climbing onto the couch behind Jamie to turn on Moana, while she and Jamie work together to at least organize the dolls into a neat pile. "You girls need to go put all of this away before we do anything else," she commands, giving them her best mom stare when she can tell they're about to protest.

Faith pauses the movie, a little eye roll accompanied with her climb down from the couch. Ever the sweet tempered one out of the two, though, she dutifully collects her dolls, telling Bree to do the same thing.

They work together to pick them all up, and Claire and Jamie collect the clothes to take to the girls' room with them.

Once done, Jamie and the girls pile onto the couch, Faith and Bree excitedly explaining the movie to him since he's never seen it.

Claire busies herself cleaning the kitchen, wanting to give them as much time together as possible before they have to leave.

Jamie joins her after a while, saying, "Did you know the ocean calls her to it?"

She giggles, nodding, saying she's seen Moana enough times to recite it almost verbatim.

Sitting down at the table, Jamie takes her hand, his thumb rubbing soft circles against her skin.

"Yer skin was always sae soft, like velvet," he murmurs, his blue eyes piercing her whiskies.

She can feel a heat creeping up on her pale skin, knowing her blush will show before long if she doesn't change the subject. She feels like a little school girl around him today, and she's not sure why.

"How did John take everything last night?"

Jamie sighs, sitting back a touch in his chair. He tells her that things are exponentially more complicated now that they've found each other. "John is verra concerned about people finding out now," he says, an err of caution to his tone. "Especially with the girls." He looks over to the living room, their little mops of red hair sticking up just barely above the couch.

She can understand the worry, the girls are young, and kids say things sometimes without thinking, so no matter how annoyed she wants to be with this John Grey, deep down, she knows he's right.

"He just said we'll have to be verra careful, especially once we get back to America."

Claire nods, not sure how to tell him that she can't go to North Carolina, not yet anyway. She has work, and the girls have school, and… "Jamie, about that…"

He gives her a nervous look, and she sighs, explaining to him all the reasons they can't just up and move to North Carolina. She's rambling, she can feel it, spewing words about her surgeries she has scheduled already, and how taking a leave of absence from work will take more than just a phone call. "I'll have to put in the paper work, and get it approved, and… and the girls have school still. Then there's… there's Frank," she says, glancing up to Jamie, "and Joe, Geillis… Murtagh. You think he's going to let me just up and move the girls to Wilmington without so much as an explanation?"

He laughs then, interrupting her rant. "I ken, Sassenach, I ken. I dinna mean for ye to fly straight to North Carolina with no warnin' to anyone."

Her shoulders slump at that, letting out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Oh," she chuckles breathlessly, breathing a sigh of relief. "So what's the plan?"

Grinning, Jamie, in such a typical Jamie fashion that it makes her smile, simply shrugs, saying they'll figure it out. "John and Hector are meeting us today, so we can make a game plan then."

Nodding, she checks her phone, seeing she has a message from Murtagh asking her to send him more pictures today, and one from Frank saying he'll call her tonight.

This weird sense of guilt washes over her reading Frank's text with Jamie right there, so she quickly closes it out, looking at the time. The morning has flown by and it's already after noon, so she stands, asking if everyone is hungry.

The girls jump up, twin yes, yes' filling the room. Claire smiles, hustling them off to get ready and telling Bree she would be in soon to help comb out her knotted hair.

She excuses herself, going to her room to throw on a pair of jeans and a floral shirt before darting across the hotel suite to help rangle the girls.

Faith is already dressed, smoothing her fingers through her curls. Brianna is half dressed, her jeans on but no shirt, so Claire goes to her suitcase, grabbing a green top with ruffled sleeves and tugging it over her head.

Grabbing a hairbrush, she runs it under the sink, wetting it to brush out Brianna's tangles.

"Thank god for detangling spray," she mumbled, spritzing the liquid onto her daughter's head.

Bree squirms and wriggles, making this process much harder, but finally the tangles are out and the shirt is on, making her presentable for lunch.

When they walk out into the living room, Faith is sitting beside Jamie, explaining that Brianna sleeps like a crazy person, so her hair is almost always tangled like that.

"I do not sleep like a crazy person!" Bree exclaims, looking up to Claire. "Mama, Faith called me crazy!"

"I did not!" Faith squeals, standing up indignantly, her little hands on her hips.

Sighing, Claire rubs at her forehead, knowing they're both past the point of hungry, and they need food immediately. "Alright, alright," she soothes, taking Brianna's hand. "Your sister didn't mean you are crazy. No one is crazy, just your hair," she grins, making Brianna giggle. "Now let's go get some food before you two turn into little monsters."

When she looks over to Jamie, he's got this look on his face that she can't quite decipher. It's a longing look, and she wonders if he's just sad for all the time he's missed with them.

Before she can ask, he stands, taking Faith's hand and leading them all out the door.

{**********************}

"You okay?" Claire asks quietly as they stop to stand outside the restaurant, waiting for John and his family.

Jamie nods, saying, "It's just nice to see ye with the bairns, ye ken? They're bonny wee lasses, but it just makes me sad knowing how much I missed."

She rubs his back in comfort, saying he's here now, and he has all the time in the world to make up for the last six years.

Deep down, however, she has a worry, a fear, that all of this will blow up in their faces. How will this logically work once they're back home? What happens after the trial? What about Frank? Her head pounds with all the questions swarming about, so she pushes them back down, trying to enjoy the time they do have together.

"I dinna ken how to be around them. When they were arguing earlier, I wasna sure I could put an end to it. Thought mebbe I'd be overstepping my boundary."

"Jamie," she says sympathetically. "You are their father. If they're arguing, put your foot down." She grins, saying it'll be nice to not have to be the only bad guy. "Lord knows Murtagh never reprimands them."

Jamie chuckles at that, the tips of his ears turning pink. "I just want them to like me, but I dinna want ye to think ye're the only one who has to parent them."

She smiles softly again, chastely kissing his cheek, knowing deep down his fears are valid, but also knowing, based on how he was the first two years of Faith's life that he was always the soft one. He could never get into Faith as a toddler. "I don't think that," she says quietly. "But we both know you'd never get on to either one of those little gremlins, you big softie."

He laughs, shaking his head as that blush creeps from his ears down to his neck.

"Come on," she grins, "let's get a table."

They sit at a small table, Jamie just ordering waters for them as they wait for John. While they wait, Claire looks around, observing the other patrons while the girls color in a notepad she'd brought for them.

There are tiny bread sticks on the table, so Bree and Faith both munch happily on that to hold them over until the food comes. Thankfully it was enough to squash the hungry monsters trying to emerge, otherwise they would've had a meltdown on their hands.

Claire smiles, running her hand through Brianna's hair while she watches a young couple across the room. They're sitting close together, bodies practically in each other's laps, giggling with their foreheads pressed together. Their hands are roaming, finally connecting and intertwining atop the table.

"Do you remember when we were like that?" she asks with a smirk, bowing her head in their direction. "So obvious in public." She rolls her eyes good naturedly, grinning as Jamie glances over his shoulder to spy the couple.

"Aye," he huffs, "couldna keep yer hands off me."

She chuckles, swatting at his forearm that rests on the table, but she knows he's right. They were just like that when they first began dating at university, so young and in love, and if she's being honest, they were like that right up until he left that night.

Their eyes connect, Jamie capturing her hand with his own before she can pull it away. Their physical connection has always been so strong, that spark she feels every time they touch igniting beneath her skin. It was there when they were young, and it's still there now.

Her breath catches in her throat as the world around them seems to disappear, melting into a blur of nothingness as her whisky eyes settle on his blue. It's as if they can read each other's minds and souls without having to say a word. Their connection is so strong that it physically takes her breath away.

She inhales shakily, letting out a breathless chuckle, feeling awkward at the feelings he's stirring inside of her just by looking into her eyes, especially in a public place with their children sitting right there, thankfully completely absorbed in whatever they're drawing.

Before she can say anything, two men and a toddler walk up, one of them clapping Jamie on the back.

The movement breaks their moment, both of them blinking for the first time.

Jamie jumps, and Claire is suddenly on edge, worried this might be trouble.

"John," he says, smiling when he catches sight of the family standing behind him. "Hector." Jamie stands, hugging both men and greeting them with boyish slaps to their shoulder. "And hello to little Miss Sophia," he croons, taking the toddler from Hector's arms.

Claire stands as well, smiling at the men.

"John, Hector, this is my wife, Claire."

They both smile at her, Hector pulling her into a warm embrace.

John smiles brightly at her when Hector lets go, bowing his head as if he were meeting royalty, then looks up at her. His eyes are shining when he says, "My god, it is nice to finally meet you, Claire. Jamie has told us so much about you." He pulls Claire in for a hug, too, and she smiles. "Come, let's talk in private," John says, gesturing toward the back of the restaurant. Claire gathers the girls from the small table they've been waiting at, all of them walking toward a booth in the very back of the restaurant. It's extremely secluded, and Claire wonders how John managed to arrange this.

Claire settles into the booth, then helps Bree slide into the middle spot as Faith hops up on the end, watching as Jamie places Sophia into a highchair. Her heart aches, wishing she'd had years of this, of watching him with their children. He's always been so good with kids, even before they had Faith, and she just knows that after Brianna, they would've had more. Jamie always joked about having twelve, which she resolutely put an end to, but she knows deep down, she would've had as many children as possible with him.

"She's adorable," she says as Jamie sits in a chair at the end of the booth, unable to fit with everyone else.

John and Hector are on the other side of the booth, along with Claire's purse and Faith's jacket she'd insisted on wearing, despite the warm weather today.

"Thank you," Hector says, smiling proudly as he runs a hand over the little girl's head.

"How old is she?"

"I'm thee!" Sophia exclaims, holding up three pudgy little fingers.

Claire grins, congratulating her on holding up the right amount of fingers.

They spend the next few minutes ordering beverages and food, letting the girls talk and tell the table about the sights they've seen so far on their vacation.

Their food comes—a table full of paella, tortillas, and gazpacho—and everyone digs in, trying a bit of each dish.

After they've had their share, and everyone is sufficiently full, the conversation turns serious.

Thankfully the girls are completely besotted with Sophia, playing in her hair and talking to her in high pitched baby voices. Bree is telling her about their Barbie dolls, while Faith asks her questions to get to know the toddler. Sophia seems to be soaking up all the attention, and it's really quite adorable. Claire smiles over at them, then up to Jamie before her eyes settle on John.

"So, how did you come to work for," her voice lowers, head leaning closer to his side of the table, "the witness protection program."

John scoffs lightly, a smile upon his face. "I'm afraid I've come to be in my position by way of malediction, I believe."

Claire watches as Hector rubs John's back in comfort, telling him that's not true.

She smiles watching them; they're a sweet couple, and obviously love and support each other. Their actions remind her of her and Jamie, and it makes her happy.

"North Carolina is just a number of locations for me in a string of so called promotions," he says, looking to Jamie quickly with eyes wide, "Not that I don't love it."

They all laugh, John adding with a chuckle, "I would just rather us be settled in one place, DC preferably, so I could work my way up to the FBI in the National Security branch. That's the dream."

She nods, understanding what it's like to bounce from location to location for work. She'd been at a slew of hospitals before getting her position at Emory.

"So what brings you and the girls to Spain?"

She smiles, still not believing what kind of universe brought her and Jamie back together so many thousands of miles away from home. "I hadn't had a day off in months," she explains with a sigh, sitting back against the booth. Her hand reaches out, rubbing Faith's back absentmindedly. "I missed the girls, and it was their spring break, so I wanted to get away, just the three of us."

"That worked out well," Hector replies sarcastically, causing everyone to laugh.

"Right?" she grins, shaking her head. "Jamie and I had always planned to travel here one day, so when I finally took the time off, I knew this is where the girls and I should come."

"Amazing," John breathes, shaking his head in wonder. "It's like the universe was calling you two back together."

Hector rolls his eyes, saying, "You'll have to excuse my husband," he chuckles, nudging John's shoulder with his own. "He's a bit of a romantic."

John simply shrugs, looking between her and Jamie.

Grinning, Claire watches as all the men converse, paying special attention to John Grey. He's got such a sweet demeanor, always smiling and he's got a light in his eye that instantly makes her like him… which infuriates her because she wanted so desperately to hate the man that put Jamie in witness protection. She wants someone to blame for this whole situation that has completely fucked up her life, but it can't be John. He was just doing his job. Damn it.

Her face must be giving her away, like always, because Jamie laughs, reaching across Faith and Bree to tap her hand. "What's on yer mind, mo chridhe? Ye look as if ye want to chop John's head right off."

Blushing, she bites her lip, admitting to the group that she wanted to dislike him for all of this, but, "I just find that you're impossible not to like."

John grins, his chin tucking against his chest before he looks back up at her, a hand over his heart. "Well I have to say, that does bring me great joy."

"Perhaps it's because ye're both sassenaches," Hector says, trying his best to put on a Scottish accent.

"Och," Jamie grunts, pointing to Claire, "that right there is my only Sassenach, thank ye verra much."

They all laugh, Claire dissolving into conversation with John about where he's from in England and how he ended up in America as well.

He tells her how he came here for college, met Hector, and became a citizen once they were married. He had always wanted to work in intelligence and security, and worked his way up from a police officer to the Department of Justice.

She listens carefully, enraptured in his story. He's an interesting man, and she can see why Jamie likes him so much.

As far as federal agents go, Jamie seems to have lucked out in that department.

They spend another hour game planning how things will work once they're back in America. John tells Claire that they have a trial date set for the summer, and goes through the details of what is expected of Jamie during it all.

She nods, listening carefully, and hoping she remembers all of it. She feels the pressure already, and she can't imagine how Jamie has felt for six whole years living like this. It's like a double life, and she doesn't know if she would've been strong enough had she been in his position.

After another hour, Hector, John and Sophia make their exit, the little girl yawning wildly as she cuddles into John's chest.

Once gone, Jamie and Claire take the girls around town, letting them play in a park nearby the restaurant and then taking them to the Zoo Aquarium Madrid.

The girls love it, and for the rest of the day, Bree pretends to be the different animals they saw, while Faith decides she wants to study Zoology (after learning the term from Jamie).

It's a lovely day, normal in every sense of the word, but there's still that niggling feeling in the back of her mind that something is going to go wrong.

They make it back to the hotel, Jamie checking in with John and letting him know he'll be back to their hotel after dinner tonight.

As they settle into the living room, the girls exhausted from a day of sightseeing, Claire's phone rings.

She slips out from under Bree, settling her against the cushions. "I have to take this," she murmurs, Jamie nodding as she steps away.

The sounds of Coco play on in the background as Claire catches Jamie's eye. He's trying not to be nosy, she can tell, and she tries to get far enough out of ear shot when she answers.

She knows she didn't quite accomplish her goal, though, as she goes to close her bedroom door, swiping the phone open before she misses the call entirely, and Jamie's jaw clenches when she quietly says, "Hi, Frank…"

{***********************}

Thanks so much for reading...You guys are amazing! Now we officially know John and his family! I really enjoyed throwing in the Jamaica eye sex from canon into here like I did their fight by the river last chapter haha… If you're on twitter, feel free to share the tweet and help spread the word about this fic to others! And as always, please review and let me know what you thought of this one...Thanks! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Five:

A few days have gone by, and their vacation is coming to an end… but Claire's not entirely sure if she wants that or not. This definitely wasn't the vacation she'd dreamed of when she decided to take the girls to Europe for Spring Break, but she wouldn't trade anything in the world for the knowledge that Jamie is still alive.

Their flight is today, just hours away.

Jamie, John and his family are going to accompany her and the girls to the airport since their flight is just a few hours after theirs.

John, bless him, had gotten it approved for him and Jamie to change their flight plans to Georgia, sending Hector and Sophia back home to North Carolina on their own. They have a safe house just outside Atlanta where he and Jamie can stay, giving Jamie a few more days to work things out with her.

Claire is nervous, anxious to see how it will go having him back in their state again. He'll be staying about an hour away from her, but she knows Jamie, knows he'll spend every waking moment with her and the girls while he can, which is where her fears settle in. Will anyone see him? Will he stay inside the whole time? The questions build in her mind as she finishes packing the girls' suitcases.

"Ye alright?"

She nods, taking a shaky breath. She admits her fears as she sits on the edge of the bed, and Jamie joins her, taking her hand in his. Her palms are sweaty. They've barely touched over the last few days besides a few awkward hugs, bumps of their shoulders, and the occasional hand holding, but now that it's coming to an end, she's kicking herself for not holding him more, not embracing the sensation while she could.

He gives her hand a gentle squeeze, promising her things will work out.

Biting her lip, she nods in hesitant agreement, thoughts of home swirling in her mind. Murtagh will be the hardest to avoid; he'll be wanting to come over right away to see the girls. Then, of course, there's Frank. Joe and Geillis might be easier to dodge, she can just claim they're tired from the trip and recovering from jet lag.

"What will ye tell Frank?" he asks, pulling her from her thoughts.

Blowing out a breath, she stands again, folding one of Faith's dresses and placing it into the luggage. "I'm not sure," she admits, shrugging helplessly. "I feel awful, and…"

"Do ye still want to be with him?"

His question interrupts her train of thought, stopping her dead in her tracks. She's got one of Brianna's shirts halfway to her chest, mid-fold, and she halts, looking at Jamie. Sighing, she finishes folding it, dropping it into the other tiny suitcase on the bed. "I… no, I don't know, Jamie," she stutters, ashamed of admitting how she truly feels to him. She does know what she wants, but it's difficult for her to imagine how to get there without hurting someone in the process. She's hardly had a moment to herself to really sit and think about what all has happened or how to deal with it.

She turns her ear toward the door, listening for the girls in the next room. She'd directed them to collect all their toys from the living room and put them in one pile to make it easier to pack. "You have to understand this is hard for me," she says, plopping onto the other twin bed next to him. "I've grieved your death, I've visited your grave," her eyes water, and Jamie places an arm around her shoulders. Her head falls to her chest, taking a moment to collect herself.

Sitting up, she clears her throat, adding, "I've spent the last six years trying to get my life back to some semblance of normal for me and the girls, and Frank helped me do that." She rubs at her temple, another headache brewing just below the surface. "I have a life that involves him. He helped me see that life could still go on after such a gigantic loss… he's a wonderful man, and I'm sorry, I know this bothers you, but the girls love him. He's around all the time and even helps out with the girls when I'm working," she sighs. "He's rooted in our lives, and I just… I don't know what to do."

She knows her hesitation is more rooted in the having to lie to Frank aspect. Of course she wants to be with Jamie, knows how wonderful life was with him before, but she's changed over the last several years. She imagines Jamie has, too. What if they've both changed too much? Fear gnaws at her gut, plaguing her thoughts. How will this even work with Jamie still in hiding in North Carolina and her life so established in Georgia?

Her head pounds from the stress building inside of her, and she huffs, closing her eyes.

Jamie nods, silently trying to support her, but she can see the tears brimming in his blue eyes. She knows talking about how integrated Frank has become in their lives pains him—it hurts her to hurt him—but he has to know the truth. He's the only one she can talk to about all of this right now.

After a moment, he finally speaks, his arm coming from around her shoulder to hold her hand again. "I ken this is hard for ye, Claire." He brings her hand up, kissing the palm. "And if Frank is better for ye now, I willna stand in yer way of happiness. I just want ye to be happy, ken?" He wipes a lone tear from his cheek, saying, "That's all I've ever wanted."

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Why does this have to be so complicated? Why couldn't she have found Jamie three years ago before she knew who Frank Randall was?

She worries her lips together, trying to hold back tears. She focuses on the sounds in the living room, listening to the girls giggle with one another. She's well aware they're probably playing more than cleaning, but right now, she doesn't care.

Claire buries her head in his chest, crying softly. His strong arms wrap around her like a father comforting a hurt child, whispering soft Gaelic reassurances into her hair.

"We'll take the next few days to figure things out, aye? See how ye feel once ye're back in yer home and in yer routine."

She nods, loving this man no matter what has happened. He's always been so understanding, so selfless. She can tell his words hurt him to say, hell, they break her heart, too, but she knows he only wants the best for her. She wants the best for him, too, but she needs more than just the four days it's been since she found Jamie to figure everything out.

The last few days have been nothing but a whirlwind of equal parts elation and confusion. She feels constantly discombobulated, like her mind is racing in a cloud of confusion. Her head feels as if it is spinning in a dream that she can't—and doesn't want to—wake up from.

{***********************}

Hours later, once everything has been packed away, they make their way to the airport, a pit of dread forming in Claire's stomach.

The reality of life is starting to hit her, and she realizes this little bubble they've created in Spain over the last few days is about to pop.

Jamie hugs the girls goodbye as she hugs John, Hector, and Sophia.

She watches with tear-filled eyes as Jamie cries over letting the girls go, even knowing he'll see them tomorrow in Georgia.

"I'll miss ye both sae much," she hears him murmur, Faith and Bree both giving him sad little nods.

Brianna's arms circle around his neck, burying her face there as she mumbles something into his skin that Claire can't quite make out.

He stands with Bree still in his arms, and Faith wraps herself around his waist. Her head rests on his side as she looks up at Jamie, eyes shining as if she's looking at the moon.

They both love him so much, and Claire smiles despite herself as she watches the scene before her.

Turning back to Hector, Claire bounces Sophia in her arms and says, "You two be safe, okay?"

They've spent their last two days eating meals and spending time with John's family, and she's come to love this little girl. Faith and Brianna love her, too, treating the toddler like their own personal life-sized Barbie doll.

They would play with her thick, curly hair, putting bows in it and giggling as Sohpia chased them around. They'd all come back to Claire's hotel suite last night, letting the three girls watch movies and play dolls together.

It was adorable, really, and she's going to miss them terribly.

She kisses Sophia on the cheek, placing her down on the ground. The little girl bounds over to Faith and Bree, both girls encircling her in a group hug.

Hector chuckles, saying, "We'll have to try and get together if you guys ever make it to North Carolina."

She smiles, agreeing that they will.

John and Jamie join them then, Claire saying goodbye to John before Jamie takes her off to the side, leaving the girls with the other couple.

He wraps her in a big hug, his strong arms enveloping her in his heat. His body always ran warmer than hers, something she quite enjoyed on cold winter nights, but now it gave her a sense of melancholy, knowing she wouldn't have this feeling again for a while. Not like this, anyway, not just the two of them with no boyfriends or secrets hanging over them, looming like a dark shadow.

His lips press softly to the top of her head as he whispers, "Have a good flight. Text me when ye land."

Nodding against his chest, she wipes a tear from her eye, laughing derisively when he makes a comment about her tears never ending.

She picks up her carry on, calling for the girls to come join her.

She knows they're just as confused as she is. She and Jamie had tried explaining the situation to the girls as best as possible the other night, Faith understanding a little bit more than Brianna.

"A bad guy hurt Daddy," he told them as they all sat around the kitchen table. "And since he's not in jail yet, I have to hide."

Faith asked if that's why his hair is brown, and Bree said she liked it that color. The girls broke into a spat about who has seen more pictures of Jamie, and Claire had to put an end to it despite how happy it secretly made her that they had something to argue about when it came to their father.

They told the girls that no one can know, not even their aunts and uncles, which astounded both little girls, and Faith equated it to a kid-spy movie she had seen at a friend's house.

She knew Brianna didn't understand as much, usually just nodding along when Faith did, but they still had plenty of questions.

"Do you know who the bad guy is?" Bree asked, to which Jamie told her he does, but he's in Georgia, which is why Jamie was tucked away in North Carolina.

Claire could see that the knowledge of Master Raymond living in their state scared the girls, so she grabbed Jamie's hand and added, "But he doesn't live where we do, girls."

Her eyes caught Jamie's and he nodded, seeming to realize the effect his words had had on their children. "Aye, and he canna hurt ye girls, alright? Ye're safe where ye live now."

That seemed to placate them, based on their synchronous nods, but they still had plenty of questions, the curious little things that they are.

"What happens if Master Raymond finds you?" was Faith's question. Jamie pulled her into his lap, kissing her head and promising her that his friend, John, was working very hard to keep him safe. They'd meet him tomorrow, and Claire hoped that seeing the man protecting Jamie would help ease the girls' minds.

"He's like your fairy godmother!" Brianna giggled, perking up at the image clearly forming in her mind of this mysterious John dressed in a sparkly dress with a wand.

Jamie chuckled, looking toward Claire. "I'm sure he would love to ken ye called him that, m'annsachd, but nae, he's no' a fairy godmother." He smiled, letting Faith go so he could reach over and ruffle Brianna's hair. "He's just a police officer doing a verra fine job at his duties."

And the questions continued long after that, from "How long do you have to hide?", to "Can we hide with you?", which broke Claire's heart, to random questions about his new house—how many bedrooms it had, was there a playroom, how big was the backyard—and soon the girls had moved on from Master Raymond and his mob to just asking Jamie random questions about his life in general—what North Carolina was like, if he liked his job with the horses, and what he thought of his new roommate, Fergus.

She and Jamie tried answering their unending questions as best as possible, trying to be as sensitive as they could be when it came to Master Raymond, the trial, and witness protection in general.

Jamie had explained the term 'witness protection' but didn't want to give too many details other than that. The girls may have seemed to grasp the concept of why Jamie was in hiding, but giving them much more would just confuse, and possibly scar them deeper than Claire thought necessary.

It was a difficult conversation, but in the end, the girls handled it as well as possible.

Pulling herself from her thoughts, Claire smiles down at their daughters.

They say one more goodbye to Jamie, the girls a little teary-eyed as well, and make their way to their gate.

{*******************}

Once they've loaded the plane and gotten settled—headphones on and iPads playing movies until they have to turn them off for take-off—Claire flops into her seat, thankful that John got them upgraded to business class.

She is mentally and physically exhausted from what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation before the girls go back to school. Peering out the window, thinking over everything that's happened the last few days, Claire finds herself still heavily conflicted on what to do and how to feel.

The girls turn their iPads off for the ascension of the aeroplane, swiftly turning them back on, giggling together as they press play at the exact same time so their movies can play in tandem.

Smiling, she reaches over, running a hand through Faith's hair, then leaning over to press a kiss to Brianna's head since she's closest to her in the middle seat.

She closes her eyes briefly, then watches the clouds go by, the world below them growing smaller. She thinks of Frank, of what to say to him, how to explain what is happening without saying Jamie is actually alive.

Then she thinks of Jamie, and his smile, his understanding nature, and how much, despite what she's been trying to convince herself of, she still loves him with her whole heart. He's still the same man he was, a bit bruised and broken from this experience, but so is she.

She knows deep down, despite her fears of them each having changed too drastically, there isn't a thing in the world that could keep their bond from breaking.

After a while, she looks over, noticing that both girls have already passed out, and she chuckles. She observes the way they both smile in their sleep like Jamie, and how much they resemble her husband. They've always been her little pieces of him, but now she has him back, and that thought makes her feel like a jigsaw puzzle that was once broken, put back together with a few dings in it and now tossed around, skewing the pieces all over again.

She takes their iPads, pausing each of their movies and tucking them into the mesh pocket in the seat in front of them. She knows as soon as they wake up, they'll want to watch another, having not much else to do on the flight, but at least for now the devices won't slip and fall while they sleep.

After an hour or so of reading and attempting to watch an episode of Friends, Claire starts to drift off as well, images of her husband and her boyfriend vying for dominance in her mind. She bites at her lip, restlessly squirming as she fights her own mind, willing it to be quiet long enough to let her sleep. She'll need all the rest she can get now, because she has a feeling that later tonight, when Jamie lands in Georgia, she'll be facing both her men with no solution of what to do.

This is a terrible situation and she just wishes she knew how to handle it. If she ever saw a movie like this, she'd be yelling at the leading lady to jump into her long lost husband's arms, she'd think that was the logical thing to do, but now, being in this situation, she realizes how messy it truly is.

Frank is a good man, and doesn't deserve to just be left out in the cold. She needs to talk to him, needs to explain, but how… she doesn't know. She doesn't want to hurt him, couldn't live with herself knowing she'd left him with no explanation after he's been there for so long for her.

He's been one of her best friends for almost three years and has helped her see that moving on and starting to date again wasn't a bad thing. He'd let her take things slow, hasn't pressured her to do something she's not comfortable with, and she appreciates him more than words can say.

He plays an important part in all of their lives. He's always been such a big help with the girls, even when they were just friends—picking them up from school on days she had to work later and making them dinner, helping with homework, and he often accompanies them to practices when he's not at work or just lazing around the house on the weekends. He's truly involved with all three of them, and she knows the girls love him as well, which just makes this even more convoluted.

Huffing so hard that her cheeks puff out, she lets her eyes trail over to the girls. They're both curled up in their seats, the little blankets she'd brought from home tucked around them. The arm rest between them is lifted, Bree's head on top of Faith's hip, and she smiles.

No matter what may be happening around her, these two little rays of sunshine will always ground her, making her feel settled.

She tucks a corner of Brianna's blanket tighter around her foot, then closes her eyes, finally descending into a fitful sleep for the remainder of the flight.

Whatever will happen, will happen, and she just hopes she has the strength to get through it all in one piece.

{*********************}

Just a quick little update…. They're all headed back to America! What will happen now? Please remember Claire is just a wee bit emotional right now over everything. It's only been four days for her, and she's dealing with a lot so let's have a little patience with her (and me haha) as she figures life out! Lol

Thanks again for all the support of this fic; it truly means the world to me! Please let me know what you thought of this one, too! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Six:

After eight and a half hours, the flight finally lands. Claire slept, but she doesn't know if she'd really classify it as sleep.

When she did manage to drift off, she was plagued with images of Jamie and Frank's faces, both pleading with her to love them.

She now is not only mentally exhausted, but she's physically exhausted, too, her eyes burning with the need for more than an hour or two of slumber.

Frank had already agreed to pick them up from Hartsfield-Jackson before they left, so as they're waiting to deboard the plane, she quietly reminds the girls not to say anything to him about Jamie, and she wonders if the girls can actually do it. She hopes so.

God, this is so hard. Not only does she feel guilty about being with Frank when she now knows Jamie is alive, she's consumed with this overwhelming sense of guilt over asking the girls to lie.

She knows it's not a lie, per se, more just having a secret, but it makes her feel uncomfortable, a sick feeling in her stomach. Her gut is twisted, a sensation as if it's tying itself into a knot that will never be undone.

The girls both adore Frank, and asking them to do this is really unfair, but she has no choice. Frank cannot know Jamie is alive, not for any selfish reason, but for the safety of her husband's life. She trusts Frank implicitly, but this is just too big, too much. If Frank were to find out, it could get Jamie killed for real this time, and she'd never forgive herself for that.

As they ascend up the escalator, both girls gripping her hands, they spot Frank. He's standing just outside baggage claim with all the other people, a sign in his hand that reads Welcome home, girls! with a big heart drawn on the poster.

She smiles despite herself. He really is sweet, and the girls rush over to him, both squealing and hugging him in excitement.

"Hello, darlings!" he croons, laughing and hugging them both to his legs. He peppers kisses to the tops of their heads, smiling up at Claire as she approaches.

He has these smile lines around his mouth that she always found attractive, and they deepen when he looks her way. Oddly enough, a sense of calm washes over her at seeing him. Like everything in life is back to normal now that they're on their home turf.

He's comfort. She knows this routine; this is their new normal, and she has to admit that it's nice to see him.

When she finally gets to him, he wraps her in a warm hug, the mixture of his laundry detergent and cologne washing over her, and she almost wants to cry. She's missed him, and the emotions of the last few days are catching up to her. She wants to cry to someone, have someone who isn't Jamie or John or Hector listen to what she's going through… but she can't, and the reality of it all crashes back into her mind like a freight train crashing into a brick wall.

Frank kisses her, his lips warm and wet against hers. It's odd, really, kissing him with the knowledge of Jamie being alive in her mind, but she kisses him back, whispering that she missed him.

"You'll have to tell me all about Spain in the car, yes?" he asks, looking between all three girls. "I want to hear every detail!"

The girls are teeming with excitement, both bouncing on their heels as they nod and start rambling about different things they did, while Claire sends up a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that they both remember not to say anything about Jamie.

Wrapping one arm around her shoulder as he takes Bree's hand, and Faith holding Claire's, they walk to baggage claim and locate their items, the girls still chattering on.

"And we got to see the inside of a palace!" Faith exclaims, taking her suitcase once Claire grabs it from the carousel.

"You did?!" Frank asks, full of excitement, even though Claire had already told him of their trip to the palace on the phone the other night.

She grins listening to him animatedly converse with the girls, Brianna jumping up and down beside Frank and tugging on his sleeve. "I ran through the halls and pretended I was a princess!"

Frank beams, tapping the end of her nose, "Well that's because you are a princess, darling."

Brianna's eyes grow wide, looking around Frank and up to Claire. Her eyes then land on Faith who is smiling just as wide, saying if Brianna is a princess, then she is too, and the girls dissolve into a fit of laughter as they once again pretend to be royalty.

Once they pick up the rest of their bags, Frank helps them carry everything to the car and load up before setting off for home. They live about twenty-five minutes outside of Atlanta, and with it being a Friday afternoon, she knows it'll take longer to get there, which worries her. She's missed Frank, but she honestly wants to get home and send him away so she doesn't have to be on edge at every moment, afraid one of the girls will mention Daddy by accident.

While in the car, the girls continue telling Frank about the royal palace, the zoo, all the parks they saw, and the foods they ate.

"The pal… paletta?" Bree's face scrunches up. "Is that how I say it, Mama?"

"Paella."

Brianna nods, "Yeah, that! It was so good!"

Claire smiles to herself, listening as Faith pipes in, adding that she loved the churros best.

"Oh, yeah!" Brianna says, snapping her fingers as if just remembering the dessert they couldn't get enough of. "We gotta learn to make those! Frank, do you know how?"

Frank chuckles, looking at the girls from his rearview mirror. "I don't, but I'm sure I can learn. We can make them one day after school, how about that?"

Faith and Brianna's eyes grow wide, cheering in the backseat at the news, and Claire smiles, reaching to run her fingers along Frank's arm as he continues to drive, silently thanking him for being so wonderful with her children.

The girls tell him more about the zoo, and Claire's hand freezes on Frank's arm, knowing it was their first activity with Jamie. She goes still, her breath barely coming out as she worries her lip, especially when Faith claims once more that she wants to study zoology—a term Jamie taught her—because the animals were so fascinating. Claire doesn't think she'll actually stick with that, knowing Faith was so into it because of Jamie and his love for animals, but she'll let her figure that out as time goes on.

Claire's breathing returns to normal when Faith finishes her story with no mention of her father, and her hand continues it's path along Frank's arm.

He looks over at her, obviously noticing her momentary pause. He glances down as her hand, then over to her, before looking back at the girls again briefly.

"Sounds like you three had a great time!"

Frank smiles over at Claire once more, taking her hand. She intertwines their fingers, albeit hesitantly, smiling softly at him as the radio plays quietly. They get stuck in a bit of traffic on the interstate, and when the car goes silent, Frank looks in his rearview mirror, chuckling under his breath.

"They've both fallen asleep," he says, jutting his chin toward the back of his SUV.

Claire looks over her shoulder, eyes sinking closed in relief that she can relax a little. "We're all exhausted," she admits. "I didn't sleep well on the flight."

"Really?"

She shakes her head, thumb rubbing the back of his hand, and she's struck with how normal this feels.

"Well maybe you'll sleep better tonight, love," he says softly, telling her that he'd already prepared dinner, just needs to pop it in the oven to warm it back up.

Smiling, she thanks him, thankful she gave him a key years ago to make it easier, and before she can fight it any longer, her eyes close, drifting off to sleep for the next half hour.

{*********************}

Once they arrive home, Claire sighs out in relief.

It's good to be home.

She and Frank unload the girls, Brianna curling into Frank's neck, unwilling to wake up long enough to walk inside.

Faith wakes up, helping roll her suitcase inside while Frank gets Brianna's.

It's only five o'clock, but they're all starving, their bodies still on Madrid time.

They leave their suitcases at the foot of the stairs, all piling into the kitchen when Frank tells the girls that he's cooked dinner. He gently shakes Bree awake so that she can go sit at the table, her little head falling against her folded arms as soon as she sits down.

Grinning, he makes his way in, preheating the oven. After a few minutes, he pops the chicken and vegetables in, the aroma soon filling the kitchen.

Claire and the girls, Brianna now more awake, sit around the table, munching on some grapes and pineapple until the food is ready. The girls are still going on about the royal palace, and Claire bemusedly wonders if they'll ever stop talking about it.

They enjoy a nice family dinner, Frank filling them in on what he did while they were away. "Dreadfully boring stuff, I'm afraid," he says with a grin, "graded papers, went to a friend's house and watched some telly."

"Did anyone fail?" Faith asks, grinning.

Frank laughs, shaking his head and informing her that he didn't have any interesting stories this time of failing students begging for extensions or extra credit. Faith always loves to laugh at those. "Sadly, my dear, everyone did their work this time, and did it quite well, actually."

"Well that's not as fun!" Brianna laughs, stabbing her last bite of chicken.

Frank ruffles her hair, picking up his fork and smiling across the table at Claire.

She smiles back, enjoying the food before her and glad the subject has transferred from their trip to Frank's work. There's less fear of Jamie being brought up that way, and she sighs to herself, listening as he tells her daughters about how he went to the grocery store and bought cinnamon raisin bread.

"You did?" Brianna asks around a bite of green beans, "But you never buy yummy stuff like that!"

Frank laughs, then takes a sip of water. "Mm," he says, wiping his mouth with a napkin, "But I know how much you girls love it, and when I saw it, I thought of you." He smiles, adding with a wink, "I've had it everyday for breakfast since you've been gone."

Faith and Brianna giggle, while Claire smiles at the three of them, soaking up this moment before she sends Frank away.

{************************}

After dinner, the girls take their luggage upstairs to their bedrooms, leaving Claire and Frank alone downstairs.

She stands awkwardly at the foot of the stairs, tucking her hands into her back pocket. "Well," she starts, clearing her throat. The evening has been fine, peaceful even, but she's tired and wants to be alone to try and figure things out. She grimaces, knowing Frank probably wants to spend some time alone with her, but she looks at him instead and says, "I'm actually really tired, Frank. I think it might be best if you head home."

"O-oh," he stammers, looking hurt. His brows scrunch just briefly, recovering quickly, but Claire can see his confusion. He nods, smiling reassuringly. "Alright."

God, she feels like a monster, but she just needs to be alone right now. She feels like her mind is going to explode if she has to continue this fake-niceness she's been putting on all throughout dinner.

She has feelings for Frank, loves him, even, despite the revelation of those feelings being relatively new, and not being able to tell him about Jamie makes her head hurt more than any hangover she's ever had.

"I'm sorry," she whispers, saying again how exhausted she is. "I just want to unpack, soak in the tub and then crawl into bed. I'll text you later, though."

Frank smiles softly, understanding like always, though she can see the hurt in his eyes. He steps closer, pulling her into her arms. He presses a kiss to her lips, one that she lets herself sink into for just a moment before pulling away and smiling awkwardly up at him.

"Have a good soak," he grins, winking as he steps away. "Maybe drink a glass of red while you're in there and really relax. Remember you have that face mask you bought the other week still, I guarantee you've been too busy to use it."

Chuckling softly, she nods, because he's right. He knows her so well.

Before he can open the front door, she hastens her steps, joining him in the threshold. "Thank you for today," she says, "and for everything."

He gives her an odd look, and she knows she must sound like a lunatic, so before he can ask, she kisses him once more, this one more soundly.

Breaking the embrace, Frank smiles that warm smile at her, saying he'll call her in the morning and leaves.

With a heavy sigh, she trudges up the stairs.

She pads down the hall, peeking into Faith's room. She's there, dancing around her room as music softly plays from her iPad. The eldest redhead is slowly pulling items from her luggage, tossing the dirty clothes into the hamper in her closet, and dutifully hanging up the clean stuff.

Claire smiles, glad to see Faith is making some progress. It's always been her belief that as soon as you arrive from a trip, go ahead and unpack, otherwise it'll take you weeks to do so.

"Need any help?" she asks, laughing when Faith jumps in surprise.

The little girl holds a hand over her obviously racing heat, but giggles, saying she's almost done.

"Okay," she smiles, "bath time soon and then we can all crawl into bed early."

"Sounds good, Mama!"

With that, Claire steps across the hall, peering into Brianna's room.

Shaking her head, she can't help but laugh. Brianna has dumped her suitcase all out in the middle of the floor, dirty and clean clothes mixed together. Bree is sprawled out on her bed, playing with the little flamenco dancer doll they'd picked up one day on their trip.

"What are you doing, darling?"

"Just playin'!"

"I see that," she chuckles. "What about all the clothes?" Claire gestures toward the pile on the floor, and Brianna at least has the decency to look sheepish about it, her ears growing pink like Jamie's do when he's in trouble.

Bree lets out a dramatic sigh when she realizes Claire isn't going to leave, and rolls off of the bed, hopping over to the pile of clothes. She starts rummaging through them, separating the clean from the dirty, but Claire stops her, saying it's all dirty now. "Just put it all in your hamper and we'll do laundry tomorrow."

"Okay! That's easy!"

Laughing, she tells Bree the same thing she told Faith—unpack, bath, early bedtime—and her little ball of energy agrees, but begs for a story, too, claiming she's not very tired since she slept on the plane and in the car.

"We'll see," she declares, stepping into the hallway to speak loud enough for both girls to hear. "I'm going to be in my room unpacking, then we'll get ready for bed."

"And a story!" Bree shouts.

"And a story…" she finally agrees, causing twin cheers to come from both rooms.

She walks into her bedroom, beyond tempted to just flop onto her bed and sleep for the next forty-eight hours, but she knows the girls would never let her live it down if she didn't unpack right away like they had to.

Making her way through her clothes and toiletries, Claire thinks over the trip. Aside from finding out her dead husband was actually alive and living in witness protection, it was actually a great vacation.

Spain was beautiful, and she'd taken plenty of pictures to look through later and post on social media.

She sends Geillis and Joe a quick text, letting them know she and the girls have made it home safely.

We're currently unpacking then sleeping for the next two days, I'm sure.

Joe responds first, saying he's glad and that he'll see her on Monday. I want to hear all about it and see all the pictures at work, LJ.

Then comes Geillis' response, asking, Did ye find a hot Spanish man to spend some time with?

Rolling her eyes, she reminds her friend that she has Frank, to which Geillis just sends back an eye rolling emoji, causing Claire to laugh.

She texts Murtagh, accompanying it with a picture she took of the girls on the aeroplane. Back home. We're exhausted but will call you tomorrow.

It's really all she can think to say, claiming jet lag will at least buy her a few days from her friends, and she's hoping from Murtagh, too.

Glad to hear it, lass. Will come by one day soon to see ye and my girls.

Smiling softly, she closes her phone, quickly finishing her unpacking.

Before long, she notices how quiet the house has grown, and after tucking her now empty suitcase into her closet, she goes to check on the girls.

She finds them cuddled together in Brianna's bed with Faith softly reading The Witches of Benevento series. They're up to book five, and she listens from the doorway as Faith reads about the annual boar hunt the eighteenth century children are going on, one little girl, Rosa, hoping to be the first girl ever to win the golden tusks.

Little stinkers, she should've known they wouldn't wait on her to start the book.

Grinning, she tiptoes in, kissing them both and putting away Bree's suitcase that is still laying in the middle of the floor—at least she put her clothes away, Claire thinks with a huffed laugh.

Seeing that the girls are settled for a while, Brianna's hand gently stroking through Faith's hair, Claire decides to be productive.

She goes into Brianna's closet, picking up the now full laundry basket. "I'm going to go start the laundry," she whispers, not wanting to interrupt the fascinating tale, and the girls both give her zoned out waves of acknowledgement.

With a smirk, she goes to Faith's room, dumping her hamper into Bree's, then making her way down the hall toward the laundry room.

Once faced with the washing machine, however, Claire decides that she's far too exhausted to start laundry, knowing that will also entail drying—and since Claire insists on hang drying their jeans, it's just too much work for right now.

She leaves the hamper in front of the washer, telling herself she will do it tomorrow even if it kills her, and heads back to Brianna's bedroom.

Her bathtub really is calling her name, her muscles aching from the long trip, but she also just wants to cuddle her babies and relax with them.

Cuddles win out, and Claire climbs into the bed, scooching the girls over so she can fit as well.

Faith and Brianna are in pajamas already, though she knows neither one bathed yet. They're bound to fall asleep before the story ends, so she gives up on the hopes of baths tonight, and she pushes thoughts away of germs crawling over their skin from the airports from her mind.

"Do you girls want to take showers tonight?" she asks with a touch of hope in her voice when Faith finishes a chapter, even though she knows what the answer will be.

Her arm drapes over both their bellies as they shake their heads.

"I'm too tired, Mama," Brianna replies, Faith turning in Claire's embrace to face her.

"Me, too," she whispers, her breath huffing out onto the tip of Claire's nose. "We brushed our teeth, though."

"Well that's a start," Claire muses, smiling at them, and actually quite glad they'd had the foresight to at least do that. She'll make them bathe first thing in the morning.

She drags herself out of bed and next door to the bathroom, grabbing a washcloth and running it under the warm tap water. She wrings it out, taking it back to Brianna's room and washing the dirt off their feet quickly while Faith continues to read, trying not to giggle when Claire scrubs at the bottom of her foot.

Knowing Brianna will sleepily protest before long, she turns the washcloth over, running it rapidly over their arms before running to toss the cloth in the laundry room with everything else.

When she gets back, she crawls into the bed again and kisses Faith's cheek, settling more into the mattress to listen to the story. Faith hands her the book, however, begging her to read the next chapter for them.

Claire takes the book, turning the page and diving into Rosa's quest for the boar.

While she reads, her fingers trace soft patterns against Brianna's stomach. Faith is in the middle, her little hand tracing the same type of patterns to Claire's forearm that rests on her stomach.

Not even half-way through the chapter, both girls have fallen asleep so Claire slips a bookmark in and places the book on the bedside table, then stands. She picks up Faith, and with one skilled, motherly hand, pulls the blanket up over Bree's little body.

She tiptoes across the hall to Faith's room and places her in bed as well, pressing a kiss to her temple as she tucks the covers around her. "Goodnight, sweetheart," she whispers, turning out the light.

Once both girls are nestled into bed, Claire finally fills her large garden tub up with warm, bubbly water and sinks in.

Thoughts of that wine Frank mentioned come to mind, but that requires going all the way back downstairs, and that just isn't happening.

She does, however, put on the face mask that she's been wanting to use, and settles in for a relaxing bath.

Forgot the wine, but the mask is nice. Remind me to get another one next time I'm at the store!

Her gut twists at the text, guilt over how familiar things are with Frank tearing at her insides.

Will do, love. Glad you're able to get some alone time.

Ten minutes later, her muscles finally relaxed, Claire feels herself dozing off.

Before she can fall asleep in the tub, she drains the water and rinses the mask off of her face.

She wraps a fuzzy towel around her body, padding over to her vanity to apply moisturizer to her skin. While she's lotioning up her legs, she hears her phone go off with a text.

Glancing over, she sees it's from an unknown number, which she instantly knows is Jamie.

She washes her hands quickly, taking her phone and walking over to the king sized bed.

Just landed, it reads.

She types back a Good. How was the flight?, and he tells her it was fine.

Her stomach just about falls out when he asks, Can I come over?

Nerves swell in her belly. Chewing on her bottom lip, she thinks of Frank and how she'd sent him away tonight. Thinks of that hurt look in his eyes. Then she thinks of Jamie, and his beautiful blue eyeshow excited he looked every day in Spain to see them again. He's missed so much time with his family, doesn't she owe it to him to let him spend as much time as possible with them?

Even though the girls are asleep, he can at least peek in on them… She's well aware that she's just making excuses, just a reason for her to see him again, but, well, it's been years, and she thought he was dead, she deserves to spend as much time as possible with him before he goes back to North Carolina.

With a determined look in her eye, and before she can over think it even more, she types Sure and sends him the address.

{**********************}

Thanks so much for the support on the last chapter! I was worried people were going to be upset over Claire's struggle between Jamie and Frank, but everyone was super understanding! For anyone that might be losing faith, please be patient about the whole situation. Remember this is a JamiexClaire fic, and we know everything will work out in the end, but Claire needs a minute to figure things out. It's only been a few days for her, and it's a lot to process lol

I hope you enjoyed this one… please review! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven:

Two hours later, Claire is in a pair of black yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt from their university that once belonged to Jamie. When he died, she kept a few of his shirts to sleep in, convinced that even after a million washes, they still smelled like him.

She'd made her way down to the kitchen, putting on a pot of coffee. Once he asked to come over, she knew sleep was the last thing on her mind, but she needed something to keep her awake.

When the doorbell goes off, she walks toward the door, swinging it open and hoping the bell didn't wake the girls. She assumes it didn't, because they are both still conked out; even on a normal night they could sleep through a tornado.

Seeing him standing there, her breath is lost to her all over again.

Something about seeing him, here, in Georgia, in her house, really solidifies that this is real. He's truly back.

Claire tears up unexpectedly, wrapping him in a hug and pulling him inside the house. He kicks the door shut softly with his foot, finally disentangling themselves long enough for him to remove his jacket.

"Nice shirt," he smirks, pointing toward the faded University of Edinburgh logo.

Rolling her eyes, she waves him off with a grin, leading the way back into the kitchen. "Did you sleep any on the plane?"

"Barely," he says, settling onto one of the barstools. "Got a few hours near the end."

Nodding, she tells him she got about the same, not wanting to admit she could barely sleep due to her mind raging a war against itself.

They sip their coffee in silence for a moment, Claire watching him as he looks around the kitchen. "This place is sae bonny, Claire," he comments, his eyes connecting back with hers. He gives her a smile, asking if he can have a tour.

This is so strange, she thinks, this feeling of comfort when he's around, yet he's a stranger to this new life she's built.

"Sure." She sets her coffee cup down, knowing they'll end up back in here for a refill if she's going to survive whatever tonight has in store.

He stands, gesturing for her to lead the way.

She points toward the large window in the back of the kitchen, telling him the backyard is out there, then gestures around the kitchen. She'd just had it remodeled a few months ago and tells him so, pointing out the gray wooden floors, the cream walls and the new gray cabinets.

"And yer marble countertops ye always wanted."

Grinning, she nods, saying those were her favorite part.

Taking his hand—and noting that hers still fits perfectly into his larger one—she leads him into the living room, showing him the picture frames on the walls littered with photographs of her and the girls. There's a few with Murtagh and Jocasta, and of course Joe and Geillis, too. On one wall, she has both girls' picture day photographs and Jamie tears up looking at them.

"And look," she says, patting his back. She takes Faith's picture off the wall, removing the backing. "I just stack the new one on top each year so I have them all together."

She pulls out the portraits, kindergarten on the bottom, then first, second, and her most recent one from third grade which is the one showcased in the frame currently.

Jamie shakes his head, looking at them in wonder. "She's braw, as is wee Brianna."

Smiling, Claire takes Bree's picture off the wall, showing him her kindergarten picture from the year before that sits behind her current first grade one.

"They're adorable," she says, "and look just like you."

He grunts, much the same way Murtagh does when something pleases him, and she grins.

She takes him upstairs, both stepping lightly on the wooden stairs. "The girls are asleep," she says lowly, gesturing in the direction of their rooms.

It's one long hallway, so they walk carefully, Jamie peeking into Faith's room, then Brianna's, both times emerging with a look of paternal pride on his face. "'Tis only nine-thirty, Sassenach. They're already that sound asleep?"

Giggling, she nods, showing him the laundry room at the end of the hall, then on their way back down, just after Brianna's room, she motions to hers.

An air of awkwardness looms at the prospect of him seeing her bedroom, for some reason, so she focuses back on his question, saying, "They were exhausted from the flight." She tells him how they fell asleep together in Brianna's bed before the chapter was even finished, and she watches as a strange look comes over his face.

"What is it?" she asks, leading him down the stairs.

"Nah," he breathes, "it's just… ye're so comfortable wi' the lasses, ye all have a routine and a way of doing things that I have no idea about."

Remorse lances through her heart again, and she grimaces. "I'm sorry," she murmurs. This is all so hard, wanting to share their lives with Jamie, but not wanting him to feel bad for missing it all.

"It's alright, mo chridhe," he vows, saying again, "There's nothin' tae be sorry for." With that, he wraps her in his arms, swaying them at the bottom of the steps. "These gray wooden floors look nice, mo nighean donn," he mumbles into her hair, pulling back with a smile.

She's thankful he's trying to change the subject, so she attempts to do the same, saying once they did the kitchen, she couldn't stand the light brown planks in the rest of the house, so she bit the bullet and redid all the floors, save for the plush carpet in their bedrooms and the playroom.

"Playroom?"

"It's downstairs," she states, pointing toward the kitchen. "There's a door in there that leads to the basement. We just decided to throw everything down there. It's the one space I'll let Hurricane Brianna be a mess." She won't mention that the basement had been unfinished, and Frank spent a month redoing it for her on his days off just so the girls could have a place all on their own, and a guest suite down there complete with a small kitchen and full bath.

He chuckles, that beautiful sound that always makes her smile, as he walks back into the kitchen with her following on his heels.

Refilling their coffee cups, she asks Jamie to grab the grapes from the fridge, then joins him at the table.

She goes and grabs some cheese slices leftover from dinner, and some crackers from the pantry, making a makeshift snack for them as they talk.

They spend the next twenty minutes, laughing and talking, reminiscing on years before, memories of university floating to the surface.

"Ye remember when Murtagh found us kissing in the stables?" he asks, laughing as he plops a grape into his mouth.

Biting her lip, she stifles a laugh, never able to forget the way the old man's face paled seeing his godson and fiancé practically rutting like the animals they were surrounded by.

"Oh, god," she snorts, sipping her coffee, "I don't know who was more embarrassed, us or him."

Jamie chortles, saying it had to have been Murtagh.

"I don't know," she remarks with a grin, pointing at him, "your ears were mighty red that day."

"Aye, as were yer wee cheeks," he jests, his eyes shining with mirth as he looks at her across the table.

With another giggle, they remind each other of their funniest moments, eyes meeting, a heat growing between them as they remember a life once lived only for each other.

Along with the memories, they begin carefully filling each other in on their time spent apart, Claire mindful not to mention Frank too much for fear of ruining the happy bubble they've surrounded themselves in thus far.

Jamie tells her of the stables he works at with Hector, regaling her with one tale after another, like the natural storyteller he is. She always loved listening to his stories, can remember countless nights of lying in his arms, listening to him talk of Lallybroch and his mother, his brother, and all the antics they got up to with Jenny as children.

They eat slowly, savoring each other as much as the snacks before them. They were filling each other in, discovering who they each were as people now, both trying to decide if they could, in fact, exist in the same world with the knowledge of everything that's happened between them.

As Jamie talks, telling her about his favorite horse, they both reach for a piece of cheese, hands brushing against one another.

It's nothing new, they've touched plenty since finding each other again, but something about this, here, tonight, feels different. Their eyes meet, almost shocked, and she wonders if he can still feel that spark between them like she always could.

He'd asked her once, years ago, what it was between them, what that connection was he felt every time he touched her, and she had no idea, but she felt it, too. Jamie, ever the romantic, called it their soulmate connection, which she always aptly rolled her eyes at, but, now, she isn't so sure he was wrong.

She has to admit, there's always been something there, and even now, after all this time, she can still feel it. The sensation is overwhelming, and she gives him a small, unsure smile, her lip turning up on one corner as she huffs out a nervous laugh.

Pulling back her hand, she takes the cheese in her mouth, chewing slowly around a coy little smile.

His eyes are on hers, and the way those blue depths are drawing her in, make her feel as if she's drowning in them.

Her golden eyes mist over, too caught up in his stare to even blink, but she draws herself back to reality when he asks what she and the girls did tonight.

He seems just as flustered as she is, and she wonders if he's nervous, too.

This isn't new, isn't sure why it feels so different, but something about not being in Spain, not in the comfort of the hotel room, makes this all just feel so… real.

With a bout of apprehension, she tentatively says, "Uh, well, Frank… drove us home, made us dinner."

Jamie nods, grunting again—this time not in pleasure—and she can't help but chuckle.

Murtagh, too, makes the same sound every single time she brings Frank up, his displeasure at her new beau clearly evident, and the fact that Jamie has the same reaction just reminds her how similar he is to his godfather. Having Murtagh around all these years has truly been a blessing.

"I know you don't want to hear about him," she says, shoulders dropping, "but I feel like I'm going crazy, Jamie." She sighs, rubbing a hand over her forehead, that headache growing again. "I'm really struggling," she admits and watches as his face softens.

Jamie reaches across the table, offering his hand to her. She gladly accepts it, his fingers curling around hers as she says, "I want to talk to someone about all of this, want to tell someone, anyone what is happening, but I can't! No one can be involved, and I feel like I can't talk to you openly about it because I don't want to hurt your feelings."

Silence fills the space between them, the feel of his thumb rubbing softly against her skin the only thing keeping her grounded in this moment.

She watches as he breathes slowly, deeply, and she knows from years of experience, that he's processing her words, wanting to form his thoughts clearly before speaking. It was always an attribute of his that she admired.

"I understand, mo nighean donn," he murmurs gently, smiling her way. "I'll talk to John and see if there's anyone ye can talk to, someone who isn't directly involved in this."

She nods, thinking of Geillis and Joe, and wishing more than anything that she could have them over for lunch, cry and scream and ask them what to do about all of this.

Geillis is the loose canon out of her two best friends, knows Claire's dead husband coming back to life would most likely be the first thing Geillis told Dougal when she got home. It would definitely be the talk of the yoga studio and probably the coffee shop right next door within the hour, but Joe, sweet Joe, was her most trusted friend.

He's the most trustworthy man Claire knows, besides Jamie, and tells him so. "Maybe I could at least tell him?" She knows she sounds like a child, but she feels so lost, and doesn't know what else to do.

Jamie smiles sympathetically, saying he'll ask John, but he doubts Joe will be allowed to be informed.

She knew that would be his answer, but her shoulders still fall as she gives him a small smile.

{***************************}

Once they have finished off the grapes and coffee, Claire stands, collecting the cheese and crackers to put them away.

They make their way to the living room, sitting on the couch. There's an awkward feeling between them, and she's not sure what it is.

She looks to Jamie, rubbing her jean-clad thighs nervously, then reaches for the remote, flipping on the television, and letting House Hunters play softly in the background like an accompaniment to their awkwardness.

"Is this as weird for ye as it is for me, Sassenach?"

Oh, thank god.

"Yes," she sighs, turning to face him. "And I'm not sure why. I feel like I can't be myself around you," she confesses without thinking.

Jamie's face pinches momentarily, looking hurt, and she instantly regrets her words.

"Not because of you!" she amends, her hand landing on his shoulder. "Just because everything that's happened. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you're alive." She sighs, sinking into the cushions. One leg bends to rest on the cushion, her knee lightly resting against his thigh. "And with Frank, everything is so much more complicated than it would be if I were single."

As if her boyfriend could hear inside her house, her phone beeps with a text from him. She reaches for it off the coffee table, reading the text quickly.

Miss you. Hope you and the girls are getting plenty of rest now that you've had your bath.

Guilt consumes her, knowing she sent one of her men away so she could spend time with the other. Is she cheating on Jamie with Frank or cheating on Frank with Jamie? Or neither? Her mind is a jumbled mess as she responds back with a simple Thank you and I did. She tells him again that she'll call him tomorrow, then sets her phone down on the arm of the couch.

Looking up, she sees Jamie watching her, and she knows her face is flushed, her emotions clearly dancing on the surface. She smiles nervously, shrugging her shoulders.

"Ye dinna have to be nervous around me, Sassenach," he says, a hint of red creeping up his neck and leading to his ears.

She nods, her face softening. "I know I don't, Jamie."

They stare, moments passing as they both seemingly collect their thoughts and emotions.

"Do you want a drink?" she asks, pointing toward the mini-bar tucked away in the back of the living room.

He grins, saying he'll take some of the whisky he figures she still keeps in the house. "Ye still keep it around, don't ye?"

He knows her so well, she muses.

She snorts, saying, "Always," as she tuts and stands from the sofa. She feels a bit of lightness as their easy banter around one another slowly edges its way back in, and she smiles to herself as she walks to the bar.

She pours them each a dram of their favorite Scottish whisky, Dougal's best selling brand from the distillery, and decides to just bring the whole bottle with her, knowing this night will call for a refill, or three.

They sit and talk for a while, sipping on their libations. The conversation starts to flow again, Jamie refilling their glasses when they get low.

She's feeling loose, not as nervous around him as she was earlier. She inquires more about his life in North Carolina, and he smiles, telling her about the baseball team he and Fergus are on.

"We just had a tournament last month," he says, excitedly telling her how his team won. "Crushed the other team to smithereens," he laughs, his Scottish accent thickening with every word, his R's rolling off his tongue in that way they so often do when he's passionate about a topic.

Smiling, she listens, glad to know he hasn't been miserable this whole time.

"I got Fergus a job at the farm, too," he says, "though he doesn't quite love the horses like Hector and I do." He talks about his favorite horse again, a black stallion named Donas that he claims hates everyone but him. "He's thrown his last four riders, but the wee beastie must like me, ken, because he's as gentle as a lamb when I'm around."

"You were always so good with animals, so I'm not surprised," she says, her body feeling warmer as the whisky settles in her stomach.

He's never sounded this excited over a job before. He'd worked for his Uncle Dougal's whisky distillery when they were married, which was fine enough. He was happy to have a relative in Georgia when Claire got her position at Emory. It had worked out perfectly, but he's never truly loved it the way he did animals, and Claire always felt a sense of guilt that he'd settled for a job he wasn't as passionate about so she could have her dream career.

That was so typically Jamie, though. God, she loves him.

"You seem really happy," she comments, her hand finding its way to his bicep. Her finger trails against the fabric covering his arm, adding softly, "I'm glad."

"Aye, I am," he confesses, his eyes moving to watch her finger rub against his arm, "but happier now that ye ken I'm alive." He looks deeply into her eyes, that feeling of drowning once more taking over, but she finds she doesn't want to be saved. "I dinna care how happy I am there, mo ghraidh, there's no type of happiness like what I have when I'm with ye and the bairns, I hope you ken that."

She doesn't know what to say, too overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions. Her whisky colored eyed hold his blue, and she feels as if her lungs are a balloon that's been popped, slowly deflating with each ragged breath between them.

When she licks her lips, Jamie's eyes dart down, watching the movement, before flickering back up to look at her again.

Without thought, as if drawn to him like a sailor to a beautiful siren, she leans in, inching closer to her long lost husband.

"I want…" he begins, breath shaking out of him in ragged pants as he takes her hands in his, "I would verra much like to kiss you." Her mouth twitches up into the briefest of smiles at his words, nerves twisting her insides. "May I?"

Claire's breath is just as unsteady as his. She smiles, nods, doesn't know what to do with herself as she whispers, "Yes."

His body shifts, edging closer to her as well, their bodies moving in sync. She isn't sure if there are miles between them or if everything is just moving in slow motion, but she feels as if it takes forever for their faces to rest centimeters apart, so close she can feel his warm breath on her, that hint of whisky making her feel dizzy with need.

"I havena done this in a verra long time," he admits, licking his lips.

Breathing out shakily, her heart pounding so loudly she just knows he can hear it, too, she scoots even closer as his lips slowly descend onto hers.

When his lips finally, finally, make contact with hers, all sense of reality leaves her. She forgets about the pain of learning he'd died, forgets the way that police officer held her as she cried in his arms, forgets Jamie's funeral and visiting his grave with the girls, forgets the hardships of being a new mom while also raising a toddler and trying to grieve the loss of her husband… forgets it all. Everything. All the pain, all the tears, all the heartache. Forgets about Frank…

Fuck.

Claire pulls back abruptly, just as Jamie went to deepen the kiss, her breath coming out in heavy, tear-filled pants. She reaches up to touch her lips, her hand shaking. "I'm… I'm sorry," she blubbers out just above a whisper. "I…"

His face falls, just briefly, before he recovers, his eyes shining as he looks at her. He looks down, collecting himself, she thinks, then glances back up, asking on a broken whisper, "Has too much happened?" His head shakes, as if clearing his mind, "Am I no' enough, Claire?" He grimaces at his own words, hands twisting in her grasp. "Do ye no' want me anymore?"

She stares at him, blankly at first, as the feelings all come flooding through her mind like a swarm of bees. She feels awful, tears springing to her eyes, but the images of Frank in her mind killed the moment. Is this cheating? She doesn't know, so she tells Jamie around a lump in her throat, "I can't tell if this is cheating or not…"

His hand pulses in hers, comforting her. "It's okay, mo chridhe," he assures with a twitch of his signature smirk, ever so gentle and loving with her.

"I just don't know if this is wrong or not," she says again, weeping, her shoulders shaking. She takes a calming breath, drawing strength from Jamie's large hand that rests on her knee, letting her work through the storm in her head. "I want you. God, Jamie, I want to be with you, but there's Frank, too," she huffs, frustrated with herself over this whole situation, "and he's a good man. I can't just leave him with no explanation, that wouldn't be right… o-or fair to him. I'm so conflicted."

Jamie, ever the understanding one, pulls her into her chest, letting her cry some more. "We can wait, mo ghraidh," he vows, though she can tell the words pain him to say, can tell from the way his face is pinched tight, like he's holding every emotion in the world back from her. "I ken this is difficult for ye." He kisses the top of her head, swaying them gently, his hand rubbing up and down her back. "Take a few days to sort out yer feeling, okay?"

She nods, her whole body shaking from nerves.

"And if ye decide that ye want tae be with Frank and no' me, then," he smiles softly, "tell him I'm grateful. Grateful that ye were able to find a man good enough to help ye move on. Ye tell him that I trust him… and that I hate him down to the very marrow of his bones." He smirks at that, and she can't help that she does, too.

Her heart is screaming to be with her husband, but her mind knows she needs to break up with Frank first, no matter how bad she feels about doing that. She'll break his heart, and hers a little bit as well, with no good explanation as to why. It will blindside him, and Frank deserves better than that. She needs to take tonight, get some rest, and figure out what exactly to say to him.

Sniffling, she finally calms enough to pull back, looking at him with watery eyes. He smiles so gingerly at her that she thinks her heart might crack in two, so she cuddles back into his chest, embracing the comfort while she can.

His heat envelopes her as he flips through the channel, finally settling back on House Hunters and grumbling that there's never anything good on, just like he always did. Jamie props his feet up on the coffee table, and she smiles to herself. This is just how it used to be, and she loves it. The familiarity of it all makes her want to cry all over again, so instead she snuggles closer, pressing a light kiss just above his heart.

In that moment, cuddling on the couch with her husband, the war inside her heart and mind finally settles, and she knows exactly what she needs to do.

{*****************}

The decision has finally been made, and Claire can move forward. Phew! Thanks to everyone who has supported this story and stuck with it through Claire's internal struggle. Please let me know your thoughts about this chapter! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight:

The next morning, Claire wakes up, feeling more rested than she thought was possible. She's also in her bed, which she finds odd, seeing as the last thing she remembers was dozing off on Jamie's shoulder.

He must have carried her up here.

He's gone, she knows that much, but she smiles to herself nonetheless, sinking further into the bed. She brings the neck of her t-shirt up to her nose, inhaling his scent that once again is absorbed into the fabric.

She begins to cry as the weight of the last few days hit her like a tidal wave. She blames the jetlag for making her extra emotional, so she stays in bed a little bit longer, crying for the husband she thought she lost and the boyfriend she loves but needs to break up with. Crying for her daughters who have their father back, but also crying because she knows the girls love Frank. She thought she'd cried most of this out in Madrid, but apparently not. All of it is too much and her only response is body-wracking sobs.

She buries her face in her pillow, trying to muffle the sound so she doesn't wake the girls. The last thing she needs is for them to find her like this. She wonders how the girls are really handling it all, knows Faith is intuitive enough that she'd hide any sadness from Claire so that she didn't feel bad; she is so like Jamie in that way.

After another few moments, she collects herself enough to pull her face out of the pillow, her tear stains leaving large, dark circles on the pillowcase.

She looks at her cellphone, noting the time. It's eight in the morning, and she knows the girls will likely be up soon, so she drags herself from the bed. She hops in the shower, letting the warm spray awaken her senses as she washes her face, hoping it brings some color back to her skin.

Once out, she throws on another set of comfy clothes—gray yoga pants and a t-shirt—enjoying her last few days of freedom before she has to start getting dressed again for the hospital.

She doesn't bother with much makeup—just some concealer to hide the dark circles under her eyes—throws her hair in a messy bun, and gets her contacts inserted before heading to check on the girls.

Both are still dead asleep, so she takes a moment to watch them before heading downstairs. She'll start breakfast at least, knowing the smell will rouse one of them from sleep, and they'll wake the other.

Before the pancakes are even done cooking, she hears little pitter-patters of feet descending the stairs.

"Morning, babies," she croons, kissing each of their heads as they come to stand beside her, peering into the frying pan.

Brianna leans up on her tip-toes to peer over the top of the counter, checking to see what Claire is making. With a shrug, and clearly no desire to help, she scurries off to the table and picks up a coloring book she'd tossed there moments ago.

Faith saddles up beside Claire, however, and she hands the little girl a spatula. She giggles as she stands in front of Claire on a small step stool, asking, "Is it time to flip yet?"

Claire nods and helps guide Faith's hand to flip it, both of them cheering when it turns over correctly.

Bree must hear their excitement, because before Claire can blink, the little whirlwind is by her side again, bouncing on her heels and asking to help do something.

Laughing, Claire checks that Faith is alright with the pancakes while she briefly steps to the refrigerator to grab the carton of eggs.

"Grab a bowl," she instructs Brianna, pointing toward the cabinet.

Brianna takes one out, holding it up for Claire's approval. She nods, smiling as Bree sets it on the counter.

"Should I take this pancake off now, Mama?" Faith asks over her shoulder, and Claire hurries to check it.

She tells her she can, and Faith gingerly scoops the pancake from the frying pan and places it on the plate Claire had already set out.

Pouring another glob of batter into the pan, Claire hands Faith the spatula again. "Watch it for a few minutes. When it has bubbles all over, you can flip."

Faith nods studiously, and Claire focuses back on Brianna. She's standing there, impatient hands on her hips, and Claire chuckles. "Here you go, darling," she says, handing Brianna an egg. "Crack that against the side of the bowl."

Bree tries, little tongue peeking out in concentration, but her egg shell busts and pieces fall into the bowl. She huffs, claiming she can't do it, but Claire instructs her to pick out the shells. "You just have to keep trying."

She kisses Bree on the cheek, turning her head to look to her right and check on Faith. The pancake is still slowly cooking, so she knows she has another minute or so to help Brianna.

She takes Bree's hands, cracking the egg with her against the bowl, showing her how to do it quickly so the shell doesn't crack into quite so many little pieces.

Brianna laughs when the yolk falls into the bowl with no shell, bouncing on her step stool. "Look, Faithie! I did it!"

"Good job!" Faith praises, her own tongue poking out of the side of her mouth as she tries to flip the pancake with no assistance.

Claire watches over them both carefully, reaching over to help Faith so she doesn't burn her arm.

Once all the eggs have been cracked, she hands Brianna a whisk, knowing this part will be much simpler. "Now mix them all together," she instructs, and Bree gets to work.

Claire helps Faith pour and flip three more pancakes before she declares it enough. Faith steps down, going to the fridge to collect the apple juice and take it over to the table.

Smiling at how mature her oldest seems preparing breakfast, Claire glances over to Brianna, helping her pour the eggs onto the frying pan. "You go help Faith set everything up while I scramble these right quick."

Bree nods, happily hopping down and skipping over to the table. She slides into her seat, opening her coloring book back up and Faith huffs. "She said to help me, not color."

Brianna just shrugs, going back to her picture and Claire watches as Faith rolls her eyes on the way back to the refrigerator. "Useless," she mumbles, and Claire has to bite her lip to stifle her laughter.

"Faith, be nice."

The little girl huffs again, smiling sweetly as she grabs the container of pineapple and takes it to the table.

Claire salts and peppers the eggs, finishing them up and dumping them into a large bowl.

"Brianna, put the coloring book away," she says, "Come grab the eggs and take them to the table."

Bree hops up, taking the bowl from Claire and setting it on the table for everyone.

Faith grabs the syrup and butter while Claire takes the plate of pancakes to the table as well.

They all sit, piling their plates full of eggs, pancakes, and the canned biscuits she'd made earlier, and she makes a mental note to try and squeeze in a gym session after work one day this week.

{***********************}

After breakfast, and once the girls have had time to sufficiently wake up, they make their way down to the playroom while Claire finishes cleaning the kitchen.

She joins them soon enough, laughing and playing Sorry! down in the basement.

Things feel normal like this, and it settles Claire somewhat, at least for a little bit.

"Is Daddy coming over today?" Brianna asks, "or Frank?"

Well, shit. That cut right to the core of all her current insecurities.

Taking a deep breath, she runs her hands through Bree's hair, pulling her in between her legs so that she can braid her long, auburn locks.

"I'm sure Daddy will come over today," she says, finishing the braid and tying it back with the extra rubber band around her own wrist. She rubs Brianna's back and sighs. "Frank probably won't be around as much now, girls," she explains hesitantly, not wanting to get into all the complicated details of her two relationships.

"Oh," Bree sighs, her shoulder slumping. "Is he still going to come to buy Girl Scout cookies from me?"

Claire chuckles, saying she's sure he will. She knows they're thrilled to have Jamie back, but they also care for Frank, so it'll be hard for them to understand that they can't have both men in their lives. It'll be a hard transition, she's sure, but it's far too complicated to try and explain right now.

"Frank said he'd come to my next recital," Faith says, a hint of disappointment in her voice, "But I guess him and Daddy can't both be there."

Claire goes to placate her crestfallen little girls, but Bree pipes in with a, "Why not!?"

Rolling her eyes, Faith huffs, "Because, silly, no one can know Daddy is alive. Remember?"

Bree slumps back further into Claire's lap with a mumbled oh yeah and fiddles with her doll that's in her own lap.

Claire pats Brianna's leg, motioning for her to get up so Faith can get her hair done. The girls switch spots, and she ties Faith curls into a cute little top knot.

She sends them upstairs to bathe and change out of their pajamas, Brianna asking in dread, "Do I have to put on a dress?"

Laughing, she tells her no, then points to her own attire. "Just something comfy so you're out of pajamas." Bree nods, and as the girls bound up the stairs, Claire adds as she trails behind them, "And toss your pajamas in the laundry room! I need to wash all of our clothes."

With the thought of laundry looming over her, she makes her way up the other flight of stairs, chasing Bree up each one as she drags her feet, making the little girl squeal.

While the girls shower and get ready, Claire starts laundry, sorting the clothes into darks and lights before tossing in the first load.

Her phone goes off, and she reaches for it, thankful these yoga pants have pockets.

I just woke up lol it reads, causing her to smile. She'd finally saved Jamie's new number, under Alexander Malcolm, of course, but seeing his name on her screen gives her a sense of calmness. Jet lag hit me hard. Can I come by for lunch?

Grinning, she decides to just call him instead, hitting the phone icon on the screen. After a few rings, he picks up, his groggy voice giving her such a strong sense of nostalgia that it almost knocks her over.

Leaning her shoulder against the wall in the laundry room, she greets him, thanking him for putting her to bed last night. "I was exhausted," she huffs. She feels bad he had to carry her up the stairs and into bed, but deep down, she knows he didn't mind. "But to answer your question: of course you can come over."

She can hear Jamie's smile through the phone as he tells her he'll be there for lunch and they hang up, Claire putting some clothes into the dryer.

Before she can grab her phone off the washing machine to put away, it goes off again. Smiling, she looks down, but this time, it's from Frank.

Can I come over today? I can bring lunch for us all.

Fuck. She really hates this. It'd be much easier if Jamie had 'died' in a plane crash and came back years later like in Castaway or something, at least then Frank would understand why she was being distant, would allow her time to spend with Jamie and let him bond with his children. But this… the not being able to tell him, really makes it all seem so sketchy, like she was going behind his back with everything.

She writes back, giving him an excuse about everyone being too tired and needing to unpack and do laundry before she goes back to work on Monday. He says he understands, but she knows he's disappointed. She would be, too.

{*************************}

An hour later, Jamie is there, ringing the doorbell.

The girls both squeal with excitement, racing toward the door.

Claire watches as they attach themselves to his legs, laughing when Jamie tries to stomp toward the kitchen with the weight added to him.

She helps him out, taking the bags of food from his hands so he can at least steady their squirming bodies against him as he trudges into the kitchen.

Peeking into the bag, she sees that he brought food from her favorite Mexican restaurant, and she worries he went inside to pick it up.

"I ordered it online, had it delivered tae me," he says as a way of explanation, smirking.

Damn her glass face giving every single thought away. Just another reason she needs to avoid Frank.

"It's a bit cold, so why don't you go play with the girls while I heat it all back up?"

"Are ye sure?" he says, brows furrowing, "I can help, I dinna mind."

Claire waves him off, putting on her best Scottish accent as she says, "Dinna fash," wanting him to have as much time as possible with his children.

Jamie grins wildly at her attempt to sound like him, scoffing and telling her, "Yer accent has no' gotten much better, Sassenach." And he laughs as Faith and Brianna giggle and take his hands.

The girls drag him to the backyard, and as Claire dishes out the food from the aluminum containers into bowls and plates, popping everything in the microwave, she watches with a smile on her face as Jamie chases the girls around the yard and down the slide of their swingset.

Their peels of laughter echo into the house, and a warm feeling encompasses her. She loves this, but suddenly a thought hits her: Should he be outside like that? They're not in Madrid, free to roam around with less worry hanging over their heads. They're in Georgia, just twenty-five minutes from where he was shot.

With that, she makes her way over to the back door, calling them all inside.

As the girls rush off to wash their hands, Jamie asks if she's alright.

"I just got worried," she confesses with a shrug, "What if someone sees you out there?"

"In the backyard?" he asks, his head tilting.

She rolls her eyes, knowing deep down she's being ridiculous, but she worries and doesn't know how to handle all of this.

Jamie wraps his arms around her, pulling her close. He kisses the top of her head, assuring her it will all be okay. "I ken ye're worried, Sassenach. If it makes ye feel better, we'll no' go outside anymore."

"Thank you," she says, stepping out of his embrace. "Now go wash your hands."

"Yes, ma'am."

Grinning, she plates all of their food while they wash up, and once they're all done, they sit around the table like the little family they were always meant to be.

{**************************}

After lunch, while munching on the leftover chips and queso on the table, Bree looks to Jamie, asking, "Daddy, will you have a tea party with us?"

Faith giggles beside her sister, nodding in agreed excitement over the question.

"O'course, I will!"

Their daughters hop up excitedly, both taking one of his hands and dragging him down the steps to the playroom, Bree's explanation of what other members would be at the tea party—a life sized Barbie, Faith's favorite teddy bear from years ago, and Bree's plastic horses—floating back up the stairs to Claire.

With a content sigh, Claire stands, throwing away the remaining items and rinsing off the food that is stuck to their plates before setting them in the dishwasher.

She gives the girls and Jamie time to settle into their tea party, honestly enjoying the little bit of silence she can get before going back to work on Monday.

She spritzes the countertops with her favorite Mr. Clean spray, wiping it down and feeling accomplished when the kitchen looks and smells nice and clean.

The desire to relax on the couch and read a good book takes over, but the need to watch Jamie with their children far outweighs it.

Taking her time, she grabs her cellphone, tucking it into her pocket. She turns the kitchen light out, heading down the basement stairs.

The sight that greets her is one she's not likely to ever forget, and before she gets noticed, she snaps a picture, wanting to capture this to look back on later. She'd made a hidden folder this morning just for instances like this. She knew she couldn't have pictures of Jamie on her camera roll, but hidden away for just her to see would be okay.

Jamie is sitting in a plastic, child-sized chair, knees bent and resting far above the top of the table. He's got a little bejeweled tiara on his head, purple feather boa around his shoulders, and giant clip-on earrings attached to his earlobes.

The girls are in much the same get up—a big, floppy pink hat on Faith's head, a pair of leopard print cat ears on Bree's. Both are decked out in all their dress up jewelry—beaded necklaces, plastic bangles clanging together when they move their arms, earrings and big, sparkly diamond rings—as Faith serves the pretend tea to the table and Brianna talks in her best British accent impersonation.

She started doing that last year, much to Claire's amusement, as her daughter tried to sound like her.

Jamie tries to use a posh accent as well, thanking "Milady" for the tea and sipping on the invisible beverage.

"Ye're quite welcome," Bree says, bowing her head, her little Scottish voice popping out.

Jamie's eyes light up, and Claire wishes so desperately that Murtagh and Jocasta could be here to see this. Their uncle always got a good laugh when one of the girls would let an Och or a ye slip over their tongues, claiming no matter what, the Scot was in them both.

"Cake for you, sir," Bree says, offering him the plastic strawberry cake.

He accepts it kindly, making dramatic munching sounds as he pretends to nibble the dessert.

"Daddy!" Bree admonishes, "You're supposed to wait until everyone has been served!"

Her little hands are on her hips, and Jamie looks rightfully chastised. He sets the cake down, sheepishly apologizing to his daughter, and Claire has to bite back a laugh.

"It's alright," she comforts, patting his shoulder sweetly. "It's just polite to wait, okay?"

"Aye," he chuckles, his smirk growing, "ye're right, lass."

Brianna nods proudly, as if she'd just taught him the most important lesson, then reaches over to Faith who is serving the other party guests, taking a cup from her.

Claire cannot help it any longer, the sight of Jamie watching to make sure everyone has been served too much to handle, and she bursts into laughter.

"Mama!" Faith squeals, her blue eyes lighting up as she waves her over. "Come join us!"

"Why, thank you," she says, taking the small chair next to Jamie.

She's still giggling as she looks at him while the girls work together to rearrange the cups and plates, making room for one more guest.

Their eyes meet, a flirty glint to each of them. She loves this. They feel like a real family; this is the type of lazy Saturday afternoon she always dreamed of them having together. Frank never played with the girls like this, always claiming he felt too silly, but he'd watch on as she played with them. She never really minded, but now seeing a man interact this way with her girls, a warm sensation begins to grow inside her heart.

As they wait for Faith to dish out the cake and Bree to pour the tea for their toy horse, Cory, Claire lets her pinky subtly rub along the side of Jamie's hand, silently asking permission to hold it.

Jamie smiles, taking her hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. His knee gently knocks into hers, both smirking at one another as Brianna gives the rules for the tea party—waiting til everyone has been served, which she cuts her eyes to Jamie on that one, cleaning up your crumbs, and making sure each guest feels welcome.

Claire smirks as their youngest finishes, and Faith announces they may all dig in.

And for the next hour, the four of them sit at that tiny plastic table, Jamie's knees looming over it and her back aching from sitting in the small chair for so long. They sip their tea and eat the pretend cake and crumpets, all the while Faith and Bree take turns telling Jamie about their school, their teacher and all their friends they have there.

"Mrs. Austin is the best!" Faith exclaims, telling Jamie all about her teacher and how they're working on a project in reading. "We're making dioramas about the book we've been reading." She grins, obviously excited about the project. "We started before Spring Break, but when we go back on Monday, we're going to finish our boxes and present them!"

"That's verra cool. Are ye ready?"

"Yep!" she squeals, "I basically finished before break, I'll probably just help Lori with hers. She's my best friend, but she doesn't really like the project, so she's not done yet."

Jamie smiles, saying he would love to see it when she brings it home, and Claire beams at the thought.

"I'm making numbers with base ten blocks!" Brianna announces, clearly wanting to be a part of the conversation. "I really like Math."

"That's wonderful, a leannan. Numbers can be verra challenging for some people."

He looks over to Claire, pride shining in his eyes as Brianna continues rambling on about how they're learning tens and ones in first grade, but, "My teacher, her name is Miss Green, works with me and another boy on the hundreds place because we understand tens and ones already!"

Jamie chuckles, praising her. "That's braw, lass!"

Bree admits that one girl in her class makes fun of her at recess for being smart, but she just ignores her now. "Mama told me not to ever let anyone make me feel bad for having a brain."

Claire chokes, giggling as Jamie laughs, too, saying, "She's right. Dinna fash over people who're jealous of ye."

Bree nods, and Claire isn't sure if the message was received by the six year old, but maybe one day it'll set in.

Faith stands after a few more sips of tea, showing off her ballet skills to the party guests, Brianna making the life-sized Barbie's hands clap for her sister.

Brianna tells Jamie about her horseback riding lessons, and Jamie tells her all about Donas, her little golden eyes lighting up as she asks to meet him one day.

After the tea party is all cleaned up, they head upstairs, the girls running off to the living room while Jamie helps Claire put away the dishes.

He's quiet, and she worries that something may have happened this afternoon that she didn't pick up on.

She takes a cup from his hand, smiling apprehensively as she moves to put it away. Before the silence can kill her, she asks, "Everything okay?"

Sighing, Jamie rests his hands on the counter, looking over his shoulder at her. He makes a grunting sound in the back of his throat, and spins, pressing his back into the counter, his strong arms crossing over his body as he faces her. "It's nothing serious, Sassenach."

At his words, she can feel her shoulder visibly relax, and he smirks, reaching out a hand to summon her closer. She slings the dish towel over her shoulder, coming to stand next to him.

Their shoulders are pressed together, both of their bodies facing the refrigerator. She watches him from the corner of his eyes, his own gaze fixated on the photographs on the large appliance before them.

"Brianna," he says quietly, looking down at Claire. "I told ye I dreamed of her, no?"

She nods silently, and he continues, "I always imagined her, the same little face popping up in my dreams. I wasna sure of her name, o'course, but I saw her, Brianna. Just as she truly looks in all the old pictures ye've shown me."

Claire bites her lip, not wanting to break this moment, wanting to let him speak.

"Today when we were playing, her hair fell over to one shoulder, ye ken?" He shrugs, looking back at the photos. "I saw a wee birthmark behind her ear."

Nodding, Claire murmurs about the dark spot their daughter has always had.

"I saw it, the birthmark, in my dreams, ken. Always saw myself kissing that wee blemish when she was just a bairn." He sighs out a shuddering breath, and Claire can tell he's trying not to cry. "I dinda ken it was real, until today, that my dreams were somehow truly connected to her."

Her eyes mist over, hating Master Raymond and anyone else involved that took this wonderful man away from them for so long, that made him miss out on all the little moments of learning who his children really are.

"Och," he breathes, trying to chuckle and lighten the mood. "Just threw me for a second when I saw it, 'tis all. Just nice tae know I was always here, somehow, even if it was just in my dreams."

Nodding, she scoots closer, lifting one of his arms from his chest and loops it around her shoulder as she snuggles closer to him.

He kisses the top of her head, and they stand there for a few weighted moments, both scanning over the pictures on the refrigerator once more.

There's one of Jenny, Ian, and their three kids—Jamie, Maggie and Kitty—standing with Claire and the girls in front of a waterfall. It was from one of their visits to Scotland, and Claire takes her phone, sending Jenny a text, remembering she hadn't spoken to her since landing back in America.

We're home and unpacked, just trying to sleep as much as possible before going back to work and school.

She closes her phone, glancing up at Jamie. His eyes flick from her phone to her face, smiling sadly. "How is she?"

"She's good," Claire nods, "and Ian and the kids. That's their youngest, Kitty." She points to the baby in the photograph. "She's two now, and she and the rest of them are always so excited to FaceTime the girls."

He smiles at that, sighing, "I canna believe how big wee Jamie and Maggie have gotten." He eyes mist over as she stares at the picture. "Maggie was just a babe when I left, couldna even crawl."

She smiles sympathetically, rubbing his back. He glanced over at Claire, then back to the fridge, saying he's glad they still keep in touch, and Claire scoffs a laugh, shoulders shaking. "You think Jenny would have let me disappear after your death?"

Jamie snickers, pulling her even closer still, his nose nuzzling into her brown curls. "Definitely not."

After a few moments, the girls' laughter brings them back to reality, and they make their way into the living room, Claire's fingers linked with Jamie's.

With that, they spend the rest of the day together—playing, talking, and enjoying one of the last days of Spring Break as a family—and as Claire settles into bed that night, she realizes that not once during the day did she spare a thought for Frank Randall.

{**********************}

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine:

A few days later, Spring Break has officially ended for all the Fraser girls. Faith and Brianna have returned to school, and Claire's gone back to the hospital.

She'd met up with Frank for lunch on Monday, him bringing her their favorite Thai food and eating outside the hospital. It was the only time she'd been able to see him since he picked them up from the airport between spending time with Jamie and avoiding everyone like the plague. She'd barely been able to get through her meal, remorse gnawing at her insides.

"Are you alright, love?" he asked, draping his arm over her shoulder.

They sat under her favorite magnolia tree, providing just enough shade to keep them cool in the warm spring heat.

Frank leaned in, his nose nudging against her cheek and pulling her from her thoughts.

She smiled, tentatively pressing her lips to his. She doesn't want him to know something is wrong before she has a chance to gather her thoughts and break up with him, but the feel of his lips on her now make her feel uncomfortable. She pulled back almost as quickly, smiling tightly at him.

Claire hated this. Hated the feeling of betrayal to Jamie, but also feeling as if she were betraying Frank with her husband. She had feelings for Frank, real feelings, and she knew it was unfair to just assume they'd up and disappear simply because Jamie came back to life.

Her hand cupped his cheek, allowing her mind to quiet as he leaned in again, his lips melting against hers momentarily.

She whimpered into the embrace, the emotions of the last week spilling out. "Frank," she breathed, pulling away.

He smiled, obviously thinking her whimper was a good sound. His hand landed on her knee, whispering how he could come over tonight. "I know it's too late to get a babysitter," he amended, "but we could have a nice glass of wine after the girls go to sleep, make out a little on the couch."

He grinned, and she couldn't help the awkward half-giggle it drew from her. God, this was so hard.

But she knew Jamie would be coming over tonight, so she bit her lip, trying to keep the emotions from her own face and praying her glass face didn't give her away.

"I have to be up early for work," she lied with a shrug, "but I can come over tomorrow, just the two of us." She chastely pecked his lips to punctuate her sentence, and he smiled, his hand rubbing gently on her thigh.

His hand moved higher, and she pushed his hand gently away, admonishing, "Frank, we're in public."

Her eyes darted to the pair of nurses on the next bench, chatting amicably about their days, then over to the old man by the trash can smoking his cigarette.

He leaned in, kissing her neck. "So?" he breathed, "No one is looking."

She scoffed out a laugh, but as his hand rose higher, more insistent, she put her foot down, swatting his hand away and pulling back from his embrace. "Frank."

"Fine," he sighed, smiling sweetly, though she could tell he was irritated. She knew seven months was a long time to wait to have sex, especially when he's had feelings for her for so much longer, but now that Jamie's back, she's more than glad she never slept with him. "You coming over tomorrow sounds great." He smiled again, pecking her cheek this time. "Can't wait, love."

Smiling, she spent the rest of her lunch date with thoughts of her boyfriend and her husband swirling in her mind. She barely heard whatever Frank was saying, all the while planning what to say to him at dinner when she inevitably broke his heart.

She's been keeping in contact with Jamie, not seeing him during the daytime over the past two days has been hard, but he's come over both nights for dinner, respectfully leaving once the girls have been tucked into bed—mainly due to the fact that he had a curfew and the safe house was an hour away from Claire's, more if there was traffic, which, being Atlanta, there always was.

After bedtime, she and Jamie had spent time in the kitchen or living room talking and hanging out as if they were dating again, getting to know each other once more after all this time. She's loved every moment of it, no matter how badly she wants Jamie, it's been fun and flirty spending time with him like this. It makes her feel like they are young college kids all over again, and the butterflies in her stomach just won't seem to leave—not that she wants them to.

They held hands and flirted, but nothing more. Nothing since their one and only kiss that effectively freaked her out when she was rushed with reminders of Frank. She knows she needs to end things with him before she and Jamie can do more, it just wouldn't be right, and Jamie understands that.

She would have done it sooner, but between her shift at the hospital and wanting Jamie to come over both evenings, she hadn't had a night to go over to Frank's and end things. It's only been a few days since Jamie landed in Georgia, and she has to remind herself of that constantly when she feels as if it's been weeks since he got here and she's been dragging this break up out unnecessarily.

Frank has been asking to come over, and she's aware he knows something is wrong. They haven't seen each other in the five days she and the girls have been back, save for the day he picked them up from the airport and their one lunch date she'd agreed to. She hadn't wanted to break up with him over lunch since they were in public, which is why she agreed to the dinner, knowing doing it in the privacy of one of their homes would be better, more respectful to Frank and the pain she would cause him.

She spends the rest of her workday avoiding as many coworkers as possible, knowing they'll want to hear about her vacation and she's not sure if she can lie to that many people. It had been hard enough yesterday and Tuesday on her shifts, but Wednesdays were her favorite days, her favorite nurses were on call, and she hadn't had a chance to catch up with them yet.

Joe can obviously tell something is wrong and asks her what's up on their lunch break. "You still jet-lagged? You've been quiet this week."

Nodding, she swallows a sip of her coffee. "Yeah, I didn't realize how much the whole thing would wear me out."

"Hm," he grunts, eyeing her up suspiciously. "You sure that's it, Lady Jane? You seem awfully distracted by that phone today."

He's grinning at her, and she fights the urge to smile right back, saying she's waiting to hear from Frank. "I texted him earlier to see if he wanted to have dinner. I've only seen him twice since we got back."

Joe grunts again, rolling his eyes slightly at the mention of her boyfriend. "Here I thought you'd run off and gotten yourself a Spanish fling, making you realize Frank was a tool."

"Joe," she scoffs, unable to help the little chuckle that leaves her lips. Her best friend was never Frank's biggest fan. "If you must know, the trip did help me put some things into perspective."

He sits up straighter at that, leaning into the table as his elbows slide against the wooden surface. "Oh yeah?"

She worries her lips, taking another sip of coffee and a bite of her sandwich, deliberately chewing slowly to rile him up. She smirks around her bite as she watches him fidget, rolling his eyes at her when he realizes what she's doing.

Clearing her throat once she's swallowed, she sits back, her finger trailing along the rim of her mug. "I think I just realized that Frank isn't the man I'm supposed to be with."

She watches as Joe attempts oh so desperately not to shout with glee, the smile blossoming on his face unable to be quelled. "You're impossible," she laughs, rolling her eyes again.

"I'm sorry, LJ," he snickers, "I just think it's been six months too long, and I'm glad you're ending things. Do you need me to watch the girls tonight while you do it?"

Her breath catches in her throat, knowing Jamie had already more than eagerly agreed to do just that. She tells him she already has a babysitter, and he nods, the subject dropping after he declares, "Well you must tell me all about it tomorrow."

{***************************}

That night, Claire finds herself in Frank's kitchen, the silence between them almost deafening.

Their silverware clangs and scrapes along the porcelain plates, and she can hear his heavy breathing.

"Have you gotten enough sleep since Spain?" he finally asks, taking a sip of his wine. "I know you've been saying how tired you are."

Nodding, she says that she has and that it was nice to spend the last days of the girls' break with them.

He smiles at that, and she feels bad, knows the awkwardness tonight is all because of her, and Frank really does care about her children.

Once she's swallowed the last bite of her chicken, she sets the fork down, taking a deep breath. "Frank…"

His brown eyes find hers, the confusion already swimming in them at her tone.

"How about," he says, cutting her off as he slides his chair closer to hers. His hand lands on her thigh, squeezing gently, "we pick up where we left off the other day on our lunch date."

He leans in, pressing his lips to hers. She allows it briefly, letting him deepen it as his hand slides up her thigh, inching closer and closer to where she'd normally be wanting him. His hand flexes on her thigh, but she thinks of Jamie at home with the girls, which slams her back to reality faster than anything. "Frank," she says, panting as she pulls back. "We can't do this in the middle of the kitchen."

He grins, a coy little thing, saying he thinks they can. He reaches for the button on her jeans, and says, "Or we could always take this to my room," kissing her harshly between each of his words.

She scoffs unsurely at his insistence. The touching is nothing new, they've done it before, fingers slipping beneath hem lines, mouths bringing each other to orgasm, but she could never let them go all the way. Images of Jamie would always flash through her mind, especially in more intimate moments with Frank, effectively killing the mood.

His fingers toy with her denim, but she pushes on his shoulder, silently begging him to back off, wondering in the back of her mind why he's so much more insistent tonight. "Frank, I need to talk to you."

"Should I be worried?" he asks, pulling away and letting her sit up straighter in her chair. God, she feels so guilty, hates to do this with no good explanation. She doesn't want to hurt him but… she has to do this. He scoots his chair back to its place, his hand still resting on her knee. He smooths his hair down, and she smiles as his face softens. He was always so patient, never pushing her for more, until tonight for some reason, even though they both clearly wanted to go further.

Sighing, she gulps down the last of her wine, saying, "Spain was really good for me. It made me realize some things about my life."

"Like what?" he asks sincerely, reaching across the table to take her hand in his.

"Like the fact that I'm… not really…" She looks down at their hands, then back up to his face, grimacing, "happy... in this relationship."

He frowns, head tilting to the side. He looks confused and she understands. Things had been going really well for them before Spain, so this seems completely out of the blue, and God, she wishes she could just tell him the truth; he deserves that. He doesn't deserve… whatever this is.

"I just don't think I was really ready to date after all, Frank," she admits, reciting the words she'd practiced all throughout the day and on the ride over like a script. "You've been wonderful, and the girls adore you, but I… I just need some more time."

He pushes his chair back, standing abruptly as he begins to pace in front of the table. The sudden movement startles Claire, and she sits back in her chair, watching him. He looks angry, a fiery look she's never seen in his eyes before.

"Is there someone else?" he finally demands, his pacing stopping as he turns to look down sharply at her, hovering over where she sits.

"What?" She shakes her head vehemently, brows furrowing. "No. Why would you say that?"

Frank takes three calming breaths, a silent fury burning beneath the surface. It's awkward, she doesn't quite know what to do but to let him stew in his emotions, let him figure things out in his own mind. He sits back down with a shaky exhale, taking her hand in his. It's not as gentle as his touch normally is, and she wonders if that's on her part or his.

It's his, she decides, as she feels his thumbs pressing roughly into her skin. "You've seemed so distant lately. The one day I've seen you, you were checking your phone constantly. I'm not an idiot, Claire."

And no, no, he's not. His statement makes her feel even worse, because she knows she's been acting differently since Spain, how could she not be? But she can't truly explain it to him, so she sits, watching the anger flash across his face.

The way he spits her name doesn't sit right with her, an uncomfortable feeling growing in her gut, but she shakes her head again, saying, "It's not like that. I just don't think I'm ready for something so serious." She sighs, eyes closing before peeking open again. "It's been a great seven months, Frank, but I… I can't do this."

He stands unexpectedly again, this time his chair practically falling over. She watches as it teeters on its hind legs before wobbling back into its rightful place on the ground.

Her eyes flick to Frank, studying him as he paces. "I don't believe this," he mutters, almost so softly that she misses it, then he adds a, "don't believe you," that irrationally bothers her. His brows are pinched together, muttering something to himself under his breath, his hands balled into fists, and she wonders if he has a secret angry side she's never witnessed before. She thinks she hears a bitch uttered, too, but she can't know for sure. Why is he spiraling so much over this? She knows he loves her, sure, but this anger seems a bit much for the situation, and it puts Claire on edge. She knew he wouldn't take it well, but being angry enough to look as if he's going to hit her, or maybe a wall or something, seems a bit extreme and it worries her.

When she doesn't say anything else, he briskly steps closer to her, his jaw clenched as tightly as his fists while he hovers above her with a scowl on his face. She feels cornered, her fight or flight reflexes gearing up inside of her. Would he hit her? She doesn't think so, but the way his body is reacting to this breakup makes her think she can't be too sure. Her back is against the wall, and she curses herself for sitting in this particular chair.

He's snarling, one fist shaking, and he looks like he's contemplating his next move.

Her eyebrow cocks up, almost daring him to do something. How dare he fucking act like he wants to hit her. She's never seen him like this before and it angers her just as much. Before he can get any closer, she manages to press on his chest, muttering a, "Get out of my way," as she wriggles out from between his body and the wall, grabbing her purse off the kitchen counter.

"Goodbye, Frank," she spits, slinging her purse over her body as she turns on her heel to make her exit, her heart pounding in her ears the whole time.

Her eyes are swimming with tears, angry tears, not sad, and she's shaking, furious and beyond confused that he would react that violently to a breakup.

She stops briefly in the doorway of his kitchen, her hand lingering on the door jamb. "I'm truly sorry," she whispers, though now she's not sure why after that visceral reaction, and she leaves, slamming the door behind her and hoping it covers up the sound of her beating heart.

{*************************}

Her drive home is spent with the radio off, the silence of the car surrounding her as thoughts of what just happened fill her mind, spinning around and around like a bad ferris wheel that she can't get off of.

She knew Frank would be upset, but holy shit, what the fuck was that big of a reaction for? She's never seen him like that, and in the moment, it hadn't truly hit her just how dangerous he had seemed. Sure, he was mad and it confused her, but what if she'd said more? Talked back? She's honestly not sure now if she believes he wouldn't have gotten violent.

Shaking her head, and thankful she got out of there when she did, Claire opens the garage door, glad to be home.

When she pulls into her garage, she sits there a moment, collecting herself and taking deep, calming breaths. She refuses to go inside and see her daughters when she's still wound up like this.

The drive back from Frank's didn't help any, her heart pounding the whole time. She kept picturing his face, an anger she's never seen before, as if he were a whole new person. Those fists balled up simultaneously scared her but also pissed her off. If he had actually hit her, she's not sure what her natural response would be, though the urge to slap him right now tells her she would have fought back.

His Is there someone else? kept ringing the whole way home, her ears feeling as if cotton has been stuffed inside of them. Her face was hot, she didn't need a mirror to know it was flushed with anger.

Breathing out one more deep breath, she gathers her purse, kills the ignition and closes the garage door.

She pats her cool hands to her cheeks, hoping to abate some of the hot redness she feels there before she sees her family.

When she steps inside, the kitchen is empty, lights off except for the one above the stove, and it fills her with a familiar warmth. Jamie used to always leave the oven light on for her when she worked late, and the thought makes her happy. It's a comfortable familiarity between them, and she's missed that feeling. Never had it so deeply with Frank no matter how hard she tried to convince herself she did.

She slides her purse onto one of the hooks by the back door, meandering into the living room.

Jamie is on the couch with the girls, Faith's head in his lap, legs stretched across the couch asleep. Bree is curled into his chest, also asleep, her bum resting on Faith's back. His head is leaned back, mouth agape as he snores softly, and she snickers to herself at the sight, shaking her head as she pads gently into the room.

None of them can possibly be comfortable like this, but the sight is too sweet to pass up. She takes her phone out, snapping a picture before the moment is lost and saving it to her hidden camera roll along with all the other's she's taken lately. She'll have to send him that one later, too.

She steps over to Jamie, shaking his shoulder slightly, waving silently when his eyes blink open blearily. He smiles and she's transported right back to years ago when Faith was a baby. She'd fall asleep on his chest, curled into a tiny ball, and he'd ever so gently stand, placing her in the crib. He was always so gentle with her, just like he still is with both girls.

"Hi," he whispers, voice scratchy with sleep. "How was it?"

Her lips immediately seal into a thin line, eyes misting over, but she shakes her head, saying, "It was fine. I'll tell you later."

She knows he can read her face, never one to have the ability to hide her emotions, but he nods. Looking down, he motions with his chin to Bree, "Ye take this one, and I'll get Faith."

Smiling, she scoops Brianna into her arms. The little girl squirms and moans but falls right back to sleep once she's settled into Claire's embrace.

They carry them up to bed, thankful Jamie had gotten them bathed and changed into pajamas earlier apparently so she doesn't have to try and change them out of their regular clothes to sleep.

Once they are back downstairs, they each take what's become 'their' spots on the couch, Claire's leg curling underneath her body as she turns to face Jamie. His arm is resting along the back of the couch, and she longs to be wrapped inside of that strong embrace.

"So how did it really go?" he asks, giving her a pointed look as he turns the television off with the remote, setting it softly on the coffee table.

She tells him about dinner, and how awkward it had been. She recounts how she broke up with him, her eyes tearing up again, this time with frustrated tears, as she recalls how angry Frank had gotten. "He stood up and started pacing. His hands were clenched into fists," she says, clasping her own into fists to demonstrate, "and his eyes, Jamie, I've never seen his eyes look so mad." Her brows cinch together as she recalls the look in Frank's eyes.

Claire lets her curled leg fall a bit, her knee resting against his thigh. His hand is resting there, thumb stroking lightly as she tells him everything that happened—Frank hovering over her, how she slid between his body and the chair and left, all of it.

"Do ye think he would have hurt you?"

"No," she says instantly, shaking her head, though she's not entirely sure anymore. "No, I-I don't think so, anyway. I was scared in the moment, he did almost look like he was going to hit me, but…"

Jamie's jaw tenses, and she can see the wheels turning in his mind. He asks if she's okay, and she nods, assuring him that she is.

"Ye're a brave wee thing, ye ken that?"

She smiles, shaking her head. "I'm just glad I never slept with him," she mutters, more to herself, but Jamie snorts, eyebrows raising at the confession.

"That makes two fo us, ye ken?"

She chuckles despite herself, her heartbeat calming down even more as she looks into Jamie's face. "I think he was just confused. It came out of the blue, obviously, and I'm sure he could tell I was lying about my reasoning for the break up."

"Aye, wi' yer wee glass face an' all."

Snorting, she smacks his chest, but agrees, knowing that she wears her heart on her sleeve and anyone who knows her well enough would be able to see right through her lies.

"I could always tell when ye had a surprise for me," he grins, taking her hand in his. His thumb traces over the wedding band, and she laughs, remembering how she used to get so mad at him for figuring out her secret plans. "Like that time at uni when ye wanted to surprise me with a weekend getaway."

"Oh, god," she groans, bringing a hand to cover her face. "I was so mad at you that day."

She'd attempted to surprise him with a long weekend away to Lallybroch. His father and Jenny would be gone, and she'd thought it would be perfect. They could spend the whole weekend cuddled up in front of the fireplace, taking long walks through the gardens and just enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.

He'd figured it out, of course, because she can't hide anything, and he'd ruined her surprise by telling her he knew what she was planning.

She'd cried and gotten angry, but in the end, they'd had an amazing weekend away… and Jamie learned from there on out to never tell her when he'd discovered her surprises lest they get into another argument.

They laugh at the memory now, their bodies somehow moving even closer as his arm snakes around her shoulders. They spend the next few moments reminiscing over their favorite times at university, before the conversation shifts to all the antics they had with Murtagh that just about gave Jamie's father, Brian, a heart attack.

This feels nice, she decides; this is comfortable, there are no awkward pauses, only comfortable silences when the conversation lags, both just content to sit in each other's arms. She loves this feeling and hopes it never goes away again.

Her hand is on his leg, her fingers swirling a mindless pattern against his denim while his hand rubs at her shoulders.

Their touches feel more free now that Frank is out of the picture, and her breath deepens as she realizes for the first time tonight that she's truly able to be with Jamie, fully, completely.

Her hand moves to his chest, resting over his heart, and she inches closer, lips hovering above his. She bites down on her bottom lip, hoping he's picking up on the signal she's giving him. She smiles coyly, scooting even closer, her breath labored as his head tilts.

She goes to speak, but before she can, his phone's alarm goes off, and their moment is broken. They both sigh out, their breath panting as Claire tries to reel herself back in. It's his alarm to let him know it's time to leave, so he shuts it off, saying, "I should be getting back to the safe house…"

"Y-yeah," she breathes, nodding as she pulls herself out of the haze they'd created, sitting back against the cushion. There's an ache between her legs that she knows she'll have to take care of on her own tonight before she glee insane with need, but though she's disappointed, she smiles over at Jamie, patting his cheek.

"John stays up every night tae make sure I get home safely," he explains, looking at his watch. "I have tae be back before midnight, remember? Like Cinderella." He grins, but it turns into a grimace as he says, "I ken he worries, especially being back in Georgia."

Reality hits her hard at those words, and she remembers how unsafe it truly is for him to be back here. This isn't just her spending time with her newly found husband; this is dangerous. He's taking a risk by even being back here, and her heart quickens at the thought.

He only has a few more days in town, and she won't chance anything going wrong, so she stands slowly, reaching out a hand to hoist him up from the couch with her.

"Well, I'd hate for your carriage to turn back into a pumpkin."

He chuckles, kissing her cheek as she links their hands together, walking him to the door. He takes his jacket, slipping it on slowly as she watches him.

"Weel… goodnight, then, mo chridhe."

There's silence between them, her thoughts swirling fiercely. A moment passes, a weighted tension between them as she watches Jamie lick his lips, his blue eyes flickering down to her lips before meeting her eyes.

Chewing on her bottom lip, she toys with it briefly, the realization hitting her all over again that this is allowed now—she's single. With that, she breathes a, "Come here, you," and wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss. A real kiss. One they haven't been able to share since that first night.

It's as if little explosions of fireworks go off in both of their minds, Jamie's hands gripping her waist and pulling her impossibly closer. Her body is pressed against the hard lines of his torso, she can feel his abs beneath his shirt, and God, does she want him.

His lips move across hers, and she presses her tongue to his lips, begging for entrance that he gladly grants. She tilts her head, deepening their kiss and savoring the feel of his lips and tongue pressed to hers.

This is the kiss she's longed for ever since he went out for the damn ice cream. It's the kiss she'd dreamt of for so long, the kiss she'd imagine at night after experiencing Frank's thin lips on hers.

This. This is everything. His kiss says so much, holds so much promise. I love you, I'm here, I'm never leaving you again

She can feel her eyes filling with tears, and she curses herself. She's tired of crying. She just wants to enjoy the feel of her husband, damn it.

Her hands grip his biceps, loving the feel of his muscles beneath hers as his hands grip her hips, hands pulsing on her strip of flesh that's exposed between her jeans and her top.

When the need for air consumes her, she pulls away, biting her lip to hide how large her smile is.

"Weel then," he drawls, his smirk taking up residence on his face, "I should get going."

She sighs, not wanting him to go just yet, but nods, and he leans in once more, pressing another one, two, three more chaste kisses to her lips, causing her to giggle.

As she locks the door behind him and makes her way upstairs for the night, she can't contain the smile on her face. Her hands trace over the lips, embracing the feel of him against her once more. It's a feeling she never thought she'd ever have again, and she's going to revel in it for as long as she can.

She loves this man, and figuring out their new life won't be easy, but now that she's ended things with Frank, she feels like a weight has been lifted. She can truly be back with Jamie and they can figure this whole thing out, together.

{**************************}

There we have it! Her relationship with Frank is over—woohoo! Lol Hope you enjoyed this one. Please review! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten:

"Lady Jane, that break up did wonders for your mood," Joe jokes, walking into her office. "I've never seen you look happier."

She rolls her eyes, locking her phone that she'd just been staring at. She was texting Jamie, something she couldn't seem to stop doing lately. He'd had to leave without much warning the day after she ended things with Frank due to some business he and John needed to take care of. Not being able to know exactly what that meant worried her, but they'd talked the whole time he was gone, excited for his return.

She knows John is pushing it, letting Jamie stay in Georgia for as long as he has. Their friend had already gotten in trouble from his boss the day before he and Jamie left, but she appreciates his efforts in trying to give them as much time as possible together. Realistically, she knows he'll have to go back eventually, only to return for the trial, but for now, she'll soak up every last minute with him.

She had hoped that when he got back, she'd finally get to be with him, completely.

But their children, unfortunately for them, had other plans.

John had finally allowed Jamie to spend the night a few days after arriving back in Georgia, which excited both of them, but Faith had had a bad dream, crawling into bed with her and Jamie before she could even remove his clothing.

"Mama," Faith sniffled, cracking the door open.

Claire jumped out of her skin, pulling her nightgown down from where she'd just started to raise it. "What is it, sweetheart?"

Faith stepped into the room, jumping into the bed and snuggling into Jamie's chest. "I had a bad dream," she whimpered, looking over to Claire.

Claire stood there, her motherly instincts winning out over her hormones as she slipped into bed beside her daughter. "Oh, sweetheart," she cooed, "it was only a bad dream. It's over now."

"D'ye want to talk about it, a leannan?"

She shook her head, curling into his embrace. Her little body shook as she clearly thought about her nightmare again, and Claire rubbed her back, humming softly.

"Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside," she sang softly, Faith twisting to curl into Claire's arms, her head resting on her mother's chest. "I do like to be beside the seaside. Oh, I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom…"

Her voice trailed off as Faith's breathing evened out, her body splayed between her parents.

Once her little snores filled the silence between them, and Claire knew she was definitely asleep, she went to pick her up, but Jamie stopped her with a hand on her wrist. "Nae, let the lass sleep here wi' us," he begged. "What if she has the nightmare again, ken? I wouldna want her to wake up alone."

Unable to fight his sweet logic, she'd snuggled back into the bed with a sigh, kissing Faith's head as they all drifted off to sleep.

That next morning, Brianna had awoken to discover her sister got to sleep with Mama and Daddy, and therefore that night, it was Bree's turn to toss and turn, kicking she and Jamie in the stomachs and shins all night as their little wild child slept in bed with them.

She smiles at the memory, just glad her girls get to have these moments now.

"Earth to LJ, come in, LJ" Joe teases, waving his hand in front of her face.

She swats his palm away, laughing and apologizing.

"I am quite happy," she assures, going back to his original statement to prove she was listening. "Thank you very much."

Joe grins, shaking his head as he swipes the apple she'd bought at the cafeteria canteen earlier off her desk, taking a bite as he makes his way across the hall to his office.

Giggling, she yells into his office that she'll be in later to rummage through his drawer of snacks to make up for the one he just stole, which simply earns her a laugh as he goes back to his paperwork.

Her thoughts flit back to Jamie, and the week they've had together since he returned from North Carolina.

The first few nights, he'd had to go back to the safe house like normal while John got it approved for him to stay the night. Then, their bed was filled with their children, and the last two nights, work had gotten in the way of making love to her husband, coming home far too late after surgeries and finding Jamie already passed out in their bed.

She was sexually frustrated like never before, but Jamie had reminded her, in between kisses to her flushed skin, that he didn't want their first time to be a quickie. He wanted to take his time, wanted to savor every inch of her, which only made her more desperate with each passing day.

"I just want you," she huffed, causing him to laugh as they cleaned up the kitchen.

"Aye, and I want ye more than life itself, mo ghraidh," he said, stepping over to where she stood at the sink. He pressed his front to her back, but she turned, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I want ye so badly, I can scarcely breathe."

He grinned, pressing his lips to hers, then her jaw, before moving down to her neck and sucking on that pulse point that he knew drove her crazy. "But," he said, lifting his lips from her neck, "I want," he said, kissing her collarbone, "to take," a kiss to her earlobe, "my time wi' ye," he finished, his lips landing back on her jaw, kissing back up to her lips and covering her in goosebumps.

She could feel the blush rising on her pale skin, heating her from the inside out. Christ, she wanted him so badly, she thought she might just come by looking at him.

"I want to savor every inch of ye, Claire," he whispered hotly into her ear, making her breath catch in her throat. "Our first time together again shouldna be some rushed thing while the girls clean their playroom, ken?" he asked, her breath panting out in the space between them, his words teasing her, toying with her libido. "I willna take ye in the shower or on this counter," he said, smacking the granite behind her, "until I can have ye fully and completely in our bed." His lips find hers again, trailing slowly down to her neck, then her chest, peppering kisses above her racing heart. "I will have ye," he teased, "and I will savor every inch of yer velvet skin," his hand glided across her arms, down to her hips, reaching around to grasp her arse in his hands. "I will hold this round arse of yers completely, and soon," he quipped, smacking said arse for good measure.

Damn him.

He knew she was horny, turned on beyond belief, and the feel of his hard cock beneath his jeans told her he was just as affected by his words as she was. But his amusement over her predicament seemed to take precedence over how he was feeling. Bastard.

Pulling herself from her thoughts, she calms her breathing, thoughts of her husband's naked body beneath hers filling her mind. God, she couldn't wait to see him again. Whenever that may be.

She knows it's good, in the long run, that things have gotten in their way to slow them down. They still have things to work out, still have more to learn about what the other had done all these years or how they've changed.

They can't go on dates out in public, which has frustrated Jamie, but John had been dropping him off at her house or she and the girls had gone to the safe house. The girls much preferred Jamie coming to their home, though, after they discovered Sophia wasn't in Georgia with John.

John is a great friend, and she's thankful he's bent so many rules to make this work for them until the trial.

Sighing, she looks across the hall, catching a glimpse of Joe as he makes phone calls and looks over an x-ray.

She wants to tell him so badly, wants to shout it from the rooftops. She'd almost blurted it out to Geillis the other day while grabbing coffee together, but she can't, she won't…

She was thrilled for tonight, though, she had finally worked up the courage yesterday to tell Geillis that she had a date tonight, which meant her friend immediately offered to babysit the girls, "Just in case things go weel wi' this mystery man."

Claire laughs at the memory, texting Geillis to confirm she and Dougal can still watch the girls.

Aye, o'course, hen! You enjoy this mystery man and I'll drop the girls off in the morning… or whenever ye text me to say ye're ready for them to return ;)

Snorting, she opens up her text with Alexander Malcolm, confirming that she'll drop Faith and Brianna off with Geillis tonight and then they can have the whole evening to themselves.

Canna wait, Sassenach. Been thinkin of it all day…

She blushes, biting down on her lip as her mind swirls with images of all the things he might do to her tonight, finally.

Before the day ends, Joe bounds back into her office, holding up his phone. "Woah, woah, woah," he says, waving his phone in front of her. "What's this I hear about a date?"

Groaning, she looks up to the ceiling, shaking her head at the fact that Geillis has a bigger mouth than she originally thought.

"I didn't want to say anything until tomorrow," she gives as a made up explanation. "If it's terrible, we'll have something to laugh over, and if it goes well, then… I'll have a nice story to share over lunch."

Joe claps his hands together, hooting a sound of excitement, saying letting Frank go was the best thing she could have ever done. "I'm happy for you, LJ," he tells her, his voice growing sincere. "You deserve some happiness, and I hope this guy is the start of that."

She feels a lump form in her throat as she thanks her friend, smiling as he makes his way back into the office to grab his briefcase and head out for the day.

Claire does much the same, wrapping up a patient file before gathering her belongings and heading out.

{**********************}

A few hours later, the girls' bags are packed and both Faith and Brianna are bounding with excitement, ready to spend the night with Aunt Geillis and Uncle Dougal.

They've earned a night away, she thinks, knowing they've worked hard in school these first two weeks back from the break, and they've, surprisingly, kept the secret of Jamie to themselves.

She's suddenly nervous that a whole night with their aunt and uncle might loosen their lips, but she pushes those thoughts away as she loads everything into the car. She refuses to let her fear hinder her night alone with Jamie.

Once the girls are dropped off with lots of hugs and kisses, and promises in the car to not say anything about Daddy, Claire heads back to her house.

When she walks in, her breath is lost to her.

Jamie is in the kitchen, lights turned down low in the dining room and candles lit on the table.

She feels warm and fuzzy deep inside her belly. She loves this man so much, hasn't said those words much yet, though she's not entirely sure why, but wants to shout it from the rooftops now.

"Smells amazing in here," she croons, walking over to where he stands at the stove, wrapping her arms around his stomach, her chest pressed to his back.

"Hm," he grunts, pointing toward the stove, "just finishing the chicken."

Nodding, she steps back, sliding up onto the countertop as she watches him work. He stirs the sauce, then the noodles, and she knows he's making her favorite—chicken parmesan. He was always so good at making this, and she's glad he chose it for the night.

He finishes the chicken, smirking over at her, before asking if she wants to help dish it all out.

Hopping from the counter, she grabs two wine glasses, taking them over to the table to join the bottle of red he already has out.

Walking back, she takes a plate from him, scooping her portion of pasta onto her plate.

Once they're settled at the table, a basket of garlic knots he'd made as well between them, they enjoy a nice, quiet dinner. It's romantic, and she has to laugh a little, noting how much quieter the house is without the girls.

"Aye," he laughs, "But ye canna say ye don't miss the noise."

She grins, knowing he's right. Having children changes you, changes the amount of noise you tolerate in the house, and when it's too quiet, she always feels as if something is wrong.

But this is nice, for tonight, having an evening away with her husband.

That word still makes her smile, a word she'd tucked away in the recesses of her mind, convincing herself she'd never use again in the context of any other man but Jamie Fraser.

Over dinner, they talk and catch up, Jamie filling her in on more details of his trip back to North Carolina that he hadn't had a chance to tell her about yet.

"There was word of a trial date soon," he explains, saying that he and John needed to go over some details and work on his testimony. She knew they'd met with his lawyer, Ned Gowen, the other day to practice his cross-examination and other trial prep, but again, both he and John had been tight lipped about it all. She gets the feeling that he isn't telling her everything, but she doesn't question it, doesn't want this night to be ruined.

They talk of the girls, of what they've been doing in school and how Faith has a ballet recital coming up in a few months that she's been practicing for.

"Bree also has a competition in July," she says, biting her lip. "Hopefully things will be safe by then and you can come?"

Jamie nods, taking a sip of his wine. "We'll see, mo chridhe," he says, adding, "it all just depends on the trial, but I verra much hope so."

She nods, too, understanding that he isn't in control of any of this, and she reminds herself just to be thankful that she knows he's alive.

As they finish their meals, taking the last sips of their wine, Jamie stands, reaching out a hand. "May I have this dance?"

She looks around, a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. "There isn't any music."

Jamie shrugs, laughing a bit as he pulls out his phone. He turns a soft tune on before looking at her pointedly, extending his hand again.

With a playful roll of her eyes, she takes his hand, allowing him to pull her up. Their arms wrap around the other as they sway to the hum of the song.

There in her kitchen, she dances with her husband, and the silent tears that trickle down her cheek can't be helped as she embraces the feel of his skin against hers and the vibration of his chest as he hums the song in her ear. No matter how out of tune it may be, it's the most beautiful sound to her right now.

She pauses, pulling back to look him in the eye. She stares for a moment, lost in his blue orbs. She smiles shyly, the words on the tip of her tongue. "I love you, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser."

His gaze mists over, a lone tear slipping down his cheek as he chokes out, "Aye, and whether I'm dead, or you, whether we're together or apart, I will always love you, mo nighean donn, so verra much."

Their lips meet then, conveying all the things they'd yet to say to one another.

He deepens the kiss, pulling a moan from the back of her throat, and their hands begin to wander. Hers settle on his arse for a bit, tucking into the pockets of his jeans, while his hold her by the waist, still swaying her to the music.

Their kisses heat up, his lips leaving hers to lave kisses to her neck and jaw. His hands trail to her back, roaming up and down, seemingly unable to find one spot to land on.

His hands all over her like this sends a thrill up her spine, and she shivers in his embrace.

She pulls away, panting, unable to wait any longer, "Will you come to bed with me?"

Jamie grins, asking playfully, "To bed or to sleep?"

Snorting, she whacks him on the chest, shrugging her shoulder playfully. "Well?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.

Leaning in again, he captures her lips once more, teeth clashing together as they both go in too frantically. They pull away with a laugh, moving together more slowly, savoring the taste of one another.

Growing somber, Jamie asks, "D'ye still want me, Claire? Even after all these years?" His brow furrows as he says, "I ken ye've tried to move on, so…"

"Whoever you are, James Fraser," she declares, wrapping her hands around his neck, assuring that his gaze is locked with hers. "I do want you."

She leans in with that, kissing him soundly on the lips, making sure he knows without a doubt that he is hers and she is his. Their hands move hurriedly, both reaching for the buttons on their jeans. They laugh, knowing they're still just as in sync as ever, and they work together, ridding the other of their bottoms.

The tunic top she'd been wearing is long enough that it still covers her, like wearing a short dress, but she grins at his plaid boxers, wondering how many pairs of tartan underwear he still owns.

They kick their denim to the side, lips finding each other once more. His hand reaches up into her shirt, his warm palm on her back.

"Take me upstairs, Jamie," is all she has to whisper before he's taking her hand, guiding her out of the kitchen, through the living room and up the stairs to their bed.

Their dishes are still out, glasses with wine sitting in the bottom of them, the pans he'd used still in the sink, but for tonight, she'll let it slide. This is far more important.

When they get to her bedroom, there's an electric current radiating between them, as if both of their bodies are on fire.

She's nervous, though she shouldn't be. This is Jamie. This is her husband. He's seen her naked a thousand times, but never after giving birth twice.

Her body has changed over the last six years, and she's suddenly self conscious over what he'll think.

She realizes she's staring at the floor when she sees his toes move against the carpet, and she looks up, smiling softly when she catches his gaze.

"Take off your shirt," she suddenly commands, her moment of self-consciousness fleeting as the need to see him more than she needs air takes over. "I want to look at you."

He hesitates, and she remembers him telling her about the scars on his back. She hopes that he knows she won't mind them, but she tells him anyway. "It's alright."

Jamie slowly undoes the buttons of his blue dress shirt, slipping it from his arms and letting it pool at his feet. He tugs at the hem of his undershirt, pulling it from the confines of his jeans as he lifts it over his head.

If she could come on command, it would be from the way her husband's muscles moved just then as he removed his shirt. Holy hell, she knew he was the most gorgeous man on Earth but seeing him shirtless for the first time in years really just does something to her body.

There's a wetness growing between her thighs, and her core is aching, longing for his touch.

He looks nervous, and she realizes it's because she hasn't said anything.

Licking her lips, she raises one hand, placing it lightly on his chest. Her fingers trail from one side of his chest to the other in a feather light motion as she moves to stand behind him, kissing his shoulder as she does so.

As she moves to his back, her hand ghosts over from his chest, to his bicep, down his hip and to his arse. God, what a backside he still has; firm and taut, nothing has changed in that aspect in all these years.

What has changed, however, is his back. She feels herself grow emotional as she thinks of those men dragging him down the street for miles, ripping the beautiful flesh off his back, and marring him forever.

It doesn't change how she looks at him, though, he's still as gorgeous as ever.

Her nose presses into his back, kissing each scar tenderly. Those scars may be a reminder of the worst night of their lives, but they also serve as a reminder that he survived, for them. She roams around back to his front, her hand trailing behind her ever so slowly as she forces herself to stop touching his rear.

She gets back round to his front side, her fingers grazing against his forearm.

"Well then," he says lowly, "Fair's fair." He grins, a lilt to his voice as he demands, "Take off yer's as well."

Smirking, her chest heaves up and down as she reaches for the hem of her shirt, lifting it up and over her head. She has a camisole on underneath it, so she doesn't feel too exposed just yet.

Jamie bites his lip, smiling as he steps closer, silently asking if he can remove the thin layer.

She nods, her breathing growing ragged as he bends and lifts the thin material, his lips trailing a path up from the hem of her thong to the underwire of her bra, causing her skin to ripple with goosebumps.

He tosses her shirt onto the floor, joining his, as she reaches behind, unclasping her bra. In a moment of bravery, she also hooks her fingers into her thong, drawing it slowly down her legs.

Jamie does the same to his boxers, and before she knows it, they're standing there in front of each other, both looking as nervous as they did the first time they were ever together like this—young, nervous college kids embarking on a love they both knew wasn't like any other they'd experienced before.

He takes a step back, the backs of his knees hitting the mattress as he stares at her naked form.

She chuckles nervously, reaching up to cover her body as best she can. "Will you bloody well say something?" The apprehension over her own body flaring up again.

She knows she has stretch marks now in places she didn't before, her hips a bit wider after birthing both girls, and she fears momentarily that he won't find her attractive anymore.

His mouth opens, then closes, like a fish out of water before he swallows thickly, his eyes trailing up and down her body. "Christ, Claire… ye're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

Her face softens at those words, all the love she's ever felt for this man quadrupling right then and there.

She goes mute for a second, eyes welling with tears, and all she can do is chuckle wetly, shaking her head and saying he needs his reading glasses for more than just reading.

He grins, stepping closer and lowering her hands, revealing her breasts to him once more.

"Dinna cover yerself up, mo nighean donn," he whispers reverently, "ye're mine… and I am yers. Always."

With that, his lips descend onto hers once more, their hands gripping each other by the waist and drawing them closer.

She moans at the contact, the feel of his skin on hers after all this time almost too much to bear.

They move slowly, lip refusing to part as they seem to memorize each other all over again.

One of Jamie's hands moves from his hip to her arse, gripping the mound in his large palm.

The feel of it flares her nerves all over again, and she begins to shake. "Sorry," she laughs when he pulls away to look at her. "I'm not sure why I'm shaking."

He smirks, pecking her lips chastely and saying, "Tis alright, Sassenach. I'm nervous, too." He smiles, kissing her neck, "It's been a verra long time, for both of us."

His words comfort her, though she knew he hadn't been with anyone since her, hearing it confirmed settles her nerves even further.

She reaches around, removing his hand from her rear and pushing on his chest lightly, guiding him backward to the bed. When his knees touch the mattress again, he sinks down, Claire standing above him.

She smiles coyly down at him, his hands raising to rest on her waist, a spot he can't seem to let go of so far tonight.

Her hands cup his cheeks sweetly, leaning down to kiss him.

They're going slow, and she's enjoying it, but she also thinks she might explode if things don't move along. With that thought, she presses on his chest, ushering him to lay down.

He scoots back so his head is on the pillows and she climbs on top of him, straddling his waist.

Their mouths meet again, fiercely, passionately, her wet core pressing onto his stomach.

Jamie groans into her mouth, and she begins to shimmy her hips, begging him without words to touch her.

He flips them over, hovering above her as he peppers kisses from her jaw to her navel, sucking at random intervals and making her squirm.

She pants out, encouraging him to keep going. "Touch me, Jamie," she begs, and that's all it takes before his hand is on her mound, a finger dipping inside and curling up at just the right angle.

The feel of his large finger inside of her just about brings her off the bed, but his other hand holds her in place, his mouth kissing along her hip bone.

"Jamie," she pleads, writhing beneath him. "More."

His kisses continue their descent, placing his lips along her inner thighs. "Christ, ye're sae bonny," he breathes in between kisses. "Missed ye," another kiss to her thigh, "sae much," and one more to her core, making her moan at the surprise of the kiss' placement.

His tongue pokes out, licking up from the base to the top, swirling around her clit just like she likes. Even after all this time, he still remembers what she loves, what gets her off the quickest, and she's glad he's not spending too much time on that, wanting to savor the feel of having him like this in her bed.

She begins to edge closer to her climax already, her hand gripping his hair that's started to grow out lately, pulling him away. "Not yet, Jamie," she pants, "want you inside of me."

He practically growls, reaching down to take his cock in his hand.

It's already so hard, she can feel it pressing against her thigh, and fuck, she wants him so badly. She reaches down, replacing his hand with hers and drawing a moan from her husband's lips.

She strokes him once, twice, smirking at the way his eyes flutter shut. "Do you like that?"

She loves to tease him, loves the way his brows scrunch together as he focuses on the pleasure, how he can barely manage to get his words out coherently.

"Aye, ye ken I do, woman," he grits out, both of them chuckling at how quickly he turned to putty in her hands. "But if ye want me inside ye, ye're gonna have tae let go before I come in yer hand."

At his words, she gives him one more stroke, twisting on the very end to tease him, her thumb grazing under his foreskin to that most sensitive spot, and he curses, glaring at her playfully.

Jamie leans down, kissing her soundly and taking her hands in his, pulling them beside her head and holding them in place. Their fingers intertwine there as his lips work their magic against her skin, once more trailing a wet path from her lips and further down.

"Jamie, I want you inside me," she urges, and he relents, his teasing and toying coming to an end as he finally reaches down, double checking with his fingers that she's wet enough for him.

He takes his cock in his hand, guiding it to her entrance, and holy shit, she has missed this. He glides in easily, her wetness coating him enough that it's not as uncomfortable as she thought it would be.

He's a large man, with a cock big enough to match, and after six years, she's tight. But he fits just right, Jamie moving slowly, allowing her time to adjust to the feel of him again.

Their bodies move together, her hips undulating beneath his, matching him thrust for thrust. They gyrate in slow, rhythmic movements, his hips jerking every now and then as he draws closer to his release. Claire thought she'd never experience this feeling again, so she wants to cherish each and every second, but that is becoming more and more difficult as she feels her insides twisting, clenching as she feels herself moving toward the precipice of ecstasy.

"More, Jamie," she pants, rocking beneath him.

"Tell me what you need, Sassenach," he beseeches, kissing her mouth, then her earlobe, nibbling on the skin and riling her up even more.

She grips his shoulders, nails digging in and forming crescent moon shapes there, then lets her hands soothe over the scarred flesh, once more reminding her that he's here, he's hers, and he's alive.

"Harder," she moans, "oh god, faster."

Not one to have to be told twice, Jamie speeds up, sinking his cock further into her, sheathing himself all the way to the hilt, his balls slapping against her arse as he rocks into her.

"Mmm," she moans, "y-yes, like that!"

She attempts to flip them, knowing he'd hit the right spot from a different angle, and she begs Jamie to help.

With a smirk, he rolls them over, Claire straddling his waist like before. She rocks against him, his hand reaching up to rub at her clit.

"Look down, mo nighean donn," he groans, eyes practically rolling to the back of his skull, "watch me take ye like this."

Oh god, he can't say things like that if he wants her to last longer.

Her eyes are pinched shut, but she forces them open, looking down to watch their sweat slicked bodies move in tandem, bringing each other to their sweet releases.

"Oh, god, Jamie," she moans, writhing harder against him.

His thumb rubs harder against her clit, and she can feel her core tightening, gearing up for her release.

She places her hands on his chest, his hands firmly planted on her hips, holding her steady, and she looks into his eyes, loving the way he's staring at her.

Their eyes connect, and it only adds fuel to the fire, another reminder that they're here, both alive, and have found each other through all this craziness.

What started off at sweet love making has turned into this frenzy of hands, mouths and body parts all joining together as if this is their last time.

Jamie thrusts his hips up, his cock hitting her in that spot she's been searching for, and she cries out, telling him right there and don't stop.

Ever the attentive lover, he follows her directions, and she suddenly wonders if he's close, if she's doing enough for him. "Do you need more?" she pants, trying to get her question out before her climax overtakes her.

He laughs, surprising both of them, but when she looks back down at him, he's staring so lovingly into her eyes that she might cry. "No' a damn thing, Sassenach," he says, rocking up into her again, "this—you, are perfect. Keep… going."

She leans in then, their lips pressing together as they chase their release, his fingers working her up along with his cock as she rocks against him.

Before she can even call out his name again, her eyes slam shut and she sees stars behind her lids, crying out in euphoria as her orgasm washes over her.

Jamie is not far behind, grunting out a stuttered oh god, oh, C-Claire! as he spills inside of her, jerking his hips a half dozen more times before he has to stop, the sensation too much for both of them.

Trying to catch her breath, Claire rolls off of him, coming to lay beside him. Her hand is still on his chest, and she grins over at him.

Jamie rolls onto his side, his knuckles grazing under her chin as her hand follows the lines of his forearm.

They take a moment, hands gently intertwining as they stare at each other in contented wonder, catching their breath.

She smiles dopily at him, and he cups her cheek, drawing her in for a loving kiss.

Claire's hand finds his cheek as well, as when they pull apart, it's as if their eyes can't look away, completely transfixed on the other.

Her amber eyes trace the lines of his face—those laugh lines around his mouth, the blue of his eyes which have grown darker with his arousal, the way his jaw is still so chiseled… God, she loves him.

They lay there for the longest time, hours passing as they doze in and out, but never truly sleeping, not wanting to let each other go for a single second.

"Yer breasts are like ivory," he says suddenly, causing her to chuckle. His hand moves down from circling her nipples to the plains of her stomach, reaching below the sheet that covers her body. "Christ, to touch ye, Sassenach." He kisses her, his hand gliding gently across her hip and down further. "You wi' yer skin like white velvet and the sweet, long lines of yer body… God I couldna look at ye and keep my hands from ye or be near ye and not want ye."

He wraps his arm around her waist, pulling her tightly to his body and kissing her soundly again, their lips smacking together as they savor the feel of being together again.

"Do you suppose we'll always feel like this?" she asks, her fingers resting below his chin, feeling his stubble beneath her knuckles.

He kisses her once more, confessing, "It's always been forever for me, Sassenach."

They situate themselves with that, nothing else needing to be said, as Claire cuddles into his large chest.

His hand rests beneath his head, stretching his body out for her taking.

"I should check on the girls," she whispers after a while, kissing his chest. "I didn't call to say goodnight."

She checks the time, laughing when she realizes it's only ten o'clock, so she sends Geillis a text, asking if everything is okay.

Dinna fash, love. Everything is just fine, she types, sending Claire a picture of the girls from earlier, both holding up their hands to show off the manicure Geillis has given them.

Giggling, she sends her thanks, telling Geillis she'd call in the morning.

She knows Geillis will have questions about this mystery date, so Claire has until tomorrow afternoon to think of something.

For now, she turns her phone around, showing Jamie the picture of their daughters.

He grins, asking, "Ye don't suppose Dougal got his nails done too, do you?" to which she laughs, saying she doesn't think Dougal is involved in much when it comes to the girls.

Rolling his eyes, Jamie scoots further into the bed, pulling Claire with him.

They talk and laugh, their hands never leaving the other as the minutes pass. They come up with a story to tell Geillis, and Jamie checks in with John, letting him know the house was locked up and they were both inside.

Later that night, their bodies join again, this time slow and unhurried, both of them laying on their sides, rocking and moving together as they bring each other to another release while their eyes never lose contact.

Before the morning comes, they've each found another three more releases, causing Jamie to joke that they should try to beat their record of five in a night. And they do just that, again and again, their bodies seemingly unable to stop coming as they make love for the next few hours, just falling asleep before Claire's alarm goes off at eight thirty.

Jamie doesn't hear the alarm, much to Claire's amusement. He was always the one to sleep through her early morning wake up calls when she had to be at the hospital for a shift.

She shuts off the alarm on her phone, turning on her side to watch him sleep.

He's so beautiful. And he still smiles in his sleep just like the girls do.

As Jamie comes to, rolling his large frame over onto his side to face her, she smiles, biting her lip as she watches the sleep fade from his gaze. "Good morning," she purrs, reaching out to walk her fingers along his bicep.

He watches her hand, then takes it in his before her path can make it to his jawline, kissing her knuckles and whispering, "Mornin', Sassenach."

They lay in bed, hands roaming and mouths exploring for another two hours, snoozing off and on and truly relaxing with one another for the first time in forever.

Around eleven, Claire drags Jamie into the shower, where she wakes him up fully on her knees, his hands pressing so hard onto the tiled wall that his palms have the indentions left behind when she stands, swallowing down his seed.

They eat a late breakfast, and finally clean the kitchen from the night before, laughing as they find their pile of denim beside the kitchen table.

"I guess I should take all this upstairs," she giggles, collecting their clothes, "we don't want Geillis finding any traces of a night well spent."

Jamie chuckles, moving to the sink to clean their dishes, while Claire takes their clothes upstairs, tossing it all into the hamper. She finishes some laundry she started the day before, then joins him downstairs.

He's in the living room, feet propped up on the coffee table as he reads a book, those adorable reading glasses perched upon his nose. She joins him, cuddling into his chest as he begins to softly read the book aloud to her.

Before long, the story is forgotten, Jamie's hands finding their way beneath the hem of her yoga pants.

Claire moves to straddle him when the doorbell rings, startling her right off of his lap. She yelps, clamping a hand over her mouth as nerves skitter across her skin.

"Shit," she hisses, searching for her phone. "Geillis must've text me to say they were on their way."

She finds it, tucked inside a couch cushion, with three texts from Geillis saying they were on their way, then wondering if she got the message, and finally saying she'd wait in the driveway for a few minutes in case Claire needed to hide the mystery man away.

Rolling her eyes, Claire stands, hauling Jamie up with her. "Little cock blockers, I swear," she mumbles to herself with a lazy grin as she moves toward the door.

Jamie laughs out loud, covering his mouth so as not to be heard. His shoulders are still shaking uncontrollably as Claire shoos him hurriedly up the stairs, telling him to stay quiet while Geillis is here.

He chuckles, but of course he understands, mumbling something about feeling like she's cheating on Geillis and hiding her lover away.

"You're a ridiculous human being," she laughs, swatting his arse as he ascends the stairs.

Claire walks to the front door, placing her hand against it and calming her breath. She runs a hand through her hair before opening the door, the girls bursting with excitement to tell her all about their night at Aunt Geillis and Uncle Dougal's house.

As Geillis makes her way in, Claire sends up a silent prayer that she and Jamie got rid of all traces of him being in the house.

She seems to have covered her tracks well enough, but Geillis stays, sending the girls upstairs while she gets the scoop on the mysterious date from Claire.

Giving her best friend the story she and Jamie came up with, she assures Geillis that it was a lovely evening, but he left well before midnight like a perfect gentleman, much to Geillis' dismay.

Claire watches as Geillis looks around suspiciously, those bewitching eyes of hers looking Claire up and down, her suspicion fading into sympathy that confuses Claire.

"What?" she asks, tugging at her shirt self consciously.

Geillis steps closer, tutting, "Ah, love…"

At Claire's silent question, Geillis says she can smell Jamie's cologne all over her, which instantly makes Claire worry. "I remember after he… left us," she hesitates, obviously trying to be gentle with her wording, "ye covered everything in his fragrance."

And she would know, too, the smell is probably burned into Geillis' mind after all the nights she slept in Claire's bed with her, soothing her nightmares away and making sure she stayed healthy for the baby growing inside her. "Is this 'cause of ending things wi' Frank?" she inquires, "Made ye think of… of Jamie… being gone?"

Well, that wasn't exactly the story she was wanting to spin but well, this'll be easier than explaining a new man popping up out of the blue.

So, Claire sighs, looking down. "Yeah," she whispers, the guilt of her lie, and using Jamie's death even knowing it wasn't real, already consuming her.

She looks up to Geillis, tears brimming in her golden eyes. Geillis' bright blue eyes meet hers, pulling her in for a hug.

She soothes her with reassurances, saying she's glad she was able to have a night to herself. "But if ye ever just need a night to be sad, dinna get me all excited thinkin' ye got herself a hot date, ye ken!"

Laughing, she ushers Geillis to the door, promising she'll be fine now that the girls are home and thanking her for watching them.

With a kiss to her cheek, Geillis makes her way back to the car, and Claire closes the door, turning to rest her back against the wooden frame.

After steadying her heartbeat, Claire meanders upstairs, joining Jamie and the girls in Brianna's bedroom where they spend the afternoon watching movies and painting Jamie's toenails.

Another picture added to Claire's hidden folder, for sure.

{***************************}

Faith and Brianna were little cock blockers for a wee bit, but Jamie and Claire finally got some time alone! Haha… Hope you enjoyed! Please review!

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven:

A week has gone by, one whole week of complete bliss.

Claire has been working, but every night she was able to come home to her husband and children, just as it always should have been.

John came over for dinner a few nights, Claire feeling guilty that he was stuck in the safe house alone, but he assured her he was busy working.

He was great company on those nights, sharing stories with the girls of Sophia's latest antics he'd witnessed on FaceTime, making the whole table laugh. John was always sensitive of her and Jamie's time together, always spending time with them after the girls were asleep, having a whisky and playing chess with Jamie while bonding with Claire, teaching her his best moves on the board. But he'd always make his leave soon after their game ended, giving Claire and Jamie their nights together.

The week has ended now, though, and Jamie and John must return back to North Carolina to wrap things up and prepare for the trial.

"I'll miss ye lasses sae much," he says, kissing Faith and Brianna's heads. His eyes swell with tears, and Claire can tell he's fighting hard not to let them fall.

It's unavoidable, however, when Brianna sniffles, wiping fiercely at her damp cheeks. "I don't want you to go, Daddy."

"Me neither," Faith adds, her own little set of tears falling.

Claire's cheeks puff out, using all her might not to weep right then and there for her children.

Jamie walks over to her, wrapping her in his arms. "And I'll miss ye too, mo chridhe, sae much." He leans in, pressing his lips to hers, and she returns the favor, burying her face in his neck when they pull apart and letting her tears fall.

"I'm so sorry," John interrupts, patting Claire on the back and pulling her from the embrace. "I really don't want to break your family apart again," he sighs, saying he doesn't want them to leave but they have to.

The trial is almost ready to start so he'll be back, but that could be anywhere from a few weeks to months from now—she knows the trial will be this summer, but that could mean anytime in the next three months and the uncertainty makes her uneasy—and she doesn't know if she can go that long without Jamie anymore.

She has plenty to do, has work to keep her distracted, has the research she's been doing trying to figure out if she and Jamie are legally still married since he was pronounced dead. The girls have school and ballet and horseback riding and… plenty to keep her mind occupied, but she knows she'll constantly be wondering about Jamie and if he's safe.

It's ironic, really, seeing as North Carolina has kept him safe all these years and this is the state he was harmed in, but not having him with her stirs up those fears all over again.

Claire stands back, watching Jamie embrace their girls one more time, whispering into their ears and making them giggle.

It's as if everything is moving in slow motion as she watches him. He steps over to the kitchen counter, sipping on his last mug of coffee before they hit the road, talking with John and laughing.

Over the last week, she's noticed things on his body, or things about him. Things she always knew, but never really valued. But knowing he'd be leaving for a few weeks, she's tried to memorize each and every little detail. Attributes that had once slipped her mind, like the way his cheeks puff out when he tries to hold in a laugh, or the little hmph noise he makes while studying something like the crossword in the newspaper. They were small things, but they were quirks of his she wanted to treasure forever.

"Weel," he breathes, coming to stand in front of her and pulling her from her adoration of him. "We best be on our way."

She nods, trying to hold back a new wave of tears as she puts on a brave face for their children.

This is real, he's not just leaving for a few days like he did before; he's leaving for weeks, and suddenly uprooting their entire lives to come join him in Wilmington doesn't seem so bad, no matter how much she knows, realistically, they can't do that.

Jamie kisses her and the girls again, telling them how much he loves them all, and she hugs John once more, telling him to give Hector and Sophia a big kiss from them, and then they're gone.

Claire sighs, looking down at the girls.

She grins sadly, thinking that the girls look as if someone just took their puppy away.

Deciding right then and there that they need something to distract themselves with, she claps her hands together, asking the girls what they want to do today. It's Saturday, and she wants them to enjoy the weekend no matter how sad they may be.

"Can we get pedicures?" Faith asks with excited eyes, wiggling her toes for good effect.

"I want to go to the park!" Bree chimes in, skipping around her sister like the ball of energy that she is.

So they do just that.

Claire loads the girls up, all three going to the nail salon to get their toenails painted, giving them some time to relax. After that, they stop into a small bistro, ordering sandwiches and pasta salad that they take to the park.

She'd packed a blanket in the car earlier, while the girls each brought two Barbie's with them, and they spend the afternoon looking up at the clouds, talking, and playing with their dolls.

It's nice, being able to get out of the house. They've been cooped up inside since Jamie returned, knowing he couldn't be seen in public.

She wouldn't trade their time together for anything, but letting the girls run around somewhere other than their backyard is nice.

"Mama?" Bree asks, sounding hesitant.

Claire's brows furrow, running her hand through Brianna's long hair. "What is it, darling?"

She's leaned against a large tree where they'd set up shop for the day, their blanket splayed out beneath them. Faith sits beside Claire, munching quietly on her sandwich, while Bree leans against Claire's legs. The little girl looks down, picking at a piece of fuzz on Claire's leg, then glances back to her mother. "Is… is Frank coming today now that Daddy is gone?"

Claire isn't sure if her daughter's sad expression is for Jamie being gone or not having Frank there or what… "Why do you ask, baby?"

Shrugging, Bree sits up, looking over to Faith. "He just hasn't been around much since Daddy came back. I miss him."

With a sigh, Claire looks between both girls, deciding there's no time like the present to tell them the truth. She takes a deep breath, smiling at the girls and saying, "I actually broke up with Frank."

The girls' eyes widen, Bree's mouth falling agape slightly, but she quickly closes it again, giving Claire a sad nod.

It hurts Claire's heart; she knows Faith and Brianna both loved Frank, too, and this is hard for them as well.

"I'm sorry, girls." She bops them both on the nose, trying to lighten the mood. "It just wasn't right to still date him with Daddy being back in our lives."

"Yeah, I get that," Faith says with a shrug, nodding as she looks from Claire to Brianna. "I'm a little sad, though, because I wanted him to come to my next recital. He was really excited about it."

Claire closes her eyes, trying to collect herself before she loses it in front of her girls. "I know, sweetheart, I'm sorry."

Faith scoots closer to Claire, laying her head on her shoulder and wrapping an arm around her waist. "It's okay, Mama. You deserve to be happy with Daddy."

The tears she's done so well to not let slip come flooding to her eyes at those words, and she kisses Faith on the top of her head. Looking at Brianna still down by her legs, she smiles, opening her free arm to let the youngest girl join them.

With a giant smile, Brianna clambers up to Claire, laying against her chest and snuggling into her other side.

Claire kisses the top of her head, breathing in the floral shampoo scent wafting off of them and enjoying this moment of peace with her babies.

"I love you, girls," she whispers, pulling them both closer into her embrace and giving them each a little tickle.

Faith and Brianna's hands are linked together on top of Claire's belly, but they let go at the tickles, each squirming away and laughing.

Chuckling, Claire encourages them to go play now that they've eaten, and they run off, their giggles as they chase each other around floating back to Claire under the shaded tree.

Now that she's alone, the girls occupied, she can focus on what is truly happening in her life. And she's conflicted, filled with so many compounding emotions at this whole situation that it makes her head ache.

She tries to keep a smile on her face, so as to not alarm the girls if they were to look over, but Claire's thoughts are spinning.

She's angry. Completely pissed off at this whole thing. She can't tell Joe or Geillis what is truly happening, can't get their advice on what to do or even just have a shoulder to cry on. She has to hide all of these feelings away from everyone, and it sucks. Her head feels like it's going to explode and all she wants to do is scream.

This is all so unfair. She wants to be with Jamie, no matter where that may be. She doesn't want to have to hide away and not mention him like he's a ghost.

She sits and stews, thinking over all of her options. She takes calming breaths, trying to get her heart to stop beating so rapidly. Sipping on her water, she closes her eyes and leans her head against the tree, willing the frustrated tears to dissipate before her daughters see them.

She has so much going on, but there seems to only be one solution that would bring her the most peace...

"Mama! Come play!" Faith yells, waving her mother over.

Smiling, Claire closes the book she'd been pretending to read and places it down on the blanket, joining her girls for a few rounds of tag before everyone is worn out.

They fling themselves onto the large, blue and brown plaid blanket, drinking water and finishing off the grapes they'd brought with them.

After another half an hour, the girls are exhausted and they all head home.

{************************}

That night, once the girls are bathed and asleep, Claire finds herself in her bedroom drinking her third glass of wine.

She takes a long sip, savoring the feel of it on her tongue when her phone goes off.

Alexander Malcolm.

She smiles, seeing it's an incoming FaceTime call.

"Hey, you," she says, smiling through her buzz at the screen.

Jamie chuckles, greeting her as well. "Just wanted ye to ken we made it safely."

"Good," she nods, taking another sip.

"The flight was really short, and I'm home now. John dropped me off after I ate dinner over at his place," he says, eyeing her suspiciously, "I'm unpacking now."

He holds up a shirt from his suitcase, saying she always ingrained in him that it was better to unpack from a trip right away lest you want to deal with your suitcase for another month.

"Well, issgood advice," she says, her words slurring just a bit.

She watches as he smirks, propping his phone against something so that she can still see him but he has both hands free to unpack. "How much have ye had to drink, Sassenach?" He smirks into the phone, squinting his eyes like he's trying to see the drinks.

She giggles, knowing she's not drunk but definitely feeling the buzz of all the wine. "I made a big decision today," she hiccups, patting her chest and laughing at herself.

"Oh yeah?"

Nodding haughtily, she informs him, "I'm going to take a sabbatical from the hospital." She takes another sip of her wine, mulling over the conclusion she'd come to in the park earlier. A sabbatical makes the most sense; it will give her time to sort her life out without having to worry about shifts or surgeries, and she and the girls can be with Jamie. "I can put in for it Monday when I get to work."

Jamie stops mid-movement, the shirt in his hands falling back into the suitcase as he picks up the phone again, sitting on the edge of his bed. "That's a big decision, mo ghraidh. Are ye sure?"

"I don't care," she huffs, finishing off her glass of wine and setting it on the bedside table. "I just want to be with you."

"What about the girls and school?"

Sighing, Claire reaches up to rub at her temples, all of these decisions weighing heavily on her. "I can transfer them to a school up there…" She trails off, knowing her plan doesn't seem too sound now that Jamie is asking the realistic questions that she should've thought about.

"What if the trial begins next month?" he asks, "We'd have to go right back."

God, this is so fucking confusing. Damn it. She just wants to be with him, but she can't just leave the girls here while she runs off to North Carolina. But is it right to remove them from their friends and school and all their activities they love so much?

"I don't know, Jamie," she confesses, wiping the lone tear from her eye. "This is so hard."

"I ken, mo nighean donn," he murmurs, his voice washing over her like a balm. "There's only what, three weeks left of school, aye?"

She nods slowly, knowing exactly where he's going with this.

"That gives us all summer to figure things out." He smiles reassuringly, and she wishes more than anything he could be right there with her to hold her in his arms. "We just need to hold on for a few more weeks."

That's true… and if she didn't have so much wine coursing through her, she might have realized that on her own.

She smiles, saying she's glad she has him back to help her make clear headed decisions.

"Weel, ye were always a light weight," he laughs, shaking his head. He lifts up his glass of whisky, moving it in front of the camera to show her he's drinking as well.

"Am not!"

He guffaws at her admonishment. "Are too… ye canna even stand up straight, I bet."

"Can too!" she claims indignantly, hiccuping as she slinks off the bed. "See?" she says, standing on wobbly legs. "Remember what you always said—"

"—Aye," he snorts, "ye arena drunk so long as ye're standin' up." He smirks into the phone, trying his best to wink. "Somethin' tells me that ye wouldna be able to walk in a straight line right now, Sassenach."

Snickering, she flops back onto the bed. "Perhaps not," she admits, dissolving into another fit of giggles.

He joins in on the laughter, taking a sip of his amber liquid. "I wish I was there wi' ye, watchin' ye prance around, pretendin' not tae be three sheets to the wind."

"I am not!" she protests again. "A bit buzzed, I'll admit, but I wouldn't get drunk with the girls in the house."

Jamie smiles, whispering an, Aye, alright, before grinning at her. "But I bet ye're adorable with that round arse of yours hanging out of those little cotton shorts ye like to sleep in."

She wiggles her eyebrows, looking down at herself as if examining her rear.

"Besides," she purrs, "If I was drunk, I wouldn't be able to do this." She pulls at her shirt, lifting it off her head and tossing it to the foot of the bed. "Or this," she shimmies her shoulder, slowly letting one sheer bra strap fall down.

She looks to her shoulder, over to Jamie, smirking as she watches him bite his lip.

He's on his bed now, unpacking clearly forgotten, as his breathing becomes more labored. "Christ, ye're so beautiful." He grins, leaning against his headboard. "Sittin' there wi' yer hair loose and yer nipples starin' me in the eye, the size of cherries," he groans, eyes narrowing in on her chest.

She looks down at her chest, moving her shoulders in so her chest presses together, giving her a bit of cleavage and she pouts down at herself, pretending to be confused as to what he's talking about. "Nothing you haven't seen before," she giggles, moving the phone to give him a better view. "Lock the door," she drawls, motioning her head toward his bedroom door that she knows is to the left of him.

"Lock the door, eh?" he asks, grinning like a mad mad, "Why would I do that? Do I look like the type of man that would watch his wife touch herself over the phone while drunk as well?"

"I'm not drunk," she giggles, "and you can touch yourself, too, you know."

She winks, pulling the bra strap back up, realizing through her haze that removing the bra while trying to hold the camera at a flattering angle was next to impossible, and that last glass of wine is getting to her more than she anticipated.

"I want you, Jamie."

He mumbles a fuck under his breath and says he wants her too. "I want ye more than life itself, ye've no idea," he says, and she wonders if he's touching himself. She goes to ask him if he is when he adds, "but no' like this, not when ye're drunk off yer arse."

She chuckles, but sighs, "You're no fun."

He pretends to look offended, his chest puffing out as he says, "Aye, alright then, two can play that game," as he removes his shirt. He has to put the phone down on his leg to do so, so she pouts, missing the chance to see his muscle ripple with the movement.

They both know she falls asleep quickly when she's had too much to drink, and she'll probably fall asleep mid-striptease if she's not careful, which would just be embarrassing, even for them. So she focuses her mind back on her husband, biting her lip to keep from moaning when he appears back on camera with his shirt off.

God, he's a beautiful man.

"Why thank you, Sassenach," he chuckles, and she blushes, realizing she had let the thought slip past her tongue.

With a hazy minded shrug, she begs him to take his pants off as well.

"Who says I didn't already?" he asks in that husky voice of his, moving the camera down to show her he's sitting on his bed in nothing but his boxers.

She quickly makes work of her cotton shorts, tossing them to the other side of her bed.

Moving her phone down, she gives him a nice, tantalizing view that makes him hiss, "Christ, Sassenach."

She puckers her lips into a kiss, making a mwah sound and giving him a wink, teasing him, and riling them both up.

"What would you do if you were here, Jamie?" she inquires hotly, hand starting to roam already.

He sighs, eyes closing as he clearly starts to imagine it. "I'd start by pressing kisses all over yer velvety thighs. Touch yerself there, Claire."

Her breath catches in her throat as she does as he commands, tilting her phone to let him see. He moans into the phone, and she watches as he begins to rub slowly at his erection.

"Then I'd dip my finger inside," he smirks, eyes glued to the phone as she reaches inside her thong, running a finger up her slit.

"I'm so wet, Jamie," she tells him, biting her lip at the sensation.

He tells her to touch her clit, and she does so, circling around it and building herself up. She can hear Jamie moaning softly, and she cracks her eyes open to watch him touch himself as well. God, he's so big, and the thought of his cock inside of her alone makes her core ache with need.

She rubs at her clit, writhing on the bed as she inches closer to her release, Jamie's voice a sexy complement to her own stimulation.

"Ahh, I'm close, Sassenach," he hisses, his eyes squeezing shut before he peels them back open to catch her gaze.

"Go faster, Jamie," she demands, and he grins, telling her to do the same.

Their hands work themselves up higher and higher, and she wishes she had something to prop the phone on so her other hand could play with her nipples. She bites her lip, moving against her hand, watching as her husband draws closer to his own orgasm.

Her hand leaves herself for a split second to flick at her nipples, and Jamie groans at the image, telling her to do that again.

She smirks, awkwardly twisting so her phone can prop against the pillow next to her, hoping he can still see everything.

While she's repositioning herself and the phone, she reaches into her nightstand. Pulling out her latest toy—a long, black rabbit. It's the newest thrusting model with a clit stimulator, and Jamie had more than enjoyed himself the other night pleasuring her with it.

She holds it up to the screen, wiggling her eyebrows and listening as her husband moans into the phone as she rubs the silicone toy up and down for good measure.

"Is this okay?" she asks, and the second growl that leaves his lips is answer enough.

She slips her thong completely off, turning the vibrator on to the medium speed. She's already close, and she knows the highest setting would send her over the edge far sooner than either of them want.

Placing the toy at her core, she lets it do its job, thrusting in and out of her while the bunny ears tease her clit. While the toy works her up, up, up, and she reaches up to her breast, moaning. "God, Jamie," she breathes, "I'm cl-close."

"Let go for me, mo nighean donn," he rasps, "don't hold back. Oh, god, look down, look as you touch yerself thinkin' of me."

At his direction, she presses the toy harder on her clit, squirming as she clicks the clit stimulator to the next setting. She bites her lip, trying to contain the cry wanting to escape. She moves the bunny to just the right angle, and yeah, that's it. "Oh, fuck," she cries, wriggling against her toy. "God, I wish you were here, Jamie, wish it was you touching me right now."

"Mm, me too, Sassenach, sae badly."

Within moments, they've both found their releases, crying out to the other through the phone.

She removes her toy and plops it onto the nightstand, picking the phone back up. She looks at Jamie through the screen with a hazy, hooded look in her eye, and she knows she's halfway to slumber already.

Jamie snickers, shaking his head. "Weel, at least ye got off before ye fell asleep."

Chuckling, she tilts her chin up in the air like a proud peacock. "Couldn't have done that if I was drunk. You think I would have had the coordination otherwise?"

He chortles and rolls his eyes playfully. "Aye, alright, alright, ye're not drunk. Happy?"

She nods once, grinning.

Jamie laughs, shaking his head at her once more. "I love ye, Claire," he tells her, his voice lowering. "Get some sleep, and I'll talk to ye in the morning."

She tells him she loves him too, and hangs up, her hand wandering into her thong once more as she thinks of Jamie, then drifts off fully, dreaming of the day that they can live together again.

{**************************}

Please review!

(In case anyone is wondering: School where Claire lives in Georgia goes from the beginning of August to the end of May. I know it's different in other parts of the country. So, they found Jamie over Spring Break, which is the first week of April. This chapter is the beginning of May, which is why Jamie said there were only about three weeks left of school. Trial is set for the summer so Claire doesn't know if that means the end of May, June or July. Hope that helps clear up some confusion for people who don't have school schedules like GA does! haha)

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve:

The last three weeks of school seemed to fly by, much to Claire's excitement.

The girls' last day was today, and Claire is trying to finish up her last bit of paperwork before she heads home. She won't be returning for the next few weeks now that she put in her time off. Jamie had made a good point all those weeks ago about waiting until the girls were out for summer break. The weeks apart had been some of the hardest of her life, but she and Jamie made sure to FaceTime every night with the girls, and usually after bedtime as well, to make sure they never felt too far apart. And now that her sabbatical has been approved, she wants to tell Joe before she up and disappears.

He comes into her office at the end of a shift, pouring them each a glass of whisky. "You got that look."

She looks up from her paperwork, the ones confirming her sabbatical. "Hmm?"

Joe smirks, sitting down in the chair across from her desk. "You have that same look you had when you came back from Spain."

"What, relaxed?" she jokes, knowing Joe had been curious about her European vacation ever since she came back with a glow that she wasn't allowed to explain.

"You ever gonna tell me what really happened over there?"

Fuck. She wishes she could.

"There's nothing to tell, Joe," she laughs, taking a sip of her drink. "You know that. I was with Frank while I was there."

"Fuck Frank," he declares with a grin, holding up his glass in a salute.

She laughs, shaking her head as she toasts with him.

Joe was never Frank's biggest fan, something he and Murtagh wholeheartedly agreed on, and now that it's over, she can't help but be amused by their dislike of the man.

"You find yourself a lover while over there or something?"

She snorts derisively, if only he knew. "Something like that," she mumbles before she can truly think about the implications of her words.

"Jesus," Joe laughs, slapping the desk, "I can't believe you held out on me. Is that who you had a date with the other week?"

Claire closes her eyes, cursing herself for the slip of the tongue.

She sets the whisky down, admitting that there was no date. She tells Joe much the same story as Geillis had unintentionally spun that morning at her house, and she feels that all too familiar twist in her gut as she lies to her best friend, the guilt gnawing away at her.

"But, I did want to tell you…" She takes a deep breath, making sure his eyes are connected with hers, truly listening, "I'm taking a sabbatical."

Joe's head tilts to the side, studying her for a moment.

"Ah, LJ," he breathes, reaching across the desk to take her hand in hers. "I've been able to tell for a while that you were struggling. Is this going to help?" he asks, "Because if so, I'm all for supporting you."

She smiles, eyes misting over as she confesses that she just needs some time. "Breaking up with Frank just brought back a lot of memories of Jamie," she admits, feeling a pit of dread in her stomach at using her not-so-dead husband's death as a reason, but what else can she say? "I just want to get away with the girls for a while since they're on summer break now."

Her friend nods, squeezing her hand. "I get it," he states, smiling broadly, "and I'm a bit jealous. What I wouldn't give to have a few weeks off from this place."

Laughing, she smacks his hand, saying he'd never leave for weeks on end. "You love it here far too much."

Joe simply shrugs, knowing she's right and she grins, finishing off her whisky before she heads home.

{*******************}

She's invited Murtagh and Jocasta over for dinner to see the girls. It's been difficult over the last month and a half, trying to avoid their godfather as much as possible.

He'd come by the other week, checking in and letting her know he knew she'd been avoiding him. She'd felt bad, tried to explain it away by saying she was busy.

She was thankful he hadn't dropped by unannounced while Jamie was still in town, so when he did, she was able to let him in without worrying too much that he might see Jamie's shoes or some other sign of her husband's existence. She'd distracted him from his inquisition by telling him that she broke up with Frank, which brought a smile to the grumpy old man's face, larger than she's seen in a while, which made her laugh.

Tonight, however, there's no getting around it.

Her godfather and Jocasta arrive, and Claire had also invited Geillis to come over. She doesn't even ask if Dougal is coming because she knows the answer will be no; he avoids anything that isn't work related at all costs, even if they are family.

"No Dougal, then?" Murtagh asks, walking into the kitchen and eyeing Geillis up.

Jocasta smacks his chest, telling him to behave.

Waving him off, Geillis smirks as she says her Dougal is working late.

"Hm," Murtagh grumps, growling under his breath, "sure."

Rolling her eyes, Claire calls the girls up from the playroom, their little feet bounding up in excitement, their squeals filling the kitchen when they see Aunt Geillis, Uncle Murtagh and Aunt Jocasta.

"Och, I've missed ye lasses sae much," Murtagh exclaims, scooping Brianna into his arms and kissing her cheek.

Jocasta swings Faith into her arms, kissing her cheeks and burying her nose in the crook of her neck as she blows a raspberry there. "Good tae see ye, lass!" she exclaims, peppering more kisses before letting her down gently, knowing she really wants her favorite Uncle Murtagh.

"What about me?!" Faith exclaims, giggling as her godfather places Bree down to pick her up, showering her with smooches as well.

Claire smiles, watching the interaction. She'll miss this, knows the girls will miss their aunts and uncle as well, but having their father back is far more important. And being in North Carolina isn't forever, they'll be back for the trial.

Dinner goes off without a hitch, the older couple and Geillis all teaching the girls some more phrases in Gaelic.

Murtagh has spent years trying to teach Claire, much to his own dismay.

Jamie had tried, bless him, but she just couldn't seem to grasp some of the wording, and he always claimed she was a terrible student.

She wrote Jamie a love note one time during university that was so poorly translated, he'd had to show Murtagh. They got a good laugh out of it, Murtagh claiming she even misspelled the word help and swore he'd eventually teach her correctly. And he did, every chance he got, especially once Jamie died. It had become the old man's mission… and a good excuse for him to come over and make sure she was alright.

She listens now as Faith and Brianna both repeat after their aunts and uncle, little Gaelic phrases that Claire tries to memorize too.

"We can tell Daddy that one!" Brianna laughs, causing Claire's stomach to drop.

Their guests all give her equal parts sympathetic and questioning gazes as the room goes silent save for Brianna's rambling of her newly learned vocabulary. Claire looks quickly from her daughters to their family, smiling awkwardly. Faith's eyes have gone wide, but Brianna seems oblivious to her slip of the tongue.

"Yes, baby," she says, running her fingers through Brianna's straight hair. "You can tell him all the new Gaelic you're learning next time we go to the graveyard."

Brianna's little face turns to her in confusion, eyebrows knitted together, but she seems to quickly realize her mistake, face smoothing out as she nods, going back to coloring in the coloring book she'd brought from downstairs.

Shit.

The room grows silent. Faith quickly picks up a crayon, leaning in and pointing to something in Bree's coloring book to distract herself from the adults.

Claire looks around, her heart beating so rapidly, she's afraid it will leap from her chest.

After another pregnant pause, Jocasta asks solemnly, "Have ye been to see him lately?" as the air between them all grows sullen.

Claire shakes her head, saying they haven't been since a few days before Spain. "I need to take them again… before we leave."

"Leave?" Geillis asks as Faith sits in her lap, getting her hair played with. Geillis' head cocks to the side, asking, "Where're ye going?"

She takes a deep breath, sending the girls off to play now that dinner is over. "You girls head downstairs."

"Yes, ma'am," they say in unison, Faith hoping from Geillis' lap while Brianna collects her crayons. They scurry down the steps, and Claire takes another deep, steadying breath as all eyes fall back on her.

"That's why I wanted you all to come over tonight."

"What is it, lass?" Murtagh asks, his bushy eyebrows lifting in concern. "Ye canna be worryin' a old coot like me like this, ye ken."

Claire closes her eyes, willing her heart to calm down. She tells them that she took some time off from the hospital, giving them much the same excuse as she'd given Joe earlier, saying she just needed some time away.

"Things have been really hard lately," she sighs, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. "We'll leave in about a week," she says, clearing her throat, "once we get some things packed up."

"How long will ye be gone?" Jocasta asks, reaching over to take her hand, her other resting gently in Murtagh's.

Claire shrugs, saying she has two months off of work, but they'll probably be back before that. "I just want the girls to enjoy their summer break without me being gone so much at the hospital, but we'll be back before school starts again."

Geillis nods, and Claire looks to Murtagh who has gone silent.

She can see him thinking, the news going through his mind. His brows furrow, and he strokes his chin, contemplating his next words as he glances over to his wife.

She's always admired that about Jamie's godfather. He's the quiet type, but always one to think heavily before speaking, an attribute she wishes she possessed more often.

Claire can feel her hand shaking inside of Jocasta's as she waits for the man to speak, everyone's eyes on him.

"Weel… as long as ye and the lasses are happy," he finally says, smiling softly in her direction, "then I canna fault ye for wantin' a wee bit of time off from th' job."

Claire beams, knowing that they will be; they'll be happier than ever getting to be with Jamie again.

Their guests stay for another hour, all cuddling the girls as if they'll never see them again.

Geillis leaves first, peppering kisses to the girls' cheeks and making Claire promise to see her again before they leave, which she agrees to.

Murtagh stands back, propping himself on the edge of the couch while Claire closes the door.

"Ye sure this is just about wantin' a vacation?"

Sighing, she joins him and the girls in the living room. Claire sits on the floor, pulling Brianna into her lap while the girls play with the dolls at the coffee table.

"We just want tae make sure everything is alright, ken?" Jocasta inquires in her sweet voice, rubbing Murtagh's shoulder.

"I told you, breaking up with Frank just made me think about a lot of things." She licks her lips, adding, "I realized I wasn't happy being with him, and I just need some time to enjoy the summer with the girls without having to be away so much with work."

"Aye, I heard ye," he grunts, looking from his wife, down to Claire. "Doesna mean I believe ye."

Taking a deep breath, she tries to control her features, knowing Murtagh could always read her almost as well as Jamie.

They talk for a bit longer, Murtagh seemingly deciding that he'd rather spend their last few moments with the girls than trying to sniff out her lie because he joins them at the table, playing with the dolls and making both girls laugh for the next two hours before Claire deems it bath time, and their godfather and godmother make their exit with big kisses and hugs to everyone.

"I'll call ye later," Murtagh says, wrapping her in a warm hug. "Ye ken I love ye, Claire."

She smiles into his shoulder, a wave of emotion swelling up inside her chest. "I love you too, Murtagh," she whispers, pulling back to kiss his cheek.

With another hug to Jocasta, she waves goodbye as they make their way to their car. Smiling, she closes the door, sad to see them go, but glad the weight of tonight is over.

{**********************}

The first weekend of the girls' summer break is spent packing up as many clothes and toys as possible and loading up the car. She's been working over the last three weeks to make sure her neighbor could water her plants and keep an eye on the house, her bills are auto pay so that wasn't a problem, and everything was set into motion.

Depending on the outcome of the trial, they'd either come back to their house here or she'd have to sell it and stay in North Carolina with Jamie, which would present a whole slew of other complications with work, and friends, and… but she'd think about all of that later. Just get through the trial, that was her mantra as of late.

"Ready girls?" she asks, tossing her suitcase into the car.

She checks the bag she has in the front seat, making sure it's loaded with snacks for all of them. Their iPads are charged and ready to go, the girls are in comfortable clothes so no one can complain of anything being itchy or tight, and they're finally ready for their seven hour drive to Wilmington.

She knows that's seven hours for a normal person, not loaded down with two kids, so she's estimating between traffic, bathroom breaks, and other random stops to let the girls run around and stretch their legs, that it'll take them about ten hours.

"Ready!" Faith and Brianna shout in unison, running out of the house, last minute dolls they'd decided were necessary to bring filling their arms.

Claire rolls her eyes, telling them they can each pick one more to bring. "We already have an entire bag full of toys in the car."

Faith decides quickly, running inside to drop off the rest, while Brianna contemplates, sighing as she tells Claire she can't decide.

"I'll pick for you!" Faith says, rushing back to her sister's side.

"No!" Bree shouts, picking a doll quickly, claiming that is the one she wants to bring.

Smirking, Claire takes the rest, putting them back inside while she double checks that all the lights are out, electronics unplugged, and everything is secure.

Locking up the house, she climbs in the SUV, asking the girls if they're buckled and ready to go.

She knows they both just used the restroom, so she's hoping to get a least a few hours down the road before one of them claims they need to pee.

Before pulling away, she sends Jamie a text. Leaving now, see you in 859837 hours ;)

Jamie sends back the laughing emoji, assuring her it won't take quite that long.

She keeps in contact with him throughout the trip, texting him each time they stop, and answering every time he calls for an update.

She and the girls keep themselves entertained, her with the radio and audio books she'd downloaded, and them with their movies playing on the iPads. Thank god for noise cancelling headphones so she could enjoy some music, too.

After a while, Faith switches to a game on her device, while Brianna takes her headphones off, wanting to play a game with Claire.

They decide to play the license plate game, coming up with elaborate stories for each car they passed.

"I bet he's going to California!" Brianna exclaims about a car they see with a kayak attached to the top of it.

"Ye ken California's too far away!" Faith chimes in, locking her iPad and letting it rest on her lap as she joins the game. "I bet he's going to Florida."

Claire watches in the rearview mirror as Brianna rolls her eyes, but they eventually both agree he's going somewhere with water, but they like the beach best so it's officially the beach that the stranger is visiting.

They catch another car in their sight, this time a red sports car speeding down the fast lane, and Faith claims he's on his way to Daytona for the NASCAR race, which makes Brianna and Claire laugh.

After they tire of that game, they switch to car karaoke, singing along to all their Disney favorites, laughing and enjoying the car ride.

After multiple stops, more car games than she could ever imagine, and a late dinner break, they finally make it to North Carolina.

Stepping out of the car, Claire, Faith and Brianna all stretch their legs and arms, Brianna yawning as the long day hits her.

"My lasses!" Jamie calls, stepping out of the house.

The girls run into his arms, squealing happily as he scoops them both up, peppering kisses to their cheeks.

She smiles and watches them, patiently waiting her turn no matter how much she wants to run and jump into his arms as well.

"And a kiss for ye, too," he drawls as she gets closer, kissing her lips chastely. "Come on in! We'll unload the car in a bit."

{*********************}

The safe house is much nicer than what Claire had been imagining. It's a large size, which she should've known seeing as his roommate Fergus also lives there, but Jamie claims it's easy to go days without seeing one another.

Jamie lives in the main part of the house—three bedrooms, a large living room, kitchen and a nice size backyard—while Fergus lives in the mother-in-law suite downstairs with his own two bedrooms, kitchen and living room.

The girls run around and get used to the space, their little giggles filling the house and making both Claire and Jamie smile.

"How was the ride?"

She stretches her arms above her head dramatically. "Long," she laughs, then tells him of all the games they played and music they listened to. "The girls slept for a while, thankfully, and they had movies on their iPads to keep them busy, too. Especially Brianna, I think the movies made her not realize she'd been in the car for so long."

He laughs, and Claire does as well, thinking of their wild child and how restless she could get. She's just glad they made it in one piece and all in one day. "I'm glad we left so early this morning so we could get here tonight without having to stop. And I'm also thankful for energy drinks."

"Aye," he agrees with a snort, pulling her into his arms. "Me too." He kisses her then, both savoring the feel of being in each other's arms again.

"Where's Fergus?" she asks as she pulls back, looking around.

Jamie smiles, saying John sent him on a small getaway with another officer. "Give him a chance to relax, the lad's been working hard lately, especially while I was out of the country." He pecks her lips, pulling her close again. He deepens his kiss, arms tightening around her, and she giggles breathily into the embrace. Jamie's lips hover above hers as he murmurs, "Plus this gives us the whole house to ourselves."

"Mm," she purrs into his mouth, their teeth practically clanging together as they smile dopily into one another's space, "Perfect. Remind me to thank John for that convenient little trip." She closes the minuscule space between them, lips closing as they land on Jamie's once more.

"Knock, knock!" Hector says from the doorway, grinning as he pokes his head in the front door. "Sorry to interrupt."

Claire pulls back from Jamie's lips as he turns to face their guest. "Och, 'tis alright!" he says, walking over to the door to let him in.

Behind him comes Sophia and John, all smiles and hugs as they greet their new friends.

"Sophia!" Faith calls out, both girls running over to the toddler to take her pudgy hands, leading her off to the nook in the back of the living room that they'd already claimed as their play area.

John and Hector pull Jamie off to the side to talk, leaving Claire standing there to look around the house some more.

She sighs, figuring she might as well unload the car while everyone is occupied, so she steps out, unlocking the car and pulling all of their bags and suitcases from it.

She takes a few in, calling out to the girls to come help, and she sweeps Sophia into her arms as the little girl waddles after the older ones as if she was going to help as well.

"And where do you think you're going, miss?" she coos, kissing the girl's chubby little cheek.

Sophia pats at Claire's cheek, then reaches into her mop of curls, tugging on one. "Ouch, you little booger, that's my hair," she laughs, disentangling her tresses from Sophia's grasp.

"Mama, where does this go?" Brianna grunts, hauling her suitcase inside.

Claire chuckles, reaching down to help her set it by the doorway. "I'm not sure which room is yours, darling, we need to wait on Daddy. Let's just get the car unloaded first."

She directs her to set everything by the stairs, and Brianna nods, rushing back to the car to grab her iPad and doll she'd had in the seat with her.

Claire smiles at Faith as she carries her last bag inside, then goes to grab the bag of snacks, checking that everything else had been unloaded.

"'Nacks?" Sophia asks, eyeing the bag as they walk back inside.

"Yes," Claire chuckles, "those are our snacks."

"I can have?"

Giggling, she tells the little girl that's up to her fathers since it's so close to dinner time.

She blows a raspberry to her cheek before setting her down now that the door is closed and locked, watching as she toddles off toward Faith and Brianna.

"Ye look good with a wee one in yer arms," Jamie says, startling her.

She jumps, clasping a hand over her heart, but laughs, admitting she misses when the girls were small like that.

"I ken I saw ye with Faith, but I like to imagine that's how ye would've looked with Bree, too, with wee Faith underfoot."

Grinning softly, she pats him on the chest, knowing this is not a conversation they need to be having right now.

"Did you eat already?" she asks, motioning toward the kitchen.

He says no, leading her that way as John and Hector join them.

She watches Jamie as he fixes grilled cheeses for everyone, Hector heating up the soup Jamie had made earlier.

He's quieter than normal, looks worried after that chat with the guys, but she tells herself not to ask until the girls are asleep. She can only imagine it's nothing good, and she wants to be able to sufficiently worry or freak out without her daughters seeing her.

They call all three of the girls in, everyone enjoying a quick supper before Hector leaves with Sophia, claiming it's past bedtime for her.

"Up you two go," Claire shoos, fanning her hands up the stairs. "It's bath time for you girls as well."

She's thankful her children have never hated bathtime, smiling as both girls climb into the tub, splashing and playing as they get clean.

John stays downstairs while Jamie joins them upstairs, and he watches as Claire handles Faith's hair. She hands Jamie another brush, telling him to comb through Brianna's.

"Like this, Daddy!" Bree says, demonstrating.

He smiles, taking the brush from her little hands and moving it through her straight locks easily.

He's so gentle, even as large as he is, and she grins, listening to Briana ramble on about their car ride and all the cars they saw.

"One guy had a horse trailer attached to his truck," she tells the room, leaning her head back to look at Jamie. "There was a brown horse and a white one. I think the white one had spots, but Mama was going too fast for me to really get a good look."

"I think it had spots," interjects Faith, "looked like black ones. Like your horse, Bree!"

"Yeah!" the younger girl agrees, diving into a story about the horse she rides at lessons, Mickey, and how he has spots, too.

Her eyes catch Jamie's as he listens to his daughters prattle on about this and that, and a sense of warmth comes over her. She realizes that she's not fearful here, isn't looking over her shoulder, nor does she have that looming sense that someone is watching them, even in her own home, like she sometimes does back in Georgia.

This is comfortable, working together to ready their girls for bed, the smell of their kid shampoo wafting through the air.

They both kiss the girls goodnight, turning out the light as Brianna climbs into bed with Faith, her arms wrapping around her older sister.

{*********************}

When they get downstairs, John is on the couch, still waiting for them and that sense of dread from earlier begins to fill her.

She remembers Jamie's face before dinner, after his talk with John and Hector, and she wonders if they are related.

"What's wrong?" she asks bluntly, joining John on the couch.

Jamie sits in the armchair beside her, taking her hand in his.

Claire looks from Jamie back to John, irritation growing as no one speaks.

"Damn it, someone tell me what's going on."

John sighs, looking to Jamie, then back to Claire as he inhales sharply. "There's been a new development in the case, Claire," he says, sighing, "an issue."

"Issue? What kind of issue?" she asks, grasping Jamie's hand tighter. Just then, a roar of thunder rolls through, and if this weren't such a serious moment, Claire would laugh at how the weather outside so perfectly mirrors the emotions in her mind right now.

With a heavy exhale, Jamie and John explain to her that someone has leaked that Jamie might be alive.

"What?" she asks worriedly, Jamie squeezing her hand in comfort.

John takes over, informing her that they've been working hard over the last few weeks to squash that rumor. "Jamie's been staying inside more, hasn't even been working on the farm except when it was strictly necessary," John says, telling her it was important for him to stay hidden so close to the trial date so that it didn't all get shot to hell and all their meticulous work didn't go down the drain.

She shakes her head, almost involuntarily, images of all their hard work over the last six years swirling down the drain. "No," she mumbles, "Who would know that? We've been so safe…"

"I ken, I ken, we have," Jamie says, trying to calm her. "We dinna ken, Sassenach, that's why we have tae be so careful leading up to trial."

She feels the tears leak from her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. "Is everything… going to be okay?"

John stands, motioning for Jamie to take his place on the couch, and when he does, Jamie takes both her hands in his, bringing them up to kiss her knuckles. His mouth stays planted there, and she can feel him trembling as well. "I think so," he says, pulling away to look into her golden eyes. "We just have to be extra cautious."

She nods, looking over her shoulder at John and back to Jamie, suddenly worried as she thinks of their daughters. "The girls?"

"They're safe, mo nighean donn," he says sincerely, pulling her closer to him. "John has assured me they'll be fine. We'll stay in the house as much as possible, too." He says Hector or John will run errands for them, only sending Claire out if and when necessary, and suddenly this time away from home sounds so much harder than she naively planned originally.

Part of her wants to be angry that John didn't tell them sooner what was happening, feels like they should've discussed this right when John found out, but logically she knows he didn't want them to worry, especially with her home with the girls. She's irritated, but at the same time, she's glad he didn't inform her earlier because she would've been a useless ball of anxiety all this time. She closes her eyes, trying to work everything out. They will just have to be careful, but at least they're together.

She nods, worried, but attempting to be brave. She goes through every interaction she's had since finding Jamie, seeing if there was some way, time or place she could have let it slip without knowing, if she could be the cause of all of this…

"This is not yer fault, Claire, ye hear me?"

Biting her lip, she nods again, softly asking if he's sure.

John chimes in, saying the leak was in no way related to her and for her not to worry. "I'm going to place a patrol car outside for extra security, okay? That way you guys can sleep knowing there's nothing to worry about."

"Plus John and Hector live right next door, ken?" Jamie grins, trying to lighten the mood. "If something were tae go wrong, they're right there to help." Her eyes must widen in fear at that, because his expand, too, shaking his head and hands as if in surrender. "Not that anything will go wrong, Sassenach."

Taking a deep breath, she nods, unsure of what else to do.

With that, John stands, peeking out the window to double check that the undercover car is set up in place. "Morton's here, that's good," he says, turning to look at the couple. "Everything will be alright, Claire."

He gives them each a hug, holding Claire a little longer in reassurance before he slips on his rain jacket and leaves, walking next door to his house for the night.

Once he's gone, Jamie and Claire make their way upstairs, completely exhausted.

It's been a long day, especially for her, but once they're alone, they're hands begin to wander, finding each other again after so many weeks apart.

Their clothes get tossed to the floor, Jamie's lips on her skin, drawing soft pants and muffled moans from her as she clamps a hand over her mouth, coming around her husband for the first time in weeks.

As they lay there, naked and satiated, their bodies curled together, Jamie trails his fingertip along her shoulder blade.

"I was sae scared tonight when John told me," he admits quietly, almost as if he's ashamed of feeling that way. "For so long, I felt as if I were hiding under a blade of grass, always worried someone would see me, recognize me, and really kill me wi' out ye ever knowing I was actually alive."

He sniffles, and her head tilts, reaching up to wipe at his damp cheeks.

"Everything is going to be alright," she tells him, though she doesn't quite believe her own words.

She's worried, terrified that something could go wrong to screw this all up. There's a fear swarming inside her, making her gut twist with anxiety, that all their hard work will be in vain and Jamie will have to stay in witness protection forever. But she won't voice those concerns now, she'll let Jamie get out his fears, let him be vulnerable for now, and be there for him like he has always done for her.

Claire listens carefully to the silence surrounding them, trying to hear something, anything. She wonders if the girls are alright, and she thinks about the patrol car outside. She'd looked at it from their bedroom window earlier, which eased her nerves, but she has the desire to look again.

Slipping from Jamie's grasp, she slips her thin robe on, padding over to the window.

It's still raining outside, and she listens as the drops hit the window in a quickly increasing pitter-patter. Her eyes find the car whose sole purpose tonight is to watch over her family, to keep them protected, and her shoulders relax, knowing they're surrounded by people who can help if something were to go wrong.

"Sassenach, come back to bed," Jamie mumbles, his naked form calling out to her.

With a small smile, she draws the curtain, letting her robe fall to the ground as she slinks back to bed where her husband awaits.

She crawls in, his strong arms wrapping vigilantly around her, and as she settles back into his embrace, he asks, "How do you feel?"

After a silent pause, she whispers, "Safe," because it's all she can think to say, knowing that here, in this house, is the safest they can be.

"Good," he sighs, his hand pulsing against her arm, "No matter what happens, I'll make sure ye're safe, always."

She smiles into his chest, never doubting him for a second.

As they lay there, arms wrapped around each other, slowly tracing the other's skin, she listens to the rain hit the roof some more, letting it soothe her soul.

She knows her words are true; she does feel safe. Things may be up in the air with the case, but she fully trusts John Grey to work it out for the best, and laying here right now—in Jamie's arms, their children peacefully asleep down the hall with security secretly posted outside and Jamie's rescuer right next door—she knows they really are protected, and she wills her mind to believe her heart.

"Remember I once told ye," Jamie says, kissing her forehead, "that ye have the protection of my body, if ye need it. And I still mean it."

She rolls her eyes, thinking back to their wedding day twelve years ago, when he vowed to love and protect her through everything as the blood of his blood and bone of his bone. And he has… he's given up his life and his freedom to keep her and their children safe from all of this, and she couldn't love him any more.

"Goodnight, Jamie," she murmurs into his embrace, kissing his chest.

"Goodnight, Sassenach."

And with that, the storm outside continues to rage, but as she lays peacefully wrapped in her husband's arms, the storm in her mind finally quiets down enough for her to fall asleep.

{************************}

Please review! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen:

A month has passed, and the trial has been set to begin next week.

John has done his best to keep Claire's anxiety down, not revealing too much to her about the leak that Jamie might still be alive or anything else to do with the trial

They'd been careful, Jamie staying mostly inside except to help Hector on the farm once a week, usually early on Sunday mornings when there were less people out and about. The farm at least didn't flare Claire's worry up even more, seeing as it was isolated out on a piece of land that you practically had to know it was there to find it. When Jamie was there, she knew he was as safe as possible.

Other than that, he's been inside, and while he's going a bit stir crazy, he assures Claire each night that he'd rather be cooped up inside his safe house with her and the girls than miles apart.

She would run errands and to pick up groceries, she'd helped Joe with a few cases via telephone or Zoom, she and the girls have explored Wilmington a bit, but other than that, they've been keeping themselves busy and thoroughly entertained while also helping Jamie prepare to give his testimony.

They've been practicing the past few nights, John, Hector and Claire all asking Jamie any questions that might be thrown his way and letting him rehearse what to say, how much detail to give, about his observation of the rival gangs and his imminent attack.

John also has to testify, as the undercover agent that had been a mole inside Master Raymond's gang, and Claire grows more confident with each passing day that between the two of them they'll not only put Raymond away, but also the rival mob boss—a man that goes by the name Sandringham—for good.

They've made plans to fly back to Georgia, and Claire has to admit that she's enjoyed her month away from work, but she misses Joe, Geillis and the Fitzgibbons tremendously.

"You sure it's alright with you if John, Sophia and I all stay with you guys?" Hector asks, handing her the pan to put olive oil on.

Claire smiles at Hector, knowing he'd been the most worried about imposing on their home and family time, but she nods, assuring him that it's fine. "The extra security will be nice with John around, and the girls love Sophia," she grins, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow gently, "and you can teach me that recipe for those biscuits Jamie loves so much. I've never been able to master making them from scratch."

Hector smiles, promising he will, "Plus I can take Brianna to her lessons and ride some horses. It'll be perfect."

Claire smiles again, once more thankful for this family that has protected her husband all these years. They've become great friends over the last few weeks, and she knows that if Jamie had to be away all this time, she's glad he was with such amazing people.

As Hector dumps the freshly chopped vegetables onto the pan, Claire looks over to the kitchen table, watching as Jamie and John both concentrate deeply on their chess game.

They'd set it up an hour ago, still deep into their game.

Jamie must feel her eyes on him, because he glances up, trying to wink in her direction.

She grins at his constant inability to actually wink, then looks back to her partner in the kitchen. Hector sprinkles onion powder onto the veggies, and she watches him work, creating another delicious dish for them. "Where did you learn to cook so well?"

"My mom taught me growing up," he explains, reaching for the garlic salt. "I'd wake up early to help my Pa on the farm, then spend my evenings doing homework and learning to cook from her." Claire smiles, listening to him talk about his family. He looks up toward their husbands, leaning in conspiratorially and stage-whispers, "Comes in handy when all your husband can make is spaghetti."

John looks up from his game at his husband's words, looking mockingly offended with one hand over his heart. "I make a rather great one at that, thank you very much," he says, taking one of his pieces and moving it to another square.

"You sure do, dear," Hector says sarcastically, cutting his eyes to Claire, making her giggle.

Jamie slams his hand down on the table, chuckling as he makes his move, clearly winning the game as John slaps his knee, lips drawing up in defeat. "Damn you, I was distracted."

Claire and Hector laugh as Jamie resets the pieces. They've been playing for a while, the sun having set since they started.

It's a peaceful night in the house, their last for a while, and Claire takes a moment to listen out for the girls upstairs in the playroom with Sophia.

She glimpses back to the table, her eyes connecting with Jamie's again. They seem to get lost in their own little moment, the rest of the world drowning out as she gets lost in his blue eyes.

John clears his throat, and Hector laughs. "Seems we've lost them to their own little world once again."

Claire blushes, laughing awkwardly as she pulls herself from her husband's gaze, "So, what's the next step on these vegetables?"

Before Hector can reply, they hear a cry coming from upstairs, and three sets of feet scrambling down the steps.

Jamie stands abruptly from the table, chess game forgotten, as Faith comes into the kitchen holding a crying Sophia's hand, Bree trailing behind.

John stands, scooping Sophia into his arms. "What happened, love?"

She blubbers something that no one can understand, and Claire and Jamie look to their daughters.

Faith takes Jamie's hand, leading him over to the bar stools. She climbs into the chair while explaining, "We were playing dress up, and I was showing them some of my dance moves from ballet class."

Jamie nods, rubbing her back, "So why the tears?"

"Weel," she sighs, hanging her head before looking up at Jamie through her long lashes, her little lips pursed, "Sophia turned a little too hard and hit her head on the wall."

"And fell out of the chair she was standing in," Brianna adds, climbing into the chair on the other side of Jamie.

"Chair?" Hector asks, setting the seasoning down and walking over to John and Sophia. He kisses Sophia's head, rubbing her back. "Why were you in a chair?"

Her crying continues, pudgy cheeks turning red as she continues to babble her incoherent explanation.

"We were dancing in the chairs," Bree explains with a guilty little shrug, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Claire shakes her head, glad they just have child sized plastic chairs up there, so she knows she didn't fall too far, she's probably just more scared than anything.

"Are you alright, baby?" Hector asks, taking his daughter from John's arms. Sophia cuddles into her other father's embrace, head nuzzling into his neck as her tears begin to subside.

She nods, mumbling a mmhmm, I'm otay that makes everyone smile.

"It just scared you, didn't it?" Claire asks, smiling over at the little girl.

She nods again, looking sheepishly at Claire with teary eyes.

"Why don't you girls stay down here for a while?" Jamie suggests, "Dinner will be ready once the vegetables get done."

Claire slides them into the oven, telling the room they'll be finished in about twenty-five minutes, and Jamie smiles at Faith and Bree, saying that gives them time to watch an episode of The Magic School Bus while Sophia puts an ice pack on her forehead.

Faith jumps down from her stool, going to the freezer to remove an ice pack. She wraps it in a dish towel from the drawer, handing it to Sophia as Hector sets her down. "You have to keep this on your head, okay?" she asks in a sweet, high-pitched voice she only uses when talking to younger kids.

Claire smiles watching her oldest daughter. She's always been a little mother-hen, taking care of Brianna or any other kids they might be around.

Sophia nods with a tear filled pout, reaching out for Faith's hand. Faith straightens, taking Sophia's hand and calling over her shoulder for Brianna to come with them to the living room.

"Crisis averted, I'd say," John chuckles once the girls are out of the kitchen, and everyone smiles.

While Hector checks on their chicken on the grill, Claire peeks into the living room, seeing that all three girls are cuddled on the couch, Sophia in the middle with a megawatt smile plastered on her face as both red heads fuss over her, making sure the ice pack is on right and she's propped up on enough pillows to be comfortable.

"Well, Sophia is in heaven out there," Claire jokes, pointing behind her as she turns back to the other adults.

John and Jamie have resumed their game but look up, laughing as she explains what the girls are doing.

"I'm glad they all get along," John says, "it's nice for Soph to have some other little girls to play with."

Smiling, Claire busies herself cleaning the kitchen while Hector joins the other men at the table, asking them how the game works.

{***********************}

Once dinner is over, and the ice pack has fully melted, they all walk toward the front door, saying goodnight to their friends.

Hector walks over to Sophia, picking her up and telling her to say bye-bye to the girls. Her chubby hand motions around in an attempt at a wave as Hector joins John at the door, making their exit to their house next door to finish packing for their roadtrip in the morning.

Claire sighs, walking over to the girls. They're in the nook of the living room deciding which toys they want to take with them back home. "Have you girls decided yet?"

They both look up at her, a pair of golden eyes and a set of blue turning her way in the most pathetic attempt at puppy dog eyes she's ever seen.

"Mama, we want to take all of them," Faith announces, apparently the spokesperson for the duo this evening. "Daddy's bought us so many, and we don't wanna leave them behind."

Rolling her eyes, she tilts her head in Jamie's direction as he walks in from the kitchen. "See."

"What?" he says around a bite of a biscuit that Hector had made for them, shrugging his shoulders as he looks at his daughters. "I ken I spoiled them a wee bit, but I had six years to make up for, Sassenach."

"Yes, and you have made up for it and then some." She walks over to him, taking the last bite of his biscuit and popping it into her mouth as she wraps her arms around his waist. Her head is on his chest, listening to his heartbeat as she chews and swallows, looking up at him sweetly. "You didn't have to buy the toys, though, to do that. They've loved just spending time with you, Jamie."

"Aye, I ken," he concedes, kissing the top of her head. "I'm sorry, mo nighean donn." He claps his hands together, rubbing them as he disentangles from Claire's grip, walking over to the girls. "Ye can each pack your top four favorite ones, lasses," he says in his most dad-like voice, "and the rest will stay here." He points to the ground, indicating the house as he looks at their sad little eyes. "And…" he trails off, looking over his shoulder at Claire, then back to the girls, crouching down in front of them with a sly grin, "We can always get new ones in Georgia."

Pushover.

A pair of twin yay's ring out as they wrap their arms around Jamie, and Claire rolls her eyes, putting her foot down no matter how cute the three of them may be. "Girls, you have plenty of toys back home. You each get three from here to take and that's it. We don't have room in the suitcases." She looks to Jamie pointedly, adding, "and no new toys once we're home. You have more than enough."

"But we drove here, though," Brianna says, "we can just toss them in the floorboard!"

Claire gives her best mom-glare as even Faith agrees with her sister, but they all realize how serious she is.

All three of them sigh, causing Claire to try and hide her smirk as she walks away, calling over her shoulder for them to hurry up. They have to get ready for bed in thirty minutes, and if they haven't chosen by then, then they don't get to take any.

With that, Faith and Brianna scramble to pick the toys they want, running up the stairs with Jamie chasing after them as they dash to their room, tossing the toys in the toy bag and getting ready for the long drive in the morning.

{************************}

A few days later, once everyone is settled into Claire's Georgia home, the doorbell rings, alerting Claire that her friends have arrived.

She steps over the pile of toys Faith, Brianna and Sophia have left in the middle of the hallway, and she shakes her head, wondering how the house has gotten so much messier with just three extra people living here.

She makes a mental note to have everyone clean up tonight. She refuses to live like they're all on vacation still, wanting her girls to stay in a routine.

"Girls, clean up this hallway!" she calls as she descends the stairs.

John is already downstairs, hand hovering over the door handle when he looks over at her. "You ready?"

Claire takes a deep breath, wondering if she truly is. She's wanted to tell her friends and family for months now about Jamie but knew she couldn't. With the trial beginning in just a few short days, John had been given permission for her to tell just the four of them—Joe, Geillis, Murtagh and Jocasta—so that they could have some moral support at the trial. She knows the underlying message is In case things don't go their way, but she doesn't care, she's just excited (albeit nervous) to tell their loved ones.

She hates that she'll ask Geillis to lie to Dougal, despite him being Jamie's blood, she just doesn't trust the man with something so grand, but she knows that the other four would take this to their graves if she asked it of them, even as big of a gossip as Geillis is. She really was lucky to have such amazing people surrounding her.

Nodding, she tells John that she is, and she steps back, standing behind John as he opens the door.

Joe, Geillis and the Fitzgibbons are on the other side, excited smiles falling when they see a stranger opening the door.

Geillis looks over John's shoulder, catching Claire's gaze. Her eyes dart back to John, then over to Claire, lighting up. "So, ye did have a mystery man after all!"

Claire snickers, doubling into full on laughter when John's shocked expression meets her. "Please come in and I'll explain."

She hugs them all as they make their way in, Geillis hanging up her purse on the coat rack as they all step into the living room. "Guys, this is Officer John Grey. John, this is Joe Abernathy, Murtagh and Jocasta Fitzgibbons, and Geillis Duncan."

They shake hands, Murtagh asking if everything is okay. She can see their worried looks, and she sighs, sitting down on the couch with her friends as John takes the chair.

Her heartbeat is pounding so loudly in her chest that it's all she can hear in her eardrums besides the rushing of her blood. With a shaky inhalation, she begins with, "Well," and looks to John, then back to her guests. "I have something… kind of crazy, actually… to tell you."

Before she can go on, there's a small squeak in the wooden floorboard as Jamie walks through the kitchen doorway and into the living room, a sheepish look on his face with his hands tucked inside his pockets. An audible gasp rings out throughout the room before a deafening silence descends upon them as everyone's eyes are trained on her husband. She's not sure who gasped so loudly, maybe all four, based on how Joe and Geillis' hands are holding tightly to each other's and their mouths have fallen agape, Murtagh's covering his mouth as tears well in his eyes and Jocasta staring blankly in surprise.

Claire watches with watery eyes, taking in everyone's expressions. There's confusion written all over their faces, of course, but she spies a smile tickling the edge of Joe's face.

Her golden eyes flick over to Murtagh, his brows furrowed together. Their godfather stands slowly, pushing himself up from the couch and waving Jocasta off silently when she moves to help him.

He takes a few short steps to be eye level with Jamie, staring into her husband's blue eyes much the same way she did when she found him in Spain.

"A bhalaich?" Murtagh asks in a whisper, his eyes glazing over as he studies at his godson in disbelief.

"Ghoistidh," he breathes, reaching out to embrace the older man, tears falling down his cheeks as he buries his nose in Murtagh's neck.

The gruff older man wraps his arms around him, and Claire tears up watching, almost in slow motion, as Murtagh pulls back, slapping Jamie's shoulders and laughing before pulling him back in for a more tender hug.

They stay there for a moment, clearly reveling in the embrace of one another after so long, and she swears she hears Murtagh sniffling into Jamie's neck. Jamie's already crying, the tears trickling onto the old man's shoulder.

"H-how?"

Jamie pulls back, clasping Murtagh's shoulders, then waves apprehensively to the rest of the room. As he pads over to the other chair, he pats Joe and Geillis on their shoulders, stopping to take his aunt's hand and give it an affectionate squeeze before he takes his spot in the chair beside Claire, taking her hand in his.

Joe and Geillis' mouths are still hanging open, following Jamie's every move, and Jocasta is crying softly at the sight of her nephew.

"So, while I was in Spain…"

Claire explains everything, her tears returning as she tells their best friends about finding Jamie, allowing Jamie to tell them his side of the story.

Their shocked expressions don't leave, even as they all cry and hug Jamie, celebrating his return. Joe holds Claire tightly to him in a hug, whispering how happy he is for her no matter how crazy all of this is.

John allows them a moment to catch up, but then grows serious, telling the room how austere this really is. He informs them that this is a federal case, and they are sworn to secrecy. He takes out a document, having them each sign it, legally swearing to keep this to themselves for the duration of the trial.

They do, of course, Geillis rubbing Claire's knee in support as they continue talking, John going over the details of how the trial will work.

After another hour, John sighs, saying that's all they need to know, and they spend the rest of their time together catching up before dinner.

The girls are thrilled to see Aunt Geillis and Jocasta, Uncle Joe, and especially Uncle Murtagh when they come up from the playroom for dinner.

"Uncle Murtagh!" Faith squeals, leaping into his arms, her tiny ones wrapping around his neck as she kisses his cheek. "Did ye see that Daddy is back?!"

He chuckles, blowing a raspberry to her cheek, saying that he did, "And I'm verra happy tae see him, m'annsachd."

She giggles, Brianna wrapping her arms around Murtagh's legs after she's lept from Joe and Geillis' hugs. "Och," she scoffs, "I wanna hug, too!"

Jamie laughs, wrapping his arm around Jocasta's shoulders. "Wee little Scots when they're around Murtagh, aren't they?"

Claire laughs, saying it definitely comes out more when Jocasta, Geillis and Murtagh are all around, though they have little Scottish mannerisms that sneak out from time to time.

Jamie beams at that, and she kisses his cheek, stepping away to tell everyone that it's time to eat.

They gather around the large dining room table, Jamie and Claire at opposite heads. The girls are on either side of Claire with Sophia next to Faith, who dutifully cuts Sophia's food for her while Hector watches from beside them. Jamie's family are on both sides of him, with John, Geillis and Joe filling out the middle of the table, and as Claire looks around her dining room, seeing it so filled with love and laughter, she can't contain the beaming smile gracing her face.

This feels right, and though she's worried for her friends and family to know the truth, she finally feels as if she can breathe a sigh of relief. Her best friends know, she now has someone other than Jamie she can cry and scream her happiness, worries and fears to, and really, that's all she's ever wanted.

After dinner, everyone leaves, and John and Hector take Sophia down into the basement where they're staying, claiming it's bath time. As they make their way downstairs, they say goodnight to Jamie and Claire, Hector giving Claire a wink and saying they'll stay down there the rest of the night to give them some family time alone.

She smiles, thankful again for their new friends.

{*************************}

"Daddy, catch me!" Brianna calls, jumping from his and Claire's bed into his arms.

He laughs, grunting as her body weight hits his. He wraps his arms around her legs and waist, spinning her around like an airplane.

"Me, too!" Faith calls, jumping on their bed and giggling at her sister.

Claire laughs, her body bouncing from the motion of her daughter's hops on the mattress.

Jamie tosses Bree onto the bed while making plane noises, then scoops Faith up, doing the same thing.

Claire watches with a smile, loving these little moments her girls get with their father now.

Brianna crawls across the bed, snuggling into Claire's arms as they watch Jamie crash Faith into the mattress, her laughter echoing through the room. Jamie plops onto the bed in his spot, Faith cuddling into his side.

Turning on the television, Claire turns it to Netflix, handing the remote to Faith to let her pick a movie for them.

She settles on Sleeping Beauty, and both girls huddle together at the foot of the bed to watch.

Claire grins at their backs, looking over to Jamie. He takes her hand in his, bringing it up to her lips to kiss the back of. "Today was exhausting," he admits, "but great," and she nods, agreeing.

Before she can say anything else, Brianna crawls back to where her parents are propped against the headboard, asking Claire to braid her hair.

"Of course, darling," she says, taking the hair tie off of her little wrist.

She sits up, letting Bree settle in between her legs. She runs her fingers through her straight, auburn locks, getting the small tangles out.

"Daddy, have you ever seen this movie?" Bree asks, trying to look Jamie's way as Claire fights to keep her head straight while she does her hair.

"Aye, a long time ago, m'annsachd," he says, pointing toward Faith at the end of the bed. "When that one was just a wee bairn."

Brianna giggles, settling against Claire's chest, rambling on about the movie, telling him everything that is going to happen despite him saying he'd seen it before.

"We can watch a different one if you want," Faith says, making her way back to the top of the bed. She lays beside Jamie, resting her head on his large chest.

"Nae, 'tis alright, a leannan," he says, kissing the top of her head. "It's been a long day anyway, ken. 'Tis almost bedtime."

"It's past bedtime," Claire chuckles, knowing it's not all that late, but it's been an eventful day, and the girls need to catch up on some sleep, "but your father is right. You girls can watch a few more minutes, but then it's off to sleep."

They both whine, Brianna asking if they can sleep in their bed tonight, to which Claire tells her no. It's been a taxing and emotional day. Telling their family was harder than she thought, and she knows as soon as the girls are asleep, she'll be crying in her husband's arms.

Neither Faith nor Brianna put up much of a fight, and before long, they're both snoring softly against their parents' chest.

Chuckling, Jamie quips, "Guess they were more tired than they thought," as he stands with Faith cradled in his arms. "Let's get them tae bed."

Nodding, Claire wraps her arms around Brianna, carrying her across the hallway to her bed as Jamie deposits Faith into hers. They each kiss their girls' foreheads, switching rooms to do the same to the other daughter, before meeting back in the hallway.

Jamie takes Claire's hand, leading her down the stairs and into the living room.

"I just wanted some time alone wi' ye, mo chridhe," he confesses, walking over to the bar cart to pour them each a dram of whisky before he settles beside her on the couch, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "Wi' John's family here, I feel like we're constantly surrounded by people."

"That's because we are," she giggles, taking a sip of the amber liquid and clicking the television on. She flips it to some random black and white movie, settling back into Jamie's embrace.

Before long, the emotions of the day consume her and she lets her tears silently fall. She sniffles, looking up to Jamie.

"What is it, mo nighean donn? Yer tears have soaked through my shirt." He reaches up, wiping underneath both of her eyes and placing a soft peck to the end of her nose.

She smiles at the touch, shaking her head and clearing her throat. "I'm just… relieved," she admits, shrugging and setting her glass on the coffee table. "I've been wanting to tell Joe and Geillis for months about you, and finally being able to tell everyone..." she shakes her head, meeting his gaze, "it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my chest."

Claire leans in, pressing her lips to his, then pulls back to add, "I feel like telling them made this… real. You're really here." Her eyes mist over again and Jamie leans forward, setting his glass down beside hers and pulling her to him.

She situates herself on his lap, legs dangling over his as he pushes her hair back, cupping the back of her neck. "Oh, Claire," he breathes, his lips hovering above her. "I love ye sae much."

"I love you, too," she murmurs, closing the gap between them.

Their lips move together, Claire practically memorizing the feel of them on hers once again. She's overcome with this sense of right as his hands move to her hips, squeezing affectionately.

She knows it's been two months since he returned, but something about tonight solidified it for her, and having his lips on her sends a fire through her veins that she hasn't felt in a very long time.

Their lips pop apart as Claire moves, situating herself back in his lap with her legs straddling his.

He grins, looking up into her eyes. "Right here on the couch, Sassenach? John and Hector are just downstairs."

"And Hector said they'd stay there," she mumbles, kissing his lips, "all," another kiss, this one to his jaw, "night."

With a growl, Jamie grabs her waist, hoisting her up and onto the couch as he hovers above her. He peppers kisses down her throat to her chest, his hand trailing up her t-shirt.

Goosebumps flair on her skin, and she giggles as she imagines what would happen if one of them did happen to come back upstairs. The thought of getting caught sends a naughty thrill through her, and she reaches for Jamie's shirt, tossing it onto the coffee table beside them.

Jamie makes his way down, down, down, unbuttoning her jeans and tapping her thigh, demanding she lift up so he can remove them.

They work together to shimmy out of her denim, and once he's gotten them off, they join his shirt on the table.

His lips find her bellybutton, tongue swirling as he makes his way down to where she's already wet and wanting him.

Jamie's finger tucks into the side of her blue thong, peeling it back to kiss and suck her skin.

"Jamie," she breathes, writhing beneath him already. "Yes." She nods as his eyes look up at her from under his lashes, his silent question of should we do this right here ringing loud and clear to her.

He grins, tongue peeking out as he licks up her slit, lips attaching to her clit and sucking far harder than she was expecting.

She clamps a hand over her mouth, hips jutting up. "Mmm," she moans from behind her hand, her other fist in his hair. "God, yes!"

Jamie works her up and up to the very edge, pulling back with a wicked grin. "Ye're close already, Sassenach?"

She slaps his shoulder, laughing as she says, "You know I am, you bastard, keep going."

He laughs, too, the vibrations of it hitting her core and sending a shiver down to her toes.

Jamie lets his finger join, his mouth sucking on her clit while his fingers work her up into a frenzy, and before long, she's coming on his tongue, his name falling from his lips far louder than she should be with a house full of people.

She slams her hand over her mouth again, shaking and writhing beneath her husband as his finger still works inside of her, riding out the aftershocks of her orgasm.

Claire pushes his hand away after the sensation becomes too much, pulling him on top of her chest.

He kisses her lips, and the mixture of him and her on his tongue just about sends her over the edge again.

They lay there for a moment, letting Claire catch her breath as Jamie traces his finger tip over her bicep.

She loves the feel of him on top of her, no matter how large and heavy he may be, the weight of him is just another reminder that he's truly here for good.

After a few more minutes, Claire begins to giggle, saying she should probably put her pants back on just in case one of their guests comes upstairs needing anything or a kid comes looking for one of them.

"Aye," Jamie laughs, "though I do quite enjoy the sight of ye bare assed on our couch, all fer me."

He kisses her again, standing and pulling her up from the couch as well. He slips his shirt on, while she wiggles back into her jeans.

Jamie checks his watch, asking, "Did ye check the mail today? Yer new Apple watch we ordered was supposed to be here earlier."

Laughing, Claire shakes her head, saying she didn't. "Can't it wait until tomorrow? It's almost nine o'clock."

Brianna, wild child that she is, had been galloping around like a horse back in North Carolina and knocked Claire's watch off the kitchen counter where she'd placed it. It had fallen to the ground at just the right angle, causing the screen to crack, and while Claire wasn't too worried, Jamie had insisted on them ordering her a new one.

"Nah, 'tis no' that late… and it's a gift fer you, Sassenach!" he says, overly-excited and grinning as he says he'll just go check the mail right quick for it. She knows he's extra excited for this because he'd missed the last six birthdays and Christmases, but really, she could wait until the morning, but his boyish grin was too much to handle.

"Fine," she giggles, rolling her eyes playfully at him, shrugging as she settles back onto the couch to let her husband lavish her with a new gift. "I'll just be here, finishing this movie we've been oh so into."

Smirking, Jamie nods, stepping out of the front door and down to the mailbox. Playtime in the backyard and his trips to the mailbox once the sun has gone down and the neighbors are asleep have been his only reprieve from being cooped up in their house, anyway, so she knows he enjoys the fresh air.

Claire settles back into the couch, actually trying to watch the movie this time. It doesn't hold her interest in the ten seconds she tries, so she flips the channel to HGTV, watching as the Property Brothers try to convince a family that new insulation is necessary in their remodel.

Before long, Claire hears a sound from outside, and she mutes the TV, walking to the front door. It sounded like someone was talking to Jamie, so she's immediately on edge wondering who it could be and hoping they didn't recognize Jamie somehow. She knows they didn't live here when Jamie was alive, but, well, still...

"Alexander? she says, knowing even just outside their door, she has to use his alias.

The sight that greets her though, makes her blood run cold. A hooded man stands behind Jamie, knife stabbed into his back while Jamie's hands are up in surrender. "J-Alex!" she screams, watching as the man yanks the knife out, running away before she can get close enough to see any kind of features, not that she could through the dark mask and clothing.

She runs to Jamie frantically, kneeling down beside him as he falls to the ground. "Oh, god, oh god," she cries, cradling his head while applying pressure to the wound. "Jamie," she calls frantically, "hang on!"

Screaming John's name, praying he can hear her from down in the basement, she picks up her phone, unsure if she should call 911 or not, knowing that would require insurance and names and… things she can't give for a dead man.

"Sassenach," he coughs out, his hand flopping onto her phone, pulling it down so she can't call the ambulance. "Go inside an'… and get John…"

"I'm not leaving you!" she cries, her hand holding his wound. "I'm not!"

"Sassen…." he trails off, his eyes growing heavy, "go… get John."

Her eyes squeeze shut, shaking her head as she fights against all her medical training, knowing she shouldn't leave him like this. "I'll be right back, Jamie." She takes his hand, telling him to hold it as best he can to his wound, then adds more sternly through gritted teeth, "Don't you dare die on me."

She stands, running frantically up the walkway to the front door. She dashes through the living room and into the kitchen, throwing open the basement door and screaming John and Hector's names down the stairs. "Help! Now!"

Without waiting for a response, she makes a mad dash back outside, placing Jamie's head in her lap again and pressing on the wound on his side. It's near his kidney and she prays to God that the attacker didn't stab deep enough to puncture any vital organs.

Before she knows it, John and Hector are both beside her, John already on the phone with someone, she doesn't know who, but she knows it's someone to help.

"Jamie," she whimpers, begging him to open his eyes. "Look at me, damn it." She presses her lips to his, willing him to come back to consciousness. "Damn it, open your eyes."

She feels herself growing dizzy, unable to imagine his life actually ending this way, not after everything they've been through, and as she feels herself growing weary, eyes heavy with tears, she hears the ambulance sirens coming down the street.

{***********************}

Eeeek…. Lots of things happened in this one! Just trust me with that ending, y'all! Lol Please review :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen:

She sits in the back of the ambulance, cursing the luck that she and Jamie have. Can't they ever get a moment of peace?

She's holding his hand, listening as the EMTs call out to one another, monitoring her husband's vitals. Tracking his heart rate on the machine, she prays to whoever might be out there that he makes it.

Claire is a doctor. She's logical. She knows that the chances of this being a life threatening wound are slim, but seeing her husband on the gurney, his bloody wound wrapped up while the medics apply pressure, worries her.

When they get to the hospital, he's wheeled away, leaving her in the dust until Joe comes running out to find her. He wraps his arms around her shoulders, pulling Claire in for a tight hug.

"He's going to be okay, LJ," he whispers into her hair, and she nods at the reassurances.

She'd called Joe from the ambulance in a panic, knowing his shift was ending soon and begged him to stay on after to help. He'd assured her with a, "Of course, Lady Jane. I'll be waiting for you," but she'd barely heard it, too focused on Jamie. Standing here now, though, Joe is still in his lab coat, stethoscope around his neck.

"Aren't you going home?" she asks.

"Nah," he scoffs, tightening his grip on the lapels of his coat. "I told you I would stay. You think I'd leave you or Jamie right now?"

He smiles that big, warm smile of his that always makes her feel better, and she can't help the little grin that tugs on the corner of her lips as well. "Thank you, Joe."

Leaning in, Joe kisses the top of her head and gives her hand a squeeze, saying, "I hate to leave you, but I'm going to go check on the big guy."

Nodding, she waves him off, knowing he's needed much more in there than out here with her.

As soon as Joe makes his exit, the hospital doors slide open, John rushing inside. He'd followed behind the ambulance in his car, and Claire sighs, grateful to have him there.

{*************************}

A few hours later, Claire sits beside Jamie's hospital bed, John across from her.

Hector had stayed behind with the girls, but she was thankful to have someone there with her.

She sighs, thumb rubbing the back of Jamie's hand. He's hooked up to wires, his heart monitor a constant companion that lets her know he's alive.

"Damn it, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser," she curses, pulling his hand to her lips and kissing his knuckles. "If you die on me, I'll kill you myself."

She sniffles, linking her fingers with his, listening once more to that thrum of beep, beep, beep, which is normally a nuisance, but tonight it's a comfort that she clings to.

Jamie had been rushed to surgery, Joe working his magic to make sure he was the surgeon. The knife had punctured his kidney, but thankfully it wasn't deep enough to cause serious damage. Joe had sewn up the laceration, sewing together the tissue that had been torn, and set him up in a room for the night to recover.

Claire looks over Jamie's face, the light bruising and his broken hand bringing a fresh set of tears to her eyes.

"I don't understand," she says softly, looking over the bed to John. "How did this even happen?"

John sighs, sitting forward in his seat. His hands fold, leaning against his thighs. "Whoever leaked that Jamie was actually alive must have been following him somehow."

"That's not good enough," she snaps. "You were supposed to keep us safe. That's your fucking job!"

She's angry, and while she sat there, waiting on Jamie's surgery to end, she'd stupidly kept herself busy researching witness protection. Turns out, the people who get put in witness protection usually have their whole family hidden away with them. The fact that John never revealed that to her, never came and got her and Faith back then to protect them as well pisses her right the fuck off, and she can no longer hold her fury back from him.

"It's your goddamn fault that my children weren't with their father all these years, not Master Raymond. And sure, I could forgive you, but you know what? That amount of time doesn't seem to exist for me right now, John."

John sits back, lips pressing together. He looks properly chastised, and she feels bad, but she also doesn't because, damn it, fuck all of this. Her husband was attacked right outside their home. Whoever knows he's alive knows where they live, where her children sleep at night.

A shiver runs down her spine at that, and she picks up her phone, texting Hector to check in again on the kids.

She stands, her arms crossing as she rubs up and down her biceps, trying to calm herself. John stands as well, joining her at the foot of the bed. "I know you're upset, Claire," he begins, but she cuts him off.

"Oh, I'm more than upset." She points toward Jamie, still asleep in the bed. "My husband could have died tonight all because the one person whose job it is to keep him safe, failed to do so." Her lip curls, spitting out toward him, "That person also could have put me and Faith in witness protection with Jamie, but no, that would've been too much work for you."

"Look," he says, not even addressing her newest revelation, and she can tell he's trying to stay calm as well. "We've taken all the safety precautions we can. Sometimes… things like this happen. It sucks, I get it, but they do, and I'm sorry."

"Sorry," she scoffs, rolling her eyes. She grips the footboard of Jamie's bed, lips pursing as she tries to keep her tears at bay.

"Jamie is a tough guy," he says, adding, "I've watched him over the last six years go from a broken shell of a man, to a strong man who would fight to his death for the people he loves."

"You don't have to tell me who my husband is," she snips, whirling around to look at him. "Just because you got six years of his life doesn't erase the twelve I had with him before that." The anger swells inside of her again—anger at Master Raymond for putting this all into motion, angry at Jamie for insisting on going to get that stupid watch from the mail, angry at John for acting to cavalier about this whole thing—and before she can stop it, her hand raises, slapping John across the face.

She gasps as his head whips to the side, and she instantly regrets it, her hand flying up to cover her mouth.

"John," she breaths, reaching out to touch his cheek. "I'm… I'm so sorry." She shakes her head, those tears she's been fighting for the last few hours finally falling. It's all too much; she's angry with John, though realistically she knows he was just doing his job; he's been her family's savior through all of this, rescuing Jamie the way he did back then and keeping him protected all this time, but he bore the brunt of her anger, and though that slap did feel pretty damn good, she feels bad, too.

"It's alright," he says softly, always as kind as ever as he rubs his cheek. He looks down at his feet, then back to her, his voice as steady like always, "I know you're upset right now."

"Damn, Sassenach," she hears Jamie groan from the bed. "If ye're gonna slap someone, better wait 'til ye see Master Raymond at trial in a few days."

She looks over, seeing that Jamie is awake, looking groggy but with a huge smirk on his face. He points to John, saying, "He's the good guy, remember?"

Claire laughs through her sob, walking over to the side of Jamie's bed. She climbs in gingerly, making sure to avoid the wires and his injured side. She kisses his cheek over and over, hands gripping his face. "You'd joke on your deathbed, wouldn't you?"

Her tears fall onto his face, kissing his jaw, then his lips, trying to prove to herself that he's really alive.

Jamie grunts, and Claire shoots off of the bed, apologizing when she realizes his broken hand was beneath her.

"It's alright, mo ghraidh," he croaks out, situating himself further up in the bed and beckoning her back over to him.

John apprehensively settles into the chair, clapping Jamie on the shoulder as he does. "I'm glad you're okay, man," he says, and then finally looks at Claire, "And if I could have taken you and Faith with us to Wilmington, trust me, I would have." He looks so sincere that she feels even worse for being so angry moments ago.

Her eyes close, rubbing Jamie's hand as she collects herself. It's one of those things in life that she'll simply have to be upset about forever, knowing there's no way to go back and fix the past. So, putting it as far back in her mind as she can—which isn't really far at all—she smiles and nods, and they spend the next hour talking over the possibilities of who could have done this and what it means for the trial.

"We need to be extra careful," John says, looking pointedly at Jamie. "No going outside, even if it's to check the mail." Jamie looks from his friend, up to Claire, shrugging like a chastised little boy. "I don't even want you in the backyard with the girls until all of this is over."

Claire nods, agreeing, and John catches her eye, both smiling at one another, and she knows that she's already been forgiven for her outburst.

"I've got a security detail outside the house now," he informs them, "and I'll head home just to be safe."

"Thank ye, John."

John smiles at Jamie, standing and hugging Claire. "And put some ice on that cheek of yours," she says with a sheepish smile, rubbing his reddened skin. "Doctor's orders," she adds before their friend makes his way out of the room.

Claire settles back against Jamie's side, breathing him in. They lay there together in silence until she said quietly, "I was so scared," almost as if the words would disrupt the quiet of his hospital room.

He wraps his arm more securely around her, saying he was too. "I ken I wasn't going to die, though, ye ken how?"

She shakes her head, brows furrowing.

"'Cause I told myself years ago that if I ever got back tae ye, then the only way I'd die again was as an auld man wi' ye in my arms." He kisses her temple, breathing in, then out slowly, pecking another kiss there before adding, "Claire, if my last words are not 'I love you', ye'll ken it's because I didna have time. I wilna leave ye again, mo nighean donn, wi'out making sure ye ken just how much I truly love you."

Sniffling, Claire leans up, pressing her lips to his, letting them rest there soundly as she soaks up all the love he has to give her. "I love you, too, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser."

He grins, pressing another chaste kiss to her lips before letting his head rest against the pillow again.

"What happened?" she asks after a moment of silence, shaking her head as she props herself up to listen.

Jamie tells her about how he went to check the mail, and this person came out of nowhere. They attacked him from behind so he never saw it coming. "They were quiet as a mouse," he says, shaking his head, his eyes glazing over as he clearly gets lost in the memory. "All they said was my name, my real name, but before I could even turn fully around, they were hitting me over the head; I figure they were smaller than me, ken? So knocking me out was the only way to do any damage."

She grins, despite herself, knowing that most people are smaller than him, so that doesn't narrow anything down much. She's thankful that the police aren't here taking a statement, glad that John took care of everything so no other authorities were called, because this story of his would lead them nowhere.

"I tried to fight him off, went to punch them but he whipped out a knife, stabbing me in my hand." He raises his broken hand, flexing his fingers that stick out from the cast. He tells her how he fell to his knees from the pain as the attacker pulled the knife out of his hand. He forced himself back onto his feet, strong willed that he is, but before he could recover from the pain in his hand, the attacker dug the knife into his side. "I was sae scared, Sassenach. I just kept praying that you would stay inside; I didna want him tae hurt ye as well."

He asks of the girls, and she promises him that they're still dead asleep, none the wiser to what happened. "Hector is there with them, said he took Sophia upstairs and they're in my office on the futon just in case something happens."

Jamie smiles, his eyes closing as he leans his head back against the pillows. "He's a good guy."

Claire reaches out, stroking his cheek as she agrees. "And so is John. You got really lucky in the US Marshal department."

He snorts, peeking one eye open. "Ye wouldn't know ye felt that way based on that slap ye delivered tae the poor man."

She snickers, shrugging. "I was upset, can you blame me?"

"Nah," he laughs, puckering his lips, silently asking her to lean in for a kiss. She obliges, pecking hers to his before he says, "I canna blame ye one bit."

"Time for your medicine, Mr. Malcolm!" Joe calls from the door, rattling the cup of painkillers. "And I brought a special delivery."

They both look up to Joe, smiling brightly as Murtagh walks in from the shadows of the hallway.

"I snuck him in for you."

"Thank ye, Joe," Jamie says, watching as his godfather sits down in the chair beside the bed, clapping him on the shoulder.

Claire slips from the bed to take the medicine from Joe, squeezing Murtagh's bicep in greeting as she does.

"Thank you, Joe," Claire parrots, hugging her best friend as Jamie swallows his dose. "I'm so glad you were working tonight. I wouldn't have trusted anyone else."

"Oh, I'll be sure to tell Dr. Christie that," he grins, patting her on the shoulder.

Rolling her eyes, she mutters how Christie knows they're better surgeons anyway, so it wouldn't come as a shock.

Joe chortles, "Ruthless, LJ, I love it." He smiles, telling Jamie that a nurse will be back in a few hours with more medicine, but he should be good to go in the morning. "Our friend here should be gone, though, before she comes. Visiting hours technically ended ten minutes ago."

With that, Joe leaves, telling Claire that he can get a cot sent up for her to sleep on if she wants, but she refuses, saying she'll sleep just fine on the edge of Jamie's bed.

Claire sits back in the other chair, taking Jamie's forearm in her hand, avoiding the cast, as she watches Murtagh and Jamie catch up. She smiles, knowing she hasn't seen the old man smile this largely in years.

"I'm glad you came, ghoistidh."

"Ah, lad," Murtagh breathes, looking at him in wonder, "I'd sit here all night if they let me."

{********************}

The next day, Jamie is released, and as soon as they walk in the door, Faith and Brianna are fawning over Jamie.

They both take one of his hands, leading him over to the couch, peppering him with kisses and telling him about how Hector made them pancakes this morning.

"We can make some for you, Daddy, if you want," Bree says, careful not to pull on his casted arm too much.

Jamie grins, "'Tis alright, m'annsachd, I'm no' too hungry."

Brianna nods, hopping up from the couch as Faith snuggles into Jamie's side.

Claire had talked to Hector late last night, knowing they needed to tell the girls something. They had agreed to tell them that one of the bad men had found Jamie and hurt him, but assure them that he was fine—just a little banged up. She didn't want the girls to worry too much, so the fewer details they could give her daughters, the better.

"We have to sign your cast, Daddy!" Brianna says, running to the kitchen and returning with a black sharpie. "Elijah in my class broke his arm at recess a few months ago, and we all got to write our names on his cast," she explains as she climbs back onto the couch, "I drew a little puppy next to my name!" she giggles.

Smiling, Jamie agrees, holding out his cast to let them sign.

Claire looks to John and Hector, smiling as she sits down in the chair. "Be careful, girls," she warns, telling them not to press too hard while signing.

John joins her in the chair beside her, while Hector situates himself on the love seat across from them. He looks to Faith with a sweet smile, saying, "Let me sign when you're done, I've been practicing how to draw puppies, too," making the girls laugh.

"Where's Soph?" Claire asks, opening her arms as Brianna slides from the couch and into her mother's embrace.

"Napping," John says with a dramatic sigh, "finally."

Giggling, Claire nods, saying they can let her scribble on the cast later to make her feel included.

"There," Faith announces, "all done!" She snaps the marker closed, nodding in approval at her handiwork. She's written her name under Brianna's and drew a tiny horse beside her name. "It's not the best," she confesses, grimacing, "but I figured you'd rather have a horse on your arm than some ballet slippers."

"Och," Jamie grunts, leaning over to kiss Faith's curly hair. He wraps his good arm around her, snuggling with her, "'Tis a fine wee horse," he assures, smiling over to Brianna, "and yer puppy is a beaut, too."

Brianna beams from Claire's arms, rambling on to everyone about how her friend Sally taught her how to draw them one day during indoor recess while it was raining and how they practice on their papers when they finish their work.

"How about we order some lunch, hm?" John asks, clapping his hands together. "That Mexican place we ate at the other night was delicious, we could do that again."

Everyone agrees, and with that, John places the order, and he and Hector go out to get it while the Frasers stay home. "I'll check on Sophia in a little bit," Claire says, and John waves her off, saying now that she's asleep, she'll nap for at least another forty-five minutes.

Nodding, Claire smiles and walks them to the door, closing it behind them.

She makes her way back to the living room, joining her family on the couch.

Jamie looks over at her, smiling and blowing her a kiss over Faith's head. She grins, blowing one back before flipping on the television and pulling up Moana for the girls to watch.

{********************}

A week later, Claire is a nervous wreck. Jamie is, too, but she knows he's doing his best to act calm for her.

The trial begins today, and Claire barely slept a wink last night. She was already nervous, but feeling Jamie toss and turn all night put her on edge.

Claire's been up for hours, having showered and gotten ready far earlier than necessary. She's in the kitchen making everyone breakfast when Geillis arrives.

Her friend had agreed to watch the girls during the trial instead of going to the courthouse, all figuring the girls would feel more comfortable at home in their own space, and not needing to hear the horrors their father went through. Joe and Murtagh will be there for moral support, though, which she's grateful for.

"Thanks for doing this, G," Claire says, handing her a plate of bacon and eggs.

Hector holds up a finger for Geillis to wait, and he removes the tray of biscuits he'd taught Claire how to make, scooping one up with his spatula. "Hot off the press," he says, smiling at Geillis.

She smiles her thanks, assuring Claire it was no problem. "Dougal thinks I'm just teaching extra classes at the studio during all o'this, sae he's none the wiser." She shrugs, and Claire chuckles, knowing their marriage has never been one of deep connection like hers and Jamie's, but it works for them, and that's all that matters.

Everyone joins them soon enough, and Claire watches as Faith and Brianna eat silently. Clearly they could tell all the adults were on edge about today. Claire and Jamie had tried to explain to them as best as possible that they were going to court to try and put the bad guy away that hurt daddy, but it was just too confusing to truly comprehend at their ages.

Three hours later, Claire takes Jamie's hand in the car, watching as John drives the car around to the back of the courthouse.

He'd explained in detail last night how things would go. They'd enter through a back entrance to avoid any onlookers, and if they got there early enough, they'd be taken to a room to wait until it was time for the trial to begin.

Claire's breathing becomes ragged the closer they get to the back of the courthouse, images of what could happen floating through her mind. After Jamie's attack, she's not sure how safe this all is, and worries that someone will be there waiting to hurt him all over again.

"Hey," Jamie says, lifting her hand to his lips. He presses a kiss to her knuckles, smiling over her hand at her. "It's all going tae be alright, Sassenach."

She nods, swallowing thickly as she tries her best to smile reassuringly at him.

"We're here," John says, putting the SUV into park.

He and Hector slide out from the front, both opening the doors for her and Jamie. She doesn't let go of his hand until the very last second, grabbing it again as soon as he makes it to her side of the car.

John leads them through the backdoor, surrounded by security that met them inside.

The security officers have to scan them, and she hesitates, not wanting to let go of her anchor. Jamie smiles confidently at her, and though she thinks his confidence is put on for her sake, she has to admit, it does make her feel better.

She lets go of his hand again, allowing the officers to scan the metal detector over her body, watching as they do the same to Jamie.

Once they're given the all clear, Jamie quickly takes her hand again, both dutifully following behind John and Hector.

She feels terrified, and she fights off tears, as the reality of this whole situation crashes down upon her like a wave breaking shore.

Jamie's hand is shaking in hers, and the feel of it brings her back to reality.

This is not her nightmare they're living. It's his. And she needs to support him, not the other way around.

She squeezes his hand, smiling at him. "It's going to be okay," she says as confidently as possible.

Jamie smiles, a true one, and her rapidly beating heart begins to settle. They will make it through this, they have to; they've been through too much already not to.

John tells them that they're already ready to start, so they're going to go straight to the courtroom instead of the small room, and they both nod, following behind dutifully.

When they walk in, she can feel her heartbeat in her ears, everything else being drowned out by the thump, thump, thump.

She spots Joe, Murtagh and Jocasta in one of the rows, and they each smile at her and Jamie.

Seeing them calms her somewhat, and she can feel Jamie's grip relax in hers, sees his shoulders loosen from the tension he's been holding in them since they arrived.

They walk toward the front, and she can feel their friends behind them, moving to sit with them for extra support.

As they get closer to their row, Claire stops dead in her tracks, her heart rate picking up even further as her eyes land on the accused's side, spotting a man she never expected to see there in a million years.

Her eyes dart to the infamous Master Raymond, who sits at the table with his lawyer, both whispering conspiratorially over something, then back to what made her stop walking.

"What the hell?" she whispers, Jamie tugging on her hand when he realizes she'd stopped walking. He looks at her, following her line of vision. "How did he…" her breathing picks up, and she feels as if she's about to have a panic attack. "You don't think he's the leak, do you?"

She knows she's talking more to herself, though the desire to turn and look at Joe and Murtagh is overwhelming, knowing they must look just as shocked. And she would turn to check on them, but the image before her has her stuck.

"Sassenach," Jamie whispers, coming to stand protectively behind her, his arms gripping her shoulders, "who is that?"

Jamie's voice sounds muffled as her eyes hone in on the person in front of her. She feels as if an anvil has anchored itself to her chest and the walls around them are closing in, drowning her in anxiety and confusion.

She takes a shaking breath, looking at the man again, a sinister smirk growing on his lips that makes her insides flip, bile rising in her throat as what she thinks are all the puzzle pieces coming together in the most disgusting way. "Frank."

{*******************}

Sorry to have worried so many people last chapter — did y'all really think I'd kill Jamie?! Lol (not in this story anyway mwahaha)... Thanks for all the continued support and lovely reviews; it means a lot to me! Hope you enjoyed this one! Next up: The trial

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen:

"Sassenach, who is that?"

"Frank."

Before Jamie could clarify what she'd said, Frank was walking toward her, a simmering smirk on his face. "Claire, darling," he crooned, far too sweet, even for him.

"Frank, what… what are you doing here?"

Her mind was spinning with options, scenarios, anything to explain why her ex-boyfriend, a man she'd grown to love over the years, was sitting in this courtroom, behind the enemy, no less.

Claire's eyes flicked over to Master Raymond, who was sitting there cool as a cucumber, conversing with his lawyer as if they were simply at a coffee shop, catching up on the latest news, not sitting in a courtroom awaiting trial.

"Yeah," Frank said, clicking his tongue, "About that…" He grinned at her again, and she felt bile rise in her throat. "Master Raymond is, well, my boss, Claire." His lip curled as he looked from his boss to her, their eyes connecting. Those eyes that she used to look into and see nothing but love. Now, though, his true colors were being shown.

"That's why you got so angry when I broke up with you."

He practically growled at that, one nostril flaring. He shifted on his feet, and good, he seemed bothered by that comment. "If you hadn't gone to fucking Spain," he mumbled, cheek twitching in anger as he sighed an annoyed breath.

Anger. Hate. Disgust. Betrayal. They all swirled around her like storm clouds, fogging her vision momentarily as she tried to work out this information in her mind.

"So you were playing me this whole time?" she asked, snarling right back at him. She could feel the blood rushing through her veins, heating her skin from the inside. "You don't even really like yoga?"

The question was ridiculous, she realized when she heard Jamie stifle a chuckle under his breath, but she couldn't understand what was happening.

Frank grinned again, a smile that once made her feel weak in the knees, but she now saw the malevolent gleam beneath the surface. "No, I just needed a way into your life. Needed to try and see if your husband," he sneered the word, cutting his eyes to Jamie, "was alive or not. We thought for so long that he might not be dead." He sniffed, one nostril flaring as he flicked his gaze to Jamie again, then back to her, "Turns out our suspicions were right."

Cutting her eyes over his shoulder, she saw Master Raymond look over his own shoulder, his eyes meeting with hers. He grinned at her, and she felt the fury bubbling inside, her fist clenching, and she only remembered to breathe again when Jamie slipped his hand in hers, trying to pull her to their seats.

Murtagh came to stand behind her, and she could feel the heat of his anger radiating off of him. "I kent I could never trust ye, you rat bastard," he seethed so low that she was not sure even Frank could hear him.

But he did, and Frank scoffed out a singular laugh, sending a chill up Claire's spine. His whole attitude was different—his facial expressions, his sweet smile, everything she once found so endearing, was gone.

She swallowed thickly, listening as he told her cooly, "My suspicions were back up when you came back from Spain and were pulling away from me, and thanks to this," he held up a tiny listening device, "I discovered he was."

She thought of the handful of times she saw him after her trip, and how different he'd seemed, how much pushier he was with their physical intimacy, and she felt sick to her stomach.

It all made sense now. And she felt like a fucking idiot.

How did she not see what was happening right under her nose? He was listening in on her home this whole fucking time, which explains that eerie feeling she always had that someone was watching. Not watching, per se, listening. Fucking bastard.

She never wanted to punch someone so badly before, and she felt her body lurch toward him without thought, but Jamie tugged her arm back before her movements were noticed and whispered, "Sassenach, no," and pulled her away, his eyes glaring at Frank as they walked away.

That was days ago, and she's no less angry now, but she tries to contain herself, knowing Jamie needs all her support today. Today is when he testifies, and as brave as he's being, she knows he's nervous.

As she walks into the courtroom, Frank is sitting there—behind Master Raymond like the good little sidekick he is, just as he has the past three days—with his smug expression upon his face, and it takes all she has to not slap him. Her lip is set in a permanent sneer, she can feel her lip curled up in disgust, but she figures that's better than attacking him out of fury.

"Are ye alright, mo nighean donn?" Jamie asked her that night in bed, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

She sat up, huffing in anger. "I'm fucking pissed," she snarled. "I've never felt so… so deceived, Jamie." What a vile man he was, fucking Frank Randall. "I thought he loved me, I thought I loved him." She sighed, tugging at her hair. She'd struggled with her feelings for this man once Jamie had come back, had thought he really cared about her. "I spent three years being his friend, thinking he had good intentions. I dated him for seven months!" She rambled on, spewing her hatred for Frank, "I let him near our children, let him be alone with our girls… he's in pictures with them!" She shuddered at the thought… she'd let him kiss her, let his hands roam her body, had contemplated sleeping with him… "Fucking bastard."

Jamie tried to hide his amused smile, she could tell, and normally she would have cracked, would have smiled right along with him and let whatever was bothering her go, but not this. This was too much. She was so hurt, so betrayed… Fuck Frank.

She shakes herself from the memory and tries to contain her anger as it once again bubbles inside her gut.

Frank had more than likely been there the night of Jamie's attack and wormed his way into her life at just the right time.

The second day of the trial they learned that there'd been talk within the mob that the informant, James Fraser, was actually alive and in police protection.

Frank had gotten closer with Claire almost three years ago, trying to get intel on her husband.

She should cry, wants to, but instead the uncontrollable indignation has overwhelmed her these past few days, almost unable to comprehend how blindsided and betrayed she really feels.

She does her best to ignore Frank, focusing on her husband as she takes his hand in hers, letting her thumb run against the back of his hand.

"I call James Fraser to the stand."

Murtagh, Jocasta and Joe are behind them, and his godfather pats him on the back in reassurance as his name is called.

Her breath catches in her throat, and she can feel Jamie tense. She squeezes his hand, kissing his cheek before he stands.

John is beside her, and he smiles reassuringly at Jamie, whispering that he can do this.

They'd practiced plenty; she knows he knows what to say, but that doesn't help the nerves swarming in her stomach as she watches him approach the stand, placing his hand on the bible and swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The prosecutor, Ned Gowan, asks him questions about that night of his attack—what he saw, what he heard—and Jamie recounts everything exactly as he remembers it.

"I saw four men, two on each side, face each other with guns," he tells the jury, looking from them to the lawyer. "They were talking about a trade, one said a shipment was coming in that they wanted." He says Raymond's men were shouting at Sandringham's, saying they'd kill them if they didn't give them the name of the weapons dealer. "I ken now one of them was that man," he says, pointing toward Frank. "Frank Randall."

"And how do you know that?"

Jamie looks over to Claire and John, saying, "Officer John Grey was undercover in Master Raymond's mob. He was the other one there with Frank that night, and when we saw him here the other day, John told me Frank was there that night."

John had been just as shocked the first day to learn Frank, the man he knew as Master Raymond's top guy—and who they always called The Professor—was Claire's boyfriend. He'd never seen pictures of Frank, just knew that was Claire's boyfriend's name. John had apologized beyond belief that night, saying he felt like a failure for not looking into Claire's boyfriend when they came back from Spain.

She'd told him there was nothing to forgive, of course, how could he have ever known that innocent Frank was actually The Professor?

Claire cuts her eyes over to Frank at Jamie's words, watching as he sits there, calm as ever, as if Jamie is just reporting the weather from that night.

She sucks in her cheeks, willing herself not to cry over the man. She's shed enough tears over him; he doesn't deserve anymore.

"That was all I heard, though, ye ken, wasna even sure I was hearing correctly. Who kent that kind o'thing happened in our part of town?" Jamie shakes his head, eyes dazing off as if he's stuck in his memory, saying, "I was just trying to get home to my wife and child. She was pregnant, and I kent if I didn't get the ice cream tae her, she'd be raging mad."

The jury softly chuckles, and Jamie smirks, but sobers up. Telling them how he tried to turn the corner and sneak away so as to avoid the argument between the men, but he was spotted.

"I'm too big, I guess, and they saw me," he says, rubbing the back of his neck with his uninjured hand.

He fiddles with his navy tie, recounting how the man, that he now knows was Frank, pulled out his gun and shot him in the shoulder. He grabbed his shoulder, crying out in pain, then felt another shot to his leg. It took him down, unable to walk or crawl. Next thing he knew, four large hands were on him, dragging him down the broken road.

Claire closes her eyes, a tear falling down her cheek as she has to hear this story again. It's just as painful each time, but something about watching Jamie up on the stand, nervously telling it to a group of strangers as he fights back tears, breaks her heart.

"I ken it was Master Raymond's men dragging me, I remember Sandringham's guys running off, but…" he takes a deep breath, finishing with, "that's all I can remember. I passed out after that." He chokes out the last bit, clearing his throat.

She can see the veins in his neck protruding, and she knows he's trying with all his strength not to lose it on the stand.

Mr. Gowan thanks him, asking him how he got to safety. "Officer John Grey was undercover," he says, "working with Master Raymond, ken? He was one of the ones to pull me down the street." Jamie clears his throat, smoothing down his blue tie. "He got me to a small hospital somehow, that's where I woke up and found out I was being placed in witness protection."

He breathes in deeply, closing his eyes to get himself back together. She knows this is so hard for him, much harder than when they were at home just letting him go over the facts he was going to say. It's different now. It's real. And having to recount it all again in front of strangers makes it even harder. He sniffles quickly, reaching up to wipe a tear away. He does a good job of passing it off as just scratching his eye from an itch, but Claire knows him, knows his emotions are bubbling just beneath the surface.

Claire looks over to the jury with tears in her eyes, and she can see through blurry vision that they look just as moved by the tale as she is.

She hopes that's a good sign that they'll get Master Raymond, and all of his men, especially Frank, put away.

John squeezes her hand, drawing her attention to it, and she realizes that she's been holding it the entire time, drawing support from her new friend.

Before Ned lets Jamie down, he asks about his broken hand and bruised eye. Jamie sighs, telling them how he was attacked outside his home the other night, stabbed in the back, and Claire looks over to Frank as her husband tells the story, eyes growing wide when he turns to look at her.

Frank smirks knowingly, one eyebrow quirking up, and she feels her breath catch in her throat, lips snarling once more at him as she realizes it was Frank that attacked Jamie at the mailbox.

He winks at her, as if this is a fucking game, and she flinches, her body craving to march over there and beat the shit out of that man like he did to Jamie.

Murtagh places his hand on her shoulder from behind, drawing her attention away from Frank, and she has to sit herself down, only now realizing she'd lifted herself up from the bench slightly.

"Not worth it," John whispers beside her, keeping a pleasant smile on his face the whole time for onlookers.

Claire sighs, unhinged anger seething beneath the surface. She wants to scream, wants to cry, wants to punch something… she wants to get out of that courthouse and never step foot in there again. She just wants this all to be over.

Jamie is let down from the stand after a cross-examination, which led nowhere, and he joins them back on the benches, Claire's other hand taking Jamie's.

He leans in, kissing her ear and whispering, "Are ye alright?"

She nods, wiping a tear away and swallowing down her anger as she assures him she's just fine and that he did great up there.

{********************}

They get home that night, completely exhausted and terrified.

That hardest part is over, Jamie's testimony went over well and he won't be called to the stand again… but now they have to wait and see what the jury decides. They have a few more people left to give statements, John's is tomorrow, and she's hoping it'll be the nail in the coffin since he worked so closely with Master Raymond and his men for so long.

"Daddy, is the bad guy put away yet?" Brianna asks that night as Jamie brushes her hair.

Both girls are fresh from their showers and have just changed into their pajamas. Faith and Claire have joined them in Brianna's room, getting them both ready for bed.

"Not yet, a leannan," he says, tugging the brush through a stubborn tangle. "But soon."

He looks over to Claire, and she smiles softly, hoping he's right.

She works on Faith's hair, spritzing it with her anti-frizz spray and combing through it, twisting some of the ringlets around her finger to create large curls. She then works it into two braided pigtails before kissing Faith's cheeks, letting her know she was all done.

Jamie tells the girls as much as he can about the trial, both of them avoiding telling them about Frank. She knows she needs to, and will, but tonight, while she's still silently seething, is not the time. The girls loved Frank, and she wants to handle it delicately, so she'll hold off for now until she's calmer and can explain it better to her children.

Brianna giggles at something Faith says, bringing Claire back to the present. She watches as the girls pile onto Jamie's back and he stomps around, pretending to be a bear.

"Be careful of his back and hand," she warns, knowing it's only been a week since his attack. His side was still a little sore, and his hand was still in a cast.

"Och," he grunts, "I'm fine, Sassenach."

"Yeah, he's fine, Sassenach!" Brianna copies, causing them all to laugh.

Claire stands, knowing she's outnumbered on this one, and grabs Bree, knowing Faith will be more gentle with Jamie, and slings the little girl onto her back.

"Piggyback dance party!" Faith shouts, laughing into Jamie's ear.

"A what?" he asks, looking over to Claire.

Claire looks up, catching Brianna's gaze, and they giggle together. Claire takes her phone out, plugging it into Brianna's speakers on her bookshelf. She flips to the "Dance Party" playlist on her phone, setting it down, and beginning to dance around as the Kidz Bop version of "Blinding Lights" streams through to the room.

Brianna wraps her legs around Claire's waist, one arm around her shoulder as the other pumps in the air, her little body wiggling against Claire's back. Claire laughs—feeling lighter than she has all week—bouncing and jumping around, doing her best to dance with her little monkey on her back.

Faith hops down from Jamie's back, taking his good hand in hers. "Come on, Daddy! We'll do it this way so I don't hurt your side!"

She begins to dance around, singing along to the song as Jamie guffaws, jumping up and down wildly, doing his best to impersonate his daughter.

Chortling, Claire bites down on her lip, afraid her heart will burst with happiness as she watches her husband dance with their oldest daughter.

Their youngest jumping from her back jolts her to reality, and she watches as Brianna hops onto her bed, laughing and moving her arms in a Saturday Night Fever type motion, wiggling all around.

The covers are messed up, and Claire knows it's almost bedtime, but she wants them to enjoy these moments. Hell, it's summer break, and it's been a stressful week, they all deserve this.

She and Jamie have been getting home late each night, too exhausted to do much else other than eat and go to bed, so she knows the girls have missed them as much as they've missed the girls.

The song changes to "That's My Girl" and the girls squeal, Brianna hoping down and clasping hands with Faith as they sing Who's been working so so hard you've got that head on overload... All the girls around the world… then they mumble through the parts they don't know, throwing their hands up in the air as the chorus hits.

"That's my girl… that's my girl… that's my girl…" Bree sings, pointing to herself, then Faith, then Claire with each 'girl', adding a, "and that's my boy!" pointing to Jamie.

They all laugh at her silliness, Jamie taking Claire's hand and spinning her around to the music as their daughters jump around together.

Before long, the song changes again and Claire lets them dance to one more before she calls the dance party officially over. She can see the sheen of sweat on both their foreheads, and deems it time to cool down before they both need another shower.

Claire pulls the covers back up on Brianna's bed from where she'd messed them up with her dancing, tightening them and brushing them off so they felt fresh for Bree when she climbs into bed.

When she turns around, both girls are laying on the floor, hands on their chests as they feel their pounding hearts, catching their breath.

Jamie is propped against the bookshelf, unplugging Claire's phone and grinning down at their daughters.

"That was one wild dance party, lasses," he says, laughing as Faith flips onto her belly, hands cupping her chin as she giggles and nods in Jamie's direction.

"But it was so fun!" she exclaims, wiggling her body as she reviews her favorite dance move Brianna came up with, causing Bree to burst into laughter at her sister's impersonation.

Jamie tells both girls to sit up, handing Faith a plastic cup of water and letting her sip from it before handing it to Bree to do the same thing. "Ye wee tornadoes need to calm down, yer riling me up just lookin' at ye."

He takes the cup from them, setting it down and standing, pulling back Brianna's covers and ushering her into bed. He kisses the top of her head as Claire grabs a book from her bookshelf, knowing they both need a story to calm them down. There's no way either one will be falling asleep right now as riled up as they are.

Brianna's bed is pushed against the wall, and she rolls to the side closest to it, leaving room for Claire to sit next to her head, while Jamie props himself up on the end of the bed.

Faith climbs into Jamie's lap as Claire opens Junie B. Jones: Graduation Girl, both girls reciting the first few lines from memory. "My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't know like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all."

Jamie looks impressed as he watches both girls, raising his eyebrows at Claire.

She giggles, explaining, "Each book in the series starts off the exact same way. And we read Junie B a lot."

She goes on, reading to the room about how yesterday was Junie's birthday and how Junie's mom reminded her that she was graduating kindergarten on Friday.

"I graduated last year!" Brianna tells Jamie. "I wore a cap and gown and everything!"

Claire smiles, saying she showed him the pictures the other night.

Bree's eyes grow wide, asking, "Didn't I look cute!?"

Jamie snickers, "Aye, ye did, m'annsachd."

"What about my graduation, Mama?" Faith asks, "Did you show him mine?"

"I did," she nods, telling Faith that he loved the picture of Uncle Murtagh holding her as she waved her diploma around.

Faith giggles, twirling the end of one of her braids around. "But now I'm in third grade, so I won't have another graduation until high school."

Jamie grins, kissing her cheek. "Aye, but I'll be there for that one, ye ken."

Faith nods, settling back against Jamie's chest. He looks over her little head at Claire, and she smiles, her heart warming at the thought of him being around for the rest of their childrens' milestones in life.

"Keep going," Faith says, nodding toward the book.

Smiling, she picks it back up, reading about how Mrs. tells the class they will be receiving caps and gowns, but Junie calls it cats and gowns, making both girls laugh.

After another two chapters, both little Frasers' eyes are dropping, Brianna half asleep in her bed already. Jamie stands, Faith curling into him, and Claire smiles fondly watching them, knowing Faith is getting older, too old to hear bedtimes stories or be carried to bed for much longer, so she'll enjoy it while she can.

Claire leans in, whispering, "Goodnight, darling," into Brianna's hair, kissing her temple and pulling the covers up over her shoulder. She runs a finger delicately over her cheek, watching as Brianna smiles in her sleep just like her sister and father.

She walks down the hall, peeking into Faith's bedroom, watching as Jamie deposits a sleepy Faith into her bed. She climbs under the covers, reaching out to hug Jamie again. "I'm glad you're back," she murmurs, yawning around her words.

Jamie smiles, his Adam's apple bobbing. "I'm glad too, m'annsachd," he says, giving her a hug. "Goodnight."

{***********************}

She and Jamie make their way to their bedroom, quickly showering and changing into pajamas before crawling into bed completely exhausted.

"That wee dance party wore me out," he chuckles, wrapping his arms around Claire.

She huffs out a tired laugh, snuggling into his side.

Kissing his chest, she lets her hand rest there over his heart, being comforted by the feel of it beating beneath her palm.

Jamie kisses the top of her head, whispering goodnight as he reaches to turn off the light, sheathing their bedroom into darkness save for the moonlight streaming in from the windows.

After a few moments, all of the overwhelming emotions of the past few days hit Claire like a ton of bricks, and she begins to softly cry.

"What is it, mo nighean donn?" He reaches over, turning the bedside lamp on again.

She shakes her head, brows cinching as she squeezes her eyes shut, pushing out her tears. "I'm just… I'm so sorry I ever dated Frank."

"Oh, mo chridhe…" he wraps his arms around her, cradling her in his embrace. "'Tis alright, ye didna ken who he truly was. He fooled everyone up until a few days ago." He kisses the top of her head, resting his chin there as she cries.

"John knew."

"Aye," he chuckles softly, "but he didna ken that's who ye were dating, he just kent him as Master Raymond's right hand man. The Professor."

She nods, sinking further into his hold as he gently says, "Ye didna ken, and I could never be angry wi' ye for that, hm?"

Sniffling, she nods, wiping the tears away from her cheeks.

He turns the lamp back off, sliding deeper into the covers as they both drift off to sleep.

{**********************}

Hours later, just after midnight, Claire is startled awake by Jamie's thrashing around.

"No," he cries in his sleep, "stop!"

His face is scrunched in agony, and she can tell he's crying in his sleep.

He's tossing and turning, grunting, mumbling. "Jamie," she says softly, shaking his shoulder.

He doesn't hear her, though, but his shouts get louder. No, no! Don't… stop… leave me alone…

"Jamie!" she calls louder, shaking him more forcefully.

He jolts awake, arms flailing about, and she dodges to miss being smacked in the face on accident.

"Sassenach?"

She sighs, reaching out to wipe the sweat from his brow. "I'm here, Jamie."

His whole body relaxes at her words, and he takes deep, calming breaths. His hand reaches up to feel his beating heart, and he apologizes. "I was having a nightmare."

"I see that," she murmurs softly, running her hands through his hair and down to his jaw, tucking her fingers under his chin. She can barely make out his face, but she'd know the lines of his face without any light at all. "Are you alright?"

"Aye," he states, giving her that boyish grin of his. "I was dreamin' that I was back in that alleyway, ken?"

She nods, swallowing around the lump in her throat. She listens as he tells her about the nightmare, how this time she was there with him, "So were the bairns." He shudders at that, saying he was begging Frank not to hurt them. "I was sae scared, mo ghraidh. Thought he would hurt ye or the girls."

He chokes on a sob then, pulling her into his arms, crying in relief that everyone is okay.

"We're here, Jamie, we're all at home."

"I ken," he breathes, kissing her softly as his salty tears land on her lip. "It just felt sae real."

She nods, knowing how vivid nightmares can often be. For so long after he died, she'd dream of him, could smell him, feel him, then she'd wake up and realize it was her mind playing tricks on her and she'd beg her body not to sleep, not to go through it again and again.

He kisses her again, this time more passionately, and she knows he needs to feel her, to know she's really there. "Come find me, Jamie," she breathes, rolling over to her side of the bed, pulling his arm with her.

He rolls on top of her, then hisses when he puts too much pressure on his broken hand.

She pushes on his shoulder, rolling him back to his side. She slips off her tank top, shimmying out of the cotton shorts she'd worn to bed, and straddles his hips. "Come find me," she whispers again, this time more pleading, taking his uninjured hand in hers and placing it on her naked breast.

He sits up, his head level with her chest now and sucks on her nipple, bringing the other to a hardened peak of anticipation.

The room is bathed in a blue hue from the moonlight, just a sliver peeking through the curtains, but it's enough to see the lines of his face, the look of awe he has while staring into hers. He's looking at her as if he's in complete awe of what he sees, and before she combusts on the spot with her love for him, she leans in, crashing her lips to his.

He begins to rock his hips, and she lifts up, reaching between them to take hold of his hardened cock. She slips it free from his boxers, leaning down to kiss his bare chest. "Touch me," she demands breathily, guiding his head back to her breasts.

His tongue swirls around one nipple, licking up her chest and over to the next breast, showering it with the same attention.

She strokes him, then lifts her hips enough to sink down on his cock, savoring the feel from this position as she sheaths herself completely around her.

"Oh, Claire," he pants, rutting his hips up, his cock pressing against her cervix, shrouding her in a wave of euphoria. "Ye're real," he says, looking at her as if she was the sun coming out on a cloudy day. "Ye're mine… and I'm yers."

She nods her agreement, moving her hips against him, leaning down to cup his jaw with her hands and pulling his lips to hers. Their tongues press together as she lets his slip inside her mouth, and she moans into their kiss as she raises herself off his cock, then back on, hitting deeper this time, hitting her g-spot and bringing her closer to her release with each thrust.

They make love that night, over and over, rocking slowly against one another and finding solace in each other's embrace.

She comes with his name on her lips, moaning breathlessly into the darkness of their room, his release not far behind hers, reassuring one another with their words and bodies that they are here, they are safe, and they are together.

{*****************}

Before anyone comes for me, I'm not a lawyer LOL so I know some parts of the trial I showed weren't 100% accurate… but.. That's ok! haha. Like I always say, it's fiction! I hope y'all enjoyed it anyway as a whole. I had a lot of fun writing their family time/dance party and incorporating the "come find me" sexy times from Paris into this as well haha. Please review!

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen:

Four days later and the trial has finally come to an end.

Decision day (or so she hopes).

Claire thought she was nervous the day Jamie had to testify, but that doesn't even compare with the gut wrenching nerves consuming every fiber of her being in this moment as they make their way to the courthouse.

Jamie is edgy, too, his fingers thrumming against his thigh as he holds her hand with his other. His palm is sweaty, and she's positive hers is as well.

John and Hector drop them off at the back entrance like normal, ushering them inside before anyone can see them.

Still holding tightly to Jamie's hand, he leads her into the courtroom, taking their designated seats in the front row.

The judge comes out, everyone standing for her, and the proceedings begin.

Claire tunes out whatever is being said in closing statements, far too anxious to hear anything but the verdict. Her breathing is shallow, and she can hear the blood rushing through her ears, pounding just as loudly as her heart.

She watches the jury stand, each filing out one behind the other to their secret lair where the fate of Master Raymond sits in their hands.

They wait, and wait, and Claire worries why it's taking them so long to come to a decision.

After what feels like an eternity, she shifts in her seat, scooting closer to Jamie so even their thighs are pressed to one another's. She's as close as she physically can be to her husband, drawing strength from him and hopefully giving him some of her strength as well.

Her amber eyes catch the door being opened, watching as the twelve jurors file back in and take their seats.

"Has the jury reached a decision?" the judge asks in her authoritative voice.

Claire focuses on her breathing, eyes training themselves on the first juror as he stands.

"We have, your honor."

The judge nods again in his direction, and he clears his throat. "We, the jury, find Master Raymond…" He pauses, and Claire is positive it's only long enough to take a breath, but it feels as if he's paused for an hour, deliberately drawing it out to torture her. She squeezes Jamie's hand that's resting on her leg, willing the man before them to speak. "Guilty."

A breath of relief whooshes from all of them, Murtagh clapping Jamie on the back as Jocasta squeezes Claire's shoulder from behind them. John's fist pumps in celebration, smiling over to Jamie and Claire.

Jamie wraps his arms around Claire, whispering, "It's over, mo chridhe," into her ear, kissing her neck.

The tears form then, both she and Jamie crying together as they stand, John wrapping his arms around them in a group hug before pulling back and patting them both on their backs.

Pulling apart, she watches as Master Raymond is handcuffed, being taken away to await his sentencing, and a sense of calm begins to wash over her for the first time in months.

She glances around the room, her gaze landing on Frank as he stands, watching his boss being taken away.

He turns then, eyes meeting hers and he snarls, but it soon turns into a smirk. That fucking smirk of his. He still thinks this is all a game.

She wants to go over there so desperately, wants to slap him, wants to ask him why he wasted three years of her life, but she knows the answer. He wanted intel. He was playing her the fool all that time, weaving a web of lies so thick that she could never have seen the truth.

John steps over to Ned Gowan then, drawing Claire's angry gaze away from Frank.

Jamie takes her hand in his, lifting it up and kissing her knuckles. "Ye alright?"

Nodding, she takes a deep breath, willing the anger consuming her soul to dissipate, to focus on the good that's right in front of her.

"I should be asking you that," she grins, rubbing her thumb against his knuckles. "How do you feel?"

"Much better," he breathes, "sae much better, Sassenach."

She leans up on her tiptoes, pressing a gentle kiss to her lips before looking over to John.

She listens as he and Ned talk lowly, words like plea deal for the rest and lesser sentences floating around them.

Not fully understanding, but gleaming enough from their words to comprehend that there wouldn't be a trial for the rest of Master Raymond's people, just plea deals they'd have to sign, she takes Jamie's hand, never wanting to hear the name Master Raymond or Frank Randall ever again.

{********************}

They get home late that afternoon, Jamie and John having taken Claire to lunch after the trial, their own little celebration before heading home to meet the others.

Joe and Geillis soon join them, Dougal tagging along for once.

Despite her hesitancy toward Jamie's uncle, she smiles as he takes Jamie in his arms, whispering something in Gaelic into his ear. She thinks she hears an I love you in there somewhere, but she isn't quite sure.

Jamie looks a little surprised, but clasps his uncle on the shoulders, giving him a sincere look and a kiss to his cheek.

Before long, Murtagh and Jocasta have joined the celebration, Jocasta bringing her best bottle of whisky.

John is in the kitchen with Hector helping prepare a large dinner for everyone while Sophia, Faith and Brianna all run around, giggling and playing together.

Claire leans against the doorway of her kitchen, observing the going on's around her. Her newest friends by the oven, her husband and his family all around the kitchen table, laughing and clinking their glasses together in celebration.

Joe and Geillis are congregated in the corner, laughing and joining in with the Scots around the table.

Her house hasn't been this full and bustling with life in she doesn't know how long, and the megawatt smile gracing her features can't be helped.

Shaking her head, she tries to tamper down her smile to at least a small grin as she steps over to the refrigerator, grabbing the bowl of grapes Hector had washed earlier.

"Need any help?" she asks John, peeking over his shoulder at the oven. He's preparing spaghetti, claiming to have the best recipe in the world for it.

"Can you stir the sauce while I grab some more noodles?" he asks, pointing his chin in the direction of the large pot on the burner. "I can never tell how many noodles to make for a large crowd, and I think I'm going to need a lot more."

"Especially with Jamie, Murtagh and Dougal," she laughs, remembering all the family dinners she'd prepared or been a part of and knowing exactly how much food those three could put away.

"Can I help?" Faith asks, coming to stand beside Claire at the stove.

Claire reaches down, kissing the top of Faith's head. "Where are Brianna and Sophia?"

Faith shrugs, saying they're in the living room with Jocasta and Geillis, and Claire looks up, realizing the other two women had snuck away.

She chuckles, shaking her head. "Of course, sweetheart." She hands Faith a spoon, asking her to stir the sauce. Faith steps up onto the small step stool they keep by the sink. She's tall enough now to reach the stove, but having to see into the pot requires a tad bit more height.

Hector taps Claire on the hip, saying he needs to check on the garlic bread in the oven. "Watch out, Faith," he says sweetly, having her step off the stool and out of the way so he can peek inside. "Few more minutes!" he announces, gesturing for Faith to get back up on her stool and continue her work.

The little girl smiles, asking Claire if they need to add any seasoning.

She smiles, shaking her head and saying she thinks John covered all of that before they joined him in the kitchen.

As she stands there beside Faith, she glances over to the men all around the table, John having joined them after dropping more noodles into the other pot on the stove.

Jamie's blue eyes catch her golden ones, and she smiles, watching him sitting there casually with his friends and family. Having John and Hector here adds to the odd mixture of people in the house, and suddenly she has the overwhelming need to call Jenny.

Things had been so crazy with the trial that she hadn't had a chance to tell her yet, but she knows they need to do that soon. Tonight. It's cruel to keep it from her any longer.

Can you FaceTime tonight? she sends in a text to her sister-in-law, adding, We haven't talked in a few weeks. The girls miss you!

Looking up from her phone, she catches Jamie's gaze again, mouthing over to him, Jenny, and he nods with a sweet smile on his face.

Of course! comes Jenny's reply, saying, The bairns will be happy to see you all if they're still awake!

Claire laughs to herself, biting down on her lip as she imagines Jenny's face tonight when she sees Jamie over FaceTime.

Picking up her oven mit, she gets the garlic bread out of the oven for Hector, and after another half hour, dinner is served. Claire is thankful that the table can fit so many people. Faith, Brianna and Sophia get seated at the kitchen bar, Geillis joining them, while everyone else is around the table.

They eat, laugh, drink and genuinely have a good time.

It's the happiest Claire has felt in a long while, and she hopes this feeling never goes away.

{*********************}

Everyone eventually files out, and John, Hector and Sophia make themselves scarce, heading to the basement soon after everyone leaves.

She feels bad, but she's also thankful, knowing the past few months of their lives have been surrounded by their new friends. It's nice to have some time alone.

Claire and Jamie usher their daughters up the stairs, telling them they could stay up long past bedtime tonight in celebration of the bad guy being put away.

The girls were excited, skipping down the hallway to shower and put on pajamas.

As usual, they all ended up in one bedroom to get the girls' hair ready to sleep, this time everyone is piled in Jamie and Claire's large bed, Brianna claiming it was the bedroom to watch movies in.

"Before we watch a movie," Claire announces, looking around the room, "we have to FaceTime Aunt Jenny and tell her about Daddy."

"Yeah!" the girls cry in unison, hopping up and down on their knees on the mattress.

Jamie sits up, suddenly looking nervous.

"Are you alright?" Claire asks, taking his hand.

He says he is, he's just nervous to see his sister after so long. It's a big deal, and they both wish they could tell Jenny in person, but it would just be mean to wait until they could trick her, Ian and the kids over here to America under false pretense.

Jamie takes a deep breath, and Faith and Brianna must sense his hesitation because they both silently nestle in between their parents. Faith is closest to Jamie and she lays her head on his chest, patting his stomach reassuringly.

"It's okay, Daddy," she says softly. "Aunt Jenny will be sae happy to see you!"

"Yeah!" Brianna calls, snuggling up to Faith so Jamie's large hand that is wrapped around the eldest daughter can reach her as well. "It'll all be fine!"

Claire watches Jamie's eyes mist over, and he blinks rapidly, looking up to the ceiling to push them away. "Aye, ye're right, lassies. Let's give her a call, eh?"

With that, Claire presses the call button, angling the phone so it's just her in the screen at first.

Jenny answers right away, Ian in the frame with her. Their three children are already in bed since it's the middle of the night there, but she smiles, happy to see her family again.

They make small talk for a brief second, Brianna maneuvering herself into Claire's lap so she can wave to her aunt and uncle.

After a few minutes, Jenny stops the small talk, saying, "I ken there's somethin' the matter, Claire," adding, "I can tell it from the look on yer face," when Claire asks her what she means.

Chuckling softly, knowing her damn glass face gives her away every time, she glances over to Jamie who is smirking as well. "Well, I actually do have something to tell you guys."

Jenny and Ian shift in their bed, a look of worry clouding their features.

"It's nothing bad, I promise," she amends. "I just… well, it might be easier to show you."

She looks to Jamie quickly, who sits up straighter, Faith still tucked under his arm. He gives her a nod, and she turns the phone as she wiggling closer to her husband so that he's in frame.

There's an audible gasp from the other end of the call, and Jenny screams, clamping a hand over her mouth as tears instantly fill her brown eyes. "What the devil!?"

Claire chuckles, letting Jamie take the phone.

"Hello, sister," he greets sheepishly, waving to the screen. "Hi, bràthair," he nods to Ian who is staring at the phone in stunned silence, his blue eyes blown wide as they fill with tears as well.

"How is this possible?" Ian asks as Jenny makes the sign of the cross over her body, and mumbles something, most likely a Gaelic prayer up to the heavens.

They spend the next twenty minutes letting Jamie explain everything that happened, then another ten with Claire giving her side of the story about her trip to Spain.

Jenny and Ian listen intently, crying silently the whole time.

Claire can tell their hands are linked together, and she's glad Jenny has Ian to lean on, especially now. They've always been such a strong couple, Claire always looking up to them.

Once Jenny has quelled her tears enough to speak, she tells Jamie, "I'm sae, sae glad tae see ye alive, brother. I ne're thought this would be possible." She scoffs, a smile blossoming across her face. "I jes want tae hold ye in my arms right now, that's all I want."

"I ken, I ken," he soothes his sister, saying he wants to do the same. "Ye let Ian hold ye tonight, ken?" he says, smirking. "And ye can fly the whole brood out here before long and hold me as long as ye want."

"I'll hold ye to that, James Fraser, I will!"

With a smile, Jamie nods, wiping his own set of tears away and telling his sister it's good to hear her voice again after all this time.

The girls obviously grow bored with this conversation, crawling to the end of the bed and clicking on the television. Claire whispers to them to keep it down low, and they nod, giggling together as they turn to the Disney Channel.

Claire snuggles into Jamie's side, continuing the conversation with Jenny and Ian for another twenty minutes, laughing and catching up with one another.

Before long, Jenny is yawning, cursing under her breath. "'Tis almost two in the mornin' over here, I better try to get some sleep before the bairns come rushin' in demanding tae be fed in a few hours."

Giggling, Claire agrees, saying, "we promised the girls a movie night tonight so we better start that before it gets too late."

With a round of I love you's and I'll call you tomorrow's, they finally hang up, taking a moment to bask in the knowledge that Jenny and Ian finally know.

"You alright?" Claire whispers to Jamie, pecking a kiss just above his heart. His t-shirt is soft, and she rubs her hand over his chest as well

"Aye," he breathes, kissing the top of her head. "That was emotional, but I'm glad she kens I'm alive now." He smiles as he looks down at her, saying, "I feel… more complete, ye ken?"

Nodding, she smiles brightly at him, happy to see her husband so joyous. "And knowing your sister, she's probably already planning a trip out here."

Chuckling, Jamie agrees, kissing her once more, this time more soundly. "So," he calls in a louder voice, clapping his hands once and rubbing his palms together to garner the girls' attention. "What movie will it be tonight?" Jamie asks, pulling Faith to him to fix the braid he'd put in her hair earlier.

"I don't know," Brianna says, sitting at the foot of the bed, "but I do know that we need snacks for our movie night!"

She giggles, but Claire agrees, standing and taking her hand. "Come on then," she says, "we'll go get the snacks while Daddy finishes Faith's hair."

Bree nods, adding as she bounces from the bedroom, "And pick a good movie, Faith!"

Claire chases Brianna down the steps, giggling together the whole time.

She pops the popcorn while Bree grabs the Reese's Pieces from the pantry, jiggling the box to make them rattle. "Eh?" she says, comically wiggling her eyebrows, which makes Claire chortle.

"Yes, yes," she relents, dumping the bags of popcorn into a large bowl, "can't have popcorn without the chocolate!"

Brianna giggles at her mother, clasping the box in her hands and darting back through the living room and up the stairs toward her parents' bedroom.

By the time Claire makes it up the stairs, oversized bowl of popped goodness in her hands, Faith has already chosen a movie, waiting for Claire to join them before they press play.

"... and we add the Reese's Pieces into the popcorn!" Bree explains excitedly to Jamie, rattling the candy again and gesturing toward Claire as she steps into the room.

She takes her place on her side of the bed, Faith coming to sit next to her, while Brianna sits on Jamie's outstretched legs, bouncing giddily.

Brianna hands Faith the candy box, allowing her to dump the candy into the warm popcorn. Both girls turn their heads to Jamie, saying he gets the first bite.

Claire grins, picking up the Roku remote and pressing play, listening as Jamie moans his satisfaction at the sweet and salty mix just as the beginning sounds of The Lion King start to play.

"Good, right?" she asks, smirking as he pops another handful into his mouth.

Jamie smiles around his bite, nodding his agreement. "Delicious," he adds after swallowing.

The girls snicker, taking their own little handfuls and settling in to watch the movie.

They both migrate to the end of the bed once more, Faith laying on her stomach, while Brianna sits criss-cross at Jamie's feet, one hand permanently in the snack bowl.

"I brought us this," Claire whispers, holding up another bowl. "I knew they'd end up down there with all the goodies." She laughs, slinking to the end of the bed and pouring some of the popcorn into the smaller bowl. "Now we have our own portion up here."

Jamie grins, leaning in to kiss her. "I always kent ye were a smart one, Sassenach."

Rolling her eyes playfully, she settles back against the headboard, popping a few pieces into her mouth before handing Jamie the bowl.

After they all sing along to the entirety of The Lion King, it's Brianna's turn to pick the next movie. She chooses Beauty and the Beast and while it's playing, everyone finishes off their late night snack, Brianna asking if they can make more popcorn.

"Please?" Faith chimes in, "It's so good and we haven't made it in a long time."

Claire shakes her head, telling them, "It's far too late, girls."

They both pout, Bree's arms crossing over her chest. Faith goes to ask again, this time in more of a whine, but Jamie puts an end to it. "Yer mam said it's too late, lasses." He points to both of them, making sure they know he's serious. "And ye're already getting to watch movies long past yer bedtime. Ye'll be alright."

"Fine," Faith sighs, turning back to the television.

Brianna cranes her neck, looking into the popcorn bowl up next to Claire. She crawls closer, taking the last, smallest, kernel left in the bowl and pops it into her mouth with a sassy smirk, making Claire chuckle.

She settles back down by her sister, singing softly to Be Our Guest.

One at a time, the girls slowly meander their way back to the top of the bed during the movie, Brianna fixing herself into Jamie's side, her head on his chest while his large arm wraps protectively around her. Faith lays next to Claire, taking her arm and pulling it around her little body.

Claire smiles at the action, patting her tiny hip.

She moves the smaller popcorn bowl to the bedside table. Faith had placed the larger one on the bench at the foot of their bed earlier when the girls finished it off, and Claire makes a mental note to take them downstairs first thing in the morning.

As Belle descends the stairs in her golden dress, Claire feels Faith's body grow heavy against her side. Looking over, she sees that Bree has already fallen asleep on Jamie's chest, her mouth hanging open, little snores coming from her.

Claire gently reaches for her phone from the bedside table, tapping the screen to check the time. 11:06.

"They lasted longer than I thought they would," Jamie muses, grinning over at Claire.

She nods, shifting Faith so her head is on the pillow instead of craned up against Claire's chest. Jamie does the same, gingerly sliding Brianna to the middle of the bed.

Brianna's arm automatically slinks across Faith's hip, the girls snuggling close together, warming Claire's heart.

"They're sae bonny," he says softly, "I love watching them."

Claire nods again, smiling over at her husband. "Yeah, we made pretty cute kids."

Jamie chuckles, settling against the pillows she has propped on the headboard. "We could make another cute one… one day… if ye want."

Her eyes pop open at that, turning her head to look at him. "Jamie…"

The thought of another child had never even crossed her mind once Jamie had died. Her birthing experience with Faith had been so scary, then the whole end of her pregnancy with Bree had been shrouded in grief. The thought of bringing another child into this world was something she'd pushed to the back of her mind, but now with Jamie back… "Is that something you want?"

He shrugs, the corners of his lips twitching. "Only if ye do, mo nighean donn. Ye ken I'd raise a whole set o' spoons wi' ye if you let me."

She giggles at that, thinking of the collection of Apostle spoons Jenny had given them when she was pregnant with Faith. The spoons had been passed down for generations in their family, one spoon for each apostle, each representing something special. Jamie had joked once, years ago, that he'd have a bairn for each spoon.

"I've been waiting for a good time to surprise ye wi' this," Jamie said, standing from the bed. He walked over to the closet, rummaging through the boxes at the top and pulling down a large, wooden box.

"What is it?" she asked, sitting up straighter against the headboard. She opened the box, revealing a collection of large silver spoons.

"Apostle spoons," he explained, "one for each of the twelve disciples." He told her it was a christening gift for the bairn, his hand resting on her belly. "Jenny shipped them to us the other week. Said she found them while cleaning out the attic and thought we might want them."

She smiled up at her husband, cupping his cheek. He leaned in, pressing his lips to hers, then to her rounded belly.

"One for each bairn we'll have, ye ken?" he said with a smirk.

"There's twelve spoons, Jamie," she declared, looking at him pointedly.

"Aye," he chuckled, crawling across the bed to kiss her lips again. He picked up a spoon, informing her, "This one is for this little girl," placing his hand on her stomach again. "This is St. Andrew. He represents our capacity for endurance, courage and confidence."

She smiled softly, scratching the stubble on his cheeks. "All good things."

He hummed his approval, examining the spoon.

Her smile faded, shoulder slumping as her fears of motherhood consumed her once more.

"What is it, Sassenach?"

She shook her head, fighting back tears. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but I can't help but wonder if I'll be any good at it… being a mother."

Her eyes watered at the confession, but Jamie being Jamie, reassured her with a comforting hand on her stomach. "Of course ye will," he said emphatically, kissing her belly.

"I'm a doctor," she shrugged, "I know how to deliver and feed babies, sure, I can take care of one when it's sick, but… that's not being a mother." She sighed, rubbing her temples. "I only have a vague memory of my own mother, nothing really to guide me."

His hand that still rested on her bump rubs softly as he promised her, "What ye don't ken, ye'll learn… we'll learn, together." He kissed her sweetly, pulling back to smile at her.

She looked up into his clear blue eyes, her own whisky colored ones misting over.

"I love you."

"I love you too, mo nighean donn."

She's pulled from the memory, laughing softly at how insistent he always was that they'd have as many bairns as God allowed.

"Well we've already got two spoons taken care of," she jokes, reaching over the girls to take his hand. "What apostle is Brianna, again?"

"Philip," he says, "the saint that represents our ability to perform movement and transfer energy from one place of consciousness to another."

She loves listening to him talk, he's so intelligent, and his knowledge of the most random things always turned her on.

She chuckles at that explanation, watching her girls sleep. "Well, she certainly knows how to transfer energy, all right."

Jamie snickers, looking over to Claire. His hand is in hers, their joined hands resting on their daughter's sides between them.

After a beat of silence, she takes a deep breath, murmuring, "I'm glad it's over."

"Me, too, mo chridhe," he agrees, smiling at her.

Claire thinks about everything that's happened, how much turmoil they've all gone through. She still feels beyond hurt and angry at Frank, feels stupid for ever believing he was a good man. Whenever she feels anger bubbling up inside of her though, she looks at Jamie, being called by his blue eyes like a moth to a flame.

The brown hair dye has finally all faded away, the most recent hair cut getting rid of the last of it, and now his beautiful red locks are free again. She reaches over, running her finger through one of his red curls, then strokes her hand through Faith and Brianna's hair.

Smiling, she's flooded with love for their little family, her little collection of gingers all in her bed with her.

She reaches over to the side table, grabbing her phone again. She scrolls through her pictures, cropping Frank out of every picture she can, editing a black mark over the other pictures of him or deleting ones she can't bear to part with, the girls were just too cute in some to get rid of permanently. It's a nice way to cleanse their life of him and everything to do with Master Raymond's dealings.

"Ye're gonna break yer phone if ye're not careful, Sassenach," he laughs.

She grins over at him, showing him what she's doing, and he guffaws, clamping a hand over his mouth when Faith jumps in her sleep at the sound of his mirth.

"That's one way to get rid of him," he chuckles, softer this time.

After another twenty minutes, she decides she can slowly work on riding her phone of Frank, it doesn't all have to be done tonight.

"Ye all set?"

"Just about," she giggles, meeting Jamie halfway over the girls, kissing him and saying goodnight.

They fall asleep, both too exhausted to take the girls to their own bed, and Claire drifts off, her hand still in Jamie's.

{*********************}

Please review! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen:

The next day, Joe and his wife, Gail, stop by to get the girls, saying they're taking them on a fun adventure.

"Pedicures and walking around Target," he whispers to Claire, but the thought of the girls going out without her or Jamie flares her anxiety up.

It's still so soon after the trial, what if something happens?

Jamie massages her shoulders, leaning into her ear. "It'll be alright, Sassenach," he promises, "John said he'll send an officer in casual clothing with them."

Well, okay, then. That eases her mind somewhat.

Letting her shoulders relax, she agrees with a hesitant smile, sending the girls upstairs to get their shoes on.

"Bye, Mama, bye, Daddy!" Faith calls, Bree echoing behind her with the sentiment.

"I'll get you both something from the dollar spot!" Brianna calls in her excitement.

Laughing, Jamie says, "Big spender!" and kisses them both on the tops of their heads.

Claire closes the door after thanking Joe and Gail again, and when she turns around, Jamie is right behind her, smiling brightly. "What are you so smiley about?"

"Ye're just sae beautiful."

She rolls her eyes, stepping around him to walk toward the kitchen. She'd been cleaning up their late breakfast when Joe had arrived, so she wants to finish loading the dishes while it's on her mind.

Jamie joins her, John and Hector joining them upstairs.

Sophia is on Hector's hip, bouncing excitedly in her pinstriped bathing suit. "Pool time!" she calls, clapping her hands together.

Hector sets her down, telling her to hold still while he puts the cover-up over her head. She's bouncing on the heels of her feet, John laughing as he explains they are going to head to the neighborhood pool before nap time. "Wear her out so she sleeps longer, you know?"

Chuckling, Claire nods, "That's always my plan, hence why I bought a house in a neighborhood with a pool."

Jamie waves to the trio as they make their way to the living room and out the front door, turning to face Claire.

He takes the dish towel from her hands, placing it down on the sink. "I ken ye're worrying about the girls," he murmurs, taking her hand and pulling her to him. He wraps his arms about her waist, adding, "And I ken that's why ye're frantically washing those already clean dishes."

Snickering, she nods, biting her lip. "You're right. I can't help it, though."

"They'll be fine, mo chridhe," he assures, kissing her temple. "How about I take ye to lunch, hm?"

The offer stuns her, stops the gentle swaying they were doing. They haven't gone out in public since all of this started happening, it was too dangerous before the trial. It's a nice thought, though, being out in public with her husband again, so with a nervous smile, she accepts his offer.

"Ye know," he drawls, brows bouncing as he looks down at her, "we're all alone in this house, for the first time in months."

She smirks, nodding, "Your point, sir?"

"Aye, ye ken my meaning just fine, Sassenach," he says, grabbing her by the hips and lifting her onto the kitchen counter.

She lets out a startled laugh, snickering as he leans in, peppering kisses to her jaw, down to her throat.

"No one," he says, placing a kiss to her collarbone, "is here," his tongue laves up her neck, "to hear us," he finishes, teeth nibbling on her earlobe.

Thank God her husband is tall enough that he can still reach her ears while she's on the counter, because this is so hot, she doesn't think she could move even if he wanted her to.

"Mm," she hums, arms circling around his shoulders, "and what did you have in mind, Mr. Fraser?"

Smirking, he taps her hip, silently commanding her to lift up. His fingers work quickly with the button on her jeans, shimmying them down her hips and tossing them onto the floor.

He lowers his body to be eye level with her sex, pressing kiss after kiss to her inner thighs, already working her up.

Heat floods her, and she can feel the blush creeping up her neck as Jamie hooks his thumb in the band of her thong, pulling it off as well.

She momentarily thinks of her bare ass on the kitchen counter, and how unsanitary it probably is, but, well, she just finished meticulously cleaning it, so, "Remind me," she pants, "to clean this counter when we finish."

Jamie chortles, pulling back from her sex to look up at her. "Christ, Sassenach, even talking about yer cleaning habits is turning me on right now."

Grinning, she wriggles herself to the edge of the counter, leaning back on her hands as she offers herself up to her husband.

He licks his lips, tormenting her as he takes his time, kissing everywhere but where she needs him.

"You're a tease," she breathes, pressing herself closer to his lips. "Please, Jamie."

He huffs out a laugh, the cool air hitting her clit and making a shiver run through her.

Before she can beg again, Jamie licks up slowly, tantalizing, taking his time and driving her mad with want. "Yes, Jamie," she whimpers, one hand reaching out to grasp his curls, holding him in place as he takes her clit in his mouth, sucking hard, then lightly, then hard again, bringing her to the precipice of her release with his teasing.

He pulls back, and she has to suppress a groan of frustration as he smiles up at her wickedly, reminding, "There's no one home, Sassenach. Let me hear those squeaking noises."

Grinning, he dives back in, adding two fingers inside her, working her up closer, so close that she doesn't even think she'll have time to make those squeaking noises before she's shouting his name.

Oh god, fuck, this feels amazing. Being able to freely be loved by her husband, with no kids, no friends in the basement, is wonderful, and she's suddenly very thankful to Joe for taking the girls out today.

"Jamie, fuck," she pants, writhing beneath him.

She can feel herself growing wetter by the second, her husband sucking up every last bit of her right there on the kitchen counter. "I'm—I'm so… so cl-close," she tells him breathily, a moan escaping on the tail end of her sentence.

Gripping his hair tighter, he groans into her sex, maybe at the pain of her grip, she doesn't know, but she also doesn't care, this feels too fucking good. And the vibration of his groan sends her over the edge, coming on his tongue and fingers with one more cry of his name.

He pulls back, licking his lips. Jamie kisses up her thighs to her hip, peppering wet kisses there before standing before her parted legs.

Leaning in, he kisses her, and the taste of her on his lips just about makes her come a second time. "I taste good on you," she purrs, reaching down to rub at his erection through his jeans.

"Christ," he breathes, pulling back to smile at her.

She takes the opportunity to slip from the counter, her shirt falling back to its rightful place.

Standing there, pantless in her kitchen, she feels so sexy, so wanted, so with that feeling, she spins Jamie, pinning him to the edge of the counter she'd just vacated.

She leans in, smirking as she kisses him, then trails her mouth to his ear. "Your turn," she whispers, and she can feel his cock twitch inside his jeans against her thigh.

Chuckling seductively, she toys with his zipper, yanking his jeans and boxers down simultaneously. They pool at his feet, and he kicks them off, sending them somewhere beside them.

"Weel then," he says hotly, grabbing her arm and pulling her to him. He kisses her roughly, pulling a moan from her lips at the sheer lust she can feel in his kiss. "That only seems fair," he murmurs when they break apart.

She's breathless already just from his kiss, but she smirks, taking control again as she sinks to her knees. "Sure is," she croons, cocking an eyebrow up as she takes him in her mouth.

{***********************}

Two hours later, she finally starts getting ready for their date.

They'd planned to go earlier, but when Jamie had pointed out that they were alone in their house for the first time in, well, months, they couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Once she'd brought him to his own release, swallowing him down, he'd taken her hand, and their clothes, and chased her upstairs, having her again on their bed before they decided they needed to actually get ready for their date before everyone came home.

It's nearing five o'clock now, and she'd texted Joe to let him know their plans. He's assured her to go and enjoy their date; he'd take the girls to an early dinner and then to the park to play.

She locks her phone, sliding it into her purse as she descends the stairs, catching Jamie's eye as she does.

"Claire," he whispers, almost to himself, as he eyes her up and down. She's put on her sexiest red dress, form-fitting and sits just below her knees, but low cut enough to give him a nice view of her cleavage without being overtly raunchy. The cap sleeves make it elegant, while still making her feel sexy. She's paired it with black pumps, and as his eyes draw up from them to her face, he asks, "Are ye… mad, woman?"

Her head tilts as she reaches the last step, placing her hand in his outstretched one. "What?"

"I can see every inch of ye, right down to yer third rib."

She looks down with a playful pout, checking out her own cleavage, tugging at it a bit, before looking back up to him. "No, you can't."

He grins, and she gives him one right back, as he pulls her closer, joining him at the bottom of the steps. "Ye're like a red, red rose, mo ghraidh," he growls into her ear, her core suddenly in need of him again at the way he rolls his R's dramatically for effect.

Her breath grows thick, panting in his embrace, but she gathers herself with a calming breath, knowing they need to leave now or they never will.

With her hand in his, he kisses her one more time, then leads them to the car for their first official date in years.

{*********************}

Lunch, really a semi-early dinner at this point, is beautiful.

They're seated at a table that overlooks a lake, and she watches as the sun starts to lower in the sky, casting the world in hues of pinks and oranges.

She sighs, looking across the table at Jamie. "It's beautiful this evening."

"Mm," he hums his agreement. "'Tis." He takes a sip of his wine, smiling over the rim of it as he adds, "No' a thing in this world, though, that could compare to how ye look right now, Sassenach."

She rolls her eyes at him but can't help the smile that forms on her face. He was always such a cheesy romantic, and that hasn't changed a bit.

"Seeing you today…" he trails off, reaching across the table to take her hand, "it was as if I stepped outside on a cloudy day and suddenly the sun came out." He smiles brightly, his meal apparently forgotten as he stares into her amber eyes.

"Jamie," she whispers across the table, biting her lip. "I love you."

"I love you, too, mo chridhe," he tells her, thumb rubbing over her wedding band, "more than anything."

They finish their meal, savoring their last few moments alone before they head back to the fun house that's still filled to the brim with people.

"Murtagh said he wants to stop by tomorrow or Sunday," Jamie tells her, taking the last bite of his steak.

She nods, saying that's fine. "The girls will be thrilled," she grins.

"I love that they love him sae much."

Smiling, she agrees while she settles back into her seat, smiling at the waitress as she takes their plates and glasses.

Jamie takes her hand again, both sitting in peaceful silence for a few moments. The sun is starting to lower even further in the sky, and Claire comments on how beautiful it is against the lake.

"Do ye want to go walk around down there?" he asks.

Looking over at him, she beams, saying she does.

Jamie pays the bill, still with his card under the name Alexander Malcolm, and they leave, walking hand in hand like giggling teenagers as they make their way to the lake.

There's a rock path around the lake for patrons, and the gravel crunches under her heels. She's a bit wobbly-legged, which she'll blame on the heels and not the wine, but she loves it nonetheless.

"It's gorgeous out here," she sighs, linking her arm through Jamie's.

It's a blessedly cool night for the summer time, not causing them to sweat from the heat of the day. There's a slight breeze now that the sun has lowered, but it doesn't require any jackets. It's perfect.

When they get to the other side of the lake, Jamie points to a bench the restaurant has in place. It's perched on a small, wooden deck, a pergola above it covered in white fairy lights and greenery. It's romantic, a bit rustic, and she loves it.

They sit on the swing, Jamie's arm draped over her shoulders as they sit and watch the sun shimmering against the lake's surface.

"Claire," he says, pulling away slightly, enough to turn his body and look into her eyes. His tone is serious, and she grows nervous, fearful that something has happened that he or John hadn't told her about yet.

She turns as well, their knees touching as she nervously asks, "What's wrong?"

Taking her hands in his, he brings one of her hands up to his lips, kissing her wrist, before letting their joined hands rest against his knee. "Nothing, mo ghraidh, nothing."

Breathing out, she lets her shoulders relax, still not completely convinced.

He grins, apologizing for worrying her. "I just wanted tae bring ye here today, to let ye ken how thankful I am that we found each other again."

She smiles, softer this time, more relaxed, the tension leaving her body. "I'm thankful, too, Jamie. All of this is so crazy, but I guess the universe just wanted us to be together."

Smiling, he agrees, leaning in briefly to kiss her lips. He pulls back before she can give in to the feeling, making her giggle. He thanks her for supporting him through the trial, and she squeezes his hand, assuring him that she wouldn't have been anywhere else.

"I'm no' sure what our future holds, as far as where we will live," he says, and she nods. It was a conversation they'd had before the trial, knowing that once it was all over, he'd be released back into his life again if he so chose, and they both loved North Carolina, but she also loved her job and being so close to family. It was complicated, and they hadn't reached a decision just yet.

"I dinna care where we live, Sassenach, sae long as I'm wi' you and the girls."

She nods, knowing she feels the same way. She could always get a job at a hospital in Wilmington, but leaving Murtagh and all of their friends would be hard, especially now that they knew Jamie was actually alive. It was all so complicated, and if she thought about it too much, she'd get a headache.

"I ken this may be redundant, but," he takes a nervous breath and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small box as he sinks to one knee in front of her. Tears spring to her eyes, and she bites her lips, listening as her husband says, "I ken we're technically still married, but it's been far too long, and I want ye to ken just how much I love you." He smiles, a nervous, teary-eyes chuckle leaves him as he fumbles to open the box. "Claire Fraser, will ye marry me… again?"

Those tears finally fall, crying and laughing as she peers into Jamie's eyes. "Wild horses couldn't keep me away from you," she states, and she doesn't care what the ring looks like, hell, the box could be empty, she just loves this man with all of her heart and soul. "Yes," she breathes, taking a calming breath. "Yes, yes, yes, you idiot, of course."

She laughs, flinging her arms around his neck as he stands to his feet, bringing her with him.

Jamie pulls back, taking her right hand. "I didna want tae put it on top of yer old rings," he says, "'Cause I ken when we get marit again, I'll be sliding another band onto that finger." He reaches over, taking her left hand and kissing her wedding band and original engagement ring.

Going back to her right hand, he slips the ring on, her eyes finally glancing down at it. "Is that amber?"

He smiles, rubbing over the new ring. "Aye," he chuckles, saying the color of it reminded him of her whisky eyes. "Plus I ken how ye always loved those expeditions wi' yer uncle, and ye told me once that ye found a dragonfly in amber and kept it for years."

She nods, giggling slightly. "I still have it!" she tells him, "it's in my box of Uncle Lamb's things."

He grins at her, bringing the new ring up to kiss. It has a gold band, the amber stone centered in the middle with two smaller diamonds on either side. It's simple, not too gaudy, and she loves it, knows she'll wear it every day along with her other wedding rings.

"You've got me all blinged out now," she laughs, holding up both hands, and Jamie laughs, shaking his head.

"Is it too much?" he asks, his face falling, "Ye dinna have tae wear it if it is, I—"

"—Jamie, it's perfect," she assures, cupping his jaw. She leans in, pressing her lips to his, letting them linger there for a moment, enjoying the feel of cool metal against both ring fingers.

She can feel Jamie's tears hitting her own cheeks, and she pulls back, wiping his tears away.

"I'm just sae glad ye still love me," he admits, kissing her again. "It's always been forever for me, Sassenach, and I was sae afraid when we found each other again, and ye told me of Frank, that ye might care for him more than me now, that ye might've gotten over me after all the time."

She shakes her head vehemently, tears pooling in her own eyes. "That amount of time doesn't exist."

He swallows thickly, and she watches as his Adam's apple bobs. She can tell he's holding back a sob as more tears fall from his blue eyes. Jamie brings her to his chest again, gently swaying them in his arms. He begins to hum, and she giggles, wiping away her tears, "You're still a terrible singer."

Snickering, his chest heaves beneath her head and he agrees, but he continues to hum anyway, providing them with just enough music to dance slowly to.

After a few moments of contentedness, Claire's phone buzzes, pulling them from their bubble they'd created.

It's Joe, saying they were on their way back with the girls, fed and full of energy, and she grins, showing Jamie the text.

"Guess we better go, then," he chuckles, reaching down to take her purse and hand it to her. "Ready, Mrs. Fraser?"

"Ready, Mr. Fraser."

With that, she links her fingers with her husband, letting him lead her to their car and back to their children, and the whole way home, she stares at the amber ring on her right hand, dreaming of the day that she gets to marry her husband again.

{**********************}

There ya have it! I've posted what her red date dress and new engagement ring look like on Twitter ( sbstevenson2 on there too!) if you want to see it for a visual!

Thanks for reading... Please let me know what you thought! I will be posting the final chapter on Tuesday (*cries*) and the epilogue will be the Tuesday after Christmas. Thanks again so much for all the support you guys have given me over the last few months; it means a lot! 3

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen:

"That's amazing!" Claire squealed into the phone, "Thank you so much, John."

She hung up, beaming across their bathroom to Jamie. He'd just gotten out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his waist. He came to stand beside her, patting her hip and nodding his head toward his phone she was holding. "What was that about?"

He picked up his deodorant, applying it as she bounced up and down, telling him, "John called."

"Aye," he chuckled, "I kent that."

Rolling her eyes playfully, she hit his bicep, turning to face the mirror and finish applying her mascara. "He just heard from Ned, said Frank and the rest of Master Raymond's gang took that plea deal." She smiled in the mirror over at Jamie. "They're all getting twenty-five years in prison."

"That is… wonderful news, Sassenach!" he cried, wrapping his arms around her from behind. Her mascara smudged a bit at the contact, but she couldn't find the strength to care. She turned, winding her arms around him, her hands splaying across the scars on his back, and suddenly, everything seemed right in the world.

It was all over. Finally.

Master Raymond had been sentenced to life for weapons dealing and first degree murder of one of Sandrigham's men, a charge that came to the light of day during the whole investigation.

"They're being processed now," she told him, pulling back to kiss his lips.

He smiled into the gesture, whispering into her mouth, "It's all over."

They stood there a while, bodies swaying with their foreheads pressed together, both thinking of the nightmare they'd survived and how their lives could finally begin again.

"We have tae tell the lasses!"

He pulled back, swatting at her ass before walking into their bedroom and throwing on some clothes. "Hurry up, mo chridhe."

"Jamie," she laughed, "it's seven in the morning. The girls are still sleeping."

She listened from their bathroom as he grumbled, milling around the room and muttering about how he wanted to wake them up.

"Don't you dare."

An hour later, the girls were finally awake and sitting around the kitchen table, listening as Jamie told them, "John called this morning. All the bad guys that hurt me willna ever hurt me again."

"Are you sure?" Faith asked, looking to Jamie, then over to Claire.

Claire reached across the table, taking Faith's hand. "Yes, sweetheart," she smiled, "John said they're all going to jail for a very long time."

Faith's eyes watered and she smiled, nodding. Her little lips rubbed together, and Claire could tell she was holding back tears.

Brianna got up from the table, making her way to Jamie's lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her face there. "I'm glad," she whispered, and Claire watched as a tear slipped down her cheek.

This clearly affected their children more than even she realized, and she made a mental note to call the therapist Joe had recommended for them all. It was going to be a long process for everyone to heal and recover from what they'd been through.

Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself for what she needed to say next. The girls had been asking about him over the last few months, ever since they got back from Spain. They'd only seen him a handful of times, and they did love Frank so much, that this would crush her to confess. "Girls," she breathed, "there's something else I need to tell you about the bad guys."

Faith and Brianna both looked at her with questioning gazes, and she sucked in another breath. "I know you both have been asking me about Frank," she said, watching as their little heads nod, Brianna reminding the group that she and Frank broke up, causing Jamie to try and hide a grin. "Well," she started, "Girls… I don't know how to tell you this, but… Frank was… well, he was one of the bad guys that hurt Daddy."

Their eyes grew wide, Faith's hand slipping from Claire's grasp as she sat up straighter. "What do you mean?"

She explained, as well as she could, how Frank had just been pretending to be a nice guy, and fuck, she hoped this didn't give them trust issues with men for the rest of their lives. Claire told them how he worked for the bad guy, and when the men thought Jamie might still be alive, Frank infiltrated their lives, becoming her friend and eventually her boyfriend. "He was just trying to find out if Daddy was alive or not. He was a bad guy all along."

"Even when he took me to riding lessons?"

Claire smiled despite herself, knowing this was hard for them to understand. "Yes, darling, even then."

They looked so confused, and she didn't really know how else to explain it without hurting their tender little hearts much more, but thankfully Jamie clapped his hands, tightening his grip around Brianna's belly as he said, "Enough of that now, let's just finish our breakfast and enjoy the day." He smiled across to Faith, saying, "Ye've got piano lessons today, m'annsachd," then looked to Brianna, "and ye've got to get tae the stables to ride Mickey."

"Yeah!" Brianna called, clapping her hands together. "I can't wait!"

Jamie told them that they were going to split up, he'd take Bree to the stables, while Claire took Faith to piano, which Faith pouted about. "But next week we'll switch," he added, attempting to wink at Faith.

Claire beamed listening to the conversation, glad their lives were going back to normal. The girls' lessons had fallen by the wayside during everything that went on, each of them only going a few times, but she'd explained everything to their instructors and everyone understood they were going through a difficult time. It was nice, though, to get back in a routine… a routine that now included Jamie.

She felt light… lighter than she'd felt in the past almost seven years.

That was six months ago, and Claire smiles as she thinks about that day, and how after both sets of lessons, she and Jamie had taken the girls to the pool, enjoying one of their last days of summer break.

She'd slept better than ever before after that phone call with John, knowing that everyone involved in hurting her husband was tucked away in a prison, never to be seen again. They could no longer harm Jamie, and their lives could move forward.

Today, however, she's determined to put all thoughts of Frank and Master Raymond out of her mind.

It's her wedding day, and just like her first one, she feels giddy at the knowledge of who stands at the other end of the aisle waiting for her.

Her Jamie.

Claire listens as the girls giggle and prance around the kitchen, swishing their light blue dresses around them. They have tiny flower crowns adorning their heads, and she smiles as she watches Geillis calm them down, taking their hands to walk out the backdoor and down the aisle.

She stands back, watching through the large kitchen window as the whole thing unfolds.

It's a small ceremony, smaller than their first wedding. Joe, Geillis and Dougal are there of course, as are Murtagh, Jocasta, John and Hector. They'd flown back in just for this, and the girls had been so excited to see Sophia again.

John and Hector had brought some special guests as well. Fergus' trial had taken place during the six months since Jamie's, and he'd been reunited with his family—a wife, Marsali, and two little children, Germain and Felicity. They were adorable, and Claire had loved getting to know them over the last few days.

Jenny and Ian flew over from Scotland last week as well, crying in her husband's arms when she finally set eyes on him again.

Telling Jenny and Ian that Jamie was alive had been the biggest relief, and though Claire thought Jenny would be angry with her for not calling her as soon as she found him in Spain, she said she understood.

They'd spent the last week letting Faith and Brianna run wildly around the house with Jenny's son, Jamie, and their daughters, Maggie and Kitty. The house had been a zoo with five children under the age of ten all together, but Claire couldn't be happier. It was the type of chaos she'd been missing for years, and having the whole family together brought her a sense of rightness again.

Jenny had helped her finalize some details for today, while Ian and Jamie got in touch with their inner children and chased the kids around, or taste tested all the new whisky with Murtagh and Dougal at the distillery.

Laughing at the memories, Claire catches Jamie's eye at the end of the aisle. The ceremony is taking place in their backyard, and she's thankful she had the hindsight to buy a house years ago with a large yard. The aisle is a burlap runner, and their friends and family are sitting in off-white chairs, all eyes trained on her.

It's late January, but blessedly it wasn't too cold, plus they had the large outdoor heaters lining the rows decorated with greenery to match the wedding decor.

She feels her eyes mist over as she watches Faith and Brianna make their way down the aisle, dropping flower petals as they make their way to Jamie while music softly plays.

He's standing there, so reminiscent of their first wedding, in his tartan kilt and boots, long sleeve white shirt with a tuxedo jacket over it. His hair is gelled back, and she has to bite her lip, imagining running her fingers through it later to mess it up again.

She fluffs the skirt of her dress, preparing to walk down the aisle. Toward a future she never thought possible.

Her dress is simpler than her first. Where her first was a small ball gown, this one is an A-line made of tulle and lace. The sleeves are long and lace, giving peeks of her skin from beneath. The tulle skirt cascades down her body—no poof, no fuss, just simple and elegant.

As she takes her bouquet of peonies in hand, she smiles down the way to Jamie. He stands underneath an archway covered in beautiful white peonies intertwined with white fairy lights and soft greenery. It reminds her of the place he proposed months ago, and the thought brings tears to her eyes.

The music begins, and she walks toward her husband, following the trail of flower petals Faith and Brianna had scattered around.

She looks to the girls, standing next to Geillis and Jenny, smiling broadly at her.

The cool, crisp air only makes this more magical, like a rustic getaway in a winter wonderland.

She feels nervous, though she shouldn't be, but catching Jamie's blue eyes instantly calms her down.

When she reaches him, she glances over his shoulder at Murtagh and Ian both standing as groomsmen, and she giggles, thinking how he'd wanted Hector and John to stand with him as well, but she'd had to put her foot down, saying they'd have no guests if he used everyone as a groomsman. He'd agreed with a grin, but spent time assuring the other men they were just as important to him in their lives.

Handing Jenny her bouquet, she takes Jamie's hands in hers, listening as the preacher begins the short ceremony.

She barely hears his words, too enraptured by her husband's gaze and her barely there pooch that holds the secret of another life they've created between them. She's planning on telling Jamie tonight, having just taken the test last week when she just knew her nausea recently hadn't been due to nerves over the upcoming wedding.

They're leaving tonight for Spain, having decided as soon as they started planning the wedding that it was the only right place for them to go. They'd now each gone separately, finding one another there, but they wanted to really go, together, and enjoy every second worry free.

"Sorcha," he whispers, pulling her from her thoughts. "Yer like the sun shining through the clouds, ye look sae bonny."

She smiles, eyes filling with tears at her cheesy, romantic husband.

Her hand pulses in his as their vows begin. They'd chosen to write their own this time, and she smiles nervously as the preacher calls for her to start.

With a deep breath, she blows it out slowly, saying softly, "I once told you I took you 'til death parts us', and I did, and I still do again." Their friends chuckle softly, and Jamie smiles reassuringly as a blush warms her cheeks. "Even in death, you were mine, and I was still yours."

She feels the emotions take over, unsure if she'll be able to finish around the lump in her throat. She sniffles, adding in a choked voice, "I love you so much, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, and I vow to always be by your side for the rest of our lives." Smiling, she swallows thickly, adding, "I promise you today to always cherish each and every moment we are given together. You're my other half, my better half, and I will always love you." She slips his old wedding band back onto his finger, having taken it from him last week to get cleaned up for today.

Jamie beams, his own eyes filling with tears. He reaches around to Ian to take Claire's new wedding band, a very thin one covered in small diamonds. It joins her original band and engagement ring he'd given her years ago, fitting into place perfectly around the top of her larger diamond as he says, "We could be separated by time itself, and I'd wait for ye for two hundred years in purgatory, two hundred years wi'out ye just for a chance to see ye again." He smiles, making a joke about how the last six years in North Carolina felt like that, making her and everyone else laugh softly, before he grows serious, adding, "When I stand before God, I'll only have one thing to say to him: Lord ye gave me a rare woman, and I loved her well." He goes to lean in, and she does too, but the preacher clears his throat comically, making everyone snicker.

They pull apart before their lips can meet, smiling widely at one another.

Jamie smiles sheepishly at the preacher, then to her, finishing with, "Ye are the best woman I've ever kent, and I'm sae glad you chose to let me love you all those years ago." His eyes fill with tears, and so do hers, but they smile at one another, calming the other with their presence. "I vow to ye, and to God, and tae everyone here today, that I will love and cherish ye til my verra last breath, mo ghraidh."

For the sake of tradition, just as their first wedding, they repeat the Gaelic vows, promising one another, "Blood of my blood, and bone of my bone. I give you my body that we two may be one. I give you my spirit til our life shall be done."

"I love you," Jamie whispers.

"I love you, too," she responds, their tears falling silently down their cheeks.

Jamie glances down, then flicks his eyes back to hers nervously, saying, "I've failed ye before, but I promise you I'll keep you safe in my arms for as long as we both shall live."

She shakes her head, knowing he'd never failed them, and she tells him so. They fall into their own little moment, the entire ceremony floating away as she makes sure he knows what happened wasn't a failure on his part. "You've always protected us, Jamie," she squeezes his hand, their new wedding rings clinking together, "Your entire disappearance was to keep us safe. Don't ever say you failed us again. Do you hear me, James Fraser?"

"Aye," he smirks, sniffling, "I hear ye."

The preacher clears his throat, bringing them both back to the moment, and Jamie laughs awkwardly, the corner of his mouth tipping up into a smirk.

"Well, then," the preacher says with a chuckle, "I now pronounce you husband and wife, again, and now you may kiss your bride."

With that, he pulls her into his arms, leaning her back as he presses his lips to hers.

She savors the moment, thankful her morning sickness held off for the whole ceremony, and she wraps her hands around her husband's neck, knowing this is the type of love she'd never experience with anyone else.

Everyone cheers, the girls jumping up and down before Jenny takes their hands, leading them inside along with the rest of the guests as music begins to softly play.

"Come on, inside, all of ye!" Jenny calls, herding their friends and family like cattle. "Give the bride and groom a moment alone, will ye?"

Claire giggles, cuddling into Jamie's chest under the archway as they watch their small group head inside.

A gust of wintery air blows over them, making Claire shiver, and Jamie unclasps the tartan that he had over his chest and shoulder for the ceremony. He wraps her in it, pulling her close again.

They take a moment just for themselves, and Jamie reaches for her left hand, slipping her new wedding band off her finger.

"Hey, mister," she chides playfully, "you're supposed to leave that on."

He grins, holding it up between his large fingers. "Look at the inside, mo nighean donn."

She takes it from him, squinting to see there's an inscription around the inside.

Da mi basia mille

"Give me a thousand kisses," she whispers, eyes misting over for the millionth time today.

It was a poem he'd read to her at university, late one night when she was stressed and sick of studying. He'd picked up a book of poetry, reading to her softly until she calmed down. It had become their poem from then on out, and the thought makes her want to cry all over again.

She looks up at him, stepping into his embrace again. She plants her lips on his, kissing him deeply, then pulls back.

"One," he chuckles, pressing another kiss to her lips, "Two," then one to her neck, his tongue peeking out to tease her. "Three."

He then presses a succession of quick kisses to her jaw, cheek and lips, and she breathes out huskily, "Five," followed by a little moan.

Jamie pulls back with a smug grin. "Five?" he murmurs with a gleam in his eye, and she bites her lip, her cheeks heating.

"Oh," she laughs, leaning her head back as his lips find her neck. "I seem to have lost count."

"Guess I'll have tae start over tonight," he rasps, pressing one more chaste kiss to her lips. He laughs into her skin, the feel of his scruff making goosebumps flare on her skin.

"We'd better get inside," she breathes, gripping his hair as he presses a kiss to her collar bone. "Everyone is waiting."

Jamie sighs dramatically, pulling back. "Ye're right," he looks toward the house, laughing, "Plus Jenny is standing in the window death-glaring me. I dinna want to die quite sae soon after our wedding vows."

She chortles, looking over to Jenny, and shakes her head. "Alright, alright."

He stretches his hand out, taking hers in his, but grows serious as he turns to look at her, stopping their walk to the house. "Sassenach…"

Her head tilts, her hand resting on his bicep in concern. "What is it, Jamie?"

He sighs, pressing a chaste kiss to her lips. He lifts her amber engagement ring she has strung on a necklace today, hanging down to accentuate the V of her dress, then lets it drop with his boyish grin. "When the day shall come that we do part," he begins, lifting her left hand to press a kiss to her knuckles, "if my last words are not 'I love you', ye'll ken it's because I didna have time."

She bites her lip, trying to control her tears. Damn him. He just continues to be so sweet and loving, she doesn't think her emotions will ever calm down. Especially not for the next several months with these hormones raging through her body.

"That was always my biggest regret, ken?" he asks softly, shaking his head, "I spent sae many nights praying that ye kent I loved you after ye thought I was dead. I never want ye to question my love."

"I don't, Jamie," she states with a fiery passion in her tone, her head shaking vehemently. How he could even think that she ever questioned his love, she'll never know. "Your love for me has never been a question in my mind. I hope you know that."

He nods, taking a deep breath. "Aye, I ken…" he trails off. "It's just a fear o' mine."

Her shoulders sink, and she takes his hand, kissing his wrist. "I love you, James Fraser, and don't you ever forget it."

She pulls him in for another kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck, Jenny and her glare be damned.

When they break for air, she smiles sweetly, her fingers tracing soft patterns on his jaw before resting under his chin as her forehead comes to press against his.

They take another moment for just the two of them, enjoying the peace the outside provides.

Their eyes close, breathing each other in, before they slowly open almost simultaneously. They grin at each other, and Jamie takes her hand, leading them back inside for their reception.

{**********************}

The warmth of the house surrounds her as they step in from the cool winter day, and Claire laughs as she watches Faith, Brianna, and Sophia entertaining their guests with their dance moves in the living room.

John and Hector make their way in from the entertainment to the kitchen, smiling at the newlyweds. "The ceremony was gorgeous," John says, kissing Claire's cheek. "I can't believe you pulled it off on such short notice."

"Well, it helps when there's only twenty people to seat and feed, half of which are children." She grins, saying, "Plus I have Hector, so I didn't need to pay for a caterer."

"It's what I'm here for!" Hector exclaims jovially, pulling Claire into a tight hug and kissing her cheek. "Speaking of, the cake is gorgeous, and ready to cut when you guys are."

She nods, glancing over as she sees Fergus joining them in the kitchen. He'd been a delightful surprise to officially meet four months ago. They'd taken a weekend trip back to North Carolina to pack up all of Jamie's things, and the girls' toys they'd left there—much to Claire's bemused chagrin—and Fergus had been home.

Jamie was elated to finally tell Fergus the truth of his family, and the younger man had been overjoyed to meet Claire and the girls.

Once Fergus' trial was over two months ago, he'd called Jamie, introducing himself as Claudel, but said he was choosing to keep his new identity, claiming Fergus sounded much cooler. He told them of his wife and children, and as it turns out, Marsali and the kids lived in North Carolina, too, just five hours from where Fergus and Jamie had been. The family had been reunited, and Claire was thrilled to meet Marsali the other day when they arrived for the weekend.

They were a young couple, and Claire felt as if she was their mother, but they were hilarious, and Marsali loved to help Claire in the kitchen, so she's enjoyed them being in town.

"This was a great wedding, Milady," Fergus tells her gallantly in his French accent, bowing and kissing her cheek like he belonged in the eighteenth century. Claire laughs, pulling him into a hug. When she releases him, Fergus claps Jamie on the shoulder. He and Jamie had grown close as roommates over their time together, and she could tell Fergus truly looked up to Jamie as a father figure. "And these biscuits are très délicieux," he adds, holding up one of the treats.

"See?" she grins, looking to Hector. "You can never go wrong with your biscuits, no matter what time of day it is."

She leaves Jamie to entertain the small group, picking up her tulle skirt and meandering over to the kitchen to make sure there's enough food on the counters for everyone.

"Stop yer fussing," Geillis says, stepping up beside her. "I've kept the masses plenty fed, including all the bairns."

Claire smiles, listening to the kids' laughter coming from downstairs—Faith, Brianna, Sophia, Jamie, Maggie, and Kitty, along with Germain and Felicity. It was a full house today, the basement teaming with rambunctious kids, but she loves the sound of so many children, and she thinks again of their newest addition growing inside of her.

She helps Geillis fill the trays with more appetizers—biscuits, chicken fingers, fruit—a random assortment, really, nothing fancy, but she wanted today to just feel like a backyard barbeque with family, just inside where it was warmer.

Geillis takes a tray, lifting it up and onto the kitchen counter, saying she'll go tell Murtagh there's more food since he'd been scarfing everything down.

Claire laughs, watching as her friend goes. Jamie joins her then, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind. His head comes to rest on her shoulder and her hands wrap around his over her stomach.

"Today was braw," he murmurs, kissing her neck.

"Mm," she agrees with a small nod, "it was wonderful."

They stay there a moment, enjoying the nook of quiet in the kitchen now that Jamie's witness protection family has wandered back into the living room.

"Come on," she says, patting his forearms and stepping out of his embrace. "Let's go mingle with our guests."

She takes his hand, their fingers linking together as she leads him into their party.

Once there, she beams as she listens to Jamie talking to Murtagh and Dougal. They're discussing work, and she knows that Jamie has a renewed sense of peace working for the distillery again, especially because he'd talked to Brianna's horseback riding instructor and said he'd love to volunteer there from time to time.

Hector and John had promised them that if they ever wanted to move to North Carolina, they could, and Jamie would always have a job at the stables.

It was tempting, for sure, but their family was here in Georgia, and the girls had their friends at school. This is where their life was. And who knows, maybe one day they'd find themselves settling in North Carolina, but for right now, this is where they needed to be.

She settles onto the couch next to Joe and Gail, patting her friend's knee. He takes out his phone, snapping a selfie with the two women, and they spend the next ten minutes lost in their own conversation about work and a surgery they have to perform next week. Gail listens closely, never too interested in their medical talk but always with a smile on her face.

The girls come running in, a gaggle of kids behind them, and Faith and Wee Jamie, being the eldest of the kids, announce that they've come up with a new routine to show off.

Claire laughs, letting Faith turn on her music once more, the whole group performing a disjointed dance that only Faith, Maggie and Jamie seem to be able to handle.

All the adults cheer them on, her house being filled with so much laughter and joy that she thinks it may burst at the seams.

Looking across the room, she catches Jamie's gaze, and while the children entertain everyone else, they're once again lost in each other.

This is wonderful, this is how their lives were always supposed to be—hosting large gatherings like they always helped Jenny and Ian do at Lallybroch, the kids running wild and carefree as the fireplace warmed their home.

She breathes in, a feeling of contentness taking over. Her hand falls to her stomach, a smile fighting it's way to her lips as she thinks of how Jamie will react tonight when she tells him, and what spoon he'll choose for this one.

"Earth to Lady Jane," Joe calls, pulling her from her thoughts. Her whisky eyes break away from Jamie's blue, and she laughs, watching from the corner of her eye as Ian hugs Jamie, whispering something to him.

"Sorry," she laughs, shaking her head.

Joe assures her that it's alright, then says, "You look really happy."

"I am," she smiles, knowing that this is the happiest she's been in years.

Claire thinks about how much freer she feels now that everything is over and out in the open. She basks in how safe she truly feels now, and she knows that this is just the start of the rest of their lives.

END.

{*******************************}

Thank you so, so much to everyone who read this story! This has been one of my all time favorite stories I've told, and I'm thankful y'all stuck with it. I'm sad that it's over, and lowkey wish I would've not done weekly updates to draw it out longer LOL!

I am (maybe, possibly) planning to do some one shots showing their time with John, Hector and Sophia living with them while they waited for the trial… simply because I really enjoy writing this Hector I created and I think the four of them have a fun dynamic! Haha

I have also posted some pictures on my tweet of this update to show Claire's wedding dress, her bouquet and (sort of) Jamie's kilt/tuxedo lol

Stay tuned for the epilogue next week! <3

Chapter Text

Epilogue:

Claire looks around, delighting in the way their home feels with the large Christmas tree up and glittering, an abundance of presents all around it as the children run and play.

She stands before the large fir, eyes roaming all of the homemade ornaments the girls have made in school and the fun Disney character ones they get each year. There are ornaments from vacations she'd taken her whole life, trips with Uncle Lamb, one from her honeymoon with Jamie… it was so fun to look at all of them each year.

The television screen has a fireplace on it, seeing as it's not cold enough in Georgia for an actual fire, and Christmas music softly rings out while everyone mingles about, laughing and enjoying each other's company.

Next month will be an entire year already since she and Jamie re-married, and she honestly cannot believe it. It's gone by so quickly as they settled into a new routine in life, learning how to be a family again while also dealing with her pregnancy.

Jamie, as she'd figured, had been over the moon at the news she gave him on their honeymoon.

"I have something for you, Jamie," Claire stated softly as they settled into their hotel room.

A wicked grin blossomed on his face, and she couldn't help the snort of laughter that came from her. Whacking him on the chest, she instructed him to sit down.

Her husband had a curious look on his face, obviously confused but excited by whatever she had planned.

"Aye, I dinna ken what yer wicked wee self has conjured up," he said, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her to stand in between his opened legs, "but I canna say I'm no' excited."

Rolling her eyes, she leaned down, pressing a kiss to his lips. She let it linger, but just before he could deepen it, she pulled back with a smirk. "Stay there."

Claire walked over to her suitcase, unzipping the front pouch and pulling out a small present.

"For me, Sassenach?" he asked, looking up at her. "'Tis no' what I was expecting," he chuckled, taking the present from her hands.

She joined him on the bed, scooting close to his side and resting her head on his shoulder. "Open it," she whispered.

Jamie carefully unwrapped the gift, mumbling something about how Christmas was a month ago and her marrying him today was gift enough.

She smiled softly beside him, shaking her head at how adorable he was.

Claire watched as Jamie opened his gift—a picture of the girls laughing together as they held up a little black onesie that read "New Year, New Baby… Arriving July 2021" in white writing.

She watched as his brows scrunched, leaning closer to the picture to make sure he read it correctly. "Sassenach…?"

Pointing to the gift box, she said, "There's more."

He placed the photograph down gently on her leg, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips as he looked back at his present. Inside was a small, silver spoon and a sonogram confirming her news.

"I took a test last week," she explained, "and when it came back positive, I made an appointment with the doctor to confirm. I wanted to be absolutely certain before I got your hopes up. And… well…." She shrugged, smirking down at the picture of their newest member.

Jamie's eyes filled with tears, gift forgotten as he placed it on the bed beside him, wrapping Claire in his arms and exclaiming, "This is wonderful news!" before laughing and kissing her all over. "I havetae admit that I kent it all along, but 'tis still verra exciting to have the confirmation."

"You knew?" she asked incredulously, twisting to get a better look at him.

He laughed, leaning in to kiss her soundly. "Ye've not been late in yer courses a day since we wed, 'cept when ye were carryin' my bairns, Sassenach." His cheeks blushed, and he muttered how he hoped this didn't spoil her surprise, but she just shook her head, leaning over to kiss his cheek.

With a grin, he picked up the silver spoon from their kitchen drawer at home and began to laugh. "This isna one of our apostle spoons, mo chridhe."

Rolling her eyes, she smacked his chest. "I didn't know which apostle this one would need, so I figured this was the next best thing."

"Och," he chuckled, "'Tis alright. We'll figure it out when we get home. I'm just glad to add another spoon to the collection." He smiled, leaning in to kiss her lips again. "Just nine more tae go!"

"Don't even think about it, mister," she replied dryly, kissing him once more, their lips both tipped up into tiny smiles.

Pulling back, Jamie vowed, "She is a gift from me to you, and you to me, mo nighean donn," as his hand rested on her stomach, "just as wee Faith and Brianna are."

"She?"

"Aye," he smiled, "I feel it in my bones, Sassenach. Another wee lass."

They stayed like that, wrapped together in their wedding attire on that bed, laughing and crying for the next hour as Jamie rubbed her barely-there nine week bump. He told their baby of Faith and Brianna, crying again at the thought of how wonderful the girls would be with a little baby.

After that night, Jamie had spent the next seven months promising to be there every step of the way, no matter what.

She told him she wouldn't be asking him to run out for any late night snacks, and he vowed to buy up all the ice cream at the store each time he went shopping. And he did. Their freezer for the remainder of her pregnancy had been filled with all the flavors she could ever want, much to the pleasure of their children, too.

The doorbell ringing draws her attention from the tree and her thoughts, and Claire smiles at the knowledge of who is on the other side.

"I'll get it!" Murtagh calls, standing from the couch and walking to the front door.

Jenny comes in from the kitchen, all the girls trailing behind her—Faith, Bree, Maggie, and Kitty. "Ye're expectin' more people?"

Claire grins, knowing this surprise will shock everyone.

Murtagh opens the door, revealing John, Hector and Sophia all bundled up in their winter gear, smiling brightly at the old man.

"Sophia!" Faith and Brianna cry, rushing to the front door and motioning for the family to come inside.

"It's a madhouse in here," Claire calls, grinning as she waves them inside, "but come on in!"

Jocasta laughs from the couch as Murtagh joins her, shaking her head. "Ye've got a full house, indeed."

Claire just simply smiles, knowing this is the best Christmas they've had in a long time. Jenny and Ian normally can't fly over for the actual holiday, so having their family here just added to the joyous day.

She bounces their newest addition in her arms as the baby gurgles up at her, and Claire leans in, pressing a kiss to the tip of that tiny button nose.

Hector busies himself unloading gifts from the car while John gets Sophia out of her puffy jacket. Once the job is done, Faith and Brianna take her hand, tugging her to the kitchen and down to the playroom to join all the other kids.

Claire steps up then, handing her five-month-old over to Hector once his jacket is hung up. "Jamie will be so excited to see you guys!"

Hector beams down at the little baby, then up to Claire, thanking her for inviting them.

"Sorry we're just now making it. There was a ton of traffic on the drive down here."

She waves him off, then glances down at the little bundle in his arms. "Well, I'm glad you officially get to meet—"

"John! Hector!" Jamie calls, coming down the stairs. He'd been wrapping last minute gifts up in their bedroom, knowing the girls would be distracted in the playroom.

He wraps the two men in hugs, clapping them on the backs and thanking them for coming. "I'm sae glad ye guys could make it."

John laughs, looking over to Hector. "It's all Sophia has been able to talk about this week."

The four of them smile, and Claire thinks how fun it'll be tonight to put gifts out from Santa with their friends. John, Hector and Sophia were staying with them for the next few days, which John had felt bad about, saying they could easily get a hotel room so Jenny and her family could stay. Jamie had assured him it was fine; Jenny and her brood would all be staying with Murtagh and Jocasta, filling their house with more noise than it's probably ever experienced.

They all chuckle at Hector's dramatic eye roll, saying Sophia may not be able to communicate in complete sentences but she had plenty of toddler chattering to say about Fayhee and Breenana.

Claire smiles at the image of little Sophia trying so hard to say her daughter's names, but she clears her throat, looking pointedly at Jamie, "As I was saying," she grins with a twitch of her brows, "I'd like for you guys to officially meet Johanna Julia Fraser."

Hector bounces Johanna in his arms, while John tears up at the sight of the baby girl. They'd seen her on FaceTime, of course, but this was the first time they were meeting her in person.

"She's beautiful," John breathes, tickling her cheek with his pointer finger. "And a beautiful name," he grins, eyes shining.

When Claire and Jamie found out they were having another girl, they just knew Julia would be her middle name after Claire's mom. It was the name Jamie had wanted for both girls before this one, so she knew it was time.

When it came to her first name, however, Claire knew there was only one person she should be named after—the man who saved her father and kept him safe all those years: John.

So, Johanna she became, and she was beautiful right from the start.

Unlike her sisters, she actually managed to inherit Claire's dark hair, little ringlets already forming on her head. She has big, blue eyes that slant, though, and tiny ears that stick out just a little, exactly like Jamie's.

She is gorgeous—another perfect little mixture of the two of them.

Hector hands Johanna over to John, asking, "Do you need any help in the kitchen?"

Smiling, Claire takes his arm, leading him to the kitchen after assuring Jamie and John were fine with the baby.

{************************}

Later that night, after the entire family had eaten and exchanged gifts, Claire finds herself upstairs.

Everyone had gone home, John's family downstairs conducting their own nighttime routine to get Sophia to bed so Santa could come.

The house was blanketed in a still quietness that she hasn't experienced over the last few days with the craziness of the holiday.

Now, however, all the lights are off in their bedroom, save for a lamp on Jamie's bedside table and the white lights on the Christmas tree in the corner of their room.

Bree and Faith are at the end of the bed, watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, laughing along with all the best parts. Claire is propped against the headboard, feeding Johanna as she and Jamie talk quietly.

"Today was amazing," she says, smiling down at their baby.

Jamie grunts his agreement, smiling over at her. "'Twas. I'm sae glad Jenny and Ian could come this year."

She nods, knowing that had been the best gift of all for Jamie this holiday season.

Geillis and Dougal had flown to Scotland last week to visit Jamie's other uncle, Colum, but she knew they'd be getting together with them once they returned. She was excited to see Geillis and get the whisky she just knew the couple would bring back.

"Did ye talk to Joe today?"

"Mm," she hums, "he called this morning before everything got too crazy. He has to work in the morning for a little while, but then he'll be home with Gail and their families all day."

"Good," Jamie smiles, leaning over to press a kiss to Johnna's foot that was covered in her red and green plaid onesie.

When she finishes eating, Claire removes her from her breast, handing her over to Jamie to burp.

Sitting back with a content sigh, Claire fixes her shirt and smiles down at the girls, telling them it's almost bedtime.

"But I'm not tired," Brianna whines, turning to look at her parents.

Claire glances between them, then the window, sighing. "Well, I guess Santa Claus just can't come then. Poor Sophia will miss out on getting presents in the morning all because you girls didn't go to sleep."

She tries her best to hide her grin, she really does, but Brianna's eyes widen so comically that it takes all her self restraint. "No, Mama! Sophia needs presents!"

Claire smiles, shrugging one shoulder. "Well, you better go to bed on time, then."

She flicks her eyes over to Faith who is grinning as well. She knows Faith no longer believes in Santa, but as any older sister does, she plays along for the fun of it, letting her little sister believe for just a little bit longer.

Claire knows this will probably be the last Christmas that Brianna still believes in the jolly old man, but at least they'll have a few more years of Santa magic with Johanna.

"Weel," Jamie says, clearing his throat and pressing pause on the movie. "Before ye lasses get tae bed, yer mam and I have one more present for ye."

Faith and Bree both perk up at that, sitting on their knees expectantly and looking over to their parents.

With a grin, Jamie hands Johanna back to Claire and slips from the bed. Bending down, he slides out the gifts from under the bed and hands them to their daughters.

There are squeals of excitement accompanied by, "Thank you!" as they rip into their presents.

Johanna's little blue eyes widen at the sound of the paper tearing, her unsteady little head bobbing as she watches her sisters.

Faith pulls out a pair of new ballet slippers with a gasp, as Brianna tears up over her new riding boots. "These are the ones I saw last month!" she squeals, tossing them to the floor to scamper up the bed and wrap her arms around Jamie's neck.

Brianna pulls back, hoping from the bed and sitting on the floor to slip her new boots on her feet.

Faith smiles broadly, climbing over to kiss Jamie and Claire on their cheeks. "Thank you both!" she says, kissing Johanna's cheek for good measure. "Aren't they pretty, JoJo?" she asks, holding the slippers in front of the baby's face. Johanna's hand reaches out, trying to grasp whatever this new object in front of her is.

Faith giggles, pulling them back and pressing a tiny kiss to Johanna's nose. She crawls back to the end of the bed, gently trying on her new shoes to make sure they fit. "They're beautiful!" she cries, studying them carefully.

Claire beams at their daughters, letting them enjoy their new shoes for a few more moments. She presses kisses to Johanna's head, inhaling her baby scent and letting it wash over her.

She looks over to Jamie, smiling even wider when she catches his eye. "I'd say they like their gifts."

Jamie laughs, agreeing. "Alright, lasses, let's finish the movie and then head tae bed, ken?"

Brianna scurries up onto the mattress again, stretching out on her stomach while Faith settles in between Jamie and Claire, one hand holding Johanna's for the rest of the film.

When Kevin's family is finally all reunited, Jamie clicks off the television and the girls scamper over to Faith's room. They'll be sleeping in there together tonight, and Claire knows they'll be up far later than they should, giggling and predicting what Santa will bring them in the morning.

With a smile, she helps tuck the girls in, then carries a now asleep Johanna to her nursery, changing her diaper and settling her in for the night.

{*****************************}

Once they are sure the girls are asleep, Jamie and Claire make their way downstairs.

"Yours already asleep?" Claire asks Hector and John who are waiting for them in the living room, sitting together on the couch.

John snickers, unwinding his arm from around Hector's shoulder and standing as he says, "It's much easier to get one down than three."

Jamie walks over to the bar, pouring them each a whisky while John, Hector and Claire pull out all the hidden gifts to put out from Santa.

John and Hector had put all of Sophia's in large, black garbage bags and left them in the back of their car, while Claire had stuffed presents for all three of her girls in every closet possible over the last few months.

Once it's all pulled out, and the living room a complete mess, the four adults spend the next four hours drinking and setting up Santa.

Claire designated spots for each child's gifts to go: Faith and Brianna's on the couch and coffee table, Johanna's on one armchair, while Sophia got the loveseat.

"They're going to flip in the morning," Hector declares, pulling out a giant, plush stuffed unicorn and setting it on the love seat.

Jamie chuckled, taking a sip of his whisky before pulling out more gifts from everything he and Claire had purchased. There were clothes, and books… iTunes gift cards, new headphones, and all the latest toys and gadgets their girls could ever want for.

Claire glances over, laughing as she watches Jamie shake his head, muttering something about how they won't need anything for the next five years.

"Sure they will," she jokes, "they'll be over this stuff within six months." She turns to look at him, hands on her hips. "And besides, you're one to talk." Her brows raise in a pointed look. "Weren't you the one spoiling them to no end in North Carolina last year?"

"Ah," Jamie scoffs, waving her off with a smirk, his ears turning red as he pulls out more presents, effectively avoiding her question.

John laughs, taking out a Barbie jeep and three new Barbies for Sophia. "This one better still be into Barbie for the next five years at this point."

Claire and Jamie both snicker, assuring him she will be. "Barbies will be in your house for the next decade, my friend," Jamie tells him, laughing heartily as he pulls out a barbie from his stack as well. "See!"

As the night progresses, the whisky flows and settles in their stomachs, making their antics even more ridiculous.

John and Hector had bought Sophia a pink electric ride bumper car, and once John retrieved it from the car, all bets were off.

"Me first!" Claire laughs, the whisky heating her face as she climbs into the child sized car. She's only had two full drinks, but the effects are hitting her nonetheless. She hasn't had alcohol in this large of quantity since before she was pregnant, hell, in years, so she knows she doesn't need anymore than this.

Her knees are up to her chest, but she grabs the steering wheel anyway, nodding in Hector's direction where he is putting batteries in the remote control. "Let 'er rip!"

Hector laughs, snapping the batteries in place and turning it on. The little car lights up, and Claire squeals as Hector drunkenly moves the car around the living room with the remote.

Claire laughs, raising her arm and twirling it around like she's at a rodeo as Hector moves her car around the couch and back to where the others are standing, laughing uncontrollably at the sight.

When the car comes to a stop, Claire tumbles out of it, crawling over to Jamie as she giggles. He helps her stand, but with a peck to her cheek, says he's next. He's far too large to fit in the car designed for toddlers, but he maneuvers it somehow, sitting criss-cross on top of the car's seat, back hunched over so he could hold on to the sides.

Hector gears up the remote again, but the weight of Jamie only allows the toy to move halfway across the living room before it stops, causing them all to laugh.

John sets his drink down on the coffee table, dashing over to Jamie and pushing him off the car. "My turn!" he exclaims, climbing in much the same as Claire did.

Hector guides his husband around via the remote, everyone practically in stitches. Once John has had his turn, Claire tells Hector to climb in. She moves the car around with Hector atop it, while Jamie continues assembling a doll house for the girls and John takes the tags off of some clothes he'd gotten for Sophia.

"Uh-oh," Hector says, chortling as he crawls out of the car. He's on his hands and knees, and Claire joins him in the same position, roaring with drunken laughter as she tries to shush her friend.

"Shhh," she laughs. "What's wrong?"

"I think we broke the car!"

She bursts out laughing all over again, rolling onto her back as Hector does the same. He holds the remote up, fiddling with it. The car makes a run down sound, barely moving two inches across the floor before puttering out.

"If you broke our child's toy before she even got to play with it, Hector Grey, I swear…" But before John can finish his threat, he's on the floor with them, laughing and carrying on about the bumper car.

"Okay, okay, alright," Claire says, trying to catch her breath. She sits up, grabbing someone's whisky from the coffee table and taking a sip. "Mm," she says, straightening her shoulders and trying to look serious. "We've been at this for hours, and drinking just as long, boys. We need to wrap this up so we can manage at least a few hours of sleep before the girls come barreling in."

With a murmured agreement, John and Hector stand. Jamie comes over with a smirk on his face, reaching out to help Claire stand. He's the most sober out of all of them, but that's really not saying much as he sways on his feet as well, wrapping his arm around Claire's shoulder.

"Ye've gotten a lot o'stuff fer the lasses," he slurs, pressing a kiss to her hair. He swings his arm from around her shoulder, stretching it out for her to take.

She does, and he spins her around as if they're dancing, causing her to laugh.

Before she knows it, the four of them are dancing in the living room, eating the cookies the girls left out for Santa and washing it down with more whisky.

Once all the gifts have been set out and put beautifully on display, Claire sits on the living room floor, admiring their work while Jamie fetches her a glass of water.

They all sit side by side on the floor, unable to fit on the couches due to the amount of Christmas presents on display, and finish their cookies.

"Who's going tae fix the bumper car?" Jamie asks, breaking the silence.

They all start to laugh again, Hector leaning back on his elbow as he looks sheepishly over at John.

John grins, standing on wobbly legs to try and tinker with it.

After another half hour, John has the toy car back in working order, and he places it on the ground next to the loveseat for Sophia to find in the morning.

"Well, boys," Claire announces, pressing on Jamie's knee to help her stand. "I think our work here is done." She gives a little salute to them all, swaying where she stands as she declares it time to get some sleep. It's a little past one in the morning at this point, and she knows the girls will be up and ready to go around eight if they stick to their normal wake-up routine.

They set the empty cookie plate on the side table, and Jamie takes a few swigs of the milk, before they head their separate ways—Jamie and Claire upstairs, while John and Hector quietly make their way to the basement.

As Claire checks on the girls, seeing the two oldest are fast asleep in Faith's bed together, and Johanna is snoring away in her crib, she's once again thankful that her children can sleep through anything.

{***************************}

The next morning, well, a few hours later, honestly, Faith and Brianna come bounding into Jamie and Claire's room.

7:35, just a little earlier than Claire predicted. She'd woken up about an hour ago to pump and dump, assuring the alcohol from last night wasn't still in her system all these hours later, before she crawled back into bed with Jamie, soaking up the last little bit of warmth from her husband before the madness of the day began.

Faith is on Claire's side, while Brianna climbs onto Jamie's lap, bouncing on him to wake him up.

Jamie grunts, the effects of their late night whisky still lingering as he smiles up at Brianna. "Can we help ye lasses?"

The girls giggle, Faith bouncing on the balls of her feet as she gently tugs on Claire's covers. "Santa came!"

"He did?" she asks, "I thought that was next week."

Brianna explodes into a fit of giggles, telling her parents to stop being so silly. She hops off of Jamie's lap, pulling on his hand. "Daddy, come on!"

They stumble from the bed, little hands dragging them out of the room. "Wait, Bree!" Faith shouts, stopping her sister at the top of the stairs. "We have to get JoJo first!"

With a sigh, Brianna concedes, tugging Jamie back down the hall toward the baby's room.

She's just now waking up, but being the one who wakes up happiest in the house on most mornings, Johanna is all gummy-smiles as she sees her whole family greeting her this morning.

Faith and Bree's matching red and green plaid nightgowns swish around them as they bounce up and down, telling Johanna that it's Christmas morning and that Santa came to visit last night.

Claire quickly changes Johanna's diaper, ushering everyone out of the room and down the stairs, knowing she's got about thirty minutes before Johanna will be wanting her breakfast.

Holding on to the railing, both girls stumble down the stairs in their excitement, squealing with delight as they see their new toys and gifts displayed on the couch.

Santa had labeled each girl's section of gifts so they bypass Sophia's and go straight to their own, instantly rummaging through the new clothes, holding them up to their bodies, then tossing them down to pick up the next new item.

Brianna, hurricane that she is, tears through everything, messing up the display to make sure she touches each new present. Faith, however, scans over it all with her eyes, a giant smile on her face as she takes in each gift. After surveying it all, she gingerly picks up each item, inspecting it with a shimmer in her blue eyes.

"Gooood morning!" John calls, bursting into the living room from the kitchen, Sophia on his hip.

Faith and Brianna squeal with delight, hopping up to greet Sophia. They each take one of her chubby hands once John sets her down, leading her over to her pile of toys.

"Look, Sophia!" Brianna calls, holding up the stuffed unicorn. "A unicorn!"

Sophia's eyes light up at all the new toys, giggling to herself as she touches it all.

"Alright, lasses," Jamie says, tapping his legs. "Let Sophia look through her gifts while ye finish going through yers."

Faith and Brianna nod, bouncing back over to their piles, settling on the floor to change Barbie clothes and inspect the new doll house, all the while chattering excitedly to each other about every new object they came across.

While the girls are preoccupied, Jamie now on the floor with them playing with the new Barbie dolls, Claire shows Johanna some of her new things. Being only five months old, there wasn't as many exciting toys to get like the other girls, nor would she remember it, but Claire and Jamie were sure to get her plenty of toys to help with her development.

"Look, baby," she croons, holding up a new onesie. "Santa brought you some clothes!" She stacks all of the new outfits together, setting them in a neat pile on the coffee table so that she's able to sit in the chair.

Bending down, she shows Johanna the new sit-me-up chair they'd gotten for her. She can sit in it, letting her legs kick all the do-dads at the bottom that crinkle and make all sorts of noise. "Isn't that exciting?" Claire asks, Johnna's little hands reaching out for the butterfly on the chair that crinkles when you touch its wings.

Sitting back with a smile on her face, Claire kisses Johanna's chubby cheeks. She starts to mewl and squirm, so Claire pulls down her tank top just enough so the baby can get her breakfast, the navy, woolen cardigan she'd tossed on before coming downstairs resting by her sides.

With a sigh, Claire watches all the girls playing with their new toys as Johanna drinks her milk, and Claire smiles, loving this far too much.

The heat is on, blessedly warming the house, as Jamie stands to fetch the adults all a coffee from the kitchen.

They all sit for a while, John in the chair beside Claire, watching as Sophia babbles about all of her new things, holding up each item to show him, then over to Hector who is laying on his stomach beside her.

Jamie is back, passing the coffees out before getting back on the ground with Faith and Brianna, discussing with each of them all of their new toys that they show him, a beaming smile upon his face.

"Who's hungry?" Hector asks, hopping up from the floor. "I'll make biscuits!"

{**********************}

Once Johanna finishes eating, Claire hands Johanna to Jamie, then makes her way into the kitchen to help Hector.

They work together, Claire making eggs and waffles, shooing Hector out so he can enjoy Christmas morning with Sophia.

After another twenty minutes, she corrals everyone into the kitchen to eat before all the girls are stampeding back into the living room to play with their new toys.

Hector, sneaky thing that he is, had set up Santa presents for all of the adults on the kitchen counter while he made breakfast. He's gifted John with a new chess set, Jamie with a set of books they'd been reading and discussing together in North Carolina, and for her, he'd typed up all his favorite recipes and put them in a little cookbook.

So, while the girls play in the living room, the adults set up shop in the kitchen, Jamie and John opening up the new chessboard on the kitchen table.

Claire props the door between the kitchen and the living room open so she can keep an ear out for the girls, but makes her way back over to the sink to finish washing the dishes.

Hector offers to help, but she waves him off, telling him to go relax with the guys since he did most of the work this morning getting breakfast ready.

With a soft smile, Claire watches Jamie at the kitchen table, Johanna in his big arms. He leans down, kissing the top of the baby's head while laughing at something John said.

She shakes her head, focusing back on the dishes before she tears up at the sight before her. A sight she never thought she'd have again, but here she is, a year and a half later, watching her husband hold their newest daughter and talking with friends.

"Sassenach?" he calls, apparently having stood up from the table and made his way over to her.

Jamie wraps his arms around her waist, and she glances over to the kitchen table to see that John is now holding his namesake, cooing at her and blowing kisses in her direction.

"Ye alright?"

"Mm," she sighs with a soft smile tugging at her lips, "I'm perfect."

She turns in Jamie's arms, wrapping her own around his shoulders. She leans in, pressing a kiss to his lips, then another one, two, three pecks before grinning up at him. "Merry Christmas, Jamie."

"Merry Christmas, mo nighean donn."

"I love you."

"I love ye, too, Sassenach."

With one more final kiss, Jamie pulls away, tapping her on the ass as she turns around to finish drying the cookie sheet.

She giggles, shaking her head as she places the towel down beside the sink.

Biting her lip as she tries to contain the beaming smile on her face, she makes her way to the living room with the guys, everyone joining the girls where they're still playing with all their new items.

Jamie turns on Home Alone, and everyone settles in wherever they can find a spot—Johanna is in her new seat, gurgling happily at all the new sounds she's discovering her toy can make. Faith has dumped out her new puzzle onto the coffee table and is attempting to put it all together, while Brianna is pushing her baby doll around the living room in the stroller she'd gotten. Sophia is sitting happily in her bumper car, not going anywhere, just content to be in it with a smile on her face.

Chuckling, Claire stands, dashing to the kitchen to grab the last of the Christmas cookies they'd yet to finish off and brings them back out to everyone.

John is in the chair that occupied Sophia's presents this morning before she pulled them all to the floor, and Hector is at his feet, silently showing Sophia more toys and talking softly with her.

Climbing back onto the couch with Jamie, Claire lets her feet dangle over his legs, her back against the arm of the couch. She smiles over at him when he catches her gaze, his own softening.

"What is it, Sassenach?" he whispers, not wanting to disturb everyone else.

She shakes her head, inhaling sharply as she tries to speak around the lump in her throat. "I'm just really happy."

"Aye," he smiles, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "So am I, mo chridhe, so am I."

And with that, they spend the rest of their Christmas morning watching as Kevin tricks the bad guys, eating cookies, playing with toys, and being happier than she ever thought possible.

She's safe in her home, with her family, and enjoying the best Christmas ever… so far.

{********************************}

There we have it… it's officially over now! Please let me know what you thought.

Once again, I am *so* thankful to everyone who gave this story a chance. If you haven't already, please feel free to check out my other OL stories if you'd like! I have a four part fic of Fergus going through the stones with Claire ("Coming Home") and two one shots that are basically just Claire and Jamie banging on the ridge hahah