Actions

Work Header

All That Was Fair

Chapter Text

Growing up in the highlands of Scotland, Jamie was so accustomed to the breathtaking majesty of the landscape that he’d nearly become desensitized to it. But on days like this one, when he really opened his eyes, the soul of the country came alive and somehow managed to bury itself into his being. It was a part of him as much as he was a part of it. 

It was with that sense of belonging that he undertook his hike. The day was perfect— slightly overcast but with slivers of sun beams breaking through, illuminating the greens and blues of the countryside. He squinted up at the clouds in appreciation as he picked his way up a particularly steep incline. As an avid outdoorsman, Jamie found the challenge enticing, and he didn’t mind the difficult terrain. 

His morning had started much the same way it often did. Waking up with that slight ache of loneliness that seemed to accompany him everywhere, brushing it off while going about his morning routine, and deciding on an activity for the day-- often something physical-- hoping that perhaps it would fill that hole inside him as well as the hours of his time off. Today, he had chosen hiking. Something about the peace of the wilderness-- the force of nature that was Scotland herself-- made him feel a little less alone. 

It wasn’t that Jamie was unhappy. His publishing company did well enough. More than well enough, if he was being honest, although no amount of money could ever possibly fill the hole inside him. But he liked his job, his house just outside Inverness, seeing his family when he visited Lallybroch, even his cat, Adso. He told himself he was content-- and he tried his hardest to be. Still, at the end of the day, something was missing from the picture perfect life. 

He drove away the existential thoughts by quickening his pace. By this point, he was panting slightly in exertion, but he pushed himself on. Climbing the rough terrain was no easy task, and his hiking boots slipped occasionally on uneven ground. Just as he crested the top, he stopped short. Ahead of him were standing rocks, arranged in a circle and standing tall and proud. Something about them prickled the skin on his arms. Curiosity peaked— and ready for a break anyhow— he circumspectly wandered toward them. 

As he approached the circle, Jamie suddenly glimpsed a flash of white in the middle. He squinted, and quickly moved closer. 

Christ, it was a lass! 

Lying unconscious in the middle of the circle. 

He moved cautiously toward her, but felt himself buzzing with urgency. Something clearly had happened to her-- she was limp as a ragdoll someone had tossed carelessly aside. 

Once he got close, he dropped to his knees beside her. 

She was the bonniest thing he’d seen in his entire life. Her eyes were closed, dark lashes curving downward to brush the silky porcelain skin below her eyes. The bones of her face were prominent, but in a delicate way that gave her an air of grace. Her hair was a deep brown mass of unruly curls that splayed around her head like a halo where it rested on the ground. She was lying on her side, one arm splayed out in front of her. His eyes swept (completely unbidden) down the length of her body. A dhia, she was tiny. Although most people were tiny to Jamie’s 6’4’’ stature, she especially was. The only thing she was wearing was a small white dress, and it clung perfectly to the soft curves of her body. Lying unconscious, she seemed heartbreakingly vulnerable. 

But the most striking thing about the lass was the glow that seemed to surround her. The best way he could describe it was the color gold, but it was more like… a feeling. A warmth or sensation that shimmered around her. 

She was ethereal. 

As he studied her in that moment, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was too perfect to be merely human. No… she was something else. He knew it in his wame. If anyone asked, he couldn’t have expressed exactly how he had such conviction, but he still kent with complete certainty that she was not of this world. 

Despite this realization, he wasn’t frightened even in the slightest. Instead, an urge to help her-- to protect her at all costs-- began to well up inside him. The compulsion was unlike anything he’d experienced before. Maybe it was her vulnerability, or maybe it was something deeper, but Jamie was determined to care for the lass. 

He reached a hand out toward her, drawn as if by a magnetic force. The second his fingers brushed her skin, the desire to hold her overpowered him. He slid a hand under her shoulders and ever-so-gently gathered her into his arms. Touching her sent a warmth emanating through him, as if the glow surrounding her had enveloped him as well, wrapping him in its radiance. It felt… right

Jamie sat with her encircled in his arms for only a moment, his eyes transfixed on her lovely face. Then, without thinking, he carefully rose, repositioning her limp body in his arms to keep her tucked safely against him. She was so light that it was like lifting a child. Feeling the rightness of carrying her, he had the insane yearning in his gut to never let her go. 

As he took the first step away from the stones, his brain came snapping back into his head and he suddenly questioned what the devil he was doing. What DID he mean to do with her? 

Well, the only option was to take her home, he supposed. She was clearly in need of help, and the urge to protect her was too strong to just leave her there. And the hospital was out-- Jamie had seen enough movies to know that. So, home was simply the best course of action. 

It was quite a ways away to where he had parked on the side of a road. Descending the hill suddenly seemed much easier though, distracted as he was by the lass-- no, creature?-- cradled in his arms. Maybe he was losing his mind? 

He walked on for a while, thinking about nothing at all except the feeling of her body against him and the rhythm of his steps, and tracing her features with his eyes, enchanted. 

But as he was staring down at that perfectly sculpted face, he suddenly noticed that her eyelashes were fluttering and he came to an abrupt halt. Behind the nearly translucent eyelids, her eyes moved back and forth. 

She blinked open her eyes slowly, revealing the most breathtaking honey-colored irises he’d ever seen. They were nearly the exact color of his favorite whiskey, he realized with a bit of a start. They were also slightly dazed, clouded over with the haze of dissipating unconsciousness. She smiled lazily up at him for a second, those beautiful pink lips curving upward, but then awareness suddenly hit her and her eyes popped open wide and fearful. She let out a cry of surprise. 

In that split second, she started squirming in his grasp, limbs thrashing about as she tried to free herself. Unprepared as he was, his hold around her came loose, and her body slipped from his arms. She landed on unsteady legs, stumbled back a few steps, and then promptly fell backward, landing on her elbows. 

The lass stared up at him for a second in shock, those golden eyes trying desperately to take in the situation. Her body screamed of tension and fear, anxious tremors going through her, visibly shaking her body. It broke his heart to see. 

Jamie quickly raised his hands in a gesture of non-threatening. In a moment of instinct, he crouched down to her level, still a ways away from her, just like he might have done with a spooked animal. 

“Dinna fash, I jes’ want tae help ye. I’m a friend; I mean ye nae harm,” he said gently. 

Her chest had been heaving as she took in large gulps of air, fear and wariness apparent on his features. But at his words, the tension in her body lessened a fraction, and she sat up. But those big eyes never wavered in their intense scrutiny, and she still was trembling. 

“My name is James Fraser,” he continued calmly, trying to keep his voice even and steady, “I was hiking and found ye lyin’ unconscious near some stones. I was tryin’ tae bring ye tae help.”

More strain melted from her. She looked at him for a long second, the gears in her brain noticeably working as she tried to decide whether or not to trust him. But he saw the moment she came to the decision, and the set of her shoulders slumped as she settled. Once she felt comfortable enough to risk taking her eyes off him, she glanced down at her body, as if appraising herself for any injuries. 

“Are ye alright, lass?” he couldn’t help but ask. 

She blinked up at him again but didn’t answer. God, those eyes were enchanting . She looked to be struggling with herself again. Those beautiful eyes glanced at him, away toward where they’d come, and then back at him. 

“You can see me?” 

It took Jamie’s brain a moment to register that she’d spoken. Her voice was musical, like chimes in the wind— airy and light and... surprisingly english

And she’d asked the question with a note of disbelief. 

He realized he was gaping at her, and quickly closed his mouth and formulated a response. 

“Aye, of course I can see ye… Oh--” it suddenly dawned on him, “am I no’ supposed to?”

“Emm,” she glanced down, looking a little abashed, “no.” 

“Well, I’m glad I can, because ye’re the bonniest lass I’ve seen in my life.” The second the words had spewed from Jamie’s mouth, he wanted to stuff them back in. What was wrong with him? His cheeks grew hot in embarrassment. 

But much to his delight, the lass’ cheeks showed a matching dusting of pink. She looked pleased, but her eyes fluttered down demurely.  A tiny hint of a smile pulled at her lips. God, she was lovely. 

Then, she glanced back up, looking at him from under those dark eyelashes. Instead of fear, her eyes now glimmered with something else that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. But he liked it. 

“Your name is… James?” she asked softly. 

“Aye, but my friends call me Jamie.” 

She smiled in response, but said no more. Torn between curiosity and not wanting to push her, he hesitantly requested, “may I ask yers?” 

“I’m called Sorcha,” she answered, “Claire.” 

“Light” in Gaelic. How fitting. 

“Sorcha,” he repeated, trying it out. It rolled off his tongue perfectly, as if he’d been created for the singular purpose of saying her name. “Well, I’m verra pleased to meet ye.” 

The wariness was all but gone from her, and Jamie couldn’t have been happier. While they were speaking, she had been leaning gradually toward him, and he had shifted a bit closer in response. The magnetism he’d felt toward her since he’d first laid eyes on her seemed only to be growing. At that moment, the air crackled with a connection that seemed almost tangible. Jamie was hyper-aware of the measly centimeters that lay between them. The silence stretched long, but it wasn’t awkward in the least. If anything, it seemed to draw them ever closer. 

As if thinking the exact same thing, she rose onto her knees. The look on her face as she studied him morphed into something almost... inquisitive. In a rush of boldness (he saw it on her face), she inched toward him with her hand outstretched. He leaned in toward her touch, and her fingers hovered just over his face for a second before she bridged the distance and her fingertips brushed it, very softly. The moment she made contact with his skin, a zing of electricity coursed through him. It was neither a jolt nor a shock, but rather a tingling buzz of excitement that traveled from his face out all over his body.  

Her soft fingertips traveled slowly from his temples, across his brow, and down the side of his jaw— exploring. She traced reverently over his cheek bone and then lightly brushed over his lips. She ended by catching a stray curl between two fingers and gently tugging on it in fascination. Delight spread across her face. 

The whole time, Jamie had sat stock-still. Her odd behavior didn’t alarm him in the slightest. He trusted her completely and hoped that he was earning her trust as well. It seemed so, because once she finished exploring his face, she sat back on her legs, which were folded under her, but made no move to draw away. They were so close they were almost touching. 

She looked up at him with a warmth dancing in her eyes. 

“I think you are beautiful, Jamie Fraser,” she said quietly. 

A grin spread over his face. He couldn’t help it. 

But that grin fell away instantly when the lass’ expression abruptly changed. She went suddenly pale and her brows furrowed. Her skin was already perfect ivory, but it grew impossibly whiter and it looked as if all the blood drained from her. She swayed slightly, her eyes growing hooded, and she had to brace a hand on the ground to keep from falling. 

“Woah, lass,” tumbled from his lips, and he reached out to steady her with a hand at her side. 

One of her dainty hands came up to press against her head. “I feel… dizzy,” she said breathlessly. 

She slumped forward suddenly, directly into Jamie’s waiting arms. He immediately hugged her against his chest. Instead of tucking her head underneath his chin as he ached to do, he looked down at her. To his gratitude, those honey eyes stared up at him, still conscious albeit hazy. Her head lolled on his shoulder. 

Now that he was holding her, he realized suddenly that she was trembling. More than that, she was shaking like a leaf. 

“Are ye alright, a nighean?” he asked in alarm. 

“It’s-- cold,” she said. 

That confused him for a moment because her body felt warm to him. It was mid autumn, but the day was only mildly childly. All Jamie had on was a light jacket. Even so, she was shivering. 

With one hand still holding her against him so she didn’t crumple to the ground, he used the other to slip off his jacket. He draped it around her, wrapping her in his warmth, and then smoothed his hands up and down her arms. 

“Christ, lass, ye’re shakin’ so hard ye’re making my teeth rattle.” 

Claire didn’t respond that time. She was breathing slowly against him, but Jamie could tell that she was well and truly out of it. Concern for her was mounting with every passing second. He needed to get her out of the chilly air. 

“I’ll take ye home. Ye need rest and food,” he said gently. 

She hummed slightly in confusion-- a wee noise that tugged at his heartstrings.  

“Is that alright, lass?” He asked, not wanting to betray her trust by taking her to his place against her will, “will ye come wi’ me?” 

She nodded against his shoulder. “Yes,” she breathed faintly. 

That was all the confirmation he needed. He scooped her up again and rose. Much to his surprise, her arms lifted and wrapped tightly around his neck. A bit of warmth fluttered in his belly. Starting along the path again, he stepped gingerly, even more so than he had before. 

He wasn’t sure exact what connected him to her, but it was the strongest thing he’d felt in his life. Jamie was absolutely burning with questions. He wanted desperately to know what she was and what she had been doing on top of that hill. And what had happened to her? The questions burned in his head like sparks shooting into the air in all directions. 

Jamie wasn’t without his theories… he was a highlander after all. He’d grown up with stories of the selkies, nuckelavee, kelpy, changelings...

She was something not of this world. 

But his questions could wait. It was obvious that she wasn’t well. First he’d care for her, and then, with time, he hoped that she’d trust him enough to tell him her story. 

Even though he’d only known her for all of a handful of minutes, Jamie was terrified of losing her. Somehow, this inquisitive and vulnerable creature had wormed her way into his heart. He wanted to take care of her, to know her, to protect her. Maybe more… 

He was broken from his thoughts by a nuzzling against his neck. His wame flipped topsy-turvey as he realized that Claire was nestling her face into the crook where his shoulder met his neck. 

Christ! He could feel the warmth of her incredibly soft skin where his own was bared above his collar. In fact, he was sensitive to every bit of contact between them. Every puff of breath that tickled his skin made him shiver. 

His jacket had started to slip off of her, and with a careful one-handed maneuver so as not to drop her, he flipped it back in place. 

“Thank you, Jamie,” she murmured distantly. 

“Nae bother. I canna have ye freezin’ to death.” 

“I mean for taking care of me.” 

It alarmed him how weak her voice sounded, but he couldn’t stop the delight twisting inside him at her words. It seemed he truly had her trust. 

“Oh. Well… ye’re quite welcome,” he offered tenderly.  

Where she held onto his neck, her thumb caressed back and forth in reply. Or maybe it was just an absent touch. Either way, he wouldn’t complain. 

By this point, Jamie’s car was in sight. He sped up with renewed eagerness, making his way across the rest of the distance until he rounded to the passenger side. He glanced down at Claire to find her eyes were closed. She seemed to be wavering just on the edge of unconsciousness-- not aware but not totally succumbed to sleep. He was careful not to jostle her when he completed the balancing act of holding her while opening the passenger side door. 

He deposited her gently onto the seat— where she immediately slumped, head falling to rest on the side of the car— then reached across to buckle the seatbelt over her tiny, still shivering form. Finally, he straightened his jacket, tucking it more tightly around her. 

Once she was settled, he reluctantly withdrew himself and walked around to get in the driver’s side. Eyes fixed on her all the while, he fumbled with his keys and started the car. Remembering her shivering, he turned the heat on high. 

Only a second after he’d done so, Claire shifted. She blinked her eyes open, peered at him, and then promptly leaned over the seat--completely heedless of the center console separating them-- and laid down on his lap, eyes immediately closing again. 

He felt his heart leap to his throat. His hands hovered above her for a second, unsure. Then, giving into instinct, he stroked her curls gently. They were incredibly soft— unreasonably so in his opinion. As he carded his fingers through her hair, he came across a few scattered bits of greenery and foxtails that had been caught there-- likely from when she had laid on the ground. They suited her, he thought, but extricated them gently one by one from those bonny curls. 

“Mo nighean donn,” he said to himself absently. His heart swelled with affection for her. 

He sat in enrapturement for a long moment, heedless of the running car and making no move to still his hands. 

There were so many unanswered questions-- so many doubts that any sane person would address. But Jamie wasn’t inclined to pay them any mind. All he wanted to do was take care of her, to have the opportunity to hold her in his arms again, and to see her safe. 

He would take things one step at a time. Sanity could wait. 

So, first things first. 

He was taking her home .

Chapter Text

Jamie’s fingers were tangled in perfect brown locks, unmoving, when his brain came hurtling back into his head and he realized that he was sitting in a running car but making absolutely no move to drive it. As delightful as it was to play with Claire’s hair as she laid in his lap, he thought he probably should get her home. He shifted into drive, put his foot on the gas, and thus they began their journey back.

He lived only about 30 minutes away, and the lass slept the entire time— melted across the console and into his lap. He listened to the sound of her breathing all the while as he drove. More than once, his attention was so fixed on her that he had to remind himself to pay attention to the road. It wouldn’t do her any good if he crashed the car and killed them both. The time went simultaneously slow and fast, until all of a sudden, he was pulling up to his countryside cottage-- muscle memory having completed the last section of the drive. 

He parked, and then looked down at the sleeping lass (creature?— he still wasn’t sure how to refer to this ethereal being) in his lap, at a loss for what to do. 

“Sorcha...” he said gently, “we’re home. Let’s get ye inside.” 

He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to use the phrase “we’re home”, but it felt oddly right as it hung in the air. 

She made a soft, sleepy sound of assent but made no move to get off his lap, nor did she open her eyes. Jamie smiled fondly down at her. He wouldn’t mind carrying her in— she was light as a feather and he delighted in feeling her body against his. No, he didn’t mind in the slightest

He managed to lift her into a sitting position and prop her onto the seat so that he was free to get out and come around to her side. Sliding one hand under her knees and the other behind her back, he scooped her up and out of the car. Once again, she instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. Carrying her quickly inside, he didn’t pay any heed to anything else with the car. The passenger door even stayed open. But he didn’t care. All that could wait. 

The moment they were inside, he beelined for the living room and laid her down gently on the couch. But as he removed his hands and tried to straighten up, the arms around his neck tightened and she clung to him with surprising insistence. She made a soft noise of displeasure that went straight to Jamie’s heart. 

“Dinna fash, mo nighean donn, I’m no’ leavin’ ye. I’m only goin’ tae get some blankets,” he told her tenderly. 

He extracted himself from her arms and scurried across the room to grab a throw blanket from the opposite couch. Then, recalling her shivering, he snagged another from the hall closet. To his surprise, he was loath to part with her even for the second it took to do so. 

When he returned, he had to pause to take in her beauty. She looked just as alluring as she had been when he first laid eyes on her-- so incongruous with his plain living room. The golden aura that surrounded her hadn’t left, although it seemed to have dimmed a bit into a soft, shimmering glow. Her eyes were closed and breathing even and she dozed. He could watch her for hours and never tire of it. 

Shaking himself out of his reverie, he bridged the distance between them. With the utmost care, he laid the blankets over top of her and tucked them under her chin. In response, she sleepily reached up to grasp the edge closest to her face, the sides of her fingers barely brushing Jamie’s as he withdrew. Even that inadvertent touch sent tingles through his hand, and he clasped it to his chest as he watched her. Unaware of the effect her inadvertent, sleepy actions had on him, her fingers traced back and forth exploratorily over the edge of the blanket. 

“Soft,” she murmured, never opening her eyes. 

“Aye,” he acknowledged with a chuckle. 

Then it occurred to him suddenly that maybe she’d never felt a blanket before . That sent a whole wave of confusion over him, like reality was a cold bucket of water that had doused him out of the blue. All of his previous questions surfaced again as a jumble in his mind. What the devil was this alluring creature that was drifting to sleep on his couch?

But just as quickly as the perspective and detachment from the situation had descended upon him, it was gone again, overshadowed by the connection between them. He settled, in both body and mind. 

Claire was obviously a kind soul, whatever she was. She was no danger to him. So what if he had woken up that morning not believing in the supernatural and now there was some creature in his home who he felt drawn to protect? 

As the lass’ breathing began to even out into sleep, Jamie couldn’t resist leaning down and just barely brushing his lips over her forehead. As soft as the touch was, Claire must have felt it, because her lips unconsciously turned up in a smile. But the split second after he’d done it, he felt a little sheepish. She wasn’t his to kiss like that. He had no idea what had come over him, but he vowed to himself that he’d keep his impulses better in check. 

He studied her for a long minute, watching as her doze settled into the deeper serenity of unconsciousness. She looked peaceful, and he quietly prayed that she was healing. 

With that, he left her reluctantly. But while she slept, he figured it would be a good time to prepare some food. Without even thinking— his mind still fixated on his Sassenach— he snagged the first thing in the pantry, which happened to be spaghetti. He grabbed a pot, filled it with water, and sprinkled in some salt completely automatically. 

An auld one-- he decided. Or a faerie. Most of the tales his mam had told him when he was a bairn were about malevolent creatures. But Claire certainly wasn’t any of those. 

His mind churned over the possibilities as he stood over the pot and waited for it to boil, head bowed. His stove was old— probably from the 40’s, he’d often complained— and it took forever to heat. He dumped a bucketload of noodles in and then continued to stand and simply stare, mind preoccupied. 

He had just started to drain the water from the pasta when suddenly a cry came from the other room. 

Jamie bolted upright and nearly dropped the pot. A second distressed sound came, followed quickly by a panicked, “Jamie?” 

He actually did drop the pot that time and ran from the kitchen. He skidded around the corner on socked feet and flew into the living room. 

Claire was sitting up, thrashing against the blankets that were wrapped around her legs and wildly looking around the room. 

“Right here, lass,” he said, trying to infuse his voice with a calm and gentle tone to soothe her. 

Her head whipped around to spot him. In half a second flat, she was up and flying across the room to throw herself into his arms. She nearly bowled him over in her desperation, but he managed to only stumble back half a step as his arms instinctively came around her. 

She clung to him tightly and pressed her wee face against his chest. She was shaking again, but Jamie wasn’t sure if it was residual panic or still from being cold. 

“It’s alright, a nighean,” he reassured, running a hand up and down her back, “it’s alright.” 

“I woke and-- you weren’t there. I t-thought you’d left me,” she stuttered breathlessly. 

He shushed her, cupping her head with one hand and pressing her face further into his chest. 

“I’d never leave ye,” he found himself saying. Reverent but firm-- like a promise. 

Christ, what was this lass doing to him? 

She stayed pressed against him for a long moment, so he simply held her. Their bodies fit together like two puzzle pieces, and Jamie would have been content to have her tucked against him for the rest of his days. 

When she drew back after a while, Jamie parted them by taking a step away so he could study her. 

“Ye look like ye’re feelin’ a bit better,” he commented. 

Having taken in her appearance, he’d noticed that her cheeks held more color and her eyes were no longer clouded and distant. And of course, the fact that she was on her feet and fully capable of running in order to launch herself into his arms was promising. 

“I am,” she nodded and gave him a smile that made his insides melt. 

“Good. Then come along, I’ve made some food.” 

As he turned to show her to the kitchen, he caught a glimpse of her furrowed brow but didn’t really think anything of it. He started walking from the room, and heard the soft patter of impossibly light footsteps catching up to him. 

Much to his surprise, Claire slipped her hand into his when she reached his side. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Jamie accepted her touch and led her into the kitchen. 

“Have a seat,” he said, feeling an odd bit of formality. He pulled out a chair at the table for her and she sat down. 

He quickly grabbed the abandoned spaghetti, added the sauce, and then divided it out into two bowls, conscious all the while of her eyes on him. He turned toward her with a smile and placed her bowl and fork in front of her, briefly leaving to grab glasses of water. When he took his own seat across from her, he found her staring down at the bowl in confusion. 

“What… is it?” she asked. She looked up at him helplessly, face adorably wrinkled up in a perplexed expression. 

“Spaghetti,” he answered, “it’s a type of pasta.” 

She picked up her fork and poked at it suspiciously. Her eyes narrowed. Then, she looked up at Jamie again. 

“What does it do ?” she asked. 

Jamie felt just as baffled by her question as she looked. 

“It doesn’t do anything. You eat it,” he said hesitantly. 

She was starting to get embarrassed— he could see the flush rising on her high cheekbones— but she kept asking her questions. 

“‘Eat’?” she echoed helplessly. 

Jamie’s eyes widened as it suddenly dawned on him. Does she not eat? 

“Like this…” 

He speared some noodles with his fork, twisted them, and brought it to his mouth. Locking eyes with her, he chewed exaggeratedly and then swallowed. 

She mimicked his actions under his watchful gaze. She poked at it with her fork, clumsily spun it (nearly all the noodles falling off in the process) and then lifted it slowly. As she brought the fork toward her mouth, she stared at Jamie, as if looking for him to confirm she was doing it right. He nodded in encouragement, and the fork tines disappeared into her mouth. 

The instant after she bit down, she was spitting it out. Her face was contorted in disgust as she stuck her tongue out and sputtered. She raised her head to look at him, a grimace painted over the bonny features. 

“Not good,” she commented with a frown and a shake of her curly head. 

Jamie couldn’t help the chuckle that bubbled up from his chest. “I guess you don’t eat then,” he said to himself with a laugh. 

She shook her head a little, confirming, and then looked back down at her bowl in disgust. Her hands came up to push it away from her, and Jamie helpfully pushed the offending dish to the opposite side of the table. 

Claire was silent for a second. Jamie folded his hands in his lap, lips pressed together. 

Finally, he couldn’t help the question that burst from him and broke the stillness. 

“I’m sorry, I have tae ask… uh— I dinna ken how tae phrase it. But, ehm...” Spit it out, Fraser. “Are ye... a faerie?” The words tumbled awkwardly from his lips before he could backpedal. He felt like a clotheid for all his awkwardness, but at least it was out. 

She blinked up at him for a second, looking mildly surprised. 

“We prefer to be called the fair folk, but yes, you humans often refer to us as that.” 

“Oh…” he sat dumbfounded for a minute. That had been his theory, so he wasn’t sure exactly why her straightforward confirmation had left him so taken aback, but he was at a loss for words, and left still with hundreds of questions all muddling his brain. 

“Do… do ye mind me askin’ ye a bit more?” he requested hesitantly. 

She gave him a warm smile, her eyes incredibly soft. Her hand reached across the table to gently take his and give it an encouraging squeeze. 

“Of course you can, Jamie. You can ask me whatever you want.”

He returned her smile with gratitude, and then dove right in.  

“Do ye ken what happened to ye?”

Her face clouded a bit. Although her hand never left his, she seemed troubled. A glance downward and a shaky inhale before she started in. 

“I just… heard a buzzing. Like a million bees swarming, filling my ears. I touched the stone— the big one in the middle, and it was the worst pain I’d felt in my life. Like I was torn into a million pieces and then stitched back together over and over again. Then everything went black and the next thing I knew I was waking up in your arms.” 

Sympathy for her pain flashed through Jamie. Fear of the horrible ordeal danced in her unfocused eyes as she relieved it, and Jamie had to stop himself from reacting viscerally to her tale. He gave her hand a squeeze, as if the connection between them could ground her back in the present. 

But he still had more questions burning a hole in his brain. 

“The first thing you said to me… you were surprised that I could see you?” 

She looked a little taken aback at his asking. “Of course. Humans can’t see the fair folk unless we reveal ourselves to them. Have you ever seen a faerie before?” 

“Weel, no…” he agreed, “to be honest, I didna even ken ye existed until today.” He rubbed the back of his neck feeling rather sheepish at the admission. 

His stomach growled suddenly, and his gaze flicked away from her and down toward his bowl in longing. 

“Ehm… do ye mind if I…?” he asked, gesturing toward it. 

She gave him another gut-wrenchingly bright smile and a flick of her hand. “By all means.” 

He dove into his spaghetti, taking a minute to savor it, eyes falling closed. He hadn’t eaten all day. When he looked up again, he found her staring at him, a fond smile on her face. 

“You are so… interesting ,” she commented. 

Jamie snorted a laugh and swallowed hastily. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Have you ever seen a human before?” 

She gave a little shrug. “Sure. When they wander near our dun. Never talked to one before though.” 

“Ye… live there then? That hill with the stones?” 

“No, silly. We live in the forest. I was just wandering up by the stones.” 

She stifled a yawn then, and Jamie felt suddenly very guilty. He’d been bombarding her with questions all while she was still recovering from whatever the stones had done to her. When he really looked at her, weariness was written clearly over her features, and despite her willing attitude, her shoulders drooped with fatigue. 

“I’m sorry, lass, I’ve been grillin’ ye wi’ all these daft questions and ye’re obviously verra tired. It’s gettin’ late. Why dinna ye get some real rest?” 

She nodded gratefully and stood in unison with him, swaying only slightly. Thinking about what had happened last time he’d tried to lead her somewhere, he extended his hand to her preemptively. Her lips curled up revealing a hint of dimples, and she took it. 

Her touch sent another pleasant tingle of electricity through him, and her palm fit perfectly against his, small and warm. He took her to the guest bedroom, which was fortunately kept made up. He lifted the covers for her before gesturing for her to lay down. She complied, slipping underneath them and laying her head instantly on the pillow as if the weight of it was too heavy to bear any longer. He tucked her in again with a rush of tenderness. 

“I’ll be jes’ in the room beside this one,” he said in a low voice, “call for me if ye need anythin’. Sleep well, mo nighean donn.” 

He gave her a smile, but before he could turn to leave, she caught his hand. Looking up at him with soft eyes, she pressed a kiss to his palm. 

“Thank you, Jamie,” she breathed. 

“My pleasure,” he answered with a bit of a flush creeping up his neck and a warmth fluttering in his wame. 

She released him, and with only a moment of reluctant hesitation, he left her side. 

When he reached the doorway, he lingered for a second and watched her close her eyes. She was breathtaking. Although he knew it was time for him to leave, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her. Cuddled under the blankets, wee and perfect. 

Finally, he managed to rally himself and slipped from the room. He left her door propped open a crack in case she should need something during the night and flicked the hall light on so that she wouldn’t be in total darkness if she woke up. Once he felt he’d settled everything, he headed back to the kitchen. 

To say he was hungry would have been an understatement. He wolfed down the rest of his spaghetti in mere seconds, and then haphazardly threw the bowls in the sink. As much as his mind was racing with questions still, it had been a long day, and he needed to sleep. 

The house felt oddly quiet as he padded down to his room and got ready for bed. His night routine went by in a daze, and soon he plopped down into bed. 

His mind still raced with thoughts of her. Most of all, it was giddiness at her closeness. How her touch had moved him. Images of her ethereal beauty. The warmth that surrounded her and seemed to envelop him any time he was near. 

Christ, he was infatuated

Tossing and turning in bed, he forced his mind to calm. Sleep would be necessary for him to properly care for her. He wanted to wake up refreshed as soon as she did, so couldn’t allow his brain to run away from him.  

Unconsciousness overtook him surprisingly quickly, although he remained in that odd state of half-awake/half-asleep as he drifted off. His mind swirled with images of honey-gold eyes. 

He was jerked out of sleep all of a sudden by the sensation of his blankets lifting and a warm body climbing in next to him. Before he could react, Claire had nestled herself against his side. He was lying on his back, and she situated herself curled up around him, one arm thrown over his body in an almost possessive way and head pillowed on his chest. It took him a second to swim to consciousness enough to come to terms with what the hell had just happened. 

Claire was in his bed. With him. Her soft body pressed all down the length of his side. 

His fuzzy brain struggled to form words. 

“What are ye doin’?” he demanded foggily. 

“Sleeping,” she answered casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to have climbed into his bed. 

Jamie was too tired to argue about proper scruples of man and a woman not sharing a bed. Nor was he terribly inclined to extricate himself and kick her out of his room. 

So, he simply gathered her closer and closed his eyes. 

He had never slept better in his life. 

Chapter Text

Jamie awoke feeling content. He hadn’t woken content in ages. He smiled a little to himself, eyes still lazily closed, and made to stretch out. But as he started to lift his arms, he realized they were wrapped around something soft and heavy. In fact, whatever it was he was cuddling was fit snugly into the curve of his body as he laid on his side. 

What the devil?

He opened his eyes to the sight of a lass in his arms, her back pressed all along his front and curly brown hair splayed over his pillow and tickling his nose. 

He jolted back, startled. He had jumped so much with that movement that he’d reached the edge of the bed, which dipped under him and sent him toppling off the side. Arms flailing uselessly, he hit the floor with a thump. The abrupt landing served to wake him up the rest of the way and brought everything flooding back to him. 

A faerie. In his bed. Because he’d brought her home and then she’d climbed in there with him while he was asleep as if it was the most normal thing in the world. 

If it weren’t for the quite obviously real shape of her lying in his bed, he would have thought it had all been a dream. He managed to get his legs underneath him and slowly stood, eyes fixed on Claire. Tentatively, Jamie perched on the edge of the bed and studied her for a long moment as his brain tried to catch back up to the situation. 

As always when he looked at her, the entrancement grew. His eyes caressed over her tousled hair and all the way down her covered body to her feet. She was just a wee lump under the blankets-- curled up and looking surprisingly incomplete without his body shielding her-- but he thought he could still make out the faint shimmer of golden warmth that surrounded her in the dim light. The covers rose and fell with each steady breath she took. 

But looking closer, he realized she didn’t look completely peaceful. Her eyes were screwed shut just that too tightly. There was a tension still in her body-- the tension that had melted from her the previous day when she’d grown to trust him. But he could tell that, in sleep, the fear of the situation was still there. She was in an unfamiliar place, with someone not of her own kind-- he couldn’t blame her in the slightest. But it still broke his heart. 

His conscience told him to leave her to her rest. Maybe she’d be more at ease without vaguely sensing his presence? He had managed to creep halfway across the room when she suddenly stirred. Her face popped out from underneath the sleep-mussed curls to regard him with an expression that began as wary confusion as she first tried to remember where she was, and then, just as quickly, it changed to a look of fondness as her gaze settled on him. 

“Good morning, Jamie,” she said sweetly, voice still thick with sleep. 

“Ehm,” he cleared his throat, shifting a little awkwardly and unsure what exactly to do under the circumstances, “good morning.” 

Thankfully, he didn’t have to fill the stillness, because Claire was inclined to action. She sat up, the covers falling away from her body, and stretched her arms. Her mouth fell open with a wide yawn. Those brown curls that Jamie loved so much were sticking out every which way, like a delightful bird’s nest. Seeing her disheveled and mussed from sleep was only even more endearing. 

What he wouldn’t give to wake up to this every morning… 

“How are ye feelin’ today?” he asked, a little tentatively. 

“Better than yesterday,” she answered simply. He sensed a slightly veiled tone; there was something she wasn’t telling him. But he wouldn’t push her. 

She tossed the covers aside and stuck her legs out over the side of the bed. After spending a moment entranced by the silky-smooth bare skin revealed there as she got out of bed, Jamie realized with a start that he was looking at silky-smooth bare skin. She was still wearing her white dress from yesterday, a bit dirty and worn ragged from her ordeal. 

“Christ, in all the confusion yesterday I didna even offer ye clean clothes. I’m sorry, lass,” he exclaimed. His mother would have been appalled by his lack of hospitality. 

She shrugged, unperturbed. “Don’t worry, Jamie. It’s alright.” 

He shook himself out a bit, trying to clear the fog out of his head that made him into a complete imbecile around her. 

“Let me get ye some clothes. Or would ye like a shower first?” 

Her head tilted a little to the side, like a dog looking confused about an order from its master. But she quickly hid the expression and said simply, “clothes would be good.” 

Jamie went to work. He grabbed one of his tee-shirts from the drawer and then sweatpants (with drawstrings, for otherwise she’d be swallowed by loose fabric) from another. He wished he had some of his sister Jenny’s old things, or any clothes that might actually be suitable for her, but unfortunately these were the only options. He set the folded pile down on the bed like an offering while Claire stood in the corner, studying him patiently the whole time. 

“Here, a nighean. At least they’re somethin’ clean tae wear. I’ll leave ye tae get sorted.” 

Before he could be distracted by her further, he turned and fled the room, closing the door politely behind him. 

Breakfast might be a good option, he thought. Since apparently Claire didn’t eat, he might as well take this time to get himself something. Padding into the kitchen, he absently grabbed some cereal and dumped whatever kind it was into a bowl, followed by some milk. 

A few minutes later, Claire came padding in, and his spoon froze halfway to his mouth in shock. 

She was clad in just his tee shirt, bare legs going on for miles. Since she was so much smaller than him, it didn’t have any trouble preserving her decency, but it still revealed far too much of those glorious legs that made his eyes bulge. A million thoughts rushed through his head at once. The first was-- naturally-- desire. He was a red-blooded man after all, and she was the most gorgeous lass he’d seen in his life. That was followed shortly by possessiveness. To see her in his clothes…. as if his protection was wrapped around her— his mark on her… certain feelings arose. “She’s mine,” his brain helpfully provided. Nearly as immediately as he’d attended that thought, shame rushed through him. She wasn’t his, nor did she deserve to be ogled in that way. He was certain that red was spreading up his neck and all the way to his ears, betraying his thoughts like a neon sign. 

But the whole time Jamie was gaping, every muscle of his body frozen, Claire was walking casually into the kitchen to look out the window above the sink, completely unaware of the reaction she was eliciting from him. 

Jamie gulped and set his spoon back in his cereal. 

“Ah… Claire?” he said hesitantly. 

She turned from the window and gave him a warm but oblivious smile. 

“Yes, Jamie?” 

Trying very hard not to look at her creamy legs, he tentatively asked, “Ye… ye didna want the pants…?”, unsure of how exactly to broach the question. 

She looked down at herself and shrugged. “They didn’t fit.” 

When she looked back up at him (likely taking in his blush and flustered manner), her eyes suddenly went wide. “Is this wrong?” 

Jamie wasn’t sure exactly how to answer that. His mouth opened and closed a few times-- embarrassingly like a fish-- before he managed to stutter out, “it’s jes’… a wee bit distracting.” 

She looked unsure. Her face clouded with that puzzled expression she got when contemplating a human thing. “Distracting?” she echoed. 

“Aye,” he confirmed. He averted his eyes and his cheeks flamed. There was no way she’d missed that. 

“Oh,” she said, nodding in sudden understanding, “I see. I’ll just… try again.”  

She turned on her heel and padded out of the room. A second later, she returned, helplessly holding the pants up on her hips. 

Jamie had to swallow hard again. “Come here, lass,” he said, voice coming out gravelly. 

She did, standing in front of him and still gripping the waistband to keep it up. 

With slightly shaking fingers, he fumbled with the drawstring. He clumsily drew it tighter, pulling it several times to get it to tighten around that impossibly tiny waist, and finally he managed to tie it. When he was finished, his hands instinctively smoothed over his hips, and his thumb traced a circle over the jut of his hip bone before he let go, his heart thundering in his chest. 

She withdrew from him, looking down at the garment. Then, she smiled and gave him a twirl to show it off. 

“Verra bonny,” he rasped through dry throat. 

“They’re soft!” she exclaimed in delight. 

“Aye,” he acknowledged, warming at her excitement. He rose to his feet in order to properly appraise her, “but they’re draggin’ all o’er the ground. Soon we’ll go out and get ye some proper clothes.” 

“Hmm?” she asked in confusion. But he didn’t have a chance to elaborate, because suddenly a streak of grey fur was barrelling into the room. 

Adso. Ifrinn, in all the confusion he hadn’t remembered to feed the cheetie that morning. 

The moment the cat streaked toward them, meowing in displeasure at Jamie, Claire let out an alarmed squeak. Before he knew what was happening, Claire was launching herself at him. She scrambled up his body as if climbing a tree and wrapped her legs around his waist, arms clinging to his neck. His own arms settled around her nearly immediately-- holding her was almost natural at this point. 

Adso had settled at his feet, his green eyes regarding the faerie with a mixture between curiosity and wariness. All his complaints about food were forgotten with the awareness of the new creature who was currently latched onto Jamie like a koala. 

Claire looked down at the cat, apprehension clear on her face. She wrapped her legs even higher around Jamie’s middle in order to keep herself safely away from him. 

Jamie couldn’t help but laugh. “Dinna fash, Sassenach. ‘Tis only my wee cheetie, Adso.” 

“Cheetie?” she asked warily, making no move to detach herself. 

“Aye, a cat. Ye’ve never seen one, then?” 

“No…” she answered with a bit of trembling in her voice that he found endearing, “nothing like it lives in my forest.” 

“Well, ye needna be scarrit of him. He’s a bit of a temper when he hasna been fed, but he’s a braw cat. Verra sweet when ye gain his trust,” Jamie explained. 

“He lives with you?” she asked. 

“Aye. He’s a…  companion of sorts. Although he’d probably think that I belong to him,” Jamie chuckled. 

Claire was still making no move to climb down. As much as he adored holding her, he couldn’t quite manage it every time Adso was in the room. 

“Why dinna ye say hallo? Jes’ hold out yer hand and let him smell ye for a bit, and then maybe he’ll let ye pet him,” Jamie suggested. 

Adso was sitting perfectly still by his feet like the well-mannered little gentlemen he was. Jamie had complete faith that he’d take to Claire as soon as she stopped being scared of him. 

Slowly, Claire unwrapped her legs from Jamie’s middle and let them fall to the ground. Once she was on her own two feet, it took her a second to let go of his neck. Finally though, she knelt down on the floor and extended a hand nervously to Adso. 

The cat gave her a few wary sniffs. Likely he’d never smelled anything remotely like her. Jamie thought she smelled like roses and earth, but he couldn’t have guessed what the cat was sensing. Adso regarded her with green eyes for a long moment, and then suddenly butted his head under her hand in a friendly gesture of acceptance. 

Claire laughed in delight, and instantly started to stroke the cat’s fur. Just as Jamie predicted, they took to each other like fish to water. Adso always had been a keen judge of character. He was soon purring under Claire’s eager pets, and it took only a few seconds for him to clamber onto her lap. 

As he settled down on top of her, Claire looked up at Jamie with an awed expression. Delight and unadulterated joy were painted across her face. 

“That means he likes ye, ken?” Jamie said. 

“I like him, too,” she said affectionately, looking back down at the cat. 

While Claire gave her new friend her full attention, Jamie looked on fondly. It was as if she fit in perfectly to his life. Despite not even being human, having her here seemed as natural as breathing. Like she was always meant to be there.

Once Adso finally got bored of interacting with people and instead decided to go over to his recently filled food dish, Claire was returned to Jamie. 

He walked over to where she sat cross-legged on the floor and offered her his hands. 

“Here, Sassenach.” 

She took them, slipping them into his in that distinct way she always did— as if her hands fit perfectly into his— and he helped her to her feet. 

When she was standing, facing him and only mere inches away, she didn’t let go of his hands. 

“Why do ye call me that?” she asked inquisitively. 

“Oh, ‘Sassenach’?” Honestly, Jamie hadn’t even realized he’d been doing it. He had nearly a dozen names and terms of endearment for her already swimming in his head. He hadn’t known he’d said that one outloud. 

“Yes. I’m hardly an english person,” she said. She sounded slightly offended, and Jamie hastened to clear it up. 

“Och, no… I dinna mean it like that. I jes’ mean… ye’re an outlander tae me. Someone not of this world-- or the human world that is. I’m sorry, I didna mean offense. It’s jes’ what I’ve taken tae callin’ ye in my head.” 

Claire smiled indulgently, a genuine warmth lighting her features. “You can call me whatever you like.”

Jamie awkwardly withdrew his hands from her grasp and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. He rocked on his heels, and then started toward the living room. 

“Here, we can sit. I suppose we ought tae talk some more. Do ye have any questions for me, lass?” 

He walked into the living room and plopped himself down on the couch. Claire followed behind. 

As he sat watching her walk across the room, she beelined straight toward him instead of sitting on the other couch or two chairs. Much to his surprise, she strode over in that strange manner she had in which she did something odd with complete confidence, and then she promptly sat down on his lap. 

Jamie was so taken aback that he simply froze as she settled in, her legs perpendicular over his and arms looping comfortably over his shoulders. 

“What are ye doin’?” He choked through a dried throat. 

“Sitting with you,” she answered. It wasn’t a question, but it was phrased with the barest hint of a raise at the end that indicated she was wondering why he would ask about such an obvious thing. 

He coughed. After struggling internally for a moment between telling her humans found it improper to do such a thing and simply enjoying her wee body curled into him, he decided to let her be. Besides, in the privacy of his own home, who was to judge their behavior? 

So, he wrapped his arms around her comfortably and tugged her closer. She had been studying him the whole time he was debating with himself, but at that moment, she laid her head down on his shoulder and really cozied up. 

He was startled to find she was shivering against him even in the warmth of his house. Anxiety started to knot his wame and he wondered if aught was amiss. 

“Are ye alright, mo nighean donn? Ye’re shakin’.”

“It’s cold,” she said. She burrowed impossibly further into his arms and he held her even closer to him. 

“But it’s not, lass, the heat is on. Ye have me worrit...” 

He was worried, beginning to wonder whether something was seriously wrong with her. 

She straightened up to look at him. “Oh, you shouldn’t worry. It’s just that I’m a summer fae of the Seelie court—“ He gave her a bewildered look and she cut herself off to explain. “The seelie court are the benevolent ones of the fair folk. We are kind towards humans, you see. Occasionally my people will heal a wandering traveler or help one lost in the woods.” When Jamie nodded in vague understanding (or at least enough for the time being), she continued, “I’m of the summer court, so I’ve never actually experienced another season until I touched the stone, and suddenly it seems I’ve become susceptible to all of Scotland’s weather. A queer thing, temperature... I’m alright though, just chilly.” 

She suddenly leaned in and punctuated her statement by pressing her face into his neck and nuzzling gently. “But you’re warm,” she breathed reverently. 

His breath caught and all he could manage was a Scottish hum of agreement that barely made it past his dry throat. His brain just kept screeching “you’re holding her! She’s in your lap!— Stop, pull it together, Fraser! But she’s so tiny. So soft.” 

When fingers started to gently trace down his chest, following the line between pectorals, Jamie thought his heart would stop altogether. 

There was no doubt about it. He was falling for her. Head over heels and ass over tea kettle— somersaulting like a damn gymnast. 

Immediately after that realization came a second. 

“Claire?” He asked hesitantly, fearful of the answer that would break his heart, “are ye wantin’ tae go back? To the stones?” 

She jerked her head off his shoulder and looked at him in horror. “No, no, no. I can’t experience that again. It’ll kill me, I know it will. Please, Jamie, don’t take me back there now.” She pleaded with him, tears of fear and desperation glistening in her golden eyes, “please no.” 

Her fingers scrambled against his shirt as she begged him, and he could feel how her anxiety had ramped up several notches through the thrum of alarm buzzing through her body. 

“Hush, hush, a nighean,” he quickly soothed before she could panic any further, “dinna fash, I willna make you go back.” He took her head in both of her hands and gently stroked her hair back several times in reassurance. He ended by cupping her face and forcing her to look him in the eyes as he promised, “I willna bring harm tae ye, ever. As long as ye’re with me, I will see ye safe.” 

She took a long, shaky inhale, obviously still rattled by the thought of going through that ordeal again. As she blinked the tears away, Jamie drew her into a hug. 

He wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her close. She melted into him in answer, and her head fit perfectly under his chin. A little tentatively, her arms snaked around his waist. He stroked soothing circles into her back and murmured some quiet Gaelic nonsense over her. 

Jamie embraced her for what seemed like hours. His touch held the promise of everything he couldn’t yet tell her aloud. Her wee shudders slowly died down, and could tell the grip of fear was loosening. 

“I don’t want to talk about any more of that,” she said in a tiny, breathy voice. 

“Ye dinna have to,” he softly reassured. 

He hugged her closer, repeating again-- softer this time-- “ye dinna have to.” 

And if Jamie had his way, nothing on God’s good earth would hurt her the way the stones had ever again. Not if he had anything to say about it.

Chapter Text

Jamie couldn’t stand the look of pain still etched into that bonny face as Claire thought about the stones. He longed to tell her aloud all the vows his heart was making, but that would have been very foolish indeed. 

No, he would honor her request of not talking about the stones. What she really needed was a distraction. 

Her eyes were still downcast and clouded with thought. Jamie carded his fingers through her curls briefly in one last wordless reassurance and then caught her chin with two fingers to draw her face up to look at him. 

“Do ye maybe want a shower? That always helps me feel better,” he offered with a smile. 

She blinked, and much to his relief, the charged atmosphere dissolved in an instant. 

“A shower?” She mimicked the word but it came out slightly funny as she struggled to form the unfamiliar pronunciation. 

Jamie chuckled. “I keep forgetting. Do ye not bathe then?” 

“Of course I do,” she looked affronted, “in the loch. But what does that have to do with this ‘shower’ of yours?”

“Oh, ye’re in for a real treat, lass.” 

With some fortitude he wasn’t sure he possessed, he detached himself from her. He led her to the bathroom and set to work getting the water warming. When she followed in behind him, she tried to immediately strip her tee-shirt off. He stopped her with a stilling hand on hers (which were crossed over each other and gripping the edge of her shirt, mere seconds away from--). He let out an indulgent chuckle.

“Wait until I’ve left, mo nighean donn.” 

She leveled him with a wide-eyed golden look. “You won’t go far?” she asked a little anxiously. 

He shook his head with a smile. “I’ll be just outside.” 

Pulling the shower curtain away once more, he stuck his hand in and found it to be the perfect temperature. He tugged it open the rest of the way and stood aside to show Claire the water. She peeked hesitantly inside, and her look of wary confusion quickly morphed into amazement. 

“It’s like rain,” she exclaimed as she turned and looked at him, wonderment lighting her eyes. 

“Aye,” he laughed, “but jes’ wait until ye stand beneath it.” 

He showed her the towels to dry off with when she was done, and then reassured her one last time that he would be just outside. Then, he ducked out of the bathroom and shut the door behind him. 

Jamie rested his back on the door and indulgently pressed his ear to it. He was admittedly eager to hear her reactions if not also a bit concerned that she might slip and fall despite his warnings. The telltale scratching sounds of plastic loops of the shower curtains indicated that Claire had stepped in. A second later he heard a cry of delight. 

“It’s warm! ” she squealed in what could only be blissful excitement. 

“I kent ye’d love it,” he called in. 

He heard gleeful laughing and splashing, and could only imagine Claire— her hands outstretched with palms lifted to catch the water, her face upturned toward the showerhead with a radiant smile, drops of water splashing over those perfect shoulders and creamy white skin to trace down…

-Christ! Dinna disrespect the lass like that. 

He took a tight rein on his wandering thoughts and instead called in, “ye can use a wee bit of that soap as well. In the bottle on the side there. Ye rub it on yer skin and then wash it off.” 

Instead of a reply, there was a loud clunk from the bathroom, and Jamie’s heart leapt to his throat. His instinct was to immediately rush inside, but first he forced himself to anxiously call, “Claire?” 

“Sorry, just dropped it. It’s slippery,” came the reply. 

Jamie let out the breath he’d been holding in a huge but shaky exhale. His heartbeat slowed immediately and he couldn’t help but laugh at his overreaction. Claire just seemed to bring out every ounce of protective instinct in him. Maybe it was her vulnerability paired with curious naivety, maybe it was the circumstances in which he’d found her, or maybe it was just something about their connection, but Jamie had never felt anything of the sort. He wasn’t exactly what people would call the alpha-male possessive type. His previous flings (not that he’d had many nor had they stayed around long) were always very independent from him. They were like two ships passing in the night-- barely a connection, just occasional proximity. They had never needed him nor him them. But with Claire… God— with Claire it seemed that she needed him. And it was growing more and more apparent with every second that he needed her just as much, albeit not in the exact same way. 

He was interrupted from his musings when the bathroom door that Jamie was leaning on suddenly opened and he nearly came crashing inside. His hands caught the doorframe to keep him from falling, and when he straightened, he came face to face with a wide-eyed and apologetic Claire, wrapped in a towel with droplets of water dripping from her curls and beaded all over her skin. 

“Sorry,” she stuttered. 

He stood frozen in front of her, still startled by her abrupt opening of the door, but mostly he was taking in her appearance and trying to get his brain to restart. 

She’s sae bonny. 

“I couldn’t figure out how to stop it,” she admitted, giving a vague point in the direction of the shower that was still running. 

“Oh… aye,” Jamie said dazedly. He snapped himself back into the moment and hastily added, “I’ll take care of it while ye go to yer room and get dressed again, aye?” 

She nodded at his suggestion and scooped up her discarded clothes. Then she stood looking at him expectantly. He wondered for a second why she was just standing there before he realized he was still frozen in the doorway and blocking her path. 

“Eh… sorry,” he murmured as he stepped aside and allowed her to exit the bathroom. 

He couldn’t help but stare after her as she walked down the hall toward the bedroom. Squeezing his eyes shut in self admonishment, he quickly turned away and stepped into the bathroom to shut off the shower. Truth be told, he needed one of his own, but he couldn’t yet bear to leave her alone for long enough for him to do so. He absently mopped up the small puddles of water Claire had made on the bathroom floor, and then he left the bathroom and returned to the living room to wait for Claire on the couch. 

Nearly a second later, before he had any time to get into his own head and begin contemplating again, Claire returned. Her damp curls rested on her shoulders making his tee-shirt a bit damp. Even wet she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on. 

She gave him a smile, as if reading his thoughts, and began to head straight for him again. This time, she sat down next to him and nestled into his side. Flustered for only a second, he recovered and put an arm around her so she could burrow in further. Then, she brought her knees across his lap to rest her folded legs over his. 

“I liked-- what did you call it? Shower? Well, I liked it very much,” she commented happily as she looked up at him. 

His voice was low as he answered tenderly, “good, I’m glad. I kent ye would.” 

As he was speaking, Claire’s hands began to wander over him. Her fingers touched at the edge of his jaw, just below his ear, and rubbed the corner of it. He couldn’t remember someone ever touching him just there, and an odd sensation gripped him in his wame. But he found he liked it-- just that slight fluttering of excitement and the tingling going through his face where she touched him. 

He wanted so desperately for her to continue her strange explorations of him that he felt he must keep perfectly still and silent in order to not break the spell. Not moving his head, he glanced down at her to see her expression was that of enrapturement. 

Her hand traveled higher, tracing the shell of his ear with a feather-light touch. It was amazing to Jamie how just the barest hint of her skin on his could rattle him so. 

Then, without warning, she buried her hand deep into his mussed hair, fingers sinking deep into the curls. 

He had started a bit at her suddenness, but instantly melted as her fingers began to press delightfully into his scalp and massage in little circles. A sigh automatically tumbled from his lips.

“Are all fair folk sae tactile?” he asked as a laugh rumbled deep in his chest at her odd affectionate and intimate behavior. 

“Hmmm?” she murmured, still enthralled by his hair. But then she jerked her gaze suddenly to meet his, as if his words had finally penetrated her brain, and she flushed a very becoming shade of pink. (Jamie was glad to see that he wasn’t the only one who seemed to lose all brain functions). 

“Oh... no, ah-” she withdrew her hand from his hair and leaned away a bit, her body parting from his, “I’m sorry, am I bothering you?” 

He quickly caught her hand and squeezed it, as if that could pull her back to him. Perhaps the right thing to do would have been to keep the more appropriate space between them, but Jamie couldn’t help but reinitiate contact; he couldn’t seem to be without it. 

“I like it jes’ fine,” he murmured, his voice coming out huskier than he’d intended. 

At that, her lips quirked up in a smile and all hesitancy vanished. She scooted closer to him, molded herself to his side once more, and then went back to his hair again— this time both hands smoothing up his nape to tangle in his curls and pet him gently. 

Jamie couldn’t have wiped the smile off his face if he tried. 

“You’re so beautiful…” she said under her breath, perhaps mostly to herself as her fingers carded through the curls, “I’ve never seen this color hair before.” He felt a finger brush his forehead and then twirl a wayward strand around it, “like the red of a stag, but with bits of sunlight glinting through it…” 

He didn’t have time to respond because suddenly the loud ding-dong of his doorbell rang through the house and sent Claire jolting back in alarm, back ramrod straight and head whipping in the direction the sound came from. 

“Dinna fash, it only means someone is at the door,” he explained (already mourning the loss of her hands on him), “stay here.” 

He got up from the couch and walked to the entryway. Unlocking the door and freeing the bolt, he opened it to reveal a postman holding a package. 

“Good day, sir,” the postman greeted. His eyes flicked over Jamie’s shoulder and he added with a polite nod, “ma’am.” 

Jamie’s head swiveled in surprise, and he saw Claire had followed him and was peeking warily around the corner like a shy animal. Her eyes went wide as watermelons when the postman addressed her, and she quickly disappeared behind the wall. 

He returned his attention to the postman and hastily signed the sheet on the clipboard with the proffered pen and then accepted the package. A quick “good day” was all he managed before he shut the door, locked it, and rushed back to Claire. 

Abandoning the package on the desk, he made his way over to her. She was standing in the corner of the kitchen, her arms wrapped around herself and eyes distant. 

“What’s wrong?” he asked, a hint of urgency creeping into his tone. 

He couldn’t help but reach out his hands to smooth up and down her arms. The touch seemed to calm her somewhat— as he was finding out that it often did— and a bit of the tenseness in her shoulders lessened. But only a fraction. 

“It’s not just you,” she whispered, nearly under her breath. 

He made an interrogative sound in his throat. 

“He could see me, too,” she said softly, looking down with her brow furrowed. 

Jamie wasn’t exactly sure of the implications, but the gravity of her tone and how upset she was indicated that it wasn’t good. He gave her an encouraging nod to continue. 

“Like I told you, that shouldn’t happen. You see, the fair folk operate on a different plane than you do. That’s why you can’t see us and we rarely leave a mark on your world. Unless we choose. We can open the veil into your plane to reveal ourselves. But all the time with you, and just now— I haven’t been. I think…” she trailed off, her eyes growing stormy and her words catching in her throat. Her voice had been growing thicker and thicker with emotion, and now it stopped entirely. 

Jamie left one hand on her arm and reached the other down to catch her hand in his. 

“What is it, a nighean?” he asked gently. 

She looked up at him again. “I had a theory, but it seems even more likely now. It feels different here... It would make everything make sense,” she said disjointedly. 

She looked so saddened by it that Jamie was growing worried. 

“Tell me,” he encouraged, trying to keep his tone soft and calm amidst the growing anxiety for her. 

Once more, her wide-eyed gaze fixed on him. “I think the stones brought me to the human plane of existence. This plane.” 

Jamie nodded, still a little confused. “Aye…?” 

“So,” she said, “I don’t think I can ever go home.”

Chapter Text

“What do ye mean, ye canna go home?” Jamie asked as his own concern began to ramp up in earnest. 

Claire was trembling again, her hand anxiously squeezing his and her free arm still wrapped tightly around herself. Drawn to comfort her, Jamie gathered her into a one-armed hug and pressed her against him. He could feel her distress pulsing through her like an electric current. 

She rested her temple on his collarbone— deflated by the enormity of what she was saying and desperate for safe harbor— and then she finally expanded.

“I don’t know anything, Jamie, really. But if I’m right, the only way I could return to my plane of existence— to my realm and the seelie court— is to go back through the stones. But I can’t do that, Jamie, I can’t. I think it might kill me.” 

During her revelation, a flurry of emotions was swirling inside Jamie so vehemently that he lost hold on the present for a second. His heart was breaking for her. The thought of being forever stranded in an unfamiliar place— away from her home and people— the terror and loss must have been debilitating. At the same time, some secret part of Jamie was rejoicing. Losing her so soon after she’d dropped into his life and changed him forever would have crushed him. But if she really couldn’t go home, that meant that she would stay with him…. 

Jamie could only dare to hope about the possibilities. 

But as soon as that thought surfaced, he began to feel guilt twisting in his middle. She was quite obviously suffering. Her body was shaking against him, overcome by the gravity of the realization, and here he was delighting in her news. 

Hooking a finger under her chin, he raised her face to look up at him and saw her eyes were glittering with tears. 

“Listen to me, mo nighean donn, ye’re no’ alone . I’m right here wi’ ye, and I willna let anythin’ happen to ye. If this is true, ye can stay wi’ me for however long ye choose, and I will care for ye and see ye safe.” 

Tears dripped from her face and onto his hand where it remained rested gently under her face. She nodded a little against him, lips wobbling as she tried to hold back the tide of her emotions. His heart broke for her all over again. 

“Come here,” was all he could say, and then he was wrapping her fully in his arms. 

She went willingly, all but collapsing onto his chest. Both of her hands clutched one of his arms and she buried her face into his shoulder. The moment their bodies made contact, she began to cry. Hitched sobs escaped her as she tried to contain the onslaught. 

“It’s alright, mo Sorcha, let it out,” he murmured into her hair. 

She did, and simply cried against him as the reality and weight of what was going on truly hit. And all he could do was hold her. 

He didn’t like seeing her like this. Ever since she’d woken up in his arms while he was carrying her down from the stones, Claire had been so incredibly brave. She’d been taking everything miraculously in stride. Curious and inquisitive, she was bold in her explorations and delighted in the human world. Now though, she seemed thoroughly broken. More than wary, she was fearful of the unknown she’d been thrust into without any possibility of return to what she knew. It was one thing to explore, he supposed, but quite another to be condemned to a life of the unfamiliar. 

In that moment, Jamie promised himself that he’d make this world safe for her so that she’d never have to feel this kind of fear again. 

And if she’d let him, he’d walk beside her through it. 

“We’ll sort it out,” he whispered, “no matter what. Together.” 

She nodded against him, tear-soaked face pressing against his shirt. It would surely be stained and damp, but it was of no import. 

He brought a hand up to her neck, cupping the tiny curve of the base of her skull, and began to knead his thumb in gentle circles there. At the same time, Gaelic started to flow instinctively from his lips, and he made shushing sounds in between the mindless reassurances. It’ll be alright. I’m here, mo nighean donn. Dinna weep. All of this and more he whispered into her hair, his lips barely brushing it as he breathed the words. 

A whimper escaped her as she cried, and if his heart wasn’t already shattered into a million pieces at seeing her like this, that tiny sound would have obliterated it. 

He had no idea how long he stood there— holding her as she cried for the life she had lost— but it felt like hours to him. Finally, she began to calm. Her crying subsided and breathing slowed until she went quiet against him. 

Carefully, he drew back to look down at her. The bonny face was streaked with tear stains and her lips looked somehow a deeper color than usual. Her golden-eyes held grief, ringed with red, and moisture beaded on the long, dark lashes. But behind it all was an incredible strength. A determination held in those whiskey depths. 

He cupped her face with both hands and began to gently smooth his thumbs over her cheeks to clear away the tear tracks. 

“Ye’re sae strong. I ken ye’ll be okay no matter what happens,” he told her with complete conviction. 

That brought another single tear rolling silently down her cheek. She held his gaze as it made its slow trail downward, as if pleading for him to make it all better. He wished to God that he had that power. But there was nothing he could do, save perhaps distraction. 

“Here, I have another thing to show ye that I think ye might like,” he said as a thought struck him. 

Letting go of her face to instead take her hand, he led her across the room to the counter where a box of tissues lay. With his free hand, he withdrew one, and then gently used it to clean her face as he explained, “we use them to dry tears and such.” As he wiped away the moisture on her cheeks, one of her hands raised to take the edge between her fingers and rub cautiously. 

“It’s soft,” she commented with a tremulous laugh and a watery smile. 

The way she said it— a hint of her usual delight and awe creeping into her voice despite her sorrow— made Jamie indescribably happy. 

“That’s what I thought ye’d say,” he chuckled fondly. 

It seemed to have been just the thing to help her, because once he’d finished drying her face, she straightened up and mustered another smile for Jamie. 

“Will ye show me more things?” she asked. Her voice was still thick with emotion but she seemed eager to gather herself. 

“Of course,” he said, his tone still laced with soft understanding. 

Jamie’s thoughts raced as he tried to come up with the best thing to show her that would take her mind off things. The TV came first to mind, but he quickly dismissed that as being just a bit too overwhelming for this moment. They’d have to work up to that. Jamie thought about everything he knew Claire liked, and suddenly the perfect idea came into his head. 

“There’s somethin’ I think ye’ll like verra much in the basement. That’s eh— the level below this.” 

His house’s basement was small— just a carpeted room with a couple odd couches, his old tv, and Adso’s litter box haphazardly arranged. Jamie didn’t spend much time down there, and as a result, didn’t bother cranking up the heat enough to warm it much. Being low as it was, it was always cold. 

He led Claire by the hand down the steps. She seemed a bit wary of descending but simply clutched his hand and followed. When they emerged downstairs and he flicked on the lights, her gaze swept over the room. She looked at him inquisitively, obviously wondering what exactly he was going to show her here (it was admittedly quite unimpressive, apparently even to a faerie). 

Giving her a smile, half to reassure her and half in excitement for the kick she was likely to get out of what he had to show her, he strode over to the little machine that lay in between the couches, pointed it toward Claire, and pressed the “on” button. 

“This is called a space heater,” he announced proudly. 

It was a small, portable one, about a foot tall and with one opening so the heat all went in one direction, but it created a remarkable warmth. 

The moment Claire felt the heat emanating from the machine and blowing onto her legs, her face spread into a wide smile. She eagerly leaned down, hands outstretched toward the machine in fascination. A laugh bubbled from her as she delighted in the feel of the hot air. 

But Jamie noticed that she was reaching even closer, and quickly caught her wrist before her fingers could make contact with the heated grate.

“Dinna touch it, it’s too hot,” he warned, “but ye can be jes’ by it.” 

She gave him a single nod, looked back at the machine, and then suddenly plopped down to the floor. Crossing her legs, she scooted as close to the heater as she could and hovered her hands in front of it, just like one would warm their hands in front of a campfire. 

“It’s so warm!” she squealed, and wiggled her fingers, luxuriating in the flow of hot air. 

Jamie was patting himself on the back for how well he was beginning to know her. As much delight as she was getting from the wee contraption, he was getting just as much— if not more— from seeing the carefree happiness return to her bonny face. The smile that lit up his life was turned up toward him as Claire looked for his response. 

“Aye, I believe I have ye all figured out, Sassenach,” he teased, “the way to yer heart is all things soft and warm.” 

She playfully narrowed her eyes, a glimmer of humor there that reassured Jamie immensely. 

“I think I may still surprise you yet, my lad.” 

Jamie laughed. “Och, I dinna doubt it.” 

As Claire turned her attention back to enjoying the space heater, twisting and turning her body so that the warmth touched every part of it, Jamie thought about what to do next. His mind just barely started to leap to long term implications— Christ, his job! He had to work tomorrow. And she’d need clothes. And—

He had to stop himself before he went mad. What he needed to do was to focus on taking things one step at a time. At some point when Claire was well and truly occupied, maybe when she went to sleep for the night, he’d sit down and try to think through everything. But for the time being, he just wanted to continue to distract her so she didn’t fall back into that horrible despair. 

When his eyes refocused on the scene in front of him, Claire looked like she would have been hugging the machine to herself if she was allowed. She was huddled as close to it as she possibly could be, absorbing every bit of warmth. 

“Do ye want tae see more? I could show ye the rest of the house so ye feel a wee bit more comfortable. Ye could ask me all yer questions…” 

Just as Jamie was finishing making his offer, Claire’s hand shot up, grabbed Jamie's, and tugged him down. Startled as he was, he went with her pull, and plopped down on the floor next to her. 

“Just another minute...” she purred, and he could only laugh in response. 

Since Claire was cuddled so close to the space heater, her body blocked any heat from actually reaching Jamie. He didn’t mind, but settled himself slightly further back so that he was behind Claire and comfortably resting back against the bottom of the couch as he waited for her to finish basking. 

To his surprise, Claire scooted backward, shoving her way in between his splayed legs so she could recline against his chest. Jamie was so taken aback— as he always was when she touched him so brazenly, making his mind spin— that he simply complied when she took both of his arms and wrapped them around her. He found himself hugging her from behind as she let out a contented sigh and rested her temple against his jaw. 

There wasn’t a single thought in his head about what he was doing as he instinctively turned his face just a bit to press his lips to the soft skin of her temple. 

She didn’t seem to mind at all. She didn’t even react. But the second after he did it, a wave of guilt surged over him. It wasn’t his right to kiss her like that; Claire wasn’t his to kiss. Sure, she’d initiated all this contact that made his heart flutter, and sure he was absolutely falling for her, but he’d known her for only two days. Her entire world has just crumbled out from underneath her feet, and he was her only anchor. He couldn’t possibly take advantage of her with his romantic inclinations. Not to mention, she wasn’t even human. Although for some reason that argument didn’t dissuade him as much as the thought that Claire might feel obligated to return his affections in exchange for his help. He couldn’t do that to her. It wasn’t fair. 

He wanted to run away from her, to withdraw himself and put some distance between them so he could finally think clearly. He wasn’t entirely sure that he’d be able to control himself when she nestled up so close to him like this. But the thought of withholding physical comfort which she so clearly desired, even needed… it was intolerable. So he stayed put. 

Claire was completely unaware of the turmoil going on in Jamie’s mind, and she sighed contentedly against him. He could feel the rise and fall of her chest as it nudged his with each inhale and exhale. That feeling of closeness did nothing to help the clenching of affection in his heart. 

Damn it, Fraser, pull yourself together. You can be her friend— her guide— her protector— but leave foolish notions of anything more out of it. 

She tilted her head to peer up at him. 

“Are you alright?” she asked, apparently seeing the expression on his face that must have been something close to heartbreak as he agonized over her. 

“Jes’ fine,” he mustered a smile, “have ye had enough warmth now tae get ye through a wee walk about the house?” 

She chuckled at that, and it sent vibrations through her that Jamie could feel reverberate through his own body. 

“I don’t think I could ever get tired of this, but I’m ready for what else you have to show me.”

Chapter Text

Jamie was just about to stand up (unsure of how exactly he was going to do so with Claire still reclining on his chest and giving no indication that she was interested in moving) when suddenly his stomach let out a loud grumble. 

Claire had jerked away and was twisted to look at him in concern before his stomach had even stopped its growl. There wasn’t even a chance to explain. She thrust a hand out to place over his stomach, palm flat against it and oh-so tiny, and she looked up at him with such earnest worry. 

“What’s wrong?” she asked. 

Her free hand came up to rest on his jaw. He could feel her thrumming with concern over him. 

Jamie found himself enjoying her attentions so much that he almost didn’t want to explain to her that there was nothing to worry about. But her brows were furrowed and she was studying him anxiously, so he quickly explained. 

“Dinna fash. That’s just my body telling me that I need to eat.” 

In all the excitement, food had been the last thing on his mind. He spared a glance down at his watch and found it to be 14:10. Seems he’d forgotten all about lunch. 

Claire was giving him a look of admonishment. “You need to care for yourself,” she said, looking disturbed, “if your body is telling you that, it’s for a reason.” 

He gave her a dismissive half-shrug. “I jes’ forget wi’ everythin’ goin’ on. Humans usually eat three times a day, ken? I already had my first meal, which we call breakfast, and now it seems I missed lunch, the second meal.” 

“We need to get you it then,” she exclaimed. She shot to her feet and reached a dainty hand down to him. When he didn’t immediately move, she added an urgent, “come now!” 

Jamie snorted a good-natured huff through his nose at her rush, but took her hand and allowed her to try to haul him to his feet (really, he did most of the work himself, but wanted her to feel useful). 

“It’s alright,” he laughed as she started dragging him by the hand toward the stairs, “I’m okay. It willna harm me tae miss a meal.” 

She stopped and turned around, brows knit together so there were two wee creases between them that Jamie wanted to reach out and trace over with his thumb. But he resisted, and met her eyes instead. 

“Your body is telling you to eat, so you’ll eat,” she said decisively, “come on.” 

They went together to the kitchen, where Claire looked at him expectantly. He sat her down on a stool of the island and began to prepare some chicken. As he cooked, he narrated to Claire what he was doing and tried to explain the basics, but he had a feeling that most of it went over her head. And he certainly did not explain what the chicken had once been. 

When it was finally done, Jamie sat down at his kitchen table and Claire wandered after to sit across from him. 

As he ate, Claire propped her elbows on the tabletop and rested her chin on her hands. She watched with fascination, those whiskey eyes wide to take in his every move. He felt like a bit of a lab rate under a microscope, which was rather disconcerting. Ignoring good manners of not speaking with food in one’s mouth (she wouldn’t know the difference anyway), he broke the silence. 

“Sorry fer makin’ ye wait while I eat,” he said simply to fill the space. 

“Don’t be sorry,” she said in an upbeat tone, “I like watching you.” 

“Och, aye? Why’s that?” he teased between a bite. 

“You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. And I care about you,” she stated very simply. 

Jamie nearly choked on his food. She was so straightforward in her statement. She likely didn’t even see the implications of saying that to him. No wonder he was heart-sick over her when she said such things and touched him without shame and climbed into his bed and looked at him like he was her everything and... 

But it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t know any better. 

He quickly gathered his wits and countered playfully, “am I no’ one of the only human men ye’ve ever seen?” 

She chuckled a little. “Well, yes. But I just mean…” she struggled with herself over how to express the next part before saying, “of the men I’ve seen, but also of all the fair folk, I’ve never seen someone as perfect as you.” 

If Jamie could have smacked himself without drawing attention, he would have delivered a solid one upside his head over the way his heart foolishly leapt at her words. 

Despite the fact that he’d promised to himself not to act on his feelings for her, he couldn’t help but say, “Well, ye’re the bonniest lass I’ve ever laid eyes on, so I supposed we’re even.” 

Claire smiled at that, and even eliciting that reaction from her gave him the forbidden urge to do everything in his power to make her smile like that for every moment of every day for the rest of his life. Jamie was quickly being carried off by his fancies and it was only getting harder and harder to resist the affection that welled up in him at every damn thing she did… 

Jamie quickly went back to finishing his food. They passed the rest of his meal in silence, seemingly Claire was just as lost in her own thoughts as he was in his. Afterwards, he cleaned up quickly, and then began showing Claire around the house as promised. 

He led her by the hand— her insistence, he justified, not his— around to each room. Her bedroom, of course, his (which she’d found no problem last night), the bathroom (where an awkward conversation about the function of a toilet had ensued), and Jamie’s study. 

“What’s this?” Claire asked, pointing toward the laptop on his desk. 

“That is… well, that is verra difficult to explain. Maybe save it for another day?” 

He placed a hand on her lower back to steer her towards the door. A familiar zing raced through him as he touched her, and he felt absurdly like his hand was glued to the spot. He couldn’t seem to remove it. She was warm under his palm, and he could feel the curve of her flesh where it made a divot at her spine. His hand was so big and her back so small that his fingers spanned the entire area. As he led her downstairs again, his hand remained rooted to the spot. 

No harm , he figured, as long as Claire didna mind . And it seemed that she enjoyed it just as much as she did any other touch. 

She had seen most of the downstairs already. Still, he went through each room— the kitchen, dining room, living room, downstairs bathroom, even the entryway, and the hallway that led down to the basement. To end his tour, though, he was excited to show Claire the back garden. 

He led her outside and proudly showed off the backside of his property. Off to the right was the vegetable patch, admittedly a little under loved, with various plants and herbs growing there. 

Claire let out a squee of excitement and let go of his hand to run toward it like an energized child. She knelt down in the dirt to run her hands all over the plants, heedless of the mess she was making on his (hers now, really) sweatpants. (Not that Jamie particularly minded, he had more. He just enjoyed seeing her excited). 

“They could use a bit more love,” she commented, shooting him a slightly admonishing look out of the corner of her eye, “but I am glad you have this bit of nature with you. Don’t you feel stuffed up being in there all the time?” She gave a wave of distaste in the general direction of the house. 

“Jes’ remember, lass,” he chuckled, “inside is where it’s warm. Canna say the same for out here.” 

As if on cue, a shudder ran down Claire’s body. She grimaced and wrapped her arms around herself. Gooseflesh was already popping up on her skin, and he kent well that she’d be a trembling mess if he didn’t get her inside soon. 

“Come on, Sassenach. Let’s get ye out of the cold. Ye can come back out and show some love tae the plants once we get ye a proper coat.” 

He reached down and took her elbow to help her up. She went willingly, pressing herself into Jamie’s side as he began to walk toward the house. In order to keep from tripping over her, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and synced his steps to hers. It seemed that to be nestled against him was exactly what she’d wanted, because she gave him a smile as they walked inside together. 

The sun was already going down since it was getting late, and Jamie realized that it was time to take some action. He hadn’t thought too far yet into the future, but what he did know was that there was no way in hell he was leaving Claire alone tomorrow while he went into work. However, perks of being the boss were that you didn’t always have to come in. He’d just have to call to let them know. 

He didn’t want Claire to fash herself about what was going on with all that, so once they got inside, he asked her if she could entertain herself for a little bit while he took care of some things. She gave a nod (looking a little too eager at the prospect for his taste), and then he left her downstairs while he went up to his study. 

Once safely inside with the door shut, he sat down at his desk and picked up his phone. He dialed Ian, his brother-in-law and business partner, and waited for his friend to pick up.

“Jamie!” came Ian’s enthusiastic voice, “I havna heard from ye since work on Friday and wondered if ye’d gone hikin’ and fallen down a hole.” 

Jamie had to resist the urge to say “something like that,” but instead got straight to the point and answered with a simple, “I’ve been busy. Listen, Ian, somethin’ has come up, and I canna come intae work tomorrow.” 

“Woah, woah, woah. Slow down. Ye havna missed a day in God-knows-how-long, and now ye expect to jes’ ‘not come in’ wi’ no word of explanation other than ‘somethin’s come up’? Spill, Jamie.” 

He should have known better than to think Ian would accept it without pressing him for details. Truth be told, he hadn’t actually thought through what to tell him if he asked. He couldn’t very well say that he’d rescued a faerie from atop a magic hill and now he doesn’t want to leave her. Suppressing a sigh, he pressed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose. 

“Aye, I havna missed a day in years, Ian. Which is exactly why I deserve a day off wi’out ye grillin’ me. Everythin’s fine. I jes’ need some time.” 

He could hear Ian’s eye roll over the phone. “Alright, I’ll let ye off the hook for now, brother. But dinna think ye’re gettin’ away wi’ this. Especially when I tell Jenny about how strange ye’re bein’.”

Jamie groaned. “Dinna drag my sister into this. I’m jes’ askin’ fer a day off, no’ announcin’ I’m fleein’ the country.”

“All this could be avoided if ye’d only tell me what’s goin’ on wi’ ye.” 

“Goodbye, Ian,” Jamie said pointedly. 

“Alright, ye bugger. Goodbye. I’ll talk tae ye soon.” 

With that, he hung up. And Jamie was free to head back to his Sassenach. 

Not his , he corrected himself firmly. 

He gave a cursory glance into the rooms on his way downstairs, but he didn’t really think she’d be in there. When he didn’t find her in the kitchen, he paused briefly to preheat the oven for something or other he could throw in. Claire wasn’t in the living room either, and he was starting to wonder what the devil she was getting up to. His heart jumped to his throat when his brain suddenly questioned whether she had left. But that was highly unlikely, she had nowhere to go after all, and he shoved that aside. 

Suddenly, it came to him that he knew exactly where she was, and he headed there. 

Just as expected, Claire was sitting cross-legged in front of the space heater, Adso curled on her lap, and both of their eyes were closed in relaxed bliss. 

Jamie cleared his throat, and two sets of eyes— one gold and one green— flicked to him in startlement. 

“Interrupting something?” he joked. 

Claire smiled— both in greeting and triumph. 

“I figured out how to turn it on.” 

“I see that,” he said as he made his way toward her and sat down next to her a respectful distance away, “verra canny. I searched for ye for a bit. I shouldha known exactly where ye’d be.” 

“Shower was a close second,” she admitted, “but I didn’t think I could manage that one alone.” 

They were both quiet for a second. Everything was still save Claire’s rhythmic stroking of Adso’s fur. 

“How are ye feelin’?” he asked after a time. 

She tilted her head. “I’m fine. I haven’t felt any ill effects from the stones at all today,” she answered dismissively. 

“I meant... with all this .” He raised a hand in an abortive circle, indicating the enormity of the situation. 

Her hands stilled on Adso, and he wanted desperately to take them in his. But for once, she didn’t reach for him or offer touch, so he left the little bit of space between them undisturbed and swallowed down his disappointment. 

“I am alright,” she said, but sounded hesitant, as if she was trying to convince herself as well, “it’s just a lot to take in. I’m scared, of course…” there was a slight trembling in her hands where they were buried in the cat’s fur, “but I’m glad you’re here.” 

She ended by rewarding him with a blinding, albeit a little tremulous, smile. Her eyes crinkled adorably at the corners as she did, and that was how Jamie knew she’d be okay. 

“I’m glad ye’re here too,” he found himself saying despite himself, “I’m glad I found ye on that hill. I— I’m aware that sounds strange, but I feel like our paths were meant to cross. I ken this is a terrible situation for ye, Sorcha,” he didn’t think he had the self-control to stop himself from reaching for her hand, so he shoved them both under his legs instead, “but I’m glad ye’re here wi’ me.” 

“I’m glad to know you, too, Jamie,” she breathed, hands folded in her lap. 

In that moment, she leaned in closer to him. Their faces were mere centimeters apart, lips so close that their breath mingled together. The air was thick and heavy with tension; his heartbeat pounded in his ears, a second delayed from the organ itself thundering inside his chest. Her eyes were locked with his, and for an instant, he thought for sure she wanted to kiss him. He drew even closer, ready to lean in and bridge the distance between them, anticipating the feeling of her soft mouth against his...

-But the spell was broken as suddenly as a bubble popping when Adso chose that exact moment to jump off Claire’s lap, making them both jerk backward away from each other. 

With the magic of the moment gone, Jamie felt foolish and averted his eyes from her, his cheeks flushing. He must have been reading too far into the situation—  his fantasies getting the better of him. She was a faerie. He was a human. And they sat in his basement in front of the space heater. He needed to keep himself better in line before he did something to betray her trust. He shook himself out of his daze and stood abruptly. 

Claire stood as well, yawning slightly as she did. 

“Why dinna ye get some rest, Sassenach?” he suggested. 

She nodded. As he turned to head upstairs with her, she slipped her hand in his, and he smiled. At least he hadn’t scared her off. 

Walking together as they always did, Jamie led her upstairs. He grabbed her a change of clothes, another one of his tee shirts and some sweats, and left them on the bed with her in the guest bedroom. 

They both stood awkwardly in front of each other for a moment. He thought about telling her goodnight, but suddenly found he didn’t want to leave her just that second. Instead, he told her “I’ll let ye change,” and walked out, closing the door behind him.

A minute later, the door opened and Claire peeped out. Finding him still there, she smiled, and opened the door wider. 

“Come now, I’ll tuck ye in, lass,” he said. He felt a little absurd saying it (perhaps this was crossing boundaries as well?) but Claire seemed glad. He held the blankets up for her, and she slid in underneath them. 

“Goodnight, Claire,” he said softly as he settled the covers under her chin. 

“Goodnight, Jamie,” she breathed, giving him a sleepy smile. 

Then, before he could do something foolish like kiss her forehead, he turned and left the room. 

If he was being honest with himself, what he did next could best be described as “fleeing.” He all but ran downstairs, and then shoveled some food in his mouth, careless about what it was. If he thought of her at that moment, he’d never stop— let alone sleep— so he shoved all thoughts of the faerie from his mind. Instead, he made up a rough shopping list while he ate, and once he was finished, mindlessly did the dishes. 

He was dead tired, even though it wasn’t that late. His footsteps echoed off the walls as he trudged upstairs. He breezed through his nighttime routine, and soon he was sliding into bed. 

His head had scarcely hit the pillow when the door opened. A curly head peeked through, followed immediately by the rest of Claire. Just as boldly as the previous night, she walked in and began to crawl into his bed. 

But at the sight of her, Jamie had bolted upright. Before she could lay down next to him, he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. She sat down beside him on the bed, turning big doe eyes on him, which he could make out clearly by the bulbs from the hall. The low lighting made them appear an even deeper shade of whiskey, and his breath hitched. 

“What?” she asked. 

“It isna right, lass...” he explained gently, but a little huskily. This was using every ounce of self-discipline he possessed… “Lads and lasses dinna sleep together in the same bed if they arena together— that means bonded for life—” he hastily elucidated his fumbling statement, “that’s why I gave ye yer own room.” 

“But aren’t we bonded for life now?” 

Her breathy question knocked all the air from his lungs. 

And the way she was looking at him, so earnest...

He couldn’t breathe, let alone answer. He desperately wanted to cry at her sincere tone. Because there was nothing more in the entire world that he wanted to say than “of course we are.” But she didn’t understand what that meant. 

So Jamie was unable to say anything at all. 

The silence stretched on for a long second as he struggled inside himself. Claire was the one who finally broke it. 

“Please, Jamie. I don’t want to be alone.” 

Her pleading tone broke his resolve. Obliterated into tiny pieces. There was no way that he could ever even dream of saying no to her after that. 

“Come here, mo nighean donn,” he breathed. 

He opened his arms to her, and she instantly came to him, leaning in as he folded her against himself. Gently, he laid them both down together on the bed. He thought perhaps he would gather her spoon-fashion against him, but once they were horizontal, he found that she didn’t want to face away from him. She settled against his side, her head rested on his chest and arms snaking their way around his middle. So, he simply adjusted his own arms around her until he was comfortable and relaxed into the bed. 

Jamie lay awake long after Claire’s breathing had evened out to the rhythm of sleep. Eyes wide open in the darkness, he held her tightly as his mind raced. 

It would be a sleepless night for him. 

Because he could no longer deny what it was he felt for her. 

Love. 

Self-sacrificing, all-encompassing, completely consuming love.

***

Chapter Text

Claire woke slowly, her brain struggling against the mire of unconsciousness, swimming lazily to the surface. As she cracked her eyes open and took in the darkness, confusion and anxiety gripped her like vines coiling around her ankles. 

Where was she? 

The material under her cheek was strange, and she certainly wasn’t on the ground with the familiar feeling of brush and grass against her cheek. Whatever she was lying on was soft and had a lot of give. 

She nearly started to panic, but then she became aware of the feeling of arms wrapped around her and her body securely anchored to that of the warm one behind her. 

While her brain, still clouded with sleep, struggled to identify who the arms belonged to, it was her heart that fondly sighed, “ Jamie .” 

And then she felt it. 

Safety — warring against the uncertainty. 

Awareness came back to her with that, and she remembered all the events of the previous few days. Here she was, in this strange human’s house, in his arms even, forever cut off from her home. 

The grief washed over her anew. Her whole world had been tilted upside down in mere minutes, the repercussions of touching the stones still revealing themselves. But she could feel in her bones that she was lost, never to return. 

The thought terrified her. 

Tears pricked at her eyes and her heart leapt suddenly to her throat. She tried to swallow the lump, to force it back down, but she felt the pressure inside her building— fit to burst into another meltdown over all she’d lost. 

So she turned to the one thing she could— both figuratively and literally. 

She rolled over so she was facing Jamie. In sleep, his arms instinctively shifted with her so he was still holding on to her, clutching her body to himself. As he settled back in, his breathing a reassuring rhythm, he pulled her even closer with a soft hum.  

He looked so peaceful that she hesitated to wake him. But tears were dripping from her eyes now, and she felt so alone that she wanted him— awake with all his gentleness and quick reassurances— desperately. In a tremulous, barely there voice, she whispered, “Jamie?” 

It took only a second for his eyes to open and fix on her. They were beautiful eyes, she thought— blue like the sky on a sunny day. Those eyes held such kindness, such soft compassion. They had been one of the first things that made Claire know he was a good man. 

As soon as Jamie saw her face, which must have been wet with tears by now, he let out a pained sound. His big hands let go of her and untwined from her body so that he could lift them to cup her cheeks, the thumbs swiping at the falling tears. 

“What’s wrong, mo nighean donn?” he asked, his face soft with concern. 

The tenderness there made Claire’s breath hitch and the silent tears fall even faster. 

“I— I’m sorry—” she suddenly felt very foolish to have woken him, without even a good reason, “I just… woke up scared. And then I remembered...” 

There was a mere second for her to berate herself over her behavior before understanding crossed Jamie’s face and assuaged Claire’s embarrassment. Jamie had an amazing knack for making her feel that he understood and hurt with her without making her feel pitied. This kind of empathy was something Claire had never really experienced before she met him. 

It was with that empathy that he met the tide of her grief.

“Come here,” he said softly. 

He pulled her closer and his hand settled on the back of her head to press her face into the crook of his neck. She went willingly. The skin of his neck felt warm and silky under her teary eyes, and she let more drops fall onto the offered canvas of his body. She wasn’t actively crying like she had the previous day when the realization hit her, just quietly addressing her loss, releasing pent up tears that seemed to have been inside her all night. The nighttime was when fears always preyed, darkness and loneliness reminding one of their greatest insecurities, but she was lucky not to be alone. 

Both of his arms encircled her, but one of his hands was free enough to rub comforting circles into her back. His hands were so big, she marveled at the feeling and strength of them— so reassuring. Grounding her. 

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. Her lips barely brushed the skin of his collarbone as she spoke. 

“Dinna be sorry,” his deep voice was a vibration in his chest that she could feel from how she laid on him, pressed so tightly against his body, “I’m here.” 

That made her feel a thousand times better. As much turmoil as she’d been through in the past couple of days, he was her light— her anchor. She somehow trusted him with everything inside her. 

She’d known him to be trustworthy from the first time she touched him. Before that, when he’d knelt a short ways away from her on the moor, she’d noticed the kindness in his eyes, the truth in his words, and the deference in his posture that indicated he meant her no harm. That all made her less wary. But the first time she’d truly known was when she’d touched his face and felt that warm rush of security and gentleness, more powerful than she’d ever felt before. There was a connection between them that was completely novel to Claire but nonetheless reassuring. From that second on, Jamie had been hers, and she his. 

As she wept against him now, she couldn’t help but believe his earnest words. Everything would be okay. As long as he was there to hold her, to protect her, she could survive. 

Comfort

He continued to embrace her long after her tears had dried. With infinite patience, he simply offered his body to her, wrapping himself around her as if he could block out her pain. She was loathe to move away from him and the safety he provided, but the sun was up— light was filtering through the window indicating late morning— and she needed to face the day. 

She lifted her face from his shoulder and locked eyes with him. 

“Thank you,” she said softly. She hoped he knew all the unspoken things those words held— thank you for saving me, for caring for me, for holding together my broken pieces, for letting me drop into your life like this and never complaining once…

He must have known, because he gave her a smile that made her knees feel like jelly and said simply but with a weight of regard, “ye’re welcome.” 

They got up slowly. Claire parted from Jamie reluctantly, but sat up nonetheless, allowing him to stretch and then set off. Watching him, all the high emotions from the night before seemed to dissipate, and she was left feeling more like herself again. Jamie seemed to have a routine that he followed every morning, and Claire followed him, interested to watch what exactly he was doing. 

First, he padded sleepily to the little place with the “shower”, scratching the back of his head where some of his beautiful red curls were sticking up adorably. He’d left the “door” open, but Claire wasn’t entirely sure he knew she was there as he made the water appear (she still had no idea how it did that!) and put a small stick thing under it. Then, he raised the stick and started to rub it inside his mouth. She recoiled a little in disgust, wondering if this was something like “eating”, but upon closer inspection, it seemed to be something different entirely. It lasted only another few seconds before he leaned down and washed his face under the little waterfall. When he straightened up again, his eyes met hers in the strange reflective surface, and he turned suddenly toward her. 

“Claire!” he exclaimed, “I didna realize ye were there. Ehm… I hafta take a shower. Would you mind givin’ me a bit of time?” His eyebrows were raised apologetically as he thrust a thumb in the direction of the “shower.” 

With a nod and a smile she hoped looked reassuring, she said, “Of course!” 

She didn’t want to impose on him, and he’d been spending nearly every second with her. He was obviously reluctant to leave her on her own, but she wanted him to know that she’d be fine. 

He gave her a nod, still looking a bit guilty, and then shut the bathroom door, separating them. A second later, she heard the sound of rain and figured he was beginning the shower. 

Left to her own devices, she headed down. She was still a little hesitant about descending the odd hill that led down to the other level— the blocky shapes on it seemed easy to slip on— but she held tightly to the little trees that lined either side. 

When she’d finally made it down, the grey “cheetie” Adso was sitting in the middle of the place Jamie called “the living room” and looking up at her with big green eyes. 

“Hello my friend!” she exclaimed happily as she sat down to run her fingers through his soft fur. He rumbled beneath her hands, making her giggle a little, and she spent a few moments completely absorbed with Jamie’s companion. He must have been loyal to Jamie— she thought— to choose to spend all his time inside with him instead of out on the moors. 

As she stroked his soft fur, thoughts of her future crept into her mind, unbidden. Thinking more than a few days ahead was complete madness, so she limited herself to worrying about this day and its troubles. Jamie would honor his promise and take care of her, but if she was going to be here for any amount of time, she needed to really start learning about this world. She didn’t particularly care for the feeling of helplessness that was her ever-present companion; she wanted to become competent and hopefully one day reciprocate Jamie’s care. With a hardening resolve, she decided that today she would be brave. She would learn everything Jamie would teach her and take as many steps as she could toward her new life. 

It wasn’t long before Adso grew bored of her. Just as she had made up her mind, he abruptly hopped to his feet and pranced off, tail flicking in goodbye. 

Claire wasn’t sure what to do next. She would have liked to go back and feel the warm wind ( what was it Jamie had called it— “space heater”? ), but she wasn’t sure how much heat it could possibly have trapped inside of it and thought probably best to save it. Glancing around the room in search of inspiration, her gaze fell on the window. 

It was a beautiful day— the sun illuminating the terrain with its bright colors, not even a hint of the usual Scottish greys of clouds and drizzle. It was the perfect opportunity to tend to Jamie’s plants (which were sorely in need of a good touch). And if doing something she was good at helped her to feel more competent and useful in this world, all the better for it. 

She headed outside right away. Kneeling down in the dirt, the slight tension inside her eased. She was in her element. Her hands instinctively reached for the plants, classifying to herself, cataloguing their needs in her brain, and simply touching in order to better sense them. 

It wasn’t long before she grew lost in her endeavors. There were some invasive plants— dreadful, malicious things that didn’t even belong in Scotland, she knew— that she began to pull up and toss aside. Their roots were strong, but she could feel them choking the life from the others and pulled hard. Her hands grew dirty in her efforts but she didn’t mind; it was only evidence of her making a difference. The sun rose even higher in the sky as she worked, but she was paying no attention to anything around her. She finally felt a sense of value again as she freed the plants from the choking hold of the invaders.

Her tranquility was suddenly shattered when a loud bang came from the direction of the house. Claire jolted upright, dropping her weeds, and her head whipped toward it. 

Jamie stood just outside, his fiery hair aglow in the sun but beautiful blue eyes blown wide in panic and fixed on her. Seeing his tension, she thought for an instant that something was terribly wrong. Was something after him? Come to harm them? She had no idea the dangers of the human world. 

But then he was suddenly racing toward her, eyes never leaving her the whole time. He fell on his knees beside her and scooped her into an embrace. Bewildered, she didn’t resist as he clutched her to his chest, hugging so tightly it was nearly hard to breathe. 

“Christ, lass!” he burst out, “I looked everywhere for ye and couldna find ye. I thought maybe ye’d run off or somethin’d happened and—” He was breathless as he spoke, and Claire could feel his chest heaving against her as he tried to calm himself down. 

“I was only out here,” was all she could think to say. 

Jamie pulled back a little so he could look down at her, but made no move to let her go. She didn’t particularly mind— she liked being in his arms and wished he’d hold her all the time, but she was disturbed by how upset he seemed. He studied her for a long moment, eyes sweeping over her as if ensuring she was alright. 

“Ifrinn,” he muttered suddenly, face softening from an expression of frantic worry into a more gentle concern, “ye’re shakin’ like a leaf. How long have ye been out here, a nighean? And wi’ out a coat? Ye’re cold as ice.” 

Claire wasn’t sure what a “coat” was, but at his words, she realized that she was freezing. He was right— her whole body trembled in that odd way it had ever since she’d touched the stones. She furrowed her brow in discomfort. The cold was the worst. 

Jamie was muttering something under his breath and rubbing his hands up and down her arms. On one pass, they traveled further down and caught her hands in his, heedless of the dirt caked on them. He squeezed, and Claire was taken aback at just how warm they were. 

“Come now. Inside,” he told her, his tone indicating there was no room for argument. 

He all but hauled her up and tugged her toward the house. Her hand was clasped in his, so the tension that lingered in his body was apparent to her. 

The moment they were inside, Jamie whirled to face her. He snagged the soft fabric (what was it called again— blankit?) from the couch and, facing her all the while, raised his arms over her head to wrap it around her shoulders. The forceful movement of him swaddling her brought her closer to him, and he pulled the edges tight together so she was wrapped completely. Her trembling hadn’t eased in the slightest, if anything it was getting worse now that she was back in the warmth of the house, so she was grateful for the comfort. 

But that sense of gratitude didn’t stay long. 

“Christ, lass,” Jamie was saying, voice giving way to frustration, “ye canna go wanderin’ like that.” 

His hands waved wildly in a grand gesture of “wandering”, as if she had walked all the way back to her forest instead of just out back. 

“I was only just outside,” Claire protested. 

She took a step backward so Jamie wasn’t so close to her. She didn’t like the emotions radiating from him. He seemed red to her, like the heat of the sun— energy roaring within. 

“Aye, but ye didna say a word about it tae me first. Anythin’ could have happened to ye,” Jamie shot back. 

Claire felt her nerves fraying at the tone of his voice. 

“I’m capable of taking care of myself,” she spat, bristling. 

“Are ye, then?” His tone teetering just into the realm of mocking, “Because—”

That put her over the edge. She dropped the blanket from her shoulders and stalked back toward him, fire in her belly. 

“You treat me like I’m just some foolish child! Like I’m this fragile thing about to break if I’m alone for one moment. I may not know everything about your world, but I’ve taken care of myself my whole life. I don’t need you!” The last words burst from her mouth in her fury, lashing out with a shot aimed right at his heart. 

But the moment she said them, she wished she could grab them out of the air and shove them back in. Jamie seemed to instantly crumple. It was as if she’d struck him with her fists rather than her words, the “I don’t need you” a killing blow. He deflated, all the tight muscles in his shoulders uncoiling as he slumped back against the couch heavily and slid a little further down to sit on it. His big blue eyes looked up at her with the most heartbroken expression she’d seem in her life. And it tore her to pieces. 

Even worse… to know it was her that had caused him such anguish. 

“I ken ye can take care of yerself…” he said, very softly, all the fight completely gone out of him, “I’m sorry that I made ye feel like I didna think that. It’s jes’ that I was sae worrit when I couldna find ye, I thought I’d maybe lost ye forever and… I overreacted.”

Nearly the exact same way Jamie had gone limp after her words tore through him, his soft confession knocked all the air from her lungs. Any remaining fight in her was gone, leaving only the hollow feeling of regret. 

She hesitantly knelt down in front of him. After his declaration, he’d braced his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. As she settled herself between his legs, she gently took both of his wrists and forced him to raise his head to look at her. 

“I’m sorry,” she breathed, that being the most important thing that she was dying to ensure he knew, “I overreacted too. The truth is... it scares me how much I do need you—” 

His beautiful eyes peered searchingly into hers, as if desperate for a confirmation on her face that she was telling him the truth. She couldn’t help but reach a hand up and lightly cup his cheek, caressing his face softly. Her touch was fueled by a yearning to feel close to him again as much as to comfort him. 

From the second she’d met him, she’d felt a connection to him down to her very soul. They were bonded, the two of them. And now she’d found herself falling for him. And in the face of that— and the desperate need for him that scared her to her core— she’d lashed out. 

“I dinna ken why…” Jamie started, very slowly, “but ever since I found ye on that hill, I’ve felt this… compulsion… to keep ye safe. To care for ye and protect ye from anythin’ that might steal that bonny smile from yer face. I’m sorry that I went too far. I wish I could jes’ tuck ye into my coat like a wee cheetie and carry ye with me against my chest, but I ken that’s no’ what ye need. I’ve been selfish, Sassenach. If I coddled ye, it was only because I needed it, not you. But I wasna lookin’ to see how it hurt you. Ye’re incredibly brave, mo nighean donn, and strong. Dinna ever believe otherwise, or think that I believe otherwise…” 

Tears shimmered in his eyes, and she felt a matching sheen in her own. The pressure was building inside her, a lump in her throat matching the coil in her belly. 

It surprised her when the next words came tumbling out of her mouth, a hasty confession she hadn’t meant to see the light of day—

“I don’t feel very brave.” 

It was the truth, of course. She’d been a mess this whole time. Unable to bear the weight of separation from her people, clinging to Jamie as her lifeline. Without him, she would have surely shattered…

She was interrupted from these thoughts by Jamie sliding down onto the floor in front of her so they knelt face-to-face. His big hands came up to cradle her jaw, forcing her to meet his eyes. Then, he began to speak, somehow achieving the perfect balance of firm conviction and gentleness. 

“But ye are , a nighean. Ye are here, and ye’re still goin’. That’s brave.” 

His words hung in the air— short, simple, but as poignant as a stone throw. 

She nodded, too choked up to give any further reply. 

It was then that he hugged her. Smashed her to his chest, his arms wrapping around her middle, solid as trees, and holding her to him as if he was scared she would disappear if he didn’t hold on tight enough. Her own arms had been trapped between them during his sudden movement, but she managed to wriggle them free to bring them around his shoulders and embrace him in return. 

She felt anchored suddenly— as if she’d been floating in the sky, subject to the fancies of the wind, before this strange man had suddenly reached up and pulled her back down to solid ground. 

All thoughts of the home that had been lost suddenly disappeared from her mind as Jamie held her. Because it was thoughts of her new home— her home with him— and the hope that accompanied them that filled her mind instead. 

“You know… I think I’d actually quite like to be a cheetie wrapped in your coat,” she tremulously joked, her voice muffled from how her mouth was pressed into the fabric at his shoulder. 

Jamie let out a laugh that vibrated through him and into her— a clear, unrestrained sound like the way the loch ripples when a stone plunks into it. She wished to herself that she could hear it forever— to spare him from any pain like the kind she’d just inflicted upon him. 

In that moment, she knew she loved him. 

***

Chapter Text

Jamie Fraser hadn’t known that four simple words— “I don’t need you”— could possibly have torn into him with such vicious aim and rocked his whole world on such a scale. But that was before Claire. The consequence of loving her was that she held his heart in her wee palms, with all the power to shatter it with a single blow. 

He’d known it was a mistake to berate her over going outside. With a clear head, he never would have said those things to her. But after tearing apart the house, anxiety building and building along with the fear that he’d never see her again— and thinking that he’d be back to facing that empty void in his heart alone— his brain had gone straight out the window. 

So he couldn’t blame her for lashing out. He’d deserved it. He had wanted so desperately to protect her that he hadn’t looked at what he was doing to her. 

While sitting there on the couch, having collapsed into a trembling mess, he’d thought he’d mucked it all up. Until she’d taken his hands, his face— touching him with such affection... 

And given him a second chance. 

As he held her in his arms, clasping her to him as if she might suddenly change her mind and push him away, he vowed to himself that he’d use it well. 

Every time he’d held her, even in the mundane moments like sitting beside the space heater, that golden cloud that surrounded her— the warmth of her presence— had encompassed him as well. As he held her now, though, he noticed it seemed weaker. He pulled back a little to study her, furrowing his brow as the now familiar shimmering aura was less visible. 

“What is it?” she asked. 

He shook his head, unsure. This was uncertain ground, and after going through what they just had, he didn’t want to tread on it. “Ach, it’s nothin’, dinna fash.” 

She seemed to accept it, laying her head down on his shoulder and letting out a sigh. His heart stuttered in its steady rhythm as he felt the gravity of her trust and the soul-stealing tenderness of her touch. 

He didn’t have the strength to even think about moving. He would simply wait until she was ready, letting her make the first move, and he would be grateful all the while for everything she was willing to give him. 

In the end, she’d wanted to be held for a long time. There wasn’t a clock around so Jamie couldn’t have said for sure how long, but the minutes passed in a comfortable but weighty silence— each of them enveloped in the other. When she finally stirred, it was to lift her head and give Jamie a brave smile. 

“You know, I told myself that today I would do everything I could to learn about the human world.” 

“Is that so?” he asked. Unable to resist the consuming urge to brush back the single curl that hung over her face, he lifted a hand and gently tucked it behind her ear before continuing, “did ye have anythin’ in mind?” 

She gave him a bit of a helpless look, accompanied by a self-conscious half smile, “I’d hoped maybe you would have some ideas about what we should do.” 

“Weel,” he gave her an assessing look, “seein’ as ye’re currently drownin’ in my clothes, I’m thinkin’ it wouldna be a bad idea tae go out and get ye some of yer own that fit properly. What do ye say, mo nighean donn, are ye ready for a trip to the human world?” 

***

It took Jamie a short while to get them ready to go. Since Claire didn’t have any shoes, Jamie had to track down something that could remotely protect her feet. Jamie was a big man, with feet to match, and Claire’s feet reflected her own dainty features— they were nearly half the size of his. He’d settled on a pair of old hiking boots, kneeling down in front of Claire and lacing them as tightly as he possibly could. But the moment she stood up and took a few exploratory steps, they flopped so terribly on her feet that she’d stumbled and nearly fallen against Jamie. He’d grabbed her by the arms, helped her upright, and then went back to the drawing board. 

He’d emerged again from his basement bearing sandals with adjustable straps. However, knowing her proclivity toward getting chilled, he’d first bundled her wee feet into two layers of socks before strapping her into the sandals. 

She was sitting at the kitchen table, patiently allowing him to prepare her shoes while he knelt on the ground in front of her and tried to make sure they were secure. 

As he straightened, he couldna help but laugh at the ridiculous nature of the situation— Claire sitting there, slightly swinging her sock-and-sandaled feet that he’d just dolled her up in. 

“I’m a right Prince Charming, it seems, but ye’re the strangest Cinderella I’ve ever seen,” he chuckled to himself. 

He was answered by a perplexed look. She was so lost that she didn’t even try to echo the words, just gave him big doe-eyes of confusion. 

That sent him laughing again. “Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he gave a dismissive wave of his hand, “jes’ a wee bit o’ human stuff. So… are ye ready tae face the outside world?” 

She gave a decisive nod, looking like she was steeling herself to face the guillotine, and stood up with surprising grace. 

Despite her elegant air and fierce determination, the situation only grew more ridiculous to Jamie as he took in the sight of her standing in all her splendor— his tee-shirt huge on her tiny frame, sweatpants pulled up nearly to her oxters and drawn tight (yet the hems still puddled on the ground), and with socks and sandals as the pièce de résistance. 

It was the most endearing thing he’d ever seen. 

“Ye look verra bonny, Sassenach,” he stifled yet another laugh, his heart clenching with the force of his affection for her, “but I do think it’s a good thin’ we’re goin’ tae get ye yer own clothes.” 

Her lips quirked as she glanced down at herself and then up at him. 

“I take it this isn’t the typical outfit for human females?” she said, good-naturedly laughing at herself. 

Jamie shook his head. 

“I can assure ye it’s not. But we’ll fix ye up soon enough. Here,” he offered her his arm, “take my arm so ye dinna trip over yer pants.” 

She did, her wee hand slipping into the crook of his elbow and holding on to his bicep. 

With that, Prince Charming led his princess out to the waiting car. 

*

Claire seemed somewhat taken aback when they approached the vehicle and shot him a wary glance. Her hand tightened on his arm, making him stop short. 

“What… is it?” she asked timidly. 

“My car? Do ye no remember ridin’ in it when I took ye home from the stones?” he asked. 

She shook her head. “I don’t remember much, it’s all pretty foggy. Other than you, of course,” she blessed him with another one of those mega-watt smiles. 

“Och, weel, ye were pretty ou’ of it, I cannae blame ye. This is a car. We get inside, and use it tae travel long distances quickly because it moves verra fast.” 

She nodded slightly, but still looked reluctant to go any nearer. Nevertheless, she drew herself up and set her shoulders with fierce determination. 

“I said I’d be brave today and I will be,” she announced firmly. 

“I’m proud of ye, a nighean,” he couldn’t help but say, “and I’ll be right by yer side the whole time. I promise, I willna let anythin’ happen to ye.” 

Much to his delight, that seemed to reassure her. She let go of his arm and walked decisively toward the car. He caught her up and slipped in front to open the door. With nothing more than a shaky inhale and a second of hesitation, she plunged in. 

He shut it behind her and quickly walked around to his side to slide in. Once he was settled, he looked over to her. 

“See, no’ sae bad, right?” 

She seemed to melt a little at that, relaxing back into the seat and nodding. 

“Yeah,” she breathed, “not so bad.” 

But in less than 30 seconds, she was eating her words. As soon as Jamie put the car in reverse and began backing out of the driveway, both of her hands shot out to scramble for purchase on the nearest available surface— one of which was the door, and the other Jamie’s arm. Surprisingly sharp wee nails dug crescents into his forearm, and he struggled to keep his hand in place. 

His first impulse was to stop. She was quite obviously panicking, chest heaving and eyes huge as she gripped him, but they needed to get this over with. Of course it’d be terrifying at first— she’d likely never moved faster than her own two feet could carry her— but he had full confidence that she’d grow used to it and settle soon enough. 

Once they were on the road, Jamie could spare a little more attention for her. She had mercifully  let go of his arm, and both of her hands were now gripping the dashboard in front of her, knuckles white. He let go of the steering wheel with one hand in order to reach out for her. Twining their fingers together, he glanced over and gave her a reassuring squeeze. 

“Ye’re doin’ great, Sassenach,” he told her. 

She didn’t answer for a long moment. When he looked over at her again, she was white as a sheet and staring straight ahead. With a start, he realized that her hand seemed clammy in his. 

“Are ye alright, lass?” he asked in alarm. 

“I feel sick,” she forced out weakly. 

With the expertise of one familiar with motion-sickness, Jamie slammed on the brakes (thank God that the country roads were almost always completely abandoned), grabbed a grocery bag he’d left in the back seat, and shoved it underneath her. 

Her head bowed over it, a curtain of curls falling over her face, and her chest heaved with shaky breaths. But she made no indication that she was about to be sick. 

Of course she wouldn’t throw up , he realized all of a sudden, she didn’t eat. 

Still, it was a good thing he had stopped. Although she wasn’t in danger of losing her lunch, she looked as if she was on the verge of passing out. The puir lass was paler than a ghost. 

Jamie quickly dropped the bag and instead moved his hand to rub soothing circles on her back. 

“Ye’re alright, a leannan,” he told her gently, “puir wee thing. I ken the motion is somethin’ awful.” 

She let out a tiny whimper that broke his heart and made him ready to abandon this foul machine on the side of the road, walk her home, and never return for it. 

Instead of taking hasty action against his car, though, he grabbed his water bottle from the cupholder, poured a bit of water into a cupped hand, and dribbled it over the back of her neck. Then, he gently pressed his wet hand at various spots around her neck and up onto her cheeks. 

“Ye’re doin’ great, mo nighean donn, deep breaths,” he encouraged, his other hand continuing the circles it was making on her back. 

“I’m alright,” she mustered. She managed to raise her head and give him a tremulous smile. To his relief, color had begun to return to her cheeks, and she no longer seemed to be in danger of passing out. 

“Good,” he murmured, “why dinna we take a break and walk about outside for a minute, aye?” 

She shook her head doggedly. “I’m fine, let’s keep going.” 

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Christ, ye are brave,” he chuckled, “ye sure?”

She gave him a nod of assent, and then sat back in her seat, looking like an astronaut waiting for lift off. 

He stifled the urge to ask her again if she was certain. While they could turn around and leave shopping for another day, she’d have to face the reality of cars eventually if she was going to stay in the human world. So, they would continue on their way— even if her suffering was driving a hole in his heart and he wasn’t sure he could live with the knowledge that it was him doing it to her. 

Jamie accelerated very slowly and tried to minimize as many bumps and jostles as he could on a road of this condition. Claire seemed much better this time around, hands clasped together in her lap instead of clutching the dashboard (although her knuckles were still white, he noticed). 

After a few minutes, she even managed to relax a bit. Since she seemed to be doing alright, Jamie took the rest of the drive to Inverness to explain to her what to expect: what stores were, what they would be looking for, etc. Claire didn’t take her eyes off of the road in front of them but gave him a few nods and hums of understanding. 

The little thrift shop he had in mind was in a pedestrian-only part of Inverness, so he parked at the nearest parking lot and steeled himself for the trial of taking Claire through the town. He had every confidence in her ability to handle it, but that still didn’t reduce his desire for her to be a wee cheetie he could tuck inside his coat. 

The second the car was parked, a sigh of relief came from the passenger side. 

“Ye made it, Sassenach,” he congratulated her, turning to her and reaching out to give her hand a squeeze. 

He had meant it to be a quick motion, but she caught his hand and held it on her lap. He could feel a slight tremor in it, and his heart went out to her. 

“I ken it’s scary,” he said softly, “but it’ll be alright. We humans arena so bad, ye’ll see.” 

“If they’re anything like you, I think I’ll love them,” she breathed. 

The words twisted his wame into a mushy mess. Oh lord, did she even know what using the word “love” in relation to him did to his puir heart? 

But he shoved his wayward reaction aside and focused his attention on the brave wee lass getting ready to face her fears. 

“I’ll be right wi’ ye,” he assured, “the whole time.” 

She gave a wordless nod, but still didn’t release his hand from her shaky one. 

“Are ye ready, mo nighean donn?” 

The term of endearment perched on his tongue and in his mind had actually been “mo ghraidh,” but he managed to choke that one off before it left his lips. 

“As I’ll ever be,” she said tremulously, but put on a brave face. 

With one last squeeze, he reluctantly withdrew his hand from hers so he could get out. He quickly made his way around the car to the passenger’s side so he could open her door and offer his hand to her again. 

She took it, squinting out into the daylight, and with that, Sorcha emerged out of the car and into her first experience with the real human world.

Chapter Text

Claire clung tightly to his hand as he led her through the streets of Inverness. Her eyes were huge as watermelons, pupils blown wide as she tried to take in all the sensations assaulting her. 

Jamie thought the buildings were the first shock she was trying to come to terms with. Her neck craned up to look at them, glancing nervously at their looming presence all around them. She’d seen Jamie’s house, of course, but that was nothing like the crowded buildings of the city. Her eyes glanced upward toward the sky— likely grounding herself with the one familiar aspect. Much to Jamie’s delight, she then glanced toward him, and peace flashed across her face. 

If Jamie’s nearness offered comfort akin to the sky, he could die happy. 

The buildings were quickly overshadowed by the disconcerting nature of the people around them. She shied toward him— her body pressing to his side like it was her refuge— every time another person passed, even if they were meters away. Some of the passersby gave her strange looks, apparently seeing her odd behavior (not to mention her attire) which completely unnerved Claire. In addition to never having interacted with another human save Jamie, she was used to being invisible to them. The puir wee thing trembled at his side, but bravely continued on. 

“Dinna fash, they’ll no’ harm ye,” Jamie reassured quietly. 

She gave him a wordless nod, lips pressed tightly together, and continued to meld herself to his side. She no longer stared like a deer in headlights at every person close by, but he could tell she still snuck wary glances at those who wandered near. 

As they continued to walk on the cobblestone street, passing by shop windows with elaborate decorations and advertisements, Claire’s anxiety gradually subsided. She began to sneak peeks at the shops as they passed, and Jamie smiled to himself. As the trepidation was replaced more by curiosity, she melted inch by inch. Soon, her death grip on his hand became one of simple connection. She would pause every once in a while to study a shop window, tugging on Jamie’s hand to get him to stop. 

He catered to her every whim, even when she wanted to stop and run her hands reverently over the bricks of one building for several minutes while he struggled to explain the basics of construction. 

During their (very slow) progress down the street, a broad smile gradually formed on those bonny pink lips. Her eyes now wide with intrigue, Claire was coming alive. 

It lightened his heart immensely to see her beginning to enjoy herself and overcome her apprehension. At first, he’d worried to himself that it would all be too much for her— that maybe he’d scare her away from the human world with this single traumatic experience. But that wasn’t the case, and his own anxiety had eased along with hers. He delighted in watching her explore the world with endearing enthusiasm. 

He was pulled to a stop once again as Claire peered into the window of an ice cream shop. 

“What is this place?” she asked in wonder. 

“Och, ‘tis a place where they make food— a special kind called ice cream that humans particularly enjoy.” Jamie was starting to get better at his explanations, trying to boil them down to the simplest things she would understand. (That was more difficult than he would have imagined, mind, because a usual explanation for ice cream would have included descriptors such as “dessert” and “sweet”, but Claire of course lacked the background knowledge for that to make any sense.)

She nodded at his words but didn’t tear her eyes away from the displays of colorful ice cream inside. A smile spread across his face as he watched her take it in, his heart swelling with affection yet again for his strange lass. 

“God, I wish ye ate. If this were a movie ye ken there’d be a grand scene where I take ye inside and ye’d experience ice cream for the first time, yer world lightin’ up the instant ye taste it,” he said to himself. 

She did tear her eyes away then, to give him a furrowed-brow look of bewilderment. 

“What?” 

Jamie laughed and shook his head. “Dinna mind me, Sassenach,” he dismissed with a chuckle. 

They continued on at their snail’s pace, but before long, Jamie was nearly hauled off his feet by Claire abruptly stopping in front of a trash can. 

“What’s this?” she inquired as she reached a hand toward the nearly overflowing bin. 

“Dinna touch it,” he pulled her back rather forcefully by their joined hands, and he felt bad when she instantly latched onto his side again, thinking it harmful because of his forceful response. Her fingers were clutching his shirt in a white-knuckled grip.  

“It’s no’ dangerous,” he quickly amended, “that’s jes’ what humans do with waste. Things that arena good any more or they dinna need.” 

“Why don’t they need all these things?” Claire asked in confusion, squinting her eyes at the contents. 

Jamie wasn’t sure exactly how to answer that. “Weel, did ye no’ have things that once served a purpose but then no longer did?” 

She peered up at him and gave a shake of her head. 

“The Earth provides what we need, and when we’re done, it returns to the earth to be used again.” 

“Aye, that’s a good way to live,” Jamie murmured. 

Claire still seemed disturbed by the trash as they began walking again, but she soon forgot all about it as more things caught her attention. A passing bicycle brought up a whole new conversation, and Jamie had to chuckle to himself imagining his graceful faerie bumbling around the pedals and clinging to the handlebars. Maybe someday…  

Finally— after taking more than three times the amount of time it would have taken the average person to go this short distance— they arrived at the wee thrift shop, tucked on the corner. 

Jamie knew the owner, a Mrs. Fitz, who was a very distant relative of his. Although to be fair, everyone in the highlands was practically related. As Jamie pushed open the door and led Claire inside, the little bell rang in welcome and Mrs. Fitz instantly popped up from behind a rack of clothes, her face shining with enthusiasm. 

“Och, Jamie , lad!” she exclaimed, “it’s sae good t’ see ye!” 

She clasped both her hands over her chest in delight and gave him a wide smile. The shopkeeper quickly bustled over to him, arms outstretched for a hug. But as he tried to withdraw his hand from Claire’s, she stubbornly refused to release him, so he was left giving Mrs. Fitz an odd, one-armed side hug. 

Drawing back, she seemed to notice Claire for the first time, and blinked at her for a second. 

“Ah, and who is this ye have wi’ ye?” she asked Jamie. She looked pointedly down at their clasped hands, up at Jamie, and then back at Claire. 

He looked on in amusement as Mrs. Fitz truly took in Claire’s appearance— the wee lass standing there in his huge jacket, sagging sweatpants, and feet clad in socks and sandals. Mrs. Fitz’ eyes seemed to bulge as she looked at her, and Jamie realized he’d better give an excuse before the shopkeeper combusted. 

“This is my… friend, Claire. She’s visitin’ but lost her luggage, and we need tae get her all new stuff. Could ye maybe help us out?” 

Mrs. Fitz’ agog morphed quickly into a motherly look of sympathy. 

“Ye puir thing, of course we’ll get ye everythin’ ye need.” 

She made toward Claire as if she was about to hug her and then lead her toward the racks, but Claire hastily took a step away, bumping into Jamie in the process. 

“No’ a hugger I see, no problem,” Mrs. Fitz said accommodatingly with hands raised. 

Instead, she simply turned on her heel and headed over toward the first rack in sight— jeans. 

Claire was quiet, looking around the room abstractedly and not paying the slightest bit of attention as Mrs. Fitz prattled on about the pants, speculating about Claire’s size and which might best suit her. Jamie was trying to answer the questions on her behalf, but was distracted by the look on Claire’s face, which had suddenly lit up as something caught her eye. 

For the first time the entire trip, she let go of Jamie’s hand. (The moment felt absurdly monumental, and he found himself feeling empty without the sensation of her hand clasped in his). He resisted the impulse to gape at her with an open mouth as she wandered across the room with rather astounding boldness. Then, he spotted exactly what it was that had caught her attention. 

A gauzy white dress hung on a display hanger, it’s hem fluttering just in the slightest from the air vent above it. 

“I like this,” she announced, halting Mrs. Fitz from her perusal of the jeans. 

“Och, a dress lass, are ye? Well I think that’d suit ye jes’ fine. Why dinna ye try it on while I grab some others I think might work for ye?” 

Jamie quickly thanked her and took Claire’s elbow, steering her in the direction of the dressing room. 

“Ye can change into it back here to be sure it fits,” Jamie murmured into her ear. 

In one fluid motion, he opened the curtain of the dressing room, shoved the dress into her arms, herded her inside, and then closed the curtain again. Every second Mrs. Fitz wasn’t studying her made it more likely they’d get through this without arousing too many questions. 

It took Claire a rather long time to change, he thought. Although she did have a lot of layers to peel off. While she was still inside the changing room, Mrs. Fitz returned and deposited an armful of dresses into Jamie’ lap, all in the same size as the one Claire had picked. 

The shopkeeper was just about to open her mouth to ask him something when the bell over the door rang and she scurried away to greet the other customer. Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. 

It was then that the curtain flew open and Claire emerged, clad in her white dress. 

Jamie nearly had a stroke on the spot. 

She was divine. The white dress fit her perfectly, clinging to her curves down to her waist where it flared out into the draping of the skirt, the hem falling to just below her knees. A hint of cleavage teased at the neckline, skin creamy-white and looking oh-so soft. She swayed gently back and forth with a faint smile, and the gauzy material of the skirt flowed around her with the movement. It was as if the dress had been made for her. 

Under the bright lighting of the shop, Claire’s glow seemed muted to him, although certainly still there. It seemed to accentuate the perfection of the white dress and her dark hair that flowed down her shoulders in sharp contrast— giving her the air of an angel. 

Jamie was astounded. 

Unaware of how speechless she’d left him, Claire asked shyly, “do you like it?” 

He had to swallow three times before his dry throat was capable of answering her. 

“Ye look beautiful,” he forced out. 

She beamed, twirling around in excitement— which made the skirt billow up around her— and then suddenly she was launching herself at Jamie. Claire hugged him tightly, bare feet on tip-toes as she tried to reach up to be closer to him. 

“Thank you, Jamie,” she breathed warmly. 

He was ecstatic that something as simple as a new dress could make her this happy. 

Mrs. Fitz chose that exact moment to return, her footsteps pattering over and barging in on what Jamie considered a rather private moment. 

“Oh, my dear!” she exclaimed as Claire and Jamie parted, “ye look breathtakin.” 

Jamie couldn’t have agreed with her more. 

Claire flushed, eyelashes lowering demurely, and quietly thanked her. She had barely gotten the words out when Mrs. Fitz began shoving a couple pairs of shoes into her hands. Then, just like the whirlwind she was, Mrs. Fitz breezed off again. 

Jamie handed Claire another dress to try on and took all but one pair of the shoes from her. Then, he sat back down to wait. 

When Claire next emerged, she was wearing a black sundress with a floral design. Although the hem was above the knee, it wasn’t quite as form-fitting or astonishingly perfect for her (although he thought everything suited her, of course), so Jamie managed to better keep his composure this time. 

But the moment she turned around to show him the back, Jamie’s heart stopped beating and his blood ran cold in shock. 

He all but tackled her inside the dressing room, falling in after her and then frantically slamming the curtain closed. Once Claire was safely behind him in the privacy of the fitting room, Jamie peeked out a little to ensure no other customer had seen. 

Then, he very slowly turned back toward Claire, whose big honey eyes were staring up at him in question. 

He didn’t address her. Instead, very gently, he placed his hands on Claire’s shoulders and turned her so he could look at her back again. 

The sundress had a low back— a very low back— which exposed the two delicate appendages there.  

Wings

Transparent, beautifully fragile— wings. That laid perfectly flat against her back and shoulders. 

Jamie reached a finger out, mesmerized, to gently trace the outline of them. 

But the second he made contact with the edge of one, she let out a little squeal and jerked away. 

Jamie withdrew his hand as if he was burned, clutching it to his chest in shame. 

“I’m sorry, I shouldna have—” 

“It’s alright,” she said as she turned to face him, “I just wasn’t expecting… Is that why you shoved me in here? My wings?” 

Jamie blinked several times, trying to get his brain to catch up to the situation. 

Of course she had wings. She was a faerie after all. 

The sound of his name jerked him back to reality, and he realized he’d never answered her. 

“You have wings!” he exclaimed daftly, still failing to answer her question and merely staring at her, open-mouthed with astonishment. 

“Oh,” she said, glancing behind her at her back casually, as if checking to see they were still there, “of course I have wings. Purely decorative though, I’m afraid.” 

Jamie was still struck dumb, but he longed to look at them again. The dressing room was too small for him to be able to walk around her, so he simply reached out and turned her a second time. 

They were beautiful. Heartbreakingly delicate looking. He could see through them everywhere except where the veins laced through, like a butterfly’s wing. The edges curved gracefully up toward her shoulders, ending in a point. It took all his willpower to resist the urge to touch them again without permission. They laid flat against her back, and he wondered distantly if she could move them. 

As if sensing his curiosity, they suddenly fluttered back toward him— nearly hitting him in the face— and Jamie jolted backward with a surprised laugh. 

Claire shot him an amused look from over her shoulder, and fluttered them again in demonstration. 

“They’re… beautiful,” he breathed reverently. 

“Thanks,” she replied bashfully, “I always thought them dull, really. Some fae have much grander wings, mine are rather small.” 

Jamie couldn’t bear to hear any disparaging remarks aimed at the perfection that was Claire, and he made a Scottish sound of derision deep in his throat. 

“Everythin’ about ye is perfect,” he stated firmly. 

Her wings had settled back flat on her back by this point, and Claire turned around to face him, cheeks adorned with a becoming blush as she adjusted the straps of her sundress over her shoulders again. 

“Well…” Jamie said, eying her up and down, “as bonny as ye look in this dress, I’m afraid we canna buy it for fear of exposin’ ye to the world. Ye’re no’ exactly verra inconspicuous...” 

Claire bit her lip, perhaps embarrassed about forgetting that minor detail when she’d showed him outside. But he was quick to reassure her. 

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. No one saw ye earlier. Yer secret’s safe wi’ me.” 

He tried to give her a wink, which he was aware was a skill at which he was woefully inept, and she burst out laughing at his attempt. 

In that moment, he wanted more than anything to lean down and press his smile to hers. 

Before he could do anything foolish like act on the impulse, he quickly ducked out of the dressing room, eyes still fixed on Claire. 

He slipped backward through the slit at the edge of the curtain… and right into Mrs. Fitz. 

Stumbling away from her, he whirled around to find the shopkeeper with her hands on her hips, face red with admonishment. 

“James Fraser,” she uttered in a menacing voice that indicated he was in big trouble, “I understand that ye’re infatuated with yon lassie, but I canna believe that ye’d engage in— in— such depravity. In my shop!” 

Jamie fell back a step, hands raised defensively. 

“I wasna…” 

But Mrs. Fitz wasn’t having any of it. “I wilna condone such behavior, especially not in public when other customers are around. I’m appalled by your behavior, Jamie Fraser—” 

When she paused for breath in her tirade, face growing redder by the second, Jamie took the opportunity of the minute gap to jump in, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Fitz, but I promise we werena doin’ anythin’ untoward . Listen, we’ll take the lot and be out of yer hair.” 

Jamie gestured frantically toward the pile of dresses and shoes, then reached into his pocket for his wallet. He produced a wad of cash and held it out toward Mrs. Fitz like a peace offering. 

She looked him up and down for a long moment, eying him and the money with narrowed eyes. Jamie thought for a second that he’d be taking Claire home empty handed, but then Mrs. Fitz reached out and snatched the cash from his hands. 

“I want you out,” she said curtly. 

Jamie nodded frantically and instinctively backed away a step. Without breaking wary eye contact with Mrs. Fitz, he called into Claire, “get dressed, a nighean, we’re leaving.” 

With that, Mrs. Fitz turned on her heel and stalked away, as if she couldn’t stand to be in the presence of such a depraved lecher for one more second. Jamie sighed to himself. All of Inverness would be hearing about this within the day… no way he could hide Claire from Jenny for long. 

A minute later, Claire emerged from the dressing room, clutching the jacket to her chest. 

“Jamie, what—?” She started to ask. 

But Jamie cut her off by simply taking her hand and tugging her toward the door, his other arm juggling their purchases (which of course he had no bag for since there was no way he’d push his luck asking for one). 

Once they were safely outside in the Scottish gloom, Jamie slowed down— realizing he had been dragging the puir lass nearly off her feet in his haste to be gone. 

“What—?” She tried to ask again. 

“Nothin’ tae fash about, a nighean,” Jamie assured her, “it was only a wee misunderstandin’ wi’ Mrs. Fitz. But hopefully these dresses will do.” 

Claire, bless her, tended to take Jamie at his word, and so she didn’t press him for any more details. Quite honestly, her trust in his dismissals of things was a breath of fresh air in contrast to his sister Jenny’s stifling desire to wring every last bit of information from him. He wondered distantly just how long Claire’s innocence on this front would last. But for now she was content to let him take the lead with all things human, and he was happy to take it. 

Jamie’s strides were still long and hurried as he brought Claire back toward the car. Thankfully, she was unresisting— she’d probably had enough exploring for one day. Although Jamie knew he hadn’t actually done anything wrong (save going in the dressing room with a fully clothed lass— because she had wings for pete’s sake!), he still felt like a young lad caught with his pants down around his ankles. He wanted to be away from the shop and the talk that surely would be following in their wake. 

The stream of thoughts that occupied Jamie’s brain was interrupted by Claire tripping and nearly toppling over onto the cobbles stones. 

“Woah, lass,” tumbled from Jamie’s mouth at the same time as the pile of clothes on his arm started to fall to the ground. 

With an impressive feat of juggling, he managed to pull Claire upright with one hand and only lose a couple dresses and one pair of shoes with the other. 

“Sorry,” she mumbled, letting go of Jamie’s hand so she could stoop down and pick up the fallen items. When she straightened, she pulled at the legs of her sweatpants in frustrated illustration as she said, “I keep tripping over these.” 

“Weel, ye needna suffer them any longer, a nighean,” he laughed, and he lifted the shoulder holding the new clothes, “let’s find ye somewhere tae change.” 

The “somewhere” Jamie settled on was an old bookshop. It was right across the street, so Jamie simply herded his wee faerie inside, trying to make his armful of items look as discrete and nonchalant as possible. 

The bookstore was old and musty. Something about it had a feeling of another time, as if the world stopped the moment you stepped in. The bookshelves were crowded, with only narrow aisles between, and every one was stuffed to the brim with books. The lighting was rather dim, and Jamie had to squint his eyes a bit as he took it all in. Spotting the front desk, he brought Claire over to it. 

Attending the shop was a woman nearly the same age as Jamie, with long red hair that cascaded down her narrow shoulders and over a name tag that read “Geillis”. When she looked up at them, he saw that she had the most startling shade of green eyes. Almost like a cat’s, he thought distantly. Something about her prickled the tiny hairs on the back of Jamie’s neck. 

But she greeted them quite warmly. 

“Good day, how can I be assistin’ ye?” she asked with a bright smile. 

“We’re jes’ needin’ a place tae change, do ye have a loo?” 

The lass, Geillis, eyed him up and down for a long moment before her gaze flicked to Claire. To his astonishment, the lasses made steady eye contact for a long stretch of time, green meeting whisky, and then she suddenly broke it to smile politely at Jamie. 

“Of course,” she said, “we canna have yer hen paradin’ around Inverness in that outfit, can we? It’s on the far side.” She pointed helpfully in the direction. 

“Thank ye,” Jamie said, and quickly dragged Claire off. 

After seeing her inside the bathroom to change into her white dress and new shoes, Jamie took to perusing the shelves. All the books were old, likely this was a secondhand shop, and mostly titles he didn’t recognize. He became absorbed in the looking, though, so much so that he nearly jumped out of his skin when a figure appeared beside him. 

“Find anythin’ interesting?” Geillis asked. 

Jamie quickly composed himself after the fright, and answered, “eh… jes’ lookin’. Quite an assortment of titles ye have here.” 

He ran a finger over the spine of one of the books. 

“Quite,” she agreed, “I take pride in procuring the selection.” 

“Ye own the shop then?” Jamie asked. 

A nod in confirmation. “My name’s Geillis Duncan, nice tae meet ye,” she said, extending her hand. 

Jamie took it, shaking amicably, and replied, “James Fraser.” 

“It appears ye and yer lass have had quite the… adventure…?” She said with raised brows and a glint in her eye. 

“Oh, she’s not my—“ but Jamie cut himself off, finding that he didn’t have it in him to deny the thing he so desperately wanted. Instead, he finished lamely, “aye, we have.”

He wasn’t exactly sure what compelled him to admit it, but he suddenly added, “honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss.”  

At that moment, the door to the washroom opened, and Claire emerged, clad in her white dress. As she made her way toward them, a book was suddenly shoved into his hand. 

He looked down in surprise, and then up at Geillis. 

“This one is on me,” she whispered, drawing close to his ear, “read it carefully, fox.” 

Bewildered, he didn’t have any reply. And apparently he didn’t need one. Because he had glanced over at Claire, and when he looked back toward Geillis, she was gone. 

“Ready?” Claire asked as she reached him. 

Jamie shook himself out of his startlement at the shopkeeper's abrupt disappearance and gave Claire a smile. 

“Aye, lass.” 

Hand in hand again, they walked out of the shop, the book Geillis had given him still tucked under his arm. 

*

Chapter Text

“Here, put back on yer jacket, lass,” Jamie said to a shivering Claire, extricating it rather clumsily from the pile of clothes on his arm and handing it to her. 

The puir lass still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of the whole “weather” thing, and as the sun hid behind the clouds and the air grew cooler, she was beginning to tremble. 

Claire took the jacket from him, her fingers brushing his in the process, and he found himself shivering as well— though not from cold. 

They were almost back to where the car was parked. Jamie’s plan was to dump the awkward armful of loose clothes, but he was hoping that their outing wouldn’t end quite yet...

“I ken this has been quite the day for ye, a nighean,” Jamie began tentatively as he opened the trunk, “but I had one more thing in mind that I think ye might enjoy. Would ye like to see it or do ye want tae go home?” 

Her arms were wrapped around herself as Jamie shoved everything into the trunk and closed it. When he looked up, she was nodding eagerly. 

“I would love to.” 

A broad smile spread over Jamie’s face. He wasn’t sure she’d say yes, quiet as she’d been since they left the store, but he was delighted by her enthusiasm and hoped she’d like their last stop. 

Jamie locked the car with a beep before turning toward Claire again. Spotting her opened jacket, he muttered “ach, ye’ll freeze”, then stepped closer and reached out for the zipper. 

She looked up at him with huge whisky eyes and he had no choice but to meet them. He hyper-aware of the proximity to her body as he drew the zipper up very slowly, each tooth coming together inch by inch. The moment seemed to drag on for eternity, but he didn’t want to let go. Once the zipper reached the top, Jamie’s hand lingered, just barely under her chin. He was so close to her that he could feel the puffs of her breath, and his whole body thrummed with the tension that sparked between them. 

How easy it’d be to tug her just the tiniest bit closer and—

Claire’s chest rose under his fingers in a shaky inhale, and that was what broke him out of the trance.

Stepping away from her sharply, he shattered the moment of connection like a stone thrown into a placid pond. The forced distance between them tugged at his heart, but he retreated to a safe couple feet away— where his brain could work enough to keep him from acting on his inclinations. 

He couldn’t have named the look on Claire’s face, but her usually expressive features seemed to fall into a carefully placed mask of neutrality.  He gave her a smile in reassurance, hoping she wasn’t offended by his odd behavior, and offered her his hand. Touch was a comfort to her, and he wouldn’t dream of withholding that just because it turned his head and his heart into mush. 

The moment she took it, he began to lead her in the direction of their last stop. 

**

The Inverness Botanical Gardens were only a couple blocks away. As soon as they entered the gates, Claire’s eyes went wide with delight as she took in the expanse of colorful plants and flowers in bloom. She stopped walking abruptly, and simply stood in enrapturement, hand clutching Jamie’s even tighter. 

“See. Humans arena sae bad,” he joked. 

Either she didn’t hear him or didn’t care to respond, wrapped up in the scenery as she was. 

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed reverently. 

To his surprise, she let go of his hand, walked a few steps over to the nearest bed of flowers, and promptly dropped to her knees. Jamie’s heart clenched in endearment as he watched his Sassenach reach out and caress the leaves of the various plants. She seemed to want to touch every one, torn between frenzy and delicacy as her hands moved everywhere. 

He could have watched her enjoy herself like this for days, completely uncaring of the people passing them by who were likely giving them queer looks. But he only had eyes for Claire. 

It struck him once again how fitting the name Sorcha was for her. She was truly becoming his light— brightening his whole world, his very existence. In comparison, his days before her seemed so empty. He felt oddly detached from that time before Claire, as if it was a different lifetime rather than several days ago. 

If he was certain of anything, it was that he couldn’t go back to living that minute existence. Not when he knew the joy that was loving her. 

Every time Jamie lost himself in such thoughts, he had to spend the next while talking himself off the ledge. This time was no different. As he watched Claire touch the plants (she’d moved on to the next bed by this point), he desperately tried to force his brain back to rationality. 

Okay, so ye love her. There’s no helping that. But for Christ’s sake, lad, keep yerself together. Ye’re the one person she has in the world. Ye canna be making declarations of love, that isna fair to her. 

It was the same words he told himself over and over. 

Ye can be her friend. That’s enough. 

But as he watched the awe and delight shining on her face that made his own brighten in answer, he felt like his heart was on his sleeve— on display for the whole world and aching with the yearning. 

God, he burned for her. 

He was shaken from his besottment by a worker approaching Claire. Protective instinct flaring, he took a few steps toward his faerie, meaning to put himself between them. The moment she noticed the young man beside her, she bolted to her feet, stumbling backward into Jamie. 

“Sorry, didna mean to startle ye,” the young man said to her. 

Jamie placed both hands on her shoulders, trying to still her and communicate that everything was alright. Sliding one hand down to her back, steadying, Jamie stepped up to her side. 

The worker lifted his hand to scratch a little awkwardly at the back of his neck. “It’s just that I couldna help but notice yer enthusiasm. Are ye a botanist yerself then?” 

Claire shot Jamie a look over, brows furrowed, and he quickly answered for her. “Nae, but it is a bit of a hobby for her.” 

The lad gave a nod. “Oh, very good. Well, I hope you enjoy yer visit. Dinna forget to check out our greenhouse.” 

Just as he was turning away to leave, Claire suddenly burst out, “This flower—” The young man turned around, following Claire’s point to a small patch of flowers, “the sobrach albannach…” 

He looked a little confused, but simply said, “primula scotia, or Scottish primrose. What of it?” 

“It’s getting too much water. It’s choking the life from the plant.”

The poor lad had no idea how to respond, completely taken aback. He stared at her open mouthed for a second, and then looked back at the plants, eyes narrowing in thought. Then, he stooped down to inspect them even closer. 

“Ye’re right,” he exclaimed in astonishment. He looked up at her with a smile spreading over his face, “thank ye.” 

Claire beamed, looking incredibly proud of herself, and Jamie couldn’t help but swell a little as well. 

“My pleasure. Do take care of them,” she said sweetly. 

With that, she slipped her hand back into Jamie’s and they walked away, leaving the worker to his Scottish Primrose. 

*

“How did you ken that?” Jamie asked once they were a fair distance away. 

“I can feel it, can’t you?” Claire answered matter-of-factly. She looked up at him in question, and Jamie shook his head. 

“We canna.” 

Claire gave a shrug, not particularly bothered. “Plants are the lifeblood of this earth. You have to care for them, treat them with respect.” 

That didn’t do much to answer Jamie’s questions, but he decided to let it go in favor of enjoying Claire’s company. They walked on for a while, Claire absorbed in the various flora. Since not all of it was native to Scotland, she would sometimes let out a squeal of excitement when discovering something new (though now she mostly stayed anchored to his side). It took the depths of Jamie’s botanical knowledge to try to provide her with insights about some of the ones with which she wasn’t familiar, but unfortunately that didn’t extend very far and the lass was left burning with curiosity. 

Curiosity was not exclusive to her, though. Jamie had been burning with questions about the faerie ever since he’d met her, and only little-by-little did he come to discover more about her. 

One unexpected incident brought an intriguing discovery. 

While they walked hand in hand through the gardens, their pace a leisurely stroll, they passed by a family of what appeared to be tourists. 

“Ven aquí*,” the mother (or at least that’s who Jamie assumed she was) shouted to her child, a little girl trailing a few feet behind with tears rolling down her face. 

“M- me quedo aquí,” the child cried in hitching sobs of agitation. Obviously she was having a bit of a meltdown. Jamie was familiar with the woes of tantrums from his nieces and nephews, and tried to lead Claire away. But his Sassenach remained rooted to the spot. 

“No tenemos tiempo para esto,” the mother shot back with exasperation in her weary tone as she waved a beckoning hand. 

“No voy a salir,” the girl’s voice was almost a scream now, her parents and siblings getting farther away. It seemed the mother was going to play the “I’ll leave without you” card. 

Claire’s eyes had gone wide and disturbed witnessing the exchange. She shot a look at Jamie, then back at the girl. To Jamie’s astonishment, she let go of his hand and walked straight up to the crying child. 

Kneeling down, Claire gently asked, “¿Qué pasó, querida? ¿Por qué no quieres ir con tu familia?” 

Jamie’s mouth dropped open. What the devil did she say?  

His brain was still trying to process Claire’s perfect accent and apparent fluency in Spanish when the girl replied with a hitching, “Se me perdió mi flor.” 

“¿Tu flor? Hay muchas flores aquí.” Claire responded gently. 

“Sí, p-pero ésta fue especial, y se me perdió y ahora no puedo encontrarla,” the little girl sobbed as she clutched her chest, her words coming out in a jumbled rush. 

“No te preocupes, podemos buscar juntas,” Claire replied in a soothing tone. 

Jamie was trying desperately to keep up with the situation and wondering how the hell Claire knew Spanish. He had no idea what she’d said, but in the next second, Claire was taking the little girl’s hand and walking toward an offshoot of the path, still speaking back and forth. 

Fearing a potential kidnapping scandal and not wanting to lose sight of his displaced faerie, Jamie scampered after her, calling, “Claire!” 

She looked back at him, halting, and gave him a smile, as if oblivious to the fact that she was about to run off with a strange child in tow. Apparently sensing his worry, she explained, “it’s alright, Jamie. I’m just helping her find her flower so she can leave with her family.” 

His rapid heart rate slowed exponentially. He was still struggling a little to grasp Claire’s apparent Spanish knowledge and wondering if somehow there were varieties of Hispanic fae that had ended up in Scotland, so he simply responded with a daft “oh.” 

It was at that moment that Claire’s head swiveled to a spot just behind Jamie and she let out an exclamation. She dropped the girl’s hand and darted toward a nearby flower bed. Jamie turned to watch as— with practiced ease— she plucked a flower from the bush. 

“Yo sé que no es la misma, pero esta flor es especial también. Es mi favorita. ¿Le gusta?” 

Claire stretched the flower out toward the little girl in offering. There was silence for a moment, then a cry of delight. The little girl suddenly ran forward and launched herself right into Claire’s arms, scooping up the flower from her hand and wrapping Claire’s neck in a hug all at the same time. The faerie laughed happily, giving the girl a pat on the back.  

With only a quick, “¡gracias!”, the girl was running after her family. 

“De nada,” Claire called after her with a blinding smile that only Jamie was privy to. (He’d take it. He’d take all of her smiles and hold them dear in his heart, even if he wasn’t the recipient.) 

Then— looking incredibly nonchalant— she straightened up, walked over to Jamie, and slipped her hand back into his. 

Left slightly flabbergasted from the whole situation, Jamie stayed motionless in the spot, looking down at her. 

Claire returned his gaze quizzically. 

“You— you speak Spanish?” Jamie asked after recovering his tongue. 

She nodded, casually, but didn’t expand.  

“So you speak English, Gaelic, and Spanish... Do fae speak more languages?” 

She looked at him with an indulgent smile, as if— of all the questions he’d asked her during their time together— this was the foolish one. “I speak hundreds of languages.” 

He boggled at this, turning a little so he could look at her better. 

“Human languages?” 

“Of course! And others.” 

“You astound me,” he breathed, “in- in the best way,” he hastily added. “Here I was thinkin’ I was impressive speakin’ Gaelic, English, and a wee bit of French.”  

She smiled brightly. “You are impressive, Jamie. You know how to do so much— things I could never imagine...” 

Jamie warmed all the way through at her praise, and gave her hand a slight squeeze. 

Though he was still burning to know more, this wasn’t the place for a 101 course on faeries. He took her hand and continued walking, essentially putting an end to that conversation. The visitors of the park were gradually filtering out, providing nice privacy as they strolled along, but he still didn’t want to risk it. He had to bite his tongue to avoid asking things that might prove problematic should others overhear. 

So they walked along, chatting about safer topics. Jamie tried to explain the purpose and function of a botanical garden, and Claire listened with rapt attention. As they strolled, though, she began to grow quiet. Claire drew closer to Jamie, her arm pressed against his, and no longer made moves to touch any of the plants they passed. 

The sun was just starting to go down, illuminating the path with a soft, golden light. When he looked down at Claire, he could see it reflecting off her curls, highlighting streaks of varying shades of brown. 

“Are ye tired, lass?” He asked after Claire had been particularly quiet for a bit. 

She gave a slight bob of the chin, and at her nod, Jamie led them over to a park bench. 

They sat down together, Claire pressing herself flush against his side. She wasn’t shivering— thank God— but she seemed particularly clingy.

“Thank you for today, Jamie,” she said softly, “I never could have done it without you. I… I actually had a great time.” 

Contentment swelled through Jamie. “I’m glad, mo nighean donn. And dinna mention it, I’m jes’ glad I could be wi’ ye.” 

“I mean it,” she looked up at him, eyes wide and earnest, “I don’t know where I’d be without you. Lost and alone…” 

A shudder ran through her, and Jamie felt an answering one of his own creep up his spine at the thought of Claire by herself. 

“I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing for me,” she finished. 

“Ye dinna even ken….” he murmured, mostly to himself. He shook his head as his own thoughts overwhelmed him. 

“What don’t I know?” she prompted, and Jamie realized that he’d actually said it out loud. 

The way she was looking at him— those honey eyes soft and empathetic, making his wame twist into knots— he had to tell her the truth. 

“I was alone before you. I had my family, of course— my sister and brother-in-law and their children. But I went home to an empty house every night. Went through my routine, slept in the dark alone, and then did it all again the next day. Oh, Claire,” his voice caught in his throat, “ye turned my life upside down in the best way. I didna ken how much I needed you until suddenly I’d found ye. And I canna even imagine life now without ye in it…” 

His eyes were brimming with tears by the time he finished, and Sorcha was looking at him with the warmest expression. Almost… loving? 

“You have me now,” she whispered. Her wee hand raised up to his face, softly brushing over his jaw in one grounding stroke. 

But he didn’t. Lord help him for his greed, but he wanted her forever. As his own. 

He looked down at her and her hand stilled on his face, but she made no move to withdraw it. Jamie was breathing raggedly, feeling a pull toward her that took all his willpower to resist. Her face was tilted up toward him— so damn close — and the air felt thick and heavy. 

She never broke their locked gaze, just stared up at him warmly. Jamie knew his heart must be in his eyes. Surely she could see it? 

He found himself drifting just the slightest bit closer, his face tilting down… 

But he loved her too much to bridge the distance. 

So he froze there, completely under her spell and happy to be there, yet heartbroken by all the things he couldn’t allow himself to have. 

Claire seemed to notice the change in him, because she drew back a bit. She glanced down at her lap, then away from Jamie. If he wasn’t mistaken, there was a hint of pink gracing those high cheekbones. 

But surely that couldn’t mean anything… 

“It’s getting late,” he stated lamely. 

That snapped her attention back to him. “Please, let’s stay a little longer,” she pleaded. 

He could never say no to her. 

So there they sat, pressed close together. Claire took his hand again as the silence spread between them like a warm blanket— not stifling or awkward, simply the comfort of togetherness. Her hand had been in his all day, yet somehow the electric shock he got when he made contact with her never diminished.  

After a while, the sky began to show streaks of colors. The sun had fallen below the horizon, leaving a glow of pink and orange in its wake. From their vantage point on the bench, they could see the river, which reflected the colors in a brilliant display, like a second sky below. It couldn’t have been more perfect if Jamie had planned it himself. 

Claire’s head tilted toward him, leaning closer and closer until finally it was nestled on his shoulder. He squeezed her hand gently as his wame did the familiar flip-flop, not wanting to break the stillness but wanting her to know he was glad of her touch. They cuddled on that bench long after the sunset faded and the street lights blinked on. 

“Ye’ve had a long day,” Jamie murmured finally. He tilted his head down to look at her, and found her eyes were closed. “Let’s get ye home, lass.” 

She raised her head from his shoulder with slow reluctance, blinking her eyes drowsily.

Oh God, he loved her. 

“Ready to go, a nighean?” he asked her softly. 

She sleepily hummed, but gave no other response. He chuckled at her fondly, a rumble deep in his chest, and tucked an errant curl behind Claire’s ear. 

“Dinna fall asleep on me now,” he teased. 

Her eyes fluttered open then and regarded him with a look of pure innocence. “I’m not sleeping.” 

To prove herself, she got to her feet, but refused to let go of Jamie’s hand in the process. He followed her lead and stood up beside her. With that, he took her from the gardens and back out toward the car, his sweet lass occasionally swaying against him as they walked.

She seemed less drowsy by the time they made it to the parking lot, but the moment they were seated inside the car, she was draping herself over the cupholder and into his lap. 

His heart clenched with reminiscence of three days ago when he’d found himself in this exact position. How terrified he’d been then, so excited but bewildered, already entranced by the sweet faerie. He’d been in way over his head then, but now— now he was positively drowning in the intoxication of her. 

He never wanted to let her go.

***

Chapter Text

When they arrived home that night, Jamie thought it likely that he’d end up carrying her inside again. He came around to her side, opened the door, and then gently shook her shoulder. She woke just enough to get out of the car, but the second Claire was on her feet, she was leaning into Jamie and twining her arms around his neck.  

He wrapped his own arms, in turn, around her waist (just to steady her), and pulled her closer with forbidden longing tugging at his heart. 

“Jamie?” she murmured. 

“What is it, a nighean?” 

She was quiet for a long second. 

“Oh… nothing.” 

That unsettled him a bit; he wanted desperately to know what her sleepy confession might have been, but he wouldn’t press her. 

“Want me to take ye up tae bed, lass?” he asked, his heart skipping a beat as he made the suggestion. It was a completely innocent offer to carry her inside, but his mind couldn’t help drifting to the implications…

“That would be nice,” she mumbled against his chest. 

So, not one to refuse his Sassenach any request, he lifted her off her feet and carried her inside. 

Jamie was a stubborn man. He liked to think that meant he adhered to his principles, but Jenny always said it was just that he was hard-heided. Whichever it was, he insisted on putting her in the guest room— despite the evidence to hand that she wouldn’t be inclined to stay there. 

He deposited her gently into bed, watching as she sleepily settled in. She was well and truly conked out, the sweet lass, and Jamie thought she just might be too tired to wake herself up and climb into bed with him. Perhaps tonight would be the night she finally managed to stay in her own room?

And that thought disappointed Jamie more than he cared to admit. 

Flicking off the light and leaving her to her bed, Jamie headed toward his own room. He stopped dead in his tracks when a thought suddenly occurred to him. 

Real life. He’d forgotten nearly everything that day— caught up with Claire as he was. He hadn’t eaten since that morning, nor had he thought about work, which was expecting him the next day. 

But there was no way he’d be leaving Claire tomorrow, no way in hell, so he whipped out his phone. 

This time— not wanting to deal with Ian’s incessant questions (which surely would have only grown with the added day)— he simply shot him a text. 

<<Sorry, brother, I need another day. I trust you can take care of things. Thank you for understanding.>>

That taken care of, he headed downstairs. First order of business: the pile of clothes and things were still in the car (his hands had been a little full of a certain faerie when he’d come in the house), and he groaned before heading outside. He scooped up the heap and then went straight back in, dropping everything carelessly on one chair in the living room. The little book at the very bottom of the pile lay forgotten. 

Next, Jamie headed for some food. 

Adso sat on his lap as he ate at the table, probably feeling a bit neglected. He made sure to give him plenty of attention with indulgent one-handed scritches. Guilt was starting to tug at him as he thought about the responsibilities he’d been shirking ever since he’d stumbled across Claire. The lass made him lose his damn mind when he was around her, and he hoped someday he’d actually get it back and be able to attend to his responsibilities again. The company would do fine without him for a few days, but they did need him. Eventually he’d have to break free of this bubble he was living in and return to his obligations. 

He didn’t want to think about that, though. It was too painful to imagine explaining to Claire that he was leaving her for the day— her big, sad eyes as he walked out the door, leaving her upset and alone in the unfamiliar house… 

Jamie actually shook his head in an attempt to dislodge the disconcerting thoughts. 

*

Once he was properly showered and prepared for bed, he tossed his phone on the dresser face down and collapsed onto the mattress. It was only 10 pm, but he felt as worn out as if he’d been up for three consecutive days. 

Sure enough, only minutes after Jamie settled into bed, Claire came padding into his room, rubbing at bleary eyes. She was like clockwork, his faerie. 

He made no protestations this time. His earlier disappointment at the thought of her no longer wishing to share his bed deliciously ebbed away as she came toward him. Simply opening his arms for her, he rumbled, “come ‘ere, lass,” and Claire laid down beside him, resting her head on his chest and melting against him. 

“Goodnight,” he whispered into her hair. 

But she was already asleep again, breathing evenly, chest rising and falling against his side. 

Jamie followed her shortly, ensconced in the warm contentment of having her, once again, wrapped in his arms. 

Where she belonged. 

*

Jamie woke abruptly the next morning to the incessant ring of his doorbell. Whoever was at the door must have lost their bloody mind, because the ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong was obnoxiously unceasing. 

“Ifrinn,” he cursed under his breath as he shot out of bed. 

Claire, startled into wakefulness by his body leaving hers, jolted upright and looked wildly around the room as if expecting attack. 

“Stay here,” he told her as he darted from the room. 

Stumbling down the stairs, trying to run his fingers through his sleep-mussed hair and blinking away the remnants of unconsciousness, he made his way to the front door. 

“I’m coming, haud yer wheesht!” he called in frustration. 

The ringing stopped just as he reached the door. When he flung it open, he was greeted with the sight of his sister Jenny standing on his porch, her arms crossed and eyes glaring daggers, and Ian lingering just behind her. 

“What the devil are ye doin h—” he started, but Jenny interrupted him. 

“What the devil am I doin? What the devil are ye doin!” 

She shouldered her way past him, barging inside without a shred of social decorum. Her dander was clearly up. Jamie stood rooted in his spot, staring straight ahead, and Ian simply gave him a shrug. Then, his brother-in-law followed his wife inside, and Jamie was left to trail after them into his own house. 

“I dinna recall invitin’ ye in, Janet,” he grumbled as he shut the door behind them. 

Jenny was in no mood. “Four days and no’ a single word from ye? I’ve texted ye countless times, called ye even more, and ye dinna have the decency to let me know ye’re alive!” Her voice was raised in confrontation, and as she laid into him, her face grew redder with the heat of the upcoming battle. 

Jamie tried to maintain his cool in the face of this tirade.

“I told Ian I needed some days off,” he said patiently, “besides. I am no’ a child, Janet. I dinna have tae tell ye where I am at all times.”

Ian chose that moment to jump in, which was probably good timing, because Jenny looked close to exploding at his response. “Where have ye been, Jamie?” 

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Here. At home. Believe it or no’, sometimes people just need a break.”. 

“Oh, is that so?” Jenny hissed, “Then why is Mrs. Fitz callin’ me up to inform me ye were shagging a lassie in her dressin’ room?” 

Jamie threw his hands up in agitation. “Christ! I wasna doin’ anythin’!” 

“But ye were wi’ a lassie?” Jenny demanded. 

“Aye, but—” 

“Christ, Jamie! Is she the reason ye disappeared?” Her roaring tone had fallen into one that was more exasperated and accusatory. 

Jamie didn’t have an answer for her, mind grappling with how best to proceed— he clearly couldn’t tell her the truth about Claire, no way in hell she’d believe him. Jenny took his silence as a confirmation though, and her eyes blazed. He gave her a shrug. 

This insolence was apparently the last straw for Jenny as she threw her hand up to stop him from speaking and averted her face in disgust. 

“Who is she?” she asked in an even, low voice— one that indicated she would not tolerate anything but a straight answer. 

“Jenny, she’s no one ,” he said firmly, trying to infuse his voice with enough sincerity that his sister would take his word, “listen. She’s nothin’ but a fling. Somethin’ tae pass the time. I was feelin’ burnt out from work and… I jes’ needed tae blow off a bit of steam, is all.” 

The whole time he was speaking, Jenny had been deflating. Her shoulders lowered from their confrontational set and the fire in her eyes was dying down. Ian, on the other hand, stood there with wide eyes, his jaw fallen open. 

“Jamie,” Ian said, “I have never kent ye tae ‘have a fling,’ as ye say.”

“Well maybe ye dinna ken me as well as ye think,” was the first thing that came to Jamie’s mind to say. “Now, if ye’re quite finished interrogatin’ me about my love life and sticking yer neb where it doesnae belong, will ye please leave me tae have my day off in peace?” 

He thought they were both so taken aback that they just might leave without a fight. His suspicions were proved correct when Ian, face tinted with the heat of shame, took Jenny’s arm and started steering her toward the door. 

“Goodbye, Janet,” Jamie said pointedly as they stepped outside. 

“Goodbye,” his sister said numbly as Ian pushed her in the direction of their car. 

Resisting the urge to slam the door in her nosy face, Jamie closed and locked it. He still fumed from Jenny’s confrontation. The audacity. For her to barge into his house demanding answers, defaming his character…

He was just rounding the corner of the hall to head upstairs when he was stopped dead in his tracks by the sight of Claire, hand braced against the wall, eyes wet and shining with tears. 

She looked up at him when he froze in front of her, and the expression on her face nearly ended him. Heartbreak, betrayal, sorrow— all glittered in those bonny whisky eyes. 

“‘No one?’” she whispered, repeating his earlier words. 

A tear escaped the corner of her eye and trailed slowly down the side of her face. The sight of it was like an arrow to the chest, and his heart leapt to his throat. The precursor to full blown panic. 

For her part, Claire was completely motionless, save the slight heaving of her chest as she tried to keep herself in check.

Jamie reached out for her instinctively, but she shied away from his touch with a sharp step back, and his hand froze midair. 

Oh God, never before had she done that. 

“No,” he breathed, all the air punched out of him, “no, Claire, I didna mean that.” 

“That was your sister, wasn’t it? She asked, her voice tiny but accusatory. More tears were leaking from her brimming eyes now, and Jamie was torn apart with longing to take her into his arms. “You told your sister I was nothing to you?” 

She was angry, Jamie could tell. But it was the kind of anger that was a poor façade covering barely restrained hurt. Although she was standing firm in herself, her voice— and even her demeanor— seemed tiny. It was as if she was angry at him while at the same time wanting desperately for him to fix things.

“But it wasna true, mo chridhe,” he forced out, agonized to see the effect his words had on her, “I jes’ had tae tell her somethin’ t’ get her tae stop askin’ about you.” 

“Because you’re ashamed of me?” 

The breathy question rocked him to his core. 

“No,” he shook his head forcefully, “no, mo nighean donn—” 

“I can’t blame you,” she interrupted, and then her words came faster, “I just fell out of the sky and into your lap and ruined everything for you. Of course you don’t want to tell your family about the poor lost faerie you took pity on and—” 

“‘Ruined everything’?” he repeated numbly, shaking his head again as his brain wrestled with that particular phrase. 

“That is why they were here? You haven’t been seeing them? Or going to… what is it called?” 

“Work,” he answered automatically, “but listen to me—” 

She swiped a hand frustratedly over her face to clear the falling tears. She wasn’t listening to him, and Jamie desperately reached out and took her hand. 

Claire tried to jerk it away, but he held fast. His fingers were insistent but gentle on her soft skin. Every part of him entreated her to just hear the truth and to know the depth of his heart for her. 

“Listen to me, Sorcha,” he said firmly, “you havna ‘ruined’ anything. These past few days wi’ you… they’ve been the best days I’ve had in a long time. Maybe in my life. And I’m not ashamed of you. It’s jes’ that they dinna even believe in the fair folk, so it would be too much for them if I told the truth now. So I lied. Do ye hear me, Claire? I lied to them to stop their questions.” 

She was still, looking up at him with wide, red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks. She looked desperate to believe him, but was warring inside herself. 

It shattered him to see what the overheard words— his words, ones he’d chosen to say— had done to her. 

He had to make it right. He would. He couldn’t lose her over this. 

“I’m so sorry, mo chridhe. Ye were never meant tae hear that, because it was not true. Ye mean so much tae me. And with time, I promise I will tell my family the truth. Please, Sassenach, believe me.” 

The next few seconds when Claire remained motionless were the longest of Jamie’s life. His heart raced in his chest and the still silence weighed heavy on his bones. 

Finally… finally… she gave a wordless nod. 

Jamie let out the breath he’d been holding. He wanted desperately to reach out and smooth away the sad crease between her brows, to wipe away the tears and hurt and pain from her face. There were so many things he longed to do, but for the moment, he had to be content with having only her hand in his and her acceptance of his apology. 

Claire had finally managed to form words, and looked up at him with her face set. 

“I believe you,” she said quietly. 

That broke all his resolve. 

He bridged the distance between them and took her into his arms, hugging her tightly. 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair, “I’m so sorry.” 

So near he had come to the world dropping out beneath his feet. So close to driving her away with a careless misunderstanding... 

But Jamie’s shattered heart was miraculously healed the moment Claire’s arms wrapped around him in return. 

Forgiveness. 

A sob almost burst from his chest, but he managed to restrain it. Instead, he simply embraced her more tightly, pouring out unspoken promises into the touch. 

I won’t hurt you like this again. I won’t betray your trust. I promise I’ll tell them with time. 

And as she squeezed him tighter in return, he knew she accepted them. 

*

A short while later, Jamie found himself in the kitchen chopping vegetables for his lunch. Claire had asked him if she could take a shower, likely needing a moment to herself, so he’d taken her to the bathroom and turned it on for her before reluctantly leaving her to collect herself. His thoughts were spinning with regret and guilt, but every time he began to berate himself, he grounded his turmoil with the knowledge of her forgiveness. 

He’d heard the shower turn off minutes ago and hoped Claire would be coming to find him soon, but he wouldn’t push her. She needed to come to him. If not, he’d let her have her space. 

All of a sudden, the tip of the knife blade he was wielding sliced into his finger, having missed the edge of the tomato and glided straight into the skin of his forefinger.  

He cursed as pain zinged through him and he dropped the knife. The blood was already beginning to well up, dripping onto the cutting board, and he quickly grabbed the dish towel and wrapped it around the wounded digit. It was nothing too serious, but still hurt like the devil. 

Jamie was cursing under his breath when a voice came from the doorway. “Jamie?” 

He whirled around to see Claire, standing across the room, her eyes wide with concern. 

“Are you alright?” she anxiously asked. 

The faerie had caught sight of the blood on the cutting board and all of a sudden was rushing toward him. Jamie didn’t even have time to tell her not to worry. She just took his wrapped hands in hers— with equal parts desperation and gentleness— and demanded, “what happened?” 

“Dinna fash, it’s no’ but a wee scratch. The bleeding will stop in a minute,” he assured her. 

She was studying his face with concern, eyes darting to the bloody cutting board and then back up to him. 

“Let me see,” she said firmly, leaving no room for argument. 

He hadn’t even given his consent before she started to unwrap the towel. With the loss of pressure, more blood came welling up from the cut. Heedless of the bleeding, though, Claire dropped the towel to the floor and wrapped one hand around his fingers, placing the other on top. 

Jamie would have attributed what happened next to a blood loss hallucination if it wasn’t for the fact that he hadn’t actually lost all that much blood. 

A glow of soft yellow light shone from between Claire’s cupped hands, and then a warm, tingling sensation began in Jamie’s finger. As the light from her palms grew brighter, the pain started to ebb, little by little. Jamie could hardly wrap his head around it, and simply stared down at their hands with wide, disbelieving eyes. After only another second, even the residual sting was gone. The glowing light died away and Claire removed her hands, revealing his finger— completely unblemished, with not a single hint of damaged skin. 

Jamie’s mouth gaped open as he looked at her in astonishment. 

“Ye…” his wits were gone and he had trouble forming the words, “Did ye—? Ye can… heal?” 

 Claire gave an offhanded shrug. “All it takes is a little concentration and energy,” she stated, as if it were the most casual thing in the world. 

Jamie was still dumbfounded. “I— eh… wow! Thank ye, lass,” he finally managed. 

He was so blown away by her that his brain didn’t comprehend when she took his hand in hers and began gently rubbing it. There was no trace of injury left, but she still seemed troubled, and was stroking his hand comfortingly. Her thumb traced several times over the spot where the cut had been. 

His slightly addled brain found her distress over him incredibly endearing. When she stooped down to grab the towel and began to gently wipe away the residual blood, Jamie simply stood still and allowed her to care for him. 

Once she was finished cleaning off his skin, she looked up at him with a startlingly fierce expression on her face. 

“You need to be more careful,” she said, “you had me worried.” 

Jamie couldn’t help but smile. “Really, it was nothin’, lass. Besides, I have you tae patch me up now, it seems.” 

Claire was not smiling. Her face was set in concern, brows furrowed as she gazed up at him. 

“I won’t lose you,” she said softly. 

“Oh, mo nighean donn, ye wilna lose me.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly, demonstrating its capability, “I’ll be careful. I promise.” 

***

Chapter Text

After the unfortunate incident with the knife, Claire had been reluctant to leave his side, still buzzing with worry over him. She’d gotten herself well and truly worked up, and Jamie thought that they needed to do something lighthearted and low-stakes. The day so far had been so charged with tense energy that Jamie thought perhaps being outside in the familiarity and tranquility of nature would do her some good. 

“Do ye fancy a hike?” he asked Claire, who was sitting curled up on the couch. Immediately remembering that “hike” was likely not a word in her vocabulary, he amended, “a wee walk about outside?” 

Claire’s face brightened instantly and she perked up. “Oh can we? I feel so stuffed up!” 

Jamie was proud of himself for once again correctly guessing what would be good for her. Perhaps he had her figured out now… 

Thus the preparations began. It was an unseasonably warm day for autumn in Scotland, so Jamie was comfortable with Claire wearing one of the armload of dresses provided she also wore his jacket. Most of them still lay on the chair where he’d deposited them the night before. He grabbed one out for Claire, handed it to her, and then she disappeared off to change. When all of the rest of the dresses had been draped over his arm to bring upstairs, he noticed the book laying on the chair. The Woman of Balnain. 

Alarm bells went off in his head, and his curiosity peaked, but he didn’t have any time to spare to look into the book. It’d have to wait. As he tossed the clothes upstairs in the guest bedroom, he took a stop by his office to place the book on his desk. Soon. 

For his own preparations, he suited up in his well-loved hiking boots, packed a backpack of water and snacks, and considered their destination. Claire likely wasn’t interested in a car journey (she’d had enough excitement for one day), so perhaps just a walk about his property and a stroll to the neighboring monro. It truly was beautiful: the heather was in full bloom this time of year, turning the hills into sweeping seas of purple. Claire would love it. 

So, they escaped out the back door and set out side-by-side along his property. They weren’t touching, just amicably basking in each other’s nearness. About two steps in, Jamie realized he needed to slow his pace. His long legs and inexhaustible hiker’s energy would far outpace his wee faerie. 

“I never thought tae ask…” Jamie began as they walked along, Claire’s face upturned toward the sunlight peeking through the clouds, “how old are ye?” 

“Oh…” she looked down shyly and then glanced back up at him from under her lashes, “I'm quite young really, I’m only 9 and 30.” 

Jamie’s mouth fell open. He was incredibly taken aback by this, having pegged her to be about his age if not younger, but quickly decided he could take it in stride. 

“‘Quite young?’” he chuckled, “ye’re practically a granny compared tae me, lass. I’m 29.” 

“29!” she exclaimed, as if she had just told her that he was the bloody queen rather than a decade younger than her, “but you’re so… why don’t you live with your parents?” 

Jamie nearly tripped over a stone in his path but managed to right himself before toppling over. Claire had stopped walking the moment “29” had left his mouth, and she was staring at him with a concerned gaze that uncomfortably reminded Jamie of how an adult might look at a lost child. 

But the pieces were beginning to fall into place in his brain, and he wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs as he gathered his thoughts. With a glance at Claire and then a tilt of his head, they resumed walking. 

“I sense that maybe there’s a wee difference between lifespans of humans and the fair folk…” he began uncertainly, “Humans only stay wi’ their parents until they are 18 or so. Besides, I lost my mam when I was young, and my da a few years back.” 

He wasn’t sure exactly what possessed him to share that last intimate detail with her, superfluous to the point as it was. He hardly ever talked about his parents’ deaths to people, and it disconcerted him a bit how easily it came tumbling from him now. Apparently a deep part of him wanted to share everything with her. 

“Ye said ye’re quite young…” he continued, and a horrifying thought suddenly struck him, “ you didna still live wi’ yer parents before ye came through the stones, did ye?” 

Oh Christ what if she was only a child by fae terms! She looked his age but…

His head began to spin, but she thankfully answered before he could work himself up any further. 

“No. I suppose things are a little different for the fair folk. We are taken care of by our parents until around 30 years of age or so. But I’ve been on my own for far longer than that. I… I lost my parents as well. When I was very young. I can hardly remember them really…” 

She gave a little tilt of the head, trying to keep the mention of tragedy casual, but he could see the pain in her eyes that wouldn’t meet his. 

Jamie’s heart ached for her, tinged with the familiar longing for his own parents. It seemed they really were kindred spirits— him and Claire— two lost souls who’d somehow come to find each other. 

“I’m sorry, lass,” he said huskily, “so that’s what ye meant when ye’d said ye’d been takin’ care of yerself yer whole life? Did ye no’ have other family?” 

Claire shrugged her shoulders a little, as if her clothes were too tight, and shook her head, her curls billowing in the gentle breeze to hide half of her face. He knew she wasn’t hiding from him intentionally, but it still made his heart clench to see her discomfort. 

“Not really. But the fair folk are rather communal. We are often near each other, even if we don’t live as a family unit per say. Others made sure I was well, and I had friends and other fae around, but mostly I’ve been—” 

She left the word “alone” unspoken, but the meaning was clear. The undeclared word seemed to linger in the air between them, weighty and heart-wrenching. 

At this new declaration, Jamie couldn’t help but reach out and take her hand. She wasn’t alone anymore after all. Maybe she felt that way, but Jamie would be damned if it were true. He wouldn’t leave her. Her wee hand slipped easily into his, and he allowed his thumb to drift over the peaks and valleys of her knuckles. 

“I’m sorry,” he breathed. What else could he say in the midst of such loss?

“What about you?” she asked, her natural radiance suddenly coming through in her smile, dissipating the heavy topic’s dark cloud, “will you tell me more about your sister?” 

Jamie couldn’t help a sheepish smile. “Aye, Janet is her real name. After we lost our mam when I was around 8 or so, Jenny became sort of a mother tae me. She was always there when I needed her, and— weel…” he let out a bit of a laugh, thinking about the earlier blow up with Jenny, “she’s always there now, sometimes too much when she’s sticking her neb intae my business… but I’m glad she’s there. I love her verra much.” 

Claire gave him a sweet nod and squeezed his hand. “I can tell she’s important to you.” 

Apologies rose in Jamie’s throat along with the resurfaced guilt from earlier. He had told the one person who mattered most to him that Claire meant nothing, and both of them were aware of it. But as much as he was bursting to lay himself at her feet and explain his mistake all over again, he’d already been forgiven, so it was time for him to move past it. 

His thoughts were interrupted by Claire letting out an exclamation. They had just rounded the edge of the monro, revealing the expanse of rolling heather— its purple waves spread into a picturesque canvas across the landscape. 

“Bonny, is it no’?” he asked, a hint of pride creeping into his voice. 

“It’s beautiful,” she uttered in wonderment. 

Feeling like a protagonist in a romance novel, he held tightly to her hand and led her through the field. Her skirt billowed in the breeze behind her, and her face was lit up with a serene joy. Riotous curls swept all around her head, and Jamie was enthralled. He found himself walking almost completely backward so he could watch her face as she took in the beautiful sights. 

He could admit to himself that it was cheesy, but to him, Claire would always be the most beautiful view. 

If only he could tell her that… To bring them to a halt, gather her into his arms, and kiss her until she was breathless…

He had to squeeze his eyes shut before the longing took him over. The words he always repeated to himself came to the forefront of his mind. 

You can be her friend, her anchor, but nothing more. She’s lost everything, ye canna take advantage of her. Pull yerself together. 

And so he did. He wiped all thoughts of kissing her from the slate of his mind— imaging a whiteboard of the errant imaginings being erased— and grounded himself in the moment. 

“Have ye ever seen a place like this?” he asked. 

She shook her head, still smiling in delight. “We don’t usually wander out as far as the moors. Well, some do. Some have experienced a great deal. But I hadn’t ever left my forest before now.” 

He nodded, going silent as his imagination overwhelmed him with images of him taking Claire to the beaches of Greece. Her joy as she took in the crystal blue waters, her dropping to her knees to grab handfuls of sand, her body clad only in a bikini as she jumped into the waves...

A question suddenly struck him and pulled him rudely from his fantasy. 

“Do the fair folk read?” 

She looked at him, uncertain. “Read?” 

He thought back to their adventure at the bookstore. She hadn’t actually asked him about the books, but she hadn’t made any indication she knew what they were either. It had been an overwhelming day; he couldn’t blame her for not asking about every single thing when it was all unfamiliar. 

“Do you have language in a written form? With symbols?” he expanded. 

She gave a little shake of her head and looked curiously at him. “We communicate verbally, like we’re doing now. What is reading?” 

And thus, Jamie set into the best explanation he could manage. About communication, learning, writings surviving the years to give insights into ancient ways, the power of stories in human culture. 

“We tell many stories,” Claire told him during a break in his explanation, “all passed down from one generation to the next. Like I said at the gardens, language is everything to us.” 

He nodded thoughtfully. Jamie’s curiosity about the fair folk was well and truly peaked, and as they walked along, enjoying the serenity of the warm day and the feeling of earth under their feet, he launched into more questions. 

“This may be a difficult question tae answer, but… how are ye alive if ye dinna eat? I mean… humans get energy from things we eat, where do you get yers?” 

“Well… I suppose a simple way to explain it is we get energy from everything around us.” She made a wide, encompassing gesture to their surroundings. 

“Like from the sun? Like plants do?” Jamie’s brain was running away with thoughts of Claire going through the process of photosynthesis. 

“No, it’s… it’s hard to explain. It’s more like… I just tap into the energy of the earth. I don’t really know how else to say it.” Claire gave him a bit of a helpless smile, and Jamie returned one in dismissal of the topic. It didn’t matter to him so much how exactly it worked so long as it did. 

“Okay, one more question,” he asked, hoping he hadn’t already pushed her too far with his curiosity. 

But his fears were assuaged when she answered indulgently, “you can ask me as many as you want, Jamie.”

That got his head spinning. What he really wanted to know was about relationships between the fae. Did they have marriage? He longed to ask her (and maybe get down on one knee depending on the answer), but he bit his tongue. It wouldn’t do to be scaring the lass with a daft question when he couldn’t even keep his feelings in check. No, he’d save that one for another day. 

“I appreciate it, lass, but jes’ one more for now. From the stories I’ve heard from my mam… and that many people believe in Scotland, ye’re supposed to leave offerings of milk and sweets— food— for the fair folk tae eat. But ye dinna eat, so…”

Claire let out a laugh then. Not one of mocking or disdain, but pure enjoyment. And it lit up Jamie’s soul to hear even though he had no idea why it was she was laughing. 

“You humans think you have us all figured out. That one, my lad, is one you all made up completely on your own. I’m sure half of the things you believe are mere superstition,” she answered with an entertained gleam in her eye. 

Jamie could have talked to her for hours, deciphering which of the scottish legends were true or man-made, unraveling the secrets that made up his mysterious faerie, but he noticed she was starting to droop a bit. Her pace had slowed, and despite the wide smile still gracing her face, Jamie thought it was time to turn around. 

“Come now, lass, let’s go home.” 

She gave a grateful nod, and with that, they turned back. On the way home, Jamie began to explain all about his job. About the publishing company— his whole livelihood based on stories. Claire seemed to lighten at that, and Jamie started to mentally catalogue which books he’d have to read to her first, imagining her delight as she was introduced to all different kinds of worlds and knowledge. 

The sun was just beginning to go down as the cottage came in sight. The clouds were lit in a warm golden light, and specks of it sparkled in Claire’s hair. Rather like the color of the aura around her — he thought. He looked at her then, really looked, and saw the soft shimmering cloud, barely visible in the golden sunlight. They were no longer holding hands, but he thought if he took just one step closer, he could feel the warmth of it. Indulging himself, he did, and found it to be just like it always was. A sense of well-being, of serenity, of Claire. 

*

“Would ye like another shower, a nighean?” he asked as they stepped inside the house and he took the jacket from her. 

She looked quite excited by this idea. “Oh yes, please.” 

He inflated with the pride of pleasing her and had to hide his smile as he hung their jackets on the hook. 

“Well alright then. But only if I can take one after ye, I must smell worse than the underside of a stag.” 

Much to his surprise (and perhaps even horror), Claire suddenly was on top of him, her face pressing against his shoulder and hands casually rested on his sides, holding him still. There was the sound of a deep inhale, and then she withdrew her face with a smile. 

“I think you smell wonderful,” she said sweetly, without a hint of sarcasm in her tone or guileless eyes. 

Jamie laughed out loud, his chest heaving with the force of it. Claire laughed along with him, although he wasn’t entirely sure what she was laughing about. 

Overcome by his giddiness (the lass had just smelled his oxter and liked it for Christ’s sake!), he leaned in and caught her around the waist. Holding her body against him, he lowered his head and took a whiff of her neck. His nose brushed the skin there, and she began to squirm against him, the softness of her clouding his mind. 

“Ye smell like…” 

His words cut off as she struggled playfully, making him laugh. The squirming only egged him on, and he easily held her incapacitated as he sniffed again, this time on the other side of her neck. She pushed half-heartedly at his chest, but at the same time, she seemed to be leaning closer to his touch. 

He had been planning to tease her, to finish his sentence by listing whatever horrible smell he could think of and demanding she shower immediately, but he found that when he really thought about it, she smelled fresh as a summer rose. Like the heather of the fields and crispness of the breeze. 

Of course she did, the lass didna drink, she likely didna sweat either. 

Just another enchanting thing about her— she would always smell intoxicating. 

“Actually ye smell good,” he finished lamely.

His hands fell from her waist, releasing her, and she pushed away from him while continuing to laugh. 

“Well I’d like that shower either way,” she teased. 

As he headed toward the bathroom to turn it on for her, he began to berate himself over their little display. His eyes squeezed shut with the force of his embarrassment.

That was something a couple would do. Not friends. He’d been overcome by flirting in the moment, the nearness of her that seemed to make him lose his heid. He’d stepped over a line. 

The feeling of her squirming in his arms, of holding her body against him, lingered in his mind long after he’d left Claire to her shower. He sat down at the kitchen table and buried his head in his hands. 

He had to get himself together. 

*

While Claire showered, Jamie needed to take care of real life. Food was first-and-foremost, and then he had to set about the task of taking more time off work. There was no way he could leave her. That was the same thing he’d told himself the last few days, and Jamie briefly wondered if he ever would be able to. It certainly wasn’t getting any easier. 

As he pulled out his phone to shoot Ian a clipped and matter-of-fact text about yet another absence, Adso gave him a green stare of disapproval from his perch on the coffee table. 

“What are ye judgin’ me for?” he asked the cat indignantly. 

Adso simply gazed at him some more, even and unwavering in his haughty objection. 

Jamie sighed heavily, “I guess ye’re right,” he told the cat, “I’ll call him. Now stop eyin’ me like that.” 

Whipping out his phone, he reluctantly initiated the call. 

“Hi, Jamie,” Ian answered, seeming rather muted compared to his usual exuberant greetings. 

“Hello, a charaid,” Jamie said, and then there was a long silence. Guilt was seeping into his brain at the thought of possibility driving his family away. The cat really had convicted him… 

“Listen, I am—” “Jamie, I wanted tae—” they both started at the same time. 

“I’ll go,” Ian volunteered, “I wanted tae tell ye that I’m sorry we ambushed ye this mornin’. Ye’re right. Ye’ve worked hard wi’ out a single day off in years, ye deserve a vacation if that’s what ye’re needin’.” 

“Thank you, Ian. I’m sorry, too. I shouldna have blown up at ye and ignored yer calls. I’ve jes’ been… sortin’ through some things.” 

“I understand that,” Ian chuckled. 

“Listen, were ye serious? About me takin’ as many days as I need?” 

“Of course.” 

“Then ye willna bite my heid off when I ask ye for the rest of the week?” 

“Ye’re a canny one makin’ me say it before ye drop that bomb on me… Of course, Jamie. Take the time ye need. Ye’d tell me if anythin’s wrong, wouldn’t ye? Ye ken ye can talk tae me about anythin’?” 

Jamie’s heart clenched. “Of course, Ian. Thank you. Listen, I hafta go, but I’ll see ye soon, aye?” 

“Aye. And Jamie… maybe gi’ yer sister a call? I ken she wants tae apologize.” 

“Alright, Ian,” he answered rather noncommittally, still stinging from their fight, “Bye, a charaid.”

With Ian’s quick goodbye, Jamie hung up and sat back heavily in his chair, sighing at Adso— who was looking smugly satisfied over making Jamie do the right thing. There was barely a moment of silence between them before he thought about the fact that Claire had been in the shower an awfully long time. 

“Wee besom’ll use up all my hot water,” he grumbled at Adso on his way toward the bathroom to check on her. 

Not that he really minded in the slightest. Claire could use up all the hot water and leave him taking cold showers for the rest of his days and he would just thank God that it meant she was with him.

Chapter Text

Claire was lost in the heavenly feeling of water rushing over her skin— hot and soothing to her muscles, easing all the tension out of her. It wasn’t often that she felt truly warm these days. The few occasions included being wrapped in the soft (what was it called… blankit?) and sitting in front of the “space heater.” Or being wrapped in Jamie’s arms... 

As much as she loved all the human conveniences for warmth, nothing compared to the feeling of Jamie’s ever-present heat seeping into her as he clasped her securely to his body. Just the thought of his arms— unreasonably big but still soft, making them the perfect place on which to rest her head— twisted her belly and made her flush a bit. 

She tangled her fingers through her curls, letting the water flow down to her scalp. Her head fell forward in pleasure and a sigh escaped her lips.

But her luxuriating was interrupted by a woody bang from outside and Jamie’s voice calling, “are ye doin’ alright, lass?” 

She startled a little and then nodded before remembering that of course he couldn’t see that. 

“Better than alright. I’ll be out in a second,” she replied cheerily. 

Feeling a sudden haste (that may or may not have had anything to do with her human), she stepped out of the shower and grabbed the soft (also a blankit?-) thing... and used it to dry herself off. She wrapped it around her middle and then made to open the door. 

A bit of disappointment tugged at her when she saw that Jamie was nowhere in sight. Figuring he was taking care of whatever it was that he needed to, she padded down to her room to change. 

The collection of dresses they had gotten were delightful. She hadn’t had a chance to put them all on yet (especially after their hasty departure from Mrs. Fitz’ place), but just looking at them made her feel excited. Her favorite was by far the white one— it was most reminiscent of what the fair folk of the seelie court wore— but seeing the darker colors piqued her interest. She chose a dark blue one for now and quickly pulled it over her head. Her curls were still drying, but she didn’t think it’d be a problem. Peeking behind her to make sure her wings were covered (though it probably didn’t matter if Jamie was the only one seeing her), she decided it would do. 

As she wandered back into the hallway, meaning to go down and maybe find Adso, she suddenly caught sight of Jamie and her jaw dropped. 

He must have just finished with the shower because he was bare save the blankit wrapped around his hips and there were drops of water smattered over his chest and shoulders. There was no indication that he’d seen her, busy as he was doing… whatever it was that he was doing— but she couldn’t seem to take her eyes off him. When she had told him he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen, she hadn’t been exaggerating. Looking at his smooth, tanned skin— dotted with occasional freckles that gave Claire the sudden urge to run to him and kiss every last one— she felt a heat rise in her cheeks. If only she could run her hands along every inch, to feel how smooth and soft it was under her fingertips...

But then he turned a little, getting ready to head toward his room, and she caught sight of his back. 

All the air was punched out of her. 

The skin of his back was marred terribly, the flesh criss-crossed by silvery-white lines that stretched all across it, healed laboriously from being brutally torn some time ago. Some indents were deeper than others, making divots in the skin, but others were barely visible other than faint lines. The scars made a terrible spider’s web across what should have been a perfect canvas. 

Jamie .” 

It was completely inadvertent as she suddenly found herself rushing toward him and a sigh of his name tumbling from her lips. 

He turned and saw her, his eyes widening, and then he hastily angled himself to make sure she couldn’t see his back. His cheeks flamed red— not with the sweet color of embarrassment, but rather the hue of shame that sent Claire’s insides twisting all the more.

“I didna ken ye were there,” he forced out. 

Claire couldn’t be bothered with words at the moment. She reached out for him, feeling her heart break at the expression on his face and the thought of his old wounds. First, she gently cupped his face, feeling the stubble rough against her palm. 

“Let me see?” she entreated in a whisper. 

He looked reluctant for a second, but then nodded against her hand. 

With as much gentleness as she could possibly convey, Claire took him by the shoulders and turned him. He went willingly, and then his entire back was on display for her. All the trauma. The evidence of raw pain now healed but forever etched into his skin. 

As if drawn by a magnet, her hand raised and just barely brushed over the marred skin. He tensed at first, which almost made her draw back. But in the next second, he was relaxing to her touch. Her fingertips brushed across shoulder blades and down the plane of his back, hardly any contact. She could feel— not just sense, but actually feel in her body— the echoes of his pain. 

“What happened?” she whispered. 

“Dinna fash, it was a long time ago—” he started, but she wouldn’t let him get away with dismissing this as if it didn’t matter. 

“Tell me,” she pleaded. 

She placed her whole hand over his back and pressed gently in reassurance that she was here. He wasn’t alone. 

“It was a car accident,” he began, a slight tremor in his voice, “ye ken, what we rode in the other day? Sometimes they crash. I dinna mean tae scare ye, lass—“  Claire almost laughed aloud at this. Even in re-living his trauma, he still was so concerned about her. “—but sometimes things happen. Infrequently, mind ye. They’re verra safe. But this time it wasna. Another car hit mine. I was jes’ a foolish lad of 19, and I wasna strapped in properly. I flew through the front window and went skidding on my back across the ground wi’ all the shards of glass and pavement tearing up my back.” 

Claire wasn’t sure what half of those words meant, but she could imagine well enough. She felt sick to her stomach with how well she did understand. It took great willpower to keep her hand steady where it lay on his back. 

“I lay in agony for weeks. It took me so long to recover that sometimes I thought I couldna bear to live.” 

Tears were beading at her eyes and she had to swallow the lump in her throat. The force of the pain she felt for his suffering hit her like a wave. As much as she didn’t want to add to Jamie’s discomfort, she found she couldn’t stop the tears from falling. 

“I wish I had been there,” she choked as she resumed gently tracing over his scars, “I wish desperately I could have healed you. Eased your suffering. I wish—” the tremor in her voice halted all words. 

Her vision was so blurred that all she saw was a flash of skin as Jamie turned toward her so he was facing her again. 

“Ye’ve the kindest heart, mo nighean donn,” he said quietly.  

She felt his hands gently cupping her face, and his thumbs swiped over her falling tears. She cursed herself for making him comfort her in a moment like this, but the onslaught of emotion radiating from him had overtaken her. But if she was being honest with herself, it was far more than her sensing his suffering and emotions. It went beyond empathy— the thought of him in agony hurt her directly because of the force of her love for him. 

Looking up at his face through the gathered tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m sorry you went through that, Jamie.” 

“It only made me who I am today,” he answered.

There was such strength in his voice. A man wise beyond his years. 

There was a strength in his heart as well— one that soothed the surge of emotions and brought calm to Claire’s reeling mind. 

“Are you ashamed of them?” she suddenly burst out, “You turned away from me when I saw...” 

“I dinna-” he swallowed, “I dinna show them to anyone. I have no use for pity. I hate it when people look at me differently when they find out. It’s jes’ no’ somethin’ I talk about anymore.” 

“Thank you for sharing it with me,” she breathed, understanding the gravity of his trust, “I could never pity you, and you should never feel ashamed. They’re a part of you, Jamie. And everything about you is perfect.” 

The air had never returned to her lungs during this whole conversation. Her insides were still knotted up with the strength of her emotion for him, making it hard to force words out. But she needed him to know. She loved every part of him. And she wanted his heart— complete with all the wounds and scars. 

“Ye have a good touch,” he commented softly as he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, “I’ve never let anyone touch the scars before, save the doctors and nurses or my family. But— I didna mind when you did...” 

The force of the last statement made it quite clear that he more than didn’t mind, he’d liked it, and Claire made a note to touch him as often as she could until he no longer thought of the scars as something ugly. 

“I like when you touch me too,” she suddenly found herself saying. She didn’t remember the words leaving her mouth, let alone deciding to say them, but she heard the echo of them in the air and saw quite clearly his reaction. 

Jamie’s whole body seemed to tense. He withdrew from her as if he suddenly couldn’t be near her, and her hand on him fell away to hang limply at her side. His downward glance as he avoided her eyes made her wonder if it had been wrong to say. The distance between them was like a blow, and the absence of his touch ached inside her. Perhaps she’d crossed a line with him? But for the life of her, she didn’t know what she’d done that was wrong. His energy had changed in an instant— one second they were sharing a connection, and the next, he was pulling away from her. 

“I’m sorry, I’ll— leave you to get dressed,” she stuttered out a bit helplessly. 

“Aye,” came his awkward response. 

When she gave him one last look before departing, she found his ears were red and he couldn’t seem to meet her eye. 

She went downstairs with a stone in the pit of her stomach, hoping desperately that she hadn’t inadvertently created a distance between them. 

***

The rest of the night passed with a soothing easiness. Jamie came down from his shower seeming quite his usual self again. She’d watched him make food while trying not to get entranced by the shapes of his muscles shifting underneath his shirt. They sat and talked for a while as he ate— him telling stories of his childhood and family. Jamie was quite the storyteller, and Claire found herself getting lost in his enthusiasm. His face lit up as he told her animatedly about his parents meeting, about his awkward years as a boy, and about an incident involving him, Ian, and an owl (at which she couldn’t stop laughing until her sides ached). Claire thought she would never tire of listening to him talk about his passions. She could tell he loved fiercely and felt things deeply, and that brought such a well of affection bubbling up in her chest that she had to get up and give him a hug. 

They sat on the odd, tall stumps, so she slipped off a little clumsily before bridging the distance between them, Jamie’s eyes wide as he watched her while he attempted to finish speaking. 

He chuckled as she looped her arms around his neck and squeezed— right at the end of his story. 

“What was that for, lass?” he asked, adorably breathless. 

His big hands came up to rest on her back, smoothing down it in response. 

She ran her fingers through his curls, enjoying their softness, and then answered without letting go, “you’re just so passionate, Jamie.” 

He had no response for her, but she didn’t mind. With one last squeeze to the nape of his neck, she let him go. But before she withdrew completely, she ran a tender hand along the length of his back. A silent reassurance of her acceptance of the scars— just as she promised herself she would at every opportunity. 

It was late. When she drew back from him, her gaze caught sight of the darkness outside, and she had to stifle a yawn. Seeing the distant stars (the familiar gleam making her bones ache with a sudden homesickness), she wandered closer to the clear square that let them view outside. 

“Tired, lass?” Jamie asked, craning his head to look at her from his spot. 

She nodded; there was no point in insisting otherwise (Jamie always could read her). As much as she would have loved to stay up to listen to more of his stories and look out at the stars, she was more than ready to sleep. 

“Will you lay down with me?” Claire asked, feeling suddenly shy. She didn’t turn around to look at him when she asked.  

There was absolutely no desire within her to spend any time away from him. She longed for the warmth and comfort of his arms— the long planes of his body against her. It was only with that safety and security that she found real rest. 

“Aye, give me jes’ a moment, lass.” 

Relief flooded her at his acceptance. 

Jamie rose, gathering his things, and she hovered behind him as he puttered around in the kitchen. The moment his hands were free and he started to turn toward her, she slipped her hand into his. He rewarded her with a soft smile that made her feel warm inside, and then took her up with him. 

Before long, she was under the blankits and waiting for Jamie to join her. She tossed and turned several times, her mind sorting through all the things that had happened that day. The argument, Jamie’s injury, learning about his past… there was so much to digest. In the unnatural quiet, her mind was racing with the assaults of too many things she didn’t wish to think about. It sometimes felt to her that life was moving so unbelievably fast. She wished it would slow down and give her a moment to breathe. 

That breath came when Jamie slid in beside her. Instead of laying down flat like he usually did (giving her the perfect opportunity to rest her head on his chest) Jamie fitted himself along the length of her back and pulled her close to him. The moment his body came in contact with hers, peace descended on her. A feeling took hold of her, a sensation that was indescribable and something she had never experienced before Jamie. 

“Is this alright?” Jamie asked with the sweetest sincerity that made her love him all the more. 

“Perfect,” she breathed, shifting back so she was fully encapsulated in his astonishing warmth. 

She drifted to sleep under the solid anchor of Jamie’s arms and the security of his presence.

***

Chapter Text

The next morning, Claire’s perfect tranquility was interrupted by a terrifying brring-brong. 

She jerked wildly around from her place on the “couch”, her heart racing in her chest, before she remembered the last time she’d heard that sound and Jamie had explained that it simply indicated there was someone outside. With cautious steps, she made her way toward the door and pressed her ear against it, listening. No sound of anything threatening at least. But also no sign of Jamie— who was upstairs in the shower.

Claire remembered the other day when there had been a man with something to give Jamie. It was probably that again, and if it was something important, she didn’t want him to miss it. 

Fumbling the odd shaped thing that opened the door, she tugged at it, but it wouldn’t budge. Then she spotted the problem and freed the sliding bit. After struggling with the oddities humans had for securing their place, Claire finally managed to free the door and it swung open. 

She was greeted by blue eyes— Jamie’s eyes— staring at her in astonishment. His sister. Claire had only gotten a glimpse of her the other day but there was no mistaking the fierce dark-haired woman that shared many features with her Jamie. 

“Who are you, then?” Jenny demanded. 

Claire was momentarily struck dumb. Thoughts of the last conversation— or rather, confrontation— that Jenny had with Jamie whirled in her head and made her feel dizzy. He hadn’t wanted his sister to know about her. But obviously that stone had been turned over, because here she stood in front of the woman, mute and motionless. She wished she could just disappear.

This whole being-seen-by-humans thing had its drawbacks. 

“Cat got yer tongue? Answer me! Who are ye, and what are ye doin’ answerin’ my brother’s door?” 

The expression Jenny was wearing could safely be classified as accusatory. Her eyes were narrowed, hands rested on her hips. Claire had to take a gulp of air. 

“Cat…?” Claire echoed. She glanced behind her to where Adso the cat was basking in the morning light— who very clearly did not have her tongue. Bewildered, she placed a hand to her mouth and shook her head, brows furrowed. 

She knew Jenny had said more after that strange human expression, but Claire was buzzing with anxiety so strongly that she couldn’t quite seem to remember. 

“Who are ye?” Jenny demanded, more slowly this time, clearly agitated by Claire’s befuddlement. 

A swallow. “Claire,” she managed, but she was unequal to the task of providing her with any more information.

Where was Jamie?

All of a sudden, Jenny shouldered her way past Claire and inside unceremoniously. It was only then that Claire realized a man was standing behind her. Ian, she surmised, based on what Jamie had told her after the last visit. He walked closer a few steps and held out his hand, saying in a pleasant tone, “I’m Ian. Nice tae meet ya.” 

Claire had no idea what to do with the proffered hand. She wasn’t inclined to touch strange humans and took a hesitant step back with her gaze fixed on it. She glanced back up at Ian and helplessly offered, “I’m Claire.” 

He gave her an odd look and then slowly lowered the hand. 

“Nice tae meet ye, Claire. Ye’ll have tae excuse my wife, she doesna seem to have any manners when it comes tae her brother.” 

Claire gave a shaky nod, unsure how exactly to proceed, and then simply stepped aside to allow Ian past her. 

Jenny was waiting for them, hands on her hips. 

“So I suppose ye’re the trollop then? The one from the fittin’ room? Ye’re the reason he’s been missin’ all this work?” 

Claire shot a glance over her shoulder, hoping beyond hope that Jamie would choose this moment to appear. But no one came to her aid, and Jenny was inclined to continue. 

“Well…” Claire wasn’t sure what trollop was, but she understood the last part well enough, “I suppose. But-” 

“-I kent my brother was a fool, but to bring his little play thing into his home…” 

“Dinna speak of her that way,” came a low, menacing voice. 

Claire felt a wash of relief as Jamie appeared across the room behind his sister, already glaring daggers and squaring up for a fight. 

“Jamie!” Jenny exclaimed, whirling around to face him, “What are ye thinkin’? Do ye even ken this lass?” 

Jenny seemed to grow red, and— sensing the burgeoning conflict— Claire needed a retreat. She inched her way across the room warily, slipping around Jenny, and then pressed herself to Jamie’s side. He was also thrumming with tension, his gaze never leaving his sister and his full height utilized, but as Claire slipped her hand into his, he seemed to calm a bit. The red energy around him began to ease in the slightest. 

“Aye, I ken Claire. And if ye didna come in here rarin’ for a fight, maybe ye could get tae know her too,” he said evenly. 

Claire wasn’t sure she was quite inclined to get to know this aggressive woman. Jenny was still bristling, occasionally shooting her a dark-eyed glance. Still, anything that was important to Jamie was important to Claire, and he’d told her how much he loved his sister and her family. She resolved to give this woman a chance, but she still wouldn’t make a move away from Jamie. His hand was warm and solid around hers, and it calmed her spirit. 

“Aye,” Jenny acquiesced after a tense silence, throwing her hands up, “explain yerself then.” 

No one made any move for a long second. 

“What would ye like to ken?” Jamie asked, and Claire could tell he was trying to keep his voice even and light despite the obvious frustration humming through him.  

“What is she to you?” Jenny demanded. 

Jamie floundered at this. His face went red, and he glanced toward Claire, back at Jenny, then to the ground. “She’s…” he started as he looked toward Claire again, but he obviously wasn’t sure how exactly to explain the relationship. 

“He’s mine,” Claire stated simply to save him the trouble. 

Because how else could it be explained better than that? 

Jamie’s face went impossibly redder, and his sister’s mouth fell open. Jenny glanced toward Ian, and Claire felt like she was caught in the middle of a spider’s web of gazes. What was with these people and their non-verbal communication? Just say something already! 

“Well then, I’d better sit down,” Jenny said begrudgingly. 

She promptly sat down on the couch, and Ian followed, sitting down next to her. Jamie, in turn, walked over to the chair across from them. Claire trailed after him before setting herself straight down on his lap. 

Jamie jerked in surprise as she situated herself as always, twining her arms around his neck and curling up. She saw as his eyes went wide and the tips of his ears (having only just now faded from her last words) flared deep red again. She liked his blush ever-so much but wasn’t sure exactly why he was reacting this way. She’d sat with him plenty of times like this. 

“Maybe find yer own chair for now, lass?” Jamie whispered into her ear. 

She felt confusion and something like disappointment rise up in her. Jamie was hers, and she didn’t understand why he was embarrassed. But she didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, so she quickly slipped off his lap. Grabbing a nearby chair, she couldn’t resist the urge to scoot it closer to Jamie’s. She needed him within arm’s reach. Finally, all was settled, and the only thing left was to begin the conversation.

The air felt heavy around them, and Claire’s apprehension grew. There was a pressure on her shoulders— she realized. His family’s opinion meant everything to Jamie, and Claire was suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect that Jenny’s disapproval could drive them apart. 

Needing the reassurance of his touch, she reached out and took ahold of Jamie’s hand. 

***

When Jamie had come down the stairs to find Jenny facing off with Claire (well, facing off wasna exactly the right term, because his puir faerie was practically trembling in the face of Jenny’s confrontation) and heard the things his sister was saying about her, irritation and something even deeper flared within him, and he quickly jumped to Claire’s defense. 

But the lass certainly hadn’t made things easy. First she’d declared him to be “hers” to Jenny, proudly and possessively, and then she’d sat straight down on his lap— making his sister’s eyes bulge and mouth gape. Jamie loved Claire dearly but needed to keep the situation in hand, so he’d quickly shifted her off of him with only a slight twinge of regret. 

Now, he sat with her hand in hand, ready for Jenny to launch in, as clearly his sister was ready to do. As much as he knew that holding Claire’s hand in front of Jenny would only increase his sister’s ire, he couldn’t dream of withholding that comfort from the faerie. Jenny had been studying their clasped hands for a long second, but then let out a sigh and turned to Claire.  

“How do you two know each other?” she asked, the veil of politeness over her voice quite obviously a front. 

Claire looked toward Jamie, looking unsure about what he would want her to say, and he hastily jumped in. 

“I met Claire at university in Paris. We kept in touch, and she decided tae come for a visit. She got in on Saturday.” 

Jenny and Ian nodded at this, and Jamie felt a sense of relief. 

“And since I’m certain ye’ll ask… the airline lost all her luggage, which is why we were at Mrs. Fitz’s. And no, we werena doin ’ anything, I was jes’ helping her do up a zipper.” 

Jenny gave an eyeroll at this, but didn’t otherwise comment. 

“And how is it that you have come to be spending the weekend in sin?” she accused bluntly. 

“We’re no’ livin’ in sin, Janet,” Jamie sighed. His exasperation had almost exceeded tolerant levels. 

“What about what ye said last time?” 

“Last time I let ye believe that simply to make ye shut yer gab. I didna say I was sleepin’ wi’ her, because I am verra much no’. Claire is only stayin’ wi’ me.” Jamie was about a second and a half from kicking Jenny and Ian off of his property and not speaking to his loud-mouth, rude, intolerable sister for a good couple years until she’d learned some manners. 

While all these thoughts were rolling around in Jamie’s head, Jenny was looking pointedly at their clasped hands, obviously not believing that they weren’t sleeping together. 

“Well,” Ian jumped into the conversation before Jenny could make another ill-advised comment, “Claire. What is it ye do for a livin’ then?” he asked politely. 

Claire’s eyes widened like a cornered fawn, the poor lass. She’d never heard that phrase before, let alone was she prepared to come up with an answer of a suitable profession. Jamie quickly jumped to her rescue. 

“She’s a botanist,” he said as he gave her hand a squeeze. He could feel the flutter of her rapid heartbeat in her wrist and hoped the whole ordeal wasn’t too much for her. Stretching his thumb, he ran the tip gently over her pulse point in reassurance. 

“Still tongue-tied, lassie?” Jenny asked with a hint of a sneer. 

“Lay off, Janet,” he growled. 

His sister raised her hands in exasperation. “The lass has said barely a word since we’ve arrived.” As if that explained why she was so hostile toward her. 

“If ye continue to speak so disrespectfully I willna allow ye to stay in my home another minute,” Jamie said in a firm, severe voice. 

“It’s alright, Jamie,” Claire broke in, giving his hand a squeeze. She turned toward Jenny and gave her one of her mega-watt smiles that made Jamie’s knees weak every time. Astonishingly, it did not have the same effect on Jenny. His sister just sat there, cold as ice, gaze locked on Claire’s, without giving a single inch. “I know I’ve been quiet. I’m just nervous about making a good impression on Jamie’s family. I know how much you mean to him.” 

Jamie wanted to throw his arms around his clever lass. Never once had she been in a situation like this, and yet she was so quick on her feet to say the right thing in a tense situation. 

Ian smiled at this, looking back and forth between him and Claire, obviously seeing the palpable connection between them. 

Jenny, on the other hand, was not impressed. 

“Ye shouldna worry about makin’ an impression, lass. Ye willna be around long,” she said dismissively, even going as far as to give a derogatory wave of the hand. 

Jamie’s mouth fell open in incredulity. Jenny had been hostile before, downright rude, but this was on another level of animosity. He let go of Claire’s hand and stood with surprising force, scooting his chair back a couple centimeters with a loud skidding sound. 

“This is you comin’ over tae apologize , Janet?” he roared, “No! I willna have it. Ye’ve said more than enough. Get out. Ye may return when I invite ye and no sooner, and that will only be when ye’ve managed to pull yerself together and apologize tae Claire.” 

Jenny was standing now too. Instead of the deep red of shame that she should have been wearing, though, Jenny was just as riled up as he was. 

Things were escalating far out of hand. 

“Ye bring this lass intae yer life and disappear wi’ out a word, and ye jes’ expect me tae take it as if it’s the most normal thing?” 

“Yes!” he exclaimed in exasperation, “that’s exactly what I expect ye tae do! I’m 29, Jenny, and ye’re actin’ like I’m some 12 year old who brought a girl home askin’ if she could spend the night. I make my own decisions!” 

Jenny’s shoulders seemed to slump. Not in defeat, but in acceptance of the fact that Jamie would be doing whatever he wanted and she didn’t have the power to stop him. 

And she said as much. 

“Fine. Ruin yer life wi’ this trollop. I’ll see myself out. And dinna worry about me comin’ back uninvited, I’ll no’ be gracin’ yer stoop for a long while, that’s for certain.” 

Poor Ian had been sitting motionless the whole time, gaping up at his wife in horror. He occasionally shot glances toward Jamie and behind him to Claire, but mostly Ian’s brain was churning with the conflict he was being dragged along with, forced to be on Jenny’s side. As the brazen besom turned toward the door, Ian rose from the couch. He looked helplessly at Jamie, his brown eyes wide with apology, and then followed after his wife. Jamie didn’t even make to shut the door, simply listened for it to bang close behind them. 

The second they were gone, he turned to Claire, ready to face a teary-eyed faerie horrified by the vile that had just spewed from his sister, ready to offer comfort and apologies, but— to his surprise— he was met with completely calm honey eyes. 

“Are you alright, Jamie?” she asked before he could. She reached out to run a soothing hand up his bicep. 

“Am I alright? Christ! Are you alright? I’m sae sorry ye hadta endure that.” 

“It’s not your fault, Jamie. She was being unfair to you,” she said softly. 

Jamie shook his head back and forth, “she was bein’ unfair tae you! Listen to me, mo nighean donn. I’m sure she didna mean it. She’s angry and hurt because she thinks I’m keepin’ secrets, and she’s protective and brazen and rude. But I ken one day she’ll come around.” 

Claire looked a little heartbroken then. “I’m not sure…”

Taking a step closer, he took her gently by the shoulders, his hands dwarfing the dainty curves of them. His voice lowered to a tone of incredibly gentleness, “are ye really alright, Sassenach?” 

Her eyes lowered. “She just.. scared me,” she admitted with a shrug. 

Jamie’s wame clenched. Jenny was making his worst fears come to fruition. He hated the thought that Claire felt she didn’t belong in this strange world, especially in his life (where he wanted her to stay forever), and here his sister was saying those things to her face. The puir lass was completely cut off from her home, and now even his own family was trying to drive her away from the one shred of security she had. 

He could only imagine the homesickness she must have been feeling at that moment. The longing for the acceptance of her people— her family. 

Unlike his , who was making her hate the human world. 

“I’m sorry,” he breathed, “nothin’ she said was true. And I’m verra glad ye’re in my life, no matter what my pig-heided sister says.” 

Claire was staring at him deeply, emotion reflected in her eyes. A mutual understanding passed between them, greater than any words. 

Then, abruptly breaking the surreal moment, Claire asked, “what’s ‘pig-heided?” in a terrible mimicry of his accent. 

Jamie burst out laughing, doubling over in half-surprise and half-mirth. A stitch quickly formed in his side as his air ran out. Tears were pricking at the corners of his eyes as he laughed, a release of all the pent up emotion. 

“Have— do ye ken what a pig is, then?” he asked breathlessly, still heaving with laughter. 

To his delight and relief, Claire was laughing softly along with him (or maybe at him) and didn’t take offense to his hilarity. 

With a smile, she shook her head, answering helplessly, “no...” She let out a chuckle. 

“It’s a fat animal that spends its days rollin’ in mud. I’ll show ye one sometime,” he explained, his hands still rested on his knees in his doubled over position. 

Claire nodded in acceptance of his answer and reached out for him. Her wee hands slid down his forearms, raising goosebumps in their wake, until she grasped his hands and pulled him upright. 

He wasn’t quite expecting this, and the force of her tug sent him up and stumbling into her. 

Their bodies collided, and in an effort to keep her from going over, his hands grabbed her around the waist. He stomped his free foot down to regain balance and pulled her flush against him. He must have overcompensated, though, because they both went stumbling a step in the opposite direction this time, their bodies pressed completely together. 

They ended this odd dance with a fit of giggles, clinging tightly to one another as they finally regained balance. 

“Sorry,” she laughed. 

“No, I am,” Jamie chuckled, “but I think we needed a good laugh.” 

“We did,” Claire agreed, more softly this time. They were settling now, Claire looking up with him with big, soft eyes, and the mood shifted starkly from hilarity to something… intimate. One of her hands was pressed to his chest, the other holding on to his tricep, and he could feel nearly every inch of her against him. 

The silence spoke louder than anything, and he couldn't seem to the break eye contact that was quickly becoming dangerous. Every bone in his body screamed at him to kiss her. 

Letting go of her abruptly and taking a step back, he plunged them both back into reality.  

“Come now, lass,” he said hollowly, “I’m hungry. Care tae help me prepare some food?”

Chapter Text

They spent the afternoon in lazy bliss. Together, they’d gone into the kitchen where Jamie had shown her how to whip up a burrito. Although most of it clearly went over her head, she had such a good time that she asked to make something else directly after he finished eating. 

After a brief explanation on how humans get full after eating, he gave in and offered to show her how to make cookies. 

Jamie felt distantly like his life had turned into a romcom as they baked cookies together. When Claire bumped him teasingly on the side, he grabbed a handful of flour and chucked it straight at Claire. Her mouth fell open in mock dismay before an impish gleam shone in her eye. Jamie learned that afternoon the true reason the word “impish” had originated to describe the fair folk. 

Claire was mischievous and exuberant in her retaliations. Handful after handful of baking supplies had been lobbed in his direction, shoved down his clothing, mussed into his hair, and even discreetly snuck into his pockets when he was later occupied with sticking the baking sheets of cookies in the oven. Long after their initial food fight had ended, Claire continued their little game. 

Later that afternoon while they sat together on the couch (the faerie’s legs draped over his, Jamie’s hands shoved under his own legs in order to keep from caressing her soft skin that was right there ), Claire had produced a handful of oats from nowhere and shoved them down his collar. He’d flung her legs off, grabbed her waist, and threw her over his shoulder without a second thought as she squealed and thrashed. Stalking to the kitchen like a caveman with his prize draped over him, he unceremoniously plopped her down and then dumped an entire bowl of excess flour over her head. 

“I give up,” she screeched, smacking blindly at his chest with her flour-caked face still screwed up, puffs of powder exploding from her lips. 

“Promise? No more surprise attacks when I let down my guard?” he asked guardedly, trying to keep his grin out of his voice. 

“You have my word,” she promised. She gave him a grave, floury nod. 

Feeling quite magnanimous now that he’d won, Jamie grabbed a dishtowel, wet it, and then approached Claire. 

He cupped the back of her head, feeling her curls tangling between his fingers, and gently wiped the flour from her face. Once her eyelids had been cleaned, she opened them and stared up at him with a soft look. His bones felt like they had been turned to water to be receiving such a look, and he struggled to focus on the task at hand as he tenderly dabbed at the spots of flour still left on her face. She stayed quiet, just looking at him and allowing him to clean up the mess he’d made. 

How he loved her. 

When the moment finally broke, their gazes tearing apart, Jamie inspected her hair. 

“No way I’m gettin’ this out of these curls. Do ye want a shower, a nighean?” 

“I would never say no to a shower,” she beamed. 

So, he’d graciously turned it on for her and then explained that he was going to get some work done. Leaving her to it knowing full well that she’d be in there for a long time, he headed for his office. 

But it wasn’t work he had in mind. 

There was another matter tickling at his brain. One he’d been itching at for far too long. He’d barely had time to breathe, let alone sit down and address it, until just this minute. 

He needed to read the book that the eccentric bookstore owner had shoved into his hands.

Unsure how to explain the strange interaction to Claire and disinclined to possibly worry her over nothing, Jamie still hadn’t mentioned anything about it. He’d been waiting to read it until he had a moment alone. 

Settling into his office chair, Jamie stared down at the cover of the mysterious book. He was motionless for a few seconds, feeling a strange uneasiness. 

The title was The Woman of Balnain. It was short, perhaps a novella, and the description on the back said that it was about a time-traveling lass. Why would the mysterious Geillis give this to him? 

He was just about to start into reading, but as he opened the book, several sheets of paper suddenly fluttered out and onto his lap. Warily, he picked them up, turning them over to see what appeared to be hastily scrawled notes. 

The words at the top made him draw a sharp breath. 

“The Standing Stones of Craigh na Dun.”

The following notes seemed like a jumble to Jamie, the words swimming together in his mind in his haste to take them all in. He began to read so fast that several times he had to pause and reread. Geillis— at least he assumed that she was the author of these notes— wrote about planes of reality, magnetic fields, magical properties of the standing stones...

And below that was another section that was entitled “traveling.” 

Gemstones. One could travel from this plane to another— through the stones— by use of gemstones. According to this, only some people (or fae, he supposed) could travel. But those who could had discovered that gemstones ensured their safety.  

His hand was shaking so hard that he dropped the papers entirely. He brought his trembling hands up to bury his face into them. The gravity of the situation sat heavy on his shoulders as the realization descended. 

If this was true, he’d just been handed the way to get Claire back home. 

*

What followed was perhaps an hour of frantic, mind-bending sorting of thoughts. He read and re-read over and over, trying to ensure that he truly had understood the implications of the document. But no matter how many times he reviewed the words on the page, the meaning was clear: If Claire had a gemstone, she could safely use the stones to return to her plane. To her people and her life. Away from him. 

But then he spiraled into doubt. How did he know he could trust this mysterious Geillis and her instructions? But as much as he wanted to deny it— to dismiss the entry as garbage and all thoughts of Claire leaving along with it— he couldn’t ignore the feeling in his wame that this was the truth any more than he could refute the fact that Claire deserved a shot at returning home. Besides, something about Geillis had seemed odd… mystical perhaps. Not in the same way Claire did, but he certainly believed that whoever (or whatever) the bookkeeper was, she knew a hell of a lot more about this stuff than he did. And she’d known about Claire. So in the end, while he wasn’t certain that she was a friend per se, he thought it likely she was at least an ally— and he believed what was written on the page was the truth. 

Once Jamie had addressed comprehension and credibility, he moved on to his sorrow. 

Grief over the thought of losing Claire. 

He was no longer lying to himself about the extent of his feelings. He was in love with her, plain and simple. Infatuated, enamored— all those things— but it went deeper than that. She’d walked her way straight into his heart and burrowed in there as sure as she did when she nestled against him in his bed. And now that she’d filled that empty space in his life, he couldn’t even imagine going back to the hollow loneliness of existence without her. 

Every part of him longed not to tell her. He could crumple up the page and throw it away, or better yet, he could burn it up without a trace, and she’d be none the wiser. 

But his mind swirled with images, memories eating at him that he couldn’t quite ignore. Claire crying against him only a few days ago, weeping for all she’s lost. Her trepidation as she’d faced the terrifying unknown of the city. The sheen of tears in her eyes that she’d fought back as she admitted Jenny had made her scared… 

As he thought about all she’d been through since being ripped from her home, he knew that taking away the chance to return would be unfair. He wanted to be selfish— God, help him, he burned with it…

But he loved her enough to let her go. 

A tear leaked out of the corner of his eye— scalding as it dripped down his cheek. He sat motionless in his office chair, his hand squeezing his opposite arm so tightly that the nails made deep red indents in his flesh, but he knew what he had to do. 

He’d tell her. 

Decision made, Jamie stood from his desk. His feet felt like they were encased with lead, and he was light-headed, as if all that thinking and agonizing had sucked his brain out with a straw. As horrible as he felt, he was resolved, and he made his way sluggishly downstairs. 

The scene in the living room nearly shattered that decision. 

Claire was asleep on his couch, all curled up and shoulders hunched under the fuzzy throw blanket she had clutched around her. Her bonny pink lips were parted just slightly and tiny whooshes of air tickled a single curl that had fallen over her face. 

He ached to see her like this for the rest of his life. 

Just as he was about to turn on his heel and leave her to her rest (this was not the time for such a heavy revelation), she stirred. His stubborn feet anchored him in place as he watched her shift, head lifting a bit, and her eyes blinked open. 

“Hi, Jamie,” she breathed sleepily. 

While giving him a fond but drowsy smile, her head nestled back down onto the throw pillow. She looked up at him with eyes that always reminded him of a fawn’s. 

“Havin’ a wee rest?” He asked tenderly. 

“Yes,” she breathed. She glanced him up and down appraisingly and then said, “maybe you should too. You seem tired.” 

Jamie was tired. He felt like he’d been put through a meat grinder several times over. Still, he knew there was no way he’d actually sleep even if he could tear his eyes away from her long enough to close them. 

But if Claire wanted a nap, and was hinting for him to join him, who was he to deny her?

He indulged his selfish desires for a moment and approached the couch so he could bend down and run a hand over Claire’s hair. 

She smiled drowsily and leaned into his touch. Her eyes blinked slowly as she gazed up at him. 

God, she was beautiful. 

“Let’s go upstairs, mo nighean donn,” he suggested quietly. 

His sleepy faerie did not seem inclined to get up. Her eyes had fallen closed again, but her hand blindly reached out for him. She caught his cheek, her fingers tracing over the stubble on his jaw. 

Then, suddenly, her eyes popped open. 

“Are you alright, Jamie?” she asked, her whisky gaze swimming with concern. 

Her abruptness startled him, but he quickly snapped himself out of it and put on his brave face. 

“I’m fine, Sassenach. Do ye want to stay on the couch or go up to bed?” he softly asked. 

Her brows furrowed, disbelieving, but she firmly answered, “with you.” 

He felt bad that he’d upset her but couldn’t seem to drag himself out of the cloud of depression that had wrapped around him the moment he’d decided to take her home. 

But he’d have this one last time with her, and he wouldn’t ruin it with dark thoughts. 

“Alright. Let’s go, mo nighean donn.” 

She sat up, eyes fixed on him all the while, and then took his hand. The way she was looking at him, soft and searching, made his heart skip a few beats. He hardened himself to the overwhelming desire to pour out his heart to her, lay all the cards on the table, and beg her to stay. But he knew in his bones that this wasn’t the time. 

Her thumb was tracing lightly over his knuckles, patient as he struggled inside himself. 

A part of him wanted to bury his face in her neck and let her stroke his hair— she would do it, he knew. All it would take was him to make the motion, take the comfort from her. 

But that wouldn’t be fair. If she saw his distress, she would feel guilty about leaving him. He loved her too much to put that burden on her. 

His puir heart was breaking, but he managed to wrap it up in a thin layer of composure, scoop up his scrambled thoughts, and put himself back together. He gave her a brave smile, feigning nonchalance. 

Breaking the silence, he said, “let’s go, mo calman geal.” 

He took her upstairs by the hand. She was still sleepy, but not inclined to let that stop her from caring for him— even if she had no idea what was going on. He could feel her hovering anxiously by his side, trying to figure out what was wrong. 

As they sat down on the bed, Claire tried to tug him down to cuddle with her, but he shook his head. Settling against the headboard instead, he guided her down to lay her head in his lap. 

He wanted to watch her. Just this one last time. 

Sleepy as she was, but probably even more so because she wanted to do whatever was best for him, she complied. She snuggled down into his lap and settled herself so she was comfortable. 

As he carded his fingers through her hair in gentle strokes, Claire began to relax. It wasn’t long before she drifted back into sleep. The lines on her face smoothed, and she seemed to melt into him impossibly further. 

His hands still moving soothingly against her, Jamie returned to his thoughts. A terrible weight rested on his shoulders as he came to a realization. 

He wouldn’t be strong enough to tell her here— in his home that had become their home (at least he felt that it was theirs)— and still manage to make the drive to the stones. It was selfish to keep this from her, but he simply wouldn’t be able do it. There were limits to his goodness, and he prayed God would forgive him for this one. 

So, with his mind made up, a plan began to form. 

He would tell her tomorrow that they were going for a hike. They’d drive out to the stones, and he would explain once they got there. His Grandfather’s ruby ring laid on his dresser— that would be what he’d give her to ensure safe passage. And then… then, she’d go home. 

And that was that. 

This was his last night with her. 

He looked down and studied her face for a long time, trying to memorize every tiny detail. He knew it would be the remembrance of her that would warm him on the cold, lonely days that would surely follow. He traced her face reverently, first with his eyes, and then as his selfish, breaking heart took over, with soft touches of his fingertips. 

All that was left was to pray that tomorrow he would have the strength to send her away.

***

Chapter Text

Heartbreak. Jamie had always thought that expression figurative— that people simply referred to the loss of love and the emotional suffering that goes with it. But as he led Claire toward the distant hill with her wee hand clutched in his, ready to send the love of his life away, the pain in his chest was as real and physical as if his heart had truly been cleaved in two. His chest clenched in agony, and the only thing keeping him moving forward was sheer, monumental will. 

Claire was oblivious. That morning, he had wrapped her up in a tartan blanket to keep her warm and simply herded her out to the car without more than a few words. She’d asked him where they were going, and he’d nearly broken down crying that moment. All he’d managed was a hoarse, “for a walk,” while his windpipe felt like it was being crushed. 

As he helped her out of the car, she took his hand— hers so wee and fitting perfectly into his— and smiled brightly up at him. 

God, he wanted to kiss her. 

His selfish, breaking heart wanted so badly to have that one memory to treasure for the rest of his life without Claire. He longed to draw her to him, press his mouth to hers, feel her soft lips on him, and then he would never ask for another thing from God. He spent nearly half the walk trying to talk himself out of it. 

He couldn’t do that to her. She was going home, never to see him again, and it wouldn't be fair. 

He turned back to her then, and she gave him the brightest smile that illuminated the dark chasm growing inside him. She was his sun, and looking at her— simply enjoying being with him and unaware of their parting in a few minutes— he felt dizzy. Being in the presence of such light only made the agony of losing her that much greater. 

The lump in his throat was so thick and stifling that he could barely breathe. It was all he could do to hold himself together and keep going. 

But he had to be strong, for her sake. He had to let her know it was okay to go. 

“Jamie, now will you—” 

She had begun to ask him for the tenth time what was going on when she suddenly stopped dead. He glanced back at her to see her eyes wide and fixed on the distance, all the blood drained from her face. 

Claire had caught sight of the hill. 

The heartbroken expression and the shake of her head as she looked at Jamie ruined him. 

“Listen, mo nighean donn, I—”

“Why are we here?” she asked in a dangerously low, even voice. 

He was regretting his plan instantly. Her expression wasn’t quite that of the devastation of betrayal, but it was something like broken trust, because she looked at him with a tiny glimmer of pleading in her eyes— begging him to tell her it wasn’t true. That look was eating him alive. 

“Sassenach, listen to me...” he started again, desperate. 

He tried to tug her onward in the direction of the hill, but she stayed planted firm. 

“I’ve found a way to bring ye home safely,” he finally blurted out. 

The reason he was able to drag her forward in that moment wasn’t because she was more willing than she had been a moment ago. Sheer surprise made her go unresistant and allowed Jamie to pull her back into motion. It seemed her feet were moving on their own accord, operating on instinct in response to him. 

“What?” she choked out. 

“Aye.” 

With a terrible rending in his chest, he explained everything to her. Geillis’ book. Travel between realms. The gemstones offering protection. 

She was silent the entire time, eyes wide as if that would allow her to see something intangible, trying desperately to wrap her head around everything he’d just laid on her. He didn’t even give her time to react; the words simply spewed from him in a heartbroken rush as he managed to drag her up the hill. 

They stood then in the shadows of the towering stones. To Jamie, the stones felt like grave markers— looming ominous and solemn. 

Here lies the heart of James Fraser. He learned how to feel, to love, only to lose her before they even had a chance. 

Claire’s face was white as a sheet. For once, her expression was unreadable to him. Perhaps it was because she was hiding it, or perhaps Jamie was simply blinded by the force of his own emotions and the all-encompassing longing for her to stay, but he couldn't tell what was going on in her brain. His only thought was that he knew she was terrified of the stones, and that only hurt him further. 

“Here is my father’s ring. It’ll ensure ye safe passage,” he found himself saying. 

He grabbed her hand and shoved the ring on her finger without ceremony. She studied it for a long moment, looking blank, and then turned her face back up to Jamie. It looked like she was about to speak, but he wasn’t sure he could bear to hear what she had to say. 

“There’s nothing for you on this side,” Jamie choked out, “nothing. Save a world ye dinna ken and people who arena yer own. Ye deserve tae go home.” 

He wasn’t sure if he was trying to help convince her or himself. 

While he was speaking, he had dropped her hand and was slowly moving backward. He had to harden himself if he’d ever be able to leave her. He had to turn off his feelings and let his breaking heart turn to ash before he did something selfish like fall to his knees and beg her to stay. 

The rushing in his ears was deafening. 

“There’s no use waiting,” he said in a low voice, “I hafta leave ye now.” 

He put more distance between them— Claire standing frozen in the spot where he’d put her as he stepped backward, her perfect lips parted just slightly. Every inch between them felt like another nail in his coffin, only a thousand times more agonizing because his heart was still beating. 

The voice that came from his closed throat was unrecognizable even to himself as he mustered a raspy, “goodbye, Sorcha.” 

He wanted to add a “I’ll never forget ye so long as I live,” or something— anything— that could possibly convey even a fraction of how much she meant to him, but his throat had closed so much that he couldn’t force it out. 

Claire just stood there, looking up at him with glassy eyes. Silent and swaying slightly. 

Before the tears could rush from his eyes, or worse, before she could say some goodbye that broke his resolve, he turned sharply and threw himself down the hill. If she called goodbye after him, it didn’t reach his ears. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t look back. He didn’t think he could go on, but his feet propelled him forward, away from the love of his life. 

She’s going home— he told himself as the first tears began to fall— back to her people. She’ll be happy. 

But he was suffocating on the lump in his throat and the world was feeling so terribly unfair; He couldn’t seem to get himself to believe his own arguments, caught up as he was in his grief. 

His whole body was shaking, to the point where his fingers went numb. He didn’t know grief could do that. He wished it could numb his heart and his mind. But his traitorous brain was slogging on, and it took everything inside him to repeat the mantra of “she’s going home.” She probably was home at this very moment, back with her people. 

Toward the bottom of the hill, his steps slowed from their frantic pace to a resigned shamble, heavy with the weight of what he’d done. 

Now that she was gone, there was no need to rush into a life of emptiness. He might as well take his time. 

When he reached the spot where the ground was flattening out, his feet stopped altogether. His legs felt like jell-o, and he wanted to fall to his knees and weep. He probably would have collapsed too, if not for the brittle feeling in his body that made him go stock still. Everything seemed almost distant as the tears gathering in his eyes overflowed to trickle down his cheeks. 

How could he possibly face a life without her? 

He found himself frozen under the weight of that terrible desolation. Jamie wasn’t sure he was strong enough to face it. 

Heartbreak. He knew now with visceral clarity how accurate that was. 

Then, in an instant— a second so fast Jamie was certain his mind had conjured it— something pulled him back from the yawning chasm of despair opening at his feet.

A sound from behind him that made every muscle in his body freeze. 

A shout of his name. 

It couldn’t be. 

He turned slowly, disbelievingly, and saw an image that would be burned into his mind forever. A figure— a familiar figure that couldn’t possibly be anyone but his beloved— was barrelling down the hill. Claire’s hair was billowing around her ethereally, giving her the most perfect aspect. The sun behind her illuminated her silhouette, as if nature itself was caressing her unreal perfection. As she ran, the tartan blanket around her shoulders came loose, and the moment was picturesque as it swirled up into the air behind her, forgotten. She simply ran faster, racing down the hill toward him. Rooted to the spot, a tear still tracking down his face, Jamie could only watch her in astonished disbelief. 

Suddenly, she was mere feet from him. 

“James Fraser, you fool.” 

And then she was flying into his arms. He barely had time to embrace her back before her mouth smashed against his and they were kissing.  

The world stopped. Truly, the planet must have frozen on its axis, and every person on it must have been halted in their tracks. Because she was kissing him— and he, her— with a fervor he’d never before experienced. 

As she kissed all the words from his mouth, the breath from his lungs, and the grief from his heart, a joy previously unimaginable rushed from his center to the very tips of his fingers. 

The kiss was everything he’d imagined and more. Her lips were so soft, so perfect, molded to fit his. Like coming home, there was an incredible feeling of rightness. It was a mix of scorching and tender, somehow perfectly his Sorcha.

His lungs constricted until he thought air would be obsolete in the reality of her. The electricity crackled, consuming them both in a cloud, leaving him dazed and stunned but somehow so amazingly alive. His nerve endings felt like they were on fire. He was aware of every part of his body, and every part of hers against his, but nothing so acutely as his lips caressing hers. 

Now that he was kissing her, he found he couldn’t stop. It must have been minutes, hours. He held her body flush to his, and he was shaking so hard with the strength of his emotions that his hand trembled where it cupped the back of her head. For her part, she had both arms wrapped around his neck and was holding as tightly as she could as he devoured her mouth. He was delirious with joy. 

Finally, when his lungs would surely burst, he parted from her lips just enough to gasp in air. 

“You said there was nothing on this side for me,” Claire panted breathlessly, lips barely brushing his as she spoke, “but there’s you. There’s you, you bloody fool. I love you.” 

The world was dropping out from under Jamie’s feet but at the same time he was more anchored than he ever had been— he was falling, but Claire was catching him. Giving him everything he’d ever dreamed of but had been too scared to risk. Here it all was at his feet— in his arms. How his life had changed in the matter of seconds. 

“I love you, mo nighean donn,” he told her, just as out of breath, “I’ve loved you all this time.” The words felt like a rush exploding from him, the truth of his heart suddenly bared for all to see. 

He brushed her wild hair behind her ear as a joyful tear escaped his eye. His fingers caressed her face for the first time without shame. Her lips were slightly puffy with the force of their feverish kisses, and her pupils were blown wide as she gazed at him with adoration. Indulging the desires he’d stamped down for days, he cradled her face with both hands and stroked his thumbs along her jaw as he spoke. 

“So ye’re stayin’ then?” he asked, a little shyly, barely able to contain the hope bursting from his chest. He could scarcely believe this wasn’t a dream, and he would have questioned his sanity if not for her very real body in his arms. 

“I’m staying,” she breathed reverently. 

And then they were kissing again. He held her tightly, clutching her wee body with greedy joy, and kissed her with utter abandon.

Lips desperate for connection and mouths fused, two hearts reached for each other to become whole.

***

Chapter Text

It felt like a dream. Jamie’s deepest desires— hopes so great he’d been paralyzed in the face of them— were contained in the form of the faerie in his arms who was holding on to him like she was ready to build a home there. 

“You really love me?” he asked, scarcely allowing himself to believe it was real. 

“Yes, Jamie—” was all she managed to breathe out before Jamie cut her off with another exuberant kiss. He couldn’t possibly spend another moment knowing that she loved him— knowing she was going to stay with him— and not be kissing her. 

So damn long had he ached for this, but that only made it all the sweeter as he savored the feeling of her smiling into the kiss. He had imagined more times than he’d care to admit, and the mind-numbing flawless reality overshadowed anything he could have dreamed. She was perfect. More than perfect. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would be his everything for eternity. 

There was no way he could ever stop. He only managed to pull away for tiny gasps of air before leaning in again, melding his mouth to hers like his life depended on it. He was drunk on the feeling. The intoxication bubbled up inside him until he was dizzy with it. 

His brain, which had been on overdrive for weeks now, had finally quieted, and his torn heart was mending contentedly in the peace and knowledge of her love. 

“Jamie,” she gasped. A wee hand pushed gently against his chest, so he reluctantly drew back, looking down at her with soft eyes. “I can’t breathe,” she mustered with a bright smile that indicated she didn’t actually mind in the least. 

“Sorry,” he panted with a sheepish expression, “it’s jes’ that I was dreamin’ of that since the moment we met and now I canna seem tae stop.” 

“Since we met?” she questioned. Her head tilted up slightly. 

“Aye. For days I’ve been tryin’ to talk myself out of my feelin’s for ye. I didna want to take advantage of ye— me bein’ yer only anchor in the human world. I couldna risk it…”

“Only I wanted you this whole time,” she whispered with an edge of something akin to desperation. 

“You— you have?” He gasped. He reeled with the revelation that all this time… all this time she’d felt the same? “Oh Christ! Oh God, Claire. I’ve been a bloody fool.” 

“I told you,” she said with a playful smile. Growing more serious again, she continued, “I knew you were mine. We’re connected, Jamie. I can’t even explain it, but I’ve known for a while now that we aren’t meant to be parted.”

Jamie had to resist the urge to cry that was welling up inside him. 

“Aye. Ye’re mine. And I’m yours.” 

He gathered her in again, feeling like his heart would surely burst. He wound his arms around her back and molded her body to his before taking her lips again. The kiss was slow and languid, and something about the tenderness made the impulse to sob with joy all the more compelling. It was finally setting in, truly, that this beautiful, compassionate, enchanting creature was his to love and care for forever. 

It was then that Jamie noticed a warmth tingling through his veins. The sensation was similar to when an extremity falls asleep— like tiny pinpricks— only it felt pleasant. The feeling seemed to course through his body from center to finger tips, caressing him, taking all the hurt away. As he kissed Claire, he reveled in the gentle buzz. 

His eyes fluttered open, blissfully intoxicated by her and wanting to see her expression, and was startled to find light emanating from her hands. One of her arms was wrapped around Jamie’s neck while the other was pressed to his side, and her eyes were closed as she found herself caught up in him. But the hand against his side was glowing with golden light, and Jamie’s brain managed to identify that as the source of the sensation coursing through him. 

“Claire,” he murmured, breaking away from her lips. 

Her eyes remained close in contented bliss as she dreamily responded, “Jamie?” 

He wasn’t sure exactly how to ask her what she was doing, but after he remained quiet for a second, her eyes popped open. They went wide as she looked down and noticed her glowing hand where it rested familiarly over Jamie’s ribs. 

“Oh,” she gasped. 

A flush rose in her cheeks as she quickly withdrew her hand. The glowing ceased at once, along with the warmth inside of Jamie, and he actually found himself mourning the loss of it. 

“I’m sorry,” she said, an abashed smile creeping onto her face. 

“Dinna fash, it— it felt nice. What... was that, Sassenach?” Jamie stuttered over his words as a slight blush rose in his neck as well, although he wasn’t entirely sure what he was blushing about. 

“I— I’d tapped into your energy. Your center. Essentially I was healing you, although you don’t have anything to heal at the moment,” she patted his stomach in appreciation, and Jamie felt a swell of pride. 

“Oh,” was all he could say. He looked down at her in enrapturement, feeling so incredibly lost in the wonder of her. There was so much he had yet to learn. 

Distracted as he was, Claire was still speaking. 

“It’s not surprising it happened now. It’s tied to intense emotion, you see…” she said. 

Jamie broke free from his trance-like state, blinking in surprise at this new tidbit. “Is that so? Ye can manipulate energy better when ye’re feelin’ strong emotions?” 

She gave him a nod, “Don’t even ask me how it works. I think I’m just more in-tune with the energy around me in hyper-aware states.” 

“And what extreme emotion are ye feelin’ now, mo nighean donn?” he asked her, a bit teasingly despite his very real longing to hear her talk about it. He hovered his lips closer, leaning down to her while keeping their eyes locked. 

“Agitation that you’re a bloody fool, Jamie Fraser!” she teased, narrowing her eyes in mock frustration and pulling away from his lips that were about to descend to take hers. 

Jamie laughed— taken aback— and pursued her, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her against him. 

“Is that so?” he asked huskily, raising his brows. 

“Well… that and a few other things…” she said with a smirk. 

“What might those be?” Jamie asked, successfully having drawn nearer to her again so that their breaths mingled together in the tiny space between their lips. He could feel her heart beating against his chest, quick as a rabbit’s. She was still playfully leaning back from him, struggling to keep the distance between them to the point that the only thing keeping her upright was Jamie’s grip. 

“Love,” she answered, her face turning from playful to serious, “relief. When you left me on that hill, Jamie Fraser, I thought my heart would surely break. But now… now I’ve never been so happy.” 

He couldn’t stop himself then. His body seemed to move all on his own as he kissed her, making a thousand promises and apologies. Delighting in the fact that she was his. Feeling the same onslaught of emotion as she was. 

“I’m sorry,” he said against her lips, cupping the back of her head to hold her against him, “I’m sorry I left ye there wi’ out even askin’ ye what it was you wanted. Ye’re right, I’m a bloody fool. But I’ve never been such a lucky bastard as I am right now.” 

“I forgive you,” she said breathlessly, her lips brushing his, “I forgive you, Jamie. Just never leave me again.” 

“I promise.” Recognizing the gravity of the moment, Jamie tore himself away from her mouth so he could look her in the eyes. Meeting that honey-gold gaze that made his knees go weak, he repeated, “I promise ye, mo nighean donn. If it is in my power, I wouldna have us parted ever again.” 

“Good,” she said firmly, “because I bloody well cannot do without you, Jamie Fraser.” 

Her hand came up to stroke along his jaw, punctuating her point. Tiny tingles of warmth followed in its wake, and Jamie smiled, feeling the truth of her words in his very bones. 

Smiling down at her, he couldn’t resist leaning forward to press a sweet kiss to her forehead. 

It blew his mind that he could do that now. To know she wanted his touch… that he would act on all the impulses he’d been stamping down for weeks… it was pure bliss. 

“Well…” he said warmly as he drew back, “shall we go, mo ghraidh?” 

She smiled up at him, the crinkles around the corners of her eyes the most adorable thing he’d ever laid eyes on. She breathed “yes,” and then added, as if she wanted so badly to say it again, “I love you, Jamie.” 

***

Chapter Text

Hand in hand, Jamie and Claire began to walk back toward where he had parked. There was no urgency now as there had been when Jamie dragged her toward the stones, nor the anxiety there had been when he first found her on that hill and decided to take her home. Now, there was only bliss. They walked with a particular laziness— something that came with the certainty that they would be together forever. 

Jamie had been in no rush to face his life of loneliness after leaving Claire on the hill, but now he was in no rush to be anywhere or do anything. So long as Claire was at his side, he was well pleased with their world. 

They were strolling along, holding hands and taking in the beauty of the surroundings and the peace of their newfound intimacy, when all of a sudden, Claire stopped dead in her tracks. Jamie’s heart dropped, and he was gripped by fear that his happiness would be ripped away from him. Was she about to tell him that she’d changed her mind? 

But she didn’t declare that she wanted to go back to the stones, and the world didn’t open up at their feet to swallow him up, Claire just turned sharply and launched herself straight at him. 

He caught her around the waist as her lips landed on his. Laughing breathlessly into the kiss, his anxiety eased instantly. 

“Sorry,” she said between kisses, pecking his mouth before rewarding him with deeper kisses, “I just really— wanted to do this again.” 

They explored each other’s mouths lazily for a minute before Claire broke the kiss to trail her lips down his jaw. Tingles went down his spine as she reached a particularly sensitive spot, and he clutched her more tightly to him as his insides twisted in delight. 

“I’m really never going to have personal space again, am I?” Jamie chuckled to himself, not sure whether to lean in to the tickling sensation or pull away. 

“What was that?” Claire asked, detaching her slightly-puffy lips from his neck and peering up at him with that adorable look of confusion. 

“Only that ye’re a touchy one,” he said playfully, reaching out to grab her around the waist. His hands could span most of it, keeping her solidly in his grip. 

“I like touching you,” she stated matter-of-factly. Her face held the slightest bit of a playful pout, as if she was upset he’d called her out on it. 

“Well that’s verra good,” he said in a low voice, leaning in closer to her, “because I like when ye touch me.” 

He tried to bridge the distance between them and press his lips to Claire’s again, but she leaned back, just out of reach, with her brows raised teasingly. 

Letting out a groan, he let his forehead fall against hers. 

“Dinna torture me, mo nighean donn. I promise ye, one of my favorite things about ye is how tactile ye are. But it made it damned hard for me tae control myself when I was tryin’ verra hard not tae kiss ye.” 

Claire smiled. “Like I said, I very much wanted you to kiss me, but your head was too far down the hare’s hole to do it.” 

“I can do it now,” he breathed in quiet awe, and he took her lips again. 

Kissing her was a drug that he was quickly becoming addicted to. He was aware that they had barely made it a quarter of a mile, so distracted as they were by each other, but he couldn’t seem to care. 

Time was passing, though, and Jamie hadn’t been able to stomach eating anything that morning. His belly let out a rather mood-killing growl, and Claire jerked back. 

She had the same bewildered and concerned expression she’d worn the first time his stomach had growled in front of her, but it was just for a split second before she remembered and her face spread into a smile. 

“We need to get you some food,” she said, emphasizing the last word in a sweet way that clearly said be proud of me for remembering this word.

“I couldna care less about food right now,” he tried to dismiss it, eager to simply enjoy the moment of being with her. He could think of a few other activities for his mouth that he’d rather partake in… maybe something involving Claire’s mouth as well...

“I care. I won’t have you suffering because you can’t keep your lips to yourself,” she said, pushing a wee hand against his chest.  

“Me? Ye’re the one who canna keep any part of herself off me. Ye even sat on my lap in front of my sister, for pete’s sake!” he teased.

The playful mood broke as Claire looked thoughtful. “Why did you say it like that? Like it's wrong?” she asked innocently, looking genuinely curious, “we both love each other.” She ran a hand down his arm for good measure, ending by taking his hand in hers. Then, she added suddenly, “and who is Pete?” 

Jamie couldn't help but laugh. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to take much offense to this. She just gave him time to get it out, waiting patiently for his answer. 

“Weel, firstly, ‘for pete’s sake’ is jes’ a human expression that means… weel, it is an exclamation of exasperation, only I didna mean it in a bad way. And… it’s jes’ that humans dinna show affection so much around others. They leave those things to the privacy of their own homes,” he explained. 

Claire’s brows furrowed and she shook her head in disapproval. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand you humans. You make such a fuss over little things. If I want to touch the one I love, I will.” 

“I appreciate yer sentiment, a nighean,” Jamie laughed, “Also, it’s no’ common for a man and a woman tae hold hands or sit wi’ each other if they arena in a committed relationship,” Jamie added, “so Jenny was a wee bit appalled when ye sat on my lap.” 

His precious faerie’s eyes widened in dismay. “Oh… oh no. I made things worse then, didn’t I?” 

“Nah… dinna fash. I jes’ thought ye should know that, is all,” Jamie reassured, dismissing her worry. 

“Is that why you would blush so much when I touched you? Or went to sleep with you?” Claire asked. 

Jamie nodded with a smile as he thought about holding her body against his in bed, how terrified he’d been. “Yes. But I liked it. Probably too much. It made it nearly impossible for me tae keep ahold of my feelings. I fell hard for ye, and I had tae keep my feelings in check for so long.” He started to lean in, meaning to kiss her, but her question stopped him. 

“Fell?” Claire asked. 

“Ah…” another human expression, “it means felt love.” 

“Oh,” Claire responded, a slight satisfied smile turning up the corners of her mouth, “well if my touching you made you love me, I’m glad I did.” 

Jamie looked down at her, feeling an impossible warmth bubble up in his chest, “I didna fall in love wi’ ye because ye are touchy, lass. I fell in love wi’ ye because… well because all I want tae do for the rest of my life is make ye happy. There’s somethin’ between us, somethin’ I canna explain…” 

“A connection,” Claire breathed, nodding, “I feel it too. The world was trying to bring us together.”

They were both quiet for a minute before Claire asked, “do you think maybe that’s why I came through the stones? I mean… I had never ventured out that far before that day. I just felt like… exploring. And then I heard the buzzing sound, and I was just…. Here. Maybe it was all for a reason. For you and me.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, “maybe. Either way, I dinna much care about the reason behind it so long as ye’re wi’ me now. I am grateful, whatever happened tae cause it.” 

They both fell into a comfortable silence again, walking hand in hand. 

“Claire,” he asked abruptly, “will you tell me about what it's like for faeries when they are in love? I ken ye have parents, so I imagine it must no’ be sae different for the fair folk.” 

Jamie had a million questions, but he settled for asking that one, hoping Claire would answer some of those others as she explained. 

“Well…” she said as she played with his fingers, weaving them together over and over and turning her hand over in his as they walked, “we choose who we love, who we want to be with. Some never find someone, and that’s okay too. But if we do… well, we mate for life.” 

She looked up to him at that, her eyes holding an unspoken question. 

Will we mate for life? 

He wanted to tell her yes, to get down on one knee and propose then and there, but they had only just confessed their feelings for each other. He could be patient, give it more time. He didn’t want to rush her before he even knew much about her expectations. 

Continuing on, she said, “some have children and raise them until they can be off on their own.”

“That sounds verra much like humans,” Jamie said, giving her hand a squeeze. 

Claire seemed like she was about to respond, but her mouth fell closed again as she caught sight of the car. 

“We’ll talk more about it later,” Jamie reassured, “we have time now. All the time we need.” 

She nodded, looking pleased. As they reached the car, Jamie went around to her side and let go of her hand to open the door. 

Claire looked disturbed by the loss of contact, and looked up at him with big eyes, staring for a long moment. Something was stirring there, some deep emotion, and it twisted Jamie’s wame. The content expression she had worn moments ago had disappeared from her face. She seemed… distant somehow. Like her head had gone somewhere else. 

“Are ye gettin’ in, lass? Because if it’s the car worryin’ ye we could…” 

“One moment,” she interrupted as she pressed her fingers to Jamie’s lips, halting his speech. “I need—“ 

She didn’t finish her statement but abruptly bridged the distance between them and leaned in toward him. Hearing the choke in her voice, he quickly got with the program and gathered her again into his embrace the second she was near enough. Her face fit into the crook of his neck as her arms went around him, and she clung to him with a mixture between fierceness and certainty of the secure place. He held her tightly for a long time, feeling her shuddering breaths against him and stroking her back in long soothing lines. He didn’t let himself think; He just held her. 

“Talk to me, lass,” he rumbled gently after a long moment. 

“While I was standing on that hill— I thought that you really meant to leave me. That I’d have to face a life without you,” she murmured into the skin of his shoulder, “for a moment just there I.... I could hardly believe that I’m really here with you. Going home.” 

“I’m sorry, mo nighean donn,” he breathed, his heart breaking, “I’m sae sorry, lass. I thought the same. That I’d be facin’ an empty life wi’ out ye. Christ,” he shuddered at the thought of the sorrow and despair that had wrapped him in their darkness only mere minutes ago. How much life can change in an instant. 

He hugged her tighter, feeling the exact same impulse as she did. He wanted to cling to her forever, to feel anchored to her in the drifting sea of emotions. The memories of walking down that hill and leaving her would haunt him forever. If only—

She drew back suddenly and placed a hand on his cheek. It was as if a switch had been flipped and all her sorrow had been pushed to the wayside.  

“It’s okay, Jamie,” she said, her brows furrowed and face serious as she looked at him searchingly, “I’m here. Feel me here? I’m not going anywhere.” 

Jamie felt confused by this sudden shift. 

“What? Why…?” he tried to ask why she had suddenly begun to comfort him , but thankfully he didn’t need to articulate his question. 

“I could feel it… everything you were. You were just thinking about it, weren’t you? Re-living those feelings of leaving me? Well I could feel them coming from you. I could feel how much you hurt.” 

Jamie’s mouth must have been hanging open— and if it wasn’t, it should have been— because his brain had halted completely in its track and was struggling desperately to come to terms with yet another new divulgence. 

“You’re... an empath?” he mustered. 

“Empath… like empathy?” she asked quizzically. 

“Aye. An empath is someone that can feel the emotions of others. It’s no’ real… I mean… humans canna—” Jamie stumbled over his explanations, “canna sense feelings.” 

“You can’t?” Claire asked, surprised.

“You can?” Jamie shot back. 

Both of them stared at each other for a long moment. Jamie was still trying desperately to keep up with everything. He’d known that Claire was very in tune with emotions, astoundingly so, but he’d chalked it up to her making him feel things so strongly that they showed on his face. Either that or the connection that they shared that sometimes seemed so unreal had revealed his feelings. Thinking back, it made perfect sense to him that she’d actually been able to sense his emotions, not just read his face. 

He was also startled by the fact that he’d been living with her for days now, falling in love with her, and he didn’t even know she was an empath. The back of his brain was cursing him, once again, for his foolishness. He’d been so blind these last few days, so caught up in showing Claire his world and not wanting to push her that there were still so many things about her that were a mystery. Even so, they were taking things one step at a time. 

Claire interrupted his scattered thoughts when she spoke, “when I touch you… I can feel what you’re feeling. Not as much as if I were feeling it myself, but I… know.” 

Jamie nodded thoughtfully. “That makes sense given the things ye’ve said to me. Humans canna do that. We can look at a person and try tae guess what’s goin’ on in their heads, but we never really ken. You… ye dinna actually know my thoughts , rights?” 

Claire laughed, a bright and beautiful sound. “No,” she shook her head, “definitely not. And I can’t even sense your emotions all the time. I have to really be in tune with you, concentrating. It seems to be getting easier the more time I spend with you, but don’t worry, some things are still a mystery.” She punctuated that last statement with a sly smile. 

Jamie felt slightly relieved. Not that he didn’t want Claire to know what he was feeling, but his heart had been thrumming with mounting embarrassment as he considered whether she had known all the inappropriately forward things he’d been feeling about her the last few days. Only… only he’d told her now that he loved her... 

“So,” he began huskily, ducking his head so that his face drew close to hers, “can ye tell what I’m feelin’ now?” 

She gave him a smile, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath as if concentrating herself. Then, she exaggeratedly placed her hands on either side of his face. 

“I think…” she breathed, cracking one eye open to look at him playfully, “that you are feeling rather sentimental, James Fraser.” 

“Ye really are an empath, my wee one,” he said, dipping his head further to press his lips to hers in a long, drawn out kiss. God help him, he couldn’t stop. 

She didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. Her arms wound around his neck and pulled him closer, making a big ball of warmth grow in his stomach. 

Keeping her lips somehow smushed against his, she spoke in a mumble, “we should— probably go home.” 

“Hold on, I’m kissing my faerie,” Jamie said insistently, sparing barely any time to speak the words in between kisses. 

He wrapped both his arms around her waist, grabbing her to pull her closer, and continued to kiss her without hurry. 

She was laughing by the time he finally had to draw back for breath. 

“Are ye laughin’ at me?” he demanded with answering laughter of his own. 

“Not at all,” she chuckled— clearly lying— “it’s just that you were the one complaining about me never giving you space.” 

“Lass, ye’re mistaken, it was most certainly no’ a complaint.” 

As he spoke, his hands skated down her back and came around her sides to cup her hips. 

With an impish gleam in her eye, Claire swatted at his hands. 

“I’m going to need some space,” she teased. She placed a hand smack in the middle of his chest and pushed, making him stumble back a couple steps until her arm was straight and bracing as if holding him back. 

“And you… a wee thing half my size… think ye can hold me back wi’ only an arm?” he challenged, raising a brow at the appendage she had forced between them. He drew himself to his full height, making to intimidate her with his size. 

Claire seemed delighted to take him up on the challenge and raised her head defiantly, completely unfazed. 

(Some part of Jamie deep inside acknowledged the fact that this playful, defiant side of Claire was a huge indicator of trust. It had only been days ago that she’d trembled at the sight of him. Now, they were playing with each other with the comfort of friends and lovers.) 

“I think you’d be surprised what a ‘wee thing’ like me is capable of. You’re awfully big, I doubt you could run that fast.” Claire looked him up and down appraisingly, her head cocked in a manner that made Jamie want to grab her and kiss the grin right off her face. 

“That sounds like a challenge.”

“It is one.” 

“Maybe I’ll take ye up on it.”

“Maybe I’ll go back to the stones.”

“Not on yer life.” 

With that, Claire tore off at a run. She was so astoundingly swift that a flash of dismay washed over Jamie as he wondered if maybe he couldn’t catch her after all. As he slammed the car door shut and sprinted after her, though, her unnatural fae nimbleness was no match for his long legs. Bless high school track , he thought to himself as he ran. 

He considered very briefly allowing her the satisfaction of evading him for a moment longer, but he couldn’t leave her challenge unmet anymore than he could resist touching her. Bridging the distance left between them, Jamie snagged her around the waist and pulled her sharply to him. She smacked against his chest, laughing breathlessly, and struggled playfully as Jamie held her fast. 

“Seems I’m no’ so slow, after all,” he bent his head so he could say it right into her ear, his lips brushing teasingly along the shell of it. 

“I was going easy on you because I know you’re just so in love with me that you couldn’t bear to be apart,” she said in a gasp, stilling her struggles. 

“Aye, that’s true,” Jamie admitted, “I’ll thank ye, then.” 

Just as he was beginning to lean in for yet another gratuitous kiss, he felt Claire stiffen. 

Alarmed, he was about to ask her what was wrong when he turned his head in the direction of her gaze and saw two hikers approaching. They were clad in teflon from head to toe, likely day trippers exploring the highlands. 

Even though Jamie knew there was no threat from them, he tucked Claire behind him protectively, out of sight of the couple. 

“Jamie—” Claire started, but Jamie cut her off. 

“Dinna fash, lass, they’re only taking a wee stroll, they’re no’ a danger.” 

“No,” Claire said, tugging at his wrist insistently to get him to pay attention, “tell them to stay away from the stones.”

Jamie turned toward her abruptly. Seeing the fear in her eyes at the mention of the stones and the distress it was causing her to think of others going near them, Jamie was overcome once again by guilt over leaving her on that hill. They scared her terribly, and that was just another reason why depositing her with barely a word was one of Jamie’s biggest regrets. 

“I’ll tell them, lass. Dinna fash,” 

Taking her hand, he brought her out from behind him and began to lead her back in the direction of the car, toward the hikers. Claire stepped cautiously beside him but didn’t seem overly concerned about passing near them. 

“Hi!” Jamie called with a wave of his free hand as soon as they drew close. 

“Hello!” the woman called, returning his wave. 

“Beautiful day, is it no’?” Jamie commented in a friendly manner as the two couples reached each other.

“Verra fine,” the man answered with a nod. 

“Are ye two from around here?” 

“Jus’ here for the weekend, we’re from Edinburgh,” the woman said with a smile. 

“Ah, well I willna keep ye. Jes’ a word of caution from a local, though: dinna get near those stones. It’s a faerie hill, ken?” he said with a wink. 

Both nodded, murmuring appropriate grave assent. Without another word, they passed each other, Claire’s grip nearly bruising Jamie’s hand. 

Once they were out of ear shot, his faerie was fixing him with huge, almost horrified eyes and asking, “you told them about the fair folk?”  

Jamie couldn’t help but laugh. “They dinna actually believe me, but scots are a superstitious lot. They’ll leave it be out of respect even though they dinna really think faeries exist.” 

Claire let out a hum of understanding and bobbed her head, looking relieved that Jamie hadn’t actually just outed the existence and location of the fair folk to two random strangers. 

Walking hand and hand back toward the car, Jamie said, “well, I think now it’s really time to leave. Are ye ready tae go home, lass?” 

His words echoed back to what he’d said earlier that day before he’d taken her to the stones. It made his heart ache with joy to think now he was saying them while referring to his home. Their home. 

“Yes, Jamie… take me home.”

***

Chapter Text

If Jamie thought Claire had been touchy before, nothing compared to the amount of contact they had now that they were together. Her hands— or lips— were all over him at the most unexpected moments ( and the expected moments as well, to be fair). Not that Jamie was complaining. Though every bit of contact still brought a blush to his cheeks and made his heart race so fast it could have torn out of his chest, he never wanted her to stop. 

It had been two days since the fateful trip to Craigh na Dun and the following declarations of love. Two days since she’d decided to stay with him— bloody fool that he was. Two days of bliss with the love of his life. 

He’d left her that morning still asleep in their (their!) room. Her limbs had been strewn all over the place, making her look like a starfish sprawled on the bed. After disentangling himself from underneath her wee but aggressive arm, he’d placed a kiss to her temple, smiling with contentment that she was his to wake up to and kiss every morning. 

Standing then in front of the stove, flipping his pancakes absently, he thanked God for the blessing of her. He breathed in a long sigh and tried to fully appreciate the perfection of his life. 

The quiet was interrupted by a pair of arms snaking around his waist, making him jump. 

“Did you forget about me?” A silky voice asked, lips brushing the back of his ear and sending a shiver down his spine. Claire must have been standing on her tiptoes to reach him. 

He placed his own hands over top of hers, hugging her arms, and swayed slightly back and forth to take her with him where she was pressed against his back. Affection welled up inside him, so strong that he was nearly overcome. 

“I couldna forget ye, mo chridhe. I only didna want tae wake ye up. Ye looked sae bonny and peaceful.” 

“You should have. I don’t like being in the… what is it called again?—” 

“Bed,” Jamie answered automatically.

“Bed. I don’t like being in bed without you. Besides, I quite like how you wake me.” 

A blush rose in Jamie’s cheeks as he thought about how he’d kissed her awake the past two mornings. He loved seeing her sleepy eyes open and her smile as she met the day with the sight of him. How her lips would grow more eager as she regained consciousness… 

“I’m verra sorry for leavin’ ye,” he apologized, turning around in her arms so he could loop his own around her waist, “whatever can I do tae make it up tae ye?” 

Claire hummed, looking exaggeratedly thoughtful, and then tapped a finger on her cheek expectantly. 

Happy to oblige, Jamie leaned down and placed a kiss at the indicated spot. Claire smiled in response, looking like a cat that got the cream. She then tapped the other cheek, and Jamie was quick to give it the same treatment, this time letting his lips linger for a long moment. Her smile widening, she pointed to her forehead. 

“Awfully demanding, are ye no’?” Jamie accused warmly before pressing an obedient kiss there. 

Claire just murmured an assent— apparently completely willing to own it— before her wee finger was placed over her lips. 

It took Jamie only the length of a heartbeat to cover her mouth with his own, uncaring of trivial things like morning breath or whether or not Claire would be able to taste the residual pancake batter on his lips. If she could, she didn’t mind, because she spent the next minute withdrawing half a centimeter only to kiss him again, her tongue less than timid as she indulged herself. He found it unreasonably enjoyable, and his hand wandered up to cup the back of her head to keep her mouth on his. 

Her appreciative murmur vibrated his lips, and that only served to encourage him all the more. 

But he was interrupted from his task by Claire drawing back enough to gasp, “do you smell that?” 

Tearing his eyes away from her puffy lips, he turned around toward the stove to see that his pancakes— really now more black lumps— had smoke rising from them in active billows. 

“Christ!” he swore, at the same time as the smoke detector began to go off. 

At the shrill noise, Claire let out a startled cry and smacked her hands over her ears. Jamie didn't have time to reassure her as he lunged toward the burning pancakes and tore them off the heat. He juggled them with one hand and turned on the fan with the other before shutting off the stove. With everything going wrong, of course it was that very moment when the handle of his old pan decided to snap, and the bowl of the pan (smoking pancakes included), started to fall. On instinct, Jamie grabbed for it with his free hand. Pain shot through him on contact, and he hissed as he jerked his hand away, allowing the damn thing to tumble to the ground. He jumped out of the way, smashing into Claire, who still was holding her hands over her ears and looking terrified. 

Exclaiming some rather colorful words, Jamie reached out his not burnt hand to steady Claire.

“Sorry, lass. It’s okay, dinna fash,” he said with a raised voice over the obnoxious beeping of the fire alarm directly over their head. 

“What’s that sound?” Claire yelled out, looked very distressed with her wide eyes and hunched shoulders. 

“It’ll stop in a second,” he shouted. 

Sure enough, as the smoking mess on the floor subsided, the smoke detector went quiet. Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. 

Claire, the poor thing, looked nearly ready to cry. 

“It was jes’ the smoke alarm, mo nighean donn,” he tried to reassure, “the sound makes sure that I ken there’s a fire so I can put it out.”

“I did not like that,” she said with a shake of her head, shuddering. 

“I’m sorry, a leannan, come here.”

Drawing her close, Jamie gave his faerie a cuddle. She melted into him, and the tension flowed from her muscles as soon as he enveloped her. It made Jamie swell with a certain satisfaction to comfort her over something so trivial, as if he were some knight in shining armor who’d rescued the fair maiden from the beastly alarm— only he’d actually been the one to cause it in the first place and he hadn’t done anything but make a mess while trying to solve it. 

As if suddenly remembering, or perhaps she could sense the slight sting in his fingers, Claire drew back and exclaimed, “give me your hand!”

Smiling but a bit nervous, Jamie held out his hand for her. He watched with anticipation as the soft golden light emanated from her hands as they formed a cup around his. This time, instead of watching the light, he turned his head up to look at Claire’s face. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, lines etched in her face as she focused all her energy. She blinked hard once, shook her head, and went back to staring down at their joined hands. Jamie felt the tingling warmth flow through him, making his hand buzz with energy. The pain began to subside, and the determined expression on her bonny features eased. After half a second more, the light faded from her palms. She didn’t let go, but stroked his now perfect fingers between her hands. 

To add the finishing touch, she brought his hand to her lips and began to kiss each finger one by one. Her lips were soft; her kisses more healing than even her energy. 

“Ye make a good nurse,” Jamie said in a gravely tone, enraptured by her gentle touches. 

“Hmmm?” she murmured, still focused on her task. Finishing with his pinky, she curled his fingers down and pressed one last feather-light kiss to his knuckles.  

“Ye’re a fine healer, Sassenach,” Jamie amended. He brought his newly healed finger tips up under her chin and tilted her face up toward him. “And I’m verra grateful ye’re mine.” 

He leaned in to give her a proper kiss. She didn’t respond as enthusiastically as usual, but her lips molded to his and in a passive sort of way. He chalked it up to her nerves over the alarm and concern over his injury, but it still disturbed him because she had never responded in this way. 

Following his resolution to communicate better, he pulled back and asked while cupping her face with a tender hand, “are ye alright, mo chridhe?” 

The smile she mustered seemed forced, which didn’t do much to ease his worries. “I’m fine,” she said, “just felt strange for a second, it’s nothing.”

He kept studying her for another long second, but she remained firm in her statement without adding anything else. With a dip of his shoulders, he decided to let it go. 

“I’m sorry about that, my sweet one,” he said with a self-deprecating shake of his head, “I didna mean for all this chaos this morning.” 

“It’s not your fault, Jamie,” she countered. The newly growing smile seemed much more genuine again as she added, “I probably shouldn’t have distracted you while you were making…”

“Pancakes,” Jamie filled in. 

“Pancakes,” she echoed, looking thoughtful. 

She was trying to learn words as much as she could, and Jamie found that he quite liked his role as tutor. At least he quite liked rewarding her for her learning of new vocabulary. 

“And the word for the first meal of the day, do ye recall?” he quizzed. 

Looking up at him with a triumphant expression, she exclaimed, “breakfast.”

“Mmmm,” he hummed approvingly, “that’s verra good.” 

He leaned down and gave her a soft, gentle peck on the lips, and as he drew back, he found she was smiling. 

“You’re a very good teacher, you know,” she said, “maybe soon I’ll start teaching you another language and see if you’re as good of a student. Which one would you prefer?” 

Jamie laughed, “maybe we take it one step at a time. I can barely keep up wi’ things as it is. Maybe we start wi’ fair folk culture and go on from there.”

“Deal,” she agreed. 

“Anyway,” he said, marveling a little at her ability to get him sidetracked, “it seems my breakfast has been ruined. Perhaps ye’ll give me a wee moment tae grab somethin’ else?”

“Hmmm,” Claire looked gravely ponderous as she considered his request, “I suppose I’ll allow it just this once.” 

Jamie rolled his eyes with a smile that betrayed how happy moments like these made him. He took a step away from her, already mourning the loss, and headed over to the pantry. 

As he stood debating between the merits of cereal or a granola bar (both required no cooking, thank you very much), hands suddenly snaked their way under his shirt. He stiffened in surprise at first, and then relaxed as the hands started to stroke up and down the length of his back. 

He shot a glance over his shoulder to see Claire behind him looking innocently up at him. He raised a brow. 

“What are ye doin’, lass?” he asked. 

She gave a little shrug but did not remove her hands. “Touching you.” 

There’s his faerie. 

“Is that no’ what got us in trouble in the first place?” 

She gave a little hum that said I can’t argue with that, but then countered, “I don’t think I care.” 

Forgetting all about breakfast, Jamie whirled around. He grabbed the backs of her legs and hoisted her up into his arms. She let out a squeal but quickly got with the program, wrapping her legs around Jamie’s middle and her arms around his neck. 

As he held her tightly against him, their fronts smashed together, he turned his face to catch her mouth and kiss her fervently. Those perfect lips against his seemed almost victorious as she pressed them to his just as passionately. A hum of satisfaction rose from her, making Jamie nearly drop her with how watery it made his legs. 

After a long moment of enjoying her mouth against his, he finally drew back. 

“I dinna ken how every time I kiss ye it feels like the first time,” he breathed. 

“And I don’t understand how the first time I kissed you it felt like the hundredth time,” she agreed. 

“Hey,” he said suddenly, smiling so hard his face felt like it would split and tightening his grip on her thighs, “I love you, you know that?” 

“I love you, James Fraser,” she replied, her gaze soft with adoration. 

Jamie went to put her down then, releasing his grip on her legs and expecting her weight to drop off of him. Only instead of her legs unwrapping from his waist and her hopping down, she clung to him stubbornly. 

As he brought his hands far out to the each side to marvel at the barnacle that seemed to be glued to him, Claire tightened her hold. 

“A leannan,” he chuckled, “are ye no’ getting down, then?” 

“Don’t think so,” she said from where her face was pressed into his neck. 

He let out a very Scottish noise from deep in his throat. With one hand, he held her against him just to keep her steady, and with the other, he turned back to the pantry and began rooting through the items. 

He withdrew victorious with a granola bar from the package, and he held it up behind him to the wee faerie. 

“Care tae help me wi’ this seein’ as I only have one hand at the moment?” 

“Of course, darling,” she obliged. 

One of her hands reached out to grab it. Still keeping both arms around his neck, she somehow managed to tear open the package (much like a child would— she still hadn’t gotten that human task down) and then handed it back to him. 

It was beginning to get real to Jamie just how little personal space he would ever have again. 

And he loved it. 

“Thank ye, wee one,” he said before taking a bite. Curious fingers began to thread into his hair as he did, making it extremely hard to concentrate on the simple task of breakfast. Fingertips pressed delightfully into the nape of his neck and tangled into the soft curls there. 

His throat felt tight as she caressed him, making it hard for him to swallow. It wasn’t his fault that her every brazen touch turned him into a besotted sap… 

“Are ye going tae go through my whole mornin’ routine wi’ me?” he asked, shoving the last of the granola bar into his mouth, still rooted in the same spot by the pantry. 

Christ, this lass made it impossible for him to eat a meal slowly and in peace. Impatient thing. 

The fingers paused their exploration. “Most certainly.” 

“Well, we might as well have some fun wi’ it then. I ken ye dinna need it because ye dinna eat, but would ye care tae learn how tae brush yer teeth?” 

She drew back so she could look at him with eyes alight with curiosity. “What’s that?” 

“Ye’ll see.” 

*

Upstairs in the bathroom, Jamie somehow managed to detach his clingy faerie. She let go reluctantly, dangling her feet down and allowing Jamie to deposit her onto the ground. Once he was free, he stooped down to find a new toothbrush from the cabinet. Finding one from the dentist a few months ago, he let out an aha and held it triumphantly up to Claire. 

“And you use that on your teeth?” she asked warily. 

“Aye. It’s called a toothbrush. Watch.” 

Demonstrating with his own toothbrush, Jamie wet it before applying toothpaste and sticking it in his mouth. In what was likely a comical expression, he bared his teeth and exaggeratedly brushed the bristles over it. 

Claire was giving him a look of distaste and near horror that made his wame twitch with hilarity. 

He switched his brushing to go further back into his mouth, making her eyes go even wider. 

“Are you sure this is nothing like eating?” she asked, apparently still a bit traumatized from the incident with the spaghetti that first night.

“No,” Jamie laughed through the toothpaste in his mouth, “it jes’ cleans yer teeth after ye’ve eaten. Ye dinna actually swallow the toothbrush.” 

He rinsed and spit before straightening up to face a still dubious Claire. 

“Ready tae try, lass?” 

She wrinkled her nose a little but gave a nod. 

Jamie prepared her toothbrush for her. As he approached her, she eyed him with a wide eyed look of apprehension mixed with curious excitement. She opened her mouth tentatively like a nervous child at the dentist. 

He cupped his free hand around the back of her head, his thumb making soothing circles. Then, slowly, so as not to startle her, he placed the bristles onto her teeth. 

It was his expectation that she’d jerk away in disgust the moment it touched her, but she stayed still. He gently moved the bristles back and forth, very lightly over her front teeth, and she blinked rapidly and sucked a sharp breath in through her nose. 

“Alright, lass?” he asked with a smile as she froze underneath his hand. 

She gave a nod, and he continued, rubbing the toothbrush just over the front of her teeth. He felt it as she relaxed, the buzzing tension easing as she came to the realization that this was, in fact, not torture— nor anything like eating. 

She made a “huh” sound from deep in her throat, and Jamie withdrew the toothbrush so she could speak. 

“It feels… kind of nice,” she said slowly. 

“Aye. I ken ye dinna really need tae clean yer teeth since ye dinna eat to dirty them in the first place, but…” he eyed her with a gleam in his eye and a smirk, “if ye’re gonna be puttin’ that mouth on me all day long, ye might as well taste minty fresh.” 

To his great enjoyment, Claire flushed, looking at the same time like she felt embarrassed and also wanted to kiss him some more. 

“Here, lass,” he said, “wash yer mouth out.” 

He handed her a cup of water, and she mimicked what he had done earlier and rinsed.  

Once she was done, she straightened up and looked at him expectantly, as if there was some last step to be completed. 

“Now,” Jamie said, the corners of his mouth pulling up, “I’ll find out how ye taste, aye?”

***

Chapter Text

Jamie awoke with a sense of dread hanging over him like a dark cloud. His alarm hadn’t even gone off yet, but he already felt the horror of the impending day creeping over him. Claire was cradled in the crook of his body, breathing evenly and oh-so soft where her body met his. He was nearly overcome by the urge to wake her.— to pull her up and kiss her senseless just to feel near to her. He wanted more time! 

It was daft to be feeling like this. 

He was only going in to work, not going off to bloody war and leaving her for months on end. It would be mere hours, nothing more, and Claire would be here waiting for him when he got back. He knew his traitorous emotions were running off wild without his consent. 

Still, the thought of leaving his precious faerie all by herself… Of saying goodbye to her…

He nearly lost hold of his self control all together and called into work yet again, but a deep breath and a rational thought managed to stop him. He’d have to do it eventually, so it might as well be today. 

A sigh escaped his lips, and he had to clench his hands into fists to avoid waking Claire up with his agitation. He should have known it was no use though, because in mere seconds, Claire was rolling over and blinking up at him with big, sleepy eyes. 

“Good morning,” she whispered in a voice still husky with sleep.

“Good morning, mo nighean donn,” he breathed, leaning in to press their lips together in a long, sweet kiss. 

She hummed against his lips, and her wee fingers reached up to tangle delightfully in his hair. He deepened the kiss on instinct, missing her already even though she still laid there in his arms. 

He had never been away from her for any substantial period of time since they met. A rational part of his brain said that any normal, healthy relationship would have to be okay with space. But finding an injured faerie on a hill and taking her home before she became your girlfriend was not a typical relationship. Nor was Claire a typical lass. He couldn’t help but worry about leaving her on her own when she was still so new to… well, everything human.  

All these thoughts crept around in the back of his head as he kissed her, gently molding her lips with his own. 

A wee hand pushed gently on his chest, and he drew back with a furrowed brow. 

“What is it, a leannan?” 

Part of him expected for her to lay some emergency at his feet— that she would beg him not to go, or at least that she would give him sad doe eyes that would melt every inch of his resolve until he was forced to give in. Part of him even wished for it. If she asked him to stay, he would. But instead, she simply said, “I can tell something’s wrong. What’s bothering you?” 

Jamie stifled a bittersweet smile and laid his forehead against hers. 

“I dinna want to leave ye,” he admitted resignedly. The air from his sigh mingled with hers. 

“I don’t want you to leave either,” she breathed. 

She paused for a moment, the gears turning in her brain, and Jamie wondered what exactly it was that she was tossing around. Her hands returned to his hair and began to gently card over his scalp as he stared down at her, his face inches above hers. 

“But you have to go,” she continued, fixing him with a long look, “you’ve missed enough because of me, I don’t want you to miss any more. I’ll be fine.” She gave him a brave, reassuring smile. 

That only made Jamie long to stay even more. He let out a groan, his eyes falling closed and his forehead pressing down to hers again. A shake of his head against hers displayed his thoughts. 

“And ye’re the sweetest lass that’s ever lived. Are ye sure ye’ll be alright here by yerself? Ye dinna yet ken how everything works, and—”

“I’ll be alright, Jamie,” she laughed, thankfully not taking affront to his worry over her, “I promise.” Her expression grew teasing with a lift of her lips into half a smile as she mimicked, “dinna fash.” 

Jamie let out a scottish noise— the only proper response to such an insult to his accent and dialect. But he just leaned in closer to press his lips against hers. As he kissed her though, he was still trying to convince himself to go. 

It was Friday. All he had to do was survive this one day, and then there’d be two more all for her. As much as he longed to abandon his responsibilities and stay with her, there was a big meeting waiting for him in less than two hours. It was time to step back up to his obligations, beloved faerie or no. 

Said faerie had broken their kiss while Jamie was agonizing, and instead was lightly brushing her lips over his cheekbone. 

“It’s fine, Jamie,” she breathed against his skin, sending tingles shooting down his spine, “now, enough of this agonizing. Let’s get you fed and on your way.” 

***

Twenty minutes later, clutching the strap of his computer bag so hard he thought he’d break it, Jamie stood face to face with Claire, both of them silently looking at each other. 

Neither one of them had any idea how to say goodbye. Jamie was cursing himself for his foolishness— it was just a few hours of work for Christ’s sake! He wasn’t leaving her at the stones again — but he was still very much agonizing.

“Be safe today, a leannan,” he said through the choke in his voice. 

“I will, Jamie,” she replied, giving him a soothing smile. 

They were both quiet for a long second before Jamie managed a hoarse, “I love you, Sassenach.” 

“I love you too, Jamie,” she murmured. 

And then they were kissing. Jamie didn’t know who moved first, but suddenly Claire was smashed against him, his arms wound tightly around her body, and he was pressing his lips fervently to hers. 

When she pulled back, there was a twinkle in her eyes. “You’re really hating this, aren’t you?” she said with a knowing smile, “clingy much?”  

He rolled his eyes. “Damn empath,” he mumbled under his breath. She knew exactly how much the simple act of leaving was killing him. 

“You’re a sap,” she said, giving him a playful swat on the shoulder. 

He knew she was teasing him in an attempt to lighten his mood, but Jamie still felt like the world was crumbling around him. It was like mourning the end of summer vacation when you’re a kid, only a thousand times worse. All of it was far too tragic for him to be able to respond to her teasing with humor of his own. 

Glancing down at his watch, Jamie cursed to himself. 

“I really hafta go now or I’ll be late. Until later, mo chridhe.”

He leaned in again to give her one last soft kiss. She smiled against him, cupping his jaw with a soft hand. 

“Until later, Jamie.” 

With that, she gave him a gentle shove toward the door, and he had no choice but to unlock it and step outside. 

The second he had emerged into the gloomy morning air, the door shutting behind him— separating him from Claire— he paused. No, that last kiss wouldn’t be enough. With that all consuming feeling, he turned on his heel. Barging back in through the door, he grabbed Claire around the waist just as she was turning back toward the living room and pulled her in roughly for one last kiss. This one wasn’t tender and soft like the others, but needy and urgent. She gave a soft whine into his mouth, making Jamie’s knees go weak. Then, just as suddenly as he returned, Jamie left her go and rushed back out. 

He could do this. Just a few hours at work. What could go wrong? 

***

Claire missed Jamie more than she’d ever imagined she could miss someone. All her life, she’d been so used to being on her own. When she was with the fair folk, she would go hours, often even days, without seeing anyone else, and she enjoyed the solitude. But that was before she knew the companionship of someone who loved her. She never imagined anyone could love her as much as Jamie did, let alone a human, but she found she trusted him with her entire being.

Left alone with her thoughts, she found herself reflecting on the past few days— the best days of her life. After the heartbreak of watching Jamie leave her on that hill, followed immediately by the decision that she wanted to stay with him (barely a decision really, she’d known she would stay all along), the joy of being with him was all the sweeter. She had never known bliss like that which she had with Jamie was possible. A part of her feared that it couldn’t last forever, but she took comfort in the knowledge that what it was between them was the strongest thing she’d ever felt in her life. As hard as it was for her to trust with abandon, she knew that Jamie would be there for her, no matter what. Even if things weren’t always as easy as they were now, he wouldn’t leave her— that much she knew. 

She spent much of the day taking care of the plants outside. Jamie called it “gardening” which Claire found utterly ridiculous. The whole notion of a garden was precious— she loved that humans wanted to have bits of nature to themselves— but Jamie seemed to fall terribly short when it came to caring for the nature around him. Claire smiled fondly to herself, thinking that he did a much better job of caring for her. 

The minutes passed by quickly once she finally lost herself in her work and stopped pining for Jamie. She became so absorbed that she didn’t even notice as the sky darkened, the clouds thickening into grey masses above her. 

When she finished extracting weeds from one large patch of earth, she straightened up, wiping a bit of dirt from her hands. With a start, she realized how dark it had gotten. But it wasn’t late? She looked up at the sky to see the clouds looking angrier than she’d ever seen in her life. Instead of the usual puffy white, they were dark and menacing. 

Nearly as soon as she’d made this observation, the pitter patter of rain drops began. Big, fat drops landed on the skin of her arm, making her start. She’d seen rain before— the gentle fall of water that would mist the land— but she’d never seen the sky look like this nor the clouds let loose with such ferocity. 

Feeling uneasy, she stood and walked over toward a nearby tree. She stood under it for a moment, peering anxiously at the sky, before she remembered that Jamie’s house was right there, and it would shelter her far better than a tree. 

So maybe these human places had their benefits after all. 

For the first time since she’d arrived, Claire felt grateful stepping inside. (Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She’d felt grateful stepping inside with Jamie several times, but that was purely a result of being with him, not that she liked this place for its own merit.) She slid the back door closed behind her and wiped the moisture from her skin with her hands and edge of her dress. 

Adso was sitting in front of her, looking up at her with big, green eyes. 

“Hi, little one,” she said fondly, reaching out a hand, “I bet you’re glad to be inside too, huh?” 

The cat acknowledged her with a blink, and her heart swelled with affection. Ever since she’d decided to stay with Jamie, she and Adso had been growing closer. Plopping to the ground, Claire patted her legs in the way Jamie did that signaled the cat to come to her. Adso, ever the charmer, came over and settled down in her lap, forming the most adorable curl of grey fur. She began to stroke him, cooing softly under her breath. He was probably the most precious thing she’d ever seen— after Jamie of course.

Suddenly, the fur on the back of Adso’s spine stood on end. Claire didn’t know much about cat behavior, but she didn’t think that was good. Her own body tensed. Half a heartbeat later, a flash of light blazed outside, followed by a resounding boom. 

Adso was shooting off of her before she even had time to be scared. But the second her brain came snapping back into her head, watching the cat streak away, she clamped her hands over her ears and shut her eyes tight. Every muscle in her body clenched, she expected everything to fall on her head and crush her. Surely something had hit the house? Or nearby? What had made that sound? That light? She would die and Jamie would come home to rubble... 

But death didn’t come. 

She peeked her eyes open to look outside. To her horror, the sky had turned nearly as black as night, even though it was the middle of the day. The rain came down in torrents, the likes of which Claire had never seen. The sound of the torrent hitting the house was nearly deafening. This was nothing like her rain, what was going on? And where was Jamie? Was he safe at work? 

Claire looked down at her hands to find them trembling. She was shaking all over, in fact. She had no idea what to do, or if there even was any action to take. Her anxiety mounted, choking her throat as she forced herself to take deep breaths. 

Trying to think of something— anything— she could do to protect herself from the situation, Claire slowly stood to her feet. 

“Adso?” she called, worried for the cat. Would he be okay? 

Suddenly, the room lit up with an unnatural brightness that came from outside, as if the sun had reappeared for just a second in a flash. The light was followed shortly by another unnaturally loud sound, and Claire let out a cry, hunching over with her hands covering her head. The sound went on for a second, like a loud rumbling of the earth, before it finally eased. 

Claire wanted to cry. Her body was trembling fiercely now. She hated the feeling of helplessness because she had no idea what was going on, no idea how to protect herself, and no idea if Jamie would be coming or if he was even safe. 

The situation got a thousand times worse when there was suddenly a loud click, and then all the fake suns went out. Claire couldn’t remember the real word for the sources of light in Jamie’s house, but whatever they were called, she had never seen them do this. All at once, they extinguished, plunging her into darkness. 

A whimper left her lips before she could trap it inside. She stood stock still, frozen in terror. Her breaths came in shaky inhales, and she tried desperately to keep them calm. After a second, her eyes began to adjust, and she could make out the dim grey light from outside, where rain was still pouring down ferociously. So it wasn’t pitch black. Maybe if she just looked out for a minute to get her bearings…

Another bright flash shone from outside. This time though, she made out the line of light that tore through it, as if the sky itself was rending, only to disappear an instant later. It was so bright that her eyes burned, blinding her for a second after. 

That was it for Claire. Running heedlessly toward the corner, a roaring in her ears that only made the panic worse, she hit the wall with a thunk. She slid down it until she was sitting, finding little comfort in the feeling of the walls on either side of her. Claire brought her knees up to her chest, curling up into a ball, and wrapped her arms around them. She laid her head on her knees as the tears came. 

The sound of her crying— hitched breaths, tiny whimpers that came unbidden, sniffles as she tried desperately to take in air— were added to the cacophony outside. She could hear the wind whipping around, the occasional deafening rumbles or blinding flashes... 

The fear was choking her. It was like an invisible hand clutched her throat, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was racing in her chest, and its beat throbbed nearly painfully. Everything felt out of control: everything outside and even everything inside her own body. She couldn’t seem to get her thoughts in line. Her mind was scattered everywhere, running fast as a hare and yet paralyzed at the same time. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn't even call out— not that there was anyone to call out to. 

All she could do was stay curled in on herself, hoping fiercely that Jamie was okay— wherever he was. 

***

Jamie was nearly shaking with excitement over his gift for Claire as he drove home. His windshield wipers were on full blast, the rain coming down in torrents, but he wasn’t paying much attention. He was anticipating the reunion with Claire after a long day and envisioning how she would react to his wee present. The meeting had gone amazingly well, and in the end, the day hadn’t been nearly as hard as he expected. 

He had stopped by the store before heading home right as it was beginning to rain. It had crossed Jamie’s mind to sit in the parking lot for a wee bit and wait for the storm to ease, but he was too interested in getting home. Besides, this thunderstorm was nothing his car couldn’t handle, and he was excited to give Claire the gift. 

Parking in the driveway, Jamie reached back to grab his umbrella and the bag in the backseat. He smiled to himself as he imagined Claire dropping the contents to throw her arms around him in a passionate kiss of excitement. He couldn’t wait. 

As Jamie got out, he squinted into the rain, the wind blowing it sideways onto him, soaking his clothes in a second. A clap of thunder made him flinch. 

“Ifrinn,” he muttered under his breath, and he began running. 

As he made a break for the front door, he noticed there were no lights on in the house. That was odd. Was Claire taking a nap? He shoved his key into the lock and shouldered the door open. 

As he shut it against the downpour outside, he tried to flick the light on, but to no avail. Ach, bloody power must be down. 

He grabbed his cellphone from his pocket and flicked the flashlight on, shining it in front of him as he entered the living room. He was just about to call out for Claire when he suddenly became aware of the sound of sharp, ragged breathing coming from the corner of the room. 

His own breath hitched, and he shone the flashlight toward it to reveal his wee faerie cowering in the corner, curled up and trembling like a leaf. He dropped the bag in his hand and rushed in. 

“Sassenach!” he exclaimed, running toward her. 

She lifted her head with a jerk as soon as she heard his voice, and she gasped out a teary, “Jamie?” as if she couldn’t believe he was really there. To his dismay, he saw her face was shiny with streaked tears. 

“Claire!” Jamie fell to his knees beside her, his heart racing a mile a minute with concern over her, “are ye hurt? What is it, a nighean?” 

His hand came up to cup her tear-stained cheek as his other hand traced frantically over her side and then up her curled legs, trying to find some source of injury. 

Claire’s chest was heaving with panicked breaths, the sound raspy in her throat. She swallowed thickly at him, shaking her head, but she couldn't seem to get words out. More tears washed down her face as she shook. 

He stopped his frantic petting to place his hand over her chest where he felt her heart thudding rapidly in her chest. As his touch, she gasped, as if trying to draw air enough to speak but couldn't, and a shudder went through her body. 

“Oh God, what happened, mo ghraidh?” Jamie still wasn’t certain that she wasn’t hurt, but he was at a loss. 

When she still couldn’t answer him, hitched gasps the only response and teary, fearful eyes looking up at him, Jamie dropped all notions of questions and investigations. 

He reached out for her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her away from the wall and into his lap. She scrambled up into it, grabbing onto him and curling up again as he secured her in his arms. He pressed her face into his neck and began to stroke her hair comfortingly. 

“Shh, it’s alright, a leannan. I’m here now, everything will be alright,” he hushed, trying not to let his own worry into his tone. 

He could feel how hard she was trembling against him. Her tears were soaking into the material of his shirt, and his puir lass was still struggling to catch her breath. Even her heart was perceptibly beating a mile a mile. With that realization, Jamie came to the conclusion of what exactly was happening. 

Claire was having a panic attack. 

His heart broke for her, nearly stopping his own breath. What had sent her into such a state? 

Before he could stop himself, his mouth was saying, “oh, my wee one, I’m sorry.” 

But there was no time for guilt; she needed him. He regained function of his brain and started to think about how to help her. 

“Slow yer breath, mo nighean donn,” he told her gently, “Can ye feel me— my arms around ye?  Can ye hear my voice? Can ye see the light from my flashlight?” 

She still drew in unstable, shaky breaths, but he could tell she was concentrating on his words. 

“It'll be okay, a leannan, I promise. It feels like it willna right now, but this will pass. I’ll see ye safe.”

He cradled her closer, rocking back and forth in a steady rhythm. She was so tiny and seemed so fragile to him as she cried. The shaking of her body broke his heart. 

“Breathe wi’ me, Claire. Feel my chest as it rises and falls?” 

She gave a jerky nod from where her face was pressed into the crook of his neck. 

“There’s a good lass,” he encouraged, “now match the rhythm of yer breathing to mine.” 

Jamie took in deep breaths of air, inflating his lungs and purposefully pushing his chest into hers. He could feel her shivering all the more acutely, her chest trembling with unsteady breaths. But there was an effort there too as she attempted to draw slower breaths in time with his. 

“That’s it. It’s okay now, a leannan. It’ll be okay,” he soothed as she struggled to keep up her slowed breathing. 

“There ye are,” he encouraged again, words flowing from his mouth without much thought. He was so concentrated on comforting her, wishing desperately he could make all her anxiety go away. 

Once her breathing had slowed enough that he thought the panic attack was subsiding, he finally asked, “can ye tell me what happened, a ghraidh?” He didn’t want to push her, but he was still worried something terrible had befallen her and needed to know. 

“W-what’s going on?” she asked shakily, her voice still choked and breathless. 

Jamie had no idea what she was asking about. What was going on with her? 

“What do you mean?” he probed gently. 

She raised her head off his shoulder to look at him with those heartbreaking, red rimmed eyes. “The rain. But what— the noise outside? The light?” She looked distressed, her eyes darting toward the window as she clutched Jamie’s shirt even more tightly as she spoke disjointedly, “and I didn’t know— and if you were in danger— and the suns went out—”

Jamie was struggling terribly to make heads or tails of her fragmented questions. 

“Do ye mean the power outage, lass?” he guessed. 

“What?” she asked, a quiver in her voice. Her hand clutched more tightly at his shirt. 

“When the lights went off. When it got dark in here? Is that what scared you?” 

She nodded, her chin trembling a little. “Yes, but Jamie, I don’t understand what’s going on outside.” 

Then it hit him all at once. 

She was a summer faerie. 

They probably didn’t even have thunderstorms in her realm. 

He was rocked so heavily by what he could only imagine had taken place that his breath stopped for a minute. Claire— alone for the first time in the house— hearing the thunder and seeing the lightning and having no idea what was going on— only for the electricity to go out, leaving her confused and terrified in the darkness. All while he was at bloody work. 

“Oh Christ, mo ghraidh,” he choked, “I’m so sorry.” 

She looked confused, blinking sticky eyes at him. He brought his hand absently up to cup her face and swipe his thumb gently over the residual tears. 

“It’s called a thunderstorm. They happen here occasionally. I dinna ken exactly how tae explain it, but it’s somethin’ wi’ the atmosphere and the rain that causes those lights and sounds outside. The light— it’s like fire…” he looked to her nod for confirmation that fire was something they had in the other plane, “aye, electricity. I’m no’ explaining this verra well… But it’s no’ dangerous, especially no’ when ye’re inside. It doesna happen often, but this time it made the power— the lights inside— go out. Since I live in the middle of nowhere, it does happen occasionally.”  

The anxious lines on Claire’s face were beginning to ease. She nodded in shaky understanding, swallowing hard around the new information. 

“Oh, a leannan, I’m so sorry I left you,” he said in a rush, pulling her back into a fierce hug. He held her tightly, his grip almost bruising. “I’m so sorry this happened while I was gone. I ken ye were alone and scared and ye didna ken what was going on.” 

Claire’s intake of breath sounded like she was holding back a sob. 

“I didn’t know if you were alright,” she whispered. 

“Oh, my sweet one,” Jamie could barely get the words out of his throat, “always thinking of others, are ye no?” 

He pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, overcome by his love for her. 

“Truly, Claire. I’m so sorry, lass. I’m here now, aye? I willna let ye go.” 

The wee arms around his middle squeezed tighter. 

“Don’t,” she agreed. 

So he sat there in the dark room, his faerie in his lap, holding her against him as if he was afraid she would be ripped away, and they slowly breathed together. Claire seemed calmer now even though her breathing was still a little ragged. But he could feel her heartbeat thrumming more steadily in her chest, and her body wasn’t so tense. She rested against him, rather, drawing comfort from his nearness, and the realization of that fact— that Jamie’s simple physical presence was enough to reassure her that everything would be alright— made him go soft all over again. 

***

“Well now I canna ever leave,” he joked later that night as they laid in bed curled up next to each other, but there was a serious fear buried underneath his humor. He was sitting up against the headboard, and Claire was sitting with her legs crossed, facing him. 

The power had been restored, and Claire seemed back to much her usual self. She’d taken a nap with him after her panic attack, completely wiped, but now she was awake and seemed alright, if a little subdued. 

“It’s alright, Jamie,” she said. But she bit her lip afterward, looking down, and Jamie wondered what exactly it was that she was thinking. Sometimes he desperately wished he had Claire’s empathic abilities. 

“Ye said that this mornin’, and then the world decided to make it the worst day ever,” he shot back. 

He softened his expression, looking down at her, and his voice dropped as he grew serious. “I jes’ dinna like thinkin’ about all the things that can go wrong while I’m gone. Ye’re learnin’ so much, mo ghraidh, but there’s still a lot ye dinna ken, and a lot of dangers in this world.” He placed two fingers under her chin and caressed gently with his thumb, “I think I’ll take off a little more time. I dinna really need tae go back in again on Monday.”  

She shook her head but gave him a tiny smile as if to reassure him and validate his feelings. “No, Jamie. There will always be dangers out there. There were dangers even on my plane. You can’t protect me from everything.” 

Jamie’s face darkened, “I want to.” 

“But you can’t,” she said emphatically, her breath puffing slightly against him, “it’s just not possible. Like I told you a few days after we met, I’ve been taking care of myself my whole life. Yes, today was scary. And how my body reacted…” her eyes grew distant as if reliving the experience, “that was even scarier. But I was okay.” 

“But it would have been better if I was wi’ ye,” Jamie argued, his wame twisting with guilt, “if I could have been able tae tell ye that this was common for our world and if I could have stayed wi’ ye when the panic started.” 

She reached a hand up to cradle his jaw. Tingles shot through him, and he wondered for a split second if she was manipulating the energy inside him. But she wasn’t, it was just that her touch held that much weight for him. 

“I’m okay, Jamie,” she said, “and I’ll be okay next time.” Her voice dropped with the solemnity of her next statement, “we can hope nothing like this happens again, but we can’t plan for the unknown. We just have to face it.”

Jamie felt his shoulders slump. She was right of course, as much as he hated acquiescing and being forced to leave her again on Monday. 

“You’ve missed enough work because of me. Now quit worrying about things you can’t control,” she said with a soft smile, pressing her hand harder against his jaw to punctuate her point. 

“Are ye always this wise?” Jamie asked, drawing his face closer to hers. 

Her left hand lifted to join the other on his face, this time curving over the part of his neck right below his ear. 

“Only when it comes to you, my love,” she breathed. 

And then she was pulling him down to her lips. He met her kiss gently, refusing to let it descend into heat, keeping his lips light against hers and pouring out his affection and concern.

Without warning, she pulled back abruptly, her wide eyes fixed on Jamie. Immediately, she exclaimed, “Can we talk about how crazy it is that the human world has fire that just shoots out of the sky?” 

Jamie burst out laughing. “Well it’s no’ exactly like that…”

“What is it like then?” she challenged. 

Jamie was at a loss for an argument. “Aye, well it suppose so, and it is verra crazy if ye think about it.” 

Claire shook her head contemptuously. “Any other crazy things like that you think I should know about?” 

Jamie leaned back to half-lay against the headboard, bringing both arms up behind his head and lacing his fingers. He gave Claire a tender look, and she instantly got his meaning and moved so she could lay against him. She draped herself over the side of his body and settled in. 

“Where tae begin, lass? Earthquakes or hurricanes?”

***

Chapter Text

Claire came to consciousness slowly beside the love of her life. Sunlight was streaming through the…— her brain took a second before coming up with the word window. Jamie was still asleep, lying on his side with an arm thrown over her body. She turned over on her side too so they were face to face, lips barely a hair’s breadth apart. Her eyes caressed over his face as lovingly as if she were touching him with her hands. He looked so young in sleep, so content. The morning light made his cheekbones look so defined although his face was smooth and relaxed. He was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. 

She couldn’t help but reach up to gently stroke the messy curls that framed his face, and to her delight, his lips turned up in a soft smile. He wasn’t awake though, and that simple sign of innocence made her warm deep in her belly. Oh, how she loved him. Her protective Jamie, so sweet in sleep. 

It took all of her self control not to lean in and kiss him awake, but she contented herself with watching him for a bit longer. 

She felt loads better that morning, and the anxiety of the previous day had dissipated, replaced by the peaceful ease of knowing they had the whole day to spend with each other. Everything in the past didn’t matter, and it best be left there. She was ready to move on and get back to normal. 

A few minutes later, when his face began to twitch, she wasn’t surprised to see his eyes flutter lazily open. 

“Good morning, my love,” Claire said softly, eagerly raising a hand to stroke his jaw now that he was awake. 

He gave a sleepy grunt and smile. “G’mornin’, my Sassenach,” he said fondly. 

When his eyes grazed down her, noticing that she was raised up on one elbow and looking down at him, he groggily asked, “were ye watchin’ me sleep?” 

Claire smiled affectionately and nodded. “I was. Did you know you smile in your sleep?” 

Jamie snorted, shaking his head a little. “Normal lasses would be abashed to be caught watching someone sleep, but here ye are informing me that I smile.”

Claire frowned, feeling a strange mix of embarrassment and feistiness as she often did when Jamie commented on how strange he found her. She knew that he loved her and found her ways endearing, but still— she wasn’t out here commenting on how strange he was!

She decided to tell him as much. 

“And most men of the fair folk wouldn’t tease me so,” she shot back. 

His eyes went wide for a second, apparently coming to the realization that he did often point out her strangeness when he was just as strange to her. He sat up, the blankit falling from his chest down to pool on his hips, and he looked at her with a guilty expression. 

“I’m sorry, lass, I didna mean—”

“It’s alright, Jamie,” she laughed breathily, “it doesn’t bother me when you point things out. As long as…” a wash of insecurity overwhelmed her and she had to look down to her fingers in her lap as she finished, “as long as it doesn’t make you sad that I’m… different.” 

“Claire,” her name fell from his lips like it had been punched out of him. His big hand came under her chin and tilted her face up while the other slid down her side. It smoothed down the entire length before coming to rest on his hip. He looked at her with an earnest expression. “I love everything about you. I love that you are a brazen wee thing, so straightforward. I love that ye are shameless in touching me. I love that ye always get cold and are obsessed wi’ fluffy blankets. And I love that ye’re still learnin’ human words. I love those things about ye that are different because they’re what make ye who ye are. And I verra much love who ye are.”

Claire couldn’t fight the smile growing on her face any more than she could prevent the slight blush from heating her cheeks. “Just checking,” she said with a little dismissive tilt of the head. 

Jamie laughed and leaned in to kiss her. 

***

Once they were dressed and Jamie had eaten, Claire watched him do dishes while she plotted how exactly she could mess with him that day. She managed to keep some distance as she schemed, but her hands were already itching to touch him. An idea suddenly struck her, and she grinned to herself, keeping it in the back of her mind for later. But first, she needed her kisses. 

She got up from her spot and made her way over to Jamie as he was drying his hands. He turned just in time to see her coming toward him, his eyes widening a bit, and then she was on him. She grabbed his collar and pulled him down to her lips (he was a great deal taller than her and it was a lot of work sometimes to get him down to her level so she could reach). To her satisfaction, he dropped the small blankit in his hands and they encircled her waist instead, the great expanse of them nearly curving entirely around. Oh, his hands were so big...

She found herself suddenly losing control of the kiss as the element of surprise wore off. His lips grew bolder, pressing more insistently to hers until she opened her mouth enough for his tongue to sneak in. A shiver of delight ran down her spine, and she leaned back into the warm hands on her back. They squeezed her sides in response, tugging her closer to his body. Then suddenly he was walking her backward, pushing against her until she stumbled back and he went with her, exploring her mouth all the while. 

Without the faintest idea of what was behind her, she held onto his neck and allowed him to walk her backward. It was nearly a dance. Jamie was kissing her so eagerly that she thought he likely didn’t know what he was doing either. She didn’t mind, though, she just liked being close to him. 

The moment her back hit a solid surface behind her as Jamie pushed her against it, there was a slight clatter, and then a burning pain seared her back. She jerked away from it, crying out into Jamie’s mouth. 

Jamie broke free from her lips instantly, his beautiful blue eyes huge with worry. There was another clang as something hit the floor, but Claire was still reeling too much to pay attention.

Her hand flew to the middle of her back— the spot just between her wings and just below her neck— where she’d been burned. Air hissed through her teeth as she grimaced. 

“Sassenach?” Jamie asked, anxiety evident in his voice. 

An “ah!” of discomfort was the only answer she had. 

“What’s wrong, a leannan?” he asked gently. 

Claire was still too busy being in pain to give a better answer, so she unhelpfully provided, “it hurts.” 

Jamie’s brows furrowed. He placed both hands on her upper arms and slowly turned her so her back was facing him. He gently removed her hand from where it clutched over the raw flesh. 

“Christ, lass,” came his reaction from behind her, “ye’ve a burn.” 

Fingers gently probed the area around the source of the pain, and they were surprisingly cool and soft in comparison to the stinging. 

“But what burned ye?” came the next question from low in his throat. 

Claire was wondering the same thing herself. She glanced at the large wooden… thing… beside her that Jamie had backed her into. It was a place where Jamie displayed stuff— certain silly little items without function that were just so human. Everything there looked harmless… 

As she was looking behind her, Jamie had stooped down and picked up whatever it was that had fallen to the floor. It was a long, oddly shaped thin cylinder, shiny and…

Silver!

She jumped back with a cry of alarm, eying the dangerous piece in his hand and wondering how he was holding it. Apparently it was safe for him...  

Jamie looked terrified, glancing between her and the thing in his hand. 

“What is it? My mother’s candlestick?” he asked, bewildered. 

“It’s made of silver, isn’t it?” Claire asked. 

“Aye. Is… is this what burned ye?” Jamie asked with huge eyes. 

She nodded, grimacing in pain. “Silver burns us,” she explained simply. She tried to glance behind her at her back but couldn’t glimpse the resulting burn. 

He hastily placed the “candlestick” back on the wooden surface and approached her with a distressed look on his face. 

“I’m so sorry, lass,” he said with a choke in his voice, “I didna mean tae hurt ye. I didna ken and I was careless—” 

Before he could berate himself any further, Claire placed a finger over his mouth. “It’s not your fault, Jamie. Besides, I’m okay, it just hurts a little is all.” 

That didn’t seem to reassure him much. His face was still twisted in a guilt-ridden expression, and he was eyeing her with not an insufficient amount of worry. It pained her to see him worried about her again after she’d been so hoping they’d have a normal day...

“Can ye heal it?” he asked, reaching out a hand to stroke down the length of her arm. 

She shook her head. “I can’t heal this.” 

Jamie looked heartbroken at her words, and she couldn’t resist bringing a hand out to rest it gently over his heart. The moment her hand made contact with him, she could feel the guilt and concern radiating from him, like a pulse that ran through him into her. 

“It’s okay, Jamie,” she said softly, “I told you, it’s not your fault. You shouldn’t feel guilty.” 

“It is my fault though,” he said sadly, shaking his head. 

“My sweet, stubborn man,” she sighed. 

Without another word, she stepped closer, bridging the distance between them and leaning her body against his. She turned her face so that her cheek could rest on his chest and then looped her arms around him. 

Jamie was hesitant at first, fearful of accidentally brushing against her burn, but after a second, his arms came around her waist to hug her back. 

“I’m sorry,” he said again, softly.  

“Forgiven,” she whispered, “don’t think on it anymore.” 

“Come here, puir thing,” he said suddenly, bursting into action. He took a step back, grabbing her hand, and began to lead her into the kitchen. She followed meekly and didn’t resist as he sat her down before rustling around in his things. 

When he returned, he knelt down beside her and turned her gently so her injured back was facing him. He had a small blankit in his hand, wet, and with the utmost care, he pressed it to the sore spot. The coolness was soothing, and a sigh escaped her lips. 

“Does that feel a wee bit better, a nighean?” Jamie asked. 

She nodded, breathing out a simple, “yes.”

Claire allowed him to fuss over her for several more minutes, hoping it’d help him feel better. He applied some sort of white paste to it after insisting it would help, and he finally ended by placing a sweet kiss to the top of her shoulder just above the spot. 

“You’re a fine healer,” she told him, “very nice hands.” 

Indulging herself, she grabbed said hands, spreading her fingers flat against his so their palms were touching, then laced them together. “Very strong but so gentle.”

“Hmm, I’m nothin’ compared to you, lass,” Jamie hummed, leaning in to press a kiss to her forehead. She would have preferred a kiss to her lips, but she knew Jamie was still getting over his worry, so she didn’t press him. 

There’d be time for that soon enough. 

*

Chapter Text

 

***

They spent the next while outside, walking around, hand in hand. Jamie was rather clingy, pulling her closer if she tried to wander away and squeezing her hand tightly. The land near his house— his “property” as he called it— was beautiful, and they simply wandered for a short time. They talked about everything and nothing, and she enjoyed the sunshine and soothing sound of his voice. As the day went on, she could feel his residual tension gradually easing until he forgot all about the incident with the silver. 

By the time they got inside again, washing dirt from their hands (since Claire couldn’t resist stopping to tend to a few plants in the garden, Jamie was back to his usual self. 

Trying to suppress a mischievous grin as she watched him wash his hands, Claire decided it was time to whip out her idea from earlier. 

“So…” she started conversationally, casually leaning against the table as Jamie eyed her up and down with a dubious expression, “you think I’m always touching you...” 

Jamie groaned and gave a roll of his eyes. “Ye’re one tae hold a grudge. I’ll never live that comment down, I see. All I meant was that ye’re verra touchy, and I like it.” 

Claire hummed, neither confirming nor denying, and countered, “and I think you’re just as touchy as me. In fact, I think that I could go longer without touching you than you could go resisting touching me.” She twirled a strand of hair on her finger, biting her lip while eying Jamie.

His brows raised, betraying his eagerness for a little game. “Is that a challenge?” 

“Care to hear the rules before you accept?” 

His lips downturned in a fond smile as he nodded. 

“No touching. You can get as close as you want and do whatever you want without touching. The first one to give in and reach for the other is the loser.” 

Jamie gave a little snort and grinned. “Ye’ve already lost, my sweet lass,” he said cockily, shrugging those broad shoulders of his, “ye can barely resist touchin’ me for even a second.” 

“It’s arrogance like that which will get you in trouble,” she warned. 

As if proving her point, he was already advancing on her. 

When he was only a hair’s breadth away from her, those beautiful blue eyes alight with the challenge, he said in a low, rumbly voice that twisted her insides in a way that just wasn’t fair, “ye ken, there’s a human story about a fairy who dies if she doesna get enough attention. Think ye can fair better?” 

Claire leveled him with her best narrowed eyes and calmly answered, “oh there will be no lack of attention, I assure you. I will have you begging.” 

To punctuate her point, she leaned in to hover her lips over his, purposefully breathing out a slight puff of air that she knew he would feel. 

“Do we have a deal?” she breathed. 

“Aye, I agree to yer terms, lass. I canna wait tae see ye lose.” 

To punctuate his point, Jamie lifted his hand so it was just under her chin, as if he was about to tilt her head up toward him, only he didn’t touch her. 

“What shall we do now, I wonder?” 

“Oh, I don’t know. If you’re bored you could always kiss me,” Claire suggested, already relishing all the teasing to come. 

“Verra funny,” Jamie said. He took a step back, glancing toward the kitchen. As if spotting something, he suddenly exclaimed, “actually, I know! I nearly forgot!” 

“What?” Claire asked, instantly intrigued. 

“I have a wee present for ye! With everythin’ yesterday...” his eyes lowered, loathe to bring up the events of the previous day, but then continued, “It almost slipped my mind.” 

Claire tilted her head inquisitively. Jamie seemed particularly enthused with his body all but buzzing with excitement. She couldn’t help but smile at his boyishness. 

“Stay here!” he said before bounding off toward the kitchen. 

Claire waited patiently with her hands in her lap and smiling to herself. She loved him more than anything. Already she was beginning to regret her idea for this game because she wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around him the second he got back and kiss him until he was breathless and staring down at her with those adorable glazed eyes. As much as Jamie teased her about having a glass face, he was beyond easy to read after he’d been kissed thoroughly. He couldn’t keep his enchantment from his face any more than she could pretend she didn’t feel the same. What a pair they were…

Her musings were interrupted when Jamie appeared in front of her with something in his hand. Smiling all the while, Jamie sat down next to her. 

“I’m sorry I didna wrap it like a proper gift but all I have is some left-over Christmas paper and I didna think that I—” he stopped suddenly, eyes shining with mirth as he realized, “I’m ramblin’, aren’t I?” 

Claire didn’t answer the last question since she was still lost from his strange words, and asked instead, “wrap it?” 

Jamie laughed, shaking his head and waving a hand dismissively. “Nothin’,” he chuckled. He shoved the object in her hands (careful not to actually touch her) and then sat back, watching expectantly. 

Giving him a shy smile, Claire found the opening and reached inside. The first thing her hand encountered to pull out was a small square— a little smaller than her hand— with the image of the familiar purple of…

“Heather?” she asked, wondering at the perfect image in front of her. It looked nearly as if she was holding the actual plant in her hand, even though she wasn’t, of course! The small square was thin and smooth, and made sort of a shaking sound. 

Jamie nodded encouragingly but didn’t offer an explanation. He looked back toward the large object in her hand, clearly wanting her to pull out more things. 

She did, one by one pulling out more small squares with the amazing images of her favorite plants. As she did, Claire was beginning to wonder what exactly was their purpose. By the 10th one, she decided they sure must have been meant to be displayed. They were far too beautiful for anything else. She’d noticed around Jamie’s house that he had things like this hanging on the walls, with beautiful colors and scenes. The fair folk sometimes made art, but nothing so perfectly real as these images. She could stare at these for days and never tire. 

Holding all of them in her hands like the precious gift they were, she looked up at Jamie with a wide smile. 

“Thank you so much, Jamie, I love them! Where should we put them, maybe upstairs or by…?” 

Jamie was giving her a fond look that he sometimes did when she was acting peculiar, and it made her trail off. 

“They’re seeds, lass,” he said, giving a nod at the images in her hand. 

She lifted them up, squinting at the pictures, completely lost. 

“These aren’t really plants, Jamie, they don’t actually have seeds,” she said dubiously. Maybe he’d gone funny in the head? 

“No,” he laughed, “ inside . Those are jus’ packages that hold the seeds. Inside are hundreds of seeds. And these are jes’ the beginning. For the rest of the gift, I thought I could tear up my wee garden so we could expand it. I thought ye might enjoy havin’ somethin’ of yer own. I ken my patch of dirt can barely even be considered a garden, and I thought ye might be missin’ tendin’ to plants and wantin’ to do somethin’ ye’re passionate about, so I…” 

“Jamie, you thoughtful man!” she exclaimed. She started to throw herself forward, about to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him in gratitude, but she managed to stop herself just before making contact. 

She sat back dejectedly, clutching all the “seed packages” in her hands as if touching them could make up for not being able to touch Jamie. 

He was laughing at her, the bastard! “Ready tae give up yet, lass?” he wheedled. 

“That’s not fair,” Claire shot back with a pout, “you chose now to give me such a lovely gift knowing full well that I’d want to hug you.”

“Ye’ll recall your rules were that anything goes as long as it isna touching,” Jamie sat back, lacing his fingers behind his head and looking smug. 

Suddenly, all the urge to hug Jamie was gone. “You ridiculous human,” she said with a roll of her eyes. 

He answered with a grin and a shrug. “It’s yer game, lassie, I’m jus’ winning it.” 

“That’s it,” she said with a shake of her head. She dropped Jamie’s gifts from her hands and shot to her feet. 

Quick as a flash, she had Jamie straddled, her legs just barely on either side of his, hands braced on the couch behind him, and her lips hovering over his. 

Much to her satisfaction, Jamie let out a gasp. His lips parted, and she could feel the puffs of air from his ragged breathing. He was still as a statue, completely taken aback. 

“You think you’re so good at this,” she purred, making sure that he could feel wisps of her breath against his lips, “that you’re so much better than me. But let’s drop the bravado, you’re just as bad as I am.” 

Even though they weren’t touching, Claire knew his heart was beating wildly. His eyes held a lovely combination of glassy desire and alarm— because he knew he was in deep trouble. 

Feeling like a predator with its prey, Claire leaned in even closer so her lips were as close as possible to his without touching. 

“You could end it now…” she breathed, “you could just lean forward a bit and kiss me. It wouldn’t take much— just a tilt of the head and you could feel my lips against yours…” 

Jaime let out an involuntary groan before he realized what he was doing. Coming out of his daze, he looked surprised at himself for a second, but then his face took on that air of smugness once again. 

His lips curved into a smile. “Verra good, lass. I have tae give ye credit. But I have a better suggestion. Why dinna you just bridge the distance? Ye’re obviously longin’ to be close.” 

Claire returned his teasing every bit as much as he was giving. “Hmmm, but I’d rather if you did it. Come on, darling. Think about how soft my lips are... How much you like having them pressed against yours... I know you’d love it if you could just grab the back of my head and pull me down to you right now. I wouldn’t even resist…” 

Jamie was trying very much to keep himself present in the competition, but Claire could see his eyes growing distant as he imagined the scenario she described. There was desire in those beautiful blues, clear as day, and it gave her the delicious sensation of butterflies in her stomach. 

But he was a stubborn, bloody man. He drew himself back to the present once again, set as he was on winning. 

“I dinna think I want that at all, but I thank ye for the suggestion, lass,” he lied, “What I really want is tae win and see ye admit that ye’re the clingy one. So I’ll thank ye tae remove yerself from on top of me.” 

“I’m not on top of you,” Claire shot back, looking down in illustration of the fact that no part of her was, in fact, touching him. 

“Well wherever ye are, perhaps ye’d move?” 

Claire hummed, smiling deviously, “make me.”

“What?” Jamie choked. 

“I don’t think I want to move…” Claire said innocently, “I think I want to stay right here. Why don’t you make me?” 

Jamie grumbled something under his breath. “I suppose I’ll jes’ be stayin’ here then.” 

***

Long after his faerie had gotten bored trapping him beneath her on the couch, Jamie stood in the kitchen doing dishes and trying to get his mind off of her. He could tell she was plotting something in the other room, probably some other devious idea to bend him to her will. She’d nearly gotten him on the couch, too. It took every ounce of stubbornness within him not to simply end the game then and there. 

And Jamie had extraordinary control. 

After all, he’d been sleeping in the same bed with her all this time and never once had they done more than kiss, even if it had gotten rather hot and heavy. As much as she was all over him, Jamie had managed to keep his baser desires in check. Not only was Jamie too nervous to broach the question of whether faeries even had physical intimacy in the same way as humans, sex was something he believed was sacred within the bounds on marriage. Jamie wanted to do right by her in every sense. He wanted Claire to be his forever, and he could wait until it was time. 

But this bloody game was somehow making it even harder, the tempting wee vixen. 

He had to wonder whether she knew what she was doing…. Whether she felt the same… 

Jamie clenched his teeth and shook his head, trying to clear his mind of such thoughts before he did something foolish like burst out and ask Claire to explain fae reproduction. That was a delicate conversation and should only be broached with a clear head, and Jamie’s head was anything but clear. 

He nearly jumped when he turned around from the sink to find Claire just behind him, a smirk on those perfect lips of hers. 

God, to kiss them… They did look awfully soft...

“Can I help ye, lass?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant and unaffected by the enchanting creature in front of him. 

“I was just wondering whether you wanted to do something?” she asked innocently, her hands behind her back. 

“What’d ye have in mind?” he asked with raised brows. 

“Oh, nothing in particular. It just looked like maybe you wanted to kiss me,” she said. Claire bit her lip, and Jamie had to swallow hard. 

Keep yer wits about ye, lad. Steady on. 

He made a humming noise from deep in his throat. “Funny, I was thinkin’ the same thing about ye. Something wrong wi’ yer lips?” 

Claire released her bottom lip from her teeth and gave him a pout. 

“Come find me when you get lonely then, I suppose,” she said. Feigning nonchalance, she turned on her heel and strode into the other room. 

While Jamie was quite certain that Claire would come running back to him soon enough, the game would be no fun if he was just doing household chores the whole time. Jamie wasn’t one to run from a challenge, nor was he one to leave his enchanting lass alone for too long.

He made his way into the living room to find Claire inspecting the contents of his bookshelf. After the mishap with his mother’s candlestick earlier, he’d safely removed them and placed them in his office instead. Still, Claire seemed to be eying the contents warily. 

Rising up to his full height, he stepped just behind her. 

Claire turned her chin over her shoulder to glance at him with playful, narrowed eyes. 

“What are you doing?” she demanded. 

“Standing,” he answered simply. 

“Would you care to stand somewhere else?” 

“No I would not,” he said, “I’m verra happy here. Why, am I botherin’ ye, lass?” 

He knew the answer to that question. While he didn’t have Claire’s empathic abilities, he could tell she was buzzing with the need to touch him. Capitalizing on this, he added, “ye look tired, a nighean. Why dinna ye lean back on my chest for a moment? I can wrap my arms around ye, keep ye warm. Are ye cold?” 

Claire’s eyes went wide, betraying the temptation his words brought for her, and she quickly turned her head back toward the bookshelf so he couldn’t see her expression. 

He was so close! Just a little more and she’d give in, and he’d have his faerie in his arms again… 

“Come on, a leannan,” Jamie tried to sound as rational and sensible as possible, “ye ken I’m no’ goin’ tae break. Ye dinna want this to go on forever. Why dinna ye just end this silly little game and we forget all about it and have a cuddle?” 

He saw her shoulders tense, the muscles drawing together as if she was warring within herself. Her body seemed to waver between action and inaction, and then suddenly she slid out from between him and the bookshelf, successfully escaping without a single touch. 

“Nice try, Fraser,” she said, “but if you think the game should end, you can end it.” 

She stalked over toward the couch, putting some distance between them, and put her hands on her hips. Eying him expectantly, she waited for some sort of action. She looked incredibly adorable, feisty but so small. Her head was cocked at him, as if in a dare, and it was just so damn cute that Jamie nearly gave in. 

Instead, he walked right up to her, leaned down as if to kiss her, but stopped at the last second. 

She must have been expecting him to go through with it because a sigh escaped her lips. 

“Ye have an eyelash, jes’ there,” Jamie said, pointing at her cheek so his finger a hair’s breadth from her skin. 

“Will you help me with that?” Claire asked breathily. She sounded so affected by him that she barely had any teasing in her voice at all. 

Jamie leaned in to let his lips drift just over her forehead. He trailed them down, as if he were kissing the skin of her face and neck instead of the air just above. Claire’s head tilted involuntarily to expose the column of her throat like she wanted to give him access to more skin that he wouldn’t even touch. 

She was putty in his hands, the puir lass.  

Suddenly, Claire took an abrupt step back and lifted a hand to press to her forehead, driving the heel of her hand into her brow. A tiny whimper fell from her lips.

His brain stopped for a second, his heart skipping a beat before he realized what was going on. “This is jus’ a tactic,” Jamie said with a grin, stepping closer again, “verra tricky lass, but it willna  work.” 

But then Claire looked up at him with wide eyes that clearly held genuine discomfort, and she managed a weak “it’s not— I feel...”

She stumbled backward, and as soon as her knees hit the couch, she sat down heavily, her hands returning to grab her head. 

Every notion of playfulness disappeared from Jamie. In fact, the entirety of the game was gone from his mind and replaced only with concern for her. He rushed to her side, sitting down next to her on the couch. Both of his hands came to her without a second thought, resting on her back and the other reaching for her face. 

“Claire?” he asked. He had no idea what else to do. 

Slowly, her hands withdrew from her face and she blinked several times before looking up at him, leaning instinctively into his touch.

“Are ye alright, lass?” he asked urgently. 

“I am. Sorry, I—” her brows furrowed, “I just felt very lightheaded all of a sudden.” 

Jamie’s thumb stroked over her cheek as he held her face, and Claire seemed to realize that all at once. As if she’d been missing his touch terribly, she leaned forward to let her body rest against him. He brought both arms around her and hugged her tightly, wondering if she could feel the racing of his heart. 

While Claire took a second to soak up the physical comfort, Jamie tried to take stock of his faerie. It was hard to tell since her face was pressed into his shirt, but he thought she was a little pale. Other than that, there didn’t seem to be anything visibly wrong. 

“How do ye feel now?” Jamie asked. 

Claire sat back, pulling away from his grip, and gave him a smile. Although it seemed genuine and a valiant attempt at reassurance, it came off a bit weak. 

“Better. It’s passed,” she said with an air of confidence. 

“Are ye sure?” he asked, reaching up to hold her face again. 

She nodded into his hand. “Yes,” she breathed, “sorry for ruining our game…” 

Jamie shook his head, a lump suddenly forming in his throat. Didn’t she know that she was a million times more important to him than a silly competition? Had she no idea how precious she was? He’d drop everything in his life at any moment for her, no questions asked. 

“Dinna fash,” was all he mustered out as the weight of his declarations remained in his heart and mind, “are ye sure ye’re alright?” 

“I’m fine,” she said, nodding more convincingly this time, “I think maybe the chill just got to me, it’s awfully cold in here.” 

Jamie chuckled, shaking his head at the more typical behavior and trying to cover his sense of relief. 

“Come on, let’s get ye a blanket and a cuddle, sweet one.” 

***

Chapter Text

Claire lay on her stomach in front of Jamie in the middle of the living room floor, her arms folded underneath her head as she lazed. Jamie, for his part, sat cross-legged behind her, completely and utterly enamored. 

The dress she was wearing had a large open back, covered only by tiny straps, which left her beautiful, translucent wings exposed. Jamie’s fingers were gently tracing the edge of them where they lay flat on her back. They were so incredibly soft, so delicate, that Jamie could only bring himself to give them the barest hint of a touch. But he was entranced. 

He’s always been told never to touch the wings of a flutterby for fear of damaging them, so when Claire had given him permission to touch hers (after he'd gaped open-mouthed at her in that dress), it felt so deliciously forbidden. Even though he’d never exactly touched a flutterby’s wings before, he’d felt them flap against his skin as the flutterby hovered around him, the flitting sensation of softness before it was gone, out of reach. Claire’s wings felt much the same as he’d imagine a flutterby’s would if he could touch them in this way, only Claire kept hers still and on display for him to pay due reverence. 

Jamie had always seen the presence of a flutterby as a blessing— if they were near him, it was because of their choice, not his. He remembered as a kid being out in his mother’s garden, sitting as still as possible in hopes that one might land on him in passing. 

Claire was much the same. An ethereal creature that somehow had landed on his life, had chosen him… him… over anything else, giving herself fully and utterly without hesitation. 

Growing more bold, he trailed a finger down across one of the silvery veins that stretched across her wing. Claire gave a little shudder, making Jamie pause, but it was followed immediately by a contented sigh. 

“How does it feel?” Jamie asked as he continued to wander the surface of her wing with gentle exploratory touches. 

“Hmmn… nice,” Claire hummed. 

Jamie spared a glance up at her face to find her eyes were closed. Her cheek was squished just slightly where it lay against her arm, and Jamie nearly melted at the sight.  

“Like when I touch yer skin?” he probed. In demonstration, he brought his fingers to the skin of her back in between her wings, smoothing them down along the bumps of her spine. 

She shivered again, shifting her head, and then answered dreamily, “no. It’s different. I can’t really explain, it’s like… my wings are more… sensitive.” 

Jamie hummed in acknowledgement and returned his touch to her wings. They fluttered a little at the unexpected sensation, flitting against his hands, and that only served to make him more eager. As they settled again, Jamie began drawing absent circles over the surface with his fingertips. 

They weren’t paper thin, but still so heartbreakingly delicate. Their golden hue seemed to shimmer in the light from the window, although it was soft and barely noticeable if he hadn’t been studying them so closely. He couldn't get enough. 

It was unreal. 

His body was nearly trembling with excitement over this strange experience. As relaxed as Claire was, Jamie was pulsing with energy, thrilled by this newfound intimacy. He could touch her forever and never tire of it— wings or no. The thought that this strange creature was his awed him to no end... 

Absorbed as he was, he barely even noticed Claire was moving until she had sat up, her wings fluttering freely as she did. Jamie drew back, not wanting to hurt her as they moved, and he sat watching like a besotted fool as she turned to him. 

Her eyes seemed glazed with serenity, her whole posture carefree and relaxed. His touch had melted her into a puddle of soft warmth, and Jamie came to the realization that she was about to be all over him the second before she did just that.

She moved slowly but nonetheless insistently, and Jamie found himself absolutely covered in faerie a second later. She had straddled him and pushed him down on the floor as Jamie obediently relented. He let her drape herself over him as he leaned back, staring up at her in enrapturement. The second he was laying on the ground, Claire spread out at length upon him, she purred, “It’s your turn.” 

A dhia. 

“What?” He sputtered, his brain having halted all proper function at the feeling of her body spread on top of him. 

Lord give him strength. 

“It’s your turn,” she repeated, “On your front.” 

Jamie’s brain snapped back into his head as he realized what she was asking. Getting himself in check through some monumental force of will, Jamie managed to smile up at the hooded eyes above him. 

“Lass, I canna turn over when ye’re on top of me.” 

Claire was too tranquil to laugh or flush. She just hummed in acknowledgement, brushed her nose against Jamie’s once (making his wame twist), and then removed herself from his body. 

Jamie mourned the loss instantly, but he turned over onto his stomach as ordered, mirroring the position Claire had just been in, lounging on his front. 

As soon as he was settled, soft wee hands slid under his tee shirt, pushing it up. Then, lips met skin. 

He had to resist the impulse to jerk away as she kissed the scars, her lips warm and tender. No one had ever touched him fondly there— before her— and never in his life had he imagined someone kissing the ugly evidence of his pain. 

Her lips touched the scarred flesh again, this time further up, and Jamie shivered. Gooseflesh broke out along his arms as her hand smoothed down the length of his back. She took her time, her touch gentle and intentional. 

“You’re so beautiful,” she said reverently. 

Every insecurity in Jamie screamed at him to deny it, to say something to the contrary, or even just joke about getting her eyesight checked. But the next brush of lips made the words die in his throat. He simply remained silent as tears gathered in his eyes. 

Her fingers traced the criss-cross of his scars for a long time, easing the tension from his muscles with her soft touch until Jamie was just as relaxed as his faerie. 

He wasn’t expecting it when a solid weight rested on his back, and he realized she’d laid her head down on him. 

“I love you,” she said softly, her fingers still tracing over his shoulder blade, “all of you.” 

Jamie wished that he were sitting up— or anywhere that he wasn’t trapped like this— so he could embrace her as he answered, “that means more than ye know, mo nighean donn.” 

Her hand smoothed back and forth over his side in response. He could feel her breathing— slow and deep— against him. 

“Dinna fall asleep on me there, lass,” he joked quietly. 

“I’m not.” She answered so softly that he wasn’t entirely convinced of the validity of the statement. “I just want you to know that I love every part of you.” 

The warmth in Jamie’s chest could have melted even the most ancient ice. Claire’s loving his scars couldn’t take away his insecurities— couldn’t magically heal the years of hating his body— but she gave him hope that one day he might be able to love himself with even a fraction of the intensity with which she loved him. 

Jamie pushed up on his elbows (Claire letting out a displeased noise at his disruption), and he hastily sat up to take her into his arms as he’d been wishing to do ever since she’d begun her ministrations. 

She went willingly as he pulled her into his chest, and they stayed pressed together as two parts of the same whole, serenity wrapped around them with the comfort of a blanket. 

*** 

Later that day, Jamie finally had the chance to introduce Claire to the wonders of literature. After finding out weeks ago that the fair folk didn’t have a written language, Jamie had been positively itching to introduce Claire to some of his favorite books. The choice had been brutal—Jamie being the book lover that he was— but finally, he had decided on Lord of the Rings. 

As soon as the decision had been made, he’d begun to prepare Claire, telling her everything he could think of about reading and books and human literature so she’d be ready before hearing the story. 

When the time finally came— and Claire had draped herself over Jamie’s lap, holding onto his neck and laying her head on his shoulder so she could stare the book as he read— Jamie found it rather hard to concentrate on the words. He had to block out her touches and reactions in order to give her the proper experience of hearing him read. After not too long, Jamie began to get the hang of it— it’d been a long while since he’d read aloud to anyone, but the story came alive as he grew more comfortable. 

Claire had hummed with excitement the whole time, stifling her wonderment into Jamie’s shoulder as he read with enthusiasm. 

“You’re a wonderful story teller, Jamie,” she praised during a break at the end of a chapter. 

“Thank ye, lass, but it isna so hard when the story is just here in front of me.” 

“You’re getting all that story from there?” she asked, pointing dubiously at the page. 

“Aye, much easier than remembering the whole thing,” he answered. 

She’d pressed a kiss to his cheek. “You humans are so sweet,” she said fondly, “we just treasure everything worth telling inside of us.” 

“Oh lass,” Jamie said, “I canna wait until ye hear more. There’s so much out there, more than we could ever remember ourselves. I’ll make a bookworm out of ye yet.” 

Getting back to business, Jamie squeezed Claire closer with his free arm and resumed reading. Her attention soon shifted from the page (which was meaningless to her) and instead rested on Jamie’s face as he read. He found himself distracted by her regard and her wandering hands that were doing their best to draw him away from his reading. 

“A nighean,” he said at one point, looking away from the book to level her with a mock stern look. Her hand froze over his nose where she’d been tracing up and down the bridge of it, “I canna concentrate on reading.” 

“Oh,” she said, abashed, withdrawing her hands, “sorry.” 

“Are ye enjoying the story so far, a leannan?” he asked. He had to prepare himself for the possibility that he was boring her, although hearing her say out loud that she didn’t like Lord of the Rings would probably break his heart. 

“I love it!” she exclaimed quickly, straightening herself against him, “it’s amazing. I’m sorry, please keep going.” 

“Okay,” he chuckled, “maybe jes’ let me focus on the reading for a bit, aye?” 

*

After they’d finished their section of reading— Jamie closing the book as if parting from an old friend— Claire pressed a sweet kiss to his cheek. 

“Thank you for telling me your story,” she said softly. 

He couldn’t help but laugh at hearing it referred to as “his,” but he didn’t have it in his heart to correct her outright. 

“We’ll read more of Tolkien’s story another time. Would ye like that?” 

She nodded enthusiastically, her curls bouncing and her smile melting his heart all over again. How could anyone ever look at her and not love her ?— he wondered. He would spend all day, every day pouring out his soul just to see a glimpse of that smile. 

“Would ye tell me a story of the fair folk?” Jamie asked suddenly, longing to experience a part of her world as she was experiencing his. 

She raised up from where her head had just rested back on his shoulder. 

“I would love to tell you a story, Jamie,” she said, but something about the tone of her voice seemed… off. Was she sad? Had bringing up her home been a mistake? “But later. I don’t know, I… I don’t really feel much like storytelling at the moment.”

“That’s alright, a leannan,” Jamie reassured, “I just want ye to ken how much I care about yer stories too.” 

Claire wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her head underneath his jaw, squeezing tightly. 

“I love you, Jamie,” she said. 

“I love you more, mo nighean donn.”

***

Chapter Text

There was a solid knock at the door, three raps showing no particular urgency but also leaving no room for Jamie to pretend he hadn’t heard. It seemed that every time someone was at the door, Jamie was confronted with a disaster. First it had been the mailman that had resulted in Claire crying in his arms over never being able to go home, and then it was Jenny… being Jenny— twice. He worried at first that it was his sister back again to stir up even more trouble, except the knock was most certainly not his sister’s style of ringing the bell like a maniac. Still, he had no desire to answer it and whatever trouble it might bring. He wanted to stay wrapped up in his fantasy with his faerie forever. 

At the sound outside the door, Claire jerked her head up from where it had been laid on his shoulder. They were having a lazy Sunday afternoon, sitting on the couch in quiet companionship after having finished up their chapter of Lord of the Rings. Claire had been just slightly dozing at his side when the sound disturbed their peace. 

“Dinna fash,” he said quietly as she shifted a bit so he could stand, “stay here.”

As he made his way to the entryway, he could sense his stubborn faerie getting up and following behind him. He stopped in front of the big oak door and Claire pressed herself behind him. He shot a glance over his shoulder to see her peeking curiously around his side. 

“Sassenach,” he said patiently, “why dinna ye go wait in the other room?” 

She shook her head stubbornly.  

Jamie rolled her eyes and decided not to argue with her. (He was beginning to miss the early days of easy compliance— not that he wanted her to be as timid as she used to be, he just should have enjoyed telling her what to do while he’d had the chance). She seemed content enough to mostly hide herself behind him, so maybe she wouldn’t be visible to whoever was at the door. 

He unlocked it and pulled it open a crack. 

Outside stood none other than his Godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons, looking particularly dour under his bushy beard. As soon as the man caught sight of Jamie, he grumbled, “took ye long enough.”

“Murtagh!” Jamie exclaimed, feeling the rush of fondness he always did at the sight of his godfather, “what are you doin’ here?” 

The only thing lacking from the expression on Murtagh’s face was an eye-roll. “Care tae explain why yer sister is bletherin’ on in my ear every day and night for the past week about how her brother has taken up wi’ a trollop and gone off the deep end? Mind,” he shot a look to the side of Jamie that made his eyes go wide, and Jamie felt a sinking feeling in his gut that his godfather had caught sight of Claire peeking around him, “I wouldna have been inclined tae believe her if not for the fact that I havna heard from ye. And now I see… ye do have... company.” 

Murtagh gave a nod at Jamie’s side, where he knew Claire must have been showing herself. 

Jamie let out a sigh and gave into the urge to check behind him. Claire had drifted forward and was hovering at his side, looking out the cracked door with huge doe eyes. 

“This is Murtagh, your…?” she spoke up, addressing Jamie. 

“Aye, my Godfather,” Jamie said, reluctantly accepting the unplanned meeting, “well I suppose introductions are in order. Murtagh, this is Claire.” 

“Hello, lass,” Murtagh said, politely enough. He held out his hand, saying “so you’re…” 

“The trollop,” she answered, completely innocently. 

Jamie had to bite down a laugh. The lass didna even ken the meaning of that word…

Murtagh’s eyes went wide, and he looked rightfully embarrassed. “I didna mean… I—” 

Claire still hadn’t taken his hand (yet another human custom she didn’t know— Jamie had to remind himself to teach her that one), and Murtagh glanced down at his proffered appendage, then back up at Claire. Assuming she was too offended by his earlier statement to shake his hand, he dropped it back to his side. 

Jamie decided to try to ease the situation and offered, “why dinna ye come inside?” 

Murtagh made a sound of assent deep in his throat and stepped inside the door. Just as Claire started to turn toward the living room, Jamie suddenly remembered that she was wearing the low cut dress— the one that so prettily displayed her wings. He threw himself behind her just in time to use his bulk to prevent Murtagh from seeing her exposed wings. With urgency, he grabbed Claire’s arms in front of him and pulled her against him so her back was pressed to his front, safely hiding the wings from view. 

He herded her toward the living room, pushing her so fast that she nearly stumbled. But they needed to get there before Murtagh so he’d have time to rip off his jacket and give it to her. 

Sure enough, Murtagh was ambling lazily enough, so the second they were in the living room, Jamie whirled her around so her front was facing the entryway and then let go of her to tear off his jacket. He swung it around her shoulders just in the nick of time before Murtagh arrived. 

Trying to disguise what he’d been doing, Jamie pulled Claire close and draped an arm around her, feigning nonchalance as best as he could. Meanwhile, Claire was clutching Jamie’s jacket closed in front of her, holding on with a white-knuckled grip. 

“Murtagh,” he said, trying to get his brain to catch back up to the situation, “I’m glad ye’re here, truly. Now ye can officially meet my girlfriend.” 

To Murtagh’s credit, his eyes only went wide in shocked disbelief for a second before he managed a polite, “nice tae meet ye, lass” for Jamie’s now-claimed girlfriend. 

“Why dinna ye have a seat?” Jamie suggested, gesturing toward a chair. 

In the meantime, Jamie brought Claire with him over toward the couch. On the way, Claire reached up on her toes to whisper softly in his ear, “is it okay to hold your hand?” 

He looked down at him, confused for a second to see her anxious expression, before he remembered their conversation about PDA and how it’d been inappropriate in front of Jenny. Jamie nearly had to laugh at her earnestness to do right by his customs. 

“Yes, lass,” he whispered discreetly as they sat down together, “as long as ye dinna sit on my lap this time.” 

Claire seemed greatly relieved by this, and as soon as they were seated, she reached out to lace their fingers together. She held on more tightly than normal, and Jamie gave her a squeeze, trying to reassure her that Murtagh was not, in fact, like Jenny, and she didn’t have to worry. 

Jamie was rather worried himself though. Murtagh had been like a father to him ever since his own had passed a few years back; his opinion about Claire (who he hoped he’d spend the rest of his life with, God willing) meant a lot to him. He could only hope that Jenny’s sour words hadn’t already cemented Murtagh’s opinion. 

Naturally, Murtagh began with questions that Jamie had a hard time answering. 

“So, when did ye two…” he fumbled. It was unlike Murtagh to waver so indirectly, but it was clear what he was asking. 

The next few minutes were spent feeding him the fake backstory Jamie had concocted. As he’d explained to Jenny, Jamie said that he’d met Claire at university in Paris and they’d kept in touch. When she’d come to visit, they’d reconnected. Claire extended her trip, and they both realized they’d been in love all this time. 

Murtagh seemed to take it mostly in stride, nodding politely but keeping his expression neutral. Jamie had no idea what was going on underneath that impenetrable beard of his, and it worried him to no end. 

“So, lass,” Murtagh said, sounding conversational, “let’s hear from you. How do ye feel about our Jamie, then?” 

Jamie’s head whipped to her, and found she was smiling nearly ear to ear. “I love him,” she answered without hesitation, “I think he’s the most amazing man I’ve ever met.” Her voice was fond and sincere, and she looked up at Jamie with a smile, as if she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. “I think he’s kind, and giving, and thoughtful, and intelligent. And so much more than that. And I think I’m so lucky to be here with him.”

His heart clenched nearly painfully in his chest, and it took all his self control to keep from kissing her, or from breaking into tears. God, he loved her. 

Forgetting Murtagh for a second, he grew lost in her warm gaze, that honey look like a caress on his skin. 

“I think I’m the lucky one,” he said softly.

Murtagh cleared his throat pointedly, breaking the moment, but when Jamie looked away from Claire and back toward his godfather, there was none of the animosity in his eyes that there’d been in Jenny’s. His grump of a surrogate father just held his usual “why are you subjecting me to the nonsense” kind of expression. 

Just as Jamie was about to open his mouth, floundering for something to say, Adso came prancing into the room, looking distinguished and ready to grab the attention. He was quite successful, too, because the non-existent conversation ground to a halt. 

“Adso!” Claire cooed, as she always did when the cat approached. 

The cheetie meowed back at her in greeting, and Claire’s face softened ever-further. She always got this sweet expression on her face around Adso, like the look of a loving caretaker. Jamie couldn’t help but wonder whether she’d wear the same expression with their kids… if they could even have kids… 

His gut clenched for a second in uncertainty, thinking about the very real possibility that they couldn’t actually procreate. Jamie knew they would have to talk about it someday, but he was terrified of hearing that his dream of having children was an impossible one. He could manage without a big family— all he really needed was her— but he’d prefer to live in hopeful ignorance for a short while longer, imaging bairns running around with her whiskey eyes and his red hair.  

When Jamie managed to drag himself back to reality, he saw that Claire had repositioned herself to sit on the floor, and Adso was already settled in her lap, purring away. 

His faerie looked up at Murtagh. “Do you like cheeties, Murtagh?” she asked, looking the picture of innocent enthusiasm. 

Murtagh— the hard man that he was and usually so unshakeable— looked taken aback at the question. 

“I canna say I have a strong opinion on the matter,” Murtagh answered. 

“Oh, well I love them. I’d never met a cheetie before Adso, but I’m sure he must be the nicest there is,” Claire said simply. Jamie had to clench his jaw, finding her incredibly endearing but infuriating at the same time. She was drifting carelessly into dangerous territory….

“Never ‘met’ a cheetie, meanin' ye’d never had one or…” Murtagh was looking dubious, and Jamie’s heart beat faster, his muscles coiling as if he could face the threat of Murtagh’s suspicions physically. 

“No,” Claire said, and Jamie had to hide a grimace, knowing exactly where she was going. She was always so honest, his faerie. “I mean I’d never seen one.” 

Murtagh’s brows drew together as he squinted down at her. “Where did ye say ye were from again?” He asked, not unreasonably. 

“A verrra small rural town near Oxfordshire,” Jamie jumped in hastily, for fear that Claire would forget herself. She seemed to be going off the rails, there was no telling what she would say, even knowing as she did that she shouldn’t say anything to give her secret away. 

Claire, still sitting cross legged and stroking the cat, gave a nod of affirmation. 

Murtagh’s only response was a grunt, followed by silence. Ever a man of few words, he didn’t seem inclined to further the conversation himself. 

Unfortunately, that meant that Claire, in her eagerness to get to know him, was jumping confidently back into the conversation. “So, Murtagh,” she said, “what do you do?” 

Alright, good. That’s a relatively normal question. Good, lass.  

“Construction hereabouts,” Murtagh replied, seeming less than interested in the small talk. 

Claire’s eyes widened, and she put on an excited face that Jamie thought was very genuine. 

“Building? That’s lovely! What do you build?” 

While Claire likely meant the question quite literally, having no idea what the job of construction entailed, Murtagh thankfully took it at face value. 

“Mostly residential. Many of the houses ye see hereabouts are our work,” Murtagh said, a hint of pride showing from beneath his busy beard. 

“Ohh…” Claire said, probably sounding a little too awed for the occasion, but it was sweet nonetheless, “so you build places like this? How—”

Jamie, sensing that she was about to question how one goes about building a house, tried to avert disaster by quickly cutting in before she could finish her strange question. “Claire, mo ghraidh, would you mind grabbing me a glass of water?” 

Claire shot a sweet, indulgent look at him from over her shoulder and gave a nod. “Of course, Jamie.” She unceremoniously dumped the cat from her lap as she stood, and she gave a polite nod to Murtagh, saying, “sorry for leaving the conversation, I’ll be right back.” 

As she left the room for the safety of the kitchen, Jamie felt his heart rate drop back to normal rhythms. 

Just as quickly though, it was ratcheted back up when Murtagh gave him a long look and commented, “She’s a wee bit… strange, isn’t she?” 

Trying not to break out into nervous sweats, Jamie reminded himself that there were strange humans too, and nothing Claire had said had been that bad. 

“Aye, a bit. But I love her for it,” he said honestly, throwing a look into the kitchen where Claire was currently studying the sink closely as she tried to recall how to turn it on. Jamie sent her good luck and tried not to smile to himself. They’d worked the sink together before, but she never really had a reason to use it on her own. Jamie was often around to turn it on for her after she’d been gardening and needed to clean up. He made a mental note to stop enabling her lack of human skills. 

Murtagh was staring at him in the meanwhile, looking lost in thought and careful evaluation. Meeting those dark eyes, Jamie found himself feeling nervous over what was going on in the impenetrable head of his godfather. 

“Ye’re sure about her?” came the question. 

All Jamie managed to get out was an “aye,” before Claire was returning to the room, looking triumphant with a full glass of water in her hand. 

The next few minutes were spent catching Murtagh up on the happenings at Jamie’s publishing company, which thankfully did not involve a grilling on why Jamie had been taking so much time off. Claire was quiet during the conversation, but feigned engagement well, looking invested in Jamie’s words in a way that made his stomach warm. The sweet lass truly knew nothing about his work, but apparently loving him was enough to make her love hearing about his passions. 

Then, at a break in the conversation, Murtagh stood up, wiping his hands on his pants. 

“I’m sorry to cut the visit short,” he said abruptly, “but I hafta be somewhere, I canna stay much longer. I jes’ wanted tae drop by and check on ye, lad.” 

Taking Claire’s hand, Jamie stood as well, bringing her with him. Murtagh’s eyes fixed on Claire. 

“Can I have a moment tae speak wi’ Jamie alone before I go?” he asked her once they were all standing. 

“Of course,” she said graciously, “it was so nice to meet you, Murtagh.” 

She shot a quick glance at Jamie over her shoulder and, at his nod, gave one last smile to Murtagh— who gave a soft “you too, lass”— before leaving the room. Alone with Murtagh, Jamie’s heart began to race, wondering if he was about to face the “are ye daft?” intervention talk. 

Murtagh approached him, clapping a hand on his shoulder and walking him toward the door. When they reached the entryway, both of them stopped, and his godfather looked at him for a long second. 

Jamie braced himself, trying to be strong for the moment Murtagh expressed disapproval. He could handle it. The world could hang, all he needed was Claire — he tried to tell himself despite the rising anxiety in his chest. 

Murtagh’s stare didn’t break, his usual dour expression holding fast on his face. His bushy brows were low over his unreadable eyes, but there seemed to be a clenching in his jaw that was unusual for the hard man. 

“What do ye think of her?” Jamie finally burst out, trying to bite the bullet he knew was coming. 

Murtagh gave a sigh, his shoulders sagging slightly. “Ye love her?” he asked simply. 

Jamie nodded immediately and answered without hesitation. “I do.” 

His godfather looked away, his eyes lifting toward the heavens. 

This was it, the moment when Jamie would receive a famous Murtagh tongue lashing for his idiocy…

“Your mother…” Murtagh started, very slowly. 

‘Would have disapproved’… please don’t say those heartbreaking words…

“Had the sweetest smile,” Murtagh said instead. He looked back up at Jamie, his eyes softer than he’d seen in years, “Would warm a man to the backbone jes’ to see it...” He gave himself a nod, as if reminding himself of the conviction of his next words, “Claire’s smile is jes’ as sweet.” 

Jamie’s world suddenly fell entirely into place as Murtagh finally met his eyes, his godfather’s lips turning up into as much of a smile as the man ever gave. 

Approval. Unspoken between them, but clear and plain as day. Murtagh gave another nod, now trying to smother the uncharacteristic smile on his face. Jamie’s excitement must have been showing plain. 

“I can see it when ye look at each other, ken,” Murtagh said, clearing his throat a little, “ye love her, and she loves you.” 

“Aye,” Jamie choked out, trying desperately not to fall to pieces in front of his godfather. 

“I’m happy for ye, lad,” Murtagh finished. He placed a slap on Jamie’s shoulder. 

Jamie gave a nod of acknowledgement, pouring all his gratitude into it, and he smiled so emotionally that his lips turned downward. Together, they walked toward the front door, and Jamie opened it for him. 

“It was good to see ye, a ghoistidh,” Jamie said quietly. 

“And ye, lad,” Murtagh answered. 

Another moment passed between them, short but just as meaningful, and as soon as it had happened, Murtagh turned on his heel and walked out, with no more of a goodbye needed. 

Closing the door behind him, Jamie was nearly bursting with joy. Quick as he could, he rushed through the room until he found Claire lingering in the kitchen. 

“Sassenach,” he said, trying to keep his voice from trembling. 

She turned toward him and had just enough time to raise her arms before he was embracing her, nearly overcome by emotion. He was so happy he was nearly shaking, and he hugged her tightly to him, squeezing her close. 

“He likes you,” Jamie said, his voice nearly breaking as he spoke into her hair, “He approves of us.” He took another shaky breath before repeating, “He approves.” 

***

Chapter Text

Jamie had thought long and hard about how to approach introducing Claire to television. As much as he’d come to know her, he wasn’t entirely sure how she’d react, seeing as how he would probably be terrified of it in her position. He eventually settled on a nature show— something familiar to her to introduce the idea of moving pictures. 

He had tried his best to explain the concept to her beforehand, but her sweet, honey eyes had simply glazed over. He finally gave up and told her he’d simply have to show her.  

As he settled down on the couch with the remote, Claire beelined (typical) toward his lap. She slid on smoothly, her hand hooking around his neck as she all but fell on top of him. Laughing, he caught her around the waist and back, dipping her a bit as she settled in. 

“Hi,” he said fondly, looking down at her. 

“Hi,” she echoed back in a voice so sweet he would probably need some dental work. 

“Are ye ready, lass?” he asked, pulling her upright on his lap so he could focus on getting the show started. 

“Yes,” she said exuberantly. 

She snuggled down against him, her head coming to rest on his shoulder, and she grabbed his free arm to wrap it around her middle, not even giving him the chance to do it himself. He obliged, quite willingly, and gave her an affectionate squeeze. 

As he pressed the power button and she watched the TV light up, she snapped her eyes shut and shoved her face forcefully into Jamie’s neck. 

“It’s bright!” she cried. 

Jamie couldn’t help his laugh. He probably would be laughing at her quite a bit during this experience, so he hoped she wouldn’t mind. 

“Aye, it is. Yer eyes will adjust.”

She withdrew hesitantly, a great deal less excited than she had been a moment ago. Jamie clicked on Netflix as Claire looked back toward the screen. 

Jamie found himself bemoaning the position she’d chosen on his lap. He couldn’t see her face, so he wouldn’t be able to see her reactions when he actually started a show. Abandoning the remote for a second, he grabbed Claire around the waist with both hands and lifted her out of his lap to deposit her to his side. 

“Hey!” she said indignantly, leveling him with a pout that had his insides twisting in mirth and affection. 

“I want tae watch ye, lass. And as bonny as the back of yer heid is—” he cupped a fond hand over the back of said head, “I think yer face will be more entertaining.” For good measure, he pressed a kiss to her cheek. 

“Oh,” was all she said. 

She looked at him for a long second, but then, once she decided not to be offended, she cuddled up close to his side. Jamie’s breath caught as he felt her tuck herself underneath his arm. (No matter how many times Claire touched him, he didn’t think he could ever get over it. If she stayed with him until they were old and grey— as he wished to God she would— Jamie thought his stomach would still be sent into knots any time she was even near him). He quickly got with the program and draped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. 

Feeling like a stereotypical couple— only the girlfriend was a faerie who had never once laid eyes on a tv— Jamie held the remote out in front of them and started the show. 

It was a David Attenborough nature film, a special on Scotland that Jamie had found. It started with an aerial shot of a loch— probably Ness, he figured. A beautiful shot that highlighted the expanse of the scenery. 

The second it came on screen, Claire stiffened. Her back went ramrod straight, and Jamie’s gaze whipped back to her to find her eyes were as big as watermelons. Her mouth had fallen open, and he could hear her breaths coming in rapid pants as the movie continued, changing to various scenic views. 

Claire’s body let out an involuntary shiver, a huge spasm that went down the length of her body, and Jamie suddenly grew concerned. But just as he was about to ask if he should stop it, Claire suddenly was disappearing from under his arm. 

Jamie closed his mouth and simply watched as she rose from the couch and began to float toward the tv. Because floating truly was the best way to describe it. She was padding on incredibly light feet, hunched slightly with her head pushed forward and cocked to the side like a curious cat. She drew closer and closer to the tv, her hand outstretched. He could hear her excited breaths all the way from the couch, and it took all his willpower to stay silent in the face of her adorable behavior. 

Her hand made contact with the screen, and then she suddenly jumped back as the scene changed and bright light emanated from the tv. 

“It’s flowers,” she breathed, commenting on the picture currently being shown. 

“Aye,” Jamie answered. 

Her hand pressed flat against the screen this time (but Jamie couldn’t have cared less). 

“But they’re not actually in there?’ she questioned, darting a quick glance behind the tv as if to double check, “so how do they show them?” 

“It’s verra difficult to explain, lass,” he chuckled, “maybe jes’ sit back down and watch a little more.”

Claire wasn’t even listening to him at this point. She stepped back a couple feet from the tv but remained smack dab in front of it. He saw her head moving back and forth quickly, trying to take it all in. All of a sudden, she plopped down, folding her legs and staring up at the screen. The image was so much like a child enraptured with Sunday morning cartoons that Jamie had to stifle a smile. 

She stayed like that for a long time, silently growing more and more absorbed in the program. Her back was straight at attention, her hands stuck down in her lap, and her eyes were glued to the screen. 

Jamie found himself getting a bit jealous. It was absurd, but Claire’s newfound obsession with the TV meant that he was left sitting on the couch by himself. He hadn’t had a moment with this much personal space while Claire was in the room for a long time, and he found himself mourning the loss of her. Who knew, maybe she would abandon him completely now that she’d found a love for the screen?

His jealousies were assuaged when Claire tore her eyes away to look back and give him a bright smile. 

“This is magic, Jamie,” she breathed. 

“Aye, it seems like it,” he couldn’t help but agree. 

She spared another glance back at him, and this time her face showed an adorably conflicted expression. He could read that one like a book. She was trying to decide whether to come back to him or stay “with the tv.”

This was a monumental moment. Jamie felt like he should eye the tv with narrowed eyes; he never would have guessed when he bought it that he’d be in competition for his girlfriend’s love with the thing. Putting on the charm, he gave Claire a smile. He had something the tv didn’t— well a few somethings…. but one in particular. And he was going to win. 

“Come sit wi’ me, lass,” he said in a silky smooth voice, “I’ll keep ye warm, aye?” 

Take that, television. 

That was all it took to convince her. She scrambled up, nearly tripping in her haste, and smiled innocently as she all but threw herself onto Jamie. All the air was knocked out of him in an oomph, but he was too high on his feeling of victory to mind too much. He let her pin him down to the couch as her knees came down on either side of his legs. Then, her lips were all over his face. She sprinkled kisses all over him, pressing her lips in a barrage of brushes over the skin of his cheeks and forehead and chin. 

“Woah,” he chuckled, his hands going around her instinctively, smoothing over her waist and up her back. 

He was helpless under her, and completely taken aback by her sudden accosting of him. 

“You were jealous, weren’t you?” Claire said when she had finished covering his face in kisses. 

“Nae,” he lied. 

As soon as the word had left his mouth, she was laughing. “Don’t lie to me, James Fraser. I can feel your jealousy right now.” 

“Damn empathic powers,” he mumbled before he caught her lips in a possessive kiss. 

“Don’t worry,” she breathed against his lips, “nothing will ever compare to you. Not even your magic… what is it called again?”

“Television,” he filled in, already regretting teaching her this. 

“Mmm, television.”

As if that was all the reassurance he was allotted, Claire abruptly slid off his lap and settled in at his side to stare at the tv again. Living up to his promise, Jamie brought an arm around her shoulder and pressed the warmth of his body to her ever-chilled one. 

After another couple of minutes of Claire watching the screen and Jamie watching Claire, her entire face suddenly lit up. Her hand flew to grab Jamie’s arm— her wee fingers gripping with incredible force for someone so small— and she let out a gasp. 

“What is it, lass?”

“That was my loch!” she said, pointing enthusiastically, borderline frantically at the screen, which had already changed to a different view, “it was my loch, Jamie! I know it was!” 

At the mention of her home, Jamie’s heart sunk all the way to the pit of his stomach. He had to swallow down the sudden onslaught of emotion— some odd mix of guilt, unease, and the crazy wish that her past would never be brought up for fear of her thinking she made a mistake staying with him. 

Thankfully, Claire was too enraptured to take stock of his feelings— his feelings that at the particular moment were filled with pettiness.  

“I promise it was! I would know it anywhere! Even inside this ‘television!’” she continued. 

“I’m sure it was,” Jamie agreed through the lump in his throat, “is it no’ amazin’ that ye can see real things while yer sittin’ here on my couch?”

She turned to him with a smile so wide that her mouth parted open. “It’s wonderful!” 

He couldn’t help it. He leaned in and took her lips in a gentle kiss, feeling the need to anchor himself to her. She was here. She’d chosen him. She wasn’t going back just from seeing a simple reminder of home. 

She kissed him back, unable to stop from smiling even as she pressed her lips to his. 

When he pulled back, she grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze. Her attention shifted once more to the program. 

As Claire watched the screen, Jamie began to absently trace along her skin. First just making circles on her hand with his thumb, then letting go to trace the backs of his fingers up and down her forearm. Her skin was so exquisitely soft— Jamie thought no sensation could ever compare to touching it. His exploration wandered up further until he was stroking her cheek. 

It took him aback for a second when he realized the role reversal. Here he was, touching her so completely unabashedly, lost in the wonder of the feel of her. Claire must have been rubbing off on him.  

A few minutes later, she turned back to Jamie, this time with a slight frown on her face. 

“It makes my head hurt,” she said. The crease between her eyes was back, and Jamie was swept up at the sight of it. 

“Poor thing,” he said, leaning in to press a kiss to each eyelid, which fluttered closed as he drew near, “Too much bright light for ye, I think. Let’s take a break for now, aye?” 

Claire gave a nod (the absence of a pout clearly indicating the growing severity of her headache), and he reached for the remote to power it down. 

“Well,” he said, once they were left without entertainment once more, “what did ye think about yer first television show?” 

“It was wonderful,” Claire sighed, “but I don’t understand it one bit.” 

“Neither do I, lass,” Jamie agreed, “neither do I.” 

***

Sometime later, Claire and Jamie were in the kitchen where Jamie was preparing his dinner while Claire sat at the table, looking on. 

When Jamie glanced over at her— as he couldn’t help but do— he found her sitting with her arms rested on the kitchen table and her hands pressed to her face. 

“Are ye alright, a leannan?” Jamie asked. 

“I don’t feel so well,” Claire admitted from beneath the cover of her hands. 

His insides clenching in worry, Jamie set down the knife where he’d been chopping vegetables and washed his hands before approaching her. 

He stood next to her and cupped a hand over the back of her head. 

She looked up at him then, her head falling back to rest against his hand, and her expression made his concern amp up a couple of notches. Her eyes didn’t hold their usual sparkle, and the lids seemed hooded with fatigue. Her face seemed pale too, even those bonny pink lips holding less color than usual. 

Jamie hummed sympathetically, his eyebrows drawing together. 

“Ye look tired, a leannan,” he commented quietly. 

“I am,” she confirmed. Her hand came up to wrap gently around Jamie’s forearm— not to move it, but simply to connect them through touch. 

Jamie quickly sat down in the chair next to her so he could look her in the eyes. He studied her for another long moment, unsure how to proceed. At this particular moment, there was nothing he could do but hope for the best, since any kind of medication was out of the question. She couldn’t simply pop a tylenol. 

“Let’s get ye to bed, aye? Maybe ye’ll feel better wi’ a wee bit of rest?” he suggested gently. 

“I think so,” she nodded, voice slightly breathless. 

Catching him still looking at her, she gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing, Jamie. I think the TV just gave me a bit of a headache. Like you said, it’ll probably be better in the morning.” 

Jamie felt the slightest bit better at that, the tension in his shoulders easing. If she wasn’t worried, neither was he. Well... that wasn’t entirely true. He always worried when it came to her and always would, but at least he had a hope to rest on. 

Surely it would pass soon. 

He went upstairs with Claire to lay down with her, slotting her wee body against his and holding her close. His attention remained fixed on her long after her breathing slowed into the rhythm of sleep. 

Looking down at her, she seemed peaceful. A hint of a smile spread over her lips, but the rest of her face was smooth and without tension. 

Even seeing her looking so peaceful, he began to feel uneasy about the situation. The more he thought on it, the more he realized she didn’t seem like her usual self. When it came to Claire, he paid attention to every little thing. He noticed the furrow in her brow, the tension in her face, even the downturn to her lips when she thought he wasn’t looking. He’d been making a lot of excuses, coming up with reasons for why she seemed to be feeling unwell. But those reasons were beginning to feel hollow, and he worried there was something bigger going on. 

Or perhaps he was just overthinking. His protective instinct did seem to go into overdrive around Claire. Perhaps she truly did just have a headache, and he was overreacting. Maybe his brain was simply trying to sabotage the happiness he was finding with her.  

Faced with these two possibilities, Jamie recalled what his mother always used to tell him when he complained of being sick. 

“Go to sleep, Jamie. It’ll be better in the morning.” 

Helpless to do anything else, he prayed that his mother’s words would ring true. 

This was all Claire needed— he told himself firmly— a good night sleep. 

***

Chapter Text

Claire was nearly buzzing with excitement the whole car ride into the city. Jamie tried to stay on task in explaining what to expect at his office, but she was so damn adorable that he just kept getting off track. All of him wanted to just tell her to be herself and damn the consequences, but his publishing company was a family business, run by his closest friends and relatives, and he couldn’t afford to have them on his back over his strange girlfriend— well, anymore than they already were. He just needed to pass Claire off as normal enough before hiding her in his office with him for a few hours. 

He knew he didn’t need to bring Claire with him; he’d just feel better if she were by his side instead of facing down God-knows-what catastrophe by herself enough. Leaving her that past Friday had been nerve-wracking enough, even before coming home to find her terrified by the storm. And after his worry over her health the night before, there was no way he could leave alone. 

She’d woken up that morning seeming like her usual self, and it brought Jamie endless relief. There had been a light in her eyes again from the moment she’d woken him with gentle kisses. Feeling much reassured but still anxious not to leave her alone, he’d come up with a plan while holding her in his arms in bed. He had decided that she would come in with him, give a few smiles and waves to his staff, and then he’d get a few hours of work done with her tucked safely in his office.

Naturally, Claire had agreed to go with him with eager enthusiasm, and she’d bounded up to get herself ready before racing to the car. 

And that was where Jamie found himself then, driving into the city with a vibrating faerie in his passenger seat. 

 “Jamie I can’t wait to meet everyone,” she said, grinning ecstatically over at him. 

Their hands were laced together over the middle console, and she gave his knuckles a brush with her thumb— back and forth. 

“Aye, lass, but maybe it’d be better if ye—”

When she looked up at him, her eyes shining with enthusiasm, he cut himself off. He’d warned her enough. She knew to be careful, he didn’t need to dim her light. 

“Ah, nothin’,” he dismissed, answering her grin with one of his own, “they’ll love ye.” 

*

The building was nothing grandiose, just a one-story office space that Jamie prided himself on being rather homey. He wanted it to reflect the comfort that books brought him instead of being some sleek, modern facility that was cold and distant, and he thought he’d done a rather fine job of it. Claire, of course, had no comments about the finer points of architecture and interior design. She simply held his hand as they walked inside the front door. 

Jamie found himself holding his breath, his whole body tenses with nerves, and it was actually Claire’s squeeze of his hand that calmed him down, rather than the other way around. 

Upon entering, they were met with the sight of Mrs. Crook, his receptionist, sitting at her desk with the phone pressed to her ear. As soon as she caught sight of them, her eyes went wide with delight and she slammed the phone down. She stood up from her desk and came around in front of it, smiling. 

“Hope that wasna an important call,” Jamie joked. 

But the sweet lady had eyes only for the lass attached to his side. 

“Hello, dear. Jamie, who is yer bonny lass?” she asked. 

Claire straightened up instantly, absorbing the praise like it fed her, and let go of Jamie’s hand to step up to Mrs. Crook. 

“I’m Claire,” she said, beaming at her. 

Mrs. Crook was a goner, for sure. 

“Oh, Claire, verra nice to meet ya, I’m Mrs. Crook,” the receptionist answered, looking absolutely tickled by her. 

“I’m so happy to meet Jamie’s friends!” Claire exclaimed. 

His faerie, bold as ever, went straight in for the hug, wrapping her arms around Mrs. Crook with enough sincerity and warmth to bulldoze a person flat. 

Mrs. Crook was a bit taken aback but nonetheless delighted to be on the receiving end of such an unexpected gesture and quickly wrapped her arms around Claire, chuckling softly. Claire squeezed the lady gently once before letting go, stepping back from her to give one more wide smile. 

“Come on, a ghraidh,” Jamie quickly broke in before Claire could delve too much further into the unexpected, “there’s lots of people to meet.” 

Jamie took Claire’s hand, and she stepped back into the safety of his side, nodding. 

“Ye’ve got a sweet one there, Jamie,” Mrs. Crook said approvingly, “come around anytime, Claire, dear!” 

Bringing Claire further into the office, Jamie walked down toward the hall, knowing exactly who he wanted her to meet next. Sure enough, his quarry found them before they could find him.  

“John!” Jamie said as the blonde man stopped in his tracks and looked up in surprise, “I wanted tae introduce ye to my girlfriend, Claire. Claire,” he turned toward his wee lass, who was looking at John with that same beaming smile she’d given Mrs. Crook, “this is my friend, John Grey. He handles the financials.” 

“Hello!” she exclaimed. 

Before Jamie could squeeze her hand or do anything to keep her settled, Claire was flying over to give John a hug. 

“Oh,” John huffed out a laugh of surprise as she embraced him, “hello.” 

To his credit, John barely skipped a beat before hugging her back. Jamie watched his lass fondly, Claire standing on her tiptoes in order to reach John properly. John shot Jamie a helpless and confused look over Claire’s shoulder, and Jamie could only smile and shake his head. 

He loved her more than anything. 

It was so strange to see her here, in this area of his life. The last few weeks with her had been magical, unreal— tucked away in their little bubble of paradise at his home. Now, here she was, in his place of work, and it was like two worlds colliding. It wasn’t unpleasant though, simply jarring. He couldn’t help imagining this being his life— Claire coming into work to visit him on lunch break, bringing everyone cookies during a long evening of work, stopping by with their children to visit….

He was getting ahead of himself. 

With a mental slap on the wrist, Jamie brought his attention back to the scene in front of him where Claire was just letting go of John. 

“Nice to meet you, Claire,” John chuckled. He looked over at Jamie, his brows drawn together, and seemed to war within himself over what to say for a second before commenting, “Jamie, I didn’t know you had a girlfriend.” 

Jamie smiled a bit. “It’s still rather new I suppose, but she’s a keeper for sure.” 

That got Claire’s attention, and she turned back toward Jamie, face soft with affection, and stepped to him so she could press a sweet kiss to his cheek and take his hand again.

Naturally, it was that exact moment when an all too familiar voice called out his name from behind him, the “James” dripping with disapproval. 

Feeling like he was about to face the chopping block, Jamie turned slowly around to see the whole Murray family— Ian, the weans, wee Jamie, Maggie, and Katherine, and of course, Jenny. 

“Hello, sister,” Jamie said, squeezing Claire closer to him protectively. He sent a quick prayer up to heaven that Jenny would take it easy and forgo making a scene. Claire, for her part, glued herself to Jamie’s side as if she fully intended to be a permanent fixture there. 

“Bringing yer trollop into work now, I see,” Jenny gestured toward Claire with her chin, narrowing her eyes. 

“Dinna speak of her that way,” Jamie growled. He felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end, his patience wearing thin before they’d even begun. God give him patience. 

Ever the peacemaker, Ian chose that moment to break the tension. “Hello, Jamie, good tae see ye back.” 

“Good tae see ye too, Ian,” Jamie replied, but his attention went straight back to his exasperating sister, “what brings ye and the weans in today, Jenny?” 

“I could ask ye the same, seein’ as—”

“Jes’ here for the morning, and then we’ll go out fer lunch,” Ian cut in. 

“Lovely,” Jamie remarked without any real enthusiasm, soured as he was by Jenny’s animosity toward Claire. 

“Dinna take that attitude wi’ me, James,” his sister chided. 

“I believe ye’re the one wi’ an attitude, Janet,” Jamie shot back. 

She put her hands on her hips, leveling him with her best motherly disapproval, but she refused to comment further. She must have known that he was right. 

While Jamie had been staring down his sister, he hadn’t even noticed that Claire had let go of his hand. But he suddenly realized that the wee body was gone from his side, and his heart skipped a beat. He whipped his head around to find Claire kneeling off to the side, talking in hushed tones to wee Jamie and exchanging smiles with the lad. On her right side, Maggie was already wrapping her arms around Claire’s leg fondly. 

Jenny followed his gaze to see her bairns interacting with Claire, and her irritation rose ever further. 

“Jamie, get back here,” she hissed at her son, beckoning him toward her side. 

“Mama, can we play wi’ the nice lady while Da works?” wee Jamie asked, reaching out for Claire’s hand. 

Claire, the charmer, took it with a smile, looking up toward Jenny as innocently as possible. There was no hint of smugness on Claire’s face, no pettiness that other people would have had in such a circumstance. She only looked politely to Jenny for approval. 

Maggie, only 4, was bobbing her head too. 

Jenny sighed, putting her hands on her hips and looking down at them for a long moment. Three pairs of eyes looked up at her in longing, and Jamie’s foul mood was dissolving by the second to see his love looking so soft with his niece and nephew. 

She certainly made friends fast, that one. 

“Alright, I suppose that wouldna be the worst thing. Jes’ stay where I can see ye,” Jenny relented. 

What followed was the most distractingly adorable two hours of Jamie’s life. His office being the biggest (but mostly because he didn’t want to let Claire out of his sight), he’d invited Jenny and Claire and the children in while he and Ian got some work done. Claire had sat on the floor with the weans, playing and chatting amicably, the whole time. She had the most distinct way of interacting with them— motherly, but at the same time, she didn’t baby talk them. She simply engaged their whims, bonding over whatever silly games they were playing, making them feel like they were the most important thing in the world. 

Jamie’s heart nearly burst over the sweet picture. He couldn’t help but imagine Claire with weans of her own— their bairns. She’d make an extraordinary mother, as he saw first hand. Safe to say, he did not get hardly any work done. 

He wasn’t the only one watching the sweet scene. Jenny’s eyes were fixed on Claire the whole time, and Jamie could see the softening in his sister’s posture as she reluctantly came to the realization that the lass who she was so set against truly loved her children. At one point, Jenny even glanced over toward Jamie, catching his eye and giving him a reluctant smile. 

It wasn’t near an apology, not even close, but Jamie still treasured this first step toward a change of heart, and gave his sister a smile and a nod back. 

He thought no one could stay hardened against his faerie for long, not even his stubborn sister, and it brought him comfort to think it was likely only a matter of time before Claire won her over too. 

When the time came for the Murray family to go on their lunch date, the goodbyes were excruciating. 

“Will we see ye again soon, Claire?” wee Jamie asked, clutching Claire’s hand tightly while his mother waited for him at the door of Jamie’s office, holding Kitty in her arms. 

“I hope so,” Claire said with a smile, shooting a glance toward Jenny, “Now you’d better go, your mother’s waiting.” 

Wee Jamie launched himself at Claire, wrapping her thigh in a tight hug before bounding toward his mam. Maggie did the same, hugging Claire quickly before pulling back and saying, “bye-bye, Claire.” 

“Bye, Maggie, darling,” Claire said, giving the wee lassie’s curls a ruffle. 

Soon, the door was closing behind the Murrays, leaving Claire and Jamie alone in the privacy of his office. 

His lass turned to him with a bright smile, starting to say “they’re—”

But Jamie— finding his self control at a minimum and his amorous intentions through the roof— cut her off by pulling her against him by the waist and pressing his lips to hers. 

She melted into the kiss, wrapping her arms around Jamie’s neck and allowing him to kiss her breathless. 

“What was that for?” she asked, panting, when he finally pulled away. 

“Ye jes’ looked sae bonny wi’ them,” Jamie said, “I've been wantin’ tae do that for hours.” 

“Oh,” was all she could say, but looked rather pleased. 

Her lips curved up, raising the apples of her cheeks, but she downcast her eyes. She looked so beautiful that Jamie couldn’t resist reaching out and finding a curl to tuck behind her ear. 

“Listen, we’ve some time for lunch. What would ye say to a wee walk around the park nearby?” Jamie asked. 

Claire nodded, and before he knew it, they were hand in hand, strolling around the empty park. The sun had decided to peak out from the clouds, illuminating an otherwise dreary day, and Jamie couldn’t imagine a more perfect lunch break. Nor could he image spending another lunch break alone after the bliss of having her there— but that was a problem for another day. 

As they walked along quietly, enjoying the day and the company, there was something sitting heavily on the tip of his tongue. He knew in his brain that this wasn’t really the right time to broach this serious conversation, but seeing her with the bairns had done something to him, and he couldn’t seem to taper down the question rising in his chest. 

Before he could stop it, his mouth was saying, ‘Claire, can I ask ye somethin?” 

She looked up at him, face open as always, and replied, “of course, Jamie. You can always ask me anything.” 

“Ehm… well this… this is a bit o’ an odd question…” 

Claire chuckled softly, tugging on his hand. “Out with it.” 

“I was jes wonderin’ how… ehm… how the fair folk... reproduce ... and— and if it’s the same as humans,” he finally forced out. 

Claire looked surprised, taken aback for a moment before a soft blush began to spread over her cheeks. 

“Oh,” she said, “well. I… I wouldn’t know about human reproduction, but I can tell you how it goes for the fair folk.” 

She went on to explain, in hushed tones, the physical act of reproduction. To Jamie’s delight, it sounded exactly like the human way of doing things. By the end of Claire’s overview, the tips of both of their ears were flushed pink. 

A variety of feelings all swirled around inside Jamie. Foremost was elation bubbling up inside his chest, happiness as the thought of a future with her, a marriage like he could have with any lass. Accompanying that was desire. He couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities now that he knew sex was, in fact, on the table. Relief went hand in hand, and he nearly laughed at himself over how comforted he was that the secret fear— the fear that he’d never be able to be intimate with her in that way— was no longer an issue. 

As soon as he’d explained that everything she said went the same for humans, he couldn’t help the rush of words bursting out of him, “ye see, I’d been wonderin’ that for a while, but I didna want tae overwhelm ye. Sorry if the question was a bit sudden. It was jes’ seein’ ye wi’ my sister’s bairns, thinkin’ about how great a mother ye’d be... I jes’ had to ken if there was a possibility of that for us. In the future, of course, I dinna mean any time soon. But now that I know there is that possibility, Claire, ye’ve made me sae happy. I dinna want to get ahead of myself, but it’s always been a dream of mine to have bairns, and knowin—”

Jamie— caught up in his ramblings as he was— didn’t notice Claire until that moment. Her face had fallen and body tensed, her whole posture screaming that something was wrong. Jamie’s heart dropped to the pit of his stomach, and the words died in his throat. 

“Claire? What’s wrong, a ghraidh?” 

She bit her lip, looking away from him. Her throat bobbed as she swallowed hard. Something was really wrong, and it sent Jamie’s nerves on edge. 

He stopped walking, pulling Claire to a stop by her hand. She still wouldn’t look at him, so he gently took her face in his hand and tilted it upward. 

“Claire?” he prompted, his voice sticking in his throat, “tell me, lass.” 

She was quiet for a long time before she finally spoke. 

“I don’t think— I mean...” she fumbled quietly, avoiding his eyes, “I… I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve dreamt of us having babies too, Jamie. But I—” tears beaded in her eyes, and she finally fixed her gaze on him for the first time, “I don’t think we can. I don’t think we’re physiologically compatible enough. We’d be able to be intimate, but… nothing would come of it.” 

The tears in her eyes finally broke free, two perfect lines trailing down her cheek in sync. 

“I know it’s your dream...” she continued, tightness in her distraught voice, “I'm sorry. I’m so sorry, Jamie.” 

“Oh, Claire,” the words tore from his chest like air from a punctured balloon. 

Feeling just as deflated, he drew her into a tight hug, pulling her body against his and squeezing tightly. She went willing, pressing her teary face into his shoulder. His arms wrapped around her back, he could feel her chest shaking with the force of containing her sobs. 

“Claire, mo ghraidh,” he said gently into her hair, “ I have no life but you. Dinna cry, a leannan, dinna cry. There are other ways fer us to have bairns, even if they arena our own. And that way I wouldna have tae watch ye suffer.” 

She looked up at him then, blinking, looking confused. “I can bear pain myself,” he expanded, “but I couldna bear yours. It would take more strength than I have.” 

A tear rolled down her cheek, and he brought his hand up to cup her face and swipe it away with his thumb. Her eyes were swimming with disappointment and guilt in a way that tore at Jamie’s insides. 

“I love ye, Claire. I wouldna trade bein’ wi’ ye for the world. Even if it means that our bairns canna be our own flesh and blood.” 

Tear drops were beaded on her eyelashes, and she blinked them away. He couldn’t help but think how heartbreakingly beautiful she looked at that moment. 

“You… you won’t regret that I’m different… that I can’t give you your dream?” she asked. 

“No, no, Claire,” he said firmly, pulling her back into his tight embrace with the same force his words held, “I’ve told ye before, I will never regret who ye are, because I love you. More than anything. Do ye hear me, lass?” 

She nodded against his shoulder, her hands stroking up his back. 

Jamie drew away enough so that he could take hold of her chin with his thumb and forefingers. Her skin was soft under his fingertips, still damp. He brushed his fingers back and forth, trying to dry it. 

“Please, darling, no more tears. I canna stand to see ye weep.” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “I’m sorry for bringin’ this up now.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jamie. I’m the one who should be sorry. I should have told you sooner,” she choked out, a fresh wave of tears rolling from her cheeks and dripping onto his hand. 

“Nah, nah, lass,” he wiped them away untiringly, “please, dinna apologize.” He was quiet for a moment and then said, “I love you, Claire.” 

She let out a breathy sound and a gasp that was almost a laugh, and then smiled with watery eyes. “I love you, Jamie.” 

He took her in his arms then, holding her close, feeling like she— or he— might fly to pieces the moment he let go. Life in the park went on around them, birds singing and wind rustling through the greenery, but Jamie only had attention for Claire. The rending in his own chest would wait. All that mattered was her. 

She was enough. She would always be enough. And he would spend every day for the rest of her life making sure she knew that. 

***

Chapter Text

The air felt heavy despite the fresh scents and slight breeze. Hand in hand with Claire, Jamie walked slowly around the trail that wound its way in a meandering circle around the park. If he was being honest, he was stalling, trying to give them both time to gather themselves before going back to Fraser Publishing. Jamie couldn't ignore the grief tugging at his insides, but he forced it down deep, praying that Claire couldn’t feel it from where she held onto his hand like it was her lifeline. 

Oh Christ, if she could feel how his grief was eating him up inside...

A cloud hung over them for a long while, but Jamie was trying his best to reassure Claire with comforting touches and sweet words.Gradually, her face began to lift, and he caught sight of the spark of his faerie beneath the sheen of guilt and lost potential blanketing her face. It was still clearly on her mind, though, and Jamie couldn’t shake the discomfort that he was trying to shove itself forward from the pit of his stomach and the back of his mind. 

It was well past lunchtime and when he should have taken her back, but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to force her to go inside when she still seemed so… off.

Apparently that was the right decision because at one random moment, Claire stopped him and abruptly pulled him into a hug. 

“What was that for, my wee faerie?” Jamie asked, brushing a few stray curls away from her forehead after holding her for a long moment. 

“I love you,” she said simply. 

There clearly was more on her mind. In that moment, he didn’t know whether to push her or to leave her be. He tilted his head down, catching her gaze, praying silently that he was making the right decision. 

“What’s botherin’ ye, a leannan?” he asked. He slipped his fingers under her chin and lifted her face higher so he could press a soft kiss to her lips. 

“I just..” she started, but cut herself off to take a deep breath. “I just… I don’t know how to tell you how I’m feeling, Jamie. I’m sad. But also I’m so, so happy. I want to be with you, be happy with you—” she tugged on his hand which was still gripping hers “—forever. I just… want it to last, I suppose?” 

“It will, Sassenach,” he assured in an exhale. “It will, lass. 

“I,” her eyes filled with unshed tears, and Jamie wished he could take them all in the palm of his hand and keep them from spilling from her eyes. She didn’t cry, though, just blinked watery eyes up at him. “I know we haven’t talked much about… the rest of our lives… but— talking about not having babies today just made me think. Maybe... maybe I’m not meant to be forever for you?” 

Jamie’s heart dropped below his toes, sinking down through the grass beneath his feet and likely down into the very core of the earth. He could barely force the words out through his suddenly raw throat when he asked shakily, “Do… do you no’ want that, Claire?” 

She shook her head so violently that the curls swished back and forth over her face. The expression of horror at the question eased Jamie considerably, and her answer fully assuaged the rest of the rising panic. 

“I do want that, Jamie. From the second I ran to you from that hill I knew it was forever. I love you more than the life that was mine. I just… if that’s not what’s best for you, I wouldn’t take the rest of your life from you. Your dreams.” It was her turn to raise a hand to his face, cupping his cheek with oceans of tender, selfless concern swimming in her eyes. 

“It’s always been forever for me, Sassenach,” he told her firmly, voice low. He believed it with every bone in his body. “And I told you before, I have no life but you, Claire.” 

She blinked, and he could tell she was trying very hard not to break down into tears. 

If he could have, he would have gotten down on one knee and proposed to her then and there. He knew it was forever, and he wanted desperately to share that with her, but there were conversations that needed to be had and preparations to be made before he could.

He let go of her hand and raised both to her face. He held her between his hands, cradling his whole entire world between his palms. Beseeching her to listen, he held her gaze for a long moment. 

“I dinna have to be an empath like you to ken that ye’re still feelin’ guilty, mo ghraidh,” he said. “Please, listen to me. I wouldna tell ye this if it werena true.” He took a breath. “If you could gi’ up yer old life, yer people, yer home… for me... it is nothin’ for me to no’ be able to have biological children. I would trade everything I have to keep ye. Everything. And I wouldna think twice. I want ye forever, Sassenach, whatever that means.” 

Her cheek was so soft under his fingers, and he was startled to find wetness there. He glanced up to her eyes to find that she’d finally lost her control and tears were escaping to roll down her face. 

“Please, dinna cry anymore,” he pleaded, “I canna bear for ye to be in pain.” 

“I’m not crying because I’m sad, Jamie,” she whispered. “I’m crying because I love you.” 

***

Walking back inside Fraser’s Publishing some time later, Claire seemed much more at peace. She no longer visibly waged war inside herself, and Jamie felt like he could finally breathe. The heartache they’d shared was far from over, but at least its troubles for that day could be left outside in the park. 

As they came inside, they were greeted by Mrs. Crook, who immediately beckoned them over to her desk with an eager wave. 

“Claire, darling! I have some homemade cookies I thought ye might like to try…” 

“That’s verra kind, but she has food allergies, Mrs. Crook. She doesna accept food from anyone,” Jamie quickly cut in. 

“Oh, well,” Mrs. Crook looked back toward Claire again. “I saw ye wi’ the Murray weans earlier, dear. Maybe ye would be interested in seein’ some photographs of my darling grandbairns?” 

The woman was clearly desperate to bond with Claire, and Jamie couldn’t help but feel proud to see how much of an impression his lass had made. Claire shot him a quick smile, giving him a nod and a look that said “I’ll be alright.” 

“I’ll meet ye back in my office,” Jamie said, leaning down to press a quick kiss to the top of her curls. 

Before she could even reply to him, Mrs. Crook had snagged her arm and was herding her over to her desk, Claire good-naturedly following while blowing Jamie a kiss. 

Leaving the ladies in peace, Jamie started toward his office. Before he’d even made it out of the reception area, however, he found himself face-to-face with Geneva Dunsany, forcing him to grind to a halt. 

Geneva was one of the lower level staff members in marketing and a relatively new hire. Jamie usually only hired people he knew personally, but John had insisted on her as a favor to her father, a longtime family friend. Jamie didn’t know much about her other than that she was competent enough at her job that he never had to interact much. 

But here in front of him stood the dark-haired lass, her face caked in makeup that was a shade too dark and her fake lashes blinking up at him. 

“I wondered if I might have a moment,” she asked. 

Jamie spared a glance behind him, checking that Claire was alright. Upon seeing her chatting away with Mrs. Crook over a picture on the reception desk (and hopefully not in immediate danger of revealing her secret), he turned back to Geneva. 

“Of course. What can I do for ye?” 

“I had a question about… Well, I thought I might ask you to have a look over some quarterly reports I’ve completed.”

As she was speaking, Jamie shot another look over his shoulder. He couldn’t help but worry about Claire when she wasn’t by his side, and he was impatient to get her tucked safely away in his office so he could finally get some real work done. 

Geneva was clearly displeased by his less than courteous behavior. 

“Mr. Fraser,” she sighed. 

He turned back toward her, reminding himself of his dedication to his company— as distracted as he was, an employee didn’t deserve to be treated like this. 

Geneva was already speaking again. “I was wondering if perhaps later today you could come by my office? Or I could come to yours?” 

“Ms. Dunsany, I’m afraid I’m verra busy at the moment and I’ve lost a fair bit of time already… Perhaps ye could take it up wi’ John instead?” 

“But…” her response faded from his attention as a familiar wee hand suddenly wrapped itself around his bicep and a body pressed flush against his side. 

At Claire’s sudden appearance, Geneva cut herself off mid sentence, her painted mouth falling open into a disgruntled “o.” 

“Hi, my love,” Claire all but purred to Jamie, giving his arm a squeeze. She tugged him slightly downward, enough so that she could stand on her tiptoes and press a kiss to his cheek. 

Jamie was left bewildered as one of her hands snaked over to plant itself firmly on the center of his chest and rub back and forth. 

“Hi, mo ghraidh, ehm—” he struggled to find words as Claire gave him another kiss, this time to his shoulder. He could barely focus his mind as it seemed her hands were everywhere at once: stroking his chest, rubbing his arm. What the devil had gotten into her? 

He finally remembered what he was trying to do, and managed out a weak, “This is Geneva, our…” her job title flew out the window as Claire’s hand went from his chest to hook into one of his belt loops on the opposite side, effectively stopping his heart and his brain in one simple motion. 

“Geneva, this is Claire,” the words burst out in a rush with zero brain cells behind them as he desperately tried to fulfill his social duties in the face of his girlfriend’s advances. 

He lowered his head to try to catch a glance at Claire’s face, to make eye contact and glean some sort of clue about what had gotten into her, but he found she wasn’t even looking at him. Instead, her eyes were fixed straight ahead, right on Geneva. 

“Hello,” Geneva said, a hint of disapproval in her voice. She took a step back from them as her eyes flicked up and down. 

“Hello,” Claire replied, but her tone made Jamie start. Never before had he heard his faerie— his joyful, bubbly, loves-everyone-without-discrimination faerie— sound so cold. Her voice was low and steady, without even a hint of smile. 

Jamie’s brain went on high alert as Geneva reached a hand out for a handshake. They had rehearsed this in the car (not that Claire’d had a chance to use it yet with all the hugs she’d been giving out), but Jamie was worried that all the training had gone from her mind when she had apparently lost her marbles. 

However, Claire removed her right hand from where it had been placed over Jamie’s stomach to reach out and clasp Geneva’s while keeping herself firmly glued to Jamie’s side. 

He could feel her stiffen against him the moment the two lasses made contact, and then, as if a rubber band had been snapped, Claire withdrew her hand and turned to Jamie with a jerk.  

“I need something from your… room, darling,” she said forcefully, clearly forgetting the word for office. 

“Of course, a leannan, what do ye—”

Before he could finish getting out his question, Claire was stepping in front of him to drag him away. He allowed himself to be tugged off by his faerie, leaving behind a nonplussed and rather displeased looking Geneva. 

When they got down the hall to his office, Claire all but shoved him inside. Jamie stumbled through as Claire shut the door behind them. He was just beginning to ask, “What the devil has gotten into ye—?” when Claire was suddenly on top of him, her lips claiming his so insistently that it was almost an attack rather than a kiss.

His words were muffled by her lips, and he found himself getting shoved up against a wall as she took his mouth. All protestations died in his throat and her strange behavior was wiped from his mind as her kiss clouded his senses, filling him so entirely. He let her tangle her fingers in the curls at the nape of his neck, pulling him down to her, and he didn’t resist even as she tugged hard and her tongue swiped into his mouth. 

He was fairly certain that she would be the death of him, but he was more than willing to die of asphyxiation if it meant that her lips wouldn’t leave his. Her mouth pressed hot against his, demanding and consuming. Still, as his lungs screamed for air, and he urgently squeezed her waist where his hands were resting. 

She tore her lips away, gasping for breath, and then stood there, panting. She was quite a sight. Her hair was mussed, lips puffy, and her eyes held a hard look, darker than he’d ever seen them before. 

What the hell?

“What— what was that?” Jamie gasped, barely able to find his breath. Claire had clearly stolen it from him during that heated kiss, right along with his wits and perhaps even his free will.  

“You’re mine,” Claire said hotly, drawing closer again so her body could press against his as she said it. Her eyes blazed as they locked with Jamie, as if daring him to disagree. 

“Of course I’m yours, mo nighean donn, but what brought this on?” 

Claire had been in the process of leaning in to trail a line of kisses down his neck when he spoke, and she halted on her second kiss to draw back with a huff. 

Clearly bothered, she looked almost dangerous as she said in a low voice, “Geneva. She wants you.” 

“What?” it was almost a laugh as Jamie reacted to her claim. 

Claire took a tiny step back so she could properly meet his eyes, and then said, very resolutely, “She does, Jamie. I touched her, I know. I could tell even before I felt it that she wanted you.” 

Jamie’s mouth fell open at this revelation. He knew better than to protest, and upon hearing her confirmation, he realized that Geneva had been rather forward lately, but that didn’t mean she… 

Looking at Claire’s heated expression, it clearly did . His lass was inflamed. Her cheeks were flushed, pupils dilated, and her jaw clenched tightly. 

Jamie couldn’t help it as a smirk began to turn up the corner of his lips and a warm feeling of something akin to satisfaction spread in his chest. 

“So ye’re tellin’ me… that whole scene outside, and then you all but attackin’ me in here… was because ye were jealous ?” 

“Well,” Claire shifted on her feet slightly, for the first time in several minutes breaking free from her severe look, “yes. You’re mine, and she—”

“Aye, I’m yers, mo ghraidh, no doubt about it,” he confirmed without hesitation, making sure she knew it was the absolute truth of his heart, “jes’ as ye’re mine.” 

He couldn’t help but smile though as the pieces all fell into place. She’d seen him from across the room and gotten jealous, so she had marched on over to stake her claim on him before demonstrating her power by stealing him away, only to kiss the living daylights out of him. It all made sense now. Her behavior wasn’t random. It was possessive

“You’re enjoying this!” Claire exclaimed, looking up at him with an open mouth. She was trying to sound appalled, but he could see the smile she was trying to smother turning up the corners of her lips. 

The laughter bubbled up from his chest, and he grabbed her around the waist to pull her against him as he chuckled. “Ye’re too much, mo nighean donn. And it only makes me love ye more and more.” 

Despite herself, she started laughing too, grabbing his shoulders as he hauled her against him. 

“I suppose it was rather… petty,” she admitted, biting her lip. 

“Mmmm, the way ye kissed me, though. I think I wish more lassies would take a fancy to me jes’ to get that reaction from ye again…”

She smacked him lightly on the chest, but she was still smiling as he leaned down to peck her on the lips. 

“You don’t need silly girls to want you in order to get me to kiss you like that…” Claire teased, standing on her tiptoes so she could hover her lips over his. 

“Oh, is that so? What must I do, then?” 

“Absolutely nothing,” she breathed. 

And then her lips were on his again, and she showed him exactly how little he had to do. 

*

Jamie lost another solid twenty minutes of work time due to the makeout session with Claire that ended up with him pressed against his desk and Claire doing her darndest to make him lose every ounce of self control he’d ever possessed. He’d never been more grateful in his life that his office window had blinds and a locking door. 

As nice as it was to have the very enjoyable attentions of his love, he had wasted so much of the day away already, and there was work to be done. He reluctantly detached his faerie, pulling her away by the waist while she murmured a protest. 

Jamie swiped a thumb over her puffy lips as she pouted at him, resisting the urge to laugh. 

How he loved her with his whole heart. 

“Sorry, Sassenach, I really hafta finish up some work before everyone leaves for the day, and at this rate, I willna ever be able to stop kissin’ ye.” 

She caught his fingers in a quick kiss before she frowned. “I don’t understand why all of you are so caught up with ‘work’,” she commented with distaste. 

“I’m beginnin’ to agree wi’ ye, Sassenach,” Jamie snorted. The temptation to throw everything out the window and pay attention to absolutely nothing save this alluring creature in front of him was nearly enough to drive him mad. But Jamie loved his work, cared about his business, and he had to have some self control— what few scraps remained. 

“Why dinna ye look through some of my books on the shelves while I work? I ken ye canna read the words, but there are some verra beautiful illustrations— uh, pictures, drawings— in some of them.” 

Jamie cursed himself for not bringing adequate entertainment for her. Although, beyond Adso, the space heater, and the garden— well, and him , of course— Jamie wasn’t sure what exactly entertained Claire. 

She agreed with only a brief pout, and Jamie could finally let out the breath he’d been holding when she was safely across the room, browsing the bookshelf. Feeling his heart rate finally descend (was it safe for it to be that elevated for that long?) he settled down in front of his computer. 

He managed to get a good chunk of work done while Claire busied herself with flipping through nearly every book he owned. It turned out that it was an excellent idea, as she seemed well entertained. Every once in a while, Jamie would hear a gasp and have to look up to see the adorable expression of wonder on Claire’s face as she discovered another illustration. It was mainly the kids books, he noticed, that really wowed her. Likely because she could follow the story based on the pictures, and she grew absorbed. Before long, there was a semi-circle of opened books surrounding her on the floor. It warmed him to notice that she never closed them— always leaving them open when she found an illustration she particularly liked, as if she wanted to go back and see it again. 

Despite her fascination and apparent entertainment, it was what felt like a short time later when Jamie was interrupted from deep concentration by a hand sliding up his arm to rest on his shoulder. 

“Claire, what are ye—?” he started, but was cut off when both of her hands smoothed over his shoulders. 

“You’re so tense,” came her smooth voice startlingly close to his ear. 

“Aye,”  he said, rolling his shoulders, “I tend tae carry my stress there when I’m workin.” 

“I don’t want you to be tense.” Her breath tickled his ear, and a shiver rolled down his spine. Warm hands began kneading into his shoulders, digging into the soreness of the muscles. Her touch was the perfect mix of gentle and strong, pulling the tension from his body. He couldn’t help the sigh that fell from his lips. 

Her hands didn’t let up their work, but she sometimes paused to smooth over his shoulders in broad strokes. Without meaning to, his hands fell away from the keyboard and his head tilted back. His eyes were closed in relaxation… when had he closed his eyes? 

He realized distantly that Claire was murmuring soothing words above him. 

“Does that feel good? Let out the tension, darling. There. I’ve got you.”

She hit a particularly tense knot, but the magic of her fingers had it loosening after only a second. 

“Oh Lord,” he breathed, feeling like he was in a trance. “Ye’re so good at this. I—”

His eyes suddenly popped open and he bolted up in his chair, “Christ, lass. Ye’re doin’ yer best tae distract me from my work, are ye no’?” 

“Shhh, don’t worry about it, just relax, my love,” she murmured into his ear, pressing down on his shoulders to get him to sit back in his chair again. 

He was onto her game now, though, and reached up to grab her hand and still her. 

“I have tae work, lass.” 

“I’m not stopping you,” she replied. 

The hand he hadn’t seized stroked over his shoulder. Feeling unequipped to the task of arguing with her, Jamie simply let go and brought his hands back to the keyboard. 

Alright, Fraser. This is a simple game. If you stop giving her attention, she’ll get bored and leave ye be. 

He focused all this attention on the computer screen, ignoring her as she continued her ministrations. It wasn’t the best job, but he managed to type out a few sentences before suddenly there were soft lips tracing the shell of his ear. 

Another shiver ran down his spine, and there was a slight tug of teeth on his earlobe before she kissed it again, soothing the spot with a flutter of breath. 

“Sassenach,” he said in a warning tone. 

“What? I’m not stopping you,” she replied innocently before stooping lower to brush her lips— just barely— down his throat. 

“Ye ken verra well that ye are,” he sighed, the sound turning from frustration to pleasure as she hit a particular spot that made his stomach twist. 

Her fingers were tracing just barely under his shirt, tucking themselves inside the collar. She didn’t seem to be listening, or maybe it was just that she didn’t care, because she refused to respond to the protestation. Instead, she breathed out, “Do you know you have beautiful collarbones?” 

“I didna ken, and I thank ye for the observation. May I return to my work now?” Jamie asked, trying to keep the pleading from his tone. 

She hummed to herself, “I’m not standing in your way.” 

Okay. So maybe he wasn’t quite strong enough to ignore it. And she was in no mood to free him from her clutches on her own accord. 

Swivelling so abruptly in his chair that Claire nearly fell over backward in surprise, he faced her. He took her hands in his and brushed his thumbs over the back of her knuckles. 

“Listen, lass. There’s no way I’ll get anythin’ done while ye’re toyin’ wi’ me, and I still have much to do. So let me make ye a deal. Gi’ me one hour wi’out interruptions, and I’ll… well…” Jamie found himself at a loss for bargaining chips. Ifrinn. The lass had him so well in the palm of her hand that he already gave her whatever she wanted. He decided to flip it and open it up to her. “What do ye want? In return?” 

Her eyes flashed with excitement and a twinkle of mischief. Jamie braced himself for some devious declaration or demand for a game that would prove tortuous for his self control, but instead of anything like that, Claire surprised him by smugly requesting, “I want one hour in front of the heater.” 

Jamie nearly laughed out loud. He’d come to realize that the lass thought that the space heater was a precious, exhaustible commodity, not some piece of junk hooked up to electricity. He hadn’t wanted to disavow her of that notion for fear that she’d spend every waking second in front of it instead of with him, and it seemed now it was going to play the situation to his advantage. 

“I think I may be able tae make that happen,” he said slowly, keeping his cards close to his chest. 

“With you!” she added quickly, narrowing her eyes, “for the full hour.” 

“Do we have a deal then?” he asked, putting on his best business face. 

“We have a deal,” Claire nodded primly. 

Rather than a handshake, Jamie opted for a quick peck of lips. As Claire drew away and made to head back toward the bookshelf on the opposite corner of the room, she looked like a cat that got the cream.

Better luck next time, lass. If you wanna bargain, better come knowing what’s of value. 

Feeling smug in his own right, Jamie returned to his work. This time, it wasn’t his girlfriend’s hands on him distracting his mind. Rather, it was the unshakable feeling of fondness that filled his stomach and warmed him to his toes. 

***

“Hey, Jamie?” Claire asked, breaking the silence about 45 minutes into the agreed hour. 

“What is it, a leannan?” 

He tore his gaze from his computer to find Claire looking up at him from where she sat on the floor at the foot of the bookshelf. Her arms were wrapped around her middle, and she looked so wee curled up in the corner, shooting him a troubled gaze with eyes that were round as a doe’s. 

“I’m cold.”

Brows furrowing, he abandoned his work— in the middle of a sentence no less— and went to her. She was shivering, despite it being rather balmy in his office. 

His wee faerie, typical. 

“Here, lass.” Jamie stripped off his suit jacket to wrap around her shoulders. She took it gratefully, her hands brushing Jamie’s at the edges. That bit of contact jolted through him, shattering any notions of him returning to his work straight away, and he fell to his knees beside her so he could wrap her in a hug. 

She melted instantly into his arms, laying her head on his shoulder. He smoothed his hands up and down her back, and it was at that moment that he felt her shivering. 

“Christ, lass, ye really are cold,” he burst out in concern. 

“It’s cold,” she repeated, shifting herself within his arms to burrow closer. 

“It’s no’ this cold,” he breathed. 

She didn’t say anything, just trembled against him. She withdrew her hands from around his middle and instead tucked them against his chest between where their bodies were pressed together. 

Jamie bit his bottom lip and repositioned himself to get comfortable. It seemed he was in for a longer break from his work than expected. His heart was beginning to beat faster as anxiety for his love rose in his chest. 

“This is more than temperature, a ghraidh,” he said softly. 

She shook her head where it laid on his shoulder but made no move to raise it and look at him. 

“Ye were fine all mornin’,” he noted quietly as his brain began working in earnest. 

“I’m fine now,” Claire insisted, her voice muffled from where her mouth pressed against Jamie’s shoulder. 

“I dinna think ye are,” Jamie finally said out loud, admitting the fear that had been rattling around inside of him for days now. He’d watched the little things add up, even worried over them, but every time he managed to convince himself it was nothing. Even just this morning he’d thought perhaps everything was in his head. Now, however, it was just another item to add to the growing list that was too long to be coincidence. 

“I told you, Jamie. It’s nothing,” Claire said, her voice gaining an edge to it. “I can feel you worrying.” 

Jamie swallowed thickly. A rush of guilt washed over him, and he wondered whether she could feel that too. Gah! It was impossible not to feel things, especially when it came to her. It was terrifying to know she could read them, and that what he was feeling could make things worse for her. 

“This isna nothin’ Sassenach, but I dinna ken—”

Claire sat up abruptly, pushing herself away from him with two hands planted firmly on his chest until she had gained her distance. Irritation was rising in her as warm spots on her cheeks, and her eyes flashed a darker shade of gold. 

“Don’t tell me about me like you know better than I do,” she said, brows drawing together in frustration. 

“I’m no’, I just—” 

Jamie reached for her, but she batted his hands away. 

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing. If you were tired of trying to warm me up, you could have just said something.” 

She was moving backward now, attempting to put more distance between them, but Jamie reached out to grasp her upper arm, holding her still. Her head whipped toward him, eyes hard and ready to lash out, but Jamie spoke before she could. 

“Please, dinna go,” was all he could think to say. 

It wasn’t like she was actually going to storm out of his office— at least he hoped not— but it still hurt for her to tear herself away like that. He didn’t want to fight.  

Something— perhaps it was his pleading tone, the look on his face, or maybe she could actually feel his distress— made her freeze and give him her attention. 

“I’m sorry if I made ye feel like ye werena my priority, mo ghraidh, because ye are. Always. I would abandon work entirely jes’ tae hold ye in my arms, for however long ye wanted. I’m jes’ worried, lass, I dinna mean to presume I ken more than you do about yer own body. I’m sorry. Please, lass, come here to me?” 

Claire’s eyes filled with tears. She remained stock still, her eyes locked with Jamie’s. There was a long moment where he watched the moisture gather in her eyes and the gears turn in her head as she fought within herself, and then she broke the stillness. She did come to him then, scrambling up into his lap and throwing her arms around him. A wet face pressed into the crook of his neck, and Jamie quickly brought his arms up to hold her, pressing her face into him and feeling relief course through him. 

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know why I lashed out at you, Jamie. I didn’t mean that.”

“Hush, hush, it’s okay, a leannan,” Jamie soothed, carding his fingers through her curls and rocking her back and forth. “Ye’ve had a long day. Ye’ve felt yer share of heartache, met so many new people and seen so many new things, and ye’re tired. Why dinna we head home now, aye?” 

She drew back, blinking tears away from her eyelashes. “Maybe just in a moment?” 

“Of course, Sassenach.” Jamie didn’t need to be an empath to know that she needed a second to gather herself together before she could face the task of exiting the building and encountering whatever people went along with that. 

“Hey, I love you,” Jamie added softly, petting her hair, pulling it back away from her neck over and over. He stretched his thumb so he could smooth over the long muscle of her neck, feeling the soft skin and wishing he were at an angle that he could press a kiss there. 

“I love you, too,” came her quiet response.

***

Chapter Text

Jamie awoke the next morning to find Claire curled up against his back, one of her legs thrown over his and her arm draped across his chest. A content smile sleepily formed on his face as he came to the realization that he was the little spoon. As much as he didn’t want to disturb her— and he very much enjoyed this cuddling position and would have to keep it in mind for later— he thought she needed a little extra care this morning. 

Turning over with the utmost delicacy, Jamie tried to keep her limbs in position over him while he shifted to face her. Once he was face to face with his faerie, he could watch her expression as she slept. 

“Mo calman geal,” he breathed in barely a whisper. My white dove. 

She was so beautiful lying beside him, the early morning sunlight illuminating her alabaster skin. Her lashes were dark against her cheeks, and the curls of her hair twined around her face with abandon. He wanted to wake up every morning to the sight of his love like this. 

Leaning forward, he brushed his lips gently in the spot between her brows that was smooth with sleep. Moving along, he hovered his lips over her cheek before pressing the barest hint of a kiss along the cheekbone. 

She awoke slowly as he kissed her other cheek, murmuring something unintelligible and squeezing her eyes shut tighter against wakefulness. 

“Good morning, mo chridhe,” he whispered as he ended his exploration of her face with a quick peck on the lips. 

“Jamie?” she dazedly murmured. 

Her arms came up to wrap around his shoulders as her eyes fluttered open. 

“Hi, a leannan,” he said warmly. 

She pulled him closer and then rolled them slightly so Jamie was lying back and she could rest her head on his shoulder. 

“How are ye feelin’ this mornin’?” he asked. 

“Tired,” she replied, her voice hushed. 

“Tired? Ye’ve only just woken up. Could ye no’ sleep last night?” 

“I did. I’m just… tired,” she responded. The fatigue was apparent. She seemed muted somehow, speaking as though her head was underwater.  

This sent Jamie’s heart beating faster, and he lifted up his head so he could look down at her, studying every inch he could see. But to his knowledge, nothing seemed wrong with her physically, other than the fact that the sweet calm of sleep was dissipating, leaving her with a pallor and listlessness that made Jamie’s stomach knot. 

“And ye dinna ken why? Maybe ye’re sick?” he asked anxiously, “maybe ye’ve caught something?” 

He repositioned them, shifting so that Claire moved back to the pillow and he could brace up on his elbow above her. He placed a hand on her forehead, his thumb brushing over her brow, but found it cool. “Can ye tell?” 

Jamie held his breath, daring to hope that maybe she could simply heal herself as she’d healed him. Could faeries even do that? 

Shaking her head against his head, she seemed sad. “I can’t tell,” she answered softly, but couldn’t provide any more explanation, “I can’t feel anything.” 

“Maybe ye should go back to sleep, a leannan?” Jamie suggested, his anxiety mounting. He brought his hand up to brush his fingers down the side of her face. 

She gave another shake of the head, interrupting his motions. “I don’t want to. Can I just sit with you for a while?” 

His heart broke a little at her tentative question. 

“Of course ye can, my sweet one,” his voice caught a little on the endearment, “but why dinna ye jes’ stay in bed while I feed Adso and myself? I have time, I’ll be back before ye know it.” 

“I want to stay with you,” she insisted, the clinginess obvious in her voice. But instead of its usual feisty quality— the way she adhered to him with passion, as if every touch lit the fire inside of her— she seemed limp. As if the most she could do to keep herself by his side was ask. 

Jamie’s brow furrowed. He was really starting to get concerned about her. Studying her pale face, he traced a fingertip across her cheekbone. 

“We’ll stay then, a leannan,” he opted not to bring up his worries any further. Not when she was like this. 

Despite the words that had just left his lips, there was a lump in his throat and a tugging on his mind that he couldn’t ignore. They could only stay for so long… Jamie was supposed to go into work. To leave Claire by herself. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was only 6 am, and he let out a sigh. There was still plenty of time to take care of her before he had to leave. 

For the umpteenth time, he wished he could simply up and quit his job. Everything in his life paled in comparison to the consumingness of her . But he knew that this trouble would pass soon enough, and it wouldn’t be right to abandon his passion and livelihood simply because he wanted to spend every waking second with his lass. 

Claire was staring at him, her head tilted against the pillow as she watched this struggle play out on his face. There seemed a moment where her features darkened and her eyes fell. 

“I forgot about work,” she murmured, having correctly intuited exactly what was going on in his brain. Disappointment cast a veil over her normally open face. 

“I have time, a leannan. I always have time for you.” 

Jamie started to reach out, meaning to bring her into his arms again, but she shook her head. 

“Go on. You need food, and time to get dressed. Let’s go,” she said. 

Whether she was fighting it or not, Jamie would slow down. He shifted himself closer to her on the bed, cupping her face with one hand and sliding his other over her hip. He caressed up and down in long strokes, intentionally slow. 

“Ye’re the only thing on my mind right now, mo Sorcha. 

The look on her face made his stomach twist. Her eyes were downcast, not meeting his, and there was tension in the muscles of her cheeks, as if she was trying to hold a mask in place. She was quiet, and the only reply to his words was a shaky exhale. 

Jamie drew up so he hovered over her. Tilting her face up, he brought his lips to ghost a kiss over those beautiful pink lips. 

Even that didn’t seem to break the somber mood that trapped his love. Jamie felt excessively guilty as he stayed rooted in that position, staring into her eyes and cradling her face with both hands. He wished he could tell her he would take off again, that they could take a sick day together, and that he could hold her until she felt normal again, but he couldn’t say any of those things. 

“It’s okay, Jamie,” Claire murmured, turning those fatigued eyes on him full force, “let’s go downstairs.” 

*

While Jamie made breakfast, Claire wandered over to the kitchen table. He glanced over every few seconds to check on her, but she was so quiet. His concern amped up several notches when he looked over at one point to find she had laid her head in her arms where they rested on the table. Her eyes were closed and her breathing slow. 

Something was definitely wrong. 

Jamie turned off the stove and abandoned his parritch. He walked over to her and gently ran his hand over the back of her head, trying to shove down the worry that nearly made his hand tremble. 

Her response was to simply turn her head a bit on her arms, indicating she felt him, but she didn’t say a word. 

“Sassenach—” he started to say, but she lifted her head. 

“I’m fine. Just tired.”

“I dinna want to leave ye.” 

She did raise her head then, turning big honey eyes up toward him. Her lips caught the heel of his hand in a kiss before she spoke. 

“You have to go, Jamie. It’ll be good. I’ll go back to sleep, and I’m sure I’ll feel more like myself when you get home.” 

Jamie felt like a toddler about to have a tantrum. He was tired of this conflict every damn day! He hated going into work and leaving her here, but he hated leaving his company when he knew very well they needed him. He felt like he was being torn in different directions and that one day he would simply snap. 

Taking a deep breath, he shoved down that line of thinking. It wouldn’t do Claire any good to have him strung out over work. While she was sick, he would simply have to keep it together and make one decision at a time. And today, whether he liked it or not, the decision was clear. 

“Okay, Sassenach. But that doesna mean that I willna give ye my full attention now while I’m here.” 

She smiled a little at this, lifting her head enough to fix him with that whisky gaze. “Does that mean you’ll have your breakfast on the couch?”

Jamie rolled his eyes but felt his muscles ease at the relief of seeing that glimpse of her usual self. 

Recently, she’d begun to rebel against the kitchen table. The kitchen chairs were no good — she would complain. No good for snuggling , she meant. Even when she scooted hers as close as possible to Jamie’s, that was apparently not close enough for her. She’d begun a campaign against the table then, trying to get him to sit on the couch for meals where she could burrow into his side. Finding her incredibly distracting and a bit disconcerting to have a faerie trying to apparently jump into his skin while he attempted to have a meal, Jamie had stood firm on his policy. Meals were taken at the table. 

Only now, seeing that tiny spark in her eyes at mention of breakfast on the couch, Jamie never stood a chance. 

“You win, a leannan. Jes’ this once, I’ll have my parritch wi’ ye in the living room. Come on, then, lass.” 

And so he found himself on the couch, bowl held out in front of him and Claire glued to his side. It didn’t take long for her head to meet his shoulder and her hands to wrap around his bicep in a sort of half-hug. 

His heart skipped a few beats as she clung to him. 

“Yer hands are cold, a leannan,” he noticed.

She murmured an uncertain hmmm? but didn’t say anything more. Jamie decided to drop it. Clearly she was under the weather, no denying it, but he hoped that an actual day of rest would do her well. He simply swallowed down his parritch and tried not to think too much about what he couldn’t control. Claire was silent nearly the whole time, just breathing deeply against his side.

When it came time for him to run out the door, he was ready to cry and stamp his feet at the unfairness of adult life. He tugged his bag over his shoulder with more force than necessary, and had to resist tearing it off again as he returned to Claire where she lay on the couch. 

“If I have a second free I’ll run back to check on ye, alright, mo ghraidh?” he said after getting her tucked underneath a warmth blanket, an edge of urgency on his voice. The blanket was a poor substitute for his body, but he didn’t want to leave her with nothing. At least he could wrap his tartan around her, imagining his protection enveloped her. 

“Don’t worry, Jamie. I’ll see you when you get home,” Claire said, already settling down on the throw pillow with her eyes falling closed. 

It eased him considerably to see her already burrowing in for a nap, and he muttered a quick prayer over her in Gaelic before giving her one last kiss to the forehead. 

“I love you more than anythin’, mo chridhe. Be well,” he said in farewell. 

“I love you,” she echoed, her voice already laced with the slur of sleep. 

***

Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser was no babysitter. 

Sure, he’d spent nearly all his free time with Ellen’s bairns, but that was different. He was a hard man, used to solitude, and he most certainly did not take care of people. 

Only when Jamie Fraser had called him from work, his voice dripping with anxious concern, pleading with him to go check in on his lass to see if she was alright, Murtagh had somehow lost his mind and relented. Maybe it was something about Jamie’s story— how Claire was feelin’ ill but he’d forgotten to leave a cellphone with her so she could call if she needed something— or maybe it was just the obvious worry in his godson’s voice, but something had made Murtagh give in. He hated letting down the lad more than anything, so he had decided that he could manage a little look-in that was most certainly not anything more than that.

A short time later, he found himself unlocking Jamie’s house with his spare key and yelling a greeting as he stepped inside. 

“Claire? Lass? Jamie asked me tae check in on ye. Are ye alright?” he called. 

But he heard no answer. Figuring she was upstairs in the bedroom having a nap, Murtagh made his way upstairs, only to find all the rooms empty. 

“Lass?” he called again, “are ye here?” 

He worried for a minute that she’d left, made a run for it while Jamie was at work so she could avoid saying goodbye, but then he remembered the way the lass had looked at Jamie, spoke about him, and he knew in his wame that there was no way the lass had up and left. 

He checked the basement before making another round through the house, only to find no trace of the wee lassie. 

There was one last place to look, even though only someone out of their damn mind would go outside on a dreich day such as this one. 

He slid open the back door reluctantly, squinting out into the back garden. His eyes swept lazily across it, not expecting to find anything, but then his gaze landed on the shape of a figure laying on the ground in front of the wee patch of dirt that was a sorry excuse for a garden. 

Adrenaline flooded Murtagh’s veins, and he ran outside, cursing under his breath. 

By the time he got to her, dropping to his knees beside her, she was struggling to sit up, pushing up on her hands and shaking her head, looking disoriented. 

“Have ye lost yer mind, lass?” Murtagh burst out, reaching to help her sit up. 

She didn’t answer, just pressed her dirty hands against her face and swayed slightly. 

Taking in the sight of her, Murtagh realized Jamie had been right to call him. The lass certainly was ill. Her face was pale and drawn, and she looked damn near ready to keel over again. Her hand shook where it was lifted to her face, and she was blinking hard. 

“Come on, now,” Murtagh said, much more gently this time. 

She still didn’t say anything, but she didn’t protest either when he took her arms and laid it across his shoulders so he could lift her to her feet with a quiet “up ye get.” 

Her breath hitched the moment they were upright, and she sagged heavily against him, barely supporting her own weight. Like a sack of grain against him, the puir lass couldn’t even manage to hold on. 

“Ye’re alright,” Murtagh found himself saying to her as she struggled to stay upright, “let’s get ye inside.” 

Slowly, they made their way inside, Murtagh taking the majority of her weight and offering encouragements he didn’t know he had in him. She didn’t say a word, white lips pressed tightly together as her feet dragged. 

Once they had finally made it inside, Murtagh deposited her on the couch before grabbing a blanket and tucking it around her. 

“There ye go, that’ll be more comfortable than the dirt outside, I’d expect,” Murtagh said. 

By this time, he was used to the lass not saying a word. He thought maybe she was one who simply shut down when she wasn’t feeling well. Besides, she seemed like she was barely conscious, let alone coherent enough to have a conversation. So he was surprised when she murmured out a weak, “thank you.” 

“Ye’re welcome, lass,” Murtagh said, trying to sound gruff and uncaring, but the words came out gentle as her tone struck some chord inside him, “get some sleep now. Ye’ll feel better wi’ some rest.” 

He must have been losing his edge if one sick lassie could turn him into a mother hen. 

“Jamie?” she asked, her voice muffled by the blanket which she was pulling up toward her face. 

“He’ll be back when ye wake,” Murtagh promised. 

She closed her eyes then, seeming content with that answer, and Murtagh left her to head into the kitchen where he could call Jamie privately. 

The poor lad was rocked by his report, sounding over the phone like someone had punched him in the stomach, and he’d promised to be home right away. He must have broken every traffic law because it took him only 20 minutes to get home from the city. 

Jamie burst in through the front door, disheveled and wild with worry, and Murtagh found himself rushing over and shushing him so he didn’t wake the lass where she slept on the couch.

His godson had quieted immediately, and before Murtagh could give him the story, Jamie was pushing past him into the living room. 

Murtagh watched as the lad caught sight of Claire, his eyes filling with soft worry. His entire demeanor changed from wired to gentle as Jamie knelt down beside the couch, brushing curls away from the lass’ forehead so he could press a kiss there. 

Her eyes fluttered open at the touch. It seemed to take her a second to orient herself, but the second she realized who was with her, her whole face melted. 

“Jamie,” she breathed out. 

“I’m here now, mo ghraidh, dinna fash,” he said, more gentle than Murtagh had ever seen him, “go back to sleep. I’m here.” 

“Will you stay with me?” she asked. 

Murtagh felt like he was intruding on a private moment, but he couldn't seem to look away as Jamie pressed another kiss to her brow. “In jes’ a minute, lass. Hold on, jes’ a moment.” He kissed her again, as if he couldn’t bear the words coming from his mouth. “I promise I’ll be right back.”

She nodded, barely moving her head, and then closed her eyes again. Looking like the weight of the world was on his back, Jamie stood and turned toward Murtagh, gesturing toward the kitchen with a tilt of his head. 

“So you found her in the garden?” Jamie asked once they were both seated at the table. 

“Aye. She looked like she’d collapsed out there. Something’s wrong wi’ the lass, Jamie.” 

Jamie looked sad, his blue eyes— so like Ellen’s— were unfocused. His mind was clearly in the living room. Shaking his head, he admitted, “I ken. I’m scared for her.” 

“Take her to a doctor, lad,” Murtagh told him, “she needs help.” 

For some reason, this seemed to pain Jamie all the more. He looked down, fiddling with his fingers. Something was going on in that brain of his, but Murtagh had no idea what it was. 

“Dinna fash, I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Murtagh told him, “take some more time off, see her well, and call me if ye need anythin.” 

“Thanks, Murtagh,” Jamie said, nodding as if to convince himself of the validity of Murtagh’s assurances. 

“Dinna think on it,” he dismissed, “Now, go back tae yer lass.”

***

When Jamie closed the door behind Murtagh, he had to take a second to lean his back against it, pushing all the air from his lungs in a long breath. He felt like his head was whirling, his body thrumming as he came down from the adrenaline. The drive home had been a mad dash, and Jamie didn’t even remember half of it. Now, the quiet stillness of the house seemed stifling. 

He wouldn’t think about Claire’s suffering. He wouldn’t think about her laying outside the garden all by herself.. He wouldn’t think about her perfect skin marred by dirt as she tried and failed to push herself up… he wouldn’t—

The punishing flood of mental pictures burned in his brain and twisted his stomach in guilty turmoil. 

He was a fool. He was a damned fool for leaving her. He’d known she wasn’t well this morning, and he’d known she was far too stubborn to take care of herself and simply sleep, but he’d left her anyway. 

As he returned to Claire’s side to find her fast asleep, he was torn between cursing her for her foolishness in going outside and cursing himself for deciding to leave her. 

“I’m here, mo nighean donn,” he whispered to her as he pressed a long kiss to her temple, lips lingering as if his touch could erase the mistakes of the day. 

Part of him wished that she was awake, if only to comfort him that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. But she was finally resting, and if his kiss didn’t wake her, he wouldn’t disrupt her sleep. 

Deciding she would be better off in bed, Jamie slid his hands underneath her and gathered her in. He carried her upstairs, taking careful steps with his most precious cargo before settling her again in bed. She barely stirred— hardly reacted at all to the change in location. Her eyes remained shut and her face still. 

“Rest now, mo ghraidh,” Jamie murmured over her. 

He allowed himself one caress over her brow and one kiss to the top of her curls. And then he left her to her sleep. 

The second he sat down at the desk in his study, he felt himself deflate like a balloon. He buried his face in his hands and swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. 

The only sound filling the room was the clock ticking on the wall.

***

Chapter Text

“Claire?” his voice caught in his throat as he said her name. 

It raised in alarm as he cried out a second time, “Claire!” 

She had just rounded the corner into his study, interrupting him out of his uneasy contemplation, when suddenly her hand came out to brace on the doorframe. It hit the wood with a loud thunk. Her eyes were heavy-lidded and unfocused, and she swayed dangerously. The only thing keeping her upright was her white-knucked grip on the doorframe. 

Jamie shot up from his desk. He knocked over his trash bin in his urgency to get to her, all but vaulting over his desk. In the next second as he reached her, she was collapsing into his arms, limp as a ragdoll. 

“Claire?” he choked. It seemed the only thing he was capable of saying was her name. 

He lowered them both to the ground, cradling Claire in his lap. He freed a hand to gently brush back some of her hair, finding her forehead to be clammy. Her skin was pale, much more than usual, which revealed dark circles underneath her eyes. 

“Jamie,” she whispered fuzzily. It wasn’t exactly a whimper, nor was it a question, but it was as if saying his name and reminding herself of his presence brought her some comfort. 

“I’ve got ye, mo nighean donn,” he said with as much calm gentleness as he could muster as alarm coursed through his veins.  

“I—” she raised a shaking hand up to her forehead, her brows furrowing in a perplexed, albeit dizzy, expression, “what’s going on?” 

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he soothed, “ye’re alright, I’m here.” 

At his words, her hand dropped, and he replaced it with his own, brushing it over her forehead again before cupping her face. 

“Let’s get ye back tae bed, aye, mo ghraidh? Can ye hold on tae me?” 

She didn’t respond. He expected a nod in the least, but she simply screwed her eyes shut and let her head fall against his chest. His lass was melted against him as he carefully lifted her and walked to the bedroom. 

Jamie’s heart hammered in his chest as he held her close. It was a particular kind of torture seeing a loved one suffer, and the helplessness of not being able to do anything made it all the worse. As he gently laid her down on the bed, taking in her beautiful features scrunched in discomfort, he felt as if he were experiencing her pain in his own body. 

“Jamie?” The moment his hands left her, she was weakly calling out his name. 

“Hush, lass, I’m right here,” he soothed. He reached out and ran his fingers through her hair, trying to let her know he was with her. “Hush now. It’s alright.” 

“I’m sorry, I—“ she murmured, but trailed off as she lifted a hand to press against her eyes, “I don’t...” Her words seemed almost incoherent— faint and breathless.  

“Ye’re okay, mo ghraidh. Jes’ tired and a wee bit dazed. Go to sleep now,” Jamie hushed. 

She still seemed unsettled. Her body stirred faintly, and the crease between her brows was apparent. The only thing he could think to do was take her in his arms, so he slipped into bed beside her and settled in. 

As expected, his clingy fair one quieted the moment she was enveloped in his arms. Whatever had been distressing her in her disoriented state seemed to leave her mind. As minutes passed, the tension in her muscles eased little by little until her breathing was deep and rhythmic. 

“Rest now, a leannan,” Jamie murmured under his breath, allowing the tension to flow from his own muscles. 

Even though it was only early evening, he found himself settling in. Powerless to do anything else, Jamie laid his head on the pillow and followed her into sleep. 

***

Jamie woke the next morning to a hand snaking its way underneath his shirt. The sensation startled him out of sleep, and he was so taken aback upon waking to fingers on the bare skin of his side that he nearly tore away. But before he jerked free, his brain caught up enough to provide him with a simple explanation of Claire

He opened his eyes to see mussed curls on his chest, a leg thrown across his, and of course, Claire’s hand tucked under his shirt to hold his side. Hold really was the best word for it. More than simply resting there, she seemed to grip him, as if she was worried he might slip away. 

He could tell from her breathing that she was awake, so he tentatively murmured, “Claire, mo ghraidh?” 

To his surprise, her head lifted and he was greeted with a warm smile. 

“Good morning, Jamie.” 

His heart sang in relief at seeing this spark in her, and his arms automatically tightened around her body. 

“Ye’re feelin’ better?”

What came next was a whirlwind that nearly knocked Jamie off his feet— and it probably would have, had he been standing. 

Claire sat up, letting the covers fall to the side, and nodded. When she spoke, the words came out in a rush, as if she wanted to get them over with all at once. 

“Don’t know what happened yesterday, but I’m fine now. Let’s go get you breakfast.”

Before Jamie could even react, she was out of bed and pulling one of his hoodies out of the closet and over her head. But the second it was on, her eyes widened in alarm, then snapped shut. She swayed dangerously, her knees nearly giving out and her right hand reaching out into the empty air for support. 

Jamie was on his feet and by her side before he could even blink. He brought his hands underneath her forearms to brace her. Although her fingers instinctively wrapped around his arms in response, the moment her eyes refocused, she let go of him, all but tearing away before rushing out of the room. 

Left standing still in utter shock, Jamie’s heart slogged away in his chest, trying desperately to even its rhythm as his brain whirled. 

What the devil was she doing? 

Standing in the empty room and listening to her footsteps descend the stairs, he had no choice but to follow. 

***
As Jamie made breakfast with Claire watching quietly from the table, petting Adso with absent strokes, he struggled over how to broach the subject looming over them. His skin prickled as his worries brewed inside his head. Her bizarre behavior had done little to ease his mind, and although she was up now, as she sat at the table, he could tell she was white as a ghost. Her resistance to any mention of the subject perplexed him, and he had no idea how to navigate it. 

When he finally decided that the words on his tongue would get no better, he spoke simply.  

“That scared me yesterday, mo ghraidh,” Jamie commented, trying to keep his voice light. He searched her face for her reaction before adding, “How do ye feel today? Really?” 

“I’m fine,” she answered with a smile, but it barely reached past her lips. Her smiles would usually light her whole face— dimples peeking out and eyes crinkling— but her expression hardly changed with this weak attempt. 

“I dinna think ye are,” he said slowly but pointedly, fixing his eyes on her. She refused to meet them, looking down at her hands. He set his breakfast preparations down and walked toward her, “It’s alright. Please, tell me the truth about how ye’re feelin’, lass.” 

“I am okay, Jamie,” she insisted with a nod, “What happened yesterday was just a fluke.” 

She did look at him this time, leveling him with her whisky gaze. But all he saw there was exhaustion, not the conviction she was trying to demonstrate. 

He wasn’t even close to being persuaded by her attempts. His stomach was clenching in concern, and he ached to take her in his arms and hold her while promising that everything would be alright. But as he squirmed underneath the weight of her insistence, he had no idea what else to do to convince her to let him in.

As much as it killed him to let it go— at least for the time being— he dropped the subject with a slump of his shoulders. Seeing this, Claire gave him another smile, trying her best to look reassuring. 

It did little good. As Jamie sat down in front of his breakfast, his appetite was nowhere to be found. He could barely manage even a few bites. 

*

After he’d finished what little breakfast he could stomach, they went into the living room to watch a movie, Claire snuggling close to him. Her eyes began to droop only 30 minutes in, and after another 20, she was fully asleep on his lap. He petted her hair, lost in his head as the movie played in the background of his deafening thoughts.  

When the movie ended sometime later, he leaned forward for the remote. His movements must have jostled her because she pushed herself up from his lap until she was sitting again. 

But the second she was upright, her face went startlingly pale, and both of her hands flew to press against her eyes. She swayed dangerously, even seated as she was, and Jamie reached out to hold her steady by both arms. 

“Sassenach?” he asked in concern. 

“I’m fine, just a little dizzy,” she murmured from behind her hands. 

Jamie’s brows furrowed in distaste. He slid a hand across her cheek, cupping it in what he hoped was a steadying manner. In another few seconds, her hands dropped away, and he was able to take in sight of her face. She looked exhausted. The dark rings around her eyes seemed to have deepened and fatigue was written clearly in her expression. She had no hint of her usual vivacity— there was only fear and unease in the set of her body. 

“Ye’re no’ fine, a leannan,” he disagreed gently. 

“I am. I don’t want you to worry about me,” she said. 

“‘Worry about you?’’’ he echoed hollowly, “of course I’m worrit about ye, a nighean. I love ye, and I hate tae see ye unwell. And it only makes me more worrit when ye dinna tell me how ye’re really feeling.” He tried to keep his tone soft. He didn’t want to make her feet guilty, or feel like he was pushing her. He only wanted for her to tell him the truth. 

She shook her head stubbornly. “I’m just a little tired.” 

Looking at her expression— the way she was guarding her eyes but failing to conceal the struggle beneath— he realized that what had been lurking in those honey-gold rings was uncertainty , running contrary to her insistent words. 

All the pieces suddenly fell into place, and Jamie had to hold back the tears that pricked at his eyes as he finally understood. 

I don’t want you to worry about me,” she had said. 

He saw exactly what she was doing with startling clarity. The poor lass was trying to go it alone. She cared so much about him that she wanted to protect him, even in her suffering. She knew he was worried— could probably feel it too— and he knew she hated doing that to him. So, she thought that just maybe she could deal with it by herself. That she could keep it inside. That she could spare him. 

His heart broke for her.

Scooting closer, Jamie gathered her gently into his embrace. She was resistant at first as he pulled her closer, but soon, when he refused to budge, she melted against his chest. Her face pressed into his shoulder, but her arms remained by her sides. He held her quietly for a time before speaking. 

“I love you, Claire. And that means I love all of you and everythin’ that comes with it. Don’t ye see, mo ghraidh? Your struggles are mine. Now that we have each other, ye dinna have to face these things alone. I’m here, and I will care for ye as long as there is breath in my lungs. Jes’ please… please let me in.” 

Claire didn’t respond for a long time. She was quiet, motionless, until finally, her wee, shaking hands came up to hug him. 

He let out a breath— not in disappointment, but in sympathy for her— and he rocked her gently as she silently held on. 

She wasn’t ready yet to talk to him about it. And that was okay. What mattered was that she knew he was here. With time, he knew she’d take off the mask and let him in. 

“I love ye,” he murmured softly, “and nothin’ will ever make me stop. Do ye hear me?” 

She nodded, and he thought he heard a sniffle. “I love you more, Jamie,” she said dimly from his neck. There was a sensation of warm wetness on his skin, and his heart broke a little to realize she was crying. 

“Oh, mo chridhe,” he said softly, “dinna cry. I’m here. Ye’re no’ alone. Ye’re never alone.” He tightened his arms to bring her ever-closer. 

With her face pressed into his skin, she murmured something, so hastily and quietly that the sound barely came out. 

“What’s that?” he asked. He held his whole body still, as if one wrong move would prevent her from speaking. 

She withdrew her face from his neck and looked up at him with teary, red-rimmed eyes. Her lips parted as she drew in a breath, readying herself to repeat her confession

“I’m scared,” she said, clearly this time. “I don’t know what’s happening to me, and I’m really scared, Jamie.” 

There it was. 

“Me too,” he admitted, pulling her close once again, cupping the back of her head. His heart felt like it might beat out of his chest, but he kept his breathing as even as possible. “I’m scared too. But we’ll face it together, mo ghraidh. I promise I’ll see ye safe.” 

Tears washed down her face anew, and he had to lean back to press a kiss to her forehead. 

“Dinna fash. Everything will be okay.” 

She looked exhausted, but there was relief on her face as well— clear as day. He smiled fondly down at her, brushing away her tears with his thumbs. 

“Ye need rest. Let’s get ye tae bed.” 

Claire started to pull away from him as if she was about to try to stand, but Jamie tightened his arms around her. Moving quickly but carefully, he reached a hand under her legs and scooped her up. He stood with ease and began to carry her upstairs, still staring down at her. He couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away. 

Claire seemed to share that impulse. She was looking up at him with big, watery eyes. He couldn’t help but place yet another kiss right between the furrow of her brow. He wished his kisses would smooth the stress there away forever, but he didn’t have that power. She squeezed her eyes shut as he did, and a few more tears leaked out. 

“Stay with me?” she asked after he’d laid her down on the bed. 

“Always,” he answered in a breath.  

He laid down next to her and allowed her to curl against his side. Shifting slightly, he wrapped his arms around her and she pressed her face into the spot on his chest where she liked to lay her head. 

“Rest well, mo nighean donn,” he whispered. 

“Goodnight, my love,” she whispered back, “thank you.” 

“Ye dinna need tae thank me for doin’ me job, my sweet lass,” he reassured, “sleep now.” 

He held her tightly and carefully for what felt like hours. Long after she’d gone to sleep, Jamie lay awake, cradling his world in his arms. 

***

Chapter Text

Jamie didn’t remember dozing off, but he must have, because he was dragged out of sleep so abruptly it was like cold water had been dumped over his head, shooting adrenaline into his system. It wasn’t apparent what had woken him until Claire made a sound that clearly wasn’t the first time she’d cried out. 

It was a whimper, weak but plaintive, piercing to Jamie’s soul. He shot into wakefulness as it tore from her throat again, and he pushed himself up on his elbow, blinking sleep away so he could see her. 

She was still asleep. Her eyes were clenched tightly closed while her head jerked back and forth in an unconscious mimicry of shaking her head no. Before Jamie could even reach out to bring her out of the dream, she was shooting up in bed, eyes open and wild with panic. 

Her frantic gaze met his eyes, and her chest heaved as she drew in a sharp breath that was halfway between a gasp and a sob. 

Jamie was crushing her to his chest without a second more of hesitation. 

“It was jes’ a dream, a nighean,” he said as he held her fiercely, “it’s alright. It wasna real. I’m here.” 

He tucked her head under her chin and made shushing sounds. The puir lass butted her forehead into his chest, but instead of bringing her arms around him— which she likely lacked the strength to do— she simply leaned her whole body into him. 

“It’s alright now, my fair one,” Jamie hushed, “it wasna real. Was jes’ a nightmare.” 

She gave a tiny tilt of the head that may have been a nod, but Jamie still felt her trembling against him. His heart broke for her. Clearly whatever she had dreamt had shaken her to the core. It had been a while since she’d had a reaction with this much energy to anything, and now her body was alight with fear. 

Jamie nudged his chin down to kiss her hair and softly asked, “what were ye dreamin’, lass?” 

Her swallow was audible and her breath shuddered before she answered. 

“It was dark. Pitch black, but somehow I could see the darkness swirling. And I was ripped apart— over and over. And I—“ she inhaled sharply, “I was alone.” 

“It wasna real, mo nighean donn. Ye arena alone. I’m right here. And I’m no’ goin’ anywhere.”

Jamie hated not being able to see her face and meet her eyes when he said that, so he carefully laid her back flat on the bed. She complied, boneless and allowing him to maneuver her, but he spotted a flash of distress in her eyes. 

“Dinna fash,” he quickly soothed. He laid down next to her, bracing his head up on his elbow so he could stare down at her, but he brought his other hand to stroke her arm. “I’m here, aye?” He met her eyes this time, trying to impart the solemnity of his words, “We’re together. And that’s all that matters.” 

She let out a breath that was as much of an agreement as she could muster. 

“Just…” she said suddenly, surprising Jamie, “don’t leave my side.” 

In another show of vigor, she reached up to twine her arms around his neck and cling to him. He knew what she wanted without being told. Sliding a hand underneath her back, Jamie gently lifted her into a sitting position, careful not to put much distance between them that would upset her. When there was inevitably a bit of space between their midsections, Claire scooted closer to press herself to him. 

“Sassenach?” When she didn’t respond, he said again, “Claire? Is this alright?”

She laid her head on his shoulder, “I just want you to hold me for a bit.”

His stomach twisted, and he withdrew his hands from where they were flat on her back so that he could wrap his arms tightly around her instead. He pressed his lips to her forehead and then tucked her head underneath his chin. Tears burned at his eyes. 

“I ken ye’re scared,” he murmured into her hair, kissing it softly, “but we’ll face it together, mo ghraidh, always.” 

A shuddering breath against him was the only response. 

He wished he had more words for her— something more to say that would ease her— but even language seemed to fail him. He could only say the same thing over and over, promising to be with her. Finding himself at the end of the power of words, he relied on touch. 

Bringing a hand up, he began to stroke her hair gently. It occurred him how she seemed impossibly small. There was no trace of his vibrant, curious, and even mischievous faerie. She just clung to him, quiet, and allowed him to hold her. 

She was somehow muted. Everything about her seemed almost… serene, only in all the wrong ways. She simply didn’t have the energy to do anything more than listlessly be

Jamie found himself missing her, even though she was there with him at that very moment. 

Adso was meowing insistently outside, demanding that his morning meal be served, but Jamie wouldn’t dream of letting Claire go. He patiently rocked her, swaying slightly as she rested in his arms. 

“When I was young,” Jamie began to speak, not sure exactly why this story came to his head, “my older brother Willie and I wanted tae build a treehouse sae badly.” Claire nestled her head further onto his shoulder, settling in, and Jamie took that as a sign to continue. “A treehouse is jes’ a tiny room made of wood that you put high up in a tree and have tae climb up to even get into it.” The usual Claire would have definitely had something to say about that, some snarky remark about the oddities of humanity, but she was too fatigued to do anything but listen and breathe against him. “My da didna trust us wi’ the tools, and he was workin’ full time and tryin’ tae keep up wi’ the farm. We begged and pleaded for him tae jes’ let us do it ourselves, but he said it’d have tae wait until the summer. But then Murtagh showed up in our backyard one day without a word, hauling pieces of wood and his tools, and Willie and I couldna believe our eyes. We worked every afternoon for weeks. When it was finally done, Murtagh, Willie, and my Da spent a night up there— cuddled up in blankets side by side, looking out the windae at the stars and listenin’ to Da and Murtagh tell stories. I remember Willie and I fell asleep huddled together for warmth, listenin’ to the soothing sound of their voices. It was the best night.”

Jamie swallowed the lump in his throat. What he had left out was the fact that it was after Willie’s cancer diagnosis. As they’d built the treehouse, he’d watched Willie grow more and more fatigued. That night in the treehouse was one of the last perfect memories he had with his brother. 

He realized suddenly that it’d been foolish to tell such an emotional story to Claire at that moment, and as lungs clenched, he wished he could take his words back inside. Sensing his grief, she whispered, “you miss him.” 

It wasn’t a question, it was a statement— an acknowledgement of his sorrow and longing for his brother. 

“I’m sorry, I didna mean…” 

“You can’t help what you feel, Jamie, don’t apologize,” she said softly. When Jamie tilted his head down to look at her, he saw she’d lifted her face from his shoulder and there were tears glistening in her eyes. 

“My sweet lass—” he croaked. 

The reason for his telling the story— the reason why it had come to his head in the first place— hung in the air, heavy and unspoken between them. 

“I’m okay, Jamie,” she said, straightening up and blinking her brimming eyes at him, “really. I’m just… tired. I’ll be alright. I don’t want you to worry like this.” 

So she could feel that too. 

“Of course I worry for ye, mo nighean donn,” he whispered.

There was a flash of panic inside him, sudden and sharp. Jamie had lost much in his life. He’d lost his brother to cancer, his mother and newborn brother to a traumatic birth, and he’d watched his father die of a stroke. He wasn’t sure he could bear to watch Claire fade away.  

But he couldn't jump to conclusions yet— he told himself firmly as he shoved all of that as far down inside himself as he possibly could. 

“I don’t want you to worry,” Claire argued, laying her head back down on his shoulder. Stubborn as ever. Her lips brushed over it in the slightest, the barest hint of a kiss. 

“I’ll try no’ to,” he promised. 

“Let’s go down and get the cheetie his breakfast,” Claire said abruptly as another urgent meow came from outside the door, although she made no move. 

“Are ye sure?” Jamie wanted to argue, at least insist that she stay in bed, but he knew deep inside him that there was no way she’d part from him even for a moment, so he offered instead, “we can stay a while longer.” He squeezed his arms more tightly around her, holding her close. 

“As long as we go together,” she said. 

As they got up from the bed, Jamie was careful to keep an arm secured firmly around her. He abided by her residual clinginess and indulged her desire to stay pressed close to him. It was no real task; he would have her in his arms every minute of every day if he could. The length of her body pressed down his arm as she leaned slightly against him. 

The moment they made it downstairs, she sat on the couch, curling her knees to her chest under the fluffy throw blanket as Jamie went in the kitchen to grab some breakfast. 

When he returned, she was antsy for his presence. He settled down on the couch next to her, holding a simple granola bar in his hand (he didn’t want to spend time preparing anything else when she was like this). Nearly instantly, he had a lapful of faerie. She climbed up, straddling his legs, and hugged her arms around his neck so their fronts were pressed together. Nearly every inch of her was touching him, and he thought if she was physically capable, she would have made the rest of her body touch too. 

It broke his heart damn near in two to see her suffering like this. 

To be helpless to do anything. 

“Want tae watch another movie, lass?” he asked gently. He had no idea what else to suggest. She needed rest and recuperation, and he ached for her to be distracted, even if just for a short while. 

She gave a little murmur of assent but didn’t raise her head from where it was burrowed into the crook of his neck.

“Hey,” he said softly, trying to get her attention. When he didn’t receive anything in reply, he smoothed his hand up her back to gently cradle the nape of her neck. He suddenly felt the need to reassure her— or, if he was being honest, for her to reassure him. “Hey, mo ghraidh. I willna let anything happen, aye?”

“I know,” she said quietly. 

But that was a lie. Both of them knew it was. 

There was no telling what was happening, no assurance that it would pass. He was making promises he couldn’t keep. But everything inside of him had been screaming the words until he had to say them. 

“What should we watch?” Jamie changed the subject before his brain could dwell on his fears long enough for Claire to sense them. 

“You pick, Jamie,” she said. 

The way she said his name... It made his heart clench terribly. She said it like it was an endearment, only his name meant the same as “love” to her. 

Swallowing down the lump in his throat, Jamie grabbed the remote and turned on Aristocats , knowing that cat movies and shows tended to be her favorites. His faerie had a bit of an obsession now. How different from when she’d first cowered in his arms at the sight of Adso. 

But she didn’t turn around to watch the movie. She stayed facing away from it, curled into Jamie. As the movie played, he simply held her and didn’t say a word. He would do whatever she needed for the rest of his life if only it could help her feel the slightest bit better. 

As the movie went on, Claire gradually began to melt. The paradoxical mix of listlessness and clinginess seemed to dampen, and she shifted off of him so she could curl underneath a blanket with her head in his lap instead. 

His hands settled into a rhythmic stroking of her hair. In the worst type of deja vu, Jamie realized this was just like the previous day. Claire had no energy even for the simplest of demands on her body.

She needed rest — he reminded himself. There was no need to fash. He’d wanted her to sleep more, hadn’t he? 

Then why was there such a pang in his chest? 

***

Claire woke feeling disoriented. Weariness had settled deep in her bones. It was like she was underwater with a hand clutching at her ankle and dragging her downward while she constantly tried to battle toward the surface. For a second, she couldn’t figure out where she was. There was something soft underneath her cheek, comfortable, and she didn’t feel a sense of panic. Only vague unease. 

The weight on her chest didn’t abate as she sat up. She hadn’t even managed to open her eyes yet, but the dizziness that struck her full force would have been debilitating if not for the darkness encasing her. She sank back down to lay on her side. 

“Claire?” 

The voice of her beloved tore her from the swirling that was taking place in her brain. Her heart skipped a beat at his voice— the first thing she felt acutely since she’d woken. She clung to that with all her might and opened her eyes. 

Jamie was hovering over her, his eyes swimming with concern and his expression so boyish in the way he looked at her. She felt the slight ease of relief looking up at him. Seeing his face always seemed to anchor her to the ground, to the solid reassurance of his strength. 

“Any better this morning?” he asked, but there was little hope in his voice. He already knew the answer. 

It broke her heart to say it to him. She hated to make him worry, but she didn’t have the strength anymore to hide from him. 

“No,” she answered, finding her voice breathy even to her own ears. 

She closed her eyes again and was surprised to feel the heat of a tear leak from one corner. 

Jamie sighed— a heartbreaking sound— and then his big hands came up to stroke her hair. His touch was comforting; it made her feel like she could breathe, even if only for a second before the waves crashed over her again and drove her head beneath the water. 

“I dinna ken what tae do,” Jamie said softly, helplessness straining his voice in a way that tore her open.

That was enough to force her into wakefulness again. 

Jamie looked haunted. His eyes were swimming with concern, the features of his beautiful face tight with anxiety. His jaw clenched as he tried to keep himself in check. Claire was too weak to sense how distraught he was, but she didn’t need to. It was painted loud and clear over every inch of his body. It killed her to see his distress and not be able to do anything about it, but she was just too tired even to try to pretend she was alright enough to reassure him. 

“I don’t know either,” her hoarse voice answered. 

His hands were moving again, coming to cradle her face between them. So warm and strong, so gentle when he touched her. Her eyes must have fallen closed again because her world narrowed down to the single point of his thumb smoothing over her cheeks. 

“Rest, mo ghraidh,” Jamie said softly. 

Her forehead tingled as he kissed it with the barest brush of lips, and then his hands disappeared from her face. 

Her eyes popped open enough to see Jamie rising from the bed to his feet. 

“What—?” she asked foggily, finding her mouth filled with fuzz, “where are you going?”

“I’ll leave ye to yer peace, sweet one,” Jamie said tenderly, returning to her side to run his hand down her face, over her shoulder, and then down the length of her body until it rested on her hip, “go back to sleep.” 

“Please don’t go,” she found herself pleading, voice airy, “please stay, just for a little while longer?” 

A whine tore from his throat as if she had struck him with a blow. He hadn’t meant to let it out, but she knew he was so pained by seeing her like this. She nearly regretted asking him until he slipped back into bed, eager, and gathered her again into his arms. He was so big, his broad chest like a wall behind her and his arms like trees that wrapped around her body. His solidness, his strength— they gave her a sense of security. Comfort like nothing else could. 

“I’m sorry,” she said, repressing a shiver that tried to wrack her body. She hated hurting him like this. She knew he was hurting because of her. But she needed him so badly it frightened her. 

“No,” he sounded devastated again, and it was killing her to keep hearing him like that, “no, mo ghraidh. Dinna say ye’re sorry. It became my job the second I decided to love ye wi’ my whole heart. I’ll always be here for ye, as ye are for me. We take turns, aye? Now it’s yer turn.” 

Jamie always knew exactly what needed to be said to assuage her guilt. The tightness in her chest eased and she relaxed back into him, feeling more grounded. His words were a reminder that this wouldn’t last forever. She would be okay— with him— and until she was better, he’d be there to hold her. 

“Go back to sleep, mo nighean donn,” Jamie said gently, “I willna leave yer side.” 

Safe in the knowledge that Jamie would keep her afloat, she let herself drift back into the murky grey depths. 

*** 

Jamie rubbed his face wearily as placed his dishes in the sink. After she’d woken up, Claire had told him to go make himself a real meal and not just throw something together as he’d been doing recently. As much as he didn’t like leaving her, he indulged his love of cooking and made an extensive chicken parmesan for himself. Before Claire, cooking used to be one of the ways he relieved stress, but he hadn’t had any time for it as of late. He certainly was stressed with watching Claire suffer from whatever was dragging her down, but of course cooking was powerless in the face of that worry. 

The thoughts consumed him, circling him like vultures. He tried to beat them back as best as he could. It had only been a few days— it was foolish to go to extremes so early. But after google searches turned up nothing helpful about sick faeries, and Claire herself had been at a loss, Jamie was left with only the theories that his own brain could come up with. Maybe she had caught a cold or some human disease that her body didn’t know how to handle? Maybe with some time and rest she would be back to her usual self. Since a doctor's visit was out of the question, Jamie had to wait and pray. 

Pray that this was nothing like watching his family get sick. 

Pray that it would pass soon. 

And try not to lose himself to the gnawing of worry inside of him. 

Once he was done cleaning up, having barely managed to eat much at all, he walked into the living room looking for Claire. 

“Mo ghraidh?” he called. 

There was no answer. Figuring she went up to the bedroom, Jamie climbed the stairs with eager energy. It wasn’t that he couldn’t stand being away from her for an hour, but… well… he didn't like being away from her for an hour. 

His face was just beginning to break into a smile at the thought of holding her again as he swung into their bedroom. 

The sight inside stole it instantly, and he froze, looking at the scene in front of him with a feeling that somehow took endearment and twisted it into anguish and sympathy. 

Claire was lying on the floor, curled up on her side under her fluffy throw blanket from downstairs. 

Jamie’s heart clenched as affection warred with soft worry. He could see her chest rising and falling in an even rhythm where her hand was clutching a fold of the blanket to her chest. She wasn’t asleep— he could tell— but she laid curled up on the floor and didn’t seem to even notice him. 

“What are ye doin’ on the floor, sweet one?” he asked quietly as he knelt down next to her. He brushed a bit of her hair back from her face as her eyes opened. 

She blinked up at him slowly for a second and allowed him to gently stroke her hair before answering. 

“I’m tired,” she breathed. 

“I ken,” he said, his heart breaking and the bubble in his chest expanding painfully, “but why no’ on the bed?” 

“‘S more comfortable here,” she answered, sounding foggy. 

Jamie was perplexed for a moment before he came to the realization. She had slept on the ground her whole life. On mossy beds and leafy piles, if not just plain grass. 

A choked sound escaped him as he thought about her laying down on the ground, seeking comfort from a more familiar surface. 

“Can I lay wi’ ye a moment?” he asked through the sympathy coating his throat. 

She nodded, just a small movement of her head sliding back and forth over the carpet. As soon as he got permission, Jamie slid behind her so he could curl up against her back. At the feeling of him pressing up behind her, Claire straightened her legs a bit so Jamie could slot his own into the curve behind her knees. He draped an arm over her middle and held her close. 

“Is this alright, mo ghraidh?” he asked softly. 

“Yes,” she breathed in barely a whisper. 

So Jamie laid there on the ground with her, holding her. He wished fervently that she could find the slightest comfort— anything to ease her suffering. He more than wished. 

“God,” he prayed silently, “dinna let her slip away from me. Please. Please.” 

It took most of his willpower to keep himself from shaking under the pressure of worry. There was already enough trembling between the two of them— Claire’s body was nearly vibrating in its distress— she didn’t need him adding to that. 

“Sleep now,” he whispered in her ear, “and dinna fash. I’m here.” 

He was there. Only he was completely powerless to do anything but lay on the floor beside her and offer what little he could in the face of… Jamie didn’t even know what to call it other than suffering. 

An idea suddenly popped into his head. 

“Hold on, mo nighean donn,” Jamie said quietly into his hair. He pressed a kiss to her temple, watching her eyelashes flutter in response, and then tore himself away before he could regret leaving her. 

He all but ran down the stairs, nearly tripping in his haste, but for the first time in a long while, he felt like there was something he could do. It was small, maybe it would be insignificant, but perhaps it could ease her. And that was something. When he had grabbed the item in question, he returned upstairs. Even as he plugged it into the wall, Claire remained motionless on the ground with her eyes closed. 

The moment he turned on the space heater, however, those beautiful golds popped open to regard it with a wide gaze. It wasn’t excitement— the puir lass was too muted to look excited— but the gravity and regard that she held for the device was present. 

Jamie made sure it was pointed right at her before he made his way back over so he could take her in his arms again, positioning her in the cocoon of his body. 

“I promised ye an hour in front of the space heater, did I no’?” he said softly, trying to keep his tone light even as he felt like his heart was being thrown into a blender.

She didn’t have a witty jab about her victory nor an attempt to swindle him for more time. Instead, she was quiet for a moment before she added, “with you.”

“Aye. With me. I wouldna forget that part of the bargain, lass. It was my favorite part.” 

He felt like he was choking. This wasn’t at all how either of them had imagined the spoils of her game. She was supposed to tug him downstairs with a smirk on those lovely lips. She was supposed to force him to hold up his end of the deal as he playfully refused to turn it on. She was supposed to turn around in his arms and kiss him only a few minutes into the offered hour. 

It was supposed to be anything but this. Anything but lying quietly on the floor while Jamie scraped the bottom of the barrel for anything he could do to help her. 

“Can ye feel it, Claire?” he couldn’t help but ask, “does it feel alright?” 

She let out a shaky breath and nodded against the carpet. “Yes,” she breathed, “Thank you, Jamie.” 

That was it. Quiet and empty, her words rattled around in Jamie’s heart until they lodged like a sprinter in the beating flesh. 

“Anything else, lass? What else can I do?” he couldn’t help but ask. Beg. Plead. 

“This is nice,” she replied quietly. 

Jamie expected some sort of gesture to go with the words. A rub of his arm. A tilt of the head behind her to smile at him. Even just a shift of her body. Claire always expressed herself so physically. Only now she was still, and nothing accompanied her words except silence. 

And Jamie was left in his helplessness. 

“Alright, a leannan. Go back to yer rest now. I willna leave until ye wake again. I promise.” 

And when the second hour passed, the space heater still buzzing in front of Claire and Jamie’s back aching, he was still there with her on the floor, praying over her in whispers.

***

Chapter Text

Jamie was at the end of his rope. With every passing hour, he watched Claire get worse and worse. She was pale, drawn, with dark circles stark under her eyes. Her ashen skin, so different from the soft gleam of its usual pearl, made him want to break down sobbing. She was so different from the vivacious faerie he’d come to know. It broke his heart to see her despondence, and he loved her far too much to endure her suffering in silence for even a moment more. 

So he decided to turn to the one place he might find help. 

The bookstore owner. 

It seemed foolish— bordering on mad— to go to a complete stranger for help on the love of his life. Only this Geillis seemed to be the only one besides Claire herself that knew anything about the Fair Folk. Jamie couldn’t simply take her to a hospital. Going to Geillis was the only thing he could think to do. He was out of options. 

He sat then on the couch, with Claire draped over his lap like a flesh and blood blanket, having just arrived at a decision. 

“Mo ghraidh?” he said quietly. 

He reached out a hand to tangle gently in her curls, his fingers delighting in the softness of it. 

“What is it, Jamie?” she asked. 

Even her voice came off weak, hard as she was trying to sound unaffected. There was a breathy tonality, as if she couldn’t quite draw in enough air. A chilling reflection of her exhaustion. 

“I’m goin’ tae go back to the bookstore,” he said simply. 

At that, Claire sat up, pushing her hands against his thighs to brace herself enough to get upright. Big whisky eyes regarded him with a bewildered expression. 

“To see the witch? Why?”

It took Jamie a second to realize what she had just said. He was opening his mouth to answer the “why” when the first part of her question finally sunk into his brain. His heart stopped beating for a solid second at the same time as his brain ground to a halt. 

“Did ye say ‘witch’?” he asked hollowly. 

Claire furrowed her brows and stated simply, “of course. The one who gave you her notes on traveling through the stones? That witch?” 

“I—” Jamie’s tongue was tied in knots as he struggled to get on board with this new reality-shattering revelation, “I didna ken witches were real,” he finished lamely. 

“Oh,” Claire said, with the same patience Jamie had when explaining something like toothbrushing to her, “she is. That just means she is a human who understands about our realm.”

Blinking, Jamie gave her a look. He was struck dumb for the moment, but as soon as he regained the ability to speak, he demanded, “ye kent she was a witch all this time and didna tell me?”

Claire blinked her weary eyes and gave a nonchalant shrug, looking a bit more like herself as she answered with a straightforward, “It didn’t seem all that important.” 

“Ehmm... so… how did ye know?” he asked, trying to keep up. 

“Sensed it. I just sort of… knew. Like how you know when someone is from a different place that you haven’t been. We both saw each other for who we are. Plus it makes sense, since she obviously knew I’m of the fair folk, that’s why she gave you the book.”

Jamie gave a hesitant nod. He was about to ask more questions about witches when he noticed Claire was raising a hand to her head and rubbing it wearily. His stomach turned over in sympathy. 

Overcome by the bittersweet tenderness, he reached out a hand to replace hers, cupping her face gently. 

“I’m goin’ tae ask her if she kens anythin’ that can help ye, lass,” he said gently, “Just because ye dinna ken what’s goin’ on doesna mean we canna find answers.” 

She leaned her face into his touch until his hand was the only thing keeping her head raised. 

“That’s not a bad idea, Jamie,” she said quietly, “let’s go.”

“‘Let’s’?” Jamie echoed, “nae, a nighean. Ye can barely stand on yer own two feet. I wouldna have ye do anything other than rest.” 

“And I would not have you go to a witch alone,” she countered. 

Jamie’s eyes widened and he felt his brain kick into overdrive. “Do you mean she might be dangerous?”

“No,” Claire said with a shake of her head, still leaving her face pressed into his hand, “I know she’s not. But I’m coming.” 

His stubborn lass. 

Jamie brought his other hand up to frame her face, fixing her with his best admonishing stare. 

“I said no, mo Sorcha. Ye’re stayin’ here.” 

He saw the spark of resistance flare in her eyes before she made the move. Pulling away from him, Claire stood abruptly to her feet. Weak as she was, she swayed for a second, thrusting out a hand to grab hold of the top of the couch and steady herself. Jamie popped up beside her, getting ready to reach out to grab hold of her waist, but she took a hasty step back. 

“I’m going,” she insisted. 

Jamie was left trailing after her as she began to walk stubbornly toward the door (her weakness only betrayed by the way her body shook with tiny tremors). She grabbed the bolt and slid it free with a clang before throwing open the door and walking outside. 

“Claire!” Jamie called, running out after her, barely snagging the car keys and his wallet from the table before he did, “wait!”

She whirled around— the most energetic thing she’d done in a long while, it hurt him to recognize— and placed her hands on her hips. As she did though, her eyes grew wide as if she was suddenly feeling dizzy, and her hand shot out instead to brace against her knee. 

Getting hold of herself, she straightened once again. “Like I said, I’m coming with you. Now, should I do it myself or are you going to help me?” 

Knowing he’d lost the battle and terrified that he’d be forced to watch her collapse as she stubbornly walked to the car if he refused, Jamie caught up to her. 

Gently taking her by the arm, he said quietly, “alright, a leannan, my stubborn lass, you win.”

***

Claire had laid her head down on his lap the moment they were both seated in the car. She spent the majority of the ride to Inverness slipping in and out of consciousness while Jamie worried over her. He prayed under his breath that God would send them answers in the form of this witch. She’d provided him with revelations once before, so Jamie could only dare to hope she’d have a solution just waiting for them. 

As he pulled into the public lot nearest the bookstore, he found himself daunted by the distance Claire would be forced to walk. She hadn’t seemed to have noticed that they weren’t moving anymore, and her breathing was shallow as she drifted in that odd state of half-consciousness. 

“Claire,” he said gently, his voice catching in his throat, “we’re here, a nighean.”

She raised her head, curls falling back behind her, and then dragged her body upright. She rubbed again at glassy eyes, trying to find the necessary strength. 

“Take yer time,” he said softly. 

When her hand fell away and her eyes connected with his, the desperate look inside of them sent him crumbling to pieces. 

“Do you really think she’ll know what’s happening?” she asked in a tiny voice. 

The air in his lungs was expelled with a whoosh. She wasn’t asking him that, not really. She knew he would have no idea— he’d only just learned about the existence of witches mere minutes ago. No, she was asking him to tell her everything would be okay. And that much he could do. 

“Aye, a nighean. I pray that she can gi’ us somethin’. It’ll be alright.”

She gave a shaky nod, and Jamie took that as her being ready. He went around to her side to take her hand and pull her out of the car. She got out easily enough, but once she was standing outside, she fell against Jamie’s chest. He quickly encircled her in his arms, holding on tight to keep her upright. 

“Woah,” he murmured, “take a second. Ye’re okay.” 

The words felt weak even in his own mouth. 

She took his advice, leaning against him for a drawn out moment before she raised her head just enough to say. “Okay, let’s go.” 

Of all the tortures Jamie’s brain had conjured in his life— speculations about how it might be to die by fire versus drowning or other such morbid games— the torture of the next few minutes of watching his very ill faerie struggle to walk down the street topped any agony he’d considered before (save maybe the time when he’d left her at the stones and thought he’d be facing a life without her). 

He kept one arm wrapped tightly around her waist the whole time. The weight of her leaning against him was obvious, and he worked to support her as much as possible. As she struggled to put one foot in front of the other, drained as she was, Jamie cursed himself for giving in so easily and allowing her to come along. 

But she pushed on, his stubborn lass. After a couple slow and shaky blocks, they arrived at the bookstore. There was only time for a single exchange of hopeful looks before Claire stepped away and took his hand instead. 

He pushed open the door with a jingle. 

*

Just like the last time, they were greeted by the air of other-worldliness. Knowing as he now did that Geillis was, in fact, partial to things not of this world, the odd atmosphere made more sense. It took a moment for Jamie’s eyes to adjust to the dim lighting and an even longer while for the goosebumps on his arms to ease. 

Claire must have sensed Geillis’ presence before Jamie did because there was a squeeze to his hand the second before a red head popped out from between two shelves in the back. 

“Ooh, the lovers, back again. Did ye read my wee notes, fox cub?” Geillis cooed. 

She emerged from between the shelves holding two old books to her chest, looking quite excited. 

“Yes, they were verra… informative. I thank ye for it. That’s actually why we’re here…”

Jamie was about to launch into his plea for help when Geillis suddenly stopped dead in her tracks a few feet before reaching them. Her eyes went wide as she looked at Claire, a frown slowly forming between her brows and on those cherry colored lips. 

“I see…” she said softly, “something is wrong wi’ yer fair one, aye?” 

Sensing something— maybe it was a laxness in her fingers or maybe it was just his intuition— Jamie glanced down at Claire just in time to see her face freeze and eyes go distant. He let go of her hand and whirled around to catch her just before she collapsed. Both of his arms went around her tightly and pulled her to him as her knees buckled. 

Looking down at her pale, scrunched features, Jamie was relieved to see that she wasn’t unconscious, but she certainly wasn’t doing well. Her eyes were glassy as she blinked hard, trying to keep herself aware. 

He looked up from his suffering love to give Geillis a pleading look. 

“We need yer help,” his voice broke on the word help. 

Geillis looked somber, studying him and the faerie in his arms. Then, she gave a nod. 

“Bring her back, and then tell me everything.” 

*

“Back” apparently was referring to a back room. Geillis had led them to the back of the bookstore as Jamie all but carried Claire, and then she pulled back a curtain to gesture them into another room. 

With Claire tucked tightly into his side, Jamie ducked through the doorway. 

On the other side was a whole second bookstore with the same crowded shelves and haphazard organization. Only this side also had shelves of all kinds of paraphernalia— vials of colorful liquids, bowls containing small animal bones, and all types of odd trinkets. Jamie tried to take everything in, but his mind was so fixated on Claire that he had trouble taking stock of all the things Geillis had in her secret stock. 

His survey was interrupted as Geillis gestured them toward a window on the far right. There was a bench seat built into the window, and Jamie brought Claire over to it and sat her down before joining her on the smooth, wooden surface. Geillis appeared a second later with a chair, setting it up in front of them before settling in and regarding him with raised brows. 

Claire was leaning against his side, quiet as a mouse and their fingers entangled where they rested together on Jamie’s thigh. Her head tilted down slowly to rest on his shoulder— too tired even to feign strength. 

Geillis looked at them for a long moment before saying, “tell me everything.” 

So Jamie explained. How he found her on the hill. Her story of wandering on the moors when she fell through the stones. How he’d taken her into his home before reading the book and trying to take her back. Her choice to stay. And finally, her deteriorating condition— the exhaustion that rendered her drained and lifeless. 

In the middle of his explanation, Claire had drifted down to lay her head in Jamie’s lap and curl her feet on the bench. It had made the lump in his throat grow, nearly choking off his words, but he’d pressed on to finish his story, knowing how important it was to get answers. 

Once he’d finally closed his mouth, Geillis gave a thoughtful hum, looking down at the faerie in his lap with a worried expression that was almost pitying. 

“I could tell the moment she walked in that somethin’ was wrong,” she said softly. 

“Anyone wi’ two eyes could see that, she can barely stand on her own two feet!” Jamie snapped. He regretted it instantly. Geillis was their greatest hope and her comment didn’t warrant that response, he was just so worried that he was strung nearly to breaking. 

He started to apologize when she cut him off. “Nae, I meant her aura is wrong. Worse than wrong it’s… barely there.” 

Jamie couldn’t help but ask, “that’s how ye kent she was a faerie the first time, aye?” 

Geillis nodded. She was quiet for another gut-wrenching moment, looking down at Claire. The lass in his lap was unconscious, and Geillis seemed to be longing to talk to her instead of him. Or maybe she was just studying her.  

“Do ye ken what’s wrong then?” Jamie couldn’t help but ask, “please? Any ideas at all. I—” he started to try to express how terrified he was, how he couldn’t bear for anything to happen to her, but the words clogged in his throat. He looked down at her as hot tears pricked in his eyes and brushed those beautiful curls back in a way that was probably more soothing for him than it even was for her— out of it as she was. 

When he looked back to meet the startling green eyes, there was sympathy there. 

“I have a theory…” she said, but trailed off. 

Jamie felt his entire body lift. His back straightened as he eagerly asked, “tell me?” 

Her eyes flicked down again to his hands stroking Claire. “Ye willna like it.” 

The hope that had begun forming in his chest popped with suddenly ferocity. He felt sick to his stomach, worse than he ever had on a boat or plane in the worst of his motion sickness bouts. He wished he could just refuse to hear the bad news that was about to come, but he had to face it, for Claire’s sake. No matter what, he would keep fighting. 

“Tell me,” he said. This time it wasn’t a question. 

Geillis settled back in her chair, folding her hands in her lap. 

“Ye said she came through the stones by accident, aye? I think…” for the first time ever, Geillis looked hesitant, “I dinna ken how else to say it…. I think she’s becomin’ human.” 

“What?!” Jamie burst out, loud enough to make Claire jerk in his lap. He quickly looked down, placing his hands on her again to settle her. She hadn’t fully woken, so his touch on her side and face was enough to soothe her back into tenuous sleep. He looked back up to Geillis and repeated, more quietly this time, “what?” 

She looked uncomfortable as she looked at Claire like the theory was forming in her head. “Well, not exactly becomin’ human. Not really. She’s still fae. It’s jes— ye ken she’s from another plane, aye? Well now she’s separated from her realm, and things are different here. She canna draw energy in the same way. Going through the stones— being here in this realm— she’s cut off, and she canna eat and drink like the rest of us to sustain herself, her body isna capable. She’s likely been drawing on what energy she can, but it isna the same as in her realm.” 

Jamie came back to himself to find he was clutching the end of Claire’s hair in a balled-up fist. He felt like Geillis’ explanation had torn him open and ripped him inside-out. 

“So...” he spoke through the bile rising in his throat, “she’s essentially starvin’ to death? From lack of energy?”

She nodded solemnly. Her fixed gaze on him was so intense that he had to look away. He tried to look down, but the sight of Claire’s pale face as she slept in his lap made his eyes burn with tears. 

“Do ye—” Jamie tried to ask, choking back tears, “what can I do?” 

Geillis looked sympathetic but made no move. 

“Take her back to the stones,” she said simply. 

Jamie shook his head violently, his very body tense, as if it could expel the idea. “No, no, she doesna want that. There has to be another way. She could eat— or—”

“That won’t help her, that’s not what she needs. I’m sorry, fox, I… I don’t know of anything else,” her voice was so low and excruciatingly sympathetic that Jamie wanted to scream. 

He found himself still shaking his head in denial. There was a sharp ache in his stomach, as if his heart had shoved its way down there. 

“I dinna think I can—” he choked as the first tears began to fall. Trying to find the barest hint of comfort, he stroked Claire’s hair again, his fingers brushing her face. 

“There’s no choice,” Geillis said finally, “she’ll die.” 

*

Jamie wanted to leave the bookstore. He almost wished that he had never come— only he could never wish to be ignorant about such a thing, even if it was tempting. He glanced down at Claire in his lap. 

She was unconscious, her face nearly ashen in the light from the window. There was no hint of her usual golden warmth— only pallid skin and dark circles under her eyes. He could feel her shallow breathing, 

He wanted to break down completely. The allure of giving into his grief was so strong, but she didn't deserve to languish in this place any longer. He would see her home. 

The polite thing would have been to thank Geillis for her help. Only his throat was so clogged that the words never would have come out. He couldn’t even spare a glance up at her. 

A silent tear dripped down his cheek as he reached a hand down to gently shake Claire’s cheek. 

“Mo ghraidh?” he choked. 

He was suddenly overcome by the acute desire— no need— for her to wake up. He had to see those golden eyes or he’d die. He couldn’t draw breath, he couldn’t—

She opened her eyes slowly, blinking dazedly up at him from where her head rested in his lap between his hands. He expected her to murmur out “what’s wrong?’ as she usually would have upon finding him in such a state of extreme distress. But she didn’t say a word. She was likely too tired to sense his emotions, too tired to even bring herself to confront the reality that was showing on his face. She just breathed in shakily. 

Jamie somehow found a strength inside himself that he didn’t know he possessed. He gathered his composure— for her sake. 

“Let’s go home,” he said softly, his voice astoundingly even. 

He gathered Claire up in his arms with the utmost care, lifting her under back and knees until he was standing face to face with Geillis. 

“Take care of her, fox cub,” the witch said solemnly. 

Jamie swallowed hard. Unable to verbalize it out loud, he gave her a nod. 

A promise. 

He would send her back. He would do what needed to be done to save her. 

At that moment, Claire stirred in his arms. 

“We’re leaving?’ came her breathy question. 

“Yes, a leannan. We’re going home.”

To his surprise, her hand pushed against his chest— her touch weak and lacking any real force, but still insistent. 

“I don’t— they’ll—” she sounded distressed, which broke Jamie’s heart. But she was so incoherent he didn’t have any idea how to assuage her. 

“What is it, a nighean?” he asked, on the verge of tears. 

“Don’t want them to see,” she finally managed. 

That did him in. More tears leaked from his eyes to pour down his cheeks. He swallowed the sob in his throat.

She had always hated other people seeing her— accustomed as she was to being invisible to humans— and now she was embarrassed by the thought of Jamie carrying her through Inverness. 

“Dinna think about them,” Jamie answered, barely able to contain the heartache in his voice, “no one matters except you, mo ghraidh.” 

She still looked distressed. Her eyes were squeezed closed again, her brows furrowed, and she shook her head. 

“Jamie, I…” 

Her voice trailed off. Her head lolled on his shoulder, and he nearly broke down all over again. 

He turned his teary gaze to Geillis, giving her his best look of pleading. 

“Is there nothin’ ye can do tae ease her?” he asked brokenly. 

Geillis looked wrecked too, staring at Claire as if the sight of his wee faerie suffering was too terrible to look away from. “I’m sorry,” she said with a sad shake of her head, “there’s nothin’ I can do.” 

Jamie bit his lip, hard enough to draw blood, and then refocused on his love. 

“Damn the world,” he told her firmly, “we’re goin’ home.” 

***

Chapter Text

***

“Claire?”

The sound of someone calling her name dragged her from the grip of the peaceful darkness she’d been resting in. “Claire? Wake up, a leannan,” came the call again. It sounded urgent, even scared, but Claire felt too muted to respond. Until the realization of whose voice it was hit her, at the same time as she became aware of warm hands cupping her shoulders and pulling her upward from the bed. 

“Jamie?” she murmured, fighting now against the waves of exhaustion that crashed over her head. 

“Claire? Oh thank Christ,” came her beloved’s voice, “ye scared me, mo ghraidh.” 

Forcing her eyes open, she found herself cradled in his embrace, leaning against one of his strong arms and one of his hands holding the side of her face. 

“Good morning, lass,” Jamie said as she met his eyes. 

She wanted to say it back to him. She wanted to say anything at all. But the words seemed caught inside her mind, unable to be expressed. She panicked for a second, thinking she may never get a chance to tell him how much she loved him.

“Jamie, I love you,” came from her lips as she suddenly realized her mouth was able to move after all. 

It looked as if she had hit him square in the gut rather than express her love, but her eyes were falling closed, and she couldn’t think more on it. 

“I love you, Sassenach,” his deep voice echoed, “dinna fash, I ken.” 

She didn’t know what that meant. Everything seemed foggy for a second, as if she was trying to perceive the world through a haze of cotton. She must have lost track of time because the next thing she was aware of was the feeling of Jamie’s warm hand shaking her cheek. 

“Hey, stay wi’ me now, lass,” he rumbled. 

The muscles of her face tightened in concentration as she managed to open her eyes again. 

“Aye, there ye are,” Jamie said, an odd tinge in his voice that made him sound like he was choking. 

That worried her, but she couldn’t seem to focus her mind on it. He seemed too distant, so far out of her grasp. 

His thumb traced back and forth over her cheek as he stroked it with a sweet fondness that made her feel infinitesimally better. 

“We’re goin’ tae go out for a bit,” he said, making Claire’s attention pique. 

She thought for a second maybe she’d imagined it. Surely he couldn’t have been suggesting…

“I can’t, Jamie,” there was an edge of pleading in her voice. 

“Only for a wee while, and then ye can rest,” he said. He sounded terribly strange, like his light words didn’t match the strain in his vocal cords. What was going on? 

“Please, don’t make me, I’m so tired,” she breathed, trying to keep the whimper inside her throat. 

“I ken ye’re tired, but this willna take but a few moments, and I’ll carry ye.” 

She opened her eyes— not aware that they had fallened closed— and fixed them directly on Jamie’s. Tears of desperation beaded at the corners as she thought of doing anything but laying there in the safety of his arms and in their bed. 

“Please, Jamie,” she swallowed hard, “I’m so tired. Please. Just hold me?” 

She’d made that request before; several times. But never before had she meant it as much as she had in that moment. 

Something was going on in Jamie’s face, but she couldn’t identify what. He was starting to scare her. Nothing he was doing made sense to her brain, and she felt a shred of terror take root in her heart that something was wrong with him. Was he pulling away? Why was he refusing to hold her when he never had before? 

Her fears were assuaged when he gave a jerky nod and suddenly pulled her into an embrace. Perhaps embrace wasn’t the right word for it because Claire couldn’t manage to make her limbs respond enough to return it, but he pulled her upper body tight against him and buried his face in her hair. 

“Alright, a leannan, it can wait. I’ll hold ye for a little while longer.” 

Claire felt a sigh escape her lips, feeling relieved. That was good. Very good. She let her eyes flutter closed as Jamie began to move, repositioning her while she remained limp under his capable hands. Soon, she was horizontal on the bed again, and his body was pressed behind her. His arms came around to her to pull her securely back against him, and they didn’t leave her. They would never leave her. 

He was saying something then, speaking words over her that she couldn’t quite make out. It sounded nice and she wished she could listen to them. Even without understanding though, she felt a tug of wellness deep within her soul. 

She was drifting again, lost in that odd sea of grey oblivion, but this time, she was content. Jamie was there with her; she could still feel his body against hers even as her mind began to swirl. Everything would be okay, she knew it, as long as he was with her, holding her in his arms. 

***

Numb. 

Jamie was numb with despair. 

It was a feeling so debilitating that Jamie could scarcely bring himself to move. Except the resignation was stronger still. 

This time, there was no choice. 

It wasn’t like the raw heartbreak that he’d experienced the first time he took her to the stones because there was no decision. No room for regret or guilt. There was only action to be taken. 

Action that would tear them apart forever. 

But somehow, despite the knowledge that he had one course only and there was nothing more to be done but act, the sorrow and grief still cut him to the quick. 

As much as he wanted to cry and scream and rage over how unfair it was, one glimpse at the love of his life— so still and ashen it was like there was barely an ounce of life left in her— he couldn’t. He had to do what needed to be done, and he had to be strong enough to do it. 

It couldn’t be delayed any longer. When she’d pleaded with him in that small voice just to hold her for a little while— not even knowing what lay ahead— he gave into weakness. In the time he’d spent laying with her then, watching her in that uneasy sleep that brought no rest for her fatigued body, it had taken all his strength to convince himself again of what needed to be done. He had to keep reminding himself that there was no choice. No alternatives. He couldn’t wait any longer— he was selfishly taking time she didn’t have. 

He gently gathered her in his arms, lifting her up from the bed to cradle her upper body against his chest. 

“Jamie?” she murmured, the word coming out slurred, disoriented. 

She was barely conscious. Oh God. God help him. 

“Dinna fash, mo ghraidh,” he said, not even aware that he had said it. How had his lips formed the words? He didn’t know. 

Her glassy eyes closed again, her head resting bonelessly against his shoulder. He raised a hand to gently stroke her cheek. 

She was so lovely even in her suffering. 

Christ, he would miss her beyond words...

—Enough of those thoughts! They could stop him altogether, and there was no room for that. No room for anything but action.  

With gentleness so extreme it nearly killed him, he brought his arm underneath her knees and stood, lifting her fragile form from the bed. 

He prayed she wouldn’t wake enough while they were at home to argue with him again. Please God...— he didn’t even know what to plead. That she stayed unconscious the whole time, or that she would wake enough to say goodbye? He didn’t know which would be worse. Or which would be better. Neither could be better. 

Carrying her out to the car, his stomach churning with the realization that this was the last time she’d ever be in his house, Jamie forced himself onward. 

It had to be done. To save her. 

His name fell from her lips again. It was almost a cry, an incoherent pleading for him to make things better. 

“Dinna fash, a leannan,” he answered, “I’m here. I’ll see ye safe. I promised ye I’ll see ye safe.”  

She settled again, going still and lifeless in his arms in a way that terrified him to the very core. Looking down, her face was nearly pale as a porcelain doll’s, and just as perfect. Those lashes curled against her cheek, dark and delicate. Only she was missing her usual glow. What had been a bright shine when he’d first found her had gradually faded into a muted shimmer until now the only thing that surrounded her was an air of heaviness. 

God, give him strength. 

Somehow, taking stock of her made it easier for him to take the next steps. He focused on the fact that there was no choice. Nowhere to go but straight ahead. Nothing to do but send her away. 

He set her in the backseat of the car, tears nearly falling at the thought that he would have to spend much of their last precious few minutes away from her, but he wanted her to be able to lay down comfortably. 

She didn’t protest when he gently deposited her into the backseat. There was no peep from her, and he started to panic at the thought that she might very well be unconscious when the time came to send her through the stones. 

He left her there to get in the driver’s seat, and that tiny effort nearly broke him. How would he possibly have the strength to do what needed to be done? 

As he drove toward those terrible stones, his mind couldn’t help but cry out at the injustice. 

He had thought he’d be able to hold her for the rest of his days. He’d dreamed of their life together. He’d been careless with the time they’d had, thinking it forever. Jamie didn’t understand how such happiness could be ripped from him so quickly. How the promise of a life with her could end up so hollow? 

Promises. He’d made so many to himself and said so few aloud. There was so much more to say. Too many things. 

He should have said them when he had the chance. 

Before long, the hill came into view, and he parked the car at the edge of the road. 

She was limp as a ragdoll as he gathered her into his arms, her head falling against his shoulder when he picked her up. 

“Hold on,” he murmured, pressing one kiss to the top of her curls, and then another, “hold on, mo chridhe. I’ve got ye.” 

It felt like he was wearing boots made entirely of lead as he began his trek toward the hill. Every step felt like it would be his last— surely his strength would give and his resolve would break. Only he kept moving, kept going toward the stones. Because he had to. 

“Jamie?” 

This time, there was coherence to the whispered sound of his name. Jamie looked down in surprise to find glassy eyes regarding him with confusion. 

His heart sang with relief at the same time as anxiety flooded his veins. 

“Hi, sweet one. It’s good tae see those beautiful eyes.” 

“Where are we?” voice small and oh-so fatigued. 

His tongue couldn’t seem to form the words to tell her that they were walking toward the stones. He tried to tell her the truth, only he couldn’t seem to do it. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He closed it again, swallowing hard. 

“I want to go home,” she said, pained and breathless. 

Home— oh Christ. She was going home. Only she meant his home, the home that had become theirs, but he was sending her home

“Jes’ a little bit longer,” he said, only sheer resolve and monumental will keeping him from choking on the words. That was the truth. It would only be a little bit longer, and then she’d be home— gone from him forever. 

She didn’t answer, and he wondered for a second if she’d drifted out of consciousness again. But when he looked down, he noticed her eyes were still open and there was a tear tracking slowly from the corner of one eye. 

If his heart had not already been torn from his chest, that would have done him in. He stopped in his tracks, his breath catching in his lungs. 

“What is it, mo ghraidh?” he asked, wrecked beyond repair. 

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”  

He couldn’t bring himself to move. He couldn’t take one step closer to the stones. 

And then... his love— the very breath of his lungs and beat of his heart— said to him, so quietly it was barely more than a whisper, “I love you, Jamie. You know that?” 

All his resolve fell to pieces. Obliterated, shattered, wrecked until it was a pile of dust. He sank to his knees, every ligament feeling like jelly. He ended up on the ground with grass tickling at his legs and Claire cradled in his lap, her beautiful but haunted eyes gazing up at him with so much trust— some much love— that he could barely stand it. He swallowed, hard. 

There was one thing and one thing only on his heart and on his tongue. 

Don’t say it. 

It’s not fair. 

You have no right. 

But he couldn’t stop it any more than he could stop the flow of water after a dam had broken. There was nothing left to do but embrace the wave and the words he’d been aching to say for too damn long. 

You can’t do this. 

Hold yer tongue. 

Don’t say it, you goddamn bloody bastard.

“Marry me,” he said anyway, the words falling from his lips as if they had been torn from his very soul, “marry me, Claire. I want you to be mine.” 

You selfish bastard. 

But he couldn’t stop. He was only human after all; he was weak. His heart longed to be left with one thing….

He wanted the knowledge that after she was gone from him, she would still be his. 

And that was the most despicable thing he’d done in his life. 

He had no right to ask that of her. 

“Yes, Jamie, of course I want that,” she was saying, “I’m yours forever.” But she didn’t know... She didn’t—

“Right now,” he burst out, “we can be handfast now. Please Claire, please say yes, mo ghraidh.” 

She struggled to lift her head from his shoulder, as if she was trying to sit up, only she lacked the strength even to raise her face. 

“Yes,” she said. 

Her eyes were dazed, glassy with exhaustion, but there was joy there too. She’d wanted this for as long as he had— he knew. Only she didn’t know what he really was asking of her. Not to be his forever with him, but to be his forever without him. 

Jamie thought himself a good man, but he wasn’t without his flaws. Of all his transgressions, he thought asking this of her might have been the worst. But he prayed that God would grant him forgiveness. And that the knowledge of their union would keep him for the rest of his lonely days. 

“Alright then,” he said, a bit shakily, his breath hitching in his chest. 

He let go of Claire with one hand and went fumbling around in his pocket. All he needed was something to bind them, anything, but he had nothing of use. His jacket sleeve would have to do. 

Handfasting was an ancient ritual, not typically used in the present day and age, but it still held weight in Scottish culture. It particularly held weight for Jamie, as his parents had been handfast at the tender age of 18 when they’d run away together. A handfasting was a promise: between two people and God. And that was all he needed. 

As he wrapped the sleeve around his and Claire’s wrists, he explained this to her, his voice shaking slightly. 

“It means we’ll be bonded fer life, ye ken?” he finished. They’d talked about the concept of human marriage before, but he wanted to be certain she knew the weight of the ceremony before they began. 

“I told you, Jamie,” she breathed weakly, “I knew we were bonded for life a long time ago. I was just waiting for you to catch up.” 

“I’m wi’ ye now, mo chridhe,” he whispered.

The dress she was wearing was her favorite— the white dress that had been hanging on display in Mrs. Fitz’ shop that day, the first one she’s tried on. It was like a stab to the heart to think that this dress was now her wedding dress. He would have decked her in the finest lace and most beautiful wedding attire there was, but it brought him some small comfort to see her at least in white, in something she loved. 

He wished he could sit her up and look straight into her eyes as they said the words, but he knew she lacked the strength. He kept her laid against his arm, staring down at her in adoration. 

“Repeat after me,” he said softly. 

She gave a nod against his shoulder. 

“You are Blood of my Blood and Bone of My Bone,” Jamie began, feeling a shiver run across his body. 

She repeated after him, sounding breathless but sure. Her thumb brushed across his forearm where they grasped each other. It was a small sign of affection, but it soothed Jamie’s aching heart. 

“I give you my body, that we two may be one.” 

Feeling her laying against him, it seemed like she had already given him her body. She could barely move, yet trusted him so completely. Jamie swallowed hard, trying not to think about how they’d never have the opportunity to belong to each other in a physical sense. 

“I give you my spirit, ‘til our life shall be done.” 

Their life together would be done soon. Jamie hated himself for asking her to make this promise, but she’d be released from it the moment she went through the stones. Not him, though. He knew he’d belong to her for the rest of his days. ‘Til his life shall be done, he’d love her. 

“You are Blood of my Blood and Bone of my Bone,” Jamie finished, with Claire echoing softly. 

And then she was his wife. 

With the utmost delicacy, he reached to tilt her face upward. Her cheek slid against his shoulder, and she looked up at him with eyes swimming with emotion. Adoration. Joy. Love. 

And he kissed her. 

It felt so much like the moment she’d ran down from the hill to throw herself in his arms and kiss him for the first time, yet so different. Her lips rocked Jamie’s world in nearly the same way. He felt like he was drowning in her just as much; her touch consumed him and soothed him all at the same time. Yet she was so still. There was no running. No eager hands threading through his hair. No arms clutching on to him for dear life. Just her body resting against his and her lips pressing softly to his touch. 

When he pulled back, he couldn’t help but profess, “I love ye, mo nighean donn.” 

“I love you too, Jamie,” she whispered. 

His hand was still cupping her cheek, keeping her face lifted toward him. He found himself growing lost in the whisky of her eyes. His thumb stroked back and forth over her jaw, reveling in the feeling of the silky skin. 

But he could tell that fatigue was dragging her under again. She blinked slowly, trying to keep her eyes open as if she wanted to stay connected with him, but eventually they fluttered closed and didn’t open again. 

Jamie felt a tug in his stomach— a sharp pull of grief. He just wanted more time! He wanted to bask in the joy of being married to her. He wanted to call her Mrs. Fraser and make love to his wife. God, he wanted—

There were too many things he wanted that he would never have. Sitting there on the grass as his new wife faded before his very eyes, he knew he couldn’t waste any more time. 

He pressed a kiss to her forehead, finding it clammy, and then another to her curls. 

“I love you, Mrs. Fraser,” he whispered under his breath, “I’ll love you for all of my days.” 

He gathered her up again, repositioning her limp and malleable body, and then stood. She felt so light in his arms. A burden only to his broken heart to see her like this. 

His heart pounding in his chest, he began carrying her toward the stones. 

***

Claire drifted, floating and falling at the same time. Grasping at awareness was like reaching through the mist, holding on to nothing substantial. 

She swirled in vague feelings of joy. Images of the ceremony with Jamie flashed through her mind on repeat. Glimpses of his face, the tie around their hands, the feeling of his lips. The words in his soft, Scottish brogue. Promising to love her forever. 

It was just out of reach. What should have been the perfect moment was shrouded in thick fog that threatened to suffocate Claire. 

Her head went under the water again. She could tell she was in motion. Strong, familiar arms carried her. But beyond that, everything seemed to fade away. 

*

She was dragged back to the surface sometime later by a sharp feeling of grief, like a stab through her very core. From some unknown source, it seared her, forced her brain to jolt into motion and her eyes to open. 

Blinking into the bright light, she found herself laying on the ground, Jamie’s arms around her upper body. He was curled over top of her, holding her to his chest in a tight embrace. 

He was saying something, what was he saying? 

“Please, Sassenach, please wake up.” 

His face was pressed into her hair, and she could distantly feel his tears wetting her skin. 

She tried to open her mouth to tell him she was awake and he didn't have to worry, but no words came out. Her stomach clenched, and she was hit by another wave of grief. Jarring, agonizing. 

It was coming from him. 

“Jamie?” she forced out. 

Her head was swimming. Keeping her eyes open was a feat in itself, and she couldn’t seem to grasp what was going on. 

“Sassenach!” 

He drew back, and she took in sight of his tear streaked face before her brain could process what she was seeing. He looked wrecked, his blue eyes shining with a hollowness that sent enough adrenaline through her veins to keep her conscious. 

“What’s going on?” her lips managed to form the words as her insides twisted in on themselves. 

“It’s time to go home now,” he said as his hand came up to cradle her cheek. His thumb was gently stroking, soft and tender, and her mind drifted away from his words. 

“Good, let’s go home,” she murmured. 

“No, Claire,” the way he said her name made her perk up again, blinking in an attempt to keep her wits, “look where we are.” 

For the first time, Claire managed to look beyond Jamie’s face, and she noticed the grey shapes surrounding them, rising into the sky in a foreboding way that made her blood turn cold. 

Before she could say anything, Jamie was speaking. “Listen to me. Ye have tae go through the stones, Claire. Ye’re cut off from yer energy source. Ye canna stay in this realm or ye’ll die.” 

The words couldn’t seem to penetrate. It was like she was wrapped in a thick cloud, and although she could hear his words, she couldn’t quite comprehend them. Jamie watched her with tear stained eyes as the words took a moment to sink in.

But the instant they did and her brain repeated back to her what he’d said, she was doused in a wave of icy panic. Panic that consumed her entire soul, but she was too tired to feel it with real intensity. Instead, it was like she was frozen, paralyzed as she watched the ground underneath her feet give way, crumbling into nothingness.  

“No,” she whispered, too weak to do more than that. “No.” 

She tried to shake her head. She would have been yelling and screaming if she could have, but her neck wouldn’t even move. “No.”

“There isna any choice,” Jamie sounded shattered, “I canna let ye die.”

“I’ll die without you,” she mustered, frustrated at how trapped she felt. She couldn’t let him do this. She had to fight. But her useless body betrayed her. 

That bloody, heroic fool. Don’t you see? Sending me back will kill me more surely than if I stayed — she wanted to yell. 

“No, you won’t,” Jamie choked, his hand reaching up to stroke her cheek, “ye’ll have a life. Ye’ll survive.”

“I won’t go,” came her breathy words. 

Darkness was pulling at her again. It shrouded her senses, clogging her mind even as her heart raced in horror. 

Everything was ending and she was powerless to do anything. 

“Please,” Jamie was begging now, his tears dripping down his face and falling on her skin. The image of her beloved above her wavered for a second, coming in and out of focus, but she could tell he was just as wrecked as she. “Please, lass. Dinna argue. I canna bear it.”

This time, it was her throat that refused to move. Words failed her as the inky blackness threatened the edges of her vision. 

With all her strength, she managed to shake her head with exhausted but clear conviction. 

“I willna let ye die. I canna let ye stay and fade away while knowin’ that I could have saved ye. Ye canna stay.” 

Her vision faded out for a second, but she could tell the tenor of his voice was changing with those words. He no longer sounded broken and wrecked. He sounded… resigned. 

When she fought to regain her senses and the sight of him came back into focus, his face was as hard as the stones looming behind him. 

“I won’t go.” Her words were so weak, like tiny waves lapping against a massive cliff. 

“Ye must,” he said firmly. 

She wanted to cry. Claire desperately wanted her Jamie back— the one who would tenderly take her in his arms and hold close while whispering words of love. Telling her they’d be together for eternity. Gentle and giving. It wasn’t that this Jamie wasn’t tender— he was holding her close with such concern— but he pushing her away at the same time, resolution forming a coldness that made tears flow down her cheeks. 

She hadn’t known that she’d closed her eyes until she felt a thumb swiping over her cheeks and she realized she saw only blackness. 

“I’m so sorry,” his voice was softer now, grief breaking through the facade of strength, “I ken ye dinna want to go. I ken ye want to fight and scream and cry but ye dinna have the strength. This isna fair. But it’s time now.”

He was still speaking, voice low and solemn. “I need ye to ken, Claire, that I love ye with all of my heart and soul. And I will love ye until the day I die. I would have given everything to spare ye this pain. But ye have to go on and live... for me.”

She barely had time to take those words and hold them in her heart, treasuring them in a sacred space, knowing it would be all she had left of him. 

Claire wished desperately she could say them back. But her tongue had grown impossibly heavy again, and the invisible hand of sorrow and panic gripped her by the throat. 

He was moving, picking her up in his arms and lifting her. 

“Jamie. No,” she whispered brokenly, with all the fight she had left in her. 

“I love ye,” he said, the stony resolve etching itself into his face again. 

“Please,” she begged, “please. I love you.” 

He looked down at her, stricken. She almost felt bad for what her pleading was doing to him, but she couldn’t let him do this. She couldn’t be parted from him. 

But he was leaning down and pressing his lips to hers. The kiss was incredibly soft. Gentle. As if he were scared that she would fall apart but desperate to savor her one last time. 

Then, all too quickly, he was pulling away and setting her down to lay just in front of the center stone. As her body settled prone on the ground, she was forced to look up at the looming height of her destiny. 

“No,” she whimpered, shattered, but her voice barely came out as more than a breath, and he likely couldn’t even hear her. 

The swirling grey of fatigue clouded her vision as Jamie pulled her upright, propped against his chest. She couldn’t see him anymore since they were both facing the stone. She couldn’t look into his eyes one last time. She couldn’t memorize the beautiful lines of his face. 

She couldn’t fight. 

He took her hand in his, lifting her boneless arm up, slowly. 

“Goodb—“ the word caught in his throat, choking it off. 

She could feel his chest expand against her back as he took a deep, shaky breath. 

“I love you, mo Sorcha,” he murmured into her ear as he raised her hand. 

No. Stop. Stopstopstopstop—

Her body didn’t move. Spots flashed in front of her vision. Her heart was pounding wildly in her chest. 

His one last, final “I love you,” echoed in her ears as Jamie pushed her hand forward, and it made contact with the stone. 

Blackness took her. The solid strength of his body disappeared from behind her, and her own body was sucked away, torn into shreds and crushed and mangled. 

She tried to scream, but no sound came out. 

***

Jamie screamed, agony tearing from his chest quite against his will as his arms held only empty air where Claire had been only an instant before. 

She was gone. 

He felt himself shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, the pain so unspeakable that he couldn’t even breathe. 

Before his mind realized what he was doing, his own arms were raising and he was pounding his hands flat against the surface of the stone. 

“Take me too!” He yelled. 

But nothing happened. He stayed seated in the grass in front of the stone, truly and horribly motionless. 

He hit the stone again, his lungs constricting as he began to pound against it— over and over— his grief pouring out of him. 

“Please. Please. Take me with her,” he sobbed, “please. Take me.”

He hit it until his palms bled and his blood stained the surface of the stone. 

***

Claire awoke feeling like her body had been buried beneath the earth for some time. For all she knew, it had. Perhaps she was dead. It felt like she was dead. 

As awareness slowly broke through the fog of her exhaustion, she found herself laying on top of the ground rather than below it. Grass was pricking at her skin. She forced her eyes open and caught sight of the stones looming above her. 

And then the terrible reality of what had just happened came crashing down at her. 

“No,” she cried out, her voice hoarse and barely there, “no.” 

But it was true. Jamie was gone from her. She was gone. 

She attempted to push herself up, managing to get up onto her elbows before her traitorous arms gave way and she slammed back down onto the ground. 

“Take me back!” She tried to yell, her voice gaining intensity despite her exhaustion, “I have to go back!” 

Abandoning the idea of standing, she pushed her hands underneath herself and tried to drag her body forward, toward the stones. 

“I have to go back,” her voice was fading, the screams in her heart coming out only as a faint whisper. 

She collapsed down again, and familiar blackness stole into the corners of her vision. She tried to fight it, tried to fight the wave of nausea overtaking her, but she was powerless. 

She couldn’t go back. 

Darkness took her again. 

***

Chapter Text

When a hermit crab dies, its shell is left behind, sitting at the bottom of the ocean. Empty and lifeless, it remains motionless as the waves cover it with sand.

Jamie had once owned a hermit crab. After it had died, it rattled him that the beautiful shell that looked so much like his pet remained even though the crab was gone. 

Now, Jamie himself was nothing more than a hollowed out shell. 

He knew his heart was gone, every ounce of love within him ripped away, but what had surprised him was that it was as if she’d taken his very body with her as well as his soul. He didn’t have the energy for even the most basic tasks. Food was tasteless. His vision seemed foggy. As tired as he was, he couldn’t sleep. Life seemed to happen around him, but he hardly managed to bring himself along with it. He was being buried under the weight of the emptiness. 

Nothingness shouldn’t have been so heavy. 

He spent three weeks laying in his bed. Barely eating, barely moving. 

Jamie was aware that he was wasting away, but he couldn’t seem to care. Claire wouldn’t want him to give up without her. Even more compelling, he wouldn’t want her to act like this without him. Even as he’d sent her back through the stones, he’d told her to live a good life without him. He wanted her to be able to move on. Except he couldn’t bring himself to do the same, and he never would. After knowing the joy of a full life, there seemed nothing left for him in this hollow existence. 

If he could have reached out and grasped onto some sort of hope in his new life without her— not that any seemed to exist— he still would have chosen not to. All the right decisions, the healthy decisions, the ways to cope and move forward— they all seemed like a betrayal. He didn’t want to move on; he wanted Claire back. 

The first time he’d uttered the horrible truth of Claire’s absence outloud was when Murtagh had forced it out of him. His godfather had come banging on his door after Jamie had ignored his texts for weeks, eventually barging in on Jamie’s state of depressed chaos. He had dragged him out of bed, forced food down his throat, and shoved him in the shower. After Jamie looked less like a corpse, Murtagh coaxed the story out of him— at least, the only story Jamie could give. 

“She’s gone,” he forced out. Hearing the words aloud was like a knife to the gut. He’d known they were true— every beat of his heart without the answering one of hers next to him made that truth abundantly clear. But being forced to say it aloud brought a whole new level of pain. 

Murtagh clearly didn’t know whether he meant she’d broken up with him or died. His godfather tried to probe him for details, but Jamie didn’t have it in him to explain anymore. 

“There’s nothin’ left for me,” Jamie rasped, “she was it. Claire—” his voice broke on her name, but he forced it out, finding some amount of reverence in the shape of it on his lips, “ Claire was my heart and soul. I dinna ken what to do, a ghoistidh.” 

“Ye do what ye have to, lad,” Murtagh said firmly, “ye keep going.” 

“How?” he looked up at him with tears shining in his eyes. “How can I keep going without her?” 

Murtagh brows drew together as he grew thoughtful. His expression reflected the gravity of the situation. His godfather knew that he was desperate for a reason to keep going, crying out for help. Words couldn’t heal him, but something had to be said. Murtagh took his time before saying them, very carefully. 

“Ye’re no’ without her, though. No’ really. Ye’ll carry her memory wi’ ye. Ye keep going, and ye bring her wi’ ye, even if it’s no’ in the way ye would have liked.” 

Jamie swallowed the bile rising in his throat. All he could hear was buzzing, the cotton in his ears growing somehow thicker. 

“I don’t want to,” he forced out, shaking his head, “I don’t—”

The meager contents of Jamie’s stomach rose, and he rushed to the trash can before collapsing to his knees and heaving into it. The grief in his heart tried to force its way out of his body, and he wished it could just end this and tear him from inside out. Murtagh hovered behind him, offering him a wet towel, and Jamie sat back heavily against the cool wall. 

“I ken she wouldna want me tae give up,” Jamie said quietly, barely above a whisper, “but I just dinna want tae keep going.”

Murtagh’s eyes swam with emotion and his face crumpled underneath his beard as his brain came to a conclusion. Clearly his godfather thought the love of Jamie’s life had truly died. And she may as well have been to Jamie, or maybe she had actually di—

The fear that Jamie had been fighting for weeks rose inside him again. It was possible that Claire really was dead. More than just possible. She’d said coming through the stones had been torture, and she’d been so weak afterwards when Jamie had found her the first time she’d gone through. He could only imagine what the trip had done to his barely conscious lass, hanging on by a thread. Or maybe he had waited too long and it had been too late. Maybe she’d gotten back and was too weak to even draw energy anymore. Maybe she’d died on that hill, all alone, grieving his loss as much as he grieved hers.  

This fear haunted him, both waking and sleeping, tearing him into pieces. Seeing Murtagh’s face as the man thought Jamie was mourning her death, Jamie wasn’t so sure he wasn’t . He wished he could know what became of her— anything to stop this horrible speculating that churned his mind. But he was left in the dark. Left to hold on to the tiny comfort that he had done what had to be done. 

For his wife. 

Jamie let his head fall onto his knees, hugging his arms around them so they were pressed tightly to his chest. 

“Jamie. I willna allow ye to waste yerself away,” Murtagh said firmly. “I ken ye’re hurting, and I would never suggest ye ignore it. I only ask that you take care of yerself, even when ye dinna want to. If not for the memory of her, then do it for me, aye?” 

He raised his red-ringed eyes enough to see his godfather, and he realized there was real fear lingering on Murtagh’s face. 

As much as he wanted to let himself fade away, he could never do that to the man sitting in front of him who he loved so dearly. 

“Alright,” Jamie agreed, “alright.” 

***

When Jamie was young, his parents had a yearly tradition where they would send him to his grandfather’s house to stay for a couple of nights. His grandfather was loving enough, but every time Jamie went, he was overcome with intense homesickness. He would cry himself to sleep each night of the visit, feeling like the guest room was freezing to the bone as he imagined the warmth of Lallybroch. 

Every day now felt like that homesickness magnified a hundredfold. 

Claire had been the true home of his heart. Jamie longed and ached for her in ways he hadn’t known possible. 

Only that home had been lost. And he was left lying awake at night dreaming of her warmth and missing her with every fiber of his being.

***

While driving on the highway during a long road trip, inevitably one will see a plastic bag being blown down the road. Aimless, empty, and completely at the mercy of the wind. Jamie would watch them sometimes, tracing their progress before they drifted away. But he never asked himself where it would end up because it didn’t matter. The bag would simply continue on, moving forward without a destination. 

Jamie was no more than a bit of plastic pushed by the breeze. He stayed rooted to his life only by his promise to Murtagh. He began to go about his days with empty precision. He would wake up at 8, brush his teeth, eat one cup of parritch, and head into work. Every night he would come straight home, take a 30 minute walk around his property, cook himself dinner, and fall asleep to the murmurs of the tv. 

On the rare nights when he allowed himself out of his robot-like trance, he would venture into the closet of the guest bedroom where Claire’s dresses still hung, and he would bury his nose in it, hugging it close to his chest, searching desperately for a whiff of her earthy-rose scent. 

On those nights, he would cry himself to sleep. 

Jamie continued on, but he had no idea what he was moving toward. 

***

When he was a lad of about 5, he and Willie had gone out to the barn to play. They had a bit of rope with them, and Willie thought it would be fun to try to walk a baby goat like they walked their dog, Rufus. They’d fashioned a leash for the poor thing, but when the time came to “walk” it, the animal had simply laid on its side as he and Willie had dragged it through the dirt, wailing its disapproval but not moving a muscle until Jamie’s parents had run out and grounded them for a week. For the goat, there hadn’t been so much active resistance as simply a complete shut down. 

When Jenny showed up at Jamie’s door one night, ordering him to get in the car to come over to dinner, Jamie had simply obeyed. Getting dragged was easier than fighting. 

She’d driven him straight to Lallybroch, where she, Ian, and the brood resided, and Jamie somehow managed to find a weak smile within himself for the sake of his nieces and nephew. 

As soon as he came through the door, he was overcome by a stampede of little feet and grabbing hands. Chubby arms wrapped around his legs, his hands were grasped, and his body became a playground. 

“Weans! Where are yer manners?! Say hi to Uncle Jamie!” Jenny admonished. 

“Hi, Uncle,” came the obedient responses from wee Jamie and Maggie. 

Before Jamie even had a chance to respond, he was obliterated by an innocent, well meaning question that cut him the core. 

“Uncle Jamie, where is Ms. Claire? Can she come to dinner too?” 

Jamie froze, every muscle coiled up on instinct from hearing that name. He’d tried to numb it out, tried to let himself get dragged on through life without the roadblock that was any mention of his lost love. 

Jenny knew, of course. Murtagh had told her about Claire’s “death”. Her face shown with sympathy as she watched Jamie stumble back onto the bench seat behind him. He sat down hard, pressing his hands to face, and peered down at wee Jamie. 

His voice was thick, nearly unrecognizable, when he managed to force out the following words: 

“She’s gone to live forever with the faeries.”

His eyes flicked up toward Jenny, whose face showed raw grief. She may not have liked Claire much, but hearing about her death spoken in such terms, or at least seeing Jamie like this, seemed to wreck her. 

Only somehow, speaking those words— the truth, disguised as a fairytale for children— actually freed a tiny knot in Jamie’s chest. 

Wee Jamie looked both disappointed and intrigued at the news. 

“Gone to live wi’ the faeries?” he echoed. 

“Aye,” Jamie nodded. He glanced up at Jenny again, and then back at the weans. Every thought in his head seemed to vanish, and he hadn’t decided to do anything, but his body was moving. He leaned down closer and gestured them toward him. Lowering his voice, he said, “can I tell ye a secret? If ye promise ye willna tell?” 

Both children nodded eagerly, waiting with baited breath. 

“Claire is a faerie. I found her on the faerie hill one day, and I took her in. She wasna meant to be here, you see, it was an accident. But we fell in love, and she decided to stay.” 

“But why did she go back then?” wee Jamie asked. 

Jamie swallowed hard. “She… well, she ran out of faerie dust. She needed tae go back to live with the faeries so she could have all the faerie dust she needs.” 

Tears gathered in his eyes, and he had to blink hard not to shed them. 

“I”m sorry ye lost yer faerie, Uncle Jamie,” Maggie said, reaching out her hand to rest it gently on Jamie’s knee. 

He took it in his, marveling at just how small it was. But brought him comfort, and for the first time in the past three weeks, he thought maybe he wasn’t entirely alone in the world. 

“Me too, Maggie. Me too.” 

***

Chapter Text

The garden reminded him of her in the best and worst way. At least going outside to the tranquility of the Scottish dreich— overcast sky and wind whipping at his face— made him feel something. The garden was supposed to be hers. Jamie was hopeless with plants; he killed nearly everything that required his care. But his lass— his sweet wife— she had known exactly how to make the plants grow and thrive with life. 

Just like she’d done to him. 

Only without her, the garden was as barren as Jamie himself. 

Sitting down next to the depressing patch of earth, Jamie buried his hands into the dirt. He clutched at it, curling his fingers around the mud as if it were his wife herself to which he was holding on. Distantly, he felt hot tears streaking their way down his face. 

He couldn’t help it when he thought of her. 

Jamie couldn’t even remember why he’d come out here. Maybe it was to feel close to her. But now all he felt was that terrible longing that tore him limb from limb. He ached to hold her again. He cursed himself for squandering the time they’d had. The warmth of her body in his arms was now nothing more than a fading memory that left him closing his eyes against the sharp sting of the past. 

The one thing he couldn’t bring himself to regret was marrying her. Because now, during his lowest moments, when all he had was the dirt under his fingernails to hold on to, he could say softly to himself... “ my wife .” 

Bringing a sleeve up to swipe at his tears, Jamie took a deep breath. Repeating “wife,” in his mind like a mantra, he picked up the spade he had brought with him. 

“For my wife,” he murmured as he broke the ground. 

***

Jamie worked for hours on the garden. He tore up the weeds, added potting soil, planted his seeds, and gave them water. Finally, he sat back, looking at the bare patch of ground that would hopefully one day be bursting with life. 

He made a promise to himself— or to her, he wasn’t entirely certain, because it was for her that he made the promise— that he would continue on long enough to see the garden flourish. In her memory. 

And if it took him the rest of his days, he would keep trying. At least he could pretend he was doing one last thing for her. 

Tears were rolling down his cheeks again. It was funny, he never seemed to notice when he started crying these days. He simply became aware after the fact. His body was just so used to living in a constant state of grief that it didn’t think to notify him when the tears actually escaped instead of saying trapped inside. 

He was standing. He’d meant to go inside. But at this fresh wave of tears, he sat down heavily on the ground again. Burying his face in his dirty palms, he let the sobs out. He cried until his insides hurt. 

God, lass. I miss ye so much I can hardly breathe. 

He found himself doing that more and more— talking to her ghost. The memory of her that would haunt him for the rest of his days. 

But he’d never seen her before. Not until he looked up in the moment, through his tears, and imagined her walking toward him across the moor. Clothed in her white dress, the very one he’d sent her away in, his vision was the image of perfection. Her curls blew in the wind, whipping around her head. Although she was too far away from him to see her face, he’d imagined she was wearing a smile. Damn his fantasies for not being closer. Even so, it was probably fitting that she was that far out of reach. 

Only when he blinked, she was still there. Coming closer. He shook his head and looked again. The image drew closer still. 

His heart beating wildly in his chest, Jamie shot to his feet. He swayed a little, the blood rushing to his head, but he didn’t once take his eyes off the ethereal vision. 

The second he was standing, the figure broke out into a run toward him.  

Oh Christ. 

Oh Good Lord in Heaven. 

It was her. 

It was really her. 

Claire. 

Jamie didn’t have time to feel. He didn’t have time to think. His feet were taking off, carrying him in the fastest sprint of his life. 

He didn’t have time to question whether he was losing his mind. He simply knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was her, in the same way he’d known she was not human the first time he’d laid eyes on her or known they were meant to be together. He couldn’t question what he knew to be true. He simply needed to go to her. His body commanded him when his brain had completely shut down. And so he went, pumping his legs with all his might. 

It was almost like awareness blinked out. He could see her running faster, coming closer, but everything in the world stopped until the very moment when she crashed into him. 

Her body. Real. alive. Knocking him flat on his back. 

All the air whooshed out of his lungs as he hit the ground, her body on top of him adding to the impact. 

But then her mouth was covering his and the breath was knocked out of him for an entirely different reason. 

Everything about her consumed him. Her lips on his, kissing as if her life depended on it. Her body spread down the length of his— soft and small and real and alive . Her gasping breaths that she took against his lips. Her soft cry of “Jamie,” into his mouth. The wetness of her tears against his face.

He couldn’t breathe let alone answer her. His hands had come up around her, holding on for dear life. He kissed her with all his soul and every ounce of life in his body. 

When his brain finally caught up enough, her name fell from his lips in what was nearly a whimper. “Claire?” 

She withdrew her lips for long enough to nod, gazing down on him with those whisky eyes that made him feel like he would combust. 

“Yes, Jamie,” she gasped out, nodding her head earnestly.

A cry tore from Jamie’s throat and then they were kissing again, their mouths clashing in passion and longing and tenderness all at the same time. 

He broke them apart just long enough to muster a bewildered— but very, very grateful— “ye’re here?” 

She shook her head this time, her smile spreading over her features and warming Jamie to the very marrow of his bones. 

“I’m here. I’ll explain later. Please, just kiss me.”

And so he did. He shot up to a sitting position, taking Claire with him so he could hold her astride his lap. He took her whole body in his arms, enveloping her as much as he could possibly manage, and then he kissed her for all he was worth. 

He poured every ounce of heartbreak he’d experienced over the last three weeks into the kiss, finding his heart shattered still but mending with every press of her lips, every wee sound she made into his mouth, and the way her hands tugged at his curls and roamed over his body as if she couldn't get enough of touching him. 

His faerie. 

Home.

Nothing felt more right than holding her safe in his arms again. Buzzing with life and holding him back just as fiercely. 

His breath hitched in his lungs as he tried to draw in air, his body reeling from the emotion coursing through his veins. One person probably shouldn’t have experienced this much joy following such intense grief. It shouldn’t have been possible. He felt like he was about to have a stroke; he was so deliriously happy. He felt like he was floating, disembodied yet experiencing everything so acutely. 

“I love you,” tore from his throat and was caught by her mouth. 

That had been the last thing he’d said to her. Those three words were the most important he could ever say. He would repeat them so long as she was there to hear him and there was breath in his lungs. 

His hand was gripping tightly in her hair, and he used his hold to gently tear her away from his lips so he could lock eyes with her. Pouring out his heart, he repeated, “Christ, Claire. I’ve been dying. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said, a tear tracking down her cheek in a perfect line. 

He shook his head doggedly and immediately brought his hand up to brush it away. 

“Please, mo ghraidh. No tears. As long as ye’re in my arms, there isnae room for tears.” 

“I’m crying because I’m happy, Jamie,” she whispered, a breathless laugh accompanying her watery smile. 

“Oh God, Claire. I’ve never been happier.” 

He kissed her again. Just like the first time she’d kissed him, her mouth made him feel grounded and uprooted all at once. He was so incredibly lost in her. The reality of her presence and her love filled his senses until nothing existed except her. 

Claire broke free of his lips with a muffled “Hey. I thought you said no tears.” 

Both of her hands came up to cup his cheeks and her thumbs bushed away tears he hadn’t even realized were wetting his face.

He chuckled breathlessly and reached for her face as well to wipe away the moisture there. 

“Alright. Maybe that rule starts tomorrow, then.” 

As the word tomorrow left his lips, fear suddenly seized his gut, making his blood run cold. He stiffened and tried to steel himself enough to force out the question that could potentially rip him from the inside out. “Ye are… ye’ll be here tomorrow… aye?” he asked, failing to keep the tremor from his voice. 

“Yes, Jamie,” Claire breathed, “I’ll be here today, tomorrow, and the rest of your days. If ye’ll have me?” Her voice raised at the end in question.  

Jamie wasted no time in answering, his voice heavy with reverence, “Of course I’ll have you. My wife .”

When his mind made it past the earth-shattering immediacy of her, beyond the sorrow of the past month, and finally beyond the satisfaction of calling her wife, he suddenly remembered with acute and heartbreaking clarity why he’d sent her back through the stones in the first place. Christ, how had he forgotten? The memory came crashing down on him with unbearable gravity, freezing him once again. 

“Oh Christ,” he tore away from her like he’d been bitten, “oh God, Claire, ye canna be here. Ye canna stay, ye’ll die. I willna see ye wasting away again, I canna bear it. Ye have to go back. Ye—“

“Jamie,” Claire spoke his name with a serenity mixed with what was nearly a chuckle as she cut off the frantic stream of words. When he still looked at her wildly, clutching her as if she’d turn to dust, she repeated, more sternly this time, “Jamie. I figured out how I can stay on this plane.” 

Jamie stopped his frantic motions where he’d been pawing at her sides like he could pull her into himself. 

“What? How—“ 

Claire gestured to her chest, and only then did Jamie’s eyes flick down and take in the sight of a large opal resting on a golden chain. It was about the size of a newborn’s fist, pearly white with streaks of color running through it. Ethereal and otherworldly, just like Claire herself. 

“It’s a long story. Please, Jamie. I— I’ve been so lonely and so heartbroken without you that I felt I must surely die. I just… I want to feel you.” 

He could never say no to her before, so he never even stood a chance against the request made with such pleading from within those teary eyes. Jamie felt exactly the same— like if they stopped touching for even a moment then the reality of the situation would be ripped away. 

“You can touch me now,” he breathed. 

Tightening his arms around her where she sat in his lap, Jamie crushed her to his chest. He ran his hands up and down her back— caressing or simply feeling, he didn’t know— until his hands came up to frame her face. Holding her between his palms, he brought his lips slowly back to capture hers. 

They sat there for a long time, alone on the moor save the presence of the wind and the strength of their love that seemed to hum around them. The world that had been so empty only minutes before was now bursting with life. 

Still, a prickle of unease crawled its way into the back of his mind, interrupting his unfathomable joy. He couldn’t stand to let the perfection of her be ruined by his worries. Reluctantly, he drew back again, Claire whining and chasing his lips as he did. 

“As much as I didna think I could ever refuse to kiss ye, I’m afraid I canna rest until I hear the whole story and ken ye’re safe. Will ye come inside?” The question was a bit shy, almost hesitant. As if there were some small part of him afraid she would say no. 

“Yes,” she breathed, with such solemnity it was as if she was agreeing to spend her life with him. And really, she was. 

His wife. 

Extricating herself from him and managing to get her legs back underneath her, Claire stood from his lap. Jamie scrambled up beside her just as she was starting to turn to look in the direction of the house. 

Feeling unsettled again, Jamie lowered his eyes and stepped up toward her side as his heartbeat thundered in his chest. 

“Hold my hand?” he requested, fixing his beseeching gaze on her, “I think I may die if I let ye go even for a moment.” 

It was true. If they weren’t touching, he felt like she’d dissolve in front of him and send him catapulting back into the hollow darkness. 

“Jamie Fraser, if I had it my way, I’d never let go for even a second,” she said, her smile wide and so sweet it made Jamie’s knees go rubbery and banished the lingering disquiet in his heart. It was like a key fitting into a lock inside him to see his smile. His whole being seemed to breathe a sigh. 

There was his faerie. 

Even before he’d left her, she’d been too weak to be her usual self. But seeing her— playful and clingy and so endearing all at once— made him want to fall to his knees and give thanks to the Lord. He certainly would, he already was, but for now, he’d stay on his feet and take Claire inside. 

She slipped her hand into his before he’d even finished thinking all this. Her wee palm slotted into his, where it fit so perfectly. Two halves of one whole. Too long had his hand been empty. 

Every little thing she did felt monumental to his tortured soul. 

They walked side by side toward the house, quiet as both of them came to terms with the immensity of their emotions. 

But just before they reached the door, Jamie suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He pulled Claire to a stop next to him before she could take another step. 

“Wait,” he said. 

Abruptly, he leaned down and scooped Claire up off her feet and into his arms. She laughed in surprise, and her arms came around his neck to hold on. 

“Jamie, I’m fine,” she laughed, “I’m perfectly capable of walking—”

He looked down at her, his smile growing with every passing second. 

“I ken,” he said, feeling like his heart was going to burst. “It’s jes’ a human tradition. The first time a husband and wife step foot in their home, the husband carries his bride over the threshold.”

Claire looked nearly wrecked by this as her lips turned down in a smile that was so full of emotion she couldn't even contain it. 

“Oh,” she said softly, “well. Carry on, then, husband .” 

Hearing that word from her lips had the power to make him drop her, only she was far too precious cargo for that. Finding his footing both physically and emotionally, Jamie managed to take the few steps forward and cross the threshold. Bringing his new wife home. 

***

They laid face-to-face in bed, Jamie tracing the lines of Claire’s face. He was absolutely fixated. What had only been a dream and a painful memory to him for the last month was right there in front of him, bathed in the soft light of his lamp and smiling like her heart was in her lips. Jamie could stare at her for hours— would even, before the day was done— and he couldn’t stop touching her. He’d trace over her skin until his fingers were convinced of its reality, and then he’d do it some more. 

“Alright, lass. Please, tell me the story?” 

Claire, stubborn as ever, leaned in to press a peck to his lips before she settled in to explain. 

“When I woke up… after…” she had to swallow barely five words into her account, “I thought I was dead. Only it was worse. I tried to get back to the stones. Jamie, I was ready to come back.” 

At this moment, Jamie started to protest, feeling like his guts were being torn out, but Claire stopped him with a shake of her head. “But fate had other plans. Because even as I crawled toward the stones, I lost consciousness again. When I woke the second time, I was with another fae. He’d taken me away from that place.” 

Jamie’s eyes widened, and he felt his heart start to beat faster despite the fact that she lay there next to him, safe and sound. 

“I had never met him before, but somehow he seemed to know things. I must have babbled about you in my delirium, because he knew your name. He knew… he knew I loved you and lost you. He was patient but firm as I begged and pleaded for him to take me back to the stones.”

Claire took a deep breath, the pain she had been through shining in her eyes. “When I was well enough to speak, he asked me to tell him the story. So I did. I didn’t have anything left to lose, I just let it all out. When I had finished everything, he finally explained who he was.” 

“His name was Ottertooth. I still don’t know why he was helping me. Best I could figure, he had a fascination with the stones, maybe even with the human plane. I think... “ she took a breath, “I think maybe I was an experiment to him. He told me that there was a way to exist in the human realm. A stone that could connect me to the energy of our plane.”

Jamie perked up at this, eyeing the stone around her neck with gratitude and budding hope. 

“He took me across the land to a cave. One he called Abandawe. It was there that I would find the stone. Only… it didn’t come free.” She lowered her eyes, as if hesitating over whether she wanted to tell him the next part, so he prompted her with a gentle, “it’s alright. Tell me.” 

“To come here, to the human plane, I had to be marked. I… I had to give something up.” 

Jamie felt his blood turn to ice. He sat up as Claire did, but remained rooted in place and she turned around. She dropped the straps of her dress and shrugged the back lower. 

He couldn’t manage to stifle the gasp that rose inside him at the sight. Her beautiful, delicate wings bore three stripes each, deep gashes that had since turned black, marring their perfection. They were like claw marks, branding her. As if drawn by some invisible force, Jamie reached out and traced just above one gash, feeling his heartbeat in his throat. 

“It’s a mark, nothing more. It shows I am an outcast,” she said, voice nonchalant, “That was the sacrifice, you see. To get the stone and the ability to remain for good on the human plane, I had to renounce my own realm. Give up my place among the fair folk. But it was a small price to pay for this stone.” Her words were light, and Jamie didn’t doubt the truth of her heart, but he knew that it had not been a “small price.” Not in the least. 

Claire continued on before he could say anything. “I laid in pain for days afterward, but it was nothing compared to how I felt before… before I had hope of returning to you.” 

Jamie let out a whine of distress. He could imagine her, those perfect wings lying crumpled and leaving her in agony. 

For him. 

“And that was that. I had the stone then. As soon as I could get to my feet, I made my way back to the standing stones. I made it through, and when I woke up on the other side, I couldn’t waste any time. I started walking and walking. And, well… you know the rest.” 

She turned back to him then, readjusting the straps of her dress and giving him a reassuring smile. 

Jamie couldn’t find words, but his heart broke. “Christ, Claire. I’m so sorry. Yer wings… Yer people…” 

A hand on his face cut him off. It was a tender touch, loving, but it left no room for his argument. 

“I told you, Jamie. I paid the price happily. And I would do it a thousand times over to be with you.” 

Jamie had no idea what to say. Tears beaded at his eyes, and he had to inhale sharply. 

“I’m… I’m so verra grateful that ye came back, Claire,” he finally managed, his eyes shining. He knew she wasn’t looking for thanks, but in the light of her sacrifice, he couldn’t let it go unsaid. 

“I’m so grateful I was given the chance,” Claire breathed in response. 

Jamie leaned in close, resting his forehead against hers and letting out a sigh. He held himself back to kissing her— from losing himself again in her nearness and affection. Instead, he asked, “so, as long as ye wear this gem, ye’ll be connected to yer realm? Ye’ll draw energy from it so ye can remain here?” 

Claire nodded against his forehead. “We can be together.” 

Jamie swallowed, hard. But this time, it wasn’t heartache or guilt choking his airways. It was her words— paired with the sight of the dress that had been her wedding dress slung low on her body— that brought desire coursing through every vein. 

He placed his hand around the back of her neck and drew her in so he could kiss her. Their lips melded together and her hands seemed to travel everywhere over his chest and back and shoulders. He sighed into her mouth before he pulled back to look her in the eyes. Her pupils were blown wide, turning the whisky color to only a thin ring. They held a dreamy look, glazed with longing. 

There was one thing on both of their minds. 

There scarcely could have been otherwise. 

They had been deprived of a wedding night. But here they were. Lying face to face in bed. Man and wife. 

“I love ye, Claire. And I meant what I told ye before I sent ye back. I love ye with all my heart and soul, and I promise I willna ever stop,” he breathed, edging closer. 

“I never got to tell you…” her breath hitched as he leaned in and began to trail kisses along her jaw, “you’re my everything. I love you. Jamie, I love you more than I ever thought possible to love another. And I promise you the same. Nothing will ever change that.” 

“Ye did tell me, Claire. Ye sacrificed yer people and endured so much— for me. And ye’re here.” 

Their eyes met, and matching shudders overtook them. With extreme tenderness, Jamie reached down and placed both of their wrists together, twining his hand around her arm just as he had that day when they were handfast. 

And all at once, it seemed the vows they had made could truly be fulfilled.

Two hearts became one. 

Two lives became one. 

And two forevers became one. 

Words seemed to have reached an end, and they were anxious to be near each other— body and soul, close in every way possible. 

They came together with tender touches and whispered words of love. All the sorrow was soothed in each other's arms. And with her, Jamie finally became whole. 

As they lay together afterward, basking in the nearness of each other, Jamie couldn’t help but keep leaning forward for more gentle kisses. 

“I love you. Now and forever,” he poured his heart out with the simple words.  

“You are my forever, Jamie Fraser,” she breathed. 

“And ye’re mine.” 

All that was left was to decide what to do with the eternity they’d been granted.  

***

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Jamie Fraser’s wife was perfect. Laying beside him in bed, her features relaxed in sleep and bathed in the soft morning light, Jamie couldn’t take his eyes off of her. His gaze trailed down, taking in the silkiness of her bare skin covered only by the sheet. Skin like pearl, everything about her seemed… soft. 

She was exquisite. The memories of the night before flooded his mind, and he couldn’t help but smile to himself. 

It took all his willpower not to reach out and touch her. Claire was a light sleeper, and his touch would certainly wake her. But after all she had been through, Jamie couldn’t possibly have disturbed her rest. He would simply wait and content himself with the image before him of his wife… his wife… safe in bed beside him. Perfect. Even the simple rhythm of her breaths was music to his ears.

The heartache of the last few weeks seemed so distant. As if he was invincible and nothing could touch him. That was all in the past, and nothing could shake his contentment at present. 

He would have happily stayed there and memorized every wrinkle and freckle and divot on her perfect face, but his bladder had other plans. Gingerly, Jamie slid himself out from under the sheet and off the bed before padding his way into the bathroom. He went about his business with the lazy contentment of someone who had all the time in the world. 

His heart felt so full. 

As he returned to the bedroom, he stretched out his arms, feeling his muscles ache with just the slightest amount of soreness. The gardening of the previous day felt like a lifetime ago. He sighed and let his eyelid close in a contented heavy blink. 

He had just rounded the corner into the bedroom when the serenity shattered around him like a balloon popping. 

The bed was entirely empty. 

His heart leapt to his throat and panic brought the blood rushing to his ears. 

Claire wouldn’t have left his bed. There was no way. She never rose before him, and especially after the separation, she would never have left without him. There was nothing for her to do in the house without him, no possible explanation....

His stomach lurched and bile rose in his throat. 

The grief that had felt so distant crashed down around his ears in an all too familiar wave. He found himself staring once again into the darkness, and it stole his breath. 

Staring at his bed, the sheets tangled only on one side and no imprint of Claire on the second pillow, the tears began. 

His head was shaking back and forth without conscious decision. 

Panic seemed to freeze his body and steal his mind. The only thought in his head was “gone. She’s gone.” 

He couldn’t survive being alone again. He’d barely survived sending her back, and to have lost her so soon after getting her back... he would simply lay down and die. 

His limbs wouldn’t move beyond the tremors that had started to travel through his muscles. He couldn’t seem to tear his gaze from the room, its emptiness heavy and apparent. The perfection of Claire’s light was gone, leaving the world in monotone greys and blacks once again. That brokenness in the pit of his stomach...

Alone. 

He whirled on his heel, his body suddenly bursting into action with the need to do something— anything to run from the debilitating chasm that lay in front of him— when he came face to face with a wide-eyed and startled Claire at the top of the steps. 

The air was punched out of him, and immediately he was in front of her and crushing her to his chest. He squeezed her to him with enough force that it was probably extremely uncomfortable for her, but he couldn’t seem to stop. His lungs were hitched in panicked breaths as his hand found the back of her head and he pushed it against his chest, holding her safe against him. 

She was there. Real and whole. In his arms. 

Claire was quite apparently startled. She had only just brought her hands up to hug him in return and was beginning to slide them up and down in back in confused reassurance. 

He buried his teary face in the top of her curls and let out a shaky exhale, trapping her even closer to him. 

“Jamie?” came her muffled voice from against his chest. 

He felt her body was tense with concern, and he had to force himself to calm the raging storm of emotion inside before he overwhelmed her. Her hands were flat on his back now, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was sensing his turmoil and worried out of her mind. 

“I came back to find you gone, and I…” 

“You thought you’d lost me again,” she whispered in understanding, sounding sympathetic without any judgement. 

They were both quiet for a second, and she melted against him, allowing him to hold her close. 

“I’m sorry I scared you,” she breathed, “I just woke up and you weren’t there, so I went downstairs to look for you.” 

Jamie shook his head, his face brushing against her curls. “It wasna yer fault. I jes’ lost my mind for a minute,” he chuckled breathlessly. His fear betrayed him, causing his voice to tremor. 

Claire drew back, and his knee-jerk reaction was to tense in alarm. 

“Come here,” she said softly, taking his hand in hers. 

She led him back into the bedroom and sat him down on the edge of the bed before joining him. Claire never once let go of his hand, and her thumb brushed across his knuckles as she looked into his eyes with a searching look. 

“You didn’t lose your mind,” she said, voice thick with understanding, “these last few weeks… they must have been torture for you.” 

She went quiet then, intentionally leaving space in the silence, and looked at him expectantly. 

“It was,” Jamie breathed in barely a whisper, dreading sending his mind back to that dark place. But he knew he needed to get it out, and she knew it too. “I... “ he couldn’t continue as his voice caught in his throat. He swallowed and tried to start again. “I was alive, but I wasna living. I didna want to go on.” 

She was trying to keep herself under control, but his words had sparked fear in her eyes. And rightly so. 

“I didna hurt myself...” Jamie tried to allay her worry, “but I wanted to. I wished I could end it all sometimes....” 

It was like he was standing in that darkness once again, facing down his loneliness with nothing more than the memory of her to keep him going. 

Her free hand moved to stroke up and down his bicep. Warm and comforting. He took a breath. 

“Losing you and continuin’ on… was the hardest thing I’d ever done…” Jamie said shakily, “and I dinna ken… when I came back to the room and ye werena there… it was like I was in that place all over again. I jes’...” 

“I understand,” she said gently. 

Her whisky eyes were soft and warm, inviting him into a place of safety. He felt himself crumble like some ancient wall, and his body slumped forward. 

She was ready for him, opening her arms and bringing him close. His face pressed against her chest and his arms came around her waist to hold on tightly. He felt her hands hold his head against her for a second before they began to card through his curls. 

He cried then, releasing the pent up emotion— the heartache of her loss, the fear of going through it again, and the overwhelming relief of her presence. He let it all out as his tears stained her dress. 

All the while, Claire was whispering to him and pressing intermittent kisses to the top of his head. 

“It’s alright,” she was breathing, “I’m here. We’re here. And I’m not going anywhere. Nothing could take me away from you now. Nothing.” 

He found himself squeezing her tighter as he relished her closeness. The scent of her— like roses under the morning dew— filled his senses. It soothed him in a way words never could because it was such a concrete reminder of the reality of her. 

Holding her close, he could dare to breathe. The wall he’d hastily rebuilt in those jarring few minutes where he had thought he’d lost her came down piece by piece. He listened to her heartbeat under his ear and focused on the feeling on her hands running through his hair with such gentleness. 

She was with him. She was safe. 

After a long while, when his tears dried in his eyes and the darkness had faded back into only memory where it had no power, he drew back. 

To his surprise, when he straightened up, he found Claire’s eyes to be red-rimmed and tears leaking down her cheeks. 

“Oh, mo nighean donn.” His heart broke into a million pieces, and this time, he was the one reaching out for her and pulling her against his embrace. 

“I’m alright,” she said, but her voice was choked, “I'm okay.” 

“You dinna have to be okay,” Jamie replied gently as he tightened his arms around her, “ye ken that?” 

She was quiet for a while, seeming like she wasn’t ready to argue with him but also didn’t agree. So, she would need a little prodding… 

“I wasna the only one who had tae face the world alone…” 

Claire shook her head where he had it pressed against him. “But I had something to hold on to, hope for going back. I was on a mission.” 

“That doesna mean ye werena sufferin’,” Jamie countered. 

He felt her resolve weakening. Her tears were wetting his shirt collar and her hands were clutching his sides, betraying the truth of her hardship that she was holding inside herself. 

“I was so scared,” she whispered after a long moment, “so scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it. That it would all be for nothing.” 

He let her speak, stroking his hand over her curls and trying to keep his breathing steady. 

“I thought sometimes… that I wouldn’t be strong enough. And that I would just lay down and never get up again and that would be better than spending another moment without you,” she finally said. 

“You did do it, mo ghraidh,” Jamie responded, his voice cracking under the weight of his emotion, “thank Christ, you did it and you made it back.” It was a wash of relief to say those words, and he hoped Claire felt the same. Or at least that she could feel his relief. 

She didn’t make a move, just quietly rested in his embrace. 

Jamie couldn’t help but speak aloud the guilt that was weighing down his heart. “Your people…” he whispered, his voice low and barely audible, “ye lost your place and your people too. That isna a small matter.” 

“No,” Claire whispered in agreement, and Jamie could feel her heartbreak in the tenseness of her body, “but I would make the same choice over and over again. I belong with you. I wanted to come back more than anything.” 

“Aye,” he had to stop himself as his tongue seem to tie itself together in his mouth, “I ken we’re meant to be together. And I’m so incredibly grateful that ye’re here. I jes’... I dinna want ye to ignore the pain jes’ because you believe it was the right decision.” 

She didn’t speak, but she nodded against his shoulder and her breath began to hitch in small sobs. 

“That’s it, lass,” he gently coaxed, “Let it out. It’s alright.” 

As she cried against him for all she’d lost— for good this time— Jamie allowed his own heart to break with hers. He wept for the pain she’d endured and the bravery she was showing. And he wept for himself too, and for those lost days of his life where he’d lived in despair. 

But in the midst of their weeping, there was a sense of comfort. Jamie no longer cried alone, but with the love of his life wrapped in his arms. 

Despite everything, they both had the promise that they would never be alone again. 

After a long while, after her crying had slowed, his wife looked up at him, drawing back enough to fix her eyes— still glistening with tears— on him. 

“We’re a mess, aren’t we?” she suddenly laughed, reaching up to wipe the moisture from Jamie's cheeks with both thumbs. 

“Aye.” 

He brought his own hands up to frame her face and went to work on clearing the tears tracks. 

And there they sat, clinging to each other as if they might slip away at any moment. But they were together. 

Alive, whole, safe, and together. 

Where the darkness had no place. 

***

Chapter Text

Claire was insatiable. The wee thing was on him every second of every day. She would do everything from pouncing on him when he unsuspectingly rounded a corner to jumping into the shower with him. Jamie was obsessed with it, certainly. He was completely besotted and happy to be under her enchantment. Still, he wasn’t always sure he could keep up with her. 

It wasn’t even just the usual or expected touches either. Just when Jamie would begin to forget how strange his lass was— arrogantly thinking he knew her inside and out— she would go on being her quirky self in ways that took him by surprise. 

One such example was the strange but endearing behavior that took place one cozy Saturday…

Jamie was sat on the couch while Claire was tried to wedge her way in directly behind him. Yes, indeed, she was trying to fit her body in the miniscule space between Jamie’s back and the back of the couch while the rest of the couch and numerous chairs— even Jamie’s lap, for crying out loud— were perfectly unoccupied. 

“Claire, mo ghraidh...” Jamie chuckled as he was pushed forward by her body as she worked on wedging herself behind him, “what are ye doin’?” 

“I’m trying to cuddle you, if you’d be so kind as to move forward a bit,” she huffed, struggling in her endeavor. 

“Ye’re half my size and ye want me sittin’ in yer lap?” he laughed. 

“Not in my lap. I don’t have a wish for my legs to be crushed, thank you very much. I just wanted to sit behind you so I could hold you for a bit.” Her voice was strained with the effort of her trying, and failing, to push him forward to give herself enough space to fit. 

But Jamie was having too much fun to simply end it and scooch himself up like she wanted. 

“Any particular reason why ye’re tryin’ so hard tae cuddle me, wee one?” he asked. 

He could feel Claire shooting daggers at the back of his neck as she pushed against his uncooperating shoulders. 

“Well, I like it so much when you come up behind me and hold me that I was trying to be nice, but if you’re going to be stubborn about it...” 

Jamie laughed again and decided he’d better give her the space she needed to fit behind him before she gave up and left him alone altogether. He couldn’t have that. 

Claire gave out a sigh of satisfaction as he moved forward enough for her to slide behind him. As she began to settle in, her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms came around his shoulders, and the front of her body pressed flush down the length of his back. 

The cherry on top was when she began pressing kisses to the sensitive spot just behind his ear. 

“Well…” he said, trying not to let on how much her kisses were affecting him, but his voice still came out breathless, “is it everythin’ ye imagined?” 

She hummed against him, nuzzling her nose against the shell of his ear in a way that made his stomach tie itself into knots. 

“It’s nice enough. A little cramped perhaps, but I like having you in my arms.” 

“It was verra thoughtful of ye to offer to be the big spoon, sweet one,” Jamie chuckled, “but I think there are a few flaws in this plan of yers.” 

He could tell he was riling her up. Her body went tense at his words, preparing for a battle. Jamie was torn between tenderness and playfulness— because truly it was terribly adorable that she wanted to do this for him— but he couldn’t resist the temptation to play with her. Now the die had been cast, and his words had alerted her to his feistiness… or maybe it was that she could sense his plotting. Damn empath. 

“What might those be?” she asked warily. 

“Well,” he began, keeping his voice very matter-of-fact, “there’s a few logistical issues. The first being that I’m twice yer size and it would be so easy for me to accidentally crush ye like a wee bug.” 

As soon as the words had left his mouth, he let his body sag back against her as a dead weight. He crushed her down against the couch, and she let out a squeal. 

“Jamie!” she yelped, her voice muffled where her mouth was pressed against his back as a result of her predicament, “ge’off!”

“The second issue is that the couch isna exactly the ideal spot. This kind of cuddling requires space, ye ken.” Even though she couldn’t see him, Jamie tapped his finger against his chin as if thinking hard, enjoying himself immensely. “Perhaps if ye cared to try the bed instead?” 

Her hands— which had previously been wrapped around his shoulders in a loving embrace— were smacking at his chest now, no hint of soft affection from a moment before. 

“Lemmeup,” came her smothered cry, “can’tbreathe!” 

Smirking to himself, he leaned forward, releasing her. 

“What was that?” he asked cheekily over his shoulder. 

“Ye bloody bastard,” Claire was cursing as she struggled out from behind him. Her knees jabbed him in the ribs as she tried to unwrap her legs from his waist to get them back underneath herself enough to escape. 

When she’d finally wrigged out from behind him, she popped out by his side and gave him a death glare. 

“You’re a brute,” she pouted, glaring over at him with dark eyes.

“And ye married me. Ye canna take it back now,” Jamie said cheerily, answering her glower with a beam. 

She crossed her arms, looking very much like a toddler who hadn’t gotten her way. Her lower lip was pushed out in a pout, and Jamie could barely smother the rising urge to kiss it. 

“Just because I’m stuck with you doesn’t mean I don’t regret it.” 

Jamie gave a playfully gesture of being shot in the heart. “Ah, mo nighean donn, ye wound me so.” 

“And you crush me when I’m trying to hold you,” she shot back. 

“Aww, I’m sorry, lass. Come ‘ere, I’ll make it up to ye.” Jamie opened his arms to her, his voice dripping with played up regret. 

Claire stood abruptly, shooting him a smirk over her shoulder. 

“I think I’ll go cuddle with Adso, thank you very much. Maybe then you’ll learn to appreciate what you have.” 

“That’s yer choice…” Jamie dropped his voice to sound serious, “oh, and Claire? One other thing?” 

She stopped in her tracks, turning back to him with a suspicion written clear over her face. 

“What?” 

Jamie stood, looking down at his fingers where he was playing with them in feigned innocence, “there was one more flaw in your plan.” 

“What’s that?” 

She took a step back, already suspecting his misbehavior. 

“I like bein’ the one to hold you far too much.” 

He lunged forward, grabbed her around the waist with both hands and tugging her body against him all in one smooth movement. She was giggling as he did, struggling playfully as he wrestled her to him and held her captive at his front. He walked them both backward until the back of his knees hit the couch and he was able to sit down, bringing Claire down along with him. 

In order to secure her in his lap as she tried to wriggle free, he tightened his arms around her middle, trapping hers underneath. He grinned into her hair, squeezing her. 

“Much better,” he said. 

He pressed kisses down the side of her neck, letting out little hums into the skin until her struggling stopped and Claire went still. Curious to see what she would do, Jamie loosened his arms around her. Not enough to let her get up, but enough so she could maneuver a bit. 

It turned out that what she wanted to do was turn and face him. She shifted within his hold so she straddled him, and the moment they were face-to-face, Jamie would see that her expression had grown soft and her eyes had that far away look in them that they got when she was particularly infatuated. 

“This is rather nice,” she admitted in a murmur as she leaned in to press a kiss to his jaw. Then another. 

Jamie nearly laughed out loud. 

His wee faerie. So predictable. She couldn’t resist him holding her any more than Adso could resist the smell of tuna. 

Her kisses were growing more insistent now, beginning to turn heated in a way that was sure to scramble Jamie’s wits at any second. 

“So ye dinna regret marryin’ this brute after all?” Jamie asked, trying to keep up the show and keep his voice steady in the face of the magic of her lips. 

She pulled back, making Jamie’s skin tingle in her absence. “Maybe not so much…” she relented, “I suppose you win this one, Mr. Fraser.” 

“Victory is sweet, Mrs. Fraser.” 

***

Chapter Text

Murtagh knew a guy. Of course he did— Jamie reasoned to himself— it wasn’t that crazy that Murtagh had connections to some black market guy who could get them a falsified birth certificate and passport… right? It left a sour feeling in Jamie’s stomach, but as long as it meant they could get Claire to be— well— a person who existed, he had firmly decided not to look the gift horse in the mouth. 

He was sitting at the kitchen table, pieces of paper in front of him where he was writing down the information to give to Murtagh, who would then pass it along to his connection. Claire, in typical Claire fashion, was behaving like a melted candle. For some reason that was beyond Jamie, his wife was sitting on the floor beside his chair with her upper body spread over him so her head was in his lap. Jamie was stroking her hair with his free hand, his touch almost absent as he came up with details for her past. She was so content to simply be with him and quietly accepted his touch without any hint of impatience. 

“When’s yer birthday?” Jamie asked as he reached that line. 

“Hmm?” Claire raised her head from his lap to regard him with a puzzled look, her curls sticking up around her from Jamie’s ministrations. 

He chuckled and smoothed them back for her, taking a detour to caress her cheek. She was so endearing it nearly hurt. 

“When were ye born? What day?” 

Claire closed her eyes and leaned into his hand. “Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea.” 

Jamie started, withdrawing his hand abruptly and causing Claire’s eyes to pop open, her bubble of peace popping as he looked up at Jamie, equally startled. 

“Ye dinna ken yer birthday?” he asked, feeling a tug in the pit of his stomach. 

“No…” Claire was regarding him with a wary expression, “I mean, my parents may have told me about the day I was born when I was young, but I certainly don’t remember now. Why does it matter?” 

Jamie couldn’t help the clenching in his lungs. “It matters because it was the day ye came into this world…” he began, bringing his hand back to stroke her hair again as she looked up at him with those impossibly big eyes, “and I am verra grateful for that day.”

His mind wandered back to all the birthdays spent with his family and friends, all the times he’d felt special and loved. His family had always made a big deal out of birthdays, and to this day, they held such weight for him. 

“Besides,” he added, “humans use them for legal purposes quite often. They are a part of one’s identity.” 

All Claire had to say was, “Oh. But I don’t have one…” 

An idea began to form in Jamie’s head, so he reached down for Claire’s hands. She took them, and Jamie pulled her up from the floor so they were standing face to face. 

“Well then,” he said, beginning to smile broadly, “I guess today is as good as any. Happy Birthday, lass.” 

He leaned in to kiss her, tender and sweet. Claire, always happy to kiss him, eagerly returned it, but Jamie was certain that she still didn’t quite get the whole concept of birthdays nor the sentiment that Jamie was pouring into his touch. 

When they pulled back, Jamie tucked a curl behind her ear, smiling fondly at her. 

“October 20th it is then.” 

***

A few hours later, Claire sat on the couch petting Adso, waiting for her husband to get back from dropping the papers off at Murtagh’s. She was ready for a nice quiet evening, hoping that they could turn on the television and she could snuggle up at Jamie’s side until she fell asleep and he carried her up to bed. She could already imagine the alluring warmth of his body and her eyelids began to droop. 

At that moment, the door swung open, the bulk of her husband pushing through the door. 

“Jamie!” she greeted warmly, starting to rise from the couch. 

“Stay there, a nighean,” he called. 

His back was to her as he seemed to be struggling to bring things in. 

“You don’t need help?” she asked, not-so-discreetly eying the muscles under his shirt as his back flexed. 

“No, it’s alright.” 

He had disappeared into the kitchen before Claire even had a chance to reply. She was still sleepy enough that she wouldn’t protest his refusal of her help. With a contented sigh, she leaned back against the couch again. 

She must have dozed a bit because the next thing she knew, Jamie was singing— singing!— in his terribly endearing off-pitch voice, and when she opened her eyes, he was approaching her with something…

“Jamie!” she squealed, scrambling up to her knees, ready to bolt, “you’re on fire!” 

Jamie himself wasn’t on fire, to be fair, but he was holding something round and soft looking in his hands, and up from the object sprung licks of flame. 

Claire wasn’t sure whether to run toward him and throw herself on him in an attempt to save him or just bolt and let him follow after her. Either way, her fear made her feet feel cold and she found herself frozen in place and staring at her husband in horror. 

“It’s alright,” Jamie was laughing. Laughing! 

Why was he laughing when there was fire inside his house? 

He had stopped in his tracks, his bizarre singing gone quiet, and was looking at her with the softest expression. She was still trembling, and his eerily calm attitude was doing nothing to help ease her. Had he lost his mind? 

“Why are you laughing?” she demanded, letting go of the side of the couch where she’d been clutching it so she could spring to her feet. 

“Sorry, lass. I wanted to surprise ye but I likely shouldha explained the tradition first,” Jamie said, still ignoring the fire in his hands as if it wasn’t a big deal. 

Claire furrowed her brows but stayed quiet in an attempt to get him to continue his explanation. 

“Since it’s yer birthday today,” Jamie said with a tone that left no room for argument, “I’m showing you the human traditions for birthdays. This here is a birthday cake, a type of food. We put candles— these wee things—” Jamie gestured to the sticks of fire, his hand getting dangerously close in a way that made Claire’s breath catch, “on top and light them on fire. The birthday lass, or laddie, uses their breath tae blow them out. And when they do, they make a wish for the coming year. After that, everyone gets tae eat the cake!”

Seeing her dubious expression, he quickly added, “it’s perfectly safe, dinna fash.”

Claire felt rather overwhelmed by the information and had to stop herself from commenting at how awfully strange it was. How did humans come up with such a thing? And why?

But she bravely gave a nod, and Jamie drew closer so that he could grab her hand and give it a squeeze. 

“Now,” Jamie said, assuming his air of playful authority, “let’s try this again. And this time, ye’ll listen to the birthday song. And when it’s over, ye’ll blow out the candles, aye?” 

Claire had no choice but to acquiesce and indulge his whims. She sat back down on the couch to wait patiently. 

Her husband turned around and disappeared into the kitchen again, only to come out a second later, singing joyfully off-key in the same way he had earlier. He came toward her with measured steps, carefully balancing the “cake,” with his eyes fixed on hers as he sang. She found herself blushing at his attention, almost embarrassed as he sang to her. 

He set it down on the coffee table in front of her as the song drew to the end. 

“Blow out the candles, a nighean,” he urged quietly. 

Claire leaned forward and blew all the breath in her lungs out in a whoosh. The little fires blew out, and when she straightened up again, Jamie looked delighted. 

Before she knew what was happening, Jamie had leaned over the cake and taken her lips with his, and she found herself kissing a very enthusiastic human. His hands tangled in the small curls at the nape of her neck as he pulled her closer. Her own hands wandered down his chest as she kissed him back, every hint of sleepiness gone. She started to lean closer to him when she felt her side bump something. Jamie drew back with a gasp and she opened her eyes just in time to see the cake teetering on the edge of the coffee table. Quick as a flash, Jamie had grabbed it and righted it again. He looked up at her with a sheepish smile as he straightened it on the table. 

“Sorry, lass, I may have gotten a wee bit carried away. I jes’ love tae celebrate you.” 

“Well, I can’t eat this anyway, perhaps we skip that part of the tradition and…” she trailed off, reaching for his hand to lace their fingers together. 

“What?” Jamie asked cheekily, “what are you suggesting?” 

The look on his face showed he very much knew what she was suggesting, the bastard. 

“As much as I enjoy your little human traditions, I think I’ve had enough learning for today…” She refused to give him the satisfaction of begging. 

“Whatever the birthday girl wishes,” Jamie’s smile was growing impossibly wider. 

“That’s part of the celebration, isn’t it?” Claire gestured to the cake in front of them, “making a wish?” 

“Och, aye,” Jamie confirmed with an enthusiastic nod. 

“Want to know what I wished for?” 

Claire stood and made her way around so that she could slide back down against Jamie’s side, pressing her lips to his ear. 

“I’ll tell you what I wished for…” she whispered into his ear so that her breath tickled the sensitive skin. 

A shiver went down his spine, and she giggled at the resulting vibration. 

“Nae, lass, humans believe if ye share yer wish with another that it willna come true,” Jamie forced out the words through what sounded like a very dry throat, “and it seems to me that I would verra much like for this wish tae come true.” 

“Well if I can’t tell you…” she let her tongue flick out to taste his neck, brief and teasing, “how about I show you?” 

“Aye. As ye say, my birthday, lass.” 

***

A short while later, Claire laid beside Jamie in bed, wearing nothing but her opal. Jamie looked blissed out, his eyes soft and glazed as he stared at her, his curls mussed where they lay on the pillow. 

“Did we make yer wish come true, lass?” he asked fondly. 

“Very much so,” Claire laughed, reaching out to run her hands through his soft hair. She let her fingers scrape against his scalp, and he let out a sigh. 

“I’m supposed to be the one spoilin’ you,” he protested weakly, but he had melted impossibly further at her touch. 

“If you haven’t noticed, I like touching you,” she breathed. 

They were both still laying flat, heads inches apart on the pillow and gazing at each other. It took all of Claire’s strength just to get her arm raised enough to continue petting Jamie’s hair. Her thumb wandered lower to graze his eyebrow before brushing back his curls again, and Jamie let out another contented exhale. 

He inched closer so he could press his lips against hers again, savoring the kiss for a long moment. She stilled her hand and instead clutched his head to keep him close. 

“I have somethin’ for you,” he whispered against her lips. 

“Oh?” 

She rolled her head back on the pillow and gave him a smile with brows raised in expectancy. Jamie withdrew, getting out of bed (and giving her quite the view), to grab something from the dresser. 

Sitting up, Claire felt excitement return the strength to her limbs. Jamie perched himself on the bed next to her, his hand wrapped around whatever it was he wanted to give her. 

“Turn around,” he rumbled in a soft, low voice. 

She did, facing away from him, and a second later, she felt something light lay across her chest and his fingers tickle over the back of her neck. 

Before even looking down, she faced Jamie again, and then finally tilted her head down to look at the gift. 

Resting right above the opal on her chest was another necklace made of two gold hearts with a tiny pearl set in the middle of each. 

Her mouth fell open and she looked up at her husband with shining eyes. 

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered. 

Jamie reached out to tenderly cup her cheek as he spoke. “The opal is a symbol of all ye lost and had tae give up. I wanted ye to have a symbol of what was gained. You hold my whole heart, Claire. Both of ours. Safe in yer hands. It’s yours forever, mo ghraidh.” 

The tears she had been trying to hold back must have been glistening in her eyes, because Jamie thumb gently swiped at the corners. 

“Thank you, Jamie,” she raised her hand to place it over the necklace, pressing the metal into her bare skin and thinking of the weight that it held. She caressed her thumb back and forth over the precious gift. “I love it. I love you.” 

“Happy first birthday, mo chridhe,” he breathed.

Chapter Text

This was a new one. 

With all the strange ways Claire had decided to be close to him in the span of their relationship, Jamie thought that she’d surely run out of novel ideas. 

But here he was, standing in front of the mirror brushing his teeth. And there she was, standing directly behind him with her cheek glued to his back and the length of her body pressed along his. She wasn’t embracing him— it felt like her arms were tucked against herself between her front and his back. Without even a word, she’d just entered the bathroom and tucked herself behind him.  

“Ehm, good mornin’, lass,” Jamie chuckled. 

“Morning,” her voice was silky smooth, still heavy with sleep. 

Her hands appeared and ran down the length of his back, and Jamie felt her press a kiss right to his spine in the middle of his back. 

Gooseflesh broke out along his arms at the sensation, and he had to lean down to wash his mouth out before he accidentally choked on toothpaste or something of the sort. 

When he leaned down, his wee sea urchin went with him, of course, all but laying herself over him as he bent over the sink. 

Once his mouth was safely clear and he had straightened up— only for Claire to resume her previous position— he asked, “How are ye this morning, then?” 

“Good. Mmmm,” Claire gave a murmur of satisfaction, and suddenly wee hands were sliding underneath his shirt up the skin of his back. 

Jamie started, almost jumping away, but she had him truly trapped against the sink. 

Another kiss was dropped on his back, this time at his shoulder blade, and Jamie couldn’t stop the laughter bubbling from his chest. 

“Am I nothin’ more tae ye than a large body pillow tae cuddle wi? Ye’re worse than Adso. Not even so much as a ‘good morning’ before ye’re using my back as a heating pad.” 

“I thought it was greeting enough,” Claire said, but her voice was muffled against the back of Jamie’s shirt. 

Hoping to take her by surprise, Jamie whirled around suddenly. Claire let out a shriek of surprise, and was just starting to stumble backward when Jamie caught her in his arms and pulled her against him. 

She narrowed her eyes at him before he squeezed her closer and she couldn’t keep up the pretense, letting out a joyful laugh and throwing her arms around his neck to kiss him good morning. 

“So,” she said against his lips once they’d given each other a proper greeting, “what are we going to do today?” 

“Well… I had a thought…” Jamie said, pausing to peck her lips again. (It wasn’t his fault. They were right there, after all, and Jamie was only so strong in the face of such temptation.) “It’s something I realized recently and I’m actually rather embarrassed about.” 

“What?” Claire asked, drawing back enough that she could fix her eyes on Jamie, the honey-gold of her gaze sparkling with curiosity. 

“Do ye ken we havena even had a proper date?” Jamie asked, smoothing his hands down along her sides. 

Claire stared at him blankly, eyes wide. 

“I don’t even know what you mean by date, so no, I don’t ‘ken,’” she replied. 

“Right,” Jamie said, smiling at himself, “well a date is a human custom. When two people are interested in each other, they go out and do something fun together, to see if they’re compatible, aye? It’s a part of courtship.” 

“Well I’d say we know we’re compatible, don’t you agree?” Claire said, standing on her tiptoes to press a kiss to Jamie’s ear, right in a spot she knew would short circuit his brain. 

He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her away, not inclined to let himself fall under her spell at this particular moment. He was far too determined for that. He’d never even taken his wife on a proper date, and he needed to remedy that immediately. 

“Of course we are, wife. It’s jes’ that we never got tae do those fun things before we were married.” 

“I can think of a lot of fun things we can do,” Claire whispered, her voice dropping low as she tried to get her lips to reach Jamie’s neck. But he held her back, and she rewarded his restraint with a pout that made him laugh. 

“That’s no’ the point,” he sighed, “trust me. It’ll be fun.” 

“Of course I trust you, Jamie,” she agreed. 

“Good, then, Claire Fraser, will ye go out on a date wi’ me today?” he asked cordially, letting go over her and taking a slight step back so that he could have some semblance of formality. 

She gave him a smile and a nod. “Yes, Jamie Fraser, I would love to.” 

***

There was a flaw in his plan… Jamie realized too late. He’d planned the perfect date but forgotten one key component. 

Claire didn’t have a bathing suit. 

He’d had it all worked out, you see. There were very limited options of dates he could take her on. First of all, anything involving food was out of the question. Secondly, anything involving other people was a no go, since Claire would get so anxious about being around other humans. So Jamie had decided to take her to a loch a short drive away, where they could swim together out of the way of any prying eyes or listening ears. Claire would have a nice time, he was sure, and it would even remind her of home. 

Imagining her in a cute red bikini made him feel a certain way, but he realized far too late that the only garments she had were the dresses and shoes they’d gotten at Mrs. Fitz’ what felt like a lifetime ago. 

Skinny dipping it is, Jamie smirked to himself as he helped Claire into the car. 

Maybe it wasn’t a flawed plan after all. 

***

“Where are we going?” Claire asked for about the umpteenth time. 

The puir thing seemed to be a mixture of nerves and excitement, which led her to buzz with energy in the seat next to him. It distracted her from her motion sickness at least, so Jamie wouldn’t budge on keeping his surprise a secret. 

“Somewhere fun,” Jamie said coolly. 

“Humans,” Claire rolled her eyes, “you all are so big on your secrecy. I don’t understand why you don’t just say what you intend.” 

“Know many humans to base yer judgements off of?” Jamie challenged, giving her a smirk. 

“You’re right,” Claire said, “maybe it’s just a judgement of you.” 

“Sassenach,” Jamie sighed, “I willna tell ye because surprises are fun. Besides, we’re almost there.” 

“Really?” 

This got Claire’s attention, and she straightened up in her seat to press her face against the window. 

A minute later, when Jamie had the car parked and Claire had burst out, somehow managing to figure out the car door in her excitement, he quickly grabbed her hand before she could dart off and force him to chase after her. 

“Happy first date,” he said, pulling her against him by the hand. 

Her arms came around his back, and she smiled up at him. “Happy first date.” 

If he were really playing along, he wouldn’t have kissed her, but having her there in his arms, looking up at him expectantly, he couldn’t imagine waiting until the end of the date to have her lips on his. Indulging himself, he leaned down and kissed her deeply, cupping her head to hold her captive for a long moment. 

“Is this what you brought me here for?” she asked breathlessly when he’d drawn back. 

“There’s more where that came from,” Jamie said softly, “but no. Come on.” 

He led her by the hand through the trees. They ascended the hill together, finally emerging from the grove at the top, revealing a small, but nonetheless picture-perfect loch. 

“I brought you here so we could swim. Just the two of us.”

Claire gazed up at him, her eyes soft and smile wide. “I love it, Jamie.” 

They stepped together up to the edge, admiring the ripples in the loch from the soft breeze that swept over it. Jamie couldn’t spend long on the view though— not when the perfection of his wife was right beside him. His gaze turned to her, caught up in the way her curls swirled around that face that would make even the Greek goddesses jealous. This creature was his, and it struck him in the most random of moments sometimes how lucky he was. 

She must have felt the weight of his gaze because she looked up at him suddenly, inquisitive. 

“What?” she asked. 

“Jes’ admiring the view…” Jamie said softly, tracing a finger over her cheekbone. 

“You’re a sap,” Claire rolled her eyes, but the smile she was trying to hide betrayed her. 

Jamie was just about to suggest that they take off their clothes and dive in, before he could even bat an eye, Claire was body slamming into him, sending him toppling off of his feet and into the water. He hit the lake with a splash, and the temperature change took his breath away for a second as he submerged. When his head broke the surface and he had sputtered the water from his lips, he glared up to the bank and saw Claire in stitches on the shore. 

The wee besom was laughing so hard she was likely to break a rib. 

“You… you… had no idea,” Claire was huffing, her arms wrapped around her middle. 

“Oh, ye’ll pay for that…” 

Jamie was already scrambling up the bank and throwing himself at her before he even finished his threat. Claire squeaked, starting to dash away, but Jamie threw his soaking body at her and managed to get his arms around her. 

She was laughing and squirming, a chorus of “no”s escaping her as he hauled her toward the edge of the water. 

“Jamie,” she squealed, “Jamie, wait, I—” 

Ignoring her protests, he grabbed her by the waist and tossed her as far as he could into the water. 

As Jamie had been rudely forced to discover just a few seconds previous, the lake got deep fast. So when Claire hit the water, she disappeared entirely under the surface. 

Jamie stood and soaked in his victory. His clothes dripping wet as they were, he’d gotten the last word. 

It was then that he’d realized Claire had been under the water for a second too long. Just as his heart started to race and adrenaline coursed into his system, Claire’s head shot above the water. 

“Jamie!” She sputtered. 

Her arms thrashed wildly as she tried to keep afloat, and he heard her gasp before her head disappeared back under the surface. Waves splashed up around her as her hands beat at the water, floundering. 

Her face just barely popped up again, and she gave a desperate, “Jamie! I can’t swim,” before she disappeared under. 

Jamie’s blood ran ice cold. He had frozen just for a moment, but as soon as his brain came snapping back, he was diving into the water after her. 

He swam out to her, his limbs numb with fear making it terribly difficult to move quickly, and she surfaced again to cry out his name. 

Within seconds, he’d reached her. He grabbed for her, avoiding her frantic paddling, and hauled her body toward him, lifting her head out of the water. 

He heard her gasp for air, and his heart clenched with guilt so acute he was nearly blind with it, but then he seemed to lose all his senses altogether. One second, he was saving her from drowning, and then next, there were hands on his head and he was the one underwater. 

Disoriented, he pushed himself back to the surface. He took in a huge breath when he was safely in the air again, and he blinked the water from his eyes…

Just to be greeted with the sight of Claire a few feet away, treading water expertly and grinning ear to ear. 

“You can swim,” Jamie growled. His heart was still racing with the whiplash her prank had caused him, and he was nearly ready to drown her himself for worrying him like that. 

“Of course I can,” Claire giggled, “but it was awfully nice of you to jump in to save me.” 

“You wee devil, ye nearly stopped my heart,” he glared at her. 

“And you nearly stop my heart with the loving you,” her voice dropped to a soft, silky tone, and despite Jamie’s best intentions, he found his frustrations at her abating. 

She started to swim toward him, sensing his weakness, and went in for the kill. “Forgive me?” she asked with big eyes and wet lashes. 

“Aye, come ‘ere, then.” 

This time, his armful of faerie was very capable of staying afloat, and apparently kissing him breathless at the same time. Her fingers carded through his wet curls, tugging softly and making him forget any notion he had of seeking revenge. Jamie wrapped an arm around her back, and with the other arm, he started to tow her back toward a shallower spot. Once his feet could touch again, he stood, allowing Claire to wrap her legs around his waist. She never once broke the kiss, and Jamie was duly impressed. 

He let himself lose all track of time, his worries and pressures of reality fading away at the feeling of her lips and her body and the gentle waves that lapped over them both. Nothing mattered but the lass in his arms and the present moment. Jamie was nearly giddy with it. 

They swam for some time after, taking breaks between dives and floats to return to each other’s arms, always their lips seeking out the other, and wandering hands beneath the water reaching their marks. 

“Are ye sure ye’re a fairy and no’ a water nymph?” Jamie chuckled as he struggled to catch up with Claire as she smoothly cut through the lake. 

“I’m sure,” she laughed. The water streamed from her hair and dripped down her face like a caress, making Jamie still question the truth of her words. 

It took him a second to process the implications of her response, but when he did, he stopped dead. 

“Wait. Are you telling me there actually are such things as water nymphs?” 

“Of course,” she replied, taking on that matter-of-fact tone that was so endearing to Jamie. 

He grinned, his mind trying to process this new fact, and he shook his head in disbelief. “I dinna think I’ll ever catch up on what is myth and what is reality.” 

“That’s okay,” Claire breathed, swimming back toward Jamie until she was just beside him, “that’s why you have me to sort you out.” 

She reached out and gave him a quick press of lips, as if she was trying to regain his attention and fascination. Clearly he only had room for one type of supernatural creature in his life. 

“Come on, let’s go back to shore,” she breathed. 

***

They laid side by side on the grass, their fingers entwined between them. The sun was beginning to set, painting the sky with oranges and pinks. The air seemed somehow still, calm, as if the world itself was pausing to breathe. It couldn’t have been more perfect if Jamie had planned it himself. 

They were quiet, content to just watch the sunset and allow their clothes to dry. 

For so long in their relationship, Jamie had felt like if he stopped holding onto Claire for even a second, she would slip through his fingers. Even since she’d gotten back, he couldn’t help but fear something shaking the joy of their reunion. But now… now there was none of that. There was a peace and security that wrapped around them like a blanket. Something akin to… normalcy. 

No looming rejection. No fear of loss. 

Only two souls that were meant to be, watching the sunset at the end of their incredibly normal first date. 

“I love you,” he said as he tilted his face to the side so that he could see her. 

She did the same, her cheek resting on the grass. 

“I love you.” 

Jamie let his thumb brush over the back of her hand, his heart full to aching. 

“I think sometimes…” Jamie started, the words coming before he’d even fully thought them in his mind, “about what life would have been if I hadn’t found you on that hill that day.” 

She didn’t speak, but the way her eyes grew soft and focused made it clear that she was listening. 

“I was so lost,” he whispered, “so alone. I needed you more than you needed me, I think. I— I can’t imagine how hollow everything would be if I hadn’t known the joy of loving you.” 

“Jamie,” she whispered, giving his hand a squeeze, “we don’t have to imagine. Because we’re here now.” 

“You’re right. I just… think about it sometimes. It feels like a lifetime ago.” 

“I know.” She propped herself up on her elbow to lean over him, bringing up a hand to tenderly stroke his hair away from his face. “But you don’t have to think about such things. Just be here… with me.” 

She leaned down, barely letting her lips touch his before pulling away again. 

“It’s okay, Jamie,” she said, smiling with a depth of emotion behind her eyes. She must have sensed something from him when she touched him, because she was suddenly speaking exactly to his heart and his fears. “Let yourself rest in the good,” she said quietly, “and don’t waste your time waiting for the ground to crumble beneath your feet. We’re here, I’m here. Everything is alright.” 

“And I couldna be more grateful,” he said, pulling her head down for another kiss. 

They stayed there long after sunset, letting the sky turn from streaks of color into inky black flecked with stars. 

And Jamie did exactly as Claire said. He let himself be. And he rested in the good. 

Chapter Text

Jenny stood still as a statue, her hands gripping either side of her door frame so hard that her knuckles were white. Claire stood just as motionless at Jamie’s side, her doe eyes fixed on Jenny in a pleading stare— begging for understanding. Jamie felt much the same. There was nothing to do but wait. The truth of Claire’s return was out— Jenny was staring it straight in the face— and the only thing they could do was hold their breath. 

“We thought she was dead,” Jenny said, her voice dangerously low and even, “we mourned her wi' you.” 

Jenny’s eyes were fixed on Claire. Her expression was a mix of accusation and disbelief. Jamie felt a surge of protectiveness rise in him. It wasn’t her fault. It was simply this twisted situation, and he couldn’t allow Jenny to lash out at her. Before he could stop his instincts, he found himself stepping in front of Claire. 

“Jenny, ye need tae hear the full story,” Jamie said firmly. He softened his tone and his demeanor. “Please, may we come in?”

Jenny looked hesitant, still glaring at Claire. She remained stiff in the doorway for a long moment, forcing them to wait with baited breath before she finally threw her hands up and stepped aside. 

Without a word, Jenny walked into the house. Jamie and Claire followed as Jenny led them through the hallway and straight into the study. 

Standing behind the great wooden expanse of their father’s desk, Jenny fixed her eyes on Jamie once again. 

“Explain.” 

Taking a deep breath, Jamie took Claire’s hand before launching into the same cover story he had told Murtagh. 

“Claire was sick,” he started, feeling his wame twist at the truth of his words. “She was dyin’, really. There was nothin’ anyone could do for her.” His voice cracked with real emotion, and he paused to swallow. Already, his reaction had taken the slightest chink out of Jenny’s armor.

It wasn’t hard to act when the cover story so closely matched reality. 

“When— when it was clear that she wouldna get better, and it was only a matter of time before she...” Jamie trailed off and looked over at Claire, who gave him a slight reassuring smile, “Claire decided to spend the remainder of her life back home.” 

Jenny seemed to be struggling to take in this story, her eyes wide as she listened intently. Under her breath, she whispered a disbelieving “hospice...?” but never actually posed a question. 

Claire picked up the story then, her voice soft but steady. “Jamie said goodbye to me that day before sending me home. We both thought it was goodbye for the last time. It....” Claire actually looked away from Jamie, her emotion very real, “it was one of the worst moments of my life.” 

“So ye see now why I mourned her,” Jamie picked back up, “She was gone from me forever. Or… at least so it seemed. What seemed to be incurable had a cure after all. And as soon as it was found… well, she returned to me.” He looked over at Claire, his heart in his eyes, “thank the Lord.”

Claire broke eye contact to look back at Jenny, who was trying her best to absorb the news. For once, the brazen woman was speechless. 

“I dinna ken what to say,” she admitted. 

She looked at Jamie for a long moment, taking in his expression, and then her eyes flicked to their joined hands. 

“And ye’re alright now? Ye're no' sick anymore?”

Claire shook her head, smiling. “I’m quite alright now. And I intend to stay that way.” 

Jenny exhaled, a long, slow sound, and then she gave a little nod. 

“Well I can see how happy Jamie is that ye’re back. So I must be happy too, then.” 

The immeasurable weight lifted off of Jamie’s shoulders, and he felt freer than he had in a long time. Without a word, he let go of Claire and took two steps forward to pull Jenny into a hug. His sister embraced him in return. Tears of relief threatened at the corners of his eyes, but he blinked them back. 

When he let go, Jenny had eyes only for one person. 

“You too, Claire,” she said, opening her arms. 

Looking like she’d won the lottery, Claire stepped into the hug, holding Jenny tightly. 

“I’m sorry,” Jenny said quietly, “for how I treated ye at the beginning. I see now that the two of you are meant to be together.” 

“We are. I promise I’ll take good care of him,” Claire whispered back.

Jamie felt like his whole body was melting. 

Abruptly, Jenny broke the hug and wiped her hands decidedly over her legs, as if brushing off the emotion of the moment. 

“Well, enough of that then. I have dinner tae prepare. And…” Jenny glanced at the door, “there are some weans who will be verra pleased to hear of yer return, Claire. Why dinna ye take them outside?” 

They both gave wordless nods and followed Jenny toward the door. 

“What should we tell them? About Claire?” Jamie asked. 

Jenny gave a shrug. “They’re bairns. It willna matter in the long run. Just not... the truth.” Her eyes narrowed a bit in half a wince, her face looking both sympathetic and uncomfortable, as people often appeared when discussing the topic of illness and death. 

Ironically, in the end, it was exactly the truth that they gave the children. 

When Jenny sent the kids skittering outside, Jamie and Claire walked hand-in-hand out after them. As they emerged outside, the bairns turned to Claire, wide-eyed and mouths agape in shock. 

“Claire?” Wee Jamie whispered. 

His eyes snapped to Jamie to look at him in utter confusion. He was the only one of his siblings old enough to quite understand the enormity of Claire standing there after Jamie had told them about sending her back to the faeries. 

Little Kitty, only 2, clearly hadn’t been aware of Claire’s absence. Surprisingly, she did remember Claire, though. Either that or Claire's magnetism simply drew her in, because the little girl came running and squealing to throw herself into her arms. 

Claire laughed, scooping her up without hesitation, and bounced her on her hip to settle her, giving her a fond, “well, hello there!” 

Wee Jamie was looking nearly dubious now, and Maggie eyed Claire with blank confusion. 

Jamie stood by Claire’s side, letting the children make the first move. Wee Jamie was the first to break, the 6-year old stepping forward to whisper to Claire, “are ye a fairy? Uncle Jamie told us ye were.” 

Claire shot a look over at Jamie, silently asking permission to confirm, and he gave her a smile and a shrug as if to say might as well. 

“I am,” she said quietly, cuddling Kitty close as she knelt down in front of Jamie so she could speak with him face to face. 

“I thought ye went to live forever with the fairies,” wee Jamie said, still in that childlike whisper,  “Uncle Jamie was verra sad. He… he cried. For weeks. And mam told us we had to be kind to him because he lost ye. But you arena lost…?” 

Claire gave the child a sad smile, then looked up to Jamie with her heart in her eyes after hearing about his grief explained in such an innocent way. 

Returning her attention to his nephew, she answered, without hesitation, “I was lost. I had to go back to the fairies. But I loved Jamie so much that I figured out a way back to him. To stay.” 

A big hand came down on her shoulder, squeezing affectionately. She couldn’t help but look up at Jamie again, seeing his face tight with emotion and fondness. 

“So… ye arena goin’ tae leave again?” wee Jamie asked, a glimmer of hope on his little face. 

“No. I’m never leaving again.”

It was a promise. Not just to wee Jamie, but his namesake as well. 

The words hung into the air for a long moment before Maggie, surprisingly quiet during the whole exchange, burst out, as if she couldn't contain it another moment, “dae you have wings!?” 

Claire giggled, seeing the exuberance on her face. She leaned in conspiratorially and said in a whisper, “I do. But ye canna tell your mother any of this. It has to be our secret. Because sometimes adults don’t believe in fairies, so I don’t just tell this secret to anyone. Only people I know I can trust.” 

Wee Jamie puffed up his chest in importance. 

“You can trust us, Auntie Claire,” he announced. 

Auntie. 

The title felt so new to her, so monumental, that she had to take a moment to smile to herself. Jamie’s hand on her shoulder squeezed again. 

“I know I can. Now, enough of this whispering. Let’s go play!” 

The kids were willing enough to drop the subject of fairies and her disappearance, and wee Jamie grabbed her hand to drag her toward the big swing hanging from the tree in the middle of their backyard. Jamie, Claire’s Jamie, swooped up Maggie and was tossing her over his shoulder as they followed behind them. 

Family. 

They felt overwhelmingly like a family as Jamie pushed the weans on the swing, taking turns between them. With tiny, soft swings for Kitty and big pushes for wee Jamie, he was… perfect. 

Joy spread through Claire’s chest. She felt safe. Whole. For the first time in her life, she belonged somewhere. With someone. 

With Jamie. 

His family was hers now, just as his body and soul was. The hole in her chest that had been there as long as she could remember— the gnawing fear that she’d never have security and belonging with anyone— seemed suddenly to be absent. 

The only thing in her chest now was warmth and hope. And Jamie. 

He gave her a smile from behind Kitty, who was laughing as gleefully at the second ride as she had at the first. 

That smile filled all her senses, and the world grew dim around her and time stopped as she let herself get lost in it. 

How I love you, her heart breathed. 

***

Locked with Claire’s gaze, her whole face soft as she looked at him, Jamie could read her thoughts as if they were written clear over her face. 

She was happy— with him, with his family that was now hers, and in this place. 

Nothing brought him greater peace. It eased his guilt to see her this way. Even though her branded wings still plagued his mind (the image of them there every time he closed his eyes), seeing her like this pushed back every glimmer of self-reproach. 

She’d always been meant to be here. With him. And now everything had clicked into place. Sure, they still faced the unknowns of a fairy trying to fit into a human world, but they faced it together. 

He tore himself out of his thoughts as wee Jamie began begging for another turn, and “higher this time, Uncle Jamie!” 

As he slowed wee Kitty down and helped her off the wooden plank that was the seat of the swing, it wasn’t Jamie’s turn that he had in mind. 

“No, me!” Maggie yelped, pushing over her brother in an effort to get to Jamie. 

“Woah, woah, ye wee gomerals,” Jamie said, holding up his hands and stopping them in their tracks. 

He looked toward Claire again, unable to hide the endearment on his face as he looked at her. “It isna either of yer turns. It’s yer Auntie’s turn.” 

Claire’s eyes went wide as a doe’s. 

But it wasn't fear. No, his wee faerie had been eying the swing in curious delight from the moment they’d stepped up to it. So, as he beckoned her closer, the bairns parting to make way, he could detect the eagerness in her posture. 

Claire settled in, her fingers wrapping around the ropes, and she gave Jamie a smile from over her shoulder. 

He gave her a push. The moment she was in motion, she was laughing. The sound, like the clear ringing of bells, was music to his ears. He gave her another push, harder this time, and the answering gasp made his heart flip in his chest. 

Desperate fool in love that he was, he quickly called, “Jamie! Do ye want tae push her?” 

His nephew, ever the compliant lad, eagerly took Jamie’s spot and began pushing his Auntie. 

Jamie was now free to move and came around the front to watch his wife. 

The sight was everything he had dreamed. 

Her face was split in a smile so bright it could easily have blinded him. Her eyes, crinkled just the slightest at the corners, were nearly closed as she laughed. She looked so carefree. So incredibly soft and happy. 

After all the sorrow and pain she’d experienced, it was a miracle to see her so untouched. So able to enjoy life in such a simple way. 

Christ, he found himself praying, thank you. Thank you. Oh God, thank you for her. Shield her. Let her feel this way the rest of time. 

He realized after a moment that she had been looking at him. The smile, aimed at him at full force, nearly made his knees buckle. 

He was a lucky bastard indeed to even be on the receiving end of such a thing. 

Returning her smile, he let peace wash over him, eager for it. 

But the tranquility shattered abruptly when, out of the blue, Claire was launching herself from the swing just as it hit its highest point. She flew from the seat, hitting the ground with a thud from her shoes, and all in a second, she was slamming into Jamie’s arms. 

He caught her, barely, a surprised laugh tearing from him, and her arms were around his neck as she giggled breathlessly into his ear. He kept her close as he stumbled a step back before regaining his balance. She pulled her face back a bit to look at him, still grinning with that irresistible brightness. 

Sacrificing her gaze for only a second, Jamie suddenly leaned to the side and shouted over Claire's shoulder, “Oh look, a stag!” and pointed at the woods behind the children. 

All the weans turned to look, and just as Claire started to do the same, Jamie caught her face in his hands and tilted it back so he could crash his lips against hers.

The bairns suitably distracted for a minute, Jamie eagerly claimed Claire’s smile with his own. He kissed her with all that joy bubbling in his chest, and she kissed him back in just the same way. He held her close in his arms and let himself relish the moment. 

As Jamie caught a glimpse of the kids turning back— their wee voices chiming out in confusion, as there was no stag to be seen— he reluctantly tore away (but refused to let go of her waist or allow her body to be parted from his). 

Claire laughed softly, squeezing his neck in a hug, and she turned to look over at the kids, resting her temple against Jamie’s jaw. 

Home. 

He was home. She was home now. 

"Alright you lot," Jamie called to the little ones, "inside now. It's time to wash up for supper." 

***

Chapter Text

Claire woke slowly, reluctantly dragging herself from uneasy sleep. She stretched, and her arm groped beside her for Jamie’s form. Only she was met with empty sheets. 

Oh, right. 

When she came back to reality enough to remember exactly why Jamie wasn’t in her bed, she felt sick. 

The wedding was today. 

Claire was staying at Lallybroch with Jenny, upon Jamie’s insistence. Her newfound sister would spend the day getting her ready before Claire would marry Jamie in a sweet ceremony at Lallybroch in front of his friends and family. 

That is, if she managed to stay on her feet the whole time. 

Her nerves were raging inside her. It wasn’t that she was nervous to marry him— they already were married in every sense except in the eyes of Jamie’s country. They’d made their decision the day they were handfast. It wasn’t that— it was that she had to stand in front of all of his loved ones, under their scrutiny, woefully inept at all the human customs.

She was doing this for him. For the joy that sparkled in his eyes when he talked about sharing this moment with his friends and family. For the energy that blazed through him as he planned all the details. For the way he looked at her, so soft and full of affection, as he described to her the human tradition that was clearly close to his heart. 

The whole ordeal didn’t make any sense to her, but she would do it for him. She could overcome her nerves of all those eyes on her. All those strangers interacting with her. She could hold her tongue for one event to keep from tarnishing Jamie’s image with her strangeness. 

Gulping down the lump rising in her throat, she sat up in bed. 

Her hand caressed the empty spot at her side where Jamie should have been, missing him dearly even though it was only one night apart. If he had been there, he would have taken her in his arms and told her how wonderful it would all be and how she had no reason to be nervous. He would have smoothed down her hair with those incredibly big hands until she was forced to smile up at him, and then he’d cover her lips with his own. 

But they’d be together again soon enough. She just had to get through these silly traditions, and before she knew it, she’d find herself in his arms. 

She was drawn out of her longing but a boisterous Fraser greeting— not the one she wanted, but effective nonetheless. 

“Ge’ up, lazy bones, it’s yer weddin’ day!” Jenny was aggressively cheerful as she tore open the curtains of the room Claire was staying in. “Let’s get ye’ all dolled up!” 

Claire felt a stone sink in her chest as she removed herself from the warmth of her bed. Her entire body, in fact, was buzzing now with anxiety. Jenny, enthusiastic as she was, did nothing to soothe her nerves. Claire took in the sight of her holding a tray of food. 

“Can I see, Jamie?” the words burst from her lips before she could stop them. 

Jenny laughed as she placed the tray down at the… well, Claire wasn’t entirely sure of the word for it. It was a table, but also with a mirror attached to it. And in the bedroom instead of the kitchen. 

“Oh course not,” she chuckled, “he willna see ye until when ye walk down the aisle to him. It’s bad luck for the groom tae see the bride before that, ye ken.” 

Claire felt even sicker. She knew Jenny, clueless as she was, would be shoving the food down her throat, and she had no idea how to refuse without looking suspicious. She wished for the millionth time that Jamie would just burst in through the door, tradition be damned. 

“Come on,” Jenny urged, “come sit yerself down. I’ll start on yer hair as ye have a wee bite of breakfast.” 

Claire swallowed hard, still standing frozen beside the bed. “I… I’m not hungry.” 

Jenny turned toward her, studying her with that intense scrutiny that Jamie’s older sister did so well. Claire’s breath caught for a second as they just looked at each other. 

“Aye, weddin’ nerves and all that. I canna blame ye. On my weddin’ day, I couldna stomach a bite either.” 

The breath she’d been holding left Claire’s lungs. It felt like the vice around them had loosened. There was no sweeter feeling. 

Alright, she said to herself. You can do this. You managed that one just fine without Jamie, you can manage the rest. And tonight…. Tonight you’ll be alone again with your husband, everyone knowing of the union, and you can rest. 

The morning passed in a blur. Claire did her best to follow Jenny’s commands, mostly complying like a leaf blown by the wind. Her hair was done up and her face covered in strange substances Jenny referred to as makeup but Claire had never heard of before. Her spine had been straight as an arrow and her ears roaring in near panic the entire time Jenny had been applying it, her tools getting very close to Claire’s eyes, but now, as she stared at her reflection, she thought that it was very likely Jamie would be blown away at the sight of her. 

She was coming down from that stress when Jenny announced, “I’m goin’ tae check on everything. Murtagh was supposed tae make sure the caterers were taken care of and that everythin’ outside was set up, but I dinna trust the old coot. When I get back, I’ll help ye intae yer dress.” 

Claire was still musing over what Jenny was talking about when the second part of her statement clicked. 

Help you into your dress. 

The dress that she and Jamie had picked out precisely to cover her wings. 

Claire’s heartbeat thundered in her chest. Some deep rooted instinct had her head whipping around in search of cover— a place to hide, or escape or…

The urge to cry was welling within her. She tried taking deep breaths, tried to snatch her panic from the very air and shove it back inside herself. 

She imagined Jamie— closed her eyes and visualised his perfect face, his smile, his laugh. Thought of his joy as he saw her in that dress all done up. She clung hard to that image, grounding herself. 

This was not like when she went back to through stones. This was not like searching desperately for a way back to Jamie. This was a wedding— a special occasion. Even with her secret threatened, she was not going to panic and ruin the day for Jamie. She took a deep, steadying breath. 

She eyed the gown hanging on the wall. Stalking toward it, she removed it from the little branch it hung on, and then she surveyed it. 

Complicated human garments — she cursed to herself. 

She managed to undo the zipper though, one of the many things Jamie had taught her about. Slowly, carefully, she let the dress pool on the ground and then stepped into it. She brought it up over herself and onto her shoulders. She eyed herself in the mirror and a slight smile tilted her lips. 

Now, all she had to do was get the pesky zipper up to cover the evidence of her wings. She turned to survey the exposure. There they were— golden and glittery for all to see unless she managed to get the dress closed before Jenny returned. 

She started struggling, reaching behind her and contorting her arms at odd angles. She was acutely aware of every second ticking by. Every passing moment risked discovery. 

After trying in vain for a long while, Claire’s hold on her composure was starting to slip, and her frustration was surfacing. Her breathing grew uneven as she struggled, in vain, to get to the back of the dress. 

A whimper of frustration rose from her chest and filled the quiet room. She tried everything she could think of— every possible position and technique. But nothing worked. 

Jenny would return any second and find her, and Claire had no plan to cover this up. 

Her secret would be out. Jamie’s day would be ruined. 

Claire swallowed hard, fighting back tears. 

All she wanted was to give him this one thing without messing it up. And here she was. 

Her chest heaved in shuddering breaths, and she threw her arms back and tried anew. 

The door opened. 

Claire whirled around, panic flaring in her eyes and the need to hide foremost in her brain. But when she eyed the door, instead of being greeted with the sight of Jenny, she saw—

“Jamie!” 

His name tore from her throat at the same time as she launched herself toward him, nearly tripping over the dress. Relief washed through her, and the moment she threw her arms around his neck, feeling him again, everything seemed suddenly righted. 

“Woah, lass,” Jamie’s voice was low and gravely in a way that soothed her oh-so much, “Christ! What’s wrong?” 

His arms came up around her and he began stroking soothing lines down her exposed back. 

She was laughing breathlessly, trying not to cry, “can’t you tell? The little problem of my wings? Jenny will be back any second and I couldn’t get this dress up and she was going to find out the truth and I would have ruined the day and messed everything up—”

Jamie pulled back, smiling at her with such gentleness. He cupped her face in both hands to stop the onslaught of words, and his mere nearness quieted her. 

He was so calm in the midst of her turmoil. 

“First of all, you could never mess up this day. It’s about you. All I’ve ever wanted was you,” Jamie breathed, “and secondly…” 

He dropped his hands from her face and stepped back, completely unhurried. 

“You look absolutely… breathtakingly… perfect.” 

She stepped closer to him again, as if the space between them was too much to bear. “Even if I’m on the verge of a breakdown?” 

“Always,” he breathed. 

His hand was on her face again, and he was leaning in as if to kiss her. She closed her eyes in anticipation of his mouth on hers and was greeted with… nothing. 

Her eyes popped open, and she found Jamie chuckling nervously. 

“I shouldna mess up yer makeup jes’ yet…” he said. 

Claire laughed, lowering her face slightly. 

“Do you like it?” she asked. 

“Claire…” he said softly. His finger came under her chin to tilt her head up to look at him, “I would and will think ye’re beautiful always . No matter if you were wearing dirt or makeup, if you were forever young or covered all o’er in wrinkles. I will always think ye’re the most bonny creature I’ve ever laid eyes on.” 

“Oh,” Claire said as joy consumed every part of her, “well I suppose that’s the best possible answer there is.” 

Jamie just stared at her for another long moment, his face soft with an adoration that made her want to melt under his gaze. Finally, he said, “let’s get that dress zipped.” 

He stepped behind her. She shuddered as his fingers grazed his wings, just in the slightest. He must have sensed her reaction, because he did it again, longer this time. 

“You tease,” she hissed playfully. 

His fingers lazily traced along the edge of her wing. 

“Jes’ admirin’ my bonny wife,” he replied innocently. 

“Come on, Jamie. Jenny will be back any second. And if she finds you here, she’ll rip you to shreds.” 

Jamie laughed. “Actually I sent her on a wee goose chase to give me a bit of time tae sneak in here.” 

Claire stepped away from his touch and turned her head to look over her shoulder at him. “What’s a goose chase?” 

Jamie looked so happy. It filled her soul to see him like this, so carefree and joyful and laughing. He reached out for her, snagging her hips and tugging her against him as he said, “a goose chase, my wee fair one, is when someone is sent looking for somethin’ that doesna exist. In this case, it’s a problem wi’ the flowers.” 

She smacked him lightly on the chest. “You’re a terrible brother.” 

“That I am,” he admitted as he used his grip on her hips to turn her around again so he could finally do up the zipper and laces on the back of her dress, “but I make up for it by bein’ a good husband.” 

Breathing came easier once her wings were finally hidden safely from view.  

Claire shivered as lips met her neck. Jamie kissed her softly, reverently, before he walked back around in front of her. 

“I should go,” Jamie said apologetically, eying a clock on the wall, “but it willna be long now.” 

Claire nodded, looking out the window. Anxiety started to surface at the thought of being separated from him again. From the moment he’d stepped into the room, he’d soothed every worry in her. As he always did. 

Now, though…

Those thoughts must have shown clearly across her face because Jamie hesitated. His eyes— so incredibly blue— went soft. 

“Are you alright, mo nighean donn?” 

She nodded, trying to put on an unaffected smile. “Fine.” 

“You arena fine,” he said, stepping close again. 

“I am, Jamie,” she nodded and tried to look convincing, “listen. Jenny will be back any second. I’m trying very hard not to ruin this day by breaking any human traditions. You really need to go.” 

“I’m no’ goin’ anywhere until I ken ye’re alright.” 

He looped his arms around her waist again and drew her close. She acquiesced, melting into his embrace. But she didn’t say a word. 

“Is that what this is about?” Jamie asked when she didn’t offer an explanation, “ye’re worried ye’ll ‘ruin’ today?” 

Claire leaned in even closer so she didn’t have to meet his gaze. 

“Of course I am,” she admitted, “isn’t that what I do? I’m always acting impulsively and forcing you to cover for me. But not today. I won’t let that happen, I’m being careful.” 

“Claire,” Jamie breathed, “ye must no’ have heard me earlier. You canna ruin today.” He paused a second before adding, jokingly, “unless of course ye run away on me.” 

“I can assure you that won’t happen,” Claire laughed. 

“Then you have nothin’ tae worry about. Listen, mo ghraidh. I want this day to be as much for you as me. I want ye to have fun. Dinna fash the small stuff. I dinna care if they think ye a wee bit strange. Everyone is a bit odd in their own ways, and it doesna matter one bit what they think. And I couldna care less about the intricacies of tradition. I jes’ want you to be happy.” 

Claire’s eyes were filling with tears, and she had to swallow hard. All she could manage was a silent nod. 

“Promise me…” he said firmly, “promise me that ye’ll have fun.” 

She pulled back so she could meet his eyes. She looked at him for a long second before saying, “I promise.” 

“Good then,” Jamie leaned in and kissed her cheek. 

When he withdrew, all of the gravity on his face was gone, replaced by that beautiful joy that warmed everything inside of Claire. “I’ll see ye soon.” 

“Yes,” Claire said, smiling back genuinely this time. 

He turned on his heel, starting for the door, but Claire caught his hand. 

“I love you,” she said. 

“I love you too, lass.” 

***

The next half an hour went by in a blur for Jamie. After leaving Claire (his heart breaking just a bit to have to part from her) everything was a bustle of Jenny and Ian and Murtagh. 

All too abruptly, Jamie found himself standing in the back garden in front of the priest, his hands clasped nervously behind his back. He stared out into the gathering of his friends and family. Not a great deal, but everyone he truly cared about. Ian stood by his side, John Grey behind him, and on the other side, Jenny waited for Claire. 

It broke Jamie’s heart a little that Claire didn’t have anyone here for her. Jenny had asked over and over whether she would have any guests attending, but of course, Claire had no one. If he could have, Jamie would have gone through the stones just to kick the sorry asses of the fae she’d called “her people,” who had done squat after the death of her parents. 

But now wasn’t the time for such emotions. If he thought too long on Claire’s past, and the loneliness she had felt, it would break him. 

So he simply looked toward the house, waiting expectantly for his bride. 

And then, there she was, her hand on Murtagh’s arm, emerging from the house like a heroine straight out of a romance novel. 

He had seen her already today. Been blown away already by the sight of her hair and makeup and dress. She’d been so beautiful in that room that he’d nearly dropped to his knees before her. 

But now— she was unreal. 

The first thing he noticed was her smile. Her smile had always been the sunshine on a cloudy day— always warmed him to the very marrow of his bones— but now, she was positively beaming at the sight of him. His knees felt like jelly and he hadn’t even completely taken in the sight of her. 

Her hair was left loose, letting the curls spill naturally over her shoulders. Untamed and perfect— like she was meant to be. It reminded him of the day she’d run down the hill from the stones toward him, her hair streaming behind her. All he’d wanted was to bury his hands in that hair and kiss her until neither of them could breathe— and he’d done just that. 

His eyes traced down her body. Her dress was… perfect. It was a simple long sleeve gown with a bit of lace and a skirt that flowed around her, stopping just at her ankles. The neck was a deep vee, nothing too shocking, but enough to make his mouth go dry. 

Her feet were bare— of course. He nearly laughed imagining the fight that must have gone on between Jenny and Claire as Jenny tried to coerce her into the white heels she’d bought for her. Jamie hadn’t been sure who would win in that test of stubbornness, but he was glad that it had been Claire. 

She looked exactly as she was meant to be. Ethereal. Fae. 

Perfect. 

Something warm tracked its way down his cheek, and he realized he was crying. Claire smiled harder at him as she glided forward, her own lips wobbling with emotion. 

Christ, he loved her with everything inside him. 

He wanted to pinch himself to be sure it was all real. That this perfect lass walking toward him was really his. That the joy he was feeling wouldn’t be snatched away. It felt too good to be true. 

But all of a sudden, just as Claire reached him, instead of taking his hands, he suddenly found himself with an armful of faerie, her mouth on his. 

He laughed in surprise into her kiss, but quickly wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back— pouring his love and passion and gratitude into that kiss. 

There were a couple of surprised gasps from the audience, but Jamie didn’t give a damn. He kissed the joy from Claire’s mouth and poured out his own in return. 

His perfect, strange, love. 

She pulled back, smiling brightly, her eyes crinkling a bit at the corners, and he wished he could kiss her all over again. But there would be time for that. Soon. 

He reached out and took her hands in his. Their gazes were locked tight, and the rest of the world seemed to fade away around him. The priest began speaking, but Jamie was far too caught up in that shimmering whiskey to bother paying much attention. 

She consumed him. She always had— everything about her had enraptured and enthralled him and filled his senses from the very first moment he’d laid eyes on her. But he’d never imagined being this distracted at his own wedding. He barely listened beyond the bare minimum until suddenly the priest was saying, “I understand ye have prepared yer own vows?” 

“Aye,” Jamie answered. 

There was a paper tucked in his pocket, but Jamie had long since memorized exactly what he wanted to say to her. 

“Claire,” he breathed, before remembering he should speak loud enough for everyone to hear, “I have been yers since the first moment I laid eyes on you. I loved you when I held you in my arms that first time. And I promise, I will love you forever. Nothing could ever make me stop. I promise to be with you in sickness and health. I promise to be with you when things are easy and hard. I promise to be there to comfort and protect you. I wish that I could promise that no one and nothing would ever hurt you, but I can promise that I will spend my life trying to keep that from happening. I promise that my heart is yours now and forever.” 

He took a long breath, letting it punctuate his vows before his last statement. The fear he knew still weighed on both of them. 

“And I promise… I will never leave you.”

Claire’s eyes glistened with tears, and his breath caught as one leaked from the corner of her eyes. He reached out on instinct to brush it away. 

She gave him a watery smile, filled with so much joy that it shook him to the core, and then she began speaking. 

“Jamie. I love you. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything in this life. And I promise to always love you. I promise to care for you and share in your joy and heartache alike. I promise to heal and protect you. I promise to fight for you— fight for us— always. I promise I will never leave you again. I promise that I will give you every part of me, and I will love every part of you. You are mine, and I am yours, and I promise that I will be grateful for that every day of my life.” 

It took every ounce of self control that Jamie had built up over the course of his life not to lean in and kiss her. His own tears were falling now, and it was Claire’s turn to reach up and cup his face as her fingers swept them away. 

He could have simply wept in front of her all day and let her brush away those tears of joy, but it was time for the handfasting. 

The first time they’d been handfasted, it had been alone on that hill. Claire had been cradled in his arms, barely conscious. He’d been so full of agony and guilt. He’d felt so incredibly selfish to ask it of her but so desperate to have one thing to carry with him forever. 

Now, as Murtagh carefully sliced their wrists and then fastened the linen around them, tying them together, Claire stood in front of him, vibrant with life. There was no trace of heartache. It was as if the joy of this moment blotted out the memory of the worst day of his life. 

There was only here. Now. 

Only the words he was speaking and she was speaking in return. 

Blood of my blood. 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. You are Blood of my Blood and Bone of my Bone. 

Claire had already been his wife. She had been since that moment on the hill. But now, standing in front of his family and friends, she was his for the world to see. 

Still tied together with her— the blood rushing in his ears but everything else completely silent— Jamie leaned in, reverently, and kissed her. 

The cheers of his loved ones were distant as she leaned into the kiss, pressing gently but insistently, consuming his world, intoxicating him. He had always half wondered if it was some faerie magic that made him feel like the world was falling from beneath his feet anytime he kissed her, but he knew that she didn’t need any more magic than simply herself to make him feel this way. 

Uncaring of the crowd around him, he wrapped his free hand around her waist and pulled her close. Breathing her in. 

All too soon, their lips parted. Sound seemed to return all at once, and he was greeted with cheers and whoops. He managed to tear his gaze away from her to see Jenny, beaming with tears in her eyes. As Murtagh unfastened the white cloth, Jamie spied tears in his eyes too. 

He looked back to Claire to find her nearly glowing. His breath caught in his throat as he remembered when she had actually glowed that first day he’d kissed her, but his panic quickly dissipated with the knowledge that it was only love that made her shine this day. 

Completely under her power, he leaned in again to steal another quick kiss. 

Then, he swept her legs from under her and carried her down the aisle as she laughed in pure, unadulterated joy. 

***

The reception— if the party held also in the back garden of Lallybroch could even be called that— was both joy unimaginable and torture to wait through. They had food for their guests, but not a formal meal since Claire couldn’t sit in front of everyone and simply not eat without difficult questions arising. They’d foregone some of the traditions, such as the meal and cutting of the cake, for that very reason, but they’d adhered to others. 

Dancing began shortly after they’d walked out— hand in hand. Introduced as husband and wife for the first time. 

When Jamie had gathered her in his arms as the music began, it was hard not to weep. The constant battle of the day, it seemed, was simply holding his emotions in check. 

She was a bonny dancer. They moved together perfectly. Their bodies spoke together on a level that he would never fully understand. 

Now, Jamie stood with a glass of water off to the side, watching with rapture as his bride danced in the middle of the dancefloor. She was… enchanting. 

Claire was dancing as if no one else surrounded her. Dancing with her eyes closed. For only herself. 

There weren’t words to describe the beauty of it. Her arms were thrown above her head as she twirled, her body moving with infinite grace. Her skirts swirled gently around her as she moved, flowing on the wind itself. She danced… exactly how one would imagine a faerie to dance. 

Amidst everyone else on the dancefloor, she was a goddess. Strange and beautiful and otherworldly. 

He loved her so much his chest hurt. 

He could have watched her for hours. Days. Years. 

He supposed he would. He had the rest of his life to watch her dance and live and enjoy. 

Jamie was interrupted from his musing when Jenny sidled up next to him. 

“I’ve never seen anyone dance like that,” Jenny remarked, her eyes also fixed on Claire. Her voice didn’t hold any hint of judgement. In fact, there was something like awe in it. 

“There isna anyone like Claire,” Jamie breathed, feeling a rush of the adoration that he was so prone to this day. 

“It’s good tae see ye so happy, Jamie,” Jenny said softly, patting his shoulder. 

“I am,” Jamie said, finally tearing his eyes away to look at Jenny as he spoke the truth of his heart, “I am so incredibly happy.” 

“So am I, little brother,” Jenny said, “now quit yer gawkin’ and go dance wi’ yer wife.” 

Jamie laughed, nodding, but he didn’t obey right away. Instead, he wrapped Jenny tightly in his arms. Holding his sister close, tears pricked at his eyes. 

“I’m so glad ye’re here,” Jamie breathed. 

The implications lay heavy between them. Jamie wasn’t sure at first if she was going to say anything. Jenny tended to shy away from any mention of their parents or brother. Any mention of loss. Jamie worried for a minute that he may have ruined the moment between them before Jenny finally spoke, voice gentle. 

“Ma and Da would be proud. I ken that they are lookin’ down today. They would have loved her.” 

A tear tracked down the side of Jamie’s face, and he took a shuddering breath against Jenny. “They would have.” 

Jenny drew back then, smiling at him, and hit his shoulder. 

“I willna be responsible for stealin’ ye from yer bride for one more second. Go on, now.” 

Jamie obeyed, desperate to have Claire in his arms again. 

Speaking of his parents hadn’t sullied his joy, not at all. But he still missed them. He longed for Claire to soothe that bittersweet ache in his heart that would never quite go away.  

He strode through the people dancing, brushing off his nieces and nephews tugging at him with a “yer auntie is waitin’ for me. Dinna fash, I’ll save ye each a dance.” 

When he reached Claire, she was still dancing with complete abandon. Her eyes were shut, so he hooked an arm around her waist and pulled her to his chest. 

Her eyes flew open in surprise. He watched her expression change from startled to content in an instant. 

She melted against him the moment his arms snaked around her waist, and she responded by wrapping her arms around his neck. Gazing deep in his eyes, Jamie felt like she was looking into every part of him. 

Her expression wavered.

“What’s wrong, love?” she asked quietly. 

Jamie huffed out a slight laugh. “Nothing about me is ever hidden from you, is it?” 

“Never,” she said seriously, her bonny face still coated in concern. 

“I jes’ wish my parents could have met you, is all. But I’m grateful Jenny is here. And Ian. And Murtagh. Everyone.” 

“I wish I could have met them too,” Claire said softly. She leaned closer to lay her head on Jamie’s chest— small as she was, she couldn’t even reach his shoulder. 

He hugged her closer. 

“They would have loved you,” he echoed his comment to Jenny, needing Claire to hear it. 

“I would have loved them,” she whispered. 

They swayed in silence for a minute, letting the music wash over them, letting the memory of Jamie’s parents have its time. 

When the song changed though, so did their dance. Jamie took her hands instead and watched the joy glitter in her eyes as he spun and twirled her with the upbeat music. 

They must have danced for a long while, so wrapped up in each other that they paid no heed to the friends and family dancing around them. He watched Claire laugh when he stumbled, felt her body move under his hands, soaked in her joy. 

After a while though, when the songs grew slower, Claire closed her eyes and laid her head against him again. She seemed to press closer with every song. 

She was closing her eyes a lot, he realized. He thought on it for a long moment, his heart starting to race as he considered the implications. 

Then he realized as he thought back to the fears she’d expressed to him. 

“Mo nighean donn,” he said quietly, freeing an arm from around her to place a hand under her face and lift it up toward him. 

She opened her eyes then, looking at him with a broad smile. 

“What do ye say we go somewhere private for a wee bit? Where no one is watchin’?” 

The expression on her face was all the answer he needed to confirm his suspicions had been true. Smiling down at her, he took her hand and led her toward a table at the back. 

To cover their tracks, he talked with her for a few moments there, pointing out various people and bringing up other mundane topics. The moment that no one seemed to be looking in their direction, Jamie grabbed her hand and they darted for the house. 

Claire was giggling as he tugged her into his father’s study and closed the door behind them. 

Unable to resist, the second they were inside, Jamie pushed her against that door and kissed her. Her wee fingers tangled in the curls at his nape as she pulled him closer. He kissed her until they were both breathless and panting, and then he finally drew back. 

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “I couldna seem tae keep tae myself one more second. Not when ye’re the most bonny creature I’ve ever seen, my wife.” 

“Oh, I understand. I’ll have you know that you owe me for the amount of self control I showed during the ceremony,” Claire teased. 

“Oh, that was self control, was it? Kissing the daylights out of me the second ye got near enough?” Jamie shot back with a grin. 

“It was. I could have spent the entire time kissing you, but I held back. As a favor.” 

“A favor?!” Jamie laughed, “that bonny heid of yers must be broken. I never thought I’d hear the day when someone claimed it was a favor for ye not tae kiss me.” 

“Alright, I’ll have to make up for lost time then.”

And then they were kissing again. Mouths melting together, hands wandering… until Jamie had to pull back. 

“Ye wee minx,” Jamie breathed over her lips. 

“You’ve married me in front of everyone, no turning back now,” Claire said with a wicked grin. 

Jamie laughed. “Never.” 

Stepping apart, they both sat down on the chairs in front of his father’s desk, facing each other. They were close enough that his knees touched hers, but far enough away that Jamie could manage a bit more self control. Silence descended on the room. Comfortable silence. The warmth of each other’s presence was enough. 

The stillness— the first time there’d really been quiet that day— invited reflection. All day, Jamie had been on the brink of being drawn into memory and sentiment. This was no different. His brain wandered back.  

As always, Claire saw right through him. 

“What are you thinking about?” she asked, voice quiet. 

Jamie smiled, hesitating for a second over how much he should share. 

“Tell me everything,” she said. 

Jamie reached out to her then, her hand meeting the soft skin of her cheek. Then he began to share the memory that had come to the forefront of his mind. 

“When I found ye on that hill,” Jamie breathed, caressing her face, his touch light with awe and wonder that this perfect creature was truly his— half of his own soul, “the first thought I had was that ye were the bonniest lass I’d laid eyes on in my life. Ye were so small lying there in the middle of the stones, yer wee white dress clinging to every curve of yer body. Christ, I was so far gone from the second I laid eyes on ye.” 

“Do you remember the first thing I said to you?” Claire asked, cupping her hand over his where it rested on her face. Her thumb trailed back and forth over his skin. 

Jamie shook his head, smiling faintly. “I was scared out of my mind when ye pushed out of my arms, lass. When you looked a’ me wi’ such fear. I thought ye were really hurt but you mebbe wouldna let me help ye.” 

As if sharing a private moment with herself in her mind, Claire’s smile grew. 

“I was surprised you could see me. That was the first thing I asked you.” 

“Oh,” Jamie breathed out, remembering suddenly with acute clarity how those huge whiskey eyes had regarded him warily, but with a flash of curiosity. How her voice had sent his bones to water it was so lovely, “I remember.” 

Claire was suddenly moving closer, as if the distance between them was too great. As always, she couldn’t stand for any space to keep her from him. As brazenly as that first night together, Claire climbed onto his lap, throwing a leg over either side of his and leaning in so her lips were mere inches from Jamie’s as she spoke. Her ethereal eyes met Jamie’s, locked onto his without wavering. 

“You’re the only one who has ever seen me,” she breathed, “you saw me from that first moment. And as you looked at me in the time that followed… you began to see every part of me, even the ugly bits...” Her face turned almost pained with how the emotion must have been twisting her insides, “ and you loved me anyway.” 

It wasn’t a question. There wasn’t that uplifted tone at the end. She knew it to be true, but the way she said it… it was as if she was wondering how it could be true. 

“Mo nighean donn,” he said, ever so gently, “there arena any ugly parts of you. You…” he reached up to brush back her curls in utter affection, making sure his eyes held the depth of what he was saying, “you are the purest soul I’ve ever met. You are kind to a fault, giving of yourself. You are strong but gentle. What could you possibly think that I could look at and not love about you?” 

She blinked slowly, leaning in to press a kiss to Jamie’s jaw. 

Deflecting. Clearly. And Jamie wouldn’t have it. 

He returned his hand to her face and gently drew her back again so she was forced to meet his eyes. 

“It’s our wedding day, Jamie,” Claire said, a contrite smile on her face, “well, our second one. But I shouldn’t be starting this kind of talk while we’re supposed to be celebrating.” 

Jamie brought his lips to her forehead and kissed it for a long moment. “Tell me,” he breathed. 

She couldn’t seem to meet his eyes. Instead, she tucked her face into the crook of his neck and said, “I was just so broken— when we met. I needed you so much. I was lonely. But I didn’t know how to act with you. I still don’t sometimes. But you loved the mess that I was, and I guess… what I’m trying to say is thank you,” she drew back to look at him again and she said, “For not dismissing me like everyone else in my life always had.” 

“Claire,” it was her name, not an endearment, that was punched from his lungs. “You dinna ever have tae thank me for loving you. It’s as easy as breathing. And besides…”he stroked a hand down the length of her back in emphasis, “you’ve loved me so well. Like I’ve been tellin’ ye ever since that day that I took ye to the stones for the first time: I needed you. More than you needed me, I think. I was broken and lonely too. Living with a missing piece. And then, all of a sudden… there you were. Wi’ yer bonny curls,” he brushed his fingers over them, “yer perfect eyes…” he fluttered a kiss over her eyelid, “and those goddamn lips that drove me mad for the longest time.” He ended by swiping his thumb over said lips, and Claire didn’t say a word before she was leaning in to show him exactly who those lips belonged to now. 

Jamie kissed her, greedily, as he remembered those long days of touching her while wishing so desperately that she could be his. He could almost feel the guilt that had been his constant companion for so long while he relished her unabashed touches. How he had thought he was taking advantage of her by enjoying them so much. How he’d hated himself for that. 

He had thought she hadn’t felt the same. 

Now here she was… his wife… sitting on his lap just as brazenly as she had at the beginning. But now, he didn’t have to feel an ounce of guilt as he stole the breath from her lungs with his kisses and his hands wandered over her body to pull her closer. 

She pulled back, giving him a teasing smirk as he leaned forward in a vain attempt to follow her lips. 

“So,” she began conversationally, “was today everything you dreamed?” 

“Aye,” he said, tucking a curl back behind her ear, “you were there. And my family. And I got to call ye mine in front of all of them. Nothin’ couldha been better.” 

Jamie gave her a knowing smile and then added, “and did you manage to enjoy it?”

“Aye,” she mimicked, grinning widely, “but I’m still not sure that I liked having so many eyes that weren’t yours watching me.” 

Jamie chuckled, wrapping his arms more tightly around her waist, “jes’ my eyes on ye now, a nighean.” 

“That sounds like you’re trying to start something you can’t finish, Mr. Fraser,” Claire shot back. 

“I believe it’s you who is the one jumpin’ tae conclusions, Mrs. Fraser,” Jamie said, relishing her title on his tongue. 

“I suppose we should get back out there,” Claire said, looking apologetic. Jamie let his head fall back and groaned. 

“Ye’re right.” 

Claire extricated herself from his lap and stood, reaching out a hand for him. He stared up at her in awe for a second, scarcely believing she was real, and then took it. She hauled him up, and he stood face to face with her for a long second. 

“Are you happy?” he found himself asking. 

“I am so incredibly, gloriously, deliriously happy,” she breathed, “are you?” 

“More than I can say.”

She answered with a simple, “I love you,” pure enough to send the world caving in around him. 

His “I love you,” came out on a breath. Something about it held more weight than any of the times he had said it before. He had said it in joy, in grief, in teasing. 

This was something more. A vow like the ones they had just taken. 

It wasn’t a promise that everything in life would be easy. Certainly, there would be hardships and suffering. It wasn’t even a promise that everything would be okay. 

But it was a promise to be at her side. Forever. 

No matter what would come, they would walk through it together. 

Hand in hand, Jamie and Claire returned to the party.

***

The End