Jamie was dreaming. He had to be. That was the only way Claire would be in front of him in the middle of the night. His dreams of her had been so real over the last few months. And the years before she returned, if he was being honest. He’d often woke up certain that Claire was right next to him, only to find himself cold and alone. This was just one more apparition. Jamie didn’t say anything at first, content to enjoy the vision of Claire before he fully awoke.
“Jamie?” She murmured when he made no move to speak or approach her. Jamie didn’t respond, “It is you, isn’t it? This isn’t some random groom?”
“Tis me, Sassenach,” Jamie replied. Sometimes, she disappeared the moment he spoke to her. But she was still unnervingly solid. Real. Jamie was sorely tempted to touch her. But that would guarantee she’d disappear. Claire had come to him so often in fevers and dreams, but she’d never touched him, and he was never able to touch her. Jamie had learned not to give in to his impulses, it was the only way to make the dream last longer.
But now, Claire kneeled down in front of him and laid a hand on his knee. A hand that he felt. Jamie nearly jumped out of his skin, “Christ!”
“What?” Claire startled and pulled her hand back. Jamie jolted up and grabbed her hand before it got too far away.
“It’s you,” he said dumbly.
“Of course it’s me,” she replied with a roll of her eyes, “Were you expecting another woman to come to you in the middle of the night?”
“I wasn’t expecting any woman at all, Sassenach,” Jamie replied, a little wounded. So she was still hurt, then. Of course she was. But she was here. That had to mean something. Jamie thought it was most likely something good. If it had been an emergency, she would have woken him immediately. And Jamie thought she’d probably save formally dissolving their marriage until the morning, “Would ye care to explain what yer doing here?”
“Well…” Claire began, and then trailed off. Jamie gave her several long moments, but the suspense was truly going to kill him.
“I spoke to John,” She said.
“Aye, so did I,” Jamie replied.
“And well…” Claire continued, then trailed off again, “It’s funny, how stupid this seemed when I tried to explain it to another person. Especially another person who knows us and our situation so well.”
“It wasna stupid,” Jamie protested.
“No, you’re right,” Claire replied. Jamie’s blood froze in his veins before she continued, “It was cruel. And spiteful. You were right, I did want to punish you. But punishing you has only ever hurt me.”
“But even if I was only hurting you, it was unforgivable,” Claire said, “I promised you that I wouldn’t let Geneva come between us, and I broke that promise.”
“Only after I broke yer trust, Claire,” Jamie replied, squeezing her hand. Claire squeezed it so tight in return that Jamie thought his hand was going to break, but he didn’t even dream of pulling away. It was the first time they’d touched in months, nothing in this world could have pulled Jamie away from her.
“You did nothing wrong. I truly meant that when I said it to you,” Claire said, “But then… the baby got in my head, Jamie. I know you didn’t do it on purpose, and I know you only did it to protect us. But you know how sensitive of a subject that is for me.”
“I don’t want the bairn, Claire,” Jamie insisted.
“And I believe you,” Claire said, “But a hypothetical child by a woman who coerced you isn’t the same as a living, breathing baby.”
“It isna like we’ll be around to see it,” Jamie replied.
“It doesn’t matter,” Claire said, “I know this child will always be between us. And so will Geneva. She is giving you the one thing I can’t, and that just kills me, Jamie.” Her voice broke, and then the tears followed very quickly. Jamie gathered her in his arms, and she let him. He was content for a while to just let her cry while he untangled his thoughts.
He knew Claire was angry. Furious even. He’d hurt her badly, he knew that. But he’d never guessed the level of devastation. He’d been so caught up in the act that he’d never considered how their personal history played a role. He’d never guessed her anger was coming from a place of heartbreak. Jamie still felt the loss of the first child so acutely, and he’d never even gotten to see her. Of course Claire’s feelings would be more intense. Jamie had always said he wanted a big family, but he only wanted that with Claire. And that didn’t matter anymore. He had a gaggle of nieces and nephews. Not to mention Bree and Fergus. They were the only bairns he cared about. How could Claire not know that? How had Jamie failed so utterly in showing her that?
“No matter what, we are leaving this place,” Jamie said some time later when Claire’s cries had subsided, “And I swear you, Claire, on everything that I love. On our daughter, that this child will have no place in my life.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Claire said tearfully. Jamie wished he had his dirk, so he could show her just how serious he was. Instead, he’d have to make due with words and hope she finally heard him.
“Fine,” Jamie replied, “Since ye think ye know me so well. Maybe the day will come when the truth comes out and this child seeks me out. Or my curiosity gets the best of me and I ask John to check in. But I swear, unless ye will it, I will never lay eyes on that child.”
Claire regarded him for a long moment. She and her glass face were usually so easy to read, but Jamie couldn’t even begin to decipher her. She searched his eyes and Jamie just hoped that she saw truth there.
“Unless I will it?”
“Only with yer blessing, Sassenach,” Jamie said, “Do ye believe me?”
Claire nodded once, and Jamie swore his heart was going to burst. He pulled her against him hard and pressed his lips everywhere he could touch. Her hair, her brow, her throat. And finally, her lips. She responded with enthusiasm, and soon they were laying down face to face. He was panting hard and he longed to touch her, but she looked so tired. He was sure he didn’t look any better. There would be other times to make love, Jamie decided. Right now, he was content to just have her next to him, her head resting on his chest. Jamie had almost drifted back to sleep when Claire stirred and he heard her whisper.
“Don’t make me regret it.”
Claire awoke with the sun the next morning to find Jamie still asleep and curled up behind her. It was rare that Claire woke up before him and she relished the warmth of his limp body. Claire was content. For the first time in months, Claire felt truly content.
Happy might be a bit of a stretch still. How could she be happy when her children weren’t here? But after speaking to John and reconciling with Jamie, Claire could finally imagine a way out of this mess. She couldn’t see the light at the end of this tunnel quite yet, but it had to be there. She and Jamie had survived so much together, this was not going to be the thing that broke her.
Claire stayed still until Jamie started to stir behind her. He pulled her closer against him and Claire hummed her approval at his arms squeezing her. It was well after dawn, but not late enough that the estate was bustling yet. They didn’t have much time left, but they had these few moments and Claire was determined to enjoy them.
“Good morning, Sassenach,” Jamie replied with a kiss to the back of her neck that made Claire shiver. She felt Jamie smile against her skin and he did it again. And again. Claire was sorely tempted to turn around and kiss him properly, but she didn’t want to start anything they didn’t have time to finish. It was lucky Jamie had been alone last night, but the stable wouldn’t stay empty for long. Instead, Claire just let Jamie kiss and caress her at his leisure. By the time they truly had to get up, Claire thought she would burst with the feelings of just being touched again.
“We need to meet with John today,” Claire said as she tried to make herself presentable. There was little she could do after a night of sleeping on hay, but she managed to at least get all the straw out of her hair. She figured that was just going to have to do.
“Mmm,” Jamie agreed. He’d made no move to make himself presentable and he looked like he’d been thoroughly ravished even though they hadn’t done anything. His tousled curls made Claire want to truly debauch him. But her patients awaited. Claire needed all the good will she could get before all hell broke loose, and she wouldn’t get that by ditching work.
Jamie didn’t make it easy, though. He was currently foiling every one of her attempts to tighten her laces.
“Jamie!” Claire said with an exasperated laugh, “Some of us have work to do.”
“That’s unfortunate for some people,” Jamie said with his own grin. Claire narrowly resisted the urge to kiss him. She hadn’t seen him this happy since… well, she wasn’t sure she’d seen him this happy since before Culloden. It almost undid Claire.
“Yes, it is,” Claire replied as she finally got her stays tied, “Now, are you going to put up a fight or can I leave?”
“I dinna ken, Sassenach, do ye truly want to leave?” Jamie asked. He sat up quickly until his lips were just a hairsbreadth from hers. He was so close Claire could feel his stubble, and she could smell his sweat from working with the animals. It was intoxicating. Claire had always loved the smell of a working man. Or maybe she just loved the way Jamie smelled, “Are ye gonna answer me?”
Claire pulled back just enough to see Jamie’s smirk, and it made something snap in Claire. She crashed their lips together. He didn’t fight back as she demanded entrance into his mouth, and she spent several long minutes just taking from him until they were both gasping. She felt him hard against her, but she didn’t make any sort of move to relieve him. As tempted as she was, she didn’t want their reunion to be in a pile of hay. Maybe another time that would excite her, but not after six months. Jamie seemed to think similarly, because he didn’t make another move to kiss her. He just caught his breath with his forehead pressed hard against hers.
“I missed ye, Claire.”
“I missed you too,” She replied with a kiss to his jaw. She really did love the beginnings of his beard. Somehow, she pulled away after that, “But I do have to go. I have a patient to check on.”
“May I…” Jamie began and then trailed off, “May I stay at the house tonight.”
“Yes,” Claire said, her voice soft as she gave him an equally gentle kiss, “You may.”
Claire managed to let him go and leave him to his own work. She had to check on her dental patient from yesterday and she had to prepare for their conversation with John. It should have terrified Claire. There was still every chance they’d be sent to prison instead of getting a new indenture. But even that possibility wasn’t enough to dampen Claire’s spirits in this moment. She had Jamie and she had a friend in John. Soon, she truly believed she would have her children back. And together, Claire thought they would weather this storm, as they had so many others.