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This Is Me Trying

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Hi there, 

I'm Sarah. This isn't my first fic but it IS a new and different one. I wanted to include a brief note along with my

*TW throughout for self-harm and suicidal thoughts*

This fic idea absorbed my mind and soul much like Mirrorball and (although I've tried to subdue it) it is demanding to be written down. 

This fic also has a song inspiration, you can listen to it here

 

I feel like the hardest part of going through trauma is never being able to tell people the full extent of what happened because nobody wants to know the full details-if any.

So you are left with secrets and scars forever and no one truly knows the full extent of how badly you've been hurt.

You don't want to make people upset or angry but you desperately need someone to really understand.

 

 It's a really lonely place to be. 

 

This fic is a brutally honest look at healing in the wake of trauma that shakes you to your very core.

We will seek to answer these questions that permeate my mind:

 

What happens when you can’t catch your breath, or when the memory takes your breath away? 

What can be strong enough to kickstart a life on hold?

 

Take my hand. Let’s immerse ourselves in the beginning of something new. Before we start, unclench your jaw and breathe in deeply with me.

Let's go. 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It’s a known fact that women are supposed to be sad when their husbands die. 

 

I’m not sad though. 

 

Sometimes I sit in my garage and leave the car running. 

 

Just for a minute. 

 

Or two. 

 

In the darkness, I imagine what it would be like if it didn’t take hours... 

 

What it would be like to just…

 

Sleep. 

 

I always turn my car off because…. Well, my elderly neighbor, Beverly, wouldn’t be too keen on finding me like that. 

 

She’s a busybody by nature, the kind of old woman who put bluing in her hair and still wears that Avon perfume from 1997. Oh and the wide hoops or clip-on earrings. One set for each holiday. 

 

She would be the one to find me. 

 

She’s nice enough but I know she worries about me. 

 

I can see it in her hazel eyes when she asks me, “How’re you doing, kid?” 

 

And we make small talk around the mailbox before each retreating to our quiet little lives.

 

None the wiser. 

 

Everyone here worries, but no one really comes up to talk to me about it. 

 

Well, I take it back. 

 

There was the one time when Joan, my other neighbor, came to ask if I was ok. 

 

She heard me rage-screaming in my kitchen. 

 

Yeah. 

 

I’m (not) okay. 

 

It’s the PTSD but I tell her it’s grief and she goes, “Oooh.” 

 

The pity “Oooh”. 

 

The one I usually hate but this time, I welcome. 

 

It’s easier to explain a widow’s rage than it is for me to explain my PTSD. 

 

Women are supposed to be sad when their husbands die. 

 

I enter my quiet flat and take my shoes off. 

 

Grocery shopping for one. 

 

Pathetic. 

 

I always buy salad, like stuff to make a salad. 

 

I should take care of myself better. 

 

But I don’t. 

 

It’s one of the many reasons to hate myself. 

 

But the crisper drawer in my fridge laughs at me as I pull out the faded, wilted head of romaine from last week to replace it with the green and healthy-looking head of romaine for this week. 

 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and old heads of romaine lettuce. 

 

I’m greeted by a loud meow, more like a yell. 

 

Adso is nine and doesn’t give a fuck anymore. 

 

When he was a kitten, he would mew softly and follow me everyone but now he’s leveled up like some kind of Pokemon and follows me like he has equal share in my life and dwelling.

 

Rules don’t apply anymore. 

 

If I yell at him for being on the counter he’ll just look at me with his yellow eyes like a bat from hell and meow back at me like, “And? What’re you gonna do about it, huh? Huh?” 

 

He’s got too much personality.

 

A cat-dog. 

 

He’s the real reason I went to the store at all. 

 

He was out of his wet food. 

 

I knew I’d never hear the end of it if I put dry *gasp* dry food in his bowl in the morning. 

 

“Just you and me bud.” 

 

I walk back to my room and take off my bra, after a quick, quiet shower I change into my nighttime pajamas.

 

Not to be confused with the daytime ones I wore when I worked from home. 

 

I look in the mirror and scrub off my only makeup, my mascara, and start layering on serums and creams.

 

At 31, I have both acne and wrinkles.

 

Aging is fun, kids. 

 

If your idea of fun is practically embalming yourself before bed each night.

 

I promised my therapist I’d do some kind of selfcare bullshit. 

 

Bath bombs feel too girly, but potions to reverse the hands of time? Now that sounds witchy.

 

Perfect. 

 

Light me up, Puritans. I am now a witch. 

 

A hydrated witch. Good luck with that. 

 

I put on my old Gap tee, it used to be Frank’s. A ringer tee with a green collar and raglan sleeves. There were holes in it now but I didn’t care. It was onion-skin see-through ultra-washed super-comfortable cotton. The kind of comfy that happens to a shirt right before it utterly disintegrates in the wash. 

 

Pouring myself a bowl of cinnamon crunch cereal, I go to the couch to sit next to Adso. Clicking on television, I look at the wide screen blankly. 

 

“Murder documentary?” I look at Adso who is licking himself seductively. “Or murder mystery?” 

 

I flip on Poirot.

 

I’ve seen them all hundreds of times, but there was something comforting about that Belgian accent talking of his “little gray cells” and “bon ami, Hastings”. 

 

I don’t watch new things anymore. 

 

I lack the energy to invest in new things lately. 

 

Maybe I’lll make it to bed tonight. It’s not uncommon for me to pass out in front of the tv.

 

I don’t go out anymore either. 

 

The last time I went out after 9 pm I’d forgotten to take out the bins. 

 

Time is a funny thing. 

 

It moves until it doesn’t. 

 

Until all life as you know it just stops and you’re expected to go through the motions. 

 

The hand of the clock breathes a sigh of relief as you gradually resume normal activities such as showering, cleaning, going to the shops to get food for your cat-dog. 

 

And yet. 

 

For you, it doesn’t budge. 

 

I’ve been stuck in this perpetual purgatory for almost a year. 

 

Has it really been that long? The change of the seasons tells me it has. 

 

Merry Christmas, hide the eggnog. Pop the champagne, happy new year. Claire’s drunk again out of her mind in the backyard. 

 

Yeah. Family functions have been fun. 

 

Ugh, family. 

 

I try not to think about the copious amount of texts I’ve been ignoring from my mom. 

 

Maybe I’ll just say yes to that family dinner and go and pretend things are fine so she leaves me be for another month or two. 

 

Sometimes it works. 

 

My head gets heavy on the couch. 

 

I tell myself that lie again, the one where I tell myself I’m just resting my eyes and then wake up at 6 am with the worst neck pain ever. 

 

Tomorrow will be just like today, and today was just like yesterday. 

 

Nothing new. 

 

I like that. 

 

No surprises. 

 

Even better. 

 

I’m (not) okay. 



Chapter Text

 

“Damnit, Kendra.” 

 

I grin like an idiot when my phone buzzes with a notification. 

 

My co-workers and I actually have a meme with the words “Damnit, Kendra” floating around between us all on Microsoft Teams. 

 

There used to be an actual Kendra. 

 

She got fired because she didn’t do her job, nor did she care. It was kind of hilarious to watch the crash and burn. 

 

Does that make me a mean girl? 

 

Probably. 

 

Low key, all of us call center representatives admired her for not giving a flying fuck. 

 

Now when it’s clear other employees aren’t making use of correct protocol the “Damnit, Kendra” memes make their circulation. It's about as much entertainment as I get these days. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love helping people who are obviously trying to help themselves here. If you’re new and struggling, I gotchu boo. 

 

I, too, was once young and naïve and thinking the world was a better place than it is now. 

 

When I was in college, I used to work retail. 

 

Yup, sold makeup the whole shebang. I would do makeovers for rich bitches and get commission and all that jazz. 

 

Retail was a fucking cakewalk to what I’m doing now. 

 

When I gave up my job at the firm I went on unemployment for a grand total of two months before I was randomly hit with an email from a job posting site asking if I’d be down to work from home for the government. 

 

Sure. 

 

Key words there: work from home. 

 

You mean I wouldn’t have to leave my house and possibly have panic attacks on the highway to get to work? Only to face courtrooms full of angry people looking at me not to crumble while I present emotional cases to a judge and jury? 

 

Hell yes. 

 

I spent one-too-many mornings late to court because I was hyperventilating on the side of the road with my hazard lights on. Blasting the air conditioning in my face, trying to blink furiously while my tears worked their way through the Marc Jacobs mascara I bought in an expensive attempt to dissuade myself from ruining my makeup by crying. 

 

That phase lasted about a month before it was clear that mascara alone wouldn't stop the tears from flowing. 

 

I remember reading somewhere that breathing in intense smells could help stop a panic attack. So there I’d be, side of the road, sniffing my highly scented hand sanitizer or essential oils if I remembered to put them in my purse… like some kinda goddamn huffing hippie. I’m honestly shocked no one called the cops on me for doing drugs. 

 

By the way, no ….no it doesn’t work. Peppermint oil can fuck right off. 

 

Enter working for the department of the treasury. The pay was less… a lot less… but for working from home, the job came with fancy government benefits and honestly it wasn’t the worst. 

 

I thought retail made me jaded. 

 

I laugh my ass off at that now. 

 

Now I deal with the general public who thinks the government works for them personally. 

 

Karen? Oh I know her. She knows me, too. So does her cousin, Barbara, and her Aunt Peggy who call me up just to scream at me and tell me what a fucked job the government is doing. Like I am personally responsible. 

 

Sometimes it gets to me. 

 

If I had a soul it’d be worse. 

 

I used to care. 

 

It’s my job to help the public get the help they need but after hearing scam after scam of people playing the system and with my past as an attorney, it’s hard to hear the lies and still care. 

 

I’ve learned to be firm but polite. How to sound feminine so my male callers will go easy on me. How to be a hardass when others try to boss me around. 

 

I play all roles here. 

 

It pays the bills. 

 

Do I see myself doing this forever? Not really. 

 

Then again, do I see myself actually here for forever? 

 

I’m not going to answer that. 

 

Macabre.  

 

I like pronouncing that word. The ‘r’ rolls off the tongue and makes me feel like I’m French or something. 

 

I’m thinking about that as I clock out for lunch and head to the kitchen to throw in a pre-made quinoa bowl. 

 

Next to the fancy new head of lettuce you’d think I’m practically Ina Garten herself. 

 

Barefoot Contessa, except in my kitchen looking out the window to nowhere as I call it. The window faces the wall of my red brick garage and it is currently misted over due to the unseasonably cold rain outside. 

 

I pretend I’m looking out onto a Tuscan villa with vineyards Bacchus himself would be jealous of,  when I hear a sharp knock at the door. 

 

Fuck. 

 

I’m not expecting anyone. 

 

Not today, not period. 

 

Oh well, maybe it’s Amazon and they’ll leave. 

 

I like my mail carrier. 

 

I call him Kenneth but I don’t actually know his name. He looks like a Kenneth. He knows to leave the package at the doorstep and to get the fuck out like the pizza delivery guy on Home Alone. 

 

Good old Kenneth. 

 

My heart is in my throat, I feel like I’m about to be sick as I hear the knock again. 

 

This is not Kenneth delivering my weekly supply of ground coffee that I suckle down like a greedy baby with a stimulant dependency. 

 

Fuckity fuck fuck. I’ll have to go check the door. 

 

They sound insistent. 

 

Maybe it’s finally my turn to be on a murder documentary. 

 

Fuck it, Claire. Go to the door. You’re a grownass adult. 

 

I look down at my outfit. Oversized Frank sweater and skinny jeans. No bra. 

 

Oh well, I guess I can hide behind the door so they don’t see my nonexistent tits… 

 

Ok, now THAT was a bang. Rude. 

 

I swear to God I’ll kill them. 

 

I skitter past the kitchen and up to the front door. 

 

Fuck me and my plans of being artsy. 

 

I was an idiot when I decided to put faux stained glass window cling all over my door because now I couldn’t see who it was. I actually have to fucking open it. 

 

“Coming!” I call out. 

 

Why is my voice so high? 

 

My palms are actually sweating here. 

 

Why is this shadow so big? Is fucking Shrek standing outside? 

 

Ok, Claire. You got this. 

 

I take in a deep breath while I unbolt the three locks I have up on the inside of my door. 

 

Shrek must think they’re at fucking Gringott’s bank from Harry Potter by the sounds of all the locks my shaking fingers are turning. 

 

I open the door like a vault and poke my head into the crack. 

 

There’s a goddamn giant outside my door. 

 

Standing there in the freezing rain, soaked and with massive shoulders that were at least two feet across. 

 

Instead of Shrek, the man in front of me has a stoic viking face that must be the male equivalent of resting bitch face. At least what face I could make out under the hat. 

 

He’s bundled up against the cold drizzle outside and all I can see is his red wavy hair poking out from under his gray cap and the cloud of vapour. His jacket is pulled so far up his face I can barely see it. 

 

“Maintenance, Ma’am. Okay if I come in?” 

 

Ok, first, the audacity. I know I have zero makeup on and a few gray hairs at my temples but to call me ma’am over miss still insults my vanity a little.  

 

Secondly, come in?!

 

“Fuck no. I didn’t call maintenance.” 

 

There’s an awkward silence between us and I glare at him, my mind going to about several different things I could grab at a moment’s notice should he try to barge his way in here. Something tells me the old, burgundy, wood-handled umbrella wouldn't even phase Shrek. 

 

Maintenance my ass. 

 

“Begging yer pardon, Miss.” 

 

There’s the Miss. Okay he picks up quickly. I’ll give him that. Also, the stoic viking has an accent I take a moment to place but it’s vaguely Scottish. 

 

“It was yer neighbor who made the call, Beverly? She had me come to check out a leak in her faucet and I wanted to make sure it wasn’a coming in through the ceiling here.” 

 

Damnit, Beverly. 

 

“Jesus. Fine then, but be quick about it. I’m on lunch and have to get back to work soon.” 

 

Cold and wet, Shrek gives a huff and nods sharply. 

 

Shit. No bra. 

 

I totally wasn’t planning on letting a total stranger into my house. 

 

I make a quick attempt at crossing my arms to cover my nipples, now rock-hard in the cold. Just then, a black flash of lightning zooms out of the crack in the door that widens as the man turns to pick up his tool bag and I open the door further to let him in. 

 

“Fuck!” I scream. “Adso come back!” 

 

I forget the stranger and the fact that my door is wide open at this point as I panic and shriek after my cat-dog as he makes a run for it. I see it in slow motion, the little bastard re-enacts Chariots of Fire as he makes a run for it. Head back, hair streaming in the wind before it gets plastered down all around him with the cold rain. It would be majestic if I weren’t so mad at him for doing this to me right now. 

 

Little fucker is having the time of his life with no intention of coming back. 

 

Chapter Text

 

I hate the cold. 

 

Despise it with every fiber of my being. 

 

My first phrase in French class was “je déteste le froid” or “I hate the cold”. 

 

I taught it to myself and repeated it often in the fifteen years since high school. 

 

I literally want to hibernate each winter until my seasonal depression goes away and is replaced with a fancy new, spring depression. Or as my therapist would call it, Major Depressive Disorder. It’s best friends with my PTSD. They go out together sometimes and wreck my life. 

 

It’s good, it's all good. Super fun when that happens. 

 

The only thing worse than the cold is cold rain and Adso was currently racing to my backyard area behind my garage unaffected by the bone-chilling water droplets falling down from the sky. 

 

Maybe I shouldn’t have screamed his name, it seems to have only fueled his desire to run away from me and leave me behind like everyone else. Fucking traitor. Especially after I did a special shop run just for his food. 

 

I grab my green wellies by the door and run out after him in the freezing rain. Boobs bouncing helter-skelter and unchaperoned as I run after my cat-dog who darts around the back of the flat and makes a beeline up the steep hill behind the garage. 

 

It’s freezing. Freezing is an understatement, it’s hell frozen over. 

 

I dash off after Adso. 

 

“Here boy, here kitty kitty. Come to mama, honey.” 

 

It takes me a second to realize Stoic Viking man is behind me and did me the favor of closing the green door to my flat in case any other hell-beasts broke loose. 

 

I bet I’m giving him quite the show as the rain pelts my Frank sweater making it stick to my skin in the way acrylic-blend fabric does- uncomfortably tight. 

 

Adso’s large, yellow eyes widen and then go to pinpoints as he looks over his little shoulder and makes a giant leap up into the old willow tree at the edge of the backyard on the steep hill. Damnit. 

 

Stoic Viking whistles between his teeth like he’s calling a cab or something. Or maybe a dog. 

 

“He’s a cat, not fucking Lassie.” 

 

I retort sharply over my shoulder as my teeth start to rattle in my head. 

 

“I’m just tryin’ tae help ya, Miss.” 

 

Stoic Viking holds his hands up and I catch a hint of a chuckle in his voice, smooth and low. 

 

It irritates the hell out of me. 

 

Here I am, actually petrified my one friend is leaving me forever and this asshole is laughing about it? 

 

I race to the giant tree and try in vain to get up into the branches after Adso as he scrambles his little fluffy butt away from me and pretends to be deaf. 

 

“Lift me up, I can’t get him.” 

 

“Excuse me, Miss?” 

 

“You heard me.” I turn to look at Stoic Viking, really look at him.

 

He can’t be much older than me but by the looks of it he’s built like a wall and can lift me up to get my damned dog-cat inside where he belongs. 

 

I can feel my hair run down and stick to my forehead in dark brown ringlets, I grab my arms to myself and cross them in front of me trying to hide the area he glanced at … and thought I didn’t notice. 

 

“Yeah yeah, enjoy the free wet t-shirt show, buddy. It’s your fault my cat got out.” 

 

“My fault?!” Stoic Viking laughs without joy. “Ye shouldn’t have left the door open if ye knew he was a darter…” 

 

“I didn’t know, okay? Besides I like never have anyone over so….. Yeah your fault, Mister “Maintenance” man.” 

 

Okay maybe doing the whole air quotes was a bit far but this guy is pissing me off. 

 

Help me. 

 

“Okay, fine. Jesus Mary and Joseph, woman.” 

 

He adjusts his hat in the rain and I catch a glimpse of deep blue eyes rolling in exasperation as he bends down and picks me up with ease. 

 

Oh. 

 

I forgot what that felt like. 

 

No, not being tossed around by a man but … touched. By a human. 

 

In spite of myself, I stammer and point into the tree. 

 

“He’s over there, think you can get me close?” 

 

Adso meows loudly and looks down at me from a ‘Y’ in the branches expectantly. 

 

He’s stuck. 

 

Stoic Viking man lifts me with a solid grunt higher, his hands on my ankles as he holds me up over his head. 

 

He really is a giant. I didn’t think I’d be able to reach my runaway beast but I found him at eye-level. 

 

I try really hard not to think about a strange man's hands on my legs right now. 

 

Or how the last bit of human touch I received was a hug from my sister last Christmas. I had stiffened up like a board and almost needed to go puke. That's when I hit the eggnog hard and went out to the patio to breathe. 

 

I turn my focus back to Adso, my heart is racing and I'm desperate to get to him. I try to cover the shaking of my voice as I call out to him encouraging him to come closer. 

 

“Come on baby, yeah got yourself in a right mess, huh? Not so much fun running away only to get stuck you little jerk face.” 

 

I grit my teeth as I extricate the wet ball of fluff from the tree and the man sets us both down gently on the ground. 

 

At least I have Adso gripped tightly in my arms to cover how sheer the sweater is. 

 

I march back to the front door and go inside quickly, letting Adso down and scolding him. 

 

“Bad boy! You scared me to death. Never again, do you hear me? After all I’ve done for you?” 

 

Adso ran a few feet onto the carpet and plopped own indignantly to groom himself giving me the death-glare for interrupting his obviously very fun adventure. Most excitement either of us have seen in a while. 

 

“Erm… about that leak?” 

 

I jump out of my skin. 

 

For being so big, he sure is quiet. 

 

“Jesus. Yes, yes go look.” 

 

I would have words with Beverly later… if I get up the courage to talk to her about it. For God’s sakes the woman could give me a head’s up. It’s not like she doesn’t have a landline with my number for emergencies. 

 

I know I don’t do much with my life but Jesus, Bev. I could have been dressing out of the shower or worse… having one of my crying panic attacks on the kitchen floor. Give a girl some warning. 

 

Stoic Viking closes the door behind him, eyeing Adso uncertainly. 

 

I went into the bathroom in the hall to quickly change out of the soaked sweater and throw on an old button-down flannel shirt. Thank god my bra is hanging on the back of the door knob. 

 

I quickly pop it on and shuffle my wet skin into the new shirt before coming back out again. 

 

Stoic Viking man and I almost bump into each other in the foyer causing me to jump- again. 

 

How is he so quiet?? 

 

Maybe I should have asked for credentials… after all, I have no idea who this man is and-

 

As if reading my mind, he hands over a small, white pointy-edged business card to me from between his calloused fingers that appear to be permanently stained with motor oil of some kind. 

 

“Looks good for now, but it was quite the leak, ye ken. Here’s my card, call me if ye notice anything later or tonight. I fixed the leak with Bev but there could still be some damage that shows up later if it was worse than we knew.” 

 

He runs a hand through his hair before replacing the worn newsboys cap over his head. I catch a glimpse of auburn waves and a scruffy beard with blonde hints in it. 

 

Before I’m able to retort anything, he clears his throat and makes his way over to the door. 

 

“Oh and sorry about the “cat”, I dinnae ken ye had one.” 

 

I open my mouth in indignation at his air quotes in reference to Adso but then shut my mouth again because he closed the door and was gone. The hulking mass of a shadow made its way down the walk away from my flat and I was alone. 

 

To be fair, Adso is a huge 12 pound Maine Coon mix. Not a lot of people have seen such a big cat in their life but to me he's my baby and likes to sit on my head all the time. To be honest, he looks more Wookiee than cat. 

 

But still. Air quotes. Clearly a jab at me for “maintenance”. 

 

Cocky bastard. 

 

My heart is still beating quickly from the ordeal and I pick Adso up with both arms and give him a squeeze. He yells at me in disapproval. 

 

“Yeah yeah, love you too you little jerk.” 

 

I rip off some paper towels and dry my hair looking up at the ceiling of my kitchen over the sink. Nothing so far. 

 

I look at the business card in my hands: 

J. Fraser 

Lallybroch Real Estate Investments

 

Underneath is a number and a brief note about him being licensed, bonded and insured along with some other details I don’t care about. 

 

“Well well, J. Fraser.” 

 

His name is probably Jerry or John or Jimmy or something. 

 

Jehoshaphat

 

Yep. Definitely a Jehoshaphat. 

 

All I know is, I better never fucking see him again. 

 

“Guy's an asshole,” I mumble, making a face and air quotations to Adso as he cleans himself unceremoniously on my living room floor. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Hey Hey Lady Jane 



My phone lights up the nightstand in the black at 10:13 pm on Thursday. 

 

I am fully embalmed in my serums and watching Wentworth on Netflix, completely engrossed in an especially good prison fight. 

 

Weave was being pulled, Red was on top and it was going down. 

 

I glance over at my dark android screen. 

 

If it were anyone else I’d let it go but I hadn’t heard from Joe in a while. 

 

He always called me Lady Jane, even back when we were in law school.

 

Joe was the only person I was still in contact with at our old firm. 

 

If anyone on earth deserved the title of being my human best friend, it would be Joe. 

 

He was the only one who stood up for me when it happened. 

 

He showed up at my flat about a week later after asking if I’d had dinner, Thai takeout in hand and more than ready to ignore the state of my place as we sat on the couch and talked shit and watched reality television together. 

 

I could just “be” with Joe and that was big. 

 

Like, really big. 

 

Maybe it’s because he’s an immigrant himself, but he really gets the whole outsider thing. That’s probably what makes him such a good defense attorney. He always goes up for the hard cases, the ones where they can’t always pay him but he takes them anyway. 

 

I love him. 

 

Not in the “I’d fuck you” kinda way, but in the honest, joyful, I-would-die-for-you, best friend way. 

 

He loves me too. 

 

I appreciate he’s never once tried anything inappropriate with me, either. 

 

I miss our coffee runs, our court gossip and general shenanigans. 

 

That’s why I jump to answer his text. 

 

Hey love, what’s up

 

His reply comes back faster than I’m expecting it to be. The little ellipses in the corner of my screen light up and I know he’s frantically typing back. 

 

Not much. Hey you busy tomorrow night? 

 

Ugh. I smell a social obligation. 

 

Um….why? 

 

Cause I need a hot date, that’s why. 

 

I snort. 

 

In your dreams, Abernathy. You and I both know I’m the last person in that black book. So what gives? 

Oookay....



So I have this thing…. 

 

More ellipses 

 

You might wanna get that looked at… 

 

HAH. Not funny. Anyway I’ll be doing this open mic thing at a bar and I’d actually love it if I knew one person in the audience wouldn’t boo me soooo waddaya say, Lady Jane? 

 

I roll my eyes and growl a little. He knows this is SO not my scene. 

 

Damnit, Claire. Come on. The least you can do for the guy is to show up and not be a dick. 

 

I really, reaaally want to say no and to everyone else I would, but it’s him. 

 

More ellipses. 

 

UGH. 

 

The only thing I can't resist is a bad pun and he knows it. Sonofabitch. 

Okay fine, I’ll be there. What time? 

 

………



My stomach is in knots. 

 

All day.

 

To the point where I had to take an antacid with lunch just to make it through work without throwing up. 

 

Is this old age? Am I that geriatric that I need medication to handle the tomato in my pre-portioned quinoa bowl? 

 

God that sounds so sad. 

 

I don’t know if Joe realizes this, but going out at all for me is a big fucking deal. 

 

I have my maps pulled up on my phone to the bar he told me about, plotted out how to get there avoiding all highways and mentally made note of when I should leave home to get there with post-work traffic flow.

 

I’m a planner. 

 

I like to plan things. 



I have my little black cocktail dress and red flats ready the night before. Nothing fancy. I pick out my favorite necklace, a simple string of gold with a square, small garnet in the middle. 

 

I like to make an effort, I mean, it is the first time I’m going out in nearly two months. 

 

I breathe in and out deeply as I’m getting ready and try to remind myself of the mindfulness techniques I learned in therapy. Five things I can see, four things I can touch, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, etc. 

 

I take a look at my thirty-something skin in the mirror and sigh in relief.

 

The witchcraft must be working because I don't look a day over twenty-two. 

 

Bobbi Brown don't let me down.

 

My puns certainly haven't gotten better. 

 

How do I look the same? How has my face and body not magically morphed into a fraction of the fractures I feel within my soul? 

 

I take my time on the back roads and mentally curse myself out for feeling panicked around a hairpin bend in the road. 

 

I arrive at The Trinity gastropub a little early, the sun is barely down but the parking lot is packed. I see a spot on the street and maneuver my little SUV in gracefully. 

 

I let out a deep breath that sounds shaky in my ears as I pray to God I don’t embarrass Joe in public. 

 

I doubt any of our firm will be there, he knows better to invite me to things where they might be. 

 

I grab my lemon-yellow wristlet and head inside. I see Joe by the bar. 

 

In the dim blue lights, he waves over to me and smiles his huge, glow-in-the-dark smile that I love so much. The one that says everything is alright. 

 

I relax a little and walk over, bracing myself as he goes for a hug but he remembers that I like my space. 

 

He holds up a hand.

 

“Awkward fist bump?” 

 

“Awkward fist bump.” I reply. 

 

“Kapow.” Joe smiles and spins around showing off his blue suit. 

 

“Nice, very chic.” 

 

“Hey it’s the best I can do without Lady Jane replying to my texts over what colors go with aubergine.” He points to his dress shoes and I laugh out loud. 

 

I had totally forgotten to reply to his texts a week or two ago. 

 

“You’re incorrigible, you know that, right?” 

 

“Naturally.” 

 

Joe hands me a drink as the bartender brings two over, both mixed the same. 

 

“Gin martini, extra olives and dirty like you like it.” 

 

Of course he bloody well remembered. 

 

I hide my hesitation to drink again but Joe didn’t know about Christmas. 

 

How could he know? My family knew none of my friends and I like to keep it that way... 

 

Of course Joe knows OF them but that's it. He's the only one that does. 

 

“Cheers,” I clink my glass with his and pretended to stab him with my olive spear. 

 

“Killing me smalls,” Joe laughs. "You get out since last time I saw you?" 

 

I shrug and look down at his eggplant-colored dress shoes. 

 

They really are awful. 

 

“I’m proud of you,” I change the subject. 

 

“Oh?” 

 

“I always said you were too good at music to be a lawyer.” 

 

Joe nods and rubs his nonexistent beard along his round chin. 

 

“S’true, s’true. Maybe I’ll turn it all in and go traveling with my music.” 

 

Joe’s smile became a little stiff as he looked at me. 

 

“How are you doing, Lady?” 

 

“Oof,” I exhale, taking another sip of my drink, the gin is minty on my tongue and the salt from the olives tastes like tears. “Loaded question.” 

 

“Let me rephrase that, your honor. How are you doing today?” 

 

“I plead the fifth.” 

 

Joe put his hands up and nods, his smile coming back, he knows it’s a good sign if I can joke with him. 

 

“My time is up here, your honor. Catch you after? Al-co-hol you later….” 

 

I shake my head at the shameless pun as Joe leaves his drink next to mine on the bar and checks his watch. 

 

I nodded and pat him on the back as a man all in black comes up to the mic on the little stage in the corner and calls out, “Next up in our set is the wonderful piano man, Joe Abernathy!” 

 

I clap and holler loudly, maybe a little too loudly. This is a nicer crown than our typical bunch but Joe smiles and winks my way as he sits down at the black upright piano and takes the silver mic close to his mouth. 

 

I notice it’s pretty much standing room only and beam for him. 

 

Booing for him my ass, Joe knows this crowd. 

 

He just wanted me to get out. 

 

I take another sip of my martini and allow my shoulders to relax. 

 

Ok, Claire. Unclench your jaw. There we go. Shoulders down. 

 

See? This isn’t so bad. 

 

Especially with some liquid courage… 

 


Joe’s dark fingers contrast against the whites of the keys as he presses them down lightly at first and then hits the lower notes with his other hand. 

 

I down the martini in one gulp as I hear what song he’s about to play. 

 

Damnit. 

 

“Ain’t so sunshine when she’s gone….” 

 

He wrinkles his brow and closes his eyes, shaking his head as he starts to sing the next line. 

 

“It’s not warm when she’s away….” 

 

Joe sits up a little straighter as a few in the crowd cheer at his well-worn and mellow singing voice. 

 

I know he’s my best friend and all but seriously, the guy could quit tomorrow and get a record deal within the week. 

 

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone. And she’s always gone too long. Anytime she goes away….” 

 

Suddenly, I feel it. 

 

My mind starts to slip. 

 

Fuck. 

 

Suddenly, I’m smelling cheap cigarettes and watching Joe through the red and blue stage lights at the dive bar near university. 

 

I’m ten years younger and twice as drunk, a nice-looking young man with dark hair spies me from across the room and sidles over to me as Joe takes the mic. 

 

“What’s your name?” 

 

He almost yells in my ear trying to get closer to me. I shake my curls and laugh at him. 

 

He smiles and I see those damn dimples. 

 

I didn't tell him my name. 

 

If only he was a man at a bar who'd made me laugh one time and that was it. 

 

But it wasn't. 

 

My life became twisted and entangled with his until I didn't know where I began and he ended. 

 

I was still extricating myself from the mess he left behind. 

 

“Fuck you, Frank,” I say solidly. 

 

Shit that was out loud. 

 

And here. 

 

No cigarettes. 

 

Thankfully, Joe was singng louder now and no one seemed to hear me. Or pretended not to. 

 

I was drinking alone. I finished Joe’s drink as he finished up the song and moved onto another. He looks over at me in the applause that follows and I raise his now-empty glass to him. 

 

He’ll understand. 

 

My chest is tight. 

 

I feel my shoulders subconsciously clench around my ears and wiggle my jaw a little but it has a vice-like grip on my tongue. 

 

When will his ghost finally leave? What do I have to do to lay this damn thing to rest? 

 

I feel like I'm going to be sick. 

 

Maybe the alcohol was a bad idea, I should have just taken a pre-emptive Xanax like I was prescribed but I figured Joe might want me to socially drink with him. 

 

Fuck. 

 

Definitely hotter in here now, the crowded bar area is only making me feel worse. 

 

I shoulder my way through the crowd and blink furiously at the tears that are edging dangerously close to my lash line. 

 

I burst out the side door into the alley in between buildings and breathe the cold night air in deeply.

 

It hits my lungs like a bucket of ice water and feels phenomenal. 

 

This is how I go out, I think to myself. 

 

Hunched over in an alley. 

 

I know I'm not dying. Mentally, I know it. 

 

But physically my body is doing the thing where it feels like my soul is one twitch away from leaving my skin behind permanently. 

 

I'm normally holding on by a thread and that thread is growing more fragile each day. 

 

Today it's as thin as a spider's silk. 

 

Breathing my way through the panic attack, I mentally curse and shake myself aware of my surroundings. 

 

I’m not okay with being out alone in the dark like this, but it’s better than being crowded around in there. 

 

Hopefully Joe won’t notice I’m in the back stifling sobs out here. 

 

I double over and grip my hands against my waist as I grip my hips and force myself to inhale sharply until this feeling passes. 

 

I hear the side door grate open like a meat locker and jump at the sound. 

 

I’m still hyperventilating and the light is too low for me to see much. I hear the scratch of a match and a second later smell the pungent fumes of a cigarette.

 

I cough. 

 

Who the fuck lights up with a match nowadays? 

 

“Those things will kill you.” I say softly, trying to sound calm and like this person didn’t just scare the shit out of me. 

 

I must’ve scared them back because they jumped slightly, I could hear their shoes on the pavement scuffle a bit as they stepped backwards. 

 

I didn’t say anything further. 

 

The man’s voice was low and angry as he replied, “Well, it’s my funeral.” 

 

You don’t get a death wish, buddy. I have the death wish. It's not a damn club. 

 

“Yeah,” I say more confidently. “Some people like a little fresh air with their outside ya know. Should try it sometime.” 

 

“How bout ye quit judging me and I quit talking to ya, eh?” 

 

Even with a cancer stick between his teeth, I recognize the voice. 

 

You’ve GOT to be kidding me. 

 

“Jehoshaphat?” 

 

“What?” 

 

“Shit.” I get out my phone and hit the flashlight on it and nearly blind him with it before I point it at the ground.

 

He’s dressed sharper tonight, long dark, wool coat with the collar flipped up, shielding the awful odious cigarette from the elements. 

 

I realize I’m raising my voice at him but this is the last person I want to see right now.

 

His blue eyes blink blindly before adjusting and then widening at me, “Aw shite. It’s the woman with the hell beast in her flat." 

 

I scan what he's wearing and stifle a chortle unsuccessfully.

 

“A fedora, really? Are you here for a neckbeard convention?” 

 

Who the fuck wears a fedora after 2002?

 

Oh God. 

 

A wave of nausea joins the panic attack and it's all thanks to his fucking cigarette. 

 

I turn and cough, struggling to breathe. 

 

He must think I'm overreacting as hell because I can hear in his tone his eyeroll. 

 

"Och it's 'no that bad... fine if ye'll stop that damn noise I'll put it out...." 

 

I wheeze trying to stand upright. 

 

He puts a hand on my shoulder and I wasn't expecting it. 

 

It must be survival instinct or some shit kicking in because my panic attack is changing from suffocating dread to PTSD run and attack panic-mode. 

 

I put my hands to my mouth in an attempt to stop the scream from rushing up to my throat. 

 

But no luck. 

 

I am screaming, he is mortified and my phone is pointed to the ground with the flashlight feature on giving the entire alley an eerie illumination like something out of a Boris Karloff film. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

I choke back on my scream and put my hand over my mouth turning it into a stifled yell instead. 

 

“Are ye alright, lass?” 

 

Fuck you and fuck that accent. 

 

Frank had an accent, a British one and here in the states it was rare to hear. 

 

I loved it. 

 

Not my type. Nope. Not anymore. 

 

I wish Jehoshaphat would shut the hell up. 

 

I do NOT want to be reminded of Frank right now. 

 

“No, I’m not fucking alright. Now if you don’t mind, I have a panic attack to attend to. Please… just… stay over there. Mk?” I say stiltedly, waving my hand furiously for him to back away.  

 

Jehoshaphat crushed his lit cigarette with the heel of his boot into the pavement and frowned at me darkly. 

 

“Are ye here with someone…Should I call them?”

 

Great. More pity. Or fake concern. 

 

If people cared about me more they would be there like Joe, but most of them didn’t give a fuck. 

 

He just wanted to be polite and pretend to care. 

 

Why else would he be nice to me? 

 

I breathed in hard and stood up straight, finally the world seemed to right itself a little. Thank god, it was passing. 

 

“I can take care of myself, thanks.” I grit my teeth. 

 

God leave me alone, just let me pull myself together. 

 

“Are ye always this rude?” He says suddenly. 

 

I shoot him a death glare but am met with a curious gaze and deadpan face as he looks at me. 

 

Did this man just ask me DURING a panic attack if I could be nicer? He might as well have called me “Sweetheart”, too. 

 

My jaw clenches and I bite my words at him. 

 

“I’m sorry, do women have to be polite all the time?” 

 

“Ye- well, no. No they dinnae have to be. It’s just-”

 

“Look, I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I rarely ever call maintenance because I can do things myself.” I straighten up and cock my head at him. 

 

I’m fidgeting with my necklace and his baby blue eyes are on my fingers as I twitch them nervously around my neck. 

 

It’s my tell. 

 

I’m glad I do telehealth therapy appointments now, so my therapist can’t see me picking apart my fingers beneath the computer screen. 

 

It's a bloody disaster. 

 

Sometimes literally. 

 

I fidget when I’m nervous and something about this man makes me fucking scream. 

 

Nope we’re done here. Absolutely fucking done with Jehoshaphat and this conversation. 

 

I feel naked in front of him, his blue eyes boring into me like I’m a modern art piece and he’s trying his best to figure out if I’m actually supposed to be in this exhibit or if I’m just a framed hole in the wall. 

 

The truth is, I’m an imposter. I don’t fit in with other people right now and I fucking know it. 

 

I never should have come. 

 

I stick out my hand and wait for him to take it. 

 

I make my voice sickly sweet as I try to be overly polite. 

 

Meet Miss Manners, douchebag. 

 

“Thank you, thank you for coming to check my leak. Thank you for helping me get my cat and now I say goodbye.”

 

He smirks and takes my damn hand, shaking it slowly. 

 

I'm not okay with how much my cheeks light up in a red flush. 

 

I'm not okay with how warm his hand is over my cold one. 

 

It's gross and gloriously comfortable. 

 

His eyes light up like my discomfort is cute. 

 

It’s not cute. 

 

I’m horrible, terrible, not very good at social interactions. 

 

Thank my mother for that. 

 

“It’s been a pleasure, Miss….?” 

 

“You don’t get a name, buddy.” I retort, pulling my hand away. 

 

He laughs and grins, “I get a free wet tee shirt show but no name?” 

 

Nope, not after Frank. 

 

Not after my panic attack. 

 

Definitely not after you almost lose my cat-dog by coming over unannounced. 

 

I scoff in his face and try to push past him. 

 

Right then the metal door squawks open like a rusty parrot and Joe pops his head out into the alley. 

 

“Claire!” 

 

Fuck. 

 

“Claire, eh?” Jehoshaphat’s eyes scan my features in amusement and he won’t stop grinning at me like an idiot. 

 

I cringe. 

 

“There you are, I was worried…Jesus. You ok? Jamie isn’t give you trouble, is he?” 

 

Jamie. 

 

For some reason, Jehoshaphat sounded better. 

 

I could hate a Jehoshaphat 

 

I raise my eyebrows and laugh loudly in pretense of good humor. 

 

“Oh-ho… Jamie is it?” 

 

“Jamie to my friends,” he nods to Joe, and then looks at me “James to you.” 

 

Ouch. 

 

But fair. 

 

I’m still calling him Jamie. 

 

I don’t play by people’s made-up rules. 

 

A name’s a name, dude. 

 

I’m stunned.

 

“You two… know each other?” I crisscross my fingers in front of me at the two men and want to die on the spot. 

 

Shit. 

 

He’s probably going to tell Joe about my meltdown and I don’t want Joe to know I’m really not okay these days… 

 

I don’t wanna be a burden. 

 


“Piano man? Absolutely.” 

 

Joe smiles and relaxes a little. He must trust this Jamie guy. 

 

“Jamie’s the best guitarist I know,” Joe’s forehead is beaded with sweat and it creases a little as he looks at me. “You okay, Lady?” 

 

I nod and shoot Jamie a meaningful look to keep quiet. 

 

“Yeah, we’re just peachy out here…” 

 

Jamie bites his bottom lip momentarily and surveys me thoughtfully as I fumble to turn off the flashlight on my phone. 

 

“You playing tonight, bro?” Joe changes the conversation. 

 

Jamie shakes his head, “Nah, I’m here with some mates. Birthday drinks. Said we all come as a decade, this was all I had.” 

 

“Jamie!” 

 

A shrill voice called out from behind Joe. 

 

Our alley was getting crowded. 

 

Three’s a crowd, four is downright rude. 

 

A leggy blonde in a 1920’s red flapper dress sidled up to him and slipped up to his side like she was Velcroed there. 

 

“There you are!” 

 

She stole his hat and put it on her head with a bubbly little giggle. 

 

I share a bemused look with Joe as we both scan the couple in front of us. 

 

Gag me with a spoon. 

 

Could she get any more desperate? 

 

I notice Jamie’s hand on her waist and I have an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

 

He gave her hip a squeeze and she pulled him into a deep French kiss right in front of Joe and me. 

 

Could this night get any weirder? 

 

“Come on, Lady Jane. I have a couple friends I’d like you to meet.” 

 

Thank God. 

 

Joe jerks his head back to the bar inside and I couldn’t get in fast enough. 

 

Anything to get away from Mister women-have-to-be-polite and the leggy blonde that apparently wanted to stick her tongue down his throat. 

 

I make nice and play cool through the rest of the night. 

 

I mentally set my “clock” in my head for 40 minutes. 

 

40 minutes to give this goddamn thing a go and then get the hell out of there. 

 

40 minutes to not be rude. 

 

I can be polite for Joe. 

 

I’m caught in a triangular conversation with a female indie singer with purple hair and Joe and my eyes shift to the decades party in the corner booth. 

 

About ten people crowd around the table dressed as anything from Farrah Fawcett to greasers and to be honest, it looks like they’re having the time of their life. 

 

All but one. 

 

I swallow hard as I watch blonde legs all over Jamie’s lap. She’s hanging onto his neck for dear life and ignoring the fact that he is barely smiling. 

 

Actually he does smile. 

 

She goes in for another kiss and his blue eyes catch mine staring at him. 

 

His finely chiseled jaw breaks into a mischievous grin as he kisses her open mouthed, eyes glancing at me before he closes them drunkenly. 

 

Shit. 

 

I didn’t mean for him to see me looking. 

 

At least not gawking like I knew I was. 

 

He’s so beautiful it hurts. 

 

How did I not notice it the other day? 

 

What must it be like to be born that way, like him? 

 

Hair falling perfectly into place in auburn waves that make my heart skip. 

 

Wait. 

 

Why is my heart skipping here? 

 

Calm down little asshole, you’re broken. 

 

Maybe it’s the late hour or the two cocktails I’d downed like water, but it was hard to deny that in his vintage styled suit, he was one of the most attractive men I’d ever seen. 

 

Maybe it’s the fact that I hadn’t been with anyone since Frank, but I feel an ache in the pit of my stomach to see their intimacy together. 

 

It only reminds me of how I have no one. 

 

I tried to fill that hole in my life with alcohol and it led to that time on New Year’s. 

 

Her name was Laura, her blonde hair and perfume made me forget myself and I remember locking lips with her at midnight in the gay bar I felt safe enough attending on my own. 

 

I saw my first drag show with her and we screamed out the songs together and laughed till we cried, her hand ended up intertwined in mine and she put her number in my phone. 

 

I fucked that one up, righteously. 

 

A pang of regret and shame ran through me as I remember how I ghosted her after that. 

 

It scared me. 

 

Both my ability to open up and my inability to be close to someone… anyone. 

 

I’m ashamed of hurting her. 

 

I don’t want to hurt anyone else. 

 

Not while I’m hurting. 

 

Joe walks me to my SUV and I give him a giant hug. 

 

He hugs me back, I don’t want to let go. 

 

“Hey hey…. You sure you’re okay, Lady?” 

 

My nose prickles and I sniff back a tear. 

 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” 

 

Joe purses his lips and nods understandingly. 

 

“I’ll be checking on you, Lady Jane.” 

 

“Don’t you mean, al-co-hol you later?” I smirk as I sit down on the cold leather seat of my car. 

 

Joe laughs over the door at me and holds onto it for a moment before letting me shut it. 

 

“Indeed. Drive safe, Lady.” 

 

“You played wonderfully, really.” I tried to sound okay. 

 

We shared a smile and I let out a giant sigh as he turned and walked back into The Trinity. 

 

Just then the gaggle of the decades party came bursting out of the door. 

 

Jamie stuck out like a sore thumb, heads and shoulders above the rest of the guys. 

 

Blonde Velcro still stuck to him like she was superglued to his side. 

 

I rolled my eyes and flip them off in the dark. 

 

My heart stops as his blue eyes flash at me in the headlights as I turn the key. 

 

I think he saw. 

 

“Yeah, yeah. I hope you did see that, Scottish bastard.” 

 

My heart aches as I drive home to Adso. 

 

I think about his baby blue eyes all the way home before I chastise myself harshly. 

 

“Forget it, girl. Rude as fuck. Thinks women should be nice all the time. Plus taken by that trollop. He’s probably some fedora-wearing manwhore.” 

 

Get. It. Together.

 

Like the cigarette under his boot, he lit a fire in me I couldn't quite put out. 

 

I remained glowing, golden and red the rest of the drive home. 

Chapter Text

 

 

I have therapy today. 

 

Well, now. 

 

Hah. 

 

I should be logging on. 

 

Ok, fine. I’ll do it. 

 

It’s Wednesday. 

 

On Wednesdays we wear pink. 

 

Just kidding. 

 

We actually take an hour-long lunch and log in for our weekly therapy session. 

 

I don’t tell any of my coworkers, I just kinda log out and come back a Sad Girl ™ the rest of the day. 

 

There is a jittery feeling in my stomach unrelated to the three cups of coffee I had this morning. 

 

My computer connects to Alicia on Zoom and I crack a stupid smile.

 

“Hey,” I say weakly. 

 

I don’t know why I try to smile, I guess it’s ingrained in my head that women have to be polite or something. 

 

Don’t know where I got that idea from…

 

So I smile. 

 

Alicia is a warm person, a bubbly, little ball of a woman with purple cat-eye glasses. She likes to take a sip of her tea before launching into her weekly attack on my PTSD and trauma. 

 

She's in her mid-sixties, old enough to be my mother. 

 

I look up to her like a mom. 

 

Or how I imagine I would look up to my mom if she gave a fuck about me as a person. 

 

I don't even bother wearing mascara today. I know I'll cry it all off. 

 

I’m never able to keep it together with Alicia. 

 

She blinks kindly at me behind her purple frames like an owl just waking up for the night. 

 

“Hey there, Claire. How are you doing this week?” 

 

I don’t even try to hide it anymore. 

 

“Same old same old. Had a panic attack behind a bar this week instead of my spot in the kitchen. So I guess there’s that.” 

 

She pulls out her little black notebook. I hate that thing. It holds all my deepest, darkest secrets and Alicia smiles to herself a little as she looks over it. 

 

“So you got out this week, huh?” 

 

“Yeah,” I nod. 

 

“How did that go? Aside from the panic attack,” she nods and closes her eyes, gesticulating with her hands in a general sense. 

 

“Okay I guess. I was able to get out and support Joe. I just wish I didn’t have that panic attack, but I mean…. It wasn’t behind the wheel this time. I guess that’s a win.” 

 

“It is, indeed! I’m proud of you for trying. I know getting out isn’t easy for you.” 

 

Understatement of the century. 

 

“So tell me about this panic attack. Anything about the night that seemed to particularly trigger you?” 

 

I shrug uncomfortably. 

 

“I don’t know. I guess it was a song or something…Joe was playing…” 

 

Sometimes I think Alicia should work for the FBI, she's unassuming but a little cougar when it comes to clues and getting the truth out of people. 

 

“Music. Art, in general, can be a powerful trigger," she nods and I can tell the wheels in her head are turning at a rapid pace, “you remember what we talked about last time?” 

 

“How I felt stuck?” 

 

She nods, the silver streak on her right temple catches the light from her office window. 

 

“Stuck in the trauma, the dread, the feeling you’ll never heal….” 

 

I swallowed hard and looked down at my fingers as they started their business of picking apart my thumb. 

 

Yeah, last session was especially hard. 

 

“We were going over trauma responses and figuring out yours and how to make them healthier for you.” 

 

She had me try the deep, painful, chest-hurting breaths instead of scraping my forearm with my fingernails… or picking apart my fingers…… or worse. 

 

Yeah. I know. 

 

That admission was a fun conversation. Alicia didn't judge me though, instead she told me that even the pain held a purpose for me if I was doing that. 

 

A release, an escape. A way to silence the mind-numbing noise of my own guilt and grief. 

 

Alicia goes on, soothingly, “I had a couple of ideas this past week that I think will help you. One is a book I want you to read.” 

 

Great. Homework. 

 

“Another is an exercise I want you to do with me today.” 

 

Okayyyy? 

 

I secretly love her exercises. 

 

Get science-y with me, please. 

 

I’m a cerebral person. 

 

Show me the science behind what is actually broken in my brain and we can start to fix it. 

 

The plumbing, the cracks in the foundation. 

 

Let me get my sleeves rolled up and I’m game. 

 

Please. 

 

Tell me why I’ll be sitting at work and all of a sudden I’m taking off my glasses to blink away the tears and breathe through a call. 

 

This isn’t normal. 

 

I haven’t been normal in….. 

 

In five years. 

 

Since I started the relationship that would mindfuck me into oblivion. 

 

Erase all traces of my personhood until I was left with this… 

 

This mess. 

 

The shambles of a person I vaguely recognize. 

 

Somehow it was up to me and me alone to pick up the pieces and put myself together again while he got away with it all. 

 

Of course he would go and die and not have to deal with any of the mess he left behind. 

 

Typical. 

 

“You ready?” 

 

Alicia’s voice is smooth and grounds me. 

 

I wonder if she knows her presence alone grounds me better than most of the techniques she’s teaching me. 

 

“As I’ll ever be.” I say dryly. 

 

“Okay, I want you to get comfortable, you able to sit somewhere quiet?” 

 

I take my computer with me into my dark bedroom and lie down with the laptop on my thighs. 

 

I turn on my Himalayan salt lamp and the warm, amber light floods the room. 

 

“Okay, now I need you to close your eyes? You feeling safe?” 

 

I nod and sniff sharply. 

 

Closing my eyes to the welcoming darkness, I breathe in slowly and allow my senses to collect themselves and adjust to the lack of sensory input. 

 

“Alright. Good. Now what we’re going to do today is an exercise in brain plasticity. Have we talked about this before?” 

 

I shake my head, “Can’t remember but I don’t think so.” 

 

“Alright. Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt to different environments. The brain is continually forming new neural connections throughout our lives. I know you know this, but PTSD is a brain-injury. Not a disorder. In and of itself your brain is perfectly capable of making new neural pathways and healing but sometimes we get stuck in the trauma.” 

 

I nod again, “Huh.”

 

It always makes more sense when she says it. 

 

“Every six months, the brain finishes developing a new neural pathway, which is why healing can take so long. After trauma, it takes at least six months to be able to start to heal and cope and understand what’s happened to you.” 

 

Well, that’s certainly true. After a year I’m still stuck here. 

 

“I want to show you what I mean by brain plasticity. So we’re here in your room. Do you consider this a safe space, Claire?” 

 

I nod, for the most part. 

 

I didn't realize how beautiful neutrals could be until I hit thirty. The café au latte color on the walls is to-die-for. Mixed with my reclaimed wood furniture and cat-safe plants and succulents it was my own little domestic oasis. 

 

“Now with your eyes closed, you don’t have to do this physically… just mentally. I want you to imagine yourself standing up and raise your arms over your head.” 

 

I frown and nod slowly, sounds like bullshit but I trust her. 

 

Okay, standing up, arms raised. 

 

“Now I want you to picture the room around you. I want you to tell me what you see in your mind. So you’re standing up, arms above your head and looking around. Let’s go… to the right. Turn about 12 inches. What do you see?” 

 

“My blue computer chair, my white closet doors, part of the window…” 

 

This feels like a stretch and I have no idea where she's going with this mental yoga....

 

“Good, good. Okay. How about you keep turning in your mind, let’s go another 6 inches to the right. What do you see now?” 

 

“Part of my bed…..” 

 

"Can you turn any farther in your head, comfortably?" 

 

"Not really," I say honestly. 

 

“Alright, okay. Good. Let’s turn back to the front and you can put your arms down, mentally.” 

 

Ok, I’m there. 

 

“Okay, now when you’re ready let’s open those eyes.” 

 

I blink and my eyes adjust slightly to the amber tones of my room. 

 

I breathe in slowly, but my heart is racing a bit. I'm not sure why. 

 

“Alright, now this time we’re going to do it again but I want you to physically get up and do it.” 

 

I breathe in and out faster, am I doing whatever it is right? How do I know how it's supposed to feel? 

 

I put the laptop down on my bed and stand up unsurely at first. 

 

“Now with your eyes open, let’s turn again. To the left this time. Arms up, let’s move slowly. About a foot or so like before.” 

 

I turn towards my bed and look to the wall. I can start to see the pictures above my bed that I painted in watercolor. 

 

Green and blue succulent 8x10 framed prints that I was proud of. 

 

The black sound bar that I used to pipe in nature sounds for particularly bad nights. Queen or Bryan Adams or The Cure on a particularly good one. 

 

The details of the ivory walls, little bumps and ridges of the paint where it dried over the plaster. 

 

“And again six inches more.” 

 

I turned and began to notice the gray wood grain on the frames to the pictures. It looked like a giant had left its fingerprint there and I visually traced the lines and curves of the wood. 

 

“Do you feel like you can go farther?” 

 

I nodded, “Yeah.” 

 

“Alright, go another foot or so if you can do it comfortably.” 

 

I do it. 

 

This time, I can see all the way across my room and I’m not trying that hard. 

 

“Okay, perfect. Now come back to center and lower your arms again.” 

 

She’s smiling at me. 

 

“What?” I say slowly, crawling back into my bed to put the computer back on my lap. 

 

“What did you notice was different the second time?” 

 

I think for a minute. 

 

“Details. I was able to see more details than in my mind. The bumps of the paint, the wood grain on the picture frames.” 

 

Alicia nodded and also smiled slowly a little more. 

 

Out with it, woman! 

 

“Did you notice you went a lot farther than you thought you could?” 

 

Well. Yeah.

 

“I was able to see my whole room, when I had my eyes closed I could only visualize some of it.” 

 

“Exactly. That’s brain plasticity. I wanted to show you that you, Claire, are capable of healing and going farther than you realize. Your brain will heal. You will heal. You absolutely have greater potential to do more than you think you can.” 

 

I swallow hard against the rising lump in my throat. 

 

"Your brain is ready and capable of healing more than you think you are." 

 

Damnit, she’s good. 

 

Me? Healed? 

 

The fuck. 

 

You mean there’s hope? 

 

Do I get a sticker now?

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

I have a panda named Sue. 

 

Well, Susan. 

 

What six-year-old names their stuffed animal Susan? 

 

*nervous laughter* 

 

Yeahhhh

 

Should have known then I wasn’t going to turn out normally. 

 

We had gone to a quilt showcase, my family and I. 

 

This is a very midwestern thing. 

 

Quilts and Americana go hand in hand here like how some people eat cheese with their apple pie. 

 

Or salt their watermelon. 

 

Or drop out of college and marry their high school sweetheart and join a Ponzi scheme after accidentally having 6 little fuck trophies.

 

The year was 1996.

 

I was six. 

 

It was close to my older sister’s birthday and something Mom wanted to do, so we went. 

 

We always did what she wanted.

 

Never had a choice growing up, it’s just what you did. 

 

Like being homeschooled because your mom convinced your dad that public schools were full of rapists and criminals and in order to protect you, aka raise you however she wanted, you would stay home where no one could judge her parenting. 

 

Most people are shocked if I reveal I was homeschooled. 

 

Yup, all 12 grades. 

 

It’s hard for me to talk about. 

 

No, it wasn’t some rosy Brady bunch bullshit. 

 

Nor was it a cult, exactly…

 

I did get screamed at for not crying over the fact Jesus shed his blood just for me though. At six, I guess my mom thought I was going to hell for that enough to traumatize me over religion. 

 

Anyway I digress. 

 

Sue. Panda. 

 

Got it. 

 

It’s hard for me to focus on my past in order to tell it. 

 

I get pulled into different traumatic stories and they all kind of jumble together into what some people would call a childhood. 

 

Anyway, we were at this quilt showcase. 

 

Kind of like an art exhibit but with quilts, thrilling I know. 

 

Six-year-old me dragged my feet to different stalls to look at different gigantic, multi-colored wonders. 

 

One stall in the convention center caught my older sister’s eye. 

 

There were old-fashioned teddy bears of all kinds and colors and shapes. To an eight-year-old girl it was practically heaven. 

 

You know, the little bears with the arm and legs on hinges that moved. 

 

Real 1910 Winnie the Pooh kind of bears. 

 

Since it was close to her birthday, my older sister was able to pick one out. 

 

I nearly cried. 

 

I wanted one so badly. 

 

I didn’t throw a fit or anything but I didn’t quite get the concept of it not being my birthday, too. 

 

My dad’s mouth went into a firm horizontal line and he huffed and rolled his eyes at me. 

 

Dead fish eyes, I always called them in my head. 

 

Not quite-blue but gray, like a fish in a market dead and done and ready for dinner. 

 

I wonder what he looked like before he met Mom. 

 

I bet they were bright blue, like Jamie’s. 

 

Ok, really digressing here. 

 

My dad got me the cutest panda I pointed to and I was so happy. 

 

Floating-on-cloud-nine happy. I didn’t have a bear at home. 

 

On the way to the car, I remember my mom looking at me smiling my little gap-tooth grin and saying in her cruelest tone, “Happy fucking birthday, Claire.” 

 

I remember how it sank my heart like the words pumped me full of lead. 

 

Pop. 

 

My bubble burst. Cloud nine came crashing down. 

 

That was the first time in my life I felt a tremendous amount of guilt just for being. 

 

Existing. 

 

I was too young to know better. 

 

The only thing cut and dry in this life is this:  

 

Their words will cut, your tears will dry. 

 

You move on. 

 

I promised myself on the ride home, looking down at that bright white and black panda bear in my arms, that I would never, ever make that damn bear feel the way I felt. 

 

She sits on the little desk in my room now, her tired head lolling over onto her stomach. 

 

Her belly is a pillow for her head and she is taking a much-needed rest after being loved to literally pieces all my life. 

 

Sue has travelled. 

 

Been to Hong Kong. Jamaica. 

 

Jersey and San Francisco. 

 

I swore I’d never make her feel forgotten and my god, in over twenty-five years she hasn’t been. 

 

Always a spot in my suitcase. 

 

Her head rests on her belly, staring at me with her dull black eyes expectantly like she’s saying, “Well? You gonna DO something?” 

 

My phone is vibrating on my bed. 

 

It’s Joe. 

 

He really did mean it when he said he’d call me later. 

 

I let it go to voicemail and Sue judges the hell outta me.

 

“What?” I say out loud. 

 

Hell no. 

 

I’m feeling especially listless on this Saturday as I lie around in the sunshine streaming in my windows. 

 

It’s actually warmer out today than it has been. 

 

For a midwestern late-winter, I really should get out. 

 

Adso is sleeping belly-up in the sunlight on my bed. 

 

His belly is full of super-fluff fur and I rub my face in it while he screams at me. 

 

He doesn’t hiss though and I’m pretty sure I hear a purr after I’m done terrorizing him. 

 

Old man. 

 

My heart aches in thinking about him being nine. 

 

I don’t do well with time passing. 

 

I look back at Sue’s judgmental stare. 

 

“Fine, I’m moving… getting out… doing shit…. Jesus.” 

 

I roll off my bed and find my running shoes underneath it. 

 

They’re actually pretty nice shoes, proof I did have that attorney paycheck once, a lifetime ago. 

 

I slip them on after I throw on my black leggings. 

 

I take a large men’s Eagles shirt off the back of the door and throw a black fleece pullover over my head. 

 

Pushing my wireless Beats in my ears, I crank up “Edge of Seventeen”. 

 

I discovered music late in my life. Mom never let us listen to anything but Christian contemporary and in the 90’s, not gonna lie, it was pretty bomb. But it was nothing compared to classic rock or punk. 

 

As soon as I graduated, I moved out and listened to whatever the hell I wanted to. It was my first time hearing songs by The Beatles, Bowie and Kansas. Stevie Nicks opened up a whole new world of wonder in my head. Now, when I listen to it, it’s like all the neurons firing in my brain trigger thoughts and feelings I never knew existed. 

 

Throwing my tangle of near-black brown hair into a gigantic curly bun on top of my head, I slather my face in sunscreen and head out the door. 

 

I’m goddamn blinded. 

 

Even though my room is lit, it’s like the sun itself is out here. 

 

After all that cold rain, it burns my eyes and I squint. 

 

This must be what Dracula feels like. 

 

As I start my run, I feel a tiny, baby shot of endorphins run down my spine from the pain shooting up my legs. 

 

To me, it feels good. 

 

I used to hate running until Alicia suggested it as a way to deal with the rage.  

 

When it used to hit, I would throw the heaviest couch cushions I could find across the room. Once I even moved my queen bed out from the wall to the middle of the room just to push something as hard as I could. 

 

I should hire myself out as moving help considering I like pushing around heavy shit. 

 

Now, I run. 

 

The pain in my legs and burning of my lungs from the cold air reminds me I’m alive. 

 

If I can push past the feeling, it feels like freedom and my mind shuts the hell up. 

 

I smell the mud warming in the sun and it’s oddly calming. 

 

My street is actually really pretty. Even in the gray it looks like an English countryside, hedgerows and little houses and flats in between the green space. 

 

There’s a large, white, Victorian house at the end of the property. Right before you get to the hospital beyond and beyond that, cornfields. 

 

At one time, that family used to own all of it. The hills and valleys that made up the fifty or so acres the property was on. Last I heard, the man who owned the house died and now it went to his family. I’d never seen hide nor hair of them. If it weren’t for an old, red pickup truck parked haphazardly near the falling-in barn, I’d think no one lived there at all. 

 

I look at the green shutters and dilapidated gables before a yell startles me out of my reverie. Shit. I can even hear it over the music I have blaring out my eardrums. 

 

“Well, well if it isn't Lady Jane!” 

 

I jump out of my skin and my sneaker skids sideways as I twist my ankle. My heart pounds in an aberrant manner that forces me to clutch my chest like I’ve been shot. I bend over and my fingers scramble to my ears to press the button on the side to pause the music. 

 

Jesus. 

 

A giant mass in a gray hoodie runs up to me from behind and stops short, apparently delighted by my reaction to him. Cheeks flushed and ruddy, he has sweat dripping from his auburn waves near his temples as he stops next to me, he exhales in a low whistle and sticks his tongue out of his rosy lips slightly to catch his breath. He obviously booked it to catch up with me. 

 

I shoot him a murder glance before bending over to rub my foot and wince. 

 

It’s fine, just twisted. Damnit. 

 

“Sorry, dinnae mean to startle ye.” 

 

There’s that accent again. 

 

I clench my jaw, I still wanna finish my run and I don’t really want to talk to him. In my head, he was less annoying. 

 

“Dude, don’t call me that.” I growl. 

 

“Huh?” He shakes his head in confusion, famous blue eyes clouding over momentarily. “Oh, Lady Jane?” 

 

“Only Joe gets to call me that.” 

 

Jamie throws his hands up in defense, “Alright, sorry … Claire.” 

 

He says my actual name softly as if the word is delicate. It rolls off his tongue with his slight brogue riding it like a gentle ocean tide.

 

There’s my damn heart skipping a beat. 

 

Fuck. 

 

Get. Your. Shit. Together. 

 

“What are you doing here?” I straighten up and narrow my eyes at him. 

 

Jamie’s eyes glow with some detectable joy as he surveys my face and figure. 

 

I bristle and feel my hackles rise. 

 

Doesn’t this man have a girlfriend? Lady friend? Whatever you call a lover after age thirty? 

 

Rude. 

 

I swallow hard against the annoyance in my throat and I’m wondering why I ever thought about his fucking eyes so much last week. 

 

“I live here, yer on my street.” 

 

Your street? I didn’t know you lived and worked here. How… quaint.” I growl a little at him, my voice is really harsh. 

 

Okay maybe I am too rude. 

 

But still, scared. Injured. Ouch. 

 

I bend down again to hold my ankle as another pang shoots through it, my sneaker grazes the asphalt as I bend over. 

 

Yup. 

 

His eyes are definitely on my ass. 

 

Ugh. Men. 

 

I look at him and I’m not sure what to do … or say. He seems perfectly content with just looking at me, the corner of his mouth pursed in with a tiny smile.



Jamie tosses his head back and sniffs, his nose is running a little from the cold. His square jaw has a little bit of auburn scruff on it and it catches the light. 

 

I fucking hate that I notice that detail. 

 

“Well, I’m on a run sooo……” 

 

I shrug awkwardly and turn away from him. I make pretense of pushing the button to play on my in-ear headphones and run a few steps. 

 

My ankle isn’t hurting so much now. Damned if I show him I’m limping. 

 

“Why Lady Jane?” 

 

I hear his footsteps behind me and the sound of his sweatpants swishing together as he runs to keep up. 

 

The audacity. 

 

He’s actually following me. 

 

I pretend not to hear him and keep running. 

 

“Ah, only your boyfriend can call ye that, right?”

 

“He’s not my boyfriend.” 

 

Crap. 

 

I should have said he was. 

 

Jamie’s looking at my ass like it’s a piece of filet mignon and he’s only had top round for years. 

 

I can feel his eyes there, hot on my skin. My fleece pullover doesn’t cover my butt when I run. But dammit, I want to run to get away from him. My face is on fire. 

 

I pull down my Eagle’s shirt and keep running. 

 

“Ah, he’s not is he? Just a friend then?” 

 

I stop running and turn on my heel almost coming nose to chest with him as he sprints after me to keep up. 

 

“Look, who Joe is to me isn’t any of your business. Besides, aren’t you with blonde Velcro?” 

 

Jamie frowns, his blonde-red eyebrows knit together into a question mark. 

 

“Leah?” 

 

Yeah fuck her.

 

“Well… no. Not exactly. We fuck sometimes but no….” 

 

His words hit me like a knife. Now I feel especially stupid for thinking about those damn eyes all week. 

 

“Hah, okay… Sure ya do.” I roll my eyes openly this time. 

 

“We’re no together.” 

 

Could’ve fooled me. 

 

Casual wasn’t my thing anymore. Let’s be clear, dating at all wasn’t my thing anymore. Not after Frank. 

 

“Are ye judging me?” 

 

He seems genuinely interested in my reaction. I scoff… a little louder than I meant to. I disguise it as a cough. 

 

Damnit, why don’t I know how to act around him. His flat-out admission of fucking casually just caught me off guard and I’m not even sure why. 

 

“Nope, whatever floats your goat, buddy.” 

 

I twitch slightly and turn around, ready to run again. I take two steps and I hear him run behind me. 

 

“Do you mind?” I call over over my shoulder as I keep up my pace. 

 

He matches it and in a second he’s running alongside me. Mouth twitching into that stupid grin. 

 

“No, I dinnae.” 

 

“I’m running here.” I state the obvious. 

 

“So’m I.” 

 

“Can’t you run somewhere else?” 

 

“Like I said, yer on my street. This is my run. I’m running.” 

 

Clearly, he doesn’t understand boundaries or when someone is done talking and wants to be alone. 

 

It irritates the hell out of me. 

 

I turn down the lane that runs by my flat. 

 

It’s lined with forsythia bushes and I try to focus my eyes on where they meet the sidewalk. I don’t dare look sideways at him as he keeps up with me. I can feel his eyes on my cheek. 

 

“Do ye wanna get a drink sometime?” 

 

What. The. Fuck. 

 

He’s just trying to get in my pants. 

 

“No!” I exclaim, my cheeks flush a little darker and I can feel the itchy warmth spreading down my neck. 

 

Weren’t we *just* talking about his fuck buddy? 

 

I keep running, he keeps the pace. 

 

“Why?” I ask abruptly. 

 

“I just want us to be friends.” Jamie says simply. 

 

“Fucking weird way of showing it,” I retort. 

 

“One drink, it’s all I ask. If ye hate my guts after that I promise ye’ll never see me again.” 

 

“Nope.” I shake my head. 

 

“Okay, no alcohol then. Water? Coffee?” 

 

I still shake my head, “I don’t drink.” 

 

“No even water?” Jamie laughs and the sound rumbles in his chest as he breathes heavily. 

 

I’m running pretty fast. 

 

“Nope. I absorb all liquids through my skin. Kind of like a plant.” 

 

The fuck am I saying? 

 

“Next time it rains I’ll hit ye up and we’ll stand outside and drink together, then.” 

 

This guy is unbelievable. 

 

I’m at a loss for words. 

 

I’m trying, really trying to scare him off but he’s not budging. On me like the human version of herpes. He really knows how to get under my skin and he’s enjoying being there. Sicko. 

 

I have no response for him. 

 

This whole thing is incredibly fucking awkward, made even more so by the fact that my heart is racing and it has absolutely nothing to do with the run. 

 

We round the bend to my place and my heart stops cold. 

 

I feel it sink to my feet like it’s full of rocks.

 

My mom’s blue Honda civic is parked in front of my garage. 

 

Shit. 

 

I didn’t know she was coming. 

 

Sometimes she does this. 

 

“I’ve gotta go.” I say quickly and I sprint off with all that I have in me. 

 

Jamie calls out behind me, “Is that a no, then?” 

 

As I race towards home I don’t even bother looking behind me, but I throw up my right hand and flash him my middle finger. 

 

I feel his eyes on my ass as I run away. 

 

He calls out after me. 

 

“Next time it rains, it’s a date!” 

 

I run faster and feel like I’m going to puke. 

 

All the color drains from my face as I see my sage-green front door and my mom standing in front of it waiting for me. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Close your eyes and think for me.

 

Right now, don’t ask, just do it. 

 

Think about a mom from a television show or book or movie that really embodies who you think a mother ought to be. 

 

I’d do it all the time as a kid. 

 

I’d picture the mom from Wishbone, or June Cleaver, or even Ma on Little House on the Prairie. Marmie from Little Women. 

 

Someone you’d go to for advice when things got hard, someone who always had your back, who rooted for you even when you were wrong. 

 

I don’t have that. 

 

What I have is a stranger that somehow gave birth to me. 

 

I don’t know the stranger sitting at my dining room table right now, waiting for me to make her coffee in my old faithful coffee pot on my stove.  

 

I watch it percolate and listen to the familiar hiss and groan and crackle of the liquid brewing as a way to block out the fact that she’s here. 

 

I would tell her to make herself at home, but she already has. 

 

I’m about ready to crawl out of my skin in discomfort as she takes an extra long time in my bathroom and I know she’s going through my things. 

 

Probably reading the labels on the psych drugs in my medicine cabinet and preparing herself on how she’ll bring it up to me. 

 

Goddamn. 

 

I sigh and roll my eyes. 

 

“Claire, you haven’t been drinking with these have you?” 

 

She pops her head into the kitchen and shakes the bottle of antipsychotics at me. 

 

“No, I haven't.” I lie. 

 

It’s not like I mix them. I still shouldn’t. But apart from the drinks the night with Joe, I don’t really drink anymore. Not after what happened to Frank. 

 

“Good cause you shouldn’t.” She drives her brown eyes into me like she’s taking a swing at a golf ball and her words are the driver. 

 

Julia Beauchamp is tiny. Her 5’2” frame bumbles around my house like a deranged pygmy with blue hair, I might add. 

 

Instead of going gray, she’s chopped it all off into a pixie cut and styles it upwards with so much hairspray. The tips are always blue, sometimes green. She experiments. 

 

It’s how I find her in crowds. 

 

That’s not even the weirdest thing about her. 

 

I guess you do weird things after your kids leave home and you’re still a housewife. Her life’s purpose at the moment is driving her adult children crazy. She’s already scared her husband away which is why Dad always worked long hours. I barely saw him growing up. 

 

She plops down at my kitchen table again and makes a face as Adso appears from my room. 

 

“Oh you still have him , do you?” 

 

“Yes, Mom. I don’t go through pets like tissues. They’re life-long companions.” 

 

“Huh?” 

 

Thank God I mumble. 

 

Mom and my little sister both have a hard time keeping pets. They get them and keep them maybe a grand total of a year before they're onto the newest next thing. It's painful to watch them love and abandon everything that comes into their life, including myself. 

 

“Nothing.” 

 

I rush to him and pick him up, his great body laying across my own. I spank his butt a little and he meows at me before purring contentedly. Little freak. 

 

“Yep, still got this sack of crap bugging the heck outta me.” 

 

I can mentally hear crickets as she looks around my house for another thing to bring up that isn’t to her satisfaction. Or a suggestion to make. Last time she was here, she told me to get an alarm system and double bolt my door in case someone came to murder me on this old country lane where no one knows I live because it’s so well hidden from the main road. 

 

No one can find where I live without a GPS and I like it that way. Jamie was my first unexpected visitor in years. 

 

“Coffee’s done.” I say sweetly, I cringe a little because I’m out of sugar and I know she’ll complain. 

 

I bring two mugs to the table and sit across from her. 

 

It’s so quiet, I can hear my own ears buzzing. 

 

Adso scream-meows in my face and jumps into my lap. I try to busy myself with petting him. 

 

She’s not bringing up the lack of sugar. Something must be up. 

 

She blurts it out abruptly. 

 

“Polly is engaged.” 

 

Wait what?! 

 

My little sister is eighteen and as far as I knew it, single. 

 

Now this is interesting. 

 

“Really?” 

 

“Yeah, guy she met on Tinder a few months ago.” Mom shrugs. 

 

“And? You and Dad are just…letting her do it?” 

 

Mom shifts around uncomfortably and darts her red-brown eyes around like a bunny waiting to bolt. 

 

This is why she’s here. To soften the blow. Or ask me to do something. 

 

“You and Dad would have blown a gasket if it was me.” I remark dryly. 

 

“Well, she’s an adult. We don’t know what to do with her. She wants you to throw her a bachelorette party.” 

 

The fuck. 

 

“To the Tinder guy? She’s actually getting married to this dude? Not like a joke?” 

 

Wow. 

 

“I might be busy, but we’ll see…” I say, as noncommittal as I can be. 

 

It’s not that I hate my little adopted sister, I just...don’t like her. You’ll see. She usually tags along with Mom like a co-dependent puppy so I’m surprised she’s not with her this time. 

 

“It is what it is.” Mom replies in a remarkably unbothered way. 

 

This new mom Polly gets as a parent is much different from the woman I knew. 

 

Mom would have screamed and cried and burst a blood vessel if it were me. I remember her losing her shit at far less things than an impromptu engagement. 

 

Polly is the Golden Child ™ though. 

 

The one they wanted. 

 

I was the accidental pregnancy after my older sister. 

 

I'll never understand why parents tell their children they were accidents. From a psychological aspect, it does nothing but bring pain to know your very arrival (that you didn't ask for) was unwanted. 

 

I was the middle kid. Two years younger than my older sister who is now currently happily married living out of state, twelve years older than Pollyl. 

 

Never quite fitting in. Always the “trouble” child. 

 

We sit in awkward silence. I want to rip my own eyelashes out. 

 

“How are you?” 

 

Ah there it is. The elephant in the room. 

 

“I’m okay,” I lie again. 

 

“Tired,” I shrug and try to explain away the awkward silence between us. We both know why it’s there. “Work’s hard. Everyone is yelling at me these days.” 

 

“How’s therapy? Still on those medications?” Julia Beauchamp blinks her eyes at me and I know what she’s getting at. 

 

Last time she was here, she called them “crap you’re pumping your body full of” and thought I didn’t need them. 

 

“It’s fine. Yup.” I nod. 

 

“I wish you’d come over more, we miss you.” 

 

“Uh-huh,” I nod again. 

 

“Claire, you really shouldn’t push people away, honey. We’re only trying to help.” 

 

I stifle the laugh that rises in my throat next to the lump that’s growing there. 

 

I bite at the inside of my bottom lip hard until it feels like it might bleed. I take a sip of my coffee and it burns a little. Burning is good. I can take that. 

 

What I can’t take is this conversation or her showing up unannounced. 

 

I’m too much of a wimp to ask her to go though. 

 

Her help is very conditional and even growing up I felt this way. On pins and needles with her around, never knowing when I’ll need a mom and she’ll have to fill in that role for me. 

 

In order for us to have a genuine, honest conversation about anything, a lot of hurt would have to be acknowledged by her. It never will be. 

 

I raised myself from the age of twelve on. That’s when Polly was adopted and that’s when Mom checked out. I became a mini-mom to the new baby. 

 

My own studies came last. I feel bad, looking back. Her own mother, my grandma, was dying of cancer and she had a lot on her plate. I get that now. 

 

But Mom…. Mom never came back out of it. 

 

She went from being super in our faces and screaming every day to being this shell of a person, sitting in her room crying and me and my older sister had to take on a lot more than any child ever should. 

 

She stopped homeschooling us. 

 

No one knew. Not even Dad. 

 

I got myself through high school somehow, graded my own tests and everything. I knew if I wanted to move out at eighteen I would have to work hard and so I did. I counted down those years like a prison sentence and I got myself out. 

 

Funny to think back on it now. 

 

Mom thought Frank was the best thing to ever happen to me. 

 

“He’s a DOCTOR Claire, how can you ever do any better?” 

 

When I brought up to her in a moment of madness how he was treating me Mom said, and I quote, “You must’ve been really bad then.” 

 

I stopped talking to her for years after that comment. 

 

I feel like she takes what happened to Frank and holds it against me.

 

It’s my fault he’s dead.

 

If we never fought that night he never would have left in that state.

 

She made it clear she liked Frank over me. 

 

I know what you're thinking, but no, no that isn't the story of how and why I gave up being an attorney. 

 

That's even more fucked up but it's a story for another time. 

 

Back to Mom. 

 

Even after going no contact, I broke down and called her because I thought I needed a mother in my life and here we are today. 

 

Awkwardly sipping too-hot coffee from across the kitchen table at each other. Each of us unsure how to act. 

 

How do you act when you don’t even know your own family? Your own daughter? 

 

She never knew me. And I never knew her. 

 

Both of us are left to sit in the unimaginable pain of not knowing the other at all. 

 

“I’m dancing again this Wednesday, you should come.” 

 

Mom swing dances. All the freaking time now. It’s her escape from reality and she’s offering me an “out” from mine I guess. Sweet? Is this her being nice? 

 

“Eh, I dunno. I’m not really good on my feet.” 

 

“Try it, I’ll show you. You never know there might be some young men there! You’ve got to get out more, Claire.” She prods with her little fingers drumming the coffee cup in a pattern that’s entirely too fast for comfort. 

 

My chest is tight and I feel like the sound alone is enough for sensory overload. 

 

I force myself to take a deep breath. 

 

“Maybe,” I say. 

 

What I mean to say is no. Fuck no. Hell to the no-no, mama. 

 

I don’t like touching people and they don’t like touching me. Last time I was touched I screamed and had a panic attack so…

 

“Well, I just wanted to stop and say hello.” 

 

Cool. Great. Fantastic. Can I get the door, Mother? 

 

I smile and nod and hug her on her way out. 

 

“Come over this week, mk?” 

 

“Sure,” I lie again. 

 

As soon as the door closes I roll my shoulders and shudder. 

 

I run to my room and fall face down into my bed. 

 

Adso jumps up next to me and yell-meows. 

 

“Okay, okay. Jesus. Can I get a break today?” 

 

He head-butts me in a cat-hug and I pet him back. He really is my saving grace these days. 

 

I’ve had Adso since he was a wee baby. 

 

I remember pulling my hand into the carrier containing his mother and litter I would be fostering and pulling him out as a tiny floof ball. 

 

He screamed at me even then. 

 

Eventually, he would take to following me around my flat. Looking up at me with those yellow eyes and sitting on my feet as I cooked in the kitchen. 

 

He was the puppy I always wanted but was never allowed to have. 

 

I’m glad I kept him. 

 

“Love you, too.” I head butt him back. 

 

Fifteen minutes of self-pity later, I shuffle my body to my couch and lie down putting on a classic black and white movie. I love these. 

 

Today’s pick is Jezebel with Bette Davis. 

 

I’m about an hour into it, biting the nails on my right hand when my phone vibrates next to me. 

 

“Hi, Joe.” I pick up this time. 

 

“What’re you doing, Lady Jane?” 

 

“Right now, or in life in general?” I say in amusement. 

 

“Right now, I’m outside and I come bearing gifts.” 

 

I jump from the couch and race to the door. Opening it, I see my best friend with his glow-in-the-dark smile holding up a brown paper bag of takeout from my favorite sushi place. Maybe that’s why Joe is such a good friend. Apart from the free food, he remembers details. 

 

We unpack it on my couch and pull up the coffee table for a makeshift dining room. 

 

Joe remembers the little things I like, like extra sriracha on my spicy salmon roll and crab rangoons to share between us. 

 

Why does he have to be so damn nice to me? 

 

“So…. how was your Saturday?” 

 

“Okay,” I dig into my sushi and playfully stab at his roll with my chopsticks. He holds it up away from me and his eyes grow wide in mock-surprise. “Mom came by.” 

 

“Woof.” 

 

“Right? Surprise visit. She likes to fucking ambush me or something.” 

 

“What’d she want this time?” 

 

“Little sis is getting married or some shit, she wants me to plan this bachelorette party.” 

 

“Like now… in this frame of mind?” Joe is blunt about my mental health but I don’t hate him for it. 

 

Apart from Alicia, he’s the only one I can talk to. 

 

“Right. I guess I have to. I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t say no, either.” 

 

“You’re too nice, Claire.” Joe chides me, shaking his head. 

 

Too nice? He’s got to get his brain checked because he apparently doesn’t function well enough to know I’m not nice at all. 

 

Growing up, the nickname my family gave me was “snakey” because no sweet little girl would have such a mean streak like I apparently did. Or “warthog” one summer when I had a wart on my foot. Charming, huh? No wonder it’s hard for me to believe anyone saying I’m nice or sweet. 

 

“I’m not nice.” 

 

“Yes, you are,” Joe looked directly at me this time. No pretense in his warm brown eyes. “You’ll do anything for anyone and put yourself last, that’s how you get into these phases of being emotionally burnt out.” 

 

“Just stab me, right here,” I point to my heart with my chopsticks, “With your chopsticks. It’ll hurt less. Did you come to have dinner or to psychoanalyze me?” 

 

Joe laughs, “Alright. I give. No more psychobabble. I’m glad you got out the other day. And I’m glad to be here now, I’ve missed you.” 

 

I poke him in the arm with my chopsticks, I miss him too. We have a makeshift fight of swords with the little wooden spindles for a second before he asks his next question. 

 

“Saw you talking with Jamie, what was that about?” 

 

Joe doesn’t miss a thing. Now I’m positive he caught the look I gave him while he was making out with Leah. 

 

My cheeks flush instantly and I try my best to play it off as vague and uninterested.

 

“Oh, guitar guy? Yeah we … talked.” 

 

“He can be a little forward. He give you any trouble?” 

 

I shook my head and swallowed at the concerned look Joe gave me. 

 

“Not that I couldn’t handle. Seems to be the manwhore type, to be honest.” 

 

Joe shook his head and chuckled darkly, “Yeah… bit of a ladies man. You’d think that in our thirties women would be over the whole musician in a band fetish. Not that I’m complaining.” 

 

Joe smiles, I hope he’s getting some. He’s a great guy. 

 

“What do you know about him?” I clear my throat trying to sound passive but I’m hanging on his words. 

 

“He’s cool. Played a few gigs with me before, we have another coming up next weekend. I was actually on my way to his place to practice and I thought I’d bring my best bud some dinner.” 

 

Joe crunched down on half a crab rangoon and hummed thoughtfully to himself as he chewed. 

 

“Bit of a dark horse, to be honest. Something happened a few years back and he swore he’d never play again. Something changed cause he comes every week now, even if just to listen.” 

 

I open my mouth to ask what happened but shut it again. 

 

Don’t be that girl, Claire. Forget him. Man. Whore. The last thing you need right now is someone just interested in getting in your pants even if it has been a year. 

 

“Ooh, Bette Davis. I love this one!” Joe exclaims and pats his lap so Adso comes over to sit next to him. 

 

I’m glad he came. The next hour or so is just us relaxing, talking shit about old movies and enjoying the 1938 fucked up drama.

 

As we watch the closing credits, Joe brushes off his lap and goes to stand up pulling me up with him. 

 

“No one writes movies like that, these days,” Joe shook his head and smirked at me. “It’s been real, Lady, but I’ve got practice. Gotta tickle the ivories.” 

 

“God don’t say that.” I laugh. 

 

“You’re right, it sounded weird even for me,” Joe winked at me. Grabbing his shoes, he pats Adso on the head and suits up in his navy blue puffer coat to go out into the cold evening. 

 

“Stay safe, Lady. We’re supposed to get storms this week.” 

 

Fuck. 

 

Are we? 

 

Joe flashed his million-dollar-smile at me as he got into his tiny, red Mitsubishi. 

 

The wind blew my front door out of my hand a little as I waved goodbye. 

 

I can smell the rain. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Although the sky has been threatening for days, it hasn’t rained a drop. 

 

I’m mildly relieved, mostly confused by that fact. 

 

It’s like some cosmic force wants to prevent Jamie’s date with me from happening and I am okay with that. The more I think about it all, the more I am okay with not seeing him. Blue eyes can take a backseat and fuck whatever flavor-of-the-week he needs to in order to feel complete. 

 

I focus on myself. 

 

Monday and Tuesday crawl by in inches. 

 

I wake up, go to work, clock out and after my daily run and sad little quinoa bowls, I fall asleep on the couch to Poirot and we repeat the cycle. 

 

It's freaking Groundhog Day. 

 

For some reason I’m not quite sure of, I’m especially antsy this week. 

 

Last Friday kickstarted something in me that I desperately need. Maybe it’s the need to get out more. That must be it. 

 

By Wednesday, I’m ready to positively pull out my own eyeballs for something to happen. 

 

I need something to fucking happen to break the monotony. 

 

I’m usually okay with my days and nights being predictable. 

 

It’s safe. 

 

Sound. 

 

Unchanging. 

 

Boring. 

 

Miserable. 

 

Lonely. 

 

Maybe I’ve been lonely all this time and never really noticed until I started seeing Joe more again. 

 

I’m an introvert, but he’s an extrovert, which meant our weekly hangouts almost always consisted of me going with him places or even just over to his house. 

 

Before I register what I’m doing, I give Joe a call this time. 

 

“Lady Jane?” 

 

“That’s me…” I say dryly as I hear him pick up. 

 

“No, I mean I know...I just….hey! How are you?” 

 

“I’m good. Hey, is it alright if I stop over?” 

 

“You have to ask?” Joe chuckled in the background. “Mi casa es su casa. I mean, I’m -” 

 

He thinks for a second but quickly continues. 

 

“Yeah come on over!"

 

It’s a fifteen minute drive to Joe’s house, he lives in a nicer subdivision on the other side of town. I come bearing a bag of Takis to blow our heads off with the spice and bring some leftovers so he doesn’t have to feed me dinner. 

 

I have no clue what we’ll do but it’s Joe, we can literally be okay with watching paint dry as long as we crack jokes and talk shit about other people. 

 

God I’ve missed this. 

 

I do feel better this week. 

 

There’s a spring in my step today as I walk up the sidewalk to Joe’s house. 

 

I ring the doorbell and wait, he answers. 

 

“Lady Jane! Come on in!” 

 

I make my way behind him past the foyer. Joe has a really nice house. Like three bedrooms, two full baths-type of shit. With a finished basement and island-in-the-kitchen sort of deal. 

 

“Either you’re forgetting I’m lactose intolerant or you have more people coming?” 

 

He has several bottles of wine and soda on the island in the kitchen with a small crudité platter. 

 

Seriously, there is nothing worse than food laying out in the open with multiple people handling it for snacks. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I know why people love cheese, but put a sweaty mozzarella on a board and calling it a snack is a bit much. 

 

Even for Joe. 

 

“What’s the occasion?” 

 

I quickly bit my lips, “Shit, I’m not crashing anything am I?” 

 

I should go. 



I don’t want this to devolve into me having a panic attack in front of whomever Joe was obviously trying to impress. 

 

“Not a bit. Nope. Come back here, young lady.” 

 

Joe catches me by the shoulders as I turn to go get my shoes. 

 

“You didn’t tell me you were expecting anyone else, dude.” 

 

“You didn’t ask.” Joe laughs awkwardly. “I do have a social life too, Claire.” 

 

I bristle at the thought of having to deal with anyone else and I really, really want to get out of there. Nope. Shoes are going on thank-you-very-much. I’m out. 

 

I turn to head back to the door and suddenly, the doorbell rings. 

 

Shit. 

 

I want to crawl into a hole and die. I bet I could hide in his guest bedroom the whole time and no one will even notice. 

 

I look down at my outfit compared to his. 

 

I am one hundred percent dressed to bum around. I have another Frank sweater on, this time a hoodie. Or my version of “I give up” style that was tres chic about fifteen minutes ago when I left my house to come here. 

 

Joe is wearing a nicer sweater and dark wash jeans. Then again he always looks nice. 

 

My eyes dart around for clues as to who is coming, finally I hiss out at Joe's back as he turns to go to the door again. 

 

“Joseph Abernathy!” 

 

Aside from his mother, I’m the only one who calls him that and only when I’m absolutely furious. 

 

“Calm down, Claire. It’s fine. I’m just having some of the people from the bar over to practice again. We won’t even take an hour. It’s casual.” 

 

“Lies! You have charcuterie! Nothing says “casual”,” Here, I bring out my air quotes again, “like charcuterie. The fuck!” 

 

I pick up the little seashell cheese spreader balancing on the wood platter and hold it up like it’s a prison shank. 

 

Don't let the round end fool you, I will cut a bitch. 

 

Joe rolls his eyes and pries it out of my cold, hard grip and carries it with him to the door. 

 

“Charcuterie absolutely says “casual” yet “hip” okay?” Joe hisses back to me, fingers flapping into bad air quotes “It says I’m a goddamn thirty-something and I’m trying to make my friends feel comfortable!” 

 

I want to scream. I *just* started being okay enough to go out again it feels awfully like a betrayal of trust that he had people coming over and didn't tell me on the phone. 

 

Too late now. I can't get to my car without being seen. My best bet is to lay low and jail break myself when no one's looking. Maybe if I'm quiet they won't notice I'm here anyway. 

 

“Ok, fine. But if it’s awkward I’m heading to the guest bedroom to watch Netflix or something and don’t you dare try to drag me out! I swear to God I’ll get Takis all over your bed too.” 

 

If there’s one thing Joe hates more than the Kardashians, it’s people getting crumbs on furniture. 

 

He doesn’t even turn around on his way to the door as the doorbell rings again. 

 

Damn, this must mean a lot to him. 

 

When he opens the door, I see why. 

 

Miss Purple-Hair is here and she’s all that with a bag of chips. Literally. She fucking brought a bag of chips. 

 

Why didn’t he tell me this was a date? 

 

Okay, maybe not. 

 

Another guy with dreads and a djembe drum comes in behind her and they both reek of weed. 

 

The pungent smell hits my nose and it makes me almost wish that I was back in the alley smelling Jamie’s cigarette when, lo and behold, speak of the devil. 

 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” I exhale sharply. 

 

He saunters in with a heavy-looking black guitar case in tow and not looking completely terrible. 

 

I am well aware I am in men’s clothing and looking a little worse for wear since I thought we might just put on BBC America and chill to Killing Eve or something. 

 

My hair is wild and free and takes up roughly ninety percent of my body considering the levels of humidity outside. 

 

It’s not that I have curls, I have the kind of curls that just puff up to heaven itself if not maintained and I did NOT expect to see anyone else tonight. 

 

Of fucking course he’s gorgeous. 

 

Shit. 

 

He’s wearing a brown leather jacket over a white tee and dark jeans with his Nike sneakers peeking out at the toes. 

 

And those damn blue eyes. 

 

Even windblown he’s even more beautiful than anyone in the room and I hate his guts for it. 

 

Goddamn disgusting. 

 

Then he opens his mouth and I remember I hate him. 

 

“Well if it isn’t Miss Manners, herself. What’re ye doing here?” 

 

I hide behind the island in the kitchen and put it in between us. Joe and the others are talking in the foyer but Jamie makes a beeline for me and I duck behind the granite island for cover. 

 

“Eating a whole charcuterie board by myself, clearly. Ever heard of night cheese? I’m on my second course of it.” 

 

“Don’t let Claire fool you, she’s lactose intolerant.” 

 

“Joe!” 

 

“Claire!” 

 

I shoot daggers at him but he laughs and introduces the others by name. I forget them instantly. 

 

Why I can remember Jehoshaphat but not a name like Kim (was it Kim?) is beyond me. 

 

Also, it’s not so much that I’m lactose intolerant as I have a love affair with cheese and the affections are not returned. 

 

At least if I want to converse with people and not be bent over in incredible pain the rest of the night. 

 

Either way, Jamie does NOT need to know this fact about me. Neither does Kim or Kevin or whatever djembe guy was called. 



Kevin looks right. 

 

“Vegan man,” Kevin says solidly, “Vegan is the way to go.” 

 

“The charcuterie is lovely, Joe. Thanks so much. You didn’t have to go through all this for us.” Kim glows at him.

 

No he fucking did not, but he did so you better appreciate it. 

 

Joe chuckles nervously. 

 

Oh shit, he likes her. 

 

I try to disappear into the background but Jamie’s eyes are on me as I fiddle with the aglets on the ties on my Frank hoodie. 

 

I bite my lower lip into my mouth and his eyes travel upwards to my face and rest there for a long moment. I flush and look down at my feet. 

 

Of course my fucking socks don’t match. 

 

One is green and the other is black and white polka dots. 

 

Joe’s warm voice grounds me in the moment. 

 

“Hey, it’s the least I could do. None of us are getting paid yet so I figure for a hobby let’s make practice fun.” 

 

Joe settles the others in the living room and I watch them through the glass French double doors as I fidget with the ties on the hoodie some more and wish I was dead. 

 

Jamie sets down his guitar with Joe and the others and then promptly comes back to me. I hear Joe laughing in the other room as Kim and Kevin join in. He’s trying hard for her. And here I am dressed like this after he announces cheese gives me mad gas. Nice wingwoman touch, Claire. 

 

If he wasn’t my best friend, I’d be furious. But he knows I’ll forgive him for it. 

 

For real though, why is Jamie headed over to me and why is he coming around the island? I make like I’m doing the electric slide and take two giant steps to the left before sliding back into the sink. 

 

To my relief, Jamie only grabs a can of soda and eyes me curiously. 

 

“I don’t bite, Sassenach,” Jamie chuckles in a low voice. 

 

I don’t know what that word means, but I don’t like it. I feel like it’s Gaelic for crazy ass bitch. He wouldn’t be wrong.  

 

“This drink doesna count ye ken,” he nods down to the can in his hands, “Ye still owe me that rain date.” 

 

“I never agreed to any date!” I say quickly. 

 

“Well,” Jamie’s eyes flash at me and turn even brighter, “Ye did say no date, not no to standing in the rain with me.” 

 

I opened my mouth and closed it again. I was pretty good at arguing thanks to law school and he was right, I did not say no to that. My closing argument the other day was weak and he knows it. 

 

Thanks for putting me off my game, Mom. 

 

“I honestly don’t owe you anything,” I say softly. 

 

“Yer right” Jamie turns and steps closer to me. “Ye don’t owe me anything. But aren’t ye at least a little bit curious if ye did get to know me?” 

 

He doesn’t say anything for a long moment. 

 

“Not really.” I lie 

 

"I promise if ye get to know me, I won't make ye scream again. Not unless ye want to." 

 

He bites the inside of his cheek at that and I look at him, my eyes wide in shock. 

 

Yikes. 

 

Back away from the womanizer, Claire. 

 

Not quite sure how to react to that but I do open my mouth and sputter-laugh, "Cool. Neato. That work on your other women?" 

 

His peach lips twitch into a smile and I don’t know why he’s still here, lingering. Looking at me. 

 

"Not really interested in anyone else, save the one in front of me." 

 

Haste ye away, numbskull. Not interested. 

 

"Well, it won't work. I don't do casual, buddy. Not sure if Joe's told you anything about me, but I am so not into dating right now. Much less hooking up." 

 

 A flash of indignant anger runs through me and I wish Joe would notice his friend was over here all over me. Not touching me, not ogling me this time, but just looking at me. As simply and openly as if he were staring out the window at a garden and noticing the details on the flowers in the beds. 

 

He was studying me the same way he was in the alleyway and I have a hard time looking away. 

 

“Christ, yer beautiful,” He says softly, his voice in a lower, guttural range that makes me want to melt away altogether. “Ye have the most stunning eyes I’ve ever seen, Claire.” 

 

I have no words yet again with this guy and I hate how he makes me speechless in the best and worst ways all at once. 

 

I find my words somewhere at my feet as I look to them and shuffle my mismatched socks. 

 

“They’re just plain brown,” I shrug. 

 

“Nah, they’re not.” Jamie smiles softly. “They’re smooth as Tennessee whiskey wi’ bits of green in them. I dinnae ken what shade they are but I know they're my favorite color.” 

 

“Jamie!” Joe calls out, “We gonna play or no?” 

 

“I’ll be right there,” Jamie calls back, his eyes never leaving my face. Nor my mouth. 

 

“I wanna know,” Jamie says slowly, his eyes twinkling. “Have ye ever seen the rain?” 

 

I’m so entranced by his eyes that I barely notice it’s the title to one of my favorite songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

 

“I’m sorry, what?” I say quickly, stammering. 

 

“That’s what we’re playing, no?” He shouts out to Joe. 

 

“Sure, we can start with that one. Get your ass in here. Claire you gonna stay or what? Bring me a diet Coke, will ya?” 

 

Jamie smiles and turns to go and I watch the spring in his step as he goes to join the others. 

 

“Okay.” I say meekly. 

 

I grab a can of soda and don’t even notice what kind it is. 

 

Joe will have to get what he gets. 

 



Chapter Text

 

I haven’t moved. 

 

I’m sitting perched on the armrest to the recliner in Joe’s living room by the fireplace. 

 

I breathe through the anxiety I feel being around anyone new and try to focus on what I do know. 

 

I'm in Joe's house. I am safe. I am Claire. Nothing bad happens here. 

 

Looks like for the moment, my incantations are working wonders. Knock on wood. 

 

I’m trying super hard for Joe and he notices. At one point, he comes up to me and gives my shoulder a squeeze. 

 

It’s hard to be at this impromptu practice party, at least it feels like a mini party. 

 

Joe is a great host and to be honest, the other musicians are awesome. Kim seems cool as shit and Kevin has some amazing one-liners. Jamie is keeping himself to himself but every now and then, his laugh rings out at something one of them says and it tumbles in the air like a somersault. My own stomach ties itself into knots at the sound. 

 

It’s the best laugh I’ve ever heard. 

 

Is this magic? 

 

I know I’m supposed to be the witch with my potions and lotions and magic incantations (aka positive mantras Alicia gives me, I call them incantations because it sounds better). 

 

Being in the same room as him is an out-of-body experience. 

 

It’s like my brain blew a fuse and the rest of my body tries to keep up with him unsuccessfully. 

 

I’ve never had a problem keeping up with anyone else before. 

 

I notice him looking at me, but I say nothing and try my best not to return the glances. 

 

I feel his eyes on my face and it throws me into a red flush. 

 

It's horrible. 

 

I’ve dealt with his type before, before Frank, before everything I knew crashed around me. 

 

I hate how my body is making me feel. 

 

Weak, compromised. 

 

I keep telling my little bastard of a heart that no, this is the last thing that’s good for me. But it keeps skipping fucking beats when he’s around.

 

 Like he’s a damn virus I can’t get out of my system. 

 

Maybe I could sweat it out with a fever, or give myself some kind of emotional penicillin to get rid of him. 

 

Am I not loving myself enough that I’m flustered whenever a guy comes along and says I have nice eyes? 

 

Shit. 

 

I fell for the oldest line in the book. 

 

Dur. Nice eyes.

 

Bullshit. 

 

They’re not nice. I’ve always been incredibly self-conscious of how plain brown they are. 

 

I think everyone with brown eyes feels the same. 

 

All your life you’re told blue or green is the standard of beauty no matter your ethnicity and so you fantasize about that only. 

 

Brown is common. 

 

And yet, for the first time in my life someone said they were their favorite color. 

 

God. 

 

Am I crying? 

 

What are these tears in my eyes? 

 

Jesus Christ. 

 

I’ve got to get out of here. 

 

It’s clear Jamie cast some sort of Scottish druid spell on me by calling me a … what was that? A sassenach? 

 

Must be old magic or shit. 

 

I’ll have to look that up later. 

 

I try to stand up to go but then they start to play music. 

 

Really good music. 

 

Joe and Kim harmonize and play around on his grand piano while Jamie sits on the cream colored couch and strums his black guitar with a sunburst pattern on the body. I watch his fingers press down on the strings and caress the neck of the instrument as my mouth falls open a little. 

 

If there was ever a time to be fucking jealous of a piece of wood and steel, it was now. 

 

He plays it with such ease and alacrity that it practically sings for him in its rich, steel tones. 

 

I could listen to it forever. 

 

I close my eyes and let the music carry me away to the only place in my heart where it doesn't hurt. 

 

Music does that to me. 

 

If art is how other people decorate their walls, music is how I decorate my time. 

 

I often spend whole days trying not to cry, I have no outlets, no way of getting out the feelings. But music. Music is freedom. 

 

I’m not sure what song Jamie is playing right now while the others murmur to themselves on a song arrangement but it makes me feel like I’m going to cry. 

 

My chest tightens and my stomach clenches trying to hold in the emotion like I’m used to. 

 

I love feeling this way. 

 

It makes me feel beautiful, not in a vain, primping-in-front-of-mirror way, but in a way that makes my soul feel redeemed. 

 

Like something within me is still alive. Still kicking. Still able to reach out and touch the world around me. 

 

Shit. 

 

I’m actually crying. 

 

The tears are hot and wet on my face. 

 

I turn my face to wipe my cheeks and give a false yawn hoping to play it off exhaustion instead of a week’s worth of emotions bottled up and demanding to be let out. 

 

I’m so afraid of feeling the terror, the trauma, the hurt that I don’t let myself feel anything positive either. 

 

Emotionally constipated. 

 

Enter mental instability and my tendency to lash out at people and you have yourself the perfect recipe for disaster. 

 

I'm always on edge when groups of people get together, it causes the flashbacks to happen of secret meeting at the firm. The one where everything changed. 

 

I'm still bleeding from it. 

 

In a crowd, I'm still pressing my fingers to my chest to stop the blood sputtering out of my heart. 

 

I can't pretend I'm okay when everyone around me might betray me like that. 

 

I get up and extricate myself from the scene. 

 

“I’ve got to go, Joe. Early morning. Nice meeting you all.” I say hastily, rushing over to Joe and giving him a quick pat on the shoulder. 

 

“Nice shark coochie board,” I wink at his confused face and he cracks a grin. 

 

How I am a thirty-one year old woman, I’ll never know. 

 

“Sure you won’t stay?” Joe starts to say then he catches my firm look and sees the wet cheeks. 

 

“Call me later, mk? Let me know you get in okay?” 

 

“Yes, Mom.” 

 

“Don’t call me that, Lady.” Joe chides as I dash for the door to get my shoes. 

 

“Sure as hell not calling you Daddy!” I call out, the others laugh and I avoid any and all eye contact with Jamie as I rush to get my things together. 

 

I clench my stomach tightly and try my best to slip on my shoes and head out the door. 

 

I make it to my car in the dark and slip into the driver’s seat and lock the doors on instinct. The tears start spilling down my face and I bite my lip hard to keep from sobbing. 

 

“Keep. It. Together.” I say out loud

 

I breathe out hard like I’m pushing all the air out of my lungs and turn over the keys in the ignition, my headlights turn on to see the shape of a familiar figure running towards me. 

 

Jamie’s white tee shirt flashes in front of me before he’s at my car door motioning for me to lower my window. 

 

“Oh my god.” I groan, rolling it down an inch. 

 

“Welcome to Good Burger, home of the good burger. Can I take your order?” 

 

The fuck, Claire. 

 

It catches Jamie off guard too, he turns his head a little and smiles slyly. 

 

Goddamn. His jawline is so sharp it could cut someone. I’d die for it to cut me….. WOW

 

Keepittogether

 

“I dinnae mean to be so forward earlier, Sassenach, I-” 

 

I interrupt him, “Um I think you did mean to be so forward. I think you knew exactly how forward you were being and are just upset it didn’t go to plan….” 

 

Jamie blinks, he looks… hurt. 

 

Instant regret *dings* in my mental microwave that I use to process my words. The faster they’re done, the worse they usually come out sounding. 

 

“I’m sorry, I just… I’m not used to guys hitting on me. When they do, I get - weird.” 

 

“Aye,” Jamie nods and his auburn waves fall a little into his blue eyes as he looks at me in the wind. “I can see that.” 

 

“I’m just not a challenge, Jamie. Okay? I’m serious. I’m probably the worst person for you to even be remotely interested in.” 

 

The words spew out of me like emotional vomit. I can’t hold them in now. 

 

Jamie is Joe’s friend and if Jamie is Joe’s friend… I’ve got to be honest with him. I can’t have him getting hurt like Laura. 

 

“I’m broken and horribly fucked up. I hurt anyone I get close to because I don’t fucking feel anything positive at all right now. I’m like this human robot with random outbursts of screaming and crying and …. And I don’t think you’d want to get to know me. Because if you do, you won’t like what you see.” 

 

My fingers go to my throat and I twist my necklace into a little knot. There are those damn eyes again. Staring. 

 

His lips twitch into a smile and he gets closer to my window until his nose is almost up on it. 

 

“I dinnae ken about that. But I'd like ye to give me a chance, eh? That so hard to believe?” 

 

I swallow like I have a wad of bubblegum stuck in my throat. 

 

Yes. Yes, it is. 

 

“Fine.” 

 

The worst bursts from my mouth before I can stop it. 

 

Jamie bursts into a smile and spins around like I just told him he won the lottery. 

 

“One thing,” He says and motions for me to lower my window further. 

 

I hesitate but then roll it down one inch more. 

 

“Hold out yer hand.” 

 

“What?!” 

 

He’s gonna spit out gum into it or some shit. I know it. 

 

“Just do it.” 

 

I slowly put my hand up to the window. Jamie drops something hard and light as a feather into it. 

 

My palm closes around a tortoiseshell guitar pick. 

 

“Is this your calling card?” I ask dryly. 

 

“Nah, ye’ve got one of those. Wi’ my number on it, I might add.”

 

Jamie is trying hard to keep his smile contained but he is glowing like a candle flame. 

 

“Now this is verra serious, ye ken.” 

 

I squinch my nose at him and look at the tiny piece of plastic in my hand. 

 

“What’s so serious about a pick?” 

 

Oh my god, is he going to make a pun about “picking me”. 

 

“It’s my lucky one. I’ll need it for the gig on Friday. Ye’ll have to come give it to me before the show.” 

 

I roll my eyes, pun opportunity wasted. 

 

What kinda person wastes a perfectly good pun. 

 

“Are you twelve?” I laugh in spite of myself. 

 

Jamie shrugs his shoulders and sticks his hands in his dark jean pockets. 

 

“If ye don’t come, ye want me to fail.” 

 

“And if I do come?” I interject. 

 

Jamie brushes his hair out of his eyes with his hand and leans closer again. 

 

“I’ll see ye Friday, Sassenach.” 

 

He almost whispers the words and then backs away, waving as he runs into Joe’s house again. I see him shake his wavy head as he enters, his auburn hair hitting the light from the foyer like a golden halo. 

 

I look down at the pick in my hand and contemplate the existence of magic in real life because apparently I was no longer in control of my words or my actions. 

 

I just agreed to a date. 

Chapter Text

 

 

I’m sitting in my garage again. I can’t even wait to get in my flat, my hands rush to find my phone in my bottomless pit of a purse and I swipe up to open the screen. 

 

Blinded by the blue light glaring at me, my fingers type furiously into the search engine. 



Sassenach

sas·se·nach | \ ˈsasᵊnˌa|k, -ᵊnə|, -ᵊnˌä|, |ḵ \

plural -s

Definition of sassenach

: a typical Englishman or something considered typical of England —often used disparagingly by Scots and Irish

 

 

I doubt Jamie meant the word disparagingly, but still. Did a pet name have to be derogative? 

 

It’s not like I’m going around calling him jerkface or something. 

 

Actually, that’s remarkably on-brand for me so I quickly ignore Sassenach. 

 

Damnit. I left the Takis. And my leftovers. And my dignity. 

 

Wow, I’m losing everything tonight. 

 

Except my virginity. 

 

Can that come back? 

 

It’s been so long I’m genuinely asking here. 

 

Ugh I bet Beverly is staring at me just sitting here through her kitchen window. 

 

I grab my things and head inside. 

 

I quickly wash for bed and head to the kitchen to whip up some scrambled eggs and toast for myself. 

 

Adso is quickly at my feet blinking up at me with sleepy eyes looking for scraps. 

 

“Sassenach, huh.” 

 

The foreign word sounded strange and unfamiliar. 

 

So why don’t I hate it? 

 

 

Thursday work is brutal and I walk away from my headset just so I don’t get fired. 

 

You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I get cursed at on a daily basis. 

 

Offer people free things like money even through government programs and you get callers like you wouldn’t believe. 

 

High-off-their-face callers looking for their next fix, the Karens screaming out obscenities. 

 

My hands shake and sweat as I walk away from my desk several times during my shift. 

 

My fingers flip over Jamie’s business card and my mind numbs to the name printed in inky blackness on the stark white background. 

 

J. Fraser

 

Fuckboi extraordinaire who got Claire to agree to see him tomorrow night. 

 

I burrow my face into my hands and groan from the depths of my soul. 

 

And yet. 

 

There’s something about him that tells me he might not be a douchewad after all. 

 

I don’t want to go. 

 

I don’t want to see. 

 

Don’t want to give it a shot. 

 

I’m broken. Physically. 

 

No one’s going to want me once they know. 

 

I’m not being melodramatic here. I’m literally missing parts. 

 

Parts that turn guys into ghosts or only interested in one thing I can offer. 

 

I know I’m being obscure. 

 

I can’t quite cope yet myself with the reality I live in each day. 

 

I am manufactured. 

 

A modern marvel of what the human brain is capable of achieving with a little science and a lot of luck. 

 

Lucky to be here. 

 

I wonder if my oncologist would be offended if they knew I didn’t want to live anymore. 

 

I hate myself for feeling like the wrong person cheated death. 

 

I had known other women- mothers and grandmothers whose lives were taken and yet… I am here. 

 

The freak with no family to speak of. 

 

 A roll of thunder startles me from my reverie. 

 

Shit. 

 

Trash day and the bins are out and open to the sky, ready to take on the gallons of water that look likely to pour down at any moment. 

I rush outside before I can think, grabbing an old university cardigan and wrapping it around myself before heading out into the sudden downpour. 

 

The rain is cold and falls to my skin like icy daggers. I squeal and huff and run as fast as I can in my moccasins down the sidewalk to collect the bins. 

 

I must look like a disgruntled penguin. 

 

My hand reaches out and is met by another. 

 

I look up. 

 

My knight in shining armor is a wet, hulking, black mass in a work rain jacket with the golden ‘L’ for Lallybroch printed on the front. 

 

My hand meets his and I pull it away quickly as a thrill of electricity shoots through me as fast and surely as if it were on fire. 

 

“I’ve got it, Sassenach, you go on.” 

 

I run back inside, now is not the time to argue on the finer points of pride, Claire. 

 

Why is he being so nice? 

 

He literally doesn’t have to do that for me. 

 

I don’t pay him to. 

 

I actually don’t know what I pay him to do since I never call maintenance. 

 

Do I pay him? 

 

Oh God, does he work for me? 

 

I did not think through the dynamics at play here. 

 

I know by his Shrek shadow, he is standing outside my door. 

 

There’s an uneasy feeling in my gut like I just ate an entire bowl of Jell-O by myself and I might puke. 

 

It’s raining. 

 

It’s raining and I don’t know what to do with myself. 

 

Where do I stand? 

 

What do I do? 

 

For the love of God, Claire. Do not answer the door with a quip. Do. Not. 

 

Apparently, he doesn’t know what to do with himself either because he’s not knocking or using the doorbell. 

 

I shake the water out of my hair and open the door a crack. 

 

Jamie is standing there, rain pouring off his jacket, hood up. Some of it is blowing into his russet waves and he smiles at me as if he couldn’t care less. 

 

God, why are his eyes so blue? Should I wear sunglasses so I don’t notice how he looks at me? 

 

Don’t be ridiculous, sunglasses inside are weird unless you’re a douche. It’s always sunny in doucheville. 

 

He’s holding a large black umbrella out over my stoop and waiting. Just waiting. 

 

He knows I’ll keep my word. 

 

Bracing the cardigan against my chest, I step out next to him on the stoop and he holds the umbrella over me. 

 

If he wasn’t so damn crazy, I’d call him a hopeless romantic. 

 

Wait. Who said anything about romance? 

 

What is this, 80’s rom com shit? 

 

Whatever it is, he’s eating it up and looking well-fed in the emotion department.

 

Smiling like an absolute idiot, he grins at me. 

 

“Ye came out.” 

 

“I did,” I say loudly. 

 

Holy shit it’s pouring. We’re getting one of those near-spring showers that absolutely torrents down. 

 

“Do you wanna come inside?” I yell over the thunder. 

 

Jamie laughs, “Aye, Sassenach. This plan was better in my head.” 

 

The irony of me inviting him into my flat is not lost on me here. 

 

Alanis Morisette, eat your heart out, I know this is ironic. 

 

Not too terribly long ago, I was forcing him out and hiding behind the door from him. 

 

I’ve come a long way in a terrifyingly short amount of time. 

 

Again. Magic. 

 

“Don’t get any ideas, bud. I’m just being polite.” 

 

Jamie seems like the kind to think this is a date, also I have no fucking idea what he considers a date. 

 

Fucking? 

 

Shit, he probably does fuck on a first date. 

 

Wait… this isn’t a date. 

 

Is it? 

 

I shift my weight around uncomfortably and gesture to the coat rack by the door. 

 

“You can put your stuff there if you want,” I say simply. 

 

I try not to laugh as I take in the scene. Jamie slips out of his muddy work boots slowly and unzips his jacket. I catch my breath. As he takes it off and raises an arm, I catch a hint of a brown leather belt and just a flash of his abs as he takes it off and hangs it up thoughtfully. 

 

He bites at his upper lip with his bottom teeth and I can almost hear the wheels turning in his head. 

 

Neither one of us has thought this far ahead. 

 

“You came awfully fast with the rain, you weren’t… waiting around, were you?” 

 

Jamie shakes his head, “I uhm… no, no yer neighbor. Beverly had me take another look at her faucet, I was about to change it out when I noticed yer bins about to get wet."

 

I’m touched. 

 

How sad is that? 

 

Someone putting my bins away is absolutely the nicest thing anyone’s done for me in a while. 

 

He didn’t have to. 

 

But he did. 

 

For a few awkward moments, we look at our feet and I’m reminded how long it’s been since I had a man in my flat. Alone. 

 

Other than Jamie’s quick appearance over a week ago, it’d been a year. Maybe longer. 

 

Suddenly, here we are. Two fish out of water, looking at each other, each out of our element. 

 

Jamie nods like he just set his mind to a job and purses his lips. 

 

“Hell beast!” 

 

He bends down like a child and puts his hand out for Adso to run up to him and purr, arching his back against Jamie’s wide hand. 

 

Fucking little shit. Even Adso likes him. 

 

“Adso, right?” 

 

I nod, Jamie looks at me before smiling back down at my monster cat-dog and trying his best to pet him like a Labrador. Adso loves it and rolls over onto his back on the carpet. 

 

I kid you not, this cat is crazy for him. 

 

Jamie snaps up and looks at me, there’s that look again. 

 

The one that lingers on my face and cheeks and lips and just …

 

Makes my mind go blank with witchcraft. 

 

“Can I uh, get you anything?” I say suddenly, dashing over to the kitchen. 

 

Jamie stirs around my living room, looking at the wall above my taupe couch where I have all my most prized possessions framed. 

 

“I’m good, thanks. Maybe some water?” 

 

I fill up a cup at the sink with cold water and bring it over to him, handing him the blue glass. His eyes are fixated on the degree above the mantle.

 

“I dinnae ken ye were a lawyer, Sassenach.” Jamie says low and exhales softly as he does so. 

 

I nod and purse my lips now, “Mhmm, I was.” 

 

“Ye dinnae practice? Joe said….” 

 

My ears perk up. 

 

“Nevermind.” 

 

“No, tell me.” 

 

For fuck’s sake, if Joe told him details I’d kill him…

 

“Joe said,'' Jamie began again nodding to the achievement. “Ye worked wi’ him and gave it all up. Can I ask ye a question?” 

 

I cringe and sit down on the couch, mainly because my legs do not work and I don’t know how to carry my person around this man. 

 

“Why stop?” 

 

Jamie turns to me, glass in hand and blinks expectantly. 

 

“That’s not a question to ask over water, I’m afraid.” I laugh uncomfortably. “Maybe something stronger.” 

 

“Ah,” Jamie blushes a little and shifts his eyes to his hands, he rubs a thumb thoughtfully over his glass. “I ken that might be a sensitive question to ask.” 

 

“Why’d you work maintenance?” 

 

Jamie shrugs and sits down on the other end of the couch, there is one cushion space in between us and I curl my feet up on the couch towards him, shifting my body weight away so there’s plenty of space for Jesus. 

 

The silence is deafening. 

 

“I like it. Working with my hands, I’m good at it.” 

 

“Joe said you were the best guitarist he knew.” I accuse him, my eyes narrowing at him. 

 

The glass in his hands suddenly becomes interesting for both of us. 

 

“Story for another time, eh?” 

 

I nod. 

 

Jesus. 

 

This is awkward and uncomfortable and for someone being so smooth, why is it suddenly apparent that we both have something we want to hide? 

 

Jamie sets the glass down on the floor and before I realize what he’s doing, he is taking my feet in his hands and turning my legs so I’m facing him. At the same time, he’s scooting closer to me. 

 

Holy shit. 

 

“Is this okay?” He stops, seeing the look of sheer panic on my face. 

 

I nod. 

 

His blue eyes cut me to my core as he very seriously looks into my soul. 

 

I should've been to confessional. He's about to lay my soul bare. 

 

I'm not sure I'm ready for him to really see me. 

 

“I’m going to need ye to say something, Claire.” 

 

His hands are on my ankles and make their way to rest on my knees in between us. 

 

“Y-yes.” 

 

My skinny jeans feel incredibly thin as I can feel the warmth from his palms against my skin. 

 

God it’s been so long since anyone touched me. 

 

“I just wanted to see yer face, Claire.” 

 

I nodded and looked up into his eyes, losing all train of thought in the blue abyss. 

 

After he asked if it was ok to move me at all, my heart settled down knowing Jamie was one to push consent even if he was a manwhore. He didn’t seem the type to pull anything over on me without my knowledge of it or consent to it happening. 

 

Fucking sexy. 

 

I relax a little but tense up again with the uncomfortable truth that I wasn’t sure if I could trust myself even if I could trust him. 

 

The glimpse of his hips against the black work pants stirred feelings in me I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I wondered what it would feel like if I reached out now and traced my hands down his well-built body. 

 

What would he feel like under my touch if I lifted up his shift to caress the area of skin I’d seen in the hall? Taught and smooth, the small cleft in his abdomen where it met his hip… 

 

Shit. 

 

I’m breathing fast. 

 

I nearly swallow my own tongue as I catch him gazing at me with an openly hungry look on his face. 

 

Jamie follows my gaze to his work pants and his blue eyes half-closed in realization of what I’m looking at. 

 

He exhales sharply, and edges ever so much closer to me. Our noses almost touch, his tongue wets his lips and he breathes the heat of my own breath as I exhale shallowly. 

 

Goddamn it. I might be suffocating. There’s an immense pressure on my chest that aches in its heaviness and mysterious invisibility. 

 

I want to scream, or maybe cry in relief as he turns his head gently to the side and our lips are mere centimeters apart. 

 

I exhale further wanting to sink into him. I wonder what his pink lips would feel like. What he would taste like. 

 

I long to feel his day-old beard scrape my chin as I meet his lips with my own and hang there suspended in space and time. Until my brain takes a video of the moment I can replay over and over and over again when I am a hundred. 

 

I’m overwhelmed with the tender emotion bubbling up inside me ready to spill over into something I won’t be able to take back or undo. 

 

Kissing him feels oddly...permanent. 

 

For a transient gypsy as myself, this is an unspoken commitment to see what it is between us. 

 

Jamie’s eyes flicker to my lips before he puts his head down and draws it closer to kiss me. 

 

“Tell me about your family.” 

 

The words come out in one giant tumble as I exhale and back away, retreating into my corner of the couch. 

 

Jamie’s eyes opened in surprise from the half-lidded stupor of arousal and he rests his head against his fist, laughing softly and leaning his elbow into the back of the couch getting into a more comfortable position. 

 

“What would ye like to know?” 

 

His left hand wipes his mouth and his lips twitch into that devil-may-care smile. 

 

He seems relieved. 

 

“Everything,” I say quickly. 

 

Holy crap, this man may have just made my brain short circuit. 

 

I desperately grab at straws before I press my body to his and start something I know I won’t be able to stop. 

 

I’m praying and thanking God for the words coming out of my mouth and how they are very G-rated. 

 

Jamie’s making me feel things I only feel with music. 

 

I’m longing to feel the ecstasy of him all over me, to take him up on his promise of being able to make me scream. 

 

To cry out his name and tell him to take me, right here right now. 

 

But something stops me. 

 

My own fear. 

 

His damn blue eyes. 

 

My own limitations. 

 

A shred of decency. 

 

As much as I want him to fuck me, I want to feel a connection and I’m terrified I’ll lose whatever I have with him if I tell him what my body is screaming at me to tell him. 

 

My internal struggle is sounding off with my logic in a deafening yelling-match just as his phone rings in his pocket.

 

Jamie jumps up and answers, listening closely. His brow creasing in sudden anxiety. 

 

“Are ye sure ye need me? Can it wait? Fine. How big is the leak?” 

 

He paces my living room and I’m stuck with my mouth open and closing like a Venus fly trap wrestling my emotions. 

 

“Shite. I’ve got to go. Unit’s spring a major leak, I’ll most likely have to tear the wall out to fix it.” 

 

He extends a hand out to me and I reach up and grab it, as he pulls me to my feet I am suddenly off-balance. 

 

I catch myself on his arm before I trip. 

 

“Ye alright, Claire?” 

 

Jamie’s fingers take hold of mine and as I stand up, he plays with them gently. 

 

My mind flashes back to the image of his fingers on the neck of the guitar and …

 

NOPE. 

 

Cannot go there. 

 

Not now.

 

God he’s slaying me. 

 

This damn spell he cast is a strong one. 

 

Dead puppies. Dead puppies. 

 

Damn. Big leak, must go. 

 

Why say many words when few words do? 

 

“I’m good,” I find my voice. “Damn, that sucks.” 

 

To say the least… 

 

“I’ll see ye tomorrow, Sassenach.” 

 

“Tomorrow?” I blink. 

 

“Aye… the show? I “picked” you, remember?” 

 

Jamie smirks at me as he throws on his shoes by the door. 

 

THERE it is. 

 

“Call me.” He demands, then shrugs trying to play it off as cool. “Or not, whatever floats your “goat” remember?” 

 

Fuck me for ever using air quotes around him. 

 

“I definitely will not.” 

 

I shout out as he races out the door, flashing a grin at me over his shoulder. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

I’m lying awake tonight, the sound of silence is deafening to my ears.

I should reach out and touch the spot next to me where he used to lay.

But he never lay there.

Opting for the second bedroom we’d hoped would be the nursery someday, Frank often left me cold and weeping for a death that had not yet occurred.

His eyes, the stone cold headstone of the living.

Sometimes I reach out anyway and wonder what it would be like.

To miss him.

The idea of what he could have been but would never be to me.

I breathe in deeply until it hurts and turn over to face the right side of my empty bed.

My hand sliding over the empty spot that was never indented with the form of someone who loved me.

My other hand gripping my own empty belly.

Full of rigging and wires.

A mistake that never should have been.

My heart cries out in anguish at the emptiness.

Of myself. Of my bed. Of this place.

I lie on my back and the blue comes in like an ocean wave and washes me clean.

I touch myself slowly.

My fingers tenderly feeling lower, ever lower to my center.

I stop.

Another mistake.

Another choice I’m making to fill the empty void in my own soul.

I know what I have to do.

I fall asleep with the tortoiseshell pick in my hand, tear on my cheek, plan in my head.

His song on my heart lulling me to sleep with the memory of fingers on a fretboard.

Chapter Text

 

I did not call Jamie today. Nor will I. 

 

Now now, not ever. 

 

It’s time to face the music, Claire. 

 

Literally and figuratively. 

 

I’m putting more effort into getting ready tonight than I did a week ago. 

 

It’s definitely time to retire the Frank clothes for the week. At least for the night. 

 

I listen to “Paint it, Black” by the Rolling Stones as I get ready. 

 

It influences what I pull from the pile of clothes on my bed after trying on absolutely everything I used to wear on the daily. Most Calvin Klein cut and tailored dresses or pantsuits. I slip into my favorite jumpsuit. 

 

My clothes fit differently now than they did before. 

 

I have to tie a belt around my black V-neck jumpsuit that cinches my waist and honestly keeps me from looking like M.C. Hammer. 

 

“Oh God,” I moan under my breath. 

 

I can’t do this. 

 

My mind keeps fleeing my own temporary sanity by running back to the explosion of feelings I had in my gut when Jamie’s hands were on my legs and how much those traitorous bastards of appendages wanted to wrap themselves all around him like ivy. 

 

Jesus. What in the Scottish fuckery was this witchcraft? 

 

Adso bumps up against my ankles and tries to give me kitty hugs with his head near my black pumps.

 

I feel like I’m going to court, not on a date. 

 

Only this time, I have no idea what to do, what to feel or how to act. I just know to stick to the agenda. The docket.

 

Same gnawing feeling in my stomach. 

 

Driving to The Trinity, I go over The Plan ™  

 

I have plenty of time on the back roads to think and I make a mental note not to bite my fingernails and mess up the blood red lipstick I’m wearing as war paint. 

 

I get there, I give Jamie his pick, I stay for a few songs and then I leave. 

 

No one the wiser. 

 

I never have to see him again. 

 

The thought hurts my heart, as do his words that echo in my head, “If ye don’t come, ye want me to fail.” 

 

Slight emotional blackmail. 

 

Nice. 

 

Very nice. 

 

Now I have guilt. 

 

I check my glossy lipstick one last time in the rearview mirror before heading inside. 

 

I don’t see Jamie at first, but I do see Joe. 

 

I walk over to him and this time, I do give him a hug. 

 

He’s so much shorter than me when I wear heels but then again most men are. 

 

Instead of warmly embracing me like he would usually do, Joe pulls me aside and hisses in my ear like a rattlesnake whose den I’d just disturbed. 

 

“Claire. A word.” 

 

We’re in an alcove by the bar and no one else is within earshot but he’s freaking whispering. His voice is low and harsh and he’s using my actual name which means he’s mad at me. 

 

“Dude, what-?”

 

“We’ve got to talk.” 

 

Nothing like that phrase to drive fear into this introvert’s heart. 

 

“I don’t like the sounds of that….” 

 

“What the fuck did you do to Jamie?” His brown eyes are all but popping out of his head as he gives me the once over, he doesn’t miss my heels or lipstick. He knows I’m on a case. Or in this case, a date. 

 

“Jehoshaphat?” I laugh, trying to play it off cool. 

 

“Jamie.” Joe over pronounces the name like it’s a foreign word for me. “James Fraser. MY friend?” 

 

“Cool your tits, Jesus.” I exhale sharply. 

 

“Claire, this isn’t a joke.” 

 

“I’m not joking.” 

 

I look at him and there’s no trace of his glow-in-the-dark smile. 

 

“Did you guys fuck?” 

 

I’m immediately hurt, my stomach drops and I feel like Joe’s just kicked me in the teeth. 

 

“Hell no!” 

 

“Okay, well …. I know him. I just… just be careful, Claire.” 

 

“Why?” I ask slowly, narrowing my eyes in suspicion. 

 

“He’s…. Great,” Joe says slowly, “Cool guy, like I said but Claire… I just don’t want you to get hurt.” 

 

I laugh harshly, “Okay, first off. Thank you. Secondly, fuck off.” 

 

Joe blinks quickly like I’ve just spat in his face. 

 

“I’m a grown ass woman and I can look after myself here. For your information, no we did not fuck. Nor will I ever fuck him. In fact, I’m here tonight just to return his guitar pick and trust me, I’m never planning on seeing him again after that.” 

 

“Ye really need to learn how to whisper, Sassenach.” 

 

Shit, balls and all manner of fuckery. 

 

I jump at the voice low and close to my ear. If I knew any kind of martial art, I would have round kicked him in the face for scaring me like that. I suddenly realize that Joe was blinking fast in an attempt to Morse code convey the fact that Jamie himself was standing behind me. 

 

He’s got to work on those nonverbal cues. I thought he was having an apoplectic fit for a second. 

 

“When did you get here?” 

 

I accuse him sharply instead of simply face up to what I just said. 

 

“I’ve been here,  just in the washroom if ye must ken.” 

 

His blue eyes looked hurt and his mouth set into a straight line. I swallowed hard and regret everything I just said. 

 

Hey, no one said The Plan ™ was a kind one. 

 

Joe awkwardly huffs at both of us and walks off to the bar. 

 

“What did you tell Joe?” 

 

I turn on my heel and bring myself up to my full height. All 5’9” inches of me. 

 

Jamie is still a head’s length taller and my gaze comes straight at his unshaven jawline. He’s trimmed it up a bit, I can see a mole on his left cheek I didn’t realize was there and I love how perfectly imperfect it is. 

 

“I dinnae tell him anything, Claire.” He creases his brow and takes a step away from me, “Ye really dinnae want to see me again?” 

 

I open and close my mouth like a fish out of water and feel like crying. 

 

This was much less awkward in my mind. 

 

I didn’t plan on him ever finding out my true intentions behind tonight. 

 

“I’m not ready to see anyone again, not so soon….” 

 

It’s been over a year, Claire.  

 

“Because I just ….” 

 

Just what?

 

I lose all train of thought as I look at him, his expression changes into … 

 

Not sadness. 

 

Regret? 

 

No. 

 

Disappointment.

 

It’s quickly gone as his face morphs into that devil-may-care grin I’m growing to hate.  

 

“If ye dinnae want to see me again, Claire. Ye should’ve worn a different outfit, aye?” 

 

“My outfit,” I clear my throat and cross my arms in front of me. “Has nothing to do with it.” 

 

“Aye it does,” Jamie takes a step closer to me and tentatively reaches out with his hand over my shoulder. 

 

“Ye would’ve picked something other than black.” 

 

“It’s my favorite-” I began quickly. 

 

“I wasna talking about the suit, Sassenach.” 

 

I stop breathing as he rests his hand on my shoulder and delicately threads his thumb through the black lace strap to my bralette that is poking out of my neckline. With his one finger, he scoops it gently back out of sight. 

 

“No girl wears that to say goodbye, aye?” 

 

He says “girl” like “guh-rle” with the “l” rolling off his brogue like a tiny waterfall of sound. 

 

I don’t get him. 

 

I don’t understand why he’s near me again, his cheek almost on mine as he whispered into my ear. 

 

“See? A lass kens when she wants someone to remember her and well….” 

 

Jamie sucks in air in a low whistle and his breath tickles my cheek. 

 

I don’t understand how his low voice sends shivers down my spine or how I’m suddenly bracing myself against the booth next to me. 

 

“I’ll ‘no be forgetting that anytime soon.” 

 

Joe is at the bar, arms crossed, looking at me with daggers coming out his eyes. 

 

I snap back to my senses and scramble around in my clutch for Jamie’s lucky charm. 

 

“Here’s your magic pick,” I say shortly, holding it up between my two fingers in front of his nose. 

 

His damn eyes are on my lips again and he’s scanning my face in an amused way this time, as if I just told a joke and he’s determining if it’s funny enough to warrant a laugh. 

 

I notice he’s worn cologne tonight. 

 

One of my biggest pet peeves with American men is that most do not take advantage of the five senses that are important to all of womankind. Scent being one of them. 

 

Jamie does. 

 

I breathe in slowly in spite of myself. 

 

He smells like dark chocolate and spicy vanilla and it blends with his own scent in a heavenly array of manhood. 

 

“Keep it.” Jamie says confidently, “I dinnae want it back. If ye don’t want to see me at the end of the night, Claire. Then ye can give it back to me.” 

 

I open my mouth to protest. 

 

“Trust me,” Jamie smiles slowly, all hurt gone from his eyes and they are sparkling with mischief, “Now, I do believe ye promised me a date, ye ken?” 

 

Suddenly, his hand is on my waist and he guides me to the bar. Cocking his head, he looks at Joe in mild irritation.

 

“D’ye mind, brother?” 

 

Joe coughs and purses his lips at us. 

 

“I’ll be over here if you need me, Claire.” 

 

He nods his dark head to the area by the little stage where Kim is twiddling her hands in her purple hair waiting for him to notice her. 

 

“He always that overprotective?” Jamie takes a seat next to me at the bar and raises a hand, keeping his eyes on me. 

 

"Always." I cringe a little, I hate the fact that Joe is mad at me. 

 

“Irish peach sour please,” he says to the bartender and turns to me, his blue eyes form a question mark.

 

“Ah, just water for me.” 

 

“It can still be a date wi’ water, Sassenach.” 

 

A minute later I’m biting the black straw between my teeth and trying not to look at him. 

 

Jamie is swirling around some pink drink in a tall glass and chuckling. 

 

“A girl drink, really?” 

 

“I dinnae ken what a girl drink is, Sassenach. But I know this is fecking delicious.” 

 

He holds it up to me and I smell the amazing aroma of peach and lemon wafting off the ice. 

 

It’s a basic bitch smoothie. With alcohol. 

 

“D’ye want a sip?” 

 

“And swap saliva with you? No thank you.” 

 

“Ah a germaphobe.” Jamie’s eyes glimmer as he takes the cherry out of the drink and pops it in his mouth with all the delight of a kid at a candy store. 

 

“No!” I say quickly, “I just … don’t want your cooties.” 

 

“Look who’s twelve now.” He winks at me, or tries to. 

 

“You can’t wink? You just kinda spasmed at me.” I say shortly gesturing in front of me to the air in between us that seemed to be thick with unspoken tension.  

 

“I never learned,” Jamie turned on the stool to face me, leaning forward a little to look at me more closely. 

 

I keep straight ahead and am painfully occupied with making sure my bra straps are NOT showing this time. 

 

“Never learned? Either you can or you can't I don't think it's something you learn. It's not fucking whistling.” 

 

“Ah, well most people get what I give and no one’s complained about a wink yet, Sassenach.” His tone is playful, but guarded now. 

 

Hopefully my annoyance is getting to him. 

 

“Why’d you call me that?”

 

“Sassenach?” 

 

Yes, fuckface. 

 

He is wonderfully relaxed and I am honestly a little irritated by it. 

 

I’m trying so hard not to smile here but his damn dimples are making it hard not to. And the way his eyes are sparkling like actual blue opals are reflected in their depths. 

 

Careful. 

 

Give him an inch and he’ll take a Goddamn mile and run with it. 

 

My dignity flying behind him, flapping in the wind like a streamer of any personal information I divulge. 

 

He’d have an absolute picnic if he knew my thoughts from yesterday. 

 

“Ye seem like an outsider, a Sassenach, what we call them.” 

 

“Sassenach means foreigner, correct me if I’m wrong, but I was born here. Were you?” 

 

“Ah origin stories, I love this part!” He holds up his hands as if I’m about to sing his favorite song chorus. 

 

“I’ll go first,” Jamie smirks at me. 

 

“I was born in a van down by the river-” 

 

“Lies.” I take my straw and flick water at his face. 

 

“Cooties!” He wipes it away and continues, “No seriously. My parents were Scottish hippies ye ken.” 

 

“Really?” 

 

For a moment, I forget myself and turn towards him. 

 

He’s looking at me with the biggest eyes and holding up his pinkie. It's a little crooked and that fact is so endearing I almost barf. 

 

“I swear, Sassenach. Mam made me eat tofu for the longest time, s’wonder I ever grew so big, aye?” 

 

I nod once, my eyes fixed on his mouth as the stem to the cherry hangs on his lower lip between his teeth. 

 

“You’re an only child?” 

 

Jamie nods, “Couldn'a have more. Besides, Da always says I gave ‘em a run for their money as a kid.” 

 

“I bet you fucking did.” 

 

I tried imagining a curly little redhead scampering around pulling chairs out from under old ladies and I stifled a laugh. Sounds on-brand. 

 

“Your turn,” Jamie nods to me, taking a giant slurp of his fruity drink and flashing his grin at me again. 

 

He looks at me like I’m going to say the most fascinating thing he’s ever heard in all his life. 

 

I shrug.

 

“Not much to tell. Two sisters, I’m the middle kid. I was born, I grew up. End of story.” 

 

End of story in public , please don’t make me go there. 

 

“Ah that’s cheap,” Jamie scoffs and flicks some pink crushed ice at me. 

 

I open my mouth in horror. 

 

“You did not just do that!” 

 

“I did.” 

 

“You’ll pay.” I scowl. 

 

“Oh will I? I like the sounds o’that, Sassenach.” 

 

Jesus. Watch it Claire. 

 

“Hmm,” Jamie hums in a low voice to himself, “Well since you willna oblige me with yer backstory I’ll make it up as I go and you tell me how off I am, eh?” 

 

“I’d love to see you try.” I relax a little. 

 

No way in hell he’s getting close to the truth on this one. 

 

It’s too far-fetched even for science fiction. 

 

“Claire Marie-” 

 

“Elizabeth.” I correct him. 

 

“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.” 

 

“How’d you get my last name?” I bite my straw hard. 

 

“Property records. Shh. Yer ruining the storytime.” 

 

I roll my eyes and Jamie’s smile takes up his whole face. 

 

“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, born in 1989.” 

 

“1990.” 

 

“Ah, nineties baby. Good good. Born 1990, to two loving parents.” 

 

Eh. Wrong. Born to one loving parent and a robot. 

 

“Ye came out wi’ yer whiskey colored eyes and yer mass of dark curls and ye thought to yerself, “Huh, I think I’ll hate everything” or did that come later?” 

 

He was making fun of me. 

 

“That came much later, Buddy.” 

 

“Ah. So she says,'' Jamie lowers his voice softly, “Someday ye’ll have to tell me why ye hate everything, but until then… Storytime.” 

 

“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, born 1990, to two loving parents. Grows up, survives sad childhood. Makes impressive, nay…. Gargantuan … strides academically, and becomes a lawyer.” 

 

Sad childhood. Lucky guess. Most everyone has one. 

 

“Beautiful. Gorgeous. Talented woman. World at her feet. Men falling over each other,” Jamie wiggles his eyebrows at me. 

 

I snort and accidentally choke on my water. 

 

Classy. 

 

Jamie pretends to pat my back hard and keeps going. 

 

“Insert trauma here. Insert a little cowardice there and ye’ve got the Claire in front of me.” 

 

“Cowardice?” 

 

Jamie purses his lips and nods his head, eyes closed in mock-shame. 

 

“I said what I said.” 

 

“I am not a coward.” I stiffen up. 

 

“Ye are if ye won’t let others in.” 

 

Ouch. 

 

“Did Alicia put you up to this?” I scoff under my breath. 

 

“Alicia?” 

 

“Nevermind.” 

 

“Personal experience,” Jamie leans forward slightly. “Ye cannae LIVE, Sassenach, if ye choose to stay dead.” 

 

“It’s not like it’s always a choice.” I say shortly. 

 

My hands are sweating. He’s dangerously close to the truth and he knows it. 

 

“Is it ‘no?” 

 

I have no reply. 

 

I know he’s fucking right and it kills me. 

 

Probably the most words I’ve  heard come out of his mouth that hasn’t been total bullshit. 

 

I wish I could believe in that. 

 

That I could move on. 

 

That I could become unstuck. 

 

Another thought strikes me. 

 

“Personal experience, huh?” 

 

“Aye,” Jamie says slowly and almost under his breath. 

 

“Care to elaborate?” 

 

I receive no reply, but that carefree smile and a tiny dimple in the left corner of his mouth that seems to deepen as I look at it. 

 

He cocks his head at me and taps me on the head with the cherry stem before throwing it into his empty drink. 

 

“Downed that one,” I comment on his ability to throw it back. 

 

“Aye,” Jamie stands up and shuffles his feet a bit as he extricates his large frame from the bar stool. “I’ll need it.” 

 

“For?” 

 

“For this.” 

 

I was so engrossed in our conversation, I didn’t notice the bar filling up to standing-room only. In fact, I didn’t notice anything other than his blue opal eyes but apparently Jamie did. 

 

Joe is at the piano, crossing his arms again and glaring at Jamie. Everyone is waiting on him but he takes his sweet time getting to the stage and whispers something into Joe’s ear. 

 

“Nuh uh,” I can hear Joe hiss at him. 

 

“Please?” 

 

“Not gonna do it.” Joe bites under his breath. 

 

“Ok we’re doing it.” 

 

The microphone is picking up them bickering like an old married couple and the crowd is embarrassingly engrossed in this private conversation. 

 

Jamie’s cheeks flash bright red as he turns to pick up his black glossy guitar and throws it over his back in one solid movement. Walking to the mic, he swallows before taking a guitar pick out of his back pocket and pushing his auburn waves out of his eyes. 

 

Jamie doesn’t even look at anyone else. 

 

His blue eyes cut through the crowd and land on me at the bar. I start to turn around in slow-motion to hide but I’m not fast enough. 

 

“This one’s for Claire,” Jamie shouts, his voice a tad lower than it usually is. 

 

All eyes turn to me as surely as if I was hit with a spotlight. 

 

Fuck.



 

Chapter Text

 

Follow the link below if you want to take a listen to the classic song Jamie's about to sing 

If you want to hear the original, click here ;)

...........

 

 

 

In the animal kingdom there are several ways to avoid getting eaten alive. 

 

One, play dead. 

 

I could die. I could just die on the spot. Fake a heart attack, stroke, seizure and pass the fuck out. I mean, I FEEL like I could. Does that count? Should I go with the feeling? What if there are any EMT’s or doctors in the room? Oh god. I can see it now. 

 

The ambulance arrives and there I am in all my play-dead glory having Jamie smirk at my bra-straps showing as they poke and prod me and eventually resuscitate me back to life as I know it. Shit. I’m not wearing any underwear. 

 

Hey, don’t judge. I had the worst panty lines. Nope. Play dead is out. What’s next? 

 

Two, I could shit myself. 

 

Don’t laugh, I’ve heard of this. It’s legit. In order to make themselves as disgusting as possible, some animals actually defecate. That’s why we often pee our pants in fright. It’s an automatic response to fear. 

 

I mean, I could just pee…. But then who would see it? Shitting myself seems like a lot of effort now that I think about it, not to mention AGAIN, no underwear. The fuck was I thinking?! 

 

Dear baby Jesus, 

I promise I’ll be a good girl and wear the ugliest, largest, cotton panties I can find if you just get me out of this mess right now. Mk? Ok. Good. 

Signed, 

 Claire

Claire from 4 Devon Heath

Second house on the left. 

 

With both plans foiled by lack of proper underwear, I was straight out of luck.

 

Onto…

 

Three, I could run away. 

 

In hindsight that seems more first-choice. I mean, my mind SHOULD have gone there but we all know I’m one fucked up bitch so… yeah I literally thought about pooping my own pants and dying as first-choice options. 

 

If I make a quick dash I bet I could get to the door and never be seen again. 

 

Joe plays a chord on the piano and Jamie licks his lips nervously before looking back to make sure Kim (now on drums) had an idea of what fast-paced tempo he wanted. 

 

My mind is literally screaming at me. 

 

Oh no, baby. What is you doing?! 

 

Joe’s brown eyes dig into me from across the room and I can tell he’s 100% behind this. Fuck that man. 

 

He knows this will scare me off righteously and he’s here for it. 

 

Coward. 

 

I hear that word again. 

 

Coward. 

 

I still want to run but- 

 

Coward. 

 

My legs are Jell-O and my pits are sweating and I really, really wish I could command my feet to run. 

 

There’s a murmur in the crowd and suddenly my path to both the front door and the side door are absolutely blocked by a damn bachelorette party that just arrived. When they see Jamie they kinda go apeshit and I almost feel sorry for the bastard. Almost. 

 

Is serenading someone a torture technique? Cause sweet merciful Jesus, it feels like one. 

 

With all options gone, I slouch down on my bar stool and almost fall off the back of it in between the dark chestnut wood of the old bar and the red stool I’m sitting on, butt-clenching like a fiend. 

 

I’m terrified. 

 

Jamie takes a deep breath in and smirks at me, his eyes never leaving my face as I try to command the floor to swallow me whole into the fiery pits of hell than deal with this experience. I find out two things rather quickly as he energetically strums an oddly-familiar 60’s twang of early rock chords. 

 

One, oh my god. He is some kind of divinity-being here at this place. The cheers blow me away with how excited everyone around me is for this to happen. A big man in an apron bursts out from the back kitchen behind the bar and whistles through his fingers like this is a Tom Petty concert. The bachelorette party rushes to the front like this is a mosh pit and I can’t believe my eyes as the whole place comes alive. 

 

Two, Jamie is fucking good. I have underestimated his ability at Joe’s house. After thirty-one years on this earth, twenty of which have been spent REALLY into music, I’d like to say I have good musical taste. He doesn’t need a damn lucky pick. I have a feeling he could play guitar with a slice of frozen pizza and still sound a million times better than I ever could. 

 

I resign myself to my fate and let the song begin. I can’t stop it anyway. 

 

I bite my upper lip with my lower teeth and clutch my water glass until my fingers start to slip on the condensation droplets. 

 

With his right hand, Jamie is wielding a plain black pick, keeping a steady fast strumming rhythm that is twisting around my insides as his left hand clutches the neck of the guitar as he deftly changes chords with each strum-pattern. 

 

I recognize the tune before he even opens his mouth, but when he does he has to get close to the microphone because the cheers are so loud. 

 

“I’ve just seen a face

I can’t forget the time or place

Where we just met. 

She’s just the girl for me 

And I want all the world to see 

We’ve met.” 

 

Jamie’s eyes light up as he soaks it all in. 

 

Dear Lord. 

 

He can sing, too. 

 

Really fucking well. 

 

His clear tenor rings out over the chords and the audience and I brace my guts to be utterly destroyed by his accent over the lyrics. 

 

He hums into the mic and his eyes are glowing at me like two sunlit mirrors in which I can see myself open-mouthed and horrified but also a little turned on. 

 

Dead puppies be damned. 

 

This was happening. 

 

“Had it been another day 

I might’ve looked the other way 

And I’d have ne’er been aware

But as it is, I’ll dream of her 

Tonight, di-di-di-di’n’di” 

 

“I bet you will, you pervert!” I surprise even myself by heckling him. 

 

Kitchen-guy guffaws and there’s a general tittering in the crowd as we banter back and forth across the establishment and over the crowd. 

 

Only one of us is musically inclined, I’m stuck just yelling insults. 

 

Oooh. 

 

Clever man. 

 

He actually planned this. 

 

Touché. 

 

“Fallin’, yes, I am fallin’ 

And she keeps callin’ 

Me back again.” 

 

Joe’s smile at my discomfort turns to a frown as he witnesses us going back and forth over the crowd with our eyes. I dig my brown ones into Jamie with a clear message. 

 

Fucking stop. Oh my god. 

 

He breathes in deeply in a half-beat and smiles with only one end of his mouth curling up into a grin. 

 

No fucking chance. 

 

This is his turf. I’m clearly the away-team and he’s going to use that to his advantage. 

 

Jerk. 

 

“I have never known 

The like of this, I’ve been alone 

And I have missed things 

And kept out of sight

But other girls were never quite 

Like this, di-di-di-di’n’di” 

 

Jamie raises his eyebrows at me as he goes back into the chorus before the guitar solo. 

 

If I wasn’t so appalled I would laugh at the scene in front of me. 

 

There’s Joe at the piano like Grumpy from that scene from Snow White where they’re all playing and dancing around. Mouth set firmly in distaste as Jamie goes off on stage performing for the audience like a bounding Golden Retriever puppy out of its yard for the first time without a leash. 

 

He should not be unsupervised. 

 

Do shock collars work on humans? What I wouldn’t give to stick a few volts of electricity right to his cocky neck right about now. 

 

If I thought it wouldn’t get any worse I was sorely mistaken. 

 

I see a slight break in the crowd as someone new walks in and a girl is quick to cross over to him and run-jump into a hug. Gross. 

 

PDA is so not my thing. Not even when I had someone to do it with. 

 

In this particular scenario though, I am thrilled. 

 

I see a break in the crowd and I fucking go for it. Pumps digging into the floorboards, I make a beeline to the little back door to the alley. 

 

I get halfway through the room and my worst fear is happening. 

 

Jamie is coming off the stage. 

 

Damnit. 

 

Of course he’s not plugged into an amp. 

 

Fucking acoustic bullshit. 

 

About halfway through the room, the audience parts just in time for him to hop down off the stage, guitar in hand and - get this- he KEEPS playing! 

 

Ok, I see you. I hear you. 

 

Level 1000 showoff mode engaged, eh, Jehoshaphat? 

 

I didn’t think he’d have time with the guitar solo coming up but the bastard is playing it AS he is coming over to me. 

 

True to his Biblical name, the audience parts like the Red Sea and make for either shore leaving me stuck in the middle with him. I find my path blocked but a bunch of people are actually looking at me as I hear him come up behind me, still playing the solo. 

 

Goddamn it, it sounds like he has two guitars because I am hearing dueling melodies here. Is that even possible? Okay where’s the sound guy because we need to have words. 

 

Sure enough the music is coming from one instrument being played expertly by a certain ridiculously tall Scotsman as he circles me like I’m the bad guy and he’s the hero in some foreign language film. 

 

I’m both mortified and slightly flattered, I don’t think he shares the spotlight with just anyone. I am NOT a performer but he is. He has everyone eating out of his fucking hand.

 

I have no choice but to turn back to him and I cringe as he comes dangerously close to me. I back up into someone who miraculously takes my water glass that I’m clutching out of my hand just in time for me to see Jamie drop to one knee in front of me and, holding the guitar on his thigh he finishes out the solo with reckless abandon, his face creased briefly in concentration as his hands mesmerize me with their agility. 

 

It’s truly a feat, made even more so by the fact his pants didn’t even rip, almost-painted on as they were very tight dark denim. My face is a brilliant shade of crimson, I’m sure of it. I’m flustered as fuck and he’s all over me without touching me.

 

 In front of everyone. 

 

Jamie spins on his knee and he’s standing again not even missing a beat. 

 

“Falling, yes I am falling, 

And she keeps calling

Me back again.” 

 

His nose is almost to mine now, I can actually smell the Irish Peach Sour on his breath. Jamie twists the guitar around his body for the last few chords just so he can get his torso closer to me. 

 

We’re inches apart now. I honestly don’t know how he’s still playing but he is. I notice him trip up on the last chord but he’s smiling at me like the actual sun shines out of my ass. I have no idea what my face is doing but I can’t look away. 

 

“Will ye ever forgive me for this one, Sassenach?” 

 

“Not a chance!” I yell over the cheers. 

 

“Falling, yes I am falling 

And she keeps calling 

Me back again” 

 

Jamie’s voice is vibrating in my chest as is his guitar playing, he’s pulled it off and he knows it. Cheeky bastard. 

 

He strums out the last chord with a resounding ring, putting vibrato in it with his left hand and holding his right up to me, palm up. 

 

Why is he holding his hand up to me like this? 

 

What do I do? 

 

Is it customary to tip? 

 

Do I freaking kiss the silver ring on his right pinkie finger like he’s the fucking pope? 

 

Jamie smiles as I slide my hand into his and he gives me a twirl. I almost fall over and into his chest as my back is suddenly to him and my side is against his guitar as he plants a kiss on my cheek through my dark curls much to my dismay and the crowd’s roaring approval. A small current of electricity shocks me to my core with the brief touch of his lips to my face. I feel his scruff on my face for a second, just a second. But it's enough to take my breath away and cause my jaw to drop in surprise. 

 

I’m gasping like a fish out of water as he holds me to him for a moment and I hear his voice hot in my ear. 

 

“Still wanna give me back that pick, eh, Sassenach?” 

 

Pick? What pick? Oh THAT pick? 

 

Yeah I forgot all about it. 

 

The hand gesture makes more sense now. 

 

I don’t think he was expecting me to slip my hand into his like I did. 

 

But my pulse is on his wrist and I can feel his own heartbeat racing through my veins as surely as if his own heart is beating my blood through my ears in a deafening roar. 

 

Yeahhhhh. 

 

I’m fucked.

Chapter Text

 

Jamie’s flamboyant smile is ridiculously close to my face as I extricate myself from his arm and smile weakly to the crowd trying my best to find my way out. Anywhere. Anywhere but here. 

 

I know it. 

 

I know I’m a loser and I fucking flip flop. 

 

No one said mental instability was stable. 

 

Or makes sense. 

 

It was always a giant pet peeve of Frank’s. 

 

We would make plans and I would be okay with it for weeks, until the week of when my mental health would ultimately go to shit and I would question and doubt my ability to follow through on it.  Then he blamed me for feeling guilty if we went to do anything at all. 

 

“Make up your mind, Claire. We’ve been over this. You were literally fine with it until today, what’s wrong with you?” 

 

I always hated the way he treated me like a mental patient. 

 

“Claire’s not here now,” He would say, whenever I would disengage from the “real world” due to my anxiety. 

 

He would shut me down and avoid any and all discussions with me if he deemed me not “here” enough. 

 

His words. 

 

Not mine. 

 

I was governed by his rules and regulations regarding how he thought I should deal with my mental illness. 

 

I was a spectator in my own life. He called the shots. 

 

It crippled me. 

 

That’s only one of the reasons I’m not sad to be a widow. 

 

There are more. 

 

I try to think of Alicia, what she would say to me right now. 

 

“It’s okay not to be okay, Claire. It’s okay to be exactly as you are, even if you feel imperfect.” 

 

My hands are shaking and I rush to the ladies room to sit in the stall and try not to cry. 

 

“I’ve Just Seen A Face” is easily my favorite song off of HELP! And that’s saying something. I don’t know how he knew that or if it was a lucky guess. 

 

My heels click together on the black linoleum as I wad up some cheap one-ply toilet paper and dab at the tears threatening to fall down my face. 

 

First the bins, now this. 

 

What’s a girl to do? 

 

Apparently hide in a pub bathroom and pray the one-ply holds against an onslaught of unwelcome tears. One-ply is shit. 

 

When I first moved out of my parents house at nineteen, I didn’t know this fact of life. Now only the thickest of 2 ply toilet paper touches my skin. There are just some things in life you don’t scrimp on. 

 

Garlic in a recipe, straight alcohol in your best friend’s party drink and toilet paper. 

 

The holy trinity of moving out for the first time. 

 

Take notes, younglings. 

 

Do you believe in fate? 

 

I try not to. 

 

I have a feeling Jamie does. 

 

Not that I care. I mean, psh. 

 

Feelings? What feelings? 

 

The bathroom is dark and feels comforting and I revel in the silence before a few of the bachelorette gang burst in and turn into a group at the sink while they primp. 

 

I open the stall and walk out, trying to busy myself by scrubbing my hands almost clinically at the far left sink. 

 

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. 

 

Bad things don’t happen if I count to seven. 

 

Alicia told me counting backwards or out of sequence can help as well. Your brain literally can’t focus on anxiety if you’re trying to list things out of sequence and not repeat anything. 

 

Seven, one, three, two, four, six, five. 

 

Okay. 

 

Lavender soap, nice. 

 

Big suds, even better. 

 

The brunette next to me is watching with her eyes bulging at me. 

 

For fucks sake. 

 

“Some boyfriend ya got there,” she remarks in a bubbly tone. 

 

“He’s not my boyfriend.” 

 

“Ah, oh….” She’s clearly taken aback, “Well, mind putting in a word for me?” 

 

She erupts into a giggle and I can’t stop my jaw from twitching tersely, “Sure thing, sweet cheeks.” 

 

I grab a wad of paper towels and dry my hands hastily, leaving the swinging door open in her face. 

 

Jamie is on stage finishing up Joe’s set and the crowd is too engrossed in another blues song to notice me slipping out the front door into the parking lot. 

 

Coward. 

 

That word keeps running through my head. 

 

Why do I care? 

 

For someone who tries so hard not to care, it’s like his word is cutting me to my core. 

 

My heart physically hurts over his keen sense of judgement and damn, if I don’t feel like he’s snatched my soul through that cheek kiss as well. 

 

It’s almost like…. He wants the best for me. 

 

Huh. 

 

Maybe we can be friends? I’m not sure what to do with these feelings inside me but could Jamie be…good for me? 

 

How in the world could he be if I want to kiss him and slap him at the same time? 

 

That can’t be a healthy reaction to anyone. 

 

The night air is cold, thankfully it’s 10pm on a Friday night and most everyone is inside The Trinity, the lights from the stage inside flash brightly upon the stained glass peaked window panes. The name of the bar suddenly makes more sense as I realize for the first time it’s potentially a converted old chapel.

 

Ironic how I found my faith here and yet lost all of my religion at once. I don’t know what to believe anymore. 

 

Jesus, it’s cold as balls. 

 

I sink to the steps and clutch my suit sleeves slightly to my stomach as I hunch over for warmth. 

 

I should go home but the thought of driving right now, even after having just water, makes me queasy. I’ll have to wait for the anxiety to pass if I want to function at all tonight. Jamie’s stunt scared the little anxiety monster in my head and right now it’s running around screaming into random corners of my brain like a Muppet on Percocet. 

 

“Sassenach?” 

 

I snap my head up and see a hulking shadow filling the doorframe. Jamie pokes his head out and slips outside after me, sinking into the step next to me and leaving a small gap between us. 

 

I’m sandwiched between him and a rose bush next to the step beside me. 

 

I straighten up and try to stone wall him with my face. 

 

Getittogether. 

 

“Are ye alright?” 

 

“Fine,” I say quietly, turning my head away from him. 

 

Why is a random tear walking the tightrope on my eyelash then? 

 

“I thought ye’d headed home,” Jamie comments quietly. 

 

“And if I had?” 

 

“I’d say ye owed me a pick if ye did that, Sassenach. But ye didn’t find me out to give it to me so unless ye hand it over right now, I’d say ye liked the song.” 

 

“I was mortified,” I say simply. 

 

Jamie chuckles to himself in the low, kind way he has. 

 

“Aye, I bet ye were. Yer face though, Sassenach. God it was brilliant.” 

 

“Do you always serenade girls?” I already knew the answer but I wanted him to say it. 

 

“No, no I dinnae usually. Ye think I’m really some kind of man whoor don’t ya.” 

 

Jamie overpronounced his accent to actually say “hoo-er” and I snorted in delight. 

 

“You did bold face admit to fucking casually and I got the impression you were only after one thing, so…. Yeah I don’t know what to make of you, Mister Fraser.” 

 

“Ye can call me Jamie.” 

 

“Not James?” 

 

Jamie shook his head, “Eh I was being a dick that day.” 

 

“So was I.” 

 

“First step in AA,” Jamie nodded. 

 

“Alcoholic anonymous?” 

 

“Arseholes anonymous. We have to admit when we’ve been one.” Jamie checked me with his shoulder and almost sent me accidentally flying into the rosebush. “I’m in the club, too.” 

 

“Some club,” I reply dryly. 

 

There’s a silence between us that no one seems inclined to fill, but the air is charged with the unspoken. Suddenly, Jamie breaks the silence. His words run together as he blurts them out. 

 

“Can I ask ye a question?” 

 

I cock my head at him and look up into his face, with the light behind it he looks almost angelic. Almost. If Michelangelo himself were looking for a model in the afterlife, I know who I’d recommend. 

 

“No. But I’ve a feeling you’re going to ask anyway.” I bemuse. 

 

“I admit I half-thought ye’d be gone when I came out here, Claire. But ye didn’t leave. Why?” 

 

Because I’m feeling a panic attack come on and don’t want to be caught behind the wheel with one. 

 

“Didn’t feel mentally stable enough to.” 

 

My own honestly shocks me. Jamie is quiet. 

 

“Ah,” he says. 

 

Not the pity “ah” or the pity “ooh” like Joan, my neighbor, gives me. But an understanding “ah” that means no explanation is needed. 

 

“I’m glad ye stayed,” Jamie says softly under his breath, he kicks at a pebble on the concrete with his dark boot and watches it skitter along under a bush. 

 

“Better than being alone.” I said quietly. 

 

“We can be alone together if ye’d like. I’ll stay quiet. Or,” Jamie jumps up and offers me a hand. “Ye can come for a walk with me.” 

 

“A walk? Where?” 

 

“I ken a place. Ye’ll need something warmer though, Sassenach.” 

 

“I don’t have anything in my car, I thought I’d be inside only tonight.” I hesitate. 

 

“Och, dinnae fash. I’d got a hoodie back in my truck, gimme a sec love.” 

 

I flush slightly over his use of the word “love” and I definitely see a side of him I haven’t before. 

 

It’s soft. 

 

I didn’t peg Shrek for being one to be soft but after his Grand Gesture ™ inside, I have a feeling this guy could surprise me. 

 

In a few minutes, Jamie emerges out of the dark with a large gray hoodie in his hands. He tosses it to me and I put it on and stand up in front of him. 

 

It fits over my small frame like a couch cover and I snort to myself as I get lost in the velvety inside. 

 

“E.T. phone home,” I stick out my pointer finger in his face and he promptly pulls the strings on the hood closed so my face is squished in the opening. 

 

“Hey!” 

 

“There’s a reference the kids dinnae get these days,” Jamie smirks at me. 

 

The hoodie smells like him and feels like new dandelion fluff so I can’t complain. 

 

God I just did that. 

 

I just put on his clothes like it didn’t fucking matter. 

 

I’m cold. 

 

Chill, Claire. 

 

Literally, don’t sweat it. 

 

Sweatshirt. HAH. 

 

I’m punny. 

 

And nervous. 

 

And talking to myself here. 

 

“I know right,” I snort, thinking of the movie. “When did we get so old?!” 

 

“Time makes fools of us all, Sassenach. May I?” 

 

“May you…?” 

 

Jamie is holding his hand out to me, I clarify for that now. 

 

“I’d verra much like to hold yer hand if I can, Sassenach.” 

 

I cautiously poke out my small fingers from the sleeves of his massive hoodie and look at them, small and pale in the yellow glow of the streetlight. 

 

Instead of turning him down bluntly, I state the obvious. 

 

“They’re cold.”

 

“I’ll warm them.”

 

I look at him closely in the light of the lamp. He’s looking at my face again, his gaze lingering on my eyes as if he can’t look away, I catch my breath and try to think of a quip, any quip, to throw his way. 

 

My mind is blank. 

 

I slip my hand into his large, warm one.  

 

My pain fits into the palm of Jamie’s hand, holding onto him feels like freedom. 

 

I’m taken off guard by how easy this is. 

 

Why is this so simple? 

 

Jamie leads me around the pub and we walk off away from the parking lot and the noise of the pub at night behind us. 

 

“You’re taking me here to murder me, aren’t you?” I say suspiciously, filling up the silence with the worst thing I can think of. 

 

“Aye, I’m a regular Ted Bundy.” Jamie rolls his eyes. 

 

I see a bike path just around the curve of the building and Jamie and I walk down it. It’s well-lit and no one is around. Aside from a few picnic tables here and there, there’s nothing here but the crunch of our feet on the pavement and the utterly silent cold air that hangs like the quiet nervousness between us that neither one of us is ready to admit. 

 

“As far as I’m concerned,” Jamie begins, his hand luxuriously warm in mine as we walk. “We’re still on our date and ye haven’a given me back the pick so ye must not hate me.” 

 

“I don’t hate you,” I say slowly, “I just…. Don’t know why you like me.” 

 

He shoots me a questioning glance and purses one side of his mouth up at the corner as he bites his cheek in thought. 

 

Jamie takes a few more steps and then stops and immediately gets down on the ground and lies on his back looking up expectantly. 

 

“Stars look great from here. Ye should give it a try.” 

 

Um okay? 

 

He’s not budging. 

 

I dance around in the cold a little uncomfortably. 

 

I’m not entirely sure what’s happening but then again, I never seem to whenever he’s around. 

 

It’s clear it’s sink or swim here and I just have to go with it. 

 

“You’re literally not getting up till I try it, are you?” I cock an eyebrow at him. 

 

Jamie shakes his head, “Not a chance.” 

 

“Fine,” I grunt. “So you really just come to a bike path at night to look at the stars?” 

 

“It floats my goat.” Jamie smiles at me. 

 

I groan. 

 

There it is. 

 

Those kind summer blue eyes, those damn dimples. He really makes lying down on cold pavement look as though it’s the most relaxing thing on the planet. Fine. Whatever.

 

Getting down carefully on the pavement, I lie on my back next to him and his hand finds mine and plays delicately with my fingers again. He must have ADHD because something is always moving. I bet even as a fetus, he moved constantly in utero. His poor mother. In a van down by the river, too. 

 

I let out a sigh and look up. 

 

It really is beautiful. 

 

I can see several constellations, Leo, the Archer, the Little dipper. But mostly?

 

Mostly, I just stare up in open wonder at how little I feel right now. 

 

How fucking cliché, I know. 

 

I’m keenly aware of my physical surroundings and his proximity to me, his hand tying me to his own like a kite he’s trying to tether to the ground. He plays with my fingers delicately and I’m struck by how gentle he’s being with me. 

 

I breathe in and out slowly and I can see my own breath forming a small vapor cloud over my head, obstructing my view of the heavens temporarily. 

 

“Why do ye find it so hard to believe someone likes ye?” 

 

Skip the small talk, fella. I get it. 

 

To be fair, I hate small talk with a passion. 

 

His directness catches me off guard but I am oddly okay enough with no one around us to hear my response. 

 

“I’m not nice.” 

 

“Yer nice to me right now,” Jamie’s hand flutters on my own and he squeezes it softly with his rough thumb. 

 

“Yeah but that’s not who I am. What I am. I hurt people. I’ve hurt a lot of people, Jamie.” 

 

“Who hasn’a?” 

 

“People I really was supposed to care about.” 

 

“Like?” 

 

“My husband.” 

 

Jamie stiffens against the pavement and he looks over at me, his eyebrows shooting up. 

 

“Ye dinnae-” 

 

“He’s dead, that’s why.” 

 

“Jaysus,” Jamie lets out a low whistle. 

 

“I’m sorry lass-” 

 

“I’m not.” I say quickly. 

 

No pity.  

 

I turn my head to his gaze and in the low light of the street lamp in the distance, I see a dark, very small mark on his collarbone in the V-neck gap of his vintage tee. 

 

“That a tattoo?” I point with my E.T. hand, my index finger barely visible past the enormous sleeve. 

 

“Oh…. aye.” Jamie blushes a little, not realizing the skin was exposed and his voice changes an octave higher and a little shakier than usual. 

 

“What is it?”

 

Jamie is quiet for a moment and then rolls over to me and pulls his neckline down a tad. 

 

The heat from his own breath hits my cheek as he exhales slowly, his eyes looking down over the bridge of my nose as I survey the skin that’s exposed there. 

 

“A kiss?” 

 

“Aye.” 

 

In black ink, there’s an unmistakable mark of a slightly smudged lipstick kiss along his collarbone. 

 

“Pretty small,” I laugh to myself. “Looks like a fairy princess smooched you there.”

 

God. Why do I have to be so awkward? 

 

“Aye,” Jamie says in a tone I can’t quite describe. “Maybe she did.” 

 

“A girl you liked?” 

 

Jamie was quiet a long moment before answering, “A girl I loved.” 

 

“What happened?” I ask quickly before my mind can catch up with my mouth that this may not be the most tactful thing to ask right now. 

 

“Died.” 

 

“Damn.” 

 

I swallow, my mouth as dry as if I’d just eaten an entire sleeve of crackers. 

 

I just looked at something I feel like I shouldn’t have. 

 

Like it was too private. 

 

Too close. 

 

I hold his hand a little tighter as he rolls back over and we look at the stars. 

 

“Do ye believe in life after love?” 

 

Jamie’s sudden question has me wracking my brain for an answer. 

 

“I can feel something inside me say….” 

 

“Oh my god.” I chortle unbecomingly. 

 

“I really dinnae think yer strong enough,” Jamie smirks. 

 

“No!” I throw my hand over his damn mouth. 

 

I feel something wet on it. 

 

“Oh my god, did you just lick my palm?” I scramble to sit up. 

 

“No.” 

 

“Liar!” 

 

“I wouldn’a give ye cooties, Sassenach.” 

 

“Are you twelve?” My voice is screeching. 

 

“Yer the one scairt of cooties.” Jamie chuckles heartily. 

 

I hit out at him playfully when he catches my wrist in his hand and pulls it closer to him. 

His blue opal eyes are suddenly still as ice. There’s something undefined in his gaze as he looks at me and slowly raises my hand to his mouth. 

 

“Can I kiss yer hand, Claire?” 

 

A thousand thoughts rush through my head and one, awfully phrased sentence bursts from my mouth. 

 

“Is this the year 1743?” 

 

My nervous giggle dies on my lips when I see the way he’s looking at me. The man kissed my cheek without asking, why is consent so important now? 

 

He's not talking. Neither am I. He's being dead serious. 

 

“Yes,” I breathe out. 

 

Dear God, I already have goosebumps running down my arm as soon as his breath hits my hand. Jamie carefully takes it in his and turns his body so he’s resting on his elbow facing me. 

 

I didn’t know hand-kissing was such serious business to be set upon, but to Jamie, it is. 

 

He takes my right hand and rests the back of it on his open palm, my own hand facing upwards. My fingers are clutched to it loosely, but still curled inwards as if to protect myself from some unknown slut-feelings brought on by 18th century weirdness. 

 

No one’s EVER asked me this before and I’m not quite sure what to expect. 

 

Jamie is taking his time, my loose sleeve falls down around my wrist and his fingers caress 

 

each

 

single

 

finger

 

up and away from my palm. 

 

Until the soft flesh is exposed in the cold night air. 

 

I can’t look away. 

 

Jamie cautiously brings my palm to his lips, pressing them down on the center, looking at it as if it’s the single most fascinating thing he’s seen in all his life before he flicks his bright eyes up to my face. 

 

I forget myself and stare back, submerged in the icy depths of his wonderful blue. 

 

I’m drowning. 

 

Drowning, but I can breathe. 

 

I let out a shuddering sigh that surprises myself as his lips press tenderly down on my palm. I feel him exhale shallowly on my wrist, the air hot and vastly different from the cold breeze hitting it. 

 

He looks up at me to watch my reaction as he deepens the kiss, his chin scraping the side of my hand near my pulse-point. The scratch of it drives me mad and only intensifies the butterflies now teeming to get out of my stomach and into the air around us. 

 

He pulls back slowly and closes my fingers together gently over the spot he just worshipped. 

 

“Did ye like that?” 

 

I nodded. 

 

Heart don’t fail me now. 

 

“I could kiss ye all day, Sassenach. Never be tired of it.” 

 

“Oh really?” I say unconvincingly cool. "My hand?" 

 

"And other places." 

 

Jamie sits up next to me and laughs his jump-and-tumble laugh that twists my stomach into knots. 

 

“Aye,” He cocked an auburn eyebrow at me, “One day, I’ll try.” 

 

“An entire day?” I repeat, my brain is skipping tracks here like a scratched CD. 

 

“Aye.” 

 

“The whole day?” 

 

“Aye.” 

 

“Kissing and nothing else?”

 

“I ken yer bad with feelings, Sassenach, but are ye hard of hearing as well?” Jamie reaches down to squish my face up in his hoodie again and I sit there in stunned silence, quietly enjoying the fact that it smells very much like him and I want to wear it forever. 

 

After all, it’s not everyday you get a hand-kiss that rivals even the best make out sessions you’ve experienced. 

 

This.

 

This is everything. 

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s Saturday morning and I’m cleaning my house listening to “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer. 

 

I can’t remember the last time I listened to this saccharine crap, or even wanted to. 

 

But here I am. 

 

90’s summer vibes going as surely as if I were wearing jellies and rocking a choker. 

 

My phone starts vibrating on the counter of the kitchen and I roll my eyes as I have to stop my music to see who it is. 

 

Firstly, rude. 

 

Who calls these days before they text? 

 

Secondly, whatever did we do without caller ID? 

 

I cringe as I pick up the phone and slide my thumb to answer it before it goes inevitably to voicemail. This was one voicemail I didn’t want to listen to. 

 

I don’t need another guilt trip. 

 

“Pizza Pizza.”

 

“Um why do you have to be such a freak?” 

 

Why did you have to be born? 

 

“Wassup.” 

 

“Ok so I’m going to try on wedding dresses and mom and I want you to come. Ok if we pick you up in like fifteen?” 

 

“Sure?” 

 

I phrase it as a question because I’m not entirely sure I want to go but for real, who bails on their little sister? It’s in the handbook that no matter how annoying she is, you kinda have to be there for her. 

 

“Kay, be ready. Also bring those earrings you wore for yours, I want something borrowed and blue, too.” 

 

She hangs up without saying goodbye, classic Polly. 

 

Oof. 

 

I rifle through my jewelry looking for them, finally finding the little dark container at the back of my closet that held all my long lost jewels that I never actually wore apart from that one day. I open the box up to see the little blue and white drop porcelain earrings she wants. 

 

I scrunch up my nose in disgust. 

 

I, too, was young and hopeful once. Now I’m just old and bitter. I remember donning these that day and thinking to myself that yes, this would be forever. It lasted all of five years before… 

 

 

…………………

 

“How long?” 

 

I demanded. 

 

I held up his phone to him and demanded, my vision blurring with the angry tears in my eyes. 

 

“I asked how long?” 

 

“Claire, it’s not-” 

 

“Not what?” 

 

“Not what you’re thinking-” Frank knits his dark brows together in contempt. 

 

“Oh so you’re in love with her, too. I thought you were just fucking.” I mock a smile and force a laugh. It sounds so stilted but it’s better than hearing the roaring silence in between my words. 

 

“God, if you weren’t such a bitch I’d-” Frank opens and closes his mouth like a fish out of water. 

 

“You’d what?” I blink in anticipation. 

 

“I’d be happy here.” 

 

My mouth falls down in a mixture of disgust and apathy. 

 

“What did you just say?” 

 

“I said…” 

 

“Cause I really, really thought you were blaming me for your penis accidentally falling into another woman’s vagina but I must’ve heard you wrong.” 

 

“It’s my fault, I know, Claire-” 

 

“Save it.” I bite my tongue as I chew out the words. 

 

I slammed his phone down on the bed and watched it bounce up and flip over, ten missed calls. 

 

All from “Greg” who happened to answer just now when I picked up, much to Frank’s dismay. 

 

“Does she know?” 

 

“What?” Frank’s dark eyes look at me after all this time looking down at his hands. 

 

“Anything! Jesus, Frank. Does she know you’re married?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“Huh, nice.” I scoff and pace the bedroom before turning on my heel again. My thoughts are swimming and blurring together and I can’t decide if I want to scream or throw up, but I know I need to yell. 

 

“Does she know that we’ve been trying?” 

 

Frank was quiet, his mouth set into a thin line and I rolled my eyes as I screamed the next sentence at him. 

 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Please tell me you used protection!” 

 

My mind instantly goes to all the times we’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for a baby. All the Metformin and Clomid I had to be on, all the progesterone, the multiple visits to the fertility clinic only to have my hopes dashed month after month. 

 

Frank had complained about having sex on the daily, I should have taken that as a red flag. 

 

God I was so naïve. 

 

“Frank Randall!” 

 

A sob rises in my throat as I catch my breath. 

 

Frank shook his head slowly, “I’m- I’m so sorry, Claire. We-” 

 

“Save it. Great. I’ll add getting tested to my to-do list.” 

 

Frank doesn’t say anything and his silence is all the answer I need.

 

I pace away angrily, my hand rises to my mouth and I wipe it anxiously trying to think of the last time I’d even gotten tested. 

 

I stare into the black and while tile of the bathroom and feel nausea rising in my throat. 

 

I gag and feel Frank get up behind me and come over, raising up a hand to touch my shoulder. 

 

I shake it away. 

 

“Don’t touch me.” 

 

“Claire-” 

 

“Find somewhere else to sleep tonight. It’s not like you have nowhere to go. The house is mine now.” 

 

I storm into the bathroom and lock the door behind me, sinking to a pile on the icy tile floor. I draw in a shaking breath as I grip the porcelain bowl with both hands and try not to cry. 

 

I hear Frank close the front door on the other side of the house and the imminent silence telling me I was alone. 

 

Adso comes up and bats at the door to the bathroom, I crack it open and he comes through, looking at me with those big golden eyes the size of saucers. Edging towards me for comfort. 

 

My yelling must’ve scared him. I pat his head and lick my lips, dissolving into a puddle on the floor. 

 

I feel a familiar twinge down in my midsection. 

 

“Fucking hell.” 

 

Could this night get any worse? 

 

With tears in my eyes, I start to laugh. 

 

I lay my head back on the wall and look up at the stark white ceiling. Tears roll down my cheeks as I clutch at my knees and laugh my ass off. 

 

I laugh till I cry. Then I cry some more. 

 

For months, all I’d wanted was to not get my period and now that it was starting again…

 

I felt relieved. 

 

Thank fucking God. 

 

I wasn’t pregnant. 

 

I didn’t know I never would be. 

………………

 

I shove the earrings into the bottomless bag that is my purse and throw on my shoes. I take a deep breath in and brace myself for what’s to come as I see my mom’s blue civic pull into my driveway. 

 

Two hours later I’m four glasses into the free champagne watching Polly slip into yet another gown that looks like it was designed by Dolly Parton herself, not Vera Wang as the label says. 

 

Polly is a little slip of a thing, even though she’s adopted, she absolutely got the Beauchamp tall genes. I watch her blue eyes survey herself in the mirror with disdain as she gives a thumbs-down to yet another one of Mom’s picks. 

 

She flicks her blonde straight hair over her shoulder and looks down her nose at me. 

 

“Jeez, Claire. How many have you had?” 

 

“Not enough.” I reply sourly. 

 

Mom bustles back into the room bearing two giant clouds of chiffon under her arms. 

 

I pinch the skin between my nose as we wait for Polly to try on the next disaster. 

 

“So what’ve you been up to?” 

 

Mom’s tone digs at me, she says it casually enough but I know that’s a loaded question. 

 

“Not much, work’s brutal.” 

 

“You getting out at all?” 

 

“A bit.” I shrug and keep my eyes on the floral carpet. 

 

Lilies and teal, what a concept. I can tell it hasn’t been changed since my mom’s wedding back in the 80’s but I keep quiet. Bergendorf’s is the best. 

 

Nothing but the best for Polly. 

 

I snort to myself as I remember the white bridesmaid dress I was married in. Off the sale’s rack at Macy’s. It’s all I could afford putting myself through law school. 

 

Simple satin. 

 

No bells. 

 

I liked it, but I didn’t love it. 

 

Tried on alone. 

 

No pomp and circumstance for me. 

 

Not that I wanted it. 

 

But still. 

 

It would have been nice for someone to care. 

 

I guess Mom was too busy bragging to her friends that I was marrying a doctor to show up to see me try on my dress. 

 

Polly was having her friends over for a party that weekend anyway. 

 

Everyone had a reason not to come. 

 

I swallow down my feelings and another gulp of bubbly alcohol before Polly comes out again, swathed in a monstrous cupcake of a dress with a birdcage veil on her head. 

 

“Don’t you just love it on me?” 

 

“It’s a look,” I chuckle, trying to be good natured. 

 

“Mom?” 

 

Mom is crying already and I know her opinion is the only one Polly cares about. 

 

“Oh my god, I’m so excited. I can’t believe the wedding is just a couple months away!” 

 

I almost spit out my drink. 

 

“Say what now?” 

 

“Polly set the date for June already.” Mom says shortly, wiping away her tears and giving Polly a thumb’s up on the cupcake. 

 

“Oh,” I say quietly. 

 

“So soon.” 

 

“I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not pregnant, Claire.” Polly snapped at me, her thin face smirking cruelly. 

 

“I wasn’t-” 

 

“I know you can’t get pregnant, but just because I can doesn’t mean I am.” 

 

I’m not prepared for the tears to come to my eyes so quickly. I should be used to it by now but I’m not. Her remarks always catch me off guard, so do Mom’s. 

 

Mom is currently pretending she doesn’t hear as she holds up my earrings to Polly’s dress. 

 

“They clash.” She says shortly, “ God I don’t know why your jewelry is so awful, Claire. You can afford nicer things you know.” 

 

“Um,” I begin awkwardly. “Those are Grandma’s...” 

 

“Oh,” Mom laughs quickly and holds them out for me to take. 

 

“Explains a lot. Nothing that lady had was real.” 

 

Including nice daughters. 

 

I hold the earrings delicately in my palm, the one Jamie kissed and try not to cry. I bite my lip as I put them gently back into their case and back in my bottomless purse. 

 

“I think they’re perfectly lovely.” I say softly. 

 

I always did love Grandma’s style. She was classy, like Chanel No. 5 classy with a twist of lime and gin and tonic. She raised me, not mom. 

 

After my long days with Mom doing school, Grandma would always come watch me and I remember she would let me brush her hair and put makeup on her and we would pretend we were fancy ladies together. 

 

My heart hurts just thinking about it now. 

 

Those glorious afternoons with sunshine streaming in and porcelain dolls and tea parties. Looking back, without her in my life, I wouldn’t have had a childhood. 

 

Mom broke my porcelain doll once. Just because she was mad at me. I sobbed. I was seven, other than that I don’t remember much. Aside from Grandma, honestly my childhood is a black bag of mystery. Like Mary Poppins’s bag, I never knew what would come out of it in therapy with Alicia. 

 

I’m missing years from my past. Whole chunks of years together that I can’t remember at all. It’s like one day I jumped forward in time to fifteen when I was told Grandma was dying. They never came and told me actually. I overheard it. 

 

I was a coward. 

 

I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye when she was so far gone. I had to pretend to be her sister at the end, she didn’t recognize me anymore. I was Olympia. The year was 1953 and we had always just come back from the market together. I would support her frail wrist as we would walk, arm in arm, along the corridor of the Alzheimer’s unit. 

 

Some days were better than others. 

 

At the end she was so weak, so frail. She looked nothing like herself. All glamour gone, in the way it does right as death comes to visit. She had pneumonia and wouldn’t recover. 

 

I was a coward because I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to her cold, limp form in the hospital bed. I couldn’t watch her draw her raggedy last breaths. She wasn’t there anymore. 

 

I remember how my family had talked about me, how they called me cold and cruel for not doing it. How I’d regret it. 

 

I do. 

 

God I miss her. 

 

I swallow hard and put her earrings back in my purse. My hand brushes something thin and hard and I grasp Jamie’s pick. 

 

I pull it out and hold it tightly like some kind of totem. 

 

Maybe if I wish on it, a giant in black work clothes will come bursting in here like the Kool-Aid man and whisk me away to his Shrek castle. 

 

Maybe if I hold it tight enough it won’t hurt so much to be here anymore. 

 

Maybe I won’t be such a coward and finally be able to stand up to them all. 

 

All I can see is blue eyes in front of me in a pool of my own tears as I blink quickly. 

 

Faint. Oh-so-faintly. I hear him singing. 

 

Oh I am fallin’

And I keep callin’ 

Her back again.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

I change as soon as I get home. Ripping off my clothes, I heap them all into my washing machine and stand in front of the laundry room in my underwear. 

My throat constricts in the silence and I dig my nails into the palms of my hands taking comfort in the sharp sensation. 

I’m better than this, I just don’t care anymore. 

I don’t know how to survive the day, so I take it minute by minute. 

Being with Mom and Polly brought up memories that are better off forgotten. 

I should be stronger. 

I should be better. 

I should be kinder. 

I should be able to be around my fucking family without emotional penicillin, aka my short-acting anxiety medications. 

I know alcohol is a downer. 

I know it can make depression worse. 

I’m not fucking depressed though. 

I’m angry. 

Mad as hell. 

No one likes a mad woman. 

I fight back the rage as I dash into the kitchen and open the medicine cabinet. 

I shouldn’t live alone but who’s gonna live with this? 

I wouldn’t do that to Joe or anyone else I call a friend. 

Actually, scratch that. Joe. 

He’s the only one who keeps putting up with me.  

My hands shake as I rattle through the cabinet like a bomb that’s about to go off. At least I ignore the knife block this time. 

I finally find the bottle I’m looking for and take out a small pink oval disc and set it under my tongue. 

It’s bitter as fuck but it works faster when I dissolve it a bit before swallowing. 

Empty. 

Numb. 

Dullness. 

Xanax helps me get through the rage. 

But it sends me into a dull gray area where I can’t feel the high highs either. 

As a compromise for not feeling the lowest of lows, I give up the intense highs of risk-taking behavior. 

It’s better this way. 

I walk slowly to the bathroom and turn on the shower. 

I get in immediately instead of waiting and take off my bra, throwing it over the towel rack. 

I kick off my underwear as the water hits them and throw them out too. 

I bought a lot of white silky ones after it all. 

No need to prepare for the potential scenario of staining them anymore. 

Empty. 

I am empty. 

I feel the rage turn to a scream in my throat and let it out. The ice water turns into scalding hell fire as I let it hit my back and turn to rest my forehead on the cold, white tiles. 

I press my head hard into the unforgiving surface and scream. My hands rush up to press against the shower wall and I hit out at it in despair. 

My hands tingle with fire and ice at the contact points. 

I scream until there’s nothing left in me. Letting the sound leave my lungs in a rush of fury and intensity I’m surprised by. 

Years worth of pain seeps out of my soul as I cry. 

I shouldn’t need a pill. 

I shouldn’t need medication. 

But I do. 

I’m broken. 

My hair sticks to my back in dark ringlets and the water rolls off it. 

I take the bar of peppermint castile soap and scrub the hell out of my entire body with it. I need to be clean. 

I was off their comments, their pride, their own blind selfishness that hurts. 

I gasp as I shudder-breathe in and count backwards from seven. 

Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. 

I am Claire. 

I am home. 

I am safe. 

The Xanax starts to kick in by the time I’m out of the shower. 

I’m starting to feel like me again. 

Exhausted. 

But me. 

Slowly coming into myself. 

I grab the black plastic remote sitting near my bed and crank up the volume on it, casting Rebel Rebel by Bowie into the room. 

I slip into the black bralette I wore the other night and my fingers linger on the strap. 

I usually don’t wear one when I’m home. 

I throw some old, black pajama pants over my underwear and start to dry off my tangle of curls and dance around my room to the blaring music. 

Adso is trying to nap on my white comforter and is looking at me with one eye open, a little tongue blep sticking out of his black mouth in a pink, half-moon of adorableness. 

“Your face is a mess,” I sing to him as I bop him on the head. 

He yells at me and wakes up enough to stretch his paw out. 

I grab him and sling him over my shoulder, his body takes up my entire torso and I swing back and forth around my room dancing to the music with him. 

I lightly spank his butt and my freak of a cat purrs happily, burying his head in my neck. 

“Hot tramp, I love you so.” 

I swing him around my room and we end up in a heap on my bed as he struggles out of my grasp at last. I head bang into the pillows just as the next song comes on. 

Come In With the Rain…. Taylor Swift. 

Nope. Skip. 

Fire and Rain….. James Taylor. 

Skip. 

November Rain…. Guns N’ Roses. 

FUCK. 

Purple Rain…. Prince.

What kind of cosmic joke is this? 

I turn off the sound bar and groan. 

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking about it too, I should just call him. Just bite the bullet and do it. 

But I don’t. 

What do I have to offer him? 

Broken. 

Empty. 

Hurt and hurting others. 

I slip into myself again and sleep the weekend away. 

----------

It’s Monday night and I throw yet another library book against the wall in disgust. 

Pregnant. Fucking pregnant. 

Of course. 

Find a book I remotely like with all the garbage out there these days and I’m hit with the pregnancy trope. 

Oooh mature woman. Young woman. Old woman. 

Woman with a goiter. 

You get the picture. 

Any kind of woman. 

Find a man, fall in love. 

Have babies. 

That’s the goal. Right? RIGHT? 

Now bear with me, but bearing children is not the be-all end-all of human design. 

Were we put on this earth to simply further the human race? 

Create a bunch of little fuck trophies to carry on our names and (sometimes) recessive bad genes? 

I’m so sick of it. 

Movies, shows, books, celebrities. All cranked up to this perfect fucking illusion that wholeness in a woman’s life can only be achieved through motherhood. 

What about us? 

The rest of us. 

The rare breed who is unable or *gasp* doesn’t want to have any children at all? 

Where do we fit in? 

Do we?

----------

I don’t answer my phone all week. I go on my daily runs but I don’t see Jamie again. Each day fades into the last and I’m stuck in my own version of Groundhog Day again. 

It’s comfortable. 

And boring. 

And awful. 

My fault though. It’s not like I don’t have options to get out, to reach out to someone. 

Blue eyes. I stare at the business card next to my bed and almost enter the number into my phone on Tuesday, but then I erase it all and put it down again. 

Joe leaves multiple voicemails checking on me. 

“Claire, I’m worried about you, call me?” 

By Wednesday, he stops sending me memes and gifs of baby goats doing the macarena. 

The only phone call I answer is Alicia for our therapy. I tell her my video isn’t working but to be honest I just don’t want her to see my depression hole that is my home right now. It’s littered with mugs of half-drunk coffee and clothes I can’t be bothered to fold and put away. 

“How are you, Claire?” 

“Eh, not great.” I shrug as I retreat to my room-cave for our session. 

I tell her about Mom and Polly and their comments. 

“It’s understandable why you’d be hurt, Claire.” 

“I don’t want to hurt anymore, Alicia. I want to get out, I just… don’t know how.” 

“How to….?” I can hear her peering over her purple cat-eyes, waiting. 

I clarify. 

“How to be myself again.” 

“When was the last time you felt like yourself?” 

I close my mouth tightly. 

When I was lying on my back on a bike path at night, my hand intertwined with Jamie’s. 

I feel an empty pang in my heart of how I’ve put off calling him. 

“I…. I met someone.” 

I wait for it. For her to launch into a tirade of how I shouldn't be seeing anyone. Not that she has. But in my mind, that's what I think will happen. 

I feel too broken to pursue anything positive at this point. 

“Huh, go on.” Alicia’s voice perks up, I can picture her leaning forward in her seat and cocking her head in the way where I know she’s extremely interested in what I have to say. 

“I fucked that up, too. Friend of a friend. We hung out a while ago and… it was ok I guess.” 

“Just okay?” 

Magic. 

Wonderful. 

Horrible. 

Scary. 

“I felt,” the words are coming out slowly as I choose them carefully, “like me again. Alive. Here. It was nice.” 

“What did you do with this person to feel this way?” Alicia nods and I see a slight smile on her mouth, “This is all great, Claire. I’m super proud of you for getting out, it must’ve been scary for you.” 

I shrug, “ We just talked, it was at Joe’s music thing again. Friend of Joe’s. He was… nice to me. Gentle. Didn’t try anything, just listened. We talked. Kinda like you and I do.” 

Alicia beams. I can hear her smile in her voice. 

“That’s wonderful, Claire!” 

“He’s… not the worst. I’m just scared of letting anyone in so I think I fucked it up.” 

“Nonsense, Claire everyone makes mistakes, why do you think you fucked it up?” 

“I didn’t call him. I should have. But … I don’t know. I have his number. He doesn’t have mine.” 

“I see,” Alicia says thoughtfully chewing on the tip of her pen. “Do you think you’ll see them again?” 

God I hope so. 

“Maybe.”

“Claire, whatever you decide to do here is fine. Just make sure you’re listening to your heart, not your head. This person sounds like they could really be good for you if you felt comfortable around them. Anxiety lies, remember?” 

I nod quietly. 

“I’m giving you homework this week.” 

Uh oh. 

“Get out again. Call Joe maybe? Don’t be afraid to shake it up a bit okay, change is good.” 

 

***

 

It’s Friday at 5 pm and there’s a knock on the door. My heart leaps in my chest as I walk to open it and see Joe standing in the doorway, he raises his eyebrows as he sees me in my current state of pajamas and wet hair as I’ve just gotten out of the shower and was getting ready to start something small for dinner. Probably another bowl of quinoa and chicken. 

“I did call.” 

“I don’t answer calls, you know that,” I shrug defensively. 

“But you didn’t answer my texts either.” 

Joe leans his head on the doorframe and sucks in his lips at me. 

“Rough week, huh.” 

I nod, “You could say that. Sorry I’ve….. Been an asshole.” 

AA club, right? A wise man told me I gotta admit when I’ve been one. 

“Eh I just think you’ve forgotten I actually like you and don’t care if you’re having a shit week.” Joe smirks at me. 

“Your carriage, M’lady?” He gestures to his little red car, still running in my driveway. 

“God don’t ever say that.” I chuckle. 

“I’m officially kidnapping you for dinner. You got five minutes notice.” 

“Where to?” My heart races, I was not planning on a night out. 

“A kidnapper never says, it would be too polite.” Joe smiles his classy grin. 

“But-” I stammer. 

“I’m sorry, but did you have a big night planned?” Joe mocks surprise and holds his hands together clutching them. He looks exactly like his mother. “Am I interrupting anything?” 

“A hot date with a microwave bowl and a little Belgian.” I admit. 

Joe rolls his eyes. 

“Ok, girl. Get a bra on and for God’s sake do something about that hair. I love you. You look like Edward Scissorhands.” 

I open my mouth but then I catch my reflection in the mirror behind me. 

Dear God, he’s right. 

I put the quinoa bowl back in the fridge and feed Adso, giving him a quick tap on the head while he screams at me for abandoning him. He trots behind me as I run to the bedroom to get changed. 

Joe didn’t look too dressed up but he did wear a button down and jeans. I throw on a light pink poet’s blouse in satin and my dark jeggings with my boots. I grab an old, cream cardigan from under my bed and throw it over my arm as I run out the door, locking it behind me. 

Joe’s glow-in-the-dark smile is bright as he honks playfully. 

“There she is! The bitch is back!” 

I smile too, but I do throw him the obligatory middle finger for honking at me like a cheap tramp. 

“Bitch is back indeed!” I shout, getting into his passenger seat, “Bitch is hungry too, so step on it.”

Chapter Text

 

It isn’t long before I’m laughing and turning up the music in Joe’s car to a country station just to annoy him. 

 

“Hey, why aren’t you playing tonight?” I ask as I turn the dial up on a particularly twangy song and watch Joe grimace. 

 

“Cause I’m not a musician.” Joe quips. 

 

“My ass. You don’t choose the music man life, the music man life chose you.” 

 

Joe chuckles and shakes his head as we turn down a busy boulevard near downtown. 

 

“As it turns out I have friends, Lady Jane. Also, here they are.” 

 

Joe nods over as we pull into a really nice outdoor shopping center with cars lining up and people bustling around. 

 

We turn into a parking lot and I catch a glimpse of purple hair from Kim waving from a small group of people in front of...

 

“Pies and Pints?” I turn back to Joe. 

 

“Don’t worry Miss Lactose Intolerant, there are options I checked.” 

 

“Yeah PINTS.” I snort. 

 

“Actual food, Miss Missy. I’m not letting you get all wasted on me. I actually like Kim so if you could avoid barfing on my shoes like last time, that’d be great.” 

 

“Oooh. You LIKE like her.” I poke his armpit and he karate chops me away. 

 

“I knew it. If you want someone to be your maid of honor….” 

 

“Don’t ask you, I get it. You don’t have to go through the wedding spiel with me, Lady.” 

 

“I’m just saying!” I get heated and clap my hands together for emphasis as we park and Joe unbuckles. 

 

“Weddings are giant, overpriced parties people throw for their parents' friends. Nothing says “true love” like watching your Uncle Gerry get up and start another racist tirade after he’s had one too many Jager bombs.” 

 

“I get it. Matrimony sucks. Never do it. Except no one said anything about marriage, only you. I’m here for pizza which is about as noncommittal as you can get,” Joe cocks his head at me in sass, “Pizza is noncommittal. Nothing says noncommittal like a food you can either fold or eat in slices the way God intended.” 

 

“Say noncommittal again.” 

 

“Noncommittal.” Joe smirks. 

 

“Also, some people eat it with silverware, by the way.” 

 

“Freaks.” We both say at once. 

 

“Fine, I’ll be civil. But if she starts cutting her pizza up with a knife and fork I’m getting you out of there.” 

 

We enter the restaurant and I smirk as Joe walks in holding Kim’s hand. I start whistling the wedding march but he shoots me the Death Glare ™ and I put an end to it. 

 

Thankfully Kevin is also here sans djembe drum so I’m not totally third-wheeling it. 

 

“Are you a flower? You look like a beautiful English rose.” He says, leaning forward to sniff my hair that I put up in a French twist in the car. 

 

Scratch that. Maybe I am the third wheel. This guy’s high out of his mind. 

 

I start to get antsy thinking the whole gang may be there… 

 

I do see a lot of familiar faces from The Trinity as musicians that I recognize, but no Jamie. Also, Joe seems to keep his friends groups separate as no one from the firm is there, either. 

 

I start to relax. 

 

We put in our order and Joe is right, there are quite a few options that won’t leave me embarrassing him in front of his future wife. 

 

I start to smile and get comfortable watching Joe and Kim together, they really are the cutest. Sitting on the same side of the table, holding hands under it like they think I don’t know. 

 

Kevin seems to be having a love affair with the ice cubes in his drink when Joe grabs my attention. 

 

“Lady Jane, put in the usual at the bar, please? Kim, what’ll ya have?” 

 

Kim shakes her head, “God only Coke for me tonight thanks, though.” 

 

“Limit of ONE Mister Driver or we all Uber, but I’ll be back, ok?” I wink at Joe and sidle out of the booth to give him time to smooch up Kim while I’m gone. 

 

Thank God I’m being a better wingwoman tonight. I’m really feeling like myself again. 

 

I make my way over to the bar to put the order in and rummage around in my bag for ID since the bartender has decided to be extremely flattering tonight in asking me for proof that I’m over the age of twenty-one. Eyes on ya, bartender. Way to make a girl feel young. 

 

Getting carded is like an exclusive compliment these days. Usually the grocery clerk takes one look at the bags under my eyes that should have their own zip code and scans away, tapping annoyingly at the age restriction that pops up on their screen as they check out my pinot noir. 

 

“Lookin’ for something?” 

 

Jesus H. Christ, I nearly jump out of my skin. 

 

“You’ve got to stop fucking doing that you know.” 

 

I refuse to look behind me, absolutely refuse. 

 

I know I’ll see blue eyes and that damn grin and be dumbfounded by Scottish fuckery. 

 

I can FEEL a small chuckle on the back of my neck. I know it’s crowded here but Jesus this man knows no bounds as far as personal bubbles go. 

 

“Ye wore yer hair up tonight, I like it this way.” 

 

“Oh?” I say, keeping my eyes on the metallic shaker the bartender is swirling Joe’s martini in. “Why, you have some kinda librarian fetish like most red-blooded Americans?”

 

I thought my French twist was matronly, if anything. 

 

I don’t mean to be cool but I don’t know how to cross this ocean between where we were and all that’s happened. 

 

The space I’ve put there. 

 

Have I hurt him by not reaching out? Does he know me well enough to be hurt? 

 

Am I reading too much into this? 

 

Does he even care? 

 

My fingers tap on the bar counter and I burn a hole with my eyes into a bottle of Grey Goose on the top shelf trying to avoid the fact that I can feel his eyes on my earlobe and neck. 

 

“No. I like it because yer neck is exposed, Sassenach. And something tells me,” His voice continued low and smooth in my ear like honeyed whiskey. “That if I were to kiss. Right. Here….” 

 

I feel a finger play with a loose baby tendril on the back of my neck and almost lose it. I can feel the glow rising in my face like the blush on a fresh Georgia peach. Spreading up and over my temples and into my hairline as my ears blaze with the tickle of his breath. 

 

“Ye might not hate me for it.” 

 

“I don’t hate you now.” I say softly. 

 

“Ye never called. Now what’s a guy to do when that happens, eh?” Jamie asks the question I’ve been asking myself all week. 

 

“You know where I live,” I quip, keeping my eyes straight ahead. 

 

“Fair. But I dinnae ken if I’d be welcome.” 

 

True. 

 

“You could have tried.” I try to hide the overwhelming guilt in my voice. 

 

“And risked my pride?” Jamie’s voice had a bitter tone to it and I hated myself for being the reason it was there. “Nah, Sassenach. We’re at a stalemate in the pride department. See, if yer interested in a lad, ye have to call him when he’s not got yer number.” 

 

“I’ll remember that,” I say solemnly. 

 

Thank God the bartender hands me Joe’s drink and I turn around, coming almost nose to nose with Jamie. 

 

Fuck, he’s pretty. 

 

Leaning with his arm on the wood column beside the bar and looking at me with his blue opal eyes shining, how are his eyelashes so long? Ugh. Typical. 

 

“I’m on a date,” He says casually, eyes probing my features for any tells. 

 

I give him none. 

 

“I can see that.”

 

He’s wearing a dark brown leather jacket that accentuates his long auburn hair and a white tee shirt underneath that’s making his blue eyes pop. 

 

His nose is so close to mine I can see the tiny indentation left from a pair of aviators that are hanging out of his jacket pocket. 

 

“Yet you’re here… at the bar… talking to me….” I blink. 

 

“Aye.” Jamie seems unbothered by this fact as his eyes keep playing on my features, casually flicking to my lips and back up again. 

 

“You have my blessing, Mazel Tov.” I nod shortly and slip around him.

 

I don’t know what else to say. There’s a pang of jealousy that I’m not here with him when I could have been and it’s my own damn fault.  

 

Goddamn it. I should’ve called. 

 

“Who’re ye here with?” Jamie blurts out. 

 

“A friend.” 

 

“Guy friend?” 

 

I nod, smirking at the look of bewilderment that flashed on his eyes. 

 

“Joe?”

 

I shrug and there’s a spring in my step as I walk away. 

 

I feel his eyes on me as I go back to our table and I don’t look back until I’m close to the others. I see Jamie’s tall frame bend over into a corner table away and out of sight from me. 

 

I can’t see who he’s with. 

 

I set Joe’s drink on the table and smile to myself. 

 

“Do you have a pen?” 

 

Kim hands me one and I grab a napkin and scribble out a quick message to take back to the bar so Joe won’t overhear. 

 

“Irish peach sour please to that table over there, also… can you give this to the tall ginger dude. Trust me, you won’t miss him.” 

 

I slip off to the bathroom and am in the process of rummaging through my bag to get together some kind of makeup look when the door opens and a couple girls walk in to chat at the sink. 

 

Jesus. 

 

Blonde Velcro has boobs hoisted halfway up her sternum tonight and she’s loudly whining to her brunette friend and together they both look like they just graduated high school. 

 

“Can you believe it?” 

 

“Let it go, Leah. You know this is just how he is.” 

 

“Yeah, I do.” Leah sniffs at the sink and I almost, almost feel sorry for her. 

 

I busy myself touching up some peach lipstick and adding some to the apples of my cheeks as makeshift blush, not that I need any. 

 

“Remember last week when we had that midterm? Apparently he was doing this song for this older chick and she was ALL over him. Like, can you get more desperate?” 

 

Wow. 

 

Wasn’t meant to hear that. 

 

Also I was NOT, thank you very much. 

 

And midterms?! 

 

Oh hunny, no. 

 

This is like watching a car crash. 

 

I finish up my 5 minute application in the time it takes the girls to decide on what kind of Taco Bell they’ll likely order after they go bar-hopping later. 

 

To be young and have a stomach of steel. 

 

As I walk back to the table, cardigan under my arm and blouse fluttering, I catch a pair of blue eyes watching me intently from across the room. 

 

Date my ass. 

 

He’s there in a group as well, the same group that had the era party at The Trinity the night we met. 

 

“Nothing says noncommittal like pizza,” I muse to myself as I slip into the booth again. 

 

“Something going on that I should know about?” Joe wiggles his eyebrow at me as I sit down and I look down at my spot to see my napkin returned and a martini next to it, extra olives. 

 

I open my mouth. 

 

“Roses are red, violets are blue. I suck at apologies. I’m in AA too.” Kim giggles as she reads it out. “Do you accept mine?” 

 

I snatch the napkin out of her hand and clutch it to my chest, “Hey! That was private.” 

 

My eyes scan for which box Jamie checked. Yes or no. 

 

Bastard wrote an asterisk on the side with an arrow asking me to flip it over. 

 

“Who sends someone in AA a drink?” Kim laughs but definitely looks concerned. 

 

Joe looks at me intently. 

 

“Shut up.” I roll my eyes as I scan Jamie’s bad handwriting. But to be fair, no one writes well on a napkin. 

 

*Maybe* if you called me...

 

I roll my eyes even harder. 

 

This bar tab was going to be outrageous.

 

Meet me after. 

 

I flag down the waitress and give her the napkin just as a song comes on the speakers. 

 

“Oh my god.” 

 

“Oh I love this song,” Kim squeezes Joe’s hand and they sway together to the intro to the classic song, Call Me by Blondie. 

 

He didn’t. 

 

He couldn’t. 

 

Could he? 

 

I don’t believe in coincidences. 

 

I turn my head to the corner booth and catch blue opal eyes burning into the back of my head mouthing the words with his pink flushed lips. 

 

Cover me with kisses, baby

Cover me with love

Roll me in designer sheets

I'll never get enough

Emotions come, I don't know why

Cover up love's alibi

Call me

Chapter Text

 

I turn my head around quickly and smile at Joe as he and Kim are staring at me. 

 

“What?” I roll my eyes slightly, “It’s Blondie, how can you not smile?” 

 

Joe sighs and shoots me a look and I kick him under the table. 

 

Drop. It. 

 

He shrugs and turns back to Kim. 

 

I can’t focus. 

 

I’m starved though, so I make like a good brontosaurus and tear into my grilled chicken salad. Joe’s right, they really do have some bomb options here. Kevin is more than hilarious and I’m glad to not be entirely third-wheeling as we have dinner together. 

 

The conversation mostly buzzes around my ears like an annoyance, however.

 

I’m waiting. 

 

Hoping.

 

Praying. 

 

I wish he HAD kissed me. Now I’m second guessing myself and wondering why he hasn’t. 

 

I feel like he’s come close. My mind races back over all the times I could feel his breath on my skin. And yet. 

 

He didn’t. 

 

Does my aura give off “unfuckable” vibes? 

 

I curse the shell I’ve made out of thorns and words that have been hurled at me. 

 

I stand alone in a castle built by each brick they threw at me and now I look down at Jamie. 

 

Unreachable. 

 

Crossing the distance between us that I have put there myself is painful. 

 

I should wave my white flag of surrender and be done with it all but I’m scared to. 

 

Too scared to show defeat. 

 

Too scared to let down the gate and let him in. 

 

But he’s still standing there. 

 

Waiting. 

 

I can’t shake his presence from my brain. 

 

This is dark magic and I can’t explain it. The more I try, the more I fail. 

 

Whatever is between us, just IS. There is no rhyme or reason. 

 

As surely as all rivers run to the sea, my hand found his and somehow that completed everything. Full circle. 

 

Unless this is one happy moment before everything comes crashing down around me. 

 

I’m eaten up by my own thoughts and barely focus on what’s going on around me. 

 

I realize Joe is standing, looking at me with a curious expression. 

 

“Ready to go, Lady?” 

 

“Eh, you go on with Kim.” I wink at him suggestively. “I’ll get an Uber.” 

 

Joe blinks at me in surprise. “You sure?” 

 

I nod. 

 

“You need anything you call me, okay?” 

 

“Promise,” I hold my pinkie up and he takes it. 

 

I watch them leave and Kevin soon after. Walking over to the bar, I go to close out my tab when I see the bartender lay out two shots of Jameson neat. 

 

“Oh, I didn’t order this.” 

 

“You’re Claire, right?” 

 

I nodded. 

 

“Wait here.” 

 

“What?” 

 

“Hey I don’t make the rules, I just pass on the message.” The bartender shrugs but seems nonplussed. 

 

This poor waitstaff. Jamie and I must have them running back and forth like crazy. 

 

Suddenly, there’s a commotion over at the corner table. Leah and her friends bounce out in a huff and if it weren’t so comical I would be terrified of them. They look like a pack of angry chihuahuas that were promised a treat and then got none. One of them even had her teeth bared. Or was that a smile? With her lack of lips I couldn’t tell. 

 

Jamie stands up slowly and pats a guy on the back before heading over my way, he’s holding his cheek and laughing to himself. 

 

“Got slapped?” I cock my head at him as he takes the seat next to me. 

 

“Aye,” Jamie blushes half-proud, half-embarrassed. 

 

“Good.” Even I’m surprised by the word that just came out of my lips. 

 

“Good?” He looks at me incredulously. 

 

“Yeah, I mean. If I was their age, I’d be pissed. But you know, people see other people and that’s okay. As long as it’s casual no one gets hurt. Noncommittal is a word these younguns need to learn.” My mind harks back to Joe’s comment at the pizza and I try to act nonchalant and not incredibly pleased his chihuahua pack had fucked right off. 

 

“Yeah,” Jamie shrugs his shoulders uncomfortably inside his jacket and I can’t help but watch them move. My eyes linger more than they should. 

 

“Noncommittal is your thing, eh?” Jamie asks pointedly. 

 

“Am I on trial here? I thought I was the lawyer.” I ask playfully, I touch my shot glass and now it’s his turn to linger. He watches my fingers intently as I flirt with the rim of the glass. Rubbing it back and forth like it’s a Tibetan singing bowl. “I thought noncommittal was your thing, to be honest. Different girl every week, sorta thing.” 

 

The slight of hand distracts from the question I’m really asking. Jamie laughs but the laugh gets stuck in his throat and he flushes red around the ears before darting his eyes up to my face again. 

 

“Touché. That’s who I used to be. Wouldn’a say that’s who I am, Sassenach.” 

 

“Hmm. We all have different ways to deal with pain. I’m not one to judge.” I half-nod at him respectfully and go to pick up my glass. 

 

My heart is racing just being near him but I’m not letting it show. He watches me with those cat-like eyes that seem to change color and seep through everything around me until all I see is blue. 

 

“Wait.” 

 

Jamie takes my hand in his and for a moment, my mind goes blank with the contact. 

 

His skin is my contact drug. One touch and I’m already high and buzzing for more. 

 

His eyes dilate as he blinks at me. 

 

“Ye up for a game?” 

 

“A drinking game?” I sputter, trying to remain cool. This can’t end well. “My years of getting blackout wasted are behind me, my friend.” 

 

“Nah, not a game per se. Although we’ve been playing games all night and I quite like it, Sassenach.” 

 

Each time he says that word, my brain turns to mush and I may as well be as young as Leah and the others with how it makes my stomach turn, cradled in my gut. I’ve been called a lot of things by a lot of men but never an outsider. Never affectionately. 

 

Sassenach. 

 

The word itself is a color I didn’t know existed and he is the first to show me. 

 

And now I can’t stop seeing it everywhere. 

 

Jamie is sitting up as if every hair on his body is paying attention. He’s taking this very seriously for a grown man who just suggested a drinking game. 

 

“Truth or dare. If I ask a truth and ye tell me a lie though, ye have to drink.” 

 

“And dare?” My heart quickens. 

 

“Dare is to ask the questions we’ve been dying to ask, other person has to respond. Or do something, ye ken.” 

 

“Like?” 

 

Realization set in quickly and his features flushed pink before he went on. 

 

“I ken what yer thinking, I’ll go far but I draw the line at one thing, Sassenach.” Jamie’s blue eyes are like guarded steel.

 

My pulse catches in my throat before deciding to beat again was an entirely necessary function. 

 

“Oh?” 

 

“No daring me to kiss ye.” 

 

Damn. I’m oddly disappointed, yet something about knowing that is strangely exciting. For someone who teases it so much, he’s a tough one to crack. 

 

“Odd request for you, Lover Boy, but so be it.” I laugh lightly trying to hide the fact that my stomach shook with his words. Damn me and my brontosaurus salad. 

 

“No unless ye beg me for it.” Jamie’s eyes were already on my mouth and I smile, catching his gaze. 

 

I have a feeling this is going to be harder for him than he realizes. 

 

“I’ve never begged.” I say confidently. 

 

“Nor have I.” 

 

“Stalemate.” I nod curtly. 

 

“Stalemate.” His eyes are unreadable and something about that terrifies me. 

 

“So truth or dare and the dare is we get to ask the awkward questions?” If I’m going to battle, give me the parameters, I can set up the courtroom in my head. 

 

“Correct.” 

 

“Alright then. You first.” 

 

I’m increasingly confident of myself in spite of my situation. I can talk my way out of anything but I’m pretty sure Jamie can as well. For a maintenance man he’s certainly coming across as more educated than most. 

 

“Truth or dare?” Jamie asks. 

 

“Truth.” 

 

I’m nervous now, my hand flutters to the hem of my blouse and instead of following it with his eyes, he bores them into me in the way he did under the fedora. 

 

“What is….your favorite food?” 

 

“Baby questions, eh?” I snort, “A little Thai place by my house makes a mean Pad Kee Mao, extra spice. You?” 

 

“Truth,” Jamie laughs. “I’ll take that as ye told the truth, so no drinking yet.” 

 

“Hmm,” I say thinking out loud, “Were you actually on a date or did you just say that?” 

 

“Actually on a date.” Jamie’s eyes sparkle at me and a corner of his mouth twitches into a dimple.

 

“Drink, sir. Groups aren’t dates. Not after age eighteen.” I point ferociously to his shot glass and watch his dimples deepen as he takes the shot. 

 

He downed it like water. I’m in trouble. 

 

“Are they ‘no?” 

 

I shake my head, “No.” 

 

“Yer turn.” 

 

“Truth.” 

 

“What is one thing Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp,” He makes a point to emphasize my middle name since he knows it, “Wishes everyone knew about her?” 

 

I think for a moment, “Free legal advice isn’t a thing. Get the fuck out and pay me, damnit.” 

 

I chuckle and Jamie nods along, “Aye, I wish people dinnae ask me to sing every ten seconds or break out a guitar at every party. When yer good at it, it gets old. I’m a person, not a trained monkey.” 

 

“Absolutely.” 

 

There’s a moment between us and I can almost hear a pin drop in the busy restaurant behind us. Time seems to move of its own accord when he’s around. 

 

It reminds me of The Fetch. At twelve, I went through a phase of interest in the supernatural and my grandmother’s stories from the old hills of Appalachia only fueled that fire with the early legends of The Fetch. Folklore had it that sometimes, when you were alone in the woods, it would go quiet. Unnaturally quiet. That was before The Fetch came. In all reality, this story was simply meant to scare children to stay put and not wander, but I always wondered how it started. The Fetch, was a supernatural being meant to “fetch” you to the other side, the fairy realm as some would say. 

 

Sometimes, it would look like your friend or neighbor, but something would be off about it. A smile not right. A facial feature not down exactly as it mimicked those you loved. 

 

Terrifying really. But always, always the tale had one similarity. The Fetch would be surrounded by a quiet that didn’t make sense. Bees would stop buzzing. Birds would stop singing. Trees would stop swaying. All would be still. Deathly still in supernatural wonder. 

 

Jamie and I were in our own bubble of silence and it didn’t matter who dropped a plate or popped the question behind us, we were off in our own realm together. 

 

Maybe there was some truth to the old tales. 

 

“Dare,” Jamie takes a sip of the water on the counter next to the glass and settles back comfortably, maybe a little too much so for someone who’s just asked for a dare. 

 

My mind races, there’s so much I want to ask. 

 

“I dare you to tell me what made you leave Scotland.” 

 

I wait for him to recoil, to look away, to do any of the tells on the stand that I’m used to that mean a witness doesn’t want to answer the question. 

 

But he doesn’t. 

 

He looks straight at me, seriously and begins to answer as simple as we were talking about the weather. Whatever Jamie is, a liar isn’t one of them. At least, not about things that matter. Faux dates aside. 

 

“Lost a record deal. Ruined it. Fucked it up. Righteously. I was young and cocky. My family needed me here. Da and Mam moved when I was at uni and he was in a poor way. So I came to take care of him. Then the heart attack and now I’m here.” 

 

“Alone?” I asked. 

 

“Aye,” Jamie replied bitterly, a mix of sadness and regret on his face. “Mam’s back with Jocasta now in North Carolina. It’s just me.” 

 

“And the tattoo kiss?” 

 

Jamie’s mouth twitches into a sad smile. 

 

“Ye’ve exhausted yer free question. Time for mine.” 

 

“Dare.” I straighten up. 

 

Jamie smirks a little, “Fair’s fair. I like that.” 

 

He looks at me a moment before speaking. 

 

“Did ye love him? Yer husband?” 

 

I smiled sadly, “Yes, I did at one time. Although we had some irreconcilable differences before he died.” 

 

“Meaning?” 

 

“Meaning he wanted to continue sleeping with other people and I found that to be irreconcilable.” 

 

“Ah,” Jamie nodded. “I ken that must’ve hurt. I’m sorry.” 

 

I swallowed, “Me, too. That’s what’s fucked up about it all. I had to be this dutiful wife at his funeral and everyone was sobbing to me, saying how sad they were for me. For me, he was already dead. Left me with scars I can’t get rid of and well….” 

 

I trailed off. I was giving him way more than I thought I would. I can’t read Jamie’s face but he seems to be drinking in every word. 

 

“That’s only part of The Trauma ™ .” I say bleakly. 

 

“The Trauma ™ … I like it. It’s like ye’ve branded it and made it yer own.” He nods and licks his lips thoughtfully. 

 

In a way that says he’s not afraid, not run-off. In a way that makes me feel he could take it on someday. 

 

I doubt it. No one would really do that. Why would they do that? 

 

“Truth,” Jamie says with certainty. 

 

“What’s one song you refuse to play?” 

 

I thought the question would be harder for him to answer but he answered as certainly as if I’d asked him his favorite color, which I didn’t -he already told me with that line about my eyes, the cheater. 

 

“Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.” 

 

“Aw but that would be amazing with your voice-” I start to say. 

 

“I dinnae play it, Sassenach.” 

 

His tone cut me and I looked intently at his face as his jaw was working on keeping calm. I noticed his chest rise and fall haphazardly and suddenly realized this may be a question for a dare. Some other time. 

 

“Yer turn, love.” 

 

Jamie nudged me with his knee, I realized we were now sitting so close together we may as well have been on one stool. 

 

“Dare.” 

 

“What made ye give up law?” 

 

Ouch. 

 

I agreed to this though. He was within the parameters. 

 

“The Brenner case.” 

 

Jamie looked at me with wide eyes, “I ken the name-” 

 

“Over a year ago. It was all over the news. I represented the wife and the law failed her. Tried to get protective order against the husband. Husband shot and killed her three days after the judge wouldn’t grant the order.” 

 

“But Claire...surely ye ken that wasn’a yer fault….” Jamie’s face flashed horror for a second and then softened towards me, his hand reached out and touched my arm lightly as his fingers ran up and down the silk blouse in an attempt to soothe me like a child. 

 

The truth kept spilling out of me at his touch. 

 

“I wasn’t in a good place. It was right after Frank died. I- I had a lot going on.” I cleared my throat,  “There was a meeting . Closed doors. Joe told me about it. The firm thought I was incompetent and … well, here I am. Answering phone calls for a damn living. I chose to leave. You don’t just get your professional reputation thrown out like trash and keep going.” 

 

I took the shot in front of me, not caring if I had or hadn’t told the truth. 

 

Jamie squeezed my shoulder before dropping his hand and ordering another round. 

 

We kept on going. He found out my favorite color was blue and I hated, nay, despised K-Pop. I found out his favorite candy was M&M’s and he secretly had a fear of spiders and nuns. In that order, specifically. He had two middle names. Alexander and Malcolm. He knew I had no tattoos on my body but made me drink anyway in case I was lying to him about that. I got flustered at the thought of him looking for one. The idea that one day he would explore every inch of me was too much, I buried my blush deep into the feeling of the warm alcohol. Before I knew it, two more glasses were stacked in front of us and we were on …

 

“Truth.” I said 

 

“Alright,” Jamie pretends to stroke a nonexistent beard like an old man, “what is the best present anyone ever gave you?” 

 

“My insecurities and sense of humor.” 

 

“Drink,” Jamie demands. 

 

I take the shot and cough this time, “Fine. I give. I had a pair of rainbow striped knee highs that I fucking loved in middle school. Wore ‘em every day that I could.” 

 

Jamie laughs, “Hmm somehow I cannae see ye wearing it now.” 

 

“I was peak 2000’s girl. Frosted lip gloss, butterfly clips and rainbow knee highs.” I sit up on the stool and get in his face. “Zenon girl of the 20th century, eat shit.” 

 

Jamie loses it. His face cracks into a thousand lines as he laughs till he coughs. 

 

“I was so sad when they got holes! Worst day ever. Never been able to find a pair again.” 

 

I hit him playfully to stop laughing but his broad shoulders are shaking. 

 

“Your turn.” 

 

“Dare.” He clears his throat and tries to stay composed. 

 

My mind is addled at this point. 

 

“Have you ever been married?” I blurt out. 

 

“Nah,” Jamie answered, “Engaged though. A verra long time ago. Dinnae last long.” 

 

“She the kiss?” I look at him dead in the face trying to read his expression this time. 

 

Jamie shakes his head, “No. Turn’s up. Truth or dare?” 

 

“Dare.” 

 

“Have ye been with anyone since yer husband?” 

 

I shook my head, “Nope.” 

 

Can’t believe I just admitted that out loud, but there it is. 

 

“Surely-”

“No. I swear to God and if you mention Joe I’ll actually barf. He’s like my brother, I could never.” 

 

Jamie seemed pleased by this and it annoys the living hell out of me.  

 

“Dare.” He says.

 

I suddenly remember I can ask him to do something for me. 

 

“I dare you,” I start slowly, “To take me home.” 

 

Jamie’s eyes take on a different shade of blue and deepen into mine as he raises his hand to close out the tab. 

 

“I thought ye’d never ask.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The night is sparkling. 

 

Yellow ochre fireworks as we pass streetlight after streetlight in the back of the Uber. The windows are tinted darkly and my hands find his as they clasp and unclasp in the back of the car. 

 

I’ve never called an Uber before. I don’t let Jamie know that though. 

 

I follow his lead and he leads me home, our bodies bumping into each other as we sit close in the backseat of the little SUV. 

 

We come apart occasionally, and in the silence we slide closer together again. 

 

Like magnets within us, pulling the other ever-closer, I can feel the force between our skin as hand meets hand and he looks at me through heavy eyes. The light of a passing streetlight lights up the backseat in a flash of gold and for a moment, I see his face. Illuminated with the glow, his throat rolls gently as he swallows and I watch the shape of his Adam’s apple slip down into his brown leather jacket collar. 

 

We’re both drunk on something stronger than anything the bar had to offer. He brings my hand to his mouth and lightly kisses my fingers, taking his time. 

 

Is hand sex a thing? I think he’s having an affair with my wrist and I am one hundred percent okay with that at this moment. 

 

My hand catches his cheek and I feel the mole on his jawline under my fingers as I smooth them over his rough stubble. 

 

My mind is full with all that I want to say, but never will. 

 

I hope I never lose you

 

He will stain my soul with the taint of him, like red blood, the stain will never come out. 

 

Don’t. Fuck. This. Up. 

 

I had no plan when I dared him to take me home. 

 

I knew he would. But beyond that? Yeah. No fucking clue.

 

 Nice one, Claire. 

 

I’m not sure if he has any plan at all either, sitting there in the half-dark, watching me closely. 

 

My cardigan is over my lap and his other hand is underneath, resting dangerously on my knee, moving slowly sometimes, remaining a heavy, warm presence that tethers me into the present and out of the darkness of my own inhibitions. 

 

Together, we ride in silent confessional, finding hope and justification for our actions in the silence between us. 

 

Justification. 

 

That’s a funny word to describe any encounter with the opposite sex past the age of twenty-one. 

 

 I equate holiness and sexuality. To know one is to know the other. 

 

I had never been with another man before Frank. Ten years my senior and well-versed in the ways of sex, I never took it upon myself to question what it would be like to be with anyone else. 

 

When I was fourteen or so, I went through a phase where I had a horrible attitude, like all teenagers do. I remember overhearing my mom screaming to my dad about how they should take me downtown to see actual hookers and that is what my life would be like if I didn’t shape up. To her, sleeping with a man you were not married to was… well, it was a fate worse than death. 

 

This is how I was raised. 

 

This is how I was. 

 

I smirked to myself knowing I’d asked him to take me home. Knowing my own mother would be clutching her pearls if she knew. Telling me I was damned. 

 

And yet. 

 

I didn’t need justification to ask this man to take me home. 

 

There was something in this depravity that felt right. Pure. 

 

All too soon, the Uber pulls down my street and rumbles to a slow stop in front of my flat. If it weren’t for the late hour, I’d bet anything Beverly and Joan would be looking through the blinds to see the strange car. 

 

No one visits randomly, no one on this street. A new car is like a bat signal, a beacon of light that all the old grandmother moths huddle to for the warmth of new and promised gossip. 

 

The booze is hitting me harder than it should and then I remember I’m fucking thirty-one and the last time I drank actual liquor was a while ago. In my post-Frank-memorial service, not-bathing-for-days phase of depression. 

 

We’re home now. Well, puttering outside my home in a strange car with a stranger driving it and a used-to-be-stranger in the backseat looking at me partly like he wanted to jump me and partly like he wanted to recoil for fear of breaking me. 

 

More than fair. 

 

Nothing about me is simple so why is it so simple when he finds my hand and helps me out?

 

When he waits for me to take the lead and I walk towards my front door with his hand in mine?

 

I struggle with the combination of the lock, I have one of those keypad locks on my door mainly so I don’t have to remember a key when I travelled for work and Bev or Joe had to come check on Adso for me. 

 

Jamie walks in wordlessly behind me and I close the door, the click in the lock seems somewhat final as I’ve done something I’ve never, ever done before. 

 

I try not to let it come off as new, though. I have a feeling he would be surprised and I don’t want to give him reason to laugh at me. A thirty-one year old woman just now asking a man to take her home. 

 

My mind was racing, I can barely bring myself to look at him because I flush immediately red at the thought of what I’ve done. 

 

Claire. The fuck. 

 

I run to the kitchen and busy myself, pouring some water from the fridge. I get out two cups. Jamie leans against the kitchen doorway in amusement watching me with those damn baby blue eyes. 

 

He leans his hand on the door and just watches.

 

“Ye thirsty?” 

 

I nod ferociously, pouring him a glass and handing it to him, retreating to my corner of the kitchen counter where it met near my stove. 

 

Why do I fucking give him water every time he’s here? 

 

Seriously. 

 

The blue glass. Now this. 

 

Am I that socially stupid or is water-getting like the one thing adults do for each other? 

 

Does anyone know? 

 

Is this an endless loop of asking people if they need water when they’re over at your house? 

 

In my mind, I am sobbing and rocking in a corner, outwardly I am stone. 

 

My hands are shaking. 

 

Jamie leans his head on his hand and smiles at me reassuringly. 

 

“I wasn’a planning to force anything here, Claire. Ye needn’t feel like ye have to entertain me.” 

 

I shrugged uncomfortably. 

 

“Why did you agree to take me home?” 

 

Jamie opens his mouth and his tongue licks the side of his grin in a nervous twitch before answering. 

 

His blue eyes flash back to my face and he looks at me solemnly, taking a small step forward. 

 

“Because ye asked me to. Dared me, aye?” He takes another step. “Because I like ye.” 

 

He’s getting close now and stops a couple feet in front of me, reaching behind me to set his glass down on the counter by my hips as he keeps his eyes locked on mine. 

 

He raises his eyebrows a tiny bit to show he means no harm as he sets it there and straightens up, he keeps a slight curve in his back and leans into me just a bit. 

 

“Maybe because I just wanted to bed ye, ever think of that?” 

 

I swallow. Hard. 

 

“I … ah, yeah I mean…” I sputter in his face. There goes my exterior façade. 

 

“Ye’ve never done this before, eh?” Jamie smirks. 

 

I breathe out quickly, “Oh God, no.” 

 

Jamie nods and straightens up a bit, his mind working fast to calculate his own situation. 

 

“Is it obvious?” 

 

“A tad, yeah….” Jamie laughs, not in an unkind way. “To be fair, Sassenach. I’m more than happy just seein’ ye in yer natural habitat.” 

 

“Home?” I snort, “Home is my natural habitat?” 

 

“Aye,” Jamie bits his lip a little, “I dinnae see ye run out much or else we’d have met long before.” 

 

“We don’t run in the same circles,” I shrug unconvincingly. 

 

“Don’t we?” 

 

He’s got a point. Aside from the one grocery store we have there’s not a lot in this little town. 

 

“I would’ve remembered you.” I say, simply. 

 

Jamie nods at me, “Aye.” 

 

He’s staring at me again. 

 

“This is the kitchen,” I say simply. 

 

Jamie smirks again but nods solemnly, “I’ve been here before.” 

 

“And this,” I walk across the tile past him and to the little nook on the other side of the wall, “is where I work.” 

 

“I can see that,” Jamie gestures to the laptop and the array of papers I still have strewn over the dining room table. 

 

Apparently, I’m taking him on a tour now.

 

God help me when I get to my bedroom but I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’m filling up space and the silence between us. 

 

It’s so quiet. Has it always been this quiet? Adso is sleeping on my bed most likely and apart from the ticking clock in the entry, there are no other sounds in the dark flat. 

 

My dining room table is a small, oval thing I inherited from my grandma. Farmhouse white with the paint half worn away in places giving it both character and an accurate representation of who I am as a person. Too attached to part with it. Much like the Frank clothes. 

 

Fuck. 

 

Why does he keep coming up in my head? 

 

“Ye thinkin’ about yer husband, lass?” 

 

I nod, half-ashamed. 

 

“I’m sorry-” 

 

Jamie shakes his head and frowns at my discomfort, coming closer he reaches out and pushes a stray hair out of my face and behind my ear. My cheeks burn at the touch. 

 

“Dinnae be sorry, it’s understandable.” 

 

Fuck. 

 

“I want to be able to let it go… the pain. But I … I don’t know how…” 

 

Jamie takes my hand and points to my workspace. 

 

“Sit.” 

 

He commands. I answer by going over cautiously and sitting down at the table. The high back of the chair feels cold and hard against my back. 

 

“What are you doing?”

 

My voice sounds higher than usual but then again, when isn’t it when I’m around him? 

 

There’s something about him commanding me to do things that makes me blindly follow. No one makes me do that. Usually, I hate being told what to do but with him? 

 

I want to. 

 

“Ye’ll see.” 

 

Jamie walks behind me and puts his face close to my ear. 

 

“What do ye feel here, mostly?” 

 

I put my hands on the table and shrug. 

 

“Depression. Sadness. Anger. Rage.” 

 

“When was the last time ye felt happy, Claire?” 

 

With you.  

 

“I don’t know,” I lie. 

 

“What if I could make ye feel happy right here?” 

 

Jamie’s words stop any movement in my body and I tense up. 

 

This is a trap. Got to be. Why would he be interested in me being happy? 

 

“Ye ken,” Jamie’s voice lowers into a whisper unnecessarily and the hairs rise on the back of my neck under his breath. “I’m really. Really. Regretting that rule right now.” 

 

“Is this you begging?” My lips twitch into a smile, I turn my head slightly to follow his gaze lingering on my neck. 

 

“I don’t beg, Sassenach.” 

 

“Neither do I.” I clear my throat hesitantly. 

 

“Stalemate.” Jamie’s eyes deepen in color and my face flushes warmly as he stands up straight behind me. 

 

Stalemate. 

 

“Can I touch ye?” 

 

I nod wordlessly, biting my lower lip into my mouth as I feel his hands respond in kind on my neck. 

 

He puts a hand on either side of my neck and runs his thumbs solidly down the back of my neck near the base of my head. 

 

It feels orgasmic. 

 

“God-” 

 

I’m still quite buzzed and it feels so good. Jamie’s hands are rough to the touch but he presses and runs his fingers along my neck and swirls his thumbs around the back of my shoulders. 

 

I realize I’m having to bite back the little noises that are escaping my mouth right now. 

 

“Am I hurting ye?” 

 

“No,” I say in a low voice, “it feels good.” 

 

I’m surprised by the warm tears I feel rising up in my throat but it’s been so long since anyone touched me. Just having his hands on me feels safe and secure. 

 

“If I hurt ye, let me know,” Jamie gets close to my ear again and chuckles lowly, “I like it rough.” 

 

A laugh plays on my lips before it erases into pure relaxation as I feel my tight muscles loosen under his hands. 

 

“It’s-” I begin unsurely, “It’s nice.” 

 

I’m melting into his hands now, I reach up cautiously and take out a couple of the pins holding up hair up giving me a headache. I can feel my loose curls tumbling down and behind me, I hear Jamie suck in his breath a little. 

 

“Christ ye’ve got the most beautiful curls I’ve ever seen,” Jamie says softly under his breath. 

 

“Plain brown.” 

 

“Woman,” Jamie’s hands tightened a little around my shoulders. “Ye dinnae ken how to take a compliment do ye?” 

 

“I guess not.” I lowered my head, “I always thought it was plain brown like my eyes.” 

 

Jamie kneels to the ground beside my chair and smirks in the half-dark room. Half-confused and half in love with him, I notice the adoration in his eyes as he firmly states, “There’s nothing “plain” about ye, Claire.” 

 

I reach out and cup his face in my hand and he is not expecting it. Jamie closes his eyes halfway and moves his head slightly to brush his lips on my palm. With my thumb, I hold my hand there and trace his bottom lip while my eyes are stuck upon it. 

 

To my own surprise, he opens his mouth slightly and bites the tip of my finger, white teeth showing for a split second around my nail before he lets it go. Something deep inside my stomach flips and I remember I am the girl at the bar that he went home with. 

 

My head is spinning with the possibilities of what could happen and I am anxious and thrilled to explore each and every one of them. 

 

Jamie has to be used to this. Even if I’m not, he’ll show me the ropes. 

 

I get up and stumble slightly across my living room carpet, to the taupe couch and push him down onto it with a force that surprises even myself. 

 

Before I have time to think- or freak out- I straddle his lap and plant each knee firmly alongside his hips, pulling him to me by his brown leather jacket. My forehead touches his and our noses meet in the middle. 

 

I don’t know how to do this. Or even what I’m doing. But I inhale his scent and close my eyes, admitting what I’ve been feeling since we last sat on this couch last as his hands were on my knees, pulling me close. 

 

“I want you,” I whisper into his mess of auburn curls, threading my hand behind his neck and combing my fingers up through his hair. 

 

Is it too much? Too soon? Christ. I’m bad at this. 

 

He smells like cinnamon and mahogany and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel his dark jeans swell beneath me as I sit on his lap and hold him dangerously close to me. Feeling his body respond in kind encourages me to keep going. My lips make their way to his neck and I kiss it slowly, deeply. Jamie hisses through his teeth softly as I have the desired effect on him. I can taste the slight hint of sweat and my lips pass a dangerous hint of his chest hair at the base of his collarbone and in the crook of his neck. 

 

If I didn’t feel drunk before, I was absolutely inebriated now. 

 

“Christ, Sassenach, I-” 

 

I lean forward to bring him into me, to sink into his lips. He wets them slightly and looks at me in a mixture of open desire and …. Fear? 

 

His mouth lingers over my own and he pulls his neck back a little, stiffening up at the touch that’s making my head spin as his breathing quickens. 

 

“I cannae-” 

 

“Is it the dare? Because I’ll not beg.” My voice is lower now, thank God for that. I don’t quite know how I’m breathing with him so close to me. 

 

Jamie’s mouth trembles slightly and he opens his eyes, looking at me as if for the first time, clearly. 

 

“No,” He says firmly, I’m crushed as he puts his hands delicately on my waist and eases me off of him to sit on the far end of his knees and away from the spot where we met near his hips. “No, I’ll no- I’m no’ one tae…” 

 

“But…Leah…” 

 

I scoot back quickly and stumble to my feet, hurt and confused. 

 

“Fuck Leah,” Jamie says darkly. 

 

“You do.” My mind reels as his demeanor changes and he runs his hands through his hair angrily. 

 

What the actual fuck? 

 

“I’ll no’.... Claire. This isn’a…” 

 

“Then what is it?” I sit down into the corner of my couch, defeated and hurt, my heart aching with being turned away as I open myself up yet again to another person. 

 

It’s all fucking the same. 

 

“Yer not Claire… not now.” 

 

Claire isn’t here anymore. 

 

I can hear Frank’s voice in my head. 

 

“I thought you just said you wanted to bed me….” I stutter, my eyes brimming with sudden tears as Jamie zips up his jacket and shoves his hands into his pockets, nodding resolutely to himself. 

 

“I did… I do… I just, it doesn’a feel right wi’ you, yer not yerself Claire. We’ve had drinks and I…” 

 

“I understand.” I say numbly. 

 

In an effort to love and be loved, I’ve become someone I’m not and he fucking knows it. I know it, too. I just don’t care at this point. 

 

“I better go.” Jamie says suddenly, walking to the door. I follow behind unsure of what to say or do. 

 

My heart is beating dully in my chest, a growing ache that threatens to spill over into tears… or a panic attack. I’m not sure which at this point. 

 

I watch him leave, he doesn’t look back as he walks away and, as I close the door, I curse and take off my shoes, tossing them on the white foyer floor. 

 

“Jesus H. Christ, Claire. God.” 

 

I rush back to the room, the carpet in front of me swimming with tears. 

 

Scrolling through my phone, I hit shuffle on my Spotify mix and struggle out of my pink blouse and jeans. I throw on the biggest, bluest, comfiest sweatshirt I can find and go to wash my face in the sink. 

 

I catch sight of my reflection and see the specter staring back at me. 

 

My hollow eyes reflect the ache in my heart. I can’t wash off my barely-there makeup fast enough. I don’t even bother with my potions or serums tonight, I’m too busy biting my lower lip and feeling the sobs come dangerously close to wracking my chest. 

 

“Independent Love Song” by Scarlet is playing from my white coverlets and it perfectly matches the throbbing of my heart. I turn it up as loudly as possible and let the chorus take me away as I dance drunkenly around the room with my hands over my head. 

 

Adso looks up at me from the bed with his eyes wide in the horror of the moment. 

 

I can’t sing worth a lick but I belt out the lyrics as I hit an imaginary drum set in the corner and dance around, my bare legs rubbing each other in the clumsiness of inebriation. 

 

“Oh, I'll show you how to take me

Go down

Go down

Oh, I'll show you to turn me

Right on

Right on

Oh, I'll show how to touch me

Right on

Right on”

 

I don’t fucking know what I’m doing but I know I have to get these feelings out before they eat me alive. I don’t dare begin to process the fact that I’ve fucked this up. Again. 

 

Or how desperately I care that I have. 

 

I’m startled out of the next verse by a knock I hear at the door. My bare feet slap against the tile in the foyer and I run to open it

 

“Jamie, I-”

 

 My heartbeat might as well be a thoroughbred horse with how it’s racing to get out of my body. I stop dead in my tracks. 

 

He’s standing on my front stoop with his hands in his pockets still, looking down. He looks up when I open the door and there is both sadness and deep pain on his face. It cuts me to my core. 

 

I sniff loudly and try to ignore the fact that he can definitely hear the love ballad blasting out from my room behind me. 

 

Getittogether. 

 

“Did you forget something?” I say quickly, trying to sound cool but I’m the one without pants here. Jamie’s eyes go sapphire blue in the light of my porch as he surveys me in all my pantless Pooh-Bear glory with only my blue sweatshirt covering my ass. 

 

I’m not ready to see him again, not after this. Humiliation is all over my face as I avoid his gaze but he won’t stop staring at me. 

 

Finally, he breaks his silence and his words come out like a broken cry and his voice is rough. 

 

“Fuck this.” 

 

In one move, he has one hand in my hair and the other pressing me firmly to him as my legs stretch to support myself until I’m on my tip toes. A shot of lightning goes through me as I feel his mouth on mine. The sweet taste of his lips on my mouth as I sink into him and he deepens the kiss ardently. My back hits the wall of the entryway and he slams the door shut behind him with one flick of his wrist. 

 

“I’m sorry, Claire. I shouldn'a have left that way, I-” 

 

I wrap my arms around his neck and bring him in again. 

 

And again. 

 

Jamie reaches down and pulls my leg over his hips with one hand, moving the other from my neck to my ass as he pulls me up around him to pin me against the wall. 

 

I moan softly into his mouth and he responds by digging his hands into my butt, clutching at my warm flesh with his broad palms. 

 

“Sassenach,” Jamie says in a choked voice as he slowly lowers me back down. 

 

I’m dizzy and hold onto the front of his jacket with both hands. 

 

“I want ye so bad I can scarcely breathe, but I want to do this right, aye?” 

 

I rest my head against the wall as I look at him, both of us breathless and chests heaving. 

 

“Yer no’ just another girl, Sassenach. I ken that. Do ye trust me?” 

 

I nod wordlessly. 

 

“Then I’ll see ye tomorrow?” 

 

I nod again. 

 

“I’ll need yer word, Sassenach.” 

 

“You have my word.” I say softly. 

 

Jamie smiles into another kiss, “Christ, the taste of ye. No doubt it’ll drive me mad wi’ wanting ye tonight. Call me.” 

 

It was a command, not a question. 

 

Jamie kissed me thoroughly once more and I could feel him smile into the kiss as his cheeks brushed my own. His hand released from the back of my head and untangled itself from my mass of hair. I hear his voice soft against my neck. 

 

“Goodnight, Claire.” 

 

And just like that he was gone. Leaving me breathless and wanting and very much aware of the fact that I am currently barefoot in my entry with my door knob in hand. 

 

I must’ve had an aneurysm I don’t remember moving after he put me down. Am I breathing? Check. Pulse? Roaring in my ears. I must be alive. The goosebumps running up and down my spine remind me that I am very much so. 

 

I lock the door behind him and run back to my room to jump on my bed as happy tears stream down my face. I flop on my back on the bed as I let Scarlet take me away into a floodgate of emotions that Jamie’s kiss let loose. 

 

I am overcome. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Song for this chapter can be found here

 

Chapter Text

Jamie’s POV 

 

I once heard someone say, 

 

“To know her is to love her. 

 

And love unashamedly.“

 

That word scares me, ye ken? 

 

Love. 

 

I havn’a felt that way in… 

 

In so long. 

 

When I first saw her in the rain, 

 

That flushed face opening her door to me, a stranger. 

 

Christ. 

 

She was beautiful in all her raging glory. 

 

Hair curled perfectly around her face. 

 

Those brown dram eyes blazing in fury at me half scairt the shite out of me, 

 

If I’m totally honest. 

 

A slip, spitfire of a woman. 

 

When I lifted her up into the tree, I noticed what a frail thing she was. 

 

Bones and too-big clothes. 

 

Men’s clothes. 

 

I wondered why she wore them. 

 

They seemed to hang off her bones like an unforgiving burial shroud hung round the shoulders of the living. 

 

I had heard Joe talk of her before. 

 

Lady Jane. 

 

Never by name. 

 

I kent her name was Jane for the longest time. 

 

A woman he spoke of with the highest regard but a hint of mystery. 

 

Like a good friend, he never let too much slip out about her. 

 

Especially around me.

 

I admire Joe. 

 

He’s done things for himself. 

 

Nice house, nice job. 

 

Kind eyes. 

 

Nice to me. 

 

But kept me at arm’s length when he saw me with Leah at The Trinity. 

 

I suppose it’s a look. 

 

Me being thirty and wi’ the college group, too. 

 

I get it. 

 

Burnout. 

 

Desperate. 

 

I just hang with them because they’re fun. 

 

They drink. 

 

They make me forget her laugh. 

 

As if I could. 

 

The way her nose would crinkle in the sunlight or the way the rays would bounce off her red curls as they danced around her sweet face. 

 

That October day, the sunlight left my life and it will never return. 

 

Hard to believe she’s gone. 

 

Sometimes I expect her to run down the steps on a Saturday and commandeer the television. 

 

And order me to make her French Toast and lots of syrup. Leave the bottle. 

 

And I would complain and deal with the sugar high and sticky fingers for the rest of the day. 

 

She was my best four years. 

 

I’ll never love again. 

 

Not the way I used to. 

 

I am hollow now. 

 

So I play guitar. 

 

I fuck. 

 

Casually. 

 

No feelings. 

 

People canna get mad at you if there aren’t feelings and you make it clear you’re only after one thing. 

 

A helping hand. 

 

A somewhat reliable friend. 

 

A casual fuck. 

 

A voice on a guitar at a party. 

 

I dinnae recognize me anymore. 

 

I kent the fedora was douchey when I put it on. 

 

It’s a look. 

 

I dinnae care about how I came off to anyone til I saw her face though. 

 

In the alley. 

 

Pinched and struggling to breathe. 

 

I had escaped Leah’s fingers as I went outside for a smoke. 

 

Dinnae expect to see anyone else there. 

 

A man can only take so much being treated like a piece of meat. 

 

I longed for a connection and I found it. 

 

In whiskey eyes in a woman who thought I was the devil himself. 

 

All for letting her beast of a cat outside. 

 

The thing rushed me like a mini buffalo and I had no choice but to help her get the wretched thing. 

 

I swear I was blind before that day. 

 

Shirt hanging to her in the rain, nipples as round and dark as cherries staring me in the face. 

 

Of course I was interested. 

 

But I was much more interested in the woman behind the pub. 

 

Trying not to cry or scream. 

 

I felt her pain in my own bloodstream and kent in that moment that we were cut the same. 

 

She and I. 

 

The blood that flowed in us was human and frail and everything everyone else expects us to be. 

 

Except ours. 

 

We belonged to the world, she and I. 

 

And maybe to each other. 

 

The thought made me chase her.

 

Fast and cruel. 

 

My lips met Leah’s but I pretended they were hers. 

 

Swollen and wanting me. 

 

Like I did her. 

 

I was under her spell as she ran away from me, down the road and to her flat. 

 

I wonder what made her run so fast, so angrily. 

 

Her middle fingers adorably poking up at the wind at me like two banners as she ran. 

 

I took it as a challenge. 

 

But now? 

 

Now I was riding home wi’ her in the back of a car, clasped to her like ivy. 

 

Growing ever deeper into a connection I wasnae sure of. 

 

I canna explain. 

 

Do I love her? 

 

That’s a complicated question. 

 

Do I want to take her in my arms and weep like a child over her loss? 

 

Do I want to bed her and fuck until we lose all sense of time and place? 

 

I could if I cared less. 

 

I wasnae expecting this. 

 

Nor to care so much. 

 

If she only knew she had me in the palm of her hand. 

 

What would she say? 

 

Would she laugh at my brokenness? 

 

Would she scoff at what I’d become? 

 

Can I ever show her the man I was if I dinnae quite remember him myself? 

 

She is frequently cruel. 

 

And yet. 

 

There is a softness about her I yearn for. 

 

Maybe if I can slow this down it’ll last. 

 

Maybe if I can keep myself in check I willnae fuck this up. 

 

But God. 

 

She has the sweetest lips. 

 

I’ll go mad wi’ the thought of them until I see her again. 

 

I hope she calls me.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

There’s a loud chorus singing in my ears with some kind of classical bullshit. 

 

Am I dead? 

 

Dear God, is this heaven? 

 

It sounds like hell. 

 

I vaguely recognize the tune of a choral arrangement by Bach, leave it to me to set my daily alarm tone to a fucking choir. 

 

Usually it’s not so bad but today ...Jesus wept. 

 

For fuck’s sake. 

 

It’s Saturday and I forgot to turn it off last night. 

 

I forgot a lot of things actually, by the feel of my legs rubbing together, my pants are also missing. 

 

Did I cover myself up? Why am I sweating? 

 

Am I having a hotflash? Is this menopause? 

 

Apparently, I’m also playing twenty questions with myself but give a girl a Goddamn moment. 

 

I am so not twenty-one, a fact I am acutely aware of as I remember the alcohol from the night before.

 

I open my eyes to the blaring sunlight and moan in what can only be described as a growl from the depths of hell. 

 

My mouth is dry as cotton balls as I feel around on my nightstand for my phone. My hand grabs Adso’s face as he yells in surprise, checking out the unholy noise coming from my alarm. 

 

“Sorry, bub.” 

 

My arm feels like lead as I turn off the alarm and slowly take in my surroundings. 

 

I am alone. 

 

“Thank Christ.” 

 

Small mercies of actually waking up alone today. 

 

I didn’t fuck Jamie and not remember it. 

 

I didn’t think he would, we would, I would…. 

 

My eyes spring open. 

 

Shit. 

 

My lips flush with the memory of last night and how he kissed me. 

 

My hands trace the spot on my thigh where his palms had been, holding me. 

 

To the wall. 

 

I’m hit with the tangible memory of his mouth on my own, the hot breath on my skin, the way his glass-cutting jawline opened and closed around my own lips leaving behind the hint of whiskey and the taste of something more. 

 

Something real. 

 

Now that I’m sober, I’m remembering more than I should and the way my heart is flipping around in my chest is making me want to hop into cold water immediately to get whatever this is out of my head. 

 

I didn’t stop it. 

 

I pretty much initiated it. 

 

Dear Lord

 

My mind races to the most pressing question as my ears ring. 

 

Would it have happened sober? 

 

I stumble to the kitchen to drink down half a gallon of cold water to soothe my parched throat. 

 

My head reels and I hop into the shower to wash off the night before. I shave my legs this time. I don’t know why, but I do. 

 

I tell myself it’s because I can’t stand the feeling of them rubbing together all rough and scraggly but to be honest, I’m not thinking of myself at all but a pair of blue eyes that won’t leave my head. 

 

My body is driving me mad now. 

 

I put my own clothes on today, a pair of black yoga pants and a purple athletic pullover. 

 

Usually, I’d run in this outfit ...but now? 

 

Head throbbing, my only exercise this morning is pacing my house. 

 

Gathering up courage, I pick up my phone and the little white card by my bed. I sit on the edge of the bed staring at the array of numbers on my screen before I press send. 

 

Should I text? 

 

I have no idea what to say as I hear the ringtone, my throat suddenly constricts with anxiety as my chest tightens. 

 

“Hello?” 

 

His voice sounds muffled on the other end but comes awake immediately upon hearing my awkward opening. 

 

“Hey…. um some guy gave me this card and told me to call, even put Blondie on to tell me that. My hand was forced here, I have no choice.” 

 

Claire!” 

 

I might as well have been Beyoncé by the way he’s reacting. 

 

I can hear rustling in the background as his voice comes alive. Squeaks in the floorboards as he stands up and walks. 

 

“Hi.” I say unsurely. 

 

“Yeah! Hi. How are ye? Ye feeling alright?” 

 

“Like a miniature ogre is beating on my head, but otherwise fine.” I say dryly, pinching my nose against the throbbing. 

 

A silence. 

 

“I was just ah… about to make some breakfast.” He sounds hopeful. 

 

My stomach rumbles in spite of myself. 

 

I did only have the brontosaurus salad last night. 

 

“D’ye…. D’ye want some?” 

 

His voice is hesitant but the words are out of my mouth before I can think straight,

 

 “Yes.” 

 

I can hear the smile in his voice, “Grand! I’ll uh… I’ll come pick ye up, just give me a few…. I’ll be there in fifteen, okay?” 

 

“Sounds great,” My voice is high again. 

 

“Fantastic…. I’ll, I’ll see ye then.” 

 

Before I can register what I just agreed to, I hear Jamie hastily get back on the line. 

 

“Oh and Sassenach?” 

 

“Yeah?” I’m awfully quick to respond to that name now. 

 

“I’m glad ye called.” 

 

“Me too,” a hint of a smile passes my face as I hear the click of the line ending. 

 

It’s not even ten minutes later that there’s a knock at the door. I try to pretend like I haven’t been waiting for it. 

 

Adso looks from the door to me in confusion and screams at me to answer it. 

 

“Hey you’re gonna have to share me today, ok?” I pat his head reassuringly but he isn’t buying it. 

 

He narrows his eyes and slinks under the couch as I go to answer it. 

 

Is the lipgloss too much? Should I not have applied mascara? 

 

Getittogether. 

 

It’s perfectly normal to get ready for this. I didn’t want him mistaking me for road kill and I certainly looked pale in the mirror. 

 

I hesitate for a moment at the door. 

 

I might as well be buck ass nude answering the door because I feel so vulnerable right now. I do a little dance that looks like I have to pee but is really me getting out these nervous ticks before I see him. 

 

I’m growing to like this hulk-shadow thing at my door. It makes my heart skip with joy. 

 

Now there’s a word. 

 

Joy. 

 

When was the last time I felt that? 

 

Jamie smiles broadly and half bows to me, “M’lady.” 

 

“Get fucked.” I say, but there’s a grin working its way into my cheeks. 

 

“I’d love to but ye and I both ken yer not ready for that, eh?” 

 

My mouth falls open and I scoff, swatting at his arm. 

 

He’s lucky I’m hungover because my aim is terrible right now. 

 

 

It’s colder today and he’s wearing a wool coat with the collar turned up, I see a hint of a dark green sweater underneath. I hate how much I love the color on him. The sky is gray but that doesn’t stop me from cringing and digging in my purse for my sunglasses, vampire-style. 

 

I lock the door behind me and Jamie races in front of me to the passenger door of an older Chevy pickup. Red. 

 

Wait a minute. 

 

Is he? 

 

Jamie doesn’t give me time to think before he’s opening the door for me. Can’t remember the last time someone did that. 

 

As he holds the door open for me, I reach out to climb in and up into the cab and my fingers brush his. I almost think I feel his thumb stroking mine for a second before he moves his fingers and smirks at me, closing the door behind me. 

 

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he keeps his car. Shit. I’ve flat-out turned down second dates before because of the state of a car. 

 

Hey, a girl’s gotta look out. 

 

Jamie’s car is clean, mostly. There’s a clipboard full of names and numbers of contractors that he shoves out of the way and under his seat as he jumps in. I notice with some amusement that he has a little lego figure of Luigi in the cupholder and I hold it up. 

 

“Hey you put him down.” 

 

“Luigi, really?” 

 

“Really.” Jamie mocks an offended look and playfully snatches it out of my hand to put it back carefully. 

 

“Thought you’d be more of a Mario guy,” I say grinning as I buckle up. 

 

“Overrated,” Jamie says simply. “Luigi is where it’s at.” 

 

I chuckle to myself, Jamie buckles up and then looks in his rearview mirror before backing us out. 

 

I see a flutter of movement from the top story of my flat building and know it’s Bev looking out at us behind her daisy curtains. 

 

Jamie’s pickup isn’t exactly the most quiet. 

 

The hum of the engine thrums under my seat as we take off down the road. 

 

“Stick, huh?” 

 

“No other way to drive.” Jamie looks over at me as he changes gear expertly and pulls out of my street. “Dinnae tell me ye dinnae ken how to drive a stick, eh?” 

 

I look at my hands, “Sure I do.” 

 

Jamie shakes his head and his blue eyes taunt me good-naturedly, “I see driving lessons are in yer future, Sassenach.” 

 

I swallowed, “You want to teach me?” 

 

“Of course,” Jamie nods surely, “It’s a skill ye need to ken, Sassenach.” 

 

I don’t know quite how to react to that so I fix my eyes on the road ahead. He’s planning on spending more time with me. Sweet Jesus. 

 

I’m so scared of liking and being liked I feel like I’m pushing him away again and to be honest, it fucking hurts. Especially after last night.. 

 

I’m not sure how to act at all today and I’m probably coming across as a disinterested idiot. 

 

“Where are we going?” 

 

“Best diner around.” Jamie flicks on his blinker and turns right down the long lane of honeysuckles near the edge of the property. 

 

Wait...

 

Are we? 

 

Really? 

 

No. 

 

What?! 

 

My brain is a jumble of thoughts and emotions as he drives straight past the end of the road and into the little lane going up to the old gabled farmhouse. 

 

“You?” My brain spasms. “Here? This. This is your house?” 

 

Jamie grins but doesn’t say anything. He pulls his pickup around some bumps in the gravel and grinds it to a halt in front of one of the large silver maple trees in the front yard. 

 

Flinging the door open he gets out and before I can register a thought he’s opening my door again, his warm hand guiding me out into the cold in front of the grand old house. I slip my cold fingers into his rough ones and hold on tightly. 

 

I never in a million years thought I’d ever be here in person. Actually in front of the house I always wondered about. But here I am and here it is. Larger than life and twice as real, Victorian styling even more beautiful up close. 

 

Of course he has a home. An actual home. Not a flat. Not one of the thirteen places we moved around to growing up with my dad’s job constantly changing. Something about all this feels very grown-up and totally different to how I’d ever pictured his place of residence. I have a feeling I’ve only just scratched the surface on this man previously known to me as Jehoshaphat. 

 

“Welcome to Lallybroch.” 

 

 

Jamie is an avid storyteller, I tune in and out as I take it all in. I find out quickly as I follow him up the old porch steps, whitewashed and worn. He doesn’t bother with a key as the front door is open and inside, I can smell cinnamon deliciousness wafting from somewhere beyond. 

 

“...was my Granda’s and my Da’s before me. Luckily it came to me without too much linoleum and no debt, though it was in a right shape. Fixed her right up though. Touch of paint here, some woodworking there. Totally had to reinforce the staircase. Ye could’ve fallen right through when I got here, Sassenach. From Scotland.” 

 

I take off my shoes and my fuzzy socks tread the oak wood floors. 

 

“Dinnae have to do that, Sassenach. Here let me take yer coat.” 

 

Jamie’s hand lingers on mine as he takes my purple jacket with a grin and lays it next to his over the swirled banister. There’s a stained glass window beyond the steep staircase and I yearn to explore beyond it. 

 

The house smells old, but it feels like a home. Soon, I am sitting at a broad farmhouse table made of reclaimed wood, watching Jamie bustle about the kitchen. 

 

“Do you want any help?” I ask curiously. 

 

It’s utterly endearing watching him go to and fro with eggs, spatulas and pans as he shakes his head. 

 

The kitchen is painted a delightful shade of yellow and part of me regrets taking off my glasses inside but I didn’t want to be “that” person sitting at someone’s kitchen table with shades on. 

 

“Nay, Claire. Besides I’m no’ worse for wear,” His blue eyes sparkle at me as I slowly take off my sunglasses and huddle up in pain. He hands me two aspirin and a glass of water. 

 

Something about his manner is both fetching and off-putting at the same time. Almost fatherly. 

 

I’ve never ever had a guy I went drinking with the night before actually offer to take care of me the next day. What fuckery is this? 

 

Ginger. 

 

Had to be it. 

 

I had a redheaded friend in college, Geillis, who could toss it back and be perfectly fine the next day. It was both a blessing and a curse, but a born-fact she said that gingers had high tolerance as far as alcohol goes. 

 

I take the aspirin. 

 

I watch his retreating figure as he dashes into the kitchen again and pulls out a pan of scones from the oven. 

 

“You don’t have to… I mean…” I stammer, suddenly unsure of myself. 

 

Jamie looks at me like I have two heads. 

 

“I want to. Besides ye wouldn’t make me eat all this by myself, eh?” 

 

“I’m just not used to anyone… cooking for me.” 

 

I fight the tightening in my chest as I realize the sudden home-ness of the whole thing is overwhelming me with emotions I didn’t know I had. 

 

“I like cooking,” Jamie shrugs. 

 

“I didn’t expect you to be so… so….” 

 

Jamie cracks a smile as he turns around and digs in a drawer out of sight near the cabinet that must be the pantry. 

 

“Domestic?” 

 

He turns around and throws a pink frilled apron over his head, smiling at me like an idiot. His dimples are almost too much. I wanna slap him for being such a morning person. 

 

“Something like that.” I smirk, “Please tell me that’s yours.” 

 

“Aye,” Jamie blinks and puts a hand on his chest as if he’s about to swear like a boy scout. 

 

“Wouldn’a dream of taking another’s apron in my own kitchen.” 

 

He’s having a blast and wiggles his eyebrow at me as he goes back to cracking half a dozen eggs into an old Pyrex bowl. 

 

“This… this is all yours.” I repeat incredulously. 

 

Jamie nods matter-of-factly, “When people die they leave ye things, ye ken.” 

 

“No, I do not “ken”,” Here, I bring back the air quotes and he wrinkles his nose in amusement. “Usually in my experience, when people die they leave me with more emotional baggage.” 

 

Jamie’s grin fades a little and he leaves the eggs to come over to the table, leaning across it he brings his nose right up to my own, pink apron dangling over the tabletop. 

 

“I take it back,” He demands, “I need help. Get up.” 

 

Before I can open my mouth to protest, the apron is over my own head and he’s pulling me into the kitchen behind him. 

 

Taking a hot scone in one hand, he steers me towards the stove and comes up behind me, I can feel him breathing in my hair. 

 

“Here’s the million dollar question. How d’ye like her eggs, Sassenach?” 

 

I cough back a nervous laugh and my gallows humor comes out again at his close proximity to me. 

 

“Unfertilized.” 

 

Jamie chokes on the scone. 

 

I hope he dies. 

 

He’s about to see Kitchen Nightmares in real time.

Chapter Text

 

Sometimes Polly says I have crackhead energy. I’m not exactly sure what that means except me being slightly manic trying to overcompensate for how uncomfortable I am around my family. Alicia says it’s a coping mechanism. 

 

Polly would take it all back if she could see Jamie right now. 

 

He reminds me of a hummingbird as he zips expertly around the kitchen. Seeing him in his “natural habitat” as it were, feels weird. I mean, there’s the surly fool I ran into obsessively clinging to their cancer stick in the alley and then there’s this…. thing … happy as he can be, smirking wildly at me as he shows me how to crack an egg without getting shells everywhere. There’s a bit of cinnamon and sugar by his mouth from the scone but I don’t dare tell him because I’m pretty sure he’ll do something outrageous like ask if I want to kiss it off him. 

 

Which I definitely do. 

 

Do not.

 

I mean, do not want to. 

 

I don’t know how I’m feeling right now. 

 

Apparently there IS a right and a wrong way to whip scrambled eggs and I’m a barbarian for even thinking of putting them into the pan without greasing it first. 

 

“Here, let me show ye.” 

 

I try not to roll my eyes as Jamie flashes his dimpled smile and comes up behind me, putting his large, calloused hand over my small one. I can feel his chest close to my back and I instantly start breathing faster and hope he doesn’t notice.

 

“I’ve sat in church pews that were less rigid, it could help if ye loosened up a bit.” 

 

“Since when have you gone to church?” I retort, hiding the smile that carries in my voice. 

 

For some reason, I have an easier time picturing this ball of energy behind me as a flower-loving hippie child who doesn’t believe in the sanctity of coming together in Sunday best to sing ancient hymns or read from Corinthians. 

 

Maybe it was the dark jeans or the leather jackets or silver ring on his little finger that he tends to fiddle with but I can’t quite picture him in any kind of orthodox setting without looking grossly out of place. Then again, when was the last time I darkened a church door? 

 

I can feel his breath on my ear as he chuckles in a low tone, “Focus, Sassenach. Egg making is a serious business, ye ken.” 

 

His hand guides mine over the whisk as he shows me how to move it quickly, muttering guidance low in my ear words that would make a nun blush. 

 

“Faster, ye ken.” 

 

Jesus. 

 

“Dinnae be afraid to grip it harder, like so. Ye’ve got to really whisk it.” 

 

Help me. 

 

“There we go. Just like that. Keep it up, baby.” 

 

He’s trying on the new nickname like a shirt he isn’t sure will fit. 

 

I’m not sure either but I’m lost for words, my wrist is starting to hurt but I keep going, feeling the balance of the whisk and the egg as the air lifts into the mixture. 

 

“Feel that?” 

 

Jamie’s voice is catching as he breathes in close to my ear and I feel his steady body warm and solid behind my back. I try not to notice how his hips are brushing the small of my back or how well my body molds to his behind me. 

 

“It’s getting harder and harder…. To whisk, ye ken?” 

 

“Oh I ken ….” My voice is soft and breathless

 

I feel like dying, at least I think I do. It’s kind of hard to tell true emotions over this hangover from hell. The aspirin he gave me is certainly helping because right now I am feeling more mortified than sick to my stomach. 

 

I look down at our hands together over the yellow Pyrex bowl and my stomach flips over into my chest as I picture something entirely unholy replacing the whisk in my hand, with his hand over mine. Beating faster and faster. 

 

My stomach tightens up as he sighs in my ear. 

 

“God yes.”

 

I anxiously wipe my hands on Jamie’s apron around my waist and notice they are clammy. Is it hot in here? It’s definitely hotter in here since I arrived. 

 

Damn ovens. 

 

My cheeks are burning red as Jamie acts like he doesn’t notice anything unusual and spills our thoroughly whipped creation into the pan. 

 

“I take it ye haven’a done that much before.” Jamie leans against the counter and surveys me thoughtfully, eyes gleaming at my current discomfort. 

 

“Not too much, no,” I reply, avoiding his eyes. 

 

Good grief. Am I fucking blushing over eggs? 

 

I guess it’s payback for my earlier joke at his expense but for fuck’s sake. 

 

He’s good. 

 

I have to ask. 

 

“Are we talking about scrambling eggs or handjobs?” I say directly. 

 

Jamie’s dimples are back full-force and he feigns innocence by rolling his baby blue eyes. 

 

“Eggs. Obviously. How dare ye even suggest the other! And me a pious man.” 

 

Jamie clasps his hands together in front of him and then makes the sign of the cross incorrectly proving my earlier theory that he was, indeed, a flower child. 

 

It’s true though, I haven’t cooked much before. 

 

I’m so not the domestic type. I mean, why do you think the majority of my meals are precooked or microwaved? I’m risking my life by even keeping popcorn in the house. It’s painfully obvious I raised myself. 

 

Jamie doesn’t judge though, as much as he stares, he doesn’t judge and I’m thankful for that. Instead he seems genuinely interested in helping me learn. 

 

And watching me turn colors in his kitchen. 

 

As for handjobs… well. There was a time when Frank and I were all over each other early on in our dating life. Short-lived and definitely died out before our engagement even began. It’s horrible of me to admit this to anyone, but apart from the need to procreate I never saw myself as a sexual being. With needs. Wants. Desires. I always thought that was usually the case in marriage. 

 

Sex-is-a-chore. Blah de blah. Oh my gosh I wish my husband would want to stop having sex with me, I hate it. 

 

At least if I took hints from all my older, married friends, that’s what I had to look forward to. You know, if he didn’t cheat and die and whatever else he fucking did in the end. 

 

I guess I never explored my sexuality.

 

I never even knew it would be something interesting to me. 

 

But here I am, standing in this hulk of a man’s kitchen. Blushing furiously at the thought of being intimate. For fuck’s sake. Any hand job I gave in the past seemed almost clinical compared to whipping fucking eggs together. 

 

Never in a million years thought I’d say that. I’m not used to anyone being vocal and to hear it. 

 

Lord.

 

It was something. I’m not sure what, but something deep inside me seems to be flopping around like a fish out of water. 

 

“Open your mouth, Sassenach.” 

 

“I’m sorry?” I blink quickly at him as I wipe my hands on the apron. 

 

He’s standing expectantly in front of me offering me a bite of scone and I chuckle nervously. 

 

“You’re going to feed me?” 

 

Jamie shrugs but I can see him eyeing my mouth intently. 

 

“Least I can do… Ye need sustenance, Sassenach. Yer shaking so bad yer making my teeth rattle.” 

 

He’s right. 

 

It’s clear my brontosaurus feast did nothing to get rid of the post-drink shakes I was feeling in my gut. Coming up so close behind me to whisk, he definitely felt me tremble.

 

 In more ways than one. 

 

Before I can make some smart ass comment about feeding myself, I catch a glimpse of his eyes and something in my breathing hitches. 

 

I open my mouth slowly. 

 

Why do I do everything he says? 

 

Why am I doing this? 

 

Oh God, Claire. 

 

“I’d have ye try some with clotted cream but … ye ken… I ken about the mad gas ye have from dairy.” 

 

First off, how dare he? 

 

Secondly, why am I suddenly into how his fingers might taste? 

 

His eyes sparkle and I wrinkle my nose as I take the bite from his fingers. 

 

He swallows slowly as I chew and I have to say this is fucking amazing, I sink into the combination of fluffy biscuit and sugar cookie all in one and try to deadpan it but he catches my satisfactory sigh as I savor it. He’s watching me like Adso when he sees a bird at the window. 

 

Carefully. Plotting. My. Demise. 

 

“Good?” 

 

His pupils dilate slowly as he watches me and he nods as if he’s chewing it himself, his eyes never leaving my mouth. 

 

“Amazing.” I admit. 

 

I swallow the sweet treat and catch myself staring back at him. 

 

The air is thick with smells of coffee and bacon and what it is between us hanging there in the balance like all the Saturday morning scents of a childhood I never had. 

 

“You’ve got something on your face,” I point awkwardly, stating the obvious. 

 

Jamie flashes a grin and purposefully runs his hand on the flour-covered butcher’s block counter before swiping his left cheek with his hand. 

 

“Here?” 

 

“Other cheek,” I roll my eyes. 

 

“Here.” Jamie’s broad hand pats the other one leaving a massive streak that looks like he just did smack. 

 

His eyes are playful now, dimples twitching madly. 

 

“Ah, here.” He smashes his whole hand into his forehead and I chortle unbecomingly with an accidental snort thrown in to my ultimate dismay. 

 

“Christ, yer laugh, Sassenach.” Jamie comes close to me and grabs my hand in his, pulling me closer. 

 

My right hip crashes into his and his hand is on my waist as he gives me a side hug like he’s trying to be gentle with me or something. 

 

“Pretty sure I just sounded like a pig on acid….” 

 

“Sweetest sound in the world,” Jamie continues, “Ye really dinnae ken how to take a compliment, aye?” 

 

His blue eyes search mine seriously and I falter in putting up any guards as he scans my face with a mixture of curiosity and … pity. 

 

I hate pity. 

 

It’s true, I don’t know how to respond to any compliments because I don’t get them often being so cold and prickly, at least that’s what Frank used to call me. Compliments usually play out disastrously. Let me give you some examples of actual things I’ve said: 

 

“Nice eyes.” 

 

“Happy Hanukkah.”

 

“You look nice today.” 

 

“Did I tell you about my aunt who’s an amputee?” 

 

I don’t know how to respond to Jamie right now, so I take my own hands and pat them on the counter, grabbing his green sweater right over his pecs and leaving two flour handprints over them on either side. 

 

“Ah I see how it is now.” 

 

My stomach lurches with more than just hunger as his expression changes from pity to amusement and a slight devilry that makes me want to melt into a puddle. 

 

I’m putty to this guy.

 

 He molds me however he wants and right now I let loose with a school girl squeal as he turns on me, throwing a dish towel down for dramatic effect as I turn on my heel to run out of the kitchen. Jamie’s hands are on my waist and pulling me backwards into him, I struggle for a moment and kick my legs out like it’s going to make a difference against his solid strength. 

 

“No fair, I’m hungover!” I whine. 

 

He turns me towards him deftly and I flail against his chest in vain because he’s a fucking brick wall. Why are his abs so hard? Christ. What have I done? 

 

I can’t get away from this but I don’t quite know if I even want to. 

 

“So’m I but ye dinnae see me bitchin’ about it, Sassenach.” Jamie chuckles low as his eyes twinkle at me, caught in his arms as I am. 

 

“Lies. You’re perfectly fine.” I say resolutely trying to steady my voice as I look up to him towering more than a foot above me. My head comes just under his chin and it’s a perfect fit. If only…. 

 

“Woke up with the worst headache,” Jamie says solemnly, looking down at me.

 

 His eyes go straight to my lips and I can’t think of anything funny to say even though his face is marked with flour and there’s some brown sugar alongside his auburn stubble next to the mole on his cheek. 

 

His mouth goes temporarily slack as that drunk look washes over him again with the close proximity of his face to mine. He’s entirely too serious for this situation and it’s making my palms sweaty again.  

 

“Poor baby.” I see my chance. 

 

My hands dart out and up into his armpits temporarily disarming him by tickling there as he bends over and yells out in surprise. I run over to the table but trip near the edge of the counter and fall to my knees, my head slamming into the side of the cabinet. An explosion of pain hits the side of my head. 

 

“Fuck.” 

 

“Jesus, Claire. Are ye hurt?” 

 

“Only my pride,” I say through gritted teeth, clutching my temple. 

 

In a moment, he scoops me up and places me carefully on the counter in front of him. Hands poking and prodding my hair aside to get a better look at the slight bump I can feel, tender and swollen under his cool fingers. 

 

A minute later I’m sitting on the cold counter with a bag of peas on my head like a child. 

 

I swallow hard as he looks at me fearfully, his blue eyes flashing with something I don’t quite understand but his eagerness to make sure I’m alright is both horrifying and endearing. 

 

If I’m honest, I’ve hurt my own self much more than this before. I’m used to it. But I’m not going to admit that to him now. The fact that I’ve fucking punched myself in the head trying to get the pain to go away, the guilt to stop. 

 

It’s fucked I know. 

 

Before I quit my job at the firm, I had to conceal a few bumps and bruises of my own doing. I feel like everyone thinks of self harm as cutting, but it’s not. You can beat the shit out of yourself, too.  It’s been a while since I did that much damage to myself, but I never, never cared for myself after those times as well as Jamie is caring after me now after bumping my head on a fucking cabinet. 

 

Hot tears spring to my eyes and Jamie takes a step back, hands on my knees, as he looks over me with concern. I sniff back the feelings welling up inside me and itching the end of my nose into a hot betrayal of how much this means to me. He probably thinks I’m crying over the actual pain when it’s a comfort to me because it keeps me grounded. It keeps me here. 

 

Keeps me from going over the edge into an unknown that I’m scared of. 

 

“I was an idiot, Claire. I’m sorry. I never meant for ye to… it’s my fault.” 

 

I shake my head until I feel the curls fall around my face, “It’s not that. It’s just… I’m not used to anyone caring for me.” 

 

“Even when yer hurt?” 

 

I look up at Jamie, his blue eyes are unreadable right now and he still has the damn flour on his face. 

 

“Especially when I’m hurt.” I admit, bolder than I feel. 

 

“Goddamn it Claire, ye’ve got some idiots in yer life we’ll talk of later, yeah?…. But until then….” He lifts my chin as I drop my head in shame. “Until then, ye let me take care of ye, lass. Yes?” 

 

I nod before I even know what I’m agreeing to. I don’t think either of us quite knows the depth of our situation.  

 

My eyes go to his face, his eyes kind and warm and that damn brown sugar on his mouth about as sweet as his smile, tentative and true. 

 

Jamie puts both hands out in front of me palms up. I put my hands on top of his and my fingers brush his wrists.

 

There is a moment when everything is okay. 

 

I don’t know what this is or what it feels like, so it hangs in time and space until my mind gets a chance to wrap around this new feeling. This okay-ness. 

 

It’s wonderful and new and causes everything else in my life to slip away as The Now ™  the present , is actually being quite wonderful. 

 

I tell myself to stay in The Now ™ all the time. To avoid going into The Edge ™ that is me dissociating from reality. Think Frank showing up at The Trinity for an example. Apparently, I exist between both worlds. The Now ™ and The Edge ™ . A specter in my own life and the life before it. I can see both simultaneously and yet nothing in between when I go here. 

 

Claire-speak and psychological mumbo jumbo aside. Jamie’s physical presence grounds me like a string to my runaway kite and I let him tie me to reality as naturally as if he’s always been there. Holding me back from The Edge ™ 

 

I feel his pulse warm and alive against my fingertips and I stroke the sides of his hands with my thumbs. 

 

Jamie must not realize how rare this is for me. If he did, he would run away, screaming and never look back. Caring? For me? And asking to? 

 

Man’s out of his goddamn mind almost as much as I am. 

 

He brings both hands to his lips and kisses the backs of them softly, his eyes not leaving my face as I’m lost in the maze of my own thoughts. 

 

“Can I kiss ye?” 

 

Jamie’s voice is soft and pleading, “I’ve been dying to all mornin’, I just dinnae ken how to ask.” 

 

My eyes meet his and I hold my breath momentarily. 

 

“I want to… I’m just… scared…” 

 

Jamie’s brow creases a little between his sandy eyebrows like a fold of origami paper that someone is trying to straighten out but the crease is always going to be there, “Of me? I’m gonna need ye to elaborate on that.” 

 

“Scared that I want to. I want to feel joy with you.” I say stiltedly. 

 

Scared you won’t want me if you knew about The Edge ™ . 

 

Scared of getting hurt. Actually hurt. Not bump-on-the-head hurt. 

 

I’m still holding his hands and my pain fits in the palm of them, calloused and worn. Ready to toss whatever I have at him… so far. 

 

But there’s always the chance. 

 

Always the chance he’ll come close enough and not like what he sees. 

 

The bruises. The instability. The mood swings. 

 

There’s a Goddamn million reasons we shouldn’t be together, not the least of which is the fact that I’m scared of hurting this humble, giant of a man in front of me, holding my hands with brown sugar and cinnamon on his face unaware of my own mental struggle in this moment. 

 

“Do me a favor, Sassenach.” Jamie comes even closer to me, his nose brushing my own in adoration. 

 

My brown eyes meet his blue ones and somewhere in the middle, we understand each other. 

 

“Let yerself feel joy today. And dinnae question it. Now,” He lifts a hand to dust my lips with his fingers, “Can I kiss ye?” 

 

I nod. 

 

“Ye ken I need more than that,” Jamie’s face goes tight with holding back as he surveys my features with those opal eyes, ever blue, ever changing color as I look at them. His pupils widen and he looks at my lips as if he’s going to pounce on them, my heart flips around in my chest like a canary wildly trying to get out of a cage. 

 

“Yes.”

 

I no sooner whisper the word before I’m sinking into him as he crosses the distance between us in a second. 

 

My breath is hot and lingering on his upper lip as he nips my bottom one into his mouth. 

 

My hands are limp but I cautiously reach up and twist my fingers into the auburn curls at the base of his neck.

 

Holding him to me as a drunk feeling washes over my insides, we remain there for a moment. 

 

Suspended in space and time. 

 

Close. 

 

Lingering. 

 

I feel the rush of his beard scrape against my chin as our jaws meet in the ambush of another kiss.  

 

His lips give into his desire and he fervently latches on as I catch some of the brown sugar in my mouth.

 

His tongue carefully slides against my own as he pulls me into him. 

 

The bag of frozen peas falls to the floor with a thud but neither of us hear it.

 

I’m returning to his lips again and again, hearing the rush of my own heartbeat in my ears as his hand slides around the back of my neck and grasps me to him tightly. 

 

Soothingly. 

 

Tracing his thumbs around where my jawline meets my ears, I sink into the sensation of being held in this very moment by something more than either of us can explain. 

 

For someone I’ve barely met, I’m unfolding in front of him like a flower on the first sunny day of June. Eager and impatient to be touched and to touch the sun’s rays. 

 

Jamie moans softly into my mouth as his hands slide around my waist and pull me to him, the solid warmth of his palms against the small of my back. 

 

My legs fall apart and threaten to wrap around his waist as he has me on the counter. 

 

The flour on his shirt transfers over to mine as he edges closer and our torsos meet. 

 

I can feel the warmth of him through his sweater and I fight the urge to reach down and lift it up so my fingers can trace his skin and feel the goosebumps rise on it beneath my fingernails as I wrap around him with just as much intensity. 

 

My face is on fire, I’m acutely aware of the fact that for the second time in as many days, my legs are wrapping around his waist with reckless abandon.

 

 Usually I would be scared by this, but here. In his kitchen.

 

 Fuzzy socks against the wood floor. 

 

Cinnamon in the air. 

 

Saturday morning sunlight streaming in the windows creating a halo effect around his red curls twisted in my fingers. 

 

Nothing else seems to matter. 

 

A feeling I can’t describe radiates through me like sunshine. Warming my chest and spreading through my lips into his and to the very tips of my fingers. 

 

I can’t say how long we go on like this. Jamie reaches a hand down to brace himself on the counter as he slides me closer to him with one arm. 

 

I’m overwhelmed by the touch, the feel, the smell of him so close to me. 

 

I feel drunk all over again at the sheer size of him, holding me as his fingers run up and down my thighs eager to explore. My hands press against his chest as I feel his solid warmth and his breathing coming out irregularly into my mouth as mine into his, gasping for more. 

 

Seeking. 

 

To know and be known and pull the other ever-closer in a downfall of flame and fury that scares me with how little power I have over stopping it. 

 

Then I smell it. 

 

The eggs. 

 

“Shite.” 

 

Jamie feels me stiffen up and, grabbing the dish towel he threw down, he grabs the pan handle of the now-burning scrambled eggs and tosses it into the deep kitchen sink, opening the window above it, he runs the water until the smell starts to dissipate. 

 

“Won’t be the last eggs I burn, I can guarantee that,” I smile sadly. 

 

“As long as we burn them that way I dinnae care,” Jamie takes the frilly apron off my head and nods to the table, “Now, Sassenach. Sit. Eat. I want ye fed before we do anything else.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Hunter green. 

 

It suits him. 

 

The red and browns in Jamie’s jawline-length waves pop out against the blue of his eyes as he stares me down across the table. Watching in amusement as I bury my face in my coffee mug trying desperately not to make it awkward that I’m avoiding his eye contact. 

 

He hasn’t stopped starting at me or my lips since I sat down obediently watching him make another pan of eggs. No puns this time. Or innuendos. Just plain honest domesticity that scares the shit out of me. 

 

I can’t tell if Jamie is a gentleman, or an absolute player, but he’s riding the edge of both with abandon and it’s making my stomach clench and unclench itself in ways I’m not sure of. 

 

I can’t hold his stare as his eyes bore into me with that damn dimple playing at the corner of his mouth as he takes another bite of eggs piled on a buttered piece of toast.

 

I’d ask him what he’s staring at but part of me knows. 

 

The part of me that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

 

The vulnerable part that seems to always come out around him. 

 

I’m still thinking about our kiss, too. And what would have happened had the eggs not burned. 

 

Damn them to hell. 

 

Whoever invented eating eggs? They’re despicable wobbly bits of yellow and white thrown together in a semblance of food that’s somehow a staple of the English and American breakfast. 

 

I secretly despise them.

 

Never more than right now, though. 

 

My eyes catch his again and I lower my glance to his sweater where it’s still dusted in flour handprints from our scramble in the kitchen. 

 

“Should’ve let them burn.” Jamie says abruptly, eyes still on my face. 

 

“The eggs?” 

 

Jamie nods. “Can always replace eggs, dinnae ken when I’ll have ye on the counter to myself again, Sassenach.” 

 

“In your dreams, lover boy.” I reply, trying to hide the warmth spreading through my hairline. 

 

“What if I told ye yer already in them?” 

 

What. 

 

Mentally, I’m screaming but then again he does this to me a lot. I’m not used to being wanted or told so plainly to my face. Not by anyone. Maybe that’s why I’m suspicious about it. 

 

Accept joy. 

 

Dinnae question it. 

 

Keepittogether. 

 

“Uh-huh,” I say unconvincingly. 

 

Jamie lowers the piece of toast from his mouth and washes it down with a gulp of water as plainly as if he mentioned the weather. 

 

“Aye,” his blue eyes are playing with me now, “Lifting ye over my head to get ye in that tree after yer damn Hellbeast,” 

 

Adso ,” I corrected. 

 

“Aye, well,” Jamie leans forward just a little bit and his next sentence hits me square in the stomach where those damn butterflies are congregating again, “wi’ that day in the rain, yer breasts. So round and bouncing in my face as they were, hard to concentrate, ye ken? How I wanted to reach out and hold ye there and put them to my mouth to taste them like a ripe peach in late summer.” 

 

He rolled his ‘r’s in the word “ripe” and suddenly I was close to trembling all over again. I’m not sure if he knows I’m a sucker for accents, but I can’t help myself. We’ve been over this. 

 

“Lust at first sight,” I snort, once I find my words again, “how original.” 

 

“Lust eh?” Jamie sighs thoughtfully. 

 

“What else could it be?” I explain simply. 

 

“I dinnae ken what it is but I ken full well lust at first sight usually has played out by now, take it or leave it, Sassenach.” 

 

Should I believe him? 

 

“Oh really?” 

 

“Aye,” Jamie says solemnly, “I’d have had you twice over by now already if ye’d let me. Maybe even three times.” 

 

Lies. 

 

The way he’s looking at me now says otherwise. Pretty sure getting dressed at all today was overkill. He’s got me naked with his eyes and has had me that way all morning. 

 

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t pictured that sweater off of him and seeing his steel-solid body underneath.  

 

“Oh?” I pretend to be disinterested. 

 

“Claire Beauchamp,” Jamie continues pondering to himself, “if ye dinnae believe in anything but lust at first sight, what do ye believe in?” 

 

“I don’t know what I believe in, Jamie.” I say plainly, “But God, the tooth fairy, the Loch Ness Monster, love at first sight? All myths.” 

 

“And ne’er a romantic thought ever crossed yer mind?” 

 

“Nope,” I say surely. 

 

“And I used to think I was cynical.” Jamie cocks his head at me and lifts his toast again pointing at me, “I believe in a lot of things now, Claire. Mark my words, I’ll make a believer out of ye.” 

 

“You?” I chuckle sadly. 

 

“Aye.” He blinks. 

 

His tone makes me wonder if I've offended him. I try to play it off. 

 

“And what does the great James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser,” I say his full name and he leans back and goads me on with his hand as if he’s a prince on a motherfucking throne thoroughly enjoying all of the recognition. 

 

“Are ye done?” He smirks. 

 

“Are you?” My eyes dig into his and he bites a smile back into his mouth. 

 

“What do you believe about the world?” I finish my sentence. 

 

Jamie settles back comfortably again, taking up his red coffee cup and surveying it thoughtfully. 

 

“I believe in using all of my life always. And no’ wastin’ any of it, Sassenach. Life’s too short not to live it. And I mean to go to my grave having had one hell of a ride, ye ken?” 

 

“You’re gonna be the old man in the nursing home with all the dirty stories, aren’t you?” I accuse, raising an eyebrow at him. 

 

He tries to raise only one at me but raises both of them and I realize he might actually be unable to do that as well as wink. Disgustingly adorable in his ineptitude. 

 

“Maybe.” 

 

“Definitely,” I nod my head surely, “How many people have you been with?” 

 

Why am I asking this? Do I want to know?

 

Jesus, Claire.

 

Wasn’t I just going on last night about seeing people casually and how that is fine? Why does it bug me right now to think of how many others he’s had “breakfast” with?

 

“A gentleman would never say, and a lady would never ask.” 

 

Damn good answer. 

 

Touché .

 

I don’t know why I feel the need to respond to that, but I do. 

 

“I am so a lady!” My voice is rising now, “ I’ve only been with like… one guy. Ever.” 

 

Jamie leans forward. This has suddenly piqued his interest and his ears, sticking out slightly as they are, are practically erect as he comes closer to me. 

 

“Antiquated views on womanhood and sexuality aside, I’ve gotta ask, Sassenach. “Like” one guy? Or just one guy? There’s a difference, ye ken…” 

 

My mouth opens and closes like a fish out of water. If my behavior at having a strange man in my house last night wasn’t telling enough, I’ve just given myself away. 

 

“My husband. That’s it.” 

 

Jamie lets out a low whistle, his eyes scanning my hairline to my body through the solid table and back again. 

 

“And yer no' a nun?” 

 

“Nuns don’t get married, idiot. They’re married to Jesus.” 

 

He raises his hands, before his sputter and flush gives his genuine surprise away, “I’ve just never met anyone who… one person ? Ever? Forever and ever?” 

 

“Now you’re just being cruel,” I purse my lips, “But yes.” 

 

“I have to say,” Jamie begins slowly, his eyes not leaving my face but he’s not kidding or unkind when he goes on, “either he was one lucky son of a bitch who hit all the rights spots and ye had a crackin’ good sex life… or ye’ve never been fully satisfied, Sassenach. It can only go one of two ways there.” 

 

“Jamie!” 

 

Jamie shrugs apologetically, “Had to be said. Meaning no offence, but how d’ye even know what ye like if ye’ve only been wi’ one person?” 

 

“I guess,” I swirl my coffee around in my cup, now-lukewarm and shift my shoulders uncomfortably, “I guess I never really stopped to think about it.” 

 

“Well, we’ll have to find that out.” 

 

“Will we?” My voice is near shrill now but I don’t know how to fucking control it anymore.  

 

“Aye, that’s what friends are for.” Jamie makes a weak joke but I can see him cringe at the words. 

 

“Friends?” 

 

“That’s what we are now, aye?” Jamie swallows hard and makes pretense with shoving the rest of the toast in his mouth. 

 

“I guess,” I say slowly, raising my voice again, thank God the color is coming back to my cheeks, “I mean, I don’t hate you. But that could always change.” 

 

“Noncommittal,” Jamie blinks at me, our hidden joke from last night coming forth. 

 

“Noncommittal,” I raise my mug and cheers his empty one. 

 

Taking a swig of cold coffee from my cup, I am silently screaming inside at what has been said and unsaid this whole time. 

 

“Now.” Jamie smiles again, nodding at me to grab at my plate to clear the table, “I have a serious proposition for ye, Sassenach.” 

 

My stomach hits the floor. 

 

Oh God. 

 

I vaguely remember his promise to kiss me all day and do nothing else and so help me God, I will shit bricks if that’s today. 

 

Jamie places the plates in the sink before coming back to lean against the table, eyes staring into my soul again. 

 

“Will ye play Mario Kart with me?” 

 

I laugh nervously, “Bring. It. On.” 

 

 

*****

 

“Win! I swear to God, Motherfucker if you don’t cross this damn finish line I will end you!” I yell at the large screen as I try to figure out the controls to Jamie’s Nintendo Switch. 

 

No, that’s not a euphemism. We’re actually playing Mario Kart. 

 

I know. 

 

Two thirty-something adults on a Saturday morning, sitting cross-legged on the couch slamming the hell out of little gray and black buttons on the controllers. 

 

I growl as Luigi blows me up with a fucking leader seeker shell right as I get into first place on the third lap. 

 

“Christ, Sassenach. Ye’ve the mouth of a sailor.” 

 

“You killed Yoshi!” I shoot him a death glare as I bite my cheek.

 

“I cannae kill him! I ken he’s a fucking dinosaur but he’ll no’ go extinct, Sassenach.” Jamie chuckles as he expertly zooms around the track ahead of me. 

 

“Bullet bill, hah!” I slam the buttons letting my boost take the lead on him again. 

 

“Ye ken,” Jamie says in between mutters as he struggles to maintain the lead again. “I’ve never played wi’ another girl who chose someone other than Princess Peach to play.” 

 

“Overrated,” I shake my head, focusing on the screen. “Yoshi is my biiiitch. Take that.” 

 

I narrowly miss falling in behind him as we cross over the finish line and I barely take the lead before making the “boom” sign near my crotch as I destroyed him on the screen. 

 

“No fair. Rematch!” Jamie exclaims, scooting closer to me on his wide couch. 

 

“You lost, sucker. Just admit it.” 

 

“Aye,” Jamie smirks at me, “I’ll admit it once it’s fair. Ye had a much clearer view of the screen here so I say rematch and I’ll do as I please, s’my house my rules, ye ken?” 

 

“Oh I ken .” I retort, flipping my curls over my shoulder as I eye him suspiciously making his way close to me until we’re sitting on the same couch cushion. He crosses his leg over mine possessively and I don’t move. 

 

He’s obviously trying to distract me and I refuse to give into how flustered I get close to him. Feeling his warm breath on my cheek as he laughs close to my ear. 

 

“Makin’ fun of my accent, are ya?” Jamie nudges me with his massive shoulder and almost knocks me over. 

 

“You should take it as a compliment.” 

 

“I do.” Jamie’s head ducks down quickly to kiss my shoulder and I bite my cheek harder to stay focused. 

 

“Stop distracting me.” 

 

“Oh I’m no’ trying to here, Sassenach. It’s you who’s distracting me.” 

 

“I’m not doing anything.” I shrug, planting my eyes firmly on the screen so I don’t have to see his wicked blue eyes playing on my features as he stares into my cheek. 

 

I watch the countdown, ready to hit the gas on my little green kart on the screen. Jamie’s interested in hitting an entirely different ignition, though. I can feel the hunger in his eyes as he looks at me, it’s burning a hole in my face. 

 

“I’ll be the judge of that, Sassenach.” His voice is low and rumbling in my ear as he playfully bites the purple hoodie aglet around my neck and keeps it in his mouth like a distracted puppy. 

 

I finally do look over at him and laugh at the sight as I push his face away from mine. 

 

God he smells so good. I catch a whiff of spice as his hair comes close to my face again as he pouts in my ear. 

 

“Now that’s cheating.” He complains.

 

“Let go of me!” I giggle. 

 

“Never.” 

 

He’s really going to make me go the whole race, keeping me on the leash that is the tie to my hoodie in his teeth. 

 

I'd pull away but I'm scared of choking myself out here if the hood tightens. I don't have the best track record with accidentally hurting myself today and don't wanna give him the pleasure of nursing me again. 

 

My fingers falter on the buttons and Jamie takes the lead over me. I growl as I watch Luigi overtake me. 

 

I’m sitting stiff as a board with his leg weighing on top of mine, pinning me to the spot. In his own child-like way it’s almost as if he’s afraid I’ll decide mid-game to get up and leave him.

 

As if I could. 

 

Hell, I can’t blame him. 

 

Flip-flop girl. That’s me. Never making up my mind. 

 

My own damn curiosity will kill this cat and I’ll be darned if I leave early without him surprising me at every turn. Part of me feels like a cat he’s playing with. If he doesn’t move the damn laser constantly I’ll be uninterested.

 

If only he knew. 

 

I finish out the lap but by the end, I’m not thinking straight at all. I’m paying attention to his breathing over the annoying music of the race. Subconsciously synching my own with it. 

 

His thigh against mine, moving slowly as he takes turn after turn, chucking me with his shoulder intentionally here and there. 

 

My heart jolts each time. 

 

My mind replaying him bursting into my house and flicking the door closed with his wrist as he pinned me up against the wall, his mouth fervently seeking my own. 

 

It’s a high. A rush I can’t get out of my head and I want more. 

 

Jamie thoroughly beats me, finishing in first and only then letting the lace fall from his mouth as he sinks back into the couch in victory and returns to watching me again. 

 

I cross the finish line in respectable 5th place but the checkered line can’t come soon enough before I’m tossing the controller down on his worn white coffee table and turning to him, breathlessly. 

 

I face him not in defeat, but surrender to the feelings of wanting him close to me. 

 

Of me fighting against what is proper and improper for "friends" to be doing. 

 

Noncommittal. 

 

Fuck this. 

 

I lean in quickly before either of us knows what I’m doing, pressing my lips onto his soft ones as he sighs into my mouth in surprise and pulls me on top of himself eagerly. 

 

Jamie tosses his controller down and it hits the floor with a clatter that I barely hear above the sound of rustling clothing and bodies colliding into each other in a hapless dance neither one of us has quite forgotten. 

 

The race is forgotten. I don’t even care that I lost. 

 

This time he doesn’t stop me as I move onto his lap, knees on either side of his waist, my leg still hooked under his own as it kicks out at the fast movement of me climbing on top of him. 

 

He returns my kiss with just as much fervor as we both go to the right and then the left in an awkward dance of heads. Meeting in the middle uncomfortably, I cringe as my teeth hit his and to my surprise Jamie chuckles lowly to himself more than to me. 

 

“Haven’a had a kiss like that since I was in grade school so thanks for the memories,” His eyes are smiling as he reaches up to stroke my hair along the side of my face. 

 

“Sorry.” I dart my eyes downwards and wish I hadn’t. I’ll never be able to unsee this, adding the image to my quickly growing smut-bank of visuals Jamie seems to be serving me up on the daily. 

 

Jamie’s dark sweats don’t hide much as I glimpse the growing bulge between us, pressed up against his thigh. 

 

“Dinnae be.” Jamie croons softly, cupping my face in his worn hand, pressing his nose to mine tenderly. 

 

The tone of his voice is changed, it's thicker now and seems rougher than his usual clear tone. 

 

His hand pulls my jaw down gently and he hesitates a moment before kissing my lips delicately. Something about his tenderness causes my insides to melt as I let him control the movement of my head down carefully against his. I can feel the rush of air leave me breathless as he deepens the kiss and moves his hands from my face down to my hips, pulling me closer to his center. 

 

I can feel his sturdy fingers combing my hair aside and away from my neck as he bends his head to it and I feel his lips suck and draw my delicate skin into his mouth. My eyes open and I look up at the ceiling feeling the thrill of electricity from where his tongue is lapping on my neck, his beard brushing solidly against my collarbone. All other thoughts leave my head. 

 

There is only enough room for one thought and one thought only. 

 

A soft moan escapes my lips before his mouth is on it again, covering up the sound with his own sighs as his hands travel downwards again. Grabbing my hips tightly, he rolls his own into mine and I gasp at the pressure between us as he grinds into me unapologetically. 

 

I can feel the solid warmth of him through my thin pants as he presses the most sensitive part of me to his waist firmly with his hard cock between my legs. 

 

I can’t hear anything over the throbbing of my own center as he positions me directly over himself, bringing his hips up again and again to roll into mine as he buries his face in my hair and sighs shakily into my ear. 

 

"God, Claire." 

 

He says my name now. Low and deep into my eardrum, my fingers digging into his shoulders as they press forwards into my own body, steadying myself against his large frame. 

 

My head is fairly rushing with the contact and my ears are borderline ringing with the sensation of being held tightly against him. Feeling him move beneath me and against me up towards my navel. 

 

This is so much more than just kissing and we are quickly reaching a point of no return as I press my hips into his and the breath escapes my mouth as I feel the motion between us and him hard underneath my opening with only mere fabric keeping us from joining in the most intimate of ways. 

 

My mouth catches his earlobe in my my teeth and I bite softly, holding him there as his body bucks up to meet my own with reckless abandon. The noises that are escaping both our lips are unholy and entirely something I'm glad isn't happening back at my place lest Bev should overhear. 

 

My fingers dig into his shoulders as he tightens his grip around my ass and holds me like a vice. The palms of his large hands around my hip bones and fingers reaching up and around my curves as he grabs and kneads them in his hands. 

 

Jamie lets one hand fall from my hip and slip in between us, cupping my warmth in his hand he groans into my mouth and pulls back, looking into my eyes with his own pupils blown wide making his blue eyes look almost black. I'm positive I've soaked through my pants now and he feels it with tentative fingers brushing against me. 

 

“Christ, Sassenach. I ken what I said, about not being ready.” 

 

I nod, feeling my brows knit together as I struggle to keep my mouth off his as he speaks, his lips brushing my own. 

 

“But I'm dyin' to please ye, Claire.” Jamie’s hands move to my shoulders and he holds me firmly a few inches out from himself as his chest heaves with effort. “I’ll have ye in any way I can. Is that alright? We can do-"

 

His voice cuts in and out as I bring my mouth to meet his again and again, feeling the sparks flying between us, each shock of sensation lighting a fire I can't put out. 

 

"We can still do other things. Is that something ye'd like?"

 

I nod shortly, almost crying with the frustration of having him insist on seeking my much-needed approval. My body is a livewire and I can barely get the words out as I consent. 

 

“Yes," I gasp low into his neck, "yes, I want you.” 

 

The words are out of my mouth before I can think clearly and Jamie’s mouth is on mine again. 

 

“How?” His voice is so low it rumbles in my gut. “Just tell me what to do, I’ll do it.” 

 

I pull back before breathing in his ear. 

 

“I want you to touch me.”

 

My voice sounds foreign to me as the pleading words escape it. 

 

Jamie pulls my lower lip into his mouth and bites at it in a way that makes shivers run down my back. His voice sounds strangled it's so tight in his chest. 

 

“Dear God, yes.” 

 

His fingers brush my hair down my shoulders and run down my spine before pulling me off of him and rushing me up behind him as we climb the steep farmhouse steps into the rooms beyond. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The twisted staircase ends abruptly on a little landing and Jamie swivels around to face me, blue opal eyes blazing with desire as he bends his head near me and looks deep into my eyes. 

 

“Yer sure this is okay? I dinnae want to do anything to make ye uncomfortable, Claire. Say the word and we’ll go back downstairs and…” 

 

“Leave?” I pull back a little, surveying him in shock. “I’m not going anywhere.” 

 

Jamie’s flushed pink lips curl into a shy smile. 

 

He sputters out a burst of laughter, “Aye, well, ye ken what I mean by that…I...” 

 

His eyes are earnest again and so close to mine, I reach out and touch his cheek with my hand, caressing his chin with my thumb. 

 

“Promise ye’ll say if I ever, ever make ye feel uncomfortable?” 

 

“Promise,” I stand to my full height and give him an awkward salute. “Lead on, Soldier.” 

 

As much as I feel like this is an out-of-body experience, I’m still very much here and just as awkward as ever. 

 

Jamie’s tongue darts out to wet his lips and he grins again, pulling me slower now behind him into the open hall. The whitewashed walls are high and the ceilings curve at the edges making the upstairs a welcome, yawning smile of an opening into the rest of the house. 

 

My fuzzy socks squeak against the polished wood floors and our combined weight makes the house tremble with excitement as he leads on, second door from the left. There are at least five tall,  cherry wood woods in the hall, my hand touches the ornate door knob as we pass into the room and I barely have time to take in my surroundings before Jamie closes it solidly behind us even though we’re the only ones in the old house. 

 

His room is a mixture of navy blues and denim with music memorabilia carefully hung on the walls. He must have a dozen or more colorful records lining the wall by the great double-windows over an oak bureau. 

 

There’s a king bed in the center of the room that he pulls me towards before reaching down to lift me up. In one great movement, he takes the backs of my thighs and wraps them around his waist. I hang on to his shoulders as his hands slide upwards to hoist me higher with ease and, cradling my head in one hand, he goes back to my mouth with renewed urgency. 

 

My stomach flips at the new knowledge that he could absolutely fuck me in this position, standing upright as he is, holding me to him. God. Something needs to happen and soon before I lose my fucking mind. 

 

Before I think too much and ruin it like I always do. 

 

This is good. 

 

This is really good, Claire. 

 

Don’t fuck this up. 

 

In my search of something to ground myself to The Now ™ I notice the room is clean. Of course I do. I’m so anal about cleanliness, Mom had a laughing fit when she saw I had bought a little vacuum for my vacuum to get all the areas the larger one couldn’t reach. Besides, what I said about guys and cars… well, it can be said for rooms too. 

 

Two checks for Jamie. 

 

Apart from a small bottle of cologne on the dresser, there’s only a pack of half-open cigarettes that I wrinkle my nose at but I don’t smell them at all on him. Nervous habit? 

 

I try not to overanalyze him but it’s part of my nature. Usually, I only have facts on paper and a brief glimpse of the witness before I begin cross-questioning, so I have to stay on my toes and notice things about people rather quickly. 

 

God. 

 

Stop it. 

 

I must be the first woman he’s ever been with who’s looking for clues as they have this angel of a man wrapped around their finger. Much less when they’ve gone without since…. Well, I don’t want to think about how long. 

 

Jamie senses me check out, “Is this alright?” 

 

Setting me back down gingerly, he takes a step backwards and sits on the edge of the bed, reaching two hands across his massive width, he takes a hold of the bottom of his sweater and pulls it up and over his head. 

 

Good God. 

 

I am not expecting … That. 

 

Reality shock into The Now ™ Claire. 

 

Earth to Claire. 

 

Stud train leaving the station without you. 

 

If I had a soul, it would have left my body only to come back down and die again. 

 

“Jesus Fucking Christ,” I exhale under my breath. 

 

I needn’t have wondered anymore what Jamie looked like with his shirt off. The sight of him wearing only a simple white tank against his taught shoulders and biceps was enough to make me feel weak. 

 

The black tattoo kiss peeking out of the top of the shirt with just enough slightly russet chest hair curling softly around it. 

 

“What’s wrong?” 

 

Jamie’s eyes were suddenly concerned, his brow knit in confusion over my exclamation. 

 

I feel like I should cover my eyes or turn around. 

 

Yup. 

 

Too much. 

 

Too much beauty for me. 

 

I’m going to go back to the hole from whence I came. 

 

“You’re gorgeous!” I point and stutter like a fool. 

 

Jamie’s cheeks flush red and he looks down and flexes his arms up once. 

 

“God, stop it right now.” I demand. 

 

Rushing forwards, I dart my eyes away and put up my hands to block the view only to run into him and actually FEEL his arms with my hands. Christ. Yup. Not in my head. Really there in the flesh in front of me was an actual Adonis. 

 

Jamie doubles over in laughter and shrugs modestly in his simple state of undress. 

 

How dare he be so beautiful?

 

“Life of hard work, I suppose.” 

 

“Uh-huh,” I casually try to bring my gaze back to him sitting in front of me but I can barely do it without biting the knuckles on my hand. God. 

 

“You’re showing off and you know it,” I cross my arms in front of myself and Jamie’s demeanor instantly changes as he sees me shuffle my weight self-consciously. 

 

“Dinnae do that,” Jamie shakes his head, “Christ, Sassenach. While I’m flattered ye like what ye see, I’m only taking this off so I don’t get flour on ye.” 

 

I point to my hoodie, “You did.” 

 

“You did,” Jamie grins mischievously, “If ye recall.” 

 

“Fine, we did.” I admit. 

 

There’s a simple moment when we almost forget why we’re there, smiling at each other like idiots. Just enjoying each other’s company. He takes my hand and brings it to his mouth again, placing a gentle kiss on the palm like he does and my heart flip-flops around in my chest. 

 

It hits me that we’ve come a long way from strangers. 

 

Jamie guides me to him and gently eases me back into his lap and holds me there a moment, resting his strong chin thoughtfully in the little dip between my shoulder and neck. 

 

I close my eyes and enjoy the feeling of him close to me, his hands threading around my waist pulling me into his chest. It’s solid and warm and the terrible overthinking is starting to fade out by being near him again, feeling his skin against my neck. His pulse on my own. 

 

The smell of him envelopes me and I can feel the residual heat off his chest from the past ten minutes of us making out to now. Here. Alone in his room, in front of his bed. 

 

“Now, I brought ye up here to have enough space to get ye comfortable. I’m no’ intending to take off more than this, now. At least today. I ken it’s best that way,” Jamie’s voice chuckles into my hair, “I ken how ye like yer eggs after all….” 

 

My heart sinks from the top of my ribcage to the bottom and basically just shat its pants. 

 

He doesn’t know. 

 

I force a smile but yikes, that hit me right in the middle like a knife to my gut. 

 

If only he knew how much that actually hurts. 

 

He’s worried about getting me pregnant and I don’t have the heart to correct him with THAT bit of information just now. 

 

Wrong place. Wrong time. As if there’s ever been a right time. 

 

Last time I told a guy the truth of my hysterectomy, his friends jokingly told him to “fill her like a jelly donut”. Exact words. Yeah. It’s never good for guys to know up front. Ever. 

 

I don’t think Jamie would be that way. At least, not from what I know of him so far. But still. 

 

Goddamnit, Claire. Stop thinking. 

 

Stop bringing up the pain. 

 

Stop getting stuck two years in the past. 

 

As if reading my mind, Jamie gently touches my chin and turns my face to look at me. 

 

“Are ye alright, Claire?” 

 

I nod, a lump growing in my throat. 

 

Wordlessly, I bury my face into his neck and breath him in. 

 

It scares me how much this is comforting to me. His natural smell. The traces of cologne that linger in my nose when I breathe in the heat from his neck. 

 

I pull back with my face still close to his, I never noticed before but his eyes are flecked with traces of dark blue around the edges and right now they’re staring into mine with the utmost patience and suddenly I feel like I don’t deserve it. 

 

“Why are you being so kind to me?” I say quickly. 

 

“Why not?” His eyes open in genuine surprise. 

 

“I don’t feel like I deserve it…” I shrug uncomfortably. 

 

“Hey. Look at me.” 

 

Jamie grabs both my shoulders and I realize I can’t avoid his gaze any longer. His voice is low and demanding attention. I meet his steady gaze and catch a look of pain across his face that hurts my soul. 

 

I hate myself for hurting him. 

 

“Ye deserve to feel okay, Claire. Ye deserve good things. Has anyone ever told ye that?” 

 

Tears suddenly spring to my eyes and I shake my head. Only my therapist. I notice the gray and blue tartan blanket folded neatly on the bed beside us. Jamie holds me close and whispers soothingly in Gaelic in my ear. 

 

“Mo Chridhe. No.” He starts out slowly, but then tightens his resolve as well as his arms around me, “No.” 

 

Looking into my eyes again, he uses his rough thumb to wipe away the stray tear that falls to my cheek. 

 

“Ye are worth every bit of it. Aye?” 

 

Jamie kisses my forehead and I close my eyes and breathe him in again. I never want the smell to leave my nose. For some reason being close to him is being safe and I’m associating him with feelings I never knew I needed in my life. Not from another person. 

 

I’ve never needed anyone. Til now. 

 

“I’m not used to being touched. At all.” My hand goes to my face and I instinctively bite at my thumb nail. “But I really fucking want you to. When your hands are on me…. Everything… everything is alright. And that scares me. This...this doesn’t come easily to me.” 

 

In response, Jamie gathers my hair off my shoulder and places gentle kisses along my collarbone that send ripples of peace through my body. His actions say more than his words ever could. 

 

His gentleness is the balm that my aching heart needs so much. I let my head fall back and open up my eyes as the warmth flushes through me like a wave of comfort. 

 

His voice is soft and simple in my ear. 

 

“D’ye trust me?” 

 

“Yes.” I answer so fast it makes his dimple come out to play again and sends a shiver of relief down my spine that I haven’t scared him off altogether. 

 

“I made ye promise to feel only good things today, to let joy in, aye?” 

 

He searches my face for any hint of expression and I melt into a slow peacefulness that his arms around me brings. 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“Then let me help you feel joy, Sassenach.” 

 

He presses his forehead to mine and I close my eyes for a moment, feeling the warmth of our joint breathing in between us. There is heaven and hell in being this open with another person. I’m not used to any of it. But here, in this room, there is time for it. For me. 

 

He’s making time and space for me. 

 

It’s strange and new and … wonderfully obscene. 

 

Jamie is holding me together, patiently waiting for me to come back to The Now ™ without evening knowing about the edge I am so close to. Like a damn magnet I keep coming back to, the proximity to him and not on him is too much to bear. 

 

I slip my hands around his neck and pull him into me, my mouth meeting his in a different kind of kiss now. My hands can feel the tightening and clenching of his sharp jawline as he eagerly nips at my bottom lip and his hands rush up my neck to my hair to tangle and untangle in it. 

 

He pulls at it and the slight sting of the feeling rushes through my body as I turn to him again, releasing his mouth only to bite at the small part of his neck by his ear. An unintentional shaking breath escapes him and it trembles through me as I cling onto him and his hands resume pursuing my body, not knowing quite where to land but touching everything in between. 

 

“Christ. Claire, ye make me mad wi’ wanting you.” 

 

The roughness of his voice turns my stomach and I adjust my legs to straddle him again, pushing him back onto the bed and falling on top of him in a heap of hands and hair. In one swift move, he has me under him. Deftly catching my leg around his own, he flips me over on my back and I bite my bottom lip into my mouth at being handled by him with so much ease. 

 

I place his hands on my breasts and his face works hard to maintain composure as his hands gently squeeze and fondle my curves with his undivided attention. I guide his hands to my waist and feel him catch his breath as he hesitates on going further. 

 

He looks to me for approval and I nod once, giving him the green light to continue. 

 

I realize no one but myself and the doctors have actually seen my lower half since the surgery. Jamie is the first. I’m incredibly okay with this considering how nervous I thought I’d be. In fact, I can’t get it out of my head how much I’m burning for him right now. 

 

The air is thick with anticipation. 

 

He backs up slowly, eyes never leaving mine. His hands go to my hips to the top of my yoga pants and he hooks his thumbs in the waistband. The sudden feeling of his fingers against my bare waist is enough to make my head spin.

 

“Can I take these off, is that okay?” 

 

I nod. 

 

“Yes.” 

 

Jamie’s brow furrows in concentration as he delicately slips his thumbs to the sides of my hips and starts to pull down on the fabric there. 

 

“Holy God.” Jamie’s voice spurts out as an expletive. 

 

His fingers feel around my bare ass before he pulls down further and I suddenly am keenly aware that once again I am not wearing underwear with these. 

 

“Yer making this really hard, Claire.” 

 

I glance up at him, and then down, to realize the pun was indeed intended. 

 

Christ. 

 

“Don’t stop now.” I urge, lifting up my hips towards his. 

 

A strangled noise comes out of his mouth and he slips a hand under my hips to rut into me once more, hard and quick, his teeth nipping at my neck causing me to arch my back and sigh into his hair. 

 

I feel dizzy with him over me, his broad shoulders hiding me from the world causing my noises, my movements to be his and only his. 

 

He covers me with himself and pulls me up into him one more time, my thighs are aching with the desire to be touched by him, the spot between them slicker than ever as he takes his time with me. 

 

Before I can think straight again, I feel him sliding my pants down and off my legs. 

 

Tossing them in a heap on the floor, Jamie straightens up and looks down at me, my legs bent at the knees laying on my back, a warm flush spreads over my face as he gingerly touches my knees and smoothes his hands over them to encourage them to fall apart ever so slightly. 

 

He’s looking at me like a man starving and I see his Adam's apple move quickly as he swallows a low, sharp exhale coming out his nose. 

 

“Fuck,” Jamie stands up and puts his hands to his face, clawing at his hair. 

 

“You ok?” I smirk, finding my voice in my throat at last. 

 

“Yeah,” Jamie looks back down at me before turning his back quickly and then coming back again, keeping his eyes on my face, his voice is stern as he commands. “Get up on the bed more, Sassenach.” 

 

I sit up obediently and scoot back to the pillows at the top of the bed. 

 

Jamie clears his throat and watches me hungrily. There’s a vein near his temple that is now visible and twitching with how hard he’s holding himself back now. I know lust when I see it, but this is all-out desperation written all over his face. He adjusts himself subconsciously and I try not to look down as he does so. Exhaling shakily, he kneels on the bed next to me and looks to my purple hoodie covering my top half. 

 

“I ken that was a lot for you, Sassenach. It’s up to ye if ye want to keep that on….” 

 

“Yes,” I say quickly. 

 

My hoodie covers the five or so inch-long scars on my stomach, white and shiny with healing these past two years. I’m not ready for him to see that yet. I don’t want to answer questions. 

 

I don’t want him to know. 

 

I feel whole. 

 

I feel complete right here and now and I can’t bear the thought of him thinking of me as anything less than this. 

 

Normal. 

 

Jamie yanks off my fuzzy socks and tosses them aside too, “This ok?” 

 

“What?” I joke with more courage than I feel I have in the moment, “Fooling around with socks on is still taboo?” 

 

“Always.” Jamie chuckles. “Besides, this is serious business, ye ken. I cannae do it with yer fuzzy slippers in my face.” 

 

I momentarily feel faint. 

 

Wait. 

 

Who said anything about his face being near my feet? 

 

Jesus. 

 

As if in answer, Jamie bends over me to kiss my kneecap thoughtfully, sucking in through his teeth at the sight of me bared altogether in front of him. The cool rush of the air on my skin causes goosebumps to form on my calves and Jamie notices. 

 

He grabs the tartan blanket and with one swish, spreads it out in front of him and covers my bare legs. I shoot him a questioning look before he nods seriously to me and slips behind me, pulling me up against him, cradling my back into his broad chest. His own legs are spread around mine and he’s sitting up against the sturdy headboard, pillows at his back. 

 

I’m cocooned in his chest cavity and let out a relieved breath as I’m covered again by the blanket. 

 

“Ye comfortable?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“Good,” Jamie breathes into my ear, hot and heavy as his hands slide under the blanket and edge up under my hoodie slightly, grabbing my bare waist and sliding me to him firmly against himself. 

 

No one’s ever held me like this before. Then again I’ve never been with Jamie before. Maybe there is something to what he said earlier about not knowing what I like because I fucking like this. 

 

To be honest, I’m used to sex being over by now. This. This is different. 

 

I breathe in slowly as I feel his fingers go down and run tenderly along the backs of my bare thighs, cupping around them and pulling them slowly apart. 

 

I let my legs fall to the sides, cradled by his own solid ones as he has them wrapped around me. 

 

He brings his hands to my knees again and begins tracing patterns on my skin with his fingertips under the blanket. His arms are strong and weighty and hold me to him like a second skin as he explores me by touch. 

 

“Yer skin, Sassenach. It’s perfect, so smooth and bright…” 

 

God I’m glad I shaved now. 

 

But part of me also realizes Jamie couldn’t care less if I was wrapped in burlap with cavewoman appendages. 

 

With slow intention his fingers make their way to the fronts of my thighs and down, ever down, until they stop just at the cleft of my hips. 

 

I catch my breath as he pauses for a second, I hear him let out a soft sigh behind me as his fingers dip down along my pelvic bone. 

 

“Is this okay?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

God yes. 

 

The light touches are enough to make me fairly twitch with anticipation but he’s in no hurry to get this over with. Savoring every moment, he takes his time, his voice low and deep in my ear as he continues. 

 

“Ye remember when I said ye were in my dreams already, Sassenach?” 

 

I nod vaguely, I’m overtaken by the feeling of his right hand slipping down over my heat and his middle finger cautiously exploring each slick fold of skin there. 

 

“Last night, after our kiss...” 

 

He’s drawing his voice out now, low and soft into my hair, I can feel his own breathing quicken and him hardening against my tailbone as he explores with his fingers the delicate folds of my center. 

 

“I had the worst time gettin’ to sleep after that. Leaving ye like that. I wanted ye then so badly I could scarcely breathe. Had to come home and fuck my own hand, and thought of ye the whole time. D’ye ken what I dreamt about in great detail?”

 

God his tongue rolls over the “r”s will be the fucking death of me. 

 

 “About how I would have taken ye.” 

 

A soft cry escapes my lips as he spreads me open over his fingers and, with the hand he uses to strum his guitar, slowly begins lightly rubbing on my most sensitive point. I didn’t even realize my hands were clutching the blanket but I feel them now hold on for dear life as an explosion of color and sensation takes place behind my closed eyelids. 

 

Jamie keeps talking to me, soothingly, letting his voice drop to a tone only I can hear over my own breathing as my heart threatens to explode. 

 

“To grab your round arse and lift ye to the wall again. To pin ye to me, to feel ye want me to. It would have been heaven to have ye against the wall, would ye have liked that?” 

 

Dear Lord. 

 

“There in your bright blue shirt, it would have been so… easy….” Jamie continues, pulling me to him closer with one hand on the bare skin of my pelvis holding him to me, the other continuing to stroke a fire deep in my core with his movements. “So easy, to hold ye to the wall with one arm and take down my trousers with the other. So easy to slide up into ye and hear ye cry out as I took ye there. To lose myself in taking ye rough and wanting against the door.” 

 

I gasp as his finger plays a circle around my opening before tentatively sliding into me. 

 

I catch my breath and the noise makes him smile, I can hear it in his voice as it warms my neck. 

 

“To hear yer breathing hitch and feel yer hips move with a motion all their own. Into mine. Over and over. To hear ye call my name, loud and wanting and me tearin’ it from your mouth with a kiss.” 

 

I hear him groan in restraint, feel his teeth on my neck as he bites firmly down on my pulse point behind my ear. His body is tight and hard behind me, thoroughly enthralled in teasing me and losing himself at the same time.

 

I shudder my back against his solid form but I’m caught. Between his raging erection and rock solid torso and his hand holding me to him helplessly. 

 

The sensation of being held and pinned there is almost too much to bear and I catch myself in short, sharp breaths before I lose myself completely against him. 

 

“I wouldn’a cared who heard us. Yer wee noises, Sassenach. Well, that’s enough to make me almost cry wi’ wanting ye.” 

 

I arch my back into his chest and his voice takes on a rougher quality as he continues with a whisper into my ear. 

 

“Christ, yer so wet. I am absolutely loving how much I can drive ye mad wi’ my words.” 

 

He takes his hand away only to turn my head to his mouth and press his lips to mine in hot desire as the place between my legs pulsates with jealousy over what my mouth is feeling. 

 

“Don’t stop.” I pant. 

 

The pictures he’s painting for me are altogether too much to bear. I realize quickly, too, that my dirty mind was absolutely correct when I imagined what his deft hands would be able to do to me should he want to. 

 

I let out a small cry as his hand darts down again to the spot that’s craving his attention. He’s showing no sign of tiring as he increases his speed, rubbing the center of all my nerves in a clockwise motion, slipping in between my folds and rubbing the slick warmth of my arousal on the nub he’s focused on at the moment. 

 

Jamie slips two fingers inside me this time, curling upwards at a spot that makes my legs shake and a shuddering gasp breaks from my mouth as I press backwards against him. Desperately trying to get away from the intense feeling but also…. Getting closer to my own release. 

 

 “Are ye going to cum for me, Claire?” 

 

I’m surprised how fast the answer is, “Yes.” 

 

I bite my lip into my mouth as he speeds up his motion and starts to press me to him at the same time, rocking his hips forward and breathing hard in my ear. 

 

“Fucking hell.” Jamie breathes out. 

 

One. 

 

Two. 

 

Three. 

 

Long seconds later, my hands dig into the blanket and I shake hard against his chest, a small moan escaping my lips as I feel my walls clench and unclench around his fingers, now wet with my own arousal. 

 

“Cum for me, Sassenach.” 

 

My head hits his rock solid shoulder as I ride out what can only be described as the hardest and fastest orgasm I’ve ever had. My chest feels like exploding at the sudden release of pressure that his hands have coiled and sprung in response to his words. The pulsating waves of pleasure slowly echo outwards to dissipate the knot that’s firmly tied to him somewhere deep in my center. 

 

I unravel loudly in his arms and grip his hands to stop their movements as I shake from the unexpected power of it. 

 

There is no such thing as air anymore. I don’t even think I’m breathing beyond the pounding rush of my own heartbeat in my ears. My hearing is muffled but I still hear him gasp behind me. 

 

“God, Claire. Fuck.” 

 

Jamie’s voice is barely recognizable and hardly human as his breath sputters into my hair, clutching him to me he rocks up into my body as I ride out the feeling. His arms tighten around me as he holds me to him with the last of his restraint dying on his lips. 

 

A minute or two later I’m still coming to myself, my head nestled in his shoulder. Jamie smiles down at me and kisses my cheek as he gathers me to him even closer than before. My legs feel like lead as I slowly roll over onto his chest and stay there a second before lifting my head. 

 

“My ears are ringing.” I say slowly. 

 

Jamie chuckles, his chest rumbling underneath me. 

 

“That good, huh?” 

 

“The best.” I smile lazily. My eyes open suddenly, “Did you?” 

 

Jamie shakes his head, “Nah. I was close though, Christ.” 

 

Darting his bright blue eyes upwards before pressing his forehead to my own, I can feel the beginning of sweat breaking out there and suddenly realize it’s my sweat, too. 

 

“Watching ye cum in my arms, Sassenach. Now that was possibly the most beautiful sight I’ve seen in a verra long time.” He smirks as he lowers his head to exhale a deep kiss into my mouth as I moan happily. “No doubt it’ll serve me well later.” 

 

“Gotta give you something to think about when you’re the dirty old man in the nursing home.” 

 

“Ye’ll be there with me.” Jamie closes his eyes and rests his head on the headboard as smug as a cat. 

 

“I will?” 

 

“Aye. Gotta have someone around to bitch at. Might as well be you, Sassenach.” 

 

“I’m flattered.” I groan, rolling my eyes as I happily snuggle into his chest, resting my warm head on the coolness of his shirt near his tattoo. 

 

Deep down I am glowing. 

 

Joy. Huh? 

 

What a concept.  

 

I’m getting dangerously close to believing in life again, but I tell myself these are the hormones talking. 

 

My eyelashes sweep my knuckles under my cheek where I’m laying my head on Jamie’s chest. The rise and fall of his breath sweeps me away into almost-slumber. 

 

I reach out and tentatively brush his tattoo with my fingers, it’s so small. 

 

“Okay if I use your bathroom?” 

 

Jamie releases me from his arms and kisses me softly on the nose as I slip out of his reach. 

 

“Door at the end of the hall.” 

 

Mentally, I’m cursing out caffeine for being one hell of a mood killer but I really do have to go, I stumble off the bed and scramble for my pants that Jamie has flung into the corner. Most likely to watch this very moment as I waddle bare-assed. 

 

Stopping myself, I feel his eyes on me and I slow down my movements so I’m not totally Pooh-bearing it up on my walk of shame. Have some dignity, Claire. 

 

I do the Bend and Snap ™ and look over my shoulder to see him smirking at me from the bed, of course in my second-long absence he’s already on the next distraction. Right now he’s tossing one balled-up fuzzy sock from one hand to the other juggling them in between in a jovial sort of game he has with himself over how much he can irritate me and still be endearing. 

 

He totally threw the pants this far on purpose. I re-clothe my nether regions with as much dignity as humanly possible, raising an eyebrow at Jamie’s sad puppy expression from the bed as I dress. 

 

I half expect him to follow me out into the hall to make sure I won’t make a break for it, but he doesn’t. 

 

He knows my weakness. 

 

Caffeine me up and get me to orgasm so hard I have trouble walking straight. 

 

That’ll keep any woman captive for a little while. 

 

He is good. 

 

Virginity may be underrated, but experience trumps all. 

 

I walk proudly down the hall, my bare feet embracing the floorboards, running my hands down the walls. 

 

Using the little half-bath at the end of the hall, I look around as anyone would in a stranger’s bathroom. 

 

Don’t tell me you haven’t. 

 

Looked behind the medicine cabinet to make sure they’re not on Percocet. 

 

Peered into the shower to see what kind of soap they use. 

 

Just me? 

 

Come on. 

 

Jamie’s bathroom is as bare as the hall. No pictures, very few decorations. It seems like the only really lived-in rooms are below and his own bedroom. 

 

Washing my hands with blue liquid hand soap, I look into the mirror and smooth bits of hair out of my eyes, taming down the mess that is definitely post-something hair if not post-sex. I’ll have to hide this from Beverly when I do go home. 

 

Brushing my hands on my pants, I dry them off and tiptoe out into the hall. The door to my right is open and- I know- I shouldn’t…. But I do. 

 

I tap the door open wider with my index finger to peek inside. 

 

It’s purple. 

 

If Jamie’s house was bare, the rest of the décor was an explosion that happened in this room. 

 

It’s purple and glittered and there’s a bright pink chandelier I would have killed for as a child. 

 

The white worn furniture matches the coffee table downstairs and it hits me that the table may have really been a small desk from a bedroom set. 

 

I’m burning with curiosity as the door makes a small squeaking noise as it swings open inwardly. 

 

I step into it, half into it and half in the hall. 

 

Noncommittal to my snooping. 

 

It’s just… 

 

I feel like I shouldn’t be here. 

 

It looks exactly like any little girl’s room should only… it’s far too clean. 

 

There are Barbie's lined up on the pink poppy coverlet over the little twin bed in the corner, waiting for their owner to come back and pick them up and- 

 

I turn to go but not before my hood brushes the tall dresser next to the door with the butterfly lamp on it and I hold my breath as a small picture topples off. Catching it in my hands quickly, I go to replace the small square note encased in glass. When I stop. 

 

My mouth falls open. 

 

The small frame doesn’t hold a picture like I first thought, but a note. 

 

Love Daddy

 

Small, spidery child’s writing in a rainbow of crayon marks. 

 

Under which is a lipstick stain. A smudge. 

 

The tattoo kiss. 

 

Just as small and as messy as Jamie’s tattoo. 

 

My hand goes immediately to my mouth as I go to replace the note on the dresser, a creak in the floorboard behind me tells me I’m not alone just as a large hand reaches out to take the small frame from me. 

 

If the floor could just swallow me up that would be great. In fact, if I could die on the spot that would be even better.

 

Jesus, Claire. 

 

Jamie cups the small frame in his hand, I turn and back away from him as I watch him cradle it for a moment, touching the glass before putting it back

 

“I’m so sorry, it was open-” 

 

Jamie doesn’t say anything. 

 

Doesn’t even look at me. 

 

“I ken ye might come across this. I should’ve told you.” 

 

His voice is soft and thick with emotion, entirely different ones than the ones we've just felt together. I've brought him from the highest highs to the lowest lows now and I'm really fucking regretting my choices at the moment. 

 

I feel like an intruder. In fact, I am one. 

 

Damnit

 

“That you have a daughter?” I ask softly. 

 

It’s really not a deal-breaker. I can’t quite picture him as the fatherly type but now it all starts to make sense. 

 

The frilly apron. 

 

The fairy princess comment. 

 

The bag of peas. 

 

The tattoo of a child’s kiss over his heart. 

 

God I’m an idiot. 

 

“Had.” 

 

“Oh.” I say suddenly. 

 

What Jamie said the other night about the girl dying… 

 

“Oh.” I say again with more alarm. 

 

“Jamie, I’m-” 

 

So sorry. 

 

So incredibly sorry. 

 

I want to touch him, hold him, do anything to stop the look on his face right now but he simply holds out his hand and pulls me out of the room, closing it behind us. 

 

“Let’s leave the past in the past, Sassenach.” 

 

I follow his lead and bite my tongue to keep from saying anything further.

 

To keep the millions of questions I have bottled down inside me. 

 

“Let me show ye something,” Jamie takes me back to his room and goes to the bed, reaching under it he pulls out a worn photo album and motions for me to sit next to him. 

 

I take my place quietly at his side as he shows me a door to his past in that brave way that only the truly damaged can. I hold his hand and wait for him to speak. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Yo Jamie, head in the game, man. We’re on in five.” 

 

I bite and peel at the dry skin on my lip and check my phone once more, my fingers already hot to the touch after anxiously playing chords on the frets for the past hour. 

 

Peter said I would burn clean through the strings before we even started our set. 

 

Nothing. No missed calls or messages. But I just ken. 

 

I have a feeling tonight. 

 

Dinnae ken what it is but I ken something will happen. Something big. 

 

She told me she’d call. Promised. I still left her place unconvinced that rainy October Tuesday. 

 

Haven’a seen her since but I tried as best I could. Dinnae answer my calls. 

 

No clue why. 

 

Annalise had rolled her green eyes at me as I cooked her my best, insisted she stay on the couch and watch her favorite shows while I did it all. 

 

“Mon Amour, you don’t need to try so hard,” her sweet lilt annoyed me at how careless she had been. 

 

Looking at her pantry, I wasn’t sure how much she’d eaten the past few weeks. It had been a while on the road with the lads. My first trip was to the doctor with her, I insisted. 

 

Since coming into my life again, six months along wi’ child nonetheless, Annalise had acted as if it was a bother to have me along. As if she’d rather do it all herself. I dinnae ken why. 

 

Finally, at my pushing and pursuing and showing up on her doorstep wi’ bags of groceries from the market, she let me make her dinner. 

 

I made about every kind of vegetable imaginable, lots of recipes from Mam that I had as a child, I dinnae ken what she’d like but I’d read a lot and ken the baby would need only the best. At least while I was there, I’d make sure of it. 

 

A dinner of fresh trout, steamed sweet potatoes and kale and other root vegetables to settle her stomach. Not that she complained much. As a mother-to-be, she hadn’a told me much of anything symptom-wise. But she looked pale around certain things. 

 

Her normally bronzed and rosy face would go absolutely green if she so much as smelled chicken being cooked. Or grass being cut. Thankfully there wasna much of that in the city of Edinburgh. 

 

Other smells would trigger her, too. Cigarettes, for one. I stopped altogether and went through a bitch of a withdrawal. I made her cross the road wi’ me that Sunday when we were out at the shops and someone had lit one up near us. 

 

Christ, I’d even turn down the volume on the telly when someone cursed. I ken babies could hear even before they were born. Pulp Fiction was a no-go although that was her favorite. Ok maybe it was overkill but still… dinnae feel right to hear “motherfucker” this and that every few words. 

 

I felt helpless when Annalise started early contractions and could only sit through them and suck through her teeth at the pain, so I’d play guitar. I’d bring my shiny acoustic Baby close to the bump that held my own and sing. Sometimes for hours. 

 

The bairn would move then. Either then or after she’d have a chocolate milkshake. Cannae blame them, my milkshakes at to-die for. Whenever Annalise complained about putting on the mere stone she’d gained carrying the bairn, I’d shoot her death glares. 

 

She really dinnae ken how much more beautiful she was this way. The extra weight and glow about her was damn sexy although she dinnae let me touch her. I tried. Tried to be a family, we talked of marriage. She told me she would, although I dinnae have the money for a ring at the time. 

 

I gave her one of sterling silver, a placeholder until I could afford the real thing. 

 

Sometimes she’d forget to wear it. 

 

I ken she might be texting other people. I ken it well. 

 

It broke my heart but I dinnae say anything, I should have. But the bairn. 

 

I dinnae wish for her to be upset at this stage. We’d talk later. After the birth. 

 

I tried my best to reach out to her that past week, but felt I could have done more. 

 

Should have done more. 

 

I should be there, not here. 

 

Christ. 

 

“Hey.” 

 

Peter rapped his drumstick on my shoulder. 

 

“Jamie lad, we’re on now.” 

 

I could hear them already. Even back in the green room, I could hear the fans there just for us. No openers this time. We were the real deal. 

 

As lead singer and guitarist, I ken the lads needed me more than I needed them. 

 

Breathing out hard to cure the rest of my anxiety about the bairn, I tossed my phone down on the leather couch and nodded to Gene, our assistant for the weekend. The older woman had caught me outside chain-smoking before our last show and I confided in her what was on my mind. She ken to let me know if anything happened. Deftly, she picked up the phone and put it in the little bag she always carried backstage. 

 

Putting Baby over my back with one deft swing, I nodded to her once more and she winked at me. I swallowed down the rest of my nerves with a gulp of water from my bottle and ran out into the spotlights. 

 

“Let’s go fucking nuts!” 

 

I let my guitar scream over the fans and tried desperately to ignore the gaggle of lasses in the front row trying to pop their tits out of their shirts at me. 

 

We were three songs into the set and I remember how the lights blazed down on us that night. 

 

October 17th. 

 

I felt the sweat trickle down my cheek as I started the riff on one of our fan-favorites, only turning to the wings in time to see Gene jumping up and down with as much excitement as a sixty-something year old woman could stand, her gray hair practically standing on end as she gestured wildly over to me. 

 

I dinnae even wait. 

 

Running off stage, I handed her Baby as I got close enough to hear what she had been shouting. 

 

“She’s here. She’s here. Jamie!” 

 

Pick in hand, I grabbed the older woman by her withered cheeks and planted a firm but sweaty kiss on her surprised mouth and grabbed my phone from her. 

 

“Ya beauty. Shite. I’ve got to go. Tell the lads…..” I started running towards the door but then came back realizing I forgot my car keys. “Tell the lads I’m sorry! Christ.” 

 

Turning on my heel, I ran into the red curtain hanging in the wings causing a gigantic crash somewhere in the distance I couldn’t be bothered with. 

 

With shaking hands, I looked at my phone. Only the address of the hospital was on it, underneath: baby girl born 7:03 pm. 

 

Mam texted. Annalise never called. Never so much as sent a message. Nothing. 

 

“Fucking hell.” I ran shaking hands through my hair and pulled out so fast I forgot to buckle up. 

 

I saw Mam’s car at the hospital, dinnae even stopped but rolled out of the car and hoped I parked it right. Bursting in through the sliding doors, I yelled out a general question to an orderly and took off in the direction he was pointing. 

 

Wasna long before I had a bracelet slapped on me with ID and my boots were walking quickly down the maternity ward. 

 

“Jamie! Christ. I just found out and texted ye, she had the nurse call me after and I dinnae-” 

 

“Annalise?” 

 

“She’s fine, lad. Sleeping now.” 

 

“And the bairn?” I could scarcely breathe. 

 

Mam was flapping around like a bird in the hall about to take flight. Her blue eyes were bright with excitement and she pulled me into a hard hug. 

 

“Oh she’s beautiful, lad. Wait til ye see her. She’s absolutely perfect.” 

 

Mam opened the door slowly and I held my breath. 

 

I had just performed in front of near 700 people and this. This was making me nervous. 

 

I dinnae ken how I’d make it through the door, much less SEE what was inside. 

 

Mam signalled for me to be quiet as we walked in quietly and I saw the sleeping form of Annalise under a pile of blankets on the bed. My eyes were transfixed on the tiny cart though. The miniature, tightly-wrapped bundle on it that wasna moving. 

 

My hands were shaking at my sides and my arms felt like jelly as I came close and then sank into a chair near it. Helpless to move any further. 

 

Mam smiled knowingly and without a word, lifted the tiny lump out. She was so small. So incredibly small. No’ even half the size of my forearm and about as wide. 

 

Christ I couldna breathe! 

 

Couldna even think as Mam settled the tiny log into my arms. She burst into quiet tears, running down her proud face and looked at me then. All the lectures, all the worry seemed gone. Everything that I worked for and put on hold dinnae even seem to matter to her anymore. 

 

The bundle made a wee sound, a tiny gurgle as I looked down on her sweet face for the first time. 

 

I came utterly apart as I felt the warm life under my fingers, the meek movements I had only felt through skin now alive and well and breathing in my own two hands. 

 

“Her name.” 

 

My voice sounded strange in the silence. It was low and rough and sounded unfamiliar to me. 

 

Mam whispered into the silence, “She dinnae decide yet, so the nurses and I have been calling her Faith for the time…” 

 

Faith. 

 

October 17th. 

 

My world forever changed. 

 

Mam snapped a photo but I dinnae even notice the flash.





*** 

Present Day: Claire’s POV 



Scared doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling as I’m sitting next to Jamie on his bed, hand holding his in a way that feels secure. My palm on his, I scan his face and hope desperately to relieve some of his pain. 

 

I’m not a comfort person. 

 

At least, that’s what everyone says about me. Even my own family 

 

Frank fucking blamed my coldness for cheating on me. 

 

God. 

 

Why did I snoop? 

 

I opened a Pandora’s box of intimacy and I’m the worst person for this backstory right now. 

 

I mean, of course I’m curious. 

 

But I’m one of those people who pats heads awkwardly and stares off into space if you hug me. Sure I’ll try to comfort you but I might honestly suggest a bender as a way to get over something versus actually helping someone through it. 

 

I’m biting right through the center of my bottom lip now, trying to focus on Jamie. 

 

I realize I’m being selfish in thinking about me right now. 

 

It’s not fucking about you, Claire. 

 

Shut up. 

 

Listen. 

 

For the love of God don’t talk. 

 

Ooh, I’m hearing my damn mouth go silent. You know what that’s called, boys and girls? 

 

Growth. 

 

It takes a while for Jamie to speak. 

 

He’s looking at the faded album as if it’s burning a hole through his hands but he’s holding it with so much care you’d think it was made of the most delicate silk. 

 

His rough hand catches on the cover and I can see the worn ridges on the leather from where he’s handled it regularly. 

 

The album has a femimine touch to it, the pictures as so nearly arranged and dated that it catches my eye first. 

 

“Mam was the photographer for most of these. I always thought she was crazy havin’ a camera everywhere, takin’ pictures of everything.” 

 

Jamie bemuses, more to himself than to me. 

 

I catch my breath as I look at the first page. I don’t know what I expect to see, but I’m caught off guard looking at the first photo. 

 

A younger man of about twenty-three is in the photo before me, dressed all in black and looking wildly out of place in one of those awkward, green-plastic hospital chairs that converts into a bed for staying visitor’s. His hands in his lap, cradling the universal white cotton blanket with pink and blue stripes around the edges. 

 

His hand is twice the size of the little pink head he is cradling, the flash of the camera bouncing off his auburn shoulder-length hair and the glint of his silver pinky ring. 

 

His hair covers his eyes in the shot, but I can see the distinctive nose looking down with the purest form of attention to the little bundle he’s holding. 

 

“Came in the middle of a show. Ran right off the stage, I did. Middle of a set.” Jamie smirks. “Ran every red light in Edinburgh to get there, ye ken? But she was already here.” 

 

I swallow hard as he turns the page, there is a little green bow on the next page next to a set of inky footprints that seem barely bigger than puppy paws. 

 

So small. 

 

Jamie smiles at the tiny bow and runs his finger over it. 

 

“Born early, wasn’a expecting her for another month or two.” 

 

Jamie flips the pages again and I look at an older woman with red hair and striking blue eyes, her bone structure giving away the family trait as well as her opal eyes. Proudly loaded up with carseat and diapers to help take the infant home, she stands tall and with a nervous grin on her face. 

 

The woman’s face is gentle, but queenly. She seems a stately woman and I suddenly become aware of how much Jamie reveres the woman who gave him birth in a van down by the river. 

 

“Mam helped a lot at first, I had no idea what I was doing. Dinnae ken the first thing about caring for a newborn or feeding or sleeping or any of it.” 

 

I catch my breath as Jamie turns the page and I see a black and white photo of a small, but chubby newborn nestled against his neck. Both sleeping peacefully in a wide armchair next to a window with some greenery in the background. 

 

Both smiling in slumber and it made my heart ache with the yearning for my own. 

 

“Her name?” 

 

Jamie’s jaw is working now, his breathing deeper than usual and I can feel his eyes on my face as he watches my reaction. 

 

“Faith. Faith Ellen Fraser.” 

 

“It’s beautiful.” I say softly, my fingers tracing the edge of the photo slightly. 

 

I look at Jamie and he nods to let me know it’s alright for me to turn the pages myself. 

 

I don’t know why he’s showing me all this, opening up to me in this way, but I know it’s precious and fills my heart in a way that almost hurts. 

 

“Bad day?” I laugh to myself as I see the next picture. Jamie is in a baseball cap, hair pulled back making a frowny face as he’s holding a very pink and screaming baby of a month or two in his lap with band-aids slapped over her chubby thighs. 

 

“Jab day at the doctor’s,” Jamie shook his head, “Bout tore my heart out to see it, screamed bloody murder so she did. Tried taking on the nurse like a true Fraser wi’ her wee fists.”
 

Faith’s shock of strawberry blonde hair was clearly seen in the next page, a chubby round-faced six month old chewing thoughtfully on Jamie’s knuckle as he held her, dressed up in a suit in some sort of church. She was wearing a long, cream colored gown and drooled on it in all her rosy glory. 

 

“Christening? So you are Catholic after all?” 

 

“Gran is.” Jamie shrugs. 

 

“And the mom?” 

 

I ask the question I’ve been dying to know the answer to. 

 

Jamie’s face drops as he bites at his lower lip. 

 

“Didna want her.” 

 

“What?” I exclaim. 

 

Jamie shrugs uncomfortably and I can tell this is a sore spot for him. 

 

“I’m sorry I-” 

 

“S’alright, Sassenach.” Jamie smiles weakly, “It’s only natural ye have questions. I did, too. Still do.” 

 

“Were you… together?” 

 

I don’t know how to ask this and God it sounds so blunt. 

 

“Aye, for a few months. Annalise came to me about six months pregnant telling me it was mine, to be fair, Sassenach. I never did ken that for sure.” 

 

My eyes sprung open. 

 

To be fair, the baby did look like him a bit but… there were traces of someone else there, too. 

 

“We weren’t exclusive when we were “together”,” Here, Jamie uses the bad air quotes again to lighten the mood but I’m still gobsmacked by his admission. “I ken she saw other people but no one else came forward. Or she dinnae tell them.”

 

“And you never tested for paternity?” 

 

Jamie shakes his head fiercely as if the question offended him. Maybe it did. 

 

“Nah, Sassenach.” 

 

Wow. 

 

“When I held her in my arms, that night. I just ken she was mine. Didna care to have a test to tell me if she were my blood or no’.” 

 

I let out a small sigh. 

 

Jesus. 

 

“Asked her to marry me and she said yes, then … next day…the day after Faith came” Jamie looks sourly down at the pictures, his brow creasing in sadness, “She was gone. Left a note, said she signed over all rights to me and that she wasn’a going to be a mother. She was a model, ye ken. Wanted to go back to France where she was from and get signed on in Paris there. Suppose that’s where she went.” 

 

I rest my head on his large arm, my heart aching for him and let my lips brush his warm bicep. 

 

“I’m- sorry. Jesus, Jamie. And you never found her?” 

 

Jamie shakes his head, “When people walk out of yer life, Sassenach, I ken when to let them go. If she wanted us she could have stayed, but she dinnae try. My girl was better off where she was. Wanted. Even if I was a clumsy oaf of a father.” 

 

I shake my head in wonder. 

 

“I can’t imagine. I just can’t. I’m sorry but not wanting to be there for your own kid. Jesus.” 

 

There is a heavy silence between us as I think of how badly I would have wanted to step up and be a mother. I can’t blame Jamie for giving up his dream to step in to fill that roll. 

 

I burst into laughter as I turned the page again. 

 

Jamie and a stubby one-year-old Faith were dressed as The Blues Brothers for Halloween, her chubby middle finger casually flipping off the camera as Jamie doubled over in laughter in the background. Her curly hair in two little pigtails peeking out from under the too-big fedora. I wonder if it’s the same one he wore to The Trinity. 

 

“Apple doesn’t fall far, eh?” 

 

“Not when it comes from the Fraser orchard, that’s fer sure, Sassenach.” 

 

The food fights, the first steps, the first, slimy teething smile. Faith was almost always in colorful tops, her curly blonde-red hair in braids or pigtails and always by Jamie’s side. Hands interlaced with his or in his hair or on his arms. 

 

Her eyes were green though, a pretty hazel color that no doubt came from her mother. Or father. 

 

I tried wrapping my head around the fact that Jamie just did that. Just stepped in when no one else would. 

 

“When did you come here?” 

 

“When Da got sick.” Jamie says simply, “Music man life is no life for a child, Claire. I tried my best but I was gone too much, decided on producing music when Da got sick in the states. Came here to be wi’ him and … well, not long after that he had a heart attack and it was just us.” 

 

“And... Faith?” 

 

Jamie’s eyes look distant as we gaze over the happy pictures. 

 

“We had some happy years, Sassenach. The best four years of my life.” 

 

He doesn’t continue and I don’t pressure him to. 

 

I know what it’s like to not want to say things out loud. Even to yourself. 

 

Because then they’re real. Then you can’t take it back and pretend it was all a bad dream. 

 

Words mean it happened. 

 

My eyes rest on a picture of the two of them on the front porch, carving pumpkins together. 

 

Jamie’s mom had captured the exact moment Faith had flung a handful of seeds and goop up in the air and I watched Jamie’s mouth, frozen in a laugh that would never end. 

 

But it did. Like all laughs do. 

 

Preserved in time and space and kept alive with the memories of her. 

 

My hand tightens on his arm as I hold him wordlessly to me and dream of a different time. A younger man. A helpless baby girl. The life they tried to create together. 

 

Suddenly and mysteriously torn from them as thoughtlessly as my own life had been torn from me. 

 

I didn’t need to speak as my loss held his grief and we sat, lost in thoughts of what could have been. 

 

Our hearts beating the two-tone song of a pain stuck on repeat. 

 

“Still here. Still here. Still here.” 

 

Now until the end. 

 

Alone and together at the same time. 

 

“I bet you were the best father, Jamie.” I say suddenly, in a low voice. 

 

He rests his forehead on mine and smiles, closing his eyes, we stay together there for a little while and let the moment linger. 

 

My eyes blur with tears and go back to the picture in front of us. A laugh frozen. A moment halted. 

 

A little girl forever a child preserved in a father’s unwavering love.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Like Phil Collins, I can feel it coming in the air tonight. 

 

Oh Lord. 

 

Not a storm, not the rain, but my own damn emotions. 

 

Ever since Jamie dropped me off at my place again that lazy Saturday afternoon, I haven’t been able to do anything but cry. 

 

I kept it together long enough for him to squeeze my hand but not long enough for him to walk me to my door. 

 

He wanted to though.

 

Sometimes my heart is full to bursting at how hard he’s trying just for me.  

 

Wordlessly, I hopped out of the pickup to run around to his side and give him a chaste peck on the cheek before ducking my head out again. I don’t know how to say goodbye but I know that wasn’t good enough. Not for either of us. Not after all that’s happened. 

 

Jamie took the keys out of the ignition and went to open his door, halfway out we were greeted by a cheery too-loud voice that broke the tension between us. 

 

“Hey kids!” 

 

I turned to see Beverly walking up, pocketbook at the ready and hair sprayed within an inch of its life with Aqua Net. I swear somewhere she’s a post-menopausal superhero. Pocketbook Woman ™ , complete with her own magical clip-on earrings and Avon perfume I can smell a mile down the road. It’s hard to tell what age she is. I assume seventies by the fact that her grandkids are our ages, but she doesn’t have enough wrinkles to be much older than that.

 

I smooth my frizzy hair nervously with my hands and Jamie calls out a hello in response, keeping his eyes on my face. 

 

“You having maintenance issues, Claire? I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mr. Fraser at your place before.” 

 

Her keen brown eyes cut through the bullshit and I’m pretty sure she’s analyzing my post-something hair. 

 

“Yeah, uh…"

 

Jamie shoots me a confused look. 

 

“Just checking my plumbing out, been making an awful noise.” 

 

Why. 

 

Why am I doing this? 

 

She clearly just saw me hop out of his red pickup. 

 

I guess it’s easier to admit you have faulty plumbing rather than admit your handyman has been fingering your own in the past hour or two. 

 

What Bev doesn’t know won’t fucking kill her. God knows she knows enough just living above me hearing my panic attacks and rage-cry sessions. 

 

“Aye, uh… just on my way then…” 

 

“Oh, Mr. Fraser if you would be a dear, could you look at the gutter over my eaves on Monday? I swear it’s clogged. I keep getting rain directly over my stoop.” 

 

“Aye, I’ll be right on it.” Jamie calls over his shoulder as she trundles away, her mouth playing at a smile and his eyes digging into my soul. His fingers are tapping against the keys in his hand, constantly moving. 

 

Maybe he’s like a shark that way. You know, if they stop swimming they die? I’ve never seen him perfectly still. 

 

I’m glad when Bev’s gone out of sight into her own brick garage next to mine. 

 

“Ye alright, Claire?” 

 

I nod and feel warm fingers lift my chin so he can see my eyes. 

 

“Ye sure ye dinnae want me to come wi’ ye? Ye did take a hit to the head, s’only my job to make sure yer okay...” 

 

I nod again, looking more confidently into his beautiful face so close to mine. I was absolutely blind not to notice it when we first met. Here. In the rain. Cause now I can’t stop seeing it everywhere and I don’t want it any other way. 

 

I told him I had some errands to run as he folded me into his arms again and held me against his chest in bed for a while. I watched the dust sparkle and hang in the air from the tall windows and I let him hold me and just let myself exist for once. Then it hit me. I needed to cry and STAT and didn’t want to absolutely come apart in his arms in a bad way after something wonderful just happened there. 

 

Trust. Knowing. Caring. 

 

This was starting to feel an awful lot like something deathly serious. Just BEING with someone. No need for words. 

 

Fucking errands. Lame excuse, I know. But I really do have to run to the store and well, I need some time to process all that’s happened the past twenty-four hours. 

 

Jamie knows I’m stretching the truth, just looking for a chance to get away to be on my own for a while. 

 

God it tears my heart out to be apart from him, but if I stayed… 

 

Then what, Claire? 

 

Then I might have to admit I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a damn decade. 

 

That being close to him was the best thing I’ve felt in just as long. 

 

That I… 

 

God, it’s too soon for that word yet. 

 

“I’ll call you,” I grab his hand again, not quite ready to let go. 

 

“I’ll be waiting, take care, Sassenach.” 

 

Jamie’s lips twitch into a sad but understanding smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes and I squeeze his rough fingers once more before turning and darting into my house. I can feel his eyes on my back as I enter in my code to my front door. 

 

As soon as it closes behind me I want to turn back. To run out and hop in the passenger seat again and tell him to drive me anywhere but here. 

 

But I don’t. 

 

I’m good at breaking my own heart. 

 

I make it to the kitchen before I break down in tears. 

 

Adso comes up and head butts me so hard it jostles me as I grip onto the counter and feel a sob rising in my throat. 

 

Sinking to the floor, I cry. 

 

For once, I cry for someone other than myself. I cry for the little girl lost. For a love so big even death couldn’t stop it. 

 

I cry over the fact that this man, this hulk of a man, was sharing it all with me. He wants me to know. 

 

I cry over how much I want him to know me. The real me. How much I want to share with him and how soon it still feels to open that can of worms right now. 

 

I know his secrets, he doesn’t know mine. 

 

And that’s on me. 

 

Self-sabotaging. 

 

Self-deprecating. 

 

Self-loathing. 

 

Selfish. 

 

“You wouldn’t know love if it hit you full in the face, Claire.” 

 

Frank’s deep voice slips into my breakdown and suddenly, I see him. Clear as day, leaning on the counter above my head and looking down at me with that pinched look between his brow that always meant I did something wrong. 

 

I feel like a chastised child all over again with him. Not an adult. Not an equal. 

 

Not like with Jamie. 

 

“I love you. No one else but me. You just don’t realize it, do you?” 

 

“Love doesn’t hurt.” My voice is shaking as it bursts from my chest. 

 

“Loving you does.” Frank scoffs at me in that casually cruel way he had, always in pursuit of total honesty. 

 

That's why I wear his clothes. I can't let go of the past. It would mean to forget what I learned about who I was with him. Who I never want to be. Maybe if I'm actually Frank I'll be better than who I was as Claire. It's my own sick, twisted way of keeping myself reminded of where I've been. Where I'll never go again. 

 

I can physically feel my heart snapping in two. 

 

Over Jamie’s loss and my inability to comfort. 

 

Frank disappears into all that I hate about myself and I’m left alone. Apart from Adso forcing his comfort upon me. 

 

I don’t know what I’d do without him. 

 

I wanna be someone Jamie needs. Someone to bring him joy. To make him happy like he makes me. 

 

I don’t know how. 

 

I don’t know how to stop being broken enough to be soft in that way. 

 

I am a shell of who I should be. Shattered and glued back together by myself and never in the right places. Sharp objects jutting out from where the glue didn’t hold properly. No one handles me anymore because I keep on cutting them.

 

Or myself. 

 

I don’t trust myself to love him. 

 

But I do. 

 

So soon. 

 

Too fast. 

 

Meeting Jamie has turned my little unfortunately predictable life upside down in the worst and best of ways. 

 

Part of me wants to open up and tell him it’s okay to wreck all my plans. 

 

The part of me that promised myself never to love again. 

 

My trajectory of being forever alone to spare people the hurt of loving me is ruined now. 

 

Torn between my own selfishness and losing him, a thought I can’t bear to hold in my mind for even a second. 

 

I always thought redemption would find me in some church pew, penitent at last for my life at the age of no less than sixty and four. 

 

I don’t need him to save me. But in his own way, he is. 

 

Slowly. 

 

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus but he talks like a gentleman and I’m quickly losing myself in a great gust of explosive love that is Jamie. 

 


*** 

 

My phone buzzes that night as I’m neck-deep in Marple intrigue and shoveling popcorn into my mouth at an alarming rate. Adso licking up the crumbs like the Hoover that he is. 

 

Shit. I never called Jamie. Too late now? Would it be a booty call? 

 

How does one even start a booty call, I mean, I know how they END. Or are supposed to end. 

 

But how do they start? 

 

“Hello, I am calling thine booty wilt thou answer?” 

 

I snort and almost choke on my dinner of popcorn.

 

Christ. 

 

It’s been a decade since I was in this awkward dance of getting to know someone without being super eager or seemingly disinterested. 

 

I’m embalmed for the night after a good cry, a (few) glasses of red wine, dark and dry like my humor and a bath in which I most definitely did not eye my scars with loathing as I hastily rubbed vitamin e oil into them to help fade them. 

 

It’s Joe. No booty call. Thank God, I really, really don't know how to handle those as I've never in my life had one.

It's a gif. 

 

 

Ugh, for real? I mean. Yes. Hell yes. 

 

I feel like this involves more people though… 

 

Tomorrow 7pm. Be there or be.... whatever it is you usually are doing home alone that I don't wanna know about. I have news, too.

 

THERE it is. He and Kim are official and he wants to tell me in person vs letting me find out via Facebook. 

 

Shit. 

 

I mean, I knew it was coming. Kim’s great. I’m happy for them? 

 

Why am I jealous? 

 

Not of Kim, oh God no… just the fact that they’re gonna be all lovey-dovey and gooshy in front of me and I’ll have to suck it up and be the good wingwoman with no date. The un-awkward third wheel from now on. 

 

I’m not good with change. Never have been. Change means people leaving. 

 

Why is Joe so set against Jamie? 

 

I hate feeling like I have to hide things from my best friend, but this is BIG, really big and I don’t want any outside force messing this up. 

 

Not Bev. Not my family and most of all, not my best friend. 

 

No one else needs to know how much I’m a sucker for those damn blue eyes, for that accent, for that dark leather jacket and finger-combed auburn waves. 

 

My chest aches thinking about him. 

 

I text back. 

 

Sure, just us? 

 

The whole gang, that okay? Decided to chill instead of practice tomorrow. We're all good for Friday's show. We are lit. 

 

I pause before answering, shaking my damn head at his dated terminology.

 

Yeah, yeah by the way no one says "lit" anymore. See you soon Piano Man.

 

Mk. No shark coochie board. BYOB I’ll have popcorn.

 

Finding out via Facebook has me thinking and suddenly, I’m pausing Marple to do some investigation of my own. 

 

Pulling out my tiny laptop, I pull up Google Chrome and hesitate before typing into the search bar. 

 

Jamie Fraser+Scotland+music 

 

Woah. 

 

Hundreds of hits. 

 

I didn’t think it would be so easy but then again, I guess I’ve outgrown the early stage of infatuation most girls go through of internet stalking someone. 

 

I kinda just insult and make out and then jump on top of the guy, if I’m honest. At least that’s how it happened- HOLY SHIT

 

I click on an article that has my attention. 

 

Where are they now? The lads of Keeping On, ten years later. 

 

I glaze over the names of the bandmates, most are still in music in some way or other. One freaking teaches it at a local primary school in Glasgow. But the ending paragraph has me hooked. 

 

Jamie Fraser (pictured above with then paramour Annalise de Marillac, upcoming fashion model) hasn’t been seen locally since 2012. Rumor has it, he’s flown over the pond to start a new life. Ties were cut when de Marillac became romantically involved with a French designer, but rumors about them flew high in early 2012 when de Marillac was last seen exiting an Edinburgh flat looking anything but- 

 

I trailed off reading and my eyes took in a brief glimpse of a younger version of Jamie shielding a smaller girl with shopping bags in his arms in front of her as they crossed the street. He was dressed in a simple white tee with black jeans on so tight you could see everything. And I mean everything. Of course I looked. Then I saw her. It was hard to mistake the very round bulge of her stomach in the long, flowing sundress as they crossed under the cover he provided. 

 

Jesus. 

 

I kept on with the article. 

 

Once a teenage heartthrob, Fraser had a lot going for him when he mysteriously disappeared from the Brit music scene and the band split up shortly after. Was the spotlight too much for the young musician? There were rumors he was hard to please with his asks of only-green M&M’s in each and every venue. More of a diva than a douche, what happened to him remains to be seen as even our sources couldn’t locate the local heartthrob. 

 

I smirked to myself to hide the pain. 

 

Green M&M’s huh? 

 

Well, well, well, Mister Fraser. 

 

I eloped down the rabbit hole of reading everything I could about him, struggling to forget the pain of Annalise’s bulging stomach. I knew. I did. 

 

But still. It hurt to even see it. 

 

I hate myself for doing this, but I have to know all I can about the man in my phone under the name Jehoshaphat. 

 

There’s videos too. 

 

I click on one from October 17th years back, for some reason the date speaks to me. 

 

I don’t know why I’m nervous but I am. 

 

Suddenly, an old theatre proscenium archway flickers on my screen as the lights go up and I can barely hear anyone or anything over the screaming in the annoying way concerts are more about the experience than the music. 

 

Wish I could’ve been there. 

 

I hide a smile as I see all four guys on stage but no Jamie. Even though the footage looks like it was filmed on an actual potato, he would stand out. 

 

I smirk to myself as he runs on, clearly late is his thing. No one seems to mind though as the crowd erupts and he yells out something over the noise. His giant form is dressed all in black and I recognize the leather jacket he sometimes wears. 

 

He hasn’t changed much. And yet he has. 

 

Jamie takes the stage front and center and absolutely takes over as the hummingbird I saw flitting around his kitchen. This is his element and everything else seems to fade into the background. 

 

If The Killers and The Goo Goo Dolls had a baby, it would be Keeping On. I can see why they were so popular even in the early days. 

 

Jamie takes his hand and flicks up his wrist in a way that catches the light of his band of bracelets, but my eyes are on the guitar pick in his hands. Could it be the same one I have sitting on my nightstand right now?

 

I try not to think of the smug look on his face if he found out that’s where I keep it. So I can reach over and touch it at night when the nightmares come around. It helps. Like a goddamn totem, his good luck charm is now mine and I hold it to my lips and pray to the saints of rock and roll to watch over me. 

 

Stupid. I know. 

 

I listen to the first few songs and am drawn in by his voice, it’s more mature now. God, even better. He should sing again. He should do this. Not whatever the fuck he’s doing with his life now. Fixing gutters for old ladies in the middle of cornfields. He picked a great place to drop off the face of the earth. 

 

I close my eyes and rest my head on the back of my couch and imagine I was there, in the lights in the noise. Not in undergrad or law school in Philadelphia or wherever boring place I was at the time. Just a girl at a concert, crushing majorly on the lead singer and completely obsessed with the tangible noise of the music that drowns out every other feeling but this one. 

 

The feeling of life that only music can give. 

 

Suddenly my eyes snap open as the music ends abruptly and Jamie darts off stage and doesn’t return. The camera shuts off after the crown erupts in a different kind of rage when the other guys try their best to carry on the show without him. 

 

I catch my reflection in the black screen staring open-mouthed at me. I forget I have a sheet mask on and fucking terrify myself with the ghost of twenties-past.  

 

Was this it? THE night? Shit. 

 

I start doing the thing where I talk to myself like the best friend or sister I never had. 

 

Claire? 

 

Hey girl. 

 

Earth to Claire. 

 

Yeah, this is you… checking in. 

 

You alright, babe? 

 

Cause right now you’re like two-hours deep into a web search, Marple is forgotten and you’re actually seeing green over the fact you didn’t know him ten years ago. 

 

I close my laptop and pinch my nose in between my eyes from the blue-light headache I now have. 

 

Movie night tomorrow, huh?

 

Should be fun. My chest hurts. I close my eyes and let them adjust to the darkness. 

 

Blue. 

 

I want to see blue. 

 

Blue opal eyes that mirror the rhapsody playing in my own soul on repeat. 

 

Nothing else makes sense anymore. Definitely not this version of myself that I'm becoming. 

 

**** 

 

I’m having that dream again where my mind replays random memories. 

 

I’m joking with Joe over the Keurig at work, he’s stating another Random Fact ™ that we share back and forth every Tuesday and end with “Think about it.” 

 

“Did you know polar bears have clear fur? Not white? Think about it.” 

 

Or 

 

“Hey Abernathy, did you know penguins propose with a pebble? Think about it.” 

 

He's laughing over how ridiculously endearing that is when my phone vibrates in the pocket of my pantsuit. 

 

I see the name of my ob-gyn flash across the screen and hold up a finger to Joe to stop while I duck back into an empty conference room to take the call. 

 

“Hi there, Mrs. Randall?” 

 

“This is she.” Fuck, why are my hands sweaty? 

 

“Okay so we have the results of your tests back and the good news is you tested negative for any STD’s.” 

 

Thank fucking god. 

 

I breathed a sigh of relief and set my mug down on the lacquered conference table. 

 

“However..."

 

I could tell the nurse was hesitating and my heart hit the bottom of my kitten-toed heels. 

 

“However, we do need you to come back in to run some more tests. I’m afraid your pap smear came back with abnormal cells. Just a precaution, mind you. It’s usually nothing to worry about but we like to be thorough. How soon can we get you in?” 

 

I cleared my throat and suddenly felt dizzy, “Umm... okay? I can do tomorrow if I move some things…” 

 

“Perfectly fine, why don’t you take a look at your schedule? We’ll fit you in, no problem.” 

 

“Thank you.” 

 

I hold the phone to my ear long after I hear the click on the other end. 

 

“Everything alright, Lady?” 

 

I fake a smile but Joe sees through my bullshit. 

 

“Yeah, uh … I need to run to the doctor's tomorrow. Nothing major, just routine. I'll uh...I’ll… Hey can you take the Brenner case in the morning? We have to subpoena him for more documents but it shouldn’t be too much. I’ll be back before lunch. Promise.” 

 

“Of course,” Joe’s dark chocolate eyes were instantly worried, “Everything ok?” 

 

“It will be.” I say resolutely, tapping him on the arm as I go back to my quiet office, “Did you know squirrels can’t burp? Think about it.” 

 

And just like that, I was thinking about a test result that would forever change my body, my life, and all my hopes and dreams. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

People are talking talkin' 'bout people

I hear them whisper you won't believe it

They think we're lovers kept undercover

I'll just ignore it but they keep sayin' we 

Laugh just a little too loud 

Stand just a little too close 

We stare just a little too long

Maybe they're seeing something we don't darling

 

-Something To Talk About, Bonnie Raitt 

 

***

 

Sunday morning hits harder than it should but at least I’m finally over my hangover. If 21-year-old Claire had the constitution of a sailor, the only remnants of a shipmate’s lifestyle is my language. 

 

31-year-old Claire needs basic resuscitation after a night of drinking. 

 

I force myself to go on my morning run as usual and try not to look down Cornelia street to see if the old red Chevy pickup is still in the yard. 

 

It’s not. 

 

I try to ignore the tight feeling in my chest as I run onwards and crank up the volume on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. 

 

I hope he’s there tonight. 

 

I should bring something. 

 

I might leave my dignity at the door with this one, but where can a girl find all-green M&M’s? You know… for science. 

 

He looks good in green. 

 

***



Je suis prest.  

 

I am ready and actually on-time for something, arriving at Joe’s at 7pm most everyone is here. I’m forever grateful to him that I don’t recognize anyone’s car from the firm. I know he’s still friends with some but … 

 

Well, it would be awkward as hell to see any of them at this point. What would I even say? 

 

“Oh hey, long time no see, by the way… thanks for stabbing me in the back like that, it felt great being almost disbarred due to rumors.” 

 

Nope, not going there. I curtail my thoughts away from the past and onto The Now ™ twirling my hair away from my face with my fingers. 

 

I am glamorous and not at all trying. 

 

Clothes that fit me, check. 

 

Sliiiight hint of perfume in my hair that’s only half-pulled back, check. 

 

Silver drop earrings playing at my neck, check. 

 

Blue shirt that screams comfortable yet drapes across my chest in one fell swoop accentuating my collarbones, check. 

 

This is SO not a date. 

 

Psh. 

 

“Peep” the jeans, as the kids would say. 

 

Wait, DO kids say that? Or am I ageing myself even more here? 

 

I look bomb-diggity. 

 

You know, for friends… cause that’s what we all are. 

 

Suis disappointment. 

 

Noncommittal is so not my thing but I don’t tell anyone that. My only non-serious relationship was with a woman, and I broke her heart. Yeah. Not going there, either. 

 

I ring the doorbell with an unsure hand and bite my lip until I feel it flush against my teeth in a micro-explosion of pain. 

 

Joe opens the door for me, I come bearing gifts of two, two-liter bottles of soda. His eyes light up when he sees them. 

 

Here comes the pun.

 

“Hey, Lady. Perfect timing, I was just talking about how I “popped” the question to Kim…” 

 

I only half-fake a groan before it slips out of my mouth as the real deal. 

 

Whoop. 

 

There it is. 

 

A couple. 

 

Yay! 

 

I’m fine. But in the way Ross is fine in that episode of Friends with all the margaritas. 

 

As much as I grit my teeth, I smile and genuinely hug them both in congratulations as Joe hastily clarifies they are in fact dating, not engaged…lest I should actually fall on the floor and pretend to die on the spot at talk of weddings. 

 

Joe is glowing. His little, round, almost-bald head is absolutely shining in delight as he wraps his arms around Kim’s waist and buries his face in her purple hair. 

 

It’s disgustingly adorable. 

 

And it suits him. 

 

“I’m happy for ‘em.” 

 

I jump a foot. 

 

Jamie’s distinctive brogue is literally in my ear and it instantly sends shivers down my spine. 

 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” 

 

“Not quite.” He replies, “But I’m flattered.” 

 

He huffs out a chuckle that tickles my neck and I’m already flushing pink before I even turn to look at him. I keep my eyes firmly fixated on the googly couple as they laugh on their way to the kitchen and are greeted by a chorus of voices I can hear in the other room. 

 

“Were you waiting for me?” I ask into the dark of the foyer. 

 

The little light on the table behind us is on and on the opposite wall, I see Jamie’s massive shadow cover my slender one as he tugs lightly on a loose curl by my cheek. It reminds me of a cat playing with a mouse. And although I'm caught... I want to be. 

 

“Can ye blame me if I am?”

 

My mouth is suddenly dry as sandpaper and I nervously lick my lips. 

 

Each time we’re apart, I think I imagine it. 

 

The electric air. 

 

If I’m a barrel of dynamite, Jamie is the spark that keeps playing around me just waiting for us to touch to explode us both into a thousand pieces. We might mutually destroy each other, or be used for a purpose. Either way, we will certainly light up the night sky. 

 

I can’t make heads or tails what he wants out of me. Except me. 

 

Scary as fuck. 

 

“What if you get to know me and decide I’m not a very nice person at all?” I blurt out. 

 

“Then yer honest and upfront about it, Sassenach. That I can respect. Most people think I’m an arsehole and I bet most people have a few words for ye that ye don’t like…” 

 

“Mhmm,” I muse to myself as he comes dangerously close to gathering me up in his arms repeating a similar position to where I found myself half-clothed on his bed with his hands exploring my body at their own slow pace driving me wild. 

 

“Spiteful bitch is one, my sister likes that. Cold-hearted, Mom uses that a lot.” 

 

His proximity is throwing me off my game and I blurt out more than I intend to, my inner thoughts suddenly becoming external admissions to Jamie’s listening ears. 

 

“Well, beggin’ yer family’s pardon… I dinnae agree with either of those. And I’d like verra much…” 

 

Jamie draws out his voice until he’s almost purring in my ear. 

 

“To make up my own mind about ye, Claire.” 

 

His wide hands flip me around to look at him squarely now. My lashes flutter for a second at the too-strong gaze that no one but me is here to see, thankfully. 

 

It would open a door to questions I don’t want to answer just yet. 

 

The still, small voice in my head that says fuck it  is back again. This time, it whispers to me sweet lies that make it all seem worth it. 

 

Start the damn gossip mill. Who cares? 

 

This get-together is not about me or him or us. 

 

But we could own it. 

 

The night, the attention, the rumors. 

 

We could start and end so much shit if Jamie just threw me over his shoulder and walked with me across the kitchen to Joe’s spare room and we locked the door and let them all talk about it for years to come as the night Claire Beauchamp lost her damn mind. 

 

I’m game. 

 

I already know he gives zero fucks about what any of them think or else he wouldn’t have performed just for me after an Irish peach sour. I must be concentrating hard because it takes a second for me to realize how soft Jamie looks right now. It hits me like a freight train with an unexpected stomach lurch of tenderness at the sight of him. 

 

Light is surrounding his shoulders as he hunches forward slightly, wearing a cream Henley shirt that is unbuttoned right at the top. I can see a small beauty mark on his neck right above his collarbone. Something about that tiny detail makes me want to strangle myself with my own bra and die in a puddle of moonlight that’s streaming in through the top of the door. 

 

I realize that the little parts of himself that make up the greater picture of Jamie Fraser are beautiful enough to send me into micro-heart attacks each time I look at him. Each time I do, I notice more details and each detail I notice is enough for me to obsess over for days. 

 

There’s nothing noncommittal about my commitment to appreciate each wonderful discovery of who he is and hold it close to my heart in secret. I lock them away in memories to comfort me when I’m close to The Edge ™ and need to ground myself. 

 

His eyes are big and deep and in the dark they look like two dark pools I could sink into and drown. 

 

“Mm I like this one, ye’ll have to show me sometime.” 

 

“Which-? Oh.” 

 

I’m gobsmacked. No other words to describe it as Jamie runs his fingers along my collarbone where my bra strap is peeking out in the wide neckline. 

 

I didn’t think this through. Should have picked a different one. It IS the same one from The Trinity where I tried and failed to enact The Plan ™ and he fucking knows it. 

 

“If ye get to undress me wi’ yer eyes, Sassenach...s’only fair.” He hums in my ear, smiling to himself as he backs away and walks off down the hall to join the others. Hands firmly in the pockets of his dark jeans. 

 

If I wasn’t so stunned I’d be angry. Or turned on. Maybe I’m both. I don’t know anymore. 

 

“Watson, the game’s afoot.” I say to myself under my breath. 

 

Are we back to this? 

 

Clearly we are. 

 

I “ken” we fucking enjoy the hell out of this chemistry. He’s one up on me already with a move he’s already done before and I’m still flustered by it. It’s as old as the science experiment with the baking soda and vinegar volcano… but it still ignites something in my gut that bubbles over into a pool of messy emotions. 

 

I have no moves and if I ever did, they’d be long forgotten. Lost somewhere in a void of blue opal. 

 

Fuck. 

 

*** 



“Did you know there are only small traces of lactose in butter?” 

 

I scrape the knife on the side of a small cup and place the yellow substance in the microwave to melt, all the while feeling his gaze on my back. 

 

I am currently firmly at a score of zero for small talk tonight. 

 

Joe and Kim are deep into a heated conversation over the finer points of an Ari Aster movie with a few others I recognize from the crowd at The Trinity. I slip off to the kitchen to pull out Joe’s air popcorn machine I’ve used more than a dozen times now. Jamie eyes me from the corner and saunters over to be next to me as I rifle through the cupboards I’m more familiar with than my own. Nothing escapes his clear gaze and I’m glad I have him at my side at least. 

 

Not that I have anything against Ari Aster movies, Hereditary was fucking genius but I think Jamie and I had the same opinion of Midsommar and the pube hair in the freaking pie. Ugh. I’m gagging just thinking about it. Whatever happened to plain old Alfred Hitchcock as a film category of its own?

 

“I dinnae ken that, Sassenach, but I’m glad ye told me.” 

 

A sparkle lights in Jamie’s eyes as he nods seriously down at the counter as we both wait for Joe’s air popper to start spitting out something other than the sound of a hairdryer and a baby whining combined. 

 

I do an impatient dance with my feet and twitch my head back and forth like I’m jonesing with how hard it is to hold myself back here. From what I really want to say. Or do. 

 

Just being in the same room with him is addicting. Then there’s me, flip-flop girl. I go from being at ease around him to being pumped full of adrenaline like a caffeine buzz that hits me just as my Xanax kicks in. He fills my mind with his presence and I have no choice but to ride it out and hope I don’t say something incredibly stupid on the high of dopamine he gives me. 

 

“I’m glad ye came.” 

 

I shoot Jamie a quizzical look to see if he meant the double entendre. 

 

Jamie blinks and quickly registers his folly and he chuckles to himself in a shy way that seems so… out of character for him. 

 

The exploring that has gone on between us has left a mark and I’m not sure I want that mark to ever be erased. 

 

I remember as a child, my mom took a piece of clear tape and stuck it to my clothes. She told me that sex was like tape. When you first have sex with someone, part of you stays with them. She pulled it off and stuck it to another piece of fabric, and another, and another. Over time it didn’t stick as much as the tape was covered with lint and hair and random fibers from the cloth. 

 

She did it to show me that sex was only meaningful if you kept it locked away and barely used. 

 

Oh, did I mention I was like eight at the time? 

 

Yeah. 

 

Childhood, what a concept! 

 

That tape stuck with me, I kept myself like a nun and had horrible guilt over things like masturbation. Frank was my first time and to be honest, I don’t even know if it meant anything to him. 

 

The “tape” of my virginity stuck to the wrong man and I pulled myself back from the one person all dirty and used and unable to stick to anyone else. 

 

Or so I thought. 

 

One-use wonder. That’s what she drilled into my head and that’s exactly what it felt like with my husband. 

 

So why do I feel attached to this man? This wonderful, beautiful ball of pure energy that is in front of me right now? 

 

I’m stuck to him with feelings I didn’t think I could have. Brought closer to heaven by brushing my lips with the apparent hell of fucking around with someone I wasn’t even in a relationship with. 

 

No one else exists when I’m with him and I never thought I could feel so … 

 

Okay. 

 

Jamie swallows at the implication of the word “coming” and nudges me with his shoulder, “That, too. But ye forget I’m a Christ-fearing man, Sassenach.” 

 

“Uh huh, and I’m the pope himself.” 

 

“I’ll make a believer of ye yet,” he smirks. 

 

Oh darling, you already have. 

 

I’m always surprised when he brings up God, for most people I wouldn’t listen at all. But for Jamie? Well, I’d let him read me a catechism if it meant hearing his voice longer. 

 

“I believe God wants us to have nice things, Sassenach.” 

 

“Like?” 

 

Jamie purses his mouth in a thoughtful way and he taps his fingers on the counter next to my hand as if he wants to take it in his own. 

 

“Thunderstorms.” 

 

“Thunderstorms, huh?” I smile wryly. 

 

“Aye, ye aren’t scairt of them, are ye?” Jamie lifts his pointer finger to lay it over my own and the direct contact of his skin distracts me for a second. 

 

“No!”

 

“Good,” He nods again, “Nothing like ‘em. Especially at the house, I like to start a fire in the hearth when it storms. S’peaceful.” 

 

“Sounds nice,” I admit. 

 

“Maple syrup,” Jamie blurts out, looking at my lips like I have the sweet substance all over them and he wants to lick it off. 

 

“Nothing says “I love you” to the human race like boiled tree blood, eh?”

 

My eyes are glued to our hands, slowly meeting as his fingers carefully cover my own in a way where no one in the other room would even see them meeting. 

 

Jamie laughs it off in his jump-and-tumble way of breaking the silence. 

 

“Exactly. Lord, what fools these mortals be! Boilin’ tree blood, as ye say, Sassenach.” 

 

“Billy Shakes?” I nod, impressed. “Nice. Midsommar, Midsummer… I follow you.” 

 

“Would it surprise ye to ken I’m a learned man, Sassenach?” 

 

I look up at him next to me, the warm lights from above framing his lively face as it gets closer and closer to mine. His nose is close to touching my own now and he looks down at me like a gift he’s about to open. Excited and anxious to see what’s inside. I’m a fucking piñata and he’s the kid wielding the giant stick, only without a blindfold. He knows where to hit to break me open into a million pieces. 

 

Why he’s holding back is beyond me. 

 

“No,” I say plainly. “It doesn’t.” 

 

I keep my voice low as I continue. 

 

“What does surprise me is how in the hell you managed to hide all that talent under the clothes of a workman in the middle of Nowhere, USA.” 

 

“Does it bother ye I’m just a maintenance man, Claire?” Jamie clears his voice and stands up a little straighter, cocking his head at me.  

 

“No,” I lie. “Nothing wrong with hard work but when you’re a learned man… we both ken you’re so much more than a maintenance man, Mister Fraser of Lallybroch Real Estate Investments. Besides, with a voice like that it’s honestly a crime you haven’t kept at it beyond The Trinity. You’re good. Great even.” 

 

I try not to let him see me blush pink but he’s so close he does and the compliment pleases him greatly, causing his eyes to sparkle in amusement. A smile plays at the corner of his mouth next to that damn dimple that he should really trademark. 

 

“I might ask ye the same thing, Mistress Beauchamp, holder of a law degree who doesn’a use it.” 

 

Touché. 

 

“God.” I exhale, “What happened.” 

 

“Life,” Jamie explains simply. 

 

We both stare at the large metal bowl in front of us that was my lifeline back when Joe was nursing me back from the Frank-funeral bender I went on years ago. 

 

I shiver to think of the day-long dry heaving. 

 

*POP* 

 

I jump into Jamie’s body sideways as we’re both startled by the popped kernel that launches out of the little contraption and into the bowl in front of us. 

 

“Good grief,” I giggle as my shoulders brush against his front and I hear him laugh into my hair. 

 

“No matter how many times I work this thing, it still scares the shit out of me.” 

 

Jamie grins down at me, his hand now on the small of my back in front of him. 

 

“Careful, Sassenach.” 

 

His voice is low and warning in my ear, suddenly serious. 

 

“People are talkin’.” 

 

“They always do.” I roll my eyes. 

 

“Talkin’ ‘bout people.” 

 

Wait. 

 

“I hear them whisper,” he rolls his ‘r’s into my ear again and I bite back a sigh as I smell him close to me. Vanilla and sandalwood with hints of leather and spice. 

 

“You won’t believe it!” I smirk as I finish his sentence. 

 

“Aye, love.” Jamie smiles and bends his head down to brush his lips on my shoulder. 

 

We hang there a moment, eyes locked in a silent conversation that’s only meant for us.

 

 I forget everything as I back up into the counter and remember him bemoaning not letting the eggs burn to have more time with me on his…

 

My heart does that awkward thing where it forgets to beat and then beats twice as hard to make up for it. The electric air is at it again, making me feel dizzy with the hum of excitement between us for no specific reason other than how close we are to each other. 

 

Both our heads snap up as Joe finally calls out, “Okay, I don’t know how we settled on this but we’re watching Psycho . Mainly because some people haven’t seen it…” 

 

Kim whacks him on the back and then snuggles in under his chin like a happy kitten. 

 

“I’ve got the popcorn!” I yell out over the hum of the air popper. 

 

Joe comes over to the kitchen and grabs a couple bottles of wine down from the rack above his fridge. 

 

“Claire, I have your fav-” 

 

“Evil!” I hiss at him and karate chop the bottle away from me. 

 

I can still taste the alcohol from Friday.

 

“Sober it is.” Joe widens his eyes and chuckles as he tucks it away again. 

 

Jamie scrunches his nose and cackles as I make the sign of the cross and dance over to get the butter out of the microwave. His hands on mine provide a contact high that’s making me act like an idiot. Much to everyone’s amusement. 

 

*** 

 

For once, I don’t want to drink. And not because of my tendency to overdo it, but because I don’t want the lull of alcohol to take over my mind and make it too slow to keep up with his. Jamie doesn’t touch it, either. 

 

To be fair, neither one of us needs liquid courage to be near the other anymore but no one else notices that. Or maybe they do. 

 

Joe and Kim have taken over the small couch to our left while Kevin and a couple of his roommates part like the red seas to make room for Jamie and me coming in hot with popcorn for all and some soda in red Solo cups. 

 

Convenient. 

 

Not really. 

 

Joe doesn’t seem to care, he's too busy sticking his tongue down Kim’s throat. His freaking glasses are fogged over and the idiot couldn’t care less. What a dweeb. 

 

Hey, it’s been years. I’m happy it floats his goat or whatever. 

 

I turn to look wide-eyed at Jamie so we can make fun of them but I find him staring down at me in a way that makes me grip the bowl of popcorn even tighter to me. He’s got a drunk look on his face and I’m positive I only saw him pour out some cherry coke. 

 

It’s a good night. 

 

Everyone’s happy, the lights are off. Only the black and white Hitchcock movie is playing on the screen and… oh yeah. I might be dying. 

 

I can’t breathe. 

 

The hairs are standing on end on my left arm as it rests against his right one and I can’t move away. I’m sandwiched between Jamie and the arm of the couch. We’re on Joe’s long couch, the man-eating one I like to call it. Once you get down, you can’t get up and I’m pretty sure I’m here for the full run of the film desperately trying to convince my heart and my breathing to synch the fuck up with each other. 

 

“Sassenach?” 

 

“Mhmm?” I clench my eyes tightly shut and nod. 

 

“Ye alright?” 

 

“Yeah, fine. Never better. Thanks for asking.” 

 

“Catch.” 

 

What the-

 

I open up one eye in time to see a piece of popcorn getting launched at my face. I open up my mouth to say something and it bounces off my chin and falls down INTO my shirt. 

 

Jamie has a mouthful of it but still guffaws into his sleeve like he didn’t just do THAT. 

 

I glare at him and peek at the others to make sure no one’s looking as I go spelunking into my chest cavity under my shirt to fish it out. 

 

I can feel his broad shoulders shaking the whole couch as he stifles his laughter. He’s about as subtle as a garlic sandwich right now. 

 

My fingers grip the prickly piece of fluff and launch it back at him, he ducks. To my horror, it hits Kevin and bounces off his sweater but he doesn’t seem to notice. Turns out Kev is really into Marion Crane. 

 

“Aw, I wanted that one.” Jamie feigns disappointment as we both watch the kernel fall unnoticed to the ground by anyone else. 

 

“I don’t know whether to be disgusted or flattered.” I hiss at him under my breath. 

 

“Flattered.” Jamie says resolutely into my ear. 

 

I can feel it turn red as he goes on, not taking his eyes off the screen. In a flash of white from the television, I see his mouth twisting up at the edge into that devil-may-care smile that makes me wanna slap his hideous, beautiful face. 

 

“I’m jealous a lot, Sassenach. Probably my biggest weakness.” 

 

“Oh?” I say, trying to come off as interested in the film but my eyes are stuck to his face as he leans in closer to mine and keeps talking in a low voice that makes my stomach rumble to hear it. 

 

“Aye. Jealous of the damn rain itself that it got to kiss yer skin before I did.” 

 

I open my mouth to say something but no words follow. Just blank. Blank stupidity that I fill with a handful of popcorn before I can embarrass myself with a reply. 

 

“That so?” I mumble. 

 

“Jealous of the grass ye’ve laid in. That it got to touch yer legs before I did, warm and wanting with the summer heat.” 

 

I should know this about him, I should have guessed. You don’t just start a band and be the lead unless you’ve got the heart of a songwriter, which is pretty much the same thing as a poet. 

 

Damn Billy Shakes should have clued me in. 

 

But still. 

 

Hearing it low and rumbling in my ear with that damn Scottish burr of rolling the r’s that made my soul hurt with wanting more. 

 

“Jealous of the sun,” He continues, planting a shy kiss on my ear. “That it got to see yer face before I did. Open and turning towards it. Letting the light hit yer lovely brown hair until the red sparkles on it like fire.” 

 

“I do not have red in-” I hesitate to answer now, swallowing the damn mouthful of popcorn until the sharp edges scraped my throat with how dry it suddenly was. 

 

“Aye, ye do.” 

 

Jamie reaches up a finger and lays it over a curl that is stuck to my neck, his touch is so light it sends goosebumps down my arms. 

 

“Red wi’ bits of gold sprinkled in. My God, yer beautiful, Claire.” 

 

I keep quiet but I breathe out slowly and let my arm sink into his, now it’s his turn to stiffen up. Swallowing hard, I reach for my red cup and gulp down the acidic carbonation to distract myself from how my ears are flushing brilliantly red right now. 

 

“Thank you.” I say softly, turning my head towards him. 

 

Jamie keeps his eyes on the screen but smiles again slowly. 

 

Well what do you know? 

 

Miss Manners just accepted a compliment. Well, more like a love letter written aloud. Isn’t that what compliments are? Live love letters. 

 

I toss what just happened around in my head back and forth like Jamie played with my fuzzy socks yesterday, tossing it from one hand to the other. 

 

I put the bowl of popcorn down on the table in front of us and Kevin picks it up and starts hoarding it. I don’t care though. 

 

The action hides us even further from the others and Jamie seizes the moment to take my left hand in his right one and weave his fingers around mine. His left hand crosses his lap and caresses the back of my hand and the inside of my wrist. Finding my pulse, he rests his fingers on it as if to convince himself that I’m still living. 

 

“D’ye mind, Sassenach?” He whispers so low I can barely hear him, his thumb over my damn heartbeat under my skin. 

 

“No,” I whisper, and squeeze his hand firmly. 

 

The air is thick and warm like a down-filled blanket and I want to pull the sensation over my head and exist in this bubble we’ve created for ourselves. Just me and him. 

 

A secret only we share in the space between us. 

 

The movie forgotten, the audio is a backtrack for the sound of him. The breath leaving his lungs, the small laugh from his lips here and there as he watches the screen. I’m staring.

 

Waiting. 

 

He senses my gaze, flicking his eyes to me he keeps them there. A tiny smile frozen on his lips suddenly dissipates into the half-lidded stare that does more for me than any kiss on my neck could ever do. His white teeth catch on his lower lip as his eyes drop to survey mine. 

 

His fingers move in mine and he strokes my hand with his thumb, continuing to stare at me in this way. All time is irrelevant now. I swear I can hear my heartbeat in my ears as I listen for his next breath. I feel the rise and fall of it in his shoulder. 

 

All humor rushes from his face and is replaced by hunger. The need for something more that I feel in my bloodstream as I look at him, too. 

 

My stomach flips into nervous anticipation at what I’m about to say next. 

 

“Have you seen this before?” I whisper, my voice sounding hoarse and thick. 

 

Jamie bows his head in a slow nod, his eyes still on my mouth. 

 

“Meet me out front in five.” I turn my head to whisper into his ear with more courage than I feel. 

 

His strong hand grips mine in answer and I feel a rush of electricity hit me. 

 

Taking my phone out of my pocket, I look annoyed and roll my eyes in a huff. Getting up, I circle around the couch and nod to Joe mouthing the name “Polly” to him. 

 

He is firmly planted with Kim on his chest but he shares an exasperated look with me. 

 

Quietly and quickly, I slip on my navy coat and carefully close the front door behind me as I walk out into the night. 

 

The moon is almost full and the light of it floods Joe’s front yard in long shafts of blue. The air is cold and the wind nips at my nose and threatens to make it run if I stay out for too long. I slip my phone into my coat pocket and pull up the collar against my throat. My fingers brush the skin on my neck and I can feel my heart beating so hard I’m surprised I haven't passed out from the nerves of what I've just started. 

 

I eye the large maple tree in the side yard as I wait and smirk to myself. 

 

Boiled tree blood.  

 

The start of a saccharin creation that will always remind me of him and Saturday morning. 

 

From truth or dare to kissing on his flour covered counter to the damn bag of peas on my head. To fuzzy socks and head injuries and Mario Kart. To thrown controllers clattering on children’s desks, to losing all sense of myself on top of him and under him, his hips rocking into mine sharply in a give and take motion that made me feel alive again. 

 

Suddenly,  I hear the door click behind me quietly and before I quite realize what I’m doing, his hand is in mine and it’s pulling me off the stoop and trailing me behind him at an alarming rate. 

 

I’m honestly surprised my feet haven’t left the ground entirely with how fast he’s whisking me to the side of the yard, the only sound is the thin, cold air of the night and our thudding feet on the lawn. He pulls me with intention and determination to get me out of sight of anyone but him. 

 

Jamie grabs my shoulders and turns me around to face him suddenly as we reach the cover of the large maple. Before I know it, my back is against the wide base with his hands tangled up in my hair in a frenzy of movement. His forehead presses to my own as he closes his eyes and breathes out in a great rush of self control as he holds his lips centimeters above my own. I raise my hand to cup his cheek and stare into the black pools of his eyes as hungry and wide as my own. 

 

Wordlessly, he darts his head down next to mine and his cheek is on my face as he turns my head away with his chin and buries his mouth into the crook of my neck like a man starved. The electricity from his actions spread down my spine and make their home in the center of my belly, spreading lower to a fire that seems to take over my very core. 

 

“Jamie.” I moan into his hair as I bite my lip to prevent an even more ungodly noise from escaping my mouth as his beard tickles my neck and I feel the mild tug of his teeth on the skin below my ear. 

 

It’s frantic and brazen and before I can say or think anything else, his mouth is on mine and I’m slowly slipping my tongue into his mouth before I’m caught in the small whimper that escapes his own lips. My mouth buzzes with the vibration and I kiss back even harder. His tongue joins mine in a twisted sanctuary of contentment. I’ve never kissed anyone like this before. There is nothing but pleasure pulsating from every twinge of muscle as we meet in ecstasy under the cover of the maple. 

 

My hands are useless but I cling to his black leather jacket nonetheless, pulling at the zipper on his collar keeping him with me in our mad scramble to be closer. Ever closer. 

 

And still not close enough. 

 

“Christ, I cannae get enough of ye, Claire.” Jamie pulls back slowly and in the moonlight, looks more angelic than ever. I wonder to myself if he’s ever felt the same before. 

 

I thought I knew what it was to be on fire for someone, but now that I’m in the fucking furnace I don’t think I’ve ever burned. Or known what it was to be wanted with the same ferocity that it threatens to take us both out with the flames. 

 

He bends down and lifts me up suddenly, my legs wrapping around his waist as he holds me to the tree. The bark is rough and cold beneath the thin layer my coat provides. 

 

I move my kiss to his neck and bite down, sucking in the stubble I find there as well as the beauty mark I noticed before. 

 

I want to leave a mark. 

 

Marked as he’s marked me.

 

Invisible as the force that keeps the planets in orbit, my solar system is rocked by the presence of him. He is my sun in the darkness and now that I’ve seen his light, I don’t care for any other ever again. 

 

As long as he’s with me, we’ll forever dance suspended in the space and silence that is two souls knowing each other. 

 

If I let him. 

 

And for once, I want to. 

 

I want him to know me, whatever that means and however scary that is. 

 

I don’t want to hide anymore. 

 

Sad Girl ™ is long gone and replaced by a crazy, desperate love-struck woman that is simply Claire Beauchamp. Fully myself in all of my irregularities and eccentricities. 

 

Ready and capable of living and loving again. 

 

Too much? 

 

Too soon? 

 

Fuck it.  

 

Eventually the desperation melts into a quiet knowing. My lips connect to his in a tender, drawn-out kiss that envelops me like a coverlet of the smoothest silk and I sigh into the space of his arms around my body, drawing me close in a gentle embrace. 

 

His tenderness isn’t weakness, but a quiet admission of humble regard for a feeling that is quickly sweeping us into an intimacy from which we’ll never recover. 

 

He takes my hand silently leading me back inside where we take a moment to breathe and stare at each other in the darkness, nursing our swollen lips and red faces before we see the others. 

 

He’s wrecked my plans and I will follow him to the end, wherever it leads. 

 

Like it or not, there’s two of us now. 

 

Stuck together. 

 

Like tape. 

 

We are clean in our uncleanliness and the muck and mire of two broken souls meeting and becoming one. 

 

Alone. Together.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

I'm trying to tell you something 'bout my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all

 

- Closer To Fine, Indigo Girls 

 

***




We both don’t say a word, but keep to ourselves. But in the way people are a great deal quieter when they have a great deal to hide, we hold the silence in between us like a current. Pulsing and changing with the tide of those around us. 

 

I let Jamie go first and then, heart racing, take my seat next to him on the man-eating couch, sinking into the cushions with a gentle sigh as I realize that more than half the movie is over at this point. 

 

I don’t know how long we were gone, but it’s hard to focus on anything but the aching pulse I have in my heart and in my legs right now. The vein on my neck thrills in remembrance of each passionate kiss and I’m pretty sure I have traces of beard burn on my chin. Like rug burn but on your face. Something I haven’t felt in years but I’m happy for the slightly painful sensation that keeps me here. That reminds me it’s real. 

 

It happened. 

 

We happened. 

 

For however long we were away, our world existed and hung, suspended in space like a rocket. Bright and brilliant. And soaring high over all the rest to heights others could only dream of. 

 

This. 

 

This is the stuff dreams are made of. 

 

And stars. 

 

Not the gaseous masses that we see remnants of long after they die, but the explosion and brilliance of ten thousand combustions as heavenly bodies collide to create something new. 

 

We created a newness between us in our intimacy and found solace in each other. My broken soul held his and nothing else matters now. 

 

I sit in bliss, my heart humming to a song only we know and his is singing along, stronger and better than mine ever could. 

 

I let him hold my hand for the rest of the movie although neither of us are watching it. We don’t need eyes to see what’s between us, even in the pitch black I’d know his heart beating for mine anywhere. And for once I’m accepting of it, in all it’s terrifying glory. 

 

As quietly as a snow-fall, joy has settled into my heart over the screaming bloody murder of Marion Crane. In the chaos, I’ve never been more at peace. 

 

Isn’t that psychotic? 

 

Tres noir. 

 

*** 

 

I want to pour my heart out to him, like the red liquid everyone else is drinking. The tannins and antioxidants in the dark wine have nothing on the red still on my face. But there’s no time to explain, or expect anything more as the movie ends and to my horror and fascination, Joe gathers us around his dining room to play Never Have I ever. 

 

Instead of holding up fingers like in high school, this is actually a card game. 

 

A lot like Cards Against Humanity but ten times as personal. 

 

“You sure, bro?” I cock an eyebrow at him and look from him to Kim and back again. 

 

“I’m game if you are,” Kim smiles sweetly and I bulge my eyes out at Joe in a “stop-now-while-you’re-ahead” kinda look that he can’t mistake for anything else. 

 

I remember playing this with him in grad school and well, if I’m more than honest, it nearly destroyed a few early relationships that night between our acquaintances. 

 

“Oh come on, Lady Jane. It’s been years. I don’t think much would shock us now.” 

 

I open my mouth to say something and then shut it again. 

 

Oh, buddy. 

 

You’d be surprised. 

 

Basically, there are LOTS of raunchy, scary cards that you have to answer and IF you’ve done whatever is on the card, you get to keep it. Player with the most cards wins. Sometimes there are challenge cards, like you can demand a player to answer giving the group a backstory on what took place when they ‘earned’ the card. Or you can die by rapid fire, if the group all hands you a card in their hand, you have to answer all of them. 

 

It’s hilarious. 

 

With the right people. 

 

But I suppose that’s the gamble he’s willing to take. 

 

My eyes dart to Jamie’s nonplussed face and back again to the others. I feel like a few cards in, I may be begging for a drink after all. 

 

Fifteen minutes later, Joe is a sweaty mess sitting next to Kim trying to avoid her eyes as he answers one particular card. 

 

“Never have I ever…fucked anyone in this room.” 

 

I jump in, “You can plead the fifth….” 

 

“Bullshite! That’s against the rules, lawyers or no, yer gonna answer straight.” Jamie chortles and regains composure enough to point directly at Joe with his handful of cards and look him square in the eyes. “It’s all right if ye wanna tell ‘em all about that one time between us in back o’the pub. I’m more than okay with that, baby.” 

 

Jamie widens his eyes and plays with a straw he got from somewhere in the kitchen between his teeth. Like he’s conducting a fucking symphony with his mouth. 

 

“I was very gentle wi’ him and he even cried after, isn’t that right, lad?” 

 

I snort into my Solo cup and Jamie’s mouth plays into a wild grin, thoroughly enjoying the insinuation that he and Joe are lovers. 

 

“Shite. Secret’s out, Kim. Joe is the one that got away from me.” 

 

Joe blushes even deeper and nods gratefully at the distraction Jamie is creating. 

 

Kim surprises us all by taking the card out of his hand and placing it on the table in front of him as one he’s clearly earned causing everyone to cheer heartily. I make a face like I’m going to barf but it’s still adorable. I know Joe is a little horn dog and didn’t need the card to guess that one. 

 

“Well,” Joe smiles. “Now that everyone knows THAT, shall we? Lady Jane, you’re next.” 

 

Shit. I almost forgot it was my turn next because right now I’m fucking staring at the cards in front of Jamie. I really don’t want to hear the story behind the threesome but I am, however, very interested in the fact he’s actually given a lap dance. 

 

Woof. 

 

I’m gaping slightly like a schoolgirl hearing the word “fuck” for the first time. 

 

Clearing my throat, I read from the card in front of me before I have a chance to register what it says. 

 

“Never have I ever… wet my pants in public… JOE!” 

 

Joe’s brown eyes twinkle as he sucks in his lips and nods, apparently eager to tell the whole group I have the bladder control of a five year old. 

 

I set the card down in front of me and glare at him. 

 

“Story time,” Joe went on much to my horror. “We were at an outdoor concert basically chugging water all day and Claire really had to go and the line was super long so we went to get a soft pretzel instead, don’t ask me why…” 

 

“Pretzels are the shit.” Kim toasts to me with her empty Solo cup. 

 

I want to slip under the table with how hard Jamie is chuckling to himself and trying not to to spare me. 

 

“When I told Claire I’d walked so much that day my butt cheeks were chafing, only I called them “chuttbeaks” on purpose and she lost it and well… take your card, Lady.” 

 

“Oh, would ya look at that.” I held up my left hand as if I was holding a compact mirror. Turning to Joe, I lifted up my middle finger and pretended to check my reflection in my raised middle finger in his face. “You are a little bitch.” 

 

Thank you, next. 

 

It wasn’t long before we all had various cards in front of us. Kim was getting all the tame ones though, like “Never have I ever… worn pajamas in public.” 

 

Psh lame. 

 

“Never have I ever….” Jamie looks around the room, eyes locking on mine. “I’m gonna need a drumroll for this.” 

 

Ever the showman, I roll my eyes and we all patter our hands on the table as requested. You just don’t say no to the man. I feel like everyone else has the same problem I do, but maybe not on that … personal of a level. 

 

“Played strip poker.” 

 

Oh god. 

 

There’s no doubt in mine he actually has but my main question is this: were there any casualties? Cause hot damn. I am not a visual person but what I’ve seen of him almost killed me. 

 

“Never lost tho… I’m actually really good at the game. Da taught me.” 

 

Of course you fucking won, you Scottish bastard. 

 

He starts humming “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga and soon Kim is singing along. Really well. 

 

Ugh. Musicians. 

 

My next turn was interesting, “Never have I ever… had sex in a public place.” 

 

I lock eyes with Joe and refuse to look at anyone else and I lay the card in front of me slowly before psyching everyone out and putting it back in the deck. Joe read my mind. 

 

“Blow jobs in a cemetery count, honey.” 

 

I swear to God, Joe has a death wish and a very big mouth. 

 

“A cemetery?” Kevin comes to life, “Duuude, that’s messed up.” 

 

“Really?” I look at him. 

 

“Only if it’s wi’ a corpse, Sassenach.” 

 

My eyes flash open at the name he calls me in front of everyone but I slip the card down in front of me to add to my growing collection. 

 

“NOT with a corpse.” 

 

Jamie nods agreeably but looks half-defeated in jealousy as well. 

 

I’m pleased as punch. 

 

Well, his heart was dead… Frank, but still… ugh I was an idiot in love. Or like. Or lust. I never did find out before he slipped a ring on my finger and shoved me down the aisle with my mother all but holding a sign that said, “Take her. For better or for worse, she’s your problem now.” 

 

The word doesn’t get past Joe, “Sassenach?” 

 

Shit. 

 

Jamie realizes his mistake, “Oh, um…. Claire kens what it means, outlander is all… we’ve talked about it….” 

 

Have we? 

 

“You’ve talked? When? I didn’t think-” 

 

Kim puts a hand on Joe’s arm as he looks at me and then back at Jamie like he’s watching a ping-pong-match with a fucking bomb bouncing back and forth between us instead of a plastic ball. 

 

“Carry on.” He lifts his hands in defense but looks at me as if to say, we’ll-talk-later. 

 

Hah. 

 

Cashmeoutside, Joseph Abernathy.

 

On Jamie’s next turn, he looks at me in a strange way and reads, “Never have I ever… said I’d call someone and then never did.” 

 

Come on… It can’t say that…

 

Oh , it does. 

 

As proof, Jamie lifts it up and shows it around, especially holding it out to me. 

 

“I always keep my word.” 

 

He swallows and I’m suddenly hit with a wall of dread and guilt although I needn’t be. But … I don’t know. 

 

That’s how I am. 

 

Sometimes my anxiety rears its ugly head and turns into the Big Bad Wolf like in the story with the three little pigs, blowing up my house of straw that I desperately constructed on which most of my reality is based post-Frank. 

 

When people keep secrets, secrets that could kill you… and don’t let you know. 

 

When people talk, hold secret meetings and try to get you disbarred. 

 

When your family calls you a snake and you overhear your mom tell your dad to take you outside the city limits and leave you there as a child…. 

 

Well, when all that happens...

 

There’s a lump in my throat as my chest constricts and I realize Jamie isn’t out to get me. In my head he is. 

 

Sometimes people say things that hurt me, that I think are just for me, because I remember a time when they WERE cut and meant just for me. It makes me want to hurt. Just to feel something other than the cutting pain of the words. 

 

Old Claire would. 

 

Broken Claire would. 

 

But this Claire? 

 

Well, I haven’t met her yet so I have no fucking clue how she’ll take this…. 

 

“Sometimes people get wine drunk on the couch and fall asleep to Poirot. I’m just saying, dude.” I try to shrug in a nonchalant way but I end up twitching like a stroke victim. Damn, that actually meant a lot to him that I didn’t. 

 

“Claire doesn’t call people.” Joe pipes up and then his face changes into suspicion. “Wait, she has your number?” 

 

“Uh yeah.... He’s my maintenance man.” I croak out. 

 

Jamie is staring me down from across the table, his face is unreadable as I wish mine was. 

 

God. Kill me now. 

 

Lying does not become me. Especially not to Joe. 

 

“Aye…” Jamie says slowly, “Pipes burst, eh?” 

 

“Something like that.” I say under my breath. 

 

“Something like that.” Jamie says resolutely. 

 

Kim’s next card is a chance at another dig and I fucking leap on that shit. 

 

“Never have I ever… been a diva in the workplace.” 

 

Joe pleads the fifth but both Jamie and Kevin look at each other and chuckle. 

 

“Hey, Dasani water is NOT the same as Fiji, I had a right to speak up. Damn green room was straight out.” 

 

I chuckle, “Hey at least your “asks” weren’t crazy. Not like you were demanding all-red starbursts or like… all-green M&Ms.” 

 

I keep my gaze firmly on Kim, smiling as Jamie coughs on his coke. 

 

Biting his lower lip, he crosses his hands over his stomach and leans back in his chair, staring at me. I look at him full in the face now and he sniffs as if to clear his nose and keeps his eyes locked onto mine like a gun, aimed and ready to fire. It’s just a matter of who will flinch first. 

 

I deadpan Jamie, refusing to give him any ground the same way he’s denying me feedback on my remark. We both know the digs are beneath us, but we take full advantage of having the other at the mercy of public decency, guns drawn against the other under the table and out of view of prying eyes. 

 

Knowledge is a powerful tool and we’re both bringing up things that could potentially backfire. 

 

“Anyone want another drink?” 

 

Jamie abruptly stands up and his chair scoots back faster than he intends it to. Then again, he’s a big man in a small space and everything and everyone tends to make way for him and not the other way around. 

 

I feel like God himself announced the birth of James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. I know it’s not true and he has lived anything but a charmed life, but I swear angels heralded his birth. If two-thousand years ago, God came to a manger in Bethlehem, He could surely make time to visit a van down by the river as well. 

 

Here lies the chosen man, the one everyone will be besotted with upon meeting him. 

 

“I’ll take one.” 

 

He reaches for my cup and our hands touch in a quick jolt of electricity. 

 

If it’s all in my head, he better tell me right now. I’m not fucking around here.

 

I need to know he won’t run before he learns my favorite color. I need to know that he won’t hurt me before he knows my favorite movie or if I ever put marshmallows in my hot cocoa. 

 

My phone vibrates in my jean pocket, I’m not at all listening to Kevin’s turn as my screen lights up in my lap a message from Jehoshaphat. 

 

Well, well, well. Loose lips sink ships and fast fingers…

 

Yeah not going there. 

 

But I’ve a feeling he wants to. 

 

Stalking? Should I be flattered? 

 

A lesser man would be. I’d think you’re used to it by now. 

 

 

...

 

What’s that supposed to mean? 

 

I think for a moment, my anxiety flares up but I keep my breathing calm and smile at the others as I text under the table. 

 

A man like you? Please. Everyone must want you. 

 

Everyone must wonder what it would be like to love you. Shit. Someone even might. My mind races back to that day on the run, Jamie’s face and tone of voice hits me full force with the memory of his words, “We fuck sometimes.” Him and Leah. 

 

The game was fun. All figuratively in people’s pasts. Purely subjective. Until now. This. This is real. And it bugs the living crap out of me. 

 

Sassenach… 

 

I can feel the guilty pangs of my conscience even before my fingers keep moving to text him. All I can see are his eyes under that damn fedora as he stares me down, kissing Leah deeply and without hesitation. Like opening a tube of toothpaste and squeezing hard, there’s no way I’m getting this back in there. 



“We fuck sometimes?” 

 

Claire

 

I don’t know how to take that. 

 

Stop. Please.  

 

I bite my lower lip into my mouth and bite down, slipping my phone away again. I feel like I swallowed a beach ball because there’s a lump in my throat the size of Kansas.  

 

Shit. 

 

My noncommittal ass is showing itself out for what it truly is. A phony. A shallow little girl whose biggest fear is rejection. 

 

Fuck. The toothpaste is out and it’s all over me and nothing can fix this. I try though, slipping my phone out again, I quickly text and hit send. 

 

Nvm. Noncommittal. Got it. I’m sorry I brought it up. 

 

I am sorry. 

 

Sorry my insecurities are showing. 

 

Sorry my mind went there. 

 

Sorry… I’m just sorry. 

 

I feel a wave of nausea hit me as I look up and in the doorway to Joe’s dining room, it isn’t Jamie staring at me. It’s Frank. Arms crossed around his thin chest, his dark handsome features cutting a know-it-all smile as he leans against the doorframe and blinks at me. Waiting. Knowing. Watching it all go to shit. 

 

“I’ve got to go.” 

 

I hastily stand up from the table and back away, nodding to Joe and Kim. 

 

“Conga rats and all that jazz. I just-” 

 

“Lady Jane, you okay?” Joe frowns at me and makes a move to get up after me. 

 

I shake my head and he sits back down. 

 

“No I’m good I just… need to be alone for a bit…” 

 

Joe looks hurt but he also doesn’t get up again. He knows better than to chase after me when I run.

 

Coward. 

 

The word follows me out as I almost run into Jamie stepping in quickly from the kitchen with an alarmed look on his face like I just slapped him. 

 

“Sassenach-”  

 

I don’t answer, but I run. Hastily slipping on my coat again, I rush out into the cold with my eyes streaming. I see both Jamie and Joe in the light of the open door looking after me as I shake and put my car into reverse. Breathing in a shuddering breath, I drive off leaving the best things in my life behind. 

 

Accept love. Accept joy. 

 

Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sail my ship of safety till I sank it. I’m crawling on his shores, hoping that somehow the damned find some blessed peace. 

 

But I’ve fucked it up again. 

 

I know I have. 

 

Whatever happened to feeling bulletproof in his arms to feeling like we’d both drawn pistols at each other. Ask a loaded question, get a loaded answer. 



***




11:03 pm 

 

I haven’t woken up because I haven’t been to sleep. 

 

Empty. 

 

As I’m tossing and turning waiting for my medications to kick in to overcome the PTSD symptoms that kick up at night for some reason, I reach out to where he never slept. 

 

Gasping, I come fully awake. 

 

Hot tears in my eyes, my throat burning with the loss and ache in my chest of something I’ve never felt. 

 

Wanted. 

 

I remember the times towards the end when I felt him slipping away. 

 

We had a bigger house then, I remember feeling him drift farther and farther from me. 

 

I would go to him. Once, twice. And then no more. 

 

Always turned away. 

 

I didn’t know how to be close to him without sex. So sex was what I offered. A white flag of parlay between us, an offering of humility he slapped away. 

 

I brought him my best only to be tolerated. 

 

There was no intimacy between us. I would go to the separate bedroom he slept in and climb into the bed next to him. One time, I even undressed in the dark and slipped in next to him, laying on top of his chest and running my fingers down his lithe body, hoping, waiting, praying he would love me. 

 

“What’s wrong?” He said. 

 

“Nothing.” 

 

“What do you need?” 

 

“Just you.” 

 

“What do you want to talk about?” 



“I don’t want to talk, Frank. I just… need to feel close to someone. I’m sad tonight.” 



“Over what?” 



Over you. 

 

“Nothing. I just want to be close to my husband.” 

 

“I’m tired.” 

 

“Okay…” 

 

I choked back my tears and slipped out of bed, hastily putting on my nightshirt and flicking my hair out of the neck opening and off my bare back. 

 

“Sorry to bother you.” 

 

I cried from the rejection. I didn’t know what I wanted but I knew I wanted to feel whole. To feel something other than the pain in my soul. To know he wanted me, too. 

 

He was older and wiser and I… was just a kid. An excited kid with a picture I’d drawn in kindergarten coming home to watch him put it on the fridge and instead he crumpled it up and threw it in the garbage can. 



***

 

Startled out of my nightmarish reverie, I snap awake at the sound of my phone buzzing hard against my nightstand. A garish hum into reality as I slip in and out from The Edge ™ . From faces blurring and time, hazy and bleak with the misremembered pain of youth. 

 

Jamie is calling. 

 

I watch in open-mouth horror and wonder as my phone rings several times and then goes black. Then lights up with the missed call. 

 

I all but grab onto the bed to stop myself from shaking off it as I hear a knock at the door, sharp and determined. Half-expecting Joe, I open the door to blue opal eyes staring back at me, tainted with the pain that’s all over his face and worry that’s exuding from his quick breathing. 

 

“Sassen- Claire…” 

 

Jamie’s voice sounds strained and weird in the dark, standing in the light of only my yellow Edison bulb porchlight, he’s washed in yellow ochre again and it reminds me of the long road home in the Uber. When we were thrown together into the mess we’re in right now. 

 

Hurt people, hurt people as the saying goes. I know that’s why Joe doesn’t want us together.

 

“Have I hurt ye?” He blurts out, raking his hands through his hair leaving rows of auburn waves in his wake. 

 

It’s spring now but his breath leaves his body in a cloud and lingers in front of him like the words he’s just said. 

 

My exterior façade shatters, gasping out for air, it’s hard to answer as I clutch the door handle with all my might to stay standing. I never know what to expect with him but it certainly wasn’t this beautiful specter in front of me close to midnight. 

 

“No, I …” I stammer, my face turning red and my ears burning in embarrassment. “I thought I hurt you.” 

 

“Hurt me?” He looks staggered, suddenly his eyes register I’m in nothing more than an old Beatles tee shirt and a cream blanket from my bed, shivering. “Christ… no…. no, it’s no’ that at all.” 

 

The scowl drops off his face quickly replaced by wide eyes and hands that don’t quite know where to rest in front of me. 

 

“Can I come in? Let me take care of ye, Claire.” 

 

There’s something so honest in his face that I have no choice but to nod wordlessly. In the foyer, Jamie claps his rough hands together for warmth and kicks off his dark Nikes. 

 

“Takes a lot more than that to hurt me, Sassenach. I can bear pain. But yours? S’too much to bear.” 

 

I look at him now, I think this is the most real I’ve ever seen him. It’s like all life, until now, was seen through glasses and I just took them off. Gold. Life is gold and open and colorful with him. 

 

“I ken there’s much about ye I dinnae ken yet, Claire.” Jamie’s voice is thick in the quiet, I still my breathing. “But..” 

 

I feel like what he’s about to say is going to hurt me, I brace myself for the impact. The fall. It’s all I know. 

 

“But I cannae wait to find out the rest if ye’ll let me.” 

 

The air leaves my lungs in an audible shudder as Jamie opens his arms and I fall into them wordlessly catching my breath as I feel his cold cheek on mine and his hands in my hair as he breathes me in. 

 

I need to brush up on my Gaelic so I know what he’s saying softly into my hair thinking I won’t hear it. But the voice is tender and sweet and I hug him back fiercely hoping my embrace tells him what my words cannot. 

 

Stay. 

 

Please don’t leave me.

 

“Were ye tryin’ to sleep?” Jamie says softly into my hair. 

 

I nod. 

 

“Let’s get ye to bed then.” 

 

I throw him a look doubtfully but he holds up his hand like he’s about to make an oath in church. 

 

“Scout’s honor. Nay funny business tonight, Sassenach. I’ll be a monk.” 

 

Still somewhat doubtful, I turned and went back to my room. The cream nudes wash me with peace and the only light is from my white fairy lights over my windows. 

 

I sit down on my bed and, to my horror, see Jamie eyeing Sue the Panda with a hidden smile. 

 

Yipes. 

 

I quickly turn and shove her under a pillow. 

 

I’ll apologize later. 

 

Yes, she has feelings. 

 

Jamie looks at me and with the utmost seriousness, lifts the pillow and places Sue on my lap. 

 

“Can I?” He gestures to the bed. 

 

I keep my eyes on the black and white of Sue’s head and nod slowly. 

 

I’m not freaking out yet, so that’s a good sign. 

 

Jamie knows he’s on uncertain ground here and crawls onto my bed next to me and waits. 

 

He lifts out an arm of his navy hoodie and motions for me to lay on it at his side. 

 

I swallow hard as I do so, feeling him grab the blanket lightly and tuck it in all around me and over my legs and feet as they lie next to his sweatpants. 

 

“I’d say I’m sorry but ye ken that never goes well with this accent.” 

 

His voice is gentle in my ear, I let him pull me into his chest and hold me against him. 

 

I lift my head to question what he just said, I can feel him hiding a laugh as he goes on to explain. 

 

“Saw-ree.” Jamie overemphasizes the accent like the goofball he is, “Always sounds like, aye I’m saw-ree but ye ken ye fuckin’ started it, eh? ” 

 

“I like your accent.” I say softly. 

 

“No’ half as much as I like yers, Sassenach.” He nuzzles my ear and I relax into his arms again. 

 

“I don’t have one!” I giggle in spite of myself. 

 

“Aye ye do,” Jamie growls in my ear, playfully chucking my chin so I look up at him. “It’s fekkin adorable, is what it is, too. Christ, Mam will be all over you.” 

 

I must’ve misheard him. He’s talking about telling his mother about me. My mind flashes to the stately woman in the photo album and I lick my lips nervously. 

 

“Your mom?” 

 

“Aye, I’m going to visit her and Aunt Jo for a while in a week or two.” 

 

My heart sank. 

 

“But I promise to call ye everyday, ye ken? I’d love it if ye answered.” 

 

I nod, taking his hand in mine and bringing it to my lips as we interlace our fingers. My warm ones into his cold ones. 

 

“Here. You’re freezing.” 

 

I reach down and pull the blanket over us both. 

 

“Ye ken I’m no’ after just a casual fuck, Claire. Right?” Jamie says slowly into the silence. 

 

I nod, “I do. Or else you’d have had me… how many times now?” 

 

Jamie laughs low into my hair, “Nah. It’s you who’d have had me at least five times now.” 

 

“Five?” 

 

“If I’m counting all the times ye’ve undressed me wi’ your eyes, maybe more.” 

 

I wrap his arms around me and close my eyes, smiling softly. 

 

I’m surprised at how vulnerable I am right now with him. He doesn’t feel at all out of place next to me in my bed. In fact, I’m happy for the company. The closeness. The secrets we keep. I don’t even care that he probably thinks I walk around my house a perpetual Pooh Bear in only shirts. I’ve got to start wearing pants more although I swear Jamie can will them off of me just by looking at them. 

 

“Sex…” Jamie starts to speak in a whisper, as if anyone else but us could hear. “Sex is easy. But this?” 

 

I feel his lips on my cheek, light as a butterfly kiss. 

 

“This is everything.” 

 

I’m quiet for a long minute or two before I speak again. I’m in no rush to talk and neither is he. My legs open up for his to slide in between them and he holds me for a while against his chest, his hands running up and down my arms in slow strokes of peacefulness as we lay there, drunk in the feeling. 

 

“What is this?” My voice sounds anxious, even to my own ears. But I have to ask. 

 

Jamie takes a minute to think before he answers, he holds me tighter and brushes his lips against my ear. 

 

“I dinnae ken, but I want ye to promise me something Sassenach.”

 

I turn to look at him and am met by pools of very serious dark blue. 

 

“Promise me, no matter what happens ye’ll remember? Somewhere inside of us, there will always be the same people we are tonight. Promise me.” 

 

“I promise,” I whisper. 

 

“Good. Dinnae forget or I’ll find ye one day and make ye sorry ye ever did.” He smiles. 

 

“When you’re old and infirm and I have to come yell at you for being the man with the dirty stories in the nursing home.” I grin. 

 

“Aye, but I have a feelin’ ye might have some of yer own as well, Little-Miss-Graveyard.” Jamie laughs and places a light kiss on my lips, I reach behind me and pull him in for another. And another.

 

Choosing to ignore the cheeky bastard, I give into the urge to taste his lips and lose myself in the feeling. 

 

“You’re a piece of work, Jamie.” 

 

“I think ye meant a masterpiece.” Jamie hums thoughtfully, his nose in my hair. 

 

I place a kiss on his rough stubble and nip at it with my teeth. 

 

Jamie gathers me close again, this time the movement makes my stomach flip with how close we are. 

 

“Ye’ve got to learn to take life less seriously, Claire. S’only life after all. None of us are leavin’ it alive anyway.” 

 

I settle my head to rest on his neck and breathe him in deeply, feeling the most peace I’ve felt in years. He rests his cheek on mine and we fall asleep entangled in each other’s arms. No thought to tomorrow, or what we would find upon waking.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

She'll tease you
She'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious
And she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy
She's got Bette Davis eyes. 

 

- Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes 

***

 

There is a special kind of intimacy that can only be found in between midnight and three in the morning. I’ve always been partial to the night, because night is always the one place I can run to that isn’t touched by the living. 

 

In silence, in the quiet, I can hear myself breathe and I always feel more alive than ever in the hours when the specters rule the earth. Or when I slip away into dreams, or better, dreamless sleep where the ghosts of my past can’t haunt me. 

 

Shadows are absorbed into darkness and the daylight is nowhere to be seen. 

 

If most of us were honest, nighttime is the time when we love ourselves the best and hate ourselves the least. In the bleary space between dusk to dawn, we become who we truly are. Our bodies shut down in that mandatory way they have of providing even the basics of self-care, of survival. 

 

I’ve never shared my nights with anyone. 

 

Until now. 

 

I am keenly aware of his presence and it comforts me greater than anyone’s absence in my life ever has. 

 

Sleep is intimate. 

 

Sharing a bed is an oasis of comfort that I never knew existed until tonight. Jamie’s body is like a warm boulder firmly snuggled up behind me, his arms gathering me into the heavy sleep of the dreamless. 

 

If I was more awake, I’d laugh to myself at the irony behind sleeping together before actually sleeping together. I feel like this is something that comes with age, though. The maturity to value the little things, I’m learning that day by day. 

 

No matter how chaotic the past, the little things still happen. The joy of a sunrise. The delight in the acid smell of coffee in the morning or the blessed patience that comes in watching a plant in your front garden grow and bloom over time into something beautiful. 



Life is not in great moments of chaos or orchestrated grand gestures, but in the still, small, and quiet things. 

 

Our silences. 

 

Our shared humanity in all its frailty. 

 

Jamie’s eyelashes fluttering against my cheek as I move my head gingerly away from his to look at him. Half on his back and half on his side, he looks serene in the yellow glow from the lights on the window. I turn over so his hand that was on my hip falls to my stomach. My scars twitch at the touch of his fingers.  

 

I marvel at his peace. 

 

His lips twitch into a soft smile and my heart slips out of its cage of ribs and flesh and pools on the floor like the clock in a Salvador Dali painting. 

 

I look up at my ceiling, the swirls of the plaster and the rough texture, to ground myself. To tell myself this is real before I look back at him and gaze upon his auburn curls, a mess on my pillow and half over his closed eyes. 

 

Gentle warmth is on my cheeks and before I realize what’s happening, I have tears coming out of my eyes as unannounced as the feelings in my heart. I think of Faith and wonder if she ever watched him. Of his mother watching him sleep as a babe, chubby and exhausted on some bohemian cot somewhere in the highlands, the sound of running water to be heard in the distance. A river maybe. 

 

I am one of them. The rare few to see and know him for who he is when he’s asleep. It feels like a gift and I hold it tenderly in my thoughts and in my heart and cherish it in the smooth stillness of the night. 

 

Jamie flutters his eyes and stretches his arm a bit, feeling my belly soft under his touch he smiles and moves his thumb across my midsection lightly. 

 

“D’ye always watch people when they’re asleep, Sassenach? Or just me?” 

 

His voice is deep with sleep and it rumbles in my chest delightfully. 

 

“Just you.” I whisper. 

 

Reaching a hand up, I twist and smooth a lock away from his eyes and caress his cheek with my hand before snuggling down next to him, turning my body so I can still watch him. 

 

“You’re beautiful.” I whisper again, almost to myself. 

 

Jamie smiles again, this time more awake. 

 

“So ye’ve said.” 

 

“I mean it.” I say in earnest, as if somehow that sets me apart. 

 

“I ken ye do. I’ve been called that a lot by people who dinnae.” 

 

He finally opens his eyes and blinks slowly at me, a wide smile growing on his sleepy face. 

 

“Did we just sleep together?” He cocks a brow at me and grins. 

 

I smirk, “I guess we did. We were cuddling and then our geriatric selves took over and we passed the fuck out.” 

 

“I’m in the,” Jamie stretches slowly as he yawns, groaning for effect as he cracks his hands, “prime of life.” 

 

I collapse into a mess of blanket and giggles. I think of our age and my mind goes immediately to a term of apparent endearment younger generations use to describe their lovers. 

 

“Skip the whole Daddy kink thing, I’ll just call you Granda…” 

 

Jamie’s eyes are open fully now and he growls low and threateningly as he grabs me and pulls me onto him, grabbing my ass with two jealous handfuls. 

 

“I’ll show ye Granda…” 

 

“Fuck.” I exclaim before I can think straight. I’m still waking up and to be thrown on top of a man is one thing, to be thrown on top of something hard in between us is another. My smile disappears. 

 

God. 

 

I want him inside me and I don’t even care how it happens. My heart is suddenly pounding and I can’t think straight. I’m a bundle of hormones and sex deprivation and- good GOD what is he doing? 

 

Jamie inches his hips forward slowly and takes my hand that’s on his shoulder and bites my index finger playfully. 

 

Apparently sleepy Claire is bold because I grab his hand and place his thumb into my mouth, sucking hard and swirling my tongue around the tip as I hollow out my cheeks pulling on it. Before I fully am aware of what I’m doing, I reach down and adjust him, grabbing a hold of his full length through the thick material of his pants and grinding myself into the base with my hips. He fills my hand and I catch my lower lip between my teeth to prevent an ungodly sound from escaping my lips at how fucking good it feels. 

 

“Christ, Claire. I wasna fucking expecting that.” He exhales sharply and closes his eyes as if almost in pain. 

 

Jamie’s ears turn red and he flips me over in one solid movement, catching me deftly under himself as he pins my hips to his and moans low and hot into my mouth, kissing it as if it’s a crime when our lips don’t meet and he’s preventing some travesty by connecting them at all times. 

 

I feel him hard and pressing against his pants and into me and I gasp lightly, goosebumps running all down my back and arms and causing a shiver to run up my spine from the intensity. I swear to God if he keeps this up I’ll be fucking him the rest of the night and I won’t be able to stop. 

 

Like a dam loosed, one hole in the wall is all I need in order to totally lose myself in a twisted rage of depravity and passion that’s been deferred for the past few years. 

 

And to think, I genuinely thought I didn’t have a sex drive...

 

“Sassenach,” Jamie growls low into my hair as he holds me tightly against him, slipping a hand under my lower back and holding me hard to his torso. 

 

“Ye ken I promised tae be a monk,” He trails off as I pull his mouth down onto mine, slipping my tongue carefully into his mouth as I do so. 

 

His accent is thicker when he’s aroused and to hear him speak makes my throat warm with wanting. 

 

With a stifled hum, he slips his tongue against mine, expertly stroking and sucking my lip into his mouth to bite on in the process. 

 

I never liked French kissing, till now. But it’s clear I’ve been with all the wrong people who just… well, to put it bluntly, treat the delicate nature of tongues meeting like the inside of a fucking car wash with wet mouths thrashing about with no apparent purpose. 

 

With Jamie, it’s as if my body has a mind of its own and it’s willing to completely abandon all levels of higher function in order to pursue basic instinct. I’m purely reacting to pleasure at this point, no thought to anything but the flutter in my heart and chest and our short exchange of breathing back and forth. Ragged and harsh in the silence. Desire pounding in my ears. 

 

Excitement is thrilling every inch of me and I can feel the goosebumps running up and down my arms and spine at each deft movement of his mouth drawing me further into his in a caress that reaches into my very soul and beckons me to join his own in our undoing. 

 

“I ken …” I say softly, a smile working on my lips that I can’t hide. 

 

I can’t help but make fun of his accent when it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard. 

 

“But that was your promise, not mine.” My voice sounds low and husky to my ears and I’m entirely delighted by the look of astonishment on Jamie’s face right now. 

 

Pushing him on his back roughly, I run my hand down his neck and touch the birthmark on his neck before I bite it, pulling back slightly on the skin to cause a tiny burst of pain to show him I mean business. His blue eyes widen and his face suddenly turns red, almost-purple at the ears. 

 

I don’t know how good I am at dirty talk, but I try it, desperate to make him lose his mind and want me as much as I want him right now. 

 

“Relax, baby. I’m just getting started…” 

 

Propping myself up on my elbow, I push him over and lay my thigh over his, frustration and annoyance taking over my brain as I kiss him deeply and my left hand wanders down his torso and into the waistband of his sweatpants. 

 

“It’s my turn to take care of you.” 

 

Jamie’s breathing quickens so much, his hand clutches at my shoulder and hair as my hand makes straight for my intended target. 

 

“Oh, fuck…!” He exhales sharply in a voice that sounds half-strangled. 

 

Jamie stiffens up and arches his back against the pillows, his brows firmly knit together in a look of pleasure and disbelief as I reach into his boxers and feel the unmistakable girth and length of him beneath my fingers. His exclamation is a sob of release as he feels my hand unexpectedly wrapping around his cock. 

 

My index and middle finger trace the area just under the silky tip, soft and velvet to the touch. I grip lightly and sink my hand all the way to the base, grabbing him firmly then and feeling the tightening of his muscles pumping blood in response to my touch. Firmer and warmer by the second, I’m struggling to keep my breathing steady as I almost lose myself in noticing how he feels in my hand. And how much better he would feel in other places. 

 

I swallow hard and breathe out slowly as I come awake fully with the realization of what I’m doing and wanting to do. 

 

Jamie’s chin snaps to his chest before letting it fall back again next to me. He sputters out something in Gaelic and raises his hand, hovering over my own and then coming to life, pulling my face to his in a kiss, hot and heavy. He kisses me half-stunned, half-mad with want as if my mouth is a glass of cold water and he’s been wandering the desert for days. It’s clear my offering of physical touch is met with acceptance and I can feel him beneath me responding in kind. 

 

I grasp and stroke his cock upwards to the tip, running my thumb over the slickness of lubrication. I sigh into his mouth as my own twitches, desperate to taste him. Every inch of him. I want to take him into my mouth so badly and watch him come undone in unbridled ecstasy. I want to hear him curse and moan until my room is echoing with the noises as he loses himself. I want to make him feel good, as good as he made me feel. 

 

I smile softly into our kiss, my teeth brushing his lips as he returns to my mouth as if angry to be parted from it for even a moment. Rubbing my nose on his, I pull back long enough to bite his chin and neck, listening to the small gasps escaping him as I stroke and pull at his cock, growing harder and thicker with every tug, letting my fingers stroke and play with the crown in a way that makes his jaw tremble against my mouth as his breathing quickens and he pulls my face hard into his own as if the tension between us will dissipate the growing desire to be close. And closer still. 

 

 I notice my own breathing hitch and my pulse quicken to a gallop as I feel his body writhe underneath me. His left leg pressing into my own as I hold it down under me, my right hand exploring the hard cavity and muscles leading from his navel down to where my hand is currently driving him deeper into madness. 

 

My own leg grips his and I feel myself getting wetter and more desperate with each stroke, my belly clenching and churning just as my fingers grip and keep going faster and faster. There’s pain in my wrist but I hardly feel it. 

 

“Is this okay?” I suddenly freeze up, realizing I haven’t asked him before I… well… 

 

Jesus. 

 

I’ve never had someone want me to touch them before, not like this and- 

 

“God yes,” Jamie moans into my mouth, his eyes opening halfway in a stupefied state as he grabs my cheek and peppers my lips with frantic kisses. 

 

Bucking up his hips quickly, he pulls his pants lower and I help him by pushing up his hoodie only to reveal muscles and the deep curve of his finely chiseled body that almost makes me gasp at the sight of it. It definitely wasn’t in my head that he’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. If anything, the sight makes me only more determined to push him over the brink. 

 

I am invincible and loving the power and prowess I feel in taking control in this way, exploring further with changing my speed and grip to see which moves produced a louder response from his mouth, currently sucking in his breath sharply near my ear. 

 

“Fuck, you’re turning me on.” I put my head on his shoulder and bite my lower lip into my mouth, talking more to myself than to him. 

 

I kiss his cheek, feeling the humidity gathering there, his curls resting on his forehead are dampening with the heat. He smells even better than before, his warmth mixing with my own as I find I’m tense and breathing hard alongside him. 

 

“I’m so wet, Jamie.” I whisper into his ear. 

 

My center resting firmly against his muscular thigh, I can feel how slick I am for him already just by watching and touching him. I’m hungry and thirsty all at the same time and all for him. Only for him. For his pleasure and his pain. For every extreme emotion under the sun that I get to experience, if only by proximity to his incandescent glow of life that far surpasses my own. 

 

It’s fucking sexy to know I’m the one to drive us there. In control. Grasping and holding on for dear life as I stroke him faster and tighter, teasing him with my thumb and feeling the bead of precum grow and pool around the head of his cock now-throbbing in my hand. My mouth waters at the thought of it. 

 

“Harder.” 

 

He hisses out a one word demand as he bites his lip and leans his head hard into my own, opening his eyes now to look into mine, searching. Finding my own desperation staring back at him he smiles softly with a twitch and grabs my neck again to bring me once again to his mouth in a kiss, so slow and tender it nearly takes my breath away and distracts me from what I’m doing to him. 

 

“I want to know what you like. I want to drive you as crazy as you drive me.” I exhale, confessing what’s on my mind and heart to him in the heat of the moment. 

 

“Fuck,” Jamie grabs the back of my neck and tightens his fingers around it. “Claire, I dinnae expect….. Holy God .” 

 

Joy sparks in my heart from the look he gives me as he’s overtaken by the feelings and sensations I’m stirring in him. A look of pure adoration and contentment rests on his brow as he struggles to maintain composure enough to talk through it. 

 

“Everything ye do is magic, Claire. I cannae… everything yer doing is… Christ .” 

 

I redouble my efforts and slide my head to rest on his shoulder, pressing my forehead against his cheek as I watch the rise and fall of his chest. His breathing quickens even more and gets more ragged. 

 

I want to watch him and I don’t want to miss a thing, I memorize each breath, each strangled cry, each flex of his taught abdomen as I feel him getting harder and thicker towards the head of his cock in my hands, feeling how slick he is under me as I work him harder and harder to his release. 

 

“Jesus… fuck, Sassenach …” 

 

Jamie cries out suddenly, clutching wildly to still my arm as he bucks up hard and fast against my hand, moving his hips hard against my grasp. 

 

“Give me yer mouth,” He begs, his voice faltering as he starts to reach his climax.  

 

I kiss him slow and steady, feeling the sound of his cry echo into my mouth as he loses himself in a frenzy of movement, thrusting up violently against my hand and holding onto the back of my head and pulling on the hair at my neck until I let out a small cry that mixes with his own. 

 

Hearing him come fills me with joy and so much tender emotion that I feel like I’m going to pass out from it. Dizzy and high off the sound of him echoing in my room, my mind. I know I will never forget it. Or him. How could I? 

 

Jamie exhales deeply and shudders, I can feel the pulsating spurts of warmth cover my fingers and bite his lower lip into my mouth as he rides out the sensation. He’s still holding onto me with the vice-like grip of the near-dead. 

 

A few seconds later, Jamie rests his humid forehead on mine and breathes in deeply. Opening his eyes, he kisses me tenderly and smiles as the residual shivers run through him. I smile proudly into his lips and my teeth hit his in clumsy movements as he lays back huffing out sighs with a giant smile on his face. 

 

“That good?” I laugh softly, hoping his ears are ringing. 

 

Jamie doesn’t open his eyes, but lifts a hand weakly and gives me a thumbs up before he chuckles in a sigh of oblivion. 

 

A few minutes later, we’re cuddling again, having gotten up to go to the bathroom and wash. Jamie is so hot, he wets his head in my sink to cool down and stands for a minute with his head in his hands in my white towel on the rack, just waiting to come back to earth. It’s possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. 

 

I smile and head back to my bed, a woman very much pleased. Even though I haven’t orgasmed it’s enough of a release to know that he has, to watch him. It’s enough for me to feel high on his mountain peak of pure joy. A joy I helped him reach. 

 

I did that. 

 

Me. 

 

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp found her sexuality upon the highest shelf, dusted it off and is exploring that tome like a motherfucker. 

 

Did I mention how fucking proud I am of myself? 

 

Just the knowledge of taking him there is enough to satiate me. 

 

For now. 

 

I settle quietly under the covers, Jamie walks back slowly and I look at him coyly. A smile plays on my lips as I watch him watch me. He looks at me like all women want to be looked at and my heart flips over in somersaults as open regard and admiration shine from his bright eyes. 

 

“You’re not leaving, are you?” 

 

Jamie looks at me like I have two heads, my constant need for reassurance doesn’t need a verbal response though as I know he isn’t. I sigh in happy repose, pulling up the blanket for him to get in. 

 

Taking off his hoodie, he lays it on the end of the bed and my eyes take in every inch of him as he’s wearing nothing underneath it. In just his sweatpants, he slips in next to me and pulls me close to his chest, raising my chin to plant a soft kiss on the bridge of my nose. 

 

“I promised I’d take care of ye. Looks like it’s my turn to return the favor, Sassenach.” He yawns and pulls me up thoughtfully under his chin. “When I’m awake. Next week sometime.” 

 

A small laugh escapes my lips as my sweet prince falls quickly into a dozing state. My head is resting on the hard center of his massive shoulder and my hand is lightly brushing his soft chest hair between my fingers. We quickly fall back into a sleep that only the truly content can enjoy. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

I was just coasting 'til we met
You remind me just how good it can get

Well, I've been on fire, dreaming of you
Tell me you don't, it feels like you do
Looking like that, you'll open some wounds
How does it start and when does it end?
Only been here for a moment, but I know I want you
But is it too soon?
To know that I'm with you

 

-I'm With You, Vance Joy 

 

***

 

Jamie’s POV 

 

When I woke up this morning, I forgot where I was. 

 

Strange bed, strange walls and … aye…a stranger beside me. 

 

Fekkin’ hell , I did it again! Got drunk and woke up next to another no-face,  no-name, no-idea-how-I-got-here situation. Hasn’a happened in a long time but still…old habits and all… 

 

Full of instant regret, the heavy weight of shame rests on my chest like a bucket of wet cement. 

 

Details start making their way to my brain as I adjust to being awake after sleeping like the dead. 

 

The room is more mature than I’m used to and too clean to be anyone else’s but hers. It’s almost neurotic in its tidiness, like everything else about her.

 

Wait. 

 

I must be still asleep because none of this makes sense. 

 

It’s no’ a stranger’s body beside mine, but Claire’s. Her pale skin stark against the covers, dark curls pushed over her head and black lashes closed, so long they almost touch the high points of her cheeks. 

 

I’ve never noticed the small freckles underneath her eyes before, dusting the bridge of her nose in the colors of youth. I wish I’d known her then. Would she have even fancied me? Probably not. I kent I was hot shite back then. She'd have probably thrown a drink in my face and walked away. 

 

Her tough facade is gone now, replaced by a quiet fragility that is altogether disarming and endearing. She looks younger than her years, maybe it’s because her life isn’a on her mind when she’s sleeping. 

 

She twitches and suddenly I’m flooded with memories of the night before that come into my subconscious like a tidal wave. Her slight body wrapped up in my own, bare leg on mine, pinning me down. The heat of the moments we shared, the tension between us as thick and rich as the exploration of each other. I hadn’a planned for anything to happen and the fact that it did startled me, just like how I let her take control and do what she wanted with me as her willing participant.  

 

An image projects onto my consciousness that explodes into my heart in a warm glow of excitement. 

 

My mouth, hanging from hers like the Gardens of Babylon as I return to it, again and again like a man desperate for the high-end luxury of her lips. 

 

Her soft hand wrapping around… 

 

I’m swallowing dry air and breathing hard, chest pounding. 

 

Shite

 

I hear a caterwaul of a meow from the other room and ken this isn’a a dream. Too many of my dreams have started out here, in the room I’d only imagined till now. 

 

I should feed him before he wakes her. 

 

Everything in her room seems to be white and it stands out to me. Grounded in browns and neutrals, Claire’s room is strangely absent from any of the things a lass might keep around herself for comfort. A few plants, a few pieces of wicker furniture. A desk wi’ only more old looking novels on it and diplomas framed above the wall. 

 

Nothing to say she lives here, no pictures of family or friends. Nothing save the damn wee panda. I noticed her tryin’ to hide it from me last night. 

 

As inconsequential as it was, it still pained me to see her feel the need to hide things from me. 

 

Must be special if she keeps it around. 

 

Christ, I ken so little about her. 

 

Sassenach. 

 

Does she ken why I call her that? 

 

Not because the term means someone from away, but because the same difference I see in her lives in me. 

 

She’s been touched by death. 

 

It leaves a mark that doesn’a go away. A pain that doesn’a leave. 

 

She is haunted and I dinnae ken how many ghosts are wi’ her yet.

 

A small smile curls my lip as I look over at her sleeping form, melted into the stark white duvet next to me. Her curls in all their glory piled high above her, poking out at the top of the coverlet like a wildflower crown in all its untamed beauty. 

 

I lean closer to smell her hair, sometimes it smells like lavender and mint and I dinnae ken if she’s even aware the scent is always on my mind.

 

I hope she doesn’a wake up now, dinnae ken how I’d explain it. I dinnae ken how to tell her I can barely function wi’ thoughts of when I’ll see her next. That sometimes I can barely sleep for the horrible cockstand I have when I dream about her, naked and alone and next to me. Looking at me wi’ those amber eyes glowing brightly, telling me without words that she wants me as much as I want her. 

 

The first time I ken she wanted me was when I flung ice at her from my Irish Peach Sour in the pub and her face lit up like a firework. I’ve wanted her so badly since then I haven’a been able to breathe right around her. It’s a wonder I’ve been able to stay standin’ at all in her presence without toppling over from lack of air. 

 

Christ, I almost took her up against that tree last night in Joe’s yard. The ferocity of my need for her is shocking me to the core but I wouldn’a have it any other way. 

 

What happened last night…I’ve no words to describe how I feel about it. 

 

Are we fucking? Are we not?

 

I dinnae ken. 

 

But I ken hers is the warmest bed I’ve ever known. 

 

A small breath escapes me as I slip out of her bed to put on my shirt again, my eyes catch on the nightstand next to me and the single object on it, aside from a silver lamp. 

 

My lucky pick. 

 

Faith’s. 

 

The one she’d use to annoy the shite out of me when she dinnae want to go to bed, stealing Baby and running away wi’ her, the wee rascal. 

 

Sometimes I’d listen to her. She’d hide under the kitchen table wi’ it and think I dinnae ken where she was. She’d play as well as her wee fingers could around the neck of my black acoustic and try to sing. 

 

“Hey Jude” was her favorite. Mainly because she dinnae ken all the words and could get by singin’ na-na’s for everything. 

 

Had a good voice, could carry a tune, but then again most bairns hadn’a grown up in a recording booth like she had. 

 

And then she got sick. 

 

The strong pale fingers were replaced by clear, waxy hands wi’ IV’s in them. 

 

Might as well have shoved a needle in my own arm for how harsh the drugs were, I’d beg and cry and scream at God to let me take it from her. 

 

But He’s no’ in the business of sparing firstborns when He lost his own, I guess. 

 

She stopped singing, too weak to play. 

 

I’d play to her instead, to distract from the treatments. And then we’d cry together. 

 

Somethin’ about Claire reminds me of her. Her fire. Under the pain, she has the same fire. 

 

And it keeps me warm. 

 

When I ran out to stop Claire, to give it to her, somethin’ in my heart told me she would keep it safe. That she needed it more than I did.  

 

And so I took a risk. 

 

I’m glad I did. 

 

I force my head through my hoodie and slip out, hushing the wee devil in the kitchen wi’ some wet food from a can, I pat his head thoughtfully as he demolishes the lump of pate that smells like sick. 

 

Taking a piece of paper from her counter, I write a note. 

 

Jesus, has my handwriting always been this bad? 

 

Leaving it for her to find, I gather up my things and go, quietly locking the door behind me. 

 

The pick is on her little table, drawing us closer together than I ever hoped it would. 

 

Maybe somewhere I have an angel making it happen. 

 

God keep her. 

 

I believe in Him even if He doesn’a believe in me anymore. 

 

How else could I explain this? 

 

***

 

 

Claire’s POV

 

In a daze, I reach out and my fingers feel something dry and thin under my grasp. The adhesive band sticks to my finger and I realize it’s a sticky note from my kitchen. 

 

Sassenach, 

 Too early in spring for flowers, but I wanted to leave you one anyway since I didn’t want to wake you. I’m not an artist, as you now ken. Make fun if you will. Whatever floats your goat. I enjoyed “sleeping together” let’s do it again, sometime soon? 

               -Jamie 

 

I squint at the piece of paper Jamie had scrawled upon and laid on the empty pillow beside me. A crudely drawn daisy? Forget-me-not? It’s in blue ink. 

 

It's perfect. 

 

God his handwriting is awful. 

 

I love it so much. 

 

*** 



Two hours into the workday and it’s hard to breathe. As I sit at my kitchen table, my scalp feels tight around my skull, the area behind my ears is aching with the dull throb of existence.

 

I’ve been yelled at all morning, I get it. It’s not my fault, it’s not me they’re mad at but the government and I’m just bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Usually I’m okay with compartmentalizing verbal abuse. I’ve had a lifetime of experience, but somedays… somedays it’s hard. If I hang up, I lose my job. So I nod and listen and die a little inside each time, knowing if I walk away after a call, I’ll miss another. They’re back to back lately. 

 

It’s not uncommon for me to take at least 200 or more a day. As an introvert, it’s exhausting. 

 

A lump grows in my throat and spreads down to my sternum as I choke on the tears and try to take captive my wild thought life. Alicia has been a big part in me becoming more self-aware when it gets bad and starts spiraling out of control. I can feel it happening again today.  

 

I know it’s up to me, to curb each negative thought like it’s a baseball being launched at my head. I can duck and let it pass me, or swing my bat of coping skills at it and hope to God it doesn’t hit my head and make a mark there that lasts all day. 

 

Sometimes it’s inevitable, though. 

 

The pain. 

 

Undealt with grief can sit upon your chest like a demon and choke you. I’ve lived so long with the feeling I hardly notice it anymore until I’m hours deep into it and gasping for air. 

 

I pray for the blessed relief of taking off my headset, but when I do the feelings linger. The yells, the screams, the crying that doesn’t affect me anymore from people on the other end of the line. 

 

No one cares about them. The sooner they understand that, the sooner they’ll be self-sufficient like me. Life is easier when you don’t expect much from most people.

 

I keep the note from Jamie in front of me and to be honest, it’s the one thing that gets me through the day. 

 

A blue flower. A mindless doodle that symbolizes so much more. 

 

It’s 9pm by the time I work up the courage to call Jamie. 

 

His voice is enough to bring tears to my eyes instantly. I blow out a puff of air from my lungs in pain as I can hear the happiness in his tone. He’s excited to hear from me. If he was a dog, his tail would be wagging so hard until his whole body was shaking. As a man... well... God I'm a weird one. 

 

“Hello, Clarice,” I say slowly, trying to lower my voice but laughing inwardly at the mental picture I just gave myself. 

 

Jamie chuckles, “Sassenach. Christ, it’s good to hear from ye. I was just thinkin’ about yer voice.” 

 

“My voice?” 

 

“Aye, how I’ve wanted to hear it all day.”  

 

I missed you too. 

 

“Please tell me yer eating more than just burnt popcorn at yer place or I’ll come over and have to cook for you…pink apron, too. Naturally. I’ll be a regular Mrs. Doubtfire.”
 

Are you taking care of yourself? 

 

“I’ve eaten.” I smile sadly. 

 

Not really. 

 

“Are ye excited?” 

 

Keepittogether. 

 

“Um… why?” The question catches me off guard and I squint my eyes nervously. 

 

“For me to pick ye up tomorrow after work?” 

 

He’s not asking, he's telling. Jamie picks up on the tone of sadness in my voice and knows better than to give me an option. 

 

I smile, my heart hurts but damn. If hope is the thing with feathers in my soul, it’s currently beating wildly around my chest like a damn bird in a cage. In true Jamie-fashion, one sentence from him is enough to flip me upside down in a heap of emotion and anticipation of what comes next when he’s around. 

 

“I can’t wait.” 

 

I can hear him smile on the other end. 

 

“Great!” He exclaims, “Five okay?” 

 

“Sounds great.” I lay down on my bed and pull the blankets up around me again. I burrow my head in the covers and desperately try to smell him on them. 

 

Wow, Claire. Get a guy some good cologne and you turn into a fucking bloodhound trying to sniff him on everything. Thirsty much? 

 

There’s a silence on the line but I don’t feel the need to fill it, just knowing he’s on the other end is comforting. 

 

“Jamie?” 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“Can you…” God, I feel pathetic asking this. “Can you stay on with me for a while? You… don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, I just want to hear you.” 

 

“D’ye want me to come over?” He suddenly sounds concerned, his voice picks up an edge and it cuts into the bleary, mind-numbing depression I’m feeling. 

 

I shake my head, “No, I….” 

 

I’ve been crying all day and don’t want to worry him. Plus there’s the scuff marks in the entryway that weren’t there this morning. 

 

After work, I felt a panic attack coming on and went to go for my run. Couldn’t get my laces untied enough to slip on my sneakers. I threw them at the wall. The hard collision and dull thud felt good, so I did it again. And again. Leaving no apparent damage, other than scuffs, I keep on doing it until my hands are tired and my rage subsides. How messed up is that? 

 

Then I went on a walk instead. Blared music to drown out the feelings. 

 

I could have him over but you know… having to explain to someone else why I sat on the hard tile in my foyer throwing shoes at a wall for ten minutes is kinda hard. And embarrassing. 

 

“I’m ok, I just…"

 

Need you.

 

Instead, different words leave my mouth before I can stop them.

 

"Thanks for the flower.”

 

I look at the note beside the pick. My mini-shrine to him is growing by the day it seems. 

 

His voice smiles in that warm way it does when he’s truly pleased. I can almost see him scrunching up his nose in delight, he's probably biting his lip just now in that awful habit he has of being annoyingly handsome. 

 

“Of course. One day I’ll leave a real one.” 

 

My cheeks turn red at the thought of the post-intimacy offering, the insinuation that there will be more times is overwhelming and new and terribly exciting. 

 

I slip into silence once again and this time, he speaks first. 

 

“I’ll be here as long as ye like. Was just practicing for Friday, okay if I keep playing?” 

 

“Of course.” 

 

I can hear the clatter and click of plastic on wood as Jamie sets his phone down and puts it on speaker. 

 

“Dinnae judge, Sassenach. S’only rough so far.” 

 

I laugh softly, is he nervous? 

 

“I won’t.” I promise. 

 

Sighing happily, I rest my head down on my pillow and let the soft chord progression take me away into a sleep where the pain in my heart can’t find me. 

 

I fall asleep with the phone on, sometime around 11pm, I wake up to the sound of soft snoring on the other end. 

 

He fucking took me to bed with him. 

 

A sob rises in my throat but this time, I’m filled with something other than depression. 

 

I hold the phone to my ear and hold onto the pick on my nightstand, my fingers curling around the thin plastic edges. 

 

The sound of him breathing rocks me to sleep better than the sweetest lullaby. 

 

God, what have I become? 

 

My heart is slowly warming up after a hundred year winter, I just hope it doesn't break as it thaws.

 

For the first time, living feels like breathing again and not the ragged gasps of death tearing my chest with the reality of my own existence. 

 

He breathes life into my brittle bones and it's dusting off the cobwebs around my soul. 

 

All because of blue flowers in ink. 

 

 



Chapter Text

 

It’s Wednesday. 

 

Mom texted. 

 

Woke up to it today. 

 

I know I shouldn’t let one text affect me or my whole day, but damn. 

 

Mothers have that power. What they do (or don’t) say can be poison to their children. I’ve wondered over the years how much self-awareness she possesses. 

 

Sometimes I pity her. I mean, she’s my mom. Maybe she really did the best she could in how she raised me… but then I realize I can’t really call it raising when she checks out and I become a mini-mom to Polly after I turned twelve. 

 

Wendy, my older sister, was almost in college by then and when she left and got to escape home, I was left alone. I haven’t mentioned her here before because if she were a spice, she’d be flour. If she were a book, she’d be the goddamn farmer’s almanac from 1981 stuck in the back cupboard of your grandma’s dresser. Or better yet, a hotel Bible. One of those useless props that is there for show and to convince yourself you’re a good person when you don’t mean a word of it.

She was an English major. Wrote a lot. Once, in helping Mom clean the attic out after she had moved, we both found her old college essays and I made the mistake of reading one. It was about your formative years. Growing up. Guess that’s why it caught my interest. 

 

In it, she told her professors that all her problems stemmed from me and the lie that my parents spoiled me, making me a brat. The crux of all her familial sorrows. Hard to read their comments back to her on the side margins telling her they were so sorry for this fiction she was passing off as fact. Maybe she actually feels that way. It hurt then, but I’m old enough now to know that was probably her own attempt at coping with the baggage she was left with. Find a scapegoat. Blame the scapegoat. Feel better about yourself? Maybe it worked.  

 

She stopped talking to me when she moved out. Married a rich man ten years older than herself, moved across the state and exists only to take pictures of her vodka pool parties and yacht club events. What on earth do I have in common with her anymore? It’s little wonder we haven’t spoken in a year. 

 

She and Polly are close. Probably because she never had to be mini-mom to Polly. Whenever we get together as a family, she slips off to slip Polly alcohol although she’s underage and the two of them exclude me from plans like I have actual leprosy. 

 

Once, when I agreed to see a movie with them both, they got to the theatre early and got seats without me and I was stuck between a man with no sense of smell and a body odor problem and someone’s great-aunt Bertha. Them? Oh they had the best seats in the house, could have saved one for me but didn’t. 

 

Did I mention it was on my birthday? Bertha was nice. She let me share her popcorn when I told her. 

 

I stopped hanging out with them after that. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Well, at some point you realize you go to family functions just asking to be hurt. 

 

Each time a holiday comes up, or even a birthday, I’m plagued by guilt and the worst side-effect of guilt: sugar-coating the truth. Forgetting why I have boundaries with them in the first place. 

 

Anyway, back to The Now ™ 

 

It’s Mom’s birthday this weekend and I thought I’d be a good daughter and ask if she had plans. Lord knows my dad and other sisters won’t do anything for her. It’s always me. 

 

The planner. 

 

So I reached out, not really expecting a response. 

 

Oh she responded, short words with ellipses on the ends of her texts that make me anxious just to look at it. She’s really hard to read over text and honestly, with her it could go either way. I can never tell if she’s mad at me. 

 

“On way to California for vacay… be back in a week or two… Thanks tho… btw can u keep eye on house… plants need watering…”

 

Um okay? 

 

She could have told me this when we were with Polly. I thought people didn’t just up and go halfway across the country at the drop of a hat. At least I don’t. 

 

She does. 

 

A vacation from…what exactly? 

 

Woman doesn’t work. 

 

Seems so random. 

 

And why do I need to watch the plants? 

 

Ugh Polly is probably with her. 

 

Obviously. 

 

Mom and Dad don’t trust my eighteen year old sister home alone in their house. 

 

As an adult. 

 

About to be married. 

 

So of course she’s going with them. 

 

I hate this. 

 

I hate how I am the last to know and yet, there she is again. Roping me into commitments to help the family out when, well, they barely treat me like family. 

 

My own birthday is coming up soon and I guarantee they’ll forget it again. I kinda hope they do. 

 

This all could be worse, I guess. I could have had an emergency and needed to call someone. 

 

Who am I kidding? 

 

Joe is my emergency contact. 

 

Or Beverly, my neighbor. 

 

Good luck getting my mom on the phone if I’m dying somewhere. 

 

Dad’s busy. 

 

Polly? 

 

God don’t make me laugh. 

 

I remember the first time I called Joe tearfully after I found out Frank had passed. 

 

I called him over my own mother and you know what? He came. 

 

He fucking showed up to the hospital when I had to identify the body from the crash. 

 

Mom’s phone went to voicemail. 

 

Joe was the one to take me home and see that I had a shower and ate Frosted Flakes because that’s all I had in the house. 

 

I remember his face when I begged and screamed at him not to call my family when he first suggested it, the night I called him suicidal for the first time shortly after Frank’s death. The first night I saw his ghost, it was a sign of mental breakdown as my doctor put it. A crack that keeps opening and never really heals up because of multiple traumas floating constantly around my brain. That shit is everywhere. Like glitter, it’ll get on everything and taint it with the feel and distraction of it all. 

 

Joe is family now. 

 

The twin I never had. 

 

He knows more about me than anyone, more about me than even Frank knew. 

 

Funny how that is in hindsight. 

 

You never realize how fucking toxic a relationship, or marriage, can be until you’re out of it. 

 

I was honest with Alicia today in therapy. 

 

She asked if I ever had a relationship in my life that wasn’t toxic. 

 

I thought of Joe. 

 

Adso. 

 

Shoot, even Bev. 

 

People that didn’t make me hurt. 

 

How fucking sad is that? 

 

I’m terrified of letting my life pass me by without living it. 

 

Without enjoying the sunshine on my face.

 

He does. 

 

How does he? 

 

It’s a goddamn miracle he kept on living after Faith. I would have thrown myself straight off a bridge. Jesus. He’s stronger than me, or just more stubborn. 

 

If anyone had a reason to stay mad, to stay in the past, it’s him. 

 

I want to live life like he does. 

 

I want to slide into my casket with a smile on my face and a used, worn-out body and tattoos covering my ass and having had a hell of a time. 

 

Instead of time only giving me hell. 

 

I wish I was as brave as he is. 

 

Maybe this wouldn’t hurt so bad. 

 

I scrubbed the walls today. 

 

Alicia was proud I didn’t hurt myself again. 

 

I’m proud of that, too. 

 

The wall is now back to boring old beige, much like the canvas that is my life. 

 

I used to think my life was empty. Bare. Barren. 

 

And then he showed me how to paint. 

 

Ever since I saw his face in the yellow ochre of the streetlight, I see the color gold everywhere and it’s the nearest to the sun that my cold soul has ever felt. 

 

 I know we’re at a breaking point here. A crossroads. I can take the easy road and keep it superficial. Laugh at him, go out with him. And yes, maybe put out some. We’d both benefit for a short time. We’re consenting adults, nothing wrong with that. And yet… 

 

I don’t think that’s what either of us want here. 

 

I want to be naked with him and not even just in the physical sense. 

 

Intimacy. 

 

Anyone can fuck. But intimacy? 

 

That shit is fucking earned and I won’t be a coward for risking the loss of him over my inadequacy at sharing my story.  

 

Outstretched and reaching towards him, I need to offer him a guiding hand down into the twisted path-less-taken of my life, my psyche. 

 

I am terrified. 

 

Is it 5pm yet? 

 

I have no idea what we’ll be doing, but I’ll be with him and that’s all that matters. 

 

I definitely need to remember to wear a different bra. Maybe something lace will hoist me into a better position to confess my demons to the man with the power to chase them away. 

 

Titty power. Hah. 

 

Or maybe I’ll just use it to strangle myself in a puddle of moonlight when I chicken out at opening up and need an escape.  

 

Who knows? 

 

Night’s still young.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

And then my gypsy life started takin' it's toll
And the fast lane got empty and out of control
And just like an angel she saved my soul
From the devil

God Love Her, Toby Keith

 

Song link here

 

***

 

 

Never have I ever, in my history of dating, been so nervous to be picked up in my life.

 

My veins are fairly electrocuting themselves with the cold and hot combination of anxiety and excitement. I didn't even eat much today, not that I could keep anything down anyway. I thought about taking a Xanax but I’m trying to ease up on them so I don’t get dependent.

 

Huh. For once my actual fear might be, dare I say, normal?

 

I forgot what this feels like.

 

I change clothes a lot before I settle on a red floral button down French tucked into black jeans with a pair of lace-up boots that look like they’re straight out of an 1890’s explorer’s catalog.

 

Yes, I’m wearing underwear and yes, I picked a different bra.

 

No, I’m not thinking about how my subconscious made me reach for possibly the sexiest one I own for tonight.

 

It’s for me. Obviously.

 

Sometimes a girl just needs to feel a boost and there’s a special perk to being a woman in that you can totally wear cute underwear just for yourself. I admit, I have a collection. Perks to no periods. Some fucking solace for getting ripped open and gutted like a fish.

 

I spent some time nervously carrying Adso around my flat, trying to convince myself not to jump out of my skin when the doorbell rings, but I do anyway.

 

He always comes exactly when he says he will. I muse to myself, thinking of the always-late young man in the tabloids. That was the boy he was. This is the man I have the honor of getting to know.

 

It’s warmer out today, I’m finally feeling the icy chill of winter leaving as I open the door and am not greeted by a gust of cold wind, but by the damp smell of warming mud and dirt that signals spring. I stop in my tracks as I take him in, the massive shadow in my doorway that threatens to kill me every single time I open it to him. Today is no exception.

 

Oh that’s not fair.

 

I almost close the door in his face just so I can bite my knuckles in peace and stifle a goat scream. You know, a scream where you stick out your tongue and just holler from your gut. No? Just me? You should try it sometime. It’s the best way to deal with unresolved emotions. And angst. And sexual tension… not that goat screaming is any way to get laid. It just… feels good to yell.

 

And I’m staring at him.

 

Open mouthed.

 

Fucking hell, Claire.

 

Getittogether.

 

We both went for red but he’s wearing a simple maroon tee and the black leather jacket from Keeping On that I love so much complete with dark jeans and … are those Doc Martens? You can tell at one point, he had a stylist and was bougie and shit. He actually combed his hair back in a James Dean kinda way. His kind of effortless beauty will never go out of vogue.

 

“Sassenach.”

 

Jamie utters my favorite word before I’m in his arms and hugging him close. As his arms wrap around me, everything feels alright again. I hold him tightly, resting my face in his neck as he picks me up and half-turns with me before setting me down again. He notices the fervor with which I hug him.

 

“Ye look brilliant… are ye alright?”

 

His blue eyes are suddenly a little anxious as he scans my face for an answer.

 

I nod, brushing the question aside.

 

I am now.

 

“Where are we going?”

 

His face relaxes into a humble smile.

 

“Well, I dinnae ken if ye’ve eaten but I’m starved. Mind grabbing a quick bite before we get onto part deux of the evening?”

 

Part deux? Oh my god, there’s a part deux.

 

“Sounds perfect.”

 

He opens the door for me again and as we putter down the road in his pickup, I settle in comfortably next to him on the bench seat. The rumble of the engine now in competition with the rumble in my stomach. Jamie is the human form of Xanax for me and being with him is calming me down enough to finally be hungry.

 

We have a few hours till sunset now and in the warm light, I catch him staring at me sideways more than once. I’m doing it, too.

 

“Grab that for me, will ye, love?”

 

Jamie nods down to the clutch and I shoot him a quizzical look before placing my fingers around the handle in between us. His fingers are over my own and lacing themselves through mine as he places his hand over my grip. My stomach flips just as we go over a dip in the road and coincides with my heart skipping a beat.

 

We switch gears a few times as he pulls out onto Route 50 and we ride a few miles.

 

“Couldn’a bear if we weren’t touching.” Jamie explains.

 

He doesn’t have to, though. I feel the same way.

 

A warm feeling spreads over my face and I swallow down the fluttering feeling in my throat. I nod quietly, out of the corner of my eye I can see the dimple on his mouth deepen in smug satisfaction.

 

My skin is meant to be touched, and to touch his. Anything less than this will never do. Long gone are the days before I met him, when no one touched me and that’s the way I liked it.

 

We pull off into the gravel parking lot of a little diner with neon signs flickering in the windows. Jamie jumps out to open my door, his hand finding my own quickly, pulling me behind him. The solid crunch of his boots and mine are all I hear as we walk up to the double doors. There’s a delightful clatter of sleigh bells on glass as he holds the door open for me and we walk inside.

 

It’s a little homey Mom and Pop’s shop, one of the many, many like it in the Midwest and utterly charming in its interior. It seems to be a family place, there’s an older couple and a younger family there with twins digging into ice cream sundaes the size of their little bobbleheads. Frozen in time, there’s even an old jukebox in the corner.

 

The owners, an older man and woman, suddenly pop out of the kitchen as Jamie ushers me into a plastic booth that hasn’t changed since the fifties. Everything is pristine and kept and I can see the love and care just by looking around the place.

 

I have to say, the air smells amazing. It’s a mix of fried foods, dairy and a hint of refrigerated sweetness that can only mean one thing: ice cream. We love ice cream here in these parts. Would have it year-round if we could. To be fair, this part of the country has some of the best and I’ll admit I can throw down some non-dairy whip better than the rest of them. Strawberry is my favorite.

 

“Whatd’ye think?”

 

Jamie slips in across from me, smiling.

 

“Perfect, how have I never been here before?” I ask genuinely.

 

Jamie opens his mouth to answer but before he can get a word out, his hair is being ruffled like a ten year old and a broad woman with an even broader smile comes forward. Her face is already bursting into crinkles as she beams down at him.

 

“Och! Fitz.”

 

“It’s been too long, Sonny. Now up ya get. Give me a hug. You look good, maybe skinnier. Are you eating? And who’s this, sweetie?”

 

She practically pulls him out of his seat and suffocates him with surprising strength for a woman past-sixty. Looking over his hefty shoulder she narrows her gray eyes at me before smiling kindly.

 

“Christ. Um. Claire.” Jamie smiles but is clearly turning red with the welcome.

 

“Claire Beauchamp.” I say, holding out my hand politely.

 

“Mrs. Fitz, dear. Nice to meet you.” She grabs it hard in her doughy hand and shakes it up and down like she’s priming a pump. Her teeth are delightfully crooked and her smile is as warm as her hand.

 

Jamie sits back down and blushes, pretending to busy himself with a menu but he’s grinning and staring at me as she welcomes me with just as much familiarity as she did him.

 

“Oh my god, I should get Walter over here. He’d be so happy to see you. WALTER!” She turns her head and yells into the kitchen area.

 

“Jamie’s here and he brought-!” Her eyes bulge a little and she puts a hand over her mouth. Suddenly quiet, leaning down and close to Jamie, I quickly find out Mrs. Fitz is incapable of whispering. Deaf in her old age, I’m pretty sure half the diner hears her comment to him.

 

“Oh my god, is this a date, kid? Cause if it is- well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit she’s pretty.” Mrs. Fitz pats him on the back so hard you’d think he was choking.

 

Jamie looks pleased but also is turning so red he’s matching the jukebox right now.

 

Mrs. Fitz continues in her non-whisper, “You know what, I’ll leave ya be…Just holler if ya need me. The usual?”

 

She looks to me and then him and then holds up two fingers insinuating a double order of whatever it is.

 

Jamie catches her arm, looking at me, “Um sure and uh… hold the cheese, aye?”

 

I don’t know if I should kick him under the table or thank him.

 

Mrs. Fitz bustles off, I notice she has cats on her sweater and as she turns, the back of it has their butts and tails in the air.

 

I stifle a laugh.

 

Jamie’s hand finds mine again, his voice sounds worried and I look at him to see him frown a bit.

 

“I hope, uh… I hope that was okay… I’m no’ in the business of speakin’ for a date like that but I think you’ll love what I usually get. Best burgers in town. Also… we’ll need daylight for after and they’re fast so-”

 

I squeeze his hand in mine and blink to reassure him.

 

“It’s fine, really.”

 

“Ye sure?” His voice catches, “Oh and sorry for the-”

 

“Jamie stop. I love it.” I dissolve into a girlish giggle at his anxiety. “It’s perfect. I mean, these people are like your family. This is perfect. You’re perfect. Relax. It’s just me.”

 

Jamie opens his mouth and stammers.

 

Ok, fuck this. I actually can’t stand it anymore and goddamnit, he looks so cute when he’s flustered.

 

I lean across the table and intend only for a quick peck on the lips, but he raises his brow in surprise and cups my jaw in his hand holding it close to him for a lingering moment. I sink into the softness of it all and feel his warm exhale on my lips as I slowly pull away.

 

We both just look at each other like grinning idiots. His face is still slightly red in the buzz from the neon “open” sign hanging in the window and I can no longer hear the twins fighting over who had the most whipped cream in their bowl. The hum of the neon and the electricity between us is deafening. Jamie plays with my fingers on the table in front of us, ever-moving, as he talks. 

 

“I’d come here with Faith a lot…she loved it. Mostly for the gumballs,” He nodded over to the giant gumball machine by the door with its fishbowl of bright rainbow orbs and twisted chute. “Cute place. Thought ye might like it.”

 

“I do.” I smile softly.

 

“Good.” Jamie clears his throat and finger, brushes his hair back out of his eyes again and behind his ears.

 

“You nervous?” I chuckle.

 

“S’obvious?” Jamie cocks his head at me.

 

“Maybe a little…”

 

“Have ye seen yerself?” Jamie drops his voice and leans closer to me. “Christ, I was lucky to leave yer place when ye opened the door. Red’s your color, Sassenach.”

 

A small sigh escapes my lips and he hears it, eyes twinkling with mischief.

 

“Though I’d verra much like tae see-”

 

Mrs. Fitz sets down two thick Coke glasses full of water with crushed ice and sets down two straws in front of us, “Just a minute or two, hun.”

 

Winking at me, she checks Jamie on the shoulder as she walks away.

 

“Hard to flirt with ye when my mam keeps coming over.”

 

His eyes are wide and I try to hide my smile at the utter obliviousness of this woman and her open love for Jamie.

 

“What are you doing?” I raise my voice incredulously as he shakes his head and just about vaults over the booth to sit next to me, sandwiching me in between his body and the window.

 

“I’m doing it.”

 

“Oh God no.” I squeal.

 

“Oh God yes, Sassenach.” He laughs. “We’re officially, THAT couple.”

 

Cue hidden goat screams inside my brain. I think I almost have an aneurysm at Jamie using the word, “couple” to describe us.

 

“Excuse me, Mister Fraser.” I laugh to play off the growing flush all over my neck and cheeks. “I’m afraid we haven’t had that conversation yet…”

 

Jamie looks down at me over the tip of his clean-cut nose and smirks. “Which one?”

 

“DTR.”

 

“Defining the relationship…. Ahh.” Jamie looks up at the tiled ceiling and back down at me in interest. “I kent we were “noncommittal” as ye put it.”

 

He uses the air quotes improperly and they look like damn bunny rabbit ears chasing each other around the table in front of us.

 

Adorable bastard.

 

“Do we need a label?” Jamie cocks an eyebrow at me, a smile still playing on his lips. For some reason, I keep staring at them. I can’t help myself. Like a moth drawn to a lantern, they hypnotize me until I’m sinking into them.

 

Witchcraft.

 

“No, I just… I…” I stammer.

 

Where was I going with this?

 

Pink soft lips, blonde, red scruff, it’s longer today and there’s a few white hairs on his chin that absolutely take my breath away.

 

“Can I kiss ye?” His eyes are on my mouth, clearly way more interested in feeling my lips than he is to directly answer the question.

 

It’s a distraction I welcome.

 

“God yes.”

 

Jamie’s hand slips up into my hair as he pulls my face towards his into a hard kiss, sucking my own bottom lip into his own and biting softly on it before releasing me. I close my eyes as my heart does a somersault and open them again to find his blue opal eyes staring at me in guarded emotion.

 

He’s serious now.

 

“I have to say I’m no’ a fan of this noncommittal bullshite. I ken we’re both of the same mind on that. I dinnae ken what we are but I ken I lo-”

 

Christ!

 

He was about to say it. He closes his mouth quickly and hesitates before going on.

 

Do it.

 

Scare me again.

 

Say the four-letter word we can’t go back from. I’ll say it, too. 

 

Oh darling.

 

“I love gettin’ to know ye and ken we dinnae need to call it anything other than what it is.”

 

“What is it?” My voice sounds faint, even to myself.

 

“Pure joy.” Jamie laces his hand through mine and brings it to his lips thoughtfully.

 

Perfect answer.

 

I rest my head on his shoulder for a moment and he snuggles me close. Nose in my hair, I can feel him breathing me in just as I am with him. Clearly, we’re at the stage where we just go out to sniff each other. Like doing cocaine but … well, legal. Just as addictive. Just as dangerous.

 

After a few minutes, I feel him straighten up a little and before I can react, a white piece of paper launches at my chest from up above.

 

“Hey!” I snap my head up to see a straw poised between Jamie’s teeth and him chuckling at me, shoulders shaking the booth.

 

“You did not!”

 

“I did.” He settles back amused with himself.

 

Closing one eye to aim, I grab my own straw and rip the end off one side. Putting it to my mouth, I aim and blow as hard as I can to launch the paper covering at his face. Unfortunately, my straw wrapper has a hole in it and my giant puff of air only succeeds in shooting up the tip in a ninety degree angle like an awkward straw erection.

 

Jamie guffaws.

 

“Ah, poor luck, Sassenach. Ye’ve got a dud.”

 

I pout, over at their table, the twins are acting up on a sugar high.

 

Jamie narrows his eyes at them, “What d’ye say we get two more and shoot the bairns.”

 

“Jamie!” I chuckle.

 

“What?”

 

“They’re children!” I exclaim.

 

“And? Wee feckers can defend themselves.”

 

I shrug, “I’m game if you are.”

 

“That’s my girl.” Jamie grins broadly, reaching into the empty booth behind us to get more straws.

 

“On three.” I roll the end of mine, not taking chances now.

 

Jamie nods carefully as if we’re plotting to detonate a bomb or something, not shoot children with paper straw wrappers in the middle of a diner.

 

“One, two…”

 

“Abort!”

 

I don’t hear Jamie’s muffled cry in time and manage to launch my straw projectile quite far actually, into the side of Mrs. Fitz’s face as she exits the kitchen with two plates.

 

“James Fraser,” She digs her eyes at him, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Really. At your age.”

 

She looks kindly to me as she sets down two burgers and hot tin baskets of fries in red plastic baskets in front of us.

 

“I don’t blame you, dear. You’re perfect. Now tuck in. I’ll be back in a bit and no funny business in my diner, kid.” She waggles a finger at Jamie but laughs to herself as she leaves again. Cat butts on her sweater shaking as she stifles a laugh.

 

Jamie shoulder checks me and I almost topple over into the window, getting my footing again, I shove back and almost push him out of the booth. We continue the back and forth shoving until he actually gets a hand up under my armpit and threatens to tickle me and I have to cover my mouth to stop myself from yelling.

 

“Should we settle down?” I laugh until a snort comes out of my nose, Jamie looks at me like he’s just witnessed a miracle and is frozen in amazement and adoration.

 

“Yup.” Jamie nods. “Dinnae wanna get kicked out of my favorite place.”

 

I soon see why. There’s nothing fancy whatsoever in the setup of it all but as soon as I pop a fry into my mouth, I crunch down on an explosion of all the goodness of salty potato and the greasy satisfaction of a funnel cake. All in one.

 

“Oh my god,” I say with my mouth full.

 

“Amazing, huh.” Jamie nods, busying himself with ketchup all over his. “Walter is a genius. Plus everything is local, grassfed beef. Really the best.”

 

I glow at him over the sound of chewing thoughtfully as I destroy another handful.

 

“You really like cooking, huh.”

 

Jamie nods, “I like it that ye ken where yer food comes from. Makes ye feel more connected to the world around ye. Plus places like this,” he gestures from the jukebox to the red counters, “willna be around long if just anything moves in and takes its place.”

 

“Never really got into it. I mean. I cooked a lot when my mom kinda gave up.” I shrugged thoughtfully.

 

“God that’s good.” I nod to the burger in my hand and Jamie smiles, but I can tell he’s sitting more alert now at my mentioning my family. Now’s a good a time as any.

 

“Had to take care of my younger sister, Polly. My studies came last.”

 

“Ye seem to have done alright for yerself in spite of it.” Jamie’s eyes take on a darker glow as he responds quietly.

 

“I did. Homeschooled throughout.”

 

“Wait...really?” Jamie stops chewing and looks at me before taking a sip of water.

 

“Yup,” I nod. “All twelve grades. Mom and Dad didn’t want us to go to school so we learned at home. Mainly so they could raise us without worldly views, as they put it.”

 

“What does your Da do?” Jamie asks pointedly.

 

“Travel mostly,” I shrug. “He’s kinda a preacher with this denomination and he travels between parishes a lot. Never saw him much.”

 

“Ah, preacher’s kid. Explains the whole religion aversion if it was shoved down yer throat.” Jamie says, more to himself than to me.

 

“Exactly. And then Mom kinda checked out when her mom died and that’s when I took over as cook for everyone. Never good at it. I’d get in trouble for burning things. But that’s… that’s just how I am I guess. Sometimes she’d scream at me for it. When she left her room, that is.”

 

Jamie shakes his head, “Sounds like ye had a lot thrown on ye.”

 

I nod, “I did.”

 

You don’t know the half.

 

“Well, ye never have to cook for me. And I’ll be more than happy to have ye in my kitchen if ye want to. Up to ye, of course.”

 

I swallow hard against the sudden lump in my throat, “Thanks. I like cooking with you.”

 

Titty power.

 

I smile to myself and add in a quick, “I really like your countertops, too.”

 

Jamie chokes on his water a little and I smile innocently chomping away on my burger like I haven’t eaten all day. To be honest, I haven’t.

 

“Aye,” Jamie’s voice is low and in my ear. He really thought the whole thing through by moving to be next to me. He can pretty much say whatever he wants and no one will hear. “I’ve thought about that more than once, Sassenach. Trust me.”

 

I’m aware of the fact that he’s stopped eating and is just looking at me in that way he has of making my stomach turn into a jumble of knots.

 

“When ye come over again, we’ll make use of it, aye?”

 

I look at him and scoff but I can tell my ears are burning at the thought of it.

 

“Lots o’things we could do.” Jamie continues.

 

“Oh really?” I take a long sip of water.

 

“Mhmm.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Well…”

 

Jamie turns his head so that his chin scrapes the side of my cheek as he buries his face into my ear until his breath is hot upon it. I’m super thankful I have long sleeves on because my arms are now covered in goosebumps from the feeling.

 

“Baking, for one…”

 

I lean my head back with a laugh.

 

“Scandalous.”

 

“Aye. I’m especially good at making bread. Kneading it, too.”

 

I swallow at the very thought of his huge arms working anything soft and pliable on the counter.

 

“Ye see, the trick is, ye have to ken when enough is enough. Ye cannae be too gentle or it’s all full of lumps. Cannae overdo it, too. Or it’s tougher than a rubber hockey puck.”

 

I nod my head as if I’m actually following him here.

 

My head is overwhelmed with his hand under the table on my knee, tracing delicately up to my thigh and grabbing it securely, giving it a small squeeze. I almost bite my tongue off.

 

“Christ, best feeling in the world. Ye ken? Tae mold it. Work it until it comes apart in yer hands. Soft and warm and smoother than butter.”

 

I can’t think past anything except his hand easing upwards gently, his fingertips resting closer and closer to the area that's absolutely throbbing for his touch.

 

Suddenly, his voice snaps me out of my unholy reverie of unfolding for him on top of those damn countertops with his hands, rough and wanting and twisting me apart into some heights of heaven yet unexplored between us.

 

“Come on, Sassenach. Part deux awaits. We should hurry if we want to get there by dark. S’not far.”

 

Jamie nods out the window to the growing glow of evening spreading over the skies above his red pickup.

 

We finish up and soon, Mrs. Fitz brings us a check as Jamie slips off to say hello to Walter in the kitchen.

 

“On the house for you, hun. Make sure he comes back in, eh? S’been too long, dear. He’s a good man.”

 

“I know.” I smile at her and take her hand, pressing it lightly.

 

“God I miss the little girl. Faith, her name was. More precious to him than anything. Us, too. Such a shame.” Mrs. Fitz’s eyes glistened over momentarily before she clears her throat and smiles as she heads off to bus a table.

 

Jamie returns only to see the zeros on the check and roll his eyes. I pretend I don’t see him slip the fifty dollar bill underneath the receipt and set it on the table next to the napkin holder.

 

His generosity and their kindness is enough to bring tears to my eyes. I wave goodbye to Mrs. Fitz at the counter as Jamie holds the door open for me and we hurry to the truck.

 

Jamie hops on Route 50 again, taking us out past farms and rolling hills. I feel like I know where we’re going but I can’t be sure. He only lets go of my hand to find the radio and crank it up.

 

“What are we listening to?” I raise my voice to be heard. Jamie likes it loud. Can’t blame him, I do too.

 

His eyes on the road, he wildly flips through the stations until we hear the buzz and crackling of the airwaves before he finally settles on one.

 

“Christ. Sassenach. Please tell me ye’ve heard this.”

 

“Country?” I look at him in disbelief, “Rocker boy likes country?”

 

Jamie laughs and settles his hand back on the clutch over my own.

 

“Hey, this. This stuff is gold. Used to listen to it as a boy. Thought someday I’d come to America and try my luck at it.”

 

“Country?” I repeat myself.

 

Jamie suddenly drops his accent and tries a horrible, straight intonation of my American one. His “r’s” are far too hard without his soft burr in them and it’s honestly quite off putting.

 

“Is that so hard to believe, sweetheart?”

 

I throw my head back and cackle, it’s worse than I ever thought it could be.

 

“Oh my god, no. Please don’t.” I chuckle. “Come back. You’re scary.”

 

Ignoring me, Jamie cranks up the volume and throws his head back like a child, belting out the tune, “God Love Her” by Toby Keith.

 

“Just a girl born in Dixie


Washed in the blood


And raised on the banks


Of the Mississippi mud


She always had a thing…”

 

Here, he looked at me solidly staring back at him with a frozen smile on my face as his voice filled the cab. Lowering his tone, he pushes his face dramatically towards mine and wiggles an eyebrow.

 

“About fallin' in love with a bad boy.”

 

I can feel my face flush over into purple, something about him singing to close to me and only for me makes me die inside a thousand different times.  

 

“Look at the road!” I laugh, pushing his cheek back to his side. He smiles but a warm glow creeps over his face and his eyes are basically the cartoon version of giant hearts.

 

Jamie wears his broken heart on his sleeve, his glass face really showing off his absolutely flawed soul that burns with an incandescent glow I can’t stop falling in love with. No matter how hard I try. I don’t know if I’ve loved him for 20 seconds or a lifetime but forever would never be enough. Not when being with someone feels this good.

 

I can’t stop staring. I forgot how good he is and his voice doesn’t register a weak spot, hitting all the notes with precision and carefully honed talent that show his years of practice.

 

He sings softly through the next verse and looks around for the few and far between signs of country roads as we fly by them in the ochre glow of late afternoon.

 

"Yea, they could see it all comin'


But her daddy never dreamed


She'd grow up that fast


You know what I mean


The way a girl gets when she turns 17


Kinda crazy"

 

He joins in the chorus, louder than I am anticipating. Christ, the lungs on this guy.

 

“She's a rebel child


And a preacher's daughter

 

Hah. Clever.

 

“She was baptized in dirty water”

 

Jamie scrunches up his nose in joy at my impressed reaction and keeps going.

 

“Her mama cried the first time they caught her with me


They knew they couldn't stop her”

 

I know what’s coming next in the song and clearly, so does he.

 

God is he?

 

Will he?

 

This part is coming too fast.

 

Oh my god I can’t look away but I can’t keep looking at him. His eyes are too intensely blue and hold me transfixed.

 

It’s just a song, Claire.

 

Maybe I’m being dramatic, too. Maybe something about him inspires me to let go of my inhibitions and really believe in miracles after all. In the magic of music creating a thing of life and beauty and… reality.

 

Could he?

 

“She holds tight to me and the Bible


On the back seat of my motorcycle


Left her daddy standin' there preachin' to the choir


You see... God love her”

 

He’s doing it. Oh god, he’s doing it. I brace my stomach as he belts out the next words clear and strong and the sound washes over me like water and I am made clean by the humble declaration from his broken soul to my own.

 

“Oh, me and God love her”

 

Jamie pauses slowly, getting a beat behind the music on purpose to look at me with intent shining down from his handsome face.

 

Fucking hell.

 

It’s not in my head.

 

It’s more than just a lyric to him and… and…

 

Shit. Are there tears in my eyes? Again?

 

I can’t stop smiling and neither can he. He squeezes my hand and I hold his back tightly.

 

Can someone actually pass away from being so happy?

 

I’m melting into a puddle of goo on the spot with how fucking mushy this all is. So much so that I hardly notice he’s looking around the car using the mirrors to see behind us down the country lane.

 

Jamie turns the volume down and pulls off to the side of the road. No one’s around. Throwing on his hazard lights, he turns and looks at me, a strange smile on his face.

 

“What are you doing?” I blink stupidly.

 

“Yer turn, Sassenach.”

 

My what now?

 

My brain is addled and I am calculating how far I’ve ever gone in a car before and no, I’m not talking about the mileage. It’s on my mind, okay?

 

Jamie slips an arm around my waist before he opens his door and slides me over to take his spot in the driver’s seat.

 

“Yer learning how to drive a stick-shift, love.”

 

“What? Now?”

 

“Yup. I’ll teach ye.”

 

Jamie laughs and rejoins the chorus of the song as he slips around to the other side of the car and opens the door. Hopping up on the cab with one foot, he whoops as he hangs off the truck door, his voice carrying into the middle of the empty cornfields. The sound leaving him is a wordless cry that is pure joy and testosterone and everything missing in my life up till now. There’s something so boyish in how unbridled he is and it makes me feel giddy just to be breathing the same air.

 

Slipping back into the truck cab with a sturdy, car-shaking plop, he looks at me and smiles like a fool. My hands are shaking on the wheel as I take off the hazard lights, just as Jamie cranks up the music again and keeps on singing, not taking his eyes off of my face.

 

“Now she holds tight to me and the Bible


On the back seat of my motorcycle


Left her daddy standin' there preachin' to the choir


You see... God love her


Oh, me and God love her


God love her


Me and God love her”

 

Holy shit.

 

God?

 

If you’re there, help!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Pulled the car off the road to the lookout
Could've followed my fears all the way down
And maybe I don't quite know what to say
But I'm here in your doorway

I just wanted you to know
That this is me trying

 

This Is Me Trying, Taylor Swift 

*** 

 



Jamie has me practice driving up the empty country road and I feel like Fred Flintstone over here, driving a car with both feet, confused by the pedals and the gear shift I’m currently white-knuckling with my sweaty hand. 

 

Yabba-dabba-fucking-doo. 

 

He is patience personified as I cause his beloved pickup to lurch and stall out several times on the road and around bends. I don’t know how he’s staying so calm, easing me on like a horse he’s training, clicking his tongue to get my attention and nudging my hand when I need to switch gears. I don’t dare look at him because I know I’m sweating bullets and too concerned with wrecking his pickup to think of anything else. It might be an old hunk of metal,  but to him it’s special just like everything in his life. Some ending to a perfect evening if we end up in a ditch. Although part of me realizes he might not mind that as much as I think he would. 

 

There are worse places where we could get stranded. I loved looking at the stars with him on the bike path. I bet if we ended up in a ditch we could watch the stars again. Lying next to him on the cold asphalt felt so warm to my soul. Our shared silence, kindling a fire within my heart that has yet to go out. The way he asked to kiss my hand, the feel of his lips and breath on the inside of my palm still makes my stomach flip around like I swallowed a live goldfish. 

 

“Light’s green, Sassenach.” 

 

GAH. 

 

We’re at an intersection and I snap out of my reverie to change gears, my hand accidentally grabs at him instead of the gear shift between us and I panic. 

 

I open my mouth in horror because in the same moment, several things happen at once. 

 

One, I see a green cement truck in the rearview mirror trundling down the road behind us at an alarming rate. 

 

Two, I hear the unmistakable grind and stall of the engine as I grab onto Jamie’s pants instead of the actual gear shift. I am mortified. 

 

Three, I feel something under my fingers I am not expecting and in the light of day versus the quiet comfort of my bed after midnight. I am shook. 

 

Five awkward seconds later, I am hopelessly fumbling around the cab for the gear shift and giving myself whiplash looking into all the mirrors at once while I actually goat scream. It’s clear we’re in a predicament. 

 

The green cement truck is now behind us, blaring the horn as we’re stalled in the middle of the intersection blocking both lanes. 

 

“Jamie!” 

 

Looking down in my hand as my fingers touch the sweet coldness of the metal, I grab hard and feel a sickening crunch. I pull my hand up with the now-broken gear shift in my hand, my eyes wide in sheer panic. 

 

Oh, God. 

 

“Did ye just break my truck?” Jamie blinks quickly, his voice urgent but a smile is playing on his mouth. 

 

I look at him incredulously as he stares at me for a second, dead faced before doubling over into a fit of laughter. Why is he laughing? The cement truck is currently laying on the horn and my one lifeline is over here in stitches unable to stop his cackling. 

 

 Fucking hell. 

 

“Don’t just sit there, help!” 

 

Still shaking with laughter that annoys the shit out of me in my current state of fear, Jamie slides over and is practically sitting on top of me while he gains control of the old pickup and uses brute strength to manually shift it out of the stall and back onto the road again. 

 

I feel like I’m about to throw up. 

 

“Dinnae fash, Sassenach.” Jamie’s voice is higher than normal as he wheezes in between laughs. 

 

He helps me pull over to the side of the road and then collapses into a heap next to me, holding the broken gear shift in his hand. 

 

“I could just die.” I exclaim. “Jesus, Jamie. I’m so- so sorry… I’ll fix it-” 

 

Jamie’s actually slumped in the seat already, his giant form shaking the cab as he gets a hold of himself long enough to wipe the tears from his eyes and, fiddling with the gear shift, manages to reconnect it at the base with a pin that’s snapped off. 

 

“Happens all the time. Sorry, love. I should’ve warned ye. But Christ-” 

 

He falls back onto the bench seat, his head falling to his chest chuckling like a little kid. 

 

“Yer face. I’m sorry… that was the fucking funniest thing I’ve seen in weeks.” 

 

“You need to get out more.” I reply shortly, gripping my chest to calm my racing heart. 

 

I groan and let my head rest on the back of the seat. I swear I can hear my heartbeat through my ears as I breathe in and out deeply to calm down. Jamie’s silent laughter shakes the whole seat and before I know it, my mouth is twitching into a smile, too. 

 

“Laugh it up, buddy.” I giggle. “I’m still driving this, though. Anything else I should know about this hunk of metal before we get back on the road?” 

 

Jamie sits up suddenly, hand to chest in mock offence. 

 

“Hey! Dinnae talk about Donas that way.” 

 

“Donas?” I blink. 

 

He fucking named it. Of course he has. 

 

Jamie shakes his head and pats the dashboard lovingly, “No, he’s in good shape. Just a little character is all.” 

 

 I roll my eyes and playfully slap at his shoulder and look into the mirrors to pull us back onto the road. After a few turns, I’m relaxing again. Jamie is flicking the radio station trying to find something to listen to. 

 

Suddenly, the terrain around us becomes familiar. 

 

I knew it. 

 

“Right up here, Sassenach. Turn left. Ye’ll see at the end.” Jamie nods. 

 

Fuck. 

 

I know where we’re going. 

 

I drive up into the turn-off which is no more than a thicker curve of the road marked as part of the park by a short gravel path at the end. My heart hits the floor of the pickup cab and I squish it under the brake as I pull up.

 

I put the truck in park and stare straight ahead, hands gripping the wheel like a vice. Jamie gets out and doesn’t notice me faltering as I walk fast and purposefully ahead of him to the lookout. 1890’s boots crunching the gravel in a cold, unsatisfactory way. Each step feels more like running.

 

I don’t know why but I want to get there before him. 

 

Like when someone is over at your house and they go to open your closet with all the hidden shit in it that you shoved in just before they arrived. Well, this lookout is my own hidden emotional clutter and … I don’t know what I’m thinking. We’re here. I can’t possibly distract him from looking at it. Not even if I flashed my tits. Well… maybe that. 

 

My heart is pounding in my chest as I reach the split-log railing meant to hold visitors away from the dangerous drop below. The memory of this place still haunts me. 

 

It’s supposed to be beautiful and, for anyone else, it probably is. But I see only the hollow chasm beneath us when others look out and see treetops. The sun washes the warming earth in yellow ochre and the golden beams of light lay thick upon our faces. 

 

My legs give out just before my mind can wrap around the fact that I’m here again for the first time in a long time. I bend down to the ground, pretending as though I’m looking at something instead of holding onto the earth for dear life. I can hear Jamie walking up behind me. His Doc Martens stop just short of my hands in the rocks. I don’t look up, though. 

 

I scribble in the sand and the pebbles below my fingers and try to stop myself from gripping onto the dirt itself to keep my mind from shattering. From splitting in front of him. 

 

Last time I was here, I was split. I wasn’t in my right mind. I wasn’t me. 

 

What would Jamie think if I came to pieces at the sight of a mere lookout? 

 

Fuck. 

 

“Claire.” His voice is soft and mild. 

 

“Hmm.” I sniff past the feeling of needle-pricks on my nose. 

 

Shit. He’s bending down to my level, his great worn hand hanging on his knee as his other hand lifts my chin. His fingers are warm to the touch and my face is cold with the pallor of fear. 

 

“What’s wrong, Mo Nighean Donn?” 

 

I don’t answer but I blink at him. My brow is creased in pain. His hair is tousled over his eyes in the wind and he looks so stalwart kneeling there. Just waiting. His patience guides me back to The Now ™ 

 

“What’s that mean?” I toss my hair over my shoulder. “What you just said?” 

 

“Ah…” Jamie starts shyly, darting his eyes down for a moment, “well, silly … but I’ve always loved it. Thought of the term the first time I saw ye. My brown haired lass.” 

 

“Oh,” I say simply, brushing a hand over my wild locks. His eyes are searching my face for some sign of life but I go back to tracing lines in the dirt. 

 

“What’re you drawing?” Jamie asks softly after a while. 

 

“Swirls.” I say simply, correcting myself. “Fractals, actually. Mathematical lines and curves that blend into each other in ever-smaller patterns. Each swirl coming back to the center and then out again in a never-ending chain of design.” 

 

I look up to see Jamie looking down at me with a mixture of love and puzzlement on his face. 

 

“I was obsessed with them in high school. Much the way kids were obsessed with drawing that goddamn 3D letter “S” when we were young. Fractals were certain. Numbers. Something I could rely on every time to be there for me when nothing else was.” 

 

“Nothing to chance.” Jamie mused under his breath. 

 

I’m grasping at straws. Anything to keep going. Words keep falling out of my face in no particular order or arrangement. I’m hoping to God it sounds like I’m cohesive because I don’t know what the fuck I’m saying. I’m just speaking to speak, to fill the silence, to give my fragile mind something to latch onto and my mouth is running with it. 

 

“Animals, too. I had every pet under the sun and they were my family. Joe and I have a running joke that on Tuesdays we share animal facts with each other. It helped me get through the day.” 

 

Jamie nods, but I’m not sure he follows me. 

 

“For example,” I pick up a pebble and hold it up to him. “Did you know penguins propose with one of these?” 

 

“A pebble?” Jamie blinks at me, smirking and sticking out his hand to wrap around my own, taking the small bit of rock in it. 

 

“Yup.” 

 

“Well…” Jamie breathes in and out slowly before he continues. He tosses the small, white rock up in his hand and watches it come down into his palm silently. “I’m no’ a penguin. But that’s possibly the best way to propose I’ve ever heard of.” 

 

I laugh softly, a small exhale from my nose tickles the hair that’s hanging in front of my face. 

 

I pull myself up a little and suddenly, it hits me that Jamie is kneeling in front of me, hand out and heart all over his face for me to witness. The vision is altogether terrifying and it feels like a déjà vu moment for some reason and it shakes me to my core. 



Frank never got down on one knee. To see any other man doing so is a first for me. Proposal or not, I’ve never seen this before and my mind is racing as much as my heart. To see Jamie doing it is enough to make me pass away altogether. 

 

Clearing his throat and blushing profusely, Jamie raises an eyebrow at me, “Well, I ken I’m in the position but I’ll no’ be asking ye for yer hand so shortly after telling ye I loved ye for the first time, Claire.” 

 

I smile and the sadness dissipates, if only for a moment. For just a moment, my heart stops feeling like someone is stabbing it with a knife. 

 

I want to hear him say it a million times more. 

 

I want to take his hand and run with him back to the old pickup truck. To take him in the cab with me and find joy and solace in the meeting of our bodies combined at last. To make love to him slowly and carefully, not as a girl, but as a woman about to lose it all. I value it now. Those moments. But to do so would hurt him. It would be cowardly. 

 

Claire Beauchamp is not a coward. 

 

I reach out as I stand and cup his face with my hand. 

 

I want to feel his pulse under my fingers and know he’s alive and breathing and true. 

 

I want to stop time and capture this moment. 

 

At this moment, I am loved. 

 

If I had a thousand wishes I’d use them all to keep us here. Right here. Forever. 

 

“I want to say it back, but … I have something to tell you first.” 

 

Jamie’s face clouds over and he gets up slowly, unsure of where to put his hands or how to react. I notice he slips the pebble into his pocket and shoves his hand in after it, putting the other on the small of my back as we stand there. I know him better to know that he doesn’t do anything by chance. This is important. 

 

“Say what you want, Sassenach. I’ll listen.” Jamie says in a hushed tone that is more serious than I’ve ever heard him before. “Ye needn’t say the words back to me at all, ye ken? I dinnae expect ye to do anything but accept them from me as they’re true. I always wanna be honest wi’ ye Claire, ye ken that, right?” 

 

I nod, the lump in my throat making it impossible to speak. 

 

I can’t bear to look at him. We stand in the silence but it doesn’t feel like a comfort this time, it feels like the goddamn precipice it is. Literally. 

 

The drop is 547 feet. 55 stories. The fall would take 7 seconds. 

 

I’ve calculated. Like fractals, I run on facts. Numbers. Certainty.  

 

My voice sounds strange to me as I open my mouth to speak to a man that is willing to shout from the rooftops his love for me… and somehow soft enough to be okay if I don’t say it back with just as much fervor. 

 

“Haven’t been up here since the night he died.” 

 

Jamie’s hand freezes on my back but then it keeps moving, slowly up and down to ease me as I continue. 

 

“I want to be honest with you too. I understand if you never want to see me again after this. I do, I really do.” 

 

I turn to look at him now, tears blurring my vision. I want to see his face. I want to remember when he loved me. I want to have one more moment… just one more moment of innocence between us. I know I’ll never get this back. Nothing can ever go back after this. 

 

I know he must wonder why I’m wasting all my potential, the same way I wonder why he’s wasting his. And not just “life” getting in the way. But something more. Something more sinister. 

 

Unending guilt. Sorrow that plumbs the deepest chambers of my heart with aching waves upon the shore of my subconscious. It’s hard to be out in the air with all these open wounds. They fester. And turn into barbs I throw at people.  

 

I’ve turned into poison ivy when I want to be a daisy. A rose. A blue flower in ink on a Post-It note. 

 

I want to be buried with the Post-It over my heart. I want it to be burned with me and I want my ashes carried on the wind far, far away from here so no one will ever find me. So no one will grieve or fake grief over my rotting corpse. I think of what my ghost would say to them all. 

 

Don’t cry for me. I’m not here.

 

I’m dust in the wild wind that I love so much. Free and soaring and beautiful. 

 

We’re all dust in the end. Let me be beautiful in mine. 

 

My heart is breaking. Almost audible in its crunch. Just like the pebbles beneath my shoes or the echoes of my voice as the wind whips it around my face just like my hair. Colluding over my eyes in dark tangles. 

 

I should have put my hair up. But it’s down and wild and free. And mine. And I need to be me right now. The me that he loves and will never get back after this. 

 

“I want you to know something, Jamie. It’s my fault. My fault my husband’s dead.” 

 

Jamie doesn’t react for a long moment. I’m not even sure if he heard me. And then he swallows and nods, looking out over the canyon beyond and then back at me. His eyes are as open as his heart and he isn’t judging. He isn’t cringing. He isn’t shocked. He’s just… Jamie. 

 

Nothing about what I’ve told him so far has changed him. 

 

Or me. 

 

I’m still just as broken as I was the day it happened. 

 

“We were fighting. He’d been having an affair and I found out.” 

 

I swallow hard. 

 

“Tried to make it work. Tried to suggest counseling. Tried to do… something.” 

 

I breathe in shakily. 

 

“One night we got to fighting. I told him I was glad. I was glad that I found out because then I wouldn’t have to live a life with someone who didn’t love me. He said what he usually did, only he screamed it. For me to calm down. To go away. That I wasn’t… that I wasn’t myself.” 

 

I grip the splintered railing in front of me and look out into the beyond but I don’t see it. 

 

I only see me sitting on my bed and I see him over me. I see his face. Snarling and a string of foam saliva collecting at the corner of his mouth as he screams at me until his face is absolutely purple.

 

“He was drinking. I knew it when we started to fight. I knew it. I didn’t care. I confronted him. Had just come from the doctor’s that day and I confronted him. About what he’d done. About how he’d fucked up my life. He blamed me. He blamed me...” 

 

I’m starting to repeat myself but I’m holding onto the railing in front of me with white knuckles, dropping at a thin strand of sanity to anchor my soul. Jamie’s hand finds my own and I grip it tightly before I realize I’m even doing it. I’m not sure how much to say or not say on this. I guess I’ll find out where it goes and where my mind leads me as I lead Jamie down this tunnel. The vision of Frank is blurry in my mind. Here’s where the details start to fade out. I frown in concentration as I continue, trying to remember the moments I’ve tried so hard to blot out. 

 

“Something. Something about him screaming at me then, in my face. Standing up over me, pointing down at me and screaming. I snapped. I had enough. I picked up the white, wood, wobbly chair at the table and threw it at him with all my might. He caught it and I heard it clatter down. The noise was so loud. It was so loud…I tried to run to the room to get away from him but then he stepped forward and caught me. By the neck. My head was in the crook of his arm and he … he got behind me and picked me up by my neck.” 

 

With my free hand, my fingers trace my throat in the memory of the pain and the terror. Fear isn’t frozen. It isn’t dull. It’s white hot embers. 

 

I can hear Jamie’s breath change next to me. His chest is moving up and down and he’s breathing raggedly, I can feel the rage pouring from his body and filling the air around us with unadulterated hatred. Loathing. It’s so much I can almost taste the bile in my own mouth and I can hear his jaw click as he clenches his teeth. 

 

The hate I feel is a cancer to the soul. One they could not eradicate from me by taking out my life-giving organs. 

 

“Dragged me to the…” 

 

My voice fucking fails me as I continue. I clear my throat and try to keep it strong. 

 

“To the bedroom… my feet were off the ground… he had me… so tight. I tried to claw at his arms, just clawing. Clawing at his shirt and sleeves trying to get him to stop. But he wouldn’t. I got scared, I couldn’t breathe… I could feel my face turning blue… I tried gasping but my throat was crushed under his arm…No sounds could come out.” 

 

My hands are scratching my neck now from the memory of it all. I still don’t wear crew-neck shirts. Once, I had a high-collar blouse on at the office and I ripped at it in a panic attack tearing my shirt. I felt his hands on my neck again and I couldn’t breathe. The buttons went flying, scattering on the floor like marbles. I never found them all. 

 

Somehow I find my strength and I keep going. 

 

“I was so scared. I thought he was going to kill me. No one would have heard anything. I tried screaming for help but he held me so tight I couldn’t. He screamed at me that I'm a crazy person. That he could break me if he wanted to.” 

 

Jamie curses now. Low and guttural and in Gaelic, but I don’t need a translator to know that no words suffice the horror of that moment.  

 

“He threw me on the bed and spat on me. On my face and … and into my hair… it had come down then. I had it up. It had come down onto my ear and shoulder. I remember because I pushed it back and I thought to myself…” 

 

I collect my thoughts and breathe, “I thought my hair should be up. I tried to put it up but I was shaking. He yelled I was a fucking bitch. That I wasn’t even there. He’d say that. That I’d go and the me he was seeing wasn’t me anymore, so he … he had a right to… to hit me…when I went crazy. When I left. When Claire was gone. When I was the fucking monster he said I was. When I’d scream and cry and lunge and try to get him to stop. Stop saying those horrible things.” 

 

Jamie releases my hand to rub his chin and face and holds his hands there a moment before the silence from him deafens me. There is nothing to say. Nothing to say because words won’t change any of it. You can’t change the past. No matter how hard you try. 

 

“He never stopped. He was too big… too fast… too much… he hit me then, that night. Stretched out his hand,” I held my hand out to Jamie, arm stretched, palm facing inwards. I draw it inwards quickly in a sweeping motion. “Hit me like that. His hand went right over my ear and I couldn’t hear anything anymore. Not over the pain. I yelled at him to go. To get away. To drive away and just leave the house. Leave me be. I begged and sobbed and screamed it at him. Next thing I know, he was out the door, slamming it so hard behind him it shook the house but I couldn’t hear it. And then he was gone.” 

 

I straighten up a bit and sigh shakily. 

 

“I told him to go out and he was drunk and I told him to leave and he did. He got into a crash. Police came knocking around one in the morning to tell me he’d hit a tree. About 20 miles outside of town. Going the wrong way down the interstate and swerving. His death was instant.” 

 

My voice sounds monotone and dead as I continue. 

 

“I still couldn’t hear well in the middle of planning the funeral, so I went to urgent care… ruptured eardrum. I said I hurt it playing volleyball. Best lie I could come up with. I don’t know why I lied, but I did. Then the funeral. My black dress had long sleeves in summer. To hide the black and blue bruises, the lines on my wrists and arms from his fingers.” 

 

I swallow slowly, I’m in control now. My words don’t sound so manic and I am actually able to piece together sentences again. Only Alicia has heard this bit and I’m surprised I’m telling Jamie now, but the words come out all on their own. 

 

 “The worst part was pretending I wasn’t in pain to receive our families at the funeral. Having to hug people and have them pat my head as they did so and not realize I was fucking crying over how badly my ear hurt to the touch. How messed up is that? I didn’t even cry at my husband’s fucking funeral because he died? I cried because he fucking hurt my goddamn ear.” 

 

I laugh. It sounds strange in the silence between us. To my surprise, Jamie huffs out a harsh laugh that sounds more like a cough. It is angry and honest and true and a scoff that would boil the blood of Frank Randall and I’m happy to hear it. 

 

“And then it hit me. All his family. Friends. My family. People who had no fucking clue who the real Frank was. All hugging and crying over him. Over me. When I killed him. I fucking sent him out that night and I knew. I knew he had too much. If I hadn’t sent him out-” 

 

My hand goes to my mouth instinctively. I put it back down on the rail and look out over the treetops far below. The sun is golden, edging red. It’s beautiful. I wish I could see it. 

 

“A few days later. I drove my car up here to the lookout. Almost followed my fears all the way down.” 

 

I breathe in slow and shuddering, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this now. I guess… this is me. Trying.” 

 

Trying to open up. 

 

Trying not to hurt anymore. 

 

Just… 

 

Trying. 

 

Jamie speaks now, breaking his silence. His voice is smooth and low and calm. A question. 

 

“What stopped ye?” 

 

I smile through the tears and snort-laugh, “A squirrel. A goddamn squirrel perched right over there watching me, I thought if it saw me fall it might gnaw my face off at the bottom of the ravine.” 

 

I gesture to the railing on my left near the pine trees surrounding us. 

 

There was a squirrel that day, fat and gray and bumbling around the pine needles. When it saw me, it stopped, blinked up at me with its black eyes and went back to foraging. A natural reaction for nature to keep on doing the mundane while I was facing my own existential crisis. Standing in front of the barrier, hands behind me, grabbing onto the rail. Furry bastard kept on eating, fucking eating. Loudly, too. Showing me how insignificant it would be if I jumped. Life would go on unchanged. The sun would rise and set in its own time and nature would always win in the end. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. My death would be nothing but a blip in the rodent’s life and it would have hardly looked up had I gone through with it. 

 

“What really saved ye, Sassenach?” 

 

I freeze. No one’s ever asked me that. Most are okay with the squirrel-eating-my-face story because it’s just uncomfortable enough to be true. But like all my lies, Jamie alone sees right through them. 

 

“An angel.” 

 

I answer simply, giving no further explanation. 

 

“Ye’ll have to tell me about that sometime,” Jamie smiles softly. “Me bein’ religious and all.” 

 

“Maybe I will,” I nod, “someday.” 

 

To talk about it now would open up a can of worms for another day. The truth is Lacey Brenner needed me, needed me alive and kicking more than I wanted to jump that day. But I failed her, too. She was human and flesh and blood and her husband blew her brains out two weeks later before taking his own life. I couldn’t save her. 

 

I never believed in angels until I met her and saw there were genuinely good people in this world. Warm and sunny and shy and sweet. And scared. So fucking scared. Something in her fear latched onto me and it was more than just a case for me. It always was. I tend to do that, let myself get emotionally involved in saving people. The way no one saved me. Maybe if I tried hard enough, strong enough, long enough… the universe would balance in some cosmic way to adjust for all the maltreatment and neglect I suffered. It had to. 

 

Otherwise what’s the point of it all? 

 

I refuse to believe in a Savior that lets people suffer when He can hear them. But I’m becoming more and more open to the idea that maybe He sends people to us in His place. Maybe instead of getting His hands dirty with us mere mortals, He sends angels to save us. Slowly and surely. Wrapped in the flesh and frailty of life and in the most unlikely of places. 

 

That. 

 

That I can believe. 

 

Like the humble being standing in front of me. Leather jacket. Doc Martens. Hands in his pockets, heart on his sleeve. Blue opal eyes cutting into me as he looks at me and says, 

 

“Yer better versed in the law than I am. But ye ken yer only crime in all this, Sassenach?” 

 

I don’t answer. I don’t know how to speak when I’m faced with his beauty. Not when it’s wrapped in all the honesty of a man who has nothing else to lose. 

 

“Loving a man who dinnae deserve ye.”

 

A sob rises in my throat. I’m not mad at him. Not at all, but he’s taking the heat of my anger. 

 

“And what do I deserve?” I ask, my voice getting louder. “Why do I get to live and they don’t? Why do I have their blood on my head when I never wanted anything to do with it? Why are people saved when they don’t want to be? If you can answer that, you can tell me what the fuck I deserve, James Fraser!” 

 

My voice is straining now, tears clouding my vision. 

 

“Ye deserve better than me.” Jamie answers, all too quickly. His face is guarded, his jaw set, his eyes bluer than I’ve ever seen them before. 

 

I pull away from him, stepping back as surely as if he slapped me across the face. 

 

Fucking hell. 

 

“I don’t want someone better than you.” I say angrily. “There’s no one fucking better than you.” 

 

I look at him then, eyes blazing. I know my voice is rising and I don’t fucking care. Jamie’s expression changes into soft regard and the way he’s looking at me is throwing me off even more, but I continue. Fully launching into my tirade right now. 

 

“I was expecting this. This is the part I know all about,” My voice is shaking in its intensity and I spit the words out at him, “The part when you say it’s not you, it’s me. I just can’t handle you, Claire. The part where you tell me I’m better off with someone else or on my own until I heal because who the fuck could love this-” 

 

My hands flap around my body like deranged pigeons and a sob wracks my shoulders. He remains still, motionless. He doesn’t blink, doesn’t say anything. Just stares, his jaw twitches and his nostrils flare to let me know he’s still breathing. Still very much here. Unlike me, the fire in him is controlled and burning in check. I’m spiraling and I know it. I’m losing it right here in front of him. 

 

“God! I am so sick of people telling me what I should do and who I should love and-” 

 

I can’t speak. There is no warning, no asking of consent this time. With a look of pain in his own eyes, he crosses the space between us that I put there myself and is kissing me hard, taking the air out of my lungs as I cry out in surprise. His hand tangles in my hair and pulls me to him. 

 

I push him back hard in the chest, my hands slapping at his leather jacket. Jamie lets go of my head and my hair and stands there, panting. Eyes like a blue flame, chest heaving. 

 

There is something in him that breaks me. His body is as hard as granite and touching him, pushing him away is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m no good. I’m no good to him or for him and he doesn’t fucking need me exploding around him to only bring more hurt. 

 

I dig in the heels of my boots to the gravel beneath and put my hands on his chest to push as hard as I can. He steps back, but not because I’ve moved him. I don’t think even my full weight would make a dent in how much sheer muscle I’m up against.

 

“Claire.” Jamie says low and soft. 

 

 I turn to walk away, his face hidden from view by my tears. He catches my wrist and then lets it go. I try to take another step, but I don’t. There’s something holding me back from moving another muscle. 

 

It’s the tether in my heart holding my soul to his. If I sever that tie, we would both bleed to death. I know it. As the tears fall from my eyes, I meet his own blue ones and in them, I see a mirror glinting between us. A memory of lives past and lives not yet lived and in this moment, I believe. 

 

Claire Beauchamp believes in something. 

 

Twin fires.

 

However ridiculous, however outrageous, I believe that when the world was created, he and I were the same. A single flame split in two. Forever searching. Forever broken. Forever haunting this earthly plane in a cycle of birth and rebirth and… yes, even death. 

 

And it would go on forever. Unceasingly. 

 

Without words, he’s won the battle in my head and I give in to his arms wrapping securely around me. My heart swells with an emotion I can’t describe as I let the grief ebb and flow out of me like a tide I can’t control. 

 

I don’t pretend to know it all, but I do know one thing. 

 

Hate cannot drive out hate. Not even hate for myself and all that I have become. Only love can do that. Jamie’s love for me crashes in like a hurricane and drives out all pain from my body in great gasping breaths as I cling onto him with my battered soul. 

 

My life is inextricably linked to his now and forever in more ways than I realize. 

 

I know now that the pain will never leave me. Time does not heal all. We just make more room in our hearts to let love come in to overshadow the pain.

 

Love eclipses the dark and takes a new hold in our heart in a way that the darkness will never have a claim to. 

 

Love. Love. Just love. 

 

And fuck it, I love him. 

 

Jamie draws me into him with his eyes, enticing pools of the deepest blue that beckon me to join him in closeness and drown in their depths. I sink into him with no thought to the outcome. Our kisses turn desperate as I meet his lips, carefully and softly at first before pressing in hard and wanting. I can taste our shared breath, feel the thudding of our combined heartbeat as I scramble to keep hold of his neck as Jamie pulls my waist into his own and lifts me until my boot tips trail the gravel beneath us, his hands groping the small of my back and pulling me up onto him with the clumsy movements of a man too drunk for gentleness. 

 

I don’t even realize we’re moving until my back hits the familiar metal of the side of his truck as he sets me down and fumbles behind me for the handle. Our mouths are still meeting, the back of my head pressing hard into the window of the cab and the thud of it makes Jamie pull back a second to slip his left hand under my hair for padding before he returns to my lips once more. I stifle a giggle against the smile he flashes under my nose as he nudges his own into mine, searching for more. 

 

With a small grunt, Jamie pulls on the door before realizing it’s stuck and he curses low in Gaelic again before prying it open and shoving me up and inside faster than I can register what’s going on. Almost before I hear the car door shutting behind him, he’s on top of me. My head almost bounces off the seat with how fast I fall down with him on top of me, too eager to care. 

 

In the quiet of the cab, I can hear the rush of adrenaline go straight to my head like a drug I can’t get enough of. Even though it’s a tight fit, we make it work. Grabbing Jamie’s jacket collar, I push his sharp jawline aside and nip at his ear, breathing him in. The smell of spice and dark chocolate fills my senses, mixing with the salt and humidity of the cab with both of us panting and filling our lungs with the exhales of the other. 

 

My leg is up over his lower back and pinned to the dashboard as Jamie roams ravenously on top of me, mouth and hands exchanging, making quick work of the buttons on my chest until I feel them slide free and my shirt falling open. 

 

“Jesus, fuck , Sassenach.” 

 

I feel the air hit my chest just as Jamie scrambles up off of me and my leg falls down to the floor of the cab, now draped over his own. His hand hits the side of my body and he pulls it up to his mouth as if he’s just burned it. 

 

“Now, that ,” Jamie nods down at me as if in a trance, “Deserves more time and attention than I can give it here. Dammit!” 

 

I smile softly at his reaction. I wasn’t expecting it, or for us to get this far but here we are and I am thoroughly relishing the utter disbelief and drunken look he’s giving me right now. Jamie sits up straight in the passenger side and pulls me up by my waist to straddle him. There isn’t much room in the cab but my knees hit either side of his hips. Using his hands to ease me into place on his lap, Jamie exhales sharply and looks up into my face, his pupils blown until his eyes look as dark navy as the lace sculpting my breasts and midriff into a corset. My pale skin glowing in the waning light of dusk. 

 

Right now, Jamie’s eyes are drinking it in, almost as if he’s afraid to look away lest he imagined it all. Like a kid on Christmas eyeing the first present, his hands are all over me but hovering inches above my torso unsure what to touch or look at first. Or exactly which string will cause the rest of the wrapping to fall down fastest. 

 

I smile and laugh, a rich, honest one that echoes a bit around the cab of the truck. 

 

At the sound of it, Jamie’s face flushes purple before he darts his eyes away and closes them, resting his head on my sternum. I can feel the lace flutter on my skin as he exhales a sharp curse mumbled under his breath. 

 

“What are you thinking?” I laugh softly, cupping his cheeks in my hands and running my fingers over his thick locks. 

 

"So...many things, Sassenach. None of them I feel I can repeat, lest I be damned to hell forever and all eternity." His voice is low and so husky it makes my belly warm to hear it. 

 

He lifts his face now, opening his eyes again trying to focus on my gaze as he shakes his head and smiles deliriously. 

 

“I ken I’m a verra lucky man.” 

 

Nodding down shyly, Jamie asks this time, “Can I touch ye?” 

 

“Yes,” I giggle. 

 

His hands tentatively hover over the tops of my breasts spilling out over the edges of the midnight lace and he lets out a quivering sigh as he watches his fingers trace my soft skin as lightly as butterfly wings. It is both tickling and infuriating in how sensitive it is. My arms are instantly covered in goosebumps as he cautiously slides his hands firmly over my breasts. 

 

“Oh,” I sigh out in response, my head falling back languidly as I look up at the gray fabric smoothly covering the ceiling. 

 

I feel Jamie’s fingers work downwards and towards the rest of my shirt. 

 

“Won’t people see?” I breathe out, almost too entranced to care. 

 

“Let them.” Jamie shakes his head, cupping and pushing my breasts up into his warm and open mouth, lingering a kiss over the right one as he catches the lace in his teeth and pulls. 

 

“Jamie,” I laugh softly, enough for him to snap his head up and actually look at me and register that he’s seeing a face here, too. 

 

“Ah.” 

 

Forcing himself off me, he crosses his arms almost painfully in between us and cringes. 

 

“I suppose they could…” 

 

Biting his lower lip, he blinks up to the ceiling thoughtfully. 

 

“We should probably get going… park rangers will be closing the road up here soon. S’almost dark.” 

 

“Do you wanna…?” I ask quietly. 

 

“Mine or yours.” Jamie demands. 

 

“Yours.” I say quickly, but I don’t care which. 

 

Jamie clears his throat roughly and then nods, “Aye. Ye’ll have to give me a minute though, Sassenach. Ye ken...s’a bit hard to drive at the moment and I dinnae want ye struggling tae keep us out of a ditch tonight.” 

 

“Oh.” I nod, swallowing quickly.

 

“Yeah…” 

 

“Okay.”

 

 I nod and start to slide off his lap, wrapping my shirt around my chest, but before I can do so, his hands are pulling me back. Growling at me, Jamie places me roughly back over his lap and looks at me pleadingly. 

 

“Two more minutes, aye? S’all I need. I swear.” 

 

I laugh at him, letting my shirt fall open again and pushing my wild curls out of my face with my hands. 

 

“I don’t know how that’s going to help the matter.” I twitch an eyebrow at him and giggle as I shoot him a pointed look. 

 

“S’all I need, cross my heart, Sassenach.” Jamie is absolutely adamant. 

 

My laugh disappears from my lips as soon as his stubbled chin scrapes along my neckline. Tangling my hands in his hair, I feel his tongue trailing along my breast as his hands explore the places his mouth cannot. 

 

I shudder as a jolt of white hot electricity chills down my spine from his touch. In our intimacy, I always find holiness. Tonight I am redeemed, not in a stiff church pew, but in the cab of an old, red, Chevy pickup, steaming up the cool glass of the windows and losing myself with reckless abandon into the greatest love I have ever known.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

She's my cherry pie
Cool drink of water such a sweet surprise
Taste so good make a grown man cry
Sweet cherry pie, yeah

 

Cherry Pie, Warrant 

***



I am undone. I’m not just talking about my hair falling down loose over my shoulders and back in intense waves or the fact that my shirt is still mostly open at the top, left there precariously as Jamie jealously watches me go to button it and says, 

 

“Leave it, Sassenach. Yer perfect. Just the way you are.” 

 

“Undone?” 

 

“Especially undone.” 

 

The words are whispered in a hushed tone against my collarbone as his lips caress further down my body than they had ever been before. With more control than I myself have, Jamie presses a tender kiss to the tip of my nose and slides over into the driver’s seat. 

 

My heart is swelling in my chest, with each bump of the road I cling to the seatbelt holding me to the edge of insanity or whatever craziness I feel when I’m with him. 

 

Our windows are rolled down and Jamie has low rock music playing but I’m not paying attention. As the wind whips my hair back and forth over my face, my eyes catch his in the glow of the rearview mirror blinding me with the headlights of a car behind us. His gaze is bright and blue and everything I could ever hope for. 

 

He can’t keep his eyes on the road and I can’t keep myself from touching him, fingers twisted into his on the gear shift, I know my place well: next to him. Where else could I possibly be? 

 

I don’t fit in anywhere else. 

 

An outlander, a Sassenach. 

 

But I fit here. 

 

Undone in the cab of his car, I look out the window and smile slowly as I gaze out over the blue black fields we pass over. 

 

I’m glad for the dark. 

 

Right now it’s hiding the red glow creeping up from my neck and over my ears. 

 

Two minutes, indeed. 

 

It couldn’t have been longer. 

 

But damn

 

Not long enough. 

 

Not long enough because for those two minutes, I was riding the crimson tide of pure adrenaline in his arms. Held to him and against him and letting him take control this time, it felt different. Different than before. I don’t need to be in control anymore, now that I have him. My impulse to know what’s coming next is gone when I’m with him. I’ve learned it’s useless to try to expect the unexpected things he constantly throws my way. 

 

I trust him more than I trust myself and that’s all there is to it. 

 

I’m starting to grow accustomed to his presence. From eyeing him in that alleyway to feeling my body rock against his own in the cab of a pickup, I’m reminded that I never had the whole teenage experience. 

 

When most young people were out experiencing firsts: first dances, proms, dates, kisses, I was reading Beowulf or writing a paper on the Bayeux Tapestry. I read a lot. Wrote a lot. Mainly to escape. I didn’t have music, remember? 

 

My life was changed when my world opened up in a literary sense. In high school, I befriended my local librarian, Mrs. Richter, who gave me stories in which I could escape. Not Harry Potter either, that was pure evil to my parents. But the classics. 

 

Oh the classics

 

Instead of the warmth of an inexperienced boy’s eager kiss, I fell in love with Mister Rochester of Jane Eyre . Instead of the trip to Jamaica on spring break, I read The Grapes of Wrath . I wept openly at Jay’s death in The Great Gatsby and lived for a summer among the hedgerows and wild moors in Wuthering Heights

 

Probably why I wax poetic now and again. I’m sure you’ve noticed. You don’t have to pretend you haven’t. I say fuck a lot, sure, but under all that I’m a softie. A damned romantic at heart that fucking loves being hurt by the angst of a Gothic novel. 

 

But more to the point. 

 

When others were experiencing life, I was experiencing the knowledge life had to offer through the eyes of those who had lived it. I’ve never experienced the actual thing. 

 

Being thrown into The Real World ™  after being home for my whole life was shocking, liberating and terrifying all at once. It’s like being sent on a mission to the moon and all of a sudden you are experiencing what you’ve only read about. The lack of gravity. The way your body adjusts to having new and different exposures to foreign atmospheres. My parents certainly didn’t provide me with any favors in the way of preparing me for my life or what would happen to me. Few parents can. Sometimes, people like them believe that you can control the future of your children’s adulthood if you shelter them enough. 

 

Savior complex. I’m well-aware of how it’s been passed onto me and how I try to save people who can’t be saved. 

 

At the age of thirty and one, I’m still new to so many things.

 

As we bump down the empty road in the dark, I glow over my new experience as a source of pride and embarrassment. I replay it over and over again in my mind until it’s a cinematic masterpiece. A film reel spliced and crafted into something I can remember him by. It’s the only film at the drive-in of my memory that I actually want to watch. 

 

It was an anomaly. Something happened between us that I can’t explain. 

 

Jamie gripping my hips in his strong hands and holding me so tightly that I couldn’t move if I’d wanted to. And then he let me go, his hands loose and wandering up my shirt and spine, feeling my backbone beneath his bare fingers. I let out a shuddering breath into his mouth as I moved free above him. Jamie lets me go in the way someone does when they know something will come back to them. And I do. Every time. He meets me there, in the chaos that is us together, meeting and crashing and ever-hungrier for more. Always more. 

 

 I press my hips into his and move down over him, hovering my center just above his, tilting my hips forward and moving slowly back and forth in a teasing dance that he repeats with me now. Only this time, it’s more intense. More unforgiving in nature. And goddamn, if it’s not one of the most sensual things I’ve ever experienced. As reckless as I am, he counters it with how careful he is. Always making sure we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. I love him for it. 

 

But right now I’m cursing at him in my head because all I want is more. Having him and yet not having him, is like someone holding a cup of water out to you when you’re dying of thirst, only to take it away at the last moment. 

 

I’m cursing wearing underwear at all because I want to feel him on me. In me . However I can in the mere two minutes we have. My movements are more frantic than before. In a haze of emotion, I ride him up and down and let his hands guide me until I’m grinding close and hot against him in the cab of the car. Clutching his back as I bury my face in his neck and breathe him in. His hands clench my hips to his and, bucking up under me, I gasp against the repeated motion of him crashing into me. Hard and relentless, I don’t want him to show me any mercy. 

 

I’m so fucking sensitive tonight. The feeling of him alone is enough to drive me mad. I don’t care if anyone sees. Jamie pushes my hair out of the way and bites down on the back of my neck, making me cry out in pleasure and pain. His mouth twitches into a devilish grin before resuming its work on my breasts that he has in his hands as firmly as if they’ve always belonged there. 

 

His body crashing into mine, I hold on for dear life and before I realize fully what’s happening I’m all but holding my breath as I quiver against him and let the waves of pleasure wash over me. I’m utterly shocked at how fast this is happening with so little effort. I’m crying out into the silence. 

 

Fucking...hell, Jamie… I… ” 

 

He crashes into me a few more times, his center solidly colliding with my own until I push his shoulders back against the seat, begging him to stop. 

 

My nipples are rock hard and painfully sensitive against the lace pressed to his mouth and I jump a little at the playful bite from him before he looks at me in surprise. My breath is shuddering and coming raggedly in and out harder than if I just ran a mile. Suddenly, I feel Jamie stiffen and sit up poker-straight as he searches my face in alarm. As usual, his keen eyes cut through all my bullshit. I can’t bluff my way out of this one. 

 

“Jesus, Claire. I dinnae... Did ye... ?” 

 

I wave my hands around, delirious in the aftershock. Like a sixteen year old virgin I actually came just from dry riding him. Should I be proud or embarrassed? At the moment I can barely tell what’s up or down or sideways, it’s all irrelevant. Being with him is more powerful than anything I’ve ever experienced. The remaining glow of pleasure is running down my arms and fingers in tiny electrical currents that pool in my fingertips brushing against his neck and cheeks. 

 

I can’t answer him and don’t think I need to. My head falls forward and I rest my brow on his chin and pant breathlessly. 

 

Jamie shoots me a glance and quickly reads my face without me telling him anything, he smiles slowly, understanding dawning on his face as he gently smoothes the hair out of my face and kisses my forehead. 

 

So there you have it.  

 

I am undone. Replaying the moment over and over in my head on the ride to his place. 

 

I don’t know what to expect as we drive up Cornelia street to the old, white farmhouse. The air between us has definitely changed since we started the evening together. I’ve never seen Jamie so quiet as he was the whole ride home. For once, I’m not second-guessing it. My hand is still wrapped in his and I feel a simple peace descend into my heart. 

 

The porch light is on and I wordlessly follow him up to the house as he parks the truck by the old oak tree. The house is eerily silent and part of me is happy to hear the clink of his keys in the dish on the entry table and the sound of our shoes on the wooden floors. I make business with washing my hands in the deep kitchen sink as I hear him rattle around behind me, pulling something out of the brushed silver fridge. 

 

Jamie sets a double-crusted, golden looking pie on the thick butcher’s block counter and turns to look at me, hands behind him as he leans into the cabinets and surveys me closely. I dry my hands on a dish towel and flash a nervous grin at him. I know better than to take him seriously, but when he’s being this fucking serious I have no idea how to react. He’s eyeing me the same way Adso looks at birds out the window. His fingers are twitching nervously on the edge of the counter and he bites his lower lip pink a few times before finally speaking. 

 

“I made some cherry pie yesterday, want some?” 

 

My stomach flips around all on its own. 

 

Why does this feel like a loaded question?  

 

Easy as pie. 

 

That cliché sounds so overrated as there is now an actual pie between us and it feels like anything but a simple gesture. Not with the way he’s looking at me. Not with his silence the ride home. He’s been thinking of ways to kill me. I knew it. The worst part is, I’m happy to die by his hands. 

 

I swallow hard, clearing my throat before answering, “Sure.” 

 

Everything he’s made tastes so fucking good, who am I to pass this up? 

 

Jamie blushes happily and bumbles around the kitchen pulling two plates out of the cupboard and I hear the clank of silverware as he rifles through a drawer. 

 

“Should be a pie cutter in that drawer to the left if ye look…” He nods over in my general direction. He’s pretending to be busy but I know perfectly well he’s buying time to… I’m not sure what. Work up the courage to do something. Say something. 

 

His behavior is making me nervous and my fingers shake a little as I find the metal server and pull it out slowly. My pulse is as cold as the metal utensil in my hand, my blood pumping through my veins with the icy nervousness of first experiences. Walking over to the dish, I stand next to him and look at him while he nods at me to cut into it. Jamie’s eyes don’t leave my face and, although I’ve cut into a pie a million times before, this feels like the very first time. 

 

The dark, gooey sweetness oozes out of the pie crust, cracking under the server as I stab into it. It looks almost black in the dim glow from the pendant light over the sink. Jamie holds out the plates as I cut the pie into eighths and carefully scoop out a couple of slices for us onto the small white dishes.

 

Instead of taking it to the table, Jamie hands a silver fork to me and holds his own poised above his slice as he watches me scoop some up and take the first bite. His eyes unending pools of hunger that drink me in and wait. Just waiting for me to breathe, move, twitch or smile. Looking at me for any sign of life and, once finding it, immersing himself in my own viscous existence. 

 

He’s used actual cherries. Not that artificial bullshit. The concoction is sweet and rich and sour all at once and it’s absolutely heaven. 

 

“Are you practicing for The Great Scottish Baking Show or something?” I chuckle nervously, he’s still staring at me and his fork hasn’t moved. He’s transfixed by my chewing and suddenly I’m incredibly self-conscious of how I’m swallowing in front of him. 

 

He watches my throat like he can actually see it go down my esophagus and shakes his head in answer. 

 

“No pink apron this time?” I try to joke but his eyes are so serious. 

 

Ok he fucking needs to say something or I’ll scream. 

 

Without even taking a bite, he puts his plate down and eyes me ravenously. 

 

“Mind if I try some?” 

 

I nod wordlessly and raise my eyebrow as my heartrate escalates a ridiculous amount. I swallow again although my mouthful is already well on its way to my stomach. 

 

Getting another gooey forkful, I start to hold it out to him but he has no intention of using silverware. 

 

I swear to God my mind short circuits as I watch him swipe his pointer finger into the pie dish itself where the nearly-black filling is pooling to fill the spot I served from. My mouth opens slightly and I stand there dumbfounded, unable to move a muscle as Jamie stares intently at my mouth and rubs his finger over my lips leaving a trail of thick dark fruit filling behind. I feel my lip respond to his touch and a wave of emotion hits my gut as his finger leaves me wanting things I’ve never had before. 

 

When you’re actually dying, what does it feel like? I’m not being melodramatic. 

 

I think I forgot how to breathe. My chest isn’t moving, either. All my involuntary bodily functions seem to have ceased with his shocking move. My lips remain parted where he touched them and I can feel the sticky sweetness aching on my lips as I watch his eyes nearly blacken with how wide his pupils are right now. A knot forms in my stomach from where my heart and the single bite of cherry pie are mixing in a pulsating pool of sickeningly thick desire. My hands feel weak and useless and Jamie wordlessly takes my plate and fork from my stunned fingers and sets it down next to his own. 

 

Untouched. And then he touches me. 

 

Taking both hands, he slowly moves towards me and caresses my cheeks with his fingers before moving them to my jawline and pulling me forward with no uncertainty. His thumbs resting near my ears as he dips his head down and hovers his lips over mine for a moment. His tongue darts out to wet his own before he slowly leans forward and swipes the confection off my lips with a gentle caress of his velvet tongue. Jamie sucks my lips into his mouth and lets out a slow exhale of air from his nose at the same time. Hot and humid on my upper lip as he delicately bites upon my lower one. 

 

The action alone is enough to make me feel like I just got electrocuted. 

 

Chills run down my spine as he sucks on my lower lip, cleaning it off with his tongue before ending the kiss pressing his forehead into mine and smiling, eyes closed in satisfaction. He is absolutely saccharine in all of his gooey, sweet glory. 

 

“That was fucking amazing,” his voice is gentle and smooth as honey in the charged air between us. 

 

I let out a small puff of air proving to myself I do, in fact, still have a pulse. My mind is waking up from being momentarily deceased and I’m shocked by how the warmth is spreading all over my body from such a small thing. 

 

But that’s how it always is. The small things end up being quite the biggest things imaginable. The small moments of our lives are the ones we’ll remember the most in the end. And good God, if the incandescent ball of light known as James Fraser isn’t leaving me with absolute gold fodder for some tall tales in my old age! When scandal is but a distant memory used only to shock people into noticing the old woman in the corner as she fades into forgetfulness at long last. I’ll have no children to remember who I was. Only moments such as these that will leave a mark on me. Moments when I am burning red and flashing gold ochre across the skies of my life. When I am touched by an incandescent glow, being with him consumes me whole. 

 

I have a feeling that of all the tales I know, ours will be my favorite. 

 

“Want some more?” I whisper into the quiet. 

 

With Jamie, I try my hand at seductiveness because with him, I actually feel like I succeed at it. Then again, I feel like I could read him the weather report and he would be hanging on my every word. 

 

Shit. Who knew pie could be so exciting? 

 

“God, yes.” Jamie smiles softly, eyes surveying me closely as I make the next move. 

 

Locking my eyes on his, I copy him, dipping my own finger into the serving dish and feeling past the liquid to the cold glass on the bottom. I really, really don’t think this will be for anyone BUT us. Not after we fucking defile each other with it. 

 

Feeling emboldened by how he just made me feel, I hold up my dripping finger in front of him only for Jamie to grab my wrist and pull my hand to his mouth before I can put some on his lips. Sucking on my finger, he swirls it with his tongue suggestively and I stifle a small gasp that inexplicably escapes my lips. Jamie curls his lip up into a smile as he finishes biting the side of my finger only to let out an actual gasp when I dip my hand into the dish again, this time letting the sweet syrup run down my collarbone. 

 

He grabs me hard and presses his mouth along the liquid line running down my neck, laughing softly before pulling back and looking down at me threateningly.  

 

“I ken it’s yers to do with what ye wish. But I swear to God, Sassenach, if ye ruin that,” Jamie nods down to the midnight lace exposed on my chest. “I’ll fucking cry.” 

 

“Will you now?” I smile and hide a laugh. 

 

“Big tears. Buckets and buckets of ‘em.” 

 

I shove him playfully but he doesn’t move. 

 

“Besides, ruining that’d be my job not yers.” His voice is low and dangerous now and it makes my stomach clench and tighten. 

 

“Is that so?” I smirk, my smile hiding the nerves I’m feeling strike my heart like the cold tingle of peppermint. “Careful, that sounds like something a lover would say.”

 

“And what would ye have me say?” Jamie asks, a smile toying at his lips but his eyes remain serious and calm. 

 

Fuck me. Now. 

 

God. I’ve never been more attracted to a man than I am to him. He’s fucking crack to me and I keep coming back for a fix. I’ll be using for the rest of my life. 

 

“Nothing at all,” I lie and shake my head a little, letting my hair fall down my back and tickle my shoulders as I look up at him. Taller than ever and … so incredibly close to me. 

 

“What I should say is,” Jamie draws out his voice into my ear and it’s husky and low with restraint, “On the counter, Sassenach.” 

 

“What?!”

 

I must’ve misheard him. I blink quickly and frown a little in confusion as my ears play catchup with my brain in passing on the message that he’s actually ordering me to do something. 

 

Jamie rests his hands on my waist, hoists me up onto the deep counter and wraps my legs around him as he comes threateningly close. I am suddenly intimidated by his sheer size as he looks down at me, his eyes dark and nose almost pressed to my own. This man could break me if he wanted to but I’m pretty sure I’d let him, knowing the whole time he could fix me in ways no one else could. 

 

Like resetting a bone that’s healed improperly, sometimes it has to be broken and set anew. I’m not at all afraid to be broken if it’s by his hands. 

 

“Now then.” Jamie’s voice is low and harsh in the silence between us. My stomach flips at the sound and the quick movement that puts me at eye-level with him. His hands are on the small of my back and he hooks his thumbs into my belt loops, sliding me closer to the edge of the counter with a strange look on his face that can only be described as a mix of lust and inebriation. 

 

“Ye’ve had some of my pie…” 

 

He kisses my neck hotly where the remnants of the sticky liquid dripped down, sucking the skin into his mouth, I can feel his teeth grabbing at me and the bite sends me almost over the edge again as I find myself totally at his mercy in my current position. 

 

“S’only fair…” 

 

Jamie’s voice trails off as he kisses my lips again, teasingly delicate in his approach now. 

 

“That I have some of yers now…” 

 

His voice hums into a deeper kiss as I pull him closer, almost without breathing, I sink into him before I can fully wrap my head around his meaning. 

 

Jamie unhooks his hands from the back of my jeans and brings them to my navel. I can feel his fingers touching my pants lightly around the waist, searching blindly for the zipper on the front. He finds it and his touch sends shivers down my spine.  

 

“What? Here?” I snap out of my stupor long enough to have a silent scream race through my head. 

 

“Only if that’s alright with ye.” Jamie looks at me, taken aback a little and blinks slowly, pleadingly. 

 

I swear he can probably hear my heart pulsing through every vein in my body as surely as if my blood were made of actual live electricity, shocking all my nerves all at once with the realization of what he’s wanting to do to me. 

 

“Yes…” I sigh softly but continue half-under my breath, “you should know though that…” 

 

I blush fuchsia. 

 

“I haven’t...haven’t much experience with anyone…” I falter. 

 

Shit. Out with it woman! 

 

“I've never done this before.” 

 

There it is. 

 

“Yer fucking kidding me!” Jamie exclaims in shock, eyes now-wide. He stands up straight and looks half-angry in his disbelief. 

 

My silence confirms I’m not. I just think he should know I'm an absolute virgin in this particular area. The thought clearly shocks and excites him beyond belief. He babbles on with his accent coming out in full force. 

 

“I cannae understand that, s’nothing I like tae do more than this…” Jamie swallows, I watch his Adam’s Apple rise and fall under his rough stubble as he does so. 

 

His face is earnest, his eyes searching mine fervently. 

 

“Can I show ye, Claire? Can I show ye how good it can feel?” 

 

He’s practically dancing around impatiently right now and I am struck with utter amazement at his eagerness to do something Frank only scoffed at. But here is Jamie in front of me, heart open and honest and ready to burst out of his shirt at the moment. He rakes his hands through his hair. 

 

“I cannae have ye not knowing how it can feel…” Jamie interjects like it’s actually a crime to him and he’s proving his point in a court of law. 

 

“Yes. You can.” I say slowly, tentatively. 

 

My voice shakes a bit as I agree to something that quite honestly terrifies the living shit out of me. Jamie kisses me hard as soon as the word escapes my lips and as I lose myself to the sheer tenderness of this moment, my anxiety starts to dissipate. I am safe. I am held in his arms. I am on a fucking kitchen counter with cherry pie all but forgotten around us and the sour sweetness of the fruit still on my lips as he presses his own deep into them. 

 

With a smirk, he pushes aside my hair and whispers sweetly into my ear, almost in a whimper. 

 

“Christ, Claire. Ye’ve no idea how long I’ve wanted tae taste ye.” 

 

My heart ricochets around my chest like a loose bullet from a gun. Jamie kisses me again, hands swiping out behind my shoulders and around us to make sure nothing is in the way while he sets to work. Quickly, expertly. Before I can fucking question it and he knows it. 

 

My mind is a steel-trap, set up by my mental illness and constantly waiting to spring shut upon a moment of actual joy or happiness before it takes place. Sabotaging it into the great beyond, better-known as overthinking. 

 

I never felt enough with Frank. Good enough, smart enough, sexy enough… and yet here is this supernova of energy in front of me begging and willing and eager to…. 

 

“Shame tae take these off, I actually love them.” Jamie’s eyes flash wickedly at me as he slips off my boots and kisses my legs all the way up to my neck, tossing the shoes aside in a great clatter of heels on floorboards as he makes his way to my neck, kissing that favorite spot I have behind my ear. 

 

His arm deftly catches my head as it falls back and he eases me backwards down on the counter so I’m resting on my forearms and elbows. My weight is off my legs now and that’s exactly what he’s going for. In one swift move, he hooks his fingers around my pants and pulls them down over my hips, pausing momentarily to eye the lace of my high-cuts as he strings his thumbs under them to rid me of the unnecessary layers. The way he looks at them tells me he has future plans involving said pair. 

 

“Ye alright, Claire?” 

 

His blue eyes dart to my face where I’m currently trying not to cry out of pure excitement. He slides my pants down over my ankles and kneels in front of me, tossing aside my clothes somewhere behind him, not even caring to see where they’ve landed.  Even on the ground, his chest still comes up over the counter and I am both intimidated and intrigued. 

 

I nod. 

 

“Ye ken I need more than that, love.” Jamie is trying hard to be patient but I can see the small vein bulging near his temple as he works to keep composed so close to me right now. His hands eagerly explore and tighten around my thighs as he sets one over his shoulder, looking up at me questioningly. 

 

“Yes.” I swallow nervously. More than nervously. I’m about to swallow my own Goddamn tongue. I don’t know what to say or how to act or how to hold my body at all. Like a fish being asked to do the macarena, I am all out of sorts and discombobulated in his hands with his face so close to my- 

 

His blue eyes cut me to my core. 

 

“D’ye trust me?” 

 

All my fears cease as I look down at him. He turns his head and kisses the inside of my thigh in a way that makes new sounds threaten to come out of my vocal chords. Jamie is stroking my thighs as they hang over the counter and over his broad shoulders. Something in the adoration of his gaze makes me relax a bit as he runs his fingers over the goosebumps appearing all over the tops of my thighs. 

 

“I trust you.” My voice is low but very present and Jamie rests his head against the inside of my right leg, looking up at me with the purest of love and adoration shining from the depths of his soul. 

 

“And I, you.” His voice is low and hushed. “Let me show ye how much.” 

 

My stomach clenches and I let out a strangled gasp reaching out to touch his auburn waves before gripping my knees as they fall apart letting him eagerly attack my very center like a man starved. 

 

Oh my Goddddd

 

I can’t wrap my head around what’s happening apart from the mind-blowing elation I’m feeling. Chills run up and down my arms as he spreads my legs around his shoulders and I intake a sharp breath as I feel his own breath hot and terribly close to the meeting place of my thighs as he pulls back in restraint at the ungodly noises that are escaping my soul of their own volition. 

 

As delicate as a butterfly’s wing, I feel his tongue. A light, sure flick upon my sensitive nerves. A move he repeats over and over until I am breathing heavily and creasing my brow at how amazing this feels. 

 

My legs quiver around his ears as he replaces the light teasing moves with his mouth again, eager and hungry to suck and pull me into his mouth in several gluttonous motions that make my breath come out of me in a strangled cry. My hands white-knuckle the countertop and I feel like I’m floating ten feet off of the ground, tied to him by the tether that is his velvet tongue. Soft and exploring every inch of me, inside and out. 

 

Like a clock being wound tighter and tighter, I feel like my whole body might explode with the intensity. My legs tremble and I open my eyes only to look down and see something so glorious and undeniably filthy that I might need to take a bath in holy water. 

 

Forget the bath. 

 

I need to drink the stuff. Chug it down although I’m afraid nothing will ever wash this searing memory out of my head, of Jamie’s blue eyes looking up at me adoringly through a half-lidded stare of open want. A twitch of a smile in his gaze as he returns to burying his face into my center with utter joy and delight at my reaction. 

 

He’s moaning softly, I can feel the hum of it move through my sensitive clit as his tongue swirls around it, pulling me greedily into his welcoming mouth. I feel like a rug was just torn out from under my feet and I am falling backwards into intense waves of pure wonder. 

 

“Fucking hell.” 

 

A small breath escapes me as I close my eyes again to be overtaken by the sheer pleasure. I watch it explode across the back of my eyelids in the red-orange glow of lust as I can feel my body twitch and pulsate in more ways than I am accustomed to. 

 

My movements jerky, my thoughts absent. There is only joy. Pure joy and pleasure. It ripples through my body in great waves of comfort as I cry out softly. I reach down tentatively and stroke Jamie’s thick wavy mane in between my fingers. 

 

“I’ve been waiting all day to make ye feel this good…” Jamie’s voice is low and purring, he removes his mouth and his fingers replace the small circular motions his tongue was doing that was driving me mad. 

 

“Christ. Tae feel ye. Warm and wet and clenching around my fingers. Tae ken ye want me as much as I want ye, Claire.” Jamie smiles dangerously close to my center. I feel his tongue lick me once more as he kisses the side of my thigh and bites softly. And then slowly, carefully, he slides his middle finger into my opening and curls it towards himself. 

 

“Right...there.” 

 

I’m unable to speak as his finger strokes and pushes up into the soft, tender part of me that feels so sensitive I could cry. I almost squirm away from him at how direct the touch is, but he holds me down with one arm wrapped around my other thigh holding it to his ear. 

 

I moan and reach around for something to hold onto. Anything at all. For he’s replaced his mouth on me again with his finger still inside me. Simultaneously sucking expertly with his mouth and curling with his finger at the same time. 

 

I shudder hard against him and grab onto his hair with one hand, my hand bracing myself against the wall behind me with the other. The plaster is cool and smooth but I barely feel it under my fingers as I grip onto it for dear life. A sound that is almost a cry of pain mixed with a sob releases from my throat as I gasp and shake with his repeated assault on my most sensitive places all at once. 

 

“I can’t… it’s too much…. Jesus Christ… I-” 

 

Jamie shakes his head and almost pulls me off the counter onto him as he redoubles his efforts, stopping only to look up at me with his eyes burning like two bright blue flames as he says, 

 

“Ye can, Sassenach. Ye can and ye must. I’m no’ done with ye. Not even close.” 

 

I bite my own hand as it flails from the wall behind me to my mouth and then back again as I am overtaken by the sensations I’ve never felt before. Crying out loudly, I arch my back against the hard counter under me. My legs are currently shaking as they are laid open over his shoulders. I close my eyes tightly as the sensations pulse through me at a rapid pace, forcing me to moan and shudder and all manner of unholy noises to break forth from my lips in ever-louder cries. 

 

I didn’t know I could feel this way. I didn’t know anything could feel this way. I am almost in pain over how good it feels and I might cry if he actually continues. He shows no sign of stopping. I cry out louder than I ever have before in a mix of relief and ecstasy as my orgasm builds and releases as rough waves of release that shake my whole body. 

 

My right arm darts out and I swear to God I hear something clatter from the counter onto the floor below. At least I think I hear something fall. I can’t hear much aside from the deafening tinnitus and my own ragged breathing. 

 

Must be the serving knife I used… long forgotten about and honestly, useless in tonight’s endeavors. 

 

I’m not one for desserts but I’m fairly certain that cherry pie will forever be my favorite. The red, viscous liquid pooling into puddles of gluttony and released repression. Burning a searing hole into my brain against which all other desserts will never compare. 

 

I’m a slut for cherry pie.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Wise men say

Only fools rush in

 

Can't Help Falling In Love- DARK

Tommee Profitt, brooke

 

song inspo here

 

If you think you've heard this song, think again. 

Also if you know where this fic is going, think again. 

Sorry, not sorry for the angst and drama precipice we're currently careening towards here 

***

 

 

I used to think all the great loves were over now. Dead. Gone. The legends we tell ourselves to keep warm. An ember deep inside of us glowing with the false god of hope that we, too, may know a really great love in our lifetime. I never thought it would happen to me. 

 

Love incarnate is in my arms right now and I couldn’t ask for more. 

 

I hold onto him as we lay on his couch, my head on his chest and our fingers tracing the other’s hand in gentle admiration of something greater than ourselves that we hold between us in the silence. 

 

It’s late, I can sense it. Really, truly late. I don’t bother to check the clock but neither does he. Time is irrelevant. 

 

“Don’t go.” I whisper softly into the folds of his shirt as I bury my face in him. 

 

Jamie’s chest rumbles with a small laugh and then stills. 

 

“I’ve a few days till Sunday yet, Sassenach…” 

 

“How long?” 

 

“A week or two at most. Depends on how much work Mam needs done at The Ridge.” 

 

I put two and two together to realize The Ridge was another property the Fraser family owns in North Carolina where his mother Ellen resides. 

 

Jamie notices me falling silent. 

 

“Come wi’ me.” 

 

He lifts my chin to stare down at me intently. 

 

He’s serious. 

 

My mind races with the weight of it all and I slowly shake my head with the deepest regret. 

 

“I wish I could but I have work…” 

 

Fuck work. 

 

I mean, I guess I could sell my whole on eBay to buy Adso cat food... but in reality I’m too chicken shit on someone attempting to claim it in the end. I’m bad at fighting people. My wrists are scrawny. I can barely throw a punch. I’d be toast. 

 

Or I could quit work and be a gypsy. 

 

With him. 

 

Hair in the wind, hand on his on the gear shift. Wandering town to town with no name and sleeping in the bed of his truck together every night, our ceiling the stars above in some abandoned field only we know about. 

 

It’s absurd and ridiculous. 

 

And perfect. 

 

My heart aches at how perfect that sounds. 

 

Jamie shifts himself on the couch and covers my lips with his own, gathering me closer still as we share a tender kiss. He doesn’t speak but his actions are loud. We do the thing where we have the two conversations again.

 

“As long as yer sure.” 

 

Will ye be alright without me? 

 

“I’m sure.” 

 

I don’t know. 

 

“I’ll miss ye.” 

 

I’ll worry. 

 

“Hold me.” 

 

Don’t let me go. 

 

 

He wraps his arms around me even tighter but I’m not complaining at the sensation of being held to him. My arms are wrapped around him just as tightly and I feel as though I’m holding my entire world together by sheer force. 

 

“Do you think people know?” I hum softly into his neck. 

 

Jamie is threading my curls through his fingers absentmindedly and I am enjoying the feeling of the small tugs as his hands get caught up in it and he smoothes them out and down it again. He stops moving. 

 

“Mmm? Like Joe ye mean?” 

 

I nod. 

 

“Probably. Haven’a been so subtle about it, eh? Why? D’ye want to keep it a secret?” 

 

Jamie’s eyes search my own with a flicker of anxiety. I smile softly to calm him. 

 

“No… not really. Not for any reason other than this is something good in my life. Really good. I don’t want people to fuck it up.” 

 

I watch his throat constrict as he swallows and nods understandingly. 

 

“I ken that well. I dinnae think they will… but, s’up to you, Sassenach. I dinnae mind keeping it a secret for a while longer.” 

 

Keep it secret. Keep it safe. 

 

I chuckle more to myself than to him at The Lord of the Rings reference echoing through my head in Gandalf’s wizened voice. 

 

“Shite, it’s past eleven. Should I get ye home, Sassenach?” Jamie checks his phone absentmindedly and startles awake. 

 

I groan into his chest and refuse to move. 

 

I am home. 

 

I nod anyway. 

 

Fuck work. 

 

*** 

 

The old battle ax. The ball and chain. My old man. I don’t know what other euphemisms older generations refer to their spouses by, but Joe fucking Abernathy is on the war path tonight and headed straight for me not a second after I slide into The Trinity tucking a stray hair behind my ear as I trot along. My head bounces above his shorter bald one and he reminds me of an angry turtle. Tonight he’s wearing a brown turtleneck and his grandfather’s gold watch on his wrist gleams in the light from the bar. 

 

“Nice shirt, you look like a roll-on deodorant.” I grin wickedly and cackle as he trots to keep up. 

 

That’s the nice thing about being taller than most men, they have to run to catch you or chide you or mansplain anything. Catch me if you can, bud. Good luck. 

 

Never have I been more proud to be a head taller than him than I am at this moment when he launches into me, nostrils flaring. 

 

“What the FUCK have you done to James Fraser?” 

 

I roll my eyes but my heart is racing. I hate confrontation. Probably picked the wrong profession, eh? 

 

I dodge the attack with one of my best puns. 

 

“This is all very déjà moo, as in… I’ve heard this bullshit before, Joe. Why does it bother you so much?” 

 

“He sings. He never fucking sang before you and now he’s like a fucking canary on steroids or something.” 

 

I laugh out loud at Joe’s accusation but his eyes are flaming mad. 

 

“Really?” I say delightedly. “He sings now, huh? I never knew he didn’t.” 

 

Pretty odd for the lead of Keeping On...I guess I’ve never really questioned him about it. Apart from the song “Hallelujah”, I kinda just assumed he sang regularly. 

 

“Well he didn’t for two years, Missy. Now he does.” Joe’s eyes pop out of his head as he’s hit with a sudden thought, “Oh my god!” 

 

He sticks out a finger and I slap it away from my face like an annoying fly. 

 

“You’ve fucked? Already? Please tell me you haven’t lost your damn mind, Claire-” 

 

“And what if I have?” I turn on him, heel to toe with his blue suede slippers. “I don’t see myself judging you, okay?” 

 

My God, being with purple-hair Kim is turning him into Hugh Hefner. Joe catches the bite to my tone and raises his hands in defeat and humility. He knows when he’s gone too far and back pedals before I put him in his place as my best friend and not my chastity keeper. 

 

“I get it. It’s none of my business. But Claire...I love you. Both . So fucking much.” Joe closes his eyes and frowns, swallowing hard before he continues, “ I want to see you happy, I really do- there’s just…”

 

“Just?” I question, my eyes darting into him with borderline fury. 

 

“Nothing.” 

 

“Tell me if you know something, Joseph Abernathy. I swear to God.” 

 

Ok I’m nervous now. If there’s seriously something wrong with Jamie, like he’s keeping a mad wife prisoner in his attic, I need to know STAT… You know, before I actually fuck the guy. 

 

Cause what we’ve done so far isn’t fucking… is it? Isn’t it? What is it? 

 

Goddamn it all, this fucking not-fucking thing is confusing the living hell out of me. 

 

Cause we haven’t had sex. Actual sex. But my god I know I’m not a virgin when I’m around him and he says things that would make a whore blush. His rumbling voice is enough to cause my legs to fall apart on their own, pretty much. I don’t stand a chance. 

 

Stick a fork in me, I’m done. 

 

Or a dick. 

 

It’s been a while, okay? 

 

Jesus. 

 

I’m not used to talking about Jamie to anyone and the fact that Joe and I are talking about him right now is leaving me all kinds of flustered. I’m not sure how I’m coming off, but the thought and idea of James Fraser is enough for anyone to plainly see how much of a mess I’ve become since meeting him. I feel instantly defensive of how soft I am when I’m around him, that I feel the need to snap at anyone who questions whatever he is to me. 

 

Let him be mine and let me be his. No further explanation needed. 

 

Joe’s face softens as he sees my current frustration melting with the makeup I actually applied tonight. 

 

“Damn, lady… hey, I’m sorry. I’m just… protective is all.” He dials it back to a two from a level ten assault and I nod tearfully. 

 

“You okay, Lady Jane?” He blinks at me. 

 

I laugh and hold a finger below my lash line so as not to ruin my Better Than Sex mascara (side note, is it? Is it really? Nay it is not. The cherry pie has determined that to be a falsehood). 

 

“No. But when am I ever?” I sniff. 

 

“Fair enough,” Joe says gently, “Hey. Hey. You. Me. No one else. My place next week, okay?” 

 

“Is this a tryst?” I look at him weirdly. 

 

“I’ll explain. I owe it to ya, Lady. Christ. Here, take my handkerchief.” 

 

He whips out an actual blue paisley handkerchief and hands it to me. 

 

I pull him in close and rub his head three times as he protests, he knows I do it in play like a Buddha's belly. It’s good luck. 

 

Joe used to have hair at one point. I joke he used to use Head and Shoulders but now he opts for the cleaning aisle and Mop’n’glow. So shiny I can see my face in it. 

 

God I look a mess. 

 

“I heart you.” I say muffled into his shoulder next to his turtleneck. 

 

“I heart you . Now get your shit together, girl.” 

 

Joe side dances with me in his arms and starts singing, “Girl put your records on, tell me your favorite song, you go ahead let your hair downnnnn….” 

 

I laugh and twirl him under my arm, “At least I have hair.” 

 

“Touché. Hey Lady Jane, has anyone ever told you you’re a sassy broad with too much hair and a kickin’ ass?” 

 

I cackle and sniff back the rest of my tears as I slap myself on the round rear end in time to stiffen up at a voice behind me. 

 

“Dinnae ken the entertainment was here, guess I’ll leave then.” 

 

Jamie’s blue eyes cut into me and I stifle a gasp as I turn to look at him. He’s leaning against a booth and his damn long fingers are drumming an incoherent pattern on the top of the wood backed seats. Plain tees and that leather jacket become him. He smirks at me, his devil-may-care smile playing on his lips. 

 

Is it possible to be in love with someone’s hands? His fingers are long and lean and, although worn around the edges, perfectly beautiful in their gracious movements. I swallow hard thinking about touching them again. Or them touching me. 

 

“Please,” I roll my eyes but turn away with self deprecation, “I couldn’t dance my way out of a parking ticket.” 

 

I toss my hair over my shoulder at him but Jamie bites the side of his cheek and replies, “No, but ye could flash them yer-” 

 

“Oookay, if you’ll excuse me, I’m still here.” Joe holds up his hands and waves them around his head. 

 

“Nice turtleneck, man.” Jamie hides a grin but his eyes are playful as he gives the compliment. 

 

“Really? I wasn’t sure about it, Kim picked it out. Says it goes with her dress, there she is… catch ya later. Claire, remind me to bring up your birthday plan, mk? Thirty-two is gonna be great.” 

 

As Joe walks off, Jamie looks at me and without hesitating says under his breath, “That shirt is skin tone, Sassenach and makes him look like an uncircumcised peen.” 

 

My eyes pop out of my head as I bite in both lips to keep my guffaw inside my mouth. 

 

“Does this make us mean girls?” I ask incredulously as he chuckles. 

 

“Aye,” Jamie shrugs, “probably. I dinnae care though. S’the truth. Kim’s out of her mind.” 

 

I chuckle. 

 

Jamie pauses a moment, “Is it really your birthday coming up, Sassenach?” 

 

I frown and wave my hand dismissively, “Yeah I guess it’s coming up.” 

 

“Birthdays tend to do that, aye.” Jamie nods, his eyes probing my face annoyingly for any signs of emotions I might give away. 

 

I fucking hate my birthday. Last birthday was a disaster. 

 

“Want anything?” Jamie asks softly. 

 

You. Or to be left alone.

 

 There is no in between. 

 

“I’m good.” I shrug passively and try to change the subject. “You’re singing again, huh? I didn’t know you stopped.” 

 

“Aye.” 

 

Jamie doesn’t need to ask what happened to change my mood, instead he knows. It’s kinda refreshing not to have to explain myself so many times to so many people I know, I know, I suck. People love birthdays. Another trip around the sun. An excuse to party. 

 

Mine have always been filled with bitter disappointment and breaking girls' hearts but that’s a story for another day. I feel like that’s something Jamie and I have in common. 

 

I wonder what he’d think of me if he knew. 

 

Joe does. 

 

Maybe that’s why he’s being shitty about this. 

 

“Sassenach?” 

 

My head snaps up. 

 

“Ye comin’?” 

 

“Oh- I…” 

 

Jamie takes my hand and drags me to the front row of seats in front of the little stage. 

 

I’m more of a back row Baptist gal. One foot out the pew in case shit gets weird and I need to book it. 

 

The door opens behind us and I see a flash of blond Velcro with her pack of chihuahuas at her heels. 

 

Front row it is. That way I won’t have to look at any of them. 

 

Goddamnit.  

 

*** 

 

I feel eyes burning into the back of my neck although I might be imagining it. Front row be damned. My phone vibrates in my jean pocket and I glance at it only to roll my eyes at the glaring screen. I only read the first line or two of the text from Wendy. 

 

About Polly’s shower. Can you make it this week? I’ll be in town and-

 

Ugh. 

 

I click the power button on my phone once and swipe to shut off my connection to the outside world. Of course it’s this week. You can’t have an absolute shotgun wedding without a shotgun shower, too. And by shotgun, I mean the one I feel like pointing to my head to avoid seeing any of them right now. 

 

I swallow hard and force a grin as I look at Jamie, head down, curls falling in his eyes as he turns his back slightly and tunes his guitar one last time to drop the string down to a different key for the set they’re about to play. 

 

My heart thuds dully in my chest at the thought of him leaving, especially now. At least I’ll have Joe to go to when the bullshit inevitably hits the fan. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing him, just the two of us, like old times. It honestly does make my heart happy to know he’s domesticated and shit with Kim, but I really do miss our wine and bitch nights together where we talk about everything and nothing in particular. 

 

Jamie glances up at me and smiles, a navy blue pick in his teeth on the side of his mouth. 

 

That grin. The one that hits me right in the ovaries I still have as I feel like I’m about to explode. I feel hot tears swelling in my eyes as I look at him. 

 

Suddenly a flash of blonde and leopard print is at his side and I can’t help myself but to stare as Leah waves him over with a flap of her bony hand. Her skirt is so short I swear to God, one move and her vagina is on display.

 

 I snort at the thought, clearly slut-shaming is my coping mechanism to the wave of pain that suddenly hits my heart as he looks annoyed, but steps over to the side and grins and nods while she whispers something into his ear. Her thin lips are way too close to his neck for my liking and I can feel the hackles rise on the back of my shoulders as I squirm uncomfortably. 

 

I know, I know. 

 

We said we wouldn’t tell people but damn. I’m about 30 seconds away from walking over there and grabbing Jamie to plant a massive hickey on his neck to mark him as mine. In a second she’s gone, back to the bar to be with her friends and Jamie doesn’t bother giving her a second glance.

 

 Everybody might be watching him, but he’s looking at me. 

 

Jamie stays looking at me for the rest of the night and although I’m surrounded by people, I don’t see anyone else. I wish I listened more. Looking back, I wish I drank up every second of that night without letting my damn nerves and anxiety of Polly’s shower get the better of me. Maybe then I’d have more memories of him to go back over, to sustain me while he’s gone. 

 

Anxiety, you are the thief of joy and I’ll never forgive you for robbing me of those moments. Or forgive myself for letting it. 

 

*** 

 

Jamie doesn’t sing that night, well… only backup for the Joe and Kim show and although it’s good, it’s not nearly as good as it would have been if he had only opened his mouth. Maybe he’s feeling it too. The pain of the separation that has not yet occurred. 

 

As soon as the group is off stage, Joe and the others make for a booth to order some food and drinks. I turn to busy myself with collecting my small black purse from the side of my chair when I am overtaken by a shadow that grabs my hand and yanks me behind him and out the side door into the dark dampness of the spring night. The familiar crash and bang of the door echoes through the still air but I can barely hear it. 

 

Instead, I hear him breathing into the silence as he turns to me, eyes dark and wide and like twin mirrors clouded over with smoke.

 

I am glass. 

 

A menagerie piece, a fragile flower blown and melted into the shape of whoever wants me. 

 

Whatever is needed by others. 

 

My purpose serves as a conversation piece and nothing more. 

 

To be looked at and never touched, lest I am broken. 

 

And he breaks me. 

 

Over and over again until our heat melts me into liquid and I am reborn, a flower in blue ink. 

 

In one attacking movement, I am thrust against the wall with the rough bricks behind me, pulling at my hair and catching on the back of my silk blouse as the delicate fabric meets the harsh foundations of the old building. 

 

His lips find my own and I am pinned there, against him and the wall as my wrists are forced upwards and held above my head by one of his solid hands, restraining me and not unkindly but certainly without mercy. I open my mouth to cry out in surprise but I only succeed in whimpering into his own as he ambushes mine with feverish intensity. 

 

I’m overtaken with wave after wave of what can only be described as repressed rage and grief as we seek each other out violently lost in a tangle of arms and hands and scraping brick against bone and skin. 

 

“I’m sorry, Sassenach. Thought I would die if I dinnae have ye.” 

 

His voice is harsh and low in my ear, his breath hot on my neck. Goosebumps rise and tickle my arms in answer to his sentiment and my body responds in kind as I pull him into me desperately. 


“Then have me.” 

 

The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them, panted against his neck as he hoists me up and holds me to himself roughly. I wrap my legs around his waist just above his studded belt and hold on as my hands rake his body in a frenzied attempt to lift up the soft fabric of his dark tee shirt and feel the warm steel of his body against my own skin. 

 

Jamie grabs hold of the back of my neck and keeps one hand on my thigh gripping it to him, running his hand up my shirt and along my bare hips as he digs his own into me. His tongue teasing my own as I kiss back open-mouthed and feel hot tears of relief rushing to the precipice of my eyelashes as I shut my eyes against the sensation that borders on pain of being taken so roughly. 

 

Jamie sets me down as if I’m on fire and touching me is burning him. But only for a moment. Before I fully realize what I’m doing, I have his belt halfway off his waist and I’m blindly tugging at his jeans so hard I could cry. Amid frantic kisses, his hands are all over my torso as his teeth find my neck and he starts working my shirt off with dexterous fingers. 

 

My mind actually stops working and I can’t think of anything else, much less where we are. I’m about two seconds away from actually being topless and not giving a shit when I hear a loud voice. 

 

FUCK. 

 

Jamie and I jump, in our haste to have the other neither of us heard the heavy door grate open. 

 

Kevin is standing there in the alley with the light of the pub behind him illuminating his wide eyes and open mouth. Holding a joint in one hand and a lighter in the other, his bloodshot eyes go huge as he opens his mouth and yells out for all to hear. 

 

“Woahhhh! Claire and Jamie! Jamie and Claire! Oh my fucking god! They’re fucking doing it!”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

I'll be so alone without you
Maybe you'll be lonesome too and blue

Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it's wet with rain
Just remember till you're home again
You belong to me

 

You Belong To Me- Carla Bruni version

 

***

As if in slow motion, Jamie whips his head to me from Kevin’s stumbling figure, blue eyes wide in fear. We are harshly illuminated by the indoor lights that flood the alley.

 

 As surely as someone pushing a glass of dark, red wine off of a table and onto white carpet, my world crashes and falls into wild motion around me all at once, staining everything within reach with the deep blood hues of our fragile and unexplored intimacy. 

 

My pain is reflected in Jamie’s wide mirror-like eyes as he wipes his mouth of my lipstick with one hand and with the other fumbles with his belt buckle loose at his hip. His eyes catch my bare chest and he drops the buckle to dart a hand out and cover me up by holding my shirt closed in some vain attempt at recovering decency. 

 

“Run.” 

 

He hisses low in warning.

 

I don’t have time to ask questions. Kevin falls against the door frame as other shadows gather round. In a moment, my heels are hot and heavy on the pavement behind Jamie’s as we sprint, hand in hand down the moonlit cobblestones of my hometown’s historical district.

 

Fading lights and the blinking neon of a vacancy sign in the nearby motel bleed wearily into the night. Reds and greens from traffic lights wash the empty streets, unhindered by cars at this hour. Somewhere a chain link fence rattles as a dog barks, the sound grating upon my sensitive eardrums as I sift through the utter chaos in my head right now. 

 

My right ankle twists and shoots pain through my body as we run. The road is paved in places, but the asphalt has given up its modern exterior for bits of cobblestone around the alleys and shortcuts through town. I know them like the back of my hand. So does Jamie. 

 

I don’t know where the fuck we’re running to, but I don’t really care. 

 

I’m sure we cut a comical caricature, giant Shrek pulling me behind him faster than my square heeled boots can carry me. All the while, I’m clutching hopelessly at the silk shirt I’m wearing before I give up completely, letting the night air hit my cream lace structured bra full-on as we run. 

 

“Jamie…” I choke in pain through a stitch in my side. 

 

He stops alongside the empty side street and in the cover of one of the main oaks in front of Town Hall, letting go of my hand so I can button up my shirt, he takes the moment to fasten his belt buckle, eyes are dark and expression darker as he spits out his words. 

 

Christ. Thank goodness that happened when it did and not a moment later or he’d have seen something ye cannae unsee, Sassenach.” 

 

The words launch my stomach into outer space at the reality of how close we actually were to going all the way. I had taken for granted that Jamie would stop us, to hold me back but apparently he had no intention of doing so this time. 

 

Really. 

 

Really?! 

 

My head is reeling. 

 

In an alley, Claire. Jesus. 

 

Thank fuck for Kevin and his mad cockblocking skills.  

 

“You… wouldn’t have stopped?” I breathe ragged and incredulously into the blackness of the night. 

 

Jamie shoots me a meaningful look, “Would ye have?” 

 

There’s a moment of silence between us that is charged with the reality of innocence shattered. Tangible in its breaking. The façade that he has it together more than I do in physical matters is gone and we’re straight up in trouble. 

 

After weeks of ignoring the precipice we are hastily careening towards, he and I look down in horror at the drop below us into the unknown of being unable to come back from jumping headfirst into each other. 

 

I gasp in a breath before shaking my head once, hard. 

 

Jamie’s plump, rosy lips go into a firm line as he realizes the gravity of our situation. 

 

“Fuck.” 

 

He rakes a hand through his wild curls and looks at me then as if his heart were breaking. 

 

“I promised I wouldn’a.” He bursts out, his voice sounding thick with clogged emotion, “Not without… not before. Christ, Claire, ye make it hard! "

 

My eyes must reflect my confusion at the words bursting from his lips because he quickly frowns in half-apology, half-embarrassment as he struggles to explain. 

 

“Not that I wouldn’t. I’ve been sorely tempted. Christ . There’s naught I’d love to do more, ye ken? I’ve dreamt about it so many times…” A pained look covers his face as he doubles over slightly. If I had any doubts about his physical attraction to me, they were long gone. 

 

Something softens in my heart at the knowledge he’s dreamt of me. In that way. 

 

I am flustered and hot and ...incredibly flattered. 

 

“But after Faith. Well, after a lot of things…” He clarifies, my eyebrows raise at the mention of his daughter’s name. 

 

I’m not used to him speaking of her so openly, this is the first time he’s brought her up outside the safety of the four walls of his bedroom. 

 

 “I promised myself and God I wouldn’a be with another lass... till I was sure she’d be the last first time I ever had. Noncommittal doesn’a suit me as much as it once did, Sassenach.” 

 

I cock my head at him and blink. 

 

If so, then...?

 

Jamie continues on, painfully embarrassed but keen to get the words out as soon as possible. 

 

“A promise made is a promise kept in my book, Claire. So ye see. Tae take away any … temptation,” He stresses, this is vastly important to him. “I literally stopped carrying protection at all.” 

 

“You can still-” I open my mouth before shutting it again. 

 

“I dinnae.” Jamie cuts me off shortly, blushing and kicking at the road with the toe of his worn boot. I’m not really surprised at all by this, knowing him. It’s actually quite chivalrous to be honest...and shows me just how little I’ve shared with him in that regard. 

 

Shit. Here it comes. The word vomit. 

 

“You know, I-” I begin slowly. 

 

Jamie stabs his hands onto his hips and raises his eyebrows through his jagged hairline, curls zigzagging every which way in our flight. He’s in pain. I can’t do this to him now. Not on our last night together. 

 

“What?” 

 

“Nevermind.” 

 

Coward. 

 

It wouldn’t change anything if he knew. He wouldn’t take YOU as his last first time, Claire. What are you thinking, girl? 

 

Anxiety can fuck right off tonight. She’s being a raging bitch. 

 

I groan in agitation as I realize something. 

 

“Our cars are parked back at the pub.”

 

Jamie growls in disgust. 

 

“Also why did we fucking run?” I grin. 

 

He chuckles quickly, nervously, “I dinnae ken. Seemed like the right thing to do. Felt like I was doing something bad. Almost was.” 

 

“Well, I’m not a bad girl but I certainly love doing bad things with you.” A smile plays on my mouth as does his. 

 

There’s a beat before he huffs in annoyance. 

 

“We should get back before they leave first and notice our cars.” 

 

Jamie holds his hand out to me like a pure gentleman, the green of the traffic light above us playing bluish on his russet curls. I’ve never seen a man look more angelic in all my life.

 

Cherry pie be damned.

 

He’s absolutely the kind of dangerous generations of women have warned me about. The kind that will bring your mother flowers for a family dinner but then fuck your brains out over the kitchen counter after you get home that night and rip your dress in the process. 

 

If I can survive Jamie Fraser, I’m fucking gold. But I’m dying with these glimpses in the moonlight. Witchcraft. Some deep forest witch into voodoo shit has this man magically made up in some cursed mirror of hers, a temptation and folly to women everywhere and I’m certainly in deep. 

 

He makes me think about my list again. 

 

The way he held my hands up over my head, my wrists scratching the rough brick of the wall. 

 

Being taken roughly is on my list. 

 

Don’t pretend you don’t have one. 

 

A list. 

 

All the things you’ll never, ever write down that you secretly hope happen to you in crazy moments of sex and depravity. 

 

Every girl has a list that’s worth going to hell for. 

 

Most of us take it to our graves. 

 

I feel like if I’m lucky, if I hold my breath and cross my toes and KNOCK KEVIN THE FUCK OUT next time, I’ll get at least one thing on my list. 

 

Actually there’s only one thing on my list now and it’s him. 

 

But yeah taken roughly. 

 

*chef’s kiss* 

 

“Claire?” 

 

I blink. 

 

“Ye listening?” 

 

“Yeah,” I lie. 

 

“Ye’ll have to show me where ye go sometimes when ye look off and go away like that.” 

 

I cough. 

 

You know why. 

 

It’ll be our little secret. 

 

Promise xx

 

Welcome to The Edge ™ 

 

It’s not so bad here always. Sometimes we have fun. 

 

But yeah this is a mental split. 

 

Here, but not here. 

 

Here with you. 

 

There with him. 

 

I’m glad we have each other. 

 

It’s less lonely now that you’re here. 

 

As we were. 

 

I cough. 

 

“Walk wi’ me?” 

 

Jamie asks softly and I answer, my hand in his outstretched one as he pulls me close and starts to slide into a backwards sort of dance with me being pulled to and away from him. His rough hand turns in mine and before I know what I’m doing, he’s spinning me around like a disco ball held up by the string of his finger. 

 

No one is around to see me spin for him. 

 

Audience of one. 

 

My whole life could be spent as his focal point and I would relish the attention. 

 

I giggle as my small purse hits my hip and the chain of it around my torso twists into a tangle just as his hands catch me from falling over. 

 

I steal glances at him as we walk, our feet slowly echoing in the night as we make our way slowly back to The Trinity. I want to remember what he looks like tonight. I want it imprinted on me like a tattoo, pricked into me with blue ink. Forever marked and ruined for anyone else but him. 

 

A block away, Jamie looks both ways down an abandoned street near the hardware store and his eyes are warm and inviting as he pulls me into the middle of the road with him and holds my hands in front of him.  

 

“What are we doing?” I laugh nervously. 

 

Jamie squints and bites the inside of his cheek before he answers me. 

 

“Will you dance wi’ me, Claire?” 

 

“Here?” 

 

“Why not?” He blinks. 

 

I could open my mouth for a number of reasons. 

 

One, we might get run over, empty or not it’s still a street. 

 

Two, this feels a whole lot like The Notebook shit and I don’t know if I do that. I mean, pretty much after Nicholas Sparks divorced his wife, I don’t buy a word of it. 

 

Three, I might actually fall deeper in love with him before he leaves. 

 

Fuckit. 

 

As much as it terrifies me, the words are already out of my mouth. 

 

“I’d love to,” I say softly. 

 

A warm glow creeps into my heart and feels like pink champagne bubbling up from my soul. 

 

Gone is the worry about who or what may come for us now that we’d been seen together, twisted in the compromise of emotional inebriation. 

 

I genuinely don’t care. 

 

My beating heart takes his hand as he places both of mine around his shoulders, looking down at me in the glow of the changing street lights with something like love on his face. Tender and unexpected and still so new. 

 

He sways with me in the middle of the empty road and the music is the wind whipping around our legs and ankles. The drums, our feet on the pavement moving slowly back and forth and together in a dance that goes nowhere. 

 

We keep pace in the dark and between us there is only time. 

 

And time is running out. 

 

He’s leaving. 

 

It’s only a matter of hours before he’s states away and I can’t see him for God knows how long. 

 

I want to spend every second with him. 

 

For some reason, it feels like the last night of innocence between us and if he wants to do wholesome shit like dance in the middle of the fucking street I guess we’re dancing in the middle of the fucking street. 

 

Jamie grins as he trips over my feet and steadies himself with my arm, like that’s going to stop a man of his size from falling over. 

 

“Sorry, I should warn ye. I’ve two left feet.” 

 

I chuckle, “Really? Then I guess dancing with you at my sister’s wedding is out. If you’ll be my date, that is…” I trail off, my eyes flicking to his face pleadingly. 

 

“Are ye asking me out?” Jamie stiffens up his shoulders slightly as he twirls me again. 

 

“Guesso.” I mumble, still shy around him. My heart is racing. I need an answer and I need it now. 

 

I could bite off my whole tongue right now but now that everyone knows… 

 

“As much as I like to be a loner, I’d hate to show up alone to this one.” I add hastily. 

 

“Why do ye do that?” Jamie tilts his head at me like a dog looking at a person with a treat. 

 

“What?” 

 

“Pretend I dinnae care.” 

 

Easier than to pretend you do.

 

“I don’t know.” I shrug, but he’s right. 

 

Self-deprecation isn’t cute anymore, it’s juvenile. 

 

Jamie stops moving long enough to look down into my eyes and grin widely. 

 

“I’d be honored, Miss Beauchamp.” 

 

He brings my hand to his lips before putting it back on his shoulder, I casually run my fingers through the long hair on the nape of his neck. 

 

Jamie leans forward and whispers into my ear. 

 

“Guess I’ll break out the arseless chaps for the occasion.” 

 

I snort and hit him on his shoulder and he pulls back solemnly. 

 

“Only the best. Promise. I’ll be a gentleman,” Jamie pledges wholeheartedly, the excitement in his voice making my heart skip a beat. “I’ll show up early. Dance wi’ ye, even if I do have two left feet. Every song if ye wish.” 

 

I shake my head and roll my eyes at the adoring look on his face.  

 

“Just for you, Claire. All of it. Just for you.” 

 

I swallow hard and pull my face back from his shoulder to reach up and softly kiss his lips. They meet mine oh-so-gently and he pulls me close for a moment before resuming our circular waltz in the middle of the pavement. My boots in between his, his hands on my waist and twisting into my own fingers laying on his neck. My ear picks up an audible rumble as he starts to hum. 

 

I bet he danced with her when she couldn’t sleep. 

 

I bet she put her head on his solid, wide chest and closed her eyes like I’m doing. 

 

I bet she felt safe. 

 

I bet he was the best father in the world. 

 

I miss Faith. Although I never met her, I miss her. 

 

Funny, when you love someone you love the parts of them you never knew. The parts of them that came before you. Child Claire would have been jealous, not of Faith but of Annalise and the girls who came before. But woman Claire? 

 

I honor and respect them. 

 

But it is my ear now who hears his voice through his chest. My name he calls. My lips he kisses. 

 

Jamie’s hum turns into a song as his voice sings out low into the darkness above my ear. 

 

“I'll be so alone without you

 

Maybe you'll be lonesome too, and blue…” 

 

My fingers slip around his as he spins me out and gathers me close, my shoulders against his chest as his arms wrap around me, keeping my soul warm. 

 

“Fly the ocean in a silver plane

 

See the jungle when it's wet with rain

 

Just remember till I’m home again

 

You belong to me”

 

I close my eyes and breathe him in, my eyes collecting the tears from the words I am too moved to utter. He changed the lyrics to I’m and I am not okay. 

 

The light above us turns yellow. 

 

I never saw gold before him, but now it’s everywhere. 

 

A car honks impatiently as it draws close to us. I grab his hand and run to the crosswalk but Jamie flips it off as he laughs heartily. It’s the best sound I’ve ever heard.  

 

We walk the rest of the way to The Trinity in silence, enjoying the peace and joy between us. Each step we get closer to parting, the more my heart aches. 

 

Jamie stops right in front of my car and turns to look at me. I squeeze his hand. 

 

“Stay with me tonight?” I ask. 

 

He smiles softly and glances over his shoulder to where the shadows are packing the little pub on the inside, thankfully no one’s by the front door watching. 

 

“I thought ye’d never ask.” 

 

He echoes his exact words the night we played Truth or Dare and took an Uber home. The night we first kissed. 

 

Joy. Joy Joy. 

 

I have the feeling deep in my heart and it takes root and grows into a tree in my mind. A tall oak, strong and skywards. I find shelter and truth in its branches and meet him at the base to fall asunder in his arms. 

 

***

 

Jamie has to drop his guitar, Baby, off first and pick up some things. He keeps his word and shows up at mine within about ten minutes of me arriving home. Curls still damp from a quick shower, his navy hoodie thrown on carelessly. Dark trainers still untied in his hurry. 

 

I climb into bed and turn on the overhead fan. I can’t tell if it’s nerves or excitement but I am shaking as Jamie stands next to the bed and looks at me. 

 

“I’ll need ye to move, Sassenach.” 

 

He nods to the far side of the bed by the double windows. 

 

“Why?” I pull the knit cotton blanket up around my neck and look at him blankly. 

 

“It’s just not right to have ye sleep by the door.” 

 

I scoot to the far side and watch as my stomach hits the roof of my ribcage as the bed gives a little under his weight as he gets in it and holds an arm out for me. 

 

“Door’s mine. Sassenach. Always. Ye ken. In case someone ever does break in, it’ll be they come across first. Not you.” 

 

I never thought of that before, the fact that he has is disgustingly endearing. I slip into his arms with a yawn when I shiver. 

 

“If yer cold, why turn on the fan?” He asks, humor in his voice. 

 

“Oh um…” 

 

Hot flashes.  

 

Part of having my ovaries but not having them exactly 100% as they were pre-hysterectomy is that sometimes I get hot flashes. 

 

“Feels good.” I lie. 

 

“Well yer shaking the bed and making my own teeth rattle. Here, take this.” 

 

Jamie nudges my arm as I roll onto my elbow. He slips his hoodie over his head and gets a sleeve caught behind his head in the process. In the struggle I am all-too-aware of his growing nakedness as he twists in mock-exertion and goat-screams in the process to be free from the clothing monster now eating him alive. 

 

I collapse into a pile of giggles but not before he’s worked it off his head and shoves it down over my own. 

 

“Won’t you be cold?” I stick my face through the opening. It smells amazingly like him and I stick out my pointer finger in preparation for my E.T. impersonation. 

 

Jamie kisses the finger and folds it back with the others in the sleeves before shaking his head and wrapping his steel torso out of sight much to my dismay. 

 

I only remain disappointed for a second though, because the second best thing to looking at him is feeling him close to me, which I do in a heartbeat. 

 

Our legs and feet tangle together and I find myself in a wonderfully cozy cocoon, chin to chin, forehead to forehead. Jamie blinks at me expectantly and smirks. Even up close like he is and blurry, I can see mischief gleam in his eyes as he looks at me seriously and says in the most proper tone he can manage, 

 

“Dinnae take this the wrong way, but ye totally look like a cyclops right now, Sassenach.” 

 

We chuckle and fall into each other with giggles that won’t stop. 

 

Jamie is laughing so much the bed is shaking. 

 

I don’t remember laughing in bed with anyone before. 

 

He catches the seriousness in my eyes and his laugh catches in his throat as his eyes mirror my own, great pools of blue and misty gray as they are when he’s tired. 

 

As if reading my mind he says, “It’s been years since I’ve laughed in a woman’s bed, Sassenach. Dinnae think I ever would again.” 

 

I hum happily and draw him in for a kiss, smiling softly into the caress. I nestle my head in the cleft of his neck and breastbone and breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with the sensation of him near. 

 

Some time later, we fall asleep together. My hand touching his chin, his on my hair mid-stroke as the soft movement lulls me into deep sleep.  

 

Somewhere in the darkness, I know not when, I awake to the sound of him whispering. At first, I think he’s dreaming and I move to check when I hear the stream of consciousness in his words. 

 

“...and protect her. Keep her safe while I am gone. Her face is my heart. The love of her, my whole soul. On this night and every night.” 

 

I keep my eyes closed as I listen to him, the sob rising in my chest almost betrays me. 

 

“And tuck in my girl. Penguin on the right, always. Wee fairy doll on the left. Forehead kisses. Ye ken how she likes it. And tell her I miss her. And I’ll be waiting.” 

 

I feel a tap of something on my hair. A tear. Or two. Ones he isn’t ready to shed in front of me when awake. I roll over and wrap my arms around his shoulders and breathe in as his forehead touches mine. 

 

Wordlessly, he comes to my breast and lays his head there as I stroke his soft curls until he falls asleep, my heart carrying the heavy weight of his whispered prayer along with one of my own. 

 

As long as I’m alive, he won’t bear the pain alone. 

 

***

 

When I wake up, he’s gone. 

 

I was hoping to say goodbye but maybe it’s better this way. 

 

I think we both know tears don’t become us. 

 

And God, I’d be a sobbing, snotty mess if only he could see me. 

 

I still shed a solitary tear as I reach out to an empty pillow beside me and my heart falls to my gut. 

 

I frown and breathe in and out a couple times feeling the sharp pain of separation lay heavy on my chest. Wrapping my arms around me, I breathe in the hoodie I’ve grown to love so much. 

 

As my bare feet hit the floor, I meander clumsily to the kitchen to start my coffee pot like I usually do. 

 

I stare blankly, not quite registering what I’m seeing set in a small glass in front of my coffee maker. 

 

A white rose. 

 

White. 

 

No one fucking guesses white. 

 

I guess I’m not really a pink girl and red is overdone. Black hard to come by. 

 

So white it is. 

 

Or Joe fucking told him. 

 

I bet he did. 

 

Little trollop. 

 

The single bloom might as well be a dandelion for how much I can see it right now. 

 

My eyes are swimming in tears and I clasp a hand over my mouth to stifle the small noise that escapes my lips. 

 

Goosebumps run down both my arms until I sit down on the floor shakily and wrap my arms around myself, hand still over my lips as I read the words he left me. 

 

A real one this time. White suits you, Sassenach. Next time you’re coming with me. I’m not asking, I’m telling you. Don’t make me miss you again.

 

I smile through my tears as I catch the postscript scrawled in his horrible handwriting at the bottom. 

 

P.S. I love you.




Chapter Text

 

 

 

Save me 'til the party is over
Kiss me in the seat of your Rover
Real sweet, but I wish you were sober

-Wish You Were Sober, Conan Gray 

 

 

***

 

 

The C Word 

 

No, not the four letter word. 

 

The six letter one. 

 

Cancer. 

 

When you answer the phone and it’s not the nurse but the doctor, you know shit is serious. 

 

It’s painful for me to talk about, even with Alicia. 

 

Once, I opened up to her about it. I sat in her office this time, the lights dim and a blue box of tissues next to me that I didn’t think I would need.

 

 I used all of them. 

 

So much so that she fucking gave me another small box at the end of our session because I couldn’t stop the tears. I still have it in my car console as a reminder of all I've been through. Sometimes I use them to pat away the tears that escape the high-end mascara trick I've told you about. 

 

Even now, my stomach clenches and my chest is tight thinking about telling you this.

 

I found out the day Frank died. 

 

That’s what I was yelling at him about. No, not that it was his fault per se. But it could have been. 

 

The doctors weren’t sure what caused it but uterine cancer was confirmed. It would be a miracle if they saved my ovaries and I didn’t need to be on hormonal treatments at twenty-five which would increase my risk of other kinds of cancer. 

 

My hands were shaking when my doctor called me and I remember frantically writing down the names and numbers of oncologists and surgeons who would be reaching out to schedule the surgery if that’s the route I wanted. It was certainly the one they recommended. 

 

Cancer. 

 

Funny how the doctor had me take the names and numbers down. I mean, when people tell you life-altering news they generally give you a moment before they expect you to move on. To function. To be able to maintain a single cohesive thought without breaking down because, as we all know, life goes on. 

 

Even the end of a life still marches on ruthlessly and without reprieve. 

 

Like pumping the brakes on a car headed for a cliff, there’s only so much you can do before you roll on, ever onwards to the bitter end. 

 

Life’s just that way. The wise know it moves on and they move quickly with it, lest they fall behind and are caught up in the aftershock of trauma’s wake. 

 

I am not wise. 

 

I’ve always been a little foolish that way. Clinging to the false hope that I didn’t need to move on so quickly, that maybe life would stop for me.

 

It never does. 

 

As unceremoniously as we are yanked naked and bloody into this world, we go out. Screaming and clawing all the way, holding onto life with the fragile fingers of a body breaking and a soul clinging on out of some innate sense of survival. 

 

It jars me that I am no longer talking about life in the abstract. 

 

My life in the abstract. 

 

I must now face the reality that my life hangs in the balance as meek and as breakable as the stem of a red-bud clover.

 

My life. My death . Not abstract anymore. 

 

Funny how the immortality of youth fades out. Not in a slow, gradual decline of believability but in the quick snuff of a candle flame. One moment you’ll live forever and the next, you’re as good as dead and cold in the ground next to some soul that passed three-hundred-years ago. 

 

Worm fodder. 

 

Our existence is held in the balance of a cell phone conversation. Mine was. 

 

The moment I picked up the call, I became mortal. In the very real and tangible sense, I died. A sort of small death, but a death nonetheless. You stop existing when you hear you’re dying. 

 

That’s when you truly start to live. 

 

I remember hanging up the phone and staring blankly ahead of me at my desk, eyeing the letter-opener that had been in my office since the dawn of time, long before I practiced law there.

 

I wanted to take it and plunge it into my gut and cut the damn tainted cells and organs out myself. Knowing, just knowing something dark and evil and sick and twisted was growing unabated inside of me was enough to make my skin crawl. I wanted it out. Out, out. 

 

Then came the surgeon consults, I had two. 

 

One was a male surgeon, an older gentleman who looked at me and said, “No kids? You sure you don’t want any?” 

 

As calm and cool as if he'd asked if I'd wanted a slice of lemon to go in my ice water. 

 

Fuck you. 

 

“I’m sure.” 

 

Of course I fucking want children you goddamn idiot! 

 

As if I wasn’t already sitting there with a fucking paper dress on wrapped around my nether regions, I had to sit there and look at this bastard questioning if I wanted to risk death itself to give birth. 

 

I definitely reported him for that. To whatever end, I'll never know. 

 

Thankfully, the female surgeon was gentle in her questioning as I signed my rights away and my acknowledgement that I would never get pregnant after the surgery. 

 

They fucking make you sign that shit. 

 

About three papers of consent to remove your ability to have children. 

 

I wish I were kidding. 

 

Liabilities and all.

 

Trust me. As a lawyer, I get the logical reason for it. The ethical one? Not so much. But what is ethics in the land of medical malpractice and lawsuits? 

 

The finality of it all plants a seed of doubt in my mind that I succumb to in a moment of pure idiocy.

 

I look at my new surgeon, Rachel. I call her by her first name, she insists. 

 

“Can I? I mean figuratively, if I wanted to? Can I postpone the surgery and actually have a baby?” 

 

Rachel’s hazel eyes were kind and she pushed her blonde ringlets out of her ever-so-slightly protruding eyes to answer. 

 

“Yes,” She chose her words carefully, “But I’m not going to lie to you, Claire. The risks are great. You would have to conceive as soon as possible if you wanted to. But honey…” 

 

She reaches out a small hand, cold from washing it in the medical sink next to me. 

 

Touch. 

 

How much it means and how little it takes. 

 

Humanity. 

 

Concern and honesty. 

 

This is why I picked her. 

 

Picked her to gut me open in a four-hour-long surgery to explore my abdominal cavity and remove all the living death in my organs. 

 

“I’ll be completely honest with you, I don’t recommend waiting.” 

 

I bite my lower lip and nod, tearfully. 

 

“Let’s do it. I want it done as soon as possible.” 

 

My voice sounds strange to my ears. Dull and dead. 

 

She held my hand and pressed it gently, a sad smile on her face as she nodded and quietly brought me the forms to sign over the rights to my fertility permanently. 

 

With no thought to the burden of controlling my body, God gave me the ability to have children. 

 

With much thought into the burden of making the responsible decision, I sign over my rights to have any. 

 

Seems like a decent exchange of power, huh? 

 

Curse God and die. 

 

In the book of Job, all his friends tell him to curse God and die in the face of plagues and tortuous loss. 

 

Not me. 

 

I didn’t cry when my husband died. 

 

Pretty sure God isn’t listening to me anyway. 

 

I’ll save my breath for the Savior who won’t save me. 

 

His absence from my life has always been a curse in and of itself. 

 

I’ll not waste the precious time I have left in cursing Him. 

 

***

 

I don’t tell people it’s an option to try right away. To risk my health and my life. 

 

Least of all my mother. 

 

Julia Beauchamp. 

 

She’s literally in my phone under that, sometimes I change the name to “Mommy Dearest” when I’m drunk. 

 

I call her in the coming week to tell her I may need her to watch Adso for me. 

 

“Uh, I guess I can move some things around, why?” 

 

Her voice is cold but so am I. I learned from the best, Mommy Dearest. 

 

I tell her the truth and expect nothing. She delivers. 

 

“But… but this means you won’t be able to have kids.” 

 

“I know.” 

 

“But you’ve always wanted kids. What about grandkids? God, this is awful.” I can hear her eyebrows twitching on the other end of the phone. The way they always do when she’s mad at me. 

 

“I know, Mom.” 

 

“Well, can’t they like... do treatments or something first. I don’t know, Claire. A hysterectomy seems kinda dramatic for all that…” 

 

Hot tears rush to my eyelashes and I don’t bother blinking them back as they run down my face.

 

I’m fragile lately.

 

This morning I forgot to push start on my coffee machine and actually burst into tears when I didn’t have a ready pot waiting for me after my shower. 

 

“All that”????

 

My inner bitch rears her head to answer this one. 

 

“Hmm. Got it. Well, when “all that” is an aggressive form of uterine cancer, I’d rather not take my chances, mk?” 

 

I know I’m being sassy to her. 

 

I’m walking a dangerous line. 

 

If I’m too mean or sassy she won’t help me. I’ll need someone to watch Adso. I need Joe to physically help me to and from the hospital. 

 

“Well, let me know when it is then and I’ll see if I can move some stuff around.” 

 

Wow. 

 

“Okay, will do.” 

 

I hang up. 

 

Curse whoever invented the cellular phone. Hanging up on one doesn’t have the same effect as a landline. You could slam that motherfucker down on the receiver and the other person would know you told them off with that final clack of plastic to plastic. 

 

That was the last time I really talked to her or asked her to watch Adso for me. Now Joe, or my neighbor Bev, does it for me. 

 

Speaking of Joe, I haven’t been honest with you and I apologize. I guess it’s time I told you everything. 

 

Ah, Joe and me. 

 

The duo that would never, ever work. 

 

Not in a million years. 

 

Except one night, we did. 

 

*** 



Joe visits me that night after work. 

 

I’m already half-drunk. 

 

I squint my eyes at him. He’s just started shaving his head and I’m still not used to it. 

 

He has a perfectly round cranium and looks a lot like a chocolate Teddy Graham cookie right now, complete with arms outstretched to greet me and a cautious smile on his face. 

 

“Sorry, would have been here sooner, got caught up at rehearsal. Bit of a MIA case with our lead guitar at the moment, but I’m here… oh honey, what’s wrong?” 

 

He rushes to me and wraps his arms around me, I sink into them and crumple like a piece of wet paper that’s been left in the rain. Too soggy and drunk to read. 

 

I take his hand and lead him through my house until we’re cross legged on my living room floor with two good bottles of wine and two full glasses. I’ve lit a few candles around me for some ambience but it seriously looks and feels more like a prayer circle. 

 

Joe looks unnerved. I mean, I guess it does kinda look like I’m a witch about to practice some dark magic here with a human sacrifice, but for fuck’s sake, he knows me. Murder is illegal. We’ve both worked too hard for the bar to falter now as I teeter on the brink of full-on insanity. 

 

I’ve been toying with it since Frank passed. God knows I’ve wanted to slip away altogether. 

 

But not tonight, tonight is different. I need to be drunk to be deathly serious. I can't do this sober. 

 

“Ookay.” Joe nods surely. “What we drinking to, babe?” 

 

“The end of an era.” 

 

I dramatically toss my hair back and hold up my glass in the air above my head, looking up at it from the bottom. It looks as dark as a rum raisin and tastes just as delicious. 

 

“A goodbye to Frank Randall. Farewell to my fertility. I have my surgery date and they’re gonna rip me apart like some science experiment and put me back together again. Think they’ll make me bionic if I ask?” 

 

A bionic vagina. Could have perks. I’ll ask Rachel. 

 

“I have no idea what you’re-” Joe frowns and looks rather alarmed. 

 

I blurt it all out before I can think on it. He needs to know. 

 

“Cancer. The c-word. Uterine cancer. Farewell to all my hopes and dreams.” I down the glass and look at him.. “I shall never, ever, ever….be a mother.” 

 

A painful hiccup escapes me. 

 

There’s not exactly two of him in front of me. Maybe one, one and a half. 

 

His dark face pales to light taupe in the candlelight. 

 

“Wait. You’re sure? Like sure sure….” 

 

“Yes, I’m fucking sure. How would you like to live with a disgusting looking abnormal cell replicating in your body like fucking wildfire? Only a matter of time before it’s in my bones and then I’m walking death, so yes I’m fucking sure, Joseph Abernathy.” 

 

“No…. I mean, cancer .” The air leaves his lungs faster than he can think as his mind races to catch up. “They’re sure that’s it?” 

 

“So I’m told. You know me, Joe. I’m thorough. Now get me thoroughly wasted so I don’t spend another night fucking crying over this.” 

 

Joe nods and purses his lips, his eyes dark and confused. 

 

“I want you to have this. Signed, sealed and notarized.” I reach over and pull out a neat envelope I took from the office. 

 

“What’s this?” 

 

“Last will and testament. Just in case. I know, I know. Tres morbid. But come on, you know it’s the first thing I did since I didn’t have one and dealing with Frank’s estate was a hot mess.” 

 

Joe opens his mouth and closes it again sputtering his dismay into the silence. 

 

“Yes, you fucking get my fur-son. So treat him well. As far as the rest of it, burn it for all I care. Don’t feel bad. I don’t. You remember what I told you to do after they cremate me, right?” 

 

Joe doesn’t smile, but I do. We cackled that night in law school when I told him I wanted him to find Leonardo DiCaprio and throw my ashes at him. What? I admire his work and wanna be a part of him somehow after I’m gone. 

 

“Fucking hell, Claire… I… I don’t know what to say,” He stammers. “I’m so fucking sorry.” 

 

“Don’t be sorry,” I demand, my voice louder than I intend it. “Drink.” 

 

*** 

 

“Better this way,” I muse to myself as I rest my head on his shoulder on my couch. 

 

He’s solid and his shoulder is round and warm and his sweater is soft. 

 

“Hmm?” 

 

“Could’a had kids with Frank. As if. Seriously. Nope better this way. Twenty-five year old fucking widow with no baby-making organs. How the fuck is anyone going to love me now?” 

 

I run my hand down his arm and feel his sweater soft under my touch. October. My favorite month. Least if I don’t make it, I’ll go out during my favorite season. Autumn. 

 

Joe stiffens up suddenly and looks down at me. 

 

“I love you.” 

 

“Do you now?” I’m barely listening. The alcohol is buzzing through my head and I’m trying to focus on whatever is playing on the tv in front of us. I forgot what movie he put on, but it doesn’t matter anymore since neither of us are watching. We're touching each other's hands in the slow, heavy way people have when they're drunk. When all inhibitions are gone and people are at their most honest. 

 

“Cross my heart." He says quietly. 

 

“Okay, Joseph Abernathy. Make me a promise then, eh?” I scramble up from his shoulder and look at him seriously. I close one eye to see straight and hold out my pinky finger. 

 

Joe catches it in his own. His hands are warm and solid and everything I’m not. Something about him makes it easy for me to blurt out my pipe dream. 

 

“Be my maybe? Someday? Shit, if we’re fifty and still single...” 

 

Joe chuckles and nods, “Whatever you want, Lady. I accept this very drunk proposal.” 

 

“I am sotally tober!” I whine, slurring my words together on purpose now. 

 

“Sure, I guess if my future wife’s gonna be a lush I better get used to it.” 

 

He’s smiling now. More to himself than to me but I look at him and my heart goes soft. 

 

“You’re blushing.” I crook a finger and giggle as I tickle under his chin. 

 

He slaps it away. 

 

“Fifty. It’s a date. You, me, the courthouse. We’ll adopt a three-legged dog and call it Tipsy after you and buy some condo on the beach in Barbados after I retire. Sounds good?” 

 

“Perfect.” 

 

 I smile like a sleepy kitten. 

 

 “Mmm.”

 

My clumsy drunk hand reaches out and grabs his cheek, pulling him towards me. Before I realize what I’m doing, I plant a very sloppy, wet, utterly disgusting kiss on his full lips. 

 

To my shock, he kisses back. 

 

It isn’t half bad, either. Of course I’m drunk now so don’t take my word for it. 

 

But it has more feeling than I expected it to. It still feels a bit like trying on a shoe that doesn’t quite fit, but you really like the style of it and want it to suit you. 

 

I reached out to him needing comfort and he gave it to me without reservation. 

 

My face contorts into wrinkles and my nose starts pricking again all over with the sure sign of… yup, tears are now streaming down my face. 

 

“Oh honey, no.” Joe shakes his head and wipes them away with his sweater sleeves. “I gotcha.” 

 

I close my eyes and hold onto him, holding his hand as it wraps around my shoulders. 

 

“I always gotcha, Lady Jane. Always.” 

 

My shoulders shake as silent sobs wrack my body. 

 

“I love...you…” I gasp out. 

 

“I’ve always known, honey.” Joe smoothes my hair like a child. “Never, ever doubted it.” 

 

He holds me while I soak his shirt in the tears of half-dead as I mourn the life I’ll never have with the man I’ll never have it with. 

 

***

Well, now you know. 

 

Joe is the only man I’ve ever truly loved. Even platonically. Until now. 

 

What I wouldn’t give to take back my decision that day. Maybe if I’d have pursued other lines of treatment, other witch-doctor remedies… maybe … 

 

Maybe is a dangerous game. 

 

In order to remain in the land of the living, I give over my right to create life. A decision I never once doubted until now. 

 

When I met a pair of blue opal eyes that made me want to risk my life a thousand times over for just one maybe. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

October 17th, two years ago 

 

 

***

 

The night it all happened started out quite still. 

 

As all nights do, ours began with a morning. 5:00 am sharp, to be exact. 

 

Joe came with me, he insisted. Thankfully, I was one of the first procedures of the day.

 

The buttons on my coat caught in my curls as I went to take it off. 

 

Pain, however small, seemed inconsequential now. 

 

I was up half the night with nerves. 

 

Praying to holy orange bottles of harsh drugs, hoping that between that and the surgery, I might live to see Christmas. It was an especially vicious type of cancer and it had taken hold in more ways than we had first realized. 

 

I had to endure bone marrow testing and I remember nearly biting my tongue off even after they numbed the area, luckily it wasn’t in my bones yet. I still had time. 

 

Joe stepped out of the room while I took off all my earthly belongings and wrappings and put them unceremoniously into a plastic bag for him to hold onto while I dressed in the paper gown they had given me. 

 

My sensitive pale skin breaking out in a rash from the body wipes they send me home with the night before, some kind of super astringent prep for my abdomen. Smelled like chemicals and I smelt it throughout the night as a reminder of what today would be. 

 

Not a drop of water had passed my lips since midnight. I stayed in Joe’s extra room and binged Golden Girls all night. My alarm blared high and tinny in the small, dark, red room. 

 

We had had a “last supper” of Thai takeout and I admit I fell asleep cuddling him on the couch like a body pillow. Joe was the little spoon and oh my god did he snore. 

 

It’s nice to have a friend. 

 

A friend who will tell you-

“Hey uh… Lady? Your ass is showing.” 

 

Joe covers his eyes with his hands and coughs as I stuff the remnants of my earth possessions into the plastic baggie. 

 

“Shit. Sorry.” 

 

My hands shake as I fumble to get my butt covered before sitting up in the gurney bed. 

 

Did it really matter? I mean to Joe, yes. Jesus. Man’s possibly seen me in my altogether now including the time he had to change me out of my top after the whole post-Frank funeral bender when I threw up on myself and he was kind enough to bring me back to life after I poisoned myself with alcohol. 

 

He needs a raise. 

 

Do best friends get a raise? 

 

“Free show, I’m a lucky guy.” Joe chuckles, his eyes changing to concern as he watches my fingers fumbling with the cotton tie on the plastic clothes bag I jammed my coat into. 

 

I swallow hard. 

 

Feels like preparing for death. Only instead of an undertaker it’s me and Joe, preparing my body to undergo something unnatural. 

 

He holds my hand, his fingers going pale as I grip onto him when the nurse comes in and blows the vein in my left hand trying to get an IV in. 

 

I’m cold and nervous and she fucking digs that needle around like a manic junkie trying for a hit. 

 

Finally, Joe tells her to stop and she complies with a sigh, putting the needle in the crook of my arm instead. 

 

I feel confined. 

 

I know this is just the beginning of being hooked up to machines and I start to breathe heavily. 

 

Thankfully, the anesthesiologist is next in the room. 

 

Handsome guy. 

 

I need to make a good impression, he’s the one to keep me breathing for four plus hours while I’m hung almost upside down so my vital organs are away from the area they’ll be working on. It’s honestly terrifying to think about. Almost like an upside down crucifixion. 

 

I told Joe that over my Pad Kee Mao last night and he almost choked and then changed the subject. Probably best not to think about. 

 

Anyway, the anesthesiologist takes one look at me and the whole situation re: Joe’s alarmed face at the nurse blowing the veins in my hands and offers me something to take the edge off. 

 

Next thing I know, Joe is taking my picture and showing it to me so I can see how only one of my eyes is lazy right now. I’m trying to keep a brave face. I have to keep my hair up out of my face so they give me this … toque… like chefs wear pretty much. A tall, white, paper-ish hair net. 

 

I waste no time in ballooning that motherfucker out with air and smiling like an idiot telling Joe I’m starring in Pixar’s Ratatouille. 

 

I close my eyes and lay back on the gurney. I feel good. 

 

“Valium is fucking wonderful, Joe.” 

 

Are my hands on my face? They feel like baby butterflies. So soft. And flappy. 

 

“I know, honey.” 

 

“You’re cute. Has anyone ever told you that you should model?” I squint, not sure which Joe to look at out of the two in front of me. 

 

“Yup. You did. About five minutes ago, babe.” 

 

“You should. Get that bread, baby. Oh hey, it’s you!” I reach up to squeeze the arm of the anesthesiologist sent to take me back, there’s a different nurse with him. 

 

“I’m giving you all my money.” 

 

He laughs. Joe fixes my Ratatouille toque and squeezes my good hand, brushing his lips on my cheek. 

 

“I’ll see you on the other side, love.” 

 

“You can walk with us. If you want. I mean, family and friends can come up till a point, it’s on our way to the waiting area anyway.” The nurse comments. 

 

Joe nods. 

 

It’s quiet in the hall. My right hand is in Joe’s as the nurse pushes me forward. I hear the squeaks of shoes and the wheels of the gurney and the IV cart behind. 

 

“Here’s where I get off, love.” Joe’s voice is thick and close to my face. I turn my head and kiss his cheek. 

 

“I love you,” I mumble in my Valium induced stupor. 

 

“Love you too, Lady. See you soon, mk?” 

 

“Kay.” 

 

And just like that he’s gone. 

 

I’m being wheeled into an entirely small room with a bright, bright light overhead in the center. I hear Rachel’s voice coming out from the beyond of the yellow light I can’t see past. 

 

She’s greeting me. 

 

I’m being moved onto something hard but also soft. The foam of the covering beneath me on the metal surgery table is cushioning my neck. 

 

“Ok, count back from ten with me, Claire.” 

 

The nurse’s voice is low and gentle in my ear as she shoots the IV site full of something in a blue syringe. 

 

“Ten. Nine.” I gasp, the oxygen hits my nostrils cold and hard through the plastic mask they hold up to my face.  “Eigh-” 

 

I’m passing out. The black arms of unconsciousness welcome me into their deep folds as my physical body is left in the care of my team. 

 

Even the beeps of the machines are left far behind. 

 

***

 

I awake sometime later to the smell of peppermint. I’m in recovery. 

 

I can hear the nurses next to me fussing over an elderly lady who won’t wake up. Not me. Get me out of there. 

 

I force my eyes to open blearily and my stomach quickly churns from the motion of even turning my own head. 

 

I wretch. 

 

“Careful, careful. Breathe in this. Through the nose. That’s it.” 

 

I clutch a gauze pad to my face and wince at the killer headache I have. 

 

“Migraine, I bet. From the position you were in. All the blood rushing to your head. It’s normal. Normal to see spots too for a while. Take it easy, okay? I’ll go get the doctor.” 

 

Someone lays a warm blanket on my ice cold feet and I drift in and out of sleep for a while, my fingers clutching the cotton soaked in peppermint. 

 

*** 

 

It isn’t even three hours later that the nurses urge me to get out of bed and walk the hall. Joe looks at them like they are out of their minds. So do I. 

 

I mean it’s not like my entire abdominal cavity got opened up, explored and stapled shut again. 

 

The surgery went well. As well as could be expected but it took five hours instead of four. They saved my ovaries thankfully so I wasn’t going to have to be on hormonal treatments in addition to the meds I was already on. 

 

Stiff, puffy, sweaty and dried, my hands felt strange as I clung to the side of the bed and carefully placed my sticky-socked feet on the linoleum floor in front of me. Joe took one arm and the nurse took the other. I stood up slowly and took one step as shakily as a newborn deer. Then another. 

 

Then I saw stars in front of my eyes and soon black spots clouded my vision. 

 

“I think… I think I’m going to faint....” My tongue is heavy and I mumble just as the room spins and my ears hear ringing. 

 

I breathe in deeply and barely hear Joe’s voice or feel his arm reach out to catch me as I fall to the ground. 

 

I’m awoken sharply and rudely by a painful prick to the tip of my finger for a glucose reading by one nurse as another takes my blood pressure and they determine I got up too fast. 

 

Um… ya think?! 

 

They require less effort from mothers who have given birth.

 

So I’m told. 

 

But to have a whole organ system ripped from you? 

 

Yeah, walk the hall. You’ll be fine. 

 

We try again later and I make it down the hall a few steps before I’m in my room for the night absolutely pissed off with the nurses and groggily in and out of sleep for the rest of the day. 

 

Somewhere in the confusion, I nod and murmur a weak “ok” as Joe tells me he’s grabbing dinner and will be back later. 

 

I choke down some bad hospital food of some kind of poultry breast and mashed potato substance with gray gravy. I gag once, but not from the food. 

 

“Is it the pain meds?” 

 

“Yeah, I can’t have any.” I hold up my wrist showing the night nurse my opioid sensitivity bracelet. 

 

“I know that but we did start you on-” 

 

“Can we stop them?” I ask quickly. 

 

No fucking wonder my brain is shit and I feel like the room is spinning. Pain, I can handle. Nausea and feeling off my rocker, I cannot. If Joe were here, he’d tell them. 

 

Claire Beauchamp needs to be in control of her own faculties at all times. 

 

Take away my brain, I am nothing. 

 

I can’t sleep or eat or act like most people on pain pills. Not even Advil. 

 

I get crazy irritable and nauseous as hell, give me pain any day over the side effects of these drugs.  

 

Pain I can handle. 

 

Heaven knows I was born accustomed to it. 

 

The nurse looks at me like I’m crazy but finally agrees. They remove my IV bag but leave the site untouched, still uncomfortable in my arm in case they need to restart any liquids depending on my output. Apparently they’re measuring my urine now. Like a lab rat. 

 

Whatever. 

 

Squeak squeak motherfucker. 

 

Getmeoutofhere. 

 

I’m finally able to move my arm without lines and tubes wrapping around my head when I do so and it’s a blessed relief. 

 

I slip in and out of my own body as the drugs leave my system fully. 

 

It isn’t until later that the meds wear off and I’m lying up on my bed turning my head to look out the window at the night sky below. 

 

City lights are pretty. 

 

What I can see of them, anyway. 

 

I can’t move much. Both my legs are hooked up to what look like giant blood pressure cuffs, squeezing anxiously in and out on both my calves keeping the blood from pooling as I lie there. 

 

I rest my head on the lump pillow and look to the ceiling. 

 

I feel myself coming back into my mind. 

 

Pain meds are gone and apart from feeling incredibly stiff and sore, I’m hot and feel like I’ve just done two thousand sit ups. 

 

Pain is seeping through my very bones and it is overwhelming my senses. 

 

I have my mind though. 

 

I can think. 

 

The first thing I do is breathe in and out through my nose. 

 

I cup my right hand over my nose and breathe in the faded smell of the peppermint gauze still clutched tight in my fingers. 

 

My room is quiet. 

 

So quiet. 

 

No one’s checked on me since they pulled the plug on the meds. 

 

The phone on the side table hasn’t rung. 

 

I’m trying not to think of that. My cell is lying in bed next to me. 

 

I want to call Joe, I really, really do. But I need to let him have some space, too. 

 

He’s exhausted and he was here all day. 

 

I breathe in and out again, my stomach is tight from the swelling. 

 

Looking down at my body makes me want to cry because my stomach is hard and bloated and pushing uncomfortably up against my sternum. 

 

I look pregnant. 

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

 

An unhappy side effect. 

 

A cruel one. 

 

I stare at the screen on the little tv in my room but don’t pay attention to what’s on it. I can’t. 

 

I turn it off and sit in the black quiet. 

 

I can’t avoid it now. 

 

The feeling that I could use somebody. 

 

Claire Beauchamp, little miss independent, needs someone. 

 

A sob rises in my chest and the tears spring forth from the corners of my eyes and trickle down my cheeks in steadily flowing pools of quiet anger. 

 

Hot and salty on my lips. 

 

My fingers clench and unclench the rough cotton sheets around me as the damn leg pressure cuffs beep again and start to squeeze the hell out of my calves. 

 

I’m over it. 

 

Growling like an other-worldly fiend, I bend down and see absolute stars of pain in my eyes, a galaxy of agony clusters my vision. 

 

Pushing through it, I claw at the velcro holding the damn cuffs to my legs until I rip them both off and fling them to the foot of the bed where they keep puffing up with air and beeping in annoyance at their indignant betrayal from monitoring my body. 

 

I’m moving. I don’t need them anymore. 

 

If they want me to walk the hall before going home like they said, I’ll fucking run laps. 

 

I want Adso, my own bed, my own quiet. 

 

The quiet at home is different from a hospital quiet. 

 

I want my own quiet. 

 

“Joe.” 

 

I gasp out, falling back to the pillows in pain and exhaustion from the effort of freeing myself. 

 

“Joe!” 

 

I call louder. I know I can pick up the phone but I don’t. He’ll be back. At least, I think he will be. But I’m a big girl, I can do this. 

 

My hands shake. 

 

I’m not grown. 

 

I’m only a kid. 

 

At twenty-five I still feel like I need an adult. 

 

Someone more adult-y than I myself am. 

 

They’ll know what to do. 

 

I’m only a kid. I shouldn’t be alone. 

 

I don’t know what I’m doing or how to handle…. All this. 

 

“Joe!” 

 

This time, his name breaks forth from my lips without trying. I’m crying out for him. 

 

“I need you, Joe!” 

 

I bite my tongue as I sweat with exertion and use my legs to heave over the heavy blankets off me and onto the floor as utter panic races in my chest. 

 

“Goddamn it, I need you, Joe!” 

 

My chest is seized with the frozen terror of pure, unadulterated pain that shoots through my body. More than any human is supposed to feel at one time. Being cut open isn’t normal or natural and I’m keenly away of how my body is responding to the ordeal by going into shock. 

 

I thought I knew pain when I couldn’t keep meds down after my wisdom teeth but nothing compares to this. 

 

Tears are streaming down my face and not because I’m sad. 

 

My body is starting to shake. 

 

I am human. 

 

My pain tells me I’m alive. 

 

I’m frail. 

 

I’m alone. 

 

My breathing has quickened this whole time, my heart is racing and I’m turning my head from the window to the drywall, pock-marred ceiling in the silence and calling out, crying out for the one person I need. My thoughts are jumbled and scaring me with how much I want to die. 

 

How much I want to run and jump out that window all nine stories and just…

 

Fall. 

 

Why even recover? 

 

What’s the point of recovering if I-

 

“Help me!” I scream at last. 

 

“Goddamn it, somebody help me!” 

 

My voice echoes through the empty hall but I don’t care as I scream and sob and dig my hands into the white sheets so tightly I have them in a death grip. 

 

A nurse’s shoes squeak to a stop in front of my door. Tears blurring my vision I look at her and notice she’s not one that’s stopped before. Must be doing rounds. Or going somewhere. The hall is dim and quiet behind her. 

 

“What’s wrong, honey?” Her voice echoes around my head, dull from the pain.

 

She sounds urgent. 

 

I shake my head as my body convulses and sob and cry out unintelligibly. 

 

“Is it the pain?” 

 

I shake my head vigorously back and forth from the window to the door as sobs wrack my frail body. 

 

I’ve completely lost it. 

 

It’s not the pain so much as the suffocating loneliness I feel. 

 

The weight of being well and truly alone is crushing me and it hurts to breathe in and out. 

 

I don’t know how to function after losing a part of myself. It’s too small to feel, certainly, and yet… I feel it keenly. 

 

The Something Missing ™ 

 

I still feel it to this day. 

 

I still get phantom cramps and pains and feel inexplicably… hollow. A shell of who I was. 

 

But right now a nurse is standing in my doorway and I’m not saying anything at all because I don’t know how to ask for what she can’t give me. 

 

My body back. 

 

Whole. 

 

Free. 

 

Well again. 

 

I need someone, please stay. 

 

I’m crying so hard I can’t speak. 

 

“I’ll get someone.” 

 

She looks worried and rushes off, shoes squeaking down the linoleum floor, before I can wail after her. 

 

Goddamn it. 

 

No one comes. 

 

*** 

 

I’m half-in, half-out of sleep as a gentle hand touches my shoulder and wakes me up. My face is dried into a tear-stained, stuffed-up blob. I open my eyes slowly and gasp as Joe’s face comes close to mine. His warm fingers are in my hair pushing it out of the way and off my face where it’s dried to my cheek in wet ringlets. 

 

“Miss me?” 

 

“Oh God, Joe.” I scramble up and hold onto him tightly, almost bringing him falling over into bed with me. 

 

I can breathe again. 

 

“Shhh. I’m here. I brought gifts, too.” Joe holds up a plastic grocery bag full of things from my home. 

 

He tucks in Sue next to me. 

 

I hold the panda to my face and breathe her in, she smells like vanilla and a little like Adso. He smells like corn chips and fish pate, his two favorite foods. 

 

Mangy furball was canoodling with her again, I see how it is. I’m gone for one day and it’s anarchy. 

 

I haven’t showered in over 24 hours and the makeup removing wipes Joe brought me feel like heaven as I scrub my face and hands free of the adhesive residue they used in surgery and for the monitors. 

 

I dive into a bag of salt and vinegar chips he’s brought me too. My favorite kind. After my sad dinner, it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. 

 

Wordlessly, Joe takes my wet brush and starts on the mess that is my hair. 

 

I start to cry again. 

 

“Price of beauty.” Joe chides, smirking and pointing the brush at me good-naturedly. 

 

“It doesn’t hurt but I don’t know what you’re planning to do with it. My hair is so curly it’s difficult.” 

 

Joe shoots me a look and bursts into laughter as though I’ve totally forgotten who I’m talking to. 

 

“I know a thing or two about difficult hair, Lady Jane. I do have girl cousins. Here. Let me help you.” 

 

I relax as his deft hands get to work. He carefully brushes and braids my hair into a low bun, securing it in place with a dark, soft elastic he’s taken from my bedside. I feel human again. 

 

I get out of bed with his help and gingerly walk to the bathroom to have a look. 

 

He’s done a full on crown braid and I don’t look half-bad. Sorta like a zombie with my yellowing skin from the medication and dark circles under my eyes from surgery. 

 

I’m still me. 

 

I carefully, very carefully, go to the bathroom and then proceed to wash my hands. 

 

I’m doing well, not at all bad, if I do say so myself. 

 

Having Joe here is giving me strength. 

 

Suddenly, I feel a wet, warm drizzle down my arm. Thinking I’ve left the water running in the sink and it’s somehow all over me, I turn to look and open my mouth in a silent scream. Only a gargled gasp comes out of my mouth and Joe launches into action. 

 

Blood. 

 

Everywhere. 

 

Trickling down my arm and hand from the IV site still taped off my arm. He yanks the emergency pull in the bathroom and yells for a nurse as he holds my hand above my head and catches me with his other arm, holding him to himself as I sway against him suddenly lightheaded at the sight and feel of no less than a quart of blood rushing from my body. 

 

“Joe… I…” 

 

The hot blood taps onto the floor in droplets and it churns my stomach at the sight of it. I cling to him as he kisses my head and holds me tightly. 

 

“Shh. Shh. I got you.” 

 

The nurses come to clean me up and adjust the site. 

 

I’ll never forget the look on Joe’s face as he ran to help me. 

 

We are both helpless as newborn kittens in the wake of the cancer they took from me. Clinging to each other, we make it through. 

 

He kisses my cheek and he holds my hand as I drift off to sleep that night. 

 

But for Joe, sleep will not be on the horizon this evening. 

 

For in a different part of the same hospital, another machine was beeping a flat line as carts were rushed in and lights were flipped on, blasting into the quiet with a last, fated attempt to reach into the beyond and pull back a fragile life from exiting this plane. 

 

Another life was ending as my new one was beginning. 

 

As I slipped away into black oblivion, the doctors called out the time of death near a little bed tucked away in the corner. 

 

A bed in a room that no one would have noticed. It looked the same as any other corner room, in any other hospital in America. 

 

Except for an orange butterfly on the door. 

 

Somewhere, beyond where Joe or I could hear, Jamie’s unearthly, guttural screams ripped the silence of the pediatric ward open. 

 

It was a cry without ending. A pain without start or finish. A father stranded on this side while his daughter crossed somewhere he could not go with her. The sounds of his grief ricocheted and pierced the veil between space and time in the moments that followed and marred the sure, swift passage of a soul taken too soon.  

 

On October 17th, at 11:13 pm, on her fourth birthday, Faith Fraser was pronounced deceased.

Chapter Text

 

 

Song link here 

I partnered with my friend Brittiany for our video

 

***

 

 

 

“What is it?” 

 

Joe’s brow furrows as he opens up my Crate and Barrel haul and squints at the long, oddly shaped box. 

 

“A corksicle.” 

 

“A whaaa?” 

 

I roll my eyes at him and snatch the box to read the description on the back of it. 

 

“Yeah you can freeze it and shove it in a bottle of wine and it’ll chill the whole thing in like ten minutes or something.” 

 

“You bought an ice butt plug… for wine.” Joe smirks. 

 

It hits me that he’s absolutely one hundred percent right and I choke on the ice water he’s given me. 

 

See? 

 

Adults offer people water. It’s what they do. I wasn’t crazy. 

 

“I guesso. Mom said Polly really wanted one.” 

 

“Uh-huh,” Joe rolls his eyes. “What’s wrong with just sticking it in the freezer for ten minutes the way God intended?” 

 

“Too much effort, you know she needs something fancy or it’s just not bougie enough for her.” 

 

Joe shakes his head and sighs, putting the box back into the paper bag, he slides it over with his foot to the side of his couch. 

 

Suddenly, I’m nervous. 

 

“How’d it go?” Joe asks the question I’m dreading. 

 

I really, really don’t want to talk about shotgun weddings right now. Much less being in one. The fact that it’s only a month away is startling. How did we get so close to June already? 

 

“Well, it went alright. I mean, in the end I walked away with something that says, I kinda-care but kinda-want-you-to-fuck-off, so I guess I did okay.” 

 

“Not the shopping for the shower, Polly’s wedding. How's that whole thing going?” 

 

*yikes* 

 

“Kinda out of it to be honest, I’m keeping my distance until the last possible moment,” I shrug. “We’ll meet up with Wendy later this week. Guess I’ll meet the other bridesmaids then, you know she’s having nine?! Guess a lot of her college friends are gonna be there.” 

 

“Of course she is,” Joe snorts. 

 

There’s a moment of silence. 

 

It would be an awkward silence with anyone else but it’s freaking Joe. 

 

He's a human Care Bear. 

 

“So… uh… marriage…” Joe swallows and taps his foot on the floor, “guess our backup is ... well, just backup now.” 

 

I swallow hard at my runaway heart that is trying to hop out of my mouth like a mad toad. 

 

I was drunk when I proposed but he hasn’t forgotten and neither have I. 

 

He tosses the words around like Jamie tossed one balled up sock of mine from one hand to the other. They both thoughtfully contemplate ideas before they speak them. 

 

“Yeah.”

 

It hits me suddenly that I am loved more than I know. By more than one person. 

 

Kim’s a lucky girl. 

 

But so am I. 

 

Falling in love in the cruelest way, right now the man who owns my heart might as well be on the other side of the moon. 

 

Jamie. 

 

Along with my heart thudding out the “still here, still here” beat pattern, a new one joins the mix. 

 

Jamie. 

 

Jamie Jamie Jamie. 

 

My heart is only an organ. But my flesh and blood beat his name and his name only until his return to my arms. 

 

With each of our nightly conversations, my soul dies a little more each time he brings up something new he has to work on. A new roof, laying a building foundation, electric work that can’t wait. Fraser’s Ridge, as I’m quickly finding out, is even bigger than Lallybroch Estates. Mostly rental cabins but all of them new and remote and … needing him.

 

I would hate the place but I can't hate any place Jamie speaks of with such love in his voice. 

 

“You miss him," Joe announces softly.

 

He doesn’t ask. He knows. 

 

He kens

 

I’d kill for someone to say that word right about now. I miss the way Jamie does. 

 

I whip my head up, blinking fast and nod once, swallowing harder than before. 

 

He exhales slowly and carefully, his next words catch me off guard. 

 

“Do you love him, Lady Jane?” 

 

I raise my eyebrows to look at Joe squarely, his brown eyes calmly searching my face for my response. 

 

My soul bends and my face crumples under his laser-focused gaze. I suck in my lips and nod once more. 

 

I half-expect Joe to fume. To clench his jaw and come up with a million reasons we shouldn’t be together. To come at me with something- anything- than what he actually does. 

 

His hand is on my back, rubbing lightly as if comforting a fragile animal. 

 

That’s all humans are anyway. 

 

Fragile animals. 

 

Trained to get along. 

 

Forever going with the ebb and flow of life. 

 

Jamie is quicksand and I am swiftly falling into him with all my heart and soul. 

 

All of me. 

 

Wide open. 

 

Now and forever. 

 

Joe asks the question I’m not sure he’s ready to hear the answer to, but he’s gentle and I’m scared and I need to fucking tell someone. 

 

“How serious?” 

 

Joe’s velvet voice whispers into the quiet in between us. 

 

“As serious as it gets,” I breathe out, my words a frail thread of sound coming directly from my aching heartbeat. 

 

And just like that, I admit what I’ve only uttered in the shadows out loud into the air around us. 

 

Something about saying those words make it more real. 

 

A look of knowing passes over Joe's face as he blinks once and nods slowly, he looks away momentarily. 

 

“Damn.” 

 

“I know.” I look into his face, our brown eyes reflecting off each other’s. 

 

A sudden sob rises in my throat and he grabs me close, wrapping his arms around me and letting me cry into his shirt. 

 

I'm longing to smell vanilla and the spice of dark cocoa and leather, but all I get is the scent of the Tide pods I know Joe uses. It's clean and comforting, but... not him. 

 

Not home.  

 

“Oh, Lady.” 

 

Joe mutters calming words into my hair and once I fall quiet again, he straightens up until I’m looking into his face. Very serious and solemn with a regard for me that I don’t quite recognize at first. It looks something like… regret? 

 

He breathes in, in that way he has before he’s about to say something that will shake life as I know it. In the way only a best friend can, with casual honesty, cutting and necessary for me to hear. He has saved me from many mistakes countless times over the course of our friendship, but tonight is different. 

 

“I’ve been sitting on this for a long time. God, it’s been years now... I think it’s time someone else heard it.” 

 

I shoot Joe a questioning look but he silences me with a raised brow that says, “In good time, Lady Jane. Trust me.”  

 

He takes my hand and leads me upstairs and to the little second bedroom on the right. I know it’s his library, I’ve never honestly been in there too much before but now I see it for what he has it set up to be.

 

A tiny recording studio. 

 

The room is cushioned with gray foam pads bearing the jagged edges of curves and swirls to deaden outside sound. Joe’s old faithful computer from university is set up in the corner to mix and edit audio and there’s a giant, black desk chair in the middle of all the technology that he ushers me towards. 

 

“I … I don’t understand.” 

 

Joe kneels in front of me as he clacks at the keyboard and goes into the C drive to pull up a file off the intimidating electronic beast of a PC. 

 

Queuing it up for me, Joe holds out his black Beats studio headphones and looks at me sternly. 

 

It’s not the time to ask questions. 

 

Keepittogether. 

 

My mind short circuits at the title of the file he’s pulled up and my heart freezes the blood ice cold in my chest. 

 

"Hallelujah"

 

Oh God. 

 

I’m not ready. 

 

The song Jamie will never, ever sing. 

 

Tears rush to my eyes as I blink them back furiously. 

 

There’s private. Personal. 

 

And then there’s sacred. 

 

I don’t know what it felt like to step foot into the tomb of King Tut for the first time in thousands of years, but I know I’m fucking petrified of the white cursor Joe is poising over the play button right now and what I should hear after he hits it.

 

My breath is shallow and quick and it starts to burn in my chest as my breastbone tightens with anxiety. 

 

“I don’t know if I should do this, but I don’t know of any other way, Claire. The night you… the night you had your surgery I was with you till around one in the morning or so, remember? Came home to get some shut-eye so I could come get you in the morning but turns out I didn’t sleep that night. Jamie showed up around three. Did it all in one take. Lucky I got it all because … well, he … didn’t seem right to ask him to do it again and there was no need. It was flawless.” 

 

Joe pauses, his face darkening with the memory as he shakes his head in awe. 

 

“I’ve never heard anything like it. It… changed music for me.” 

 

I open my lips and the words stumble together, “But how do you have this…? Why…?” 

 

“I have to take you back. I have to tell you everything and then you’ll understand. It happened the night you had your surgery, Faith’s birthday, October 17th. That’s the last time he sang.” 

 

“The last time?”

 

Joe nods once, definitively. 

 

“The last time before he met you.” 

 

Joe takes my hand and holds my heart as he gently leads me through the story of that fateful night. 



 

***

Joe’s POV

 

My bedroom door shakes with the pressure of blows coming from what sounds like a battering ram. The noise rips through my weary mind as I wake up after possibly the longest day of my life at Claire’s side. 

 

I groan as I rise from the near-dead and throw on a tee shirt, stubbing my right big toe in the process on the corner of the gray nightstand. Cursing, I stumble downstairs and fling open the heavy front door ready to absolutely murder whomever is making my house shake. 

 

“Jesus Christ, do you know what time it is?” I rub my eyes and squint into the dark.  

 

There’s only one person it could be with shoulders a good twenty-four inches across blocking out the light from the street lamp behind them. 

 

I blink and take a step back, I see Jamie’s red truck still sputtering in my driveway.

 

Engine on.

 

He’s left it running. 

 

“You’re parked in my grass, you know,” I gesture into the dark, still waking up. 

 

Then I see him. Really see him. 

 

Jamie is paler than I’d ever seen him before. Jaw tight with … rage.

 

I’m not a big guy myself but to come face to face with such a monster of a man absolutely unhinged is something I’ll never forget. I instantly change my tone and resume a quieter displeasure at being woken up by his boulder-sized fist on my front door. 

 

As soon as he opens his mouth, he crumples. His harsh demeanor fades into brokenness and his voice comes out in a ragged, hushed tone that haunts me to this day. 

 

“I ken… I ken it’s late… Christ… I dinnae ken what I’m doing or where to go but I was driving and I saw yer street and I…”  Jamie flails his arm around and gesticulates into the air helplessly, unsure of how to move or what to say. His body is twisting and churning as he wrings his hands and bites at the skin on the back of one before letting it fall limp to his side and chewing the side of his mouth as his face works to maintain composure. 

 

His blue eyes are wide and black. Black as the deepest night. I’m not just saying that to be dramatic, they were actually black, tinged with red. His pupils were so wide they swallowed up any light around them. Long eyelashes stuck together and trembling, as were his hands, as he held them out in front of his torso like a statue of St. Anthony bowed in prayer.  I came across the statue on my trip to Boston, it always struck me how much Jamie looked like it at that moment. Head bowed. Palms up and open and cupped together like he would hold his own soul if he could, shattered and bleeding in front of him while he waits for… something. 

 

The saint of lost things has never been more fitting. 

 

“Jesus. You okay, man?” I step out into the cold October night, opening the door wider and nodding for him to come in a little unsurely. 

 

His truck is still running. 

 

He doesn’t even notice. 

 

Donas is his baby… baby… baby. 

 

Shit! 

 

Baby. 

 

Faithie. 

 

Where...? 

 

But I know

 

I know and I wish I didn’t. 

 

Jamie hasn’t changed in a while, bathed either by the smell of him. His chin and jaw have a good week’s worth of growth on it and he’s unbothered by the fact that his hair is wildly out of control at the moment. Christ, he looks terrible. The smell of unwashed man mixes with the smell of hospital I just came from. Of sickness and death and-

 

“I need to record something.” He says slowly. 

 

Odd request. 

 

“Now?” 

 

“Now,” his voice is low and sounds more like a croak than a voice at all. 

 

My mind races to make sense of it all and Jamie reaches out to grab my arm in a vice-like grip of a man barely holding onto reality as the seconds tick by into minutes, heard by the clock in the hall on the little table. 

 

His voice breaks and his next words are a hoarse whisper. 

 

“She’s gone, Joe.” 

 

 His wide eyes are open and dark and haunted in a way I haven’t seen him before. In fact, I’ve only seen the look once before when Claire’s husband… 

 

“I’m… I’m so sorry.” 

 

Jamie contorts his face and a deep, shaking cry releases from somewhere deep in a man’s soul that sounds almost animalistic in its grief. He grabs the wall next to him and fights to breathe, the air coming into his lungs at last in long, quaking breaths. 

 

He walks away and hunches over the kitchen sink, splashing water on his face and drying it off with a paper towel he tears from the roll. 

 

I walk over and stand silently beside him, unsure of what to say or do. Finally, the words come. 

 

“What do you need? Anything you need, brother.” 

 

Jamie squeezes my arm in thanks and, without a word, turns and walks up into the hall and up the stairs. I was showing off my little recording studio to the crew last time we were all together to practice, months ago. 

 

I feel helpless as I set up the little booth for him, but I sit and watch. Unable to do much else, I rush and grab the items he’ll need as he mutters direction. He’s done this before. I always suspected but now I know James Fraser could find his way around a sound booth even in his sleep. He needs no direction from a poser like me. 

 

 Jamie doesn’t have his usual guitar with him but there’s an old Gibson Les Paul I have collecting dust on the wall. He picks it up and takes a tortoiseshell pick out from the breast pocket of his red flannel shirt. 

 

He always plays with that one, I’m not sure why.

 

I’ve never asked.

 

There’s a lot of things with Jamie you just know not to ask about. I’ve learned enough from the snippets I’ve heard when he’s drunk enough, when he’s outside chain smoking and three sheets to the wind, that’s when you can ask him and get an honest answer. It’s like the menthol and nicotine numb the pain and lubricate his mouth enough to talk about things. Really talk about things. 

 

Sober Jamie doesn’t speak much. He smiles. He shows off pictures of his little girl from his back pocket, wrinkled from use and smoothed out a million times as he’ll show anyone who stands close enough to him. I even saw him brag about her to a random crackhead in the street one night. The giant Scot cut a figure, hand in his pocket and cigarette between his teeth, going on and on about Faith's little suit for Halloween and how he’d found one to match at Goodwill. 

 

 But for a man of twenty and six, he doesn’t speak of his past with anyone. You just know not to ask with him. He’s not quiet in the way some men are when they’ve much to hide, he’s quiet in the way a soldier is. Bearing it all alone. Everyone else is just the naïve public, unwilling or not eager to bear his burden of knowledge of what’s really out there. 

 

His hands are rough and split in places from the hard work he throws himself into to forget, to provide for Faithie. I’ve never seen a man more devoted to a child in all my life. 

 

I watch him now as he flits around the studio expertly. He sets to work tuning the guitar as I watch, unable to move. Unable to do anything but hold space and time for him and his shattered soul. What else can you do for a man who’s just lost the only thing that ever mattered to him? 

 

After a few minutes, he sets the pick in his teeth and combs his hair back from his face. Sitting on the lone stool and positioning the mic close, he looks for me then. His wild eyes wandering the room until he sees me behind the plexiglass divider and nods once, blinking his eyes slowly at me to start the recording. 

 

I do so. 

 

It’s so quiet I can hear the single tear fall and hit the enamel of the pickguard. 

 

What I hear changes my life. 

 

I’ve never heard it again, not till now. Can’t bring myself to replay it. 

 

He’s never asked for the recording of it. 

 

And so I keep it. Close to my heart. I guard it with my better judgement. 

 

And now I share it with the only other person who deserves to know him. 

 

Claire loves him. She really fucking loves him and that’s all there is to it. 

 

It’s the beginning and the end of everything. 



I hit play for Claire and hold her hand and watch her face as the sound takes us both back to that awful, dreaded night. Her lashes tremble as do her hands as I hold them close in my own, looking away so as not to intrude on a memory. I squeeze her hands and leave them alone together as I back out of the room silently.  

 

She frowns at first, then looks at me and understands. 

 

It’s the two of them now. 

 

I respectfully bow to the king of her heart and leave her room in private to explore his soul. 



***

Claire’s POV

 

 

I hold my breath as I hear an exhale of breath on the other end of the recording. 

 

The silence is broken as an electric guitar mournfully plays a few minor chords, slowly, increasing in sureness with their piercing tones. 

 

Like a harp, they mingle with other notes into a solemn fray of music that sounds like tears on blacktop. Deep and annoying ones, dashed with higher pitiful plucks that melt into something real.

 

Almost tangible. 

 

The sound of sadness. Pure and unadulterated in its recording. 

 

The finger plucking leads to a lighter chord progression with a familiar momentum as it transitions into the well-known first verse of "Hallelujah". 

 

I remain transfixed to the spot as the song takes shape. The recording is as clear as if it is taking place right next to me in this moment. Yet incredibly rough in its production. This is raw. This is… art. 

 

This is human pain on a canvas of soundwaves. 

 

I will be forever wrecked by what I hear. 

 

There’s only one person who can play a guitar like that and only one tone whose voice can melt an entire sound system with its ambience. 

 

This is the song that never should have been. 

 

That never will be again. 

 

His voice is soft and mellow as he starts in an almost-whisper. 

 

“I'd heard there was a secret chord

 

That David played and it pleased the Lord

 

But you don't really care for music, do you?”

 

At the end of the verse, I could hear the trace of a bitter smile as I pictured Jamie's lip curl ever-so-slightly as he forms the words.  

 

There is something dark. 

 

Something sinister about the way he phrases it. 

 

As if the One hearing it will never be pleased. Never take what he is offering. 

 

I swallow the sudden lump in my throat as my chest constricts tightly as if it's going to burst under pressure. 

 

 To know I am not alone is one thing, to hear the same emotion I feel screaming in my heart in his quiet voice is quite another. 

 

“Well it goes like this

 

The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift

 

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah, Hallelujah”



As Jamie works his way into the next verse, the guitar gets stronger, harder and a little more confident. His voice, louder now, is still as sweet and silky as American honey, cracked and ravaged from some old oak growing, forgotten on the sweet plains of summer. 

 

“Well, your faith was strong but you needed proof

 

You saw her bathing on the roof

 

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya

 

She tied you to the kitchen chair

 

She broke your throne and she cut your hair

 

And from your lips, she drew the Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah, Hallelujah”

 

The next verse is broken up into different phrasing and I listen, holding my breath. 

 

“Well, baby, I've been here before

 

I've seen this room and I've walked this floor 

 

You know I used to live alone before I knew ya

 

And I've seen your flag on the marble arch

 

And love is not a victory march

 

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah”

 

On the words “cold” and “broken”, Jamie’s voice hit the consonants with directness and clarity as if he were biting the words with his teeth gnashing. As if the sound of them would hurt to sing. And to hear. And it does. 

 

“Well, there was a time when you let me know

 

What's really going on below

 

But now you never show that to me, do ya ?”

 

There it was again. The bitterness. The knife to my heart to hear him bite the words like a cyanide pill and die quickly with the poison to be free from this cursed plane. 

 

“But remember when I moved in you?

 

And the holy dove was moving, too

 

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah…”

 

Through my tears, I forgot all about the last verse. Jamie delicately strummed and his voice was butterfly-wing soft again over the chords. 

 

“Maybe there's a God above

 

But all I've ever learned from love

 

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya”

 

I can hear him breathing in shakily, the fury and despair building up in his voice releasing in a cry that still had impressive control in his musical ability. 

 

“And it's not a cry that you hear at night

 

It's not somebody who's seen the light

 

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah…”

 

Jamie’s voice broke on the last hallelujah and as he continued singing, the next few words rode a hollow sob that came from the depths of his chest. 

 

“Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah”

 

The next two words are long and drawn out as sheer and light as the wind touching a daisy on a summer day. Barely enough to blow out a birthday candle but enough to shatter my heart. His voice fades into a high note as he strums softly into oblivion. 

 

“Hallelujah, hallelujah”

 

The residual notes played as a fall of rain, the guitar sounding like a harp, winding down like water through a tree. Leaf by leaf. Lower and lower until it hits the ground and pools in a symphony of grief. 

 

For what is grief but love unable to go anywhere anymore? 

 

When the object of love is gone, where does grief have to go? 

 

Grief is the pain that settles when love has nowhere to go. 

 

Left untouched, it turns into battery acid and corrodes us beyond recognition. 

 

Suddenly, I am brought back to the present. There is a rough sound of someone moving the microphone against fabric and suddenly the recording stops. 

 

I am left staring at my own face in the black screen of Joe’s computer, awestruck and deeply moved by this humble offering that would never bring her back. 

 

A cry to God that would never be answered. 

 

An angry, broken man packing up his grief and putting it away. 

 

Lost to the world until I touched it. 

 

I will keep it forever locked away in my mind as a testament to human frailty. 

 

My pain has corroded my heart and torn everything from me that I could have been. 

 

Just as his has done for him. 

 

Bear ye one another’s burdens.

 

The verse echoes in my mind just as Joe’s quiet footsteps fall on the carpet behind me and I turn and leap up out of the chair to throw my arms around his neck. 

 

I am in pieces and don’t want to be put back together again. 

 

I carry Jamie’s heart in my heart. I carry his pain wrapped up in my own. 

 

I know that nothing will heal it. 

 

Not time, not distance, not the fading of beloved memories. 

 

But love makes it easier to bear. 

 

Love. 

 

Just love. 

 

Nothing could be more simple in its complication as we join our lives together in ways no man can tear part. 

 

Joined as we are in our grief. 

 

Alone. 

 

Together. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

*** 

 

I was here, I lived, I loved, I was here

I did, I've done, everything that I wanted

And it was more than I thought it would be

I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here

 

I Was Here, Beyoncé 

 

***

 

Faith's POV



*Thunk* 

 

The thin, rough quarter disappears into the slot. I know it’s a quarter because it has the lady on it with the ponytail and the big nose. Also Daddy said so. 

 

Said I was a rich woman as he tucked the coin into my hands and this is how I wanna spend my money. 

 

I got this. 

 

It takes two of my hands to turn the crank but I’m getting bigger. 

 

Soon, I’ll be able to do it with one just like Daddy does. 

 

I look back over my shoulder and puff my red curls out of the way. Daddy should brush it more, Nana said. But I scream when he gets to the knots and he just kinda lets me run at that point. 

 

Sometimes I scream even if it doesn’t hurt cause I get bored. I’ll never tell him though. 

 

I am wild and free. No man can catch me, woman neither. Much less Daddy. 

 

Unless I want him to play monster with me or let me ride him and play Pony. 

 

He even let me paint his toes blue yesterday. Blue with the sparkles. Like mine. 



I’ve got him trained pretty good. 

 

He’s busy talking to Mrs. F. 

 

Ugh. 

 

As usual. He’s smiling but his smile is sad, I can tell. 

 

His eyes aren’t happy. 

 

I hate when his eyes aren’t happy. 

 

Daddy looks at me on my tip toes and I cross my eyes, just the one, and twirl my hair around a few times hanging off the big beautiful gumball machine. 

 

He giggles and it reaches his eyes now. 

 

I hug the big machine like I hug his leg when he’s home from work, sometimes he gets mad at me for tripping him but I don’t let go, not ever. Not even when his boots are really smelly from being out in the mud all day. 

 

He likes it. 

 

YES! 

 

I hear the clack of a bright pink ball of gum and turn to press my nose into the glass. I close one eye just to watch it go around and around and around until. 

 

“Yum!” 

 

I swallow hard and open the tiny little fairy door at the bottom to get my new ball-friend. Sometimes I keep them in my pocket and just forget about them until it’s time to wash and then Daddy gets mad. Not this one. 

 

I’mma eat it right now. 

 

Okay, maybe lick it first until the pink is all sticky then I’mma paint my lips with it and pretend to be a grownup lady like Nana and when Daddy says, “Wash that off!” I’ll lick it off and it’ll be yummy. 

 

Yup. 

 

Definitely gonna paint my face with it. 

 

I get down on all hands and feet and crawl like a lion in a jungle rubbing up on the jukebox on the way to our table. 

 

I am wild, I am free. I am on the move. 

 

I plop the gumball into my mouth and pounce on Daddy’s fancy boot. 

 

He dressed up kinda today, must’ve been for the doctor. 

 

I don’t ken why. 

 

He reaches under the table and pats my hair and I look up at him from my hiding spot. Resting my chin on his knee, I stare. 

 

It’s ‘mpolite to stare. 

 

But I don’t think the grownups want me listening right now. 

 

He’s talking to Mrs. F and clearing his throat an awful lot. Looking away and down at me, I grab his big hand and I bite at it, gumball still in my cheek. Instead of swatting me away he lays a hand on my hair and smoothes it down, his fingers get caught up in my curls and I growl. 

 

He doesn’t notice though. Daddy’s throat is moving as he’s talking all quiet. I see Mrs. F’s old wrinkly hand reach out and grab his shoulder and squeeze it. 

 

I spit out the gumball and start working on my lips now, maybe I’ll do my cheeks too. Daddy’s big hands grab me hard and pull me up, I look at him but I’m not in trouble. Leastaways, not yet. 

 

Snuggling under his arm, I kick out my purple boots and lay my skirt out around my ankles because it’s cold up here. Mrs. F. has her face in her bright purple apron. 

 

Why? 

 

I ken it’s serious. Adults always talk quiet when it is, like I won’t ken or something. 

 

But I do. 

 

I always do. 

 

I’m a detective. Nana gave me a magnifying glasses and everything. 

 

Suddenly, Daddy turns and puffs out his cheeks. I squeal with a laugh and poke them with my two pointer fingers until he makes the fart sound. 

 

“Strawberry milkshake, ya said? Right away.” 

 

Mrs. F nods and bites her lips in real quick, she sniffs big. 

 

Her nose is red, maybe she’s gotta sneeze. 

 

She’d feel better if she did. 

 

I watch her fat body bumble around like a busy mama bear. Daddy squishes me close. 

 

“Now there, my lassie. What color did ya get this time?” 

 

His eyes are happy as I spit out the treasure and roll it around my lips to stain them. 

 

“Pink!” 

 

“Pink, aye? Best wash yer face if yer gonna do that. Nan’ll think ye’ve gone and made yerself a painted lady.” 

 

“What’s a painted lady?” I frown. 

 

They sound fun. I want to paint myself. I’d pick blue though. 

 

“Ne’er ye mind, ye wee beastie.” Daddy pokes me in the side until I scramble over his lap and try to get him where it hurts, right in the armpits. 

 

“Daddy love.” 

 

“What?” 

 

Daddy looks down at me kinda funny. His eyes are blue, bluer than my blue sky crayon. Not like mine. Mine are green. 

 

His eyes look sad. 

 

Did I say something wrong? Was it something I did? Can I fix it? I want to fix it. 

 

Maybe when we get home he can get a Band-Aid with the minions or pizza slices on it. 

 

“Daddy love. When you bring me here and we go out, it’s the best kind of love. Daddy love.” I ‘splain but I don’t ken how. 

 

I just want him to not be sad anymore. 

 

“I love you, Daddy.” 

 

I grab onto his shirt and pull myself up a little but I fall as I’m about to kiss his cheek and I kiss his chest instead. 

 

His white shirt has pink on it now, I blink up at him quick. He’s gonna be mad. 

 

But he isn’t. 

 

He chucks my chin with the back of his hand and holds me tight. So tight I might actually bust. I feel like he needs this though, so I don’t say anything. 

 

“I love ye, too, Faithie.” 

 

Mrs. F comes out of the swinging door with a giant pink milkshake in her hands, this time there are TWO cherries on top of the cream. 

 

“One for me and one for you. Look, Daddy!” 

 

When we get home I’mma draw him a picture. 

 

That will keep his eye smile there. 

 

I like it when he smiles. 

 

Daddy love is the best. 

 

And rainbows. 

 

Always rainbows. 

 

***

 

Claire’s POV, present day 

 

The sleigh bells on the door hit the glass with a clatter that sounds like every child’s dream on Christmas Eve. 

 

I pause. 

 

I don’t know why I’m here. 

 

I took off early from work and I’ll have to make up the hours. 

 

My car sped down Route 50 of its own accord and I admit it was one of those trips where I didn’t think at all until I put my car in park, hands on the wheel, and realized where I was. 

 

Apparently, I can drive with no panic attacks when my mind is fully occupied. 

 

The little diner looks darker somehow even though it’s sunny out. I couldn’t focus on my run today, running seemed empty without the need to check to see if the red pickup was parked by the gnarled oak tree. 

 

Still gone. 

 

I know this, but I still want to check. 

 

Polly’s shower is tomorrow and I wanted to see him in person before the fiasco of seeing my family… or her friends. Who needs Dutch courage to get through something when you can have straight up Scottish bravery to touch and breathe and feel in your own two hands? 

 

Touch.  

 

I miss it. 

 

Never thought I would. 

 

I remember the first time he touched me, in the rain. Lifting me above his head. My soul recognized who he was even before my mind or body did. I remember how it felt strange and new… and yet somehow familiar. Or maybe I’m imagining it now. Seems like years ago. Funny how memories can change as your perception does. 

 

I snort to myself in a small exhale that puffs out of my nostrils into the silence. 

 

I’m doing it again. 

 

The Edge™

 

Talking to myself to process emotions that are just too big for my human mind to wrap around. I’ve been in a trance since Joe’s the other night, hardly able to keep a thought in my head. And yet I haven’t stopped thinking. 

 

That’s why I’m here now. 

 

You know when you lose something? And someone undoubtedly says, “Well where was the last place you saw it?”
 

So helpful, right? 

 

That’s what I’m doing now, though. 

 

I didn’t lose anything. He did. 

 

And yet somehow I feel tied to them both and without Jamie’s hand to moor me to the dock of reality, I retrace his steps.

 

Our steps. 

 

Her steps. 

 

I wonder how tall she was. 

 

I wonder how many white floor tiles she hopped across to get across the black ones like they were lava. 

 

Did she stumble? 

 

Did she fall? 

 

Was she scared? 

 

Scared. 

 

Oh god. 

 

But I stayed. 

 

I stayed where she could not. 

 

Why? 

 

Did he hold her hand? Did he- 

 

“Claire? Oh my stars, how are ya honey?” 

 

Mrs. Fitz’s voice rings out and suddenly the atmosphere is warm and inviting just like the smell of the apple pies she carries and sets on the counter before crossing quickly to open her arms out, a little unsurely at first, in front of me. 

 

I happily step forward and let her hug me. 

 

She wraps me up in a hug and as I bend to embrace her, I notice the cat butts on the back of her sweater again. She has more than one sweater, my God. This one is full of Siamese cats this time. Someone bottle this woman up and keep her in the Smithsonian. She’s too precious for words. 

 

Mrs. F hugs in the best way and she doesn’t let go of me. Maybe she can sense I need it. Regardless of the reason, her soft arms wrap around me like two doughy soft pretzels and she hugs me tight enough until I can smell the Aqua Net and abundance of vanilla extract and cinnamon mixed with bacon grease on her person, from what I can assume was the breakfast rush. 

 

I pull back after what feels like an obscene amount of time later and hope she doesn’t see the trembling emotion in my eyes as my hands shake. 

 

I dart my eyes downwards but not before she catches me with her hand and leads me to the booth Jamie and I had shared. 

 

“Oh honey, no. No. Come here. No one cries alone in my presence. In fact, I was just about to have a good cry myself over some napkins I have stuck together like the silly old bird I am. Coffee?” 

 

I open my mouth to say something but she’s already behind the counter busily pouring us two mugs. She brings them both over with enough cream and sugar to drown our sorrows. Well, hers. 

 

Ye ken what happens if I have dairy. 

 

“I’m surprised you remembered my name,” I admit quietly, pushing my hair back over my shoulder as the wild curls fall heavily down over my breast. 

 

“Pretty girl like you? ‘Course I do. Plus ya made our Jamie smile now, and the most wholesome thing I’ve seen on his arm in years.” 

 

Our Jamie. 

 

Wholesome. 

 

Me?! Wholesome? 

 

Looking down, I take another peek at my outfit of choice today. Worn Eagles shirt and torn black jeans with holes at the knee rolled up into my thick explorer’s boots. Far cry from June Cleaver. Guess it takes all kinds. 

 

Wholesome, huh. 

 

That’s a first. 

 

People don’t really use that term to describe lawyers. Then again, am I even a lawyer anymore? 

 

What is Claire Beauchamp? 

 

The wholesome thing on Jamie’s arm is an apt description of all I could ever hope for. 

 

Hopefully, she still sees me that way after we’re done talking. 

 

I swallow hard as the nerves clutch at my throat like angry little kittens clawing their way up my face, tickling my nose with their quivering whiskers and taking delight at the utter discomfort upon my body. 

 

She looks at me, old eyes lit up like two lanterns hung on a front porch in August, beckoning family members home after their travels. Friends and relations alike come to the light in her soul and I am drawn to it like a moth. Foreign and new. Careful in my approach lest she swat me away as an intruder. 

 

I’m not used to being welcome. 

 

She doesn’t ask why I’m there. But for one of the first times in my life, I feel truly welcome by a stranger. She’s making space and time for me, just like Joe does. Just like Jamie. 

 

I didn’t know people could be this nice. 

 

It hits me in the gut and I feel like I’ve been sucker punched. 

 

My pain is short-lived, however, her small actions give me hope that somewhere out there, there are millions of people just like her. Living off old-fashioned values and common decency, genuinely trying to do right by each other every minute of every day. 

 

A community I never knew existed because I didn’t know where to look. 

 

Apparently actual angels live and work down Route 50 in little backwoods Americana. 

 

“I don’t really know what brought me here today,” I start slowly, looking down at my black coffee with two sugars in it. I hold up a teaspoon and see my reflection, upside down in the bowl of it before I dunk it into the mahogany liquid that bears the promise of the only salvation I believe in. 

 

Caffeine. 

 

“I guess… if I had to put words to it… I guess I’m … finding Faith?” 

 

I swallow hard and look at her then as she nods, her kind eyes clearing and settling into a wisened look as she takes in my words and mulls over their meaning. 

 

I am purposefully vague in my phrasing and I feel in my bones that she knows the meaning well enough. 

 

Her kind eyes immediately flood over and she looks down at the small, white cup in her hands. Her gold wedding bands clatter on the handle as she swirls the liquid around in front of her. I notice she hasn’t taken a sip. 

 

Neither have I, though. 

 

The coffee is irrelevant. 

 

The ghost I’ve brought forth hangs in the air above us as I, a stranger, speak her name now out loud and into the open. 

 

“Faithie,” Mrs. F sniffs and blinks twice before answering. Her face creases into a trepid smile, sad and soft in it’s occurrence. 

 

“I wondered if he told you about her.” 

 

She squints at me now, not in a cruel way but in a way that tells me she’s put a lot of thought into anyone who brings up Jamie’s child. 

 

Their Jamie. 

 

Now mine. 

 

I hope. 

 

If I can be good enough to keep him. 

 

I feel like I need to prove myself. 

 

“He showed me her pictures, took me through her life a bit. When we were here, he said it was one of their favorite places to be. I can see why,” I blink slowly at her as one does a cat or dog trying to gain trust by showing they’re not a threat. “This place feels like home.” 

 

Mrs. F reaches out her hands and squeezes my fingers thoughtfully. 

 

“Been a long time since it was a proper one at that, hardly anyone comes in these days. But yes. Jamie and Faith came here often. She took her first steps by that old Jukebox.” She smiled broadly and huffed a laugh. “I told her she’d get that blue romper of hers all dirty, crawling around on the floor like she was. And you know what?” 

 

Mrs. F looked at me as if she expected an answer. 

 

“She looked at me,” another laugh, warmer this time, “big green eyes telling me, mind your damn business woman. She looked at me and she pulled herself up on the side there and took her first step.” 

 

Mrs. F smiled her gappy-toothed grin and clapped her hands together in delight before putting them to her lips and gasping. 

 

“Oh, she was a spitfire. Did it to spite me, she did. Jamie was ecstatic. Whooped and hollered like you thought the place was on fire.” 

 

She laughed, her eyes crinkling into a thousand fine lines. 

 

“Never missed a thing. Never wanted to. I remember,” Mrs. F chuckled lowly, “now we don’t serve alcohol, dear. Can’t afford the permit. But I remember, he ordered milkshake shots all ‘round that night. It was a regular party in here, it was.” 

 

I smile softly as she shakes her head. 

 

“Best time of our lives, it was. And his. Shame.” 

 

Her voice catches like a thread of the finest silk. In order to stop it from snapping entirely, she reels in her emotions and holds them close again, looking down into her cup. She takes a sip but does not swallow immediately, as if the taste is bitter in spite of the three teaspoons of sugar she’s emptied into it. 

 

For a moment, we are silent. Each to our own thoughts. 

 

“H-how did it- did she-?” 

 

I began to speak but couldn’t form the words, my mind blanked around the pain the question might cause her. I didn’t ask Joe. Couldn’t. Cried too fucking much. 

 

I assumed it was a sickness that had taken her but had never formed the words to ask. 

 

“Leukemia.” Mrs. F said simply, breathing in deeply and out just as slowly. 

 

I sit there, stunned into silence. 

 

“Nine months,” she said in a low voice. 

 

I breathe in shakily at the irony. Nine months to bring a child into this world and nine months to take her out. 

 

“So soon,” I murmured. 

 

“Too soon,” Mrs. F cleared her throat. 

 

“Did he- did she-?” 

 

“Oh honey, he knew. She did too, eventually. Didn’t think it would be soo soon, either of them. Any of us, really. But let me tell you something and you listen up, good.” 

 

Mrs. F locked eyes with me then and for the life of me, I couldn’t look away. 

 

“Never question God, Claire. He knows. Never question Him. Now that’s a lesson I wish I’d learned when I was young, like you.” 

 

She pulled out a napkin from the metal holder and it did stick to the others, reminding me of her predicament the moment I arrived. I pulled some out, some for her and some for myself as my eyes were now wet. 

 

We both sit there and blink and bat our lashes until we come to the understanding that tears won’t change anything. The Now™ that’s all that matters to get through it. 

 

“Sorry, dear. Still hard for me to talk about, but I know you meant well. Can’t very well ask our Jamie, I can imagine he’s still silent on it. The fact that he shared her pictures, now that tells me all I need to know about you, girl.” She smiles again, “you’re something special, you know that? Jamie Fraser is like a Labrador in that way. If he doesn’t like you, well… there’s good reason. If he does, well, you’re right as rain by us, too.” 

 

I crack a grin and breathe in again, clearing my head. 

 

“St. Anthony’s took good care of her though. Him, too. I remember they recorded her heartbeat and gave it to him in the form of a song. So his mom said, Ellen. She was in here after it happened, before she moved to the Carolinas I think. Told us all about it. Of course we were at the memorial.” 

 

My mind shuts down and my voice is a whisper.

 

“Saint… Saint Anthony’s?” 

 

“That’s right, dear. You okay? My lord you’ve gone pale. Walter? Walter! Get us a slice of that pie over here, would ya? Claire isn’t looking too good…” 

 

Five minutes later and with the taste of cinnamon and tart apple upon my lips and tongue, I take in a few more breaths of air as Mrs. Fitz frowns at me in concern. 

 

“You alright, honey? Gave us a fright.” 

 

I nod, the room is still spinning a little but I do feel better after some sugar. 

 

Same fucking hospital. 

 

Same fucking night. 

 

God, if you’re laughing right now… this isn’t funny. 

 

Damn you. 

 

“I- I’m good. Just. I know the place. Hits close to home for me, too.” 

 

Mrs. Fitz nods, “Most likely, best place around. You know Father Fitzgibbons? Cousin of mine, he’s chaplain there. Wonderful services.” 

 

I nod, only half-listening. 

 

She’s speaking to me now like I believe in Jesus and I’m sorry, Ma’am, that’s not for me. 

 

Not now. 

 

Not after this cosmic fucking joke. 

 

You know what I do believe in? 

 

Cold hard cash. 

 

Cold hard cash burning a hole into my pocket in the amount of several thousands of dollars just sitting there. 

 

Untouched. 

 

Untouched things sour and fester. 

 

I know that now. 

 

Leukemia, huh? 

 

Fuck you, cancer. 

 

Fuck you. 

 

Maybe I can buy some blessed justice. 

 

*** 

 

Blood money. 

 

As soon as Lacey Brenner’s husband shot her, I was dreading it. The estate closing. Scoring up with our firm who took the case and were yet unpaid. 

 

When the thousands of dollars hit my account, I didn’t want it. 

 

I had moved it into a separate bank account and kept it there, hidden. Secreted away like my shame on the whole thing. 

 

“I’ll be alright, Claire? I mean, Ms. Beauchamp?” Lacey had asked me the day before, her voice trembling on the phone as she had heard a rumor of her husband being seen near her house the morning before. 

 

I went by my maiden name as a lawyer. Frank didn’t fucking get his degree. That shit was on me.

 

I was too proud to share my life then. But then, he was too proud a man to share it with. 

 

“Yes, yes you’ll be fine.” My finger had played with the desk in front of me as I absentmindedly listened to her problems over the roar of my own. 

 

I couldn’t stop picturing him in bed with her. Fucking her. 

 

Then coming home to fuck me. 

 

It burned me. 

 

Rage isn’t red, but white hot. It sears into your vision until you can’t see what’s in front of you.

 

I was blinded by it when I took her case. 

 

I was blind and couldn’t see. 

 

And so I reassured her. Most guys don’t actually act on shit like he did. Most are smart enough. 

 

Most. 

 

Not all. 

 

I should have told her to meet me at the courthouse for an extension of the protection order, not that it would have stopped him. 

 

No matter how hard you try, you can’t change the past. 

 

It remains a testament to my own pride. My own frailty. 

 

Unfortunately there were casualties. 

 

I’ll never forgive myself. 

 

How can I?

 

*** 

 

 

I sit on my bed later that afternoon, my fingers turning over and over the little hard plastic card in my hands. 

 

“Yes, I’d like to speak to billing for the pediatric wing, if I could.” 

 

“Do you have a bill you need to pay, ma’am?” The voice on the other end was smooth and casual while I was anything but. 

 

“Y-yes.”

“Please hold.” 

 

*click* 

 

God I forgot how awful hold music can be. If ABBA had a baby with an organ grinder, it would be this disco stuff-of-nightmares I was listening to right now. 

 

“Hello?” A man’s voice now. 

 

“Hello, I uh- I wanted to make a donation.” I cleared my throat.

 

“Oh, ah…. Okay. To someone in particular or-?” They obviously didn’t get this very often. 

 

“The pediatric wing of St. Anthony’s if we could apply it there in general. Um. Any families struggling or um, maybe a leukemia patient?” 

 

Fuck, I don’t know how to say this or what to say. 

 

“Okay,” Computer keys clacking. “I see there’s a couple patients here with accounts in collections, um… sure, we could apply it towards them.” 

 

“Excellent.” I breathed a sigh of relief. 

 

“And um, how much did you want to pay off?” 

 

“All of it.” 

 

There is stunned silence on the other end. 

 

“A-all of it? Are you sure, ma’am?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“It’s a considerable-” 

 

“All.” 

 

“Wow. Uh… okay. I mean,” the man laughs nervously. “Fifteen-thousand-” 

 

“Let’s do it.” 

 

I run my fingers through my hair a few times and get tangled in the web of curls near my temples. My heart feels calm, steady. Lighter somehow. 

 

I read out the card numbers over the phone and explain how I wish to remain anonymous even though I just gave him the name on the card. 

 

“I know you wanted to remain anonymous but the size is considerable. Are you sure there isn’t any name you’d like to list, at least for our sponsors… for record purposes, you know?” 

 

“Oh.”

 

I hadn’t thought that far ahead, so I gave them the first name that popped into my head. 

 

“Fraser. Claire Fraser” 

 

“Gotcha,” the voice trailed off as I vaguely heard the clacking of a keyboard in the background. “Well, Claire Fraser… thank you very much. Seriously. You have no idea how many lives you’ve just changed.” 

 

“No problem at all. Thank you ,” I emphasized as the call concluded. 

 

Debts paid. 

 

Blood money gone. 

 

“May angels lead you in, sweet girl.” 

 

The words escape my mouth before I can think of them, my fingers touch my lips and I weep for the life I never knew. 

 

I watch her life in pictures like he used to watch her breathe. 

 

Between us, her memory will never die. 

 

*** 

 

 

 

 

Of all sad words of tongue or pen

The saddest are these: 

It might have been. 

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Girl, you really got me goin'
You got me so I don't know what I'm doin'
Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can't sleep at night

You Really Got Me, The Kinks 

 

***

 

Claire’s POV

 

I have no money left.

 

Well, apart from my usual paychecks from my shithole of a job.  

 

And you know what? 

 

It feels good. 

 

Cause I’m feasting on Wheat Thins and cheap bottles of Cab Sav with my goddamn beast of a cat still flopping around my shoulders on my couch. 

 

Tastes like freedom. 

 

Before I parked my butt on my couch, I slipped on Jamie’s blue hoodie. 

 

I should probably wash it before I give it back to him but I can’t bear the smell of it going away. 

 

Sure, the cologne is nice … very nice. BUT… the smell of him is even better. 

 

Putting it over my head and letting the shirt envelope my cold body is making me feel incredibly vulnerable to the temptations I can’t fight anymore. 

 

Being surrounded by something that smells so much like the man I love isn’t helping at all with the way my body is aching for him. There is a pang of hunger and regret in my chest at how much I miss his closeness. 

 

I’ve touched myself in ways I haven’t thought about in years. Thinking of him and his damn eyes. His damn sweaty hair falling to his forehead the way mine clings to my neck when I really think about him. Remembering the feeling of him, the sounds of him echoing in my room that night are enough to kill me, bury me and simultaneously raise me from the dead to remember it all again in great detail. 

 

Being horny and alone is getting the better of me, so much so that I actually woke up the other night at 2:34am panting, my fingers twitching and grasping for something that wasn’t between my legs. 

 

The feel of his tongue has followed me into my dreams more often than I can count but it’s not enough. 

 

It’s never enough. 

 

My heart is racing just thinking about it. I bite fervently on my lips and try to distract myself. 

 

I jump into bed with the grunt of my 20’s past and take a deep breath in. 

 

I tuck myself in and turn off my Himalayan salt lamp and say a prayer on my shiny guitar pick and hope somewhere the ghost of Bob Marley can hear me. 

 

Actually, the truth is much more sobering. 

 

As my fingers touch the pick, I pray. 

 

Really pray. 

 

Not to some cumulonimbus cloud hanging in the sky or some giant old man with a frowny-face ready to damn the throngs of humanity for their sin. 

 

I pray to Jesus. 

 

The one he knows. 

 

Hi, God. 

 

It’s me. 

 

Claire. 

 

Claire, Jamie’s Claire. 

 

I know You know him. 

 

Even if You don’t know me. 

 

Keep him safe. 

 

Bless the dimple that falls to the side of his cheek when he laughs. 

 

Erase the pain of his past. 

 

Hold him close until I can. 

 

I know. 

 

It’s been a while and I shouldn’t be asking for things when I hardly believe in You. 

 

Rude. 

 

I mean, I get it if You don’t wanna hear from me. 

 

But for Jamie? 

 

For him, God? 

 

Keep him safe. 

 

Bring him back to me and I promise I’ll do anything at all to deserve it. 

 

Okay? 

 

I really don’t know how to end these things. 

 

Amen? 

 

Oh and P.S.? 

 

I kinda love the whole Jesus thing. 

 

He was badass. 

 

It’s growing on me. 

 

Mk. 

 

Over and out. 

 

For reals this time. 

 

Night. 

 

*** 

 

Jamie’s POV

 

My boots sound extra loud on the wood plank floors as I close the door behind me and breathe in the smell of new pine and cool night. 

 

This cabin’s almost done. 

 

Told Mam I’d finish within the week. 

 

No longer. 

 

I can’t stand being away from her. 

 

Too late now for a call, fuckit

 

I look around the empty fridge for some milk to go with my Raisin Bran. 

 

S’all I have right now and I’m okay with it. 

 

As I crunch on the flakes I think to myself and eye the small, wrapped package on the new counter. 

 

S’her birthday soon. 

 

I ken she won’t be wanting a big fuss but I also ken every girl says that and wants one anyway. 

 

S’not much but it’s special. It’s her

 

I hope she likes it and doesn’a think I’m a freak for remembering. 

 

I remember every detail about her. 

 

She’s probably sleeping in that Eagles shirt she loves. 

 

The one that’s absolutely disintegrating around the sleeves. 

 

There’s a story behind it and I cannae wait till she tells me. 

 

I bet her dark eyelashes are fluttering when she dreams. 

 

I hope it’s a good dream. 

 

I hope she dreams of me like I do of her but then… I’m a fool of a man to wish a thought of me would cross the mind of an actual angel. 

 

My hands hurt. 

 

I cringe as I straighten out my fingers, freezing up as they do when I’ve worked them to the bone. 

 

Not a pretty boy anymore. 

 

Could break rocks with ‘em now. I have, actually. 

 

And I’d do it all again to hold her close. 

 

To breathe her hair as she lies in my arms. 

 

To watch her ribs rise and fall with her chest as she sleeps against me. 

 

To ache wi’ the wanting of her. 

 

I bite at my lips as the shower water runs hot, filling up the small room with steam. 

 

Stripping and fumbling off with my clothes in my exhaustion, I already have half a cockstand when my back hits the water. 

 

I try to push her out of my mind like I do every night but I cannae. 

 

I cannae anymore. 

 

Her whiskey eyes haunt me and when I close my eyes, I see her. 

 

I see the rings of green in her eyes and the flecks of darker brown. 

 

I see her hair, curling around her face and my mind’s eye is drawn to her full, pink lips. 

 

My lips long to tease, to taste hers. To press long and hard and suck on them until I can taste the peppermint on them from the gloss she likes to use. 

 

Cool and cold against my mouth while a hot fire rages everywhere else. 

 

I dinnae want anyone to ken the unholy thoughts I have while I touch myself. 

 

While I grip my cock in my hand and picture her hips rolling on mine as I hold her down and take her for the first time. 

 

I shudder with the thought of feeling her on me, around me, the thought of her walls tightening and holding me in while I move us both, my hands buried in her sweet, round arse. 

 

My teeth biting her gently sloping neck and shoulder and ear instead of pulling so hard at the inside of my lips that I can taste the iron in my bloodstream. 

 

It should taste like her instead since she’s flowing there so freely. 

 

I remember the taste of her. 

 

I long to eat her out again. 

 

To feel her legs quivering around my neck, to hear her sweet moans filling the air with the best noises I’ve ever heard. 

 

I close my eyes hard and thrust forward imagining plunging my throbbing cock into her tight opening, feeling her slick and dripping from the depravity before. The taste of her heat still wet on my lips as I bring my jaw to her mouth. To press my lips into hers and have her taste herself and know the pleasure it gives me to ken I’ve served her well. 

 

Oh God. 

 

Oh Claire. 

 

I shudder and beat my hand violently into the tile wall as my head falls forward, slack against my wrist and the water pours down my body. 

 

My seed comes out in hot spurts against my fist but is quickly washed away. 

 

The thoughts remain. 

 

Unlike my youth, I don’t feel awkward or sinful afterwards. 

 

Just tired. 

 

And sad. 

 

So sad. 

 

I long to lay my head on her neck and breathe her in. 

 

To slip into an empty bed feels wrong now. 

 

I dinnae want to just fuck her. 

 

I want to take my time. To make love to her. 

 

Slowly and deliberately. 

 

To ken that I ken her and am being kent by her. 

 

To look into her eyes and please her. 

 

To serve her well and with her cries to mingle in one of my own. 

 

To give her my seed deep and ready into her womb and hope that someday. 

 

One day

 

We might get back what was stolen. 

 

It would never, ever replace her. 

 

But we could try something new. 

 

Just the two of us. 

 

Maybe three, one day. 

 

Christ. 

 

I kiss the pebble as I take it from its rightful place in my jean’s pocket and put it on my nightstand so I willnae forget it tomorrow. 

 

I pray to God she’ll have me. 

 

I close it in my hand and whisper into my fist the intentions and healing I place upon our relationship. 

 

Falling asleep with it in my hand, she is my last thought. 

 

Her whiskey eyes are all I wish to see. 

 

I cannae stop her from putting her roots in my dreamland. 

 

The tree that is her grows strong and tall there, unabated by life’s sadness. 

 

I cling to the hope that she loves me and offer up my weary soul in return. 

 

A soul for another. 

 

An eye for an eye. 

 

What more could one ask from a life of pain? 

 

I love her and nothing else matters anymore. 




 

Chapter Text

 

***

Oh, well imagine

As I'm pacing the pews in a church corridor

And I can't help but to hear

No, I can't help but to hear an exchanging of words

"What a beautiful wedding

What a beautiful wedding," says a bridesmaid to a waiter

And yes, but what a shame

What a shame the poor groom's bride is a HOOER

 

I Write Sins Not Tragedies, Panic! At The Disco (emphasis my own) 

***

(I have a playlist I update quite regularly that goes along with this fic, you can find it HERE

***

 

 

 

I have a ten minute rule with my family. 

 

Kind of like the three-second-rule. 

 

You know the one. 

 

When you drop a piece of food on the floor, you have exactly three seconds to pick it up before it gets covered in germs and you can’t eat it. 

 

Scientifically moot but whatever. 

 

 

Humans like little factoids that sound right. 

 

Add numbers to any statistic and it is often accepted as fact without a second glance. 

 

Funny little animals we are, eh? 

 

My ten minute rule with my family is this: they have exactly ten minutes where I actually like them before they inevitably say or do something shitty and from that point on, I’m looking for the exit sign on the conversation or the room we’re in. 

 

I suck in my bottom lip and bite hard as I pull up the steep inclined driveway to my parent’s house. 

 

I forgot to tell you they’re well-off. 

 

You can tell by the brick two story house in the nice part of town that I don’t live anywhere near. You can actually go for walks here and not find a syringe abandoned in the bushes. I went to the grocery store here once and they actually had rows and rows of bath salts in little mix-it-yourself bags. Not the drugs, either. 

 

Nothing but Birkenstocks and Athleta leggings for miles. 

 

A far cry from my own grocery store where we forage for food like dark age serfs. I can picture us all now: 

 

“I hath found a rare cutlet of meat that is not brown, M’lady!” 

 

Or. 

 

“Good Sir, I hath foraged in the produce department and hath found yellow peppers that are not bruised. We shall not get the scurvy this fortnight.” 

 

 

I digress. 

 

I’m burning time before I have to go in. The driveway is full of cars I don’t recognize. I clutch the bag containing the ice butt plug for wine and a delicately wrapped corset top in Polly’s tiny size. 

 

I enter in the key code to the back door and slide in making straight for the wood paneled library off the den where I know the party will be set up. 

 

Holy fuck. 

 

It’s… a lot

 

‘Lotta bottle blondes, lotta nails click clacking and smoothing themselves over skin tight tube dresses for an afternoon tea setup Mom has going on. 

 

You know the scene in Mean Girls where they say Regina’s perfume smells like a baby prostitute? Yeah they smell like that. 

 

 

I smell buttercream frosting in the air and, no sooner do I set my present down in the massive pile, than a martini glass is shoved in my face. Polly’s thin, witch-like fingers touch my arm and I resist the urge to recoil at the strange looking drink she’s holding with a slice of passionfruit floating on top. 

 

“Drinky drinky?” 

 

Fucky fucky-off fickle fetus sister

 

“Oh, I-” I stammer. 

 

I’d kill for a drink but I’m genuinely worried about losing my filter to keep the comments to myself if I have one. 

 

Me and drinking at family functions do not go well. 

 

Remember when we first met? I told you about the crying in the backyard at Christmas? 

 

Yeah. 

 

That’s why. 

 

“Claire you have to.” Polly chides me, she sidles up to me in her white babydoll dress that I’m surprised covers her bony butt cheeks, “Everyone does. Ok I wasn’t gonna say anything but rumor has it someone here is pregnant. Can you believe it? Pregnant? For MY wedding?” 

 

She clicks her tongue and rolls her eyes as I immediately frown. 

 

Pregnancy. Greatttt. Just fan-fucking-tastic. 

 

“Well, I know it’s not YOU.”

 

Um exsqueeze me, bish? 

 

 

“Anyway, I’m having everyone drink so I can find out who to cut from the party. I’m not having anyone’s baby bulge ruining my look, mk?” 

 

Just as quickly as she hissed into my ear, she was off. Bubbling around Mom like the devoted little puppy she is. 

 

My eyes scan the room and my heart shits its pants. 

 

Speaking of dogs, the chihuahua pack is here. Well, some of them. 

 

Including the main bitch herself. 

 

FUCK. 

 

I resist the urge to bare my teeth but then again, why would a wolf need to threaten a purse puppy? 

 

I feel like I could rip her scrawny throat out as soon as I look at her. 

 

No, Claire. 

 

Down, girl. 

 

We don’t do that anymore. 

 

You USED to be tough and mean but there’s no need for it now. 

 

You’re not IN the Trauma™, you own it. 

 

I put on a pleasant customer service smile and nod politely to Leah although the sight of her sets my blood boiling for a reason I can’t comprehend. 

 

Do you ever just hate someone, just to hate them? 

 

Like they could be minding their whole fucking business but you look over at them and you’re like, damn. Look at that bitch over there eating cookies like she owns the place. 

 

Well, that’s literally what she’s doing. 

 

I hope she gets crumbs down the chicken cutlets she calls breasts that are currently popping out the top of her blue dress like the undone parts of a blueberry muffin spilling out over the top of the pan and burning in an acrid melty fire on the oven floor. 

 

The way my nose wrinkles up at her is hard to hide, but I do my best anyway. 

 

Leah glances over at me and her eyes go colder than usual, she yawns in a bored way and nudges her brunette friend with her bony little elbow. 

 

“Oh, nice to see you.” I try to smile at them and nod politely as I raise my hand in a half-wave to Mom who ignores me, as usual. 

 

“Claire.” The brunette answers curtly, Leah says nothing. She’s genuinely looking through me like I’m not even there. 

 

I suppose indifference is better than having to talk to her

 

 

“Hi, hi, everyone. All eyes on me, please!” Polly chirps loudly like an annoying little parakeet and claps her hands together to get everyone’s attention long after everyone is quiet. 

 

I spy Wendy in the corner, arranging and rearranging the presents in a tower to post on Instagram.

 

Picture perfect. Say cheese! 

 

Bite me. 

 

“So I know there are a lot of you, but I couldn’t pick just a few for the wedding party. Everyone has just shown me so much love.” At this, Polly clasps her hand to her heart and blinks solemnly, twice. 

 

She must’ve practiced the pose in front of an actual mirror. 

 

I bet she got a book out of the library just for the occasion. 

 

“How To Be Insufferable: For Dummies” 

 

Mom fucking wrote that book and Polly isn’t taking just a page out to try it on, she’s taking it and running away with it to write her own trashy self-help pamphlet. 

 

Christ. 

 

“So this is the bridal party! Everyone, thank you so much for coming, all of you. Now we’re gonna drink up, drink, drink, drink. Oh and open pressies.” 

 

Pressies? 

 

“So everyone get a drink and let’s watch me open some gifties!” 

 

Gifties? 

 

Fuck me sideways, she’s on coccainies. 

 

I wish Joe were here, we would talk soooo much shit with just our eyes. Like the camera asides in The Office that break the fourth wall. 

 

My heart aches for a friend right now. 

 

Why did I agree to come again? 

 

Oh, sisterly love. Riiight. 

 

Maybe if I curse enough God will have mercy on me and smite me right here, right now. Or turn me into a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife for having sinful thoughts about a certain kind of pie I’ve been daydreaming about for weeks now. 

 

 

 

Mom has a picture hanging in the hall that I’m staring at so I don’t fucking cry. It’s a painting of Jesus healing the blind man. Funny. 

 

I wonder what Jamie would have to say about it. His thoughts on religion always surprise me for a man that wears ripped black jeans and clunky Doc Martens. And that damn silver ring he spins around on different fingers when he’s nervous. Or thinking. 

 

Shit. 

 

Now my chest aches. 

 

Wendy slides up to me and forces a tall martini glass in my hand with something that looks like an eyeball floating on top of it. 

 

Passionfruit. 

 

“The fuck’s this?” 

 

I should watch my mouth but I’m already over them at this point. 

 

Wendy blushes, her nondescript face going even slightly pink giving her the most color I’ve seen on her face in years. She doesn’t wear makeup. Beneath her. 

 

I’m fairly certain she’ll go out of this world as she came in, scowling and with no effort made on her part to self improve. 

 

How her and Poll get along, I’ll never know. 

 

But Wendy is as spicy as flour and scares the shit out of me because I didn’t even notice her standing there. 

 

“Pornstar martini.” 

 

I cackle before I can control my face, “A what?” 

 

Say it again. I’m living for this right now.  

 

“You heard me,” She frowns softly and puts her mouth into that thin line that always means she’s wishing she were elsewhere. 

 

“I did, can’t believe YOU just said that, Wendy.” I wink. 

 

She rolls her eyes and moves on. 

 

Whatevs. 

 

I touch the cold glass of foamy looking peach liquid to my lips. 

 

OMG this is delicious. 

 

I take a sip off the top and am greeted by a flavor of vanilla, lime and passionfruit that tastes like absolute candy. 

 

Hello vodka my old friend. 

 

I’m glad I had a drink because the gift opening is honestly the most boring thing I’ve ever seen in my life. 

 

How fucking awkward anyway? 

 

I mean, who in their right mind decided that a bride should get together with her family and friends and open actual lingerie that will go up her zippity-do-dah while her great aunts “ooh” and “ahh” over said selections? 

 

Nothing like Aunt Ethel seeing the actual neon zebra print butt floss that you’ll parade in on your honeymoon. 

 

Just like the wedding, the honeymoon is going to be paid for by my Mom and Dad, too. 

 

Paris. 

 

How fucking delightful. 

 

Isn’t it just delightful? 

 

 

I hope she chokes on escargot. 

 

Actually, I hope it gets like stuck in her windpipe and she coughs and it launches the snail-sinew up into her nasal cavity and then she’ll have to blow it out into one of those cloth napkins restaurants have that I hate using because it feels like wiping my mouth on tablecloth. 

 

“What’s this?” Polly slides out the corkcicle from the white and silver bag I’ve put it in. 

 

“Who’s it from?” Mom peers at the tag, “Oh. Claire.” 

 

First time she acknowledged me here. 

 

There is general tittering in the group and I’m only too delighted to hear someone murmur something about a sex toy. 

 

Mom and Wendy and Polly all look at me like I brought a motherfucking bomb into the shower. 

 

“One of those corkcicle things you wanted.” I nod and smirk to myself at their faces. 

 

“Why does it look so…?” Polly frowns. 

 

“Phallic?” I quip. 

 

 

“Claire!” Mom chides me but nothing can wipe this grin off my stupid face. 

 

I further resist the urge to tell her to shove it up her ass next to where she keeps her personality. 

 

“Ohhhh right. It’s a wine chiller, thanks, hun.” Polly says loudly and shoves it back in the bag before the others can keep talking about it. 

 

She says “thanks” like the little kid in the vine who got an avocado for a present. Sorry, pressie

 

 

 

Not long after this lovely interaction, we moved onto more bridal shower games than I knew existed. The worst one is the “How Well Do You Know The Bride” bingo game. I didn’t even attempt to win because the prize was going on a spa date with Polly. 

 

Gag me with a spoon. 

 

Next, Mom and Wendy set up a toilet paper wedding dress competition. 

 

She split everyone into groups and one person had to model while the others in the group wrapped and tore and tucked and taped toilet paper all over the model. Polly got to pick the best one and that group got the best prize of all, her love and adoration. 

 

Thankfully, it was the last game and I was two drinks in so I shot my hand in the air in my group (which thankfully didn’t include Leah) to be the model. I was the tallest anyway and didn’t mind standing still while the others attempted to assault me with butt-wiping material. 

 

Although Leah wasn’t in our group, her brunette friend wasted no time in leading the others in wrapping me in a sheath-style dress within an inch of my life. 

 

“Just keep going,” I insisted, “Wrap my face and we can do a whole Boris Karloff thing, it’ll be hilarious.” 

 

“Who?”

 

The girls all looked at each other and shared judgmental glances before trying to perfect my “veil”. 

 

“Nevermind.” 

 

Fucks sake. 

 

What do they teach children at school these days? 

 

“Brendan Fraser?” 

 

I attempted again for a younger crowd. 

 

*crickets* 

 

Oookay. I guess they hadn’t heard of the Fraser/Weisz masterpiece of 1999 that was my cinematic bisexual awakening. 

 

Cool. Cool. 

 

I’m not old at all. 

 

After ten minutes of torture, spinning around and listening to hushed whispers of the “designers” and a backtrack of Michael Bublé crooning some half-forgotten melody, Mom claps her hands and announces, 

 

“Time’s up! Alright, ladies. Show us your masterpieces!” 

 

Leah is first up, clicking her kitten heels like the room is her runway. She is smiling and looking like a Great Value™ Barbie as she parades in front of Polly. 

 

 

“Very chic, lovely.” Polly exclaims over a bite of a petit four from the kitchen, “Next!” 

 

The brunette, whose name is Stephanie, pokes me with a long-nailed finger. Before I can think what I’m doing, I wrap the “veil” around my face and set my arms out in front of me at the horror of being chosen to parade in front of a room full of people. 

 

My nose and mouth are visible but my eyes are not and I thump forward with my hands in front of me, gasping in a shuddering breath before bellowing out, 

 

“It’s a briiiiiddddeeeee!” 

 

 

Even though I can’t see them, I hear the collected groans of Poll, Mom and Wendy along with a giant guffaw coming from my dad’s study as he must’ve stopped writing Sunday’s sermon long enough to peek out into the festivities. 

 

At least someone’s happy at this moment cause it sure as hell ain't the dozen or so faces of the women and girls in front of me gawking open-mouthed at my antics. 

 

Killmenow. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Hi, it’s me, Sarah. 

 

*poking my head out from behind the mask known as Claire in this fic* 

 

I’m much better at communicating my own feelings and emotions and I use fictional stories a lot to process what I’ve been through in my life. But this one time I do feel the need to step out from behind our Claire here and say a few words before we proceed. 

 

First off, sorry this isn’t an update. I know. *womp womp* I know how some readers despise these and will call me a tease for posting, but it really is the best way to reach everyone who loves my fic enough to subscribe. And WOW, so many of you do and I am blown away. Which leads me to my second point. 

 

 I never ever in a million years thought there would be so many of you. I try my best not to look at the statistics at the top of each chapter because, quite frankly, I get stage fright writing for so many people to read. It would be different if this story weren’t so personal and so close to my own life. 

 

I feel like a hack sometimes because I take my own pain and experiences and turn it into fiction so I can process it. I mean, normal people process their own shit, right? They don’t turn it into some kind of art where people can see it and critique it. 

 

All life has beauty and pain and joy and love and suffering and … humanity. 

 

I know some out there are scared of continuing or starting this fic due to its (unearned) reputation of being a downer. It is not my intention to write a sob story. 

 

I have lost a child. I have had a hysterectomy. Claire’s family is real. So is Jamie. So am I. 

 

I don’t feel sorry for myself and neither should you, I am simply sharing what I know to be true and real in a way that is unadulterated in its truth-telling. 

 

Sometimes the truth hurts. It’s uncomfortable and jarring. There will be points in this story where the narrative is both. 

 

But there will also be joy. Lots of it. Love, unashamedly. Intimacy, in a way that is more than just body parts meeting in the fires of human passion. 

 

I do not wish for people to be afraid to read this fic. Or afraid to continue. 

 

You might notice that I have always moderated comments on this one. Because it deals so openly with mental health issues, I knew there would be readers out there, like me, who would be dealing with these sensitive topics such as (but not limited to) self-harm, suicidal thoughts, grief, PTSD, anxiety, etc. 

 

I moderate comments so you all don’t have to see presumptions or unkind words said about people who have these very real struggles. 

 

That being said, I do take the brunt of it here by doing that. I am blessed that so many of you are the loveliest people I’ve ever “spoken” with in my life. I don’t consider you readers or fans, but friends. 

 

I’m getting long-winded so I’ll wrap it up here by asking that, as we continue on with this story, please remember it is my own that I am telling here. 

 

Maybe it changes perspectives. 

 

Maybe it won’t. 

 

My goal in writing this is to help each and every “Claire” out there feel less alone. 

 

I want all of you to be able to find yourself in these characters and realize that no matter what you’ve been through you are deserving of the biggest and best love you can possibly imagine. 

 

From the bottom of my broken heart, I love and thank you all for the support you’ve shown me in this fic and the courage you’ve given me to continue on fearlessly. 

 

In a time where we’ve all needed a fictional escape so much, I am blessed to be able to contribute in some small way. I am forever grateful for the love you’ve shown my written ramblings. 

 

I genuinely love you all, friends. 

 

-Sarah (CourageousJS) 

 

P.S. I’m not going anywhere. I will not abandon or delete this fic, no need to ever worry about that. 

 

P.P.S. If you want to help, spread joy. I really do hate the fact that new readers are scared to start this fic because it gets labelled as too sad. It honestly hurts my heart and it’s hard for me to hear jokes about it because it’s my reality.

Chapter Text

 

***

 

And though you can't see it's
So hard to believe it
Sometimes you just need a little faith 
There's an answer to your prayer
And I swear that there'll come a day, yeah

The sun will rise

 

The Sun Will Rise, Kelly Clarkson

 

***

 

 

 

I used to think I knew a fair bit about loneliness. 

 

But now I know that true loneliness doesn't come when you're alone. 

 

It comes from being around lots of people and still being totally and completely alone. 

 

When I used to open up to people, mainly my mother, she would criticize me for not trying hard enough. 

 

"You are the reason you're lonely. There's plenty of people around." 

 

She would give me that bullshit reason that I myself was to blame for not fitting in. And so I would file my edges down until I was the right size, the right "piece" for that particular puzzle. And as I was pressed into place, I was still alone. 

 

You don't have to try with the right people. Your "enoughness" is simply enough for them. 

 

I don't know if anyone's told you today, but there's nothing fucking wrong with you. 

 

I wish someone had told me that. 

 

You know what else I wish someone told me? 

 

You don’t have to love yourself to be loved by others. 

 

Right? 

 

Alicia blew that one out of the water for me. 

 

Sure, there is a lot to loving yourself in order to be healthy enough for a relationship? 

 

But telling people that you have to perfect this notion of self-love before all other loves can be accepted? 

 

That’s emotional manipulation. 

 

Nope. 

 

Not necessary in order to be loved. 

 

Isn’t that ironic? 

 

Sometimes things are beautiful because they are lovely. 

 

And sometimes. 

 

Things are beautiful because we love them. 

 

Love doesn’t fix all. 

 

But it covers all. 

 

All the brokenness inside of us. 

 

All the bruises the world has left. 

 

All the faults and flaws in our own humanity. 

 

You are worth loving even when you don’t love yourself. 

 

Maybe we would all live a little more if we truly embraced affection instead of feeling guilty for accepting it in our brokenness. 

 

Accept joy. 

 

Accept love. 

 

I wish someone had told me that growing up, before Alicia. 

 

And so, I’m telling you. 

 

Joy. Love.

 

Some things are worth dying for, but in order to experience them, you have to open yourself up and truly live. 

 

Sometimes you have to take the rough hand of a wanderer who knows the way. 

 

Sometimes you have to follow him when he wants to dance in the street. 

 

Sometimes you have to play Mario Kart and sit there pinned to a couch with your hoodie drawstring in his mouth and watch helplessly as Luigi fucking destroys you. 

 

Sometimes the only reason you decide to keep on living is so you can have that rematch race you were promised. 

 

Sometimes it’s okay to not be okay and need someone to come save you. 

 

Blue opal. 

 

Amber waves. 

 

That damn cigarette hanging precariously between his teeth in a back alley and a hand that I shied away from then. 

 

But now it’s all that’s holding me together. 

 

Touch. 

 

How little we know we need it until it’s all we have left to look forward to. 

 

Fuck it.

 

I love him. 



 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

I had a few, got drunk on you, and now I’m wasted. 

And when I sleep I’m gonna dream of how you

Tasted

 

Medicine, Harry Styles

 

***

 

I flop onto my back in bed. 

 

Fresh out of the shower, my hair hanging down my back in wet tendrils that cling to my shoulders and breasts playfully as I toss on a lacy bralette and panty set before throwing on my oversized Eagles tee. 

 

I say “toss on” but I actually mean I painstakingly think about what to wear like I do every time I FaceTime him. 

 

Dressing up would seem… pretentious… especially since I texted him to let him know I just got in from my long day and was hopping in the shower. 

 

I swallowed hard as I reached in the drawer for a new black eyelet lace bralette that was more straps than fabric. I traced my fingers around the swollen curves of my tired breasts that had been jammed together in the torture device known as shapewear to fit into the pencil dress I wore to the party. 

 

Nothing wrong with feeling… nice. Even if I’m the only person to touch me in this, it still feels intimate to wear something different when I get to see him.

 

My heart is racing like a drum as I wait for him to call me. 

 

He always does. Seven o’clock sharp, no delays. Every day. 

 

We’ve been texting a lot. Mainly gifs. Song lyrics. Some YouTube videos of covers he likes. Songs that make me think of him. Songs that make him think of me. 

 

I’ve made a playlist of it all and I listen to it constantly. 

 

And yes, Keeping On in on the list. 18-year-old Claire would have lost her shit over 19-year-old Jamie. His voice is sheer perfection in all it’s emotive roughness and effortless control. It causes my stomach to clench and flip and tears my heart out all at the same time. 

 

I know why he gave it up, but Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. 

 

Boy can sing. 

 

We both find each other in the music and, for us, it’s a solace to ease the pain of separation that we could be listening to the same song at the same time and no matter where we are, we’re together like that. 

 

I’m sobering up from Polly’s shower. I don’t know whose idea it was to serve up pornstar martinis at a bridal shower but *chef’s kiss* good on them. 

 

The combination of vodka, passionfruit, lime and vanilla was altogether a good choice. 

 

She loved the cute bralette set that I got her… I smirked to myself when she opened it because it was a two for one deal and I am currently wearing the other (better) one as a consolation gift to myself for getting through it. 

 

Cheers to me. 

 

I love that petty choice for me, living for it.  

 

Nothing makes a girl feel old like hanging out with a bunch of twenty-one year-olds who can simultaneously drink iced coffee, martinis and still make plans for going out all night without being completely sloshed. 

 

Everyone drank, by the way, so I don’t know what Polly was fucking talking about with a pregnancy. 

 

Unless the mother is seriously stupid… ugh. Can’t go down that path. Jesus.

 

Age is just a number until you try to keep up with the younger generation, my God.

 

But here, in my room and very much alone, I feel as giddy as a teenager all over again.  

 

I’m startled out of my reverie to decades past by the Han and Leia theme from composer John Williams. 

 

Is it totally a softie move on my part? 

 

Yup. 

 

Will I motherfucking cut a bitch for making fun of me for it?

 

Absolutely. Watch yoself. 

 

I re-watched the OG series right after Jamie first left and damnit if I can’t help but see him in every smirk, every snide comment, every eye-roll of that dastardly smuggler. 

 

I quickly roll over onto my stomach on my bed with my legs dawdling over my backside and answer the video call coming in. 

 

“How’s my scruffy-looking nerf herder?” I smile as I toss my wet hair over my other shoulder and grin into my phone. 

 

Jamie’s sweaty face comes into view. His cheeks are red and his hair is falling down over his forehead as he sniffs and pushes it out of the way with one dirty hand. 

 

His eyes are bright and send a shiver down my midsection and my inner thirsty bitch is screaming all sorts of filthy, horrible things at the screen. 

 

Gawd. 

 

How can a man be so disgusting and simultaneously the hottest thing I’ve ever seen? 

 

I want to go there. 

 

I want his sweat dripping onto my body as he holds me tightly to him and bites on my shoulder. 

 

I want to smell the heat of him close and heady in my nose as I clutch wildly at his shoulders and leave half-moon impressions all over his back with my fingernails as I dig them in and he savagely takes me to places I can only dream about. 

 

"I promise if ye get to know me, I won't make ye scream again. Not unless ye want to." 

 

Oh how his voice has echoed in my mind with that sentence! You know the time, with the shark cootchie board at Joe’s. 

 

No, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. 

 

Have you? 

 

How can you get it out of your head when someone says… that

 

I wish he fucking would. 

 

I honestly don’t know how to get through a conversation with him like this. 

 

In this state. 

 

If only I could be the one to take him there. 

 

To hear him scream my name is on my list now. 

 

You know the one. 

 

“Who’s scruffy looking?” He immediately flashes a grin and plays by the rule book of answering with the next line. 

 

“Saw-ree, Sassenach.” Jamie frowns and emphasizes the word “sorry” for me in a way that makes me giggle, “Still wanted to call ye but I’m in a bit of a mess at the moment, I’m afraid. Okay if I call ye back, love? Stuck nailing this floor down and-” 

 

“Goddamnit it Adso,” I sigh dramatically as Adso takes the exact moment Jamie speaks to start climbing up my new light-blocking gray curtains. “Down, boy. Ugh. Hang on.” 

 

I leap out of bed and leave the phone face-up as I do so, lunging at the muscley ball of fur attempting to be a badass and deny all the rules of my house in one go. 

 

“GAH! Jesus Mary and Joseph. Fucking Christ!” Jamie’s voice cuts through the line in pain as I hear the puff and bang of a pneumatic power tool go off in the background and a stream of expletives leave his mouth. 

 

Without much thought to what flashed the camera in my mad scramble, I throw Adso over my shoulder with a scolding and tossed him out of the room, shutting the door behind me. 

 

He knows what he did. 

 

I’m alarmed by Jamie’s growled curses and sudden absence on the screen. 

 

I hear a long, drawn out whistle from Jamie as I plop back on the white duvet and peer into my phone again. The connection is still there, but the camera is facing the ceiling of an unfinished room with rafters and building debris leaning against the wall where the drywall should be. 

 

“Jamie? Jamie! Are you alright?” 

 

I call out, a sick feeling growing in my stomach that has nothing to do with his sweaty body or the martinis. 

 

It’s not like him to point the camera away from his face, he’s belovedly inept at video calls and always peers into it like an older person without their reader glasses, but my god the man tries. Also I’ve grown accustomed to the way he waves goodbye at me before he ends the call like it’s a zoom meeting or something. 

 

“Yeahhhh….” 

 

A voice calls out, seriously NOT okay, but he’s trying hard to pass it off as okay. 

 

“Sir? Do you want me to pick up, looks like I can-” A new voice now, a young one is close to the phone. A boy- child- between the ages of twelve and … twelve. His voice has barely dropped and I can hear the telltale awkward squawking of youth. 

 

“No! No, Fergus…. FUCK. Ok, give me a minute. I’ll…. Be right there. For fuck’s sake…” 

 

I hear Jamie’s footsteps running away quickly as his voice fades and a new face comes into view. 

 

“Who are you ?” I’m taken aback as a little round face pops into the screen. 

 

The boy can’t be older than my estimate but grins at me and waves like an idiot. His dark curls are wild under the trucker hat he wears and he has dimples as far as the eye can see. His blue eyes go wide and I notice he’s staring at me with a smirky grin on his face. 

 

“Hello! You must be Claire. I see he was not kidding when he said you have the most beautiful-” Here, the boy motions to his own chest but not before the phone is wrenched out of his hands with an unceremonious yank as Jamie growls. 

 

“Away wi’ ye… wee rascal! I dinnae pay ye to run yer mouth, aye?” 

 

“Sir, you are bleeding!” The boy, Fergus, chides in the tone of someone not accustomed to treating elders with deference. 

 

“Jamie?” I call out with some uncertainty. 

 

His face twitches in anger and he sets his jaw against some pain. 

 

“Sassenach, stay put. I swear tae God dinnae move. I’ll- I’ll call ye back in a bit as soon as I… I’ll call ye….” 

 

The phone call ended abruptly and I’m stuck staring at my face, confused in the black of the screen. I’m nearly out of my mind with worry by the time he calls me back no less than 20 minutes later. 

 

He’s out of breath from running and a little more cleaned up than before. 

 

“Jesus. You freaked me out, everything okay?” 

 

Jamie flushes and stammers as he waves a hand in front of the camera giving me no more than a .5 second view of his left hand now wrapped in some kind of bandage across the wide section between his index finger and thumb. 

 

“Oh… ah… yeah. All good, see? Dropped the wean off at Mam’s and she patched me up… home now. Now .” 

 

Jamie’s voice changes suddenly from playful to serious and the switch makes my stomach tingle with anticipation of what he’s about to say. 

 

“Can I see ye, Claire? S’all I could think about. Even hurt myself when ye turned and dropped the phone and I- well….” 

 

Jamie’s accent is back in full force and I can’t help but feel warmth spreading over my face as I realize why. 

 

His bashfulness causes a slow smile to spread across my face as he goes from pure hummingbird energy to almost speechless, eager and eyes begging penitently for my good grace. 

 

“You are seeing me.” I say smugly. 

 

“Not a’tall what I meant and ye ken it.” Jamie’s blue eyes flashed steel gray as my gut quivers with the way he’s biting his words at me. 

 

Barking orders may work on a “wean” as he put it, but me? Well, he should know me better to know well enough I’m not the obedient type. 

 

Not when I have him wrapped around my finger like I do right now. 

 

“I’ve no idea what you mean,” I shake my head and fall over onto my stomach on the bed, nerves calmed by seeing and hearing he was okay put me at ease and now I’m anxious to play with him in my favorite game of chicken. 

 

To see how far we can go before I blush and scream and run away. The thing is, with Jamie, I don’t scream. Not yet, anyway. I want to push him as far as I can before he makes me, though. 

 

I shoot him an incredulous look as I hold up my phone so that he can see my legs cross behind my shoulder and the slow, but steep, curve of my thigh as it goes up to meet my hip with juuuust a bit of the black lace showing on the perimeter of said circular mound of flesh. 

 

“Christ.” 

 

The word leaves Jamie’s mouth in a hushed, dulcet tone and leaves me catching my own breath in my throat. 

 

“More.” 

 

The word comes out as a demand, harsh and breaking in his mouth like a sob rising subconsciously from his chest. 

 

“Please, Claire. Christ. I’m about tae lose my mind I’m sae fucking far away right now. Please.” 

 

His eyes are begging but his voice is still clear and needy and something in it pulls me closer somehow. 

 

“Fair’s fair,” I say shakily with more courage than I feel. “I want to look at you, too.” 

 

My heart is pounding in my chest and I can almost feel my pulse throb into my fingertips. My chest aches with the distance and yet the closeness of the clear connection has me in his room with him once more. And I want to look. 

 

My chest rumbles with the hunger of weeks without his touch. 

 

I feel like I’m floating when he grins and takes off his shirt, slinging it over his head in eager abandonment of the confinement of clothing.