I floated up so slowly from the depths of sleep that, for a moment, I had no recollection whatsoever of where I was. That wasn’t so unusual; the life of a commercial airline pilot was by its very nature a nomadic one, and I slept more often in a strange hotel room than in my own bed.
But waking to the smell of coffee — of breakfast — was a first for me in quite some time.
I lifted my head and peered around the room in confusion, smearing the back of my hand over the drool that had leaked out of the side of my mouth and left a wet stain on the pillow. Standard hotel room, blackout curtains pulled shut, my duffel bag, heels and purse stacked neatly by the door…
Jamie, my brain registered as I found my giant Scot tucked into the loveseat over by the window.
Smiling blearily, I sank back down into the mattress again, muscles slack with relief.
He was wearing a faded t-shirt and gray sweatpants, his curls whorled into the most endearing case of bedhead I’d ever seen. A Kindle was propped in the bend of his knee, leaving his hands free to cradle a steaming mug of coffee, which he intermittently brought to his lips to blow softly and take a sip. For the moment, he seemed oblivious to the fact that I was awake, and I savored the rare opportunity to watch him with his guard down: the occasional scratch of blunt fingernails over the stubble on his cheek or chin, the slight tap of the foot he had crossed over his knee, the rhythmic flicker of his lake-blue eyes as he read.
Tenderness glowed warm in my chest as memories of the previous night gradually began to filter into my consciousness. After a sixteen hour flight, I’d been dead on my feet, and slumped wearily against him as he walked me back to this hotel room. When he’d turned on the shower and climbed in with me, his strong soapy hands kneading the tension from my muscles, I’d tried to summon what little energy I had left to at least get him off before we slept. But Jamie had stopped me with a soft kiss and softer eyes, told me to go put on some comfy pyjamas, and spooned himself around me in bed a few minutes later, whispering his fingertips through my hair until I fell asleep.
A full twelve hours ago, I realized with a jolt as my gaze flicked over to the clock on the end table. Jesus H. Christ, I couldn’t remember having slept that long since I was a teenager.
Then again, I always did sleep better with a certain Scottish captain curled around me.
Stretching languidly to finally let him know I was awake, I yawned a groggy, “Morning.”
Jamie’s features softened at the sound of my voice, and he immediately set aside his Kindle and coffee mug as I slipped out of bed and shuffled toward him. “Good morning, mo chridhe,” he murmured, opening his arms in invitation. I eased down into his lap and curled gratefully into his warmth, tucking my face into the crook of his neck and breathing in his familiar scent.
“Afternoon, rather,” I amended as his hand rubbed gentle circles over my back. “You could have woken me, you know.”
He made a throaty, Scottish grunt of dismissal. “You needed the sleep. But I hope ye dinna mind that I went ahead and ate wi’out ye. My wame wasnae quite so patient.”
I lifted up from his neck to fix him with twinkling eyes and a feigned pout. “I thought I smelled breakfast! And here I was hoping it might have been for me.”
Jamie kissed the tip of my nose, then nuzzled it with his. “Yers is in the microwave. Pecan pancakes, poached eggs, and sausage sound alright? There’s fresh fruit and coffee for ye here too.”
My rumbling stomach was undoubtedly answer enough, but I beamed at him anyway, pecking him on the lips. “God, I love you.”
It was a playful quip, uttered before my sleep-fogged brain could even catch up. There was a fraction of a second in which Jamie froze, rigid with surprise, before he released a breath of a laugh, clearly uncertain whether I’d meant it in jest or…
Neither one of us had said it yet. Not in those exact words. I felt blood rush up my neck and into my cheeks, flaming with self-consciousness. Of all the ways to cross that line, leave it to me to blurt it out without thinking.
But now that the words were out there, I found I had no desire to take them back. With each passing second, the truth of them rooted deeper into my heart, taking hold until I felt stronger, more sure than I’d ever been of anything in my life.
Jamie was avoiding eye contact, hesitance and hope warring in the careworn lines of his face. The need to reassure him was enough to make me swallow my own embarrassment, and lift his jaw with gentle fingertips until he looked at me.
“I do, you know,” I said hoarsely, as my heart made a valiant effort to hammer its way out of my chest. A pause, a fortifying breath, then, “I love you. I’m in love with you, Jamie Fraser.”
He looked at me for a long moment before exhaling in relief, a bright sheen of moisture flashing to his eyes. “No’ just for the pancakes, then?” he teased gently, his voice breaking just a little.
“No.” I shook my head with a wavering smile, and leaned my forehead into his. I had to swallow twice against the lump in my throat before I could manage, “Not just for the pancakes.”
Jamie hummed in acknowledgment, and then we sat quietly for a time, just breathing.
“Thank Christ,” he whispered at long last, lifting a hand to hold the base of my neck. “I’ve wanted to tell ye for weeks, Sassenach, but I didna ken if it was too soon.” Pulling back just far enough to look into my eyes, he rasped, “I love you too, Claire. I love ye so much it terrifies me sometimes.”
I knew what he meant. What it was between us, it had been immediate, and intense, and had only grown exponentially stronger in the few months we’d known one another. When we were apart, it was like a physical ache — a missing limb, almost. And when we reunited, when we touched, when he moved inside of me…
There weren’t words for the magnitude of it, so I held him tighter and nodded my understanding.
My breakfast sat untouched for another hour as we divested ourselves of our pyjamas and began to rock slowly together, breathing the only words we could find into one other’s mouths and necks and shoulders until they became almost a litany, a benediction:
I love you. I love you, oh God, I love you…