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After All This Time

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Chapter Sixteen:

One year later

"Mom!" Julia calls, walking into the house. "We're here!"

Coming out of the kitchen, Claire greets Julia and Rabbie at the door. "Hi, darling!" she greets, kissing her cheek. "Hi, Rabbie."

"Dr. Beauchamp," he says, giving her a hug.

"Please," she laughs, "how many times do I have to tell you to just call me Claire?"

She grins, settling in the living room with her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend. It was nice, having Julia living in Scotland now—everything felt complete.

Julia had loved Harvard, had planned on staying there for all of her studies, but Rabbie McNab came into her life and things were never the same.

Rabbie was attending Harvard Law for the year when he met Julia out at a party one night. They were the only two who looked bored, which instantly gave them something to talk about.

They bonded over the fact that their best friends had dragged them there—and were currently making out with one another in the next room. They'd each only agreed because they didn't want their friend going alone. Julia had found it sweet of him, and they spent the next two hours talking about books they loved and classes they were taking.

It led to them leaving the party and walking around campus together, sitting by the water fountain that was surrounded by lampposts wrapped in fairy lights. They talked until one in the morning, and Julia told Claire that after that, she just knew Rabbie was the one for her.

The sparks flew, and six months into being in college, Julia had a boyfriend. A serious one.

She was young—almost twenty now—but Claire could tell she truly loved Rabbie, and he loved her.

After the school year was over, Rabbie had had to move back to Scotland. They tried to do long distance—Julia coming to stay with her and Jamie for a few weeks, then Rabbie flying out to her when he could—but after one of her trips, Julia just knew she needed to move to Scotland as well.

Julia would marry Rabbie one day, Claire was sure of it, and it brought a smile to her face any time she thought about it.

Julia's relationship with Rabbie was so similar to how she and Jamie began that Jamie often poked fun at her, saying she didn't have to emulate every bit of their relationship, no matter how much she loved their love story.

Julia is at university in Edinburgh now, just three hours from Claire and Jamie's home. Fergus is in his final year there as well, so it's nice to have both kids come home to visit every now and then for a weekend.

It's also comforting for Claire to know that Fergus is in Edinburgh to check on Julia and make sure things are going okay.

The two of them have become close, practically siblings, riding back to Inverness together, making fun of Claire and Jamie and how they act more like love sick teenagers than either of them do with their love interests. The kids are thrilled for them,, but love teasing them even more.

Marsali graduated last year and started uni to prepare for medical school as well. Fergus is planning to propose when he graduates in May, and Claire couldn't be happier for them.

She and Jamie are completely content. There are arguments, of course, just as any couple has from time to time—especially with their tempers—but they've gotten into a groove, and have learned to communicate better with each passing day.

Life in Scotland has been blissful to say the least—far better than she could have ever imagined.

Uncle Lamb even came to visit a few months ago, beyond thrilled to see Jamie again. The two of them sat up and drank whisky—The Ridge's first official flavor that had just started selling in stores—laughing and talking long into the night, hours after Claire had gone to bed.

Lamb was on his way to Africa for another dig, which Julia was well and truly jealous of. She had finally decided archeology was where her heart was, which thrilled Lamb to the very marrow of his being. Julia already has plans to join her great-uncle on digs once she graduates, unless life has other plans, and the two of them are already mapping out where to go first together.

"So, how's business, Da?" Julia asks, settling onto the couch with Rabbie and pulling Claire from her thoughts.

Julia and Jamie have grown close over the last year, especially after that awful night where Frank wrote his own child off. Jamie quickly took the spot of a loving, doting father, and in just a year he's been more of a dad to Julia than Frank ever was. It was heartwarming, and Claire is glad Julia now has a strong man in her life who can be an example of what men should be like.

He sighs, sitting in the armchair beside Claire. He squeezes her hand before taking a sip of his whisky. "Things are braw, a leannan," he says, "The Paris store is fully up and running now, Murtagh is living out there with his fiancé, Suzette."

"That's great!" Julia exclaims, pulling her feet up on the couch and tucking them beneath Rabbie's thighs. Claire smiles, amused at how similar her daughter is to her. "What about London? And America? Weren't you and Ian trying to work something out over there?"

"Aye, we are." Jamie fills them in, letting the pair know that the London store is almost ready to be opened, and that it will have its grand opening in June.

"You'll have to come with us, darling," Claire says, "The two of you can make a weekend trip out of it for your birthday."

Julia looks at Rabbie with a shrug, and he smiles. "That sounds like fun! And you said there's a store coming to America?"

Jamie beams, sitting up and resting his elbows on his knees, leaning closer toward the couch. "John is over there now, ye ken," he tells them. "He's working on a deal now that things wi' London are settling down." Patting his knees, he stands, motioning for them to follow him to the kitchen.

"We should have a store, or mebbe even stores, up and running in certain states wi'in the next five years," he states, pulling the chicken from the oven.

Claire, Julia, and Rabbie all pile onto the barstools, listening as Jamie checks the temperature of the bird.

"Jamie and I talked about possibly moving back to America," she confesses, laughing at Julia's dumbfounded expression. "It wouldn't be for several more years, at least."

"Aye," Jamie chuckles, snapping the tongs in their direction. "But yer mam just became Chief four months ago, and ye ken I'd ne'er make her do something tae give that up."

"Don't I know it," Julia mumbles with a playful eyeroll.

Jamie shakes his head, tossing a dish towel in her direction.

She catches it, laughing as she sets it down. "It all sounds awesome," she replies, sighing as she settles into the seat. "Fergus and Marsali could maybe go out there."

Claire nods. "We talked about that as well. Fergus will have graduated by then," she says, calculating the years in her mind, "and Marsali will be just starting medical school once she finishes her main courses."

"She could definitely start there," Rabbie says, gesturing to ask Jamie if he needs any help.

Waving him off, Jamie adds, "There's lots o' possibilities. Mebbe Jenny and Ian want an adventure tae tackle."

Claire laughs, giving him an incredulous look. "Do you honestly think Jenny would ever leave Scotland? Especially now with Young Ian still in school and having a grandchild just a few hours from here?"

"Nah," he laughs, stirring the noodles on the stove. "She'd ne'er dream o' being more than a few miles from this place. She loves it too much."

"You would have to go visit a lot, though, right?" Julia asks, "You should open one in Boston so that you guys can stay with Uncle Joe!"

Jamie grins, turning off the stove and draining the noodles. "We did talk about that as well," he reveals, smiling over at Claire. "We would all have tae work out a system to be sure. Jenny, Ian, John, Murtagh, and I all have a hand in it now with sae many locations."

"But luckily you all get along," Claire says, smiling as she watches Rabbie stand to help Jamie finish preparing their lunch.

Just then the front door closes with a bang and a boisterous, "Milady, Milord, I am home!"

With a chuckle, Claire stands and swats at Jamie's bottom on her way out to the living room. She wraps Fergus in a hug, patting his back. "Welcome home, honey." She smiles over at Marsali, taking her in her arms. "I'm so glad you could come, Marsali. No classes?"

The blonde shakes her head, telling Claire, "I only had class yesterday, ye ken, no classes on Friday, so I'm free 'til Monday morn."

"Well, your father just finished making lunch," she tells Fergus, motioning for them to join everyone in the kitchen. "Come grab a place to sit if you can find one!"

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

Lunch is a chaotic affair, as it always is when both kids are home with their significant others.

Julia and Rabbie sit around the kitchen table with Fergus and Marsali, while Claire and Jamie stay over by the sink.

She's behind the counter, washing the dishes, when Jamie's arms wrap around her waist. He rests his chin on her shoulder, looking out across the room to the kids. "This is nice, mo nighean donn," he whispers, kissing her cheek.

He steps to her side, helping dry the dishes. Claire smiles and lets out a content sigh. "It really is. I love having them all over here."

She dries her hands, picking up the bowl of spaghetti that's still steaming, and joins everyone at the table. Thank God they have a large enough table to fit them all.

Jamie finds the seat across from her, and he sits, asking Fergus, "How were classes this week?"

"Good," he says, shrugging. "There is no' much to do now that the semester is wrapping up."

"It's only March," Julia laughs, "School doesn't end until May."

Fergus tosses his napkin at her, but she catches it, as everyone chuckles. "Oui, ye're right, ma petite soeur, but since I am about to graduate, we do not have as much to do, ye ken?"

He tells the table how he's wrapping up his last big project, planning out a business to create and present to his class next month. "I have a few classes, but most days I have off to go to the library and work on the presentation or study."

They spend time talking with Rabbie, hearing all about his latest mock trial he did for school. Marsali tells everyone about her schooling, she and Claire breaking off into their own private conversation about medical school and the few surgeries she's gotten to observe in her first science course.

The time passes far too quickly for Claire's liking, and before she knows it, lunch is over and everyone migrates to the living room.

They start a movie, but before it's over, Fergus and Marsali make their exit.

"We want to go unpack," Fergus explains, kissing Claire's cheek at the door. They're staying at Jenny and Ian's this weekend, but she knows they have plans with his cousin in a few hours as well. "We are going to pick up Young Ian in a bit. He's got a date tonight," he says, wagging his eyebrows, "so we're going to help him prepare."

Some things never change, she muses to herself.

Jamie pulls Fergus into a hug while Claire hugs Marsali. They switch, exchanging hugs and telling them to call when they get settled later. "Remember your aunt and uncle are coming for dinner," Claire reminds. "Are you two coming back for that?"

"O'course," Marsali says, smacking Fergus on the chest when he pretends to think about it. "We'll see ye later."

Sighing, Claire makes her way to the living room, ducking under Jamie's arm as he closes the front door.

They go back to their movie, Julia and Rabbie sitting side by side, their hands intertwined and resting on Rabbie's leg.

She grins, taking a spot on the loveseat and Jamie joins her, sitting as close as possible.

"You know there's a whole cushion over there," she jokes, jutting her chin to the spot beside her.

"Aye, Sorcha, I ken," he chuckles, kissing her cheek, "but then I couldna be close enough tae kiss ye."

He leans in, cupping her jaw and dramatically smacking kisses to her cheek as she squirms.

"Ugh," Julia huffs, rolling her eyes. "You guys are seriously worse than us."

Laughing, Jamie pulls back, sliding over to the other side of the loveseat.

Claire twists, bending her knees so her toes are tucked under Jamie's leg, and they spend the next half hour finishing their movie.

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

After a while, everyone meanders into separate activities.

Julia and Rabbie walk down to the cabin by the lake to unpack, before heading out to meet up with Fergus and Marsali.

Claire is on the treadmill when Julia comes down to the basement, waving goodbye. "We're going to go make sure Fergus doesn't set Ian up for failure on this date," she laughs. "We thought about grabbing some dessert for tonight."

"That sounds good," she pants, slowing her pace as she hits the three mile mark. "Anything works for me, maybe that cheesecake the bakery down the street has with the different flavors."

"Oh yeah," Julia nods. "That sounds good. Love you."

"Love you too, darling," she answers, picking her speed back up to finish her last mile as Julia heads back upstairs.

Claire decides to go for four miles today, feeling motivated. She's had the last two days off, and honestly, she hasn't had this much time off in a while, so she feels more rested than ever and full of energy. And having Julia and Fergus in town always makes her excited.

Grabbing her towel, she wipes off her face and chugs her water.

She makes her way up the basement steps and into the kitchen, refilling her water bottle from the filter before heading up the stairs to their bedroom.

"Hey," she says, tapping on the office's door frame. Jamie jumps, looking up from his paperwork. "You okay?" she laughs, stepping inside.

Smirking, he closes the folder he was looking at, and says, "Ye just startled me."

She giggles, telling him she's going to go take a shower.

"Alright," he says, clicking around on his laptop. "I've got a few more things tae do here, and then I'm all yers."

He wags his eyebrows and she rolls her eyes, smirking as she leaves the office and walks down the hall to their room.

Stepping into their master bath, Claire sighs. The cold tile feels great on her feet now that she's taken her shoes and socks off. She stands there for a moment, checking her phone.

She sends Gail a text, then sets it down, stripping off her sports bra.

Tossing it into the hamper, she hooks her fingers into the waistband of her leggings, but she's suddenly halted in her movements.

"No' just yet, mo chridhe."

"Jamie," she laughs, "I didn't even hear you come in."

He hums, pulling her to him. He looks around conspiratorially, whispering dramatically, "We have the house all tae ourselves."

"Yes," she chuckles, running her fingers underneath his chin to feel his scruff. "As we always do."

He grins wolfishly, leaning in to kiss her neck. "Ah," he says, "but no' this weekend. We've got the kids here fer the next three days."

He places a kiss to her lips, his warm hands sliding down her back to cup her ass.

"I'm all sweaty and gross," she grimaces, pushing on his chest.

Her nipples have hardened in the cool air, and Jamie's eyes instantly fixate on them.

He licks his lips, reaching for the hem of his t-shirt. "I dinna care," he growls, pulling the shirt from his body. "Take those off, mo nighean donn."

Claire bites her lip, obeying but telling him to do the same.

"Ye ken," he purrs, turning and walking over to the shower. "The new shower does have its perks."

She laughs, following behind. She runs her hands up his scarred back, massaging his shoulders before she stands on her tiptoes to peer over him.

They just finished remodeling their bathroom, expanding it by a few square feet to create a larger shower. Once she moved here, she nor Jamie—moreso him—could get her shower in Boston out of their minds.

The contractors had done a beautiful job—the floor is now a gray and white pattern, gray walls, and the shower is gigantic.

There's a large tub as well that they make use of quite often, but the shower is the best part of it.

It's large enough to hold five Jamie's, has a waterfall showerhead along with an adjustable one on the wall. It's covered in gray shimmering tiles, and there's a bench running along the length of the back of it.

It was perfect for when she shaved her legs, exactly what she always used it for in Boston, but Jamie had other ideas.

"Perks?" she asks innocently, stepping around him and into the shower.

She turns the water on, letting it heat up before stepping under the spray.

He joins her, closing the door behind him. "Aye," he rasps, moving closer. "That bench hasna gotten proper use out o' it yet."

She giggles, turning to wrap her arms around his neck. Jamie pulls her close, kissing her as the water pours down her back.

He walks backward, taking her with him, and settles on the tiled bench.

"What did you have in mind?"

With a smirk, he kisses her hotly, one hand cupping her bum as the other runs up to cup around the back of her neck.

She moves her hips in slow circles against him, smiling into the kiss when he grows hard beneath her.

"I think ye ken exactly what I have in mind, ye wee minx."

Reaching between them, she strokes his cock, grazing her thumb along the top.

With a wicked grin and a peck to the corner of his mouth, Claire sinks to her knees between his legs. She spends time on him, working him up, her hand stroking him slowly.

She licks her lips and leans in, mouth closing around his length.

Working her mouth around his cock, she licks up his shaft and twirls her tongue around the tip. She's got one hand on his knee—nails digging into his skin as she sucks harder—but the other joins in, massaging his balls.

She adds more pressure with her mouth at his insistence, scraping her teeth along his skin for extra pleasure.

Cheeks hollowing, Claire sucks him just like he likes, his cock hitting the back of her throat. It gags her, just slightly, just enough to make him grunt and thrust his hips up. She smirks around his length, bobbing her head up and down, faster, harder.

"Oh, god, Claire," huffs Jamie, "mm, just like that."

Within minutes, he's spurting his seed into her mouth, and she swallows it down, rinsing her face off as she stands.

"Yer turn," he pants, trying to catch his breath.

Laughing, she takes his offered hand, joining him on the bench.

Jamie stands, leaning down to kiss her lips. "Lean back, Sassenach," he commands hotly, one side of his mouth lifting into a sly grin.

Fuck, she is so so glad they installed a bench in this shower.

She leans back, head resting against the wall and hands gripping the edge of the bench.

With a smirk, Jamie's hands slowly start up her legs, squeezing at her calves. He moves closer, and she's positive his knees will be killing him later, but right now she can't bring herself to care.

He kisses her knee, trailing his mouth up her thigh, over her belly, and down the opposite one, ending on her other knee. Licking his way back up her skin, he presses his lips to her hip bone, then pulls back. "Ye're beautiful," he declares reverently, leaning in to kiss her lips.

She smiles, gripping his shoulders and pushing him back down to where she needs him most.

He chuckles. "Eager, are we?" he asks huskily, fingers dipping inside her wetness.

"Always." She releases a shuddered breath, eyes closing as his mouth replaces his fingers and meets her core.

He licks her from bottom to top, swirling his tongue around her clit. He gives it a little suck, and she cries out.

Bastard. He knows exactly how she likes it and he's not wasting any time.

He works her up, up, up to the edge of release, tongue pressing harder to her as she grows closer.

His fingers join in, two running up her slit as he sucks her clit, swirling his tongue around it.

She tells him not to stop, oh god, please do not stop, do not tease, and he obeys, staying right there and applying more pressure.

Her ankles are hooked around him, one hand tangled in his wet hair and the other still gripping the edge of the bench.

His free hand grabs her knee, tugging her even closer as he sucks and licks, giving her exactly what she needs. His fingers dig into the skin at her knee, she knows it'll bruise, but she cannot find it in her to care right now.

God, this is incredible. So fucking hot. Feels so fucking good.

With a forceful suck to her clit, Claire cries out loudly and comes on his tongue. She undulates her hips and tries to get as close as possible to his face, even though she already is.

Jamie pulls back with a satisfied smirk, kissing his way up from her hip to her neck.

He sucks on her pulse point before moving to her lips, letting her taste herself on his tongue.

She moans into his mouth, wrapping her arms around his neck as he stands them up, one large arm wrapped securely around her waist.

They move under the waterfall showerhead, rinsing off.

Jamie grabs her body wash, squeezing some into his hands and rubbing over her arms and down her legs.

"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ," she mumbles, pulling him up by the shoulders. "We need to get out soon and get ready for dinner. Don't work me up again," she laughs, kissing him.

She returns the favor, washing his body off with his body wash, and after a few more minutes of just simply enjoying each other, naked and pressed against the other under the warm water, they finally get out.

Jamie hands her a towel off of the towel warmer, and thank God they invested in one of these. It makes getting out of the shower so much better.

He never uses it, of course, being the human furnace that he is, so he grabs his towel from the hook on the back of the door and wraps it around his waist.

They dry off and clean up, getting ready for dinner amidst kisses and giggles that she can't seem to stop. He's irresistible today—well, everyday—and she has to remind herself they're on a time schedule, so she can't have her way with him in their bed for the next few hours, no matter how much she may want to.

Claire spends some time straightening her hair, and when Jamie comes in, she asks with a bright smile, "Why are you all dressed up?"

He gives her a sheepish grin, looking down at his dark denim pants and his baby blue button up. "I dinna ken," he chuckles, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "Jus felt like looking nice, I s'ppose."

Squinting her eyes, she gives him an odd look, but shrugs. He looks nice, so handsome, so her outfit she'd planned to wear needs to be altered, she supposes. "I'll wear something other than yoga pants, then," she laughs, picking up her mascara.

He smiles, sprtizing his cologne on his neck and kissing her cheek before he heads out of the bathroom. "Ye wear whate'er ye want, mo ghraidh. I'll be downstairs," he announces over his shoulder, and she waves him off, saying she'll be down soon.

And after another twenty minutes, she finally throws on her nicest jeans and the sheer maroon top she wore so long ago when she first went to lunch with Jamie after running into him before her seminar.

Making her way downstairs, she finishes clasping her earring on as the door opens, all the kids come bounding in at once talking and carrying on.

It's a loud and uproarious interruption to the peace and quiet that had descended upon their house over the last few hours, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

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

Two hours later, Jenny and Ian come by, exchanging hugs and kisses with Fergus and Julia.

Rabbie grills steaks for everyone, while Ian pops open the bottle of wine they brought over.

He passes a glass to everyone, holding his up as if to make a toast.

Claire gives him a curious look, then glances over to Jamie who just shrugs.

They're all gathered in the kitchen, the steaks cooling on the pan on the counter. Jamie stands by them with Rabbie, while Julia, Marsali and Fergus all sit around the table.

Jenny is by Ian in the middle of the kitchen, her arm wrapped around his waist.

Taking a step forward, Jenny tells everyone, "We've an announcement tae make."

She smiles up at Ian before saying that Wee Jamie and his wife are pregnant again. "A girl this time!" she cries, clapping her hands together.

"Didn't they just have a baby?" Fergus asks, Julia slapping the back of his head.

"Like two years ago, idiot," she scolds, laughing as Fergus rubs the back of his head and grins. "He's your cousin, you should know that."

They all congratulate the grandparents, and Claire smiles over at Julia.

Wee Jamie is still in his early twenties, and she can't imagine if she was a grandma at just forty years old, but Jenny and Ian carry it well as spry forty-three year olds.

She knows she and Jamie will sooner rather than later be joining the grandparent section, knowing Fergus and Marsali will be engaged within the next few months, Julia and Rabbie more than likely not far behind.

The thought brings a smile to her face, and a small ache in her heart, knowing she and Jamie never got to raise their babies together or even have one together. But their children are grown now, and a baby of their own just wouldn't make sense. Regret isn't reason enough to try for a baby… especially when their own children are so close to having their own.

She's grateful for every day she has with Jamie, baby or no baby.

"Two kids in two years," Marsali hums, "I canna imagine." Her eyes widen and she looks up at Jenny and Ian. "No' that I dinna think it's braw that he's havin' another one, ken," she stumbles, causing everyone to chuckle softly. Fergus grins, leaning in to press a kiss to her cheek as she explains, "I just couldna imagine bein' sae young and havin' bairns." She glances over at Fergus, giving him a stern look. "I dinna want tae be havin' yer weans until I'm at least twenty-five, do ye hear me, Fergus Fraser?"

"Och," Jamie scoffs from behind the kitchen island, holding up a pair of tongs. "Ye'll be the first ones to pop 'em out between the four o' ye."

Everyone laughs as Marsali's face turns red, and Claire smiles over at the table, watching as Julia looks across the room to Rabbie and they look at one another tenderly.

With that, Rabbie and Jamie work side by side to dish out the steaks, everyone filing into a line to go around the counter, scooping whatever else they want—Jenny's mashed potatoes are there along with the roasted vegetables Julia had made earlier. Marsali brought a fruit tray, and Claire had baked a batch of rolls and made a large salad.

Everyone gathers around the table, Jamie taking his seat at the head of it. Claire sits in the chair to his left, and they all laugh and enjoy dinner together.

She loves having everyone here. More often than not, Claire finds herself sitting silently, simply smiling and watching how seamlessly everyone fits together.

Jamie seems off, though, she notes as she glances around at everyone. She can't exactly pinpoint why, but he seems nervous.

She ignores the feeling, maybe something earlier with the paperwork he was doing—perhaps something with the America deal—and decides she'll ask him later.

Everyone chatters on, Fergus telling Jenny and Ian about the girl their son was currently on a date with.

"She's a nice lass," Marsali interjects when Jenny's eyes go wide at Fergus' explanation of the girl's tattoo on her arm and the piercing in her nose. "He's making it sound bad," Marsali laughs.

Julia snickers, nodding her head. "That tattoo is right here," she gestures to the spot on the side of her wrist, "and it's a small little cross."

"And the piercing is jus' a tiny little stud, ye ken?" Rabbie adds, smiling as Jenny's face relaxes.

"She sounds lovely," Ian supplies, laughing as Jenny whips her head around. "What?" he grins, "Young Ian deserves a nice lass just like his brother has found."

Jenny crosses her arms, grumbling about how her baby doesn't need to grow up anymore, and Claire grins behind her wine glass, knowing exactly how Jenny feels.

She glances across the table at Julia—sitting comfortably beside Rabbie, his arm draped across the back of her chair—smiling softly when her daughter's warm, whisky eyes meet hers.

The conversation shifts then to Julia's new apartment and how she's liking it. It's only a few blocks from Rabbie's, so that was a major factor into it all. Claire isn't sure why she decided to rent, knowing full well Julia would stay at Rabbie's most nights, but her daughter was adamant that she wanted a space of her own, which Claire could respect.

"Marsali just moved, too," Julia says, nodding toward the other young couple.

"How is it, by the way?" Claire asks. "We didn't get to hear much about it earlier."

Marsali nods, "Aye, it's verra braw." The young blonde smiles, glancing at Fergus, then around the table. "'Tis right near my campus which is nice. I can walk tae class e'ry day."

She tells everyone how her campus is only an hour from Julia and Fergus' school so it's not a bad drive to visit them. "Fergus has more time off than I do," she adds, "sae he comes and stays out at my place most of the time."

Ian asks Rabbie about school and his latest exam, and the conversation continues to flow seamlessly with everyone.

After dinner, everyone takes a slice of cheesecake, listening as Julia tells them all about her studies and the archeological dig she will get to go on this summer in Greenland.

They settle in the living room for the next hour, all enjoying each other's company.

Jamie still seems off. He was quiet most of dinner, only adding his two cents here and there, laughing at the right times, but she could tell he had something else on his mind. She catches his eye as they make their way to the couch, mouthing, You okay?

He nods and gives her a sweet smile, so she brushes it off for now, focusing back on their family.

Fergus turns on a movie once everyone agrees, though she's not sure why, knowing none of them would actually watch it.

The movie becomes background noise as Jenny pulls out a pack of Phase-10 cards from the coffee table, and they all begin a round—Jamie eventually being the first to phase ten and winning the whole thing.

Later, once the siblings' competitive side has simmered down—Jenny's temper flaring seeing as she was also on the final phase and could have gone out if Fergus hadn't skipped her—Ian convinces her that they can play again another night, and the pair make their exit with hugs and kisses for everyone (including Jamie, who has a shit-eating grin plastered on his face, which Claire smacks his chest for with a muffled snicker).

Fergus and Marsali leave soon after as well, Fergus giving Jamie an odd look after he hugs him. He pats Jamie on the back and tells him to call him later before he and Marsali wave and walk to their car.

Julia and Rabbie collect their jackets, and Julia smiles as she wraps Claire in a hug.

"You sure you have to leave now?" Claire asks, "It's only nine-thirty."

Rabbie smiles, leaning in to kiss her cheek. "Aye," he says, yawning dramatically as he looks over at Jamie with a grin. "But we'll be back in the mornin' wi' everyone fer brunch."

Jamie clasps Rabbie on the back, giving him a nod. "That sounds braw," he says, leaving the younger man's side to pull Julia into a hug.

"Night, lass," he says softly, kissing her cheek.

Julia returns the gesture, giving Jamie's arm a squeeze before stepping over to Claire.

"And you have what you need at the cabin?" Claire asks for the third time tonight, pushing a curl behind Julia's ear.

"Yes," she assures with a chuckle. "There are plenty of towels, there are sheets on the bed, and you cleaned it at least twice before we got here, I know."

She rolls her eyes, grinning. "I just want to make sure you two are comfortable for the weekend."

"We are," Rabbie says, hugging her. "We picked up some groceries while we were out earlier an' stocked the refrigerator."

"Good," Jamie chimes in, patting Rabbie on the back one more time.

They thank Rabbie for grilling tonight, and with another round of hugs, the couple pull on their jackets and make the short walk to the cabin.

Everyone else is still in the driveway, much to Claire's amusement, and Jamie calls out, "If ye wanted tae stay and talk, ye coulda stayed inside!"

"We're goin', we're goin'," Jenny calls, waving a hand in the air.

Claire laughs, wrapping her arm around Jamie's waist. His arm comes around her shoulder as they stand on the porch, watching their family all load up in their cars and pull away.

She waves to the cars before patting Jamie on the chest and looking up at him from where she's snuggled into his shoulder. "Tonight was fun," she sighs, smiling.

She twists out of his arm, walking back inside as he follows, saying, "Aye, aye, it was." He clears his throat, and she looks at him. "'Tis always nice tae have everyone in town at the same time."

Tilting her head, she gives him another curious glance, but agrees, picking up the pillows someone had knocked to the floor.

Jamie helps straighten up, picking up cups left on the coffee table and carrying them to the kitchen.

"We really ought to make our children at least clean up when they're here," she calls over her shoulder, laughing. She shakes her head, folding the blanket she knows Julia was using and sighs.

"Sassenach?"

She turns at the sound of his voice—the apprehensive tone making her stomach drop—and gently tosses the blanket onto the couch, walking over to Jamie.

"What's wrong?" she asks, that strange look from earlier back on his face. "You've been acting funny all night."

"Nothin' is wrong, mo ghraidh," he assures, kissing the top of her head. "I promise."

Her eyes narrow, not believing him, but he gives her a warm smile.

Jamie takes her hand, leading her over to the couch.

"I love you, ye ken that?"

"Yes," she giggles, "of course."

He sighs, almost relieved, and her confusion builds. Did something happen?

She grows nervous, squirming on the couch. He's perched on the edge, hands folded and resting between his knees as he looks at the coffee table in a daze.

Claire watches him, running her hand up and down his back in comfort. "You can tell me anything, Jamie, you know that." She scoots closer, kissing his shoulder. "What is it?"

God, what if something is wrong? He did have a doctor's appointment last week, just a yearly check up, but… her mind spirals and breath quickens in fear. "You're scaring me," she tells him. "Did something happen at the doctor last week or—"

"No! God, no, Sassenach," he assures, pressing a comforting kiss to her lips.

Jamie sighs again, looking straight ahead. "I canna imagine my life wi'out ye, mo chridhe," he confesses softly, turning to look at her. "Ye are… everything tae me."

Her cheeks warm and she smiles, her back relaxing where she'd been holding herself pin straight with nerves.

Jamie scoots back from the edge, sitting so that she is facing him with her leg bent, the other resting on the floor. She runs the backs of her fingers down his bicep, then up, moving to the underside of his jaw.

He takes her hand from his face, kissing her knuckles. He keeps her right hand in his grasp, his thumb caressing her silver ring he'd gifted her with over twenty years ago now.

"Ye've made me sae happy," he continues, lifting her hand to kiss her ring.

She gives him a small smile, eyes going soft as he speaks.

"I ken ye better than anyone, I imagine," he chuckles under his breath. "Just as ye ken me deeper than anyone." Her brow furrows slightly, the uneasy feeling in her stomach twisting into nerves, though she isn't quite sure why. "I can look upon yer face and decipher yer feelings almost… almost more than my own." He laughs, his blue eyes growing misty as he looks down at her hand he's still holding. "I ken exactly what ye're feeling more often than not," smirks Jamie, "which is why I ken ye're confused right now but trying tae be patient as I ramble on."

She chuckles, shaking her head. "Well, get to whatever you're trying to say then, so I'm not confused." She grins softly, letting him know she's only teasing.

Jamie bites his bottom lip briefly and takes a deep breath, sliding her ring off of her finger.

"Jamie," she gasps, shaking her head, "I haven't taken that off in twenty years, what—"

He gently picks up her left hand, sliding the silver ring onto her ring finger. "I think this belongs on yer left hand," he grins, and she shakes her head in confusion.

Her mind is clouded, but the fog clears when he reaches inside the drawer on the coffee table, revealing a small, black velvet box.

Popping it open, he holds it out to her as tears flood her eyes. "Jamie…"

"Sassenach, ye werena the first lass I kissed, but I swear ye'll be the last." He reaches up, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear, letting the back side of his fingers graze down her jaw. "I have only known one love in my life, Claire, and that's you."

She blinks, trying to clear her clouded eyes so that she can focus on this wonderful man before her. A tear slips free as she does, and Jamie reaches up to wipe it away.

"I waited twenty years fer ye," he chuckles wetly. "I would wait two hundred years fer ye, longer if need be, but I dinna want tae wait another day tae call ye my wife." His voice breaks on that last word, and she can't help but let more tears fall as Jamie holds up the ring box, giving her a better view. "Claire, will ye marry me?"

She stares at him, words caught in her throat. She looks down at the ring—a beautiful silver band with a diamond in the middle, surrounded by a halo of smaller ones—then up at him, his blue eyes shining.

He raises his eyebrows as if to say Well? and she reaches up, cupping his jaw with both hands.

Jamie lowers the ring, resting his hand that holds the box on her leg. "Ye're scarin' me here, Sassenach," he huffs nervously, shifting in his seat. "Do ye no' want tae be married?"

She bites her lip, sniffling as she wipes a tear from her cheek. Reaching over, she wipes one off of his cheek as well, telling him, "I love our life, I love our home together." She smiles, cupping his jaw again and letting her thumb smooth over the scruff there. "Jamie, I cannot imagine a life different than the one we've created." Inhaling sharply, she exhales shakily. "It's always been forever for me, my love," she assures with a soft smile—quoting his words from when they first said I love you—and leaning in to kiss his tears away. She pulls back, smiling so hard that her cheeks are aching. With a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes, she nods emphatically, "Yes, of course I'll marry you!"

Crashing her lips to his, he sobs into her mouth, wrapping his arms around his waist and pulling her to stand with him.

Breaking the kiss, she beams up at him, her fiancé, and wraps her arms around his neck. "Oh my god," she laughs wetly, more tears slipping free. "We will definitely have a story to tell when everyone comes over for brunch tomorrow."

"Aye," he chuckles, shaking his head. "Jenny and Ian will be surprised."

She looks up at him, eyes narrowed. Her head tilts to the side as her arms drop from around his neck, asking suspiciously, "But not our children?"

Jamie grins, cheeks puffing out when he can't hold his laughter in anymore. "Well…"

"Is that why they were acting so strange saying bye to us earlier?"

He guffaws, pulling her against his chest and kissing the top of her head. "I had tae get Julia's blessing, ye ken," he explains. "I took a quick day trip tae Edinburgh months ago to talk tae her an' Fergus."

"You did?" she asks as she wraps her hands around his waist, eyes going soft at the thought of him seeking her daughter's approval.

Smiling, Jamie nods, saying once Julia gave her blessing, he had tae tell Fergus as well to see what he thought about it. Which, of course, led to them telling Rabbie and Marsali because he knew their children would need to tell someone the good news.

"Well I'm glad to finally know your son approves of me," she drawls sarcastically.

Jamie snorts. "O' course," he says with a smirk, adding, "I think he likes ye more than me actually."

She giggles, but the air between them changes as Jamie reaches to take her hands, holding both of hers in his. He pulls the left one up to kiss her rings, then lets her hand go. She wraps her arms around his middle again—his wrap around hers as well—and rests her chin on his chest as she looks up at him.

He stares into her eyes, his beautiful blue ones piercing her soul, as if he can see right down to the depths of who she truly is.

"I love you," she whispers, pulling him back down for another kiss.

Jamie deepens this one, his tongue tracing the seam of her lips before she opens and lets him in. She moans into the kiss, pulling him even closer.

They fall back down to the couch, Claire lying back as Jamie hovers above her.

He comes in slowly, kissing every inch of her skin that he can find.

After a few lazy minutes of languid kisses and roaming hands, Jamie stands, reaching for her hand.

She places her left one in his, the light catching her new ring, and she smiles broadly.

They make it upstairs where he kisses and caresses the rest of her over and over again, calling her his fiancée all night long.

It makes her giggle, her joy overwhelming as she lets this man love her with everything that he has just as she does to him.

Laying awake that night, admiring the way her ring sparkles in the moonlight streaming through their bedroom window, she contently sighs. She watches Jamie sleep with that little smile curled on his lips, and she leans in gently, pressing a kiss to his chin. "How did I get so lucky?" she asks in an astonished whisper, stroking the underside of his scruffy jaw gently before settling down into the crook of his arm.

Her life may have taken a detour for two decades, and she enjoyed that time as much as possible, especially with Julia, but after everything she's gone through, she's finally with the man she's loved longer than anyone in her life. And deeper than any other man in her life.

After all this time, she's finally where she was always meant to be.

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

END.

There we have it! I hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I enjoyed writing it. I have an idea for an epilogue… possibly... but no planned date of when to post it. I need to find time to write it! Haha

Thanks again for reading and please let me know what you thought! :)