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Claire reached for the glass on her solid oak nightstand for what seemed like the twentieth time that night. Her hands trembled slightly and she took another hearty swig, draining the last dregs of the container. Where was that courage that she had during the spur of the moment?

 

Her door burst open with urgency, causing her heart to nearly leap out of her body entirely. 

 

“Sassenach? Are ye alright? Fergus gave me this.” Jamie extended his hand and proffered the paper she had handled only minutes before. 

 

He knelt near her feet on the floor, eye level with the line of her shoulders. He rubbed his hands soothingly up and down her arms, the soft cotton of her chemise bunching up at the bend of her elbow with his actions. 

 

Claire gripped the curls at the back of his neck and slammed his mouth into hers. It was sloppy, and she had no clue where to put her lips, her teeth, or even her tongue for that matter. A giant swap of saliva between two people. But, it got the job done. At least her first kiss wasn’t horrid for lack of passion. 

 

She slid off of the edge of her bed, the fabric of her chemise desperately clawing the pelt of fur covering it. Her arse was nearly exposed at that point, but she didn’t care in the slightest. As she fell further down into his lap, her thighs wrapped around his hips and pressed into them. 

 

Her tongue swiped against his bottom lip experimentally, and he moaned into her mouth. They were breathless by the time they pulled apart. Claire’s hands shook as she undid the dainty ties of her chemise and rolled the material off her shoulders. Snot ran down her nose and dried tears streaked down her cheeks. She pulled his lips to hers again once they gathered enough air and convulsed with another wave of fear. Her mind and body were at war with each other, playing tug-of-war with her heart. Jamie stopped her hands and pulled them to his chest. 

 

“Claire. Stop lass.” 

 

“Do you-” she sniffled. “Do you not want me?” 

 

“Christ I want ye. I want you so much I can scarcely breathe.”

 

“Then why won’t you lie with me?”  

 

“I will have ye one day, Claire. But it willna be out of fear.” 

 

Her cheeks flushed, and she looked down at the rumpled state of his shirt. A better place than the understanding eyes that bored straight into her soul. To say she was embarrassed was an understatement. 

 

“What’s shaken ye so?” He gathered her close to his heart, swinging her leg back over his front to join the other. 

 

“My mother.” Her lip trembled. “I’m so sorry that I acted in such a manner. That I shamed you.” 

 

I came to yer room if I recall correctly.” His lip curled into a crooked smile. “Unless my sister Jenny was right about the thump on my heid from when I was naught but a bairn.” 

 

“Well I am the one who summoned you here was I not?” 

 

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. I willna be joining yer ladies fer their afternoon gossip. Our secret is safe wi’ me.” He began to rub soothing circles on her back and her muscles acquiesced to his attentions, releasing their tension slowly and surely until she almost hummed with the feeling. “Tell me mo chridhe.

 

“The date is set.” 

 

The muscles of his arms tensed around her for the slightest second before he released the anger and distress for her. They only had strength for one of them to be afraid at a time. He wouldn’t let her see his. 

 

“When?” The word escaped from between his clenched teeth. 

 

“November the First, in the year of our lord fifteen hundred and fifty-seven. They are certain.” 

 

“Weel they dinna ken me.” Jamie’s lip tugged into a lopsided grin. “They dinna ken how Frasers muck up plans verra poorly and verra fast at that.” 

 

Claire managed to breathe out a laugh that was something in between a wheeze and an ungodly chortle. She didn’t know the human body was capable of such sound but the unbelievable man whose arms she was safely tucked into, brought out things from her that she had no idea were possible. She could stay like this forever, and have no wants, spare the steady beat of his heart against her cheek. A tug on her scalp pulled her attention back to his eyes. His fingers expertly wove their way into the mess she called her hair. Each strand was treated as delicately as the last, relaxing practically every nerve attached to her scalp. His eyes never wavered from hers, and his hands never from their task. It almost caused her eyes to roll back into her head from the sheer pleasure of it all. 

 

“Stay with me tonight?”  

 

“But surely someone-”

 

“I trust Mrs. Fitz and Suzette with my life.” 

 

His throat bobbed as he gulped. His mouth hung open, unsure of how to move itself. 

 

“Just to sleep?” She implored, “please?”

 

His eyes crinkled with the force of his smile. He issued a grunt while his body adjusted to the gravity of a new body while he stood. 

 

“Aye.” His eyes twinkled in the dim candlelight. “Ye ken I canna say no to you.” 



***

 

By the time Claire woke up the next morning, the only sign of her nocturnal visitor was the slight depression left on the other side of her mattress. If she could close her eyes, and block out the rest of the world, she would spend the rest of her day conjuring up the feel of his warm chest against her back and the way they turned practically in sync in the middle of the night to where Jamie was stretched out on his back and Claire was strewn over his chest, leg hitched over his stomach. Was this what it felt like, to be with a husband? 

 

No, definitely not. If she married Francis, she was sure the first thing she would accomplish would be yelling at the maids to move her into a seperate bed chamber. 

 

Mrs. Fitz puttered about her room in the morning, filling a bath with warm water and exotic soap traded to the court from merchants in Hindustan. It was said to stop aging at its source, leaving an eternal youthful glow. Claire just cared for the scent, the supposed mystical properties did not tempt her more towards it, but if they proved true, what would be the harm. Claire sunk into the milky water with a contented sigh. Nothing could wipe the grin off her face that morning. Whilst Suzette carefully tended to her curls and pinned them up into a modest shape, her brow quirked questioningly towards Claire’s sudden shift in her demeanor. But Claire’s smug grin hinted enough for both lady’s maids to understand. She would tell them surely in time and with the right amount of coaxing. An inkling of suspicion rose in her mind. Who was it then, that had added wood into the fire last night? That had cleaned up the remnants of her meal and righted the silk ribbons on her vanity while her almost lover was still there? Well either of the two, Suzette or Mrs. Fitz, were very discreet about such matters it seemed. 

 

It was that morning the court received news the Queen would be taking a reprieve from Hampton Court and taking up temporary residence in Oatlands Palace. She had lost her baby, and Claire and many others in the court could feel the heavy sorrow that laid upon Hampton like a deep snowfall. Voices were hushed, heads lowered, and gossip stifled for the time being. The pity was suffocating the Queen, or that is how her subjects interpreted it, so encounters at Hampton diminished and the stuffy bodies filling the halls dwindled. 

 

The melancholy that settled upon court like phlegm blocking airways, paved the way for Claire’s spirits to soar. Lord Randall was one of the many who took short leave from court to return to his ancestral home: Hedingham Castle. Away from Claire. For an undetermined amount of time. Of course, it was only logical for Claire and Jamie to stay at Hampton Court, the travel to both Scotland and France far too perilous and distant to excuse such a short holiday.

 

Indefinite weeks. No Earl. The Gossipers all but vanished. 

 

The best news by far, was that the Queen specifically requested Juliette Beauchamp’s presence during her confinement. Her father accompanied his wife, but Claire complained of stomach gripes the morning they were meant to travel. The poor lass. But her parents acquiesced to the idea of leaving her behind, she was in the capable hands of Suzette and Mrs. Fitz after all. She could not squander this opportunity. 

 

The pesky problem was in that of the person she least expected. Jamie. He avoided her like the plague, well perhaps more like a plague that strikes at night only, exchanging curt pleasantries in the halls when decorum demanded, and placing an overall friendly mask towards her as the day progressed. No mentions of the night they had slept beside each other. Had he forgotten so easily? That surely wouldn’t do,  Claire thought. Yet, no matter the effort on her side to entice him into less than holy acts with her, he resisted and ignored. He was off, probably doing what men do best, shovelling horse shit. Apparently that was far better company than her feminine wiles. That was until she spotted his bright halo of red hair one crisp autumn morning, and forcefully dragged him by the collar to an obscured alcove. 

 

“You have been avoiding me, my lord.” Claire breathed out before practically smashing her lips against his. 

 

Jamie gave in to the sensations, knowing his resistance was strained to practically nothing. Grabbing her hips tightly within his grasp, Claire felt shivers run down her spine and she choked back the noises bubbling up her throat, practically begging to be released. His tongue swiped against her bottom lip, hesitantly awaiting permission and she angled her mouth to accept more of him. Almost grappling with his tongue, she sighed in contentment and he swallowed the small puff of air. 

 

They parted for air, resting their foreheads against one another as they panted, before launching back into their previous activities. Somehow, her skirts shifted during the occurrence so that she could feel the cool breeze of the hall wisp against her calf. She hitched her leg over his hip and groaned when her core brushed against his hardened length through the thin fabric of his codpiece. Following her base needs, she began to slowly slide up and down his body, immensely enjoying the friction she gained from it. 

 

Jamie abruptly pulled away and cleared his throat. It took a moment for their brains to catch up with the current moment, and Claire’s eyes glossed over, only able to clearly see Jamie. Giving her brain a moment to gather itself, Claire tamped down her wild hair and discreetly pulled down her skirts. Jamie raised her chin with his finger and gazed straight into her eyes, unwavering. 

 

“Dinna start what ye canna finish lass.” A satisfied grin stretched askew across his face. 

 

One. Two. Three. Four. Her brain was back into some semblance of order. 

 

“You have been avoiding me, my lord.” 

 

“Aye, ye mentioned such a thing afore ye attacked me with yer wicked tongue.” 

 

“If I recall-”

 

“Twas me who attacked wi’ my tongue first aye.” His eyes glimmered with mirth. “I’m definitely no’ ashamed o’ it.” 

 

“Then why have you refused my constant requests? You know that poor lad Fergus is probably tired of these games.” She smirked and looked up at him, batting her lashes in a poor imitation of her friend Louise. 

 

His playful tone vanished and his lips set into a grim line. “Claire.” 

 

“I thought- do you-?” She paused, gathering her thoughts into some semblance of order. “Do you not feel it too? I can not explain it in such eloquent terms as you perhaps could, but it’s there, and it’s constant. I dream about you, about us, even when night has turned into day, and I must return to the reality of it all. The feeling still lingers. In the morning when I brush through my curls, I imagine it’s your hands.” Bringing up one of his hands, she placed a gentle kiss on his calloused palm, guiding it back to her cheek. 

 

“I love ye, Claire.” A ragged breath left his chest. “I love ye sae much, I canna see any harm tae yer soul, especially if I’m the cause. We canna speak o’ such things, no until we’re wed.”

 

Claire leaned forward, her cheek nestled close to his and whispered into his ear, sending shivers down his spine. “I touch myself at night Jamie, and pretend it’s your hand unravelling me. Do you know that a woman can pleasure herself? Like men do. I know it’s not such common knowledge for… your kind to have possession of, but I thought you should know. You are my inspiration on such matters: always.” Her hand weaved itself into the base of his curls, tugging firmly, and her lips skimmed over the skin of his neck. “If it’s such sin to abuse myself, aren’t I already going to hell? Do you wish to leave me all alone there?” Her pout pushed against his jaw, gliding against the slight stubble.

 

With a sudden jerk, Claire was pushed against the stone wall, and Jamie had his back turned towards her. “Christ.” 

 

A large sigh escaped him, bunching his broad back and deflating it again. He flung his body back around even more abruptly than before, with a determined look in his eyes that bordered on crazed. His sizeable hands rucked through his hair, scattering the shades of red and gold atop his head. 

 

“Ye canna just say such things tae a man lass.” He huffed out another short, unamused laugh. “Aye, I will court ye properly, starting now. I dinna give a shite about that Baron. We can elope, or even handfast. But…”  He rubbed his hands up and down the green fabric covering her upper arms, to reassure both of them through touch. “There are matters I need tae settle in Scotland first. If I wish tae steal ye away properly.” He grinned at that notion. “I need to step down from my position as Scotland’s ambassador here. I never really… wished fer such a title in the first place.” 

 

“Why not just sail elsewhere and tell Britain to go hang? I have family in France, Jamie, we could go right now and never look back.” Her heart fluttered at the idea: freedom and Jamie. 

 

“I wish it were that simple. But, should I leave sae sudden, I fear it shall be taken out on Lallybroch, against my sister. I may be Laird there, but truly it’s she an’ her family who reside there, see to its running.” Jamie reached his hand out towards her cheek and his fingers ghosted her skin from temple to chin. “And my brother? Laird of Beaufort Castle, he’s just returned into the good graces of the Queen Regent. One action from me could have verra serious repercussions towards them all. I have a duty towards my tenants, my family. They shall be yers soon too if ye wish it to be.” 

 

Claire stopped Jamie’s roaming hand and squeezed it in her own. “I should wish very much to call them mine. To call you my husband. I love you Jamie.”

 

She leaned in, tentatively pressing her lips against his. It did not hold the same feral hunger that their earlier kisses did, but it imbued such a tenderness and love that Jamie’s breath was nearly stolen from him. They pulled away and Claire dabbed at her damp cheeks with the back of her hand and a handkerchief materialised in Jamie’s hand. Offering it, he smiled down at her, glistening eyes mirroring hers. 

 

“Usually it’s the lady who gives a gentleman her favour. Not the other way around.” She sniffled and accepted the dark blue cloth, eliciting a hybrid of a laugh and a sob. 

 

“Keep it, the colour suits ye.” 

 

When she finished attending to her blotched and tear streaked face, she tucked the handkerchief into the front of her bodice. Her hand slipped agonisingly slow down her chest, and she gauged his reaction intently as she nestled the fabric between her breasts. He gulped and adjusted himself for probably the twentieth time that day. Poor lad. 

 

“I usually take a stroll through the garden just an hour before noon. No one but my maids accompany me.”

 

“I ken.” 

 

“Been watching me, have you? You are absolutely ridiculous” Claire’s brow lifted but she couldn't keep a serious expression for too long, a smile blooming on her rosy cheeks. “Join me tomorrow.” 

 

It was clear he was straining against the answer he truly wanted. For all the stops she had pulled, she was sure if he wasn’t tempted already, he would never be. Surely he couldn’t put up this act for too long, the stubborn bastard. 

 

“Aye, I’ll be there.”

 

“And every day after it.” 

 

He bowed and kissed the top of her hand. “Whatever the lady desires.” 

 

She laughed at his over-the-top gesture and curtsied in return. “That was a good answer, sire, you are a quick study indeed.” 

 

“I am when it comes to ye, mo nighean donn.” 

 

Before they knew it, they were in the Great Hall just in time to break their fast. 

 

“Tomorrow.” They promised each other with a solemn nod. 

 

***

 

Claire sighed and dramatically tossed the useless piece of gaudy white stone on her vanity. With a huff, she bounced onto her mattress and threw the letter in her hand next to the fire, irked when it instead floated gently down to the floor, away from the clutches of the starving flames. Another reminder of how utterly anal and tediously boring the man was. His death couldn’t come sooner. The sharp letters taunted her even from their resting spot on the soft fur rug near the side of her bed. 

 

Things are much worse than I have feared, my dear. I must put my home to rights before I am to marry you. Accept this gift for the Great Harvest Feast as a poor imitation of my touch, to bring you luck. I hope it soothes you as the thought that the stone I have caressed many times over will cling comfortably atop your bosom soothes me. White like your milky skin. Pure and perfect. Untouched by all else save your betrothed. 

 

Your Husband, 

Earl Oxenford, Lord Francis Randall de Vere.

 

It was her birthday. Not that the man paid any such mind to the date in the grossly possessive sprawl he sent her. She was eight and ten now. The same age as Jamie , she thought with a wry smile. 

 

Every single day the last few months they had spent together in some fashion, but mostly ensconced safely away within the hedge walls of the gardens. She was sure she had bored him to death with details of each plant in the grand gardens of the palace, and she hadn't even gotten through them all yet. Each one looked over and ignored in one stroll was another excuse to go back and fully analyse the particular plant again. With Jamie by her side each time, of course. His reservations about decorum had slowly dissolved during their time together. Maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have a giant stick up his arse about her soul and eternal damnation. 

 

How could he refuse her if she said the only thing she wanted for her name day was him?

 

Besides, her friend Louise had clued her in on some things. Claire was reassured that should anything transpire between her and Jamie, she would be safe. No one fell ill with child when losing their purity; it was a fact apparently all women knew, well except for Claire. Louise practically laughed at her innocence and naiveté when she brought the subject up. When the last barrier broke, resulting in the bloodied sheets everyone was to be prepared for on their wedding night, only then would a man be able to sow his seed and it would bear fruit. But would it really be such a terrible thing, if it did happen?

 

The crash of a silver plate on her cool stone floor sent her heart rocketing to the ceiling and she staggered up from her prone position on the bed in response. She audibly groaned at the sight in front of her. Not that the child in front of her was a poor character she loathed, no not at all, she had just been hoping his lord was standing in front of her instead. Well perhaps the boy was a tad irritating though, but not enough yet that the sight of him made her want to strangle him. His annoyance was endearing in some way. 

 

“You do understand how to knock, don’t you Fergus?” 

 

Oui , but why should I, when it is much quicker not to?” 

 

“Have some decency, child. I could be na-” Nevermind that may be exactly what he wants. “It just isn’t proper for you to rush in here in such a manner. You know Mrs. Fitz uses this room to bathe sometimes.” It wasn’t a complete lie, Mrs. Fitz did bathe Claire , but the boy didn’t need to know that extra bit; let him think the worst and scare him off his behaviour. 

 

The boy took a moment to collect himself, having almost gagged at the thought. Once he was composed, he flourished a bow in Claire’s direction and reached out a small parcel in her direction. 

 

“You are old, milady. Milord says it is so today, and he wishes to commemorate your dying youth with a gift. Treasure the days you have without wrinkles and aching bones, for they are not many.” 

 

Before she could smack his head, Fergus plopped the small wood box on her bed and dipped his body out of the room almost as quickly as he had entered it. 

 

She eyed her vanity. Something had changed. It lacked something. That weasel had taken her necklace from the Earl! Well good for him, it would become him much more than it would her; his complexion was fit for it. 

 

Holding her breath, she slowly opened the lid of the intricately carved wood box, her ears wincing slightly at the creak of its hinges. A leather journal sat comfortably inside, only a few inches smaller than the wood box itself. She felt along the leather spine, her fingers tracing the indentations on the leather, and her eyes scanned over the small forget-me-nots embossed in dark blue and gold leafing. Cracking it open to the first page, tears pricked at the edge of her eyes and her lip wobbled. Through her blurry line of vision, she could just barely make out the words. For your wee herbs, my Sassenach. Tha gaol agam ort, mo chridhe. She didn’t have much Gaidhlig, but these words she knew deep in her heart, he said them to her every day, never missing a single one. The first page was one of her sketches she had given him sewn expertly in with the other blank sheets. It was something she hadn’t thought at the time was all that exciting but he must have, a poor imitation of a fern. It was clear that between the two of them, he was the artist. She hastily flipped through the pages and something slipped out when the book stopped naturally in the middle. A dry, flattened sprig of forget-me-nots wrapped by a lavender ribbon stood out on the brown deerskin blanket covering her bed. 

 

His father had taken up the obscure hobby of bookbinding and encouraged both his sons to try it out with him, Jamie had told her on one of their walks through the garden. He had never practiced his skill since the passing of his father, but right in her hands was the proof of its return. Never had someone created something so thoughtful, so painfully her. She wanted to weep for days on end but that was no way to celebrate her birthday. After all, she would apparently be old, grey, and crippled soon enough. 

 

There was a small note scrawled onto a loose paper at the bottom of the box that she had missed. The sight of his handwriting made her long for the hands that created it, and the mind that had thought out on the words before connecting it down with ink. 

 

I love ye, my own. I am so verra blessed tae be yers, and know that many years will pass fer us, together. It will happen soon, mo graidh, I promise ye that. I rode down tae the market today, it was the only day that it has been fer months now. I'm sorry to be gone. I needed some things fer the Great Harvest Ball the servants put on fer themselves. Murtagh, Fergus, and the lads I’ve kent through them invited me tae join them. I hope ye will accompany me as well. Be warned, Mrs. Fitz and Suzette may have tae butt ye up in some rigging or other, all in the good festive spirit. I will be home tonight, in yer arms as quick as I can. Aye, I will indulge ye in a wee cuddle since it’s yer birthday, but that’s it. I ken how greedy ye are woman. I will come tae yer bed. To sleep that is. Happy birthday my Sassenach, I hope ye can use the wee journal to good use. I can always make ye another if ye wish. I love ye. 

 

Yours, 

Jamie

 

Much to her dismay, Jamie slipped in quietly late in the night and early in the morning, leaving only the lingering feeling of his warm body molded against hers and the faintest whiff of him on her pillow. The feeling was so hazy to her, it almost was a dream in its quality. But he had been there, she was sure of it. It seemed her soul lurched whenever his was near. So it was just to sleep then. That bastard. 

 

A week later, she was not disappointed in the slightest by ‘the rigging’ Suzette and Mrs. Fitz had managed to put together for her, quite the opposite. They were both going as characters from Arthurian legend, but which ones Claire wasn’t quite sure. Arthur and Merlin? Either way, they pulled it off well. She always marveled at their ability to sew fabric together into art; even just mending her everyday clothes must have been tiresome from all her galavanting in the gardens with Jamie. But they never complained. 

 

Claire stood in front of the mirror, smoothing down imaginary bumps on her bodice and smiled. She really did look good. Light, fluffy wings stretched out from her shoulder blades, flowing with her at each movement of her upper body. They had weaved some flowers into her hair and made sure every inch of her white silk gown was perfectly creased. It was perfect. When they had brought up the notion of her dressing as an angel for the night she had almost snorted. Her? A faerie? Every corner she turned she was trying to seduce her Highlander, so perhaps it was a fitting description. Jamie had called her his faerie on more than one occasion. If Jamie thought of her as that, then it must be true. 

 

When she arrived, Murtagh and Fergus were off in the centre of the room, attempting their own rendition of a waltz. Grumbles and swears drifted off from their direction, echoing off of the large empty space between the walls. Intentional or not, Fergus was stomping on Murtagh’s foot at each step. Fergus acquiesced to Suzette’s request with a sigh sometime after Claire had arrived, and now Murtagh and Suzette were sweeping along the magnificent marble floors as a pair. Mrs. Fitz chatted up a rather lanky man with wiry white hair next to the long banquet table shoved off to the side of the room. The smell of cooked venison, mince pies, squash, and cooked apples permeated every inch of air in the room. The events that Claire had attended before with the nobility felt suffocating and stuffy compared to the lively and carefree atmosphere around her. Rhenish, ale, and whisky flowed freely, as did people’s speech as it bubbled around the vast room. It was blissfully free from the intrigue and politics of court; everyone danced and laughed with who they wanted to rather than who they should. For a second she felt relief at the slight reprieve of the Queen’s confinement, but then guilt invaded her mind for the true reason behind it.  

 

At the sight of Jamie she erupted into giggles. They had worn almost the exact same costume. Wings and all. But it looked much more frilly and stood out contrasting his muscular build. A halo weaved through his large mass of red curls, intertwining with a ribbon of gold. 

 

“Would ye mind telling me what’s sae funny lass?” 

 

“I didn’t know you would come as a faerie too.” She swiped the corner of her eye, a remnant of the laughter of before. She couldn’t lie and say she wasn’t amused to see him in a robe either. 

 

“I’m no’ a faerie. I’m the archangel Michael. A brave angel at that lass.” His arms crossed and he pouted. 

 

“I’m sorry to have offended your lordship in such a way. Please accept my sincerest apologies.” Claire’s hand raised above her heart in mock sincerity and she bit her cheek to keep another wave of laughter from surging in her chest. 

 

“Och, ‘tis alright. But I’m afraid my wound would feel better only wi’ a kiss.” He frowned and pulled her chest flush to his. 

 

“Where does it hurt?” 

 

“Here.” Jamie pointed to his lips and deepened his frown. 

 

She rolled her eyes but indulged him nevertheless. He was helpless. But so was she in most matters involving him. Well, all. 

 

“May I have this dance, milady?” He bowed cordially towards her, as if they weren’t moments before pressed so tightly against each other that there was no space between their skin and the fabrics of their costumes. 

 

“You may.” And every other after that. 

 

They danced and danced, with no room for Jesus whatsoever, until they noticed the party had died down considerably. They had imbibed on a completely forgotten amount of drinks, but neither were worse for the wear. Claire could stand up. Well just barely with the help of Jamie who was also stumbling around like a toddler who had forgotten that his arms were attached to his body. 

 

Passing through corridors and open courtyards, they were seemingly lost until they heard a chorus of moans off to the side. Behind a series of wooden screens, a group surrounded a couple so clearly in the throes of passion. Shit. A priest stood watch, making sure the logistics of the act were followed to the letter. Who was it again who had the small wedding ceremony today? Surely it was someone unimportant to have their event eclipsed by a servant’s ball. A Baroness? The grunts and screams echoed all around, heightened by the sound of flesh slapping together. For a moment, Claire imagined it was her there, with Jamie, on display for all to see their love. Between her thighs, it felt warm and the warmth coiled around her belly. She subconsciously reached out for Jamie’s hand and tugged his body closer to hers. One final screech from the man marked the end of the consummation, leaving the woman clearly mortified and unsatisfied as the men congratulated the husband. A life like that certainly wouldn’t do for her. And she was sure if she was punished with life as Francis’s wife, that he would last even shorter than the man her and Jamie had witnessed. 

 

A hearty laugh escaped her and she clamped her hand over her mouth as it also let loose a hiccup. Jamie muffled her giggles with his hand. Feeling bold, she stuck her tongue against his palm. Jamie nearly yelped in surprise, inspiring more laughter to erupt within Claire’s chest. His deep laughter joined in the chorus, nearly drawing the attention of those performing the absurd ceremony before them. They sprinted away, Claire accidentally smacking Jamie more than once during the run to her room. It was the closest to their current position in the palace. 

 

Claire flung her wings across the room and stripped down just to her shift. There was a clear hunger in her eyes, and she wouldn’t stop until Jamie was in front of her, naked.  

 

“Are ye sure? I’m not sure we can stop once we start.”

 

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.” She moved forward and snatched the small halo from atop his head, throwing it carelessly onto the floor. 

 

“I dinna wish ye to regret anything, in the eyes of the Lord.”

 

“Are you not an angel, my lord? How sinful, truly, can such a holy creature be?”

 

Claire traced the outline of his wings and ripped them from his shoulders. “Perhaps ‘tis why I’ve descended, and if I have tae sin just tae employ my time wi’ ye, then I’d gladly not return.” 

 

Shimmying out of the rest of his costume, he stood in his sark in front of him. He reached to pull off that layer too but Claire stopped him with a hesitant touch. 

 

“Keep that on for now.” 

 

She didn’t want to see all of him just yet. It was one thing to feel, and another to see. She didn’t want to clam up from nerves again when she was so close to what she wanted. Pushing her gently down onto the bed, Jamie rolled up along her body, allowing her knees to fall from each other to make room for him. 

 

He was slow and gentle, well as much as he could be in his inebriated state. There were a few embarrassing moments of fumbling that they had both paused to laugh at together but gained their rhythm again mere seconds later. He was absolutely ecstatic to find out her body could waken to his just like his had done before. Learning every single inch of her skin was a gift he would never forget to cherish, especially that wee spot on her belly that made her squirm under his lips. It was more than he could have ever wished for, and he wanted to scream his joy from the roof of the palace, and curl into a small ball tucked around Claire and hide away from the world for the rest of their lives all at once. His heart was plucked from him like a fragile little dandelion, and would be kept safe in Claire’s hands for the remainder of his days, until he too dried up wilted away from his roots. They fell asleep as one, stupidly content in the other’s presence and the high of what they had done still hanging over them. Both of their sleeps were free of dreams that night; they already had fulfilled their dream in each other. 

 

In a moment of blind panic, Jamie had jolted upright in the bed and looked at the small patch of daylight streaming through her window. 

 

“Stay?” Her arm reached around his waist from behind him. 

 

The damage was already done, no point in denying it. Or denying each other. Why not embrace it? There was nothing wrong with loving his own soul. And was it really a destruction of something? They had created something new, something so special between them that Jamie could have swore they were the first ones to invent sex itself. But that was probably just the musings of a newly-deflowered burk of eight and ten. 

 

“Aye, I’ll be wi’ ye always Claire. Sae long as ye wish it.” 

 

He turned around and pulled her head into the concave space on his chest that seemed formed exactly for the sole purpose of cradling her head and pressed a gentle kiss to the crown of her hair. 

 

“There’s the two of us now.”