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Sins of the Flesh

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Oxfordshire, 1642

He could see her lying there in a heap from a mile away, face obscured by fallen leaves.

Claire !”

Frank Randall’s wife was known to wander; he was used to her waltzing in the door after dark with a basket filled to the brim with whatever plant had caught her eye that day. She’d easily lose track of time when on these escapades, and it was not uncommon for her to miss supper altogether and eat after he’d fallen asleep.

When he woke up reaching for her and felt nothing but thin air, that’s when he knew something was terribly wrong.

He rushed to her, calling her name again, in vain.

He knew it before he even touched her. His wife had always had a beautiful, fair complexion, but now, she was translucent.

The color of death.

“Oh, God...God, please…”

He threw himself to his knees, sliding across the dirt for the last several feet.

“Claire, my darling…”

He brushed the leaves off of her skin, and he gasped, nearly recoiling. She was cold as ice.

“Oh, no …”

He picked up her head, cradling her in the crook of his elbow. She had a horrible, garish, bleeding wound on her neck. Her beautiful neck…

“Claire!”

He shook her, stupidly, knowing the truth in his very bones.

The search party caught up to him, and they all paused several feet away, removing their hats and pressing them to their chests. Frank wept over her pathetically, his heart cleaving in two. How could this have happened…? He never should have let her out alone at night, not once! And now she was gone!

“My poor, poor love…”

He rocked her back and forth, pressing his ear to her chest, his body not yet caught up with his mind, trying to hear a heartbeat that he knew was long gone.

And then, a choked gasp filled the air.

Frank whipped his head up. Her eyes were open, as was her mouth, wide open in horrified shock.

“Claire?”

She seemed unable to breath, if the choking sounds still sputtering out of her were any indication.

“Thank God! It’s a miracle! You were dead, not a single sign of life...God is merciful…”

She looked feral, completely wild in a way he’d never seen. She was spirited, his wife, but she’d never looked completely unhinged this way.

“Frank…?”

“Yes, yes I’m here…”

“What’s happened to me…?”

“We just found you here, and you were dead…”

She frantically searched his face with her wide, unblinking eyes.

“But what happened …?”

“I don’t know, my love. Don’t you remember?”

“No...I was picking mushrooms...and then I was here, with you.”

“It’s alright. None of that matters now. You’re back. We need to get you home. You’re cold as ice.”

“Am I…?”

She allowed him to sit her up, slowly. Frank’s breath fogged in front of him in the night chill.

And then he noticed that hers did not.

“Are you breathing, Claire? You must breathe. You’ve been without air for too long.”

“I...thought I was.”

“Come on, now.”

Her face screwed up as if in concentration, her eyes darting between Frank’s clouding breath and the air in front of her. And then her entire demeanor seemed to change, overcome with terror.

“How is it that you’re not breathing, Claire?” Frank’s voice raised with worry.

“I…”

He suddenly, violently grasped her by the shoulders and pressed his ear to her chest again.

There was no heartbeat .

——

Claire’s husband threw her off of him, and she landed back in the dirt with a frightened cry. Frank cried out as well, jumping back as if she’d burned him.

“Demon!”

“What…?”

“You are not my wife!”

“Frank…?”

Claire’s head was swimming as she pushed herself back into a sitting position.

“What is it, My Lord?”

“She is undead!” Frank cried, pointing a trembling finger at her. “She breaths not! Her heart beats not! And yet she lives and speaks!”

“Monster!”

“Satan’s bitch!”

“She must burn!”

“Frank!” Claire cried, her throat burning with tears. “I don’t understand!”

Two of the men from Frank’s search party stormed forward and seized her by the upper arm, and she cried out in fear.

“Frank! Help me!”

But when she looked at Frank, he was holding his rosary in front of him, eyes mad with terror.

“You’re not my wife.”

“Frank!”

Claire began sobbing in earnest, her tugs and jerks useless against the men who dragged her along. She was utterly bewildered, panic hammering through every inch of her.

And yet, her heart was not racing. She did not feel her temples pulsing, nor those fleshy parts in her neck.

Could it be possible that she had no heartbeat…?

But she was alive! She knew she was! She felt more alive than she ever had in her life! She certainly didn’t feel like a demon!

“There has to be some mistake!” she cried desperately as they approached the village. “I must have inhaled fumes from poisonous mushrooms!”

Even she knew how ridiculous that sounded.

White hot horror surged through her as her jailers turned to the center of town, to the pyre.

There had always been suspicions about her. She was a queer woman, even she knew that. The color of her eyes had the most superstitious in the village turning their heads. There was a frightening amount of people who’d have had her burned years ago just for that, and her love of plants and herbal medicine. But she’d managed to avoid it with Frank’s influence. He’d kept her safe.

People roused from their homes, women clutching shawls to them, holding their children back.

“Witch burning! Witch burning!”

No !” Claire shrieked, jerking madly against them. They were going to burn her alive .

A small crowd of people in their nightclothes gathered around the pyre, clutching rosaries, condemning her with harsh, horrid words.

“I knew it! I always knew it!” One particular woman spat, shaking her head.

“Please, this is a mistake! Please!”

Burn her! Burn her!

“Oh, help me! Help me!

She cried out to a little girl peering behind her mother’s legs, and the child screamed, her mother covering her eyes.

“A trial! I demand a trial!”

Her voice was no longer heard over the gathering, very vocal crowd.

With a frightening quickness, she was tied to the pyre, unable to fight it.

“Frank! My darling!”

He was staring at her, still holding his rosary, muttering quietly, likely praying.

“Please, Frank, please...you know me! You’ve protected me from this for years! Because you know my true heart! Don’t let this happen!”

“Deliver us from evil.” Frank crossed himself.

“I’m not evil!”

“You have taken my wife’s body as a vessel. There is only hope now to save her soul.”

No!” Claire shrieked. “What can I do? What can I say to convince you it is me ?”

“Careful, My Lord! Do not allow her to trick you!”

“No,” Frank said tearfully, turning away from her. “I will not.”

“Frank!”

And then there was fire.

The crowd cheered, jeering, some crying out to thank God.

The smoke billowed, but Claire did not cough.

The fire crept up and caught on her dress, and she shrieked. Her skin burned, God how it burned. She was in excruciating pain, more horrible than anything she’d ever experienced in her life. She writhed and screamed and begged for mercy, begged for death.

But it would not come.

“Christ, she’s not burning!”

“Satan is keeping her from catching fire!”

Her dress and undergarments and the rope restraining her had burned to ash, but still she writhed and cried.

“Help me! Please fucking help me!”

And then the crowd was joining in her shrieking. She could not see beyond the flames or through her own blinding pain, but she could swear she heard them cry there were more monsters .

Through her delirium, a pale, horrifyingly beautiful face emerged through the flames, and had she not already been beyond all reason with pain, she’d have screamed. Pale hands reached for her, and before the world went black, she had one thought:

He is not burning either.

And then she fainted dead away into the demon’s arms.

Chapter Text

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Edinburgh, 1850

Jamie rolled his eyes as he left the print shop, trying to drown out Geordie’s droning voice, still audible even after he shut the door. He straightened his cap and adjusted his hand on the leather bag he had strapped over his shoulder. He could have laughed; if his sister knew she’d sent him away from the farm for a printing apprenticeship only to begin distributing seditious pamphlets on the side, she’d smack him silly.

A hundred years had gone by since the rising that his great-grandfather was killed in, and still he wouldn’t rest until the English were out of his country, never to set foot on his land again. He’d be Laird Broch Tuarach if not for the massacre of Culloden. And instead he was working a printing press, miles from home, while his sister and her crippled husband fended for themselves.

The anger in his heart would not soon fade, if ever.

His first stop was the baker, then the bookshop, then the butcher. All loyal readers of anti-English sentiment. He passed the pamphlets over folded in books, hidden under blankets in baskets that he’d ask to be filled with bread or meat. Jamie’s slight of hand had gotten better and better over the years. He made jovial, coded conversation while others went about their day, blissfully unaware.

It all gave him a strange thrill.

The apothecary was next on his list of traitors. He tipped his hat at the smitten lasses that waved at him, winked at wee laddies darting through the streets. He pushed the door open and the bell jingled. There was a woman standing at the counter in a striking, deep emerald green dress, pagoda sleeves revealing black gloves, neckline all the way up to her hairline, where a bonnet began. Hanging off her left wrist was a black parasol, matching her gloves. This woman could not possibly have been native to Edinburgh, or perhaps to Scotland at all. She was speaking quietly to the man behind the counter, a basket in front of her that she intended to have filled. Upon hearing her voice, he was made even more certain that she was an outlander. She spoke like a Sassenach.

“Ah! Mister Fraser!” The man waved jovially. “I’ll be with you shortly. Allow me to fill the lady’s order.” He gave a bow of his head to the woman, and she curtsied softly.

He could see not an inch of her skin, at least not from behind, but there was something elegant in the way she carried herself.

“Thank you, Sir.”

God, her voice was like honey.

Her head turned, and Jamie fought the urge to stare. A black veil was attached to the front of her bonnet, covering her face. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, and was immediately struck by her eyes. They were honey as well, literally, in color. And they seemed to glow, shining through the black lace as if it was not there.

“Mistress.” Jamie bowed deeply, removing his hat. He stared at his feet for several seconds, his heart pounding.

Christ, she was beautiful.

Even through the veil he could tell. She was sculpted like fine china, a delicate brow over those haunting, enchanted eyes, lips full and pink. He peered up hesitantly, and the woman curtsied in return.

“Does something ail you?”

Jamie blinked up at her, still in his ridiculous bow. “Pardon?”

“Are you ill? Or hurt? Or someone you know?”

Jamie stood up, nearly dropping his basket of bread and meat.

“Oh. Oh, aye.” He’d nearly lost his head for a moment, completely forgetting what shop they were in. “My stomach ails me at times.”

“It’s recurring?”

“Um, aye. Sometimes.”

“Have you come for peppermint tea?”

“Ehm...I wasna sure what I’d come for, to be candid.”

“You’ve had no relief from this pain at all?”

“Nah. Come fer it today.”

“I see. Well you should ask for peppermint tea.” She nodded curtly. “If it’s a flatulence issue that could help. But if it’s anything more serious I’d need to examine you.”

Jamie’s throat ran dry, and he felt his eyes bug out of his head. “Pardon me?”

The woman actually laughed, rather giggled at him. An enchanting sound. “Forgive me,” she said, still laughing. “I failed to introduce myself. I am Lady Grey.”

Jamie’s heart sank. She was someone’s Lady , and he had no right for that to disappoint him. He was likely more than far beneath her station at any rate. She seemed far too fine for this tiny shop, for all of Edinburgh.

“James Fraser.” He bowed his head. “Pleasure to meet you, My Lady.”

“The pleasure is mine, Sir. In any case, I’m a healer. I can help you if you need it. Is your pain ever accompanied with fever?”

“Uh, no,” he said quickly. It would soon become very difficult to keep inventing symptoms if she continued this line of questioning.

“Any lumps or swelling in the abdomen?”

“No.”

“Is it sharp or dull?”

“Rather, ehm, dull.”

“Alright. Likely just flatulence, then.”

The shop owner returned then with a small bundle that he placed in the Lady’s basket. She pulled a coin purse from her skirts and paid the man. It was then that it occurred to Jamie that perhaps she was no one’s Lady at all. The black, the gloves, the veil…

“Are ye in mourning, Mistress?”

She dropped the coin in the shop owner’s hand and looked at him sharply.

“If I was?”

“My apologies,” Jamie stammered. “That was beastly rude of me, My Lady. Please forgive me.”

“Why do you want to know, Mister Fraser? What would you say if I told you I was?”

Jamie gulped painfully. “I’d...I’d offer my condolences. Most heartfelt,” he said. “And I’d pray for peace to your weary heart.”

Her face changed imperceptibly, one delicate brow arching. “Anything else?”

He blinked dumbly, his mouth agape before he had the sense to snap it shut. Was she...provoking him? Inviting him?

“I...I’m not sure I understand, My Lady.”

She let out another giggle, this one sounding more like a hum. “Such a funny boy.”

He had no idea why those words felt like a blow to the gut, substantiating the stomach pains he’d just falsified. How old could she have been, smooth as porcelain, to think him none but a silly lad?

And yet, he could not disagree with her. He was acting like an utter moron, had been since he’d laid eyes on her.

It was as if the damnable woman had put a spell on him.

She lifted her basket and turned away from the counter, thanking the shopkeeper. “Remember, peppermint tea.”

“Aye, My Lady. Thank you.”

“Where do you live? I’d like to check on you next week, make sure it’s working. If it doesn’t, you likely have bigger problems.”

“Ehm…”

“Out with it, please, I have other patients.”

“The print shop,” he stammered, almost against his own will.

“Good. Next Tuesday?”

“A-aye, Mistress.”

She brushed past him, and he caught a whiff of something herbal, earthy, floral, and intoxicating as she did.

“And you’ll do well to separate your raw meats and cooked bread,” she said, a hint of scolding in her voice as she eyed his basket with nothing short of disgust. “That may even very well be what has you ill.”

“Aye, Mistress.”

“Good day, Mister Fraser.”

“G’day.”

And with a jingle of a bell and the snap of her black parasol, she was gone.

Jamie blinked in utter bewilderment; he’d never accidentally become somebody’s patient before.

The shopkeeper chuckled, and Jamie snapped out of his reverie, having followed her down the street with his eyes.

“Smitten wi’ the elusive Lady Grey, are ye, laddie?”

Jamie chose not to answer, placing his basket on the counter.

“She’s been here before?”

“Only once, last week,” the shopkeeper explained, taking the basket behind the counter and effortlessly slipping the seditious pamphlet out from under the goods and into the sleeve of his coat. “Seems to me she’s just arrived and will be here at least once a week to replenish supplies for her patients.” He rolled his eyes at the word.

“What? Ye doubt her abilities?”

“She told me she studied healing in the East,” he said. “Sounds like hokum to me.”

Jamie said nothing.

“If yer next question relates to her husband, I canna answer.” The man shrugged. “She was dressed near the same last week. She speaks o’ him as if he lives, but dresses as if he doesna.”

Jamie nodded. “None o’ my business anyway.”

The man snorted. “No, it isna. A farmboy wi’ ink on his face has no business ogling after a gem like that.”

Jamie felt himself flush head to toe, swiping at his face stupidly, not at all sure where said ink was on his face. The man laughed, not cruelly, and leaned over the counter to slap Jamie on the back.

“Dinna fash, laddie. Every man’s got to make a fool of himself to a lass at some point.”

“Aye,” Jamie cleared his throat. “I suppose.”

And yet, that night, Jamie’s dreams were filled with images of honey eyes and a honeyed tongue.

In the shop, he’d seen stray, wild curls poking out of her bonnet, and in his dreams she removed the bonnet, tossing it away so he could at last see her free of the veil, and wild, untamed curls cascaded past her shoulders. He ran his hands through it, and imagined that was what running his fingers through a heavenly cloud would feel like. She unbuttoned the unreasonably high collar next, and her creamy neck exposed itself to him inch by inch. He wanted to touch her, wanted to touch her everywhere , but her eyes kept him locked in place. They were glowing like candles, burning him below the belt. She slowly peeled off her gloves and tossed them over her shoulder.

Just when her gown lowered to show the swell of her beautiful breast, he awoke.

He was covered in a thick sheen of sweat, and he was hard as a rock.

Damn his dreams for giving him enough to rouse him, yet not enough to finish the job.

Or perhaps damn her. It was almost as if she’d entered his mind and forced those visions on him. The spell her eyes cast on him in the dream felt too real to be entirely dreamt.

He abused himself to the thought of her scolding him in the print shop, the thought of tasting her beautiful lips, the thought of seeing beyond the swell of her breasts, seeing beyond the wide skirt she wore. He’d seen women in states of undress before, but never had they roused him as much as the mere thought of Lady Grey as such.

As he spilled his seed onto his own stomach, he felt shame burn him to his very core.

She could still very well be married to a living man.

But had she not tried to provoke him? Get him to say more about her potential widowhood?

Needless to say, Jamie’s stomach was tied in knots over the inevitable arrival of Lady Grey to his home next Tuesday.

Chapter Text

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Jamie jolted with panic at the sound of the bell, indicating the front door was opening yet again. Every time thus far, it had not been his mysterious healing visitor, but she hadn’t specified a time, only the day. She could literally walk in any minute, Jamie covered in ink and sweat from the machinery. Geordie was out on his own errands, thank Christ; Jamie did not think he could bear that particular line of questioning about the larger than life, otherworldly woman who would soon enter the shop.

He’d almost lost hope altogether that she’d show up at all; perhaps he’d imagined her. She was far too perfect and ethereal to have really existed. He kept his back to the balcony, arranging more letters. “Can I help ye?”

“Actually, I’m here to help you.”

He nearly jumped out of his skin, scattering ink-covered letters all over the press and the floor. Her voice had sent a bolt of lightning through him, and he was powerless to stop what his body did as a result.

“Mistress.” He made to wipe his face, then noticed the ink all over them and thought better of it. He whirled around and there she was at the balcony, covered from head to toe, veil and gloves and all. This time, though, she wore a deep purple trimmed with black lace.

“Good afternoon, Sir.”

“Good afternoon.” Jamie bowed deeply. Perhaps she could not see the mess he looked like from up there. “Come down the stairs, around the side.” He gestured with his head. She nodded, and Jamie used the time it took her to get to him to wipe his face with a rag, clean his hands, and remove his apron.

He was fussing with his hair when he turned around and saw her just standing there, staring at him. He hadn’t heard a single footstep, on the stairs or otherwise. He jumped again, and she giggled.

“Sorry. Rather light on my feet.”

“A good skill to have, I suppose.”

She smiled politely. “Quite a few windows in here.”

“Aye, need all the natural light I can get, ye ken.”

“Of course.”

“My, uh, cot in the back is a bit more shaded,” he said. “If the light bothers ye.”

“Yes, it does,” she said quickly. “I’m prone to terrible sick headaches. I’m a bit bothered by them today.”

“I’m sorry,” he stammered. “Come, follow me. I’ll draw the curtains. Is there anything I can get ye?”

He wanted to kick himself in the arse upon realizing how stupid it was for him to offer help to a healer for her own maladies.

“I’ll have one of my teas when I return home. Don’t worry about me.”

They entered the room and Jamie drew the curtains. A few candles along with the fireplace was sufficient enough, and she smiled, sighing in relief.

Jamie’s chest warmed, and the warmth spread from head to toe. He’d pleased her.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“No, I should be thanking you. Coming all this way to see to my well being.”

“It’s my job.” Her eyes widened. “Not that I expect payment. Not at all.”

“Of course ye’ll take payment.”

“No, I will not.”

And Jamie suddenly found himself unable to argue any further.

“Alright. How has your stomach been?”

He watched, completely mesmerized as she slipped her gloves off. Her hands were like white roses. English roses, he supposed.

“Ehm...fine, fine.”

“Do you mean it?” She used those dainty fingers to untie the ribbon to her bonnet, and the lace fell away with it. Jamie’s heart leapt into his throat.

Holy mother of God, she was enchanting.

“Aye,” he stammered. “The, ehm...peppermint tea was quite helpful.”

Not that there was any to be found anywhere in his residence.

“That’s good to know. As long as you’re being truthful.”

“I couldn’t lie to you, Mistress.”

And somehow, he knew that to be the truth.

She smiled, humming thoughtfully. “Well, alright. But just to be sure, I’d like to examine you.”

He felt his knees go weak.

“Don’t tell me you’ve a fear of doctors.”

He was about to stammer an excuse when he could see that she was on the verge of bursting into laughter. She was teasing him.

“Ah, no. No, Mistress.”

“A fear of lady doctors, then?” She arched a brow.

God, was she bold.

“No.” She smirked, daring him to continue. “Though I’ve...I must say, I’ve never met one before.”

“There aren’t too many,” she allowed. “And those that do exist, men would rather keep out of sight.”

“A damn disservice. Pardon my tongue,” he added quickly. “Ye clearly ken what ye’re doing.”

“Indeed I do.” She exhaled sharply, clasping her hands together. “Alright. If you’d lie down on your cot please, take your shirt from your trousers. Just enough to expose the abdomen.”

Jamie thought he might lose his head, but he obeyed, doing exactly as he was told.

“I’m just going to feel around, apply some light pressure. I’m trying to see if there’s any malformations beneath the skin. Is that alright?”

“Uh, aye, whatever ye think is best.”

She nodded. “I’ll warn you, my hands are quite cold. It might be a bit of a shock. I can’t warm them no matter how I try.”

“It’s alright, My Lady. I’m ready.”

Never mind that he was holding up his shirt for a woman to feel his stomach. A beautiful, ethereal woman at that.

Her hands were cold, icy even. But they were so bloody soft, so gentle, applying just enough pressure to perform her task. They were steady, as well, not a single tremor or moment’s hesitance.

As opposed to the rattling of Jamie’s every breath, the sharp intake every time her hands moved and applied new pressure.

He prayed to every saint that she could not tell.

But, given the coy smirk on her beautiful lips, he knew she could.

“You seem to be in perfectly good health, Mister Fraser.” She removed her hands from his abdomen, and it was simultaneously the greatest relief of his life and the most painful parting. “Aside from a bit of jumpiness, of course.”

Jamie felt himself flush from head to toe, and the Lady bit back a smile as she daintily pulled his shirt back down.

“I’m, uh, glad to hear that.” Jamie sat up, unable to meet her eye, stuffing his shirt back into his pants.. “I thank ye fer stopping by to see to it.”

“Of course.” She bowed her head, an effortless and unintentional air of regalness as she did. “It’s not as if you have anyone else looking after you.”

Jamie chortled, mussing his hair. “Ach, Geordie keeps my bed warm. Makes a fine stew.”

She chuckled. “He seems a bit fussy for your taste.”

Jamie finally dared to look her in the face, now wearing his own smirk. “My taste, is it? What d’ye ken about that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

From her tone and the expression on her face, he was certain she should have been blushing. But she remained white as ever, blinking a bit fast.

Jamie’s boldness disappeared, and he waited desperately for her to say something else. Even if it was admonishment beyond any he’d ever seen, he’d have taken it.

“But really,” she finally spoke. “Your family isn’t in Edinburgh, are they?”

“Nah,” Jamie said. “They’re miles away on the farm.”

“You send them money.”

“Aye.”

“Very noble of you.”

“Och.” He waved her off. “It’s no’ like there was any other choice. Surely they’d starve otherwise.”

“You miss them.”

A statement, not a question.

“Aye. Every day.”

Her brow furrowed, creasing in the center, the first imperfection he’d ever seen her wear. “You weren’t serious about Geordie?”

“What?” Jamie nearly choked. “God, no lass. He’s…I’m no’…”

“Point taken.” She rolled her eyes, at what he didn't know. “So you really are all alone.”

He shrugged. “It's no’ so bad.”

“Will you ever go back?”

“Home, ye mean?” She nodded. “Aye, when the British bloody give it back. They’ve been living in those uninhabitable croft communities since I left; it’s why I left. The land barely produces enough to feed them. It’s sinful. We managed to keep Lallybroch in the family fer generations after Culloden, and in the blink of an eye it’s all gone anyway on a bloody English whim.”

She frowned.

“I didna mean to—”

“No, you’re right,” she said. “Bastards, the lot of them.”

He was taken aback, but he nodded. “Aye.”

“I’m even a bit wicked myself,” she said deprecatingly, chuckling to herself.

“No, not you.” It left his mouth before he could think about it. But he meant it with his whole heart.

There was not a single thing she could ever do wrong; he knew it down to his very soul.

She smiled a bit sadly. “You don’t know a thing about me, Mister Fraser.”

“Ye can call me Jamie, if ye dinna think it improper.”

She blinked those leopard eyes at him, and he once again could not read her face. “In that case, I’ll not have you calling me Lady and Mistress.”

“What shall I call ye, then?”

She smiled, genuine and sweet. “Claire.”

Sorcha.

“Lovely.”

She averted her eyes, as if shy.

“I ken one thing about ye now,” he teased. She chuckled through her nose. “Might I ken another?”

She met his eye again, her own dancing with mirth. She flashed her gaze to the empty spot beside him on the bed. “May I?”

He nodded eagerly. “Alright. What brings ye to Scotland, then? It’s plain enough ye werena born here.”

“I wonder what gave it away.” They both chuckled softly. “Well…I’ve lived all over, really. But never in Scotland. That’s really all there is to it.”

“Ye just…wanted to?”

“Well, there's a bit more to it than that, but…put simply, yes.”

“What’s the bit more?”

“Ah-ah.” She put up a finger. “My turn.”

A lopsided grin spread across his face; he was tickled at her turning this into a game. He nodded his agreement.

“What’s your family like?”

“Living or dead?”

Her brow furrowed again, and he sighed. “Apologies, Mistress. Didna mean to upset you.”

“Not at all. Please…I want to know all of them.”

“Well…living, I've a sister, her husband, who’s like a brother to me, and they’ve a wee son, my namesake.” He couldn’t hide his smile at that; the fact would always make him swell with pride. “And they’ve another on the way.”

“Their names?”

“Jenny and Ian.”

“And…dead?”

“Both my parents, fer one. Da more recently. I was but a bairn when Ma left us while  bringing a child into the world. Wee Robert went wi’ her.”

“I’m…so sorry.”

“My brother Willie as well. Smallpox.”

She shook her head. “How horrible.”

“Aye, well…we go on.”

“Yes…we do.” She smoothed her skirt, and he waited for her to go on. “There was a time I’d lost everything I’d ever loved, too.”

Despite his own pain, knowing its depth, having gone through it himself, knowing she'd suffered anything similar cleaved his heart in two anew.

“And now?” he prodded gently.

“I…learned to exist in the bits that were left,” she said carefully.

“Alright, my turn, then. Tell me about your family.”

She hummed a laugh. “Living or dead?” He waited, knowing she’d do the same he did. “My parents died…a very long time ago. As did the man who raised me, my Uncle.”

“And…yer husband?”

She seemed torn. “I…do have a dead husband.”

She’s a widow after all!

Jamie forced his heart to stop soaring and immediately, silently, prayed for forgiveness.

“He broke what was left of my heart.”

“He was unkind to ye?”

She swallowed, her eyes reddening, but no tears coming. “I suppose you could say that.”

“Then he met his judgement.” Jamie nodded firmly. “God saw to it.”

She nodded, but said nothing.

“My turn again,” she whispered after a few moments.

“Aye?”

“Do you…ever get lonely, Jamie?”

He blinked dumbly for a minute, lost in staring at her beautiful lips, then entranced once more by her eyes. Had she gotten closer to him? Or was he going mad?

“Not…painfully so. But, aye. At times.”

She didn’t say anything else, and if Jamie was truly not mad, he could swear she was even closer. She wasn't blinking, and she was barely breathing.

“My turn,” Jamie said in a hoarse, strained whisper.

She nodded. “Go on.”

“Do… you get lonely, Mistress Claire?”

Those worry lines returned, her eyes redder with sadness than ever. “I’ve no reason to,” she said, her voice trembling. “I have not felt that kind of ache in so, so many years…”

Now he was getting closer, his chest tightening, pulse racing. “And now?”

“I ache Jamie,” she moaned, the words sending lightning through Jamie and straight down. “I ache so terribly.”

With a moan of his own, Jamie closed the final gap and captured her lips, silencing the gasp that came through them. She opened her mouth to him immediately with a loud groan, clutching his face almost painfully. He thrust his tongue into her mouth, and she suckled it like she might swallow it. It caught on something sharp, one of her teeth, likely, and he groaned in surprise, but it did not hurt enough to stop him.

But then it was over all too quickly.

He was thrown off the bed with a force he had no idea such a wee thing was capable of.

“Claire—Mistress! I’m so sorry!”

She was covering her mouth, her eyes closed.

“Please, forgive me—I shall never trouble ye again. I’m sorry.”

She did not move.

“Are…are ye alright…?” He got up from his spot on the floor with more difficulty than he’d anticipated; the lass may have bruised his tailbone. “Claire?”

“Get away from me!”

He jumped back in shock. Her soft, honey eyes had tints of copper to them, nearly glowing orange.

“Are ye unwell, lass?”

“Get out!”

He jumped again, nearly knocking over the chair in front of the fire. Her voice was shrill and yet still a growl, a horrifying, gut roiling sound.

“Out! Out! Out!”

Before he could regather his senses, Jamie obeyed without thinking, sprinting for the door and stumbling through the shop until he fell into the street, much to the chagrin of passersby, alarmed at the wide-eyed madman running straight into them. He could not find the breath nor the words to apologize for his behavior. Before he could even process the last two minutes, he heard a horrible noise from within the shop.

It was an otherworldly, hellish shrieking, accompanied by the sound of wood smashing and splitting. Then glass shattered, and the shrieking ceased.

Jamie stood in the doorway of the print shop, panting with terror. Nobody else seemed to have noticed the sounds, all too busy going here and there and making their own noise while doing it. He remained frozen in place, unable to move. There was no way to tell how much time passed before Geordie, apparently returned from his errands, gave him a smack upside the head and told him to stop lollygagging.

Jamie was snapped out of it, muttered something about needing the chamber pot, and then bolted for his room.

He froze again.

The wooden chair by the fire was shattered. Not just a broken leg or two, not even just split in half.

It was shattered to pieces . Perhaps hundreds of them. And his curtains had been torn off the wall. And the window shattered.

And Claire was gone.

Unable to process what he was seeing, his eyes darted about the room, landing on his night table with a start.

Her gloves.

Without thinking, he rushed to them and took them in his hands. Even then, just holding them, he could smell her sweetness, that witching scent of hers.

Like a bloody idiot, he pressed his nose into the silk and inhaled deeply.

Christ Almighty.

He had no earthly idea who…or what Lady Grey was. And terror surged through him like a storm.

And yet, if she came back through his shattered window, copper eyes blazing…he’d take her back in his arms without a second thought.

He was suddenly aware of a dried stickiness at the corner of his mouth, and he touched it curiously. 

Evidently, his tongue had bled inside Lady Grey’s mouth.

Chapter Text

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The front door opened and slammed shut with a force that rattled the entire house. The pieces of John’s chess game literally trembled. Hal cocked a brow at him.

“Only one of us left the house today,” he said, disinterested. “You’d better deal with her before she tears the place down.”

“John!”

It was her distress, so painfully evident in her voice, not his brother’s chiding, that had John springing from his chair.

“Give it to me, now. Get it, now !” John heard Claire ordering someone about as he darted through the hall and into the main entryway.

Oui , Milady…”

“Claire?” His heels clicked rapidly on the marble floors. Just as he arrived, their French servant boy scurried into a little servant’s door.

“John…”

Her eyes were practically afire, her bonnet completely askew, her hair a wild mess.

“What on Earth happened?” He closed the space between them, reaching for her hands, and he gasped. “Your gloves!”

She whimpered in pain as he held her charred hands.

“There was no time to get them…” She was sobbing. “I’d have taken it, unwillingly, I’d have ruined him…”

“Who, Claire?”

“He cut his tongue on my fucking tooth…”

“He...what?” John shook his head, trying to ignore that. “He who, Claire?”

Ma chere!”

The clicking of new heels entered the hall, and Louise glided in toward them.

Mon Dieu ,” she breathed. “She has not been this wild since you first brought her to us.”

“Come on, my love. Let’s sit you down.”

“You’ll have to lock me up!” Claire cried. “I’ll not be able to stop myself!”

“You are talking madness!” Louise shook her head, helping John lead her into the drawing room.

“He’s been driving me mad! Since the second I turned and saw him, and smelled him …”

“Who, Claire? The boy? The printing apprentice?”

She nodded, her pupils dilating frighteningly. “I want him so fucking badly, John. I can’t bear it.”

“Alright, it’s alright.”

“It isn’t! I went absolutely feral! We’ll have to leave again! He’ll send the mob on us!”

One of the hidden panels in the wall opened to reveal their little servant boy holding a wine bottle.

“Here, Milady.” He scrambled to her as they settled on the couch. “I warmed it the best I could.”

“Thank you, Claudel.” John took the bottle. “Fetch Milady’s salve immediately.” Those burns on her hands were scaring him.

Oui , Milord.”

“Here, my dear.” John uncorked the bottle and held his breath for fear of being overcome with his own lust and downing it before Claire got her relief.

Claire clutched it and tipped the bottle back, gulping, whimpering as she did. It would never replace the real thing, the thing she truly craved at the moment, but if her thirst could be sated, it might make some of that mad desperation go away.

“That’s it. You’re alright.”

John was rubbing her back, and Louise was stroking her thumb over her knee.

Claire lowered the bottle, emptied, and allowed her head to fall back on the couch, her eyes closed.

“There you are,” Louise crooned. “You will be fine.”

John moved his hands to Claire’s hair, Louise having discarded Claire’s bonnet. He fervently kissed her temple.

“Talk to me, my darling. What happened?”

“We were just talking...and he kept getting closer...and he’s so bloody beautiful, and so young, and sweet…” Her voice crackled with pain. “He kissed me. I told myself I couldn’t kiss him, but then he kissed me. And the bloody oaf cut his tongue on my fucking tooth …”

“That’s what set you off.”

“This has never happened before.” She opened her eyes, soft and honey once again, picking up her head. “I have never let myself get that close to a human. I’ve never wanted to. I’ve always had all I ever wanted here, with you.” She touched her forehead to his. “I’ve had no reason …”

“Some things cannot be explained away,” John said gently. The hidden door slid open again, and the boy reappeared. “Thank you, Claudel. You’d best go hide away now, Milady is not well.”

Oui , Milord.”

John unscrewed the lid to Claire’s salve and she offered her burned hands. She hissed and winced as he applied the salve, gently and tenderly.

“That bottle wasn’t enough,” Claire said. “I’ve been dreaming about him all week, riding him into oblivion with my teeth in his neck…”

John flashed her a look, pausing his ministrations to her hands.

“That’s why I’ve been...rather rough with you.”

“I understand.”

“All this time...making love to you has been enough. And to you.” Claire turned to Louise.

“And to Isobel?” Louise cocked a brow. “Remember? The three of us?”

“Yes, yes…” Claire swatted at Louise’s shoulder, and her bosom bounced with giggles. “The point is, I...I’ve never felt I needed to...bed my prey.”

“I’ve done it,” John said softly. “Hector let me feed from him while I took him.”

“I remember,” Claire said, shivering at the memory of John’s describing it to her. Hector had been a beautiful time in John’s eternal life. It was the same way Claire had described this Scot; his youth and joyful lifeblood had drawn John to him, and he hadn’t fled upon learning his secret. He’d wanted him so badly, and he’d had him.

He’d agreed to let John turn him, to join the coven, to meet his lover’s wife, to share him with her.

And then he’d been killed.

It had been ruled a suicide, but John knew better.

“He got...what do you say? Cold feet?” The Comte had said cruelly. “He valued his immortal, Christian soul more than an eternity with you.”

He was a horrible creature, that St. Germain. John knew he looked down on him for enjoying the company of men, and yet the bastard got no small pleasure from watching the women together. Hypocrisy at its finest.

“Do you think he could understand?” Louise asked gently. “Like Hector did?”

“I...I don’t know…” Claire sighed. “I don’t want to hurt him. I can’t . I’d rather die.”

“Some of them enjoy it.” Louise shrugged. “He seemed drawn to you enough. He did kiss you.”

“He did,” Claire whispered, almost inaudible, trembling fingers coming to rest on her lips. “He was exquisite.”

She looked at John, suddenly bashful. “I thought for a moment he might be like you. I imagined bringing him to bed with us.” Claire kissed him deeply, swirling their tongues together. “I still think he might be.”

“Indeed?” John’s voice turned husky.

“Can you imagine? That God of a man at your mercy? At our mercy?”

Claire suddenly gasped, digging her nails into John’s face.

“You are still wet from him, ma chere .”

Louise had evidently disappeared beneath Claire’s skirts while she and John were otherwise occupied. Claire kissed him again, sloppier, and she moaned deliciously into his mouth.

“What else did you imagine?” John growled.

“I imagined watching you take him,” she gasped. “Biting his shoulder.”

John groaned, undoing his belt and freeing his throbbing cock. He moaned in relief as his wife, his eternal life partner, took hold of him and stroked.

“I want to cut his tongue again and make him trail it all over me.”

“You’d...be delicious that way,” John panted as Claire’s hand sped.

Louise …” Claire choked, and then she was falling, and it was enough to make John find his own release, and they cried out into each other’s mouths, delirious with pleasure.

After several seconds, Louise crawled back onto the couch, licking Claire’s neck. “If you want to know what I think,” John pulled his wife into his lap, even as she craned her neck to swirl her tongue with Louise’s, “I think this boy is worth...exploring.” She nipped at Claire’s bottom lip, eliciting a whimper.

“But that’s my opinion.”

And then the little temptress slithered away, out into the hall, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

Claire pressed her forehead to John’s again, and he cradled her close.

“I think he’s a virgin,” Claire said, smiling fondly.

“What makes you think that?”

“I can smell it on him.”

“Ah.”

She smiled wickedly, and yet warmly. “I want to be his first one. I don’t know why. I want to give that to him. I want to give him everything.” John tucked a curl behind her ear. “I want to be his only one. I want us to be his only ones. I want to share him with you, but I want him to be ours . Only ours.”

John kissed her deeply again, already hardening once more. “My beautiful, perfect love…” She pressed him into the couch and straddled him, tearing open the front of her gown and corset without a second thought. John took purchase in her beautiful breasts, lapping at each of them in turn, delighting in her beautiful symphony that he brought out of her.

“Tell me more about what he tasted like.”

She did, until they’d torn each others’ clothes to shreds and reached a magnificent, loud climax together.

Chapter Text

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John lay awake, listening to his wife’s even breathing, her soft sighs and funny noises in the back of her throat. Sleep was not a necessity for their kind; neither was breathing. But from the time she’d come to them, wild and untamable, an adult newborn, it was something that comforted her. She’d managed to retrain her undead form to draw breath, enough to lull her into sleep. She didn’t always do it; sometimes she stayed up to tend to her garden in the safety of the darkness. But John knew it helped her feel more normal than she’d ever actually be again, and his presence in this activity added to that normalcy.

He couldn’t figure it out himself, how to force himself into a state he no longer needed to survive, something his body did not naturally find anymore. But he was more than willing to lie in a comfortable bed with her while she did it, hold her, feel her, smell her for hours on end. That was his meditation, he supposed, as sleep was for Claire. Many of the things she’d managed to find a way to do eluded him; but that was just Claire, he supposed.

The breathing stopped, and had he not been undead himself for hundreds of years, it might have given him something resembling a heart attack. But he knew that it just meant that she was awake again. If he wasn’t sure enough, the arm that had been lazily draped over his bare torso tightened like a snake, and she hummed, buzzing against the hollow of his chest. He tenderly stroked her hair, and she kissed the skin she lay on.

“Good morning, my darling.”

“Good morning, my dear.”

He quickly lit the lamp on their night table; she’d expressed to him centuries ago that the thing she missed most was the sun gently waking her up in the morning. She did not like the dark, and yet in the dark she must live for eternity. He strove to make their home as bright as possible despite the curtains being tightly drawn at all times.

“John?”

“Hm?”

She was lazily tracing patterns on his chest and torso with her soft fingertips, and he returned the favor on the bare expanse of her smooth back.

“I had an idea.”

“Indeed?”

“It’s for the boy.” Her voice was scarcely above a whisper. “Jamie.”

“That right?”

It had been three days since her violent return from the young printing apprentice, since she’d confessed bloodlust the likes of which John did not think her capable. She had not spoken of him since then. John knew she’d had to have been thinking of the boy, at least, perhaps driving her mad every second. She likely feared that by voicing those thoughts out loud, she’d have set herself off again. But she was calm now, serene, even.

“With our combined political influences I think we can make it happen for him.”

She did not mean his and hers, of course; she alone had little sway on such matters, but John, Hal, the Comte, insufferable though he may be, even Louise...they’d managed a few things here or there over the last centuries.

“It will make him so happy.”

He heard the smile in her voice before he flicked his eyes down to her glorious face and saw it, squished against his chest though it was.

“And will it make you happy if he is happy?”

“Yes. So very much.”

He caressed down her jaw until he was cupping her chin, lifting her face to his. She obliged him, leaning up on his chest so their faces were inches apart.

“Then it is done.”

He kissed her sweetly.

“Whatever it is, it is done.”

——

Jamie heard nothing but Geordie’s droning complaining; he hadn’t stopped since the shattering of the window. Jamie had hidden a few of his valuables and his money, claiming to have had the room broken into rather than shattered by a vicious madwoman.

Christ, it felt almost sinful to refer to her as such.

Yet he hadn’t managed to come up with a better term. There was no earthly or kind way to describe what had occurred in that room. He’d disposed of the shattered pieces of his chair, using the larger pieces for kindling.

Geordie was muttering about the cost of glass these days, and Jamie wanted to punch the wee fool between the eyes.

Jamie’s initial instinct had been to blame the incident on himself, then he wouldn’t have to hear the man, because the cost of the repairs could come out of his pay, and after all, the Lady was only there on his behalf…

But then he could not come up with a reasonable explanation for accidentally shattering an entire window on his own. So he’d swept the glass on the inside and claimed burglary.

In a way...he really had been robbed.

The elusive, mad (if that’s what she was) Lady Grey had stolen his heart, mind, and soul.

She’d been in his every dream since her whirlwind departure, all of them terribly sinful, painfully exquisite.

He could still taste her, even when wide awake.

And yet he knew she wouldn’t come back.

He’d let a stranger rob him completely of his senses, and he’d never see her again.

Perhaps he’d imagined her after all. Perhaps she was a Kelpie driven to madness in his own room, and she had a soul after all, begging him to leave her before she could carry out her intended harm of him.

Better she be gone, then.

And yet…

He shook his head, and actually started deliberately focusing on Geordie’s grating tones. That was certainly one way to get one’s mind off a pretty lass.

And then the bell rang.

Like a true, bonafide idiot, Jamie’s heart leapt out of his chest. Something innate and primal in him screamed that she’d returned to him.

“Jamie!” Geordie called. “Someone is here for ye!”

It was far too late for a usual customer; the sun had already gone down, and Jamie had been huddling in his bedroom by the fire, the room being unusually cold given the gaping hole in the wall.

Geordie’s words propelled him further, convincing him all the more that she had arrived.

And, God, what would he even do if she had?

Before he could even begin to ponder that impossible question, he was met with the figure of a slender man. Despite Jamie being a full head taller than him, there was something formidable about him. He had his chin held high, perhaps compensating for the height difference. The man was certainly not all that small; he was still taller than Geordie. Jamie was just a rather large man.

“Good evening, Sir.”

Christ, would there be no end of Sassenachs seeking him out?

“D’ye ken the man, laddie?”

Jamie flicked his eyes from the man, to Geordie, then back to the man, and something flickered in his oddly vibrant eyes.

“Aye. We’re fine here, Geordie, ye can go home.”

What in the bloody hell?

Jamie most certainly did not know this man; he did not at all. Why had he just said that?

It had been the same with Claire! He’d said the most foolish, clotheid things almost entirely against his will!

“Alright. I’ll lock up behind me. Try not to have anything destroyed while I’m gone.”

The man had been making the same snide remark every bloody day since the incident.

He was gone, and the strange man smiled warmly.

“I apologize,” Jamie stammered. “I dinna ken what compelled me to say I knew ye. I dinna ken ye. Do I?”

“No, I shouldn’t think so.” He removed his tophat and bowed lowly, and Jamie was struck. No highborn Englishman had ever bowed to him. Not once. “I’m Lord John Grey.”

Jamie immediately mirrored the bow. “At your service, My Lord.”

Wait...Grey…?

“I shouldn’t think you know me, but I believe you know Lady Grey.”

“Lady...Grey?” Jamie stood up again, his throat running dry, his hands getting clammy.

She must have been his sister! Using her maiden name!

“Yes, Claire. My wife.”

Oh, Blessed Michael defend us.

“Uh, aye,” Jamie stammered. “She came by to see to my ails.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” He smiled warmly again. “She has a big heart, my wife. And vast knowledge and skill.”

“Aye. She healed me quite well.”

Even though there’d been nothing wrong to begin with.

And, if anything, she’d driven him to a spinning head and neverending madness rather than curing him of anything.

“Of course she did.”

Lord Grey was painfully proud of this fact, proud of his wife. The very idea had Jamie burning with shame and envy. And then with more shame for the envy.

“I understand you had a rather...stressful parting?”

“Ehm…” Jamie wanted to melt into the floorboards. Christ, the man was here to kill him! His wife had told him everything, and he was here to cut his throat!

“She told me she went rather wild.”

“She...well…”

“You can say it, Mister Fraser. I know my wife. I know what she’s capable of.”

“Well...ehm...aye…”

“I understand there was a broken chair? And a window?”

“Aye...but it’s...it’s no bother. The chair was near to collapsing anyway. And the window...uh…”

Jamie trailed off upon hearing the man’s soft chuckles. His cheeks dimpled as he laughed, his grey-blue eyes twinkling.

“Is that so?”

“Aye.”

“Well…” His laughter subsided with a sigh. “May I?”

He gestured to one of Jamie’s stools beside the press, and Jamie nodded, leaning himself against the machine, folding his hands in front of him bashfully.

“Well,” he went on, “I wish to fervently apologize for her behavior. She does as well.”

“It’s...no bother.”

“But it is. She damaged your property, and she is most apologetic. She was rather distraught, actually.”

Jamie’s heart twisted at the thought. “She needn’t have been.”

“She’s unwell, you see.”

His heart twisted again, panic blinding him for a moment. “Unwell…?”

“Yes; she has fits that are rather uncontrollable. Her mind is a bit tormented.”

Jamie nodded sadly. “I see.”

“This certainly does not make right what has happened, and we’d like to pay for the damages.”

“No, no, really,” Jamie said quickly. “I’ve already told the printer it was a robber.”

“Well then, for the grief it has caused you,” Lord Grey said knowingly, arching a brow, indicating that he heard some of Geordie’s more passionate bellyaching, “accept the money for yourself.”

“I...couldn’t, My Lord. Truly, I couldn’t.”

The last thing he needed, the last thing his family needed, was for him to be indebted to an English Lord, beautiful wife or no.

“You’re quite sure?”

“Aye, please, I dinna want it.”

“I won’t force you, then.”

Jamie sighed in relief.

The man paused a moment, as if wondering how to proceed. Jamie wanted him gone so that he could properly vomit in panic like he needed to.

“My wife told me your family land was taken from you. By the Crown.”

“Aye…” Jamie said carefully. “That is so. But we arena the only ones.”

However sympathetic Claire had been, there was no guarantee at all that her husband shared these sympathies, and so he treaded lightly, speaking of it as if it were natural and acceptable for entire families to be forced from their homes.

“Right.” The man’s lips pursed for a moment. “A damned shame if you ask me.”

Jamie blinked. Could it be he sympathized as well…?

Was this all some elaborate ruse? A test of Jamie’s faith to the cause, or a test of his loyalty to the Crown? Were these Grey’s his allies, sent by someone much higher up than he? Or were they his enemy, sent to weed out anti-English sentiment?

“Well,” the man said lightly, reaching into his back pocket and holding out an envelope. “It is yours once more.”

Jamie just sat there for a moment, not registering any of it. “What is?”

The man chuckled again, sending Jamie’s head spinning. “Take this, my boy. See for yourself.”

Jamie took the extended envelope in his hands with trepidation. He opened it and unfolded the paper within, and his jaw dropped.

The deed. The deed to Lallybroch. A blank space everywhere his name should be.

“It is yours once more should you choose to sign.”

Jamie’s eyes raked over the page over and over, utterly stunned. “I dinna understand.”

“It was Claire’s idea. She told me you missed your family very much, and that you told her the only way you could be with them again would be for your family land to be returned to you. So there it is.”

“I...don’t understand…”

“It’s a binding document, Mister Fraser. Real, legal. I cannot guarantee the home or the land will be in the exact condition that you left it in, but it is yours again.”

“Mine…?” Jamie’s voice rose in pitch, his head swimming.

Had he not just told himself he could not be indebted to the English?

But, Christ! It was Lallybroch! It was home! It was his family! It was a new legacy!

“If you want it.”

“If…?”

If he wanted it! He’d only dreamt of such a fantasy for years!

“Let me be clear, Mister Fraser. Though my wife is more than sorry for her...strange behavior, this has not been done to buy your silence. She desperately wanted to do this for you, for your family. Your happiness means a great deal to her.”

“It…” Jamie’s head swam. “It does…?”

“A great deal, indeed.”

“My Lord...thank you...I…” Jamie found himself at a loss for words, choking up. “Ye dinna understand what this means for my family…”

“No, I couldn’t possibly understand what you’ve been through. But it brings me joy to alleviate that suffering in this small way.”

“Not small at all, My Lord.” Jamie quickly wiped his eyes.

Your happiness means a great deal to her.

“I...My Lord, I…” Jamie cleared his throat. “I feel I would be remiss to not tell ye the truth of what passed between yer wife and I.”

“In that case, I would be remiss to not tell you that I’m already well aware.”

Jamie’s eyes bugged out of his head, and he choked on his next words to the point of sending him into a coughing fit.

“Do you need a glass of water, Mister Fraser?”

Jamie shook his head, still coughing, struggling to regain his senses. Lord Grey waited quite patiently, hands folded neatly in his lap.

“My Lord...I beg yer forgiveness...and I beg mercy fer your Lady...it was all my doing, ye ken...she’d never…” Never mind that said Lady declined to answer the question of her marital status.

“She told me the exact order of events, yes.”

“Then...I…” Jamie shook his head, trying to clear it. “ Why are ye being so kind to me? Ye could have me killed fer laying hands on yer wife, my being a Scottish bastard and her being so high born. And you being so…” Jamie waved his hands in a ridiculous gesture.

“I suppose I could.”

“Then why ? Why do this for my family? I’ve...made a cuckold of ye, My Lord. Ye should hate me.”

The man bloody smiled . A charming smile, to be sure, almost demure, like how Claire had smiled at him.

“You see, Mister Fraser, there is nothing more important to me than my wife’s happiness. Nothing in the world.” His eyes were warm, his pupils dilated, his tone fervent and reverent. Jamie knew this man meant every word he said with all his heart. “I have known her...for a very, very long time. She had another husband before me.”

I...do have a dead husband.

“Aye...she mentioned.”

“She was...shattered when I met her.” His face darkened, his irises swimming in turmoil, almost otherworldly. “Though I admit I had a hand in bringing her joy again, she was the one who picked herself up and put her own pieces back together. And I swore, from the moment I knew she’d be my wife, that I would do anything to keep her from shattering like that again.” Jamie felt a chill down his spine. He’d, insanely, sworn something quite similar almost the moment he’d laid eyes on Claire.

“So, you see, Mister Fraser, I’d do anything to make her happy. I’d... allow almost anything to make her happy.” He gave Jamie a pointed look, and Jamie swallowed against a bone dry throat, almost making him cough again.

“And she’d do the same for me. Has, in fact.”

Jamie blinked several times.

“So, if your happiness is my wife’s happiness, then I suppose your happiness is also my happiness.”

“I...dinna ken what to say, My Lord.”

“You need not say anything at all. I pray you’ll accept our gift to you and your family, with no conditions. And I pray your mind be at ease.”

“I...thank ye, My Lord...I...thank you.”

Lord Grey stood, clasping his hands behind his back, smiling warmly. “My pleasure, Mister Fraser.”

“How can I ever repay ye?”

“By being happy, my dear boy.”

Jamie felt his chest warm in a familiar way, and his mind swam with confusion.

“Yer...wife,” he stammered, against his own will again, blurting out words even as he willed them away. “Could I thank her as well? I’ve more than enough paper and ink to write her a letter of heartfelt

“You’ve also more than enough words in your vocabulary.”

“Beg pardon?”

“You can thank her in person, my boy. Come to our home for dinner. We have an excellent cook.”

Jamie just about lost his head thinking of a fine, home-cooked meal, something he hadn’t had since his boyhood.

“I...I couldna do that.”

“Of course you could. The house is not too difficult to find. And eating should be easy enough.”

“But...to impose on yer charity again after this…”

“Not at all an imposition. It would bring my wife great joy to see you again, to see how happy her gift has made you.”

Jamie’s stomach flipped at the thought of bringing that beautiful creature joy.

Christ! She was the man’s wife !

“I couldna be in yer home after I’ve disrespected ye so by...coveting yer wife. It burns me to the core wi’ shame.”

“It needn’t.”

Jamie blinked dumbly at the man. He seemed almost amused.

“Did you hear me properly? Just three minutes ago?”

Jamie just blinked again, his mouth agape.

“Thursday at seven, then?”

“What...My Lord?”

“For dinner, you silly boy.”

Christ...why did he talk to him the same way Claire had…?

“But, I…”

“Yes, Mister Fraser?”

“I’ve nothing fitting fer dinner at a Lord’s house. Most I own is covered in ink and muck.”

“Ah. I hadn’t considered that. Not to worry. Everything will be arranged by Thursday.”

“Arranged…?”

“Good day, Sir. It was a great pleasure to meet you, after my wife’s glowing description.”

Jamie accepted the incoming handshake like a programmed automaton.

“The, ehm...pleasure is mine.”

“I will see you on Thursday.”

“Aye,” he stammered, without even knowing he was speaking until after the word left his mouth.

“I eagerly await.” Lord Grey finally released his hand, and he turned to the door. “As will my wife.”

And then he was gone.

Jamie remained standing in the center of the room, positively gobsmacked. He felt as if he’d had his head removed, rattled around, and replaced just incorrectly enough to feel a difference, but not enough to justify asking for help.

“What the absolute bloody hell have I gotten myself into?”

——

Claire was working by candlelight and by the light of the glowing full moon in her greenhouse. They had, of course, only just arrived in Edinburgh, so the room was not overflowing with foliage as it had been in their previous home, or the one before that, or the one before that. But they’d moved over what they could, and all of her little darlings were adjusting quite nicely. She eagerly looked forward to filling it all the more, cultivating it with her hands.

Said hands were stained with dirt, and she feebly dusted them on her apron once more before returning to crushing her herbs with the mortar and pestle. Her hands were still tender from the burns, so she went slowly and carefully, though it frustrated her. The salve was working as fast as it could, but, unfortunately, burns from the sun were the one thing that did not instantly heal on her undead body.

She smiled quietly to herself, not for the first time that night since John had left. She imagined the dear boy’s face as he received the news that he was to be Laird again, that he was to be reunited with his family. She longed to see it, to capture it in her memory forever. She remembered things with terribly vivid clarity.

It was why she was so often seized with terror of burning alive, though the incident was two centuries ago now.

But to remember him ...it could be nothing short of wonderful.

And she would. God, she would.

She just envied that her husband would remember him in a different, slightly more wonderful way than she.

And she envied that he was seeing him off, in a way.

It was for the best. She’d been tempted far too many times to leap from her window in her nightgown and come to him at night, to devour him in more ways than one.

The most frightening part was that she truly thought he’d agree to it. Sweet, innocent, eager-to-please lad that he was, he’d do anything she said, compelled by her otherworldly will or not. She’d never compel someone for that anyway. She was no monster.

Well...she was. A monster resisting a painful temptation.

But he’d be gone soon. Gone, and safe.

And for some reason, she’d feel that ache for the rest of her immortal life, she thought.

Satisfied with her work, she dumped the contents of the mortar into a jar and sealed it up. She gingerly touched the plants hanging above her head, checking their state of dryness, one by one. Just as she found one dried to her satisfaction, ready for crushing and jarring, her keen ears picked up the sound of someone clomping through the house, slamming doors open and not bothering to shut them.

Whoever it was sounded just as she had five days ago.

Before she could even think of the implications of this, the man in question was barreling into the greenhouse, and Claire’s body thrummed with heat lightning.

His eyes were ablaze.

Before Claire could blink, John was kissing her like a madman, pinning her into the table, lapping at the fleshy walls of her mouth. She moaned gratefully, feeling his rock hardness on her hip, wanting to laugh.

She knew quite well where this was coming from.

“He’s a God , Claire…”

“I know…”

They panted between fevered kisses, pawing at each other, hastily unbuckling belts and unbuttoning trousers and lifting layers of skirts.

“I want to rip him apart and yet hold him to my breast and keep him safe.”

“I know…”

He gripped her painfully by the shoulders and whirled her around, violently kissing the back of her neck, biting and suckling.

“You’re right, he’s a virgin. I could smell it.”

“Delicious…”

God yes…”

He shoved her shoulders down and pierced her deeply, and she cried out harshly, gripping the opposite end of the table.

“How did you control yourself when he bled…” He ploughed her mercilessly, and she moaned, unrestrained.

“By the grace of God…” she whimpered.

“I haven’t wanted anyone that badly since I saw Hector...and before that only you…”

She cried out gutturally as he doubled his speed. She was overwhelmed, nearly in pain, but God she loved it.

As expected, John collapsed on her in mere seconds, shooting inside her, panting into her hair. It was too quick for her to have found her own release, but he’d see to that soon enough. John peppered kisses into her hair, moved it aside to kiss the back of her neck, still inside her, softening.

“There’s something...inevitable about him,” he whispered reverently. “There isn’t an option. We must have him.”

“Thank God he’ll be far from us soon,” Claire panted. “Knowing he’s a short ride away has been driving me beyond mad. He’ll be safe. From both of us.”

John stiffened above her.

“What?”

He let himself slip out of her, and Claire whimpered, feeling stickiness on her thighs, wishing he would lap it up and finish her off.

“John?”

She craned her neck. He looked paler than he should, which was saying something. She straightened up off the table, fully turning to face him.

“John!”

“I...he’s coming for dinner. Thursday at seven.”

“He is what ?”

“Coming for dinner. Thursday at

“I fucking heard you, John!” All lust and need vanished as her eyes turned copper-red, pupils shrinking. She growled, baring her animal teeth at him: “What did you do ?”

Chapter Text

The carriage Jamie sat in rolled to a stop in front of what was simply the largest house Jamie had ever seen. He’d always considered Lallybroch to be a castle, though a modest one at that. Comparatively, his childhood home was a cottage. He counted three stories, and about twenty windows across, making for an enormous width. It looked like one of those mansions built in the post-Jacobite era by a wealthy English patrol soldier and his family. Rich people, especially rich English people, were well known for building such extravagance, only to inhabit it for less than ten years, or sometimes even less than five. So the Greys had likely sent their help ahead of time to clean and set up the ordered furniture and just moved right in.

The footman opened Jamie’s door, and he couldn’t help but feel immense discomfort. He and this man were truly the same status; he did not feel right being waited on by his equal. He wished he had the funds to generously tip the man. But he had nothing. Even the clothes on his back did not belong to him. Lord John had sent him a perfectly tailored suit, black coattails, trousers, boots, waistcoat, and a white shirt front and cravat. His Sunday best at Lallybroch was never so fine. He felt absurd and wrong, wearing clothing that was worth more than the food his family was likely eating in a week.

Not anymore, man, not for long anyway. They’ll be home soon.

Money would still be scarce, of course. But now they could take families with them from the croft communities to be tenants, help recultivate the land.

His stomach flipped.

The woman responsible was up the footpath and the porch steps, waiting for his gratitude.

By God, she would have it.

He propelled himself forward and the carriage rolled away. He hadn’t expected one to be sent for him. He’d been prepared to borrow a horse and pray he didn’t dirty his suit on the ride, and his pathetic attempt to tame his curls was not disturbed. He should have realized how foolish that notion was.

The house got ever bigger as he got closer, and he couldn’t help but feel a sense of foreboding. The sun was almost fully set behind an overcast sky, creating a grey film over everything. To his surprise, the large double doors opened before he even put his foot down on the first porch step.

“Welcome to Windborough Manor, Milord.”

A small lad of around twelve stood over the threshold, bowing. His words were thickly accented, sounding French.

“Why, uh, thank you. Sir.”

Jamie stepped inside and the lad shut the doors behind him, much to Jamie’s shock. A single door seemed to be about triple the boy’s weight.

“Your hosts are in the drawing room, Milord. How shall I announce you?”

Jamie blinked a few times. “Aye. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”

He expected the boy to ask him to repeat himself, but he simply nodded. “Follow me, Milord.”

He did, taking in the entrance hall for the first time. The staircase was wide and sweeping, a chandelier hanging above the two story entryway. Both of their heels clicked and echoed on the marble floor. There was a bouquet of blood red roses atop an elegant accent table in the center, where the marble pattern on the floor came to a definitive circle pattern. It was a level of absurd extravagance Jamie had never been privy to, and he awed to think what the rest of the house looked like.

The drawing room was around and to the left of the staircase, and before the lad opened the doors, Jamie peered down the hallway that disappeared further to the left, just around the corner from the drawing room.

The doors opened, and Jamie’s eye immediately went to a flutter of skirts. Claire, standing up from her seat.

“James Alexander Malcolm Makenzie Fraser!”

The lad darted away, and Jamie was left standing in the doorway. He cleared his throat and bowed low.

“Good evening.”

“Mister Fraser.” A familiar voice had Jamie looking up from his bow, and he straightened. Lord John. “Wonderful to see you again. Welcome, welcome.”

He could not help but notice the other people in the room, several of them in fact. He wasn’t aware that any others were invited to this dinner. Unless they lived here?

“My Lord.” Jamie bowed his head. “My Lady.” He locked eyes with Claire, and she held his gaze, curtsying. He was completely entranced by her. She wore no veil, no bonnet, no gloves. Her evening gown was cream silk, and she clasped a green fan in her lily white hands. The cream brought out the amber in her eyes, and a green ribbon wove through the complex knot of curls around her head.

“Mister Fraser.”

He did not take his eyes off of her until someone on the other side of the room cleared his throat.

“Ah,” John cut in, and Jamie snapped his eyes away from her. “Allow me to introduce the rest of our family.”

Jamie turned, taking in a foreboding man with cruel looking eyes, hair harshly and dramatically slicked back.

“The Comte St. Germain, Robert François Quesnay.”

The Comte barely nodded his head in Jamie’s direction despite Jamie’s bow.

“My brother, Lord Melton, Harold Grey.”

“Good evening, Mister Fraser,” Lord Melton said with what Jamie could only describe as warm indifference. He seemed kind, but his eyes were deeply sad. “This is Lady Geneva Dunsany.” He gestured to the woman to his right, between himself and the Comte, and she curtsied, something glinting in her cold grey eyes.

“A pleasure, Mister Fraser.”

Her voice sent a chill down his spine, and not a pleasant one.

“My sister, Lady Isobel Dunsany.” Lady Geneva gestured to the bony, doe-eyed creature on the sofa in front of her, and Lady Isobel smiled behind her fan.

“Thank you for coming, good sir.”

In sharp contrast to her sister, Lady Isobel seemed sweet, far too sweet to be safe in this world.

“This is Mary Hawkins,” Isobel went on, gently touching the shoulder of the mousy, terrified looking creature next to her on the sofa.

“H-hello. Sir.” She stuttered and trembled as if she struggled to get the words out, and Jamie immediately pitied her.

“She was sent to us by her father,” Isobel explained. “I am her caretaker.”

“I’m charmed to meet ye all.” Jamie got the strong impression that Mary wanted to shrivel up and die.

“This is Madame Louise de La Tour,” Claire cut in, gesturing to the woman she’d been sitting next to on the opposite sofa before Jamie had appeared.

“Widowed,” Madame de La Tour explained. “And seeking refuge with family friends.”

“Geillis Duncan. Sir.”

Jamie’s eyes immediately widened at the sound of Mistress Duncan’s Scottish Burr. Her hair was a bright strawberry blonde, and her eyes were green like a snake’s. She did indeed look like she could snap out and bite at any time, and yet the control she held herself with was frightening in and of itself.

“Lovely to meet a fellow Scot,” she continued, winking.

“Aye, I quite agree.”

“Wonderful. Now that we’re all quite acquainted…to the dining room. Dinner is just about done.” John gracefully took his wife’s hand, leading the way out of the drawing room. Lord Melton escorted Lady Isobel, Mary Hawkins skittering close behind, and before Jamie could blink, there was an ice cold presence at his side. Lady Geneva was holding her arm out to him, and he gulped, seeing no other option but to take it. She was wearing a deep sapphire blue gown, but the color was dull when compared to her eyes. They were almost animalistic, like Claire’s sometimes were. And her skin was frigid , like Claire’s.

“Is our home not beautiful?” Lady Geneva said.

“Oh, it is. I’m…quite impressed.”

“I should like to show you more of it, Sir. I’m sure you’d find it quite to your liking.”

“I’d…aye, that would be lovely.”

She forced a girlish giggle that did not at all suit her. Something about her manner and boldness had Jamie thinking she was much older than she’d have him believe.

They were quickly, thankfully, upon the dining room, directly opposite the grand entryway from the drawing room. Lord John was already pushing in his wife’s chair, and she immediately met his eye as he entered, and he swore he saw the amber change to a fiery rust color at the sight of Lady Geneva on his arm.

He wanted to cut off his entire arm.

John sat beside his wife, next to the head of the table, where Lord Melton sat. Lady Geneva tugged on his arm, and despite his efforts to be free of her, he was met with surprising strength.

“Mister Fraser.”

Jamie’s eyes snapped to Claire.

“Right here, Sir. I believe we had business to discuss?”

He could have been wrong, but he could have sworn he heard Lady Geneva growl.

“Aye, indeed.” Jamie thanked the Lord that the young lady released his arm, and he gratefully sat beside Claire.

“My Lady…I canna thank ye enough for seeing to it that my land was returned to me, to my family.” He felt his neck and face growing hot; the room was otherwise silent. They were all listening. “Ye canna possibly understand what it is ye’ve done. I am…forever in your debt.”

He took her hand, icy as always, and brought it to his lips for a kiss that might have lasted just a bit too long.

“No debt, Mister Fraser. None at all. I’m just…glad that you’re happy.”

He released her hand, feeling an ache as he did, and she quickly replaced it in her lap. The French lad returned to pour wine, and John raised his glass.

“To returning home.” He met Jamie’s eye, and Jamie could not help the smile that took over his face.

Everyone raised their glasses slightly and took tiny sips. It was a dry, strong wine, and Jamie was grateful for it. Servant girls came and went with various dishes, and Jamie immediately felt himself salivating. This was more food than his family would see in a month.

“You are a printer?”

Jamie looked up to find that the Comte was looking at him as though he could see right through his skin and into his bones and organs. He sat at the head of the table, directly opposite from Lord Melton, clearly of the highest status in the household.

“Uh, aye,” Jamie answered, feeling himself get clammy for reasons he couldn’t name. “But I’m from a family of farmers.”

“Charming.” The Comte’s smile did not reach his eyes; in fact, it resembled more a snarl than a smile.

“He sends money back to his family,” John cut in. “It’s quite admirable.”

“And soon he’ll be Laird again,” Claire added.

“Well, not technically,” Lord Melton interrupted. “The laws, you know…” Jamie looked back at Claire to see she was practically throwing daggers at her brother-in-law with her eyes. “But, nonetheless, it is wonderful to have your family land back.”

“Indeed,” Lady Geneva said. “Do tell us all about it. Is it quite savage and barbaric as the rest of Scotland?”

“You might remember, sister,” Isobel said with practiced patience. “We are in Scotland right now. I don’t think you’d call our home savage and barbaric.”

“Well of course not. It was built by Englishmen.” Lady Geneva rolled her eyes, and Isobel gave up. “Do go on, Mister Fraser.”

And so, as they all served themselves dinner, Jamie described his childhood home and farm life in as interesting a manner as these society elites would tolerate. The Comte seemed to not be listening at all, but everyone else was at least pretending. The meal was a roast, a ribeye with mushroom garnish, asparagus, and carrots, a separate dish of heavily buttered peas, and a cream soup. Jamie was simply in Heaven as he dug into the food. His family had never been able to afford such fine food in all his life. And the worst part was because of people like the ones he dined with right at that moment.

He noticed, strangely, that everyone else seemed to pick at their food, push it around rather than actually eat it. It was subtle enough that anyone else might not have seen, but Jamie had been conditioned to spot an unfinished plate from a mile away. That was what happened when one’s family was starving. Even their wine glasses didn’t seem to diminish, unless he was missing their repouring. Multiple times.

When Jamie finished talking about his home, he changed the subject. “Now, how does a French Comte, a French widow, a few English Lords and Ladies, and a Scotswoman come to live in one home?”

“We’re all…distantly related,” Lord Melton said. “The Ladies Dunsany found themselves recently orphaned and, being unmarried, they needed protection. Madame de La Tour and Mistress Duncan were abandoned similarly, no family left after being widowed. I am responsible for the lot of them, including my younger brother and his wife. And little Mary was sent to Isobel to become a proper young lady. Isn’t that right?”

“Y-y-yes, M-my Lord.”

Christ, Jamie wanted to wrap that one in a blanket and hide her away from these people.

“We are quite the group, no?” Madame de La Tour said with a giggle. “But we are family, nonetheless. Your family seems…resilient, Mister Fraser. You speak of them, of your home, with such pride. It’s admirable.”

“Thank you, Madame.” Jamie smiled warmly, helping himself to more food. “And to think, I’d thought it all lost. I truly didna ken the next time I’d see my family again. I’m verra lucky.”

He locked eyes with Claire again, and the warmth in her eyes and in her smile nearly made him melt into his chair.

“Indeed.” The Comte’s ice cold voice wrapped around Jamie’s heart dreadfully. Jamie waited for him to speak further, but he did not, just brought his wine glass to his lips, his face ridden with disdain.

“Are you enjoying the food, Mister Fraser?” Lord John cut in. “And the wine?”

Jamie looked up, smiling warmly at the man. He could tell that he truly wanted nothing but the best for him, and it warmed him from head to toe.

“Aye, My Lord. It’s…exquisite.” A high-pitched, slightly unhinged giggle pulled him out of his conversation, and he looked up to see Mistress Duncan silence herself by putting a spoonful of soup in her mouth.

“I am most glad to hear it,” John said, ignoring the other end of the table. “We pride ourselves in treating our guests with the utmost hospitality.”

Jamie smiled, finally feeling himself getting full after perhaps three helpings of everything. Claire looked down at his plate and then back into his eyes, beaming. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think they were trying to fatten him up. Truthfully, he thought they simply knew he’d not had a home-cooked meal in years, and they were just glad to have given it to him.

It was strange, and yet strangely comforting…how willing those two were to give to him.

“I havena eaten this well in my life,” Jamie continued wholeheartedly, his stomach feeling fit to burst. Everyone (excluding the Comte) smiled genially, Lady and Lord John exchanging a warm glance before turning it back to Jamie.

“Neither have we.”

Jamie flicked his gaze to the other end of the table to find Lady Geneva peering at him over her wine glass, her eyes darkened, and yet piercing in color. The Comte chuckled darkly, and Lord Melton gave them both severe looks. Lady Isobel whispered harshly into her sister’s ear, prompting nothing but a soft giggle.

Claire looked like she would launch from her seat, kept in check only by her husband’s death grip around her upper arm. Her eyes had that wild color from that day in the print shop, like she could tear someone apart limb from limb.

“And I, ehm, thank ye, most heartily for it,” Jamie continued, as if the absolute circus before him was not happening.

“You are most welcome, dear boy,” John said, his smile tight and polite, and Jamie could have sworn he gave a tug on his wife’s arm to get her back in her seat.

Little Mary Hawkins had her eyes closed, and Jamie could not tell if she was crying or praying. Or both.

“I should like to compliment yer cook,” he went on.

“You may,” John said. The wee lad in the corner sprang to attention and disappeared through the servant’s panel, presumably to retrieve the cook.

“It’s been so long since we’ve entertained,” John said, mostly to Claire, but addressing the whole room, as well. “This being our new home, and all. What shall we do? Before dessert?”

“Music, John,” Isobel cut in, smiling warmly. “That piano hardly gets touched anymore.”

“Don’t be silly,” Geneva cut in rather harshly. “I’m sure it isn’t even in tune.”

“It is,” John said, staring her down coolly. “I make sure of it myself.”

“Well,” Geneva stared right back, unblinking. “Thank Heaven for that.”

“Do you play, My Lady?” Jamie asked, desperate for Claire to settle. Her eyes darted to him, a muted orange rather than the blazing red they’d just been.

“Oh, no,” she laughed to herself. “You’ll find I don’t do much that gentle ladies should.”

That swelled Jamie’s heart, actually. He couldn’t picture her playing, anyway, now that she’d said that.

“John does, however,” Claire said, her eyes finally returning to honey-amber. “And beautifully.”

“Yes, you will find Lord Grey does–how did you put it?– much that gentle ladies should.” The Comte grinned cruelly at Lord and Lady, and this time John was not fast enough.

“Ta gueule! Enculer, fils de pute!”

John was up after her, grabbing her by the shoulders and steering her away from the Comte, who simply laughed, shaking his head with mirth. Even Geillis giggled behind her wine glass.

“Come, Mister Fraser,” John said. “We’ll show you the music room.”

“Come, come!” Madame de La Tour was suddenly behind him, taking his arm. He stood, bewildered, Lord and Lady John already long gone.

“Come, dear boy,” Madame de La Tour said again, threading her arm with his and leading him after them.

“The cook, My Lord!” The little French servant boy announced with a flourish, gesturing to a bewildered, pale-faced young woman, who curtsied with a frantic smile.

“It– ” Jamie tried to address her, but Madame de La Tour tugged with shocking strength. “’T’was a fine meal!” he cried over his shoulder, catching only a flash of her as he was pulled into the hall.

“You will love the piano, Mister Fraser,” Madame de La Tour said giddily, leading him through the hall and across the main entryway to another corridor. “It is a piece of art itself. Baroque, I believe.”

Jamie felt like he had whiplash. “Indeed…? Is, ehm…is Lady Grey alright?”

“Hm? Ah, oui . She has always had a temper. Even before, I think, and now , it’s…”

“Before? Before what?”

“Here we are!” Madame de La Tour shuffled him into the room. It was half the size of the dining room, except with floor to ceiling windows, drapes open to the black night, candles flickering brightly. In the center, between the windows was the piano in question, a piece of art indeed, covered in paintings and gold details on polished white wood. How anyone could create such a piece was beyond Jamie’s comprehension. To the left of the windows was a glorious golden harp with a chair, and to the right, in the corner, was a cello on a stand, and a sideboard with a violin resting atop it, like it was crafted for just that purpose.

“Welcome,” John said, snapping Jamie out of his admiration of the room. He was standing in the right window, and he moved his hands from Claire’s shoulders to clasp them in front of him. “We have a ballroom, but no occasion to use it. I like to keep the family together.” He smiled, and Jamie’s heart lightened strangely at how fondly the man spoke of the instruments.

He noticed an absence on his arm and beside him, and before he could turn to see where Madame de La Tour had moved to, she was gone, and the double doors to the room were already clicking shut.

“Is…no one else joining us?” Jamie turned slowly back around to the couple, his stomach tumbling.

“I shouldn’t think so,” John said, sighing. “They mostly know better than to keep provoking my wife’s temper.”

“They should, anyway,” Claire snapped, fists clenching.

“Aye…is the Comte indeed the son of a whore?”

Claire appeared to choke, something he’d previously thought her incapable of. Her hand flew to her mouth.

“You…understand French.”

“Aye, je parle, aussi .”

“Oh, Christ…” He once again wondered at her seeming inability to blush, because it looked like she very much wanted to.

“Dinna fash about it.”

“What you must think of me…” Her hand rested on her sternum, her breast heaving. She wouldn’t meet his eye.

“No, really, I dinna mind,” Jamie insisted. “Ye should hear what my sister calls me in Gaelic.”

Claire allowed herself a chuckle at that.

“I’ve just…never heard a Lady like yerself speak as such.”

“Neither had I when I first met her,” John said fondly. “It greatly amused me.”

Claire rolled her eyes, but they seemed to glow softly, warmly.

“Do you play, Mister Fraser? Anything here?”

“Och, no,” he said, laughing. “No such time fer that. We used to hire musicians for Hogmanay and the like. ’Til money ran out, then we were ran out. So.”

He’d meant it to be a lighthearted joke, but it seemed to have pained them both.

“You’ll be home soon, Jamie,” Claire said gently, and he wanted to swim in the depths of her whisky eyes.

“Aye…home.”

Claire cleared her throat, breaking eye contact. “Come, John. Play for us.”

He did as he was bade, sitting at the bench. Claire followed him there to kiss his temple before he began, and Jamie’s heart skipped a beat. There was a chaise lounge a few feet from the piano, and, in a panic, Jamie looked around for other seating. He couldn’t very well sit in the chair in the corner meant for the harpist, or the chair in the other corner for the cellist. He’d look like a bloody fool. He could just…stand. Yes, he’d let Lady Grey sit on her chaise and he’d remain a respectful distance away. The couple likely used this arrangement often, her relaxing while he played for her. It was hard not to feel like an intruder when he thought of it that way.

She did, indeed, sit on the chaise, and Jamie clasped his hands behind his back, waiting for John to begin. But John just stared back expectantly, and Jamie felt his cheeks flush. Was it rude to stand for such a performance in high society? Would it really be best if he took the harpist’s chair?

“Jamie.”

His head jerked to Claire, her back straight, tall, her manner regal, but her head tilted oh so slightly, like a small begging dog. Only then did he notice her outstretched hand, palm up, fingers minutely curled. Her hand was ungloved, milky white, and likely so bloody soft.

His mouth was dry and his knees were weak as he obeyed her silent command. He resisted the urge to take her hand as he sat beside her, about a hand’s length away from her on the chaise. He refused to allow himself to look at her, keeping his eyes fixed on John instead. John locked eyes with his wife and nodded, then locked eyes with Jamie. Jamie felt his throat go even dryer, and he swallowed painfully, his chest tight.

John looked at the keys, and he began.

It began as a right hand melody, light and soft. He didn’t know it, didn’t know most classical music, but Claire seemed to.

She gasped, a soft, sweet sound, and Jamie could no longer resist the urge to look at her. Her face was screwed up in an almost painful longing, a deep ache that Jamie could not understand. She squeezed and rubbed her hands together in her lap, shaking her head in time with the melody as it grew in size and volume. Jamie looked back at John, and he was similarly taken by the music, his eyes closed rapturously.

The piece was sweeping, it was aching, it was thunderous, it was peaceful.

Claire’s eyes burned red, but not the irises, like when her anger flared. She looked like she could cry, and yet no tears came, as they never did for her. She wrung her hands, tighter and tighter, and Jamie could take no more. He reached into her lap, smoothly taking one of her hands. It was freezing, as expected, and she jerked her head to look at their joined hands, then up into his face.

Holy God, he was in love with her. He was stupidly, terribly, painfully in love with her.

He felt her squeeze his hand as if for dear life, her eyes shimmering with longing, a painful smile on her face. She looked back at her husband, putting her other hand on her heart, and Jamie looked at John as well. He looked to be in physical pain, and yet in utter ecstasy. He reached a deafening crescendo, and Jamie thought he was finished, until the singular melody returned, quiet as a pin-drop, but there all the same, piercing through Jamie more deeply than the loudest forte.

It ended, and Jamie thought John should have been breathing deeply, heaving, even, from the effort he’d exerted into that piece. He’d left his heart and soul on the floor for them to examine. He kept his eyes closed for a long while, and Claire remained frozen, practically cutting off the circulation in his hand.

John finally moved, opening his eyes and looking at Claire.

“You…you haven’t played that…not since…”

John cut her off with a nod, his own eyes red rimmed and painfully sad.

Jamie looked between the two of them with only his eyes, his heart hammering, desperate to understand, to ease whatever pain this was, for both of them. Husband and wife held each other’s gaze, unmoving, and then Claire nodded minutely.

“I do, too.”

She does what?

“I…I am sorry, Mister Fraser,” John finally spoke. “That…particular piece is…well…we lost someone. I lost someone,” he corrected. “And I hadn’t played it since.”

“I…I’m so verra sorry,” Jamie stammered. “I could…I could tell, ye ken? Yer heart was right there for the taking while ye played.”

He realized he’d been unconsciously running his thumb over Claire’s knuckles, and his heart lurched. He tried to pull his hand away before John could see, but Claire held on, with more shocking strength. John noticed the small struggle, and despite Jamie burning with shame, the man smiled.

“Who was it?” Jamie found himself asking before he could stop. “If ye dinna mind my asking.”

John sighed, looking away. “It was a…” He seemed to be struggling, staring ahead of him. “Particular friend. Of mine.”

Jamie’s furrowed brow suddenly smoothed, his eyes bugging.

“So, you see, Mister Fraser, I’d do anything to make her happy. I’d...allow almost anything to make her happy.” 

“And she’d do the same for me. Has, in fact.”

Jamie’s head spun. He could feel Claire’s eyes on him, boring into him, panicked.

“I…” John tried to continue speaking, but Claire jumped in.

“You should leave, Jamie.”

His head whipped to her, confused.

“We’ll send you home in one of our carriages. You can keep it, keep the horses. Take it all the way to Lallybroch, in fact.”

“I…dinna understand…”

“You should leave.”

And yet, she made no move to separate their hands, she did not get up from beside him.

John stood from the piano bench, swift as the blink of an eye, and he looked more pained than Jamie had ever seen a man. He went to the window, looking out, away.

“I dinna understand…” Jamie repeated. “Ye ask me here, into your home, even knowing what passed between us…” He was speaking to John, though John was not the one asking him to leave. “And then ye…” He turned to Claire again. “Ye touch me like this right before his eyes…”

Leave , Jamie.”

“Then let me go.”

Her eyes bugged a bit, looking almost like a twitch, and her lip trembled almost imperceptibly. Almost like she’d forgotten she was holding on to him. She obeyed, though, removing her hands and folding them in her lap.

Don’t .”

“John–”

“Jamie–Mister Fraser…” John turned from the window, and he looked haggard in a way that frightened Jamie.

“You said you wouldn’t!” Claire stood, raising her voice. “You promised me! You can’t…you can’t do it to him…”

“You’ll no’ speak of me like I’m no’ here,” Jamie said, meaning to sound stronger than he had. He stood. “I…I think I may understand. Ye’ve an…arrangement. Ye live like brother and sister rather than husband and wife. You,” he pointed at John, “keep… particular friendships, and you,” he pointed at Claire, “are lonely. That’s it? That’s why ye’ve…allowed this?” He looked to John again.

“Yes,” Claire sputtered, before John could answer. “Yes, and it’s all my doing. I’m lonely, and I’m greedy, and selfish.” Jamie wanted to scream, no, no, no! “John wants nothing but my happiness, but I cannot go through with it. You have to go.”

“Claire–”

No , John!” She hardened again, as she had before, turning just slightly frightening. “Go, Jamie, go home to Lallybroch. Save yourself for a wife. Get married, lead your people, have children. You deserve a wife . And all the things she can give you. Not me. Not this.”

Jamie’s mind screamed at him that she was right , that he could not covet another man’s wife, arrangement or no, that sooner or later he’d go mad unable to claim her as his…

“I canna marry, Claire.”

She whimpered, and the sound damn near broke his heart.

“Don’t…”

“No, I canna. Not now that I know you. I can’t. And maybe that’s madness, but I…I’ve done nothing but dream of you since our lips touched. I want to have ye any way I can.”

“No! No, no no !” she shrieked. 

“I’ll never be happy, no’ truly.”

No !” She opened her mouth, and Jamie anticipated an unholy scream, the likes of which he’d already heard in the print shop, but John was upon her before Jamie could so much as blink, his hand on her mouth.

She raged at him from beneath his hand, spat words more horrid than what she’d said to the Comte, Jamie guessed, but it was unintelligible, and strong as she may have been, John was stronger. John whipped her around so she was facing Jamie, holding her bodily against him with one arm, keeping his other hand over her mouth. Jamie was bewildered, terrified, even, but he could not move.

“Tell her,” John said, not moving an inch despite his wife’s thrashing. “Tell her everything you want to tell her.”

Jamie’s mouth flapped uselessly, his heart pounding in his ears.

“Tell her.”

“I…” He was choking out the words against his will. “I want ye, Claire. I want ye so bad I can scarcely breathe. I…I ache. As ye said. Terribly.”

He heard her whimper against John’s hand, and blood raced to his cock, despite the oddity and somewhat horror of the position she was in.

“I dinna understand it, but I dinna want to. I want ye like I’ve never wanted anything in my life.”

John slowly, painfully slowly, removed his hand from her mouth, and she did not scream, did not breathe, did not move.

But her eyes…they were ablaze.

John’s lips moved to her ear, and Jamie saw rather than heard him say:

“Go.”

Before Jamie could draw his next breath, he was flying across the room, and his back slammed into the wall behind him. It was only when he felt himself ascend to the gates of Heaven that he realized it was because two small, unreasonably strong hands had pushed him, and the owner of said hands was now kissing him senseless.

His entire body rattled, his head spun, from the impact into the wall or from what she was doing to him, he did not know. She thrust her tongue into his mouth, moaning as she did, and he welcomed it, suckling it like it was the sweetest nectar. Her small but vicious hands tugged violently on his hair, causing him to moan as well. Their sounds vibrated between them, and then her lips left his, making him whimper in protest, but then they moved down his jaw, to his neck. He yelped as she sucked, hard , on the skin of his neck, without even using her teeth. He was hard as a rock and desperate to touch her everywhere, to feel her mouth everywhere. She licked the spot and then sucked again, causing him to buck his hips into her.

“I want…” she panted into his neck, her voice a whining, keening thing. “I want …”

“Claire, wait!”

Jamie only heard John in his periphery; he knew how disgusting this was, for him to ravish–or rather, be ravished by a woman in another’s presence, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t stop her, couldn’t ever stop her.

Jamie …” she moaned against his neck, licking and licking, her hand coming to rest on his hardness, palming him roughly over his trousers.

“What…d’ye want…?” Jamie panted, seeing stars at the feel of her perfect hand on him, grinding into it like the filthy pervert he was. “Ye can have it, Claire. Anything. Anything.”

She gasped, a ragged, choked sound. She picked her head up, yanking on his hair so she was looking in his eye.

“Anything?”

“Anything, Claire…God, anything…”

“You have to mean that. Do you mean it, Jamie? You would willingly and freely give me anything ?”

“Aye, I mean it! Anything!”

She cried out raggedly, her hand tightening around his cock, and he yelped again as her face disappeared to his neck once more.

And then his eyes bugged open and he choked out a gasp.

She’d bitten him. And it didn’t feel like when his siblings had bitten him to tease.

It was sharp .

She was moaning unrestrained and without ceasing, with her teeth in his flesh .

It did not occur to him, not for a second that he should pull away.

Her hand continued to work on him, and she was straddling his thigh.

And even through the pain in his neck…there was something exquisite about it.

And then, through the moaning, he heard her swallowing .

She was guzzling down his blood.

And he was letting her.

He wanted to scream, but he had no voice. He simultaneously wanted to unbutton his trousers and free his throbbing cock, feel her icy, soft hands on his flesh, but he could not move.

And then, trousers and all, he felt the familiar tightening in his body, and then the exquisite release, this time more powerful than it had ever felt in his life. He was yelling, he knew, unintelligibly, his one hand woven through her hair and the other clasped with hers on his cock, helping her bring him to the edge and back again.

He began to regain his senses, and the burning shame quickly set in.

And the utter fucking confusion, as well.

“Jamie…” Claire’s hand left his softening cock, but she held onto his hand, bringing them both to his chest.

His neck was still bleeding, he could feel it trickling.

“Sweet, perfect Jamie…”

She licked the trickling blood, then kissed him there.

His chest was heaving, his mouth agape, his eyes staring blankly ahead, at the rain steadily pouring outside the window. It was funny…he could swear all the drapes had been tightly drawn in the house before the sunlight had disappeared.

“Are you alright…?” She licked more trickling blood, kissing him there again, then kissed his hand, then let her other hand trail out of his hair and to his cheek. “Jamie…my darling…”

Her voice was so bloody sweet and lovely. He couldn’t stop himself from looking down at her. Were he not completely out of control of his own body, he’d have jumped.

Her eyes were as amber as they’d ever been, and they were glowing . Like the moon itself sat in her head and was shining through her eyes.

“Look at me…”

He did, meeting her eye, his brow furrowed in panic.

“Are you alright?”

His lips flapped uselessly, his throat struggling to make sound.

“I’m sorry…” Her hand released his, both of them now cupping his face. “Anything…you said anything…”

Jamie’s heart hammered, his head swimming.

“Please, say something…” Her fingers traced the lines of his furrowed brow as if she could smooth them out. “I’m sorry…”

“I…” He cleared his throat, very suddenly feeling the uncomfortable wetness in his trousers. “I’m alright.”

“Are you? Truly?” She squeezed his face tighter, and Jamie got the impression that she didn't realize she was doing it. “What are you thinking?”

“I…” He blinked several times. “I’m thinking I havena wet myself since I was a lad of six.”

She let out a strangled, small laugh, even through her furrowed brow and lips pressed tight. “I’m…I’m sorry.”

Jamie shook his head minutely. “I’m not.”

He couldn’t believe he’d said it.

“You’re not?”

“No…I don’t think I am.”

Claire laughed, and seemingly couldn’t stop herself from kissing him in relief. He kissed her back as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if the most unnatural thing had not just occurred.

“Do you see now…?” Claire whispered, resting her forehead on his, nuzzling their noses together. “Do you understand why I wanted you to leave…?”

“I…I don’t…”

“Because now you can’t ever leave, Jamie.” She sounded pained, and it broke his heart. “Now that I’ve fully tasted you…you’re mine.”

Even so soon after, the words sent a jolt to his cock.

“I’ve ruined you…”

“Claire…”

“I’m sorry…” She buried her head in his chest, hugging him around the middle. “I’ve ruined you, Jamie. I’m sorry.”

He shook his head, bewildered, not understanding, stroking her hair soothingly. Then, over her wild curly-wig head, he locked eyes with John. It felt like a blow to the throat, and he swallowed painfully.

He hadn’t imagined it, then. Lord Grey had watched that entire exchange. Everything.

Of all the ways he’d pictured his first time having a woman touch his cock, having another man watch had never been an option.

“It’s…not like she’d have you believe,” John finally spoke, even as Claire continued to whimper apologies against Jamie’s chest.

“We do not live as brother and sister,” he went on. “You were correct about my predilections, but I do also love my wife. We are sworn to one another as eternal life partners, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Jamie wanted to vomit. “Then… why …!”

“We have both lived long, long lives, Mister Fraser.” Jamie’s stomach flipped. “Would you believe me if I told you that we are not entirely human?”

Claire unburrowed herself, looking up at him, seemingly terrified. Jamie was instantly reminded of the sticky, drying blood on his neck, of her inhuman strength; all of their inhuman strength, really. The way she’d shattered his furniture, screamed like a bat out of hell…

“Aye…I would…”

He should have wanted to push her off of him, to get as far away as possible, to run through the house and all the way home…but the thought of relinquishing her now made him ill.

“I was born in the year 1617,” Claire whispered. “I have been alive for two hundred and thirty-three years.”

Jamie was hearing the words, but none of them were making sense.

“I have loved John for nearly two hundred of those years,” she went on. “And he has loved me that long in return. That’s…a long time to love only one. It’s…impossible.”

“How…” Jamie choked out, his eyes watering. “How is it possible…?”

“Do you want us to tell you?” Claire whispered, gently stroking his cheeks. “Or do you want to leave?”

“He can’t go now. You know he can’t.”

“He can,” Claire snapped over her shoulder. “I’d do it. For him.”

“Jesus, Claire–!”

“Do you want to know the truth,” Claire said again, looking into Jamie’s eyes. “Or do you want to go?”

She punctuated every word, uttering the sentence painfully slowly.

He should, he should, he should…

But he had a terrible feeling that if he went now, he’d never see her again.

Never see them again.

And that shouldn’t have pained him; it should have made him beyond relieved.

“I…I dinna want to go.”

Claire whimpered, seemingly in relief, for she kissed him again, gently, sweetly.

“Come, Mister Fraser,” John cut in softly. Jamie looked up to see that he’d opened the servant’s panel in the room, leading into dark, dimly lit corridors, presumably connected to the rest of the house. “We will explain everything.”