The words whispered to her in a soft rhythm, beckoning her from sleep. One eye begrudgingly parted and she was blessed with the sight of Jamie’s face. His nose, straight and angled, thick stubble dappled his cheeks, and the line of his lips curled into a small smile while he slept.
She had missed that quiet smile.
It had been so long. Since the accident.
She yearned for it.
Ached for it.
Shifting slightly onto her side she felt his arm tighten around her waist, and a flutter of a giggle tickled her chest.
He had been gentle with her, almost too gentle. At first he kept a respectable space as to avoid injuring or jostling her arm, or pressing into her ribs as they healed. But then as days passed, they became hesitant with each other as a small crack formed and slowly spread to fill the space between, a sliver at a time.
It had been weeks. But tonight, he had reached out to her in sleep.
Perhaps it was the whisky from the hours earlier, or the heady tension between them as they traded glasses and slipped farther and farther into their own bubble, consumed by each other’s mere presence that she’d felt a shift between them. His warmth encompassed her and flushed her cheeks before dipping into her chest. She burned for his touch. Her fingers trembled as they slowly rose towards his face, before stopping just short of his jawline. She faltered for a moment, losing her nerve.
What if he woke up?
The thought lit the fire that had sunk just below her belly button and her lip quivered. The boldness she felt that night, all those months ago- that night he bared his soul to her, the night he told her about the accident- that strength had slowly faded from her with each passing day since her injury.
Gently placing her hand back onto her side, her eyes traced the solid line of muscle from his shoulder down to his elbow. Perfect peaks and valleys were highlighted by the faint moonlight. Reveling in the knowledge that he was hers, she let out a satisfied sigh.
A glow from the bedside table caught her attention and she rolled her eyes. She knew who it was, and what the message said, and she silently cursed herself for the spontaneous text earlier. A moment of alcohol-induced bravery had prompted a bold proclamation. That tonight, she would reclaim that lost and most intimate connection with Jamie… in a somewhat less than mature manner of speaking.
Lifting the phone enough to see the screen, she caught the text that flashed.
-Have ye crawled out from under the Viking for air yet?
To be honest, there were a few moments she thought that it might happen. Jamie’s gaze grew more menacing and his fingers lingered as they traced the lines of her hem at the small of her back, all the while whispering old stories of Lallybroch in her ear so close that she could taste the amber liquid on his breath. But then… after stumbling past the doorway into their bedroom, with fits of laughter breaking between them, they settled into a coy yet contented ball of sheets and blankets on the bed.
She had welcomed the weight of his body against hers as their laughter softly echoed off the bedroom walls. But with a swift tug of the comforter beneath them, he had rolled clumsily onto her left side and the spell between them was broken. Stammering his way through an impassioned apology, he shifted his body, overcompensating for the contact and leaving ample space between them. The buzzing electricity between them simmered and the courage she’d come so close to wielding receded. After a few more gentle smiles and muttered apologies from Jamie, they both had drifted into blissful sleep. But that ache persisted, and it rose from a dull ache to a heady throb.
With a half-hearted sigh, she tapped the screen to respond.
-Will catch up tomorrow. Too tired and too much whisky tonight ;)
Three bubbles quickly appeared on her screen as Geillis’s words flashed quickly.
-Aye. Too much ‘Whisky.’ As ye say. XO
That was not what she meant, but she didn’t correct Geilis. They would see each other tomorrow, and she would set the record straight then. Maybe.
Struggling to settle her mind back into the quiet darkness of the room, she let her eyelids close and the words beckoned again.
Stay. Please stay.
Her fingers twitched. Her head swirled with the words, and then a melody slowly seeped in and clouded her thoughts. An almost torturous rhythm played over and over in her head, keeping sleep at bay and forcing out the memories of the night before.
Sighing again, this time in resignation, she slowly slid off the bed. Gently moving his arm to rest on the space she had just vacated, she paused. Gazing at his perfect form in the tangle of sheets in their bed for a moment longer, she then turned on her heel and padded out of the room.
Where is that bloody guitar?
Mmm. Feeling the warmth against his palm, he contracted his muscles and pulled a tangle of empty bed sheets against his chest.
Where is she?
Thoughts came quickly, erratic and half-formed as he blinked the sleep from his eyes.
His last vision of her was in bed next to him, a beautiful mosaic of dark curls and light skin, splintered in his mind but beautiful nonetheless.
It was still late… no- early? The soft morning light had not yet fully crept through the curtains, but it kissed the soft linen and a glow inched across the bedroom floor.
Squeezing his eyes shut, he could still, but barely, see her face as they stumbled into his, no their flat just hours before- lips parted in a beaming grin, eyes warm and glowing, curls spilling out of a bird’s nest atop her head.
Having stopped at a local pub in a desperate attempt to prolong their evening, the memory of her leaning in closely as each drop of amber fluid eased the tension in her shoulders. The heat on her breath as she whispered new Gaelic words she had been studying but never said aloud settled in his bones and burned just under the surface. The timidity between them had receded with every look, every brush of skin against each other. Like a balm on a healing wound, her every look and movement was a salve on his soul.
Shaking his head, the memory slowly faded, and he blinked ruefully as it subsided. He heard a faint sound, a slight… plucking of strings? Moving quickly through the flat he eyed his guitar stand in the corner by the couch- empty.
His lip twitched and he fought the sensation. Doesna mean anything.. Or does it?
Grabbing the tumbled mass of tartan on the cushion, he slinked his way up the fire escape to the rooftop, following the sounds of his guitar as the notes tweaked and came into tune.
There’s my C. Finally.
He said it would come with time, but neglected to mention just how tedious tuning a guitar could be. It always seemed to sing when he played, a natural extension of himself.
He was right.
A small echo of a laugh bubbled in her chest. He was always so sure when he spoke. Whether he was storytelling or gesticulating on the latest rugby match. There was a conviction in his words, and in this instance, she knew he was right. What the strings and pick are to him, a scalpel and needle are to her.
She plucked the string again.
Bloody Scot was right.
And she was grateful for it.
Letting out a quick breath into the crisp night air, her eyelids fluttered shut as the words undulated in her mind, like a tide rolling in. Growing closer, then receding before pushing closer and closer, she surrendered to the pulsating rhythm.
With a quick roll of the wrist, and sigh of relief as it cooperated without sign of pain, she set her fingers against the strings. The words thrummed in her ears, echoing as the memory struggled to come into focus.
“Nothing is lost… please stay.”
His breath caught as his eyes found her, freezing him. An unruly mess of dark curls cascaded around her, the wind toying with a strand as it twisted and fluttered in the air, the curves of her shoulders draped in his favorite rugby shirt.
He stood breathlessly, watching as her hand absentmindedly grasped the errant lock and tucked it behind one ear. The movement was subtle, but made his heart pound. Her wrist, newly healed and etched with fresh scars, moved with an ease. There was a fluidity, an almost absent-mindedness he hadn’t seen in weeks.
Her chin was set in determination, her lower lip tucked between her teeth and head cocked as if the guitar was whispering its secrets to her. The curve of her back matched the line of his guitar, two of his favorite things molded into one.
She was beautiful.
With a heavy exhale to take in the scene, his body rested against the metal railing. A high pitched creak filled the air and he watched as her face jerked toward him in panic. The current of gold in her eyes settled slightly as they fixed on him before igniting into a deep ember.
His hair was tousled from sleep, but his eyes were electric, and the slope of his lips, parted as raspy breath escaped, filled her vision. The heat of his stare traveled down her throat with a hard swallow, descending into the depths just below her navel. Blinking hard to quell the feeling, she held her gaze, letting his beauty overtake her nerves.
“Are ye alright, mo nighean donn?” his voice cut through the darkness. It shook just slightly as the Gaelic punctuated his question, two fingers tapping against his thigh.
My brown haired lass.
She remembered the first time he’d called her that. He promised one day he’d tell her what it meant. Instead, she’d found them in an old, nondescript and dusty book on his shelf… or perhaps the words found her. She reveled in knowing what it meant as he’d whisper it in darkness, tender and soft.
“Y-yes, quite,” she started as pulled herself back to the present. Letting a deep sigh encompass her, she met his eye. “Did I wake you?”
“Ach no, I just dinna…” he started as twitching fingers ran through his hair. “ I just… dinna sleep well wi’out ye with me.”
“Oh.” she said quietly, letting a small smile play at her lips as heat rose in her chest. “I wanted to show you something.”
One eyebrow quirked and with it came a breathtaking grin framed by fiery red hair and electric blue eyes. “I seem to recall ye said once that they let anyone play.”
“Och! You don’t need to ruin the moment,” she said with exasperation.
“Wai- what?” His ears perked at the noise. Cocking his head to the side, he tried to find the words. “Was that…Did ye just-”
With an exaggerated roll of her eyes, she countered, “Wot?”
“Tis nothing,” he started, recovering from his stumble. “That was just a decidedly Scottish sound there…”
“I most certainly did not,” her voice stuttered on the last word, her eyebrows creasing as he watched her question her own words.
Thank the laird for small miracles and glass faces.
“Are ye sure yer a Sassenach aft-after all?” A laugh rumbled from his chest as he moved toward her, “Ye do a fine version of a salty auld Highlander indeed.”
“Well,” her lips parted in a conciliatory smile and her eyes glowed. “I seem to have learned from the best.”
A breeze filled the space between them and he caught her slight frame shiver.
“Are ye cold, Sassenach?” he asked, drawing out the last word for emphasis. She was an outlander, a most rare and precious gift.
“I’m alright,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders, but there was no conviction behind her voice.
“Dinna be stubborn lass, I can hear yer teeth rattle from here.” He countered with an attempt at a wink. In truth, it was an excuse, any excuse to move closer to her.
Her face softened and she sighed, nodding as she bit down on her lower lip. His eyes darted to her mouth, tracing every curve and line. His tongue reflexively darted out and licked his lips, aching to taste her breath against his skin. Balling his hands into fists to stop himself from reaching out to touch her face, his fingers dug into crumpled up fabric- the tartan soft and warm in his hand.
The tactile sensation brought him from his thoughts, and he held it out to her as he closed the space between them. His lips curled as he cocked his head, “After all… Ye canna bring dishonor on the Fraser colors, Sassenach.”
“Oh mon dieu, first the Fréselière and now your clan’s colors and creed?” Her eyes were alight with humor as she turned to fully face him, his guitar shifting in her lap. She inhaled sharply, her eyes intent and glowing, “My hands seem to be full at the moment… might you help?”
He stood still, surprised for a moment but swallowed hard and gathered up the material in both hands. Timidly, he wrapped his arms around her, her hair tickling his nose as he leaned in close.
Pressing against him softly, her voice was low and heavy as she said, “Thank you.”
Giving her shoulders a gentle squeeze, he set himself on the seat next to her- close but not quite touching. “Ach, so ye had something to play then, aye?”
“Well it’s just the start of something, I think,” she mumbled.
The familiar chords echoed between them as she hummed the melody. Had he played that for her before? He didn’t think he had?
She pulled her eyes from her fingers as they pressed into the cords to find his gaze heavy on her. She hummed for a few beats and then with eyes closed she exhaled with contentment.
“Clear blue….” she breathed, waiting for the next chord progression to continue with a disjointed “world of whiskey.” The strings vibrated against her fingertips before she whispered the lines that had repeated over and over in her mind, “Nothing is lost… Please stay.”
Slowly, she opened her eyes to see him staring at her. His hands were clasped together tightly, fingernails dug slightly into ruddy, sunkissed skin.
“I wasn’t sure.. I mean, it’s-” she was suddenly shy, embarrassed. It was absurd to try to explain, the words just… were to her.
His face was frozen and his lower lip quivered. With a low, shaky voice he asked, “Where did ye find those words?”
“They just…” she started. Without thinking she continued, the words tumbling out of her, “They just came to me. I think it was a dream. I was drowning, and then I saw… light. Wings. And then a voice asking me to stay.”
“Mo Chridhe,” his voice was almost a whisper, each word quiet but strong. “That was me.”
She struggled to understand the pain in his voice. “You?”
Fragmented time flashed through her mind. Her father, the heron’s wings. The tattoo. The flutter of wings in her ears as she lay in that bed. Through it all, the words, those words- they cut through the noise.
It was him.
He watched her, waiting. The realization flashed across her face.
Her voice was almost a whisper, but her eyes were a smoldering amber. Her voice was sure, true. “It was you.”
The weeks lost to the accident and the uncertainty of what was to come when she couldn’t remember- the truths they had shared… it was still there. A weight lifted from his chest and he exhaled for what felt like the first time in weeks.
Whatever it was between them, that awful night hadn’t stolen it from them. As she had lain, still and broken, in that hospital bed amidst a rhythmic beeping of machines and hushed voices in the hallway, he had sung to her.
And she had heard him.
“It was me,” he said simply, wanting to repeat those words over and over again. Inching close, eyes trained on her, he let the echo of a smile pull at his lip. “I had trouble finishing the line.”
The whisky in her eyes burned as her chest heaved with effort. The gravity of the moment threatened to crumble her facade, and she struggled to keep her tone light, “Yes, you did.”
The confirmation sent a shock wave through him. “So, Sassenach…” he let his voice fade as he contemplated. His voice hung between them, both unsure of how to speak.
His voice was low, his irises almost black. “How does it end then?”
The silence throbbed between them like a heartbeat. The weight of his question lingered. Seemingly innocent on the surface, the deeper meaning reverberating between them.
With a small smile, her fingers touched the strings. Without breaking eye contact, she lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders.
“Your face is my heart and the love of you…” she paused, wanting the words to ring true. Her hand twitched and curled to find the strings without difficulty as she finished, “My soul.”
The chord hung between them, the vibration echoing against her skin. Without looking away, she gently set the guitar down as the note dissipated and scattered into the air. The wind whipped between them, the familiar scent of linen, sandalwood and him struck her as she watched him, waiting.
“I thought I’d lost ye,” his voice was gravely as it tumbled out of him, carrying the weight of the last several weeks. His eyes were focused on a point in the distance. When he pulled his gaze to her, she saw a pool of tears threatening to brim over. Speaking the truths he’d hidden even from himself, his voice broke as he said, “First wi’ the accident and then ye lost sae many memories of… us. I just couldna bear it- losing ye, losing us.”
“Jamie…” her chest constricted as she watched his face contort and relive that night.
“I dinna ken what I’d do wi’out ye. I was born-” He felt the desperation in his voice, but he couldn’t stop it. She had to know. Had to understand. She needed to feel the love that nearly burst out of his chest, and the agony he’d kept at bay these last long few weeks. He pushed his fingers through his curls as the words spilled out in fragments, “I was- I c-cannae explain it I just… just…. Christ!”
All the words he needed to say came crashing down in his mind and he couldn’t form a single thought to sort them out. He stood helplessly, two digits thrumming against his leg.
Her tone was low as she peeked through furrowed brows and dark lashes, “… I was born for you?”
“Aye,” His eyes darted to her face, the air ripped from his lungs. “How did ye know?”
“Jamie…” her voice was small but warm. “I’ve whispered those same words.. I’ve known that every day since I met you.”
“Claire,” his voice coiled around her name, reveling in the sound. His fingers twitched again as he raised his hand to her face, cupping the smooth porcelain of her cheek.
Feeling the dam break, she leaned into his touch. “Bha mi gad ionndrainn.”
His hand sunk into her hair, pulling her to him. Grasping his forearms, she pressed her forehead to his. “I’ve missed you, too.”
His breath was heated against her cheek, a faint scent of whisky lingered between them. Her fingers slowly lifted to trace the line of his jaw, the stubble coarse against her skin. They settled just below his jawline, feeling his pulse quicken against her fingertips. Tentatively, she lifted his face to meet hers, and it was breathtaking. Dark flecks interrupted the turbulent blue in his eyes, and they trained on hers with a weight that ignited a fire in her chest.
“I would like-” he started, his voice raspy and raw. His skin was almost vibrating with need. “-Very much to kiss you. May I?”
An ache pulled deep in her belly as she struggled to focus on the words- the anticipation filling her senses. Struggling to focus, she blinked hard and smiled, “You may.”
His fingers intertwined in her hair as he leaned in, soft yet firm. With a final sigh, she closed her eyes and tilted her chin to meet his. His lips were warm and full, quickly molding to hers. With two more movements her tongue was tracing his lip and as she felt them part, she pushed against him with arms snaking around his neck.
Tongues pulsed and kneaded against each other as her hands found his hair as his arms circled around her waist. His fingers urgently sought her skin, pressing into the flesh at the small of her back as she arched into him. The aching need of the past weeks melted away with every movement and every ragged breath between them.
Every thought scattered. There was nothing but her. She filled every sense. The lavender of her shampoo, the velvety touch of her skin against his fingertips as he pulled her closer, the sound of her exhale as she reignited their kiss. He needed her now.
For all the time and distance and tentative silence that had grown between them, speaking was now unnecessary.
He needed to show her the way he loved her. Struggling for composure, one hand snaked up into her hair and he pulled back his lips and held her in place.
Her lips were swollen, cheeks flushed and beautiful. Her eyes were a fiery gold and glistened with a thin film of tears.
She was his, he was hers. Shattered apart, a beautiful mosaic of both pain and triumph together. They fought for this. They earned this.
Her breath was shaky but her voice was calm, “Will you have me?”
The gold specks in her eyes burned like embers as she held his gaze. His skin pulsed with electricity as her fingers lifted the tartan to cover his shoulders. Leaning forward and gently lowering her to the ground, he felt the soft warmth of her body beneath her and he knew he was home. She was home to him.
“Yes,” he whispered as the heat in his chest reverberated out into his fingertips.
He would have had her, any part of her, in any way he could- even the quiet, timid moments of the past few weeks where he had scarcely dared to touch her. But here, now, he saw that each crack and fracture she had endured had only healed stronger. Made more beautiful by the very lines of black etched into her skin, the flap of a heron’s wing flashed before his eyes before fading into the vision of her face.
He pressed against her as he lowered his face to hers. “Yes, I’ll have you.”
Now and forever.