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CLAIRE

“This bar isna bad- no’ as good as the pub down the street, but it’ll do,” Geillis’s voice was full of excitement as she eyed Claire. “I hear there’s live music tonight. Straight from the Highlands, the broodish sort. Big, fit- like a Viking. I bet he has a cock to match.”

She coughed into her glass as she gasped for air. “Fuck, Geillis!”

She wiped the beer from her chin, shaking her head as she laughed with her.

Claire had only been in town a few weeks, a recent transfer from Boston. She was still finding her footing; this was a fresh start. Geillis was friendly enough and found a certain thrill in dragging her to bars and clubs since first agreeing to a post-shift drink. Her idea of a Friday night consisted of a good book and favorite spot on the couch. But nights with Geillis were never dull, and she needed the distraction.

Geillis’s lips curled in a coy smile, like a cat looking for her next canary. “Don’t take my word for it, see for yerself, Claire.”

She turned towards the stage, her eyes finding a tall figure. He was kneeling, his hands effortlessly opening his guitar case. His shoulders were broad, his cotton shirt stretched over lines of muscle just peeking through. The spotlight lit his hair like a match, auburn curls just below his ears, resting at the base of his neck. Her eyes lingered on the trail from his nape to his waistline, a faint line of his spine just barely visible.

“Mmm, yes. I might have to fight for it,” Geillis raised her glass, one finger gesturing to the circle of young twenty-somethings crowded around the stage. She took the rest of the liquid in one motion as she winked, “But I canna wait to dig my nails into that back tonight.”

Claire laughed, turning back to the bar, one finger circling the rim of her glass as her mind wandered back to the hospital. It was a tough day; one drink wasn’t going to cut it.

The sound of buzzing from the amp pulled her from her thoughts, and she took the last of her beer, motioning for a refill. The song was slow and the notes pierced her skin with an unexpected melancholy. The voice behind her was deep and soft, with an edge to it, a Scottish lilt lingering just under the surface.

“Are ye no’ gonna enjoy the show?” Her voice was soft and teasing, “the song’s no’ bad either.”

She rolled her eyes, nodding. Was that really all she could think about?

She took a sip of her fresh beverage before rotating towards the stage, and she froze.

Fuck.

The musician in front of her was flawless. The line of his jaw set square, his lips formed the words with a startling intimacy that took her breath away. She felt a heat creep under her skin as dark blue eyes widened and locked onto her. The guitar reflected the lights, almost blinding her. His gaze pierced through her, a pulse of heat settled in her belly as her muscles clenched at the sensation.

An elbow to the rib shocked her back to reality as she blinked, breaking her gaze as she turned towards Geillis.

“Don’t tell me I need to fight you for him, too?”

Her cheeks blushed a deep red as she bit her lip and shook her head. Based on the table in front of him, captained by locks of long blonde hair, there was no way she was his type. What would she even say to someone like… him.

_____________

Jamie

The same crowd was there, perched in their seats, waiting. He didn’t need to look to know who was front and center. Laoghaire. He let out a deep exhale- he was worried she’d be here. They had their fun- a lot of it, but he was honest with her about not wanting anything more… he always was.

But she was here anyways, all heart-eyes and drooling. He shrugged his shoulders, trying to relax the muscles in his neck as he reached into the case, grabbing his guitar. He checked each string before grabbing his cloth and taking an extra moment to shine the polished mahogany before plugging into the amp.

Another night, another set of the same songs.

His fingers found the strings, an all-too familiar pattern as he scanned the crowd, groaning slightly as his eyes circled to the table in front of him. Same girls, same looks.

The lyrics came without thought and he strummed mindlessly as his eyes scanned the bar. The spotlight created a halo of light that obscured his view but he caught a flash of red hair contrasted against a set of emerald eyes that were intent on him. Even from a distance, he could read her body language enough to know what she was thinking. He blinked slowly as he smiled to himself. Perhaps.

The thought was lost to him when his eyes caught the form next to her, a mess of dark brown curls, narrow shoulders slightly hunched forward- seemingly disinterested in everything he was doing onstage.

A modest, loose cotton white t-shift settled against her thin frame and faded jeans cupped the round of her hips. She shifted her weight from side to side, her white converse shoes flashed against the dark of the dirty bar floor as she rolled each ankle.

Had she been on her feet all day?

Everything about her was in stark contrast to the redhead. This lass wasn’t looking for attention, and it intrigued him. He didn’t look away, instead his lip curled slightly at the corner, a small smile pulled at his lip as his voice formed the next few words, finding sudden interest.

He trained his gaze on her, waiting for her to turn. When she did, he found himself staring into a deep gold of amber. There was an innocence to her face; her eyes were wide and honest.

She was the one to break their contact, and he found himself wanting.

Hm. That was different.

He watched her for another moment.

So she was with here the redhead, then.

His pick hit the strings with more vigor as he let the last note hang in the air, looking down at the set list- counting the songs until his break. Eight.

He normally paused between songs, finding some measure of enjoyment in watching the table of girls in front of him get excited and swoon. A quick wink here, a knowing smile there. He knew exactly what buttons to press and how to secure company for the night.

But not tonight.

After strumming the final chord, he set his guitar on its stand and stepped off the side of the stage, finding the most direct route to the bar. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Laoghaire advancing towards him. He had just enough time to brace himself as her arms wrapped around his neck, blonde hair flooded his vision and the faint trace of red wine lingering on her breath invaded his senses. His eyes darted towards the bar, seeing whisky amber watching him before her gaze again flickered away.

FUCK.

His hands reached for Laoghaire’s and he untangled himself, smiling curtly as he headed towards the bar.

_____________

CLAIRE

The final song finished and the soft hum of Pandora filled the space as her eyes settled into the bottom of her glass.

I was right.

That table was engrossed in his every movement. Sure- they had made eye contact, but she knew she was just another face- another challenge. She shifted back to the bar, sighing deeply, frustrated at her disappointment. She would not be just another conquest, a victory to claim and quickly discarded.

A weight settled beside her; a solid, warm line of skin met hers as she felt an electric charge shoot through her arm. Her eyes darted to the point of contact and she held her breath. A muscular arm rested next to her, the rope of well-developed tricep just veiled under a thin cotton shirt. She swallowed hard as her eyes traced the line of muscle to his shoulder and neck, finding auburn curls.

Her breath shook somewhat as she slowly raised her eyes to his, peaking through eyelashes.

Bloody hell.

“Ye like the music sae far, lass?” His accent was thick, his smile burning into her as she struggled to keep her balance.

“It’s alright.” She shrugged, trying for indifference as her pulse radiated into her fingertips. She grabbed her glass and took a long sip.

He laughed, his brows creasing slightly as he looked down, nodding slightly. “Havena seen ye here before, are ye new in town?”

She laughed into her glass, trying to clear her throat as she looked at him, shaking her head. “Well that’s an original line laddie buck.”

“I dinna mean-“ he stuttered, a faint rosy hue forming on his cheeks. He looked uncomfortable, unsure of himself as he trailed off, looking at her- helpless.

“Oh I think I know what you meant,” her voice was harsher than she intended- she was acting more confident than she felt. A quick glance at the table by the stage indicated he would have no trouble stroking his ego tonight.

“What a bonny voice ye have there,” her voice purred as she slipped between them.

Geilis was nothing if not subtle, and Claire said a silent thank you as she took another deep pull of her beer, clearing her head. He was too close, her brain hitched and she needed space so she could think of something other than the curve of his lip and line of his cheekbone as he smiled. She didn’t need to think about those strong hands as he played, imagining them tracing the lines of her skin as he-

Stop it Beauchamp.

_____________

Jamie

So, she had noticed the lasses.

She wasn’t wrong either. He had enjoyed himself, to be sure, mostly to fill the void- a distraction, other times in moments of weakness or boredom. But this lass, this Sassenach, she was different. Her foreignness caught him off guard.

“Will ye play more for us, then?” He could hear the menace in the redhead’s voice. He turned, seeing emerald eyes sparkling, locked on him. “Ye play sae lovely.”

Catching her accent, he smiled and nodded, “Morain Taing.”

“Aye, yer quite welcome,” she was almost purring as her gaze traveled the length of his body. His eyes shifted to the lass behind her, searching for whisky eyes but found only dark brown curls hiding her face.

 

“Oh, aye…” He paused, holding his gaze, willing this Sassenach to look up at him. “But I was just about to head outside for a moment to catch some fresh air.”

He saw the spark of an invitation on her face and before she could respond, his hand reached past her and softly rested on ivory skin, just below the mess of brown curls.

“Care to join me?” His voice was direct and his head cocked, eyes looking past the redhead- leaving no question as to which lass he was speaking.

He watched the golden amber darken as she blinked hard. She looked bewildered but nodded silently, placing her drink on the bar top before standing to follow him.

_____________

CLAIRE

“Beautiful night, aye?” He leaned against the side of the building, eyeing her.

“I suppose it is.” She returned his stare, crossing her arms and shifting her weight to one leg. “So what exactly am I doing out here?”

“Tis a bit crowded in there, is all,” he voice sounded controlled, but she saw a slight twitch in his shoulders- he looked almost nervous. “Just wanted a moment of peace before I go back onstage.”

“If you wanted peace, why did you ask me to come with you?” He wasn’t making sense.

“”I meant-I…” the question puzzled him and he suddenly looked lost. His veneer of confidence looked to crack at the edges as he ran his fingers through his hair. “All I meant was… Christ.”

Her brows raised as her eyes shifted from his to see his hand. It was almost shaking, two fingers drumming to a nonexistent tune. She had no idea what he was trying to say, so she waited.

“Sassenach, I just meant to… want to-” He was coming undone as he struggled for words. He exhaled hard before shrugging his shoulders in defeat. “Yer no’ like the other lasses in there and I just wanted a bit o’ time to get to know ye.”

He thought I was different- well he was right.

She wasn’t his type- that much she knew. But she wanted to know exactly what he meant by that, so she took a step closer, asking, “How do you know I’m not like the other girls in there?”

“Because…” His eyes were a deep blue and his face contorted slightly as the words hit him. “Ye dinna linger at the stage, lookin’ for my attention.” His laugh had an edge to it as he finished, “Thought I’d have to fight to get ye’ alone out here- just to feel the calm ye bring with ye.”

She stared at him, the flash of confidence she felt only moments ago about her first impression was replaced with confusion.

He seemed to take her silence as a nod to continue. “Ye have a way of making me smile- and the smile lingers, for nae reason at all.” His accent was coming stronger with each word. “I canna explain it… it’s just, ye seem to bewitch me, and I dinna want it to stop.”

His words caught her off guard, and she stood there- seeing his eyes wide and searching for a response.

Was this really how she spoke to the other girls?

She took a deep breath, lungs searching for air that was heavy with his aroma- traces of jasmine, shampoo, and fresh linen. She stared at him as his face tensed, “My name isn’t Sassenach.”

“I’m sorry if I offended ye,” his words came fast, almost jumbled, “I mean no dis-”

A soft smile formed on her face as she held out her hand. “It’s Claire.”

He returned the smile as a look of relief washed over him. He took her hand, large fingers encompassing it as he replied, “Jamie.”

_____________

JAMIE

They lingered for a moment- hands clasped tight, a charge between them and he felt a rush of adrenaline coupled with a sense of calm. Her face twitched and he was sure she felt it, too. A rosy pigment painted her cheeks as she pulled her hand back- breaking the connection, but the sensation of her touch lingered on his fingertips.

“You’re right, you know.” Her voice was soft. “I am a Sassenach, I suppose. I haven’t been in Edinburgh very long- just a few weeks.”

“It was a fair guess,” his tone matched hers as he felt his muscles relax. “This city is no’ so big… after a while ye see the same faces.”

She nodded slowly, eyes wandering for a moment before refocusing. “I was in America before… Boston.”

He caught the hitch in her breath as she struggled for the last word, and he resisted asking for more.

She seemed to take the silence as a gift, and after a deep breath, she turned back towards the door. She paused, not speaking or moving, but he could see a myriad of thoughts behind that smooth whisky amber.

“Och, weel…I suppose I should get back to the stage, aye?” He was sorry to leave; he wanted to anchor himself to that spot- in this moment, with her- Claire.

A hint of a smile crept across her face as she took a small step forward. “Yes, I suppose so.”

He held the door open for her, gesturing for her to lead the way. She paused, looking down at her hands, fingers now knotted together.

“Ye alright, Claire?” He felt a warmth in his chest as he said her name, and he let it simmer as his eyes watched her.

“Y-Yes… I was just thinking it’s getting late and I should go.” He thought he caught the hint of disappointment in her voice.

She took a deep breath before looking up at him, a slight blush to her cheeks as she smiled. “Can I see your phone… just for a moment?”

His eyebrows creased in confusion, but he passed it to her without hesitation. She took it and he watched as her thumbs danced across the screen. She passed it back to him, the smile traveling across her mouth and it lit the golden hue of her eyes.

“It was nice meeting you, Jamie.” She turned without another look.

He watched her form as it disappeared around the corner and he let out a long-held breath. He looked at his phone- the screen still on “add contact.” He scrolled to “C”- finding no new entries and his smile faded. He blinked, looking back at the direction she had turned, and then back towards his phone. His thumb traveled through the alphabet to “S” and he smiled.

Sassenach.

He took a deep breath before reaching for the door, shaking his head slightly.

We are both in trouble, lass.

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

Well that was… unexpected.

A fun, alcohol-filled night out with Geillis was never boring, but she was not prepared for… that.

Claire closed her eyes and let her mind wander back to the night before.

The sound of his voice lingered in her ears-the soft lilt that grew stronger as he fumbled over his words. The memory made her giggle; he wasn’t the debonair ladies’ man she had imagined him to be. She saw that table of girls, and the way they looked at him. She wasn’t naïve enough to imagine he had not dated one of them… or perhaps more than one. But outside, with her, in the stillness of the spring night- he was different, unprotected, and vulnerable.

The sound of her phone buzzing snapped her from her daze. She shook her head in an effort to clear it; she was embarrassed for just how much time she had spent replaying the night before in her head.

She looked down, expecting to see Geillis’s name- undoubtedly to tell of her conquest. She saw how he had eyed Geillis; she knew her friend. They undoubtedly had left together. She scoffed at herself, thinking back to what she thought was bravery entering her number in his mobile. It wasn’t brave, it was stupid.

She was right, it was Geillis. Her finger swiped the screen as the message popped into view.

- Well last night was a bust. Red headed Viking doesn’t know what he missed.

Geillis was rarely denied by anyone- if she set her eyes on someone, they were as good as hers. -What had happened last night? S he tapped the keys in response.

- Must have gone home with the blonde, sorry lady- maybe they do have more fun? ;)

She had just enough time to glance down at the chart and read the last sentence of her notations before her phone pinged again.

-No lass- he left ALONE. Dinna give ANYONE a chance at him.

He went home… alone?

He must have had something to do this morning, or there was no one he fancied at the bar, or… someone was already waiting for him at home.

Her brain swirled with a thousand possibilities to explain it. But still, she couldn’t help but hear her breathing hitch and she felt a tinge of hope flutter in the back of her mind. It was impossible, to be sure. They had only shared a few quiet moments together; he could not possibly have been interested in her. She was not his type.

Her phone buzzed again but this time she looked down at it in annoyance. Okay Geillis, I get it. Enough.

Her brows creased as an unknown number flashed across the screen.

-Hope ye dinna get lost on the way home last night, Sassenach.

She stared at the text. A deep rush of heat filled her cheeks and her heart pounded in her chest.

He went home alone.

He just texted me.

But… WHY?

Her fingers shook slightly as they hovered over the keyboard- waiting. What should I say?

She thought for a moment, smiled, and let her finger swipe across the screen.

____________

JAMIE

He held his breath, waiting.

Last night he had counted the moments until his set was done, packed his guitar in one swift motion, and exited out the back door. Sleep had come quickly; his last thoughts were of whisky amber eyes and a smile that warmed him to his backbone. He woke up this morning more clear-eyed than he had in a while.

And his bed? It was empty.

No pang of regret, no awkward shuffle out the door after an awkward goodbye. He stretched his limbs to the four corners of the mattress, testing out the expanse of space without some unknown face next to him. It was an odd feeling- and for some reason it was not all that unpleasant.

He rotated his phone in his hand, fingers fidgeting with the case as he waited. She’s just one lass, why do I care so much?

He nearly dropped his phone as it buzzed in his hand.

-Was that a dig to my sensibilities or the fact that I’m a… what was that word? ‘Outlander’?

So she was a witty one, too.

He chuckled at her response, shifting his position in bed slightly as he considered his reply. He smiled as his fingers tapped the screen.

-I see ye havena lost yer Gaelic since I last saw ye.

He wondered what other words she would know. He smiled as a list of words he wanted to teach her formed in his mind.

-I can feel your concern from here, it’s quite charming.

Another quiet laugh, his eyes focused on each word of her text.

-Aye, it was either that or ask if my singin’ scared ye off.

He didn’t know this woman, yet he felt a connection to her- a closeness he hadn’t felt with anyone in… a long time.

She was practically a stranger, and yet at the same time, so familiar. He chewed on his bottom lip, waiting.

He saw the text before his phone even made a sound.

-Close, but not quite ;)

A wink. That was a good sign. He felt a bit braver.

-Might need ye to give me some singin’ tips then.

Three bubble populated, and he waited.

-Bars aren’t usually my scene- they let anyone on stage these days.

That wasn’t a NO. He tapped one finger against his leg as he considered his options. Time to ask. Keep it simple- nothing serious.

-Perhaps over coffee, then?

Three bubbles populated on his screen almost instantaneously- and then disappeared, and he felt his stomach drop. This was supposed to be casual, why am I so nervous?

He needed to know more about this Sassenach. He wasn’t satisfied with one night, just a few fleeting moments with her. His phone vibrated again, interrupting his thoughts, and his eyes darted to the screen.

-Not much of a coffee fan...

His smile faded as his heart sank. Did she just turn him down? Another ping sent his heart into overdrive.

-…How about tea?

His smile returned in full force, spreading wide across his lips. He rested his head back against the pillow, allowing for a deep intake of air. He wasn’t used to putting in effort to get a date, but it wasn’t just that- it was her. She was different. He allowed himself one more moment of exhilaration, coupled with relief, before responding- his smile still firmly fixed on his face.

____________

CLAIRE

She checked her phone again- 2:15pm. He was late.

Was I being stood up? Was he playing me for a fool? Damn you Jamie.

She shook her head as a series of four-letter words rattled in her mind. They had agreed on her favorite café around the corner from the hospital. He had asked to meet that day but she had the sterile smell of the hospital in her hair and the fatigue of a long shift aching in her bones, so they agreed on two o’clock the following day.

Her tea had cooled and she stared at the remaining liquid in her mug. She was considering abandoning the remnants just as the door kicked open and she felt a gust of air hit her back, a few stray curls fluttering around her face. Before she could blink, a large figure rushed by her and took up residence in the chair facing her.

“I’m late, I ken.” He was breathing deeply, trying to catch his breath.

Yes, you are.” Her tone was flat and she moved to push her seat from the table.

Please, dinna leave-”His eyes widened as he raised one hand in gesture to stop her. He stuttered, his words coming fast, “I’m sorry, Claire.”

She paused, frozen by his words and the sound of her name off his tongue. She watched him for a moment, seeing his chest rise and fall; she could hear his breath as it shook, as well as his attempt to steady it. She shifted back into her seat but kept her eyes trained on him, eyebrows raised as she waited for an explanation.

“I’m sae sorry, I… to say that is… I was ju-“his accent was thick again as he tried to speak. His mouth opened and closed more than once before he shook his head as he ran one large hand through his auburn curls. “Christ… I dinna ken what it is, but ye seem to… knock me off kilter.”

She fought to keep a straight face but failed, letting an earnest laugh erupt from her chest.

“Are ye laughin’ at me?” His voice was a mix of exasperation and curiosity as he cocked his head to the side.

Between breaths she nodded with a smile, “Yes I believe… I am.”

He met her gaze, laughing softly with her as well. He faltered slightly as she brushed a stray curl from her face. He cleared his throat, his eyes glancing at her mug. “Can I buy ye another cup of tea?”

She eyed him for a moment, seeing the faint glimmer of sweat on his forehead and twitch of his fingers against the table. A slight smile pulled at her lips as she nodded, “Oolong, please.”

His shoulders visibly relaxed and he let out a small sigh. He returned the smile as he stood up and headed towards the counter. Her eyes lingered on his form and she watched the barista’s reaction to him. She smiled to herself, letting herself feel a pride in being here with him.

 

He returned quickly, a fresh mug held out for her and a cup of coffee in his other hand. She reached for her tea and their fingers touched; she felt a warm current course through her, and she wasn’t sure if it was the heat from the mug or the touch of his fingertip. If he had felt it, he didn’t let on as he settled into his seat across from her, taking a long sip before he spoke.

“So, how long have ye been in town?”

“Just a few weeks. I transferred to the surgical program.” She grew quiet, eyes focused on a droplet of tea running down the side of her mug. “Seemed like a good time for a change.”

She felt his eyes on her as she took another sip, feeling the warmth of the tea trickle down her throat.

“How about you?” she asked, shifting the focus and trying for a lighter topic. “You’re from the Highlands, right?”

“Oh aye- a Highlander, born and raised. Havena lived in Edinburgh too long myself.” His finger traced the rim of his mug.

Their conversation flowed easily, but he was particular in steering clear of anything too personal, no mention of a partner or other ties. She didn’t ask, but she wondered just what he was deflecting- and why.

She spoke about the hospital and her work- the excitement of surgery paired with the exhaustion of late nights and long shifts. He listened attentively, waiting for a pause or for her to sip her tea before asking a question.

“… and finally Geillis told me we were going out to get plastered, and that’s how we ended up at the pub that night.” She shook her head remembering that night, and she paused at the memory of his eyes meeting hers for the first time. She sipped the last of her tea and carefully placed the mug back down on the table.

His voice was quiet but he spoke with conviction as he kept his eyes hooded, “Remind me some day to thank her, aye?”

He eyed her mug, tilting his own to see it empty. He glanced up just long enough to see her eyeing him and he smiled.

“I don’t do this often,” his voice was steady but she thought she caught a hint of wonder.

She winked as she smiled and asked, “What’s that- drink coffee?”

“No.” A faint smile formed but shook his head, “Go on dates.”

“Oh, you think this was a date?” Her voice was teasing but she felt her heart beat against her rib cage as she enjoyed the illusion of thinking it was. She sat back and waited, expecting a flirty response or even a new Gaelic word she would need to learn. He raised one eyebrow as she felt her breath pause.

“I was just hoping.” He said simply, looking at her with an openness that caught her off guard.

She stared at him for a moment, unsure of how to respond. Each time she expected a cocky attitude, he disarmed her with vulnerability. “… And if it was?”

He smiled, “Just wait and see what I have in store for date number two.”

He tried, and failed at a wink and she laughed again, feeling her heart flutter as his blue eyes pierced through her.

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

She combed through each garment in her closet, fingers searching for a fabric that felt comfortable yet appropriate for a date.

She caught her reflection in the dresser mirror and shook her head- what was I doing?

“Lads like a bit o’ skin, but dinna give away all yer secrets,” Geillis’s voice was higher than normal, and Claire caught a slight edge to it as she sighed, looking back into the depths of her closet.

In their relatively young friendship, they had never eyed the same guy before. More than that, Claire had never been interested in any of the men she had seen while out. What felt even more impossible was that any guy would deny Geillis- let alone deny her because they were interested in Claire. She shook her head at the notion, muttering nonsensical words into her reflection.

Geillis had picked out a stack of dresses for Claire to try on, but the thought of a dress- so soon after- felt too much to bear. So she checked her dresser and smiled, pulling out a pair of fitted black jeans. She paired them with a loose emerald silk blouse, and fitted black leather jacket.

She checked herself in the mirror- simple makeup of mascara and a hint of red lipstick. Her hair was still a mass of curls but she had wrangled them somewhat into a formidable shape and she smiled for a moment before she heard the buzz of the door.

He had asked to pick her up at her front door, and she had groaned at the request. It was only three blocks to the restaurant- but he had insisted, so Claire compromised and agreed to let him meet her outside her building.

__________

JAMIE

A Dhia.

She was stunning. She looked like herself, but she carried with her a lightness, a fire within her. It caught him off guard and sent his heart racing. He straightened out his jacket lapels, his hands smoothing out the material as he cleared his throat.

“Wasn’t sure you’d show,” her voice was lighthearted as she closed the gap between them.

The question stopped him in his tracks.

Wasn’t sure I’d show up?

His mind tracked back to the night they met- she had seen the other girls, she had seen the familiarity they’d shown with him. Could she not see how different she was than them? Fragmented pieces of her life had swirled around his head since that first night, but the soft British cadence as she said his name echoed in his ears like birdsong. This foreign creature in front of him was the most genuine spark of life he had encountered in a long time.

Not show up? He had counted the hours until he could stand in this very spot, waiting for her.

“What makes ye say that, Sassenach?” He cocked his head, suppressing a smile as the last word left his lips.

“I just…” She stopped short, her breath hitching as their eyes met. He saw a truth in her eyes as she finished, “I’m just glad to see you.”

He paused, taking in the amber of her eyes against the ivory of her cheek as a few stray curls framed her face. He smiled and nodded as he turned towards the direction of the restaurant, “Aye, me too.”

His eyes shifted to her every few steps, watching the bounce of her curls as she strode with purpose. Their shoulders all but touched as they turned the corner to a small side street. His fingers twitched and he clenched his fist to keep from taking her hand with his. She had agreed to a second date, but he was resolved to wait for her to close the distance between them.

She sighed twice, both times through parted lips, slightly curled into a smile. He relaxed with each stride, hearing her breath in time with his step.

The three blocks passed in a blink and they found themselves at the entry to the restaurant.

__________

CLAIRE

They sat in the back corner, perfectly private but their vantage point held a perfect view of the room. A small candle on the table between them lit his face with a soft glow.

She was just settling into her seat when the waitress came by with the menus. Claire watched the waitress’s eyes as they flitted from Claire to Jamie, and stayed there. The waitress’s hand grazed his hand with a hint of familiarity as she took great care to open the folded menu and place it in his hands. Jamie’s eyes immediately shot to Claire, a quizzical smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

Claire returned the look with an arch of her eyebrow, waiting until the waitress had retreated before clearing her throat and sighing, “Fan of yours?”

“Dinna fash, lass. My eyes havena stopped watchin’ those curls as they dance ‘round yer face.”

This broke her attempt at a veneer of armor and she laughed, shaking her head.

He tilted his head as he smiled at the sound, “Och, see. How canna man look away when ye smile like that.”

She rolled her eyes and he saw her shoulders relax as she hummed, “Oh Mr. Fraser- is that how they teach young men to flirt in Scotland?”

A good-mannered scoff followed and she tilted her head to the side, watching as his eyes shifted from her to his menu. She let her gaze linger on the line of his jaw where it met his chin and she settled her eyes on his lips for a moment. His eyes flickered up to meet hers and she blinked hard, quickly averting her eyes to her own menu. Even though her eyes were fixed squarely on her menu, she could feel the heat of his smile on her cheeks.

--------

“…And then Murtagh said I canna do such a thing – so of course I hadta try, and before ye knew it I was bare-arsed on top of a mountain wi’ no breeks in sight,” Jamie was barely able to say the last few words as another fit of laughter consumed him.

His chuckle was infectious and the sound pulled her to him, and she soaked up the hum of his voice and heat it stirred in her. She giggled in response and took the last sip of her whisky.

That’s two now, Beauchamp.

They had spent the last few hours drinking and talking, genuinely getting to know each other as they cocooned themselves in a bubble-one that held only themselves and their most cherished memories, shared at first with tentative and then all-encompassing excitement.

Each story and question brought him closer to her- and her to him. He was a natural storyteller, like most Scots. She found herself content to listen as he painted vivid imagery with his words and kept her waiting for what words his voice would speak next. She reveled in the way his mouth curled as he spoke about his childhood with a gentle affection.

A natural lull in their conversation allowed her to risk a glance at his face, seeing his mouth contentedly set in a smile but his eyes held a heady weight and determination as they risked a more lingering inspection. His long fingers drummed on the table and she felt her heartbeat quicken to match his rhythm.

The waitress returned, murmuring something in a soft and gentle tone, her voice rising as if she was asking a question. Jamie’s eyes did not move from Claire’s face. He did not answer the question she had uttered, instead asking only for the check in response.

A stirring pool of heat throbbed in her belly and her eyes fluttered as she broke their stare, looking down at her empty glass. She had enough whisky to feel brave, and with a final deep breath she looked back up at him with a smile. “So… what now?”

“I…” His voice was low and it cracked as he cleared his throat. “I dinna ken.”

His answer disarmed her and she felt a rush of adrenaline at the possibility of what was next. She’d had two glasses of her favorite whisky; the effects of the liquid coupled with the rush of anticipation left her feeling bold. The man in front of her had caught the eye of countless interested observers in the restaurant, yet his eyes never let her face. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was hoping for, but she wasn’t ready for the night to end.

Her voice was hopeful with a trace of flirtation as she asked, “Fancy a nightcap?”

Jamie blinked hard, biting his lower lip as he cocked his head to the side. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as his breath hitched, “Aye.”

__________

JAMIE

Jamie took note of his surroundings as Claire padded to the liquor closet. Both of their jackets were slung neatly side by side over the couch, a hint of moonlight peeking through the windows and creating patterns on the hardwood floors. A wall of shelves housed countless medical textbooks, interspersed with a variety of vases, empty and fashioned out of various materials and cultural designs.

She returned with two crystal glasses and a decanter filled with her favorite whisky. She filled them both and then held out a glass for him. As he took it, their fingers touched- a current of electricity passing between them.

“Slainte,” she said with her best attempt at a Scottish lilt and took a deep pull from her glass.

“Slainte Mhath,” he said as he took a long sip. He felt his heart both constrict and swell at her attempt, as he continued, “Aye, more Gaelic for ye then, is it?”

“Well, maybe just one or two words more…” Her smile shifted to a smirk as she cocked her head to the side, “any guesses on what they are?”

His voice trembled slightly as he tried to steady himself, “Give me time, I bet I can figure it out.”

She held her glass in one hand, swirling the liquid before downing the rest. “And just how do you think you’ll do that?”

Her words felt like a challenge, and he stood still, breath suspended as she took his glass in her other hand, setting them both down on the table before closing the distance between them.

He felt off kilter.

His mind swirled with a thousand thoughts of the days since he had last seen her- the flecks of gold in her eyes, the wisps of wild curls around her face, the curve of her lip as she smiled. He had thought of little else and now she was a hair’s breadth from him, and he was afraid to breathe for fear he would ruin it.

He saw her tense at his hesitation, a flicker of doubt in her eyes as she stared at him, eyebrows pressed together and the hint of a small quiver of her chin.

He had been resolved to wait for her, to give freely the power to make the final connection. He wanted this. Oh he wanted this, and her. He wanted to wash away every flash of doubt in her mind, to fill the space between them with all his reverence.

He took one hand and raised it to her cheek. His fingertips felt the soft smooth surface of her ivory skin as he slowly bent his head towards her, stopping before their lips touched- waiting.

She breathed into his lips and his hand slipped into her curls, holding her to him. A current of electricity fused them together as their mouths found a pulsing rhythm.

Her hands reached for the hem of his shirt and he pulled back just long enough to pull it off before wrapping both arms around her, hands searching and caressing the lines of her back. His fingers slowly weaved under the silk of her blouse to find soft skin and he moaned into her mouth as his hand pulled it up to free her of it.

She pushed him backwards onto the couch, straddling him as their hands continued to knead and explore each other. Her body was both foreign and familiar and his hands caressed each curve and line.

She wanted him. In this moment he needed her more than air. But not just tonight.

She was not a one night stand, and in this moment- he didn’t want to be one either. He would wait for her to trust him. Things could be different with her.

He broke their kiss, breathing heavily into her curls as he searched her face, seeing a deep blush on her cheeks.

“Lass…” he said as she brought her lips to his. Her breath was intoxicating-both the novel taste of her and the whisky on her breath set his head spinning. He kissed her once more before his hands gripped her shoulders and he held her slightly away from him. “We canna do this.”

Her eyes widened, traces of hurt seeping into her face, “Do you… not want me?”

Christ Claire-I canna be near ye and no’ want ye- I can scarcely breathe. But this,” he said, his eyes widening and his eyebrows rising in sincerity, “what it is between us… It’s different.”

She looked down, lowering her head and obscuring her face from his view.

His arms tightened around her as he whispered, “I want to savor this, with you.”

She nodded silently, her chin quivering slightly as she cleared her throat. Her hands traveled to her stomach, crossing in front of her to cover her bare skin. Without a word she rose from his lap, turning to grab a throw from the chair across the room.

As he watched her turn away from him, he noticed the black silhouette of a figure inked on her shoulder blade. She wrapped the throw tightly around her shoulders as she turned back to face him. Tentatively padding back towards the couch, she settled herself beside him.

Her eyes drifted down the length of his bare torso and back up to his face, a small smile forming before she loosened her throw, unwrapping herself, and offered it to him to share. He gladly pulled the throw- and her- to him, and he sighed as she settled into his side. Her arm laid across his stomach- her palm flat against his ribs, and her cheek rested against his chest. He felt her breath steady itself against the crook of his neck and he felt gooseflesh form, though his skin was heated.

With each heartbeat he felt them sink into each other until they were melded as one. He traced circles on her arm and hummed in satisfaction when he felt her fingers mimic the motion against his side.

“Sassenach,” he started slowly, not wanting to startle her. “Can I ask ye somethin’?”

“… Yes?” Her voice was quiet, but he felt her breath steady against him so he continued.

“The tattoo on your shoulder, is that a heron?”

He felt her body tense slightly and her breath hitched but she did not move. She said as a whisper, “Yes.”

His hand settled into her hair, his fingers drawing circles in her curls as he stared out the window. “Can I ask what it means to ye?”

“I got just before I left Boston- for my parents…” she paused, inhaling deeply as her arm tightened around him. “I suppose as a way for them to watch over me and be close to my heart.”

“Ye dinna needta speak of it,” His voice was controlled but he felt a trace of longing cut through the silence. He wanted to know, to hold her secrets and ease the pain he could feel within her. “But if ye wish to, I’m here.”

He felt a small smile against his skin as her arms pulled him closer, her voice hopeful yet sleepy, “Maybe tomorrow.”

He felt her breath deepen, the rhythm slowing to match his own and as he drifted into slumber, his arms tightened around her.

Chapter Text

JAMIE

Sunday.

He had known her for just sixteen days. They had seen each other three times. Friday. Sunday. Friday.

He had shows in Glasgow midweek and hadn’t been able to catch her between her shifts. His gigs had run late into the night but he found himself rising early in an attempt to call her before she went into the hospital. They spoke a handful of times over the phone, but always briefly and usually ending in apology for having to cut the call short.

But tonight was different. He had cancelled a gig in Inverness and Claire had completed an eight day stint, and had a full 48 hours off. He had ideas on how to fill that time.

But it all started with tonight.

The buzz of his phone startled him.

She wasn’t cancelling their plans, was she?

He had counted the days and hours until he could see her again. He had tried to remain casual but he felt a slight edge of anxiety in each word as they discussed plans and precious free hours before finally settling on tonight.

His fingers fished the phone out of his pocket and he sighed in relief- Rupert.

-Need a lift to Leoch’s tonight?

Fuck. That was tonight.

Jamie ran his hand through his hair as he contemplated a response. He wasn’t ready for the ribbing he knew he’d get if he told his cousins he’d met a lass- that he was scrapping plans with them tonight to see her. He wasn’t ready to tell them he was finally –if somewhat tentatively- hopeful again, after such a long time.

-Sorry Lad, somethin’s come up. Rain check for tomorrow?

Three dots populated and he let out a sigh. Out wi’ it man. Get yer joke in and be done with it.

-First round is on you… maybe the second too.

- P.S- rain CHECK… or rain COAT?

He grunted at the response as he pocketed his phone. Rupert would have plenty more to say tomorrow.

He whirled around his flat, readying it for their date. He wasn’t willing to share their night with anyone; he wanted her here, at his place. He wanted his time with Claire to be his. He needed more time with her, to get her to trust him before he introduced her to them.

Straightening out the pillows on his sofa, he paused, remembering their last night together. They had fallen asleep at her place, wrapped in a shared blanket.

In that moment, they had been anchors to each other; the heated passion they had shared had morphed into a tentative bond- there was a truth between them. She was so different, and so real.

The heron.

She had pulled him close; her body nestled into the curve of his side. He could hear the grief as well as relief in her voice as she spoke about her parents. She was unguarded, raw, and honest.

He had woken when she rose, one eye cracked open watching her tiptoe around the apartment. She had disappeared momentarily before emerging in light blue scrubs- how she could even make scrubs look good, he didn’t know or care. Her hair was a bird’s nest of curls tied into a bun atop her head. He saw her pause as she reached for the door, looking back to him, catching his stare. The smile that lit her face as she blushed had been etched into his memory. Her shy steps back towards the couch, the coy smile on her face as she lowered her face to his replayed in his mind. The kiss on his cheek before she departed was burned into his flesh.

Everything and nothing had happened in that moment. The earth stood still on its axis. It was a promise. In the dark shadows of early dawn, a whisper of hope lingered between them.

With her, it would be different.

He smacked the throw pillow and placed it against the cushion as he swiftly moved onto the next room.

Two hours to go.

___________

CLAIRE

She was nervous. The last time she had seen him, he had offered herself to him.

She had not wanted a one-night stand, but the pull to him had filled her head and pooled in her belly. Every rational thought had faded and all she saw was the lines of his cheekbones and slant of his eyes. He was interested, enthusiastic even, but he had stopped her.

He had left herself exposed, vulnerable, and confused.

Running her hands through her hair, she shook her head in an attempt to erase the memory of those feelings. What had she been thinking? She didn’t do things like that. But it was him. Like a magnet pointing north, she felt helpless to stop herself. She had felt the urgency in his hands as it matched her own.

The deep hum of his voice-I want to savor this, with you- it sent shockwaves to every limb and she yearned to feel every touch, kiss, and movement of his body as he fulfilled that promise.

Strong arms held her that night, bare skin to bare skin. Any earlier passion had shifted to a quiet peace that crept into her bones and weighted her limbs with a deep ache for rest.

His face. Oh god, his face.

Deep blue eyes pierced through the darkness and burned into her soul.

Something in his face disarmed her and the words were bursting at the seams, just barely contained. She wanted to tell him about her past. The few words she had spoken that night had lightened the weight pressed against her chest.

She had told him about Boston. She hadn’t uttered that word or spoken of her parents since the funeral. A fresh start was what this was supposed to be, but instead she found her mind churning the last moments she had with them over and over in her mind. She closed her eyes- the image of her reflection in a black dress, holding white flowers, and tear-stained eyes staring back at her haunted her once more.

In time, perhaps, she could tell him everything.

In time.

___________

She knocked on the door to his flat, but heard a flurry of noise- pots clanking and a string of Gaelic she was glad she did not understand. The doorknob twisted freely, and she slowly pushed the door open, the faint aroma of rosemary filling her nose.

She rounded the corner, stopping to see his large form hovering over the sink, cold water running over the back of his hand. From where she stood, she could see the streak of red against his ruddy skin.

Leaning against the entry way to the kitchen, she let a small sigh of amusement escape her lips. Jamie froze, his shoulder straightened slightly as he turned slowly to face her. His curls were damp at the temples and his shirt was dappled with water.

With a genuine laugh that snapped her nerves and sent a current of relief through her limbs, she smiled, “And here I thought it might be awkward.”

___________

JAMIE

The words came easily, creating images Claire could almost touch. His childhood at Lallybroch had been filled with adventure, history, and Highland tradition. His eyes watched her reactions, both in surprise or in mock frustration as he’d pause and wait, each sound from her lips more endearing than the last. He made general comments about life outside of music but always stopped short of discussing anything in recent memory.

He watched her settle deeper into the couch, a few inches closer than the moment before. They had started on separate cushions but each laugh, sigh, and reach for their glass brought them closer together until they were a hair’s breadth from each other. She let out a contented sigh as she set down her empty glass.

“Well that’s the last of the whisky,” he said, holding the bottle at an angle, seeing a small pool form as he raised an eyebrow. “Havena met a lass who can keep pace wi’ me.”

One eyebrow quirked as she smirked, “I thought a true Scot didn’t run out of whisky.”

He paused, searching for a retort but instead he settled on a deep Scottish grunt in his throat.

“Are you implying that I’m intoxicated?” She said with feigned shock, her weight sinking closer to him.

“I’d be impressed if you weren’t.” He smirked with a wink.

She laughed in response and he paused, wanting to find new ways to make her laugh, to hear that sound over and over again.

“Dinner was very good, thank you,” her voice was warm and her British cadence swirled around the last word in a way that sent gooseflesh down his neck.

“Och, dinna lie on my account- but it’s kind of ye to say. I just-” he paused as his thumb traced the burn mark on his hand. He tilted his head as his eyes scanned her face, “I canna seem to keep my thoughts straight when I’m around ye.”

She shook her head, a small smile escaping her lips as she whispered, “You’re not the only one, Jamie.”

“Say it again.”

“What?” Her eyes glowed like an ember, and it stopped his breath.

His voice was thick and he felt the air leave his lungs, “My name.”

She smiled as she leaned into him, her nose softly nudging his. He could all but taste the whisky on her breath as his eyes flickered to her lips as she whispered, “Jamie.”

At the sound of her voice his eyes met hers again and a pulse ignited between them. His hands plunged into her curls, pulling her face to his as his tongue sought entry against her lips. Her hands reached up and held his forearms to steady herself.

“Jamie, wait-” She pulled away enough to gasp for breath as she looked into his eyes. “Before… last time- you… stopped this.”

“Aye. I did- ” His thoughts were scattered as his eyes tried to focus on her face, catching the slightest tremble of her lower lip. “It wasna that I dinna want ye..”

He felt her hands tighten against his skin, and his thumb stroked her cheek as she looked down.

“I just- I dinna want a one night stand to…” he paused, gently raising her face to meet his once more. “I dinna want this to be over before it could even begin.”

Her breath was thick against his lips as she whispered, “It doesn’t have to be.”

His control was slipping as he watched her tongue graze her lower lip.

Her eyes were a pool of glowing amber as she held their gaze, “Do you want me now?”

His voice was raspy and shaking as his hand shifted into her curls, “Oh god, yes.”

He breathed in her air as his lips found hers. His hands traveled the length of her back before settling around her hips, lifting her as he walked them towards the bedroom.

He sat on the edge of the bed, her legs settled on both sides of him as his hands roamed her body. He took in the taste of her tongue, the feel of her lips as they molded to his. Her hands fumbled with the hemline of his shirt as he deftly pulled her out of hers. His arm snaked around her waist as he twisted them onto the bed, his chest pressing her back against the mattress. With a few skilled motions he had freed them of their pants, her legs wrapping around his waist.

He paused, his breath hitching as he watched her eyes shift- from amber to a deep glow. His lower lip trembled as he slowly pressed himself into her, an incoherent jumble of Gaelic words escaping his lips.

Eager hands searched her body, caressing and stroking the line of her waist to her shoulder, fingers grazing her skin leaving gooseflesh in its wake.

Moments fragmented as each thrust brought them closer together- her breath against his neck, his hand pressed into her hips as he held her firm. With each movement he felt a crack form- the walls he’d created shuttered with each thrust and moan from her lips. His eyes never left her face, watching as each pulse reverberated through her.

Her breath quickened and he felt her tighten around him, the sensation pushing him towards the edge of a cliff, a precipice he’d known but felt suddenly new- with her. As they collapsed into each other’s arms, he heard her call out to him. Her voice struck a chord in his soul and in that moment, with the sound of her breath in his ear, he had no name.

___________

His nose was buried in her curls, his hands resting on the curve of her back. He felt her breath against his chest- a slow, even in and out that matched his own.

“Jamie?” Her voice was quiet but held a hint of humor. “What did all those Gaelic words mean?”

He laughed and the rumble reverberated against her cheek. “Och, so that’s a few more for ye to learn then, aye?”

He felt her curls tickle his skin as she shook her head, and the sensation prickled his skin as she sighed. Her breath was a mix of warmth and whisky and his arms tightened around her as he tried to memorize each sound she made- familiar yet foreign- like a note he had never heard knew how to play by heart.

Two fingers drummed a light rhythm against her skin. “Sassenach?”

He heard a decidedly content, “Mmm?”

He struggled to steady his voice as he asked, “Can I show ye somethin’?”

“Oh?” He could hear the curiosity in her voice and he smiled.

“It’s been circlin’ round in my head, canna seem to get it out quite right,” he started, hesitating before he finished, “Thought ye might help me a bit with it, aye?”

With a small groan she loosened her grip on his waist, shifting slightly to allow him the freedom to move from the bed. He pulled up his boxers before stepping out of the room and quickly returning with his guitar. He came back to see her propped up against a pillow, and he paused slightly at the sight of his favorite rugby shirt- now hugging every curve of her frame.

He coughed slightly as he sat down on the side of the bed, facing her. He lightly tapped the body of the guitar and his eyes shifted from her face to the strings and back again. His fingers pressed against the strings and his thumb strummed, a slightly sharp note reverberating. He froze, pressing his palm to the neck of the guitar, muting the sound quickly. “Och that is… No’ how it starts.”

“Well I’ve never…” she feigned shock as she watched him. She tilted her head as a smile played at the corner of her mouth, “Didn’t think you were inclined to stage fright.”

“Well I’m no’ on stage,” He clarified as he cleared his throat as a smile pulled across his face, “… and I havena played a song to a lass in my bed in… a long time.”

The words hung between them. Another shade of his façade fell, and she saw a clearer glimpse of Jamie, offering a small piece of himself. He saw the question in her eyes. Why. He watched her lips form the word when a knock at the door shattered the moment and Jamie looked towards the door.

Claire’s eyes roamed over his body, seeing his long lean limbs covered only by the barest of fabric, “Are you going to answer the door like that?”

He eyed her shirt as it clung to her form, “If I take that one back… I’ll never leave this room.”

He winked as he grabbed the nearest shirt and reached for his pants, dressing quickly. He leaned in towards her, kissing her forehead softly before turning towards the hallway.

He padded to the door, opening it with a lingering smile that disappeared as soon as he saw the face staring back at him.

Fuck.

His heart dropped into his stomach and he felt his heartbeat pulsing in his ears. He had been so distracted, all-encompassed by Claire that he had forgotten.

Laoghaire.” His strangled voice fought for indifference. He felt a flash of panic- this intruder could crush every new strand of connection he had sought with Claire. He set his shoulders in determination and strained for detached formality and as he asked, “what are ye doin’ here?”

“Ye havena come over lately. The bartender said this was yer address…” She took a step towards him but his arm planted firmly across the threshold, blocking her entry. “And I thought maybe… ye might have been waitin’ for me- that ye’d finally let me stay here.”

He barely heard her words. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a slight movement, and he turned- deep blue meeting whisky amber.

___________

CLAIRE

The blonde from the bar.

She was here.

At Jamie’s flat.

The look on his face was a mix of panic and adrenaline.

“Ye shouldna be here lass.” His voice was cold and detached as he turned back to the girl in the doorway, “Ye need to leave.”

She peaked around Jamie and her eyes met Claire’s. A look of shock and disgust stained her face as she turned without another word. Her own Scottish grunt hung in the air as he pulled the door shut with a loud thud as she left.

He turned to face her, taking two tentative steps in her direction.

“Claire-” His tone was cautious as he lifted his hands up slowly exposing his palms, as if not to startle a wild creature. “This isna what it looks like.”

His eyes bore into hers as she tried for a few deep breaths. A few moments passed as she tried to steady herself. She was quiet, too quiet. She needed to react. “Ok. Then tell me what this is.”

“I ken ye saw the lasses, that night we met. And I ken what ye must’ve thought. Ye werena wrong -” His voice started to shake as his breathing quickened, “But since that night- I haven’t seen or spoken to any of them.”

Her eyes dropped to the floor, her hands locked together to hold herself steady. Flickers of thoughts crossed her mind.

Other girls.

A line of them waiting for their turn with him.

Oh god.

She was wearing only his shirt.

The faint ache from his body was still a low throb between her thighs.

Was she so stupid to really hope this was different?

Would she be just another woman on the wrong side of the door- seeing a fresh new face in his bed where she had been but moments before?

Please-” His voice cut through her thoughts. Wide eyes met hers as his hands ran through his hair before holding onto the back of his neck. She heard an honest desperation behind his words. “I’m begging you to trust me Claire. I don’t want to do anything to hurt you.”

A sea of deep blue stared at her, unblinking. His eyebrows were creased together and his jaw was taut.

A moment of decision.

“Please Claire-” it was a whisper, a prayer. “Stay.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

The heat of the shower did little to ease the knot in her stomach, her mind replaying the night before on an endless loop.

Trust.

He’d asked for it, and she had given it. The tidal wave with blonde hair had left them both shaken and unsteady. His words had struck her to the core.

I’m beggin’ ye to trust me.

His voice was raw, untamed, exposed. His cheeks flushed and his eyes a deep stormy blue.

They had come together again, slowly- tentatively. His hands were reverent as they roamed her body. She had reveled in every touch, every pulse. Thoughts scattered as she surrendered to the sensation of his fingertips against her skin and the warmth of his breath against her neck. The slow, deep rhythm had shattered her into fragmented flickers of light and they were both left sated, limbs heavy, and breath ragged.

Steam circled her as she remembered waking early to see his face. Auburn eyelashes splayed across his ruddy skin, the line of his mouth set in a small smile. The weight of his arm was pressed against hers and she felt the heat from his skin radiate through her body. She caught the glow of his phone against the early morning darkness. Her heart skipped a beat before stuttering to catch up as she glanced at the screen- seeing a name and a question.

-Geneva: See you tonight?xx

Fuck.

Another one? How many were there?

Her hands ran through her water-soaked curls as she took in a deep breath. She said she would trust him. She needed to at least try.

It could have been anything. She could be a friend. Contact from a bar he plays at. Does he have a sister?

She turned the shower knob to the left, feeling the heat intensify as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

The image of his sleeping face reappeared, and she remembered the feel of his stubble against her fingertip as she traced the line of his jaw to his chin. He hadn’t woken when she left. She had dressed silently before slipping out of his flat- scribbling a quick note that she had been called into the hospital. She needed space, to think clearly and she couldn’t do that with his warm, solid form next to her.

_______________

The buzz of her phone pulled her out of her thoughts.

-So… how was the Viking?

She wasn’t ready to talk about it. The sex was more than sex- it was intoxicating, all-consuming, it left them both breathless and shaking. In the dark hours of the night she had touched his soul and his eyes had glimpsed into hers. The sobering descent into reality this morning knocked the wind from her chest. She chewed on her lower lip as she swiped the screen to respond.

-A lady never kisses and tells

Three bubbles populated almost instantly.

- that good huh?

Shit.

She wasn’t getting out of this one. Jamie had chosen Claire over Geillis, and she knew her friend wasn’t going to settle for anything less than each juicy detail.

-Let me buy you a drink tonight at Leoch’s, I canna wait to hear all about it

__________

JAMIE

“Another!” Rupert’s voice reverberated as he slammed his empty glass on the table.

Jamie set his down a moment later, choking down the last of the beer with difficulty. “Och Rupert, man- I needta get goin’.”

He was anxious to get home- anxious to text her, call her, to see her. He was anxious for her.

“How rude of ye to leave when we’ve just made a new friend here,” Rupert’s voice was filled with mischief said as he nodded to the fresh faced lass next to him.

Jamie was trying to be polite, but his mind kept wandering back to the night before- with Claire. She had stayed.

He had felt a sense of peace as he drifted into sleep with her in his arms and it contrasted sharply with waking up to empty arms. Merely a short note on the bedside table- she had been called into the hospital.

She wanted to trust him. She had put another crack in the patched up wall that he used as armor, and it was about to come crashing down. He needed to tell her. She needed to know his past if she was to really believe how he felt about her.

The whole charade tonight with his cousins left a bitter taste in his mouth. Late nights with random faces now felt shallow, he now wanted to swim in a sea of whisky amber. She filled his thoughts and he wondered what if Rupert or Angus knew- a single moment with Claire would be enough for them to really see. See what he sees. See how she’s the spark of life he’s been missing for so long.

__________

CLAIRE

“What is this place?” she asked over the hum of the crowd as they waited at the bar.

Geillis’s eyes scanned the room as she spoke. “Dinna ken. Someone said it has the best whisky selection in town.”

A large, solid form pushed against her back and she stumbled into the bar.

“Beg pardon, lass,” a deep voice behind her hummed as she felt a hand cup her elbow. She turned to see a stout man with a bearded face and kind smile.

“It’s alright, no worries,” she responded as she steadied herself, turning back to Geillis.

A higher pitched voice came from right behind her, his shoulder pressed against hers as the crowd shuffled closer to the bar. “Hey Rupert, what are the odds of him bringin’ home that lass?”

The bearded man replied, “Och Angus- look at her- all heart eyes and flutterin’ lashes. He seems a bit off tonight- but I still dinna think Jamie will haveta do much to seal the deal.”

Her ears caught his name and she froze. Jamie. Her Jamie?

A lump formed in her throat and her stomach twisted into a painful knot. She closed her eyes in an effort to focus, to breathe.

She opened them slowly, turning her head to follow the two Scots as they weaved through the crowd. They set the round of drinks on the table and her eyes caught the sight of a familiar hand that grabbed the fresh glass. Her eyes traveled up the sculpted arm to find red hair, slightly disheveled.

__________

JAMIE

More whisky.

Any other night he would gladly delight in another round. Rupert and Angus were there and a pretty girl was inching closer to him with each flip of her hair. This was what he was used to. This had been the life he had decided he could manage after what happened. But now… things had changed. Claire had held his soul between her hands and he needed that feeling to consume him. The night before shifted his world on its axis and he wasn’t- couldn’t be- the same.

One more drink then he was gone. Off to find his brown haired lass.

He reached for the tumbler and felt eyes watching him. He lifted his gaze up to meet whisky amber. Claire was across the crowded room but all he saw was her. He felt a delicate, foreign hand caress his arm and he froze. Claire’s eyes caught the motion and her face went white.

Fuck.

He watched as she shook her head slightly, eyes not wavering as she leaned towards the redhead and then headed for the door. He was out of his chair and striding towards the exit in a single movement, his heartbeat matching each step as he closed the gap between them.

Pushing his hands against the solid wood door, the smell of fresh rain hit his senses as his eyes scanned the pavement.

Seeing the mass of brown curls to his left, he caught up to her quickly, his hand finding her elbow and pulling her around to face him. “Claire, please stop!”

He watched as an array of emotions crossed her face before settling on anger.

“I thought ye hadta work, ye left sae early I- yer note said…” his thoughts were jumbled as he tried to rationalize her sudden appearance. “Claire what are ye doin here?”

She stood frozen in place, her hands clenched into fists at her side. Through gritted teeth she asked, “Was that Geneva?”

The question stopped his thoughts and he blinked hard. “What?”

Her upper lip twitched before she answered, “Your phone this morning- her text lit up the screen- it was like a fucking giant warning sign.”

“She’s-” he stuttered, “I told ye I havena seen any of those girls since I met you.”

She shook her head, rain-soaked curls clinging to her face. “How can I believe you? First it was last night with the blonde and now this girl-Christ Jamie she was practically on your lap.”

She was right.

She had trusted him. Trusted him to make love to her after what happened.

His behavior with those girls… they had been an elixir to numb the pain, a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. He had thought she was the light to break through his cracked armor, the sun that would cast out the darkness.

How could he make her see? What it was between them… that HE was different with her.

“I was just tryna be nice to the lass- she’s nothin’ to me.” His voice was calm but he felt his throat tighten as he struggled to control it.

He heard the pain behind her words as she asked, “You ‘didn’t want this to be over before it began?’- that was the line right?”

She hurled his own words back at him and they hit him like hammer. He felt his heart sink as he stood still, each word slicing his heart like a knife.

“Does it work on all the other girls, too?” Her voice cracked, the strength bleeding from her voice as she paused. Her chin dimpled as she tried to maintain her composure, “If I was a challenge- congratulations, you conquered me… hopefully a decent shag and a good story to tell your friends. You can write a song about this to add to the collection- it might even work on scoring the next girl.”

The words poured into his soul like salt on an open wound and he staggered back a step, the stinging sensation reaching his fingertips. Who he had been before and what he had turned into now… there was no way to reconcile it. He had never wanted to feel this way again- he was vulnerable, out of control, and desperate.

“I knew this was a mistake,” Her voice was quiet, barely audible as her eyes shifted to the pavement.

No. Please. Dinna say that.

She looked at him, a tear pulling down her cheek before intertwining with the droplets of rain that cast off her ivory skin, “I knew you would be trouble.”

The final dagger.

She was right.

He WAS trouble.

Standing silent for a moment, his eyes shifted from her face to the ground. He needed to spare her more pain. He was ruining this, ruining her. She didn’t deserve this kind of pain. He wanted to change, thought he could change but not at the expense of her.

This was it.

Cut the knot, watch the memories scatter. Memories he’d never make with her, more memories stolen from him at his own hand.

With a small, resolute nod he looked back up to see her chin tremble as she stared at him, waiting. His tone was harsh, pain and longing blocking his voice as he whispered, “I’m too damaged Claire- ye shouldna be with me.”

As he turned to walk away, his vision blurred as it slowly faded to black. He felt his chest constrict- the quick, clean sensation of a snap of a limb as he felt his soul break in two.

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

She’d spent three days curled up in a throw on the couch, ordering takeout and renting cheesy, feel good movies. Numerous calls and texts from Geillis went unanswered. She was finally forced off the cushion when Geillis arrived at the door with two bottles of whisky.

“Another?” It was a statement hidden under the illusion of a question.

“No Geillis-” This shot had burned less than the last. She felt the current of the amber liquid flush to her limbs before settling into a bitter pool in her stomach. “I can’t.”

“Yes ye can,” she pushed the glass towards Claire. “Ye need to cleanse yerself of that Scot.”

“Watch your tone there, lass,” she said with a humorless laugh as she tried to mimic her lilt. “You’re a Scot, too, you know.”

“True, but I wouldna be sae daft as to screw around on ye,” her words were thickened by the alcohol but her emerald eyes were clear and piercing as she watched Claire.

Claire scoffed as she shook her head. Her vision blurred as the image of his auburn curls against her thigh flickered in her mind. She licked her lower lip and felt his tongue ghost her skin. She took a deep breath, and with the exhale she felt the whisper of a dwindling promise leave her lungs. “I just- I wanted… more.”

She nodded slowly, listening. Her voice was soft as she asked, “Willya at least consider it?”

The echo of Jamie’s words lingered in her ears-ye shouldna be with me.

Her head was buzzing as she eyed the fresh liquid in front of her. “Fine.”

___________

JAMIE

Eleven days.

Six gigs.

Nine sleepless nights.

One face that haunted it all.

“…don’t ye think?”

His eyes were unfocused and he blinked hard to clear his head over the hum of the bar. “Hm?”

Shaking his head, Rupert nudged Jamie’s elbow, “What’s wrong wi’ ye lately Jamie? Lasses are throwin’ themselves at ye and ye pay ‘em no mind.”

Jamie shrugged his shoulders, hooding his eyes, “Just no’ my type, I reckon.”

Rupert laughed- a deep rumble from his belly as he took a swig from his glass. Slapping Jamie’s shoulder, he jested, “Yer thinkin’ wi’ the wrong heid, laddie buck.”

Jamie scoffed at the comment. He wasn’t wrong. He had been poor company, barely finding the effort to converse in the simplest of topics.

His mind fogged with thoughts of Claire. The heron- a black silhouette against ivory skin and all it meant. The curves of her body in his favorite rugby shirt; the look on her face as she smiled; the hum of her laugh that softened the edges of the broken armor around his heart.

His phone buzzed and he jumped at the sound as it vibrated against the wood bar. His fingers fumbled for it, his heartbeat quickening before he felt his stomach sink.

Another text from Geneva.

He hadn’t responded to the lass- or any of them for that matter. He may have set Claire free of him, but he was not free from her- far from it. In quiet moments he conjured the look of passion on her face as she talked about healing, the way her voice curled around the word Oolong, the warm touch of her fingers as they traced his back and pressed into his skin.

Rupert glanced at the screen and chuckled. “If ye don’t answer that, yer a daft fool.”

Jamie cocked his head in an effort to ease the tension in his shoulders. His fingers hovered over the screen- waiting. He took a deep breath and set the phone down.

More booze might help.

He reached for his drink, swirling the whisky in his glass. His eyes fixated on the amber liquid as he remembered the exact color of gold flecks in her eyes.

___________

CLAIRE

Friday night.

“It’s been two weeks, Claire.” Her voice echoed from the living room. “Ye’ve given too much time to that bastard. It’s time to get back out there- plenty of cock to make ye forget Jamie Fucking Fraser.

Claire sighed, a small smile playing at her lip. Geillis was anything but subtle, but she could hear the undertone of humor in her voice. But like a wave lapping against the banks of a distant shore, it disappeared at the moment of impact. Claire meandered from the bedroom to the bathroom without much thought or intent. Passing by a mirror, she caught her reflection and she paused.

Was that really what she looked like?

Hollow eyes stared back at her as she scanned her face- pale skin, cheeks gaunt, and curls frayed into a series of knots around her face. Two weeks of neglect had worn away her smile and stolen the light from her eyes. How had she let that happen?

She was stronger than this.

Get your shit together, Beauchamp.

“Come on Claire,” Geillis’s voice was like silk, the tone she used when she knew she was close to getting what she wanted. “Just one drink. Join the land of the livin’ for just one night.”

With the slightest groan and nod, Claire relented. Geillis moved around the flat with determination, all but pushing her into the shower, fully dressed, with the water already running. Digging through Claire’s closet, Geillis produced the “most fuckable” outfit she could find.

After a healthy pour of red wine, she pulled herself together- a black lace blouse, tight red jeans, and the only pair of heels she owned- black stilettos from a Halloween costume two years earlier.

She eyed herself in the mirror. Behind the winged eyeliner and red-stained lips Geillis had painstakingly applied, she recognized pieces of herself- dull brown curls, pale ivory skin, that same stubborn chin. “I look ridiculous.”

Geillis scoffed as she closed her tube of lipstick, giving her lips a good smack. “Ye look sexy as hell Claire. The men willna know what to do with ye.”

With more than one groan and Geillis behind her to ensure she didn’t turn heel and head home, Claire plodded down the pavement in the direction of the pub.

You deserve some bloody fun, too.

Just one drink. Prove you are ready.

Time to move on.

You can do this. Buck up Beauchamp.

She stopped cold when she caught the flyer on the door.

Live music tonight 9-11pm.

The Drums of Autumn

Special guest: Jamie Fraser

The words seemed to jump off the paper and encapsulate her.

He was everywhere.

In the quiet moments before sleep she heard his voice, in the dark quiet of sleep she felt his touch graze her skin, waking with only the shadow of his face against her pillow. And now, in her first attempt to push him from her mind him and move on- he was here.

She couldn’t escape him.

“Geillis-” She stood at the threshold. Her breath caught as she turned towards her friend. “-I can’t.”

“Yes ye can Claire,” Geillis’s voice was kind but firm and she reached for her hand. “It’s no’ his fucking bar. Yer allowed in there, too.”

“I know but… I-” her voice cracked as she took a step back. She wasn’t ready for this. She wasn’t ready to see his face- to see the stormy blue eyes that watched her as she unraveled underneath him. To hear the voice that whispered her name in the quiet moment before sleep took them both. Tears threatened as she shook her head. “I can’t. I can’t see him again.”

Without another word, she shook her head and pressed one hand to the brick wall for balance as she took off her shoes. Holding her heels in one hand, she wiped off her lipstick with the back of the other. Turning back in the direction of her flat, the bottle of nearly empty whisky filled her vision.

___________

JAMIE

It was his first time playing back at the pub- their pub. The room looked the same except it was vastly different- faceless patrons mingled at the bar, a soft hum of voices that drowned out the music that played through the speakers.

He looked down at the table in front of him, eyeing a few new faces- and a noticeable blonde missing. Laoghaire. Geneva had taken her spot at the front. She was one determined lass and hadn’t gotten the hint- he wasn’t interested.

He unpacked his guitar, set it on the stand and then moved towards the bar for a stiff dram before daring to play.

He rested his elbow on the bar as he placed his order. He closed his eyes, rubbing them with his thumb and forefinger as he ran through his set list in his head. He felt soft fingers slowly draw the lines of his muscle against his skin. Seeing Claire in his mind, he leaned in instinctively.

Hearing the sound of a foreign purr next to him, he froze- his eyes darted open to see Geneva next to him, the memory of Claire fading from his skin. He caught a flicker of long red hair and piercing emerald eyes watching him and his body stiffened, pulling back from Geneva.

The redhead. Was Claire here with her? Did she come to see him play?

His heart raced as his eyes darted from face to face in the crowd but he did not see the curly mass of brown hair his hands had sunken into or the ivory skin his mouth had worshiped.

___________

CLAIRE

Her rotation was uneventful. A grinding slog of mundane, standard procedures that matched the slow trudge of her feet as she made her way to the locker room.

Geillis was sitting on the bench against the row of cubbies, her foot nervously twitching as she looked up to see Claire. Her forehead was creased and her eyes were full of nerves.

“Claire, I need to speak to ye,” Her voice was a pitch too low, and it stopped Claire in her tracks.

Her eyes scanned Geillis- searching for signs of injury. Seeing nothing obvious, she relaxed slightly, asking, “What is it?”

Geillis took a deep breath before answering, “The Viking.”

Her breath caught but she recovered with a feigned cough. “What about him?”

Regret filled her face as her eyes fell to her lap, focusing on her hands. “I saw him- at the pub.”

Claire took a small step forward, towards the bench. She felt a swell of heat erupt on her cheeks and she felt faint. She tried for indifference but her voice betrayed her as it shook, “Oh?”

“Yes- He was… with a lass.” Her words tumbled out in an effort to fill the silence, “Brown hair, pretty enough I suppose. She looked like a cheap imitation of you.”

Claire looked at her, eyes wide, trying to judge her words, searching for ulterior motives. Seeing only concern, she felt her heart sink. Geillis was serious, no wink or smirk to take the edge off her words- only creased brows and a sorrowful frown.

She took a deep, shaky breath and let it out.

He was moving on. So should she.

“Geillis?”

She cocked her head to the side, one eyebrow raised. “Aye?”

“That bloke- the professor you mentioned…”she squared her shoulders as she finished, “Is he still interested?”

A sliver of curiosity curled through her voice, “I reckon so.”

A sharp pain throbbed in her chest. The turbulent tempest of blue flickered before her eyes- his ripple effect could leave destruction in its wake. She could manage a still sea, controlled and safe. Her soul ached for the roughness of a storm- to be all encompassed and overcome, washed away, and brought back to life by it. Yet her mind begged for calmer waters.

With a final decision that betrayed her heart, she pushed the image of deep blue eyes and auburn curls from her mind and said, “Tell him I’m free next Saturday.”

Chapter Text

JAMIE

Saturday night.

No gigs. No bar. No lasses.

Sitting in the dark with a fresh refill of whisky, his fingers drummed against the glass. His head rested against his pillow and his legs were twisted in the sheets; he took a long pull of the whisky as he fiddled with his phone. Eyeing the screen, he took a deep breath before tapping the photos icon.

One more time. Then I’ll delete them.

He scrolled through his photos, pausing as he caught the familiar line of her face.

Coffee. She had turned to grab her coat and he caught the moment she looked back at him and smiled. He’d memorized that look.

Their first date. He’d met her at her flat, and as she walked out the door to meet him he snapped the photo- curls swirling around her cheeks and a look of surprise on her face. Her eyes made his stomach flip.

Early morning. Moonlight cascaded down her back, the tattoo on her shoulder just barely exposed, covered by white linen. His fingers had traced the lines of black on her skin as she slept.

A familiar melody seeped into his head again, the tune buried deep and reaching for the light.

Those fucking lyrics.

He pushed his head back into the pillow, running a hand through his hair. He eyed his phone again.

Just one text. Then I’ll be done.

Scrolling through his contacts, he stared at her name, no- his name for her, before selecting it. His fingers thrummed on his thigh as he contemplated the words. What could he say? Would she even want to hear from him?

He set his glass down, watching the ripple of the amber liquid as it stilled. He had a thought…

Jamie: Uisge Beathha?

He held his breath, waiting. Please be there. Talk to me. Please.

Claire: I thought you said I should steer clear of you.

His heart leapt into his throat. She answered. He’d hoped for half as much and now that he saw she was there- on the other end of this fragile tether, he wasn’t sure what to say.

Buy time.

Jamie: Did I say that?

Claire: I’m quite certain.

Stall.

Jamie: I’m a Scot after all.

Claire: What does that have to do with being a Scot?

Jamie: We’re stubborn by nature.

Claire: So I gather.

What now? His finger tapped the side of his phone, contemplating his next move as he saw movement on the screen. Three dots populated, disappeared, and reappeared- along with it a lump in his throat.

Claire: You spelled it wrong.

A small smile played at his lip. She’d learned another word.

Jamie: What do ye mean?

Claire: “Beatha.”

Whisky. Of course, she’d learned that one. Don’t read anything into it man. It means nothing. It changes nothing. But still…

Jamie: Aye… yer learnin’ some interestin’ words there, Sassenach.

Then… nothing. Three minutes ticked by with a deafening silence. He checked the text delivery: sent, received, seen. He pushed himself up in bed, grabbing his glass and taking a strong pull of whisky to settle his nerves.

Claire: I can’t do this.

He was losing her.

Jamie: Do what exactly?

Another pause.

Claire: I have to go.

His heart sank to his stomach, the sudden drop sent a wave of nausea over him. No. He wasn’t ready.

Jamie: What… do ye have a hot date tonight or somethin’?

Silence.

Fuck.

Claire: Take care of yourself Jamie.

No.

The idea of letting her go was hard enough-but thinking of another man making her laugh, smile, make her breath catch with excitement, desire, need… to hear the words of her past and kiss away the pain and heart break?

No.

She needed to know this wasn’t just some conquest. He wasn’t playing games. He wasn’t just lonely. If by some grace he’d been given another moment with her- he wouldn’t waste it. He still had time. He still needed time. There would never be enough time, not with her.

He belonged to her.

He needed to see her. Scrambling into the nearest pair of jeans and shirt he could find, he grabbed his jacket and keys. After downing the last of his whisky, he was out the door.

__________

CLAIRE

The phone dropped from her hand to the counter.

She was shaking.

It had been three weeks. She had survived sleepless nights and three shifts at the hospital without crying. She thought she was over the worst of it. But the sight of his name conjured his face- the curl of his lip when he told a story, the slant of his eyes when he smiled, the touch of his lips as they grazed her skin. Responding was as instinctual as breathing. But with just a few texts, she was right back to where she started- cold and confused, standing in the rain watching him walk away from her.

Fuck.

She could almost hear his voice as she read his words.

Uisge Beatha.

She was in Scotland, but those Gaelic words belonged to him.

She filled a glass of water and took long gulps until the glass was empty, taking slow deep breaths as she tried to steady her heartbeat. She gently placed the glass in the sink before dabbing her lips for excess moisture and smoothing out the front of her dress. He was a professor- something told her blue jeans and converse all-stars weren’t going to cut it tonight.

__________

JAMIE

Three rings of the doorbell. No answer.

Think Jamie.

She was new in town. She likely wouldn’t suggest a meet up spot with a stranger unless she knew the place. Or he picked her up. At her flat. Had he been in her flat? Was he a stranger?

The swirl of thoughts set his heart racing.

He ran to the pub-their pub- but a handful of patrons sparsely dotted the quiet space. No sign of her.

Right. Leoch’s then.

Light drizzle turned to rain as the sign came into view. He slowed his steps, pulling at the lapel of his jacket in an effort to collect himself. Through the front window of the restaurant he caught her profile, that narrow sloping nose and stubborn chin. The glow of the lighting kissed her cheeks and her skin looked flushed. She wasn’t alone. A dark-haired figure sat across from her, the sharp lines of a suit cutting his vision. A date then. Who was he? What had he said to make her blush like that?

He wouldn’t make a scene. But he would also see her safe. He slowly retreated towards the path from which he came, towards her flat.

__________

CLAIRE

Well that was… interesting. She wiped her rain-slicked forehead with the back of her hand as she trudged up the stairs to her flat. Turning down the hallway to her flat, she froze.

Fuck.

Jamie. Leaning against her door.

He was here.

How did he get in? What was he doing here?

The click of her heels against the tile echoed and Jamie looked up. His hair was longer, but the same dark auburn curls framed his face. Familiar broad shoulders pulled at the seams of his jacket and she cleared her throat- and with it the image of his muscles flexed as he held his body over hers. Reaching the door, she had steadied herself- but just barely.

Her voice tried for annoyance but betrayed her. “Breaking and entering, is it?”

“Yer neighbor across the hall- he um… he recognized me- from our-” he sucked in air between his teeth as he finished, “our date. He let me in thinkin’ ye’d be expectin’ me.”

The words stung- salt over a scarcely covered wound. Steeling herself against the memory, she scoffed, “Well as you can see- I’m not, so…”

“Can I speak to ye?” he paused, “Please?”

She could hear the edge to his voice and it disarmed her. She needed a drink, and out of the close quarters of the hallway. “Oh bloody hell. Fine.”

__________

She padded to the liquor closet, the weight of his stare following her every movement. He was here. In her apartment. If he wanted to talk, she was going to need whisky. Her nerves were piqued, and she took a deep breath as she grabbed the bottle and two glasses. Her hand shook slightly as she poured.

You can do this Beauchamp.

She handed him a glass and he took it slowly, eying the liquid. ‘Uisge Beatha’ came out almost as a whisper.

She flinched slightly, hearing the word roll off his tongue- the same Scottish lilt she’d imagined when learning it.

Ignoring his words, she looked at him squarely, “Okay. You’re here. Are you going to just stand there, or do you have something to say?”

The light from the sconce on the wall lit his hair and drew a sharp line of shadow against his cheekbone. He glanced towards the door-and the lingering ghost of her date. There was a bite to his voice as he asked, “Who’s the bastard?”

“How did you know- You have a lot of nerve calling someone that after-” She stopped herself. She didn’t want to fight. She needed to stay level-headed. If there was any hope she’d make it through this without removing a chink from her scarcely constructed armor, she couldn’t talk about that night.

“Who is he?” His voice was low, raw as he repeated the question.

She met his stare. He wanted to measure sticks? Okay.

“A professor from Oxford- History. That’s all you get to know.” In truth that’s about all she knew of him. He’d spent the two-hour dinner theorizing about the Rising of ’45; her mind had wandered after he launched into a theory about a mysterious British patron of the Jacobites.

His gaze was trained on her and it unsettled her. She felt herself falter under the heat of his gaze- eyes even bluer than she’d remembered. Tilting her glass to her mouth, she risked a look at his face- hooded eyes focused on her mouth as the liquid slipped between her lips.

“Jamie-” Her voice was shaky, balanced on the blade of a knife between control and panic. She needed answers. Needed him to leave. To stay. To tell her the truth. She steeled herself as she asked, “Why are you really here?”

His eyes were piercing and shifted to a dark cobalt, the storm behind them slightly visible. With eyebrows creased, he seemed to be considering his answer. After a long swig from his glass, he settled with, “I needed to see ye.”

She shook her head; her curls still damp from the walk home. Turning away from him with a deep breath, she paced the room. Her pulse throbbed in her ears, growing louder with each step. Three weeks’ worth of burning anger and bitter pain erupted from her as she whirled back to face him, “You don’t get to do this.”

This… between us. It is different.” His accent was thick as he countered, closing the gap between them in two strides. “I ken the difference- and so do you.”

Us.

A single word, two letters. A whole world. A lifetime together. Memories.

And yet somehow nothing.

His voice cut through her thoughts and she looked up to see his face inches from hers. “This isna over, Sassenach.”

Hearing that name, his name for her, snapped her in half and she felt a wave of heat pulse through her veins. “You don’t get to call me that.” Her cheeks flushed a deep red as she stared at him. “What ‘isn’t over’? There was nothing to begin with- I was yours, Jamie! I was all in. Standing right in bloody front of you- begging you to give me a reason to trust you. And you walked away.”

He took a step forward, his eyes wide with adrenaline. She held up a hand to stop him, the last fragments of her broken wall shook as she fought to control the ripple effect. Swallowing hard, he paused.

Tears threatened, and she felt the dam break. “You fucked this up. You didn’t fight for me- for whatever this is-was. It’s been weeks without a fucking word from you. You don’t get to text me when you’re lonely, and you don’t get to just turn up like this! You don’t own me-”

You own me!” His voice was raised but it wasn’t in anger- it was desperation and it hit her like a bolt of lightning and echoed in her bones. “You possess me Claire, in a way I dinna ken existed.”

She stood still, staring at his face as it contorted, his eyes traveled over her face as he ran his hands through his hair. “Ye dinna ken how many nights I’ve laid awake thinkin’ about ye.”

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, Jamie.

His hand rose to her face, but he stopped short of touching her cheek. She resisted the pull- the aching need to lean into it. His eyes searched her face but was left wanting, and he let it fall back to his side.

Please touch me.

Another chink in the armor gone.

“About all the things about ye I havena learned yet. Memorizing the little bits I have left of ye in my mind. I canna sleep without ye- breathe without ye.” A Scottish grunt rumbled in his throat and his voice reverberated throughout the room, “Christ Claire… I canna be whole wi’out ye.”

I can’t breathe without you.

She felt his words sink beneath her skin. She was coming dangerously close to breaking.

His voice was desperate, “Can ye say ye dinna feel the hole in yer chest, the weight of pressure just to breathe? To feel a limb that’s been cut away but haunts ye in the night?”

Was I haunted?

Her chin trembled as a flood of thoughts rushed forth- standing numb in a scalding shower, burying herself under the covers feeling the cold deep in her bones, the vacant look in her reflection as she imagined his fingers caressing her cheek. He was a piece of her she didn’t know was missing, a key to a door inside her soul. Without it, she could no longer fit the remaining pieces together the way they had before… before him.

She was haunted by every thought, whisper, prayer of him.

She wasn’t sure if it was his words, the whisky, or the aroma of fresh rain and his cologne intoxicating her, but her vision blurred as the pull deep in her belly tighten and the shards of her broken heart quivered in her chest. With one breath his hand was on her hip and with another his other hand traced her cheek.

His voice was barely a whisper, but it filled her ears and struck her somewhere deep with a warmth that flushed her cheeks. “We are neither of us whole wi’out the other, Sassenach. I am yours and you are mine.”

The air left her lungs as she fixated on his lips. Whisky amber met a storm of deep blue as she whispered, “…Mine?”

Urgent lips answered her, crashing into her as his tongue slid between her lips. The faint aroma of whisky filled her mouth as she breathed in his taste. He pressed himself into her with such force that they stumbled back against the wall. One large hand twisted into her curls and the other dug into the small of her back, forcing out the space between them. His hips moved against her in a rhythm that matched their mouths and she felt the heat rise from her belly into her chest.

Every ache of the last month slipped away with their shared raspy breaths. Her hands shook as they clawed at his arms, fighting with the material of his shirt. He matched her desperation as he fumbled with the zipper of her dress. His skin was hot to the touch as his ribs pressed against her. Eager hands traveled to her thighs and hitched them around his waist as he staggered them towards her bedroom.

Limbs entangled as her hands fumbled at his zipper, the pulse at the apex of the thighs almost unbearable. Discarding them quickly, his fingers dug into her skin as he pulled her hips to his. He leaned his face into hers, kissing her fervently as her fingers locked into his curls. He paused, leaning back as he gasped for breath. Her hand traced the line from his neck to his shoulder, the familiar line she saw in her sleep now flesh and bone. His eyes stayed on her as he entered her; a strangled sob escaped his lips, and her world turned on its axis.

His hands were determined as he pressed her against the mattress, the faint scent of her lavender body wash swirling around them. The warmth of his tongue sent a shiver down her spine and she moaned into his mouth- the sound igniting renewed vigor in his movement. Her eyes were locked in his as she absorbed each thrust, each shockwave and rush of heat that flooded her cheeks. One hand clasped both of hers and pinned them above her head, the other grasped her hip as he quickened his pace.

The last three weeks had been one endless night. There was so much to say. So many questions. She’d contemplated every word she’d say to him if they ever spoke again. But tonight, there were no words, just two heartbroken souls tethered to one another in rough waters.

Their shared desperation dissipated with each breath and movement. The deep blue storm swallowed her whole as she succumbed to the crashing waves before finding stillness. She was no longer adrift; she anchored to him, and for the briefest of moments they shared a safe port from the storm.

They lay still, the weight of his body solid on top of her. His breath was warm against her neck and his nose grazed her skin just below her earlobe. Tentatively, her hands traced the muscles in his back, slowly shifting from his waist to his ribs- peaks and valleys of muscle pulsing from exertion. He kissed her nose softly before pressing his forehead to hers.

His eyes were hooded as he slowly shifted his weight to lay facing her. Her hand tentatively grazed his taut stomach and traveled north, resting gently against his chest. Large warm fingers closed around it, and a throaty hum reverberated from his throat.

Consciousness felt heavy and with two deep breaths, she saw his eyes close. As her eyelids fluttered shut, she saw a small smile curl at one corner of his mouth.

__________

She woke in a panic. A pain shot through her heart. Was that a dream? Was he here? Her eyes darted to the pillow next to her and saw red curls sprawled against the pillow; auburn lashes twitched with each blink.

She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. His body tensed slightly, and his eyes quickly closed, his eyebrows pressed together.

What was he reliving?

His hand reached for hers and clutched it tightly.

“I’m scared, Claire.” His voice echoed in the stillness of the room and she held her breath.

Scared. The word sent a chill down her spine.

“There’s sae much I need to tell ye, sae much I needta say, but…”

She pulled his hand to her mouth, kissing it softly. “We don’t have to rush it. But please Jamie… tell me something real.”

“Ye must know-I didna wanta leave ye, Claire. I saw the hurt in yer eyes and what ye must’ve thought that night.” He shook his head against the pillow, “I wanted to fight for ye. I just – I couldna bear to be the one who broke you, ruined you.”

Ruined me?

“I wasna lying when I said I was damaged. The way I’ve been in the past, I’m no monk. Look what happened when I asked ye to trust me.”

Damaged?

“I’ve been sae scared to feel this away again- but now…” his voice cracked as he opened his eyes, but he did not look at her. His other hand was shaking, and he brought it to his face, shielding his eyes. He ran it through his hair before finally letting it fall back against the sheets. “… I’m even more scared no’ to feel it… with you.”

Scared. Of feeling. Of NOT feeling.

She counted his breaths as she waited, but only saw the rise and fall of his chest. His silence sliced through her and she pressed her body against him, the heat from his skin pulsing against hers.

Her voice was soft and tentative, “Jamie…”

His eyes had a hint of tears as he clenched his jaw. He seemed to be trying to focus, to keep himself whole.

“What aren’t you telling me?” A hint of dread crept into her voice, “What happened- why are you afraid?”

His eyes were pained, his shoulders dropped as his voice cracked, “Annalise.”

She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but the name of another woman was not it. But she wanted the truth- he was giving it.

Trying to keep her tone even, she asked, “Who is Annalise?”

Was…” his voice was hollow, his eyes focused on a distant shore two-hundred years away. “She was my fiancé.”

Was.

Her stomach knotted as she took in the word, turning it inside out in her head, looking for any alternative meaning. But the look on his face confirmed her fears.

“Jamie…” Her eyes pleaded. “What happened?”

“There was an accident…” he stopped, his hand clenching hers tightly, the skin under his fingers now white but she didn’t move- couldn’t move. Her eyes locked onto his as his wall came crashing down.

No more secrets.

With a look of fear and anguish he finally looked at her, “She’d dead because of me.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE
The clock on the wall slowly ticked in rhythm to the heart monitor of her patient.

Two hours.

Just two short hours ago her arms were wrapped around him, their legs had intertwined in a soul-saving embrace.

But that had been two hours ago.

The sterile smell of the hospital swirled around her as she took a shaky breath. She closed her eyes and saw his face- broken, scared, beautiful.

________________

She’s dead because of me.

The words had barely made it past his lips, but she saw his face crumple as he closed his eyes. He slowly unlocked his hand from hers. His fingers combed through his hair before sinking into the curls at the back of his head.

She was afraid to touch him but even more afraid to let him drift farther away from her. With a tentative movement, she softly rested her hand on his thigh.

“Jamie,” Claire spoke softly, searching for the calm doctor’s voice she employed when speaking to trauma victims, “What happened to Annalise?”

He took a deep breath and exhaled as he brought his hands in front of his face- staring at his palms.

She waited as he breathed in and out- three times- before gently pressing her fingertips into his muscle.

“We had grown up together, all through school- high school sweethearts, ye ken.” His voice was shallow, distant. “She was all I knew, and I loved her- so I asked. She said yes. I just always assumed…”

She carefully shifted closer to him, watching his eyes dart from palm to palm before closing his eyes tightly together.

“It was a dark night- no moon, just heavy rain. We were celebrating our graduation from University.” He opened his eyes again but did not meet her gaze. One large palm slid down the length of her arm, his fingers pressing into her skin as he closed his fingers closed around hers once more. His voice was quiet, wistful as he spoke, “We were coming home from the pub- I looked over at her just for a moment- she was smiling.”

Her heart constricted at the image- the final fleeting moment before impact.

The last breath before his life shattered.

His eyes were focused on the sheet, but she knew his mind was reliving that night, helpless. “The car came out of nowhere. It hit the passenger side.”

She wanted to protect him, hold him close and shield him from the pain. Feeling useless, she took a deep breath and softly hummed in response.

“All I heard was the sound of broken glass and crushing metal, but above all that was the way she screamed…” His accent was thick as he shook his head, “… there was sae much blood.”

She saw the words as she were reading if from one of her medical textbooks: The majority of automobile accident fatalities are the result of acute internal hemorrhaging.

“I held her in my arms, as I saw the life leave her face, I begged her- ‘Stay. Please just…stay with me’…” A strangled sob escaped his lips as his shoulders drooped. “And then she was… gone.”

Gone. The word was empty- a ghost of a life he’d thought he’d live.

“These hands-” he stopped, his fingers shaking, “I couldna save her. I called for help but…”

He thought it was his fault.

A massive hemorrhage without immediate medical intervention would have been fatal, and even then… very difficult to save. He was carrying the weight of her death on his shoulders and she watched him slowly crumble underneath it.

He couldn’t live with this unwarranted guilt, it wasn’t fair. “Jamie it wasn’t your fault- it was an accident. It could have been anybody-”

“But it was me. I was supposed to protect her. I failed her.” His free hand clenched into a fist and he drove it into the sheet- years of bottled pain bursting free. “I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with her…”

Slowly moving her hand to his chin, she lifted his face, his eyes slowly meeting hers through a wall of built up tears. “But Annalise- she spent the rest of her life with you.”

Her words broke the dam as a thick line of tears poured over his carved cheekbones and down his face. She pulled his face to the curve of her neck and his arms wrapped tightly around her. She slowly ran one hand through his curls, the other held him steady by his shoulders. She felt the warmth of his tears as they rolled down her neck; without words to soothe him, she guided the heaviness of his body to hers and took a deep breath. It may have been hours or minutes that they held each other tightly. The weight of a death and two years of sorrow slowly lifted from his shoulders with each gentle stroke of his hair.

________________

A soft graze of her skin stirred her awake, and as her eyes slowly opened, she was met with a sea of clear blue. His hair was tussled from sleep and she gently swept a wild curl from his forehead, a small smile pulling at his lip.

“Mmmm,” She breathed quietly. “What is it?”

“Ye ken….” Jamie paused to take a deep breath, kissing the base of her neck softly. “Ye ken I havena spoken her name since the funeral.”

Claire kissed his forehead softly, letting her lips linger as she took in the faint scent of her lavender in his hair. Attempting a light tone, she asked, “Is it cathartic?”

His fingers twitched, and he shifted his weight to sit against the pillows. His arms guided her body to follow, and her head rested on the expanse of his chest- her hand just above his heart.

“Claire… I…” Jamie’s voice trailed off. She tilted her head to see his eyes focused on her hand.

“We don’t have to rush it….” She whispered into him, placing a kiss on his breast.

“Since it happened, I have been a hollow shell of a man- trying to hide in the little bit that has been left of me…” Jamie let out a breath as he brought his hand to hers, gently lacing their fingers together. Turning to look down at her, his voice cracked, “That empty shell…The most I thought I was worthy of was… just shallow company.”

Pulling their hands to her lips, she kissed his knuckles softly. “Go on.”

“Then I met you.” Jamie said, his voice was strong with a fierceness that sent chills down her spine.

She opened her mouth to speak but no words formed. Her eyes filled with tears as she answered his words with a small exhale.

“Sassenach, for a verra long time I have been afraid to feel again….” He unclasped his hand from hers, caressing her chin as he tilted her face to meet his. “I’m scared, Claire. Scared to love again but also scared I will never see your face again or feel your touch.”

“You won’t lose me, Jamie.” She answered the question written on his face he didn’t dare speak.

A small smile pulled across his lips as he nodded, blinking hard to keep his eyes clear. Leaning down to kiss her lips, he let out a soft Scottish purr. He said simply, “Ye’ve made me whole again, mo nighean donn.”

Mo nighean donn.

The sound of his voice wrapped around her heart- constricting and expanding it all in one moment. She didn’t need to know what they meant to feel the depth of feeling behind them. Without words to encompass what she felt in return, she closed her eyes and pulled him closer- placing another kiss on his chest. “Lay your head love, it’s a long time till dawn.”

With each rise and fall of his chest she felt their skin meld into one. The touch of his fingertips on her skin as they lightly strummed across her skin lulled her into serenity.

________________

JAMIE

The light was just creeping across the floor when he woke to an empty bed. His hand searched the sheets next to him but found no soft curves or ivory skin. He thought he had imagined the whole night, but the scent of lavender lingered on his pillow. Blinking twice to clear his vision, he wiped his eyes- feeling a thin film of salt residue on his skin.

He told her. And she stayed. She stayed until the call came in.

Trauma- must go.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Please.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.”

Don’t.

“I don’t want to leave you, but I must.”

Go.

He replayed the words over in his mind; her voice was soft, warm. He believed her. But with the wounds agape across his soul, he was left with nothing but the throbbing memories of old blurring with the whisper of her healing touch to sooth him.

He stared at the ceiling, slowing feeling his eyelids close as the deep exhaustion of his grief seeped from his bones. Two breaths later, sleep pulled him back under.

________________

The sound of the key in the lock startled him awake.

She was back. Had he given her a key?

He stepped into his pajama bottoms and strode to the door to greet her, running his hand through his hair to tame it.

A gruff voice met him instead, “Ye look mighty peely-wally, lad.”

“Och haud yer wheesht.” Jamie’s heart sank as he answered his uncle, “What are ye doin’ here Murtagh?”

“Ye didna answer yer phone last night or this mornin’- thought I best check on ye before ye miss another gig.” Murtagh’s brow quirked as he eyed his nephew, taking in his disheveled hair and the faint red of his eyes.

Turning from his inquiring stare, Jamie waved a hand at him. “I took the night off, I needed time to think.”

He shuffled distractedly around the kitchen looking for a coffee mug. His eye caught the clock on the wall-was it already two o’clock? Rummaging through the cupboards and letting the doors swing close with a thud, he meandered without much success.

“Ye always told me music was a way to keep yerself from thinkin’,” Murtagh’s voice was level but Jamie could hear the question behind it.

The faint melody echoed in his ears and he shook his head to clear it, “Lately it hasna worked- it’s made it worse.”

Murtagh leaned against the counter, crossing his arms in front of him as he shifted his weight to one leg. “Ye never did thank me for sendin’ that lass yer way the other night.”

Jamie scoffed at the memory- Laoghaire at the door with Claire in his favorite rugby shirt. “I’ll thank ye never to do that again, aye?”

Undeterred, he continued- his voice stronger, “It’s Sunday- shouldn’t ye be gettin’ yerself ready for the pub… and that table of lasses, aye?”

The image made his stomach turn as he thought of anyone other than her.

“No-” He said without hesitation, his voice firm and strong on the two-letter word.

Murtagh cocked his head as he watched his nephew.

Squaring his shoulders to face his uncle, he finished with a strong Highlander lilt, “There is no one, save for her.”

Murtagh’s face shifted to a serious look covered with a small smile and quirk of an eyebrow. “Just one?”

“Aye. A…” he paused, a smile playing on his lips, “A Sassenach.”

A soft knock at the door started his heart and he launched himself towards the entryway. He opened the door with a flourish and saw whisky eyes staring back at him- dark circles lined just below them.

“Christ! Are ye alright Sassenach?”

“Yes, it was a long surgery but we…” she sighed, the weight of her body sinking slightly as she stepped through the doorway. “We saved him.”

He could see the exhaustion in her petite frame as she shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes were bloodshot and though she gave her best attempt at a smile, he saw the toll his confession had taken on her. The emotional and physical exhaustion was plain on her glass face; she could have been knocked over with a soft breath, so he didn’t press her further. Instead, he opened his arms and she melted into him, her arms wrapping around his waist. He rested his cheek against her curls and relaxed for the first time since she left his bed.

The faint clink of a coffee mug sent a shiver through her body and she tensed. Tilting her head to see his face, he saw panic in her eyes as her voice shook, “Is… someone here?”

‘No… well yes… but it’s no what ye think.” He heard the familiar steps behind him and watched Claire’s face relax as she took in the bushy beard behind him. Jamie kept his arms around her as he turned to see his uncle, a grin wide across his face.

Murtagh raised an eyebrow as he eyed her, “Ye must be the lass, I reckon.”

Claire’s eyes darted to Jamie’s and he smiled as he watched a rosy blush warm her cheeks.

“I supposed I must be,” she cleared her throat, standing up straighter as her hands gripped Jamie firmly, “I’m Claire.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

It had been two weeks since Jamie told her.

After the initial moment of truth, he grew quiet again. Jamie was testing the waters, searching for acceptance and understanding from Claire. In unprompted moments he would carefully piece together scattered memories from his mind- how Annalise took her tea, her favorite song on the radio, the way she left the dirty dishes in the sink.

Nothing overly personal but rather trivial pieces of the mundane that when connected end to end, differentiate one person from the next. His shoulders lifted slightly with each admission. Like clockwork, he would retreat slightly back into himself to evaluate the new chink in his armor before remerging from the shadows- lighter and more relieved.

In turn, she gave him space, time, comfort. Small touches and silent affirmations with a smile or squeeze of his hand in hers. Each contact was a balm and he leaned into her caress, continuing to build the truth between them.

Trudging home after a long shift from the hospital, she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket.

Still at work, Sassenach?

She sighed; she wasn’t supposed to be. She should have been fast asleep under a heap of blankets, but instead she was dodging puddles and shuffling down the pavement towards her flat.

Long shift, almost home. Everything ok?

She pulled her jacket closer to her body as she picked up the pace. Two more blocks, almost there.

Aye- just wanted to say goodnight.

A small smile pulled at her lips, and she wished he was uttering his words into the curve of her neck as they lay tangled in bed together instead of tapping his words into the keyboard of his phone. As if he heard her thoughts, her phone buzzed again.

Can ye see fit to pick up the pace? Yer bed is lonely wi’out ye.

________________

Long fingers gently stroked her arm and she felt her body melt into his side. Her breath slowly matched his and for the first time in eighteen hours she felt happy. The exhaustion deep in her bones subsided like a wave dissipating on the shore. Pulling him closer, she sighed, “Mmm.”

“I like that sound, Sassenach.” She felt a hum against her throat as his lips grazed her forehead. His chest shuddered underneath her, and she lifted her head to see his eyes closed tightly. “I didna think I’d ever hear it in my bed again.”

He slowly opened his eyes and met her gaze, traces of sadness pulling at his eyebrow as it creased. Her smile was bittersweet- half hopeful that he was happy she was with him, half sorrowful that for every moment of bliss that brought them closer also reminded him of what had been taken from him.

Taken.

So many things taken.

From Jamie.

From Claire.

Moments gone- scattered to the wind.

Images of white roses on matching coffins flashed before her mind. “I know what you mean… in a way.”

After two breaths he answered, his voice barely audible. “Aye… I ken ye do.”

“Yes,” she started slowly, whispers of memories creeping into her vision. “It’s been weeks since I’ve felt truly relaxed, happy. After Boston… my world has felt empty… heavy.”

His arm tightened around her and his fingers sank into her curls, cupping her head to his chest.

Lightness, bubbling up from deep inside; like butterfly wings against her heart before flushing her cheeks and setting a fire to her eyes.

“Did it hurt?” Two fingers wandered to the curve of her back and he traced the black silhouette inked into her skin. “… the tattoo?”

“Yes… and no.” She paused for a moment, considering the question. The thought of touching the gaping wound in her chest made her flinch. “After losing… them… I didn’t think anything could hurt me anymore.”

“Do ye ever wonder if ye deserve to be happy again?”

Deserve?” She lifted her head to see his eyes focused on a distant point on the ceiling. The word pierced her heart and she felt its lingering burn as the echo of the word faded. “Bad things- terrible things- they just happen. It doesn’t mean we’re condemned to a life of sadness.”

Unconvinced, he cleared his throat but did not reply.

“We all deserve happiness, Jamie.”

A Scottish grunt rumbled deep in his chest.

“No god worth his salt would want you to be unhappy Jamie. Want us to be unhappy.”

His hand traveled to her shoulder and traced small circles against her skin. “Do ye think we can be happy… together?”

Taking a moment to steady her breathing, she placed her hand on his chest- his heart a thrumming freight train beneath her fingers. “I think we can.”

Her words hung in the air as she felt his breathing deepen until his eyes fluttered closed. Her eyes traveled to his mouth, but tonight she saw no curl of his lip.

He turned to her silently in the dark, his hands caressing the curves of her shoulder to her hip. Molding his form to hers, she breathed in his scent as it mixed with hers.

With their armor shed and nerves exposed, they were tentative with each other, softly seeking the connection so urgently forged when they first came together. The look in his eyes as he pressed into her haunted her as she saw a distance form, a sliver of a crack with the faintest of light seeping through. His grip on her waist and breath on her neck filled the gap and pushed out the darkness as she lost herself to the taste of his skin on her lips and the heat of his skin as it mixed with hers.

________________

“So, no Viking tonight?” Geillis’s voice cut through Claire’s thoughts, and the clear blue eyes in Claire’s vision faded.

“Oh… no. He’s busy with his uncle tonight,” a shadow of a smile played at Claire’s lips but did not meet her eyes. “Besides… I was in need of a girl’s night.”

She hadn’t lied; it was true, it had been two weeks since she had been out with Geillis and she needed a night without thinking- feeling.

Each night with Jamie was new and yet familiar, she felt safe in his arms but still felt her heart hammering against her ribcage with each touch and sensation of his body. But with each new discovery came the whisper of a sense that they weren’t alone, that his ghost was in the bedroom with them- slowly closing in like a black hole, threatening to take them both.

“Well then,” Geillis nodded, shifting her eyes back to her glass, taking the last sip of her whisky and holding it up to the light, “If it’s gonna be another fortnight before I can pry you out of that bedroom…What do ye say, Beauchamp- have ye forgotten how to drink or are ye in for one more?”

With the quirk of an eyebrow she lifted her empty glass to Geillis. “I can still outdrink you, Geillis. Next round is on me.”

________________

JAMIE

Just a quick hello, then I’m off.

His phone buzzed twice more as he rounded the last block to her flat. Checking the messages, he picked up the pace until he was at her door, deftly inserting the key into the lock. Shuffling out of his shoes, he stepped from the entryway into the living room, finding a spread of curls against a pillow. Tiptoeing to the couch, he softly tucked a stray curl from her face behind her ear, his thumb trailing the line of her cheekbone as his hand lingered.

She stirred under his touch and as her eyes fluttered open, a shy smile formed as she whispered, “You’re here.”

“Aye,” he gently lowered himself onto the couch, his lips seeking hers. The warmth of her body pulled him closer and he melted into her as her fingers traveled from his cheek to his curls. Resisting the urge to deepen the kiss, he pulled back and lowered his head to rest on her ribcage.

Dinna get carried away, Fraser. Ye canna stay long.

“I missed ye is all.” He closed his eyes and lost himself in the feel of her fingers against his scalp, the steady rise and fall of her chest, the softness of her breast beneath his cheek. As euphoria was threatening to overcome him, he sighed heavily and shifted his body to stand. Her fingers tightened into his hair and held him close, and without hesitation he sank back down against her.

“Are you not staying?” Behind a light tone, he heard the disappointment.

“I have to go- my sister is in labor with my first nephew- she’d skin me alive if I wasna there.”

Her breathing hitched for a moment but she cleared her throat and softened her grip, “Congratulations. You should get going then, you said it’s a fair drive to get… home.

“I’m sorry I haventa leave ye, Sassenach,” his voice was low as it hummed against her stomach. His arms tightened around her as he placed a soft kiss just below her navel. “Ye could come wi’ me, ye ken.”

He felt her heartbeat quicken as he waited. Her voice was tight as she asked, “To Lallybroch?”

A coy grin played at his lips as he watched her face crinkle. “Aye.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

The car slowly came to a stop. After two deep breaths from beside her before she heard the engine cut. Her eyes slowly trailed up his hand, searching for the tender, unguarded dip of his wrist where his pulse settled. Instead, she found his grip still firm on the gear shift, fingers clenched and skin white against his knuckles. The long lean muscles of his forearm were taut, his shoulders square and unflinching. His eyes were focused on a point far in the distance. The tension between his shoulder blades could have been cut with a knife, the reverberating pulse filling the space between them.

She slowly turned her gaze to the house in front of them- old stone molded by time and softened by the memories within it. Large fingers slowly laced with hers and tightened.

“Well then….” He shifted in his seat as he turned to face her. “Welcome to Lallybroch.”

The grounds were an enchanting backdrop to the old, well loved home. Jamie’s hooded gaze told of both pain and memories here, but now was no time to ask questions, so she smiled and rubbed her thumb against his and exhaled.

His grasp on her hand held steady as he led her through the dimly-lit entryway and into the empty house. “Where is everyone?”

“The hospital,” his voice was tired. “Jenny and Ian will bring the wee bairn home tomorrow. I wanted a bit of time here in the quiet… with you.”

Her heart constricted at his words and she pulled back on his hand, forcing him backwards until he was facing her. In a time now when she had no family, walking into the very heart of Jamie’s own stole her breath and quickened the beat of her heart. She wanted to tell him, show him how grateful she was that he wanted her here. That she wanted to be a part of his world, yet the thought of family pierced her heart in the gaping wound left by her parents. Those words were buried at the base of her throat, unable to find air.

Her eyes searched his; finding a mix of exhaustion and need, she raised their hands to her mouth and gently laid a kiss on his skin. He nodded silently, a hint of a smile pulling at his lips. Together, the sound of creaky floorboards followed them down the hallway towards his room.

--------------

JAMIE

“I dinna think I’ve ever done that in this room before, Sassenach.” His voice was thick as his breathing steadied. A light layer of sweat on her skin glistened against the soft glow of light. The pulsating effects of their efforts coursed through his body; his eyes fixed on her face and he watched as her lashes fluttered open.

“Oh, come now Jamie,” her voice had a playful tone as he felt her smile against his skin. “If these walls could talk, I’m sure they could write a story.”

His breath caught in his chest, and she froze. Lifting her head to search his face, her smile faded. “You look haunted, Jamie.”

He let out the remaining breath in his lungs, closing his eyes briefly before settling them on the curve of her cheek, just shy of meeting her gaze. The deep clear blue she’d swam in just moments ago faded to a story gray. Two fingers drummed against her skin as he looked around the room, seeing shadows of ghosts long gone. “I came back here after it happened…These walls have witnessed the worst days of my life.”

“I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to-”

“Och, dinna fash, lass,” he muttered. Still feeling the tingling of her lips against his, his hand outlined her side from hip to shoulder, finding comfort in the dips and curves of her skin.

She leaned into his touch and purred as he let his hand linger.

The image of her that first night fluttered into his mind. White chucks and a coy smile lit her face as she leaned against the brick wall in the alleyway. Wide whisky eyes staring into the dark corners of his soul broke down the first wall of many- tilting his world from a faded grey to incandescent shades of sunrise. He had wanted to kiss her then, touch her, feel her and know her to be real. “Given the way we met-in that bar… I wouldha guessed the same thing.”

“Mmm,” her voice vibrated softly against his side, but she gave the gift of silence for him to finish.

“Lots of bad dreams, ye ken. Lots of howlin’ in the night. Scared Jenny somethin’ fierce. But she never wavered.” At the mention of his sister, he felt the beat of his heart steady and a small curl of a smile play at his lips.

“Couldna stay here forever though, Jenny and Ian were newlyweds, and I could tell they dinna ken what to do to help. In truth, neither did I… So I went away.”

“Where on earth did you go?”

“France. Visited a cousin. Got rip roarin’ drunk in Paris- got myself kicked out of more than a few pubs, picked fights with strangers for no reason, and generally raised hell just to feel somethin’ other than loss.”

Her hand traced circles against his ribs in a hypnotic rhythm that lulled him as he felt her warm breath against his skin. “I know what it feels like to need something… anything other than nothingness.”

His arm tightened around her as his nose nuzzled into her hair, the familiar scent of lavender filling his nostrils.

“I had a close call one night, walkin’ home, half-gone wi’ drink…” his throat tightened as the memory seeped back into his mind. “I stumbled from the pavement onto the roadway and heard the deafening sound of a car horn behind me, followed by screeching tires.”

Her hand stilled against his skin, the tips of her fingers pressing firm into his side as she gasped.

“Same sounds, same fear. But that time… I was alone. There was no one to save- except me.” His voice dropped to a whisper, “I wanted to forget my loss, the pain of it all. But I dinna want Jenny to ever feel that hopelessness… no’ about me.”

A warm tear slowly trickled down his chest as he felt her lashes blink hard against his skin.

Despite the calm in his voice, he felt bile rising in his throat as he clenched his teeth together, “I was so reckless I also got myself killed… and damned Jenny in the process.”

“So I left, came back to Scotland. I couldna bear comin’ back to Lallybroch- decided I needed to start over… in Edinburgh. Music helped fill the void enough to go through the motions each day. But I resolved no’ to feel anything deeply again- bad or good.”

“And you haven’t been home since.” He heard a trace of longing and sadness lingering under her composed tone. “Is it painful to be home now?”

“Doesna pain me as much as I thought it might, bein’ here.” Fatigue crept into his voice as he sighed, “I have you here, Claire.”

A soft smile crept across her lips as she brushed them against his chest in a light kiss.

“Now come here, let me show ye how ye heal me.”

--------------

CLAIRE

She woke to an empty bed. Her hand grazed his pillow, the faint heat left by his head was evidence that he hadn’t been gone long. Grabbing a fresh set of clothes, she tiptoed to the bathroom in search of a hot shower.

She had hastily packed the nearest clean clothes she could find the night before, and she sighed in relief as she pulled out clean knickers and her favorite sweatshirt.

Freshly showered and in need of caffeine, she deposited her things in Jamie’s room and headed down the hallway towards the stairs- and hopefully the kitchen.

Passing the last door on the left before the stairwell, a brief movement caught her eye and she stopped. Behind a partially open door she caught the unmistakable curve of Jamie’s shoulders, with a small ball of blankets carefully secured in his arms.

A brief flicker of Jamie with a child… her own… flitted through her mind as she stepped light-footed towards the bannister as not to disturb them.

--------------

JAMIE

“He’s a braw lad, Jenny,” he said with a note of pride in his voice as he settled into the chair beside the bed. “Ye sure he’s Ian’s?”

“Och yer lucky this one has me worn out or I’d thump yer heid, ye daft fool.” Her lips pulled into a smile as she leaned back against the pillow. “So ye brought someone here, then?”

“Aye.” His muscles tightened as he sat up straight in his chair. He blinked hard, his eyes tracing the lines of his hands, firmly clasped together in his lap. “I did.”

Claire.

She was here, with him.

The thoughts flushed his cheeks red and he felt the heat spread to the tips of his ears. Feeling her gaze on him, he cleared his throat to maintain his composure.

Her eyes tracked his movements as she lifted one eyebrow, “Dinna think I’d see ye here wi’ another lass.”

Another lass?” The warning in his voice was thinly veiled.

She wasn’t just another pretty face.

Aye. Ye heard me fine, I reckon.” Holding the bairn comfortably against her chest, she watched his face as it contorted in thought. “no’ so soon or…ever, really.”

So soon?

He never expected to heal, not truly.

But he had- because of Claire.

Hearing his heart pulsing in his ears, he countered, “Look Janet. Claire is… different. I’ll thank ye to give her proper respect.”

Matching his bravado, she squared her shoulders and leaned forward, “All I’m tryin’ to say brother… is that I’m glad ye seem to have found some light through the darkness.”

Sorcha.

His breath caught at the thought.

Could Jenny really see Claire-truly see her the way he did?

That she was truly different?

A bridge between both the life inside of him and the possibilities of the future that had been beyond his grasp.

He opened his mouth, but no words formulated. He paused for a moment before closing it and settled on a decidedly Fraser grunt before holding his hands out to her. “Let me hold the wee bairn.”

--------------

CLAIRE

Tiptoeing up the stairs, she heard a voice from behind a doorway call her name. The voice wasn’t Jamie’s, but a higher pitched tone but no less sturdy. Looking at the door to Jamie’s room for a final moment, she squared her shoulders and turned, pressing her hand softly against the partially opened door.

She was greeted by a petite woman, perhaps a year or two older than herself, with a familiar face. Straight nose, catlike eyes that matched her brother but instead of fiery curls, her hair was straight and raven black. She was striking.

“Ye must be Claire, I reckon.” Her Highland lilt was strong as her eyes traveled up and down her form. “Jamie said he brought a lass here last night. Didna much believe him but here ye are- clear as day.”

“Yes, I’m Claire. You must be Jenny,” she fought to keep the nerves out of her voice. Her eyes flickered to the bundle in her arms, “I do believe congratulations are in order. The new babe looks to be quite perfect.”

“Och, weel,” her voice softened at the mention, her hand caressing his head. “The bairn gave up quite a fight, but wee Jamie is here now.”

The image of Jamie as a baby, with wisps of fuzzy red hair against alabaster skin, crept into her mind. She took a tentative step closer, seeing a small hand poke out from under the blanket. “He’s beautiful.”

“Come here, have a seat Claire,” she patted the chair next to the bed, “no need to stand around on ceremony.”

With a few quick steps forward, Claire lowered herself into the chair and arched her neck to see wee Jamie’s face.

With one eyebrow arched and both eyes focused on her face, Jenny asked, “So what is it ye do Claire?”

A smile played across her lips at the question. “I’m just finishing the surgical residency program in Edinburgh.”

“Impressive,” Jenny’s tone alerted an odd sense of curiosity as she met Claire’s eyes. “Do ye plan to stay in Scotland, then?”

Hearing the real question being asked, a flicker of Jamie’s smile flashed through her mind. “I really hope to. I’ve lived many places but haven’t really felt like I belonged anywhere. I hope to change that.”

“Claire, please…” Jenny’s face went slack, abandoning her composed façade. Her voice cut through the air and hit Claire in the chest. “Dinna break his heart, it’s barely put back together.”

Claire swallowed hard, hearing the depth of her plea. Jenny had seen him at his worst and was begging her not to send him back to that dark place.

“I don’t plan to, Jenny,” her voice started softly but found its strength as she finished, “I- I love Jamie- truly. I want the best for him just like you. I just hope that includes me.”

Jenny’s face softened for a moment before settling back into a confident and contented smile. They sat quietly in companionable silence, but she could feel the start of a friendship forming, tentative and fragile but founded in a mutual hope and love for a stubborn, red-headed Highlander.

After a full day of touring the grounds and going pint for pint with Ian in the cellar, Jamie and Claire stumbled up the stairs towards his bedroom. The palpable tension between them amplified throughout the night with subtle brushes of skin and stolen glances before finally shattering between them- the heat of his skin burning into hers.

With the door firmly closed behind her, his hands searched her clothing, pulling at the base of her blouse in search of skin. His lips were on her skin, furiously nipping and sucking her flesh from her collarbone to the curve of her chin. Her breath was heavy in his ear as her fingers fumbled with his belt, greedy in their conquest. Her feet stumbled against his and her weight pushed them back onto the bed. A deep rumble escaped from his chest as his eyes pierced hers, dark with need. His hands cupped her face and drew her mouth to his, the feel of his tongue hot and wet against hers.

As her fingers freed him of his belt and worked on the zipper to his pants, she heard the faint buzz of her phone against the wood side table. She paused and exhaled sharply.

“Dinna get that… not now.” His words spilled into her mouth between breaths and she pressed herself into him, her knees pulling up to her sides to straddle him.

She lifted herself just high enough to free herself of her blouse when the phone buzzed again.

“For fuck’s sake…” he growled as he sat up to meet her, his lips hungry against the swell of her breasts as her chest heaved against her bra. “Who could need to talk… right now?”

She moaned at the sensation of his stubble against her skin. His hands dug into her hips and lifted her slightly as he twisted to lay on top of her. A final buzz of the phone forced a snarl from his lips as he grabbed the phone to silence it. His face froze as he saw the name on the screen.

“Jamie…” Eyes wide, she looked from his face to the phone and back again. “Who is it?”

Without a word he turned the phone, so she could see: Uncle Lamb.

In one swift moment she sat up and grabbed it, fumbling with the screen before finally accepting the call.

--------------

JAMIE

The next few moments were a blur. The heat between them had cooled as the tone of her voice shifted- now alert and focused.

Boston. Family estate matters. Uncle Lamb needs me.

She moved around the room with a ruthless efficiency, fingers expertly folding and tucking her belongings into her suitcase. Whirling around with a final scan of the room, her eyes stopped when they reached him, still seated quietly on the bed- eyes cast downward.

“I’m sorry Jamie… I have to go.”

“There’s nothin’ to be sorry about, lass,” he said quietly, but he mustered a small smile as he met her gaze, “I’ll drive ye to the airport, see ye safe.”

She stepped forward, her knees grazing his as she stood in front of him. His hands slowly found her waist and pulled her down to straddle him. Gone was the passion of moments ago, now he held her there as a silent beacon, an anchor to tether them together for a moment longer. “Just promise me ye’ll come back, aye?”

A crease formed between her eyebrows; she nodded as she lowered her head to kiss him, soft, tender.

“And…” he whispered against her lips as his voice lowered, “promise me we’re no’ done with this.”

Chapter Text

Claire

The stack of papers made a thud sound as it hit the desk. Lines of text stared at her- neat, orderly, and overwhelming. One hand tentatively moved to the bottom of the page, a series of “sign here” stickers dotting the paper.

“Mostly a formality, my dear.”

The lawyer patted her arm as he reached for the top paper. His white hair contrasted sharply with his tailored black suit, the lingering scent of peppermint from his pipe filling her nose as she smiled at his kind gesture.

“Your parents… their will- it was very specific as to their wishes.”

_____________

Jamie

Three days. It had been three days since she’d left. At least eight more before she’d be back. Three nights that turned into early morning with endless tossing and turning as the spot next to him lay empty. Eight days to go. One day more than a week.

He used to avoid any thought to the future, yet now he searched for it- seeing the edge of her face just out of reach in distant dreams and late-night glasses of whisky that matched the color of her eyes.

He stared at this lock screen- a photo snapped at Lallybroch. Her arms tightly around his neck, kissing his cheek as he beamed into the camera. Her wild curls filled the frame, mingling with his fiery red hair. It was taken the day she left. For Boston. Only three days ago yet it felt like weeks.

He had counted back the hours with precision- two am in Edinburgh was nine o’clock in Boston. She would be up.

Please be awake.

Duisg?

His eyes glanced over to the empty pillow next to him, a small sigh escaped his lips as he waited. The sight of three dots on the screen sent his heart into overdrive and he smiled.

Just barely… was hoping to see your name pop up on my screen one last time tonight :)

The smile faded as he carefully read each word. Behind her coy English humor, he could see something was off.

Everything alright? Can I call ye, Sassenach?

He ached to hear the soft British tone to her sigh, the softness to her voice as she said his name.

It’s late there, you should get some sleep- have a whisky for me. doctor’s orders. xx

His hand twitched against the neck of his guitar as he recalled the feel of her curls intertwined in his fingers. Two fingers danced absentmindedly across the strings as he conjured the sound of her sigh just a moment before sleep, and the ease with which sleep came when his arms were wrapped tightly around her. There was truth in those quiet moments, truth between them. The undercurrent of doubt he felt in her words was hampered by the promise they made to each other.

Trust. No lies.

As ye say, mo chridhe.

Mo chridhe.

Her face. His heart. Those eyes. Whisky. A sea of whisky.

The thoughts came fast and scattered as the melody played in his head, circling the words and finding home within the notes.

Heron wings against a sky of turbulent blue against a sea of calm whisky.

More lyrics.

Grabbing for his notebook, he scribbled the words on the nearest open page, humming the melody and pausing to find the right chord as he strummed. Letting the last note linger, he looked back down to see the page had lettering already on it. Looking closer, he smiled. Claire’s handwriting- an address.

_____________

Claire

He always had a peculiar way of finding her when she needed him most. She wrapped her arms around herself as the crisp fall air from the window made the linen curtains dance. The lilt of his voice echoed in her memory as she whispered his Gaelic words to her aloud. Her eyes slowly unfocused as the glow of the street lamp faded, and her eyes lingered back to the paperwork in front of her.

One hand slowly lowered to the table, finding the textured paper. Her fingertip traced the signatures at the bottom, the echo of her parents’ touch starting back at her, black ink against the parchment. She knew every curve and swoop of their signatures, yet somehow the acute aching she had anticipated had dulled- still present and faintly throbbing in her chest yet far less immediate than the last time she had been here- in this house.

_____________

Jamie

This was either the most daft thing I’ve ever done or the most brilliant.

The cab slowed to a stop. “Scotland to Boston for a girl, eh? Good luck, bro.”

With two feet firmly planted on the pavement, Jamie took in the site of the brownstone apartment in front of him. Four words came to mind and his lip twitched into a smile as he conjured her voice in his head.

Jesus. H. Roosevelt Christ.

Gripping his guitar case in one hand and duffle bag in the other, he made his way up the steps and took two breaths to steady himself before knocking on the large oak door. He felt the nerves travel to his fingertips as his anxiety rose in his stomach.

Would she be home? Would she be happy to see him- here? Would his surprise appearance interrupt her reason for being here?

He heard the unmistakable cadence to the footsteps, his heart hammering in his chest as he waited. Time stood still as the door swung open- whisky amber setting fire to his lungs as he drank in the look of surprise on her face.

Fragments of time passed in flickers of consciousness. Her delicate arms wrapping around his neck, thin fingers lacing into his curls, the warmth of her lips against his. Pulsing hot tongues crashing into each other as ragged breaths interrupted. The slam of the door behind him, stumbling forward into the quiet, dark sanctuary.

_____________

A knock at the door startled him awake. He rolled towards the space she had occupied but found it empty, a hint of warmth still lingering on her side.

Rubbing his eyes with sleepy fingers, he called out, “Claire?”

Nothing but silence. The knock was increasing with intensity and verging on impatient. Stepping into his trousers and shrugging on last night’s shirt, he shuffled towards the door, opening the solid oak plane with little effort.

He was met with a three-piece suit, a few wild swirls of curly gray hair lining a slightly weathered but kind face.

“Right. Good morning to you my dear chap- you must be the Jamie Fraser I’ve heard so much about.”

Jamie felt his cheeks flush and the heat rising to the tips of his ears. Combing his fingers through his unruly curls, he cleared his throat to regain his composure. “Aye, ye must be Unc-” he paused to properly introduce himself as he extended his right hand, “Lambert Beauchamp. It’s nice to meet ye.”

“Bloody good, my young fellow,” he smiled as he met Jamie’s handshake, strong and firm. Jamie stepped back to allow him through the threshold. With a quick glance back as he passed, Uncle Lamb winked as he took in Jamie’s full stature, “She wasn’t exaggerating I see.”

The tips of his ears burned red as he blinked twice and managed a chuckle, closing the door behind them.

Christ! What did she say about me?

_____________

Claire

Bloody hell why was it taking them so long.

One cup of black coffee, one cup of Oolong.

To go, please.

She had hoped to be back before he woke, but certainly not at this pace. Her finger and thumb pressed into the palm of her right hand as she waited. The image of Jamie sprawled against her sheets crept into her mind again and she shifted her weight from one hip to another.

_____________

Jamie

“So, did she tell you about it, then?” Lambert’s British cadence catching the last word. “This house- the will?”

His brows creased as he cocked his head to the side. “I’m sorry, I don’t-“

“Right. You must have gotten in late last night… “

Claire

The oak door opened with an enthusiastic push, her shoulder pressing firmly against the wood as she balanced the to-go cups and bag of croissants in her hand. Shimmying herself through the doorway, she pressed her back against the solid wood surface and rocked back against it till she heard the distinct click of the latch.

The soft hum of deep voices froze her in her place. The familiar lilt caught her ear and she relaxed.

Jamie.

Looking around to survey the foyer, she caught the sight of a well-worn leather briefcase.

Uncle Lamb.

The two most important men in her life were standing in her parent’s kitchen talking… without her.

Please Uncle, nothing embarrassing.

She took another step and froze, remembering the state in which she left her Highlander.

Please Jamie, please be dressed.

_____________

With Uncle Lamb excusing himself to head to the library with gracious wink and call for ‘more research,’ she closed the bedroom door and dared a glance at him to measure his mood. “So- you finally met Uncle Lamb…”

A coy smile formed as he sank back into the comforter on the bed. “Aye. He’s a fine man, I can see why he’s so important to ye.”

“My parents sent me to visit him throughout my childhood, on archaeological digs, investigating shipwrecks, digging through old libraries for ancient texts,” her heart bloomed at the memories. “Some of my favorite moments as a child were with him.”

She felt his eyes on her as she stepped closer to the bed. Heat flushed her cheeks as his lips curled into a shy smile, raising his hand to her.

“Folks in Scotland would call ye a fairy- bouncing from past to present, learning secrets about times passed, ye ken.”

She tried to hide her eye-roll at yet another reference to old Scottish folklore, but Jamie caught it and pulled her to the bed with a playful chuckle and failed wink. “Are ye laughin’ at me?”

A bubble of giggles escaped her chest as his fingers found the soft delicate skin of her ribs. “Yes I… I think I am.”

Lighthearted contentment shifted to fierce determination as he rolled his weight on top of her, his lips softly trailing kisses along her collarbone up to her jawline, “then ye shall get what ye deserve.”

_____________

Panting and sated, she welcomed the weight of his body as he lowered himself back onto her slender frame.

Her voice was raspy and caught between breaths. “Care to see the sights?”

Shaking his head, he laughed, “Ye’ll be the death of me yet, Sassenach.”

Her fingers traveled the length of his back, dipping in the valleys between muscles, reveling in the gooseflesh left in her wake. “Was I too hard on you?”

“Och I missed yer wee noises, I’d let ye do just about anythin’ to me to hear ‘em,” his muscles rippled under her touch as he stretched his limbs and gently rolled to his side. “…But give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready to explore yer curves again.”

“You bloody Scot,” she muttered without any real emphasis behind it. Turning to look at him and tracing the line of his profile with her gaze, she finished, “I meant Boston.

“Och. What’s there to do in Boston that’s better than what I can explore in this room?”

“Harvard square, lobster rolls…” the feel of his lips brushing against her skin distracted her momentarily as she soaked in the sandalwood scent of his hair. “…Boston crème pies.”

His mass of unruly curls perked up and his piercing blue eyes glistened in the morning light. “Weel- why didn’t you say so, Sassenach?”

_____________

Jamie

He saw glimpses of her as a child- peeking at her reflection in the water fountain, stepping precariously to avoid cracks in the sidewalk, cupping her hot chocolate with two hands as she settled into the park bench. Boston had been home for her, and for a moment she seemed like a bas relief against the park- a painted figure frozen amongst the crisp autumn air.

The movement of her hand patting the wooden bench beside her snapped him out of his thoughts and he moved to take the seat next to her. Looping her arm through his and resting her cheek against his shoulder, she sighed. “Just about the perfect day, wouldn’t you say?"

“Och, aye. Tis a fine day, for Boston.” He said with a sardonic smile as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder, his hand tracing lines of the tattoo he’d memorized beneath her clothing.

“Bloody Scot,” he heard the smile in her voice as she settled into his side.

His heartbeat quickened as he felt the words dance on his tongue.

Out wi’ it, lad.

“Will ye stay here, then?”

Her posture stiffened as she asked, “What-”

“Yer Uncle told me about the will- yer parents’ wishes.”

After two breaths her shoulders sagged, “If someone had asked me that six months ago, I would have said yes. But now… this feels like my past, but not my future.”

“This is yer home, Claire.”

At the sound of her name, she lifted her head to meet his eyes. Like ripples of whisky in a glass, his words echoed between them.

“Jamie… for so long I’ve never felt like I belonged.” She paused, taking a breath before continuing. Her voice was quiet, but steady, “My parents and I- we did travel quite a bit. Boston never really felt like home- it was just a place to land for a spell before we were off to the next adventure.”

His mind conjured images of his own childhood.

The large stone buildings and secret passages through the woods that carved and molded his memories. The very stone walls of Lallybroch had been home, at least long ago. He’d always imagined being Laird, with his lady by his side. A mix of tradition and adolescent daydreams that had once seemed like the logical step in his life’s trajectory. It had been an all but foregone conclusion until a dark night and the sound of twisted metal that scattered his future to the wind… until now.

Her fingers found his hand and intertwined her fingers with his, “Home- it’s always been an idea, but not a place for me, Jamie.”

Home. Loving her was now home to him.

The weight of her hand in his anchored him to the bench as he struggled to keep a clear mind. “What is home to ye now, Sassenach?”

Golden amber glowed in the early evening sun. “Home to me… is you, Jamie.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

“Are ye sure about this, Sassenach?” Jamie’s eyes were slanted with concern as he watched her hands carefully travel over the document, her pen deftly situated in her hand.

With her heart pounding in her chest and a swell of happiness curling her lips into a smile, she met his gaze. His eyebrows were pressed together in concern, and she lifted her hand to his cheek, feeling the stubble prickle under her touch. The word bubbled from her chest and sent a warm wave of contentment through her veins. “Yes.”

The pen swirled and dipped against the paper in a flourish as she finished her signature.

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.

A heaviness lifted, and her heart constricted as the last fleeting memories came rushing back to her.

This house. This place. Her parents. So many things that would never be. But so much more that was now possible.

Gently placing the pen next to the fresh ink, she nodded. “And that’s that.”

“What happens now?”

“Uncle Lamb will handle the particulars,” she paused, feeling a large arm snake around her shoulder and she leaned into the warmth.

They had given her the gift of her past. It was time for her to turn towards her future.

“It will take some time, but the foundation will be able to convert this place into a proper home for… parentless children.”

Orphans.

The word she couldn’t quite say aloud. The place she’d known for so long would be the soft place to land for children less fortunate than she, but also so similar in their loss and longing for a family.

The weight of his hand brought her back to the present. The pattern of swirls his fingers traced prickling her skin were as comforting as they were intoxicating. Tilting her face to his, she was met with a tranquil sea of blue, framed by auburn lashes.

“Yer parents would be proud, Claire,” his voice was soft, the lilt of his accent wrapping around the words and catching at her name. His fingers curled around her shoulder as he gave it a gentle squeeze.

Settling against his side, she sighed and felt the release of tension between her shoulder blades, feeling the weight of the last several weeks fade away. “Take me home- to Scotland.”

_____________

JAMIE

Should he ask her now?

Wait til she gets through the door ye dolt.

He’d prepared a late-night meal for her, too planned to be a casual affair. She’d know he was up to something.

Like memorizing lyrics, he rehearsed the words over and over in his head.

My flat is two blocks closer to the hospital. Ye’ve spent all yer nights here since Boston- almost two weeks now. Why pay for a flat when yer never there?

His thoughts jumped from one point to the next in a dizzying pace until all thoughts blurred and he was left with the simple truth-

I want ye here with me.

A smile played at his lips- to know she’d be here every night, to wake up to every morning… to find in the darkness between sleeping and waking. To start planning for things to come.

‘Home to me… is you.’

Her words echoed in the quiet moments of his day, finding strength as he thought about that night in Boston.

He was ready; that much he knew. He just hoped she was, too.

His fingers fidgeted with the spare key, eyeing the clock.

11:15pm. Surgery must have gone long.

_____________

After watching the rugby highlights again, he checked his phone- 12:45am, and a new text from Claire.

-Sorry love. Likely another hour to go. Save my spot.

His heart sank as he sighed, the hope of her delicate form materializing from around the corner disappeared. Picking up his phone, he tapped out a response.

-Dinna fash, Sassenach. Yer spot’s here waitin’ for ye.

Rubbing his bleary eyes, he shuffled from the couch to the kitchen to put away dinner. Leaning against the counter, he eyed the couch- the cushions still pressed to resemble his shape after hours of surfing the tube. His gaze traveled down the hallway in the direction of their bedroom.

I’ll rest my eyes- just for a few minutes.

Trudging the dozen steps to his bed, he collapsed face first into his pillow, consciousness slowly slipping away as darkness conjured sleep.

The ringtone jolted him awake. Fumbling for the phone on his nightstand, the time stared back at him: 4:10am.

Stretching his limbs, his hand searched for the wig of curls that should be sprawled on the pillow next to him but found it empty.

Squinting through the haze of sleep, there was nothing from Claire, but there were two missed calls.

His pulse quickened, and his blood ran cold. Geillis- at 2:17am and 4:09am. He blinked at the screen.

Why would she be calling him- and why now?

_____________

It had taken all of thirty seconds for him to grab his coat and shoes before he was out the door, down the stairwell, and onto the pavement in the direction of the hospital.

He stared at the doctor as he explained her injuries, his lips moving but the sounds barely registering.

She had stepped off the curb a moment too early.

A car rushing into the A&E driven by a frantic father-to-be with his wife in labor.

The vehicle struck her side.

Blunt force trauma due to the impact.

A cascade of words unraveled as he tried to process them.

Claire. She was hurt.

His chest constricted as he struggled to fill his lungs with air. The fluorescent lights of the waiting room flickered as his knees buckled. Stumbling backwards into a chair, his fingers gripped the wooden armrests, desperate for something -anything- to anchor him to the present.

_____________

Time slowly ticked by; seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours. He perked to every pair of footsteps, hoping for an update or some word of her condition. Each fragile flutter of hope he felt swell in his chest was dashed as the sounds faded, echoing off the hospital walls.

His fingers drummed against his thigh, a constant rhythm that matched his heartbeat. Between slow, painful blinks he caught sight of fiery red hair, and he leapt to his feet- a sudden jolt of energy coursing through his veins.

“How is she?” His voice shook.

“She’s stable.” Geillis’s voice was husky, an octave lower than it should be. Her usual smirk was gone, replaced with lips drawn into a somber line. The look unsettled him. “Nasty concussion, they had a fitful time resetting the break in her arm. A few broken ribs, and some cuts and scrapes. She’s resting now.”

His stomach flipped as he conjured her face- lifeless, pale, and bleeding on the pavement. Every muscle in his body tensed, taut as a tightrope suspended somewhere between two limitless points. Once misstep and he’d come completely undone.

A wave of nausea flooded his senses, his eyes snapped shut as he heard faint sounds of tires screeching. The sound mixed with the thrumming of his pulse in his ears. He had seen this before. And he had been helpless. He’d sworn an oath of protection to Claire- that she was safe with him. He would have sacrificed his body to protect her. But here he was, hands shaking at his sides in a waiting room while she lay in a hospital bed, alone.

“Can I take ye to her?” Her voice was quiet, soft as if trying to tame a feral animal.

He nodded almost imperceptibly and shuffled behind her, barely allowing a half-step between them.

_____________

The beep of the monitors filled his ears, his eyes found her face immediately. A cut marred her perfect ivory skin lining the curve of her cheek.

Stepping slowly, cautiously, he eyed the empty chair next to her.

Geillis’s eyes traveled to the empty seat, her words urging him forward, “She’ll want ye here when she wakes.”

When she wakes.

He grasped onto the word- when- and watched it slowly morph, the letters contorting and disappearing until a thought grabbed hold of him and persisted.

IF she wakes.

_____________

His eyes traveled down the lines of her thin frame, angles long ago memorized but suddenly fleeting. The urge to remember every detail overcame him. Cautiously, his fingers drifted to her hand, slowly taking it in his own. Warm and soft, he felt her blood pulsing through her veins and he exhaled in relief.

She was real, immediate, alive.

The sound of humming perked his ears and he looked around. Finding the room empty, he realized it was the sound of his own voice.

That song.

“Sassenach…” he cleared his throat to stop it from shaking. “The thing is… I’ve got this song.”

He waited, checking to see if she’d wake up. After two heartbeats and a deafening silence, he swallowed hard and continued.

“I’ve been hearin’ this melody since the night I met ye.” Gently stroking her hand, soft skin almost translucent in this light, his fingers trembled. She was too still, too quiet. He longed to feel her fingers lace into his. His voice was hollow, “I just need ye to wake up and help me with the lyrics.”

He conjured the words that had been seared into his heart- words that brought the sensation of her lips and the warmth of her touch when he needed them most. The words had flooded the still moments in his day, tangled themselves in his thoughts, but he couldn’t quite reach out and touch them and make them real.

The sound of the heart monitor pierced through the silence.

“A calm sea once clear blue,” he started, pausing to take a shaky breath as his throat tightened. “Ye came to me and turned my world to whisky.”

Her face at the bar filled his vision –– her cheeks were so rosy, the whisky in her eyes so clear.

Steeling himself, he whispered, “Taste you on my tongue, feel you on my skin…”

The first time they had kissed – his hand molded to the soft curve of her cheek, the taste of her breath, crisp and warm.

“A bird in flight, black lines against ivory rippling across the bay.”

That heron etched into her skin, the memories she entrusted to him.

“Nothing is lost- only changed. But please…” his voice cracked as a wall of tears threatened to blur his vision. Thoughts skipped across his mind as the last of the lyrics danced on his tongue, his plea to her, “Please stay.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

Inhale.

Blinding white.

A wave of soft rushing fluttered in her ears, like the sound of heron wings.

She felt peaceful, and bodiless.

Free of pain.

Filled with a quiet happiness.

Exhale.

Through the vastness of light, a form appeared.

The shadow slowly came into focus, drops of dew glistening amongst a quivering plume of feathers.

Inhale.

Flickers of faces hovered just out of reach- the slight, delicate framed woman with dark raven hair and piercing amber eyes.

Her mother.

Hovering near her was a dark-haired kind face lined with a strong jaw and straight nose.

Her father.

The heat of their smiles emanated into her chest; the stinging ache replaced with the soft humming of laughter.

The soft tempo of her heartbeat quickened and skipped, morphing into a melody- like waves beating upon a shore, water lapping in an intoxicating rhythm.

The angles of their faces slowly faded.

Halos of light.

Soft, blurred at the edges.

But the warmth of their smiles filled her with an inner peace.

Exhale.

A dull pain pulsed at her temples.

Muffled sounds played at her ears, like drifting underwater. She struggled to sift through the sounds for meaning.

A tingling panic rose in her chest- where was she?

The familiar scent of antiseptic filled her nose, a smell ingrained into her subconscious after countless nights on call.

Hospital.

Flexing her hands, the feel of starchy linens pressed against her fingertips- and along with it, heat pierced up her left arm.

Pain.

“Sassenach?”

Heat scorched her throat, a dryness that threatened to split her neck in two. Letting out a brief sigh of relief, she moaned. She knew that voice.

Jamie.

The weight of fatigue and heady cocktail of pain medication nearly overcame her, her lashes fluttering- fighting to open. Warm fingers encompassed her right hand.

Her response was reflexive. “Mmm.”

Forcing her eyelids to part, a flow of fiery red hair filled her vision.

She soaked up the warmth of his voice as he whispered, his accent thick and deep, “Thank Christ.”

The medication swirled through her veins and mixed with the calm of his touch, seeping into every dark corner and tempering the immediate panic.

Something happened.

Something bad.

Pain.

They were here. But now they’re gone.

Jamie is here.

I am here.

She forced out a ragged breath, and with it, “I’m here.”

Her hand was small in his; with a shaky breath, he brought them both to his mouth. Trembling lips pressed against her skin, and the dampness of a single tear skated against the back of her hand.

The last few words she heard before a lazy haze pulled her back under curled her lips into a small but contented smile.

“I thought I’d lost ye.”

_______________________

JAMIE

Six hours.

He’d watched the hour hand rotate around the clock face six times. Her chest rose and fell evenly. Their fingers lay gently intertwined at her side.

Geillis had come into around nine am during the shift change and had ushered him out. “Ye need food and a good cup of coffee. Today’s a new day but it’ll be a long one, aye?”

He’d begrudgingly shuffled to the cafeteria.

Today is a new day.

She woke up.

Everything will be alright.

It has to be.

She will be okay…won’t she?

Grabbing a black cup for him, he eyed the assorted teas and his lip twitched into a smile. Oolong.

Making his way back to the room, warm liquidy sustenance in both hands, he stopped at the threshold when he saw whisky eyes glowing in his direction. He smiled, but felt it falter as he watched the crease between her eyebrows deepen.

“Are ye alright, Claire?”

Her face twisted and contorted as her eyes scanned the room. “I just… I can’t…”

In two large steps he was at her side, setting the to-go cups on the beside table. “It’s alright, take yer time.”

“I can’t remember yesterday.” She pulled her arms across her chest, looking small and fragile.

“Yesterday?

Fuck. How could anyone not remember an accident like that?

“Geillis… she told me I was leaving here after surgery- but I- I don’t… remember any of it.”

Steadying himself with a deep breath, he shrugged his shoulders and offered, “Ye took a hard hit to the heid, Sassenach.”

“There’s a fog at the front of my memory. I remember Boston, my parent’s house. But since then… how long have we been back?”

He tried to control the tightening of his throat as he thought about the Saturday morning drive to Inverness last weekend. The flat tire they had just outside the village, the impromptu hike and taking her in a moment of passion in a small cove on a bed of heather.

Did she really no’ remember that?

In a clipped voice, he whispered, “Two weeks.”

“Two… weeks?” Her face went pale, her lower lip quivering slightly as she stared at him through a furrow brow. “Jesus H Roosevelt…”

Christ,” he finished for her, trying to keep his tone light, betraying the fear he felt creeping into his chest.

Her face broke for a moment, her mouth pulled tight as she forced a small smile. Her glass face showed the question before she asked, “So… what now?”

He set his shoulders square as he cleared his throat. “Come home wi’ me?”

A lazy, slow blink coupled with a twitch of her lips as she met his gaze. Her voice was quiet, but he heard a distinct lilt as she whispered. “Aye.”

_______________________

The ride to his flat had been filled with the rushing sound of rain against the tires. His hands clutched the wheel, his eyes darting from the street to his speedometer, over to Claire, and back to the road again on an endless loop.

After a slow ascent up the stairwell, he gingerly helped her onto the sofa.

“Can I get ye anything, Sassenach?” He stood, his hands in his pockets, shuffling his weight from one foot to another. Not sure what to do or offer, he quirked an eyebrow, “Some tea?”

He watched her chest rise and fall with what seemed a substantial effort. Her eyes danced from the kitchen back to his face, nodding her head slightly as she sighed. “Oolong, please. Thank you.”

“Aye.” His voice warmed as he turned towards the teapot. “Let me know when yer ready for somethin’ stronger.”

_______________________

CLAIRE

The flowery aroma filled her nostrils as her fingers melted into the warm cup. She let the flavor ruminate on her tongue, savoring every note before feeling it trickle down her throat. Leaning her head back onto the sofa cushion, she let her eyelids flutter closed, finding a small peace in the simplicity of the moment.

She felt his eyes on her, gauging her pain, mobility, mood, what she might be needing. She knew he was reading her glass face without stealing a glance in his direction. His breath hitched, then paused, before finally exhaling.

Keeping her eyes closed, she mustered the energy to ask, “What is it, Jamie?”

Two more breaths passed, but she was met with silence. Forcing her head upright, she pried her eyes open, finding his face cocked to one side with a peculiar look.

“It’s just- I was wondering if-” He stammered, running a hand through his curls- unruly and matchstick red, a roadmap of the last few days. Lack of sleep, worry, fear. His eyes traveled over her face and he shook his head. “Christ ye still knock me off kilter, mo chridhe.”

His eyes waited, the expectation evident on his face. Whatever it was he was expecting her to remember, she was left wanting. She tried for a small smile, she slowly reached her hand to touch his shoulder, the distance between them too great. Her voice was quiet, timid, trying for a teasing tone but falling just short. “Out with it.”

The lines of his face contorted slightly before shifting back into place, his indecipherable façade restored. Nodding, he forced the words out. “Would ye stay here, wi’ me?”

Stay.

Here.

With Jamie.

In truth, Jamie’s flat had become her haven, their space together. Her final thoughts while being discharged from the hospital were not of her flat, of the crisp linens neatly lining her bed. It was here, the mess of blankets and pillows strewn across his mattress. The smell of his body wash that lingered on his towel in the morning, the warm light peaking through the kitchen curtains as she sipped her tea.

The thought of convalescing here lifted a weight she hadn’t noticed she’d been carrying. Her lips softened into a smile as she nodded, “Yes.”

His posture relaxed slightly, and the corners of his eyes softened as his gaze held hers. The weight of his intensity forced her to lower her eyes back to her glass, and with a heavy sigh, she felt his hand lazily travel the length of her shoulder to the base of her neck.

“Been a long day, come here,” his voice was soft, low and melodic and pulled her close to him. Resting her hand on his shoulder, she felt his fingers slowly intertwine in the curls that cascaded from her messy bun. “Do ye trust me Claire-that everything will be okay?”

His fingers swirled in small rhythmic circles against her scalp. The combination of Oolong, heat of Jamie’s steady breath, and dull pulsing of his heart against her skin lulled her into a quiet trance.

Her eyes fluttered shut as she settled against his side. The words came easily, without effort or question. “In this I do, and in this I will.”

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

It was unseasonably cold. Even for Scotland.

Fumbling her way from the couch towards the bedroom, Claire shuffled to the dresser. Clumsily she found the drawer knob, the worn wood smooth under her fingertips as it creaked open. Eager hands, expecting various folds of cotton, hit the bottom with a thud.

Empty.

Whisky eyes glanced over to the laundry basket, but found no mound of clothing staring back at her.

Empty?

“Ja-“ she started, feeling the warmth of his fingers against the small of her back finish the question for her.

“Aye… Sassenach?” his voice was breathy as his lips hovered just above the exposed skin on her neck.

“Wh… What happened to all of your clothes?”

Small, swirling circles against her waistline paused.

“Weel.. err.. I, uh…” his voice wavered as his fingers pressed gently into her flesh.

Through the fog and haze of the accident, she recognized that stutter. Her mind’s eye flashed a glimpse of his face the night they met- the same uncertainty etched into his words as he drummed his fingers against his leg. “Cat got your tongue, Jamie?”

A wave of hot breath skated across her skin as he sighed.

“I just thought- that maybe… ye’d like to leave some of yer wee Sassenach things here is all,” he stated plainly.

“Just what do you think I have- a cedar trunk full of eighteenth century garments?” She attempted a teasing tone, but her heart skipped a beat as she eyed the room.

A small clearing on what would be her nightstand, an empty hook on the back of the door for her bathrobe, and perhaps most notable of all, the bed. Normally a pile of covers with pillows haphazardly askew, the bedding was now neatly tucked and smoothed over- with two fresh matching pillowcases side by side against the headboard.

“Aye,” his breath quickened as he countered, “I had a daft notion ye might want to leave a few wee things here…”

My things. Here.

“That DVD collection of yers catchin’ dust,” his voice broke through her thoughts as he continued, slightly more self-assured, “yer favorite mug fer yer tea, perhaps a brush for that bird’s nest ye have atop that beautiful heid of yers.”

She smiled to herself. Little nick nacks, seemingly trivial pieces of her daily existence it hadn’t occurred to her that he’d noticed, let alone wanted in his flat.

“…But then the accident h-happened and- and it didna seem fit to take advantage of ye in that state.”

And then- the accident. She remembered Boston, and her desire to start things anew- in Scotland. And then she woke up in the hospital. Dark black spots shaded her memory of the earliest moments of them.

Attempting to shift the conversation, she fought the tightening of her throat as she asked, “My state?”

A strong hand slowly snuck around her waist and settled against the crest of her hip bone, two fingers lightly tapping the delicate skin just underneath the cotton of her shirt.

“Oh aye-” the warmth in his voice a low hum that skated across her skin, “Half yer colleagues saw yer wee granny panties ye only wear when it’s laundry day.”

She scoffed in mock indignation, the last of her frustration lifting from her shoulders. Not moving, she relaxed into his warmth and sighed in contentment.

After a soft exhale, he whispered, “Mo nighean donn… I want ye here with me. “

And there it was.

A sweet truth that had lingered just beneath the surface.

Breath put to the very question that had played in her head since she met him. What was this? This delicate tether between them, at first as delicate as lace but now stitched firmly together with late night truths and early morning contentment. It wasn’t usual; that first night at her apartment he had said it was different, and they’d spent the last months writing their names on each other’s souls.

The sound of his voice lingered between them, it soothed her and sent a tingle down her spine. It was a question- carefully yet earnestly crafted as to give no expectation of an answer. She felt the ground beneath her tilt slightly, and she cleared her throat to steady herself.

Three words. Three little words that matched the pulse in her wrist- quiet, constant, and restless as they bubbled and fought to break free. For weeks and months, these words fluttered on the tip of her tongue but never gave breath to them. Until now.

The sounds slowly built in her chest, enveloping her in a warmth matched by the comfort radiating from his skin behind her. They trickled free from her lips, delicate and yet certain at the same time

“I love you.”

Each syllable hung suspended in midair, she could almost see the outline of each letter as she waited for his breathing to resume. Muscles in his arms first constricted and then relaxed before he wound himself securely around her.

“And I…” he whispered into her curls, ”you.”

In a moment that lasted both an instant and an eternity, they stood motionless. Their breath mingled and their heartbeats pounded to the same rhythm. She felt the last remnants of earlier frustration seep from her bones and she was left feeling weightless. A soft sigh escaped her lips and she savored the feeling of utter contentment.

“So… is that a yes then, Sassenach?”

Bringing his hand to her lips she smiled and said simply, “Yes.”

__________

Water. Soap. Scrub. Rinse. Gown. Gloves.

The ritual of surgery was a dance, delicate steps made in rhythm to the steady rhythm of her pulse. She could trust it, a communion that had never failed her in all her years of study and practice. Countless hours in the OR had trained her hands, each movement burned into each digit. Carefully and meticulously studied and executed with an air of ease. What her body betrayed, her mind would perfect. With eyes closed, she visualized the instrument tray- scalpels parallel and waiting to serve their purpose.

Her mind was midway through a line of interrupted sutures, fingers moving in perfect harmony with the vision in her mind when with a turn of the wrist, a hot flash of pain tore through her radius. “Mallaichte bas!”

Murky sounds, like voices underwater broke through her concentration.

“Huh?” she mumbled, her right hand instinctively cradling her left wrist, gingerly massaging it.

“I said ‘are ye alright,’ Sassenach?”

Slowly opening her eyes, the perfect line of stitches she had imagined slowly faded and she was left with only the uneven lines of hardwood floor beneath her feet.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she managed through clenched teeth. Sensing her tone was ill placed, she sighed and softened it with, “Sorry to bother you.”

“Dinna fash yerself, just thought a fairy must’ve lured ye up a hill and brought me a changeling,” he said with a failed wink.

“What on earth are you talking about, Jamie?” her voice shifting from frustration to confusion.

“Did ye no’ hear yerself? Ye have quite the mouth on ye.” At that, her eyes darted in his direction, a smirk quirked to one side waiting for her.

“Did I offend your delicacies with my crude British tongue?” Despite herself, she quirked an eyebrow to match the lilt in her voice. Damn him. She didn’t want to be in a mood to joke.

“Och yer not normally a close-mouthed woman Claire- and ye ken I love ye for it.” He paused at that, the newness of that word off his tongue curled his lip, and her heart skipped a beat. “But now yer startin’ to swear in my mother tongue wailin’ about black death- tis only a matter of time before ye bring a curse upon this flat.”

The sharp pain in her wrist was ebbing to a dull ache.

Gaelic?

The corner of her mouth lifted into a smile as she rewound the last few minutes in her head. Had she really spoken in Gaelic… instinctively? The last several weeks had held little amusement other than scouring various Gaelic materials, studying. But had she actually learned enough to start speaking without effort? Her fingers were tracing the incision on her left wrist as he sunk into the mattress beside her.

“What’s wrong, mo ghraidh?”

Taking a deep breath, she exhaled loudly. “It’s my bloody hand. It’s useless.”

“Och.” The thick Scottish sound filled the room, the warmth in his voice seeping into her skin. “Just takes time. Hasna been that long since the accident.”

Eight weeks, Jamie.” Spitting the words out, she felt her blood pressure rise. She was a doctor, she knew protocol. That a healed bone alone did not promise full function without rehabilitation. Still, the freedom she felt once freed from the cast was short lived, and she was left feeling weak and foreign in her own skin.

“What if you couldn’t play music? What if your hand was…” she paused, not wanting to finish the sentence. Flashes of his perfectly ruddy skin torn violently to shredded flesh with mangled bone ripped through her mind. She shuddered at the mere thought of his perfect hand enduring such trauma. Taking a deep breath to clear her head, she started again, “What if you couldn’t do what was naturally in you to do?”

“Are ye sayin’ ye like my music, then?” His face betrayed the measured tone of his voice, a look of pride barely held in check as his brow quirked.

His attempt at distraction- at redirection- was kindly meant, but she was determined to hang onto her frustration. It was one of a few companions she’d had these last several weeks.

Turning to face him, her weight shifted and he leaned in closer. “You have music… I have healing. What if I never get my range of motion, my strength back? A surgeon cannot heal without her hands.”

__________

JAMIE

What if?

That wasn’t an option. No. She would be whole again.

I have music.

She was right.

Blinking slowly, a shadow of an idea whispered in his ear.

I have music.

Letting a smile tug at his lips, he held up his hand in a pause as he shuffled out of the room. Hearing a deep breath and loud exhale, he chuckled to himself.

She will be whole again.

Returning with a few determined steps back into the room, he paused at the sight of her. So utterly unaware of herself, she had taken to focus on a few unruly curls hanging over her face. Her right hand studiously picking at the frayed ends, her left hand cradled protectively at her side.

“Alright then,” he started, determined to change her focus. “Let’s see what ye’ve got Sassenach.”

“Beg pardon?” Her eyes widened, the swirl of whisky amber churning.

“Let’s have ye give it a go,” he gently slid the guitar onto her lap, angling it precisely between the curve of her breast and line of her arm. It sat precariously fixed at her side as he continued, “Ye said once they let anyone on stage- let’s see how ye fair with it.”

Slipping behind her, he laced his arms through hers, leaning into the smoothness of her body. “Now ye take yer left hand and put yer wee fingertips here”- gentling placing her fingers on the second fret before enveloping her hand in his- “and here.”

Taking her right hand in his, he pulled them down over the cords. Feeling the vibration and hearing a somewhat muted cord, but a cord nonetheless, echoed through the room.

“And just wot do you think you’re doing?” Under the facade of incredulity, he heard a sense of wonder.

“Ye’ve spent sae many hours scouring my bookcases looking for Laird knows what- this is a better- and more entertaining- use of yer time.”

“More entertaining, you say? For whom, exactly?” Feeling the smile in her voice, he let out a heavy sigh and nuzzled his nose into the curls at the nape of her neck. Her voice was shy as she asked, “Would you show me a few more?”

This just might work.

Slowly, and carefully, he showed her cord after cord. Pausing occasionally as her crude British tongue broke his concentration, he watched her fingers move slowly from string to string. Kissing her shoulder, and feeling confident he had shown her enough cords to pique her interest, he reluctantly disentangled himself from her.

Slowly shuffling to the hall, he turned at the doorway for a final look. He stopped to take her in.

A look of determination set on her face. Her left hand was rotated and gripped the guitar’s neck with purpose. The loose white shirt, his shirt, hung off her shoulder- exposing the faintest of black ink on her shoulder.

Grabbing his phone from his pocket, he swiped the screen and held the phone up. He watched her form come into focus on his screen and hit the shutter button, watching a freeze frame of this moment flicker and disappear.

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

Visualize the movement. Breath on the down-stroke. Focus.

You can do this Beauchamp.

Fingers trembled in place as they spread over the strings, stretched and suspended- waiting.

C. G. Am.

Her fingers struggled to steady as she found the last chord.

F.

“Ha!” she exclaimed triumphantly as the strings hummed pleasantly under her fingertips.

“Ye’ll be chargin’ folks to hear ye play before ye know it, Sassenach.” Deep yet playful, she heard his cautiously optimistic tone seep through his breezy banter.

“Don’t distract me,” the words came out but there was no real weight behind them. Just beneath the surface, she could feel- almost touch his eagerness to be near her. He hadn’t broached the subject of sex or intimacy since the accident, save a few small reflexive nuzzles and small kisses into her hair.

And of course- those three words.

They hung suspended between them. An intimacy she never dreamed of and yet, there it was. Since that proclamation, she’d felt shy. Unsure of herself and whatever recollections she lost- and with them the moments between them she couldn’t get back.

She pried her eyes open long enough to see a tautness to his jaw, his stubble lining the curve of his cheek, the line beautiful and potent and all at once innocent. A foreign yet familiar sensation pulsed just below her navel.

All at once, her mind drew vivid images of them tangled in a sea of white. Like the shutter of a camera, flashes of movement filled her vision- her hands locked in his above her head, the motion of his hips against hers, the line of his lip that curled with each pulsation. Feeling like a voyeur into the memories she already had and the dream for the moments she wished to be true, she blinked and looked away.

She’d noticed him observing her for a few days now. At first, he was watching rugby but the volume was a low hum instead of a raucous roar from the living room. Then it was his finding every excuse to meander to and from the kitchen- offering to refill a barely touched water glass or to inquire about a dram of whisky.

Finally he set about cleaning the bedroom or rather, shuffling piles of his laundry from the bed to the chair, studiously inspecting the contents of each garment with great effort.

Her eyes would linger on the nape of his neck, auburn curls kissing the skin as the ripples of muscle flexed under the cotton of his shirt. Like the night they met. A flicker of a memory- or was it a memory? The thought lingered just long enough before fading into the deep like a wave receding from the shore.

Right on cue, Jamie sauntered into the room- whisky in hand.

Eyeing her glass, he paused before uncorking the bottle and splashing a few drops into the tumbler. Setting the whisky down onto the nightstand, he waited. His hand dropped to his side, index finger drumming against his thigh. Every line in his body was tense and unsure, searching for something. His voice was hoarse but warm, “Did ye… need anything?”

Neach-gleidhidh.

Guardian.

Cocking her head to the side, her eyes shifted to his face. Smiling, she said, “You call that a proper pour?”

_________

JAMIE

They were awoken by the melodic whistle of a small Stonechat just outside their window, and the soft sigh next to him that accompanied it filled the room.

Instinctively, he stretched his limbs to the corners of the bed. Feeling her form next to him, he paused. Still hesitant and unsure, he resisted reaching out to her. He felt her warmth, thrumming and inviting. He thought he felt her sharp intake of breath.

“Oh-Jamie!” Soft, delicate fingers reached for him and settled on his forearm with a gentle ease. Her voice, clear and awake despite the early hour, hummed with a verve that pulsed between them. “I saw there was a pick your own strawberry patch just a few towns away. What do you say to a bit of fresh air?”

Her fingertips burned into his skin.

Sorcha.

The sensation was intoxicating. His flesh buzzed with an almost dizzying energy.

She’d resisted leaving the flat for more than her medical follow ups since the accident. A cloud had hung over their flat, a quiet melancholy that melded with moments of comfort. Long stretches of rain cast a shade over the apartment, but this morning was a most welcome hint of spring breaking through.

“Oh,” he started, trying to wrestle with the excitement in his voice. “I suppose I could.”

“I would kill for some caffeine,” her voice was suddenly small, quiet. “Could we stop for a cuppa on the way?”

Small steps forward, lad.

“Aye Sassenach.”

_________

CLAIRE

Where the bloody hell are his keys?

Fingers impatiently swept across folds of material as they searched through his satchel. A solid metallic rectangle shuffled loose and made a thud against the worn wood floor. The screen lit up and her eyes caught the distinctive pattern of a brick wall, a swirl of curls, and white chucks.

The night they met.

The image, his view of her, was staring back at her. Seemingly meaningless but yet, he wanted to take it. To keep it. To keep that snapshot in time, forever.

Her fingers twitched as she carefully picked up the device, trembling slightly as she swiped the screen as a new image came into view. A profile of her shoulder, a mess of curls interrupting the white ivory skin. Peeking through a tangle of brown, stark lines of black wings seemed to dance across the screen.

The heron.

A whisper echoed in the room, a faint but distinctly familiar voice, her father. When in doubt, love, remember the heron.

Carefully, she set the phone back on the table, face up. Watching the screen dim and fade to black, she let out the breath she had been holding.

“Are ye ready, Sassenach?” His voice echoed from the hallway and snapped her from her thoughts.

Ready. Was she ready?

She wasn’t sure. But she needed to get out of their flat.

Their flat.

The thought made her smile, and slowly she felt the tension between her shoulders recede. Shoving his phone and keys back into his bag, she grabbed the leather straps and clutched it close to her chest. With a new resolve, she strode towards the door and into the sunshine.

_________

JAMIE

With a new cup of Oolong in one hand and black coffee in the other he hurriedly made his way back to the car, muttering a few course words for the barista- and the fresh and still steaming stain on his pullover.

This is no’ the time to be mussed up or late… again.

“Thank you,” she said softly, reaching for her tea. Her fingers grazed his and she paused. Like a bolt of lightning coursing through his veins, he flinched but did not draw his hand away. “Though… you were gone so long I feared you had stood me up… again.”

“Och ye see…” he started before he caught the bite of her lip as she smiled. Their second date. “A witch are ye then- able to read my thoughts?”

“A witch- as in green with ruby slippers?” she said with a smirk and fake indignation. Her eyes gazed down at her hand- smooth ivory skin taught the lines on her palm. Her voice softened, “Well no but… perhaps a white one.”

A white witch.

Ban-druidh.

_________

CLAIRE

“Did ye ken the surname ‘Fraser’ isna Scottish?” His voice was wistful, thick with centuries of history behind it.

She paused, watching the sun light his hair in a soft afternoon glow. Meandering through another row of bushes, each step was more tranquil than the last. “Oh wot- no ‘History of Scotland’ lesson today then?”

Letting a most decidedly Scottish grunt speak for him, he crouched down to a nearby plant. Inspecting each strawberry with a nimble index finger and thumb, he turned back to look at her. “There’s nothing more Scottish than yer clan’s history, ye ken.”

She could see the story bubbling from within him. She longed for the lilt of his voice as he expounded centuries of Scottish history. Yearning to hear more yet reticent to seem too eager, she exhaled and gave an exaggerated eye roll for good measure. “Oh aye… And?”

A deep hum rolled in his chest and his lip pulled at the corner, giving way to a heart stopping smile. It took her breath away.

This man.

The cock of his head, the set of his shoulders. The look in his eye. She’d seen that look before. A heady stare, behind it held whispers in the dark and promises made between them in early hours of the morning. A truth between them. A promise.

This man loves me.

He settled back onto his heels, his knees pressed into the soil and his hands resting on his thighs. She recognized the posture- it was the same he adopted when regaling her of tales of his time in France with his brother-in-law Ian, and when settling in with a dram of whisky while telling stories of his time at Uni.

Pulled to him like a magnet, she knelt down beside him. Leaning forward with anticipation, an honest smile spread across her lips.

“Ye see, Sassenach… I am a Highlander- born and bred. But our name ‘Fraser’ is French. A Monsieur Fresiliere came across from France wi’ King WIlliam. ‘Tis a long story, but he took a piece of the Scottish mountains. Part of that land included what became Lallybroch.” His shoulders straightened with pride, his voice dripping with humor. “Even if our tower doesna have a face.”

North-facing tower.

She had studied that one. Had repeated it over and over to herself since he took her to his childhood home.

“Turarach.” She said softly to herself.

_________

JAMIE

Had he not etched that word into his heart as a wee lad, he might have missed it. But there it was- clear as day.

He taught her that word.

He took her home when Jenny had her bairn. They had spent the day exploring Lallybroch, and he had taken her to the broch- or what remained of it. He had painstakingly repeated the word to her, syllable by syllable. And he watched her English tongue stumble over the vowels in a most endearing way.

Clearing his throat, he attempted to collect himself. “Och, aye lass. I see ye’ve kept up yer studies.”

Her eyes widened and a soft shade of blush spread across her cheeks. “Well…there’s only so much Rugby I can watch without taking to your bookshelf for solace.”

Or my guitar.

His heart constricted as he watched her face struggle to maintain composure. “Are ye makin’ fun of me?”

Fighting a smile, she replied, “Oh I would never, Monsieur Fréselière.”

He shifted towards her. “Monsieur is it? I seem to remember ye called me Laird.”

_________

CLAIRE

A memory.

Safely tucked under dark linens and surrounded by the stone walls of his childhood room, she’d had a glimpse into the past. Splashes of tartan mixed with the heat of campfire and starlight filled her vision. In that moment she’d called him ‘Laird,’ and felt the prophecy behind it.

The weight of his gaze burned her skin. The safe haven of that room, the intimacy of that moment filled the space between them. Blinking her way into the present and determined to meet his stare, she countered, “Did I?”

“Oh aye.” The mood shifted as he breathed out the words, an almost palpable energy pulsated between them. A deep purr erupted from his chest, his accent thick. “I felt more whole in that moment than I had in a long time.”

Whole.

The word danced around the corners of her mind. Her eyes shifted from him to the golden hues splashed across the sky. Was she whole? Twisting her wrist for inspection, she felt no sharp pain, just a dull ache from use.

No longer broken.

Now came the recovery. As a doctor she had seen the scans, she knew the rehabilitation trajectory. Yet here, with him, the statistics and analytical journal findings faded from mental view. Here, in this moment, she was simply Claire. With Jamie. Her Jamie. An overwhelming sense of calm washed over her.

“I think I know exactly what you mean,” drawing her gaze back to him, she exhaled contentedly. Instinctively, her hand reached out for his, taking it gently. “Thank you, Jamie.”

“Och, ‘tis nothing lass.” Dirt-stained fingertips pressed into her skin. His warmth encompassed her.

“Jamie…” she started, her eyes lowering to see their fingers intertwined. Blinking hard and tilting her face to meet his, she finished, “I don’t just mean for today.”

An echo of a smile tugged at his lips and he exhaled.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” His voice hummed, soft and tender. “There’s the two of us now.”

His words were so simple. But there was something in the blue of his eyes that spoke to the depth of his meaning. Her breath caught as she felt the same weight of prophecy to his words.

Chapter Text

CLAIRE

Blue.

Whisky.

Stay.

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?

Geillis.

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?

---------

JAMIE

Claire.

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.

---------

CLAIRE

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.

Effortless.

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.”

---------

JAMIE

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.

A Dhia.

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.

---------

CLAIRE

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.”

---------

JAMIE

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?

---------

CLAIRE

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.

---------

JAMIE

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.”

She remembered.

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.

---------

CLAIRE

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.

---------

JAMIE

“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.

---------

CLAIRE

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.

---------

JAMIE

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.

Sorcha.

Sassenach.

Claire.

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.