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A Royal Affair

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Oxford wasn’t a busy city.  The only moment of the year with much activity was the beginning of Fall, when students from all over the world would arrive in the little English town to start their courses at the prestigious, homonymous university of the same name.

But this new semester promised to be slightly different.

His royal highness James Fraser, first heir to the throne of England, was reported to be attending the university, after being spotted on campus during the summer for a visit with his Majesty the King Brian and her Highness Princess Jannet. James was the son of Brian Fraser, current King of England and his late wife, Ellen MacKenzie, a Scottish princess to whom his marriage had caused quite the scandal at the time.

You could feel the anticipation in the air as everyone was excited about the prince’s upcoming arrival.

Well everyone, except Claire Beauchamp.

Claire was an archeology student, about to start her second year of studies. Orphaned at a young age, she had spent the majority of her life on the road with her uncle Lambert, a renowned archaeologist and professor, until she finally settled in Oxford a year ago to start her courses. She liked the quietness of the city; riding her bike through the narrow streets for hours before she’d end up at the favorite bookstore. She wasn’t pleased to see the quiet town she loved turn into a circus.

Claire was not an avid royalist, but in this country you couldn’t escape the news regarding everyone’s favorite family for very long. James grew to be a handsome man, and the fact that he was still a bachelor made everyone wait eagerly to see who he would choose as a wife. As expected, every female on campus was getting ready to court him from the first day of the semester. Not a week would pass without a picture of him in the papers, linking him to some random blonde and labeling her as the next Queen.  

Claire couldn’t be less bothered.

****

Claire was never a morning person and waking up late for her first day back at school had  become a tradition. She skipped coffee and got dressed quickly before getting on her bike to ride to the campus. She had even forgot the prince’s arrival, the only one who did so -apparently, since everyone was eagerly waiting for the poor guy with flags and banners.

Rolling her eyes, she stationed her bike at its usual place and made her way inside the empty halls. Claire knew that without coffee she couldn’t function properly, so she made her way to the cafeteria to quickly grab a cup before her first class. She figured being late today wouldn’t be so bad, since all the students were outside waving flags anyway.

The thought amused her but deep down, she pitied the poor prince. He couldn’t even go to university in peace, without a horde of people calling his name for attention. The prince was gorgeous, she’d give him that, and he seemed well articulated from what she had seen from time to time on TV, but she couldn’t imagine living such a life.

Claire had no time for further thinking as she bumped into someone and her books went flying on the floor. She first thing she noted was his height. He was really tall.

Really tall.

Claire looked up and finally realized who had suddenly bumped into her in the middle of the empty hall. Fiery hair, sharp jaw and deep blue eyes. He was the prince everyone had been waiting for.

And he looked the part.

“I am so sorry! I hope I dinna hurt ye?” For an English prince he had a thick Scottish accent, something she thought was due to his upbringing in the Highlands and his Scottish mother. Claire suddenly realized she knew more about the monarchy than she would like to admit and she kept her mouth shut. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction to think she knew who he was.

His worried expression was cute and made her smile despite her effort to play it cool. She shook her head, curls bouncing. “No, I’m fine. I should look where I walk, I’m sorry.” Your highness? She had no idea what to call him and he seemed pleased about her lack of enthusiasm regarding his persona.

Jamie picked up the books and smiled, handing them back to her. “Thomas Hardy, great choice. Are ye a literature major then?”

“No, archeology, actually. But I love a good classic for the breaks between classes.” Her smile gave him goosebumps and her eyes transfixed him. He couldn’t stop staring into their whisky color and she noticed that. “Is everything okay?”

Jamie came back to his senses, feeling the tip of his ears turning pink. “Oh aye, I was distracted is all.”

“Well, I have to go or I’ll be late to class.” Claire ran her long fingers through her soft curls and Jamie wondered how they would feel like.

“Aye, of course. Just look where you’re going, you could get hurt next time.” Jamie warned her, with a cheeky smile.

“I promise, I will!” Claire smiled and disappeared before he had the time to ask her name.

****

The first day at university had been nothing but a chore for Jamie, since his arrival in the morning. After a formal meeting with his professors, he went to greet the crowd with smiles and handshakes. He had insisted of being treated normally, but that was a total failure already .

Everyone was always nice to him and he felt like an arsehole to complain about his situation, but he hated the attention and for once in his life, he just wanted to feel like any other young man going to university. He was missing the Highlands and the inner peace they brought to him, the quietness of his long horse ride through the woods and the particular smell of Scotland.

Home.

However, he had to admit that not everything sucked on that first day.

He met that stranger in the hall. Jamie knew nothing about her, apart from the fact that she was an archeology student with the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. She was a breath of fresh air next to all the girls he met daily, throwing themselves at his feet with the first opportunity.

Walking to the library, he remembered his late mother’s words,“You will ken the right woman when you’ll see her, m'eudail.” And his mother had been right about this, as she always was.

He was sure the library would be empty after the frantic first day and he was looking forward to dive in a book, unbothered, in peace. Walking in, he stopped abruptly. It wasn’t empty.

She was there.

Hair pulled back this time with some curls escaping, she wore round glasses and was concentrated on her lecture as the table lamp casted a glow on her ivory skin.  

Jamie watched her for a while, not wanting to disturb her peace, but mostly because he was in awe and he had no idea what he could say to her. The way she frowned or smiled at something written in the pages, how she laughed at one point and making him wonder what set off the lovely sight in front of his eyes.

After a while, she finally looked up and their eyes met - hers sporting an amused expression that made him blush furiously.

Calm down, Fraser.

“How long have you been watching me?” She asked with raised eyebrows, closing her book.

Jamie looked like a little boy caught stealing candies and he didn’t know where to hide “I… Uhm, not verra long. I just dinna want to disturb ye.” He ran his hand along the back of his sweaty neck.

He walked over to her and tried to come up with something clever to say. “Twice in the same day, I think ye owe me yer name, no?”

“Truthfully, I don’t owe you anything.” She grinned, crossing her arms.

Shit.

“Aye, I mean no, ye dinna. I’m sorry. I…” He spluttered, trying to find his words. He wasn’t prepared to be disarmed like that by a woman.

And what a woman.

“It’s Claire.” She interrupted him and smiled. “I’m just teasing you.”

Sorcha.

“Nice to meet ye properly, Claire. I’m glad I dinna almost crushed ye again.” He said, making her laugh at the recollection of their earlier encounter.

“So am I.” She smiled, adjusting her glasses. “What are you doing at the library at such a late hour?”

“I could ask ye the same thing.” He smiled.

“I asked first.” She pointed out, smiling.

Chuckling, he nodded. “Touché.”

“You haven’t introduced yourself properly, by the way.” Claire remarked, resting her cheek against her palm and watched him.

“I dinna ken where are my manners,dear. It’s James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.” The way he said his name sent a shiver down her body.

“Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp, lad.” She held out her hand and instead of shaking it, he brought it to his lips and placed a soft kiss on the back, as he bowed down.

“And how do I call you? James? Your Royal Highness? Dude?”

“Just Jamie.” He chuckled and sat down in front of her. “I dinna like the fuss.”

“Well, for someone who doesn’t like the fuss, you caused quite the stir today.”

“Aye, it’s no’ like I can control it. Sadly” He sighed.

“That’s why you chose the library when it’s empty. I get it, I like my solitude as well.” She smiled.

“I’m sorry I’m bothering ye. I will leave ye alone.” He started to get up before she interrupted him.

“No, you’re not!” She smiled softly, touching his hand and their eyes met for a moment.

She cleared her throat and removed her hand slowly. ”I mean you can stay. I don’t own the library.”

“Technically I do, since it’s part of the country’s heritage.” Jamie grinned, making her laugh.  

“You do have a very good point there. So when do I start calling you Royal Highness?” She teased.

He laughed, wondering when was the last time he enjoyed someone else’s company so much. “No, for ye it’s just Jamie. May I ask what are ye reading?”

“It’s one of my late uncle’s book. He was an archaeologist as well and from time to time I like to dive in one of his works, even if I have read them all countless times.”

“Could I borrow it?”

Nodding, she smiled. “Certainly, you can even keep it. I have another edition back at home.”

“Thank ye, but if i keep it I won’t have an excuse to bring it back and see ye again.”

“No you won’t, you will have to find something else.” Claire smirked.

“Is it a challenge, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp?”

“It might as well be, James - I’m not going to repeat your whole name because it’s too long- Fraser”

Jamie smirked, “I like a good challenge.”

“I am sure you do.” Claire smiled and got up, gathering her things. “Enjoy the book and have a lovely night.”

She made her way out of the library and Jamie followed her with quick strides. “Let me walk ye home, Claire. It’s late and I dinna like ye to walk alone in the dark.”

“I’m a big girl and I don’t live very far, but that’s very gentlemanly of you. And a great way to know where I live. Very smooth Fraser.”

Beauty and brain, damn.

“I dinna ken what ye’re talking about.” He acted innocently as they walked out of the building together.

“No, of course not,” Claire looked at him amused.

They walked in silence for a while, the mild late September breeze refreshing against their skin. He offered to carry her books as she pushed her bike, and she accepted. The silence was in no way awkward, it was more the comfortable quietness shared with someone close, nothing unnecessary to fill the void.

Claire looked around as Jamie watched her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, even if he tried. At some point, her hair tie gave up the struggle against the mass of her hair and broke, leaving her curls free and wild around her face as she laughed and stopped walking.  

“Does that happen often to ye?” He asked with a grin, picking up the broken hair tie from the streat before facing her.

“Yes, it happens more often than you’d think. My curls have a mind of their own and I learned a long time ago not to try and tame them. They just don’t obey.”

“Aye, yer curls are like ye then, I guess?” He smiled, stroking a stray curl around her ear.

“Aye,” she mimicked his accent, looking up.

Jamie bit his lower lip, fighting the urge to kiss her on the spot and got drunk on her whiskey eyes instead. He had stopped counting how many times this happened already, he simply lost himself in their infinity.

After a moment, Claire smiled and finally spoke. “I live right up there.” She pointed to a little cottage further down the road.

“Weel then, it is time for me to wish ye goodnight, Claire. May yer dreams be as beautiful as ye are and hopefully I will see ye again soon on campus.” He brought her hand to his lips again and placed a soft kiss on it.

Claire was not one to be easily impressed but she had to admit James Fraser made her heart race faster than usual and she felt a foreign sensation in her stomach.

Claire tiptoed to place a kiss on his cheek and smiled, whispering, “Goodnight, James.”

She quickly disappeared into her house, leaving his Royal Highness James Fraser on the curb, wondering if she was some sort of witch. He was completely under her spell.

And happy to be there.

Chapter Text

It took Jamie four days to talk to Claire again. Four days during which he was adapting to his life on campus with people watching his every move, but most importantly spending every minute looking around to find the lovely curly head again. Four days in which every minute was filled with thoughts of her whisky eyes and her smile, of what to tell her once he’d see her again. He even sketched her face a couple of times when he woke up at night after she took possessions of his dreams.

James Fraser was more than infatuated and he knew it.

He saw her once during the first days, but as he was surrounded by girls she only smiled politely and hurried to her next class, accompanied by a gentleman, a vision that made Jamie’s heart twist a little bit.

The first week of school also meant the first weekend to party. Jamie’s roommate, a good friend and fellow aristocrat, John Grey,  convinced him to go out at the local pub instead of spending his Saturday evening face buried in a book. Jamie had learned from a young age to be careful in public places. He knew that a single wrong move could land him on the cover page of The Sun with some dreadful caption, but he was at university as a young lad, not the future King of the country, and he intended to enjoy his time as much as everyone else before diving head first into his duty for the rest of his life. 

A drink at the pub would be harmless and in a week or two, the novelty of his presence on campus would die down and he could live in a semblance of peace.

Hopefully.

As Jamie made his way inside the pub, his eyes were immediately attracted to her. She was sitting at the bar with the same gentleman he had seen her previously and he swallowed hard. He knew himself well enough to attribute the slight sting on his heart to jealousy, a feeling he was not accustomed to nor was he entitled to feel since Claire Beauchamp was not his.

At least not yet.

When their eyes met, Jamie felt his skin prickling and he gave her a smile. He didn’t pay attention neither to John nor to what was happening in the pub, he was transfixed by Claire as if she was the only person in the room, curls wild and cheeks flushed by the whisky she had been drinking.

“James?” John looked at him sceptically. “I said the others are over there, let’s join them.”

“Oh, aye. Ye go, I’ll get us some drinks and I’ll be right there.” Jamie answered, eyes still on Claire as John went away to join the others.

He made his way towards the bar, wondering how he could start a casual conversation without looking like a complete idiot but thankfully, as he came closer, she spoke first.

“Jamie,” Claire smiled warmly.

“Hello, Claire. I dinna think I would see ye here.” He ran his hand on the back of his neck and smiled shyly. He couldn’t help but give a glance at the man next to her and smiled politely.

“You think about seeing me?” She grinned, amused.

Shit, Fraser.

If she only knew… But he wasn’t going to admit that he was thinking about her since their meeting or the fact that he almost showed up at her house at some point during the week.

“I mean, ye seem more like the type to stay home on a Saturday night out and enjoy a good book with a tea. Just like myself but I got dragged by my friend.” He leaned against the bar, playing it cool. 

“That’s pretty much my situation.” She chuckled and looked at the gentleman next to her. “By the way, this is Joe, a fellow archaeology student and a good friend of mine.”

A good friend.

Jamie felt a sense of relief and relaxed as Claire continued her introductions. “Joe this is…”

Joe grinned and interrupted her. “I know who this is, thank you very much, Beauchamp.” Joe held his hand out to Jamie and grinned. “Nice to meet you, your Highness. You are as handsome as seen on telly.”

“Thank you, but please call me Jamie.” He chuckled, shaking Joe’a hand.

“Don’t mind him, he’s already intoxicated,” Claire smirked, watching the two men.

“I am not!” Joe smirked, sensing the attraction between his friend and the prince.

“It’s alright.” Jamie chuckled “I’ve heard the whisky is good here so I canna blame him. Can I offer ye both a drink?”

“Actually, I was on my way out.” Joe lied and finished his drink. “But I’m sure Beauchamp over here would like a refill.” Winking, he kissed Claire’s cheek and disappeared in an instant.

“Well, now you met Joe,” Claire smirked. “He’s quite the character but he’s the best.”

“Are ye two dating?” The words came out of his mouth before he could control them.

Shit.

Claire looked at him amused. “Truly, it’s none of your business.” If her new favourite activity was to drive the young prince crazy, it was working.

Blushing, Jamie cleared his throat. “Aye, no it’s none of my business, Claire… I…”

“We are not dating.” Claire grinned. “Joe’s interests are not in me, or women in general, if you get what I mean.”

“Oh. Aye, I do. Maybe I should introduce him to John.” He grinned, sitting on the stool next to her and ordered two glasses of the finest whisky.

“Are you trying to get me drunk, James?” She raised her eyebrow.

“I dinna think ye can get easily drunk.” He handed her the drink with a smile.

“Good judgment, Fraser.” She took the glass and looked at him. “Cheers!”

“Slainte!” He winked and took a sip.

“You are far more Scottish than you are English, aren’t you?”

“Aye. My ma’ insisted we learn our heritage and my da’ agreed. I grew up in the Highlands so I picked up the accent since I was a wee bairn.”

“Wee bairn,” she repeated, mimicking his accent and making him laugh.

Jamie grinned and watched her eyes. All it took him was a second to be drunk on their whisky colour again and to forget the world around him. He didn’t even see John coming over him.

“James?” John’s voice brought him back to reality and Jamie looked at his friend who was watching Claire.  “Everyone is waiting for you over there.”

“Oh aye, I’m coming.” He finished his drink and got up, looking at Claire. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

Nodding, Claire finished her drink as well and smiled softly. “Enjoy your evening”

Jamie watched helplessly as Claire gathered her things and left the pub. He was cursing inside and he turned to John with a glare. “Next time ye wait for me to come over.”

“Sorry, James, but you know how Geneva and the others are. Who is that girl, anyway?” John asked sceptically.

“It’s none of yer business, John,” James mumbled. The last thing he wanted was to be spending his evening with Lady Dunsany and her group of uptight rich girlfriends who only wanted to date him because of his title - but he had no choice on the matter.

“Never mind, come.” John got more drinks and made his way to the others with Jamie following him slowly.

****

Jamie woke up at dawn and stared at the ceiling for a long while.

He had dreamt of Claire again.

After she left the pub, his evening turned out just the way he expected. He sat at the table, nodding or smiling politely while drowning in his whisky. He didn’t listen, his mind was occupied with Claire and how his evening could have been if John hadn’t interrupted them.

Lost in his thoughts, Jamie came up with a plan. It was quite simple really. He got dressed and sat down at his desk to write some words on a paper. When he was done, Jamie folded the note and carefully placed it in his pocket. He would give her this note at some point, maybe today or maybe in two years, who knows but he needed it to be ready. 

He left to go to the best bakery in town and bought various pastries before making his way to Claire’s cottage. The city was almost empty as it was not even 8am on a Sunday morning but he didn’t mind, quite the contrary. Jamie thought about showing up at her house during the week, but he was afraid to be too forward. 

This time he couldn’t help it.

Jamie stopped in front of her house and it took him five minutes to gather the courage to ring the doorbell. What was he going to say?

Breathe, Fraser.

He stood there, waiting. When no one answered he tried again, before realizing that she might still be asleep or not even home. Sighting, he turned around to leave when Claire appeared at the door with a surprised smile. “Well, you are up early!”

Sorcha.

“Good morning to ye too, Claire,” he smiled.

“Good morning,” she responded, looking at his bakery’s bag with a grin as she held hers up. “I see great minds think alike? It’s a surprise I didn’t see you at the bakery.”

“Aye, Sunday mornings are nothing without croissants, scones and tea, of course. I thought we could share.” He smiled shyly. 

“Of course! Will you join me and Frank?” She asked with a smile, opening the door.

Frank.

“Frank?” He frowned with an awkward smile.

Of course, she had a boyfriend.

“That’s my cat.” She chuckled, seeing his reaction.

“Oh aye, I mean sure!” He relaxed and looked up, he prayed to god he would be able to keep up with Claire Beauchamp before following her inside.

****

Her home was exactly the way Jamie pictured it, with books everywhere and a sleeping cat- the famous Frank- near the fireplace. Fresh flowers on the table and an old leather sofa. Deep down, he knew she could be a timeless heroine of classic literature novels written by Austen or Hardy.

He followed her to the little kitchen, continuing his visual exploration of the home, hoping to find one or two secrets about her, hidden in the walls. He noticed only two pictures: one of a couple with a young curly child and another of a man in the middle of the desert.

“I have coffee too if you don’t want any tea.” Claire said as she set the table and unpacked the pastries.“Oh and please, make yourself at home.” She added with a smile.

“Oh no, tea is quite alright. Thank ye.” He smiled, sitting down. He watched her for some moments, before he said, softly, “I am verra sorry about last night.”

Claire turned around to look at him. “Oh no don’t be, you were with your friends.”

“Still, I dinna want ye to think I dinna want to spend the evening in yer company. Actually, I’m pretty sure I would have had more fun.”

“Truly, you have nothing to apologise for and you brought me pastries, I can’t possibly be mad at you right now.” She grinned, pouring the tea into two mismatched mugs. “How do you take your tea? Black or white?”

“White with a sugar, Sorcha.” Biting his lip, he hoped she didn’t hear the nickname or that she wouldn’t speak Gaelic.

“You just called me light?” Claire grinned. Of course, she understood Gaelic.

Jamie blushed slightly and smiled. “It’s her name in Gaelic, I dinna think ye had the language.”

“I understand some things, I wouldn’t say I have it.” She placed the mugs on the table and sat down in front of him. “Tea with milk, you’re a little bit English after all”

“Aye, though I have to admit I feel more Scottish than English dinna repeat that” He grinned.

“I won’t tell a soul,” Claire whispered and sipped her hot tea carefully. “And what are you studying?”

“History, of course. Even if I had all the training as a teenager already, I love it and I want to know everything about this country before I… Well, you know.”

“Become King?” Claire smirked.

“Aye,” he nodded and sipped his tea.

“You know, a half Scottish lad on the throne of England will be quite the revolution, and without a single blood shred.” She remarked.

“I guess I canna avoid my destiny, Sorcha. I might as well embrace it and try to be a good leader. At least half as good as my father, it would be quite the achievement already.”

Claire touched his hand, giving him a smile. “I think you’re going to be great. And you still have some time to prepare, even if I doubt you could ever be prepared for such a thing.”

Jamie couldn’t help but smile back, and stroke her hand with his thumb as their eyes met. “No ye canna be prepared, but I think that’s life in general.”

Nodding, she smiled. “Yes, it is…”

“Tell me more about ye, Claire.” He asked softly. He wanted to know every single detail about her life, to be able to protect her from her fears or even pain.

“I was born in London and I lived there for the first five years of my life with my parents, until they died.” She started, noticing the change in his eyes and feeling his hand tightening around hers.

“Then I stayed with my uncle Lambert, the archaeologist, and we travelled all over the world for his job for most of the time until he became a professor here. Two years ago he passed away, so I started studying archaeology because it reminded me of him and this place is kind of the only home I’ve ever known. I feel good, here.” She continued with a smile.

“Ye would like to teach then?” 

“Yes, I’d love to continue what my uncle started here.” She smiled, taking a bite of croissant.

“Ye are the most interesting woman I’ve ever met, Claire.”

“I’m quite unusual, that’s for sure.” She grinned, watching his amused face. “So, apricot or raspberry jam for the scones?”

He wanted to tell her that the jam didn’t matter, as long as he could taste it from her lips - but he didn’t. He smiled instead, and answered, “Raspberry,” looking at the vivid red colour in the jar, almost sensing the flavour on his tongue; intense, sweet and a little sharp.

Just like her.

Chapter Text

By October, the novelty of Jamie’s presence on campus still hadn’t died down, but there was not much he could do about it. Thankfully, he developed a tradition to bring Claire fresh pastries every Sunday morning and they would spend the day together, hiding in the privacy of her cottage, catching up on their week over breakfast and then reading books or watching movies. No matter how his week was going, knowing that his Sunday would be shared with Claire Beauchamp always managed to bring a smile to his face.

In only a few weeks, Claire had become his safe haven.

This week was no different, but it was a bit more special since their meeting would fall on Claire’s birthday. Of course, she didn’t directly tell him about it, quite the contrary actually, but he shared a class with Joe and overheard him talking about it with someone. Jamie knew he was very much in love with Claire from the first moment they met, but he had no idea about her feelings towards him other than being a good friend of hers. He noticed the other guys’ looks when she was walking down a corridor or in the library and he decided he had to at least try to court her properly.

Jamie would always remember the last conversation he had with his mother the night before her accident. For some reason, they had talked about his future and how the woman he would choose should be the person he trusted more than anyone, someone who would support him no matter what and who would be ready to face a life in the public eye. He was fourteen and worried he would never find someone like that, but Ellen Fraser promised him he would know the right woman the second he would see her… And like every mother, she had been right.

Jamie rang Claire’s doorbell and stood on the porch holding a bouquet of wildflowers behind his back and a bag with the pastries and her gift in his other hand. It was early but he could hear the record player inside and he smiled at the thought of Claire dancing around in her living room.

She opened the door, holding her cat, fatty Frank, and smiled warmly, “Morning, Jamie.”

“Happy Birthday, Sorcha.” Jamie grinned broadly, presenting her the bouquet. He knew she would be surprised but he was not likely to forget her expression anytime soon.

“How on earth did you know it was today?” She raised her eyebrows with a smile.

“Weel If ye let me in, I might tell ye.”

“I let you in every week, there’s no need for blackmail, your royal highness.” She grinned and went inside, putting Frank down on the floor.

Jamie followed her, chuckling as he closed the door. The smell of the fireplace enveloped the air mixed with warm coffee - by their third Sunday together, Jamie confessed he was not very fond of tea and Claire admitted she wasn’t either so now they would have coffee, instead.

“The flowers are beautiful, thank you!” Claire smiled, putting them in a vase.

“Aye, I dinna ken what kind of flowers ye like, but I thought wildflowers were a good reflection of yer spirit.” He admitted, avoiding her eyes as he kept busy removing his beanie and coat. His cheeks were not only flushed from the misty cold of late October outside, but also from his confession.

“Well, thank you.” She smiled, touched by his attention and words, her own cheeks taking a crimson colour.

“Aye, ye’re welcome, Claire. I hope ye are hungry because I dinna forget the pastries. I just got even more for the occasion”.

“Great, I’m famished,” Claire grinned. “I’ll get the coffee.” She added before disappearing into the kitchen.

****

“So, will you tell me how did you know about my birthday being today?” Claire leaned back in her leather sofa and took a bite of her scone, looking at him with an interrogating smile.

“If ye think about it, I can ask the secret services whatever I want to know, Sorcha.” Jamie said teasingly with grinned, taking a bite of his croissant.

Claire burst into a laugh. “That’s actually frightening if it’s true!”

“Nay, in reality, I overheard Joe talk about it to a ginger woman in class. Since you want to know everything.” He admitted with a smirk.

“Oh yes, that’s Geillis, his roommate. They’re quite the pair. Actually, they took me out for dinner and drinks last night to celebrate.”

“And ye aren’t hungover? Impressive.” Jamie raised his eyebrows. “Or maybe ye hide it verra well?’ He added with a sneaky grin.

“I told you I hold my liquor pretty well, Fraser” Claire grinned, sipping some coffee.

“Aye, I believe ye. Ye look as fresh as a daisy and it’s barely 9am. What’s yer secret?”

“That’s what happens when you’re taught life by Lambert Beauchamp, my dear. My uncle’s idea of curing a sore throat was with whisky so you can imagine.” She smirked.

“Aye, I can.” Jamie smiled and looked at her for a while before he asked, “Why didn’t ye tell me it was going to be yer birthday? Ye dinna celebrate it?” Jamie moved closer, his hand suspended between them for a moment before he raised it to stroke a stray curl behind her ear, his eyes finding hers.

Shaking her head, Claire smiled softly. “No, I actually forget about it most of the time if I’m completely honest.”

“Because ye have no one to celebrate with?” He asked softly, scared to offend her, his thumb slowly stroking her cheek.

“I guess there’s a little bit of that, yes.”

“I’m sorry if ye dinna want to celebrate it, I shouldn’t have assumed…” Jamie started, looking down.

“Jamie, it’s quite alright.” Claire touched his hand, interrupting him. “It makes me really happy to celebrate with you and the flowers are really gorgeous.” She smiled her fingers lightly on the back of his hand. “It’s the best birthday I’ve had in a while.”

“I have another gift for ye.” He smiled and looked into his tote bag before handing her the gift, wrapped delicately in a liberty paper. “Happy birthday again, Claire.”  

Claire smiled and opened it carefully, not wanting to shred the wrapping paper too much, revealing an original first edition copy of one of her favourite collection of poems by Charles Baudelaire.  

Looking up, Claire was speechless. “Jamie… I can’t possibly accept this.”

“Of course ye can, ye mentioned the other day how much ye love that book,” he smiled “And it’s a pleasure getting it for ye. I asked my sister to send it from London and I thought ye’d like it.”

Claire looked at him amused and grinned. “I don’t even remember mentioning it”

“Weel maybe it’s the secret service for real this time?” He grinned cheekily.

“Do I have to be worried you’re stalking me?” She asked, making him laugh.

“If I say yes, are ye going to throw me out?”

“Probably, yeah.”

“I guess ye’re really getting old because ye dinna remember I saw ye at the library last week and ye said ye’ve read this book countless times.” He recalled, crossing his arms.

“I talk a lot, I can’t remember everything I say.”

“Aye, but luckily I do.” He grinned. “Can I have a kiss for that? I’m gonna be sad otherwise.” He pointed to his cheek.

“Oh, so you bribe me now? And on my birthday nonetheless.”

“Aye, I’m shameless.”

She chuckled and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for the book and the flowers.”

Jamie looked at her lovingly. “Ye’re welcome, but I have one more surprise Ye will need to wait a little bit more for this one though.”

“Another one? Jamie!” Claire smiled,  trying to hide her delight as his attention.

“Dinna act like ye dinna like it.” He grinned, making her laugh at the truth of his words.

****

“I truly don’t know why you need to hide my eyes for this.” Claire walked slowly, holding Jamie’s hand as her eyes were blindfolded. “Is it a car? Because I’m a terrible driver and this wouldn’t be the best idea.”

“Nay, it’s no’ a car. Ye wouldn’t use it anyway, I ken how much ye like yer wee bike.”

“I do but trust me, it’s much better like that, for public safety and such. Okay, can you untie that thing from around my eyes now? I’m really scared you’re either going to let me fall or push me into a river.”

“Is that what ye think of me? I’m truly offended, Claire.” He stopped walking and reluctantly let go of her hand to remove her blindfold.

Claire’s eyes adjusted to the light and she looked around at the familiar surroundings of the Pitt Rivers Museum. She looked at him, eyebrow raised in question.

“Private museum tour for ye. I thought opening up the museum in the evening would be a good idea and give us more privacy to explore.”

Claire blinked and looked at him speechless.

“Ye dinna like it?” He looked at her, his stomach twisting a little bit.

Claire’s mouth curled up into the loveliest smile. “You couldn’t have chosen a more perfect place.” For a date - None of them pronounced the word but they both knew this was that this tour was.

Jamie took her hand and brought it to his lips to place a soft kiss on it. “Let’s start the visit, Lady Beauchamp.” He noticed her blushing and that little achievement made him smile even more. “I ken ye probably came to this place more than once but I thought you’d like to see it with no one else around.”

They started walking as Claire nodded and smiled. “Yes, I come here often. I love this place and my uncle brought me here for the first time when I was eight. It then became a little tradition, to come once a year, even if we spend our time travelling around. Uncle Lamb had such a love for archaeology, I had no other choice than to fall in love with it too.”

“Can I have the grand tour then? I never came here before.” Jamie admitted.

“Well, the museum’s collection is arranged typologically, according to how the objects were used, rather than according to their age or origin. This layout owes a lot to the theories of Pitt Rivers himself, who intended for his collection to show progression in design and evolution in human culture from the simple to the complex. Whilst this evolutionary approach to material culture is no longer fashionable in archaeology and anthropology, the museum has retained the original organisation of the displays.” She explained as they walked and Jamie was amazed by her intelligence.“And as you can see, there are so many interesting artefacts to see around here.”

“I dinna see anything more interesting than ye here, Claire.”

“Are you flirting with me?” Claire didn’t look at him but smiled.

“Would ye be mad if I was?” He ran his fingers through his copper hair with a smile.

“No,” she smiled, casting him a glance as she continued walking. “But I think those Skulls taken from Yungya Village in Nagaland are far more interesting than I am.” She pointed at a display behind him with a grin.

Jamie grabbed her hand and pulled her closer. “I disagree, I dinna care about skulls, Claire. At least not if they dinna have a mass of wild brown curls on them.”

“I always found brown to be a rather dull colour,”  Claire admitted with a smile.

“No, not dull at all” He started, smiling. “It’s like the water in a burn, the way it ruffles down the rocks. Dark in the wavy spots with wee bits of auburn when the sun touches it.” He stroked a curl softly, as Claire smiled shyly. “Would ye like to dance with me, Claire Beauchamp?”

“Dance?” Claire repeated, amused. “In the middle of Pitt Rivers Museum, with no music?”Claire had no time to add anything else before some music started and Jamie looked at her with a grin.

“Aye, dance in the middle of Pitt Rivers Museum, mo nighean donn. Wi’ me.”

“You planned everything, didn’t you?” Wrapping her arms around his neck, Claire smiled.

“Aye, I wanted ye to have a good day.” His thumb slowly traced the soft skin of her cheek. 

“Today was perfect, Jamie.” Claire rested her head on his shoulder as they started to dance slowly.

“Yer birthday is still not over for a couple of hours,” Jamie held her close, smiling at the sight of Claire finally in his arms.

They danced slowly for a while, in the emptiness of the museum. It was oddly romantic, Claire thought, and she looked up at Jamie, her eyes beaming with happiness. He returned a smile and stroked her cheek. She wanted to thank him for the wonderful day, but no words could do justice to her emotions, so she simply took hold of his face and sealed their lips.

At that moment, words were not necessary.

Chapter Text

“My mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it. The notion that you may kiss it again is stuck in my brain, which hasn’t stopped thinking about you since. Well, it hadn’t stopped thinking about you even before the kiss. And now the prospect of your lips on mine seems to wind me like I’m slipping on the stairs and one of the steps hits me in the middle of the back. The notion of those kisses continuing for what is traditionally considered ‘forever’ excites me to an unfamiliar degree.”

The note had been slipped under Claire’s front door and she found it when she was heading out to campus. She was still on a high from her previous day and her date with Jamie and that not only made her heart beat even faster. Claire was a rational mind, not in the least romantic nor looking for prince charming. However, meeting Jamie made everything she believed about love to crumble and make the place for a new, unexpected hope. Lamb told her about the love her parents shared, so strong they even had to die at the same time because one couldn’t go on without the other. At first, she found the idea terribly morbid, but she was sixteen back then and the concept of true love was as foreign as the one of home to her. Now, three years later, she knew that what she was feeling for Jamie Fraser was more than infatuation.

As Claire sat in the library, next to Joe, she couldn’t help but look at the note again and smile. 

“Why are you smiling like an idiot, Beauchamp?” Joe asked with a smirk, sipping his coffee.

“What?” Claire’s head snapped up from her book, putting the note away quickly before she looked at him. She knew exactly why she was smiling but as much as she loved Joe, she knew that if she told him, everyone else would soon know, too.

Hush, Beauchamp.

“Don’t tell me reading about Egyptian relics can make you smile like that? Because then we’re not reading the same book. There is something you are not telling me, darling.”

“I just had a good birthday weekend, that’s all,” Claire said nonchalantly, diving back into her book.

“Oh well then you’re welcome” Joe grinned, referring to their dinner with Geillis. “And what did you do on your actual birthday? Because I tried to call a couple of times and you weren’t answering. I figured you were hangover and most likely sleeping.”

“Yes, I was, thanks to you and Geillis.” She remarked, making Joe grin proudly.  “I woke up late, had some food and spent the afternoon at the museum,” Claire added, keeping the outlines of her day the same, but changing the truth a little bit.

Joe looked at her. Claire had a lot of qualities but with her glass face lying wasn’t one of them. As soon as his eyes landed on her, her cheeks flushed with a deep red colour.

“What have you really done?”

“I can’t tell you.” Claire blurted after it was too late.

Shit.

“Claire. Elizabeth. Beauchamp. Did you have sex?!” Joe exclaimed, making all the heads at the library looked in their direction, mixed with amused and some annoyed expressions followed by a couple of “Ssshh!”

Claire shook her head, mortified “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”

“You can just call me Joe, honey.” He grinned. “So, will you answer my question?”

“It’s none of your business.”

“No, it’s not, but I’m curious. You know me and you love me.”

Claire chuckled and looked at him. “No, I didn’t have sex, but I had a date with someone and I’m not telling you anything else because I’m going to be late for my next class.” Claire gathered her things, smiling. “I’ll tell you at some point, promise. Just not right now.”

“Was it with his royal highness? Because he had an equally stupid grin on his face when I saw him earlier.” Joe looked at her, smirking. “You don’t have to say anything but I’m sure you’ll be great for the job. There’s a lot of pretty girls but a Queen better know shit.” He added, making her laugh.

Claire kissed her friend’s cheek and got up with a grin. “I’ll see you later, Joe.”

“See you later, your majesty-to-be.” Joe winked. “I promise I won’t say a word.” He added sincerely.

“You better or I’ll cut you with a much better dagger than this 3100BC Egyptian copper thing illustrated just in front of you,” Claire smirked and walked out of the library, making him laugh.

****

The rest of the day was uneventful and consisted of another lecture and some time spent at the library again, to finish an essay. Claire managed to see Jamie from afar and exchanged a smile. On campus, Jamie was always surrounded by his roommate John and a couple of other aristocratic kids and was followed by some girls desperate for his attention. Most of it amused Claire, but one of them bothered her.

A lot.  

Claire was not the jealous type and knew Jamie would never be interested in anyone else while he was with her, but something about Geneva Dunsany made her feel uneasy. Coming from a proper aristocratic family, Claire didn’t know her well but she had seen enough to know Geneva was after Jamie, as much for his good looks as for his money and title. She was also a good friend of Jamie’s roommate, John, who dated her sister, even though it was pretty clear to everyone but the poor girl that the man was gay. Joe had told Claire about their conversation on Grindr in a very detailed way.

As Claire made her way out of the building, Jamie came into sight, leaning against the wall next to her bike. She took a moment to watch him and reminisced about the sweet taste of his lips on hers.

“Sorcha,” Jamie smiled as he noticed her, interrupting her thoughts.

“Glad to see you’ve managed to escape your clique.” Claire grinned, making him laugh. He hated all the people constantly following him and this was another reason why he cherished his time with Claire so much. It was just the two of them, in their peaceful bubble.

“Aye, I have. I was wondering if ye got my wee note this morning?” Jamie pulled her close. Claire looked as lovely as ever, her wild curls framing her face and her cheeks flushed. Her perfume was intoxicating and he had the urge to bury his face into the crook of her neck but managed to control himself.

“I have.” Claire smiled, wrapping her arms around him.

“Will ye have dinner wi’ me tonight? I would like to cook for ye. If you agree to lend me yer kitchen to do so, of course.”

“My kitchen is all yours, but my fridge might be empty.”

“I’ll get some groceries and meet ye back at the cottage. Can’t wait to see fatty Frank.” Jamie smirked.

“Frank is not fat,” Claire remarked with a grin.

“He’s no’ really in shape, either.”

“Round is a shape, thank you very much. Now go, before I change my mind about dinner.”

“See ye in a bit, mo nighean donn.” Jamie kissed her cheek and smirked, walking away as Claire watched him, shaking her head with a smile. If she had any doubt before, she was now certain she was falling in love with James Fraser.

“Excuse me?” The voice was high pitched, annoying and very English. When Claire turned around, she acknowledged how perfectly it matched the face with its dark eyes and high cheekbones.

Geneva.

Claire had no time to respond as the aristocrat had come closer and started talking again. “I’ve seen you and James. You should know he might be fooling around with you right now, but you mean nothing to him. Absolutely nothing.” Her voice was cold, her stare even colder. “James and I are meant to be married since we were children, so you need to listen to me closely.” Geneva was shorter than Claire and had to look up. Her childlike behaviour almost made Claire laugh, but she managed to keep it in while the spoiled Lady continued her monologue. “James is mine and you need to stop, or you might regret it.”

“Are you quite finished?” Claire asked, crossing her arms. She could sense Geneva wasn’t very happy that her words didn’t seem to reach Claire as she’d expected. It was obvious that the girl hadn’t changed her behaviour since she was five years old.

“What?!” It was more of a high pitched sound than a word, and Claire was already on her bike before Geneva could realise it. She drove off, leaving the young woman furious on the curb.

****

The sight Claire saw as she opened the door made her heart beam. Jamie was standing on her porch, bags of groceries in arms and a coy smile. “Deliveries, principessa.”

“Of course you speak Italian,” Claire smirked, helping him with the bags as Jamie made his way inside and closed the door.

“It’s just a word, nothin’ to fuss over.” He grinned, removing his coat and hat and followed Claire to the kitchen. “I forgot something.”

“What is it?” Claire turned around to face him and Jamie pulled her close.

“My lips have been burnin’ since yesterday.”

“Oh, is it serious?” She teased.

“Aye, very. Ye should take a look.”

Claire cupped his cheeks and studied his face attentively. “I don’t see anything… Oh, wait!” Tiptoeing, she kissed him tenderly and felt his hands pressing against her back. “Is it better now?”

Jamie’s mouth curled up into a smile against her lips. “Aye, much better. I think now I can cook.”

“Good, get cooking then,” Claire smirked and smacked his butt, making him burst into a laugh.

“Ye’re so bossy, principessa.”

“Always, when I’m starving and a gentleman offers to cook for me.”

“I hope ye like pasta cacio e pepe then because it’s tonight’s menu.” Jamie smiled and started to unpack the shopping bags. “With some Rosso di Montalcino and for dessert, ice cream and whipped cream because you can never go wrong with the classics.”

“I agree with that, and I’m excited!” Claire smiled, handing him the apron. “Also, are you aware you’ve got a groupie?”

Jamie put the apron on, frowning. “What?”

“Geneva Dunsany came to me after you left, to warn me that I should leave you alone because, and I quote here, James and I are meant to be married since we were children.”

“Geneva told ye… What?” Jamie was as much angry as Claire was amused. And the sight of him being infuriated in an apron in her tiny kitchen didn’t help the matter at all.

“You could have told me you were engaged, Jamie.” Claire teased him, but judging from his red face he didn’t have the clarity to understand it at that moment.

“I’m not! Geneva and her whole family are gold diggers, they’ve been trying to make their way into my family for years! Her mother tried with my father when they were teenagers and now it’s her turn wi’ me.” Jamie was furious, all the fears of losing Claire coming forcefully at the surface.

“We’re no’ engaged, we barely talk. Ye have to believe me -” His words were cut out by Claire’s lips on his and she could feel him relax.

“I know.”

Jamie looked at her, eyes softening with a childlike expression. “I’m sorry for reacting like this. I dinna want our relationship to be tainted already by some spoiled brat.”

Claire smiled with a raised eyebrow and stroked his cheek. “Our relationship?”

Jamie’s ears went bright pink. They had kissed and flirted, but he had not properly asked her. “I dinna want to assume we are dating, Claire.”

“It’s just that you didn’t ask me properly to be your girlfriend so as much as I enjoy kissing you and getting wee notes, I don’t know what to think of us.” Claire smiled. “And we don’t have to decide what us is just yet, either.”

“Aye, ye are right. I dinna ken what we are but I ken for sure I dinna want to be apart from ye. Ye are in my thoughts and in my dreams since the moment we met and I canna take ye out of my mind.” His eyes bored deep into hers. “And yer kisses?” He chuckled. “I dinna think I can keep living wi’out them anymore. Ye bring me peace, Claire and that’s what I longed for since I was a lad.”

“Is that your way to ask me to be your girlfriend? Because it’s working, Jamie.”

“Aye, it is, principessa.” Jamie brought her hand to his lips, placing a soft kiss in her palm.

“So what do ye say? We dinna have to tell the world just yet. I would like to keep our bubble secret for a little while, but are ye ready for the madness?”

“I just have one condition.” Claire smiled, seeing Jamie’s worry come back. “I’ll be your girlfriend, for sure, if you make me the pasta you’ve promised.”  

Jamie laughed and lifted her up, kissing the tip of her nose. “Aye, pasta is coming!”

Claire watched as Jamie went back to his task and started cooking. She had no idea if she was ready to take on what being his girlfriend meant, or how their future would be like, but she knew he’d be worth it all.

Chapter Text

Since Jamie and Claire made things official, they had agreed to keep a low profile on campus so the press wouldn’t harass Claire and she could study in peace, without the other students staring at her. The next few weeks consisted of stolen kisses in dark hallways between classes, secret meetings in the library and weekends spent together in the secrecy of Claire’s cottage sharing coffee and scones, lips sealed and wandering hands. Jamie didn’t remember the last time he had felt so happy and most importantly, so normal. To Claire, he was just Jamie, the funny guy who couldn’t wink properly, not His Royal Highness the future King of England.

Claire had gone to London for the day, to visit a few fellow archaeologists and friends of her late uncle who had accompanied them on their trips during Claire’s childhood. Jamie felt her absence more than he thought he would and realized that just spotting her on the other side of campus was enough to brighten his day.

Back at his apartment, Jamie dropped his bag on the floor and decided to make himself a sandwich. The place was quiet, which meant John was either still in class or asleep. They had been friends since childhood, both spending a few years at the same boarding school in Scotland, both of them being like brothers. Since Claire came into his life, he had neglected his friend and thought it would be nice to do something together today.

“I’ll be right back honey.” A familiar voice came from John’s room, but Jamie could swear it didn’t belong to his roommate. As the door opened, Joe’s face appeared, much to Jamie’s amusement. 

“Well, hi Joe,” Jamie said nonchalantly, as he took a bite of his sandwich.

“James Fraser, I never thought you’d see me in my underwear.” Joe chuckled.

“Dinna mind me, I just stopped by for a quick bite. Do ye want some?”

“No, thank you, I was just getting water for John and me.” Joe grinned, removing two glasses from the cabinet, well acquainted with the place. “You look all gloomy,” he observed. “What’s up, your royal highness?”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me like this?” Jamie shook his head and grinning. “Anyway, it’s just that Claire is away today and I miss her.”

“You are so in love, James Fraser.” Joe smiled, leaning against the counter.

“Aye, I canna fault yer observations, Joe. I am very much in love with her.” Jamie’s lips curled up, thinking of her soft curls under his touch and the sound of her laugh when he said something stupid.

“We all are! I’m gay, otherwise, I would have proposed to her a long time ago. Joe came closer to Jamie, whispering, “Because let’s face it, there’s no other woman like Claire.”

“Aye, there’s not. She’s quite fascinating.” He agreed, finishing his sandwich. “Well, ye should go back to John. I dinna want him to die from dehydration.”

Joe laughed at his words and grabbed a bottle of water “You’re right. And don’t worry, Claire will be back in a few hours.” Winking, he disappeared into John’s room, leaving Jamie behind, shaking his head.

Jamie was the only one who knew about John’s homosexuality since their adolescence and was also aware of how hard it was for John to hide it, to preserve his title and his family’s good name. He was glad his friend finally found someone who made him happy.

****

The train was late and Claire was exhausted. London was always the exact opposite of Oxford, with busy streets and pressed locals. If you add tourists into the mix, you get a great picture of hell. What with all these, she missed Jamie more than she would like to admit. It never occurred to her how a simple kiss from him could change her bad mood in an instant

Claire gathered her things and was the last out of the wagon, the cold air of the early December hitting her face and reminding her of how much she was looking forward to a warm shower and her bed. However, her thoughts were cut short by the sight of a 6ft4 tall ginger Scot standing on the platform, with lips curled into a smile and flowers in hand.

Her bad mood miraculously disappeared as she made her way over to him. Claire wrapped her arms around his neck, grinning, and before she could say anything, Jamie’s lips found hers and warmed her to the bone.

“Welcome home, principessa.” Jamie whispered against her lips. The station was empty and with his hat and scarf, no one would recognize him. “Flowers, for ye.” He said as he handed her the bouquet, smiling.

“Thank you.” Claire smiled, smelling the flowers. “How long have you been freezing out here?”

“Ah, long enough.” He chuckled. “I will need more kisses to warm me up, ye ken.”

“I ken,” Claire mimicked his accent that she loved so much. “But just because your red nose is actually really cute.” Claire leaned up and sealed their lips once more, feeling his hands pressing her against him. Their kiss was long and slow.It started chastely, but turned into something more heated, in the freezing cold of the early December.

“I dinna want ye to walk home alone at this hour in the dark,” he said, but seeing her raised eyebrows he continued. “I ken ye could totally do it, but I wanted to see ye, nonetheless.” He admitted, cheeks red and not only from the cold.

“I’m glad you came. I missed you today.” Her words made his heart swell and he relaxed. She’d missed him too. “Now let’s go, before we both die of hypothermia.”

“Aye,” he chuckled and kissed her nose. “Let me bring ye home, principessa.”

Arms entwined and they walked through the empty park to Claire’s cottage. Leaning her head against his shoulder, she embraced the silence and just enjoyed being in his company again. Exams were starting in a couple of days, and they both knew they would not have time to see much of one another before the Christmas break.

“Are you at least coming inside for tea? I know it’s late, but you’re freezing.” Claire kissed his cheek before looking for her keys in her purse.

“Aye, principessa I want ye to tell me what you’ve done today.” He smiled and followed her inside. Removing his coat and scarf, Jamie rubbed his hands to warm them up. “I’ll light the fireplace while ye make tea.”

Claire nodded and smiled, kissing him quickly on the lips before making her way into the kitchen.

Jamie went to the living room and got started on the fireplace, while fatty Frank laid asleep on the sofa. Once the fireplace was lit, Jamie sat down on the floor in front of it, feeling its warmth on his extended hands.

Claire came back after a few minutes and watched him with a smile. “Warming up, love?”

Nodding, Jamie leaned against the sofa. “Aye, come here, principessa.”

Claire put the tray on the side table and sat down next to him, feeling his strong arm around her as he pulled her closer. “So, how was yer day?”

Claire rested her head against his chest and closed her eyes, revelling in the feeling of his hands caressing her soft curls. “Very nice, I’ve attended Jane Smithfield’s seminar at the Natural History Museum. She was an old friend of my uncle and we travelled together a couple of times. Jane lives in Nepal most of the year, so it was nice to see her again - it has been a while. We were really close during our trips,” Claire paused and chuckled at a memory, “And thankfully Jane was there the day I got my periods for the first time, in the middle of the Sahara desert.”

Jamie smirked. “Oh is that so? Yer uncle wasn’t informed of the subject?”

“My uncle taught me a lot of things, but not how to deal with my periods. Lamb was as thankful as I was, that Jane was around that day.” Claire looked up at a laughing Jamie, with a smile on her lips. “Do you want your tea?”

Jamie nodded and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Aye, principessa.”

Claire sat straighter and reached for the mugs, as Jamie watched her, the light from the fireplace casting the loveliest glow on her ivory skin. “Peppermint, just how you like it.”

“Thank ye,” Jamie took the mug and kissed her cheek.

“So what have you done today? Apart from thinking of me.” She teased, sipping her tea carefully.

“Aye, well… Thinking of ye took me most of the day so I was pretty occupied ye see, but I also went to class, finished my revisions and found Joe in my apartment in his underwear.” Jamie finished, chuckling.  

“Oh my god, they finally did it!” Clair exclaimed with a grin. Joe had been talking about John for awhile and Claire knew how much he was hooked.

“Aye, I guess they did.” He chuckled. “Dinna ken how many times, and as ye understand I dinna ask either.”

“No of course not, but I can let you know as soon as I see Joe again. I’m sure I’ll have all the details, even if I don’t ask for them.” Claire offered, smirking.

“No, thank ye, Sorcha.” He grinned and stroked a stray curl around her ear. “I’m glad John found someone and I hope it’ll work between them. John only came out to me, ye ken. His family still thinks he will bring back a proper lady to marry.”

“Really?” Claire frowned. 

“Aye, coming out is no’ an easy thing to do and even less when yer family is uptight, aristocratic and think being gay is just some deranged hobby. I’ve met John at boarding school when I was seven and since then he’s like my brother. I always suspected his feelings towards men and coming out was very hard for him so I truly hope one day he will be able to live his life freely.”

“This is such a terrible thing, I’m glad John has a friend like you. Not everyone is as lucky as he is.” Claire smiled, stroking his cheek. “You’re such a great guy, Jamie.”

“Ye give me more credit than I deserve, principessa.” He smirked, attempting to wink.

“No, I don’t!” Claire feigned indignation. “You’re a terrible winker but a great guy, and that’s just the truth.”

“Are ye making fun of me?” Jamie raised his eyebrow, trying not to laugh with her while putting both their mugs on the table.

“I most certainly am!” Claire couldn’t stop laughing, and the sound just made Jamie happier. Wrapping his arms around her, he grinned, pulling her closer.

“What?” Claire raised her eyebrow with a smirk. “Do you want a kiss now?”

“Aye, very much so.” He whispered against her lips before crashing them on his own.

They kissed for a long time, tongues exploring and hands caressing. In the novelty of their relationship, their bodies seemed to have known one another for years and years.

Laying together on the carpet, Jamie’s mouth found the soft skin of her neck and gave it the proper attention, making Claire groan with pleasure. “Jamie…I want you,” she rasped.

“Not yet, principessa. Let me cherish ye properly first.” Jamie smiled as he looked at her. His deep blue eyes had turned dark with lust, but as much as he needed her, he wanted to put her pleasure before his own. His hands slowly stroked her still dressed body and stopped on her ass, to fondle it properly while his mouth kissed hers with a mix of passion and hunger.

Slowly, Jamie unzipped her jeans and watched Claire intensely, the sight of her swollen lips and flushed cheeks sending the blood rushing through his veins. “Are ye okay wi’ this mo chridhe?” He asked softly.

Claire nodded, kissing him again. “I want you so much I can scarcely breathe.”

Jamie slid his hand inside her lace panties and cupped her warm centre, whispering, “Christ, Claire.” It was the first time Jamie had been so intimate with a woman, but he knew he needed to be slow for her to enjoy it.  

Claire felt an electric shock going through her body and her mouth found his again, kissing him breathlessly as Jamie’s fingers started to explore. Closing her eyes, Claire let go and gave herself to his care… As one of his fingers slid into her, she moaned in a low voice, grasping his sweater. “Jamie… I want you inside of me.”

“I want to watch ye.” Jamie whispered back and looked at her, fascinated by the way her body responded to him as her face changed with ecstasy. Each moan made him harder, but tonight he just needed to see her come like this, so he kept his task, increasing his movements and sliding another finger inside her. His mouth never left hers, as he cherished her, teeth clashing and tongues dancing. She was intoxicating and he was sure he would never have enough. Never taking his eyes away, he felt her tightening around his fingers, and he watched her face as her climax took over her body and left her moaning his name like no one else had ever done.

Panting, Claire looked at him breathless before kissing him tenderly. Her hair was the loveliest mess he had ever seen and he simply smiled, pleased with himself. “Okay, principessa?”

“More than okay.” Claire stroked his cheek, blushing and warm but not from the fireplace.

“Good.” Patting her arse, he kissed her. “Now, you should go to bed. Ye had a long day and ye need yer rest before the exams start”

Claire raised an eyebrow, looking at him. “You’re going home?”

“Aye, I plan to ravish ye properly, but in a king size bed and when I’ll be sure I’ll have the whole night and day for it, Claire. That was just for ye.” He kissed her again. “Ye are so lovely, I’ll dream of ye tonight.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to your promise then, Jamie.”

“Ye ken I never break a promise, mo chridhe.” Kissing the tip of her nose, Jamie got up and helped her up, too.

“I ken,” she mimicked his accent. “I don’t think I can let you go tonight, though.”

“Weel, ye’ll have to, but dinna think I leave because I want to. I leave because if I dinna, ye’ll keep me up all night and I need to be up early tomorrow, to study.” Jamie said and kissed her cheek.

Claire smiled, zipping up her pants. “Okay, but hurry up or I’ll change my mind!”

Jamie grinned, putting on his coat as they walked to the door. “Dream of me, principessa.” He opened the door, his eyes still locked with hers.  

“You dream of me.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.

They lips were sealed for a long time, neither of them wanting to let go of the other and go back to empty beds, but they had to. “Aye, that ye can be sure of. Goodnight, Claire.” Placing a soft kiss on her head, he reluctantly let go of her and descended the four little stairs of her porch.

“Goodnight, Jamie.” Claire smiled, leaning against the doorframe as she watched him walking away.  

****
Noises outside brought Claire out of her slumber before her alarm had the chance to go off. She felt - and heard - fatty Frank sleeping on the end of the bed, and she reached to the bedside table to turn on her lamp. As light filled the room, Claire groaned and rubbed her eyes. It was always too early to get up in winter, nothing unusual to her morning.

Claire was never one to check her phone first thing in the morning and so she got up, unaware of the numerous texts and missed calls she had from Joe.

As the last bits of sleep slipped away under the warm water of the shower, Claire recalled her evening with Jamie and how much he pleased her, without asking for anything in return. The recollection of his strong hand between her legs, the softness of his kisses on her skin and the look in his eyes made her skin prickle with pleasure. Drying her hair quickly, she got dressed in jeans, a wool sweater and boots before making herself some breakfast. The two weeks of exams before the Christmas break were going to be intense and Claire decided to go to the library before her lecture to prepare some courses.

However, she should know better than anyone that planning doesn’t always go as planned.

Ready for her day, Claire grabbed her bag and opened her front door to be greeted, much to her surprise, by countless photographers screaming at her and taking her picture. Closing the door as fast as possible, she looked for her phone and finally saw Joe’s warning with pictures of her and Jamie kissing on her porch: “Honey, you and Jamie are on the cover of the Daily Mail this morning. I swear it wasn’t me!”

Joe’s joke didn’t amuse Claire, as panic took over her feeling. The only phrase she could mutter was “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”, as she reached for her phone,  calling Jamie.

On the other side of campus, a sleepy Jamie picked up his phone, yawning. “Aye?”

“You need to come here right now!”

“Claire?” Hearing the despair in her voice made him wake up immediately. “Are ye alright? Are ye hurt mo chridhe?!”

“No! There are at least thirty photographers outside my house, screaming about you! And Joe send me the cover of the Daily Mail this morning, which is basically you and I at my door last night! So no, Jamie, I’m not alright.”

It was the last thing Jamie wanted to happen, and it had happened. Their bubble had burst and Claire was now vulnerable, because of him. The guilt took over him and he swallowed hard. “Claire, I’m coming. Please stay inside. I’ll come in from the back so they won’t see me.”

“I’m not bloody going anywhere!” Claire hung up on him, her emotions taking over her common sense. She removed her coat and scarf quickly, anger warming her to the bone. She wasn’t angry at Jamie, but at herself not to be more careful. It probably wasn’t a good idea to have Jamie come at her place but, at that moment, all she needed was to see him and hear him say that everything would be alright.  

Sitting on her couch, Claire did something she shouldn’t have done. She opened the article on the Daily Mail website. In big and bold black letters, she read the title:

“HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS JAMES FRASER COZIES UP TO STRANGER ON THE PORCH.” 

The article consisted of pictures of the two of them on the porch and at the station, some fake information about who “the stranger” was, and a detailed description of how Jamie got Claire from the station and walked her home before spending some hours in the privacy of the house, to leave again shortly after midnight. Someone had followed them and stayed in the street until Jamie had left, and only to think of this made Claire sick to her stomach.

Claire had told Jamie there was a key for the backdoor hidden under the cactus pot, in case he ever needed it. Today, was the day he would use it. Thankfully for Jamie, Ellen Fraser was the master to avoid photographers when she wanted to and taught him this lesson well. With his face hidden between his beanie and his scarf, he arrived from the back of the cottage, climbing a couple of walls, where the photographers had - thankfully - no access to.

Making his way inside, Jamie walked into the living room. “Claire…” His voice made her look up.

“I am so sorry about this, I dinna ken how these pictures ended up in the press, I…”

“Well someone followed us, Jamie. Do you know how terrifying that simple thought is?” Claire got up and looked at him.

“Aye,” he answered softly. “Someone will take care of this and they won’t bother ye again, I promise.” He was scared to look at her, but he gathered up all the courage he had left, to bring his eyes on her.

“Claire… I dinna think this will work out. I’m sorry about all this, that’s no’ the way I wanted to introduce ye to the world. Ye dinna deserve this chaos, Claire. I canna keep seeing ye. I think it’s better for everyone.” His voice was low and his eyes dropped to the floor again, regretting the words as soon as they were spoken. He swore he could hear the sound of his heartbreaking; it was sharp and neat.

Silence.  

Claire swallowed back her tears. This wasn’t the way she thought Jamie would deal with the situation. “So you are just going to leave?”

“Aye, Claire. Ye dinna deserve this, I canna ask that much from ye. I kent it from the beginning, but I hoped I would be wrong. Sadly, I wasn’t. I’m sorry about the pain I caused ye, it won’t happen again and I’ll make sure the photographers are gone.”

“Jamie, look at me.” Claire was pleading, trying to pick up the mess. “Do you really think this is the solution? Shutting me out?”

“I’m no’ shutting ye out! I’m protecting ye.”

“No, you’re not!”

“I’ve been through this many times wi’ my family and I ken how to deal wi’ it, so don’t start Claire. This is the only way.” Finally, he looked at her again. The sight of her, with tears rolling down her cheeks, broke his heart all over again. Jamie knew that she hated him, but he had no other choice.

“As I said, everything will be taken care of.” Looking at her, he gathered up the little courage he had left and spoke softly, his voice almost breaking. “Goodbye, Claire.” With those words, Jamie disappeared through the back door, leaving Claire standing in the living room, her shattered heart on the floor.

Chapter Text

Numb.

That’s how Claire was feeling since Jamie decided it would better for her not to see him again. It had been two weeks since he’d left her, two weeks of living on an autopilot mode, throwing herself in her studies and exams to avoid facing the reality and shutting down every thought of James Fraser away.

It wasn’t working.

Some days Claire was angry at him and swore she would never lay eyes on his face again. His beautiful face. On other days her anger turned into an utter void, a misery she had never experienced before and made her sick to her stomach. She wasn’t the kind of girl to cry for a guy but Jamie was different. In their short time together, he had become her calm centre and his arms were her safe haven, a place to hide whenever she needed to. He was home.

But that home was lost.

When Claire thought about the situation, mostly at night, curled up in bed with puffy eyes, Jamie had promised he would always protect her and she knew he firmly believed he was protecting her by shutting her out of his life, but she always knew Jamie Fraser was an idiot.

Jamie had kept his promise and took care of the press, making sure they would leave Claire alone, but now everyone in England knew who she was. People on campus and on the streets stared at her and some photographers apparently didn’t care about what Jamie had asked.  From her early runs in the park to her way home from campus or even when she was at the library, Claire would end up in a gossip magazine with less than charming headlines and since Jamie was nowhere to be found, speculations and scrutiny about them were permanent.

Damages were done and Jamie was not there to protect her.

****
“Claire, you can’t hide in this house forever. We’re done with exams and winter break has started. Let’s go out and have some drunken fun!” Joe proposed, trying to cheer her up.

Claire sighed, exasperated. “Joe, please. I don’t want to go out and I can hide however long I want to. God bless online grocery shopping.”

“Should I call Geillis for an intervention then?”

“No,” Claire mumbled and looked at the TV again.

“Claire, I’ve never seen you like this.” Joe sighed. “I truly don’t know what to do with you two.”

Claire looked at him again and asked as nonchalantly as possible “You’ve seen Jamie?”

“Well, he lives with John so I can’t really avoid him… Do you want to know how he’s been doing?”

“No.”

“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp,” Joe grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.

“I was watching that!”

“You have seen enough Nancy Meyers’ movies for ten years to come. Now listen to me because I am tired of your stubbornness.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Claire brushed off his observation, heading to the kitchen to make tea.

Joe rolled his eyes and followed her. “You miss him, admit it to yourself at least if you don’t want to admit it to me.”

Claire stopped in her tracks. Joe was right. For two whole weeks, she tried to avoid the reality of the situation. She missed Jamie; the sound of his voice, the taste of his lips, but most of all, the feeling of home he provided for her. Slowly, Claire turned around and faced Joe, her eyes shiny from unshed tears.

Wrapping his arms around her, Joe held her close for a long moment, letting her cry against his chest. Finally, lifting her chin up, he spoke softly. “It’s going to be alright. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but at some point, it will.” With a tissue, Joe whipped her tears off and brought her back to the sofa. “Now can you at least explain to me what happened after those pictures were released? What did Jamie say to you?”

“When I saw all the photographers outside I didn’t know what to do, so I called him. I was completely panicked, but I wasn’t mad at him, I know those pictures came out because someone saw us, and it wasn’t his fault. I bet your ass it’s that Dunsany bitch.”

“I will never understand why John likes her so much.” Joe rolled his eyes. “Anyway love, keep going. Sorry.”

“Right,” Claire sighed and leaned back into the sofa. “So he sneaked in and I guess he thought I was mad at him. I can now see that I wasn’t thinking rationally when he came here, but what do you expect me to do when there are at least thirty photographers outside my door?”

Joe nodded. “Yeah, you were scared. I understand, honey.”

“Jamie told me he would take care of everything and he would make sure I wouldn’t be bothered anymore. Then he went on with his big speech about him being used to incidents with the press like this, and how I shouldn’t go through this myself, and he ended telling me that we should stop seeing each other, for my own good. It was exactly the opposite of what I expected him to do. I needed him to protect me by staying with me, not shutting me out and running away from everything. I’m sure he truly believes that’s the best solution.”

“Well, men, you know.” Joe smiled, stroking her hair back. “What I think, is that Jamie believes he’s doing the best for you and he’s also afraid that you would have left him at some point anyway because you couldn’t handle the pressure.”

“That’s why I’m hurt,” Claire admitted. “Because he didn’t trust me.”

“You should tell him..”

“No,” she responded stubbornly.

“Then let’s make him realise how much he’s missing out.” Joe grinned, wiggling his eyebrows. “It’s Friday night and the pub will be full of cute guys. Since you can’t go anywhere without people taking your pictures, Jamie will end up seeing you have fun in the papers tomorrow, and you very well know how jealous men react. I bet that when we’ll go back to the pub tomorrow night, a certain James Fraser will be there, waiting for you.”

“You’re wicked, Joe.”

“I know.” He grinned. “Now let’s get you ready! I want Jamie to see red when he’ll see you, and trust me, after this, he’ll realise he doesn’t want any other man around you for good. Men need their ass kicked from time to time, you know.” Getting up, Joe got her off the sofa and led her to the bedroom.

“If you say so.” Claire shook her head as she followed him.

Joe looked into her closet with a frown before finding and grabbing what he needed. “High heels, short dress, curls free. You’re going to drive him mad and I am here for this, honey.”

“You need to stop watching ‘Queer Eye’.” Claire chuckled, watching him.

“Never!” He grinned and handed her the clothes. “Go put this on. We’ve got a prince to slay and we need to get  drunk, to take the steam off after our exhausting exams.”

“Alcohol sounds good to me.” Claire smiled, disappearing into the bathroom to get ready.

****

After spending the evening at the pub with Geillis and Joe, Claire had been photographed walking out of the establishment in her little black dress and high heels, looking like an actual goddess. That was enough to land her on the cover of various tabloids in the next morning. The very same tabloids Jamie had kept an eye on since they last spoke.

Like a coward, Jamie had taken the first train to London and hid inside the palace walls for the last two weeks, even demanding to do his exams there; he wasn’t prone to use his title for special favours but he couldn’t bear to face Claire on campus. He hated himself for leaving her the way he did and he was starting to believe maybe, after all, he couldn’t live without her. A piece was missing, from his heart, from his soul and from his being, a piece no one else could provide but Claire.

Jamie had stared at his phone for a long time, just watching the same pictures over and over again. If Claire wanted to teach him a lesson, it was working. His phone rang and Jamie frowned at the unknown number appearing on the screen. No one but his close friends and family members had his private number.

Hesitantly, Jamie answered the call. “Yes?”

“Fraser, you and I need to talk.”

“Joe?” Jamie’s frown deepened. “How did you get my number?” He asked stupidly.

“I considered looking through Claire’s phone, but I thought to ask John would be less risky for me to get slapped,” Joe admitted with a grin and Jamie chuckled.

“Well, what can I do for ye?” Jamie asked.

“You could make me a Duke or such but we’ll discuss this another day. Today it’s more what I can do for you and a certain curly wig. I haven’t decided yet who’s the most stubborn of the two of you, but I can tell you, you come pretty close.”

Jamie sighed. “Joe, I dinna think you should try to make things right between Claire and me. I screwed up and now she hates me for it, and I canna blame her.”

“I know it’s none of my business but I also know you probably saw the pictures. Cute dress right? Her legs looked amazing in it, you should have seen her arse.” Joe half joked, hearing a low groan on the other side of the phone. Jamie had seen. “My point is, we’re going out tonight again and John told me how you’ve been hiding in London. I think if you want to talk to Claire, you must make a move and quickly - but that’s just my opinion. You know very well that if you show up at her door, she won’t open it.”

“Joe…” Jamie tried to tell him that he couldn’t bear to see Claire nor to hurt her again but was interrupted.

“See you at the pub.” Joe hung up, leaving Jamie with no other choice than to make his way back to Oxford and face Claire.

****

The pub was crowded, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes overpowering the air, and Claire’s feet were killing her. Goddamn heels. Joe swore Jamie would show up but after two hours and way too many drinks, Claire’s hopes had vanished, leaving her feeling like a fool. What was she thinking with this stupid plan? Jamie wouldn’t show up and there was no need to stay one more minute in that place.

When she thought things couldn’t get any worse, some rich nerd from the history department who had talked to her in the library once, made his way to her. Smiling, he leaned against the bar and winked. “Claire Beauchamp, can I buy you another drink?”

“I am not finished with this one, but thank you.” Claire had no idea who he was and she was too drunk to feign interest. “I have no idea what your name is.”

“Philip Wyllie. We met a couple of weeks ago, in the library.”

“Yeah, I know where I’ve seen you. Should I be concerned that you remember my name when we literally talked for about thirty-seven seconds?”

Phillip chuckled. “You counted?”

“Yes, because I was bored. Just like I am right now.” Claire sipped her drink and looked around for Joe or Geillis, eyes begging for a rescue, but both her friends had disappeared.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.

“You’re lovely, even more so when you try to play hard to get.” Phillip winked again. She had to admit he was a much better winker than Jamie and she was wondering what would land on his face first, her hand or her drink. “This dress looks great on you.” He smirked and stroked her arm up with the tip of his fingers.

“Don’t fucking touch me.” Claire took a step back, running out of the little patience she had left.

“Oh come on, you have no idea how sexy you are when you’re angry. So sexy, I really want to kiss you right now.” His hand reached Claire’s cheek and she forcefully pushed it away.

“I believe the lady asked ye not to touch her.” The voice was familiar and sexy with the slightest mix of English and Scottish. Claire knew exactly whom it belonged to.

Jamie.

Claire had to swallow a laugh when she saw the face Phillip made when he laid eyes on Jamie, apologising before he rushed out of their sights.

“Claire,” Jamie’s voice was soft, finally speaking the one word he forbid himself to say since the last time he saw her.  

“Your Royal Asshole” Claire exclaimed, crossing her arms and looking at him. “I didn’t need rescuing you know, I could handle it on my own.”

Jamie’s mouth curled up into a smile. If there was one thing funny, it was a drunk Claire. “Of course ye were, I just couldn’t help myself. Nor could I blame him for trying, ye look breathtaking.”

“Keep trying.” Claire finished her drink in one swipe. “I was leaving anyway”

“Let me bring ye home, it’s late and ye’re drunk.”

“I’m not drunk! I can walk properly, thank you very much.”

“Claire, dinna be stubborn aye?”

“Dinna be stubborn,” Claire repeated, trying to mimic his accent while rolling her eyes. “I’ll as stubborn as I want, James Fraser!” Brushing past him, she made her way out of the noisy pub, forgetting her coat inside. It wasn’t until she felt the freezing December air against her skin, that she considered turning around to go grab it, but she kept walking instead.

“Claire,” Jamie followed her.

“I told you I didn’t need you to bring me home!” Claire picked up her pace, as much as her heels allowed her.

“I’m not bringing ye home, I’m simply making sure ye’re getting there safely. Ye’re going to get the flu like that, take my jacket.” Jamie knew they had to talk but it would have to wait for her to sober up.

“I don’t want your jacket! I’d rather be cold and sick than smelling your perfume.”

Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Does it smell that bad?”

“No! It smells good, and it smells like you.” Claire sighed, recalling his perfume, a mix of musk and patchouli who always managed to make her go weak at the knees.  

“Is it why ye dinna want to wear it?” Jamie asked amused, still walking behind her.

“Exactly!”

“Principessa, please stop for a second.”

“Do not Principessa me, James! I am mad at you.” Claire finally stopped and turned around, looking at him like a child deprived of her favourite cookies.

Jamie stopped too, smiling again, She was so cute. “Aye, I ken ye are, but I wanted to talk wi’ you tonight.”

“I am not stopping for you mister, I’m just taking my shoes off because they are killing me.” Claire steadied herself on his arm and removed her heels. Once barefoot, Claire palpated his arm and sighed. “Of course you’re still a hunk.”

Jamie looked at her, trying not to laugh. He had seen her tipsy once, but this was on a whole other level. “Claire, ye’re really going to get sick like that.”

“I’m not.” She mumbled, looking up at him. “I am a very strong immune system.”

“You have a very strong immune system, ye mean?” Jamie raised his eyebrow, his mouth curled up into a smirk.

“Aye, smartass.”

Jamie lifted her up and threw her over his shoulder before starting to walk again. “I’m bringing ye home, now.”

“James Fraser!” Claire moved her legs. “Put me down! Put me down right now or I’ll slap your beautiful face!”

“Is my face beautiful? Good to ken, principessa.” Jamie walked with her over his shoulder.

“I told you not to call me like this! And yes your face is disgustingly beautiful, and I hate it right now.” Claire sighed, making him laugh. “It’s not funny.”

“Aye, it is. How much did ye have to drink?”

“Verra much.” Claire’s curls bounced as Jamie walked the familiar path to her cottage. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Are ye watching my ass, Claire?”

“It’s not that great you know.” She replied, rolling her eyes.

“I ken, yers is far better,” Jamie admitted. “Not that I’m looking at it right now.”

“This kind of flattery won’t get you anywhere, put me down!” Claire crossed her arms. “Are we home yet?! I think I’m going to vomit.”

“We’re almost there, hold it in a bit longer aye?”

“No, it’s your fault for putting me upside down.”

“Everything is my fault.” Jamie stopped on her porch and put her down. Her curls were all over the place, her face was flushed from the alcohol and he badly wanted to kiss her, but refrained.

They needed to sort things out first.

“I hope that wasn’t a question, James Fraser, because yes, everything is Your bloody fault.” Claire looked into her purse for her keys and Jamie watched, as she let them fell on the floor at least three times. Finally, Claire managed to open her front door and went inside, leaving the door open behind her.

Jamie followed her and closed the door before the scent of her home enveloped his senses, bringing along the memory of them staying hidden there together for whole days. Until that moment he had refused to think about her, about them, but this place had been his sanctuary, with Claire by his side. Looking around, Jamie realized not only how much he’d missed her home, but the way it made him feel when he was there, with Claire in his arms. The serenity it brought him, like nothing else in his life before, the safe haven Claire provided him.

The cottage looked exactly the same as it did two weeks ago. Fatty Frank was asleep in his favourite spot, books and notes laid on the table alongside fresh flowers and Claire’s favourite plaid was laying on the leather sofa. It was cold and Jamie decided he should probably turn the fireplace on before Claire would try to do it herself and get burn.

Claire.

Jamie realized she had gone awfully quiet and he went to investigate. As the place was not very big, he soon found Claire in her bedroom, curled up on the bed and asleep; a sight that warmed his heart. Carefully covering her, Jamie watched her. Asleep, Claire wasn’t mad at him and hopefully, he was somewhere in her dreams, making her happy.

Chapter Text

When Claire woke up she couldn’t decide whether her pounding head was due to the alcohol consumption during the previous night or the flu. It felt like a car had driven over her, but her throat was tight with a lump and she couldn’t stop sneezing. Eventually, she realized it was probably a mix of both, and decided to stay in bed forever.

Forever sounded good.

Claire had vague memories of the last evening; loud pub, smoke from cigarettes, Phillip badly trying to flirt. The rest was still blurred with the hangover and she couldn’t remember how she got home, but at least she didn’t bring a stranger with her.

The room was cold and quiet, mindless Frank’s purring coming from the chair next to the window. Claire got up in search of much-needed water and aspirin, but stopped by her room’s door, looking into the mirror, mumbling to herself “Good God, you were far last night, Beauchamp.” She shook her head of unruly curls and removed the little black dress she had slept in. She wasn’t one to wear much makeup but when she did, she always made sure to take it off before bed and her smudged mascara only reassured her of the state she must have been in last night when she came home. She grabbed a large T-shirt, putting it on before she made her way to the kitchen, where she came face to face with His Royal Highness, James Fraser.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire exclaimed as she bumped into him.

“No, just me, principessa.” Claire froze at the sound of his voice.

Jamie wrapped his arm around her waist, to steady her so she wouldn’t fall before his eyes landed on her face: even with eyes like a racoon and knots in her hair, she was lovely.

Bits of the evening started to come back to Claire.

Clearing her throat, she pulled back and crossed her arms, trying to conceal the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra. “What are you doing here?” She asked, as composed as possible.

“I was making some coffee, I dinna ken when ye would be awake but…” His words were interrupted by her sneezing. “I told ye, ye would get a cold walking around without coat and shoes in the middle of December.”

“First of all, you don’t have to talk so loudly.” He was in no way yelling but his deep voice resonated and the hangover made everything ten times louder. “And I’m not talking about the coffee, even if I’m grateful for that right now. What are you doing here? I had too many drinks last night and it’s all a bit blurry in my head.”  

“Aye, that ye have.” Jamie couldn’t help the little smirk forming on his lips. “I made sure ye came home safely and ye fell asleep almost immediately. I ken I shouldn’t have stayed without yer permission but it was late, I was tired, and I thought ye might not open the door if I came back today.”

“Good point. I wouldn’t have open.” Claire pointed out somberly, looking at him. “Oh god, now I remember… Sorry for the hammered Beauchamp you witnessed.”

“I have to admit it was kind of funny. I’ve never seen ye like that before.” Jamie offered her a glass of water and an aspirin, which she accepted gladly.

“Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often.” Claire took the pill and drank the glass in one go before pouring herself another one. “I should really stop listening to Joe.”

“Is that my T-shirt?” Jamie asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s mine now. You gave it to me, remember?” She shrugged. “Since you’re here anyway, you might as well finish breakfast and I’ll go sort myself out,” Claire turned around and walked towards the bathroom, sipping her water. Her idea to stay in bed forever had been thrown out with more important matters: a warm shower and a discussion with Jamie.

“Aye, do that.” Jamie smiled as he watched her leave the kitchen.

So far it was going better than expected.

“I’m still mad at you, by the way,” Claire said from the bathroom before closing the door.

Or not.

****

Claire appeared twenty minutes later, bare-faced and hair pulled back in a messy bun. She wore her favourite sweater with some dark denim and a pair of slippers. If she was still hangover, she hid it well.

Jamie had set the table and made some pancakes, in a vain attempt to impress her. Claire poured herself a mug of coffee and leaned against the counter, looking at him. He couldn’t run and hide inside the palace walls anymore, he had to finally face her.

“Joe called you, didn’t he?” Claire finally said, breaking the heavy silence between them.

“Aye,” Jamie admitted, looking down at his hands. “I wanted to call ye, but I didn’t know what to say. I’ve seen the pictures of ye at the pub and they drove me mad. Joe called me to say ye would be there last night so I came. I was afraid. Claire, I want to apologise for how I reacted, it wasn’t…”

“You didn’t trust me.” Claire interrupted him, hurt still raw in her eyes.

“I was scared.” He said softly. “Scared ye would leave me and break my heart.”

“So you did it first instead. Because as I just said, you didn’t trust me. You didn’t think I would be able to cope with such pressure or that I would stand by you.”

“Ye called me freaking out about it! How did ye expect me to react? I thought ye’d be better off without me is all.” Jamie said in a regretful voice, trying to apologize. He knew it wasn’t the solution but he truly believed she would have been happier away from him.

“You said you would take care of it and you did, in a way. But then you disappeared leaving me to deal with people. I couldn’t go to class without scrutiny or that bitch Dunsany smirking away. Who do you think called the press? I guess her plan worked, after all. You’ve put out a statement but I still get photographed everywhere I go, either by photographers or by people, except now you are not even there to protect me and I look like a fool, dumped by the Prince! You left for London and did your exams at the Palace. Quite a privilege, right?” Claire tried to countain her emotions but after represing them for two weeks, everything came out, at once.  

“Aye…” Jamie looked down, he was ashamed and his throat was tight. “I was a coward, I couldn’t bear to see ye on campus, because I kent I would fall on my knees and beg ye to forgive me.” He admitted softly. 

“Being scared is alright, but it’s not an excuse to throw everything away. I was scared too and yes, I reacted in a wrong way, but did you expect me to be calm about thirty or more photographers being outside my door? I needed you to reassure me, I needed you to tell me everything was going to be just fine! And what did you do? You ran the opposite direction, right after you took my heart and stepped all over it. You left me to deal the mess while you went on with your life.”

“Do ye think I just went on wi’ my life?!” Jamie got up, shaking his head. “Christ, Claire! Those last two weeks were hell! I kept thinking about ye, night and day. Thinking about how much ye must be hating me and how much I missed ye! So no, I didn’t just go on wi’ my life. I hid because I couldn’t face the consequences of my actions and because I’ve been feeling this hole in my heart since the day I left ye!”

“You knew from the beginning this would happen, as soon as the press would find out about us, you told me yourself. We needed to talk and find a solution. Together.”

“I wasn’t ready to share ye wi’ the world! I’ve seen my parents’ marriage ruined by the press, my mother died because of them too, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you like that as well. And aye, it was selfish! But I wanted you all to myself for as long as possible” Finally, Jamie allowed himself to look into her eyes, their whisky colour enchanting him as much as they frightened him. “When I was a wee lad, my mother told me if I find someone I love, I must hang onto it, and look after it. And if I was lucky enough to find someone who loved me back then I must protect it and I didn’t do that. Instead, I ran the other way and I hate myself for it. ”

He loved her.

The words made her heart beat again and released the butterflies trapped in the pit of her stomach, but she stayed composed, her softening eyes the only thing that could give her away.

“Claire I canna take back my mistakes but I can be a better man because of them. I’m just askin’ ye to give me another chance.”

“You don’t trust me… I’m not sure this would work, Jamie.”

“Claire… What are ye doing for Christmas?” He asked, trying to ignore the pain her words brought him.

“What?” She looked at him, puzzled. “Nothing, why? What does Christmas have to do with anything? I never celebrate Christmas.”

“Why not?” He frowned. “Is it because ye’re alone?”

“Well, yes. Do you expect me to buy my cat some gifts and hide them under the three? We did stuff with my uncle but I never I truly celebrated Christmas since my parents died. Being alone isn’t the first thing you think about when you think about Christmas. I just read A Christmas Carol and then fall asleep before eight thirty.”

“Then celebrate it wi’ me.” Jamie reached for her hand and brought it to his lips, her scent of bergamot and lavender enveloping his senses. How much he had missed it. “If at the end of the holidays ye truly believe we dinna belong together then will let ye go. It will take all the courage I have left but I promise ye, I will.”

“One week?” Claire asked, looking at him.

“Aye, one week and then it’s up to ye if ye still want me or not.”

“It’s not a question of wanting you, Jamie. I do want you.” Claire admitted, causing him to smile. “I just need to be sure about you trusting me to stay by your side and protecting me. I don’t want to be heartbroken again.”  

Jamie pulled her closer, softly, and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. “Let me prove it to ye then.”

Claire nodded, burying her face into the crook of his neck. The scent of musk and patchouli. His scent. “One week then, Jamie.”

Jamie brought her hand to his lips, again, and smiled softly “Go pack a bag, principessa.”

Looking up, she frowned “Where are we going?”

“Just go pack and ye’ll see.” He smiled.

Claire nodded, reluctantly pulling away from his hand “Okay. Sorry for your pancakes, they got cold.”

“Dinna fash, hopefully, we will share pancakes again.” He winked, still badly, and made her chuckle for the first time in a while. His favourite sight.

Claire went to her bedroom to pack while Jamie cleaned up the kitchen. Future was uncertain but at least he had one more week to look forward with her and he swore he would do everything he could to win back her heart.

****

“You’re fucking kidding me?” Claire’s eyes got wide when they arrived at the private airport and Jamie, carrying her bag, led her to a little plane. “Why do we need a private plane for?!”

“Because we are going somewhere, Sorcha” He smiled. “I’m an accomplished pilot, for yer information.” He added with a smirk when he saw her expression, a mix of terror and amazement.

“You’re going to fly that? Should I be worried?” Claire teased, nudging his side.

“Maybe ye should.” He chuckled and looked at her.

“That’s extremely reassuring.” Claire looked back at him, shaking her head.

“Do ye trust me?” He looked at her, his blue eyes seeking her whisky ones.

Claire nodded, smiling. “I do.” And she did.

“Aye, good.” He leaned forward, his lips softly pressed on her cheek.

“But if you crash us, I’ll kill you.” She said nonchalantly when their eyes locked again, making him laugh.

“I ken ye would, Claire. I’ll do my best to bring us to our destination safely.” Jamie smiled as they took their seats inside the plane. When he made sure she was safely sitting, he started the engine with a final squeeze on her hand.

“How long have you been flying for real?” Claire watched him, already impressed.  

“Two years, I’ve spent a little bit of time in the army before college and that’s where I got my license,” Jamie smirked. “ Buckle up.”

Claire had no time to answer as Jamie took off and she was too busy to look outside as the made their way inside the clouds. The feeling in her stomach wasn’t solely due to being in the air but also because simply being next to Jamie made her hole again. After two awful weeks, she felt like herself again. It wouldn’t be easy but she was ready to give him another chance. He just didn’t need to know that yet.

After an hour and a half in the air, Jamie finally started his landing while Claire was still watching the breathtaking view from the sky.

Jamie took her hand then, and brought it to his lips, smiling. “Welcome to Scotland, principessa.”

Chapter Text

Balmoral Castle has been one of the residences for members of the Royal Family since 1852. Passed through generations, the large estate was located in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire and became a safe haven for the Frasers, that would come to hide, away from the craziness of London, during the holidays.

Claire had seen pictures and had read about it in numerous history books. The original Castle was built in the fifteenth century and consisted of a square tower with battlements and a thick stone wall surrounding a small square. By 1746 a house had been added to it, by the Farquarson of Inverey. In 1830 most of the building had been demolished and reconstructed, as a small castle in the Scottish Baronial Style.

Claire always thought that the place looked beautiful, but as she stood in front of it, its beauty took her breath away and she realised that the pictures didn’t do it justice. The estate was covered with a thin layer of snow and was decorated for the holidays, something that gave it another level of magic.

Jamie watched her, nose red from the cold and beanie covering her massive head of curls. “Nothing to say, principessa?”

Looking at him, Claire’s face was illuminated by a warm smile “It’s just so beautiful, I don’t think I could add anything to that.”

“Aye, it is.” He agreed, taking her hand to place a kiss on it. “Not the most beautiful thing around here, but it’s no’ too shabby.”

Claire grinned. “Smooth, Fraser. Very smooth.”

“I’m just stating the facts.” He smirked and kissed her cheek. “Let’s go inside before we freeze out here.” His accent had already become thicker and the way he rolled his r’s made something switch in the pit of her stomach.

Jamie led her inside the big hall, where Claire stopped in her tracks. “Is your family here?” It didn’t occur to her that his father and sister could be around, and the thought of meeting them terrified her.

Looking at her, he shook his head. “No. They celebrate Christmas in London since my mam passed.” Jamie said sadly, removing his scarf and coat.

“Oh, I see.” Claire smiled, relieved, and removed her layers of clothes as well, before looking around again. The inside was even more majestic than the outside. Claire walked around, studying the countless paintings in the hall and stopped in front of one. It was a beautiful woman with red hair, decorated with a crown and grey eyes. She was holding a little boy on her lap, who looked just like her. Claire turned around and looked at Jamie with a smile. He still looked the same. “Is that you with your mother?”

Nodding, Jamie walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Aye, principessa. The famous Ellen.”

Claire looked at him and kissed his cheek. “You two look exactly the same. It’s quite uncanny.”

Jamie chuckled. “I canna fault yer observations, principessa. My sister looks more like my da’ and I took everything from our Scottish side.”

“Aye,” Claire grinned, making him laugh.

A cheerful elderly woman appeared, her mouth curling into a wide smile when she laid eyes on Jamie.“Your majesty!”

“Ye ken me since I’m a wee bairn, Mrs Fitz. I think it’s time for ye to start calling me Jamie, aye?” Jamie chuckled and walked over to her. “We’re no’ in London here.”

“I ken we’re not, but I canna help it! Come here.” Mrs Fitz hugged him tightly. She then looked at Claire, raising an eyebrow.  “And who this might be?”

“Mrs Fitz,” Jamie said proudly, offering his hand to Claire who took it and came closer to them both. “This is Claire Beauchamp.”

“Claire Beauchamp.” Mrs Fitz smirked, not needing to ask any more questions “Welcome to Balmoral, dear. This a bonny time to come!”

“Thank you, Mrs Fitz.” Claire smiled warmly, already feeling at home. “It looks indeed like the best time to be here.”

“I’ll show Claire her room, do ye mind preparing us some lunch?” Jamie asked with a smile.

“Do I mind, he asks!” The elderly woman laughed. “Ye ken verra well that it’s my job and I dinna mind at all! Ye two go, I’ll make sure there is food on the table whenever ye’ll be back.” Winking, Mrs Fitz disappeared quickly behind a big wooden door, leaving Jamie blushing and Claire chuckling.

“And this was Glenna Fitzgibbons, principessa.”

“I love her.” Claire grinned, looking at him “She seems like Joe but on steroids.”

Jamie laughed and took her bag. “I think ye might no’ be wrong there. Come wi’ me.”

Leading her upstairs, Jamie smiled as she attentively looked around, asking questions about the people on the paintings that graced the walls, and making various comments about how gorgeous everything was. He opened a door and let her inside before following her closely. “This is yer room.”

“This is bigger than my house.” Claire turned around and looked at him. “Not that I’m complaining.”

Jamie smiled, putting her bag on the chair. “Make yerself at home, principessa. This place is as much yers as it is mine.”

Claire pulled him close and wrapped her arms around his neck, raising an eyebrow. “Oh is it?” She said teasingly.

Nodding, his hands pressed against her lower back and his lips almost touched hers. “Aye, principessa. If ye want it.”

Claire pulled her head back before he had the chance to kiss her and smirked, her whisky eyes enchanting him. “I’m still deciding.”

“Ye keep me on my toes, that’s good.” Jamie smiled and kissed the tip of her nose, tucking a curl behind her ear. “My room is at the end of the corridor if ye’ll need me. Let’s go have some lunch now so I can show ye the rest of the house.”

Claire looked at him, amused by his use of the word “house”. However, instead of arguing that this was actually a castle, she simply nodded and followed him downstairs.

It would be an interesting week for sure.

_______

After a delicious Scottish meal prepared by Mrs Fitz, Jamie took the role of the official guide and gave Claire a private tour in the various rooms of the castle, starting with the ground floor and slowly making their way upstairs.

“I won’t show ye all the 50,000 acres, because we’d still be here in a month, but you’ll have a pretty spot on tour, if I may say so myself. I’m no’ Mary, but I’ll do a fine job.”

“And who is Mary?” Claire asked, too busy looking at the paintings on the ceilings to look at him.

“She is the day to day operator around here and she always guides tourists when it’s open season and we’re no’ here. Her father used to do that, but now she has taken over.”

“Oh, so it’s open to the public?”

“Aye, from April to July. It wasna before my Ma passed, but since no one comes around here anymore but me, my father thought it would be a good idea. I was against opening the place all year round though. This place doesna belong to the crown, it belongs to the family.”

“And what’s the difference?”

“My father’s great great grandfather bought the castle for his wife after they came to Scotland and she fell in love wi’ it back in 1852. After his death, she continued to come here and she actually died here. Her sons, however, did not come often and the castle was put up on the market. For some strange reason, no one ever bought it and it became our family’s summer retreat over the years.” Jamie explained with a smile, taking Claire’s hand as they walked around the castle. “Then, one summer, a young lad named Brian met a Scottish aristocrat named Jacob Mackenzie, from Leoch, and his daughter, Ellen.”

The Ellen.” Claire said fondly, smiling. She will never get to know Ellen, but the fact that she had a son like Jamie was proof enough for the amazing woman she must have been.

“Aye,” Jamie nodded, smiling softly. “Then the castle became their little, secret bubble. They spent their honeymoon here, and both my sister and I were born here as well.” He stopped and sighed. “It hasna been the same for the last nine years.”

“And that’s why your father doesn’t come up here anymore?”

“I believe so.” Jamie looked at her, with sadness in his deep blue eyes. “My mother’s passing created a rift between me and my father and we are still trying to recover.”

“We don’t have to talk about this, Jamie,” Claire said honestly. She knew that they had time and she would know everything about him one day.

“Come, I want to show ye my favourite room.” Kissing her hand, Jamie led her to the other side of the castle and opened the door to the library. “After ye,” he smiled.

Claire walked inside the room and her eyes got wide at the sight in front of her. The walls were covered in books from floor to ceiling except for two huge windows providing a breathtaking view over the estate. Stairs gave access to the mezzanine, making it easier to access the top shelves and the only other pieces of furniture were a couple of velvet armchairs spread in the room. “Jamie, I…” Claire looked at him, speechless.

“I take it that ye like the place?” Jamie raised his eyebrow with a smile.

“Do I like it?” Claire chuckled and looked at him. “Like is an understatement, Fraser. I want to move here and never get out again.”

“Weel, wi’ all the books you’ll be busy for a while. That’s for sure.” Jamie smiled, leaning against the door as he watched her. The amazement in her eyes made his heart burst with happiness. If he could make her smile like that for the rest of his life, he would have not lived in vain.

_______

“I don’t know why I agreed to go out in such a weather, but you’d better have a good reason for dragging me in the cold, Jamie,” Claire said as she followed him and buried her nose in the tartan scarf Mrs Fitz had provided for their afternoon outing.

“It’s no’ even snowing anymore and a little cold never killed anyone, principessa.” He grinned, kissing her glove covered hand.

“Actually, it has.” Claire chuckled “Check your facts.”

“Dinna make me push ye in the snow, aye?”

“You’re lucky I’m too cold to push you first.” Claire stopped in her tracks seeing that he stopped walking. “What?”

Jamie threw her over his shoulder and chuckled, patting her ass. “We’re almost there”

“I know this is just a technique to touch my ass, Jamie. I’m no fool.”

“I canna fault ye, but I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” He grinned, walking towards the stables with her.

“Because we had!” Claire smacked his bum, grinning.

“I’m happy ye’re enjoying it yer time back there, principessa, but we have arrived at our destination,” Jamie said, laughing, as he put her down. He adjusted her beanie and then kissed the tip of her nose, which had turned red with the cold.  

“And our destination smells like horses,” Claire smirked, walking inside the stables with Jamie quickly following her.

“I thought I could show ye the estate on horseback. I ken it’s cold, but it’s a bonny time to do it, trust me.” Jamie smiled before presenting her with a horse. “I also thought ye’d like Donnas.”

“Donnas,” Claire repeated with a smile, stroking the sorrel stallion muzzle.

“Ye two are alike.” He smiled, preparing the horse for their excursion.

“How so?” Claire looked at him, amused.

“She’s a girl wi’ a spirit.” He winked, that bad wink of his, and gave Claire a helmet. “Put this on yer bird nest, principessa. I dinna want ye to get injured. Have ye ever rode a horse before?”

“Do camels count? Or elephants?” Claire asked with a teasing smile, removing her beanie and adjusting the helmet on her head.

Jamie laughed, putting his own helmet on. “I guess it should count, aye. I’m quite impressed, to be honest.”

“Blame The Lamb.” She grinned. During their travels, her uncle Lamb was always keen on innovative ways of transport.

“Yer uncle sounds like quite the character. I would have loved to meet him.” Jamie smiled. “And he raised ye well.”

Claire grinned, holding the reins Jamie handed her. “Lambert Beauchamp’s techniques of raising a child were not usual, but I guess they worked.”

“I can imagine.” Jamie grinned, leading the horse out of the stables. “I thought we’ll share a horse, as the others are no’ as well trained as Donnas for the cold.” Mounting the horse, Jamie positioned himself behind her and realized, as soon as their body touched, how bad of a plan that was. He thanked God for the cold weather and took hold of the reins, before giving Donnas a light squeeze to start walking.

As they rode, Claire felt Jamie’s warmth radiating against her back, the cold she felt before quickly disappearing.  Quietly studying her surroundings, she leaned against him, feeling their movements on the horse get in sync. Jamie on the other end, couldn’t stop watching her; curls trapped under the helmet, and flushed cheeks flushed. How badly he wanted to kiss her.

After a while, Jamie stopped the horse. “Principessa?” He whispered against her neck. “I want to introduce ye to someone.” He got off the horse and tied it around a tree before helping Claire off.

“To someone?” Claire looked at him, intrigued, switching the helmet for her beanie again.

Jamie nodded with a smile and kissed her hand before walking with her to the little chapel where his mother’s grave was. “Aye. To my mother.”

Claire looked at him, more touched by his gesture more than she could express.

“My mam would have been crazy about ye.”

Claire rested her head against his arm, holding his hand tightly. They stayed silent for a while, before Claire said softly, “Thank you for bringing me here, Jamie.”

“I’ve never taken anyone up here, Claire. I hope ye ken how much ye mean to me.” Jamie looked at her, a tear escaping his deep blue eyes. He never thought bringing Claire here would have such an effect on him.

Claire looked at him, stroking his tear away. “I know, Jamie.” She wrapped her arms around him, holding him close.

Jamie cradled her head, stroking her soft curls and closed his eyes. For the first time in a long while, Jamie felt like the piece of his heart that had been broken was slowly mending and it was all Claire’s doing.

_______

Sitting in front of the fire, Claire sipped her hot chocolate while Jamie watched her, ivory skin glowing with the fire reflecting on it. He tucked a curl behind her ear and smiled.

“Thank you for bringing me here, Jamie. It’s already the best Christmas I’ve had in awhile.”

“Aye, but wait for Christmas Day.  Mrs Fitz goes all out wi’ the food and it’s like heaven.”  

“So you spend all your Christmas here? Alone?”

Jamie nodded “Aye, as I told ye before, my dad doesna come up here anymore and my sister prefers staying in London wi’ him instead of making a scene.”

“You said your mother’s passing opened a rift between you and your father, how so?” Claire asked softly, putting her mug away. “And again, if you don’t want to talk about it, just tell me.”

“It’s alright Claire, I want to tell ye everything about me.” His hand cupped her cheek, stroking her ivory skin with his thumb. “My dad had an affair a couple of months before my mam’s accident.” He said softly. “I was fourteen and I didn’t know it back then, because my mother always made sure my sister and I were not exposed to the press.”

Claire listened carefully, moving closer to him.

“I was in the car with her that night,” Jamie said so quietly, she almost didn’t hear him and his eyes dropped on his hands. “Jenny was in Italy for a summer program at the time and my mom decided to take me wi’ her to Paris, as I learned afterwards that my father was busy here with his mistress. I dinna ken why she thought it was a good idea to leave the hotel at night while the press was waiting for her downstairs. They had pictures of my father with that other woman and wanted some of my mothers, to show how she had run away in another country not to deal wi’ him. Divorce in the royal family wasn’t authorized and their perfect marriage was bursting into pieces, so ye get the complications.”

Claire simply nodded, her heart aching for him as she took his hand in hers and held it tightly.

“So we left the hotel from the back door. It was around midnight. I remember it because I was crawling with sleep when we got into the car… I dinna ken where she wanted to go exactly, but I fell asleep next to her in the back seat and after that, I dinna remember anything else, apart from waking up at the hospital days later and my father by my side.” Jamie finally looked up at her, his eyes red and puffy. It was the first time he shared this story with anyone, and the wound still open and raw. “At first I had to mourn my mother. Slowly, I started to understand why my parents had been different towards one another for a while. They had always been so in love, and I will never understand why my father had the need to find another woman. I dinna even try to understand. Since then, it has never been the same between us two.”

Claire wrapped her arms around him and simply held him close, cradling his head while Jamie allowed himself to finally cry for the loss of his mother, protected in her arms. After years of hiding his emotions, he let them all out in front of Claire, who would understand them.

She was too young to understand the immensity of her loss when her parents had passed away, but she was in the car too, then, and had to live her life wondering why she didn’t die with them. At some point, they switched positions and laid on the sofa, Claire still holding him in her arms as he fell asleep, his head resting on her chest. 

Claire watched him sleep peacefully and stroked his fiery hair back. She placed a soft kiss on his forehead and whispered “I love you” and saw the tiniest smile form on his lips before she fell asleep as well to dream of her prince.

Chapter Text

When Claire woke up, she realised she wasn’t on the sofa anymore, but in her room and Jamie was nowhere to be found. She came to the conclusion that he must have brought her there somewhere during the night after they both fell asleep in the living room. Jamie had fallen asleep first, after their discussion that drained him emotionally, and after watching him for a while, she had followed him into slumber. She had never seen him so vulnerable before and it made her realise how much he was affected by his mother’s passing, the wound still raw and painful. He was in the car with his mother, just as she had been with her parents the day of their fatal accident.

After tossing her clothes away, Claire put a bathrobe on and got back into bed - it was too big and comfortable to leave it just yet, and the view from bed through the french window was too gorgeous not to enjoy. If it wouldn’t have been for her phone that started ringing, Claire would feel transported back in time while she wondered how many historical figures slept inside that very room. 

Claire didn’t need to look at the screen to know who was calling when she picked up. “Joe!”

“Beauchamp, I was wondering where you were? I came to your house but it was empty. I got worried.” Joe answered, but Claire could hear his smirk.

“I’m in Scotland… With Jamie.” She admitted.

“And he’s sleeping next to you, naked.” Joe grinned. “Right?!”

“You know that’s none of your business, Joseph,” Claire smirked, knowing how much he hated his full name.

“Do not call me like this Claire Elizabeth and spill the tea instead.” He retorted, making her laugh.

“He’s not naked next to me, nor dressed. I guess he’s either in his own room or somewhere around the castle.”

“The castle,” Joe repeated, amused. “Casual now I guess.”  

“You know that John is a lord and he most likely owns a castle too, right? Or at least, his family sure does.”  

“I’m black and gay, I doubt I’ll be invited for Christmas there anytime soon.” He laughed. Joe always used the reality of his situation to poke fun at it. “But who knows? So, you two have worked things out?”

“Kind of. I’m no longer mad at him for one thing, and he gave me a week to take a decision about us while spending Christmas with him up here.”

“And what have you decided? Because I’m sure you’ve already made up your mind, otherwise you wouldn’t be in Scotland right now.”

“I love him,” Claire said softly, for the first time. “I can’t deny that, and I’m ready to take him on, whatever that means. He’s ready to protect me no matter what and I’m ready to do the same for him.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Joe smiled. “And you don’t have to do anything until you’re properly introduced to his family and to the world, which won’t be before an actual engagement, no?”  

“For your information, I always wanted to attend a royal wedding.” He grinned. “And now, I’m sure I will.”

“I’m in a perfect little bubble right now, I’m not going to think about something as big like this. We’re both at university, Jamie for more than me, I think there’s time before a televised wedding.” She shook her head, amused.

“Right, have all the sex instead. That’s actually a better idea!”

“My God, Joe!” She laughed. “I’m hanging up now.”

“Yes, hang up, so you can go and have all the sex with the future King! Bye, honey!” He grinned and hung up.

Claire shook her head as she put her phone away. If Joe hadn’t existed, someone would have to invent him. She laid down again and watched the snow falling slowly and covering the garden until she heard a soft knock on the door.

“Come in!” Claire said, sitting up.

The door opened, revealing Jamie in a kilt. He looked like a Highlander in full regalia and quite an attractive one, at that. The vision made Claire’s skin prickle and woke up the butterflies in her stomach.

“Good morning, principessa.” Jamie smiled and walked over the wooden canopy bed, holding a tray with breakfast. “I thought ye might be hungry?”

“I’m famished. Thank you for taking care of me.” Claire admitted with a smile.

“Actually, to be fair… Mrs Fitz thought you might be, and I only agreed.” He grinned, sitting down next to her. “How did you sleep?”

Claire looked at him amused and kissed his cheek softly. “I didn’t even realise you brought me to bed, so I guess I should have been in some sort of coma.”  

“Aye, ye were quite asleep… And snoring.” Jamie smirked, her offended expression amusing him even more.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I never snore!” Claire said nonchalantly while looking at the food on the tray and deciding to start with a toast. “You, on the other hand…” She grinned, taking a bite.

“I bring ye breakfast and that’s how ye thank me?” Jamie looked offended, touching his chest. “Ouch!”

“You attacked me first, darling,” Claire smirked and rested her head on his shoulder. “Thank you for the breakfast.”

“Darling, uh?”Jamie looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

Claire chewed her food and grinned. “I meant Jamie. So, what’s on the agenda today?”

“Well, we could do some shooting.”

“It’s snowing even more than yesterday. You truly want to kill me, right?” Claire joked, looking at him.

“Nay, I just want to warm ye afterwards,” Jamie admitted, the tip of ears turning bright red.

“Okay, I guess we could try that but I’m not killing anything.”

“Dinna worry, principessa. We use clay pigeons for that, it’s fun.”

“Men are easily amused, I guess.” She grinned, finishing her breakfast. “But sure, why not. It’s a very aristocratic thing to do, isn’t it?” Claire teased, nudging his arm.

“I dinna ken what peasants do, principessa.” Jamie joked, making her laugh.

“You’re awful.” She shook her head and got up. “Let’s get ready and go shoot these pigeons before I change my mind. ”

“Aye, dress up warmly.” Getting up, Jamie gathered the tray and winked, or tried to, before he left her room.

****

Claire appeared downstairs twenty minutes later, dressed like a typical British aristocrat. Mrs Fitz gave her Ellen’s old olive green Barbour jacket and a Hermès carré to tie around her head. Claire had to tie up her curls quite tightly to archive such a look, after more trials than she wanted to admit, but she managed to do it.

Jamie was waiting at the bottom of the staircase, holding two shotguns, dressed for the part as well. He had kept the kilt, but thrown on a turtleneck, a similar jacket to Claire’s and a dark beret. When he laid eyes on her, his mouth curled up into the widest grin. “Claire, ye look perfect.” He said, offering her his hand.

“That’s because of Mrs Fitz,” Claire admitted with a smile, taking his hand. “She gave me this jacket, the scarf and the wellies.”

“It suits ye well.” He smiled and placed a kiss on her head before they made their way outside. “Now ye’ll meet the other habitant of the estate along with Mrs Fitz.”

“Yes, I was wondering who else lived around here to take care of the place all year round.” Claire held his hand and followed him, her cheeks flushing from the December’s cold air.

A man was waiting for them, with arms crossed and a stern expression on his face. The only thought that crossed Claire’s mind was that he looked very grumpy.

“Claire, this is Murtagh,” Jamie announced as they got close to the man. “He takes care of the horses, the shooting equipment and such. He is also my godfather.”

Murtagh looked at Claire intensely, arms still crossed and face still stern but soon enough, his eyes illuminated and he smiled. “I didna ken Jamie had finally brought a lass home, eh?”

“Oh, so I am the first” Claire grinned, looking at Jamie with a raised eyebrow. “I hope I’ll be the last one as well, or His Royal Highness will be in trouble,”

“And a witty one at that,” Murtagh grinned. “Ready to shoot, Sassenach?”

Claire took a shotgun from Jamie. “Are you the target? Because I’m not liking the nickname, sir.”

“It’s nothing bad, ye’re an English woman in a strange land, are ye no?” He raised his bushy eyebrows, amused. “But I like yer spirit,” he chuckled.

Jamie smirked. He rarely saw Murtagh so amused. “Murtagh is Mrs Fitz’s nephew and he’s been living around here since I was a wee bairn.”

“Aye, even longer than that,” Murtagh added with a grin. “I’ve seen his royal highness running around butt naked in this garden many, many times.”

Claire laughed, imagining the scene of a tiny red-headed child running naked during the summer. “I would pay to see that!”

“I will gladly show ye pictures for free, Sassenach.”

“Gladly,” Claire grinned, looking at a blushing Jamie.

“Aye well let’s start shooting before we freeze to death.” Jamie proposed with a smile.

“Have ye ever shoot before, Claire?” Murtagh asked.

“Not really,” Claire admitted and realized how odd that was since uncle Lamb had taught her almost everything.

“It’s no’ verra complicated, ye just need concentration and this for yer ears.” Murtagh handed her the ear defenders. “I’ll be over there pulling the clay pigeons and ye just need to aim and pull the trigger.”

“I’ll do the first one wi’ ye, principessa.” Jamie smiled, helping her adjust the defenders and placing a kiss on the tip of her nose before putting on his own ear protection. He then stood behind her and helped her position the gun properly. Claire leaned back against him, the heat of his body warming her to the bone.

“When ye ready, just yell Pull and I’ll send the first clay,” Murtagh explained, watching the lovebirds with a grin hidden under his moustache.

Claire nodded, her finger against the trigger. “Relax, principessa,” Jamie whispered, his breath tickling the skin of her neck.

And she did just that.

“Pull!” She shouted, standing straighter. As Murtagh released the target in the air, Claire pressed the trigger and made the clay target explode in the air.

The two men looked at one another surprised and Claire grinned proudly. “Not too shabby for a first time, eh?” Handing Jamie the gun, she stepped aside. “Your turn.”

Jamie grinned “I’m really good at this.”

“I can’t wait to see that.” Claire crossed her arms. “If you shoot the target, I’ll give you a kiss.” A kiss they haven’t shared in eighteen days but who was counting?

“I will touch the target, principessa.” Jamie said confidently, getting into the right position.

“I’m ready when ye are,” Murtagh said loudly.

Jamie nodded and gave Claire one last look before focusing back on the sky. He wanted that kiss, badly. “Pull!”

Claire looked up and smirked when he missed. The look on his face was priceless. “Ah Dhia!” Jamie exclaimed, removing his ear protection to look at Claire with a pout.

“Ah, too bad.”

“I am wounded, principessa.” He pouted, touching his heart.

Murtagh shook his head, watching them. “Yer disgusting, Jamie.”

“And I’m freezing,” Claire admitted, taking Jamie’s arm. “Can we go back inside and have some whisky? I didn’t have a proper drink and we’re in the land of whisky, are we not?”

“Aye, that we are.” Jamie smiled, kissing her hand. “Let’s go inside and get a wee dram of the best whisky ye’ll ever have.”

Claire smiled. “Thanks for the lesson, Murtagh.”

“Anytime, Sassenach. Keep making him run after ye, it’s really entertaining to see.” Murtagh grinned, gathering the equipment before disappearing into the stables.

“Dinna listen to him, it’s no’ funny.” Jamie looked at her like he was a little child.

Claire chuckled and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Oh is it not?”

“No…” He shook his head, his blue eyes locking with hers.

Claire cupped his cheeks and slowly rubbed her nose against his before sealing their lips for the first time since their parting, more than two weeks ago. They kissed thoroughly for a while, too busy to notice the snow that had started to fall again, not bothered by the cold, all the days of unsatisfied wanting making their blood boil. “Jamie…” Claire said softly, after parting from his lips.

“Aye?” He responded hoarsely.

“I like the kilt but I think you’d look even better out of it,” Claire said simply, sending all the blood down to his cock. “Let’s go inside. Now.”

Jamie didn’t need more to oblige. Holding her hand, he led the way back inside and to her bedroom - the closest to the stairs. Claire went inside and in no time removed her shoes, coat and scarf and looked at him.

“Claire…” Jamie said softly, removing his own coat. “There is something I must tell ye.”

“What is it?” Claire frowned, unable to pinpoint what exactly it was in his tone that worried her.

Jamie took a breath and looked at her. “I’ve… I’ve never bedded a woman before. I’m still a virgin.” He confessed softly.

Claire’s jaw dropped at his confession.

“I’m sorry, I should have told ye before. I was scared ye would think less of me and -” His words were interrupted by her lips and he relaxed.

“If you think you being a virgin is a turn-off, Jamie, think again” Claire grinned against his lips. “It’s quite the contrary,” she purred, making him shiver in delight.

“Ye dinna ken how long I’ve wanted ye, principessa” He reached for her face and stroked her cheek softly, her skin warm under his thumb. “Since the moment I saw ye, ye’ve been in my mind during the day and taking over my dreams at night.”

Claire’s whisky eyes gazed into his deep blue ones turning dark with lust and she reached up behind her to free her mass of curls from the rubber band. She then proceeded to remove her clothes slowly, tossing them on the floor while Jamie watched her, getting more aroused by the second.

“Christ, Claire, Ye are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Jamie swallowed, his eyes glued on her as Claire stood naked in front of him, her cheeks flushed and nipples erect. “Can… Can I touch ye”? He asked softly, the tip of his ears turning bright pink.

Claire smiled and pulled him closer by the belt of his kilt before taking his shaking hand and resting it on her breast. “Are you nervous?” She asked with a smile, thinking that male virginity might have been a highly underrated commodity.  

“Aye,” He admitted shyly, looking like a child. “I dinna want ye to be disappointed.”

“That’s really sweet, Jamie.” Claire leaned up and brushed her lips against his. “Now… Remove your sweater.” She purred in a low voice.

“Claire, there is something else…” Jamie removed his turtleneck and closed his eyes to avoid her reaction. A deep scar ran across his chest, from his shoulder to his lower abdomen. “The accident.” He looked down at the floor between them, afraid to meet her gaze, ”I would understand if ye dinna want me.”

Claire’s heart broke at the thought of him believing that she wouldn’t want him because of a scar. With her index finger, she pressed and gently stroked the scar from base to top, sending a shiver through his body. She could see the goosebumps on his skin and before she could ask him to open his eyes, Jamie did it to find the loveliest expression on her face, instead of the disgust he was expecting. He took her hand and brought it to his lips with a sweet smile.

“You’re not the only one,” Claire said before she bravely turned around, revealing her own scars on her back. They were slightly faded as she was only five when her parents had the accident, but they were still there for Jamie to see. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Oh, Claire.” His voice cracked as his palm rested on her back. The warmth of her body radiated through her skin, her smooth soft skin. He pulled her hair aside and kissed the delicate spot on her shoulder, his mouth lingering and then moving up to her neck. It was her turn to shiver in delight and she leaned against him, feeling his arousal pressing against her.  

Claire turned around and opened his belt, and the kilt fell on the floor, a puddle of tartan at their feet.

It was true what they say about Scotsmen.

She had no time to make a comment though, as Jamie pulled her close, her breasts pressing against his toned chest, and he kissed her hungrily. He lifted her up, his hands grasping the backs of her thighs, and walked over to the bed, sitting down with her legs straddling his waist, his tongue dancing with hers as his hands caressed her body.

His lips found her neck as Jamie manoeuvred them and he lay Claire down on the bed, her legs parting for him. He placed soft kisses on her collarbones and breasts, her moans a proof that he wasn’t dreaming this time.

Their eyes met in a silent understanding, and Jamie positioned himself at her entrance. Claire’s hand settled on his arse, urging him inside to fill her.

The moment Jamie was inside of her, he thought his body was going to burst. The foreign yet familiar feeling of their bodies meeting for the first time, while their souls formed an even stronger bond, was almost too much for him. Starting to thrust inside of her, he wrapped Claire’s leg around his waist, his fingers pressing into her thigh. Surely come the next morning, she would be bruised with the touch of his love. “Christ, Claire!” Jamie buried his face into the crook of her neck, drowning in all five senses at once. He knew he wouldn’t last long and he tried to make sure that she was enjoying it too.

Something was building inside their bodies in unison. As the movements increased, so did Claire’s moans. She couldn’t quite believe he was a virgin. There was an awkwardness at first, but lust soon took over, his lack of experience fading away as his body rocked into hers. His mouth was all over her burning skin, her lips, her neck, her breasts, and Claire arched her body, her eyes glued on his toned chest, vibrating with each thrust. He could feel her contracting around him and it wasn’t long until they both came undone, first Claire, when the wave of pleasure enfolded her body, quickly followed by Jamie, whose own body shook as he came.

His body pinned hers to the bed and Claire’s breath was still fast and hot on his neck. Jamie pulled out of her reluctantly and rolled to the side, glancing over to see her smile, struck with a deep feeling of love. Claire gazed at him lovingly, her hand reaching for his cheek. “Was it like you thought it would be?”

“Even better than in my dreams, principessa.” Jamie said softly before sealing their lips again.

“My smooth talker,” Claire smirked and cuddled him.

Jamie pulled the plaid over them and held her close, cradling her head. Slowly, they both drifted to sleep, happy, content and in love.

****

Claire woke up later to the emptiness of the bed. As her eyes adjusted to her surroundings, she noticed that Jamie was kneeling down in front of the fireplace, butt naked. She didn’t speak, but simply watched him for awhile, while he lit the fire. Once his task was accomplished, Jamie turned around and his face lit when he saw her. “You’re awake, principessa.”

Claire nodded, sitting up as Jamie made his way to the bed, a coy smile on his gorgeous face. “Ye never looked lovelier than asleep in the laird’s bed, mo chridhe. Wi’ yer cheeks flushed and yer hair a mess on the pillow.” His thumb stroked her cheek. “I got us some whisky, do ye want a wee dram?”

Claire nodded and smiled, sitting up. “Yes please.”

Jamie went over the little table near the fireplace and poured them two drinks before sitting back in bed, next to her. “Slàinte Mhath,” he raised his drink and kissed the tip of her nose.

Claire raised her drink as well and repeated the phrase, making him grin. “Yer Gaelic is getting good, principessa.”

“Aye, I tried.” She grinned, taking a sip and enjoying the warm feeling in her throat. “It’s really good.”

“I have something else for ye.” Jamie said softly, putting the glass away. He looked at her nervously, his palm sweating.

Claire watched him intrigued as he reached for his jacket and pulled a little box out. “Claire,” he started, looking at her eyes. “Merry Christmas, mo chridhe.” Jamie opened the box to reveal an oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds ring, trying to control his shaking hands. Claire’s eyes widened at the sight of the ring.The ring. It was notorious all over the world as Ellen Fraser’s engagement ring and even someone who didn’t care about the Royal family knew about the ring.

“Claire, when I was a little lad, my mom told me that if I wanted to be a good King, I needed to find the perfect Queen. I was too foolish to pay attention at her words back then, but the moment I laid eyes on ye, I understood exactly what she meant. I dinna think I can reign over the country without yer support and yer help. I dinna think I can be good enough by myself, and most importantly, I dinna think I can live the rest of my life if ye’re not by my side, not as a King, but as a man.”

Jamie brought her hand to his lips. “I want to spend the rest of my life wi’ you, and I ken that with that, I might be asking ye a lot. I’m asking ye to leave yer life, yer normalcy, for me and I’m aware it is a very selfish thing to do. I also ken we said we would see how the week goes but seeing ye here, wi’ me, made me realise even more that my intuition wasn’t wrong. I love ye, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, and if ye would do me the honour of spending yer life wi’ me, ye would make me the happiest of lads.” His vision was blurred by unshed tears and he couldn’t really tell her reaction, but it only took a couple of seconds for Claire to throw her arms around him and to kiss him tenderly.

“ Yes!” It was her turn to cry, as she held him close. “I love you, James Fraser. Even more, because you just proposed to me naked.” She couldn’t help but laugh.

“Aye, weel.” Jamie shrugged and kissed her again. Jamie took the ring and slid it on her finger, making Claire smile warmly.

“Jamie, the ring is breathtaking,” Claire said, looking at it properly for the first time. “How long have you had this planned?”

“It was my mother’s, and she wanted me to give it to my future wife one day.” He smiled softly. “I kent I wanted to marry ye from the first time I bumped into ye in the hall, but I had this in my pocket since we arrived.” Leaning against the headboard, he stroked her cheek. “It suits ye perfectly.”

Claire cupped his cheeks and kissed him slowly, straddling him. His hands immediately travelled down her back to take a firm hold on to her buttocks, and he let a low groan. He reluctantly left Claire’s lips to give her breast the attention it deserved, and judging by the sounds coming out of her mouth, he seemed to be doing a good job. Claire took hold of him and lead him home for the second time that night.

As they moved together slowly, their eyes locked and time seemed to stop. It was going to be a merry Christmas indeed.

Chapter Text

Claire’s Christmas memories were blurry recollections of bits, here and there, from the time her parents were still alive. The most vivid one was the image of a woman who looked exactly like Claire did now, keeping her safe. Her sweet voice was singing “Let It Snow” and made the toddler Claire was to fall asleep, enveloped in her mother’s soothing voice and the warm apple pie’s smell coming from the kitchen. After her parents’ passing, Christmases were spent travelling with Lamb, or in the middle of the Arabic desert, and even if he had never forgotten to get her a gift, the entire spirit wasn’t really there.

But today, it was different. For the first time in her life since she’d lost her parents, Claire didn’t feel alone and sad, and it was all thanks to Jamie. In a single night, he had changed her entire perception of the  Christmas holiday and gave her something to cherish for years to come.

With a plaid wrapped around her naked body, Claire watched the snow delicately falling onto the grass in the vast garden and enjoyed the warmth of the room. Jamie was sound asleep on the bed, his toned body only half covered by the sheets and the sound of his breathing soothed her like nothing else ever had. If the pleasant ache in her body recalled the previous night’s activity, the sapphire ring on her finger reminded her of the proposal that followed. Claire was so lost in her thoughts, that she didn’t notice Jamie as he woke up and snuck in behind her until he rested his chin on her shoulder and smiled sleepily. “Morning, principessa.”

“Good morning,” Claire smiled and turned around, wrapping her arms around his neck. “And Merry Christmas.”

Jamie watched as the plaid slid down her body and landed on the floor “Aye, Merry Christmas, indeed.” He said hoarsely, pushing her down to sit on the window sill, and kissed her.

Claire chuckled against his lips. “James, my butt is bloody cold at the minute.”

“Oh, is it?” Lifting her up, Jamie carried her back to the bed, lying on top of her. “Better?”

“Much better,” Claire rolled them over and laid her head on his chest. “Also, I’m getting rather fond of being carried everywhere.”

“I dinna mind carrying ye forever, principessa.” Jamie smiled, stroking her arm. “Even when I’ll have a sore back and a wrinkly ass.”

Claire burst into a laugh. “That is quite the image.”

Jamie rolled them over again and pinned her body to the bed, grinning. “Are ye laughing at me?”

“I most certainly am!” Claire wrapped her legs around him and grinned, rocking her hips towards him. Two could play that game.

In a second, Jamie was home again. But he took his time, watching her face change with delight at every thrust while his name echoed from her supple lips. He didn’t think he would get tired of hearing it said like that. Her body arched under his and their lips met over and over again, tongues dancing to the rhythm of their bodies until climax engorged them both in a wave of pleasure.

Rolling over, Jamie wrapped his strong arms around her perfect body and let the soothing sound of their synchronized breathing comfort him.

“You ruined it for me, you now?” Claire said softly after a while, stroking the red hair on his chest.

“Ruined what?” Jamie looked down at her, his fingers absently playing with a curl near her shoulder.

“Being alone.” She said simply, looking up at his deep blue eyes, and smiled.

“I did?” He smirked proudly. “If ye think I’m going to be sorry for that, think again, mo chridhe.”

“Thought so,” Claire grinned and sealed their lips. “Jamie, this is already by far the best Christmas I’ve ever had. I admit the bar was not set very high, but still.”

“It has been a long time since I was this happy during the holidays, principessa, and it’s all thank to ye.” Jamie placed a soft kiss on the tip of her nose and smiled. “I’m glad ye are already enjoying Christmas but I wanted to ask ye something,” he said seriously.

“What is it?” Claire stroked his chin, enjoying the feel of his rough, unshaved skin.

“I want to spend the rest of my life wi’ ye,” he started with a smile. “Obviously, ye ken it already but I should first ask my father’s permission to marry ye, and I dinna want to yet. Also, if we announce our engagement to the world, I will have to share ye, and I’m simply no’ ready. And lastly, we both have university to finish before even considering a wedding.”

“Of course, I understand that,” she smiled. “I don’t want to share you with the world either, and I want to finish my degree before I jump into this with you. I love you and all I want right now is to be with you, in private.”

“Aye,” Jamie kissed her tenderly and softly whispered against her lips “But there is something we could do.”

“We just made love, you beast!” Claire burst into a laugh, making Jamie grin.

“Ye think that’s the only thing I have in mind, or what?” He smirked and kissed her cheek. “No, as much as I want ye again, I was thinking about something else. We dinna have to get married for the world to see yet, but we can handfast in secret.”

“Handfast?” Claire raised her eyebrow. “It’s a Scottish custom, right? I think my uncle must have told me about it briefly before. You handfast for a year and a day and after that time, you decide if you want to stay together or not, something of the sort.”

“ it’s an old pagan custom and it was more like an engagement back then, but we can do it until the day we get marrit in a church.” He said, smiling. “Only if ye want of course. We can also just be engaged in secret.”

“I like the idea,” Claire admitted, giving him a quick kiss. “It’s sweet and something just for us.”

“It is, principessa.” His fingers delicately tucked a curl behind her ear. “And we can do it today,” he smirked.

“Is this a trick so you will never forget our wedding date?” Claire grinned. “Because if it is, it’s bloody smart, I give you that.”

“Maybe,” Jamie teased, making her laugh.

“Royal asshole,” she said, smirking, and kissed him again.

“Aye, I love ye too, principessa.” Jamie held her close and smiled like a fool. “And the only royal ass here is that glorious bum of yers.” His hands quickly travelled down her back and took a firm hold on her ass before fondling it properly.

_____

The sight of the castle on the Christmas day made Claire’s heart burst with a childlike happiness she hadn’t experienced in a long time, the moment she stepped downstairs, holding Jamie’s hand, her engagement ring sparkling in the bright daylight.

Jamie had warned her that Mrs Fitz went all out for Christmas and he did not lie. She had got them matching sets of pyjamas and cooked a feast for twenty people when in reality, there were only four of them. Dean Martin’s voice was in the background, singing the same tune Claire remembered from her childhood, mixed with the sound of the crackling fireplace, and warming her to the bone.

They had agreed to handfast in the afternoon, with Murtagh and Mrs Fitz as witnesses. Both of them had been delighted by the news, hugging Claire tightly and welcoming her into the family as if she had always belonged there - maybe she actually had. The more time she spent with Jamie, the more she realized she was born for only the one thing: Him. Her whole being was consummated by Jamie and even as young as their relationship was, something deep down just felt right. The missing piece of her heart had been found and her soul finally had the companion it desperately longed for.

Full of food, Claire laid on the too big velvet sofa in the living room. She had no time to succumb to slumber as Jamie appeared in his pyjamas, a coy smile on his face. Claire couldn’t wait to marry this man. “Hello, Fraser.”

“Ye beauty, how is everything going?” Jamie asked, kneeling down in front of her.

“I’m full of food and verra happy,” Claire admitted with a smile, running her fingers through his fiery curls. “And the whisky warmed me to the bone.”

“Aye, ye’re becoming quite the Scot, mo chridhe.” Jamie said proudly, bringing her hand to his lips. “I have a surprise for ye, if ye care to get up and come wi’ me for a minute.”

“A surprise?” Claire frowned, wondering what else he had planned for her.

“Aye, just trust me.” Jamie got up and offered her his hand which she gladly accepted. He pulled her up and placed a kiss on the tip of her nose. “We canna handfast without this,” Jamie explained as he led her towards the hall.

“Without what?” Claire asked, looking around. Once in the hall, the what was actually a who, with a huge grin on his face. “Joe!”

“Well, hello there Beauchamp,” Joe smirked, “I’ve heard someone was having quite the Christmas so I thought why not join the fun?”

Claire ran over to him and held her friend tightly. “I’m so happy to see you!”

“I’m happy to see you too and the castle isn’t too shabby either.” He grinned, kissing her cheek. “But actually, a certain prince invited us to join in today’s activities,” he winked.

Claire looked at Jamie and smiled widely. “Thank you, darling.”

“Aye, my pleasure principessa.” Jamie walked over to them and smiled at Joe. “Thank ye for coming, I kent she would have wanted ye here.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Joe joked with a grin, making the couple chuckle.

Claire looked at him. “You said us, who else is here?”

Geillis walked in, quickly followed by John, both smirking. “Merry Christmas, Beauchamp!”

Claire looked at Jamie, an eyebrow raised. “A secret uh? Good luck with that!” She chuckled as Geillis hugged her tightly and John wrapped his arm around Joe, kissing his cheek.

“Well, since everyone has arrived let’s share a wee dram before our little party,” Jamie suggested and everyone followed him into the living room where Mrs Fitz had already poured the glasses.

Geillis took Claire’s hand and made wide eyes at the sight of the sapphire ring. “Oh. My. God. Hide your hand before I cut your finger off.” Geillis grinned.

Claire took her hand away and chuckled. “Calm down, Geil.”

“Since we are here for a special occasion,” Joe chimed in with a smirk “When does it start? Cute pyjamas, by the way.”

Claire leaned against Jamie, wrapping her arm around his waist and chuckled. “Thanks, we love them and we’re planning to get married like this.”

Jamie smiled, placing a kiss on top of Claire’s head. “ Aye, indeed and it’s time to do it, principessa.”

The guests took place on the various sofas while Claire and Jamie stood in front of the fireplace, for everyone to see, holding each other’s hands and looking into each other’s eyes. They were in their little bubble, unbothered and in love. So much in love.

Murtagh stood next to him, a proud grin under his moustache. “Weel, I’m no’ priest but I ken we are all gathered here today, to celebrate the love of these wee fools and I have to admit, I’m verra happy they asked this old man to officiate this ceremony. I’ve ken the lad for a long time and I’m glad to see he finally found someone who challenges him and isna easily impressed by his charms.” Murtagh winked, making everyone laugh.  

Jamie grinned, kissing Claire’s hand.  “Aye, that she does.”

“Ellen was my best friend since we were bairns, and when she asked me to be Jamie’s godfather and guardian, I took my task to heart and made sure this lad wasn’t getting into too much trouble. Now, I ken yer mam would be proud of the man you’ve become, James, and the wife ye’re choosin’.” Murtagh smiled, as Claire stroked Jamie’s tear away with her thumb.

Murtagh continued his speech with anecdotes about Jamie’s childhood and love life, much to his audience’s delight. The love between Jamie and Claire was so palpable, leaving no doubt that the wedding was the right thing to do. It was the most unconventional union, but they couldn’t care less. It was full of love and commitment. After a bit, it was time to exchange the vows. This simple handfasting meant a lot more to Jamie and Claire. A royal wedding meant hundreds of guests and a broadcast on television, and this was their only chance to own a little bit of privacy in such an intimate moment.

“I, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, take thee, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” Smiling broadly, Jamie brought Claire’s hand to his lips before she could repeat the vows in turn.

Claire repeated, softly, “I, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, take thee, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” At that moment, Claire realized that she meant each word with all her heart and a delightful shiver took over her body.

Murtagh clasped their hands together with a cord and Jamie smiled, his eyes beaming with love for his principessa. Together, eyes locked, they repeated in Gaelic:

“You are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone,I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.I give ye my Spirit, ‘til our Life shall be Done.”

“Aye, ye may kiss yer bride, Jamie lad.” Murtagh grinned, patting his arm.

Jamie didn’t need more to pull his principessa close to him and seal their lips, with the promise of love, eternity and protection. Claire wrapped her arms around his neck and melted into his kiss.

Claire Elizabeth Fraser, it sounded quite alright.

“Hooray!” Mrs Fitz exclaimed as everyone erupted in cheers and applause for the couple. She distributed another round of whisky glasses and raised hers, smiling widely. “Slainte!”

“Slainte!” Everyone repeated with broad smiles.

Claire looked at Jamie and kissed him again, tasting the whisky on his lips. “I love you, Your Royal Asshole.”

“And I ye, Yer Royal Highness,” Jamie smirked.

Claire chuckled, resting her head on his chest. This was the best Christmas day she ever had and she couldn’t wait for the next ones to celebrate them with Jamie.

_____

The rest of the day was spent celebrating the love between the couple with whisky and desserts flooding by the good graces of Mrs Fitz. The lady was a magician in the kitchen and Claire was sure the carrot cake was the best she had ever tasted in her life. It felt great to have Joe and Geillis with her and she finally had a chance to know John better. She was aware how much he meant to Jamie and she was glad he accepted her completely.

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. Less than a week ago, she was devastated and heartbroken, thinking she would never be happy with Jamie again and now, she was his wife. It might not be official for the church yet but Jamie joked as the future king, he was above law and hence could do whatever he wanted.

A warm and relaxing bath was exactly what they both needed after such an eventful day. Just to be together, alone.

Jamie’s arms wrapped around her body, his finger tracing invisible patterns on her stomach while he delicately kissed the skin behind her ear, sending a delightful shiver through her body. “I dinna think I could be happier right now, principessa.”

Claire turned her head and looked at him with a smile. The giddy feeling she was experiencing wasn’t all due to the whisky she consumed during the day. “Today was simply perfect.”

“Mrs Fraser,” Jamie whispered softly before sealing their lips for the countless time today. “Thank ye for loving me.”

Claire smirked against his lips. “You know, I don’t think that’s something I could very much control, it just happened, but you are welcome.”

Jamie chuckled, wrapping his arms tighter. “Still, I’m glad ye chose to spend the rest of yer life wi’ me.”

“Yes well, forever does seems like a really long time when you think about it,” Claire teased, bringing his hand to her lips.

“I dinna think it’s long enough for me, principessa.” He smiled, kissing her head  “Wi’ ye, I will always need more and more.”

“And more,” Claire repeated, nuzzling his neck. “I’m glad we can have privacy, at least for now, even if I’m sad I’ll have to hide the ring until we announce the engagement, I’m not ready to share you.”

“Aye, the ring suits ye,” he smiled, stroking the curls that escaped her messy bun. “I will get ye one to wear every day that no one will suspect is a wedding ring.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Claire smiled, kissing the warm skin of his neck. “I belong to you, and you’ve stamped my heart permanently.  I don’t need a ring to know it.” She looked at him, then, her eyes full of love, and smiled warmly. Her fingers stroked his chin. “Don’t shave tomorrow.”

“No?” He frowned  “But it’s been four days now.”

“I like it,” Claire rubbed her nose against his cheek. “The way it feels on my skin, it’s different”

“Different?” His mouth curled up into a smirk. “Yer wish is my command then, mo chridhe.”

“Don’t you think we should get out? We’ve been in this water for far too long.” Claire chuckled, looking at her wrinkled fingers and sat up.

“Aye, and it’s getting a wee bit cold.” Jamie agreed, stepping out of the tub before his wife. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he grabbed a bathrobe and held it open for Claire to get in. Jamie wrapped it around her and held her close, warming her.

“Such husband material,” Claire smirked, leaning against him. “So far, I’m not regretting this decision.”

Jamie rested his chin on her shoulder, grinning. “Ye will never regret it. I will take such good care of ye, spoil ye, love ye, make ye laugh, and all, for the rest of yer life.”

“This sounds fairly exciting, darling,” Claire smirked, looking at him. “You know what, I just realised I didn’t get you a Christmas present! This marriage is starting out quite well.”

Jamie smiled and turned her around. “Claire, today ye gave me the best present I could have ever hoped for and I dinna think something could ever top that.”

Wrapping her arms around his neck, Claire tilted her head and smiled. “I love you.”

“And I ye,” Jamie leaned down, sealing their lips.

“Lose the towel,” she whispered against his lips before walking into the bedroom, losing her own bathrobe along the way, much to her husband’s delight.

Jamie quickly followed her, completely under her spell, and spend the majority of the night showing his wife how thankful he was for her. As they drifted to sleep, peaceful and in love, Claire realized life wasn’t always perfect but sometimes…fairytales did come true. 

End of Arc I

Chapter Text

The wedding of the century.

That’s what the press called it, anyway. The 16th of June would stay in people’s memories as the day when His Royal Highness James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser married commoner Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, for the world to see. What the world didn’t know, was that the couple had been secretly married for almost four years.

Hiding in plain sight, as they say.

Claire had never been a nervous person, but the sheer idea of her marriage being broadcasted on television all over the world was simply terrifying to her. Every move would be scrutinised, every detail would be studied and everything would be printed in the press for days or even months after the event. Millions of people had started to gather in London days prior to the wedding, eagerly waiting for the big day.

Since the engagement news broke, every newspaper had Claire’s face stamped on it. So did the mugs, plates and cookie tin boxes — Joe even made sure to send her pictures of every item every time he stumbled on one them and he always managed to make her laugh. “You are the most famous woman in the world right now, Beauchamp, and it’s just getting started,” Joe had said and he had been right.

Sticking to tradition, Jamie and Claire had agreed to spend their final night as an “unwed” couple in separate accommodations. While Jamie stayed at the Clarence house with his friends, Claire stayed at the Chiltern Firehouse with her bridesmaids, which included Geillis, Jenny and Joe. The evening had begun with a gastronomic dinner by Pierre Gagnaire at Sketch, followed by relaxing massages and face masks at the hotel’s spa and finally, a dance party in Claire’s suite.

Apart from her friends, no one knew about the couple’s secret wedding at Balmoral, four years ago, not even Jenny and even less The King. Claire was glad they had been able to keep something to themselves before they would be thrown into public life for the rest of their lives. After the engagement announcement, Claire had renounced her career and the normal life she had known since she was a child, to be with Jamie. Even as scared as she was, she had no doubt this was the right decision.

Lying in a king size bed, Claire reviewed the last four years of her life and couldn’t help but smile. She had never been the kind of little girl who dreamt to be a princess. It was quite the contrary, in fact, but she always wanted to bring change and happiness to the world. Now, she would now be able to it, with Jamie by her side.

Her thoughts were interrupted by her phone buzzing on the bedside table, and one glimpse at the screen made her mouth curl up into a smile. The picture of Jamie running naked in the snow had been taken at Balmoral on their third Christmas there and it now covered the phone’s screen.

“You’re going to get sick,” Claire said through tears of laughter as his royal highness, her husband, ran in the snowy garden stark naked.

“Ye said I wouldn’t dare to do it but ye ken I would do anything for a kiss, Claire!” Jamie stated in between a few gaelic curses, still running. “Ah Dhia! It’s cold!”

“Fine! You’ll get your kiss! Come back here, I don’t want you to freeze to death.” Claire managed to take a picture and shook her head. “I’m going back in bed, if you want to be warmed, you better come right up!”

“On my way, principessa!”

Claire picked the phone up and smiled, leaning against the headboard. “Miss Beauchamp speaking?”

“Well, hello there, Miss Beauchamp,” said a deep warm voice with the loveliest mix of  Scottish and British accent.

“Who is it?” She grinned, teasing him.

Jamie laid against the headboard as well and smiled at the sound of his wife’s voice. “Well it’s yer husband, I was just calling to make sure ye weren’t changin’ yer wee mind and runnin’ away.”

“I wonder where I could run away without some journalist noticing, because that’s verra tempting and to answer your question, no I’m not changing my wee mind,” Claire smirked, absently twisting a curl.

“I am glad, mo chridhe, because I’m no’ done telling the world how much I love ye. In fact, I’m just gettin’ started.”

“I love you too, Jamie.” Claire smiled, but her voice hid an uncertainty she couldn’t hide and Jamie immediately picked it up.

“What is it? I can hear ye want to ask me something, principessa.”

“I… Well, I just wanted to ask you if you’re nervous too. It’s stupid because we’re already married, but I can’t help thinking about tomorrow and how everyone will look at me, at us.”

“Of course I’m nervous. I might be born into it, but this doesn’t mean that I’ll ever get used to the spotlight. Even more now that ye’re by my side. I’m more scared now, because I’m no’ alone anymore, and I dinna want to fail ye by not protecting ye properly.”

“Well, we’ve proven we can be discreet if we want to. I know things changed since the engagement, but we can still escape if it gets too much and as long as I’m with you, I’m good, James Fraser.”

“I promised ye once to protect ye and cherish ye for the rest of my days and I’ll do it again tomorrow. I’m a man of my word, Claire Fraser.”

“I know you are, my love.” She smiled. “And I can’t wait to kiss you again tomorrow.”

“Trust me, Sassenach, I canna wait either! And to see ye so bonny in yer white dress… Not that I dinna like the pyjamas the first time, mind ye…”

Claire laughed at the memory. “I loved those pyjamas! But I can’t wait to show you the dress.”

“Can I keep talking to ye all night, mo chridhe?”

“You’ll have the rest of your life to talk to me all night, Jamie. I’d like to sleep and be well rested for marrying my prince tomorrow.”

“Oh, yer prince aye? Is he nice?” Jamie asked coyly, leaning back into the pillows.

“That’s actually none of your business and if you’re trying to start a phone sex conversation, think again your royal asshole.”

Jamie burst into a laugh. “Ye keep me grounded, principessa. That’s why I marry ye!”

“Only for that?” She grinned.

“Ouch no. Ye’re intelligent, witty, beautiful, and ye have the roundest arse I have ever seen, but I canna get into those wee details right now.”

“Well, think about those wee details and have a great night of sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Aye, Goodnight, principessa”

“Good night, darling.” She smiled. “Dream of me.”

“Ye ken I will,” He said, smiling too.

____

Claire slept surprisingly well and woke up before her alarm clock. She was nervous but managed to get some food in her stomach before she had to get ready. Joe had turned on the TV, and every network was talking about her impending nuptials to Jamie, showing the crowds of people gathered in London and all over the country to watch the event – it warmed her heart to see so many people accepting her and loving her, even if it was odd to be known to all these strangers. What was even weirder, was betting on who was the designer of her wedding dress.

Hair and makeup didn’t take long, as she wanted something simple and elegant – her cheeks flushed with some Glossier paint cloud in haze and her hair tied in a low updo. The shoes were satin white jewelled buckled Manolos and the dress was custom made by Emilia Wickstead, one of Claire’s favourite British designer – accompanied by a veil of Scottish lace, gracing her head, held by Jamie’s great-grandmother classic nineteenth-century tiara of 200 carats of diamonds set in gold and silver. The same that Ellen Fraser wore on her wedding day. That was heavy, both in weight and in meaning.

Standing in front of the mirror, looking at herself, Claire couldn’t believe the sight in front of her eyes –  It wasn’t the glitz of the wedding nor the expensive attire she was wearing, after all behind it all, it was still old and normal Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp – she didn’t care about her title and even less about being a princess. What mattered to her was just how much Jamie loved her, more than anyone ever had.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Joe said, looking at her with a warm smile. “You do look the part, darling.”

“I wasn’t nervous… Until now.” Claire admitted, fidgeting with the silver ring Jamie had given her a few days after their handfasting at Balmoral. She wore it on her right hand and no one had ever realised it was her wedding band.

“If you weren’t nervous I think you’d be dead, Beauchamp,” Joe smirked. “I am nervous and it’s not even my wedding! Though I don’t believe my wedding would be so much talked about… Sadly.” He sighed, getting up. “I guess no one will ever understand the princess that I actually am.”

Claire chuckled, slowly starting to relax.  “Okay, I think it’s time to go.”

Everyone made their way downstairs, followed closely by Claire, and got into their respective cars. Claire was Jenny and Ian’s children, five-year-old Margaret and seven-year-old Ian for the fifteen-minute drive that would bring them to Westminster Abbey. The reality of the situation didn’t hit Claire until the car started its drive and she saw the masses of people waving and cheering for her when she waved back – it was like on TV, except, this was her life now.

“So many people!” Margaret chuckled, waving enthusiastically. “Are they all here for me?”

“Yes darling, most likely,” Claire smirked, smoothing the young girl’s blonde curls back.

Maggie giggled and stuck her nose to the window, waving during the rest of the journey.

_____

The crowd cheers vibrated through the walls of the Abbey as Claire stepped out of the car, making Jamie stand straighter at once, hands clasped behind his back.

It was time.

The music started, and he felt the need to turn to see Claire even though he couldn’t,  just to get a glimpse of her whisky eyes looking at him reassuringly. He couldn’t imagine how she might be feeling – his own stomach tight into a knot – but he hoped she knew how thankful he was for all the sacrifices she accepted to make to be by his side. There were four empty chairs on the front row – one for Ellen, two others for Henry and Julia Beauchamp and the last one for Lambert, Claire’s uncle. They might not have been there but their spirits were very much present, casting a light on the couple about to make promises of a lifetime together before God.

The three minutes it took Claire to make her way through the abbey alone and to arrive next to Jamie seemed to be interminable, but the moment his eyes lay on her, she took his breath away. There was nothing else going on around him now, just the sight of Claire, and it was enchanting him. “Christ…” Jamie whispered with a smile, taking in the sight of Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser in a wedding dress. Delicately, Jamie pulled the veil away from her beautiful face and got drunk into the whisky in her eyes.  

The ceremony was punctuated by prayers, a reading of a Pablo Neruda poem by the aunt of the groom and a choir singing acapella ‘Your Song’ by Elton John, but most importantly, it was full of love – radiating from Jamie and Claire, eyes always locked and hands tightly clasped together.

“I, James Alexander Malcolm, take you, Claire Elizabeth, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God, I make this vow.”

“I Claire Elizabeth, take you, James Alexander Malcolm, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God, I make this vow.”

The exchange of the ring was done in complete silence from the crowd, more vows repeated by the bride and groom: “I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body, I honour you, all that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

All eyes glued on them, no matter where were the people watching the ceremony – be in the abbey, outside in the streets, in the comfort of a home or in public parks. Eyes that saw two simple and thin gold bands gracing their fingers and making James Fraser the first prince in the history of the monarchy to wear a ring to honour his wife.

Tenderly, he brought her hand to his lips and placed a kiss on her ring, his eyes locked with hers, and his royal highness smiled warmly.

“I now pronounce you man and wife.” The priest said, taking them both out of their little bubble and Jamie leaned down, sealing his lips with hers. He didn’t realize that the vibration that ran through the abbey, like a wave crashing against the rocks full force, was the claps from the people, both inside and outside, cheering happily for the Duke and Duchess of Lallybroch.

“I love you,” Claire whispered with a smile, her hand cupping his cheek.

“Tha gaol agam ort, principessa.”

______

“Christ, ye are so beautiful,” Jamie said softly, stroking his wife’s cheek. After the ceremony, they got back to the Palace in the carriage, waving at the people and Claire joking about how much her hand was going to ache afterwards. After saluting the crowd, they had spent a good chunk of the hour taking official pictures with the photographer and they were now about to depart for Windsor, to continue the rest of the celebrations before leaving for their honeymoon in a couple of days. “I canna wait to take this dress off ye,” Jamie added softly, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Claire chuckled. “Well, the day is going to be long so you’ll have to be patient.”

“I dinna ken what patience is,” Jamie smirked.

“Learn to ken it, Fraser!” Claire kissed his cheek. “And it’s not even this dress you’ll get to remove tonight, I have to get changed before we leave.”

“Can I watch while ye change?” Jamie’s puppy eyes made her burst into a laugh.

“No! Don’t you have to change as well?” Claire raised her eyebrow.

“Oh aye, I have, but we can change in the same room if ye ken my meaning.” Jamie wiggled his eyebrows

“I wonder if people are aware of the kind of horndog they’ll get as their next King.”

“Tis’ not my fault the next Queen is smokin’ hot. I was simply lucky enough to bump into her in a hall.”

“Lucky, huh?” Claire wrapped her arms around his neck, enjoying to be alone with her husband for the first time in a while.

“It was more fate than luck, I believe.” Jamie pressed her closer, stroking her cheek with his thumb. “A long time ago, my mam told me how I was born to do great things, to govern a country over and to take care of my people and I believed her. But when I met ye, I kent she wasn’t entirely right.”

“Then what were you born for?” Claire asked softly, stroking her husband’s fiery red hair.

“I was born for you, Claire Elizabeth Fraser. Every fibre of my being was made to worship ye, to protect ye and to take care of ye. My soul has been waiting for yours since life was created on earth and my body was molded to perfectly fit yers. I’m a simple man, wi’out much knowledge, but if I am certain one thing, tis’ that, mo chridhe.”

“You’re anything but a simple man, Jamie.” Claire’s mouth curled up into a smile and she held him close, soaking in the peace of their alone time together. “But you’re mine and that’s about all I’ll ever need.”

Chapter Text

A garden party was not the way Claire Fraser thought she would spend her honeymoon, but after a few days alone at Balmoral, the couple was needed back in London and their trip to Africa would have to wait a few more weeks. Royal obligations came before everything else.  

The Duke and the Duchess of Lallybroch had been officially married for two weeks when they attended the King’s annual summer garden party at the Palace – this year in honour of the heir to the throne and his bride. 

The guests were buzzing with the anticipation to finally meet the new addition to the royal family. Since she had been introduced to the world as James Fraser’s fiancée, Claire had become a phenomenon. She was adored by people all over the world and her every single one of her step was scrutinized and talked about. It wasn’t going to change now that she was married to Jamie – quite the contrary. 

Claire stood in their bedroom, still in her underwear, attentively studying the rack of expensive clothes her stylist had sent to her the day before. Dresses, shoes, clutches and hats all starring right back at the Duchess who had no idea of what to choose.

There were so many stupid protocol rules she had to follow, and her head was spinning just thinking about them and trying to remember them all. The weirdest – and funniest – one was probably the one forbidding them to play monopoly and even worse, no one could answer Claire when she asked why it was prohibited. When it came to clothes, casual clothing wasn’t much of an option, even less for a party thrown by the King.

“Principessa, tis’ no’ that I dinna enjoy the sight of ye in lingerie but if ye keep staring at the rack, we’re going to be late.” Jamie grinned, amused, and wrapped his arms around his wife as he walked to stand behind her.

“I never thought I’d be the kind of person who says this, but I don’t know what to wear.”

“Ye could wear a trash bag and still look lovely, Claire and ye ken it.”

“Duchess of Lallybroch, as the true fashionista she is, experiments with materials for her first garden party.” Claire grinned, making her husband laugh

“That is a very tempting outfit to wear just so I can see people’s reactions from it.” She admitted, turning her head to look at Jamie. 

“No matter what ye chose to wear, ye’ll look amazing.” He smirked, fondling her breast. 

“I thought you said we were going to be late?”  

“Maybe everyone else will simply be too early… I canna see ye and not want ye, yer Highness.” His long fingers stroked the delicate skin on the inside of her thighs, sending a delightful shiver across her body. Claire leaned against his toned chest.

“Jamie… I am not showing up late at my first official engagement.”

“Dinna fash, people ken how newlyweds are and I’ve never been known to be punctual.”

“Yeah, that I have noticed,” she grinned.

“Tis’ no the subject right now.” Jamie turned her around and made her sit on the window sill.

“What are you doing?” She asked her husband, smirking, but the glint in his eyes was the only answer she’d need.

“Ye need to relax, and I’m the only one who kens how to make ye do just that.” Jamie knelt down and removed her expensive lace knickers with his teeth – a sight Claire found as sexy as it was amusing.

“James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.” She rasped. 

“Full name, eh? Am I in trouble?” Jamie asked, trailing kisses along her thigh and smiling coyly against her skin.

“If you dare stop now, you’ll most likely be,” Claire mumbled, running her fingers through his copper hair.

“If I dare? I thought ye dinna want to be late?” Jamie looked at her,  a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Are you going to keep using that mouth for talking?” Claire placed her foot on his chest, preventing him to move.

“Ouch no, I had other plans, principessa.” Jamie slowly opened her legs and this time, his wife had nothing to else to say except for a delighted moan that came out of her mouth as soon as his tongue touched her most sensitive spot.

Jamie knew her body and the way it responded to him by heart – where to kiss, to touch, to caress, to worship. His hands held her firmly as his head was buried between her legs. His mouth continued to press against her and he placed the palm of his hand on her belly, keeping her from squirming.

“Dinna move, principessa,” Jamie chuckled and the vibrations sent chills over Claire’s body. Like an expert, his tongue swirled around and she arched her back off the window as he slid one long finger inside her.

Claire let a moan escape her lips. It resonated in the gigantic bedroom and made her husband smirk against her.

Jamie knew very well how to drive her over the edge, but what he also knew, was how to drive her crazy. He took his time, feeling her fingers tangled in his hair and hearing his name escaping her lips, his wife begging for more — and more he gave her — until Claire’s body completely surrendered to him and she climaxed, her fingers gripping his hair and her breath coming in gasps.

“Oh god,” she panted, her whisky eyes honey glazed from pleasure.

“No just me, principessa.” He said with a proud grin before getting up again and pulling her to him. “I’m afraid we might be a wee late.”

“There’s not much we can do about it now” wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed him tenderly, tasting herself on his lips.

“Aye, indeed” His mouth curled up into a smile against hers and he lifted her up. “Let’s find ye something to wear.”

Eventually, Claire settled for a fitted red dress by Erdem, with a matching fascinator by Philip Tracey and black heels – while Jamie fixed his own suit and fiddled with his tie.

“Come here.” Claire stood in front of him and fixed his tie before sealing their lips. “Now you look perfect.”

Smiling, Jamie stroked her cheek. “Ye look sae beautiful, mo ghraidh. The red suits ye and yer wee hat as well.”

“Glad you think so.” Claire kissed his cheek “Now let’s go, we’re already late.”

“Dinna blame it on me!”

“I blame it all on you… but I’m not complaining.” Grinning, she smacked his bum. “

____

The King’s summer garden party was the place to be at the beginning of the holidays – guests including politicians, celebrities, aristocrats. It was the British Gotha of people. The celebration was held in the luxurious gardens of the Palace, where champagne and appetizers – both sweet and savoury – were served in abundance, much to everyone’s pleasure. 

The Duke and Duchess of Lallybroch arrived indeed late, but no one seemed to mind that tiny detail as they were too busy gushing over the newlyweds and how lovely they looked together.

Claire felt weirdly at ease greeting the guests – always a kind smile and polite small talk, making the person she was talking to feel important and happy. She navigated through the crowd as if she had done that all her life, while Jamie stood next to her, a proud grin on his face and his hand resting on her lower back.

It wasn’t until the last couple of guests that Claire tensed at the sight of Geneva Dunsany, dressed in a bright lime dress with a matching hat and shoes that made her look like a tennis ball. Over the years, and after their confrontation when Claire had started to date the prince, she had seen Geneva on campus briefly and she had always been greeted with the fellow English student’s angry glare and muffled insults.

When they decided whom to put on the guest list for their wedding, to invite the Dunsanys was out of the question, even though Lord Dunsany had been a close friend of Brian Fraser for years. Claire felt tense, but the second she saw Geneva noticing her and smiling forcibly, the Duchess’ mouth curled up into an amused smirk. Jamie had stopped behind her somewhere, busy talking to the prime minister and she was alone to greet her.  

“Your majesty.” The young aristocrat said softly, curtseying, as Claire stood in front of her.

“Geneviève, it has been awhile,” Claire smirked at the sight, she knew protocol and there was no way Geneva could address her by her name.

“It has.” Geneva got up, trying to get her heel out of the grass. “Congratulations on your nuptials,” she added with a fake smile.

“That is so kind of you to say, thank you.” Claire smiled politely. “ I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks.” 

“It did look quite lovely, not that I would know since I wasn’t there.” Geneva snapped.

“Indeed we had such a blast at Windsor during the party but I’m sure you can understand we couldn’t invite everyone”

“I do understand, very well,” Geneva mumbled, her dark eyes fixed on Claire. “Impressive how you’ve managed to hold onto James all this time, I didn’t think it would get past the first semester of university.”

“I’ve heard you are engaged to Lord Ellesmere?” Claire changed the subject quickly – she didn’t want to think about the time she broke up with Jamie because Geneva sold some pictures to the press and she freaked out, it was a long time ago now.

“Congratulations, what an interesting man.” By interesting, Claire meant odd. The Lord was approaching his sixties, with a disgusting amount of money in his bank account and some castles around the country. There was nothing attractive about him.

“Thank you, Your Highness. We’re getting married in the fall, you would honour us if you’d attend the ceremony.”

“My husband and I will be travelling, but I’m sure you’ll have a lovely day. You must be so excited” Claire had mastered the art of shade – something Joe had taught her about after watching many episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“I am, indeed,” Geneva cringed. “So excited.”

“Your majesty, I do apologize to interrupt you but there are other people to greet, too.” Sarah, Claire’s assistant, chimed in with a smile. She knew exactly when to come to Claire’s rescue – something to which the Duchess was extremely grateful for, even if she was secretly having a blast with Geneva.

“Yes, of course, Sarah,” Claire responded before turning to Geneva again. 

“It was lovely to see you,” She lied with a gracious smile. “I truly didn’t know your type was elderly gentlemen, you learn something new every day.”

“You know exactly what kind of gentlemen are my type.” She responded, trying to control her anger as much as possible not to throw a tantrum like a child in front of everyone.

“Yes I do,” Claire smiled again “Too bad I’m your type’s type, isn’t it?”

Geneva didn’t respond and simply blinked. Claire could really well see how the spoiled young lady wanted to throw herself on the floor and scream for her father to fix the situation. Instead, Geneva only smiled as if she had broken glass in her mouth and curtseyed once more to Her Royal Highness Claire Fraser – who cursed herself for even engaging in her games but it was too late and she had other guests to greet.  

____

“She is a natural, isn’t she?” Brian Fraser said with a warm smile, as he stood on the balcony next to his son who was watching his new bride with tenderness. The afternoon was going smoothly and everyone seemed enamoured of Claire – everyone except Geneva but she faked it well. 

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, looking at his father briefly before turning back to observe Claire. “She is perfect.”

“How are you feeling, son? I must admit, the newlywed look suits you quite well.”

“I’ve never felt happier,” Jamie said sincerely, his mouth curling into a smile as his eyes were still fixed on his wife – who was happily chatting and laughing with a bunch of elderly ladies. “I’m a lucky man.”

“That you are. I am glad you have a woman like Claire to be by your side, son… Claire reminds me of your mother. Kindness was radiating out of her like it was the most natural thing in the world. It’s no’ easy to find your true love in this world, and even more so when you’re an heir to the throne.”

“I ken it isna simple but mam taught me well.”

“Yes, your mother did, indeed.” Brian looked at Jamie again, the sadness in his eyes by the simple mention of Ellen Fraser echoing the one of his son. 

“I miss her.” He said softly, so softly that Jamie thought he didn’t hear him right.

“Maybe she would still be wi’ us if ye dinna stick yer cock in some random hoor.” Jamie spat out, not turning to look at his father. 

“James, please.” Brian sighed. “Its neither the time nor the place to start a conversation like this.”

“Please, what? Ye ken where I stand on this. Aye, yer pain is valid but dinna act as if it wasn’t all of yer fault because it was. She wouldn’t have been in Paris and in that damn car if everything between ye two was going smoothly. And no, tis’ not the place for it, and I dinna want to talk about it either.”

“We need to talk about it one day. I am tired of living my life with my son alienated from me.”

Jamie looked at his father, an eyebrow raised. “I’m no’ the angry teenager who hated ye anymore, but I’m still angry and that won’t go away. What is it that ye want from me?

“I want you to forgive me… For the weak man that I was – that I am – causing your mother’s death. To this day, I still feel like a part of me is missing, because of a weak moment I had. I know I shouldn’t have cheated on your mother, even when our marriage wasn’t going well. It was a mistake that I will regret until the day I’ll draw my last breath on this earth.”  

Jamie nodded and sipped his whisky. “This won’t bring back my mother”

“Your mother was the love of my life, Jamie. You should understand even more now how it is to love someone so fiercely that your entire being feels consumed by it…”

“Aye,” he interrupted his father. 

“I understand verra well how it is to love someone so much, to be completely possessed. Christ, from the moment I’ve met Claire, I kent deep down I was made for her. I canna imagine a single second of my life spent without her anymore, and it looks like madness when I try. Ye know what else I canna imagine? Hurting her. I couldn’t bear to look at myself in a mirror if I ever did such a thing. I canna imagine how ye sleep at night, Da, knowing ye hurt the person ye loved the most and that she died because of it.”

With those words, Jamie finished his whisky in one gulp and walked back to the gardens in search of his wife – leaving Brian Fraser alone with his guilt and regrets.

Chapter Text

Claire had been to Africa three times – two were with her uncle Lambert for his archaeology researchs and the third one was with Jamie. He had surprised her with a safari as a graduation present and he thought it would be a good idea to announce their engagement to the public after their romantic getaway. The press had known about the heir to the throne not being single for a little while but he had asked to respect their privacy – mostly hers –until she would be properly introduced.

“Claire?” Jamie turned to look around as they were both lying in their tent after a day exploring. “Can I ask ye somethin’?” He didn’t know why he was nervous, technically, they were already married, even if only three people knew about it.

“What is it?” Claire asked, not taking her eyes off the book she was reading. There was not a sight the prince loved more than his wife naked and barely covered by a sheet, round glasses on the tip of her nose, and a book in hand.

“Ye ken I did this the first time in bed too and wi’ the same ring but…”

Claire turned her head to look at him and his words faded 

“But?” She smiled.

“I think it’s time for the world to know I want ye to be my wife, even if ye already are,” He grinned and brought her hand to his lips. “It’s time to introduce ye.”

“As?”

“As Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp - Fraser to be, the next Queen of England. We’re both graduating and I dinna want to keep hiding, I want everyone to know ye’re my wife.”

“I love this recurrent theme of you proposing while you’re naked, how do you expect me to say no when you’re in such a state, huh?” She grinned.

“Truth be told, Principessa, I expect ye to say yes.” He laughed and Claire let her book fall away to hug him tightly.

“Of course I will marry you…again,” Claire’s mouth curled up into a smirk before she kissed Jamie again. “I love you and even more, I love being married to you.”

“And I love ye,” Jamie smiled and slid her engagement ring on her finger. “Ye can take off the silver ring now.”

“No, I love that ring,” She smiled. “I’ll wear both, one on my left hand and the other on my right.”

Claire absently watched her left hand,  the light reflecting on the blue sapphire of her engagement ring. The thing that struck her the most in Africa was the light – it was so warm and inviting. 

Coming from England, where gloomy skies were the norm and light was something cherished and rare, it was a drastic change. They had chosen the Segera Retreat to spend their honeymoon, a little piece of paradise hidden in Kenya. Jamie was sound asleep next to her, naked and barely covered by the sheets, his red curls a mess from their night of love and his toned body, that seemed to have been sculpted by the gods.

Reaching to the bedside table, Claire grabbed her camera and took a picture of him. That’s something she loved to do, freezing memories in time for them to look back on and to show their children and grandchildren one day. Jamie had gotten her a vintage Leica for her birthday this year and ever since she’s been snapping away – much to his amusement.

“Mo nighean donn” Jamie whispered hoarsely, his eyes still closed.

“Good morning, my love,” Claire put the camera away and sealed their lips.

Jamie wrapped his arms around her equally naked body and pulled her closer. “Yer snapping me with yer wee camera again?”

“Yes, you created a monster when you gifted it to me,” She grinned, placing a kiss on his nose and making him smile. “How did you sleep, darling?”

“I didna get much sleep but it was nice,” He grinned and smacked her bum. “Are ye excited to start the safari today, mo chridhe?”

“Yes,” She smiled, resting her chin on his chest. “It’s going to be just great, but Jamie? Can we visit the orphanage we visited last time we came here when we’re done? I would love to see how everyone is doing”

“Aye, of course, we can,” He smiled. “I’ll make the arrangements and we can go.”

“Great,” she smiled and pecked his chest before getting up.

“Where are ye goin’?” Jamie asked, pouting.

“Getting dressed. The guide expects us around ten to start and it’s already well past nine. Now as much as I would love to laze around in bed all day with you, I really want to go on safari and if I recall, we did this all day yesterday after arriving,” She grinned, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Ye’re right,” He grinned. “I still have the bite marks to prove it, ye wee vixen.”

Claire laughed, the sound giving Jamie a rush of happiness and went to the bathroom to get ready.

******

“I have a surprise for ye,” Jamie said proudly as they walked out of their room. “And I think ye’re going to like it.”

“I always love your surprises! Except if it involves a snake, then I won’t like it one bit.”

“No,” He laughed. “Dinna fash, there is no snake involved.”

“I could make a whole lot of dirty jokes involving your snake at this moment but I will shut up and be the classy Duchess I’m supposed to be,” Claire grinned and followed closely behind him.

“Aye, ye are way too classy for me but I’m glad ye decided to marry me anyway,” He grinned and stopped walking to pull her close.

“And twice,” Claire wrapped her arms around his neck, slowly stroking the curls at the base of it.  “What a lucky man you are James Fraser.”

“The luckiest,” Jamie said honestly and smiled warmly. “I thank God every day for ye and when the day shall come, that we do part if my last words are not ‘I love you’, Claire —ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”

“I don’t want to think about the day we part, my love,” Claire whispered, stroking his bottom lip with her index finger.

“Me either but I’ll just tellin’ ye so ye won’t be mad if I dinna say it,” He grinned and placed a kiss on the tip of her nose before pulling a silk scarf out of his pocket “Now, yer surprise, turn around please.”

“Are you going to tie me up with that?” Claire raised an eyebrow and smirked before turning.

“I can do that later,” He whispered against the skin of her neck, exposed by the tank top she was wearing, and placed a kiss on her shoulder. He tied the scarf around her head to hide her eyes and took her hand. “Do ye trust me, Principessa?”

“With my life, darling,” She smiled and carefully followed him where he was leading her.

“Aye, I’m glad ye do,” Jamie kissed her hand again before they stopped and he removed the scarf. They stood in front of a yellow plane and Jamie grinned proudly, “Surprise!”

“You are shitting me?!” Claire made wide eyes, looking at the plane and then at her husband.

“Nope, I ken how much ye like Out Of Africa and the owner of the hotel happens to be an avid collector and he has the one used in the movie so I thought we could reenact that scene, ye Streep, me Redford.”

“I fucking love you,” Claire chuckled and wrapped her arms around his neck before kissing him tenderly, “So much.”

“I take it ye like yer wee surprise?” Jamie smirked but looked rather pleased with himself.  

“Oh I do and it reminds me of the time you flew us to Balmoral for the first time, even if I was pissed at you then – or at least I was making you think I was,” She grinned and kissed his jaw.

“Weel, I figured out quickly ye were no’ that mad at me and I put a ring on it,” He winked – badly – “My proudest achievement to date.”

“You know that in the movie, they bang afterwards, right?”

“Of course I do,” He grinned and handed her some aviator glasses. “But dinna ruin my romantic moment, aye?”

“Fine,” She grinned and put them on before Jamie helped her into the little plane and got in it too. “You know, Meryl has dark curly hair in that movie so I actually am going to pretend I’m her right now.”

“Suit yerself,” Jamie chuckled and started the engine. “I dinna exactly look like Robert Redford though, apologies madam,”

“You are more my type, dinna fash,” She grinned and put on her seatbelt.

“Good to ken,” Jamie turned his head to look at her with a smile. “Alright, hold tight mo chridhe.”

As they took off, Claire’s breath hissed but not from fear, from excitement. She had never been comfortable in planes — something surprising for someone who travelled so much — but when Jamie was the pilot, the knot in her stomach disappeared and she actually enjoyed flying. She was safe with him, and she trusted her husband with her life — even when they were thousands of feet in the air.

Jamie landed thirty minutes later near the reserve and got out of the plane first — a warm smile on his face — before he helped his wife out. “How did ye like it, Principessa?”

“I loved it! The view was unlike anything I’ve seen before,” She wrapped her arms around his neck and sealed their lips — the adrenaline from the flight coming up to the surface. “Thank you, darling”

“I thought we could use a better way of transport than the jeep, aye?”

“Aye,” Claire whispered against his lips before kissing him again — hungry for him.

“Claire…” he rasped, his hand sliding to take a firm hold on her buttocks. “The guide will arrive any minute now…”

“I don’t care” She whispered against his lips. 

Someone cleared its throat behind them and they turned their heads to find their guide, a tall blonde woman who looked more like a model in a safari editorial than an actual guide.

“Hi,” Claire said with a smile, reluctantly stepping away from her husband. “I’m Claire Fraser” She didn’t need to introduce herself, everyone knew who she was now, but she did just to mark her territory as the guide’s eyes lingered on Jamie a tad too long.

“Your majesty,” The guide curtsied with a smiled. “I’m Sara, I’ll be your guide for the next few days. Your bags have arrived and are waiting in the car already, we’ll start on the tour and your tent awaits you for tonight.”  

“Thank you, Sara but please there’s no need to curtsy or to call me or my husband your majesty,” Claire smiled and shook hands with the lady.

“Aye, like my wife said. Nice to meet ye, Sara,” Jamie smiled and shook hands with the woman whose face was a bit flushed now.

******

They were back at the hotel four days later – with full hearts and a head packed with memories. Claire didn’t think she would get bored with the sights around her. Wild animals, breathtaking landscapes and her husband – his wild red curls flowing in the wind and the biggest smile on his face during their trip. She never thought she could love anyone that much until she had met him, that foggy October morning, in the hall of the university. It hadn’t exactly been love at first sight for her, but she couldn’t deny she was attracted, even if she was fighting it back then.

“What are ye thinkin’, mo chridhe?” Jamie asked softly, his hand stroking her freshly washed curls. They were on the lounger, quietly rocking away – soothed by the sounds of Africa.

“Just that I’m having the best time,” She smiled, looking up at him. “Being here, with you. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

“I’m glad ye think so,” He smiled. “I feel the same, the best moments wi’ ye are the ones when we’re only together, in a wee bubble of peace.”

“That’s true, and the safari was amazing, even if the guide only had eyes for you,” She chuckled. Sara had a bad crush on Jamie but it wasn’t anything to be pissed off about. If Claire knew something, it was how many women found Jamie attractive and perfect. After all, he was a good-looking prince, she couldn’t blame them.

“And I only have eyes for ye Principessa,” Jamie said honestly, his deep blue eyes shining as he watched her.

“It’s cute you know, to have all these women crushing over you while I’m the only one who knows you’re afraid of spiders and you snore rather loudly.”

Jamie burst into a laugh “I snore?! Nay, Principessa, that’s ye who snores in this relationship.”

“You think it’s me because you’re so loud you can hear yourself in your sleep, that’s it,” She grinned and sealed their lips. “But it’s fine, I signed on for better and for worse.”

“Ye seem to forget every man has a crush on ye, too. Not that I could blame them, mind ye.”

“Too bad for them, I’m a faithful animal.” Smiling, Claire rested her head on his shoulder and stroked his left hand – the cold metal of his wedding band warming her to the core. He was hers forever and she knew Jamie was a man of his word.

“That makes two of us,” Jamie held her close, kissing the top of her head.  

“Jamie…?”

“Aye? What it is?” He looked at her with a smile.

“Well I have been thinking about something since we arrived here. You know we’re going to visit the orphanage tomorrow so I was wondering if you’d want to adopt a child? We don’t have to do it right away and these procedures take quite some time anyway but I’d love to.”

“Adopt a child?” Jamie frowned, removing his arm from around her shoulder. “Ye dinna want to have our own?”

“Of course I do, it has never been a question of that. I always wanted to be a mother and, marrying you, I knew we would have children but I think we could adopt one as well.” She smiled, stroking his hand. “I talked with your father about it and he said we could adopt.”

“Ye talked to my father about it? Christ, Claire, it’s none of his business!” Getting up, he sighed and put his hands in his pockets, avoiding his wife’s eyes.

“I wanted to know if it was possible to adopt being that we’re not exactly in a normal family, Jamie. And frankly, I didn’t want to go through all the laws or protocol, it was just easier to ask him directly.”

“And when exactly did ye do that?”

“Before we left, we had tea together when you were working with your sister.”

“Oh so now ye see my father wi’out me knowing about it, great.”

“Wait, do you have a problem with that?” Claire got up as well and went to stand in front of him. “He’s my father-in-law and newsflash, I actually love spending time with him.”

“He’s no’ a good man.”

“Do we have to talk again how maybe you should have a good discussion with him once and for all?”

“No. Ye dinna understand how it is to lose a parent and to remember about it, Claire. Aye, ye lost both of yers but it’s no’ the same.”

Claire blinked and looked at him. She knew whenever the subject of his father came up, Jamie closed himself in his grief and became an ass. He didn’t mean what he said but it was still a painful pill to swallow “I’m going to move right past what you just said and act as if I never heard it and I’ll just tell you this, James Fraser: your father made a mistake, one that led to your mother’s passing but if there’s one thing I know for sure is how much the regret and the guilt is eating away at him every single day. Your pain is valid but so is his. Do you think your mother would be happy seeing you two wrecking each other to bits like that?”

Jamie was silent, his eyes fixed on the horizon.

“He is trying to reach out to you but you don’t want to hear it! Forgiving him won’t remove the love and respect you have for your mother but one day, Jamie, your father won’t be here anymore and you’ll wonder why the fuck you didn’t make more of an effort!”

“Ye dinna understand,” Jamie said softly. He couldn’t bear to look at her.

“I think I do. I understand you’re an entitled asshole right now. What is it really? The fact that I talked to your father about something or the fact that I want us to adopt a child? Because you didn’t seem thrilled about that idea, either.”

“I dinna ken if I can love a child, who isna ours completely and I dinna want ye to hate me for it.” He said honestly and Claire could hear the fears in his voice. She was thankful for his honesty but she was sad. An orphan herself, she knew all too well what children would go through if they didn’t have a family and she would forever be thankful for her uncle who raised her as his own.

“Oh please, at least give yourself more credit than that, you know you could. But I don’t want to talk about this anymore tonight.” Claire went inside and got changed quickly before laying in bed. She could see him still standing where she had left him – head down in shame and probably with his eyes closed.

Closing her own, Claire tried to succumb to slumber but her mind didn’t want to shut up. If there was one thing she hated more than anything else, it was arguing with Jamie. Thankfully, it didn’t happen often but when it did, she knew the best course of action was to let it cool down for a bit before talking things through – but when things involved Brian Fraser and his son, it wasn’t that simple. She understood Jamie’s anger but she knew him as well and she knew there was still love for his father, somewhere deep down, and she simply hoped to make her husband realise it as well.

Claire heard Jamie’s phone then – and sat up at once. They had agreed phones would only be for emergencies during their honeymoon and as Jamie stepped inside the room again, his eyes puffy – from their arguing she assumed – and his face anxious – she knew it was something important.

“Claire…it was the Palace.” He said softly “It’s my Da.”

Chapter Text

The call came from the Palace, right after their argument – the King had a heart attack during the night and was now in a coma after a surgery and being taken care of by his doctors. Jamie and Claire left the hotel as soon as they were dressed and packed, a car already waiting to take them to the private airport to fly back to England.

The flight was held in a heavy silence: the argument still hanging in the air between the couple and they both knew it wasn’t the time nor the place to pick up on it again and try to solve it. Claire also knew silence would give Jamie some headspace to think about what was going with his father.

She had told Jamie so many times to talk with his father because one day it would be too late. He knew she was right but there had always been something in his head telling him his father would live forever – and in a way, he would – in history books and museums, and in the hearts of the people who loved him – just like his mother.

Thirteen hours of flight, Claire managed to fall asleep, while Jamie stayed awake – thinking about what was happening. First of all, his father was on his deathbed and he was praying to have enough time to make peace with Brian Fraser before he drew his last breath. No matter what the doctors said, a part of him hoped his father would make it – could make it – but Jamie remembered that even if his father was a King, he was also a man, made of flesh and bone and a beating heart that could stop any second.

Something else worried Jamie – panicked him, even.

If his father was to die now, he would instantly become King and no matter what, he didn’t think he was ready for that just yet -- to be completely honest – Jamie didn’t even think he’d ever be ready to face a responsibility such as this. 

As a child, he had understood early on exactly what he was: heir to a throne, and not just any throne, the most important one in Europe. Ellen Fraser prepared him for it but also treated him like any normal child, as normal as one could be. Jamie also remembered how much he admired his father, for the way he treated people with kindness and for the way he decided to govern a country with integrity and strength.  

“Listen, Jamie lad, always remember people’s names. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and it can make someone’s day.” Brian said with a smile at his 8-year-old son while fixing his tie.

“Da, I dinna ken what makes a great King” Jamie sighed, burying his head in his hands.

“Son” Brian sat down next to him and patted his back softly “Kindness does. Always be kind because it’s an underrated quality. It doesn’t cost anything but it makes the world a much better place.”

“Mam said the same,” Jamie looked at his father with a smile.

“Yes, she’s a smart lass, your mother,” Brian smiled fondly. “You know, James, there’s also something else important to be a great King.”

“What is it?”

“Behind every man, there is a great woman. Find yourself someone who will support you, love you unconditionally but most importantly, who will not be afraid to tell you when you act like a fool.”

“But Da, how will I ken the right one?” Jamie frowned.

“Oh, you’ll know as soon as you’ll see her,” Smiling, Brian smoothed his son’s fiery red hair – the same ones he shared with his mother. “Trust me, I might not know a lot of things but I know that for sure.”

Jamie nodded seriously, mentally making notes of what his father was saying. “And ye knew it with Mam, then?”

“Oh yes, I knew it right away”

“What did ye knew, uh?” Ellen Fraser appeared in the room, a smirk on her gorgeous face.  

“That you were the only one for me, darling,” Brian reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. “I knew it from the first moment I saw you riding that horse at Balmoral and then my feelings were reinforced the minute you told me to piss off.”

Ellen laughed and sat down on her husband’s lap “Good to know and why are ye two having this serious conversation? Jamie, is there something ye’d like to tell yer mother?”

“Nay, I dinna find a girl I like yet” Jamie made a face and got up at once to walk out of the room and left his parents on their own, laughing.

His father had been right, the moment Jamie had met Claire, he just knew and it had been as if he had known her all his life, as if, their souls had been connected even before they had been born but most importantly, he knew she would always be by his side, supporting him and helping him through everything.

For better and for worse.

*****

Balmoral was the last place Jamie expected to find himself after the long flight from Africa but he had been notified the plane would land in Scotland, as Brian was there when his heart attack happened. He never went there anymore, not since Ellen’s passing, and Jamie wondered exactly why his father had finally resigned himself to go back to the place he had met his true love, all those years ago. 

“I’m Ellen,” The fiery redhead said, getting off her horse, “I went on a wee ride while waitin’ for yer royal highness’ arrival. Punctuality isna yer thing, uh?” 

Brian was fascinated – both by her beauty and her wit – and smiled like an idiot “I do apologise, I’m afraid punctuality is indeed not my forte” 

Smirking, Ellen curtsied “I ken ye probably think ye dinna need an introduction but ye could at least introduce yerself”

Brian blushed furiously “I’m sorry, where are my manners. I’m Brian Robert David Fraser, at yer service madam” 

“Oh if we’re goin’ full name then I’m Ellen Caitriona Sileas MacKenzie” She smirked and watched his dark hazel eyes. 

Without a word, the prince brought her hand to his lips and delicately deposited a kiss on it. “Do not think me too forward but will you marry me?” 

“Piss off,” Ellen mouth curled up into a smile and shook her head  “Not until I know ye can ride a horse properly and even then, I should consider yer offer”

“Fair enough” Brian chuckled and got onto her horse before holding out his hand to her “Madam?” 

It was a special place for the Frasers, full of happy memories: Christmas mornings reading Dickens, Summer nights horse rides, weddings, honeymoons,… Jamie remembered countless times he found himself utterly happy in Scotland, even more now that Claire was by his side. But today, as he stepped inside the castle, closely followed by his silent wife, something was shifting inside of him. He was scared to see his father – a man he had always seen standing straight and proud, a kind man but with an iron fist, who wasn’t frail and even less afraid. And as he opened the door to Brian’s room, the sight in front of him wasn’t the one of a King, but the one of a man.

“I think you need to be alone with him, Jamie,” Claire said softly, touching his hand – a tiny gesture that meant more to him that he could put into words. “I’ll be downstairs.”

“Claire…” Jamie said softly, looking at her, his blue eyes saddened and afraid.

Touching his cheek, she stroked it slowly with her thumb, “Just go in.”

Jamie simply nodded and kissed the inside of her hand before pushing the big wooden door and entering his parents’ former bedroom. The room was dark, save for a lamp on the bedside table illuminating his father’s poor state. The only sound inside was the beep of the heart rate monitor. He remembered the day his mother died, he had been unable to say goodbye, to tell her just how much he loved her and how much he hoped she would be proud of him, and now, looking at his father lying unconscious in a bed, he realised maybe with him, this time, he would have the chance.

Sitting down next to the bed, his first reflex was to take his father’s hand – it wasn’t cold but it was inert. Jamie didn’t know how long he sat there, his eyes glued on the King, his father, he needed to say something – anything – but words failed him so he simply watched the slow rise and fall of his chest. 

When he was a child, Jamie saw his father as his hero but as he grew up, he realised even heroes have flaws. It took him a long time he was finally accepting it. 

After all, no one is perfect.

“Da…Dinna leave me yet, please.”Jamie finally spoke, letting the wall he built for so many years to keep his father away, slowly crumble. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable anymore, it was pointless to waste any more time trying to act like a tough man.  

“I dinna think I’m ready for it, I’m no’ ready to be wi’out ye and even less to take yer spot. There is so much I dinna ken yet.” He sighed, a tear rolling down his cheek. 

“I’m sorry about everything I said to ye, about everything I did to push ye away after Mam died… I was so angry, so sad, I dinna even think how ye must be feelin’, aye, things were no’ good between ye two but ye loved her, so much, I ken it. It wasna my place to judge, I understand it now…even if it’s too late.”

“I understand” His voice cracked. 

Jamie didn’t register the sound of the monitor’s noise anymore and his eyes were burning both from tiredness and from crying but he didn’t care. He wasn’t moving anytime soon. He knew it wouldn’t make up from the wasted years but it was something.  

“Claire is going to miss ye too” Jamie smiled softly, wiping his cheeks with his free hand – the other still holding his father’s. “Ye were right about her, she is truly the best and I often wonder why she decided to marry a daft like me but I ken I must be doing something right. I remember when I was a lad and I wondered why ye and mam always talked about one another but I ken know why, I canna shut up about her,” He chuckled softly.

“When ye see Mam, say hi to her for me aye? After ye’re done kissing and all, of course. I ken ye two will look over Claire and me, I promise I’ll do my best to be a good man and a good King, I’ll make ye two proud.”

Silence fell inside the room for a long moment. Jamie didn’t want to let go of his father’s hand and leave, he knew Brian didn’t have much longer, his heart weakening with each passing second.

“I love you, Da.” Jamie finally said, after years of silence and resentment towards his father. He didn’t expect much of a reaction from the King but he swore he felt his father’s hand squeezing his own.

*****

Claire laid on the bed of the master bedroom, staring at the ceiling – eyes and heart heavy. 

The first time she had slept in that room, it had resulted in an engagement to Jamie and her entire life changed. Before experiencing it, she had never suspected real life happened behind the palace walls, hidden from the public eye but it did. Growing up, she never envisioned herself to marry into royalty, it wasn’t something she particularly cared for nor did she think it would be possible and when she met Jamie, she would have never thought he’d be interested in her. Thinking about it all, Jamie was her person – it had been decided before their births and would continue in time,  long after their deaths – no matter his title.

They were made for one another.

She had vague memories of her parents, it wasn’t tangible things, more like the sound of her father’s laugh or the scent of her mother skin, without pictures, she knew she would have forgotten what they looked like with each passing year. In the years she had been with Jamie, Brian had become like a second father to her – or a third, after all, Lambert did a pretty good job too. Brian had accepted her into the family and took her under his wing, and she would always be thankful for it. She had been terrified to jump into this unknown world, afraid to look like a fool and to make mistakes.

“I never knew which one to use for what,” Brian whispered to his daughter in law with a grin, before picking up a random fork on his right.

“That’s reassuring,” Claire looked at him and chuckled softly.

“Nobody knows, they’re just pretending because they’re invited to the Palace and they think we’ll notice if they eat out of the wrong spoon but the truth is, we already have so many rules to know, I’m not going to bother with the table set.”

“Your sense of priorities makes you a great King,” Claire smiled.

“I’m a decent one, Jamie though, he will be a great King…just like his mother was a great Queen.”  

“You miss her very much,” Claire said softly “You have exactly the same expression as Jamie in your eyes when you talk about her.”

“Aye, I miss her every second of every day, I wish I could go back in time to fix my mistakes, though I might be King, I’m still a man and my title doesn’t make me more than anyone else.” Brian looked at her and smiled softly, “I’m glad you found Jamie, dear.”

“I’m glad he found me,” She smiled.

“And I’m happy it didn’t scare you off, just like my Ellen.” Brian smiled sadly, “She was a feisty lass, that one. And so are you, Claire.”

“Feisty might be the right word, yes,” She chuckled softly.

“Claire…” Jamie’s voice brought her out of her thoughts and she instantly sat up. The only lights in the room were from the fireplace and a few candles scattered around, making the place look like something from the 18th century, but Claire could see Jamie’s red and puffy eyes.

They were still not on good terms but no matter what, he needed her and she knew it. Claire held out her hand “Come here, my love.”

Jamie walked over to her and took her hand before getting onto the bed and burying his face into the crook of her neck. Her arms wrapped around his toned body and held him close – his safe haven, where nothing, or no one, could hurt him.

“I’m scared,” Jamie said softly, sadness and fears in his croaked voice. “I’m so scared, Claire. I’m no’ ready for him to go.”

“I’m here,” Claire whispered, kissing the top of his copper hair. “Jamie you’re exhausted, sleep a little at least.”

Shaking his head, he looked up at her, “I dinna think I can.”

“Come on,” Claire laid down with him and cradled his head, her arms tightly wrapped around his body.

“Ye ken I love ye, right?” Jamie whispered, looking at her with fear in his eyes.

“Of course I do and I love you right back…I know I don’t say it often enough but I do, so so much.”

“I’m sorry about what I said back at the hotel…” His words were cut off by her warm lips.

“Don’t. We’ll talk about this another time, you need to sleep”  Frasers were stubborn creatures but she knew after a long flight, jet lag and the time he spent at his father’s bedside, Jamie would fall asleep in a second – and she had been right. In her arms, he looked like a little boy and she never wanted to let go of him. She held him tightly before succumbing to slumber as well. 

******

Brian Robert David Fraser died peacefully at Balmoral, three days later, surrounded by his family and the spirit of his wife. The protocol was clear on the matter before the press would release the information, the Palace must contact the world’s various leaders and head of state, then, the operation called “London Bridge” would be on. 

Once the news had been broadcasted, a twelve day mourning period would follow before the King’s funeral in London will take place. 

In the blue room of the Scottish estate, where laughs and cries had resonated for so many years, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser was not only mourning a father, he also immediately became the next King of England.

Chapter Text

The coronation took place exactly a year ago – viewed and followed by millions, not only in the United Kingdom but also in the rest of the world. At only twenty-seven years old, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, first heir to the throne, became King and was sent into a life he had been prepared to live since he was a little boy…but wasn’t ready for.

Claire Fraser, Duchess of Lallybroch, became Queen Consort. People referred to her affectionately as Queen Claire, a title she had never been prepared for but that, somehow, she managed to fit in just perfectly. She was kind, elegant and always gracing people with a warm smile – making them feel like they’ve known her all her life. She was a natural.

To the public, they were the perfect couple. Young, beautiful, madly in love and powerful. However, in private, their marriage had started to deteriorate and neither one of them dared to talk about it.

Their first royal tour had lasted months, spreading over fifteen countries – countless hours spent inside an airplane or in a car waving to people and receding further away from one another. It took every last bit of energy they had left and they were both exhausted. Now, back in London and in the privacy of their own home, without staff nor scrutiny, Claire knew it was time to face the music.

Even if Claire’s body was still tired, and jetlag wasn’t helping, she woke up before Jamie. A sentiment of relief taking over her body. They were finally alone and back home, in the safe haven that was their little cocoon on the west wing of the castle – Claire had even forgotten how much she loved making her own tea in the morning. It was the little things that she took for granted, the stupid things like making her own bed, even if she never actually did it when she wasn’t a royal or the simple joy of walking around in underwear with no one to see — things she didn’t do now that she was Queen.

Claire missed her old life, the life she had before, even when she was with Jamie but they were secretly married and not yet on the throne. There were no obligations then, less scrutiny, but now, she wasn’t simply a Duchess, she was the Queen and she would be for the rest of her life.

The mug was warm in her hands and almost burnt her fingers as she held it tightly, her eyes were glued on Jamie who was asleep in their bed, his toned body tangled in the sheets. Claire was leaning against the doorframe and watched her husband attentively, the morning light hitting his copper hair and his gorgeous face, his chest rising with every breath… She loved this man fiercely but something had ruptured between them and it broke her heart to acknowledge it.

Jamie stirred slowly and opened his big blue eyes full of sleep – Claire could tell he was as exhausted as she was and he had not slept properly since his father’s passing. Slowly, she walked over their canopy bed with a soft smile, “Morning sleepy head.”

“Morning,” Jamie said with a hoarse morning voice and yawned, rubbing his eyes before sitting up a bit.

Claire put her mug on the bedside table before sitting down on the bed and kissing him tenderly, “Hello.”

“Christ Claire, I have mornin’ breath,” Jamie pulled away and looked at her – she wondered how long it had been since the last time he woke up in a good mood.

“As if we only started dating,” She teased and kissed his cheek, stroking his curls back, “Do you want some tea?”

“Aye, thank ye,” Jamie managed to smile and she handed him her mug before settling back again the pillows.

“I’m glad we’re home at last,” Claire took his free hand and entwined their fingers, “I’ve missed this place and I’ve missed being alone with you.”

“Ti’s good to be home for sure,” Jamie brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. No matter his mood, no matter how much tension there was between them, the love was there, rooted and most likely not going anywhere. There was no King nor Queen between these walls, it was simply Jamie and Claire.

“Darling,” Claire looked at him, really looked – something she hadn’t done in a while,  “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Jamie sipped some tea and let go of her hand to check his phone.

“So even at home, you’re going to serve me the same excuse you’ve been serving since we’ve been away?” Claire raised her eyebrows, irritated and mostly exasperated – not only because Jamie wasn’t himself but also because he didn’t feel like he could talk to her.

“Can ye no’? I’m tired,” Jamie huffed and put the mug on his bedside table before laying down again – eyes glued to the ceiling.

“Well so am I – and not only because of the jetlag,” Claire said in a low voice.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Looking up, Jamie finally met her eyes.

“You are not fine,” Claire looked at him, “You haven’t been fine since your father passed away and since then, you have been slowly shutting me off as well as your emotions.”

“I dinna want to argue wi’ ye,” Jamie mumbled, turning his stare back to the ceiling.

“I don’t want to argue either but don’t you think we need to talk about it? We’ve been letting it slide for too long and you know as well as I do that this isn’t good.”

Sighing, Jamie got up without a word and stood by the window, his eyes fixed on the perfectly groomed garden of the Palace. Claire watched him carefully, his toned body, his messy red curls. He was tense and he carried himself in a different way as if he had been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Claire got up and made her way over to him, reaching out to touch his arm, “Jamie…you’re hurting but if you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t do much to help you and it’s killing me.”

“I dinna need help,” Jamie huffed away from her touch, “I’m just tired.”

“Well me too but I think it’s more than tiredness from your part, Jamie,” Claire turned him around to make him look at her, sighing.

“Ye ken what ye signed up for when ye married me, are ye going to blame me now because my father died and we’re obliged to do our duties?”

“No that’s not what I’m saying. I knew we would have to do this one day, granted it happened way too soon but I promised you I would be by your side, no matter what. If we’re not a team now, we won’t last long.”

“Claire please, Dinna…” Jamie started, before being interrupted by her.

“You can’t handle the pressure, that’s what’s happening, isn’t it?” Claire crossed her arms and looked at him with raised eyebrows. She knew he needed a confrontation and she had promised him a long time ago she would be the one putting his ideas in place whenever needed be.

“I’m no’ ready to be King and I never was, I feel like I’m disappointing people…that I’m living in a lie,” Jamie said softly, his eyes admiring the wooden floor of their bedroom to avoid her stare.

“Jamie, it’s only been a year,” Claire cupped his cheeks and made him reluctantly look at her, “Everyone is adjusting. You said it yourself, you weren’t ready but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn on the spot. ”

“People are expecting me to do well.”

“And you are doing well. You have the highest expectations for yourself but frankly darling, you are doing great, people love you.” Frasers were famous for their stubbornness, and it wasn’t just a myth.

“Ye just say that. Tis’ easy for ye, everyone loves ye and just wonders what ye’re going to wear,” He huffed.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Claire looked at him incredulously, “That’s all I’m good for?”

“Claire…tis’ not what I meant,” Jamie sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Of course not,” Claire set on the bed again. She had to remind herself when Jamie was angry at himself, he took it out onto the world.

“I think the best decision would be to abdicate and pass the reign to my uncle Dougal.”

“Are you serious?” Claire couldn’t believe what nonsense he was saying, “Do you want the country to go into some sort of war? Your uncle is insane.”

Insane was putting it lightly. Dougal Mackenzie – Ellen’s oldest and thirsty for power brother – He dreamed of Scotland running the United Kingdom and to start a Jacobite rebellion as if it was the 18th century.

“He’s a capable man, he ken’s politics and diplomacy well.”

“Diplomacy? He still thinks we’re in 1745,” Claire was starting to get really angry at Jamie’s foolishness because she knew he didn’t truly want his uncle to take the throne, he was simply trying to find an easy way out. “You swore an oath, Jamie.”

“I ken verra well, tis’ why I have been thinkin’ about it for a while,” Jamie admitted, his body still turned towards the window.

Claire got up again, “Darling, look at me.”

He didn’t move and she knew why. Jamie wasn’t ready to face her simply because he wasn’t even sure of what he wanted to do. He was afraid and she felt useless – unable to make him feel better.

“Jamie, look at me.” She repeated, a slight beg hidden in her voice. It broke her heart to know her husband thought he wasn’t fit for the role, “Please.”

Jamie turned slowly, then, his blue eyes piercing through her.

“All of this is because of the baby, isn’t it?” She asked softly. It was time to open that painful wound.

Jamie stayed silent.

She could read the answer in his eyes and yet, she needed to hear those words directly from him, “Answer me, please.” Her last word trailed off in a whisper.  

“Aye, tis,” Jamie whispered so softly, she almost didn’t hear it. What she could hear was the sound of her heartbreaking at once.

“Jamie, the doctor said it will happen eventually,” Claire took his hand and gave it a light squeeze.

“Ye dinna ken that, maybe we’re no’ meant to have kids and if I canna produce an heir, I might as weel already give up my title so we can at least live in peace.”

They had decided to start trying for a child as soon as they were officially married but with the stress that Brian’s sudden death and their new duties brought onto them, they had not been very successful. It was weighing on both them and their relationship. Each negative pregnancy test deepened the rift between them a little bit more.

“Jamie, I’ve been sticking myself with a needle every day for weeks, there is not much more I can do right now,” Claire swallowed back her tears and absently touched her stomach where bruises stamped her skin, reminding her of the fact that her womb was empty. Her hormones were all over the place and so was her mind.

“I ken and it kills me to see ye like this,” Jamie walked over to her and wrapped his strong arms around her – her safe haven.  

“To see the marks on yer body and the disappointment in yer eyes everytime a test is negative. I ken how much ye want a child Claire because I want one just as much, not for the country but for us. A wee bairn running around.”

“We have talked about this already but let us adopt, then. There are so many children in the world that only want a loving family. We can provide a safe and loving home to at least one of them and maybe one day, we’ll be blessed with a biological child.”

Looking up, she could see his expression changing. She put the adoption option on the table every single time and every time, Jamie had the same response – which for her, who was an orphan – was really painful to accept.

“Christ, Claire…ye ken how I feel about this,” Jamie looked down at her, his hand still stroking her curls.

“Yes exactly. And I know if we adopt a child, he or she will never be able to be your direct heir but I don’t care about that. That’s not what I want children,” She admitted, pulling away from his arms, “You are afraid you won’t be able to love a child who doesn’t share your blood, aren’t you?”

“Aye, and I want a child that is the perfect mixture of us, wi’ yer crazy curls and my stubbornness, wi’ yer intelligence and maybe my eyes. I want a whole team of them but I’m no’ even capable of giving ye one!”

“We haven’t taken a breath since your father passed away, we’re both tired and stressed, don’t you think that’s the issue here? Not because you are impotent or that I am barren.”

“We’re no’, we had tests done but tis’ even worse. Do ye ken how much it kills me? Every time we make love I stay awake wonderin’ if this time it’ll work or no’?”

“Yes I know, you are acting as if I don’t bloody care,” Claire could feel the tears coming up and she swallowed them back in a second.

“I dinna ken, do ye care?” Jamie looked at her, “Ye’ve only been talking about adoption.”

“Yes, I bloody care! This is eating our relationship away and the fact that you’re in your corner thinking about abdicating simply because you don’t believe you are capable enough to run a country isn’t helping either,” Claire started – she wasn’t going to cry, “I think you need some time alone, to think about what you want Jamie.”

“I dinna…” Jamie protested.

“Yes, you do. Take the few days off we have to really think about you, about us because I don’t want to see your face right now,” Claire disappeared into the dressing room and quickly got dressed in jeans and a sweater. She grabbed her leather bag and packed a few clothes.

Jamie made his way into the room and watched her, his face expressionless – she knew he was trying to stay collected, “What are ye doing? Do ye think running away will help?”

“I’m not running away, I’m giving you space,” Claire looked at him and grabbed her bag, “Which is exactly what you need right now, even if you think everything is perfectly fine.”

“I dinna think everything is perfectly fine, I ken I have my issues, I can recognize that much,” Jamie mumbled, his eyes still on her.   

“Good, I’ll be at Balmoral until you decide what to do with your life, your throne and our bloody marriage,” With those words, Claire walked past him and out of their private apartment, leaving Jamie alone inside. It killed her – but that’s what they both needed.

Chapter Text

Balmoral had always been packed with happy memories for Claire. Even if this was the place of Brian’s passing and Jamie’s meltdown in her arms that same night, the Scottish estate held a lot of meaning to her. It would always be reminiscent of their first night together, their wedding in matching pyjamas on Christmas morning and the afternoons by the lake in the summertime.

The estate was closed for tourists at this time of the year and the only two people around were Murtagh and Mrs Fitz – who always made sure the castle and its surroundings were kept intact when no one else was there. 

When Claire had arrived two days ago, neither of them asked why she was alone or looking so miserable. Instead, Mrs Fitz prepared her a delicious lunch and then Claire disappeared for the rest of the day into the library where she spent all day yesterday hidden as well. 

She checked her phone too many times even if she knew Jamie wouldn’t call – he was too stubborn to do so and he knew she wouldn’t pick up anyway.

A soft knock on the door took Claire out of her thoughts – that were once again on Jamie. She had woken up an hour ago and didn’t move from the bed – their bed. Clearing her throat, Claire sat up slowly in the canopy bed, “Yes, come in.”

“Claire,” Mrs Fitz soft voice came through before Claire could see her, they had agreed a long time ago she wouldn’t bother with ‘your majesty’ and simply keep calling Claire by her name.  The little woman stepped inside with a warm smile, “Good morning, dearie. I thought ye might be a wee bit famished?”

“Your ability to sense people’s need for food is quite remarkable,” Claire said with a smile.

“Och, aye. Tis’ a gift, ken,” Mrs Fitz winked and deposited the tray on the table near the bed while Claire got up.

“Well thank you, as usual, it looks glorious –” The tray had warm and fuming scones, with homemade raspberry jam and cream and Claire’s favourite blend of tea.

“Aye, enjoy. The food is good for the soul,” Mrs Fitz touched her arm gently, giving her a reassuring smile. Claire knew the woman suspected something but she wasn’t going to say a thing unless Claire talked about it first.

“Thank you,” Claire said one more time, returning the smile, “Oh, could you ask Murtagh to prepare a horse for me? I think I’ll go riding in an hour.”

“Of course, I will go and tell him right away!”

Claire nodded with a grateful smile and watched Mrs Fitz fly out of the room. She let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and made her way back in bed with the tray. Tea in hand, she leaned against the headboard while her eyes scanned the room reminiscing of happier times – like the last time they had been here as simple Duke and Duchess.

“What exactly are you staring at?” Claire looked at her husband who was coyly smiling at her while laying in bed.

“Ye, being beautiful in only yer satin robe and how much I canna wait to pull on the loose belt once ye’ll be closer to me,” Jamie rasped, biting his lower lip.

“Listen to you, huh,” Claire’s eyebrow rose and she leaned against the doorframe from their bathroom, “It sounds as if you have this all carefully planned.”

“Aye, I have,” Jamie sat up slowly, his blue eyes turning darker, “I canna help see, ye standing there wi’ yer hair wild around yer face and yer nipples staring at me in the face.”

Claire looked down at herself, a side of her robe had fallen off her shoulder and she didn’t move to correct it, “Well, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” She remarked with a grin.

“Come here, Principessa,” Jamie held out his hand.

Claire stood still for longer than Jamie had anticipated and she could see his mouth curling up into an amused smile, “Please?” He added.

“Okay because you said please,” Claire smirked and walked towards the bed slowly – she was determined to drive him crazy and she could very well see in his eyes that it was already working.

Claire stood at the end of the bed and tilted her head, “Here is enough?”

“Och no, come closer, I dinna have my glasses nor my contacts in and I canna see ye properly ” Jamie opened the covers to reveal his naked – and aroused – state.

“Well your wee friend doesn’t need glasses, that’s for sure,” Claire tried to remain serious but he could hear the smile in her voice.

“First off, my friend isna wee and second, are ye going to torture me any longer?”

“I’m not torturing you!” She lied and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Aye, ye are,” Jamie pouted.

“No, if I truly wanted to torture you, I would do this,” With one swift move, Claire pulled the belt of her robe and let it open.

“Now that is just mean,” Jamie sighed, leaning back against the headboard.

“You’re right, that was mean,” Claire smirked and climbed onto the bed. Slowly, she made her way to Jamie like a panther taming her pray. She heard him mumble Gaelic curses under his breath and she couldn’t help but grin mischievously.

“What did you say, Fraser?”

“I prayed to God to have strength,” He said hoarsely.

“God, huh? That sounds serious,” Claire straddled him, leaning towards him to rub her nose against his. She felt Jamie’s hands cupping her buttcheeks under her robe and a groan escaping his lips.

“Verra serious,” Jamie started to fondle her arse and sighed happily, “Christ, ye have the roundest arse I’ve ever seen – not that I’ve seen many but I ken yers is the best.”

Claire couldn’t help but burst into a laugh – something that made him smile. “Good to hear, darling.”

“Why are we still talkin’ exactly?” Jamie looked up at her with a raised eyebrow.

“No idea,” Claire cupped his cheeks and gave him a long and passionate kiss – feeling his hands pressing her closer against him and his tongue begging access into her mouth.

She wanted him, and badly, so there was no point in waiting – even more when Jamie was as desperate as she was. Claire took hold of him – causing another groan – and lifted her hips for better access. Jamie moved his hips upwards and in one move, he was home.

Claire sighed at the memory. She missed Jamie – her Jamie – so relaxed and carefree. Always with a smile on his gorgeous face and the sound of his laugh resonating in the room.

Pushing the tray aside, Claire got up and went to take a long and warm shower. Every corner of every room in the Castle was engorged with a memory of Jamie and she hoped he would come to his senses quickly so they could go back to the way they were.

After getting dressed into her riding appropriate clothes, Claire pinned up her hair and made her way downstairs to the kitchen to bring the tray back to Mrs Fitz.

“Ye are so much like Ellen, dear,” Mrs Fitz remarked with a grin.

“Wot because I clean up after myself?” Claire couldn’t help but chuckled, “That’s just old habits and I don’t really like having people do things for me.”

“Aye, she was exactly like that too, even if she was born into an aristocratic family.”

“Do you think she would like me?” Claire asked, turning her head to look at Mrs Fits. Many times Jamie had told her his mother would be completely under her charms but now, seeing how much she was failing Jamie, she wondered if Ellen Fraser would like her after all.

“Oh aye,” Mrs Fitz walked over to her with a smile, “She would adore you! No matter what is going on between ye and her son.”

Claire looked at her, smiling softly.

“Look, dearie, I dinna ken what is going on but I ken when there is happiness in yer eyes and since ye arrived here – alone, I might add – ye’ve looked so sad,” Mrs Fitz touched her cheek.

“And I’m no’ here to judge nor to know what is going on, ‘tis not my business nor my place but just ken it will get better, aye?”

Claire nodded, “Aye. It will get better…Jamie and I just needed a couple of days away from one another to breath. It has been a lot since Brian’s passing.”

“I’m sure it has,” Mrs Fitz held her tightly in her arms – giving the comfort Claire had been yearning for weeks. Jamie had been distant and cold, and even if Claire knew he wasn’t alright, she missed his warmth and his comforting presence.

She was like the grandmother every little kid dreamt of.

Slowly, Claire let her tears spill over her cheeks silently, “I’m sorry,” Claire sniffed and wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.

“Dinna be, dearie. Tears spill when yer mouth canna explains the pain ye feel,” Mrs Fitz smiled and stroked her cheek, ”But ye will be fine. Both of ye, I’ve never seen anyone as in love as ye and Jamie…not even his parents. Ye two, it’s something else.”

Claire nodded and smiled softly, nose red and puffy eyes, “You’re right, it’s something else…”

“I have kent Jamie since he was a wee bairn, I have seen the way he was after his mother died – he was a shell of himself and ye brought him back to life, Claire.”

“He’s slipping away now and I have no idea of what to do to prevent that, I shouldn’t have left him alone in London to come here,” Panic crept on her slowly, “What on earth was I thinking? He needs me.”

“Again Claire, I dinna ken what is going on between ye two but sometimes being apart for a wee bit helps matters. Even more after spending so many months together day and night, travelling the world. Tis’ no easy.”

“Yes, it’s all just…”Claire sighed.

“Murtagh has the horse ready for ye, go and take a ride through the Highlands – tis’ good for the soul.”

“Yes,” Claire smiled weakly.

“I made ye a sandwich if ye stay out for lunch,” Handing Claire the little bag, Mrs Fitz winked.  

“You’re an angel,” Claire smiled and took it before kissing her cheek and making her way to the hall. Grabbing her Barbour jacket, she went to the barn.

The day was gloomy but dry, full of nostalgia and the fresh Scottish air hit her lungs as soon as she stepped outside. Claire took a long breath and relaxed – everything would be fine. They would be fine.

“Good morning, mistress,” Murtagh said under his big moustache and smiled, “Donas is ready for ye.”

“Good morning, Murtagh,” Claire returned the smile and walked over to him. Murtagh was known to be quite grumpy so she always felt proud of herself when she managed to get a smile out of him, “And thank you.”

“Tis’ a bonny day for ridin’, it willna rain,” Murtagh said, adjusting the saddle.

“Perfect,” Claire smiled, stroking Donas’ head before putting her lunch into the leather bag attached to the saddle. “I’ll be back in the afternoon.”

“Aye, see ye then.” Murtagh picked up some things and disappeared into the barns.

******

Claire rode for two solid hours – wind in her hair and a feeling of freedom taking over her body. The scenery might be familiar, it was still breathtaking and she didn’t let her mind take over as it has done for the last few days. Her thighs were starting to ache but she didn’t care – it was the first time in a long while she had felt utterly at peace.

With a light tap, Claire slowed down the horse and eventually made it stop near the little cemetery. After tying the horse to the fence, she took the flowers she had picked up on her way and walked towards Ellen’s grave. 

The first time she had come here, it had been with Jamie and they had sat for hours talking about his mother and her own parents. How they were both feeling and what such loss meant for them. The only other time she had come here alone, it had been a few days before their public wedding last year.

Claire rested the flowers on Ellen’s marble gravestone and looked at her mother in law’s picture for a little while. Apart from the vibrant colour of his hair, Jamie looked more like his father but there was something in his eyes – his gorgeous blue eyes – that was present in his mother’s as well. Kindness.

Claire briefly wondered if the daughter they might never have would take after her grandmother but the simple thought made her heart sting and another tear spill.

Claire sat down and stayed silent for a long time. When she was a child, she would sneak away from the house to visit her parents’ grave and she would stay hours there, simply reading a book or talking to them. Somehow it made her feel better and she experienced the same feeling just now. She had never known Ellen but, deep down, she felt a connection as she was the only other person who loved Jamie as much as she did — of course, it wasn’t the same kind of love but it was as deep.

“I wish you would be here now, I’m sure you could talk some sense into Jamie,” Claire sighed, feeling foolish for speaking to a grave. She wasn’t expecting an answer but it made her feel better to say shit out loud.

“He’s a good one, your son…I just wish he believed in himself as much as I believe in him and that he wouldn’t be so stubborn,” Claire smiled at the mention. Frasers were famously stubborn and it wasn’t a myth. Even her own stubbornness seemed tame compared to Jamie.

“I just hope I make him happy, you know,” Claire admitted, fidgeting with her fingers, “That’s all I want to do. He isn’t right now, and that’s killing me on the inside.” A tear escaped her eye and she quickly wiped it.

“I don’t know what I’m telling you all of this…well more like speaking alone actually,” She shook her head – from the outside she must be looking like a mad woman. She stayed there for a long time, in complete silence and feeling the wind rise. She took no notice of the time and briefly wondered how long she had been away from the castle.

A few years ago, she had promised Jamie she would be by his side no matter what. He had warned her of the pressure of the job, the constant tabloid presence fishing for the slightest bit of drama and the scrutiny they would have to face. She had promised Jamie she was ready and she refused to allow their marriage to end up like Brian and Ellen’s.

After a while, Claire got up again and touched Ellen’s grave – she truly wondered what kind of relationship they would have if she was still alive, like she wondered about her parents sometimes, too. She realised Jamie was everything she had left and he was enough. She just hoped she was enough for him too. 

And that history wouldn’t repeat itself. 

Chapter Text

After visiting Ellen’s grave, Claire got back up onto the horse and rode again – she was in no hurry to go back to the castle and intended to enjoy the feeling of freedom a little bit longer. She decided to stop after a while to eat the lunch Mrs. Fitz packed for her (long after lunchtime) and ended up falling asleep on the grass, somewhere around the outskirts of the estate.

Claire felt raindrops slowly hitting her cheeks and rubbed sleepily at her face – eyes still closed. It wasn’t the most comfortable spot to take a nap but she didn’t want to move just yet so she didn’t. Instead, Claire rolled on her other side in a state of half-consciousness. What finally woke her up completely was the pouring rain that started to fall at once.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire sat up quickly, rubbing her face. She looked up at the sky and cursed Murtagh who told her it wasn’t going to rain today.

And yet it was pissing down.

As quickly as she could, she got onto Donas and rode back to the castle. Her clothes were soaked, her hair was a mess (much like a wet poodle) and it had started to get dark outside. Thankfully, she had fallen asleep on the estate and found her way back easily.

Once Donas was safely in the stables, Claire made her way towards the Castle — in desperate need of a warm towel, a bath and some strong whisky. She knew she’d most likely have the flu tomorrow but she didn’t care, she felt like a kid who had just played in the puddles and it made her smile.

Mrs. Fitz was nowhere to be found so Claire hurried upstairs — she was so taken with trying to remove her wet clothes that she didn’t notice the big Scot walking out of the room when she walked in and bumped into him.

“Christ Claire,” Jamie grabbed her by the waist and avoided them both nearly slipping on the floor.

“Jamie!” Her glass face gave away the complete surprise she had of seeing him — and probably the delight too. No matter what, she had missed his face. She wondered what she must look like with her hair dripping on her shoulders and her clothes clinging to her body.

She had no time to speak however as his warm lips found hers and his arms tightened around her body. Claire felt her knees wobble and she was glad he was holding her. He tasted of whisky and jam and smelled of musk and patchouli — it was her favourite combination.

They needed to talk — maybe even argue some more — but right now they needed to kiss and that’s just what they did. Slowly and thoroughly, bodies pressing against one another. Claire felt his arousal against her leg and pulled him even closer.

“Claire…” Jamie rasped, his breath coming out short.

Claire looked up and before she could say something, sneezed.

Looking at her, Jamie chuckled softly and stroked her cheek, “Ye better change before ye get sick, Principessa.”

“I think it’s too late,” Claire’s excitement died down and she remembered her state – beginning to shake.

Jamie took her hand and lead her to their bedroom, “I’ll get ye towels, aye?”

Nodding, Claire started to undress quickly and Jamie disappeared into the bathroom. She didn’t expect to see him so soon but her heart felt lighter nonetheless.

“When did you arrive?” Claire removed the last bits of her underwear and took the bathrobe Jamie handed her before putting it on.

“A few hours ago, Murtagh told me ye went for a ride so I thought I’d wait for ye to come back. I was startin’ to get worried.”

“I would have been sooner but I fell asleep on the grass and woke up because of the rain,” Claire dried her hair with a towel before wrapping it tightly in a knot on her head and looking at him, “You look…”

“Like shite, aye,” Jamie finished her sentence. She just noticed how tired and pale he looked, “I haven’t slept verra well since ye left London,” He admitted, his eyes dropping to the floor.

“Jamie…”

“I’m sorry, Claire.” His voice was soft and low – almost like a whisper. It was full of something but she didn’t know if it was sadness, shame or a mix of the two, “I’m sorry I’ve let us get into this situation by being a coward. And I’m sorry I hurt ye and made ye feel inadequate.”

“James Fraser,” Claire walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, “My love.”

Jamie nuzzled his face in the crook of her neck and held her tightly – some tears wetting the delicate skin over her collarbones, “I was so scairt I would lose ye…I canna bear it, I wouldn’t have enough strength.”

“Jamie if you think I can actually live without you, you’re sorely mistaken,” Her fingers slowly stroked the curls at the base of his neck and she could feel his body relax. “I just thought we could do with some space between one another until you think things through not because I questioned my love for you.”

“Tha gaol agam ort,” He said softly, looking at her. What Claire could actually see in his eyes was not sadness or shame – but fear of losing her and it broke her heart.

“And I love you,” Smiling, she cupped his cheeks and sealed their lips for a long moment. “And I too was miserable without you, just ask Mrs. Fitz and she will tell you all about it.”

“Och, she already did!” Jamie’s mouth curled up into a smile.

“Of course she did,” Claire couldn’t help but chuckle, holding Jamie in her arms.

“Let’s talk, aye?” Jamie sat onto the bed and pulled her onto his lap. He watched her for a little bit, a constant smile on his face as his fingers brushed her cheeks, “Christ, I’ve missed ye.”

“Well so did I, it’s been a while I haven’t slept with a big furnace next to me and I felt the absence of it. Of you,” Claire smiled warmly and kissed the tip of his nose, “So, let’s talk.”

Jamie nodded, stroking her back, “Ye were right, I felt and still feel like I dinna belong on the throne; that I’m no’ ready but I canna let people down…I canna let ye down.”

“Darling, I would support you no matter what you decide. What I didn’t like was the fact that you don’t think you’re capable when you are more than ready for the job.”

Jamie nodded, “Aye, my uncle Dougal is no’ a good idea after all.”

“No, it’s really not. Unless, as I said, you want another Jacobite rebellion as if we’re back in the 18th century.”

“I dinna want that,” Bringing her hand to his lips, Jamie kissed her palm and Claire smiled at the relief of her husband finally coming to his senses.

“Tis’ no’ going to be easy but as my father said, it’s no’ supposed to be and I have to accept that. As long as you’re next to me to reign, I’ll be fine,” He leaned down to kiss her tenderly, “Plus, it would be selfish of me to deprive people of such a great Queen.”

“Well, I’m only as good as my King and this is not a competition,” Claire smiled, “We’re a team.”

“Aye, we’re a team and I will never shut ye out again, I promise,” His big blue eyes dived into hers and Claire felt his body tense again, “Will ye forgive me, Claire?”

What Jamie didn’t know at that moment was that Claire had forgiven him for what happened and what he would do long before today. They were bound for life no matter what.

“Forgiven,” Claire whispered against his lips before closing the distance between them. She had missed him – not only the last few days but also all these months where their marriage was only hanging on one trait -- and her body ached to be against his. Her fingers started to unbutton his tartan shirt and revealed his toned chest as their mouths kissed hungrily.

“I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe,” Jamie whispered, “Will ye have me?”

“Yes,” Claire responded in between kisses, “Yes, I’ll have you.”

Jamile pulled back to look at her, his hands resting on her arse. Her vision was blurred by lust and she felt his lips on her neck and his hands opening the robe – the towel in her hair had fallen on the wooden floor but she didn’t make a move to pick it up. His lips travelled to her collarbones and then to her breast, kissing and licking the sensitive skin of her nipple. A groan escaped her mouth and she felt Jamie’s smile against her.

Claire reluctantly got up to stand in front of him and let her bathrobe slip down. There was a way Jamie always looked at her that was so tender, it always made her heart burst. He looked at her like she was a perfectly well-carved goddess in a piece of white marble. There was lust but mostly awe – and it made her feel beautiful.

The first time they had made love, that look had made her feel almost uneasy because he was just starring. She soon realised it was because he was memorising every little detail of her body to be able to cherish it.

Jamie pulled her closer carefully. His hands stroked her legs up and down as his forehead rested against her belly, eyes closed. He graced the bruised skin of her belly with kisses – making her skin prickle with delight at his tenderness.

Claire lifted his chin and looked into his eyes – she was drowning into their sea blue colour and it was the most delightful sensation.

Jamie got up to kiss her again while quickly removing his clothes with her help. He fell backwards onto the bed naked and pulled her with him – something that made her chuckle before kissing him again. It had been a long time since they had been intimate with such lightness surrounding them – it wasn’t about making a baby now, it was about reconnecting and simply being together as one.

They rolled over and over on the bed – limbs tangled and lips sealed. Claire felt his hands travelling all over her body. His lips started to trace kisses down her neck and to her breast. He was driving her mad and she wanted more.

“Jamie…” Her breath hissed, “I need you inside of me. Now.”

After almost six years of marriage, Claire knew Jamie aimed to please her and didn’t need to hear what she just said twice. He craved it as much as she did and one swift move, he slid home.

At first, Jamie didn’t move. He simply rested his forehead against hers – not a word said, just a look shared. Claire wrapped her leg around his waist and pressed him closer as much as possible. The thing about making love to Jamie was that she wanted to possess him and be possessed by him at the same time. It was a contradiction she had never been able to fight since the first time they had shared a bed – not that she wanted to try – and that engorged her body, as well as her soul, completely.

Jamie kissed her tenderly and started to move after what felt like a few long minutes – his chest pressed against her breast and his hand holding her arse.

The pace was slow at first but increased as the kiss grew hungrier. She knew he was burning as much as she was and enjoying every second of it. Each thrust brought Claire more and more over the edge – her body arching and moans escaping her lips quicker than she realised. She was so close.

Jamie groaned – deciding her breasts needed attention and reluctantly broke their kiss to worship her nipples, sucking, licking and causing Claire to arch her body even more against him. At once, Jamie rolled them over so she was on top – a position she particularly liked. 

Claire thrust her hips a few more times and it was enough to throw her over the edge that she had been dangerously hanging on. Her entire body shook and shivered in release – as her fingers dug into his chest making him groan half in pain, half in pleasure. She moved her hips a couple more times, holding his hand resting on her breast. She felt his body shake in turn as he spilt himself inside of her.

Sitting up, Jamie wrapped his arms tightly around his wife’s body and nuzzled her neck. They were both panting and sweating with the remnants of their lovemaking.

******

Claire laid on the bed as she watched Jamie starting the fireplace – he was naked and the fire cast the loveliest soft orange light on his skin. She was barely covered by the sheets and her hair was all over the place – both because of the rain and the exercise.

Jamie got up and smiled at her – stopping again to simply watch his wife, happy and content. Before making his way back to the bed, he stopped and poured a generous glass of whisky he intended to share with Claire.

“Very good idea, Fraser,” Smirking, she sat up and leaned against the headboard as Jamie got back in bed. He had no time to answer that she had grabbed the glass and already took a sip.

Jamie chuckled and watched her, his hand resting on her leg, “Ye’re a true scot now.”

“Well I’ve been living with one for almost six years, that’s true but should I remind you of Uncle’s Lamb education?”

“Och, no. I remember,” Jamie laughed and kissed her cheek. Lamb used to say there was not much whisky couldn’t cure – whether it be the flu or a broken heart. Now, Claire wasn’t sure he was completely right about that but she knew the warm liquid going down her throat was always a good idea after making love to Jamie. She felt her little adventure in the rain was indeed bringing the flu around so it wouldn’t hurt.

Claire took another sip before handing Jamie the glass again and laying back down. She watched her husband and grinned, “What’s up?” 

Jamie was known to have an unreadable face but over the years, she had learnt to know when her husband had something on his mind – might it be good or bad.

Smiling, Jamie put the glass on the bedside table and laid on his side to face her, “For the longest time, I felt like I was carrying this weight on my shoulders and I feel like ye made it go away magically. I’m happy is all.”

Claire sealed their lips and smiled, stroking his hair back, “You have no idea how good it is to see you like this.”

“Aye…I will never hide my emotions from ye again, I promise ye,” Jamie brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm.

Claire smiled and laid on her back, turning her head to gaze lovingly at her husband. He came back to her.

Mo nighean donn?” He said softly, still holding her hand, “There’s something else I wanted to talk to ye about before ye distracted me wi’ yer sexiness.”

“So it’s going to be my fault now?” Claire burst into a laugh and shook her head.

“Well, tis’ surely not my fault ye dinna make me think straight. When ye’re naked, I lose all sense of responsibility. I simply must have ye or die,” Jamie kissed the tip of her nose.

“You’re so bloody dramatic,” Grinning, she pulled him over her and wrapped her leg around his waist.

“Am I now?”Jamie smirked but didn’t give her the time to respond as he pressed his lips against her and she bit his lower lip softly, “Ah dhia.”

“What? Am I too rough on you?” Claire smirked, stroking his back up and down with her index finger.

“Well, if ye bed a vixen ye might expect to get bit,” He returned the smirk and his statement made her laugh.

“Moving on,” She smacked his butt, “What is it that you wanted to say?”

Jamie’s expression shifted from an amused smile to something more serious but a certain softness stayed in his eyes. His thumb brushed her cheek and stroked a stray curl behind her ear. He seemed nervous and she wondered why.

“Jamie? Just say what you want to say.”

Nodding, he smiled, “I ken ye and I will have our own bairns, it might take a wee bit longer than we expected but deep down, I know it will happen and they will be the most perfect bairns the world has ever seen…” He was unaware of it, but his words made Claire’s stomach clench. She almost had forgotten about the issue as they were in bed together reconnecting but it was still there, hanging over their heads and breaking her heart. The one thing she wanted right now was to give him a child. She was about to say something when he continued.

“Ye are more than enough for me, Claire. Christ, I thank God everyday ye chose to be my wife and if we are really no’ blessed wi’ children, I wouldn’t love ye any less because ye are my heart and wi’out ye, I canna live.”

“Oh, Jamie.” Tears were menacing to spill as her vision blurred and her voice almost broke.

“And I just hope I can be enough for ye too.” He added softly. The look he gave her broke her heart. 

“You are enough,” Claire said firmly but smiling “And I do apologize if I ever made you feel as if it wasn’t the case. If it has to be you and me alone for the rest of our lives, I know it will be a good life nonetheless. Better than I could ever imagine for myself before I met you.”

“There is one last thing I wanted to say to ye, mo chridhe.”

“What is it?”Claire rested her forehead against his, lightly stroking his chin with her index finger. 

“I ken I said I wouldn’t be able to love someone else’s child when ye talked about adoption but ye were right when ye said I underestimated myself,” Jamie lifted up her chin to look into her eyes, “I could.”

Claire looked at him – quite incredulous as to what he was saying.

“I was just afraid I wouldn’t be enough for ye, that I couldn’t bring ye what ye needed but ‘tis not the case. What I also learnt is that a marriage is about compromise and I ken how much ye want to adopt,” He took her hand, “I’m ready for it, Claire. Let’s give a child a family and the love they deserve.”

She couldn’t control the tears this time and they escaped her eyes as her mouth curled up into the widest smile, “Oh, my love!” Claire jumped on him and held him close, causing him to chuckle. “Thank you…”

“No. Thank ye,” Jamie kissed her again, “ Ye made me realise family is no’ about blood. It’s about love.”

Chapter Text

A shiver woke Claire in the morning as the early crisp tried to make its way under the sheets. She could instantly feel Jamie (her human furnace and personal teddy) wasn’t in bed just now and she let out a frustrated groan. 

December was her favourite month for many reasons. It was the holidays, the first snow and the anniversary of her wedding to Jamie. Six years ago today, they had handfasted into the big living room at Balmoral, surrounded by their closest friends and both wearing matching pyjamas. It wasn’t as grand as their official wedding but it had been just perfect and after the rough year they had, Claire was glad to be in Scotland today to celebrate not only Christmas but also their anniversary.

Reluctantly opening her eyes, she stirred like a graceful cat – making her joints pop one by one. Jamie was indeed nowhere to be found so she decided to stay a little bit longer tucked under the sheets while watching the snow fall heavily out of the window. They were finally back in their little bubble after a few months spent back in London and in a few other countries. They were beginning to feel normal again after reconnecting back in July and deciding to adopt.

The news had the effect of a bomb for the tabloids all over the world. Never before had reigning monarchs started an adoption process. Even if the press talked about fertility issues over and over again, the news had been accepted and even welcomed. The people were thrilled for the royal couple.

Lost in her thoughts, Claire almost didn’t hear the wooden door open and Jamie walking in. 

“Och, yer mam is awake a leannan,” Smiling, Jamie made his way towards the capony bed. Holding their son against his chest. 

Claire turned towards her men and her mouth curled up into a wide grin. It was fairly recent but nothing was better than the sight of her husband holding their son. Jamie had voiced his fears and his doubts about being a father to a child who didn’t share his blood but it turned out he was perfect. He fell in love with the child as soon as they had seen him.

“Majesties,” The orphanage director curtsied in front of the couple as the other members of the establishment in Dorset stood behind her. They were watching Jamie and Claire in awe – and that look never failed to amuse the Queen. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to it.

Claire smiled warmly and shook her hand, saying something that made the director almost fain by its simplicity, “Please call me Claire.”

Nodding, the woman who must have been in her late fifties returned the smile, “Well, if you two may join me in my office?”

“Yes, of course,” Jamie smiled. 

The couple first shook hands with everybody before following the woman inside her office. The place wasn’t very big but Jamie had come here before with his mother to visit the children when he was only a young lad. Ellen had always made it a priority to show her children not everyone was born into royalty and it had been a lesson Jamie had always cherished and planned to pass onto his own children. 

He had been against the idea of adoption at first – too scared to take the step – but being back here, he knew Claire had been right all along. They could give a child a good home and all the love she or he deserved.

As they sat in the office, the couple talked to Mrs. Hadfield about the history of the place and their intentions behind the adoption. The lady explained to them how as they were royalty, the procedure wouldn’t be as long as it usually was. Claire was conflicted about it. On one hand, it was unfair that their title brought them such facility when normal families sometimes took years to be able to adopt a child. On the other hand, she was too excited to add a member to their little family.

“We also would like to thank you for the generous donation you two have made towards the orphanage. It is a truly extraordinary gift you gave us,” Mrs. Hadfield said with a smile.

“We are just continuing what my mother started all those years ago and we are grateful for everything you’re doing for us,” Jamie returned the smile and took Claire’s hand in his own.

“Well, as you both know, we do not have many children around these days,” Mrs. Hadfield – who was actually named Louisa – said happily. Claire was relieved to know the orphanage wasn’t crowded. She had been lucky to have uncle Lambert but sadly, not many orphans had the same luck.

“Nonetheless, a few weeks ago, one of our social workers brought back a little boy – only a few days old. He had lost his mother at birth. The father is unknown and didn’t make a move to contact the authorities about the child so he’s with us now.”

“May we see him?” Claire asked, before quickly looking at Jamie and at Louisa again.

“Of course!” Louisa got up with a broad smile, “Please follow me, he is with our nurse at the moment.”

Nodding, Claire and Jamie got up. They share a quick look – a mixture of nervousness and excitement. They were thrilled to be here but they were both scared the child wouldn’t respond well to them. 

“Dinna be scairt, principessa,” Jamie whispered and took her hand, bringing it to his lips for reassurance before they followed Louisa to the nursery.

Claire’s hand was sweaty as she held Jamie’s on their way to the nursery and her heart was pounding in her ears. She had told him there was no need to be afraid but in reality, she was terrified just now — after all, she never had a mother to look up to or ask tips about motherhood. What if she wasn’t a natural?

After a quick introduction to the nurse with the usual casualties, curtsies and nervousness of meeting the king and the queen. Charlotte, the young nurse was off to fetch the little boy. The few seconds that it took seemed to last hours for Claire. She tried as best as she could to stay calm and collected but in her chest, her heart was going mad.

“Your Royal Highness, Your Majesty. May I introduce you to Josef,” Louisa spoke softly and presented Claire and Jamie with the cutest little bundle of joy they had ever seen.

Josef.

The name alone was already enough for Claire to fall in love with the child but as soon as she looked down to gaze into two big green eyes staring back at her with the most tender look, she could have sworn she had melted.

“Oh, hello you,” She spoke softly and looked at Jamie for a brief moment — he, too, was looking at the baby and his eyes were moist with tears. Louisa laid the child into Claire’s arms and her heart stopped for a quick second waiting for the boy to start crying senseless to get out of her arms. 

He didn’t.

Instead, Josef grabbed a loose curl in his little hands and pulled on it looking amused.

Louisa didn’t make a noise and silently instructed the nurse to follow her outside to leave the couple and the baby alone. During her many years working at the orphanage, she had learnt to recognise when magic occurred.

Claire reluctantly looked up from the child and at Jamie. Tears had spilled but his mouth had the broadest grin, “Christ ye look so beautiful wi’ a child in her arms, mo nighean donn .”

“I think I just fell in love,” She said softly, her own tears spilling without warning and rested her head against Jamie.

“Aye, so have I,” His hand rested on her shoulder as he kissed her head.

“Josef Henry Brian Fraser, how do ye like it?” He whispered in her ear. 

Claire looked up and closed the distance between their lips for a long moment — she was overcome with emotions and she didn’t think she could love this man any more.

“It’s perfect,” She said softly, looking down at the little boy again, “He’s perfect.”

“My lads are awake,” Claire sat up with a smile. 

After their first meeting with baby Josef, they waited four months to be able to bring him home. The palace informed the press and the world of the arrival of the new member of the royal family. The couple made their quarters in Scotland to enjoy the first few months of being a family and their first Christmas together.

“Aye, someone wanted some milk and ye were peacefully asleep so I thought I would let you rest some more and give him his bottle,” Jamie sat down on the bed and kissed her tenderly as he held Josef protectively against his chest.

Claire kissed him back and smiled warmly against his lips before kissing their son’s head. He didn’t have much hair but he had a few dark curls that meant he would probably be as curly as his mother.

Josef leaned against her (happily bubbling) and Claire took him before leaning against Jamie.

“Merry Christmas, my loves,” The Scot said softly, kissing her head, “And happy anniversary, Claire. The last six years have been the best of my life.”

Claire looked up and smiled, sealing their lips again, “Happy anniversary, darling. We’ve come a long way from the two babies we were back then.”

“Oh we did, and now we have a wee bairn of our own. The last month wi’ him has been a dream, Principessa,” Jamie kissed her head against and stroked the baby’s head — causing Josef to make something resembling a smile.

They were used to being together all the time, only sharing their attention between one another. It had taken a few days of adaptation when Josef arrived at the palace but they knew how to navigate their new family dynamic now.

 They couldn’t be happier.

“Everyone will start to wake up soon but we dinna have to get out of bed just yet, a nighean.”

“Oh I wasn’t planning to,” she looked at Jamie with a smile, “I love our guests but it’s my first Christmas with my lads and I intend to make the most of it.”

Claire rocked Josef gently while Jamie watched her and snapped pictures with his phone — a new habit he had developed since the child arrival and wasn’t likely going away anytime soon.

“I hope I’m a good mom, I feel clumsy at times,” Claire admitted, looking at her husband.

“Ye are a natural, Ye are so good with him.” Jamie smiled, stroking her cheek with his thumb, “He’s a lucky wee lad to call ye mam.”

“I can’t help but wonder…since I never really had an example,” Claire looked down at Josef and stroked his cheek slowly as the baby fell asleep.

“Ye are a great mother, Claire. I’ve been watching ye for the last month and trust me, I’m in awe,” Jamie lifted her chin and kissed her tenderly.

“You’re a great father, too,” Claire returned the kiss — her heart bursting, “Watching you with him just made me fall in love with you all over again.”

“This was a good decision,” Jamie watched his son with a warm smile, “Thank ye for making me understand love has nothing to do wi’ blood.”

“You’re such a great man, James Fraser. Our child is so lucky to have you as a father,” Claire kissed his cheek, “and I love you so damn much.”

“I share the sentiment, mo nighean donn. I’m a verra happy papa,” Jamie leaned down and kissed Josef’s nose. 

“And I’ve got a wee gift for him before we go downstairs,” He got up at once and opened one of the drawers to take out a wrapped parcel.

Claire sat up straighter and laid a sleeping Jojo on her legs while stroking his wee hands. She watched Jamie with a questioning look and smiled, “What’s that?”

“Well, ye ken we have traditions in this house for Christmas,” Jamie sat down next to her, grinning, “One of them was established the morning ye became my wife and I intend for it to live on for many more years.”

Claire chuckled, understanding his meaning and watched him opening the little parcel to reveal a wee pyjama matching their own for Josef. It was red tartan with his initials embroidered on the little pocket. “Oh darling, that is so cute!”

Jamie smiled proudly and leaned closer to her to seal their lips, “He’s gonna look dashing.”

“Oh yes,” Claire kissed him again, careful for Josef on her lap, “Just like papa.”

******

“I’m insulted I’m not wearing one of those pyjamas right now,” Joe said as soon as Jamie and Claire descended the stairs with Josef in their matching sets.

“We’ll know what to get you next year,” Claire grinned and kissed his cheek.

Joe grinned and took the baby into his arms, “Hello your little highness, you are the cutest Fraser I have ever laid eyes on.”

“Och,” Jamie touched his chest, acting hurt.

“I said cutest, not sexiest,” Joe smirked and went to sit on the sofa with the baby while Claire laughed looking at her friend and her son’s godfather.

“Merry Christmas to ye too, Joe,” Jamie shook his head with a smile and wrapped his arm around Claire who laid her head on his shoulder.

For the last six years, Joe had been Claire’s anchor in this madness of a life and her only link to reality outside of Palace doors. He had recently started to teach at Oxford and his relationship with John was stronger than ever – even after John’s family tried everything they could to prevent the two to be together.

“Where’s John?” Claire asked, looking around for the Englishman.

“He’s in the kitchen trying to bribe Mrs. Fitz to have a scone before everyone else,” Joe shook his head, not taking his eyes off the baby.

“And he has no’ succeeded!” Mrs. Fitz said proudly, walking into the big living room holding a tray full of warm scones. John followed closely behind her – looking defeated; a sight that made everyone chuckle. 

She put the tray on the table already full of baked goods and smiled widely, “Breakfast is served!”

“Thank you, Mrs Fitz,” Claire walked over to her and hugged her tightly, “And Merry Christmas. Now you have already done more than enough for today so please have a seat and relax.”

“Merry Christmas, a leannan,” The older woman hugged Claire tightly back and smiled warmly.

Christmas at Balmoral was simply magical. Everyone was under one roof, the fireplace was warming the entire living room and Christmas songs were softly playing in the background. Everyone gathered around the table, sharing the various treats Mrs. Fitz had baked in the early hours while everyone was still asleep. Josef had fallen asleep after his second bottle of the day and laid peacefully in his cot while Claire had sat on Jamie’s lap – something that apparently made her breakfast taste better.

Joe picked up his mug and got up, “I would like to say something,” He grinned, looking at Claire with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Jamie leaned his chin on her shoulder and watched Joe as well.

“I have some news…”Joe looked at John, “Well, we have some news.”

John got up in turn, nodding and wrapped his arm around Joe, “Yes, we do.”

“As you all know, we spent a week in Greece before coming to Scotland for Christmas and during that time, Joe decided to ask me to marry him…and of course, I said yes!” John’s eyes were shiny with emotions and Claire felt her own tears spilling on her cheeks. These two men had fought to be together and the hopeless romantic that she was couldn’t contain her joy at the news.

“Hooray!” Mrs. Fitz raised her mug as Murtagh and Jamie joined her happily.

Claire got up at once and went to hug her friends tightly, “Gosh, I’m so happy for you two!”

“Well, if it weren’t for you and Jamie, we would have never met so we have to thank you in that matter,” John said with a broad grin, looking at Jamie.

“That’s why for the longest time ye dinna think fit to tell me ye were seeing Claire’s friend, aye? As if I dinna have ears and didn’t know who was coming and going from the apartment,” Jamie chuckled.

“Well, Claire didn’t exactly tell me she was seeing you either at first. I’m just lucky she just can’t lie,” Joe grinned.

“I can lie,” Claire grinned, going to pick up Josef who had woken up, “My face just gives it away.”

“Yes, that must be it,” Joe smirked, joining John on one of the leather Chesterfields near the fire.

“And ye?” Jamie turned to look at Murtagh with a grin, patting his back, “When are ye settling down old man?”

Murtagh huffed, rolling his eyes at Jamie.

“Next time we’ll be around, we’ll bring our nanny from London,” Claire “Her name is Suzette and she’s French.”

Murtagh’s usual expression shifted slightly – just enough for Claire to notice a smile. He was a notorious grumpy bear but he had the biggest heart, “She’s lovely, I’m sure you two will be great friends.”

“Aye, I will get some whisky,” Murtagh’s cheeks turned a bit red as he got up and disappeared out of the living room.

Claire went to stand next to Jamie, grinning, “If my career as a Queen doesn’t work out, I can still open a marital agency.”

Jamie laughed and kissed her head, “Oh aye, it might work just fine, Principessa. But I dinna want to see ye running away from me.”

“Oh I would never,” Claire kissed him tenderly and smiled, “You know darling, Christmas used to be such a sad time for me when I wasn’t with you.”

“Aye, it was for me too. I hated to see it comin’ but now, when I look at ye and Jojo in those matching pyjamas, when I see our friends all gathered around the fire, I realise how much of a special time it is and how lucky I am to call ye my wife.”

“We’re a good team, Fraser.”

“That we are, mo chridhe,” Jamie winked — not that what he just did should be considered winking — and wrapped his arms around her body, resting his chin on her shoulder.

Josef looked up at his father seriously for a long time as Jamie made funny faces to try and amuse him. At some point, Jamie thought he was getting a smile out of his son until Josef farted and went back to cuddle his mother.

Claire couldn’t help but snort, “A Fraser if I have ever seen one.”

“I dinna ken ye meaning, mo nighean donn” Jamie chuckled, kissing her cheek.

Chapter Text

Two years later

After adopting Josef, Jamie and Claire had to adapt to a routine of being parents as well as ruling Monarchs. It wasn’t easy every day but they got used to it rather quickly and everyone around them helped run things smoothly for the couple. As their son wasn’t yet attending school, they took him on state visits around the world – with the nanny, always near. Claire never wanted a nanny but Suzette was an angel and took care of Josef whenever they had commitments such as daytime engagements or evening dinners where they couldn’t bring him. No matter what was going on in their schedules, Jamie and Claire always made sure they were home for bathtime and a bedtime story.

As Claire was done getting ready for their charity dinner, she made her way to Josef’s bedroom where Jamie had been spending the last twenty minutes narrating a story to the two-year-old. Leaning against the doorframe, she watched them both in the wooden rocking chair and the sight always made her heart squeeze. Jamie had voiced his fears of not being able to love a child that wasn’t their own but it had proven to be quite the contrary. He was the best father any child could have and it made Claire love him even more.

Jamie held his son in his arms and slowly stroked his dark curls, “And the prince who was a wee bit of a fool met the faerie and…”

“Mamama!” Josef beamed happily at the sight of Claire.  

“My darlings,” Claire walked into the room with a grin.

“Och, and what a beautiful mama ye have, a leannan,” Jamie got up holding the little boy.

“The story of the prince being rescued by the faerie again, uh?” She chuckled and closed the distance between her and Jamie.

“Aye, always,” Jamie grinned and kissed her back.

“No kiss,” Josef parted his parents’ faces and laughed.

“So bossy, just like his mam,” Grinning, Jamie kissed her cheek.

“Don’t start with that,” She smirked and took Josef, kissing his nose, “And you, time for bed my darling.”

“Aye, time for bed, a leannan,” Jamie kissed his son’s nose.

“Plane!” Leaning towards his father again, the little boy demanded.  

“Plane it is,” Jamie took him and lifted him in the air for their evening ritual. Claire watched him as her six foot four tall husband flew their son – who was laughing uncontrollably –  around the room to finally land in his bed. 

She walked over to them, shaking her head with a grin, “You two are way too cute.” She covered Josef and leaned down to place a kiss on his forehead, “Sweet dreams my darling.”

“Night night,” He answered between two yawns and closed his eyes, cuddling his teddy.

Jamie wrapped his arm around Claire and held her close as they watched their son slowly drifting to sleep. He turned to her with a smile and sealed their lips before whispering, “He’s perfect.”

Claire nodded and squeezed his hand, whispering: “Simply perfect.”

They walked out of the bedroom together and closed the door softly. Suzette, who was waiting outside, smiled warmly, “Enjoy your evening,”

“Merci, Suzette,” Claire smiled, “Call me if there is anything, alright? We’re just downstairs anyway, it’s no bother for me to come up for a few minutes.”

“Bien sûr but don’t worry,” The Frenchwoman winked with a smile. Claire returned the smile and always felt reassured whenever the nanny was around her son.

“Thank ye, Suzette,” Jamie said in turn and took his wife’s hand. Together, they walked out of their private quarters and down to the hall where guests had been arriving for the last fifteen minutes.

“Ye look gorgeous, Principessa,” Jamie brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. Claire was wearing a long red dress, fitted at the waist, by Alexander McQueen. Accessorised with an emerald tiara that gave her a pounding headache but looked the part.

“And you are dashing but what else is new?” She grinned, kissing his cheek. Claire loved the moments she wasn’t the Queen and Jamie wasn’t the King. It happened a few times throughout the day, when they were alone together, in their own bubble. And she made sure to cherish those moments as much as she could.  

Jamie stopped in the hall and pulled her closer, grinning, “Let me give ye a wee kiss before we’re thrown in there and I willna be able to be near ye for the rest of the evening.”

Claire wrapped her arms around his neck and closed the distance between them, “Okay…but just a wee one.”

“And a wee one here,” Jamie whispered, kissing her cheek.

“And a wee one here,” He kissing behind her ear, making her giggle.

“One here,” His lips found her neck, turning Claire’s giggle into a moan.

“Stop it,” She mumbled reluctantly, “We’re going to be late and someone might see us.”

“I dinna care who sees, I like the world the keen I love my wife,” Looking up, Jamie smirked mischievously.

“I do not think people forgot about those pictures of us in Greece last year,” Claire stroked her husband’s chin with her index finger.

“We were just cuddling in our bathrobes on the balcony,” Jamie couldn’t help his grin “Nothing scandalous if ye ask me. I might have been ravishing ye a wee bit but who wouldn’t? I ken most men want yer as their wife and I canna blame them.”

“Well thank you for the compliment but let’s not give them a reason to write about the King ravishing his wife in the Palace hall, this time,” She fixed his tie, smirking.

“Fine,” Jamie smacked her bum, kissing her lips, “But I’ll make sure to ravish ye later.”

******

Claire might be a graceful hostess, she hated big dinners at the Palace. Nine times out of ten, she ended up sitting between annoying people while Jamie was at the other end of the room. Today, her right side was graced by some old conservative politician and her left side, with Dougal Mackenzie –  Jamie’s uncle who was a notorious anti-royalist.

Since the adoption, Dougal was going from tv show to news outlet to talk about how disgraceful it was for a royal couple to adopt and not produce an heir. Claire didn’t pay attention to tabloids and rumours going around but coming from a family member, it didn’t sit well with her. After adopting Josef, she had stopped sticking her stomach with a needle and, together with Jamie, decided if they were going to be graced with a biological child, it would happen eventually. And if not, they would be happy nonetheless.

Thankfully, the boring politician took most of her conversation time during dinner, talking about education (a topic the Queen was very interested in) and the latest gossip of parliament. It wasn’t until dessert that Jamie’s uncle had a chance to start a conversation.

“How are ye doing, yer highness?” Dougal looked at her with a smile. After many years in the family, Claire still couldn’t see a resemblance with Jamie. They shared eye colour but that was about it. Dougal Mackenzie was selfish, always looking for his best interest while Jamie was the total opposite. 

“Very well, thank you.” She answered politely, taking a sip of wine. She didn’t know if it was the fact of hearing his voice or the fish from earlier but something in her stomach shifted. She suddenly felt sick.  

“Aye, ye look well. But then ye always do,” Dougal’s smile repulsed her.

“How about you?” She cursed herself as soon as she had asked. No matter that her blood was boiling, Claire had learnt a long time ago to control herself in public for the sake of her image as well as her sanity.

“Och, always well,” He winked.

“Good to hear,” She looked at him, “But tell me, is it prolific to go around news outlet offices to talk about the state of my marriage and with it, our fertility issues? Does it pay well? ”

Dougal blinked and looked at her. From her tone, it seemed as if Claire was delivering the most polite statement but the hint of shade was enough to indicate she was not kidding. The other guests were too busy in their own conversations to pay attention to what she was saying.

Dougal coughed as his wine caught in his throat, “Pardon me?”

“You heard me just right,” She kept smiling, patting his back, as the guest opposite her looked over them. No one but Dougal heard her but everyone liked to take a look at either the King or the Queen to see how they were doing when they were in public.

“When I am asked about my opinion, I give it,” Dougal swallowed his bite and reached for his glass of water.  

“Your opinion is one thing but I thought you would have more respect for your sister’s son and his wife. I guess I misjudged you.”

“I do bore respect to my King, aye.”

“You do not but I’m not surprised. You are the very same man who goes around spitting on royalty when you are not only owing your money from your title but also waiting for the crown to land on your head.” Claire took the last bite of her dessert – her face gave no indication of her anger but her tone was quite cold.

“Let me tell you something, Dougal,” She leaned closer to him, “The crown will never be on your head. Ever. And you can keep dreaming of being King because, in reality, you wouldn’t be half as good as Jamie is. Even your sister knew that.”

“Jamie is no fit to be King, just like his father and all the Fraser men before them,” Dougal spat out – his ears turning red with repressed anger. He couldn’t explode in public and Claire knew it very well.

“I know how you feel about it, no need to remind me. But if I’m honest with you – and you like honesty – I don’t think you’re much fitter. And you have no real claim on it, either.”

“I am the former Queen’s brother,” Claire could see Dougal was trying his best not to cause a scene but he was grasping his napkin so hard, his knuckles were turning white.

“Exactly. You do not come from the direct ancestors of the crown like Jamie does. If your sister wouldn’t have married Brian, you would still be in Scotland not even dreaming of having the title that you have now.”  

“How dare you?!” Dougal’s tone increased but the noises around them counselled it.  

“When I’m asked about my opinion, I give it,” She patted his hand, “You would bring us war and chaos simply because you still think we live in the 18th century. Scotland isn’t is own entity, no matter how you feel of the matter. You enjoy the privilege of being part of this family through your sister’s marriage.”

“I never wanted Ellen to marry Brian, and I was right – we both know how that ended. Tis’ no my fault my daft sister dinna listen to me.”

“Indeed, you never wanted her to marry Brian but you thought you would turn the situation at your advantage. You want to see the end of Monarchy, yet, you want to be head of this country and you enjoy the privileges of being part of this family. It’s quite the contradiction if you ask me.”

“I’m no’ a simple man.”

“That’s where you are sorely mistaken, you’re simpler than you’d like to think.”

“I will end yer reign before ye have the time to produce a legitimate heir,” He spat out.

“Good luck with that,” Claire got up, “Now if you excuse me, I have other guests that require my time and deserve it more than you do. Enjoy the rest of your evening Dougal.”  

******

“Your uncle is an actual piece of shit,” Claire exclaimed while removing her tiara and rubbing her temple. Her head was throbbing but it wasn’t simply because of the heavy jewels. The evening had been successful and she didn’t have to talk to Dougal twice – being too busy with the other attendees to pay attention to the scot. But she was glad to be back in their room.

“Aye, I canna fault ye there,” Jamie looked at her, amused. He too was changing into his pyjamas, “What has he done now?”

“Well, I had the pleasure to sit next to him,” She rolled her eyes, putting her dress carefully back on the rack and wrapping her robe on her body, “Which reminds me I need to tell Jane to never seat him next to me again. Or to carefully check the table next time before I approve of the seating arrangement. Even Sandringham on my other side wasn’t as rude as your uncle and we both know he practically invented the concept of rudeness.”

“Again, I canna fault ye on that,” Jamie pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her body, “I’m sorry for whatever my uncle told ye.”

“Darling, it’s not your fault. And it’s nothing we didn’t hear from him before,” She smiled, stroking his chin, “But I still can’t believe you almost gave up your crown to this psychopath.”

“Thankfully you made me come to my senses and we avoided some terrible consequences of my recklessness.” Jamie grinned, fondling her ass.

“Well, that’s exactly why I’m here for,” Tiptoeing, she kissed his warm lips that tasted of whisky and sweetness from the dessert.

“See, ye’re the faerie who rescued the daft prince,” He stated, making her laugh.

“Ah, now I see where you take your inspiration for the stories you tell our son before bed,” Claire pecked his lips. She reached behind her head to remove the numerous pins keeping her mess of hair together and freed her curls.

“Ye’re so sexy when ye do that,” He sighed happily, watching her, “I love yer hair, Mo nighean donn.”

“I truly don’t feel sexy right now,” Claire groaned, rubbing her stomach, “That fish isn’t sitting well with me and I look green. It’s a pity because it was delicious.”

“Oh mo chridhe,” Jamie stroked her back, “Do you want some tea? I think ye look just fine.”

“You’re biased,” She chuckled softly, “And yes, a tea would be perfect. Thank you, darling.”

“Dinna move,” Jamie kissed her cheek and disappeared out of their room to get her a tea.

Claire sat in bed and leaned against the headboard, closing her eyes. The truth was, she had been feeling ill for most of the day, it had nothing to do with the fish but she didn’t dare to hope of anything more than a stomach flu. It wouldn’t be the first time.  

Jamie appeared after a few minutes, fuming mug in hand and a smile on his face, “Peppermint for yer upset stomach and because ye love it too much,”

Opening her eyes, she smiled softly and took the mug he was offering her, “Thank you, my love. Maybe I’m just having a reaction to your uncle. He’s actually sickening.”

Jamie chuckled, “I wouldn’t rule it out. What did he say to you?”

“Well is usual bullshit, you know,” She rolled her eyes, sipping her tea.

“Dinna mind him, aye? I will have a needed talk wi’ him,” Jamie stroked her hair back as she nodded, “And I’m sure after a night of rest ye’ll feel good again.”

“Right,” She took a few more sip of her tea and put the mug on the bedside table, “I’ll go remove my make up and then au dodo.”

“Do what?” He looked at her confused.

Au Dodo. That’s the French term Suzette uses for Josef to go to bed,” She chuckled, getting up and going to the bathroom.

Claire removed her makeup thoroughly and applied a layer of moisturizer before taking a long look at herself in the mirror. She noticed her first white hair and quickly pulled it out before turning her gaze back to her face. She looked like someone with a stomach flu, not a glowing pregnant woman. She wondered why she kept thinking she would get pregnant one day. She wasn’t growing any younger and her chances at fertility got slimmer every day. She wasn’t the kind to give up easily but it had been three years of trying. Mentally, she needed to stop hoping for a pregnancy every time she ate something sketchy.

Claire made her way back into the room and looked at Jamie who was now tucked under the sheets, an arm behind his head and a warm smile on his face. All of a sudden, a hot flush took over her body and her vision blurred. She tried to steady herself on the nearest piece of furniture, head spinning, but before she had the chance to, her vision went black and she fainted.

Chapter Text

Elena Louise Quentin Fraser was born at St Mary’s Hospital in London, on a sunny day in the middle of August. She was a healthy little bundle of joy with hair as red as her father’s and a face as beautiful as her mother’s. 

Her first cry had been broad and strong. Indicating to everyone present in the room that not only her lungs were functioning perfectly well, but she was also meaning to make herself heard. Which for a future Queen, was a quality not to be overlooked.

 The people and the press were holding their breath to know if the next in line would be a prince or a princess but most importantly what name would the royal couple choose.  Around of cheers exploded when around 3pm, the official announcement was placed in front of the palace to inform everybody of the good news. 

Her Royal Highness Claire Elizabeth was safely delivered of a daughter at 2:06pm today.

Her Royal Highness and the child are both doing well. 

The labour had lasted ten hours that seemed both to Jamie and Claire to be an eternity. The Queen had been first glad the time had come, then terrified something would go terribly wrong, to finally forgetting everything that had happened as soon as her eyes landed on her daughter’s face. Her body ached, she was exhausted but it was something stronger than all of that, there was a strength she never suspected to have taken over her body. 

Jamie had fainted (twice) during the last part of the labour but quickly got back to his senses before he, too, saw his daughter for the very first time.

“Would you like to cut the cord, Your Highness?” The nurse looked at him, her mouth curling up into a smile, and presented him with the scissors.

“Aye,” Jamie croaked, emotions taking over and showing his vulnerable side to everybody. Delicately, he cut his daughter’s cord and looked at Claire. His vision was blurred with unshed tears as the nurse laid the baby on her chest.

“Christ, she is perfect,” Jamie whispered, sitting on the bed. Both his and Claire’s eyes were glued on the baby, too afraid to look away in case she might disappear.

Pregnant?” Claire looked at her doctor in shock. It had been the last thing she thought she would hear him say.

“Yes, pregnant. You are 10 weeks along,” He smiled, sitting at his desk, “Congratulations, your highness.”

“We will, of course, do some more test to make sure you and the child are in perfect health but I wouldn’t worry too much. You fainted because of your blood pressure.”

“No, you must be mistaken,” She said, still incredulous. It had been years of trying and she had started to give up hope, “I can’t be.”

“I know it’s a surprise to you, I’m well aware of the issues you had to get pregnant until now but you are in perfect health, young and you have not been on any birth control for a while. It simply happened.”

She blinked, absently touching her still flat stomach.

“Pregnant,” She repeated. Claire couldn’t quite grasp the fact she was finally carrying a child and she was well aware she probably looked completely stupid to the doctor but she didn’t care.

“You once told me when the time was right, you were sure you would get pregnant and the time has come,” He smiled, scribbling something on a piece of paper, “I’m giving you a few vitamins to take and I will see you again in two or three weeks. In the meantime, I want you to rest and not to worry, alright?”

Claire nodded, looking at him and smiled. She was still a tad bit incredulous and yet, it felt as if it wasn’t that crazy, “Yes, thank you, doctor.”

After fainting, she had come back to her senses quickly and told Jamie she was completely fine and she would go see a doctor the next day. He had reluctantly agreed to let her spend the night before seeking any medical judgement and in retrospect, Claire knew that deep down, she must have known it had been nothing alarming – quite the contrary.

She left the private clinic and drove back to the Palace to find Jamie in his study, enjoying a glass of whisky as he was going over his speech for some inauguration they had to attend in a few days. Claire watched him for a while, without making a sound. He was concentrated on his work and she loved to see the look on his face – the little frown of his brows as he was thinking if what he had written made sense or not.

Clearing her throat, she brought him out of his thoughts and made him look up – his face illuminating as soon as he set eyes on her, “Principessa, how long have you been watching me?”

She grinned and walked over to his desk, “Just a wee bit, my love.”

Jamie took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss her palm before pulling her on his lap.

“What did the doctor say?” Suddenly, the worry took over his face again as he remembered what she had been off to do.

“I’m perfectly fine, don’t worry,” Claire kissed his cheek, “Just my blood pressure.”

“I’m glad to hear so, and yer stomach is still bothering ye?”

Claire nodded, “Yes but that will go away in the next trimester.”

“Och, good,” Jamie kissed the tip of her nose, not quite realising what she had just said.

Pulling back, she looked at him raising her eyebrows, “Did you hear what I just said?”

“Aye, that it’ll go away in the next trimest…”His sentence died as his eyes grew wider, “Claire, are ye…?”

Nodding, Claire smiled widely, “We’re having a baby!”

She didn’t know exactly what it was – either finally spoken those words out loud and to Jamie – but Claire finally realised it wasn’t a dream. Jamie didn’t say a word, he simply wrapped his arms around her body and held her close, letting his happy tears stroll down his cheeks.

“A wee bairn,” He spoke softly, looking up at Claire’s face who was looking at him with the most tender look.

“A wee bairn, my love,” She cupped his cheeks and sealed their lips – her own tears roaming freely down her cheeks.

Claire watched her newborn daughter for what seemed like hours. She memorised every feature of her face, the curve of her nose, the slanted eyes and red fuzzy hair like her father, her tiny fingers. She was the perfect mixture of her parents.

As much as her body was aching and her eyelids were heavy, Claire couldn’t stop.

She didn’t remember much of her own mother, save for some sensory details like her vanilla smell or the sound of her laugh. Tales from her uncle indicated that Julia had been a great mom, affectionate and crazy for her curly headed child. Claire felt a slight sting just thinking of the fact she didn’t remember any of it. Her biggest fear before becoming a mother was not being able to see her children grow up and that was something she had in common with Jamie.

“Claire, ye should rest,” Jamie said with a smile, sitting on the bed.

“I know,” She said softly, smiling and reluctantly took her eyes off Elena to look at Jamie, “But I can’t stop looking at her.”

“Aye, she’s a wee beauty,” Jamie kissed her cheek, “Just like her mam.”

“Her dad isn’t too shabby, either,” Claire grinned before placing a kiss on the baby’s forehead, “But you’re right, she’ll wake up soon enough to eat anyway.”

Jamie carefully took their daughter – as if she was the most delicate thing in the world and he was afraid to break her. It was the sweetest sight for Claire to see the big and tall Scot so gentle and tender with Elena as he laid her into the cot.

Moving slightly, she opened the cover and patted the bed, “Come here.” 

It wasn’t fit for two people – even less when one of them was as broad and as tall as Jamie, but she wanted to hold him. The clinic was the best in London and everyone had been attentive to her but Claire couldn’t wait to go back home with the newest addition to their family.

Jamie laid down as best as he could and carefully wrapped her into his arms. She didn’t know it but he was in awe of her. Of the way she gave birth to their child and the strength, she had shown through it all. 

“How are ye feelin’?” He asked softly, kissing her temple.

“I’m feeling rubbish and exhausted. We’re never having sex again but overall, I’m really happy,” She grinned, looking up at him.

“We can do it the back way, ye ken, like horses,” Jamie grinned, patting her butt.

Claire laughed, burying her face into the crook of his neck not to wake up the baby, “We will talk about your sexual fantasies another time. Maybe once my vagina doesn’t feel as sore.”

“Noted,” Jamie chuckled softly, stroking her arm.

“I’m so proud of ye, though. Christ, I ken ye were so strong but watching ye going through all this for our child, I canna even explain it. I killed me to see ye be in so much pain and I wasna able to do much but watch and holdin’ yer hand.”

“Well, thank you,” She kissed him tenderly, “But you helped, you let me squeeze your hand to oblivion and insult you,” She grinned.

“Aye, I’ve heard ‘you bloody bastard’ a few times in between my faintings. No offence taken though.”

“I didn’t mean any, it was in the spur of the moment,” Claire smirked, stroked his chin, “I’m glad you didn’t hurt yourself, though, nor anybody else, while you fainted. And now we’ll have some great stories to tell the children.”

“Och, no but I have a wee bump on my skull,” He pouted, rubbing his head.

“Good thing it’s as thick as a rock, uh?” Claire raised her eyebrows, kissing him tenderly. 

“Aye, ‘tis,” Jamie chuckled and held her close, “Now sleep, Principessa.”

Nodding, Claire sealed their lips once last time before letting slumber take over her exhausted body and she fell asleep. 

******

Claire woke up to the sound of her husband soft voice singing some lullaby to their daughter in Gaelic. The room was still dark as it was fairly early. If it wasn’t for one of the bedside table lamps, she wouldn’t be able to see Jamie, bare-chested and only in his tartan pyjama pants. He was holding the baby against him and walking around the room.

They had taken Elena home two weeks ago and spent their days quietly, enjoying their new routine as a family of four. Josef was over the moon with his sister – who he referred to as Lenny, a nickname his parents picked up as well –  and his protectiveness over her melted Claire and Jamie’s heart.

Claire watched her husband for a little while, noting the softness of his eyes as they watched their daughter lovingly. He was tone deaf and couldn’t sing to save his life but the sight made Claire love him even more, nonetheless.

As he turned and saw her awake, Jamie’s mouth curled up into a wide smile but he kept singing softly. Lenny was soundly asleep and looked so tiny nuzzled against his broad chest.

Sitting up, Claire couldn’t take her eyes off of Jamie – he was a very attractive man but when he held a baby, it was on a whole other level. The way she was biting her lower lip was a good indication to just how much attractive she found him because he chuckled softly as he sat down on the bed.

“Why are ye looking at me like that, uh?” Jamie said in a low voice before kissing her cheek.

“Just you, holding our baby and looking like that,” Claire smirked, “It’s making me all flustered and having impure thoughts.”

“Och weel, ye were asleep and someone peed so I decided to change her and rock her back to sleep before she’ll wake up again to eat,” He smiled, leaning against the headboard, “I guess she likes when papa sings.”

“You know she only falls asleep for self-defence, right?” Claire teased him.

“Are ye implying I canna sing?” Jamie’s eyebrows rose in faked shock.

“It’s not that you can’t sing, you just have your own style is all,” She kissed his cheek. 

“I love you too, Claire,” Jamie chuckled softly, something that woke up Lenny who started to cry.

“Och, a leannan,” Lifting her up, he placed a tender kiss on her nose, “I’m sorry I woke ye.”

“Seriously, Jamie, just watching you like that makes me want to have twelve other kids with you,” Claire sighed, biting her lower lip. She still felt sore and her hormones were all over the place but she would take him right there if she could – and he wasn’t holding their daughter.

Jamie chuckled, “Good to hear, I thought you said we would never have sex again?”

“I am not responsible for the things I have said during labour,” Grinning, Claire took her sobbing daughter and kissed her head, “Hello my little lamb. You are so grumpy when you wake up, just like your mother, uh?”

“Where is the lie?” Jamie asked innocently.

“You’re just lucky I can’t hit you because I’m holding her,” Claire mischievous smile made him chuckle again – she had no idea what time it was but she didn’t care. Every time Lenny woke up, Jamie was awake too to keep them company. They spent their time talking, joking and falling in love with one another, even more, a little bit every time.

“Aye, I’m the luckiest man on earth,” Jamie smiled, kissing her cheek. 

He made a low noise in his throat as Claire lifted her top to start to feed Elena and his eyes drifted to her full breast, “It amazes me how ye carried her, birthed her and now yer body feeds her.”

“Too bad those pecs of yours don’t carry milk because my nipples are dry as hell.”

“I can apply yer wee balm on them later if ye want me to,” Jamie wiggled his eyebrows and sealed their lips.

“You are a generous man,” Claire grinned against his lips before leaned back again. She watched her daughter eat in silence, letting bliss taking over her body and mind. Jamie was lightly stroking her leg, his eyes too were glued on Lenny and he had the sweetest smile on his face.

“Did you have a nanny when you were a kid?” Claire asked after yawning, “We never really discussed that, even when Suzette started to work for us.”

“Aye, we had one taking care of us when my parents were out and such, like Suzette. Her name was Maggie,” Jamie smiled, reminiscing, “But my mother didn’t want us to be raised by a stranger.”

“Maggie,” Claire repeated, “It sounds like a good nanny name. I imagine some sweet old lady who made scones and knitted.”

“She wasna verra old,” Jamie chuckled, leaning on his elbow, “When I was a young lad, she was in her thirties.”

“Did you have a crush?” Grinning, Claire fixed her top and laid a half-asleep Elena against her shoulder, softly tapping her back.

“A wee one, aye,” Jamie admitted, his cheeks flushing at the thought, “But she wasna my type.”

“That’s kind of cute though. What did she look like?” Claire had been the first and only woman Jamie had been intimate with but it amused her to know who else had struck his fancy when he was younger.

“She was tall and blonde, wi’ blue eyes. She looked quite plain compared to ye.” 

“You don’t have to say that to ease my jealousy,” She chuckled, “I was just curious.”

“No really, she was a bonny lass but nothin’ compared to ye. I’m sure if I had met ye back then, I wouldn’t even have noticed her. Because my body and my soul react only to ye and no one else. She was pretty, aye, but ye look like an angel fallen from the sky and everyone turns when they see ye because yer beauty is captivating,” Jamie whispered softly, sending shivers down her body. 

“I would really like to climb you right now but your daughter just puked on my pyjama top,” Claire sighed, looking at him. 

Jamie laughed and took Elena so Claire could get up and change. She quickly tossed her dirt top away and put on a t-shirt before going back into bed.

“Ye know, for the Queen of England, it makes me laugh to see ye wear a Sex Pistols band tee with the “God Save The Queen” slogan on it. This album was actually banned in the country in 1977.”

“I liked them before I married into royalty,” Grinning, she kissed his lips.

“Do I make ye happy?” He asked softly, something changing in his eyes as if panic took over his body all of sudden.

Claire looked at him – surprised at first of this sudden question – but her expression softened and her mouth curled up into a warm smile, “You make me the happiest, my love. And I am so grateful for everything you have done for me and given me.”

“I havena given ye much,” He said softly. 

“You gave me a family and that is the most valuable thing I could have ever asked for,” Claire sat down, leaning against him, “I thought I was okay all on my own, that I had no need to be loved or to love in return but you showed me I needed it as much as everyone else. I don’t know what I would do without you and the children.”

“When I met ye, I was lost. I was afraid and I didn’t think I would find anyone strong enough to stand next to me for the rest of my life. I thought my title was a burden and I dinna want to make anyone else suffer through it. Until I saw yer eyes for the first time and I realised there was no one else but you I wanted next to me,” Jamie lifted her chin, his deep blue eyes piercing into her soul. Her vision was blurred with unshed tears caused by his tender words.

“My mam liked to tell me a story about how the strong knight got rescued by the faerie. Ye ken the one I tell to Jojo all the time?” 

Claire nodded, smiling. 

“You’re the faerie, Claire,” Jamie leaned down and sealed their lips for a long while before whispering against them, “And you rescued me.”

End of Arc II 

Chapter Text

“And they lived happily ever after,” was a term commonly used in fairy tales. But as much as one’s life can be a happy one, tragedies are part of it, too.

Claire had known tragedy when she was only a child, losing both her parents to a dreadful car crash. But as she grew up, she felt as if her marriage to Jamie had been a reward for her pitiful childhood. Something to comfort the orphan who found her soulmate and would now spend the rest of her days in marital bliss. No couple was perfect, even less one that’s constantly in the public eye, but it had been bliss nonetheless.

Until one year ago, when their lives had taken a turn no one ever expected and bliss had faded.

Claire moved her hips, her hands were solidly planted on Jamie’s chest, holding on for dear life. Her eyes were tightly shut as she tried to take her mind elsewhere – to a place of surrender and lust. She simply wanted to forget the pain, the ache and how much she was suffocating. Once, hearing Jamie’s moans had the power to transport her in a secret place. A place only they knew about, and his body could send her to oblivion – as a wave of pleasure would take over and crash against her.

Not today.

“Claire…” Jamie looked up at her as she stopped moving. His hand reached for her cheek, making her almost wince.

“I’m sorry,” She moved carefully and laid down next to him, her breath coming out short, “I’m just, I don’t know – I don’t feel well.”

“Dinna fash,” Jamie smiled softly as he covered them, “Ye’re tired, tis’ okay.”

“Yes, just tired,” She returned the smile as best as she could and leaned up to turn off the bedside lamp.

Claire never used to find obscurity pleasant but these days, it was the only thing bringing her comfort and in the dark, Jamie couldn’t see her tears. It wasn’t the first time something like this happened but he never asked her any further questions about it – he, too, was hurting in silence and she knew it. In the morning, they would have breakfast together as if nothing had happened.

“Good night, Principessa,” Jamie whispered.  

Claire felt his arms wrapping protectively around her body and his lips stamping her temple with a tender kiss for reassurance. She couldn’t help the tear that escaped her eyes and bit her lower lip not to make a sound.

“Good night,” She said softly, waiting for him to succumb to slumber. After more than twenty-five years together, she could tell exactly when he was asleep so she hung on.

Everything around her was loud. From the clock on the wall to the wind outside and even Jamie’s breathing. Claire was restless, once she was sure Jamie was asleep, she carefully got up and grabbed her robe from the floor before wrapping it around her body. She made her way out of their room without a sound.

Her favourite sight these days was the empty Palace at night. She roamed the halls like a ghost (the cold tiles under her feet as the only reminder she was alive) when she couldn’t sleep and retired to her other room. It had been an escape, a place to go when the tears were too heavy to prevent and wouldn’t stop. Over time, it became her permanent residence and she only went back to their room when Jamie asked her to. Something that became less frequent, too.

The room on the other side of the palace became her sanctuary – a safe haven. Once, it had been Jamie’s arms but they were no more so she found another refuge. One where she could be alone and in peace – or at least try to.

Claire wasn’t a fool. She was aware something had ruptured inside her on that fateful morning of August. Something that will never heal, no matter how much she tried. It was supposed to get better with time, but it seemed to only get worse. With each passing day, she was less and less herself, hiding under a transparent shell that seemed to do nothing to shield the pain away. She became stern and only smiled (always fake) when she had too. Her wardrobe had turned predominantly black with some hints of grey and her hair was straight, without any life to it – as if they were frozen in place, unable to move freely.

Just like her.

She had to hold herself together in public (they all did) and it was easy. A forced smile for the people, an intelligent and thoughtful speech during charity events and other state dinners, but no one was duped …and neither was she. When she looked at herself in a mirror, Claire saw another woman, a woman she didn’t know nor even recognized.

The press had noticed, too. Every day the front pages were graced by her latest outing with less than flattering headlines. The comparison to Ellen Fraser at the end of her life was constant and the speculations on the state of the royal couple’s marriage were worse than ever. Claire had learned to forget about the press and whatever the rags were saying on her family a long time ago, but right now, she wasn’t strong enough to try and sweep it under the rug.

Their kids were grown and all off to university. Josef was in Edinburgh, Elena in Oxford and Julia in Cambridge. Claire had no other purpose during the day apart from her duties as the Queen and even those had started to become not enough to take the mind off her pain. During the night, she succumbed to the grief in her heart, poured herself a glass of whisky and cried herself to sleep.

*******

Every time Claire stepped out of her room, she looked impeccable.

She had never been one to wear much makeup but only to hide her sorrows and her dark circles, it had become part of her routine. Today, like most days, her hair was tied back in a tight bun – a few grey streaks making an appearance. She wore a white silk shirt and navy blue pants with matching pointy-toe heels. At fifty-three, Claire was even more beautiful than she used to be and she barely looked forty-five, but she tried to avoid her reflection as much as possible.

“Your majesty,” Emma smiled warmly at the sight of the Queen as she made her way towards her. She was Claire’s assistant and right hand – she was also the brightest young woman she had met in a long while and she reminded Claire of herself. Something that stung her heart more times than not.

“Good morning, Emma,” Claire returned the smile.

“Good morning! So today, the Tate Modern’s inauguration is at 11:30, it will be followed by a luncheon soon after and then you have a meeting at 2 with the ladies of the cancer charity to discuss details for the annual dinner,” She handed her the files.

“When is the car leaving for the Tate?” Claire asked, faking some interest, she had read her notes during the night instead of sleeping and already knew everything by heart.

“Charly will pick you up at 11.”

“Good then, I’ll go have breakfast, review my speech and we’ll be on our way,” Claire put on her glasses to look over the documents, “Thank you, Emma.”

“Do you need a change of clothes?”

“Maybe just a change of coat, I’ll try and not stain my shirt during lunch so the ladies won’t say anything once I leave,” She winked at the young woman.

“Very well, Madam,” Emma grinned, “See you in a bit.”

Claire nodded and made her way downstairs to the dining room. Her stomach was growling for food but all appetite left her as soon as she walked into the room.

Jamie was sitting at his usual spot, newspaper and other documents resting next to his tea while he was in deep conversation with his own assistant – Mary. They both laughed at something Jamie had said but he stopped at the sight of Claire.

“Claire,” He said, getting up at once.

“Morning,” She mumbled as he made his way to her and kissed her cheek.

“Good morning, your majesty,” Mary courtesy to her before disappearing out of the room. There was an unease between the two women and it was apparent to everyone…except Jamie.  

Claire’s eyebrows rose as the young woman left and she looked at her husband with raised eyebrows, “Sorry, have I interrupted something?”

“No, of course not,” Jamie frowned. It looked to Claire as if he didn’t see anything bizarre at the woman’s sudden change of behaviour when she had walked in.

His face softened as he stroked her cheek, “Are you hungry? I asked Mrs. Crook for scones.”

“Well you do know me by now, I love a good scone,” She smiled softly, touching his hand.

“Aye, I do,” Jamie smiled and made her sit before bringing her a warm scone covered in cream and raspberry jam – just the way she loved it. It broke her heart to see how much he was trying to make her feel better with little gestures such as this one.

“Thank you,” She expressed sincerely and kissed his cheek, lingering on his warm skin far longer than she would these days.

“What are you doing today?” She asked, pulling back reluctantly. She took a bite of scone, grabbing the newspaper to avoid his eyes.

“I’ve got a meeting with the Prime Minister and then I need to finish arranging the details for our visit to Paris in a few weeks,” Jamie sat down again, watching her.

“Right, Paris,” She sipped her tea, remembering their state visit next month. They had been invited by the President to attend the inauguration of the new British embassy. “We’re staying four days, right?”

Nodding, Jamie sipped some of his tea, “Aye, more or less. Just some visits, the inaugural dinner and then back home.”

Home. It was a funny word to Claire.

For so long, she had longed for a home, a place to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel free. 
For so long, she had believed she would never find such a thing and then, she met Jamie. He had been her home, no matter where in the world they found themselves, the comfort of his arms provided her a feeling of utter contentment and safety. But that home was lost. At least for now. And she had no idea what path to take to return to it, to return to him.

Claire nodded and sipped her tea, “I’m going to the Tate in a bit, then I have a meeting in the afternoon. I’ll be back around dinner time.”

“Is it the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective?” He asked, trying his best to have a decent conversation for a change.

She could feel his eyes on her, their pull, but she kept hers firmly planted on the newspaper. Every time she dared to drown in their blue colour, she died a little bit inside.

“Right, it opens to the public on Friday and today’s the cocktail for gallerists and the press.”

“Are ye excited to see it? I ken how much ye love her work,” He touched her hand carefully and Claire let the heat of it warm her for a little while without saying a word. It looked as if she was busy reading, but in reality, she was simply trying to find a little bit of solace in his touch. Something she had not been able to do for a little while now.

“Claire?” Jamie cleared his throat but his voice was as soft as a feather.

“Mmh?” She finally looked up at him. His hair had faded to a warm honey colour and some lines graced his face but he still looked like Jamie, her Jamie. A bonafide version of the young man she had met all those years ago in an empty Oxford hall. And his eyes…they still knew how to pierce right into her soul – that simple realization made her breath hiss.

“I was askin’ ye if ye were excited to see it?” He smiled warmly, bringing her hand to his lips.

“Oh yes, of course,” She smiled in turn, something in the pit of her stomach shifting with a teenage giddiness she had long thought lost.

“Aye, I thought so,” He sipped his own tea. Claire knew something had ruptured inside of him too back then but they both selfishly dealt with their grief alone.

“How did ye sleep?”

“Fine,” Claire lied, stuffing her mouth with the last bit of scone.

She failed to notice the hurt in his own eyes as he looked at her – the exact same one that floated in hers. She was unaware that each time she left their room, Jamie too cried himself to sleep. She didn’t know how much he was missing her, nor how much he was hoping to fix them. She had no idea of any of this because he never told her and wrapped in her own heartbreak, she never thought to ask. Jamie was strong and more times than not, he was able to shield his emotions from her with an unreadable face.

“Anyway, I have to go,” Claire got up, wiping the corner of her mouth with a napkin, “Have a nice day, Jamie.”

“Wait,” He grabbed her hand – making her look down at it (and her wedding band on the same occasion)

Jamie got up slowly and brought it to his lips, kissing her palm. The warmth of his breath sent shivers through her entire body, making the hair of her arm raise in anticipation.  She often wondered what he thought of the woman she had become – so very different than the one he fell in love with all those years ago.

“Ye ken we can talk about it, aye? Whenever ye need, I’m right here,” He kissed her palm again, whispering: “Always.”

Talk about it.

It wasn’t that simple and there was nothing left for Claire to say. It kept her up every night, begging for peace, but she didn’t want to talk about it.

“I know,” She croaked, trying to control her trembling voice, “I need to go now or I’ll be late.”

Without another word, nor another look at Jamie, Claire gathered her papers and left the dining room quickly. She had a few more minutes before the car would leave so she locked herself into one of the bathrooms downstairs and sobbed silently.

For what was lost and what they had become.

Chapter Text

The morning had started well.

The sun was shining and it was a particularly gorgeous day in August. Not too warm, just perfect. It was the kind of day Claire loved — and being on vacation with Jamie and the children in Dorset added to the bliss. It was the kind of day they longed for the start of the holidays all over again, knowing they will soon come to a close. 

They usually spent all of their summer vacations in Scotland but as requested by the children, this year, they wanted a change. After two weeks spent in the South of France, the family had relocated in the little English town for their last few days together before the royal couple would go back to their duties and all the children back to school.

Josef was in his first year at University in Edinburgh. He chose to study history, just like his father.

Elena was in her last year of high school, wondering where and what she would study next. And the twins, Julia and Elias were two years younger than her.

Claire couldn’t believe how time flew by in a blink. So many years, so many memories. Just yesterday she was marrying her prince. So much had happened and would happen in years to come but even if no marriage was perfect, being married to Jamie was something resembling bliss.

In three more days, they’d be back to London and couldn’t sleep in late like teenagers so she decided to make the most of their last few quiet moments together. Jamie was still asleep so she watched him, a finger slowly stroking his chest.

He looked very much the same as he used to the day they had met, except for some lines on the corners of his eyes and his hair had faded to an ashy auburn but other than that, he was still gorgeous. Her own hair had started to get grey streaks, even as curly as it was, it was very much visible.

Jamie stirred slowly and watched her, his mouth curling up into a warm smile and his eyes still full of sleep.

“Good morning,” she whispered against his chest and placed a kiss on it.

“Morning, Principessa,” His thumb stroked her cheek.

Claire leaned up and sealed their lips. She felt his strong arms wrapping tightly around her body and sighed happily. They were both naked from their nocturnal activities and the simple feeling of Jamie’s warm body against hers had the power to erase any coherent thoughts she might be having.

“Christ, how can ye be so sexy all the time?” Jamie whispered against her lips, his hands travelling to her bum to give it a generous fondle.

“I’m glad you still think so, even after more than twenty years of marriage,” Claire rubbed her nose against his, “And as I watched you sleep, I was thinking how good you look too.”

“Ye are even more beautiful than the day I met ye and ye were quite beautiful then already,” Jamie smiled.

“Are you trying to make me drop my panties for you, Your royal highness?”

“I do believe ye dropped yer panties last night,” Jamie grinned proudly, kissing her nose.

Claire chuckled, resting her forehead against his, “That’s true, I don’t even know where my panties are right now.”

“I dinna ken, either. I threw them somewhere and I was too busy wi’ ye to notice where exactly.”

“I’ll find them, at some point,” Smirking, she kissed him again. She loved this man, even more, today than she had when they first had met – and it had been pretty strong back then.

“Do you think the children expect us for breakfast?” Jamie stroked her arm up and down.

“No,” Claire looked at the clock, “They have probably all gone horse riding already.”

“Aye, gone were the days they wanted to hang out wi’ us all day,” Jamie pouted, kissing Claire’s sensitive skin behind her ear, “Not that I mind.”

Claire bite her lower lip and simply responded with a low groan, feeling his teeth nibbling her earlobe. If she wasn’t already laying down, her knees would have given in.

******

Claire emerged out of their room a few minutes after Jamie, dressed in a white linen summer dress,  and made her way downstairs. They had limited staff with them on holiday – mostly for security reasons – and over the years, Claire had learned how to act as if no one was around them. So did the children.

“Morning madam,” Emma smiled warmly at the sight of the Queen. She had started to work for the palace two years ago and soon had become Claire’s right hand. She was lovely and Josef had seemed to notice too – much to his siblings’ amusement.

“Good morning Emma, how are you?” Claire smiled and got herself a coffee.

“Very good, thank you,” The assistant smiled – there was something glowing about her this morning. Something Claire didn’t ask about because she already knew the answer.

“Are the children already gone?”

“Yes, they have been for two hours now.”

“I thought you would go with them?” Claire asked innocently. She had heard her son conversation with Emma the previous night.

“Oh well I thought I would stay here, Madam, in case you needed me for something,” She smiled. Claire could tell the young woman was fighting her attraction toward Josef not to appear unprofessional.  

Smiling, Claire shook her head, “Nonsense dear, I am very grateful for your help, I couldn’t do it without you but it’s the holidays. Go have some fun, I’m sure Jojo will be happy that you joined them,” Claire winked.

Emma blushed furiously, clearing her throat, “Yes, I will go. Thank you.”

“See you later,” Claire returned the smile and made her way to the dining room.

Jamie was sitting at the big table, sipping his tea and reading the newspaper (a concentrated expression on his face). He was wearing his glasses, a sight Claire not only loved but that also managed to make her all flustered.

“Anything about us in there, today?” She asked with a grin. There was rarely a day where the Royal family didn’t end up in some tabloids.

“There ye are,” He said happily, putting his mug away. “Nay, nothing, sorry to disappoint ye.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m disappointed, darling,” She chuckled.

“Come here,” Smiling, he held out his hand.

“Wait,” Claire stopped, grinning, “Listen.”

Jamie frowned, “I canna hear anythin’ –”

“Exactly!” She laughed, an earthy happy laugh coming from her stomach, and walked over to him.

Jamie chuckled, pulling her carefully onto his lap.

“I told Emma to go and join the kids, there’s no point in keeping her around when there is nothing to do. And we’re on holiday, after all.”

“Aye, we are,” Jamie nuzzled her neck, “And I’m sure will Josef appreciate yer move, Principessa.”

“Oh yes, he surely will,” She played with his nape hair, thinking about their oldest son, “He has such a crush.”

“I think ‘tis more than a crush at this point, mo nighean donn,” Jamie grinned, looking up at her.

“She’s a wee bit older than him though,” He remarked, his thumb stroking Claire’s exposed shoulder.

“When did that ever stop you?” Claire’s eyebrow rose and her mouth curled up into a grin, “If I recall correctly, you like your lasses a wee bit older than you are.”

“Firstly, my lass, not lasses,” He kissed her, their lips overlapping.

“And secondly,  what can I tell ye? Like father, like son,” Jamie grinned and sealed their lips once more.

Stroking a stray curl around her ear,  he watched her, “What would ye like to do today?”

“I would like to lay against you on the huge sofa and read a book, maybe even take a nap,” Claire rubbed her nose against his.

“Sounds perfect to me,” Jamie grabbed his toast but she took a bite before he had the chance to, “Hey!”

“Mmh, delicious,” Claire grinned proudly, chewing. Since the children were all grown up, the couple went straight back to the honeymoon phase, not that they were complaining.  

“I love ye and I love our life in London but I have loved the last few weeks just bein’ away wi’ the kids in France and now, here,” Jamie brought her hand to his lips.

“I love it too,” Claire smiled, resting her forehead against his and closing her eyes. She felt his strong arms holding her tight against him and pulling her close. He was her home – the one place where she would always feel safe.

Jamie grabbed the raspberry jam and opened the jar. He took a scoop with his index finger and rubbed it all over her lips.

“Is that because I just ate a piece of your toast?” Claire’s eyebrows rose up in question.

“Maybe…” He grinned, leaning closer to her, his breath tickling her lips.

“Or ‘tis just because I wanted some jam and it tastes much better on ye,” He whispered before slowly licking the jam off her mouth.

“So now I’m just a human toast? That’s what you are saying?” She couldn’t help but laugh. 

“Aye, more or less,” He smirked, “The best toast I have ever tasted if I’m honest.”

“I want some jam too,” She watched him, not making a move to reach for the jar.

Without a word, Jamie dipped his index into the jam to scoop some more and presented her with it.

“I’m so spoiled,” She said in a low voice before leaning slightly. She took Jamie’s finger and licked the length of it. Taking it into her mouth, she sucked until there was no jam left.

“Very good marmalade indeed,” She liked to beat him at his own game and the look on his face was enough for her to know she had done it again.

Chuckling, Claire wiped her mouth with a napkin and got up. She took his hand and pulled him up to her, “Come.”

“I shall oblige, my Queen,” Jamie kissed her cheek and lifted her over his shoulder.

“Jamie!” She laughed, “You’re going to hurt your back again, we’re too old for this!”

“Tis’ the only reason I go to the gym, Principessa. So I can lift ye up whenever I want to or when ye dinna want to listen to me,” Jamie patted her bum and walked to the living room.

“I’m not drunk this time, I can actually walk,” She laughed.  

“Dinna act like ye dinna like it,” Grinning, Jamie put her down once they were to the living room, and kissed her nose.  

“Your royal asshole,” She grinned, wrapping her arms around his neck.

“I like it when ye call me that,” Jamie pressed her closer, his lips finding the delicate skin of her neck. He had not shaved in a couple of days and the sensation of his rough skin grazing against her was enough to make her spread her legs at any time.

Claire’s hand reached down between them to slip into his pants and take a firm hold on his cock.

“Christ,” Jamie mumbled against her, “Claire…”

“Yes?” She asked innocently, unzipping his trousers with her other hand. Before he had the time to answer, The trousers in question, alongside his boxers were around his ankles.

Jamie looked at her then, his deep blue eyes turned dark with lust. She knew that look, it meant she was in trouble and she loved it.

Leaning against the wall, Claire lifted her dress, her eyes never leaving his face. She watched his expression closely as she hooked her thumbs in her panties and slid them down slowly. Once on the floor, she stepped out of them.

“I think I just dropped my panties again, James.” No children, no staff. It was rare to have a place only to themselves. Claire was determined to take advantage of it, as much as she could.

Jamie swallowed audibly, “Aye, I think ye just did.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”  She rasped, slowly opening the buttons of the front of her dress. She could tell it was way too slow for her husband’s liking so she turned the pace down even more.

“I dinna ken what I can do about it…” He took a step closer to her, “But I ken exactly what I’m gonna do about ye, aye.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?” Claire pulled him by the shirt, “And when I say too much, I mean waaaay too much. There are so many things you could do with that pretty mouth of yours.”

“Oh aye?” He raised his eyebrow, his arms wrapping around her waist, “Like what?”

She didn’t answer, instead, Claire unhooked the last button, letting her dress open completely in the front to reveal her naked state.

Jamie looked down between them, his cheeks flushing even more, “Nevermind…I think I just found a way to use that mouth.”

She groaned as his lips started their descent on her body. From neck to breasts, stomach and then her most sensitive spot. His tongue was trailing down, stamping each spot of her porcelain skin with goosebumps.

“Clever man,” Were the last words she mumbled before his mouth made it impossible for her to form any coherent thoughts for a little while.

******

The rest of the morning was less eventful. Jamie and Claire decided they needed a shower (together, to save water) and then spent their time with legs tangled and cuddling on the sofa. Both reading and properly dressed, waiting for the children to get home for lunch.

It was fairly warm and dry – something rare in England, even in the summer. There was a cool breeze coming through the bay window to the living room, providing a pleasant sensation. Save for the birds singing outside, there was complete silence. 

Complete bliss.

In the distance, Claire heard the horses coming back. Since the estate was fairly large, it meant the children were not far at all.

“The rascals are back,” She smiled happily, looking up at Jamie to kiss him. She put the book away and got up.

“Och, thank Christ, I’m famished,” He grinned, kissing her palm and reluctantly letting go of her hand.

“But when are you not?” Smirking, she walked towards the garden and the last sound she remembered hearing was her husband’s deep laugh behind her. 

After that, it was chaos.

As much as Claire tried not to think about the 23rd of August, what happened was stamped in her heart for the rest of her life. It was confusing how much detail she could recall and yet, at the same time, she had no idea if her mind tricked her to believe her memories were blurry or if she simply tried to shield herself from more pain.

From what she was wearing, to the sound of Jamie’s laugh before she had gone outside. Claire remembered the exact moment her stomach flinched as the sight of their sixteen-year-old son lying on the grass came into view.

Elias was convulsing. Eyes wide, arms clutched and body curled up, shaking.  It had not been the first time he had an epilepsy fit – they had learned to live with it since he was a little boy diagnosed with the disease early on in his life.  The couple had access to the best doctors who kept their son under rigorous medication and on a close watch. From the staff to the children, everyone knew how to proceed when a fit happened because Elias always felt funny and knew what to do. This time, however,  it had been different.

This time, no one saw it coming.

Elias had not shown a single sign of distress, not the days prior and even less that morning as he was riding back to the estate with his siblings.  He was not prohibited to ride, always promising his parents to be careful and sharing a horse with his twin sister, Julia,  in case anything would happen. Elias’ fit caused his body to shut down, depriving it of oxygen for far too long until the ambulance finally showed up.

The one detail that was neither blurry nor possible to erase for Claire was the look the doctor gave her. A look that chilled her bones, extracting her soul from her body all at the same time.

A look that said: “We’re sorry, we tried everything… He didn’t make it.”

Claire remembered perfectly that look. It shredded her body to pieces and changed her life, her marriage and herself forever.

Chapter Text

Visiting Elias’ grave early on Sunday mornings became a sacred ritual for Claire.

Every week, at the same hour (and when everyone was still asleep), the Queen would visit her son. Each time, she brought him a fresh bouquet of flowers and sat by the grave. Some days she stayed silent and on others, she would speak to him, about everything and anything. She was numb most of the time but this little thing in her busy week always helped soothe her broken heart a little bit.

Since the children were all off to university and Jamie wasn’t much of an option for comfort, she fell back into a routine of loneliness similar to the one she had experienced as a child, after the loss of her parents.

With each passing day, Claire and Jamie receded further away from one another. No matter how much it broke Claire’s heart, she did not know what to do about it, she felt helpless. He was trying, that much she knew. And yet, she was too broken to let the light go through the cracks of her heart this time. Of course, she was aware he was not fine, either. But somehow, Jamie made a better job at hiding it than she did. Their son’s passing seemed like some taboo subject they were both too scared to talk about. As if avoiding the topic would somehow bring him back. 

The days following Elias’ death, both of them held it together in front of the public and the children. Not only for the kids’ sakes but also their own. However, they spent the nights sobbing into each other’s arms, holding on for dear life. What ruptured them was when they had to start planning the funeral.

After the release of the Palace’s official statement, the news of Elias’ passing was posted on every major news channel, website and paper – not only in Britain but also all over the World. Claire was running on only a couple of hours of sleep and barely any food, since the last three days. She wondered how she was still standing up.

Every person she met, every corner she turned, someone looked at her with pity, apologizing for how awful the situation was as if they could do anything to fix it. To bring her son back. Everyone was sorry for them but as much as she appreciated the sentiment, her grief was slowly turning into venom and she was too weak and too angry to prevent it.

Jamie’s office was full of people. From the Prime Minister to Palace executives, assistants, staff members and others whose purpose for being there was unknown to the Queen.

She wasn’t listening. The words melted into a strange noise buzzing her ears and accentuating her pounding headache. Her eyes were glued to her cup of tea (that was cold by now) and her fingers tapped on her leg more with annoyance than nervousness. 

Jamie was sitting on the other side of the table, deep in conversation with the chief of security. Since they had come back to London, everything around her seemed to be happening in slow motion. She was powerless to move, like a dragonfly in amber. 

“Yes, we will have a public service,” Were the words that made Claire snap out of her thoughts and look at the direction of Jamie.

A public service was the last thing she wanted.

“Jamie…” She called him in a low voice but he didn’t hear with all the noise.

“Jamie,” She repeated firmly, a bit louder, and got up. All heads turned to the Queen. No one dared to comment on her state – no matter how well put together she was – her eyes bore an incredible sadness and even the best concealer didn’t erase the dark circles under them.

“We are not having a public service,” She spoke firmly and clearly, her voice not breaking. 

“Claire…” Jamie started but she cut him short. She was on the verge of imploding.

“Gentlemen, could you give us a minute?” Her eyes didn’t leave her husband’s face as everyone in the room hurried outside to leave the couple alone.

Jamie got up and walked over to her, “Claire, we discussed it already.”

“Yes we did, and I told you I do not want a public service. Elias’ might have been in the line of succession, but I do not want a spectacle for the world to see.”

“What are ye talking about? I dinna want a spectacle but our son was part of the royal family and tis’ part of the protocol, ye ken it,” His eyes reflected the exact same sadness as hers did and she couldn’t understand why he was switching his opinion all of a sudden. 

“Fuck the protocol!” She spat out.

Jamie blinked, looking at her dumbfounded.

“I am not going to walk behind the coffin of our son while the world watches on television and act as if they feel sorry for us. And I am not making the children go through that either,” Claire stood face close to his, her chest rising with each acute breath she was taking. 

“Do ye think it thrills me? Because ye’re sorely mistaken if ye do, Claire. I’m trying to think about what people expect us to do. There is no’ right way to approach this,” Jamie sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. His face was deprived of any emotions – Claire had never seen him like that before.  

“You’re ready to do it for the people, I am not. The right way would be to give us time to grieve privately as a family,” Claire didn’t think she had any tears left and yet, they were about to spill again.

“Tis’ our duty!”

“Duty?” She shook her head, chin wobbling with anger.  Jamie was stubborn but never before in her life did she want to slap him until now. 

“I am not the fucking Queen right now, Jamie. I’m a mother – who lost her youngest son! I am not willing to give a spectacle to feed the media and the public. Yes, they do feel sorry for us, maybe it makes us more relatable to go through some shit like this, who knows? But at the end of the day, it’s more unhealthy curiosity than actual desolation. You know it was much as I do!”

He had gone through something similar at the time of his mother’s passing and he had told Claire many times how he had felt back then. That was exactly the reason why she didn’t understand his need to follow the protocol just now.

“No one is talking about a public spectacle, tis’ how things have been done for centuries. Elias was an heir and ye ken it.”

“Do not make me do that,” She whispered, a tear rolling down her cheek.

Jamie brushed her tear away with his thumb. Slowly, he pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her body. She didn’t make a move to hug him back.

“The service will be public, I’m sorry but it has already been announced and tis’ what people are expecting from us,. Dinna think I’m thrilled doin’ this because ye ken I am not. I’m just trying to be strong as best I ken how,” Jamie explained softly, hiding the weakness in his voice.  

Claire knew it was the monarch speaking and not the father – and it broke the last piece of her heart still intact. Slowly, she pulled away from his arms and wiped her tears with the palm of her hand.

“I never thought I would say this to you, James, but you are exactly like your father,” She looked at his face – noticing for the first time since they both had been in this office, that her words were about to unleash a reaction. Quickly, Jamie blinked and pulled himself back together.

“You’re as cold as he was,” She continued, somehow trying to push all of his buttons until he would explode.

“Remember when you cursed him for being a monarch before a father or a husband? Do you remember when you told me you would never forgive him for thinking about the people first and his family in second place? Do what you think is right but do not expect me to support you in this or even forgive you for it, James.”

She walked out of the room in silence before he had the chance to say anything, leaving him there to pick up the pieces of his mess.

To this day, Claire had not forgotten Jamie for what had happened. She had walked with dignity behind the carriage carrying the coffin of their son while the world watched – so did the children and Jamie – but she had not been able to go over the pain it had caused her nor to look at her husband the same way ever since.  

******

“Mama!” Julia Caitriona Fraser was the spitting image of her father. With wild curly red hair and sea blue eyes. Elias might have been her twin brother, he took everything from his mother. She was home for the weekend from Oxford, where she had started to study art history in the fall. The prestigious university had a particularly special place in the family as it was the place her parents’ had met more than twenty-five years ago. 

The sight of her daughter made Claire’s heart almost burst with happiness and for a quick moment, she felt as if she could breathe again. Hugging her tightly, she placed a tender kiss on her girl’s head.

“What a lovely surprise to see you, darling!” Claire said truthfully, smiling, “I didn’t know you were coming home this weekend.”

“I love Oxford very much but I thought we could spend some time together this weekend before you and Da go to Paris later this week!”

“Plus soon it will be time to start preparing for finals and I’ll be too busy pretending to study to come around,” she added, grinning.

“Oh, so you pretend to study? Good to hear,” Claire chuckled softly, walking into the living room with her daughter.  

“You are right on time for tea.”

Julia kissed her mother’s cheek and grabbed a scone before sitting down at the table, “This is exactly why I love to be home, there’s always some tea or scones ready!”

“In Oxford, there’s no one serving me whatever I want to eat,” She pouted.  

“Can you believe it’s that way for the rest of the world, too?” Claire smirked, sitting down in turn. With Jamie, they had agreed to raise the kids as normally as possible given the circumstances and so it meant no special treatment at university, either.

“I know, I’m just joking,” Julia chuckled, kissing her mother’s cheek,  “I remember Da telling me his time at university was the time he had felt the most normal.”

“Yes, he was free to do whatever he wanted and people got used to his presence rather quickly. The first day was insane though, I still remember people with flags and flowers waiting for him.”

“Everyone but you,” The young woman nudged her, taking a bite of scone.

“No, I couldn’t give a flying fuck, I just knew I was going to be late for my first class because I overslept,” Claire recalled, the memory putting a smile on her face.

“How are your classes going, by the way?” Claire rested her head in her palm, attentively watching her daughter.

“Very well!” Julia said truthfully, smiling. She didn’t look like Elias, at all, but they had the same eyes and expressions. It always stung Claire’s heart a little bit whenever she caught a glimpse of it on her daughter.  

It wasn’t just with Julia, every time Claire looked at Elena or at Jamie, she saw something similar to Elias and it became painful to look at the people she loved the most.

“How are you doing, mama?” Julia touched her arm, noticing her mother’s moment of inattention.

Claire blinked, coming out of her thoughts and smiled, “I’m fine,” She was lying but hopefully, her daughter wouldn’t notice.

“And you my love?” She stroked her hand; switching attention back to her daughter to avoid any more questions about herself.

“I’m okay,” Julia returned the smile and rested her hand on her mother’s.

Claire was so buried in her pain that she sometimes forgot she wasn’t the only one who lost Elias.

“I miss him, you know,” Julia said softly, smiling sadly.

“I don’t talk about him a lot but I think about him all the time and what he would say to me. I have never said it to anyone but since Elias’ passing, I truly feel like there’s this part of me missing. Almost like a limb.”

Listening to her daughter, she felt another piece of her shattered heart detached.

“I also wonder why we shared everything but I didn’t have epilepsy and he did.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be like that, Julia.” Claire said softly, “He spent all his life with epilepsy under control. No one saw it coming…not even me. I should have sensed he wasn’t feeling his best but I didn’t and – ”

“Mam, do you blame yourself for what happened?” Julia frowned, interrupting her mother.

“You said it yourself, everything was under control. The doctors told us he could live with it and he did, at least up to a certain point. So many people do,” Julia explained, moving closer to hug her mother tightly. “I was with him that morning, he was feeling perfectly fine.”

Claire held her daughter close, quickly wiping the tear escaping her eye and kissed Julia’s head. “You are so strong, my love,” Claire whispered against her forehead.

“I’m just like you, Mama,” Julia held her mother tightly, closing her eyes and smiled.

The youngest of the Frasers didn’t know what her mother was going through. No one did. Because Claire kept a brave face for the world to see and never let herself crumble in public. Her grief was buried inside her chest – only let free at night – in the privacy of her room where she could cry herself to sleep. She needed help but she didn’t dare to ask for it.

Not to a doctor, not to her friends and even less to Jamie. Her conversation with her daughter awoke something in her, though. She realised she couldn’t keep going on by herself. She knew she needed to talk to the one person who knew her better than she knew herself. She needed him. She had never stopped needing him. The grief would never disappear but maybe if she shared it with him, she could open up again and not lose their marriage completely.

Lying awake back in their bed that night, Claire had finally decided to make the first move and went back to their bedroom. 

Jamie had been out and the bed had been empty.

Claire waited for hours – her heart getting heavier with each passing hour. He was out for a dinner with the Prime Minister, it wasn’t unusual but he never stayed out that late when such things happened.

Around 3am, Claire was still restless and thirsty. Getting up, she made her way downstairs to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. That’s when she heard him. It was too late to talk but they would, tomorrow. At least he was home now and she would spend the rest of the night held safely in his arms.

Or not.

As Claire turned the corner, she saw Jamie holding someone tightly in his arms. 

His assistant. 

“Goodnight Mary, thank ye for tonight,” Jamie’s voice was soft but loud enough for Claire to hear. It wasn’t odd for his assistant to accompany him at the dinner but usually, Jamie would let his wife know. This time, he hadn’t.

“Goodnight Jamie,” The young woman answered in a seductive voice and leaned up to kiss his lips.

Claire was glad she had not had time to get a glass of water or it would have shattered on the floor with shock. Her heart couldn’t be prevented, though and the last intact part was now in pieces.

Frozen at first, Claire didn’t say a word nor showed herself. She wanted to stay to see how Jamie was reacting but she couldn’t bear it. Instead, she swallowed back her tears and went silently to her room, on the other side of the palace.

Minutes later, when Jamie went to their bedroom, he found the bed undone and the lamp on, indicating his wife had been here. Her scent hanging heavily in the air, proving her presence even more. Claire, however, was nowhere to be found.

Chapter Text

Strange, the things you remember. The people, the places, the moments in time burned into your heart forever, while others fade in the mist. Jamie had always known he lived a different life from other men. And when he was a lad, he saw no path before him other than the one presented to him by his bloodline. He simply took a step and then another. Ever forward, ever onward, rushing towards someplace, he knew not where. And one day, he turned around and looked back and saw that each step he had taken was a choice to go left, to go right, to go forward or even not go at all.  

Every day, every man has a choice between right and wrong. Between love and hate. Sometimes between life and death. And the sum of those choices become his life. The day Jamie realised that, was the day he became a man.

After Mary had kissed him, something in his mind snapped. Something that made him realise the extent of the damages of his marriage and maybe (just maybe) he had truly misjudged its state. That woman (who was a stranger, after all) had stepped across a boundary thinking it was okay to kiss a married man. It made him wonder what kind of signal he must have given for her to make such a move.

Since Elias’ passing, he had watched Claire fade and he felt hopeless about it. Blinded by his own grief, he let her pull away from him, a little bit more every day, feeling his heart breaking in the process.

Mary was his assistant but over time, she became a sort of confidant. Someone who would listen when he needed to talk, someone who was there even if he didn’t ask her to be. Claire, on the other hand, decided to stop not only sharing his bed, but she would also barely talk to him about how she was feeling.

Jamie laid awake all night cursing himself, in a cold and empty bed. Where Claire’s scent was still lingering in the air and her touch forever stamped on his burning skin. She had been here tonight but left again before he had come home and he knew it.

He hated himself. Not only for letting someone other than his wife be the listener to his sorrows but also for not being able to provide Claire with the comfort she needed during these past few months. He had never been in love with any other woman, he was not planning to start now.

Seeing the way his parents’ marriage had rotted because of bad communication and a loss of trust was enough to make  Jamie understand what needed to be done. He would step up and be the husband Claire needed him to be.

In the early morning, Jamie finally got up. He needed to talk to his wife. Not only about what had happened the previous night, but also about their marriage and the stagnant pain they both had let take residence between them for far too long. Once dressed, he walked out of his room (their room) to go on the other side of the palace to find Claire. His Sorcha.  

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” Came from the sweet voice of Emma, Claire’s assistant. She was always early at the Palace to make sure everything would run smoothly for the Queen. This morning was no exception.

“Queen Claire sent me to inform you she isn’t feeling very well and will most likely stay upstairs for the day. She has nothing on her schedule today, except for some paperwork and I will finish the last details before the trip to Paris next week.”

Jamie nodded, “Och, about the trip, I need a favour from ye, Emma.”

“Yes, what is it?” Emma opened her notebook and looked at him attentively.

“I know it’s a state visit but it needs to be pushed back, maybe to next month or whatever suits the President. I want this week to be quiet for Claire and myself,” he started, noticing the slight surprise in the woman’s expression as she was taking notes.

“I would also need ye to prepare the car and some bags, Claire and I will be going somewhere quiet for a little while. I dinna ken when we’ll leave, just have everything ready.”

“Yes, I will arrange that but sir, she isn’t feeling very well…” Emma repeated, looking at him.

“Aye, ye said that. I will go and see her, then we’ll go once she feels better,” Jamie said softly, giving her a kind smile. Deep down, he knew Claire must have seen him last night and that simple thought killed him.

“Very well, sir. Everything will be ready whenever you two are ready to go,” Emma returned the smile and hurried off.

Jamie made his way towards the guest room Claire had taken residence in for a while now and softly knocked at the door.

******

Claire was numb.

After seeing the kiss between Jamie and Mary the night before, she had stayed awake most of the night replaying the scene over and over again. It had been a chaste kiss but it had been enough to cut her heart in two. She wanted to scream. Not only at Jamie for what she had seen but also at herself for letting their marriage deteriorate to this point.

The first thing she did after reluctantly getting out of bed was to pour herself a glass of whisky. It wouldn’t help with the headache but the warm liquid burning her throat was a welcome distraction, no matter how brief it was.

The shower took much longer than usual, as she let the boiling water cascade over her body while she looked down at herself attentively. After carrying three children, her body wasn’t the same it had been when she had met Jamie more than twenty-five years ago. Maybe that had been why Jamie he after someone younger.

Or maybe he had been attracted by another woman simply because Claire was a shell of herself since their son’s passing and she wasn’t his wife anymore. She wasn’t the bright and funny young woman he had met back in Oxford, she was morose and sad with no sign of impending improvement. Or maybe, the tragedy had pulled them apart for good.

She notified Emma she was not feeling well, without giving much detail, and told the young assistant she would spend her day in her bedroom, going over some paperwork. Claire didn’t want to be the Queen today. She couldn’t bear to. Not only her body was tired, her mind was exhausted. Desperately needing some peace and quiet before their trip to Paris where Claire would need to put on an act as if she was the happiest woman on earth.

A knock took her out of her thoughts as she was sitting at her desk, bathrobe and glasses on. Her hair was tightly pulled back in a strict bun (like most days), slightly helping her throbbing head. Emma must have forgotten something.

“Yes, come in Emma” She said at once, not bringing her eyes up from her papers.

The door opened slowly and Jamie walked in, “‘Tis not Emma…”

Claire stiffened, sitting up slowly straighter.

“‘Tis me,” He announced in a quiet but firm voice as if she had not already figured it out.

Jamie’s voice had always the same power on her, like the first time she had ever heard it. It was warm and deep, with a certain intonation every time he talked to her. A sort of tenderness only reserved for her.

“Jamie,” She said a little faintly, looking at him.

“Your assistant told me ye were no’ feeling good so I thought I would check on ye…” He watched her, his eyes almost pleading her to let him in. Not only in the room but back in her heart.

“And I need to talk wi’ ye,” Jamie closed the door and walked over to her.

“About what?” Claire removed her glasses and got up, her eyes never leaving his.

“I think ye ken what, Claire,” Jamie answered softly, so softly she almost didn’t hear him. But he was right. She knew.

“Do you mean you snogging your assistant last night? Yes, I think we should talk about it, not that I don’t know what you could add to the picture. It was rather clear already,” Her tone was sarcastic to hide the raw pain she was feeling.

Jamie looked down at once, silence settling in the room. The only noise Claire was able to hear was her heart pounding in her chest and tears were menacing to spill any instant.

“Aye, that.” Jamie finally spoke but before he could continue, Claire interrupted him.

“Do you…love her?” She asked in a quiet trembling voice. She didn’t want to know but she had to. No matter what his answer would be, she would either finally crumble completely or start to heal.

Jamie looked up again, frowning. Something flashing in his eyes. It was surprise and even some shock, “Love her? Christ, no! ‘Tis no’ what it seemed.”

“Isn’t it? Because from where I stood Jamie, it seemed to me it was quite something.”

“I dinna kiss her back, Claire –” Jamie took a step forward but seeing her slight flinch, he paused.

“I was as surprised as ye must have been when she did it.”

“Surprised would be one way to describe it, yes.” She swallowed back her anger. She indeed didn’t stay long enough to know what Jamie had done after the kiss.

“I’m planning to fire her as soon as ye and I have talked. But I couldn’t keep it from ye, I could never.” Jamie stepped closer, making her step back slightly until she felt the wooden material of her desk against the back of her leg.

“I stepped over a professional boundary wi’ her and I shouldn’t have done it because she thought I would kiss her back when I gave her no indications I was even slightly attracted to her.”

“Well, are you? Love and lust are not the same things. And she wants you, that much is clear to me,” She crossed her arms as if to shield herself from his potential answer, watching him.

“No, I’m not attracted to her,” He said firmly,  “I never was and I never will be,” Jamie moved slightly closer to Claire, his words almost like a balm to her heart.

“Not only does the idea of bein’ wi’ her repulse me but, there is only one woman I’m attracted to and ye ken who that is.” Jamie touched her cheek tentatively, making her close her eyes for a moment. She felt a warm tear stroll down her cheek and Jamie quickly wiped it away with the base of his thumb.

“I swore fidelity to ye before God, Claire. Ye ken I dinna take a vow lightly…even more when it comes to the love of my life,” He whispered, resting his forehead against hers.

She opened her eyes to look at him through a blurred vision and spoke softly:  “When I saw that, I wanted to scream and to storm in but I was so numb I simply turned around and left. I thought maybe…maybe if someone else can make you happier than I do these days, there isn’t much I can do about it”

“Happier?” Jamie croaked, his voice breaking.  “Christ Claire, do ye really think anyone but ye could make me happy?”

“I don’t know,” She whispered softly, “I have not really been the wife you needed me to be for a while now and you just said it yourself…you opened up so much to her, she saw it fitting to kiss you. Where you even at the dinner with the Prime Minister last night?”

“Aye, I was,” Jamie said at once. He wasn’t lying and Claire knew it.

“Then why were you home so late? And with her nonetheless. Staff isn’t supposed to roam the halls at 3am. Well, there is a lot the staff isn’t supposed to be doing but she does anyway.”  

“After the dinner, I went to visit Elias’ grave,” He started quietly. “It wasna verra late and I like to go visit him, simply to sit and talk wi’ our son.”

At that moment, Claire heard her heart break in two. It was a small, clean sound like the snapping of a flower’s stem. Something she often forgot was that she wasn’t the only one who lost a child last August. Jamie, too, was hurting and it pained her to realise for so long, she had neglected him so much. They never visited Elias’ grave together after the funerals.

“Mary saw me and we stayed there for a long time. It isna the first time it has happened, where she comes and listen to what I have to say about the way I feel. I should have never started it but I just needed to talk…In retrospect, ‘tis was wrong to open up to a stranger when I could no’ even open up to my wife about my feelings.”

“Yes…it was. This hurts me more than the kiss, Jamie,” She admitted, another tear escaping.

“But as much as I would like to blame you, I can’t,” She touched his cheek in a tender gesture. She realised until today, it had been a long time she had been so tender towards him.  

Jamie frowned, watching her, “Ye canna blame me? But Claire…”

Claire realised the moment she had pushed back for so long had come. It was time to tell him everything she had been feeling for the past year. All the things that were too heavy for her heart to handle alone.

“I’m tired, Jamie.” She interrupted him. “I’m tired of feeling this way. Of waking up every morning wondering what the hell happened to me. To us. Or what went wrong? Because I know it’s all my fault.”

“‘Tis’ no yer fault,” Jamie took her hand, slowly bringing it up to his lips. They were standing closer, bodies almost touching and Claire could feel the warmth emanating from Jamie.

“When I saw the way you acted for Elias’ services, I thought your duty as a King had made you a harsh and emotionless man, I did not recognize you. I thought…I thought you didn’t need me and I hated you for it.” Claire let her last words hang in the thick air between them for a little while before continuing.

“So I pushed you away as much as I could. It was not done purposely but I did it nonetheless and that’s why we are here today.” Claire’s chin wobbled, tears menacing to spill again any second.

“I think ye and I were both too shocked and too hurt to realise what was goin’ on back then. I ken I relied on my duty to shield the pain. I thought…”He looked at her, sadness floating in the sea that were his eyes.

“I thought maybe if I acted as the King, it would make it easier for me to get up in the morning but it didn’t. And I alienated ye from me in the process.”

“I dinna want ye to carry this burden all on yer own, Claire. ‘Tis slightly less heavy if we carry it together because ye ken as much as I do that we canna change the past. No matter how much we wish we could.”

“I came to our room last night because I decided to take a step back towards you. I want to feel safe in your arms again, Jamie. Like the way I used to before all this mess but you were not there.” Looking down, it was her turn to take his hand.

“And I’m sorry for it, a nighean. I need to know what I can do to fix us,” Jamie wrapped his strong arms around her.

“Please…tell me what I can do,” He whispered in her hair, closing his eyes. He held her close for a long moment.

A moment where she didn’t answer and instead, let herself crumble in his arms for the very first time since their son’s funeral. Jamie simply held her tightly, him too crumbling in turn.

Grief was a funny and contradictory thing. A daily companion that provided as much comfort as it provided sadness. Heavy, suffocating, always there. Grief was never something to get over so it stayed hidden. Hidden so well other people couldn’t see it. Even if they shared the same one.

“What if we can’t be fixed? I wonder that sometimes…” She whispered, closing her eyes as she hid her face in the crook of his neck, holding onto him for dear life.

“Sometimes I catch ye lookin’ at me with that mischievous glint I love so much. The one ye only have for me,” He drew patterns on her back, feeling the silk fabric of her robe under his fingers. She knew exactly what he was talking about, the thought making her smile.

“‘It’s hidden but I still see it, no matter how briefly. And when it happens…That’s when I know, deep down, our marriage isna lost, Claire…” He stopped his voice breaking.

“But no matter how much I love ye…I canna force ye to stay if ye are no’ happy.”

Claire swallowed before looking up at him again. She was afraid to what she would find floating in his blue eyes.

Jamie’s face was notorious to be unreadable. As a King, it was crucial for him not to let people know what he was thinking or feeling at any given moment. But Claire being his wife, she had learnt to read him better than an open book and right now, Jamie looked like the most vulnerable little boy. A sight that almost finished her.

“Am I no’ enough for ye anymore Claire? Because I would give ye a divorce if ye want one,” he said this with pain in his eyes and heart.

His words made no sense to her. A divorce was the last thing she would be thinking about, even in their state. The more he talked, the more she wanted to scream for him to stop… but nothing came out of her mouth.

“It would kill me, aye,” He looked into her eyes, where nothing could be hidden from him. His own were full of tears but he kept a brave face, his thumb stroking her cheek.

“But I would do whatever ye ask of me,” He whispered, tears strolling down his face.   

Chapter Text

Divorce.

It was a word Claire had often encountered over the years as she came upon disgusting tabloids trying to bring her marriage down. Seeing the way Jamie’s parents ended up, the press had been almost desperate to have the new King and his wife meet the same end since the day they had gotten married. 
She always brushed it off, along with the constant comparison with her late mother-in-law. She had always known their marriage would never end up like Brian and Ellen’s.

But now, hearing Jamie speak those words…asking her if it was what she wanted. It made something inside of her snap.

“Am I no’ enough for ye anymore Claire? Because I would give ye a divorce if ye want one –”

“You are enough,” She answered firmly, wiping her wet cheeks with the palm of her hand.

“You are everything, Jamie,” Claire looked at him. Really looked for the first time in a while. She let her whisky eyes speak for themselves because she knew he would find all the honesty he needed to hear floating in them.

And he did. 

“No matter how I have been feeling…you are my home,” She touched his cheek, Jamie melting into her touch, “Your face is my heart, and the love of you is my soul.”

Jamie rested his forehead against hers, without saying a word. His arms tightening around her waist as if he was afraid she would disappear.

“I can’t live without any of that,” She added, stroking his jawline with her index finger. Without him, she was lost. He was the only person who could take her out of the misery she let crush her for far too long.  

“I can’t live without you,” She cupped his cheeks, getting lost into his eyes.

“Good because I canna live withou’ ye, either, Principessa,” Jamie said in turn, his voice full of love and tenderness.

“And I dinna want to have to,” He smiled softly, stroking her bottom lip.

“Do ye forgive me then? Not only because of what happened wi’ Mary but for everything else since Elias’ passing…For the way I handled the funeral, lettin’ us grow so far apart and for no’ bein’ able to comfort ye the way ye needed – ”

Claire cut his words with her warm lips crushing on his.

“Forgiven,” She whispered against them. 

She wasn’t a fool. She was aware they had a long way to go before getting back what they had…She wasn’t even sure they could be the same people after such a  loss but for the first time in a long time, she could see a glimmer of hope coming through the cracks of her heart. Claire knew they would be alright and by the way Jamie responded to her kiss, so did he.

They kissed slowly for a long time, lips overlapping and tongues grazing. Neither one of them remembered the last time they had kissed like that, hands wandering and bodies pressed against one another, aroused beyond measure. Claire felt her insides burn for him… in a way she had almost forgotten it could.

“Claire…” Jamie rasped, after reluctantly parting their lips for air, his breath coming out short.

“Yes?” She looked at him with a hint of mischief, cheeks flushed. She pulled on her dishevelled robe his hand had been opening.

“Pack a bag, I’m bringin’ ye somewhere,” His mouth curled up into a smile as he saw the inquisitive expression on her face.

“Right now?” She looked at him, almost amused.

“Aye, tis’ a wee thing I planned for us, Emma is already notified and everything is waitin’ for us once ye’ll be ready.”

“Fine, I’ll get dressed and meet you downstairs in a few,” Claire smiled, hands already flying to her hair to tame it.

“Good, I need to talk to Mary before we leave,” Jamie’s brow furrowed in concentration.

MacNab. Claire had almost forgotten about her. Almost.

“She willna be workin’ for us anymore,” From the way Jamie delivered this line, his wife was aware of the mild disgust he was feeling towards his soon to be former assistant.

“I expected that much,” Claire kissed his cheek, smiling slightly. “Go, talk to her, I’ll be right down.”

Nodding, Jamie brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, “Dinna be long, aye?”

“Wait! What should I pack?” She watched him, resting her hands on her waist.

“Casual clothes…for at least a week.”

“A week?” She frowned, “We’re going to Paris in a few days, Jamie.”

“Och, ‘tis another thing…I asked for the state visit to be pushed back,” He said simply, ignoring Claire’s apparent confusion. In twenty odd years as monarchs, Jamie had never delayed or cancelled a single commitment, even less a state visit.

Jamie shrugged, “I’m sure the President doesna care if we come in a week or in a month, as long as we come at some point.”

“And what if he does care?” Claire raised her eyebrows in amusement. She was touched by his gesture more than she could put into words.

“‘Well, if he cares…’tis all the same for me, anyway,” The man in front of her reminded her of the young prince she had met all those years ago. Carefree, not giving a flying fuck of what other people would think. No matter their title or profession.

God, she loved him.

“Duty comes second this time, mo nighean donn,” Jamie leaned closer to her and kissed her tenderly.

“Ye pack and meet me downstairs, I’ll handle the rest,” His wink (that wasn’t one, at all) made her laugh. She hadn’t in such a long time that the sensation in her belly surprised her. She watched as Jamie left her room and realised how much lighter she felt. Her grief wasn’t going anywhere but this was the first step towards healing.

******

“Ah. Miss MacNab,” Jamie walked into his office and closed the door. 

He looked at the woman who was sitting in his office, going over documents. She didn’t seem nervous nor embarrassed.

“Good morning Jamie,” She got up, her mouth curled up into a smile as she looked at him.

“It’s Sir,” He said coldly, watching her expression shift in a split second.

Before she could answer, he continued, “Miss MacNab…What happened last night shouldn’t have. Ye stepped a professional boundary and I let ye, without saying a word but it was wrong.”

“I’m…” From how she was looking at him, Jamie knew it wasn’t exactly the way she expected him to react.

“I’m sorry,” Her eyes swept the floor, “It won’t happen again.”

“No, it won’t,” Jamie confirmed, crossing his arms. 

The staff was almost like a second family to the Frasers. Working for the family for generations, sometimes. It didn’t happen often for the King or the Queen to have to discard one of their employees but Jamie had no other choice. When it came to someone coming for his marriage, he wasn’t kidding around.

“Ye were an efficient and valuable member of our staff, Mary, but ye can understand I will have to make an end to your collaboration with the Palace. I ken this is partly my fault, for sending ye the wrong signals but we canna keep workin’ together. ”

She stayed silent, swallowing the anger she had toward his statement.  Jamie wasn’t sure what hurt her more. The fact she was losing her job or that he didn’t reciprocate the feelings she had for him.

“Ye will, of course, have all the reference ye need for yer next employment.”

“Well, thank you. Sir.” She said through gritted teeth.

“The Queen and I are taking a bit of time off and the trip to Paris is delayed. Ye will have time to seek another position before we get back. Thomas will take care of this while we are away.”

Thomas was the Palace chief of staff. He was not only in charge of the closes employees of the Royal Family, nothing in this place happened without him being aware of it. His father had worked for the Palace and his grandfather before that. He was probably the person Jamie and Claire trusted the most.

“He’s notified of the situation and will proceed as needed with you,” Jamie explained.

“Very well.”

Before neither Jamie nor Mary could add anything, a knock at the door made them both look towards it.

“Aye, come in,” Jamie said, leaning against his desk, arms crossed.

The door opened to reveal Claire, impeccably dressed. Jamie noted there was something different about her. Something he hadn’t noticed as he was upstairs some time ago. She looked…like herself. Like his Claire. And it had been a long time since he had seen such a beautiful sight.

“A nighean,” He walked over to her with a smile.

“I’m ready to leave whenever you are, darling,” Her eyes shot into Mary’s direction.

“Aye, we’re done here,” Jamie looked at Mary in turn.

The woman got up, clearing her throat, “Yes indeed, we are.”

“Actually, Jamie…” Claire looked at her husband, “I would like to talk to Mary for a minute, just the two of us.”

Nodding, Jamie kissed her cheek. He knew she needed to so he let her, “I’ll be waitin’ for ye, then. Take yer time.”

Before walking out, Jamie looked at Mary one last time.

Claire closed the door and turned around. She noticed how the former’s assistant attitude just changed in a second. She was standing straighter and had a smug expression on her face. 

“Mary, I’m sorry we had to come to this,” Claire said sincerely. 

“Are you? Really?” The blonde woman looked as if she almost wanted to laugh.

“Yes, I am actually,” Claire frowned, looking at her. 

“No, I don’t think you are,” Mary stepped closer. “I feel like you are relieved, yes. But not sorry one bit to see me go.”

“Well think what you want, I don’t really care,” Claire admitted truthfully. As long as this woman was out of their life, there was not much else she wanted just now.

“You are relieved because he was slipping away from you and I almost had him in the palm of my hand,” Mary stated, smirking. 

Claire blinked, incredulous of the nerve she was demonstrating just now, “In the palm of your hand? That’s what you believe?” 

Claire almost wanted to laugh, “Mary, you are young and naive but trust me, Jamie was never in the palm of your hand.”

“You don’t know that,” Mary’s eyebrows raised.

“Yes, actually, I think I do. I’ve been married to this man for almost thirty years, if one of us knows him, it’s me.”

“You don’t deserve him,” Mary spat out.

“You’re hurt, Miss MacNab and I understand but I will ask you to leave this place and forget about my husband before I make you,” Claire was starting to lose her patience but she didn’t need a lawsuit for a physical attack. Even less a scandal in the press. 

“I’m leaving,” Mary gathered her things, “But you won’t get rid of me that easily.”

Claire stepped between Mary and the door before the young woman at the time to walk out and simply watched her.

“You’re going to listen to me first and very carefully …” She leaned closer to Mary.

“When you were hired, you signed a couple of documents and while doing so, you agreed to a close of confidentiality about whatever happens between these walls and its inhabitants. Do you recall?”

Mary looked at her faintly, “Yes, I do…”

“I thought so,” Claire looked at her. Not with a kind and warm expression but one of disdain, caused not only by her anger but also her profound dislike for this woman who tried to ruin her marriage that was already in a vulnerable place.

“So here’s what you’re going to do,” Claire leaned even closer, her voice lowering near Mary’s ear.

“The second your employment here is over, and Thomas will make sure it’s very soon, you will forget about us. You will forget about the vain hopes you had of my husband ever falling in love with you. You will stop thinking you had the slightest chance of destroying our marriage and most importantly, you will not go to the press with fake stories or rumours about him, our couple or our family. Because if you do, Mary, I’ll ruin you.”

“Understood?” The Queen’s intonation was low and chilling, she almost didn’t recognize her own voice. She was aware Mary was no real threat to her marriage but she also knew what people were ready to do for the press in exchange for some money. Claire simply wanted to protect her family. When it came to them, she was feral.

“Yes, ma’am,” Mary’s contempt had disappeared in an instant as she realised the Queen was far from kidding.

“Good,” Claire’s mouth curled up into a smile as she patted her arm.

“Now, get out of my house.”

The Queen opened the study’s door and another rush of relief took over her body as the woman walked out of the room. And their life on the same occasion.

******

Claire found Jamie in the hall standing next to their travel bags. Round glasses on his nose and focused expression as he was on his phone. He was dressed in his dark green Barbour jacket, brown corduroy pants and a white shirt. 

Sensing her, he looked up and smiled, “There ye are.”

“Sorry, I had to make sure we won’t see her on some tabloid front page anytime soon,” She walked over to him, grabbing the shearling coat he was handing her and put it on. 

“I ken how persuasive ye are, I doubt we will,” Jamie kissed her temple, “Now we can leave and enjoy our time away.”

Claire smiled, fixing his collar, “I can’t wait for that.”

“Ye’re no’ gonna ask where we’re goin’?” He smirked, taking the bags. It wasn’t unusual for her not to be curious but she thought she knew where they were headed to.

“Well, I could but I’m sure we’re going to Balmoral,” She smiled, following him outside.

“I’m glad even after so many years of marriage, I can still surprise ye then,” He grinned proudly, “Because we’re no’ going to Scotland, mo nighean donn.” Jamie opened the door of the Range Rover for her.

“Oh,” She looked at him before finally getting into the car. Now that he said it, it actually made sense.

“I wouldn’t have asked ye to pack a bag if we were goin’ to Scotland,” Jamie got into the car as well, proud grin still stamped on his face.

“And before ye ask again. No,  I willna tell ye where we’re goin’ but ‘tis no very far.”

“Well, you’re the one driving so I can do much more than shut up and go wherever you bring me,” She smiled, leaning back.

“Indeed,” He smirked. Claire hit his arm, as he was clearly happy she had no idea where they would be going. She couldn’t help but smile.

Jamie took her hand and brought it to his lips, smiling, before he started the engine and drove away from the Palace.

The more miles between the Palace and the car, the more Claire started to feel lighter. And knowing that for the next few days they would only be together, no matter where brought her a burst of happiness she had not experienced in a very long time.

“I can hear ye thinkin’, Principessa,” Jamie remarked, smiling and holding her hand as he drove.

“I’m just happy to be away for a time just with you,” She stroked his hand, “We need it.”

“Aye, I’ve been plannin’ this for a wee while, I wanted to bring ye there for our anniversary but I think now is a perfect time,” he smiled, driving.

“Well now I’m even more curious,” She pouted, giving him a look, “Tell me where we are going.” 

“Ye have a lot of qualities, a nighean, but patience is no’ one of them,” He looked at her briefly with a grin before turning his glance back to the road.  

“No, it’s not but if you want to start naming all the qualities I do not have, I insist on doing the same for you afterwards,” She teased, her old self showing through the cracks.

“Ye canna say I’m no’ patient,” Indeed he was. It was probably one of his biggest threats. With the people, their children, herself…Jamie was never in a rush and he knew things took time.  

“No, I can’t, you’re indeed very patient,” And I love you so much for it,  she almost added.

“At least way more than I am but – “

“Och, there’s a but,” He chuckled, kissing her hand again.

“But – ” She grinned, continuing, “ You can be very stubborn.”

“Well so can ye,” he smirked.

“Fine!” She chuckled, “I sense I won’t have the last word today so I will stop this discussion right now.”

“See, ‘tis is  one of my favourite traits about ye, ye’re so smart – “

“You are an asshole!” She hit his arm playfully.

“Aye, I am,” He grinned, “I’m your royal asshole, remember?” He kissed her cheek quickly.

“How could I forget?” She grinned, leaning back in her seat again, “But you said it this time, not me…” 

They had been driving for almost an hour and a half when Claire started to recognize the route towards their destination. And when she saw the sign, she couldn’t help but smile. 

Oxford.

The town where they had met and lived before being thrown into the madness of public life and royal duties. The town where Claire discovered, after years of searching, that home wasn’t a place but a person. The place where she had fallen in love. The place where her life changed. 

Jamie stopped the car in a street she knew by heart. In front of her little cottage where they spent countless weekends getting to know one another and falling in love.

Over the last twenty-five years, they barely had the time to come back here – other than the brief visit to the University to either inaugurate some statue or to visit it with their children for potential enrollment. But even then, they had been the King and the Queen, not Jamie and Claire.

Today, though, Claire understood it was different. She knew it, deep down. 

She didn’t know what to say towards his gesture. It was simple and yet, Jamie bringing her here meant more to her than anything else he had ever done.  She looked at him, speechless, eyes shiny with unshed tears.

Jamie took her hand, looking into her eyes with a smile, “Welcome back home, Claire.”

Chapter Text

Claire couldn’t believe the sight in front of her eyes. It was if she stepped through a time machine and back into the past as she looked around the cottage that used to be her home more than twenty-five years ago. It was practically identical to the last time she saw it. The atmosphere was the same, with the smell of old books mixed within and the walls stamped with memories. 

“Jamie…” Was all she could mutter, walking around the place in awe. Touching furniture and what not.

“Do ye like it?” He asked with a worried smile, following her around.

Turning around, she looked at him still dumbfounded, “How did you manage to make this place look almost exactly like the way it used to when we lived here?”

“Och, weel,” Jamie wrapped his arms around her, “Julia called me a month ago to tell me this cottage was for sale, I thought as a surprise for your birthday I would buy it and have someone decorate it as we used to have it. ‘Tis not exactly the same but ‘tis pretty close.”

Claire had almost forgotten about her birthday again this year. It wasn’t for another two weeks but it had not crossed her mind one single time.

“Pretty close is one way to describe it,” She smiled, kissing his cheek. “I don’t even know what to tell you. A simple thank you seems rather dull.”

“Ye dinna need to say anything,” Jamie stroked her cheek slowly, “The smile on yer face is enough, a nighean.”

“So, we’re staying here?” Her eyebrow flicked up in question. 

“Aye, for the week or more if ye want to. Rufus is stationed in a street nearby for security but other than that, ‘tis just ye and me here.”

“Sounds like heaven,” She smiled, her arms wrapped around his neck. “And it feels like it, too,” She looked around.

“Well, I’m here to take care of ye and spoil ye, I suggest while I will make us some food, ye go relax in a warm bath.”

“How could I say no to that?” Claire rubbed her nose against his.

“Ye willna,” he grinned, stroking her arm up and down. “Go, I’ll make some pasta caccio e pepe.”

“That was the first thing you cooked for me when we made things official the first time,” she recalled softly, her voice caught with emotions. He thought about everything.

“Go,” Jamie kissed her cheek, “I’ll come and get ye once the food is ready, Principessa.”

Nodding, Claire returned the smile and made her way to the bathroom. As she opened the door, her breath hissed at the sight. Slightly more modern than what it used to be, the room looked similar. Down to her favourite bar of patchouli soap sitting on the tub alongside candles and matches.

******

Claire laid in the warm water, eyes closed and head resting against the cold rim. Candles Jamie had placed by the bath were lit and the faint smell of woodfire from the Dyptique ones took residence in her nostrils as if she was next to a fireplace.

It felt odd to be here, however, there was something reassuring about it. Claire didn’t know if it was because of where she was or the fact that Jamie had finally told her how he had been feeling, but it seemed as if a displaced piece of her heart had started to reattach itself.

She tried not to think too much. Not about the past, the future, or even what was going on in their lives at this very moment. She needed to take it slow. To put one step after the other towards Jamie again. Being here with him was the first.

Claire thought about her marriage. How she had imagined her life to be before she met Jamie. She never thought she would marry, even less have children. She thought she would spend her time just like her Uncle Lambert, her time spent between archaeology trips and teaching.

It turned out that Claire was meant for other things. To be a mother. A wife. A Queen. For so long, they had struggled so much to have kids, Claire had almost begun to think they would never have any. Her children (along with Jamie) were her entire world.

First came Josef. His adoption had been one of the best decisions Jamie and Claire had made together and neither one of them could imagine their lives without him as their son. Over the years, not only had he looked a little bit like his mother, Josef turned out to be exactly like his father: broad, kind, intelligent, and patient.

Then, two years later, when Elena arrived, it took Claire a few months to truly believe she was pregnant. Before feeling her daughter’s first kick, everything had felt like a hazy dream. She remembered vividly the moment her eyes laid on the baby and how she felt a second heart growing in her chest.

They had been happy with two children. So much so they had not been thinking of more. After all, Claire believed miracles never happened more than once. Except, on an official visit to Australia, she had been violently ill during the entirety of the trip. A simple stomach bug, she thought. One that turned out to be twins: Julia and Elias.

Absently, she stroked her belly. The place where she had protected three of their children for long months, promising herself nothing bad would happen to them. Not being able to prevent her son’s passing was exactly what killed her the most.

No matter how many times she made sure he took his medications. No matter how much she had memorised the signs before a fit or the fact she knew exactly what to do when he had one. In the end, their son was gone and there was nothing she (or anyone) could have done for history to take another turn. She knew it, the doctors explained in great detail nothing would have helped Elias. But knowing all the facts didn’t mean it would soothe sorrows.

Claire felt the tears at the edge of her eyes, threatening to spill. Blinking, she let them, it wasn’t a sign of weakness. She wiped her cheeks with her wet palms, lowering in the bath even more for the warm water to cover her body.

A soft knock brought her out of her thoughts.

“Yes,” She answered faintly, looking at the door opening slowly to reveal a smiling Jamie, plate in one hand and glass of wine in another.

“Pasta is ready,” he walked in, the room only lit with the candles scattered around.

“I’ll be out in a second,” Claire smiled, about to make a move to get up.

“Dinna move,” Jamie said softly, handing her the glass of red wine.

Sitting down again, Claire took it and watched her husband attentively. She knew exactly what he was about to do.

Jamie sat down in turn, on the floor next to the tub. “Are ye enjoyin’ yer wee bath, Principessa?”

“Yes, very much so” Claire took a sip of wine. “It’s thoughtful of you to put candles and my favourite soap. I still can’t believe how much you made it look as if we never moved out of this place.”

Jamie stroked her cheek with the base of his thumb. He could tell she had been crying but he didn’t say a word about it, “Och, I just thought it needed to be perfect.”

“It is,” she answered sincerely, leaning closer to his face.

“I hope ye’re hungry,  mo ghraidh,” Jamie leaned too, whispering against her lips. She could feel his warm breath tickling her skin but he did not make a move to kiss her.

“I’m ravenous,” her eyes looked into his.

Jamie presented her with a fork of spaghetti she accepted gladly. The taste of pepper mixed with the Pecorino tickled her tongue with its sharpness. It was exactly the way she liked it. She couldn’t help but smile as she leaned down, eating.

“It’s been a while since you fed me in the bath,” Claire smirked, eating.

“Och, it used to be a weekly ritual when we lived here,” Jamie recalled with a smile.

“Did you like living here?” Claire stroked his cheek. They had stayed together in the cottage for four years before introducing Claire as the heir’s fiancé. They had been married in secret and this place was their little bubble of peace.

“Aye, verra much so,” Jamie smiled, kissing her cheek. “‘Tis place is where I fell in love wi’ ye, weekend after weekend. And then ‘tis place became our wee home. I wouldn’t have minded livin’ here forever.”

“Me neither,” She smiled before taking another bite of pasta.

“Is the pasta as good as the first time I made it for ye?” Jamie asked, feeding her, a seductive glint in his eyes.  

“It might actually be even better,” she smiled, taking a sip of wine, “I remember that time, you put too much salt in.”

Jamie chuckled, eating some pasta. “‘Tis right but in my defence, ‘twas because I was really nervous and I wanted to impress ye. As they say, ye always put too much salt when ye’re in love.”

“Is that so?” Claire’s eyebrows rose, “Should I be worried that it’s correctly salted now?”

“Nay, I just got lucky because I can assure ye…I wasna thinkin’ about the pasta while I made it,” Jamie put the plate down, taking the glass of wine from her hand to take a sip.

“And what were you thinking about?” Claire asked in a soft voice, her eyes drifting to his lips. The wine had given them a flushed shade and she wanted to taste it from them.

“Ye,” Jamie answered simply, putting the glass away.

“Ye’ve been in that water for a wee while, Principessa, I dinna want ye to get cold,” He rested his arm on the edge of the tub.

“Indeed, I should get out,” Claire stroked his jawline with her index finger, his scruff grazing her skin sending a delightful shiver through her body.

Jamie leaned even closer, his mouth merely an inch away from hers, “Aye.”

“Could you help me out?” Her whisky eyes held his, waiting for a response.

Without a word, Jamie took her hand and got up, bringing her with him. Once Claire was facing him, he grabbed her and carefully lifted her out of the tub, feeling her slippery body under his strong hands.

Claire wrapped her arms around his neck and watched as he brought her back to the living room which was only lit by candles. The fireplace was crackling and countless pillows were scattered on the door in front of it.

“What are you doing?” She looked at him half amused, half aroused, “I’m still naked and barely dry.”

“Aye, I ken that,” Slowly and without taking his eyes off of her, Jamie laid Claire down on the pillows as if she was the most delicate thing in the world. The warmth of the fireplace and the lust floating in her husband’s eyes heated up her body in a second.

Jamie grabbed a towel resting on the coffee table and started to dry the droplets of water on her body. Goosebumps scattered on her flesh quicker than she realised as his hands caressed up her legs, from her ankles to her thighs. He, then, made his way up her arms, her collarbones, between her breasts and finally on her stomach.

Claire closed her eyes, letting herself be at the mercy of his touch. When she felt the soft fabric going over her c-section scar, her breath caught.

“Jamie…” Panic crept on her quickly. Fear of shutting her body from him again.

“Look at me, mo ghraidh” was his answer. It wasn’t a question, more a pleading, and she heard the desperation in his voice.

Claire opened her eyes slowly. Very slowly.

Jamie was leaning over her body, his face over her stomach and his lips trembling, almost touching her skin. The sight sent a shot of electricity through her body, she was worried at what he was about to do next and anticipating it all the same. His eyes pierced through her, waiting for a silent approval from her. One she gave him freely, with fear but without restraint.

Moving slightly up, Jamie bent down his head again before his lips grazed the skin between her breast, causing a soft moan to escape from her lips. Claire’s fingers grasped through his curls as his lips continued the exploration of her body, the tip of his tongue flickering on one of her nipples before his mouth took hold of it and sucked on it.

Her only response was to arch her body, begging for more. Each lick, each kiss Jamie deposited on her skin was peeling away the layers she had carefully built over the last year to prevent him to reach her.

Claire hoped her body wouldn’t betray her like it did time and time again when they had tried to be intimate with one another. But for the first time in a long while, any coherent thoughts she might have were erased by each one of Jamie’s attention.

Until his lips touched her scar.

She felt a cold shiver ran through her body and she froze at once. Jamie noticed, removing his lips off her slowly.

His blue eyes found hers again. What she found in them (love, comfort, reassurance),  all the things she had forgotten were still there, only reserved for her, came back at once and brought her back to that place she had longed for the past few months.

Jamie sat up, quickly removing his clothes, his eyes never leaving hers. They had turned almost black. The colour they had when the lust he had for Claire took over him.

Claire sat up, in turn, watching him. The way his body responded to her. She could feel the tip of her fingers aching to touch him, to claim him as hers.

Holding out his hand to her, his voice was warm and tender when he asked, “Come find me, Claire.”

She took his hand in her own and moved closer, straddling him. His body burning and his state of arousal did nothing to help her own. She kissed him, then. Tentatively, at first, lips barely touching.

Their lips overlapped as the kiss deepened and tongues started to explore such familiar yet foreign territory. Over the last few months, their kisses had almost been chaste and most days, they were not even touching lips. It was different now. The fire was back, full force and without warning.

Claire pulled away reluctantly, without a word. Her eyes lost in his. She reached between them and took a firm grip on his cock, causing a low groan to escape his lips in the process. Jamie was already hard for her and slowly, she rubbed his tip against her slit.

Before making another move, Claire leaned her face closer to his, whispering “Pòg mi.

If there was one thing she knew, it was how much it turned him on to hear her speak Gaelic. When they made love, it drove him mad.

Jamie didn’t need more encouragement before he kissed her, to her demand. As their lips met once more, Claire guided him home and slowly (very slowly)lowered herself on him, causing them both to groan between kisses. He filled her completely, both her body and her senses.

“Sorcha,” he whispered, resting his hands on her hips, pulling her closer.

Claire started to rock her hips. Slowly. Letting the essence of Jamie completely taking over her, like she used to, before. She wanted him. Craved him. But they were in no rush, at all.

For so long, something had ruptured between them. Something Claire sometimes thought to be unredeemable. She had been wrong. Just like the first time she had met Jamie, she willingly opened her heart to him, showing him everything about her. The good, the bad, the mess. And he did the same to her.

Their bodies rocked, joined together, in perfect harmony. That feeling of safety Claire felt in his arms was coming back, wrapping her in a perfect bubble of peace. Where she could let herself go completely to his command. She wanted to possess him and to be possessed by him, all at once.

“Christ,” he groaned, nuzzling between her breasts as Claire cradled his head.

She moaned, then, feeling her climax forcefully building into her body. She could feel Jamie was close and she took him there, moving her hips at a faster pace. Both dancing dangerously close to the edge of pleasure.

“Look at me,” she ordered him, in a voice she almost didn’t recognize herself. Her hips kept their pace as Jamie slowly brought his eyes up, blue crashing against brown.  

He touched her lips with his index finger, not once taking his eyes away from hers. Claire touched it with the tip of her tongue before taking it into her mouth and sucking on it as slowly as she was riding him.

“Faster, mo ghraidh,’ He pleaded, his other hand firmly planted on her arse, pressing her closer to him.

She couldn’t prevent the moan that rasped out of her lips as she started to move faster, almost frantically in search of the perfect moment where they would both let go and surrender to one another. She moved up and down on him, feeling her walls tightening dangerously fast, climax creeping on her. And on him, as well.

She knew his body even better than she knew her own. She was close but so was he. That place of lust too long forgotten was slowly opening up to them and Claire was determined to bring him there as much as he was to bring her.

“Oh God,” he moaned. “Oh, Claire…”

Claire felt his mouth on her breast, his tongue flicking and mouth sucking on her nipple. She cradled his head, urging him for more, while her hips increased their pace.

“Give me your mouth,” she begged, cupping his cheeks and bringing his face up to hers. She kissed him, then. Hungrily and passionately, hips frantically moving.

With a few more thrusts, climax came. A powerful wave carried their bodies, first Claire’s, quickly followed by Jamie’s, over the edge of pleasure, both engorged by their love.

Panting, they held each other close for a long moment, without a word.

None were needed.

Chapter Text

Claire woke up sometime during the night, disoriented. She didn’t remember where she was, she was hot and breathless and her head was spinning. Sitting up slowly, she tried to catch her breath but each time, it was a little bit more difficult than the previous one. As if her ribcage was slowly reducing. It wasn’t the first panic attack she had. Since Elias’ passing, they came often and took a little while to pass.

She felt two strong arms wrapping around her body and lips stamping the back of her neck.

“Sssh, a nighean, I’m here,” Jamie whispered, holding her close.

That’s when she remembered where they were. In the little Oxford cottage. They had fallen asleep on the pillows in the living room, the fire crackling and a plaid covering them.

“I’m here,” He repeated, his voice tender and low, “Take a long and deep breath, mo ghraidh.”

Closing her eyes, Claire took several long breaths, her hands grasping onto his arms. Jamie pressed his lips on her shoulder, rocking her softly for what seemed like long minutes. Slowly, she felt her heartbeat subsiding and the feeling of the anxiety leaving her body.

“I’m sorry…” Claire looked at her husband, once the panic passed. She wasn’t sure exactly if she said those words for what just happened or for the last year in general but sorry she was. The fire cast a glow on his face, making his blue eyes shine. He was so beautiful. So gentle and reassuring.

Smiling, Jamie kissed her cheek, “Dinna fash, a nighean. Are ye fine now?”

She nodded, her mouth curling up into a soft smile, “Yes…yes I am.”

“Good,” Jamie laid her down with him, stroking her arms up and down.

Claire turned around and wrapped her arms around his body, holding him close, “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“I wasna really sleepin’…I was watchin’ ye,” He admitted with a smile, kissing the tip of her nose, “Did ye have a nightmare?”

Claire shook her head, pulling the cover over them, Jamie pulling her closer, “Not really, I just…I have panic attacks, it happens, sometimes. I’m sorry it happened here, everything was going perfectly well and – ”

Jamie’s lips cut her off, “Stop sayin’ ye’re sorry. ‘Tis not as if ye can control these things,” He stroked her cheek with the base of his thumb. “I dinna want ye to ever feel like this again and no’ tellin’ me…I dinna want ye to go back to sleep in the other room, ever.”

She heard her heart break at the sadness in his voice. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem. Cupping his cheeks, she looked into his eyes, “I won’t go back there, I promise. I didn’t sleep in another room because I didn’t want to share your bed…I stayed there because I was afraid to show you how much I was hurting. I was afraid you’d see me panicking like I just did and…I don’t know what I was thinking, I should have known better. I should have known you better,” She admitted, emotions caught in her voice.  

“Claire, our grief will get better…We’ll learn to live wi’ it and it won’t mean we’ll forget about Elias, far from it. We’ll have bad days and good days, I ken that. But we’ll be fine,” He cupped her cheeks 

“Yes, we will be,” She whispered against his lips before sealing them with hers. Like a promise.

Jamie held her close, cradling her head against his chest. Their heartbeats were synced and slow. Everything around them was quiet.

“Sometimes, I feel ‘tis my fault…What happened to Elias,” His voice was barely audible but she heard it. And at that moment, she finally realized they had felt the exact same thing since that dreadful day in August, except, he never said a word. 

Jamie continued before she could say something, “I feel like this was God’s way of punishin’ us, punishing me, for the good life we had. I thought losin’ my mother would be my burden and I’d have to live wi’ it forever. Until I met ye,” He lifted her chin. His eyes were shiny with unshed tears – the fireplace highlighting them.  

“When I met ye, I was finally able to put my grief aside and to simply live again, wi’out feeling guilty abou’ it.  Ye were the only one who knew what I’ve gone through, even if ye were just a wee lass when yer parents died.”

Nodding, Claire moved closer to him, “I know…I felt the same when I met you. I never thought I would get married and have a family, I was terrified of it. Of dying and leaving my children orphaned or worse…losing them,” Her voice cracked, “I’ll never know why it happened and it took me a long time to realise it but it’s not our fault, Jamie. Nothing we could have done could have prevented it.”

“My uncle used to tell me that God doesn’t give burdens to the ones who can’t get over them… Now I was young and I thought he was foolish, you know what my faith is like but I think Lamb was right after all,” She wiped his cheeks with her thumbs. “Grief is less heavy if we carry it together, my love.”

“Christ, I love ye so, Claire,” He crumbled in her arms, like a little boy, grasping at her arms for dear life. The only other time she had seen him like this was the day his father died, years ago.

“And I love you,” She whispered, kissing his temple. Claire held him tightly and let him cry, knowing it was what he needed and words were not necessary.

She didn’t know how much time passed until she felt him relax into her arms as he fell back into slumber. She watched him, lightly tracing the lines on his face and placing a delicate kiss on his lips. Jamie smiled, then. The one he always had while he slept and knew she was watching him.

She had known she loved him deeply for almost thirty years but until now, it didn’t occur to her just how much she did. He was imprinted in every fibre of her body, in her bones, on her skin…in her heart. And he had been there long before she had even met him on a gloomy morning of October.

They were still the same two young fools in love. The same two who promised one another to stick together for better and for worse, through sickness and in health, until death does them part. And together, they’d face it all. The good times, the bad times. Together, they’d make it.

Claire nuzzled his neck and closed her eyes, letting herself be rocked to sleep by his heartbeat and the warmth of his body against hers. She drifted into slumber feeling at peace and as if she could finally breathe again.

******

The next morning, Claire had woken up before Jamie and seeing how peaceful he looked, she decided to let him sleep some more and go take a shower. She had no idea how long she stayed under the warm water, letting it cascade over her body in a pleasant and comforting way.

She emerged from the shower, feeling like a new person. Or more so, like her old self, again. For the first time in a while, she looked at herself in the mirror and recognized her reflection. Instinctively, she grabbed the hairbrush but stopped in her tracks. For the last year, she had pulled back her curls into tight buns. Today, she decided to let them roam free again.

Once seemingly dressed (in a bathrobe), Claire went to the kitchen and started to prepare some breakfast. She didn’t remember the last time she did it and she didn’t realise how much she had missed such a simple task. Kettle boiling and bread toasting, she felt as if she was back during her college years, preparing food for Jamie’s Sunday visits before they started dating.

Claire heard a low groan in the other room indicating Jamie was slowly waking up. She put everything on a tray and carefully walked to the living room. His hair was a mess and he had the cutest expression on his face –  like a little boy just waking up from a nap. The sight melted her heart and she couldn’t help but smile.

“Good morning,” She walked over to him, putting the tray on the coffee table.

Jamie sat up, rubbing his eyes, “Mornin”, a nighean – ”

Blinking, he looked at her and his mouth curled up into the widest grin, “mo cheann gruamach.”

“Wot?” She chuckled, taking his hand and kneeling down on the pillows.

He pulled her on his lap, grinning and put her legs around his waist. He ran his fingers through her damp hair, an awed expression on his face, “My curly wig…I have missed seeing yer hair like this.”

“Oh,” She touched her hair, her cheeks flushing, “Well –”

“I’ve missed seeing ye like this,” He whispered softly, his finger tracing her face, “Smilin’, blushin’, laughin’…”

He kissed her lips tenderly, “It makes me so happy, Principessa.”

“Well, you brought me here,” She stroked his cheek, rubbing her nose against his, “And I feel like you grafted me a new heart along in the process. I’m sorry I let us drift this far apart, I will not let it happen again.”

“Me either,” He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. Jamie buried his face in the crook of her neck, smiling against her skin.

“I prepared some breakfast,” She rested her head on his shoulder, “Well ‘prepared’ is an overstatement, I toasted some bread and turned on the kettle.”

“Weel, I thank ye kindly, I’m starvin’” He smiled, looking up at her. He kissed her softly.

Claire returned the kiss before sitting down next to him. She reached for the tray and placed it between them.

“Would ye go on a date wi’ me later ?” Jamie asked out of the blue before taking a bite of toast.

“A date?” Her eyebrows rose up as she sipped her tea, “When was the last time we even had a date?”

“‘Tis been too long, ‘tis why I need to rectify it,” He kissed her cheek, “So what do ye say?”

“Well I don’t know, I should maybe ask my husband about this,” She looked at him cockily, her mouth curling up into a smirk.

“I’m sure the lad isna goin’ to mind,” Jamie took her mug away and put it aside. He straddled her, grinning.

Claire looked up at him and couldn’t help but chuckle, “If you so say then I guess we have a date, Fraser.”

“Great,” He sealed their lips, “But not until tonight, Fraser.”

“Good because I wasn’t planning to move just yet and with you sitting on me, I can’t anyway,” She chuckled, “You’re crushing me!”

“If that is yer way of tellin’ me I put on some weight, ‘tis not verra gracious,” He laughed, getting up.

Claire watched as he looked around for his boxers, “It’s all your muscles, you don’t have a spare ounce on you. I should maybe follow your lead and start going to the gym –”

“Ye are perfect,” He smiled, putting on his long lost boxers, “Yer body carried life within it and for that, I will always cherish it…Plus ye have the sweetest bum, fat and juicy as a plump wee hen. A wonder if I ever saw one!”

She didn’t answer, only laughed while finishing her toast. Jamie grabbed his phone, concentrated on the screen, “I thought you said no cellphones?”

“Aye, I did! ‘Tis why my phone is on airplane mode but I need some music,” He plugged his phone into the speaker and looked at her mischievously when the first notes of “I Love You Always Forever” started to play.

Feels like I’m standing in a timeless dream
Of light mists of pale amber rose
Feels like I’m lost in a deep cloud of heavenly scent
Touching, discovering you

“Do not look at me like that, I won’t sing,” She laughed watching him move his head to the music. The sight of Jamie in his underwear and dancing was quite something.

“Och, come on!” Grinning, Jamie pulled her up.

Those days of warm rains come rushing back to me
Miles of windless summer night air
Secret moments shared in the heat of the afternoon
Out of the stillness
Soft spoken words
Say it, say it again

“I thought you hated that song?” She wrapped her arms around his neck, smirking.

“Dinna be daft, I love it! ‘Tis our song,” He smirked, kissing her. Jamie started to sing, his hips swinging. He was known to have not only a dreadful voice but also no rhythm at all – but it never stopped him before. And it wasn’t stopping him now.

I love you always forever
Near and far closer together
Everywhere I will be with you
Everything I will do for you

Still laughing, Claire danced with him, his strong arms wrapped around her from behind.

“Sing wi’ me, Principessa!”

And so she did. She wasn’t much of a better singer and what they did should have been called screaming rather than singing but they didn’t care.

Say you’ll love, love me forever
Never stop, never whatever
Near and far and always and everywhere and everything
Say you’ll love, love me forever
Never stop, never whatever
Near and far and always and everywhere and everything

They had many impromptu dance parties in this house and each time it happened, she had felt transported by a lightness. One she knew Jamie felt too. They were back into their little blissful bubble, together. No grief, no titles, nothing. Just two bodies sharing one soul and being happy. Simply happy.

“We are terrible singers,” Claire cupped his cheeks, the song fading in the background, and pulled his face closer to kiss him.

“Aye,” He chuckled against her lips, his hands wrapped around her waist, “Me more than ye but I dinna think we’ll do much to improve the rain today. Though when I see ye singin’ all proper like in Church, it makes me want to do indecent things to ye.”

“It’s not really the kind of songs I’d sing in church but if that’s enough to make you happy, I can’t complain.”

“Aye, I’m a simple man,” He smiled, lifting her up.

“You’re far from being a simple man, James Fraser,” Claire kissed him, holding onto him while he carried her to the bedroom, “And I love you for it.”

Jamie laid her carefully on the bed, smiling tenderly. Whenever he wanted her, his eyes turned almost black and the sight always ignited a fire in the pit of her stomach. She felt at once horribly vulnerable and yet completely safe. But then— She had always felt that way with James Fraser.

He opened her belt without looking away from her eyes and let the silk material of her robe slid on her porcelain skin to reveal her naked state under it. His finger traced her body from her shoulder down to her navel, stamping her skin with goosebumps along the way.

Claire arched her body in response, biting her lower lip. His touch was burning her. A pleasant torture she never wanted to end. She grabbed his wrist and stopped him.

“Claire…let me,” He whispered, his voice begging.

“No, let me,” She brought his hand to her lips, kissing his palm and sat up slowly. The last time she took the lead had been the day of Elias’ death and she knew it had weighed on her each time they tried to be intimate– somehow. Her body shut off. But it wouldn’t today. It wouldn’t again. She was sure of that.

Claire got up, her eyes not leaving his and let her robe slip onto the floor. Jamie’s eyes travelled on her body as if he had never seen it before. His lips’ curling up into a smile. She felt beautiful. Seen. Loved. His.

She took a step towards him, her hands reaching for his boxers and her lips against his, “Take that off,” She said in a hoarse voice she didn’t recognize to be her own.

Licking his lips, Jamie leaned down to kiss her but she pulled back, smirking. He pulled down his boxers to let his arousal roam free and stepped out of them, Claire’s eyes carefully observing his motion.

“Lay down,” She motioned her head towards the bed.

Making love to Jamie either made her feel like the most vulnerable creature or the most powerful. There was no in between. She never needed to say things twice. In no time, Jamie had laid down on the bed and was watching her, his breath hissing in anticipation of what she was about to do next.

Claire climbed onto the bed, her riotous curls falling over her shoulders and tickling her skin. She bent her head and started to stamp his abdomen with kisses. He tensed when the tip of her tongue came in contact with his skin.

“Sorcha,” He rasped, his finger lifting her chin, “I need ye. All of ye, mo Nighean donn,“ he whispered, "Mo chridhe. My brown lass, my heart. Come to me. Cover me. Shelter me. a bhean, heal me. Burn with me, as I burn for you.”  

And burn she did. With him. For him.

Their lovemaking was always risk and promise – for if he held her life in his hands when he lay with her. She held his soul, and knew it. They were always able to communicate intimately, except for the past year. But now, in this room, intimacy found again, everything was going back to the way it used to be.

They were healing. Slowly but together.

Finally, together.

Chapter Text

In the weeks following the trip to Oxford, Claire felt the weight pressing on her chest disappearing a little bit more with each passing day. She had good days and bad days, so did Jamie but they faced them together. United. Allowing themselves to stop and breathe, whenever it was needed. Her grief was still there, as it always would be, but she just didn’t let it crush her anymore. Carrying that burden with Jamie had helped her tremendously. 

They had gone to Paris to meet the President. A packed four-day trip where sunlight brought meetings, cocktail parties, and museum visits while moonlight gave space for the couple to surround themselves with one another in their little bubble of peace. When they finally went back to London, they both visited Elias’ grave together for the first time since the funeral.

At first, neither one of them spoke. They simply stood there for a long time, holding each other’s hands tightly, eyes drifting in the direction of their son’s grave.

They had come here often. In the beginning, it was daily. When the pain blinded them to a point they didn’t know how to function. Then real life and duties took over once again and it became weekly. Or whenever they needed to be alone with their thoughts. They came often, yes, but never together.

Until now.

“I’ve had a wee talk wi’ Julia about something,” Jamie finally said, looking at her.

Claire turned her head to look at her husband. She felt the warmth of his hand radiating through her leather glove and for the first time, she didn’t feel like collapsing in front of the grave, “About wot?”

“Startin’ a foundation in Elias’ name to help wi’ research on epilepsy and to help children and adults to live wi’ it. To this day too many people still die from it when they shouldn’t, I want to do somethin’ and to have his name live on wi’ a good cause –”

She kissed him then, feeling his arms tighten around her, “It’s a great idea, darling,” she whispered against his lips, a smile forming on her face, “I love you.”

“I love ye right back, Principessa,” He kissed the tip of her nose, smiling, “We’ll start workin’ on that as soon as we’ll be back from Scotland, aye?”

“Yes,” She held him close, resting her head on his chest.

Jamie held her tightly, his hand stroking her soft curls back, “‘Tis gettin’ cold, a nighean, we should get home.”

Nodding, Claire looked up and sealed their lips once more. She reluctantly pulled away from him and kneeled down to place the fresh bouquet of flowers on the grave.

Jamie kneeled down next to her again, grabbing her hand and bringing it to his lips before squeezing it softly, like a reassurance he’d always be by her side, no matter what they go through. 

******
No matter how much Claire relished in those quiet moments with Jamie in Paris and then back in London, she was glad to finally be back home at Balmoral to prepare for Christmas and their anniversary. Last year, they had barely done anything and stayed in London. The wound too fresh and too open to let joy pass through their hearts. They had simply needed to be together, as a family. Without fuss and celebration.

This year would be different.

Jamie and Claire went down to Scotland one week prior to the children’s arrival. Like every year, they found the place prepared and decorated by Mrs Fitz with the help of Murtagh and Suzette.

“Welcome home, dearies!” Mrs Fitz exclaimed happily, throwing herself at Jamie and then at Claire’s neck for a warm and tight hug.

“Hello Glenna,” Claire hugged her tightly, smiling. Over the years of being married to Jamie, the older woman had become like a real mother to her and in the past year, she had been one of the few people holding her up and forcing her to walk, for her own good.

“Ye dinna ken how happy it makes me to see ye back!” The scot held Claire’s face between her palms, smiling widely. “And yer nest of curls!”

Claire chuckled softly, “Yes, they’re back as well.”

“‘Tis good to see ye smile, Claire,” She patted her cheek, winking. “I will bring yer bags upstairs – ”

“It’s alright,” Jamie smiled, “We’ll bring them ourselves, ye have done enough already preparing the house for our arrival.”

“If ye two just want time alone, just say it,” Mrs Fitz smirked, “I’ll be in the kitchen if ye need me!”

Claire chuckled, removing her coat and glancing at Jamie. Mrs Fitz was in her late sixties but she was still as feisty as ever. Even more so now.

“Och, before I forget!” She stopped in her tracks and looked at the couple again, “When are the bairns arriving?”

“They’re coming up on Friday but you don’t have to worry, they’ll make their beds themselves,” Claire smiled, wrapping her arm around Jamie.

“I ken! They always do,” Glenna winked and disappeared towards the kitchen.

“When are John and Joe arrivin’?” Jamie asked as he took her hand and led her up the stairs.  

“On Saturday morning, I’ll have to call him to be sure about that but that’s what he told me last time I saw him in London last week,” She opened the door to their room, her mouth curling up into a smile. The fireplace was crackling, her favourite candle was lit and two glasses of whisky were waiting for them, strategically placed there by Glenna, no doubt.

Jamie put their bags down and pulled her to him by the hand, “So ‘tis means I have ye all to myself for the next four days?”

“Indeed… and the nights, too,” She smacked his butt with both of her hands before fondling it.

Chuckling, Jamie leaned closer to her and gave her a tender and tentative kiss, “I intend to make the most of it.”

“Let’s do some riding,” She whispered against his lips, watching his face illuminate with a mixture of delighted surprise and arousal.

“Oh, aye,” His hands slid under her cashmere sweater, the coldness of them making her jump slightly.

“I meant horse riding, James,” Grinning, she removed his hands from their hiding place and made her way towards the dressing room, letting a mischievous laugh escape her lips.

Jamie watched her, shaking his head with a broad grin before he quickly followed her.

******

Claire and Jamie made their way outside and towards the stables in the crisp December air. It was the kind of day the Queen loved so much. Very cold with a perfectly blinding sun. The kind of day where taking a long breath outside felt like a kidney cleanser. Or the first time lungs were hit by oxygen at birth.

No matter the cold, Jamie was wearing his thick woollen kilt and the simple sight had the power to make Claire go weak at the knees. There wasn’t a more impressive sight than her husband in traditional wear. Formal or not. 

She wore a wool beige turtleneck with black trousers, under her Barbour green waxed jacket and leather riding boots. Her curls pinned back to be able to perfectly tie an hermès carré around her head and her hands were kept warm with dark gloves. She was blindly aware that her sight made as much effect on Jamie as he did with his kilt.

“Are we sharing a horse?” She asked once inside the stables, looking at Jamie with a little bit of mischief.

“Aye, we can if ye want,” He chuckled softly, kissing her cheek.

“Well it’s cold and I married a furnace, I might as well take advantage of that fact,” Crossing her arms, Claire leaned against the wall and watched Jamie at his task of preparing their horse.

“So ‘tis gonna be my job to keep ye warm, a nighean? I thought it would be the other way around,” He smirked, trying a vain attempt at a wink on her.

“Are you flirting with me again, James?” Her eyebrow flicked up as if she didn’t know the answer to that already. 

“I always flirt wi’ ye, ‘tis a big hobby of mine,” He said nonchalantly, preparing the horse.

“Well you do have a lot of hobbies –”

“Most of them involve ye,” He smirked, holding out his hand to her.

“Not chess though, I hate it and I’m rubbish at it, no matter how many times you tried to teach me,” She took his hand with a smile.

“Aye, weel each time I tried to teach ye, we ended up on the floor doin’ other things,” Smirking, Jamie helped her up onto the horse.

“That is also true,”  Getting onto the horse, she grinned at the memories, “You know I can get onto the wee beast without your help, right?”

“I ken but when do I ever miss a chance of fondling yer wee arse, Principessa?”

Claire burst into a laugh, “My ass is not wee.”

“‘Tis perfect the way it is, to grab, smack, fondle as much as I like,” Jamie walked outside of the stables with the horse. She couldn’t see his face but she knew perfectly well the mischievous smirk gracing it as he talked.

“You should write a book, you have so many things to say about it, it’s starting to get fascinating,” She watched him, trying not to laugh.  

“I will think abou’ it,” Jamie got onto the horse and settled behind her, firmly holding her between his thighs. He kissed her cheek and with one light tap of his heel informed the horse it was time to go.

Claire melted against him, secured between his arms. They move up and down in the saddle gently, staying in sync with the horse’s rhythm.

After a minute or two, Claire chuckled, “Jamie?”

“Aye?” He answered softly, clearing his throat.

“Do you seriously already have a cockstand?” She turned her head to look at him with raised eyebrows. Even after almost thirty years of marriage, he couldn’t control himself around her.

“Weel… what can I tell ye? Things do contract in the cold! And yer arse grinding against me isna helpin’ the matter!”

“My ass, again,” She laughed, shaking her head. “It’s going to be my fault now?” 

“Aways,” He smirked, nuzzling the crook of her neck. “What is it that ye love abou’ me? Physically, I mean.”

“Well you are rather dashing, it helps upon first impression,” She grinned, “You’ve got a great body, your hair is like fire – even if it’s fading a little bit with age – your lips are very plump and very agreeable to kiss but my favourite physical attribute of yours are your… arms.”

“My arms? I wasna expectin’ that,” He chuckled, “But please, enlighten me then.”

“Well, they strong and toned, I love it when you wrap me in them and hold me tight. I feel safe and protected,” She turned to look at him again, “They’re home to me and before I met you, I never felt like that anywhere else.”  

“I’m yer home and ye’re mine, mo nighean donn,” He smiled, kissing her tenderly, “Neither of us is whole alone.”

“You know, I never believed the whole soulmate thing but I think I might have been wrong about something,” She smiled, settling back against him.

“Did ye just admit to having been wrong about somethin’? Ye?” He acted shocked, “Should I be worried?”

Claire laughed, hitting his arm, “Piss off! I was trying to be romantic for once and say that you are my soulmate.”

“I’ve ken that since the first time we met but I’m glad ye finally realised it too,” He kissed her cheek, smiling “Took ye long enough.”

“Well I’ve known it awhile, I was simply not saying it,” She nudged his stomach, “Do you know when I knew I loved you?”

“When ye bumped into me in the hall?” She could hear the smile in his voice as he asked this and couldn’t prevent her own forming on her lips.

“No, that’s when I knew I wanted to kiss you. Badly,” She leaned back, “Lust and love aren’t the same things.”

“Then tell me, mo nighean donn,” He kissed the top of her head.

“I knew I loved you when you showed up at my door with pastries that morning and the exact moment when I saw the way your eyes flipped when I asked if you wanted to come in to join me and Frank. I knew you thought I had a boyfriend and I could tell you were cursing yourself for coming –”

“I was!” He chuckled, “The last thing I thought was that Frank would be was a verra fat cat.”

“He might have been a little out of shape, yes but he loved you very much! And you did too.”

“Aye, I did,” He smiled, resting his chin on her shoulder.

“Talking about Franks, I wonder what my life would have been like if I had gone on a date with that history assistant Randall when he asked me.”

“Randall asked ye on a date? When on earth did he do that?”

“In my first year, when I had not yet been swept off my feet by a dashing prince,” She grinned and looked at him.

“I didn’t go!” She chuckled, seeing his expression, “He was already extremely boring in class, I couldn’t imagine around the dinner table. Very dashing but also very stiff. Too English. I prefer them Scottish, like my whisky.”

“And did ye date many Scots then?” He rested his chin on her shoulder.

“Just one. I haven’t a cause to regret it yet,” She let out a content sigh.

“Glad to hear that,” He held her close, smiling.

She took the reigns from his hand as she felt his arms tightening around her, “Buckle up, Fraser.”

She leaned forward, raising her body slightly from the saddle and putting pressure on her legs for the horse to go faster.

They rode together in silence for a while, simply enjoying the peaceful surroundings of the Highlands. It was always a beautiful thing to see but with the trees stripped of their foliage and a layer of frost, it was even more breathtaking than usual. Claire would never tire of the sight and she knew it was the same for her husband. She just felt really grateful to be able to call such a place home.

Before meeting Jamie, she hated the holidays. She had no one to celebrate and spend time with. She didn’t know what a loud household was nor how people spent the days between Christmas and the new year. Lazing around the house, reading books and baking cakes while movies or music served as background noise. She felt guilty not to share people’s excitement and labelled herself as a Scrooge. Then, when she married Jamie, she realised what the real appeal of the holiday was. It wasn’t about gifts and parties, it was about family. Something she never thought she’d have and he had given her. Selflessly and willingly.

Their family was far from perfect, she knew that. But it was theirs, big and loud and full of love. It was all that mattered.

They found supper and drinks ready once they got back from their little riding escapade. Both famished, they ate quickly while filing Mrs Fitz on the details of what had happened in the weeks prior to their arrival. From their trip to Paris, their many engagements to the latest news about the children. They spent a good chunk of the evening around the table, simply talking and laughing with the elderly woman who happily refilled their glasses more than once.

“How does she manage to make me tipsy every time?” Claire chuckled as she stumbled into their room. Her cheeks were flushed with the whisky and her belly was tight with Glenna’s delicious roast and warm pie for dessert.

“Ye only had three glasses,” Jamie shook his head with a grin, closing the door. He watched her as she lifted her turtleneck over her head and tossed it aside.

“I always thought I had pretty good tolerance to alcohol except when it comes from Mrs Fitz, it happens every time!” Claire sat down on the bed and let herself fall back, giggling.

“Can you help me with my boots, please?” She lifted one leg up in the air.

“Aye, lemme handle that,” Jamie walked over the bed and grabbed her leg. He slowly unzipped it and pulled it until it came off. Claire couldn’t prevent another giggle when it did.

“Ye’re no’ tipsy, Sorcha, ye’re flat out drunk at this point,” Grinning, he took her other leg and removed her second boot.

Claire took his hand and pulled him on her, “Och, Claire –”

“Hush it,” She mumbled against his lips and kissed him passionately,  wrapping her legs around his waist.

Jamie made a low groan deep in his voice and looked at her, “Christ, ye drive me mad, Principessa. I want to hold you like a kitten in my shirt, and still I want to spread your thighs and plow ye like a rutting bull. I dinna understand myself.”

“That is rather poetic,” She grinned, slipping her cold hands under his kilt making him wince at the touch. She didn’t comment on him being a real Scotsman, it wasn’t much of a surprise.

“Are my hands cold?” She asked innocently.

“Aye, verra,” He mumbled against her lips, moving her up further on the bed.

In no time, Claire was stripped of the remnants of her clothes and Jamie started his own task of getting rid of his. Once his turtleneck was off, he made a move for his kilt but she stopped him.

“Don’t,” She said firmly, licking her lips and looking at him like a panther about to jump on its prey. 

“Keep that on,” She purred, slowly rubbing her nose against his. 

“Alright then, mo nighean donn,” He kissed her then, slowly and with enough passion to let her knees go weak if she hadn’t been laying down.

Bedding her could be anything from tenderness to riot, but to take her when she was a bit the worse for drink was always a particular delight. Intoxicated, she took less care for him than usual; abandoned and oblivious to all but her own pleasure, she would rake him, bite him - and beg him to serve her so, as well. Jamie loved the feeling of power in it, the tantalizing choice between joining with her at once in animal lust, or of holding himself-for a time- in check, so as to drive her at his whim.

Chapter Text

Like every year, everybody gathered at the castle for Christmas. The children, Joe, John and their own kids. Murtagh, Suzette and Mrs Fitz. 

They had spent Christmas day eating, sharing gifts, telling embarrassing stories about the kids and more eating. They celebrated Jamie and Claire’s anniversary and finally revealed to the children their real wedding date.

“They married right here, wearing matching pyjamas! And then lied to the world for about four years,” Joe repeated, making everyone laugh.

“It’s true,” Jamie grinned, holding Claire on his lap. “I didna introduce yer mam to the public until we both graduated.”

“But by then you both had been married for like what? Three years?” Elena watched her parents incredulous.

“Exactly,” Claire smirked, kissing her husband’s cheek, “Not even your grandfather knew this, by the way.”

“Och, nay, he didn’t. He simply knew we were dating and gave us his blessing when we decided to make our relationship public.”

“You basically broke every rule of protocol you taught us about, Da,” Josef grinned, raising his glass to his parents.

“I would break lots of things to have some privacy wi’ yer mam,” Jamie wiggled his eyebrows.  

“We know!” All the children answered at once, laughing.

“It still amazes me how you two managed to stay quiet for so long back then because you were already quite obvious,” Joe smirked, looking at John, “Right, honey?”

“I’m neutral in this topic, I don’t want Jamie or Claire to start talking about what we were doing back then,” John smirked, raising his hands up.

“That’s extremely clever of you, John,” Claire winked, feeling Jamie’s arms tighten around her waist and his lips stamping the back of her neck.

“That’s why I married him,” Joe took his husband’s hand and brought it to his lips.

“Are we going to turn out this gross once we’ll be in love?” Josef inquired, smirking into his glass.

“I’ve seen you with Emma, you already turned out that way my darling,” His mother’s words made him go quiet and his cheeks turning crimson.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mam,” Josef shrugged with a smile.

“‘Course you don’t,” Julia nudged his side, smirking. “You’re basically doing what mom and dad did but without the marriage part.”

“No one asked for your input,” Josef mumbled, rolling his eyes at his sister.

“And that’s when I love to give it!” The last kid of the Fraser clan answered proudly. 

“Wait,” Joe grinned looking at his godson, “Emma, as in your mother’s assistant?”

“Yes the very same,” Claire smiled, patting her son’s shoulder, “She won’t stay my assistant for much longer if you two are serious about it.”

“We will talk about this at length another time, Mam,” Josef smiled, squeezing her hand.

Smiling, Claire leaned towards him and kissed his head, “Fine.”

Jamie looked at his wife and they shared a look that was worth more than any words they could have said at that moment.

Twenty-five years of Christmases at Balmoral and it still felt as magical as the first time Claire found herself at the estate. It had been different then. She and Jamie were not yet officially together and they tiptoed around one another trying to decide what would be their next step. Alone or together. Both without anchors nor parents. Now, they had everything they ever wanted with their ever-growing and adopted family. The chaos and the noise was an added bonus to remind everyone of the life running through these walls that stayed quiet for far too long before Jamie married her.

Claire relished in those moments with everyone because they were not royals, they were a simple family. Sharing laughter and jokes around the table and then spending days lazing around the fire. Some napped, others read but everyone was together.

The days between the 25th and the new year were always rather hazy. No one knew what day or time it was and they didn’t bother to change out of their festive pyjamas. Food and whisky flooded and time seemed to stop.

Joe walked over to Claire with a grin plastered across his face, “Your Highness, get up!”

She was laying one of the Chesterfield, glasses on the tip of her nose while reading a book. She looked up, “Why on earth would I do such a thing? I’m very cosy right now.”

“I wanted to go for a walk and since you’re the only one who’s not taking a nap right now or dressed in flannels, I thought I’d ask you to join me,” He sat on the edge of the sofa, “I’m bloated, I need to do something about it.”

“We’re all bloated, blame Glenna and her amazing feast. After twenty odd years doing this, I thought you’d be used to it by now,” Grinning, she sat up and put the book away.

“It seems that every year brings even more food than the previous one,” He chuckled and offered her his hand.

“Well each year basically brings more people around the table too so, she adapts,” Claire grabbed it and got up. “Give me five minutes to put on my shoes and grab my coat.”

“And I’ll grab us some dram to take with us,” Joe smirked and kissed her cheek before disappearing out of the library.

The house was indeed too quiet. It meant only one thing, they had all fallen asleep after another copious lunch prepared by Mrs Fitz. Claire made her way towards the hall and slipped into her Wellington boots. She then grabbed her shearling hooded coat and put it on.

“It’s nice to have the house so quiet for once,” Joe smirked, walking over to her.

She took the glasses from his hands, grinning, “Remember when our Christmas breaks involved take out food and reruns of bad hallmark movies?”

“Why do you say bad hallmark movies? That’s a pleonasm. They are no good ones,” He put on his coat and scarf before opening the door for her.

Claire walked out, stopping to wait for him with a smile and took a sip of whisky, “You’re such a snob! You should love them, you’re American.”

“Keep the stereotypes to yourself, Fraser,” He kissed her cheek and took his glass from her hand.

“You are a black and gay man from Detroit who married into British aristocracy and became the dean of Oxford University, you’re far from being a stereotype, my darling,” Claire hooked their arms and started to walk towards the garden.

“You get me,” He smirked, sipping some whisky.

“Look at us. We’re far from being the two broke college students we were back then,” She smiled at the memory. She had met Joe the first day she arrived in Oxford and it had been love at first sight. The long lost brother she never knew she needed.

“We barely knew what we’d be doing in a week and now we’re married, parents, responsible adults…”

“Queen of England,” He cut her off, his mouth curling up into a grin.

She couldn’t help but laugh, “I had an unusual upbringing and overall life but if there was one thing I wouldn’t have believed if somebody had told me, it would have been that one day, I’d marry the next King.”

“Well I can’t blame you, have you seen him?!”

“Yes I have seen him actually,” She chuckled before taking a sip of whisky. Jamie was indeed very handsome and it was the first thing she had noticed when they had met but his kindness surpassed his physical attributes more than she could have imagined.

“How are you two doing, by the way?” Joe looked at her with a smile, patting her hand.

“Better,” She answered truthfully, “I think we’re back to being ourselves and it feels really nice.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” He smiled warmly, squeezing her arm softly, “It’s good to see you two like that, I got scared for a minute.”

“We still have our bad days but it’s easier to face them together instead of tucked away in a corner by ourselves. Jamie drowned himself in work and acted as a war horse, blinded on both sides so he seemed to cope better than I did but it wasn’t the case. We’re not afraid to talk about it now. It used to be such a taboo subject, as if not talking about it would bring Elias back,” She rested her head on his shoulder.  

Joe wrapped his arm around her neck and held her close as they walked, “You’re my hero, Claire Fraser.”

He kissed her head, “I have never in my life met someone as strong as you. No matter what happens, you get up and you keep going – And don’t say you didn’t have a choice because there is always a choice but you didn’t let yourself crumble, you always face everything that comes to you.”

“I almost did crumble this time, I almost let everything slip away and without Jamie, I wouldn’t have made it,” She swallowed back the tears she felt rising, “Even now, seeing everyone here for the holidays, it hurts not to have Eli around. But I’m not the only one who feels that way and it sorts of help to know I’m not alone in missing him.”

“With my parents, I was so young, I barely realised what happened that I was already on a plane to Egypt with my uncle. Now it’s different, I used to be scared of something happening to the children and being unable to do anything about it. Since it happened, it’s even worse. It’s like carrying your heart around and waiting for someone to stomp all over it while you watch, powerless.”

“I feel the same…I don’t know what I would do if something happened to Charlotte or Simon… Granted they’re almost adults but they’re still my babies.”

“You’ll get up and face it,” She smiled softly, “For the ones who are still here and need you. It’s as simple as that.”

Joe smiled and kissed her temple, “I love you, Fraser.”

“I love you too, Grey,” She nudged his stomach, smiling.

******

Jamie stood behind one of the french windows of the library and watched Claire and Joe walking in the snow. He couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the two friends. He met him when he met Claire and he had become family. Even more since falling in love with his best friend, John.

“What are you doing, Da?” Elena hugged her father from behind, tiptoeing to look over his shoulder.

“I’m just watchin’ yer mother and uncle walking in the snow and drinkin’ whisky,” He chuckled, pulling her under his arm.

Elena wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her curly head on his chest, “It is entertaining?” She looked up at him with a grin.

“Verra,” He chuckled and kissed her forehead, “She keeps bursting into a laugh because of him and my favourite sight is yer mother laughin’ so, I’m entertained alright.”

“Awww,” She grinned, “You two are so cute.”

“Aye, that we are, a leannan,” He smiled, holding his daughter close. Elena had been their first miracle when they thought they would never have biological children and he’d never forget the first time he held her in his arms…nor the two times he fainted during her birth.

“How did you know she was the one? Dating is already complicated enough but add the pressure of being the next heir of a throne and it’s rather daunting.”

“Weel I felt exactly like ye,” He smiled, stroking her hair back, “I was scarit thinking about my future and how I would find someone who will handle it wi’ me. I had all the women my age wantin’ to be wi’ me because of my title and it wasna a verra pleasant feeling –”

“Wasn’t it?” She smirked, nudging his stomach.

Jamie chuckled, “I dinna find it pleasant, no. Because I always wondered if a girl was interested more in me or in my title.”

“I ask myself that every time a guy flirts me with me,” She made a face.

“I dinna want anyone to flirt wi’ ye,” Jamie sighed, sitting down with her, “Yer my wee bairn –”

“Da, I’m twenty!” She rolled her eyes but smiled. Jamie still couldn’t believe how his little girl had grown up so fast. He still saw her as his wee babe.

“Are ye sure ye dinna want to be a nun? ‘Tis far better than being a monarch and ‘tis peaceful, no one annoys ye – “

“No, thank you,” She laughed, “I’d rather use my position to do good in this world!”

“Ye are yer mother’s daughter,” He smiled proudly, holding her.

“You still haven’t answered me about mam! How did you know she was the one?”

“When I was a wee lad, my Da told me I would ken the right woman when I’ll see yer and as foolish as it sounds, it was the truth,” Jamie smiled fondly. He could still vividly see the way Claire had looked the morning they had met. He remembered what she was wearing – camel coat and tweed pants  – and her perfume. Some patchouli oil she still wore these days.

“I bumped into yer mother and it was love at first sight,” He said simply.  

“You two set unrealistic standards for normal people like me, it’s really unfair!”

Jamie laughed, “Dinna say that. Ye’ll find the right person for ye in time, dinna worry about it. It’ll happen when ye’ll least expect it. Ye’re young now, enjoy it while ye can, a leannan.”

“Oh so now I can flirt?” She got up, wiggling her eyebrows.

“I didna say that!” He looked at her scandalized, which made his daughter laugh again.

“You sort of did, Da,” She grinned.

“As long as you find someone who treats ye right, I won’t have anythin’ to say about it,” He smiled, “And someone who will be there for ye, no matter what. Tis the most important. Yer mother would do anythin’ for me and I would do anythin’ for her, always.”

“Well, you will have to approve him, whoever he is,” She smiled, “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Good,” He brought her hand to his lips, “I’ll try no’ to scare the poor lad, whoever he is,” His attempt at a wink made her laugh.

“You can’t wink and you certainly can’t lie!” Elena shook her fiery curls as she walked out of the library laughing.

Jamie watched her, grinning. If there was one of their children that looked like the perfect mixture of him and Claire, it was her. Julia looked like him and Elias had looked like his mother but Elena, she was them both in one person.

******

“How can one be so exhausted while doing nothing?” Claire grinned, crawling into bed next to Jamie, “I will never understand that.”

He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, “The only one who isna exhausted is Mrs Fitz and she’s been runnin’ around and cookin’ since we arrived.”

“That’s true,” She chuckled, placing a kiss on his bare chest.

“Did ye have a good time these past few days, mo nighean donn?” Jamie looked down at her, smiling and stroked her cheek.

“Yes, it feels good to be home with everybody and just hear laughter resonating through the walls,” She brought his hand to her lips and kissed his wedding band, “Plus being tipsy on whisky half of the time and bloated because of all the delicious food is great.”

Jamie let out a deep laugh, “Aye, ‘tis the best.”

“Also you keep calling me mo nighean donn but my hair is getting grey rather quickly,” Smiling, she ran her fingers through her curls.

“A few wee streaks here and there aye, Calman geal. My white dove,” He whispered against her lips before kissing her.

“I could do something about it and dye them —“

“Nay, dinna do that. At least no’ for me,” he smiled, playing with a curl, “I like the grey… the way the light hits it, like a piece of silver moonlight.”

“How could I not love a man who says such things?” She sealed their lips tenderly.

“‘Tis the truth,” He kissed the tip of her nose.

Smiling, Claire settled back against his chest and held him close. The simple sound of his heart beating was enough to soothe her. They didn’t talk for a little while, words were never really necessary between them but she could sense Jamie wasn’t done talking.

“When my mam died…,” He started, something caught in his voice, “She hadna one white hair, Principessa. Not one.”

Claire looked up at him. He had his eyes closed and held her hand tightly.

“To see the years touch ye give me joy, Claire,” He whispered, opening his eyes again to look into her eyes, “ – for it means that ye lived.”

He lifted his hand, letting her hair fall slowly from his fingers, brushing her face. Claire knew exactly what he meant. She clearly remembered her own mother’s hair. A similar shade as her own, always pinned back in a tight bun with a few curls escaping. She had been thirty-two when she had died – and Julia Beauchamp had no white hair.

“We are getting old, my darling,” She stroked his jawline with her index finger, smiling.

Jamie smiled tenderly, his eyes still moist with emotions, “Aye, we’re no’ gonna get any younger but ‘tis okay. When I’ll look back on my life, I’ll ken I had lived a good one, wi’ ye by my side.”

“We are a pretty good team. A bit sloppy at times, but good nonetheless,” She wrapped her leg against his waist, rubbing her nose against his.

“Aye, ‘tis the truth,” He chuckled, stroking her hip. “Whenever ‘tis that we retire, we’ll move to Balmoral permanently, how abou’ that?”

“Sounds like the idea of heaven to me,” She smiled, “Are you already thinking about retirement, Your Royal Highness?”

“Och weel, as much as I love my country and my duties, I dinna want to do this until the day I die so aye, I’ve been thinkin’ about it. Not for at least another ten-fifteen years but I ken ‘tis what I’ll do.”

“I very much approve of this idea of yours, Fraser,” She rested her forehead against his, smiling.

“Abdication to leave space for the next great monarch of history,” Jamie’s mouth curled up into the proudest grin. 

“Our daughter,” They said in unision. 

Chapter Text

Fifteen Years Later

James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser never forgot the moment he became King of England. How could he? He had been terrified. Lost. Wrapped in his grief at the sudden passing of his father and afraid of what would be the next step in his life. He was twenty-seven years old.  

Even if his mother had tried to shield him from his destiny as much as possible, he had been prepared for the role since he was a wee lad… Ellen Fraser had tried to raise him like any other child, but Jamie was not any other child. Destined to do great things. And great things he had done. Always secretly hoping to make his mother and father proud. No matter where they were.

He announced his abdication a year ago and the ceremony took place six months later at Westminster Abbey. The day had finally come for him to step down from the throne to let space for the next monarch: Elena Quentin Louise Beauchamp Fraser. 

Jamie had no doubt in his mind his daughter would be perfect for the role. Better than anyone had ever been before that. And even if his perception might be a little bit biased on the matter, it was the truth. Elena was a true Fraser. Stubborn and practical. Never stopping until she would get what she wanted. But she was also half Beauchamp. And that was, in Jamie’s mind, what would make her the best. His daughter was just like his wife. Intelligent, strong-minded and kind. Like his own mother, Ellen had been before them.

Jamie Fraser strongly believed the world would be a better place if more women were in charge. Again, he wasn’t wrong. He knew he had been a good King but he couldn’t take credit for any of it. On one part, his mother had raised him to be and on the other, his wife had been by his side, from the beginning. Helping him, whenever he was lost.

Claire. His guiding light into the darkness. The glimmer in the shadow. Sorcha.

She had left her life behind for him. Everything she had known and cherished. Her anonymity. Her job. Her ambitions. The promises of a simpler life. Only for Jamie had she given everything she had, risked it all. She had thrown away caution and judgement and wisdom. She had brought him nothing but herself, and been nothing but herself with him. Given him soul as well as body, let him see her naked, trusted him to see her whole and cherish her frailties. And for that, he would always be grateful that Claire Beauchamp had agreed to become Claire Fraser, Queen Consort. More than forty years ago.

So many things happened since then. So many memories stamped into his mind, forever. Loss, tragedies, laughs and love. So much love.

When it came down to everything. He owed it all to Claire. Without her, monarch or not, his life wouldn’t have any meaning. Before they had met, he was lost. Angry, still grieving his mother’s passing and a shell of himself. No matter how many years had passed, he felt hollow. Ignoring what to do with his life.

Then he saw her. 

A riot of curls framing her face, porcelain skin like a china doll and lips plumb and pink, calling for him.

Jamie wanted to disappear. That was slightly dramatic but he truly did, just now. More than usual anyway.

His first day at university was supposed to be normal. He was supposed to be like any other student, no matter his title. But he had been on campus for ten minutes – and it was already chaos. He knew the rest of the day wasn’t going to get much better.

After all, the next King of England was attending Oxford.

What people didn’t know was that the next heir to the throne was shy and hated attention. He didn’t like for people to scream after him while waving flags and holding flowers.

Long minutes of polite smiles and handshakes. Of greetings and thank yous. Long minutes where Jamie realised he should have taken his classes from the warmth and peaceful bubble of the Palace in London.

He finally extracted himself of the crowd and roamed the empty halls in search of his first classroom. He didn’t agree to have someone walking him around nor to have a guide to show him where to go. He wanted to get lost, like any new student, and forget about who he was for a minute. 

Just a minute.

The halls were deserted. Since everyone was either in class already or outside waiting to cast a glance of the prince.

Jamie walked, looking around and let his thought wander elsewhere. To a place where his mother would still be alive and his father wasn’t simply the ghost of the man he had known. A place where his life had been a normal one and not one of scrutiny in the public eye. A place where –

His thoughts were cut short as he bumped into someone and sent her books flying across the floor.  His mind went blank and he blinked, standing in front of what he thought to believe to be an angel.

“I am so sorry! I hope I dinna hurt ye?” Panic crept onto the back of his neck.

Jamie noted the sudden expression on her face. But not one he was used to receiving whenever someone realises who he was. She didn’t seem to know – or if she did, she hid it well. And instead, she was almost laughing.

She shook her bouncy head of luscious curls and he had to fight the urge of reading out and stroking one.

“No, I’m fine. I should look where I’m walking, I’m sorry –” Her accent was thick and British. It sounded so posh. And her voice was smooth like silk.

Smiling, he picked up her books from the floor and glanced at the first one. His heart swelling, “Thomas Hardy, great choice. Are ye a literature major then?”

“No, archaeology, actually. But I love a good classic for the breaks between classes,” Her smile gave him goosebumps and her eyes transfixed him. He couldn’t stop staring into their whisky colour and she seemed to notice that, “Is everything okay?”

Jamie came back to his senses, feeling the tip of his ears turning pink. “Oh aye, I was distracted is all.”

“Well, I have to go or I’ll be late to class,” Claire ran her long fingers through her soft curls and Jamie wondered what they would feel like.

“Aye, of course. Just look where you’re going, you could get hurt next time.” Jamie warned her, with a cheeky smile.

“I promise, I will!” Claire smiled and disappeared before he had the time to ask her name.

That gloomy October morning, in a university hall, was the day his heart started to beat again and it never stopped since then. Beating for her. For their children. For the life she had given him and still gave him. Every day. For the rest of their lives together. And after that.

Forever.

They had officially moved out of the Palace in London to settle at Balmoral, just the two of them, except for when their children and grandchildren would visit for the holidays.

Josef had married Emma ten years ago. Both had two daughters, Elizabeth and Grace. Respectively six and four. And a third bairn on the way. 

Elena got married six years ago to Alexis de l’Espage, a French Earl she had met in her third year at university. They had a son, named Elias after her late brother, and aged two. The next in the line of succession.

Julia was in no rush to get married nor engaged. She was busy travelling the world, working on various charities and fighting the fights of people less fortunate and who had no voices.

When the entire clan was all reunited around a table, Jamie liked to look around and see his family. Loud and noisy, sharing a laugh or discussing everything and anything. And then, his eyes would lock with Claire’s and they’d share a smile, followed by a silent understanding of just how happy they were.  

******

Claire made her way inside the castle and removed her tartan Burberry trench and olive rubber boots. She had paid a visit to Murtagh and Suzette, along with Mrs Fitz, while Jamie was taking a nap. Her hair had become fully grey but her curls were still as riotous as ever and she never tried to tame them. She removed the silk scarf from around her head and let her hair free while she made her way towards the library.

“Darling?” She called out, looking around for him. The library was empty so she made her way back towards the stairs.

“Aye, I’m here,” She heard his voice inside his office and turned around, smiling.

Leaning against the doorframe, she watched him, kneeling on the floor and sorting through boxes, “What are you doing?”

“Sortin’ some old papers,” Jamie smiled, getting up slowly, “I woke up and I was all alone so I found somethin’ to occupy myself with.”

“Was his royal highness bored, perhaps?” Claire walked over to him, smirking.

“Och aye, beyond reasonable measures,” He grabbed her hand and pulled him closer to him before wrapping his arms around her waist.

“It’s not my fault my old man needed a nap and I was restless,” She wrapped her arms around his neck, rubbing her nose against him.

“Yer old man, aye?” He pouted, tilting his head.

“Still younger than I am,” She smiled, brushing her lips against his.

“‘Tis verra true, Principessa,” Jamie couldn’t help but grin, “Where were ye?”

“I went to see Suzette, Murtagh and Glenna,” She stroked his nape hair, “They’ll join us for dinner tonight.”

“Och, good,” He lifted her up.

“No, put me down before you hurt your back again,” She chuckled, holding onto him, “Come on, I’m not kidding!”

“I canna hear ye,” Grinning, Jamie carried her to the library and laid her on the Chesterfield. “Dinna move, I’ll start the fireplace and get us a wee dram, aye?”

“Aye,” Claire watched him with a smirk, “Sounds like a good plan.”

“And I didna injure my back,” He shook his butt as a little victory dance before he kneeled down and started on the fireplace, leaving Claire laughing on the leather sofa.

Shaking her head, she watched him and pulled the plaid over her.

Sometimes, it hit her out of nowhere just how much she loved this man. It caught her off guard, when they were doing random activities or when he was asleep and she’d watch him. An immense rush of happiness would take over her, then, knowing her life without Jamie would have been a life lived in vain.

“I’m serious, I don’t want you to be stuck in bed for days again and you don’t want that either,” Claire got up, walking to the table to get them drinks.

“I will be careful,” Walking over to her, he wrapped his arm around her from behind while she poured the whisky into the glasses.

“I promise, a nighean,” He rested his chin on her shoulder.

“Thank you,” Smiling, she kissed his cheek.

“I have to admit I dinna mind gettin’ hurt because then ye doctor me,” He grinned, patting her bum. Kissing her cheek quickly, he went to sit down on the sofa.

“James Fraser, what am I going to do with you?” Claire chuckled, following him with the drinks. She sat down next to the big scot and handed him a glass.

“Thank ye kindly,” He took it, kissing the tip of her nose. “Weel, I hope ye’ll keep me as a husband for a few more years.”

She moved against him, smiling, “It would be a little bit late to realise I’ve made a mistake in marrying you, don’t you think?”

Jamie kissed her head before sipping some whisky, “Aye a wee bit but who kens? I just dinna want ye to regret anything.”  

“Regret anything? Because I married you?” Claire looked up at him, “If there is one thing I will never regret in my life is that simple fact, my darling.”

“Ye sacrificed a great deal to be my wife, Caire…Yer life, yer career, yer anonymity –”

“The first time you brought me here, after what happened with the press, I was terrified,” She put her glass onto the table and moved closer to him.

“I had doubts about what this would be like, about if I could be enough for you. If I could handle it and be by your side and support you, no matter what. I didn’t want to promise you something and then running away because I couldn’t handle it,” She cupped his cheek, emotions catching in her throat.

“But I never doubted for a sheer second how much I loved you, Jamie,” She smiled, her vision blurring with tears, “I knew it wouldn’t be easy and it wasn’t always, but whenever you look at me or you hold me, all the fears I have or ever had, just vanish. You have no idea how thankful I am to be your wife.”

“‘Tis I who needs to thank ye, Principessa,” He put his glass away, smiling warmly, “When we met, ye gave my life meanin’ and the day ye marrit me, ye made me the happiest man in the world. Then a little bit more every day of our marriage.”

Wrapping her into his arms, Jamie placed a kiss on her head, “Wi’out ye, I am nothin’, Claire,” He whispered in her hair, closing his eyes.

“Neither one of us is whole alone, Jamie,” She squeezed his arm, looking up at his eyes.

“Aye, ‘tis verra true,” He stroked her cheek with the base of his thumb.

“And you?” She looked at him, “You never regretted marrying me?”

“No’ even for one second, Principessa,” Jamie kissed her lips with such tender delicacy, she almost wept.

“Ye are the love of my life, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser. I kent it the first moment I saw ye and I get a little bit more sure of that fact every day when I see ye stir next to me in the mornin’ and ye look at me wi’ yer whisky eyes still full of sleep and yer curls a mess on the pillow. Or when ye are readin’ a book, wi’ yer wee glasses on yer nose and that concentrated look on yer face.”

“God, I love you,” A tear escaped her eye and strolled down her cheek but Claire smiled. A smile full of happiness and love for this man. Her man.

“I know I don’t say it often enough but I do love you, Jamie,” She sealed their lips for a brief moment, feeling his arms tightening around her. “So bloody much,” She whispered against him, breath warm.

“Aye, I ken, a nighean,” His lip flicked up as he cupped her cheek – and she melted into his touch. “I dinna need to hear ye say it because ye proved it to me every day and ye still do. Ye gave me yer heart and yer soul. Ye gave me four bairns. Ye gave me everythin’ Claire.”

“You gave me a home and a family,” She held him close, “Two things I never thought I would have. I thought I didn’t mind solitude – I thought I was strong and independent but I don’t think I’ll be able to be alone again –”

“Ye’ll never be alone again, Principessa,” He whispered, smiling broadly. “My body is yers now and my soul will belong to ye even after we both will be dust.”

Nodding, she smiled and nuzzled his neck. Wrapped in his arms, Claire was right where she had always belonged. At home. Surrounded by a feeling of peace no one but her husband could procure her.

“When the day shall come, that we do part,” Jamie said softly, tightening his hold on her, “if my last words are not ‘I love you’—ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”  

As a little girl, Claire never believed in fairytales. Stories of princesses rescued in their high towers of loneliness by princes and bound to live happily ever after until the rest of time did little for her imagination. She never believed such things to be able to be true. And usually, she was right about pretty much everything but James Fraser proved her wrong in the matter. Not that she minded. 

The end.