It was the absence of her that woke him.
Claire must have been careful in extracting herself from his arms; by the time Jamie rolled over, instinctively seeking her warmth, the dip in her pillow was cool to the touch. Cracking one eye open, he raised his head to squint around the room. It took a moment for him to register the muffled sound of running water, and another before he followed it to a slant of golden light beneath the bathroom door.
Smiling, he relaxed back into her pillow with a soft grunt of contentment.
It smelled like her.
Still adrift in the watery daze between waking and sleeping, he dozed on his belly for a few more minutes before he snuffled and stretched, then rolled back over to grab his mobile off the bedside table.
The notification banners on his lock screen jolted him awake with all the subtlety of an overturned bucket of ice water.
48 unread texts, 21 WhatsApp messages, 3 new voicemails.
Jamie scrubbed a hand over his face and let out a low scoffing sound that bordered on a growl.
The rational part of his brain recognized, on some level, that firing back at Jenny the way he wanted to was not going to help matters any. Still, the knowledge that those messages contained any number of vicious remarks about the woman he loved, character assassinations from people who had never even spoken to her, never even given her a chance… Christ, it made him want to just—
For a moment he held completely still, the bridge of his nose pinched between thumb and forefinger.
When his lungs began to burn, he drew in a deep, fortifying breath.
On the exhale, he closed out his text thread with his sister before he said something he couldn’t take back, and wisely switched over to his chat with Ian instead.
Claire and I need a few days to ourselves. We’re at a hotel in Oxford for now, gonna hunker down here for a bit and drive up when we’re both ready.
His thumbs hovered over the keypad for a moment before he added, This is happening, Ian. It’s not open to negotiation. I promised you I have an explanation, and I do. Trust that I have a shred of common sense in my head, aye? And if you can get Jen to call off the feckin wolf pack, that would be grand. All it’s doing is pissing me off.
I’ll text you when we’re on the way up. In the meantime, I’m unplugging for a bit. Talk to you in a few days, brother.
He powered down his mobile and flung it over into his open suitcase just as Claire emerged from the bathroom. The moment she stepped into his field of vision — sleepy-eyed and rosy-cheeked, wrapped in one of the thick white robes provided by the hotel — Jamie could feel the tension in his body begin to slacken and unwind. A glorious halo of corkscrew curls rioted about her head, despite her apparent efforts to tame them; he didn’t miss the streaks of water scattered throughout, as though she’d tried in vain to finger-comb them into submission.
When she glanced up and caught him staring in open adoration, she smiled shyly, tucking an errant ringlet behind her ear. “Morning.”
A tender smile bloomed across his face in return. “Good morning, Sassenach.”
Even with the robe, her teeth were chattering as she climbed back under the covers next to him. Opening an arm for her, he asked reflexively, “Cold?”
Claire wedged her icy wee feet between his calves in response, and grinned wickedly at his squawk of protest. “Just a little.”
“Christ. Is the heat even on in here?”
“Mhm,” she hummed. “It’s just me. I’m always cold.”
Jamie’s brow quirked at that, his lips pursed against a smirk. “Well then…” he drawled, rolling the muscles of his torso in a conspicuous stretch beneath her. “It’s too bad ye dinna have a… rather large, naked Scotsman in bed wi’ ye…” Claire’s eyebrows twitched up in amusement, and he couldn’t fight back his smile any longer. “... who might take a keen interest in warming ye…”
“Too bad,” she agreed, leveraging an elbow in the mattress to push herself up into a kiss. Jamie yielded all too willingly to the hungry press of her mouth, but when the first swirl of her tongue tasted of sweet mint toothpaste, he broke away from her with a grunt.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Morning breath.”
“I don’t mind,” Claire promised, leaning eagerly in his direction as he slipped out of bed. But she had taken her turn in the bathroom; he certainly wasn’t going to be the one to subject her to foul breath all day.
“I do. I’ll be quick, mo ghràidh. Wait right there.”
She sighed as she laid back against the pillows, watching him cross the room, naked as the day he was born. “I’m not likely to go anywhere,” she assured him with a smile that sank straight through him, settling warm and heavy in his bollocks.
The instant the bathroom door clicked shut behind him, he raced through his morning ablutions like a man on fire: brushed his teeth over the toilet, slicked some deodorant under his arms, then paused for a fragment of a second to eye his shaving kit before deciding against it; the wee bit of stubble that had sprouted overnight would provide just enough texture to tantalize his Sassenach’s skin.
A Dhia, this is actually happening.
Grasping the sink with both hands, he stared at his reflection in the mirror as he drew in a deep, shaky breath and let it out in a huff.
He was crawling back into bed with her less than ninety seconds after he’d left.
“Now...” Sidling up alongside her, he threaded a hand into her hair and drew her in for a much more thorough kiss. “Where were we?”
Claire’s smile curved against his. “That was fast.”
“I was verra motivated.”
He felt her hum of approval as she took his face in her hands, bringing him with her as she rolled onto her back. Hyper-conscious about crushing her — Christ, she was so small beneath him — he quickly shifted his weight over onto his hip, bending an elbow around her head to support his upper body. No sooner had he done so than Claire screwed up her face, tilting her head and mouthing a silent “ow.”
With a jolt, he realized that his forearm was pulling her hair, and scrambled to reposition — jabbing his knee into her thigh in the process.
“Ach, sorry!” he hissed.
Fer fuck’s sake, Fraser, get yer shit together! Ye cannae mess this up, not wi’ her. Not when it matters.
“You’re alright,” Claire laughed, but her expression quickly sobered as she caught sight of his burning cheeks. He could almost watch the evolution of thought across her glass face — the gold of her eyes melting like warm caramel, the fine lines around them etched with empathy. On anyone else he might have mistaken the expression for pity, but with Claire he knew, somehow, that it was only understanding.
Very slowly, she reached up to smooth her cool fingertips over the flaming tip of his ear and back into his hair. Jamie let his eyes slip shut for a moment, lost in the impossibly delicate touch. When he opened them again, the world seemed to have gone still, in that strange, wondrous, unnerving way it did whenever she looked at him like this — as though she was staring straight into his soul.
“I’m nervous too, Jamie.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
The breath shook out of him in a soft sound of acknowledgement. “Fumblin’ like a green lad,” he muttered, and tried to smile.
He watched through his lashes as her fingertips continued their path down the slope of his shoulder and bicep, forearm and wrist. Both of his arms were littered with the marks of several months of hospitalization — bruises in various stages of healing from repeated blood draws and blown IVs, a hardened patch of scar tissue where his PICC line had been. She traced each one slowly and deliberately, pausing here and there to smooth her forefinger over a knotted vein or an unnatural indentation in the skin.
One by one, wordlessly acknowledging each imperfection.
When her palm finally found its home in the curve of his, she looked up at him with such tenderness that his chest ached with loving her.
“It’s easier like this,” she whispered, lacing her fingers through his.
“Aye,” he agreed softly. For a moment his gaze flitted across her face, mesmerized by the way the light struck her features as the first rays of dawn bled over the windowsill. When at last he narrowed in on the bow of her mouth, his tongue darted out to wet his lips on instinct.
Claire took a breath as if to say something else, but released it in a sigh of pleasure as he bent to graze his lips up the curve of her neck.
“I think mebbe it would help if we take this slow, mo nighean donn,” he murmured against her skin. “Take our time to learn one another, hm?”
She made a faint humming sound that he took as assent.
“And if ye want me to stop at any point, just—”
Shaking her head, Claire twined the fingers of her free hand in his hair and turned until her mouth found his. “I don’t want you to stop,” she breathed past his parted lips.
God, she wasn’t going to make this easy on him.
After feeling how slick she’d been in the shower the night before, there was little doubt in Jamie’s mind that she wanted this as much as he did. Still, he would need to pace himself if he was going to draw this out long enough to serve her suitably.
He had given much thought to what he wanted to do to her when he finally had her alone, naked, and willing. But no fantasy of his own making, staring at a dark hospital wall late at night, had come remotely close to the reality of watching Claire come apart; seeing her pupils blow wide and her mouth fall open, hearing the wee noises she made when she was close, feeling the velvet heat of her constrict around his fingers. Just the thought of what it would be like to sink inside of her, to feel those same muscles clench on his cock…
But he was getting ahead of himself.
He knew he was making clumsy mistakes because he was moving too fast, from both nerves and eagerness; if there was one lesson he’d learned from experience, it was to go slowly and pay attention. And so his plan was to do exactly that: to spend the day learning how best to serve her.
How to make her gasp, and moan, and writhe, and pant.
How to make her tremble with need, lifting off the bed, the veins in her neck straining.
How to make her come so hard she screamed.
Although he still couldn’t quite wrap his head around it, Jamie was very much aware that he was the lucky bastard who would have the privilege of waking up in bed with this woman every morning for the rest of their lives.
He meant to do everything in his power to be worthy of that honor.
And so he began to explore.
Some of the terrain of her body was familiar to him already; he knew, for example, that she made a low sound in her throat — aye, just like that — when he dipped his tongue into the hollow between her collarbones. He knew that she enjoyed the rasp of his stubble along her throat, and made sure to drag his chin as he kissed his way along the underside of her jaw, down the curve of her neck.
When his efforts were rewarded with a ripple of goosebumps, he grinned, eyes twinkling, eager to try more.
He could feel her heart pounding as he smoothed a callused hand down her ribcage just ahead of his mouth, spreading her robe as he went. Although he meant to simply let his palm rest over her sternum — use her pulse as a gauge of how well he was doing — Claire arched as his fingers splayed over the soft mound of her breast, lifting into him in a wordless request for more.
Her eyes were clenched shut in concentration when he raised his head to look at her. Jamie hovered above her skin just long enough for her to realize that he’d stopped, to open her eyes and glance down at him.
Only then did he drag the pad of his thumb around her nipple, watching her eyes glaze with pleasure, the dark pink flush of arousal burning up her neck and across her cheeks like wildfire.
She likes that I’m watching her.
A good thing too, as he could no longer bring himself to look away.
Entranced, Jamie watched her lashes flutter and her eyes roll shut as he bent to take the other nipple gently in his mouth. When he gave a slow, tentative suck, Claire lifted her chin, sinking her teeth into the pillow of her bottom lip.
A bit more pull and she moaned deliciously.
It was exactly the confirmation he was seeking.
Knowing what she craved, he began to work her hard with tongue and teeth and fingertips until she began to pant and squirm beneath him. With one particularly deep suck, her hips bucked involuntarily, and he gave a hum of satisfaction, releasing her from his hungry mouth just long enough to kiss his way over to the opposite breast and build her up again.
With another pass, and another, Claire began whimpering softly in anticipation before he’d even taken a rosy peak in his mouth, her head rolling on the pillow at the mere tease of hot breath over her sensitized skin.
Jesus, God, her wee noises... his cock was already straining against her thigh and he hadn’t even tasted her yet. But judging by the fevered way her hips had begun to snap at the air, he thought perhaps that time had finally come.
It took concerted effort to remember to go slowly, to savor each inch of white satin skin as he dragged his mouth down her body. She was so thin that a deep valley scooped between the ridged mountains of her ribcage; faced with the physical reminder of just how fragile she still was, he softened his mouth, brushing delicate kisses over each individual bone and muscle and tendon on his way to…
Barely an inch below her navel, Claire suddenly tensed beneath him, rigid as a board. Her hand shot down to cup his jaw, urging him up as she shook her head.
“Oh, no, it—it’s okay,” she said quickly, her eyes round and cheeks flaming. “You don’t have to.”
Jamie stopped at once, shifting his weight over onto an elbow to give her space. She was very clearly uncomfortable; the change in her demeanor was palpable the moment she realized his intentions. Bringing his hand up to cover hers against his cheek, he squeezed her fingers reassuringly.
“Alright,” he said with a tentative nod, even as his brow furrowed slightly in confusion. “I’m sorry, I didna…” His mouth opened and closed, at a loss. She’d been so eager for everything else, he was honestly a bit taken aback. Studying her face to try and get a better read on her, he asked softly, “Do ye not like it, mo ghràidh?”
Claire’s shoulders shifted uncomfortably on the pillow, and she flushed even darker pink, refusing to meet his gaze. “I—I don’t know. No one’s ever…”
If he had been surprised before, now Jamie was positively dumbfounded. He managed, just barely, to keep his mouth from falling slack, but he was certain he was failing to keep the astonishment off his face.
Two beats of silence passed as he processed.
And then the anger began to rise in his wame.
Two years. Frank Randall had been with her for two years and the bastard had never once?...
Sliding up the bed alongside her until their heads were level again, Jamie curved a finger beneath her chin and gently tilted it up. “Look at me?” he implored.
Claire hesitated, the muscles of her throat constricting in a swallow, before she raised her eyes deliberately to meet his. He held them for a long moment — just stared at her, letting her read him as openly and freely as he could read her — before he said softly, “He didna deserve you, Sassenach.”
Her lips twitched in an anemic smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “It wasn’t just him,” she admitted quietly, almost apologetically. “There were others. None of them ever offered, and I never asked. I guess I sort of got the impression that...” She gave a half-shrug. “...that most men only do it out of obligation.”
“Obligation?” Jamie echoed. “Christ...” Shaking his head, he leaned down to skim his lips over her temple and back toward her ear. “Do ye have any idea…” His voice dropped even further, until it was barely a whisper against her skin. “Any idea how many nights I lay awake in that hospital bed, dreaming of how you’d taste?”
He heard her swallow thickly again, felt the tension in her muscles slacken by just a notch. She said nothing for several seconds, but he could almost hear her debating with herself before she pulled back to look at him, an incredulous breath shivering past her lips. “You really mean that, don’t you?”
“Aye, mo chridhe. I do.” Smiling at her gently, he stroked the shell of her ear with his thumb, then slowly bent to kiss her. “S’pose I should be grateful to the eejits who came before me, hm? It means I’ll have the honor of being your first.” He studied her for a moment, then added quietly, “If ye’ll have me?”
Claire’s eyebrows curved in an expression somewhere between adoration and lingering disbelief, but after a few pounding heartbeats, she nodded faintly.
And Jamie Fraser found himself a man on a mission.
Giving her a lopsided grin, he pressed a reassuring kiss to her belly as he slid off the bed and onto his knees. To her credit, Claire managed a wee flicker of a smile in return, though her legs trembled as he drew them carefully over each of his shoulders. When he shifted to urge her closer, she obediently scooted her hips to the edge of the mattress, staring up at the ceiling with her muscles clenched.
“Relax, mo ghràidh,” he murmured, pressing a soft kiss to the inside of her knee. “It’s just me.” She gave a stiff nod, drew in a breath, and forcibly relaxed on the exhale.
The skin on the inside of her thigh was dove-soft, and Jamie took his time savoring the feel of it against his lips, his tongue. Christ, he could smell her arousal now, just inches away, and breathed in deeply through his nose as he nuzzled closer, desperate for more of that scent.
On a biological level, he knew it was pheromones making him grow so hard he thought his cock would snap. But it was more than that; with Claire, it was always more. No lass had ever made him feel like this… like every muscle fiber was tingling, every nerve ending shooting sparks, an electric charge surging brighter, hotter the closer he got to her.
And when he finally — finally — got his first taste of her, he moaned so deep he could feel it in his marrow, molten red and burning for her.
A Dhia, she was sweet, just a little, just there… earthy in some places, nutty almost… and inside she was rich and savoury and warm, with a bit of brine…
She tasted like… like something he’d known all his life, but couldn’t quite place, and he was lost, feral with the need for more. There was no rhyme or rhythm to his mouth’s exploration; he lapped, sucked, and swirled with abandon. So when Claire’s inner muscles suddenly fluttered and clenched around his tongue, flooding his mouth with her release, his eyes — when had he closed them? — snapped open in surprise.
One look at her, and he could tell he’d done well enough; she was flushed from breasts to throat to cheeks, both white-knuckled fists clutching the duvet as she came down from her climax, panting hard.
But he hadn’t been watching. He’d been so consumed with… well, consuming her that he hadn’t been reading her cues, learning her tells; for all he knew, it was just the novelty of a tongue that had made her come, rather than any skill whatsoever.
Not good enough.
Rolling his shoulders, brow set in determination, he leaned back in to lick a slow stripe along the length of her sex.
Claire bolted upright, her eyes blown wide.
“Jamie,” she whimpered, still trembling and over-sensitized from her first orgasm. But she made no move to push him away, and he was fully in control now; attuned to her, careful with her. He kissed slowly and deeply, the way he would her mouth, laving his tongue over the slippery, swollen flesh. For the time being, he was careful to avoid her clit entirely, knowing that any stimulation would be too much for her just yet.
Instead, he focused on her other erogenous zones; while his mouth moved with agonizing slowness, he teased the pads of his fingers in circles around her breasts and across the bow of her clavicle, pushing at her robe until she took the hint and shrugged out of it completely. When she was fully bare, he whispered his fingertips down the tender flesh on the inside of her arm, drew featherlight serpentines over the pulse point at her wrist. Breath by shuddering breath, he could feel her begin to relax again, her muscles melting like butter beneath his touch.
Only when she laid back again, her legs a deadweight on his shoulders, spread wide and willing beneath his mouth, did he dare to move his lips carefully to the hardened pearl of flesh he’d been so fastidiously avoiding.
Her high-pitched whistle of a gasp told him he’d been right to wait.
Settling in for the long haul, he started out gentle.
Teased her a bit.
Tiny nibbles with just his lips at first, like a wee goldfish. When she started to roll her neck, breathing more heavily, he began to probe very softly with the flat of his tongue, working anti-clockwise from the bottom, seeking out which ‘hours’ seemed to give her the most pleasure, and pressing a bit harder on those spots on the next circuit.
Once he was more certain which were her preferred zones, he picked up the pace, switching to infinity loops that hit each one.
And Claire began to cry out.
He looked up, smiling, watching her face as he found the same rhythm that had driven her over the edge the night before. In a matter of seconds, her chin began to shiver with her panting, and her shoulders twisted on the pillows, restless with building pleasure.
When he changed his pattern to the opposite direction, she smashed her wrist into her mouth to smother a keening moan.
With a shake of his head, Jamie reached up at once to clasp her fingers in his, drawing her hand down by her side. “I want to hear ye, Sassenach,” he insisted. “Helps me ken if I’m getting it right.”
“Y-you are,” she informed him breathlessly, her chest heaving. “God, don’t stop!”
With a glistening smile, he bent to murmur against her swollen clit, “As ye say.”
“Fuck,” she hissed, throwing her head back. His answering hum of laughter sent a shudder down her spine, her thighs shaking on either side of his neck.
So he did it again, louder and lower, for a stronger vibration.
The resulting sound was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard in his life: she could manage only the “Ja-” of his name before her voice cracked on a sob of pleasure.
“Say it,” he rumbled against her, pausing to give a single, firm swirl that made the veins in her neck and forehead strain. “Say my name, Sassenach.”
“Jamie!” she whisper-shrieked, her throat too closed to draw in a full breath. “Oh God, I ca— fuck, I’m going to—”
“Mmphm,” he hummed purposefully, and nuzzled in deep, sealing his mouth over her. As he began to suckle in slow, deep pulses, Claire’s whole body convulsed, arching up until only her head and shoulders touched the bed.
She was so close. He knew she would break if he slipped a couple of fingers inside of her, but if that was all she needed to push her over the edge, then…
Jamie took only a fraction of a second to deliberate, glancing up the valley of her torso to watch her lick her parched lips.
Drawing in a breath, he rose up over her body in one fluid movement, positioning himself at her entrance with one hand while the other tangled in her curls, anchoring her as he kissed her, hard.
Her mouth dropped open against his in a choked, silent scream as he thrust home, sheathed to the root in the pulsing heat of her.
It was enough.
His vision exploded in white as she came around him, so tight and hot and slippery wet that he nearly joined her on the spot.
“Claire.” Her name was a prayer on his lips as he bowed his forehead into hers, the rest of his muscles clenched and shaking with the effort to hold still. Sharing breath with her, he whispered brokenly into her mouth, “Oh God, Claire...”
For a dozen pounding heartbeats she seemed stunned, speechless. Her whisky eyes overflowed with tears as she looked up at him, her lips still parted, hands fluttering indecisively around his upper arms before reaching up to cradle his face.
“I love you,” she breathed when she found the words to say anything at all.
He nodded, but had to swallow twice against a constricted throat before he managed to whisper back, “I love you too, mo nighean donn.”
And slowly, holding her eyes with his, he began to move.