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Power Jam: A Roller Derby Love Story

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When it came to letting loose with a stiff drink and a good meal, Thirsty Thursday had clearly usurped the crown previously held by TGIF. Or, at least, thus Claire deduced as she stood in The Ridge's lobby, squished between Geillis and Louise on one side and a pair of middle-aged women in business attire on the other. From noon to 4:00 every Thursday, The Ridge lured in diners with half-priced cocktails and a surprise chef's choice appetizer that changed weekly. And as a result, scores of hungry diners arrived early and stretched their lunch breaks to enjoy a meal, a drink (or two) the boss need not know about, and the utter relief of knowing that Friday had almost arrived.

Judging by Geillis's pout and crossed arms, the dense crowd and the beeper held in hand severely dampened any near-weekend relief as they stood, awaiting an open table. "I swear I made a reservation," she huffed.

Louise only laughed, uncrossing her twined arms and lacing her ten fingers with Geillis's. "Don't worry over it, G." A sweet smile dimpled her cheeks. Her mild French accent lent her words a cavalier air. "I do not mind waiting." 

"But it's yer birthday. Ye shouldna have tae wait on yer birthday."

"And we will not," Louise answered, sweet morphing into wily. She nudged Claire with her elbow without loosening her grip on Geillis's hands. "We are off today, which means we can wait at the bar, and the time will fly like that," she finished with a snap of her fingers. 

Claire nudged her back with a smirk. She'd hired into the Royal Infirmary A&E nearly four years ago, two months postpartum, and had worked alongside Louise on a heart-stopping multi-car pileup her second day on the job. An instant friendship had sprung up, for which Claire -- short on female companionship -- had been all too grateful. Exploring Edinburgh on a random Saturday night out a few weeks later, they'd stumbled upon the Reekie Rollers in their seasonal debut bout. A starstruck Claire had dragged Louise to the after party, where a gregarious Geillis had spent hours going over the finer points of derby. But her green eyes had sparkled just so whenever they'd lighted upon Louise, who had little interest in the game but left that night with G's phone number. Claire, on the other hand, departed with a soon-to-be best friend and a budding obsession. Six months later, after she'd weaned Quinn and was cleared by her physician (and with no little prodding from John), Claire had bought skates and attended her first practice. 

So, as far as Claire was concerned, she owed Louise twice over.

Geillis moped all the way over to the bar, a jovial Louise tugging her along by the hand and Claire hustling to keep up. She found an empty space, and they each staked a claim to a bit of bar to lean against. "Three mimosas, s'il vous plait," Louise ordered over the hubbub at the counter. "And it's my birthday, so do not hold back, ma cherie!" 

Standing at the bar, Louise continued to coax Geillis out of her annoyance as they waited, planting humming little kisses over her cheeks and nose and finally a quick peck on her lips. "Och, ye temptress, yer no fair," Geillis muttered, but her grumpy demeanor melted away as Louise continued to tease. 

Claire smiled at them and leaned her back against the bar, eyes scanning the crowd. The dining room was huge, every table packed and more parties standing in the entryway. Myriad sounds merged together into a wonderful cacophony that wrapped around her like a well-worn shawl. Some may have found such bustling noise grating, but Claire relished it. Perhaps that was part of why she thrived in the A&E. At work, it was the flurry of urgency that meant literal life or death. But places like this, it was the thrum of life, that messy and joyful quality she fought to preserve in every patient. 

In either place, that white noise of constant activity infiltrated her spirit, bringing her a satisfied peace.

Louise handed her a chilled mimosa, light on the juice, before turning back to Geillis. Claire didn't mind so much; they three had been good friends since that fateful night nearly four years ago now, which meant she rarely felt like a third wheel. Still, though, when Louise felt extra flirty -- like, say, when celebrating turning flirty thirty -- she gave them their space and took the time to people-watch. 

As her eyes glossed over the multitude of people, a familiar shock of red caught her gaze. Biting her lip, she stood on tiptoe for a better view. Sure enough, there sat Jamie at a table with three other men, one of whom she recognized as Dougal Mackenzie. He'd mentioned the previous night he had a lunch meeting today, another attempt to sanitize his uncle's grimy reputation.

"One of our biggest distributors threatened tae pull out weeks ago," he'd explained. Even over the phone, he'd sounded both embarrassed and exhausted. "It's been a constant 'will they, won't they' for weeks now. Hopefully a new contract and a wee bit of crow-eatin' from Dougal himself will convince them that stickin' with Mack is the most profitable avenue."

Judging by his steely demeanor and the hard line of his jaw, Jamie was enjoying the meeting about as much as he'd expected to. With a cheeky smirk, Claire pulled out her phone. 

You know you'll never get the contract inked looking like that. Send.

Her heartbeat quickened as she watched him pull his phone from his pocket, eyebrows scrunching as he read. A moment later, his head snapped up, eyes searching. Taking pity on him -- the restaurant was large, full to the brim, and she was likely hidden by taller patrons -- Claire sent a mimosa emoji as a hint. After a quick look back at his screen and a glance to the other men speaking at his table, Jamie trained his eyes on the bar. The moment he found her, the corners of his lips twitched up as she raised her glass in silent greeting. He nodded slightly before bending back over his phone. 

How is it I look to you, Sassenach?

Like you're witnessing a flogging. Or being flogged. 

Well, that's not far from reality.  

Which one?

Yes.

Claire snorted and looked up toward him through her lashes. Having shifted in his seat, he now sat in his chair at nearly a 45-degree angle, elbow on the table and body facing her. When he looked up, far away as he was, she could read his delight perfectly. She imagined the blue of his eyes would land somewhere between ice and powder. 

Her phone vibrated in her hand, a moon emoji popping up on her screen. 

"I'll be right back," she murmured to her lunch mates. 

"You haven't finished your drink!" Louise whined, lip pouting. 

"Drink it for me, birthday girl," Claire teased, stepping from the bar. "And order me another. I won't be five minutes."

A vibrant mural depicting a woodsy nightscape covered one of The Ridge's exterior brick walls. Black trees stood silhouetted against a full white moon lighting an inky blue sky with a wolf howling, the colors vibrant and sharp. Hoping she'd interpreted Jamie's text correctly, Claire exited and made her way around back toward it. 

By the time she turned the corner, a pair of arms wrapped around her and she felt the shape of his smirk as he nuzzled into her neck. Her stomach flipped, and heat stabbed through it as she instinctively layered her arms over his across her middle.

"This is a pleasant surprise," he breathed against her skin, raising goosebumps as she fought for breath. She turned and laced her arms around his neck, an identical grin spreading across her face as she studied his eye color. Slightly darker than she'd wagered, the blue of the sky as the sun dipped just below the horizon. 

Before she could respond, Jamie pressed her against the rough painted brick and took her lips. A sigh passed through her as she welcomed him. He swallowed it and answered with his own, fingers flexing against her waist. Her arms tightened around his neck, pulling him closer as she indulged his greedy mouth. 

Several minutes later, heartbeat echoing in her ears, Jamie pulled away slowly, dragging her lower lip between his teeth. A lazy grin brightened his face and made her heart flutter as he leaned his forehead against hers. "Sorry, Sassenach," he said between heaving breaths. "Seein' ye standin' there in those jeans, curls all wild...couldna help myself."

"I thought that's what you were doing," she whispered back. 

He chuckled, a rumble from the back of his throat. "Touché."

For a moment, they stood in silence, sharing space and air. Her fingers grazed his jawline, his held her tight about the waist. Touching her lips to the tip of his nose, Claire straightened up. "So the meeting's going that well, then?"

Groaning, Jamie rolled his eyes and leaned his head back as though requesting a mercy killing from on high. "The distributor's no' impressed. And if they walk, we could lose nearly a quarter of our overseas market."

Claire grimaced. "I'm sorry."

Jamie sighed, bringing his hand up to brush a curl behind her ear, evoking a fuzziness in her head incommensurate with the small gesture. His smile didn't reach his eyes as he spoke. "Problem is Colum wants the easiest way out and doesna want tae actually deal wi' Dougal, but everyone sees through it. Yerself included, if ye remember." He shook his head with a scowl. "He wants Dougal to shuffle his feet and apologize, then throw money at the 'right' organizations to show how enlightened they actually are. What he needs to do is remove Dougal entirely and focus more on changin' company culture and increasing employee diversity. But that would involve believin' actions speak louder than money." He rolled his eyes with another scoff. 

As she opened her mouth to respond, her phone vibrated in her pocket. She flashed him an apologetic smile as she pulled it out. A message from Geillis in the three-way group chat. Table's ready. If you're not back in thirty seconds, you better at least have a dirty story to share.

Heat rose in her chest, half embarrassment, half desire to bring a truly brunch-worthy story to the table. "It's Louise's birthday, and I snuck away to make out behind the restaurant. I am the worst friend ever," she murmured through a chortle. 

"Well, no worse than I. I'm on the clock. But what kind of man could resist a siren's song such as ye?" In an instant, his smile grew sincere again as he leaned in for a quick goodbye kiss, tongue flicking her upper lip as he pulled away, sending a bolt of want strong as lightning straight through her. "I'll call ye tonight?"

"Looking forward to it."

Jamie re-entered first, Claire counting to twelve before walking back in behind him, eyes averted from the table near the front where Jamie had presumably returned. She spotted Geillis and Louise at a table in the center and made her way there, sitting at the empty chair with the full mimosa waiting. "Wasn't so long of a wait then," she said innocently, ignoring their pointed looks as she took a sip. 

Louise looked exaggeratedly over her shoulder for a moment before turning to Geillis. "So that's the fox, then?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Guys--"

"The photos do him absolutely no justice."

Geillis giggled, ogling openly toward Jamie's table. "Ye should see him up close."

"Come on, seriously?" she hissed as they both cackled mercilessly.

As her laughter quieted, Louise turned to Claire, brown eyes calculating. Every second her gaze lingered, Claire felt her face warming, her own dopey grin harder and harder to fight. Finally, Louise turned back to Geillis. "Eight months."

"I'm sorry, what--"

"Yer daft," Geillis responded, completely ignoring Claire's sputtering. "Five tops."

"Guys, come on--"

"Have ye gotten a good look at the lad, hen?" Geillis cast another none-so-subtle glance toward the table where Jamie sat. "I dinna peg him as the type tae propose on Valentine's Day, if only 'cause I doubt he'd be able to wait that long. No, I give it four months till a ring. Or at least movin' in." 

Claire followed her sightline, stomach swooping as her eyes clashed with his blues staring straight at her, a lopsided grin and the diluted light from the window behind rendering him absolutely breathtaking. She didn't break eye contact as Geillis and Louise continued on, not bothering to keep their volume down. 

Jamie's attention snapped back to his own table, the other men all looking at him. Claire ducked her own head just in time as Dougal, brow furrowed, turned toward her. 

"All right, all right. Let's move along, then," Claire encouraged her friends as she took another long draw from her glass. Still smirking, her friends said no more as conversation turned toward other topics. 

Through the rest of lunch and into the afternoon, Claire's mind drifted back to their lighthearted jesting. The question of possible engagements seemed preposterous when he hadn't even met Quinn yet. Under no circumstances would she even entertain the idea until then. 

And they'd known each other for just less than a month! How anyone could be thinking of such things as rings and marriage and forever flabbergasted Claire. Even before Frank, before Quinn, she'd never been the little girl dreaming of pouffy white dresses and expensive flowers and lace invitations. 

Yet the thought of Jamie in a tux -- or, God, a kilt; he seemed the type for it -- waiting at the end of a long aisle filled her with longing like nothing else. The thought of coming home to his gentle touches (and, perhaps, not-so-gentle, given the right circumstance, she thought with a shiver) filled her with an unreasonable excitement. 

Whenever the images danced in her mind, Claire shook her head, banishing the tempting fantasy. Far too soon for such ideations. The rational part of her brain reminded her how easily their blissful little bubble could pop. A voice, sounding far too like her own, chastised her for getting ahead of herself. Nothing was guaranteed. She didn't really know him yet. He may still disappoint her yet.

Soon as it was, a sense of safety enveloped her in his presence. But with safety came complacency, and falling complacent could end with shattered hearts for both Beauchamp women. On her own, she'd consider it forfeit, a steep but perhaps fair price for the exhilaration of experiencing Jamie. But she couldn't let such darkness touch her child. 

No, until she could trust him with Quinn, no sense in imagining bells and violins and dresses and kilts. Until then, "forever" didn't exist.

 

#

 

Jamie hated the mall. Too crowded, too noisy, and too many salespeople vying for his attention made for an always-stressful outing. But Claire's birthday was coming up -- October 21st, days away -- and, for all its shortcomings, the mall also provided a plethora of options from which to choose. 

If only he had some notion of what would be appropriate to get the woman of his dreams whom he'd known for barely five weeks. And who hadn't even been the one to inform him that the big day was approaching. 

 

Three weeks after their first kiss, both Jamie's and Claire's schedules absolutely exploded. Jamie with handling the fallout of one of Mack's overseas distributors cutting ties, Claire with hospital understaffing that led to usually one, if not two overtime shifts per week. It had been nine days since he'd seen her at The Ridge, the last time they'd met in person, and he was starved for her. As they FaceTimed each other at night, sometimes so exhausted all they could do was bid the other goodnight before hanging up, Jamie thought -- or, maybe, hoped -- she missed him as desperately. Her sad smiles, the way she'd pause after saying goodnight, as though not yet wanting to disconnect. How she'd jumped at his offer for a coffee over lunch that Wednesday, even if they'd only have twenty minutes together. The light behind her eyes as they'd coordinated their schedules served as a beacon of joy that had kept him sane for the three days between.

Taking a seat on the agreed bench outside the hospital at 11:55 a.m., coffees and sandwiches in hand, Jamie crossed one ankle over the other knee and waited. His foot wiggled in the air, too eager to sit still. When she bounded out the doors and over toward him, his heart pounded against his rib cage. Hair wild, circles under her eyes, scrubs wrinkled and a mystery substance splattered across her top. But Jamie didn't care. Abandoning their drinks on the bench, he stood and closed the distance, scooping her up in his arms. High-pitched squeals rang in his ears as he twirled around on the spot before setting her back down. 

"Jesus H. Christ, I'm a mess," she said in an apologetic tone, a crease deepening between her eyebrows. "I'm so--"

He stopped her with a kiss. Every time his lips touched hers, he melted, and he felt her melt against him. Cool fingers framing his neck, minty breath making his tongue tingle as it danced with hers. Jamie drew away for air but stood close to her. "Dinna dare apologize to me, Sassenach," he breathed. Beaming at him, cheeks flushed, Claire kissed him again before pulling him over to the bench. 

Lunch was perfect, except for how short it was. After only thirty-five minutes, they were saying goodbye again so Jamie could leave in time to return to the office before his break ended. They parted ways with another lingering kiss and promises to plan a real date soon, Claire assuring him that after another week, the overtime should be finished...she hoped.

By the time he arrived back at the office, his chest already ached with the missing her again. Sitting at his desk moments later, he flinched as his phone vibrated in his pocket with a text from a strange number. 

Hello, wee fox. Claire's friend Louise here. She refuses to tell you herself so I broke into her phone for your number. Her birthday's coming up, 21/10. In case you wanted to do whatever magic it is that puts her in such high spirits. 

 

Passing by shop after shop, mind whirring, Jamie tried to quiet the roiling nerves in his gut. Atop the normal anxiety of not knowing at all what would be a reasonable gift at this stage sat the added pressure of recreating whatever magic it is between him and Claire. As if the inexplicable force that electrified her touch or the magnetic pull between them could be recreated artificially. Though Jamie couldn't deny that reading Louise's text, imagining Claire returning to her shift from their brief lunch date with the same grin on her face as he knew he'd worn all day, filled him with satisfaction.

He'd wandered around a department store for the better part of an hour, considering then immediately discarding a million different ideas (was jewelry too much for a five-week-old relationship? a scarf too impersonal? perfume too suggestive? a gift card a total cop-out?). With a frustrated groan, Jamie was heading for the exit when his ears pricked to a familiar name spoken in a deep English accent. 

"Quinn, love, slow down or you'll knock someone over."

Jamie froze steps from the door. His pulse skyrocketed as he turned, hoping for a surreptitious glance. After a moment of searching, he spied them twenty yards away. A tall, fair main with straight brown hair that fell into his eyes lifting to his hip a wee lass with dark curls, giggling and rosy-cheeked. Anxiety anew washed over him in a wave as he jerked away, eyes in the opposite direction. 

That had to be Claire's John. Which would make that Claire's Quinn. 

Somehow, even though it had been by sheer coincidence, he felt wrong being near them. She hadn't yet brought him into that part of her life. Even as raging curiosity begged him to turn and look again, just to see what they both looked like in real life, Jamie kept his head facing away. 

He had to leave. Now. 

One leaden footstep, then another. He forced himself to move toward the exit and into the main vestibule of the mall. Quickening his pace as he put space between himself and the Beauchamps, he trained his gaze straight ahead. All he heard was his own breathing as his vision and hearing muted, narrowing into an adrenaline-induced tunnel vision. 

Sharp aromas of the food court brought him out of his trance-like state just in time for his stomach to growl; he'd been meandering aimlessly all morning. The nerves eventually quieted and dissipated as Jamie sat at a table, a water bottle and oversized pretzel in hand to quell the sudden hunger. Bite after bite, the flight instinct faded from him, replaced by embarrassment at his overreaction. It wasn't like he'd followed them intentionally. Claire would've understood. People run into each other. It happens. Hell, had he not heard John speak, they could've both passed by, neither the wiser.

Yet Jamie couldn't quite dispel the feeling that he'd somehow been an invader, an unwelcome voyeur. Perhaps it was knowing who they were but not being known in return. Had they turned and seen him, he'd have been a stranger to them. Not their sister's-slash-mother's...boyfriend?

Jamie groaned and shut his eyes. Christ, they hadn't even had this conversation yet. Claire's "disclosure" made it clear it was unlikely that she was dating multiple men, and he knew he wasn't scheduling other women around Claire. The labels had hardly seemed necessary. 

The sudden realization of their untitled...whatever it was only put the pressure back on for the gift. An iron fist clenched his stomach as he returned to his original source of stress.

His mind spiraled from one anxiety to the other. He was a pier amidst a hurricane of uncertainty, winds and waves thrashing at him and his wooden boards groaning and buckling.  Old thought patterns he'd spent so much time recalibrating threatened to drown him. Flashes of waking nightmares passed before his eyes, all ending with Claire leaving.

Throwing the last few bites of his pretzel onto the plate, Jamie leaned forward and ran his fingers through his hair, never minding that they were still salty. Eyes closed, forehead resting on the table (another likely unsanitary choice, but Jamie disregarded it), he forced slow, steady breaths in and out. 

On some level, he knew this was ridiculous. A simple birthday gift shouldn't be this difficult. Shouldn't have so much riding on it. But with Louise's text echoing in his brain, this felt somewhat like a test he absolutely could not fail. 

Breathe in, lad, he told himself. Breathe out. 

Jamie let the mindless mantra repeat, following his internal instruction until the worst had passed. He sat up, head no longer fuzzy with worry and stomach calm. 

Whatever magic it is, she had written. Going over these last few weeks, Jamie dissected the glorious moments when he'd witnessed Claire absolutely glow. Her magic moments. 

And suddenly, he knew what to do. 

 

#

 

October 21st was a fairly typical Tuesday for Claire. She woke, fixed breakfast for two, and dressed for work. Louise wished her a happy birthday, as did the handful of other people close enough to know her birthday. Whenever she could throughout the day, she texted with Jamie. 

Louise seemed extra deflated when Claire answered her for the millionth time that, no, she hadn't told Jamie it was her birthday, so no, he hadn't wished her a happy one. She shrugged it off. 

Besides not generally being overly flashy for birthdays (hers, at least), there had never been an organic moment to pop in with, By the way, my birthday is coming up. Every time Geillis or Louise had prodded her to tell him or she'd tried to find the right time to say it, the words had caught in her throat. Maybe it was too early to expect some kind of special gesture or gift. Maybe it was just another string that would've connected them, one small piece of herself kept hidden away. In case. 

Twelve hours passed on a forgettable if not unpleasant day, and Claire picked Quinn up from the hospital daycare (where John, bless his soul, dropped her off when they opened at 8:00 a.m. whenever she worked). Walking home together, Claire oohed and awed as Quinn swung their clasped hands back and forth, waxing as poetic as a three-year-old can about her day. 

A small box with an envelope sat outside her door. Claire's heart jumped at the sight, confusion playing second fiddle to the thrill of anticipation. Seemed no one is immune to presents. 

"Mummy, is't for your birthday?" Quinn asked, skipping up to give the box a closer inspection. 

"Maybe. I'm not sure, Quinnie. Want to take it in and open it?" 

Claire unlocked the door, but Quinn stayed by her side, bouncing on the balls of her feet as her mother bent to bring the box inside. Setting the box carefully back on the kitchen floor and swiping the card from the top, Claire looked to Quinn. "You can unwrap it, but remember to be gentle."

Sounds of ripping paper cut through the air. Claire chuckled at her daughter as she pulled the paper from the envelope and flipped it open. 

Sassenach. 

She looked up from the paper as her heart leapt to read the pet name scrawled in relaxed writing across the top of the page. Swallowing, Claire went on. 

I'll have to chide you when we speak tonight for not telling me of your birthday. You have your reasons, though I have to say I'm glad Louise gave me the heads up. It's killed me today not to call or even text you happy birthday, but I wanted this to be a surprise. 

 

"Mission accomplished," Claire murmured under her breath. 

 

I spent days agonizing over what would be the best, most appropriate, most meaningful way I could tell you happy birthday, Sassenach. And as every idea I had fell short, I realized you don't care overmuch for bits and baubles. You care about thought and meaning. 

We've been dancing around words unsaid for weeks. Maybe we've both hidden from them a little bit. Now, I want to say them. 

 

Moisture built behind her eyes. Her breaths came in shallow gasps as she fought the emotion long enough to read the letter. 

 

Claire, I yearn for you when you're not around. And when you're near, the air is sweeter and the sun is warmer. Touching you, Sassenach, sends literal shockwaves over my skin. And kissing you, mo chridhe...I never knew what perfection felt like until you told me to kiss you that first time then leaned in to do it yourself.

You asked me what that meant that night. Mo chridhe, the Gaelic for 'my heart.' From that very first night at the warehouse, you were, Sassenach. Strong and fierce and wily and beautiful and caring and tender and...just absolutely incredible. Every minute I spend by your side, I wish for a thousand more.

I know you have to be careful, for yourself and for Quinn. I tried to be careful, too, in a way. I think we both have some hurt we haven't yet shared. But I don't want to be careful anymore. I am in this. I don't want casual with you. I want something real. Nothing's ever felt as real as the time time I spend with you, down to the stolen moments and the falling asleep on our phones at night. 

Writing this, I am praying harder than I've prayed for anything that you want that, too. But I won't push you, or rush you. Not on the labels, or on Quinn, or anything else. 

I hope you'll call me tonight, Sassenach. But if you don't, I understand it and I don't begrudge you for it. Just know, if you did, you could trust me. And that's my gift for you, Claire. My word. 

 

"Mummy, why're you crying?"

Claire started as Quinn hugged her around the legs, round whisky eyes so like her own looking up in concern. 

Chuckling, Claire stooped to her daughter's level. "I'm all right, lovey."

Her tiny brow furrowed, a pink lip pouting. "Well, you can't cry on your birthday," she said solemnly. "Birthdays are happy." 

"I am happy," she whispered. She placed a gentle kiss on Quinn's knitted eyebrows, easing the tiny worry line from between them. Biting her lips, she let the fresh tears roll down her face. "I'm happy, Q." Quinn regarded her with confusion, unable to reconcile her mother's words with her wet cheeks. 

Claire nodded to the box again. "Should we open it and see what's inside?" The suggestion erased the dubious look from her daughter's face as she clapped her hands together. With her help, Quinn opened the box to find a plastic container with two frosted cupcakes inside, two virgin candles and a matchbook laying beside them. Another white envelope sat on top.

 

That, plus a wee bite of cake and candles for you both to blow out. Happy birthday, Sassenach. 

 

"Cake! Can we have cake, Mummy?" Quinn asked, voice high-pitched with glee. 

Claire stood, smiling. "After supper, all right?"

It took another forty-five minutes to get Quinn cleaned up from the day and settled in front of the telly. Presumably for Claire to cook dinner. But as she hovered in the kitchen doorway, she whipped her phone out. She stared at the screen, breathing deeply as she hit his contact. 

He answered on the second ring. "Happy birthday," he said. Something like giddy relief dripped from his voice, so thick she could all but feel it seeping into her own skin.

"Thank you," she said, biting the inside of her cheek. A silence stretched between them, his unsaid-now-said words hanging over them. His gift -- his vow -- thickened the air. 

Claire cleared her throat. "Your letter was lovely, Jamie."

"I meant it all, Sassenach," he whispered, voice gravelly. "Every word. E'en the ones about no' rushin' ye if yer no' ready, if--"

"You're not. Rushing me, I mean." She swallowed. "I...I want those things, too. With you." 

A muffled sniffle came through over the line, and she wondered if he was crying as she'd been. As she nearly was now. "Thank Christ," he breathed over the line, and she couldn't help but laugh. His own joined with hers, and for a minute, they giggled together like lovestruck teenagers. 

No more hiding. 

Claire nodded, taking the last step out of her hiding place into plain sight. 

"Jamie, would you want to come over for dinner Friday night?" A breath, shaky on the exhale. "Quinn will be here. I'd...I'd like you to meet her."

The hitch of his own breath was soft, but she heard it. When he answered, she was positive he was fighting back tears as surely as she was. "Aye, Sassenach. I'd like that very much." 

Pulse racing, stomach clenched in nerves, hands practically shaking with adrenaline. But as soon as he answered, it all disappeared. And the voice of worry in the back of her mind never uttered a single word.