Sunday, the day of absolutely no rest whatsoever.
An early riser by nature, Jamie woke just after six that morning. He tossed and turned and huffed for nearly an hour more before giving up and climbing out of bed, grumbling but already scheming how best to fill the eleven hours until dinner at Claire's that evening.
They'd both had busy weeks and hadn't seen each other since the Sunday before. Dinner, play time with Quinn until bed, then whisky as they'd whiled the evening away, as had become their custom. In the dark, late hours, Claire had snuggled up against him on the couch, their shared body heat a refuge from the mid-November chill. A few of her unruly curls had escaped at her temples and behind her ears. Her breaths had synced to his, two harmonious hums as they'd fought the drowsiness that precipitated goodbye.
Just before midnight -- far too late for her six o'clock shift -- he'd departed on the heels of a scorching kiss. Claire's back against the door he was meant to leave through, hands cradling his face; Jamie pressed against her, the pressure of her hips against his fanning the embers of barely contained mutual hunger. The fleeting thought of it a week later sent white-hot heat tearing through him.
Christ, she was bonny. And he wanted her. And he missed her.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday had passed with video calls and texts on breaks and between shifts. Then, Thursday, she'd left for the away game, carpooling to Glasgow with Geillis and Louise. She hadn't asked him to go with her, and he hadn't offered. For all he yearned to see her in her element again, like that first time, he also knew derby was a sacred space to her. An important getaway from responsibilities. A time to be utterly and completely Claire and nothing else. He wouldn't encroach.
The selfie she'd sent Saturday evening just before game time (done up with gold glitter around her eyes, her bright red lips puckered for a long-distance kiss) now adorned his Lock Screen. Afterwards, she'd sent one with her, Geillis, and Phaedra sweaty and beaming in front of the scoreboard that read Home, 142; Away, 187.
More photos inundated him through the night: Claire and Geillis holding up matching shots of whisky. Geillis and Louise, the latter squirming away from her partner's sticky embrace, grins on both their faces. Wee Mary dressed in all black and holding a glass of wine with a shy smile, Claire's arm around her shoulders. A mountain of skates piled in the corner with the caption Trading wheels for wasted.
Jamie had smiled with every new message, growing sloppier as the night and after party progressed until the final godniht jamnnf ❤️ around 3:30 Sunday morning. The life shining from her smile and her amber eyes didn't ease the ache of her absence, but it made it worth it.
Now, a full week without her and only a curt text when she'd woken around lunchtime, he was starved for her. 5:40 caught him staring at his wristwatch, waiting for the minute hand to pass by and sever the shackles that bound him there. When it did, his coat, keys, and precooked dinner were already in hand, and he was pulling onto the road by 5:41.
The tyres squealed as he finally jerked into a spot and parked at 6:07, cursing the traffic. He leapt out, grabbed the cooler bag, and hurried up to Claire's flat, breaths escaping in shallows bursts as he rapped his knuckles against her door. Impatience coursed through him, his limbs vibrating with it. He drummed his fingers on his leg and forced himself to breathe normally.
He couldn't wait to see her. Kiss her. Christ, how he longed to touch her. Needed it like a plant needs light. Wilting in its absence.
Inhaling through his nose, Jamie combed his fingers through his hair just as the door finally opened. The apology for his tardiness died on his lips. It took him the space of a few blinks to place the man's face. Before he could speak, though (or, rather, rediscover the necessary breath to do so), the man shook his head with a frown and said, "Oh, we haven't ordered any food, sir. Dreadful sorry you wasted the trip."
"John William," another voice boomed through the already half-closed door. "Let the man in before I throttle you."
The man's face, carefully blank before, lit up with a mischievous grin as he swung the door open wide and stepped aside. "You would be Jamie, I take it?"
"Fair guess." Surprise and fast-rising nerves stiffened his answering smile. He rushed to quell them. With a nod to the man standing from and rounding the sofa, Jamie forced his grip on the bag to loosen. "John and Hector, then?"
"Good to know she's not so ashamed of us she hadn't mentioned us at all," John teased as he shut the door, this time with Jamie successfully across the threshold.
Hector scoffed and bumped his shoulder against John's. "Not me she's embarrassed by. It's you who can't help being a prat."
Jamie moved through the family room and into the kitchen out of sight, stealing a moment to gather himself as he unloaded the baking dish from the cooler bag into the fridge. A fleck of bright purple near the nail bed of this thumb caught his eye as he closed the door. The tight coil of his stomach eased. It warmed him, strengthened him.
With a steady inhale and controlled release, he rolled his shoulders up and back as he returned with empty hands. "'Tis the brother's job tae be a prat, is it no'?"
Lines fanned out from John's eyes as he smiled, all teasing gone. "Spoken like a man with experience."
"Aye, well, I hope my own sister wouldna think me such a bother now, but I gave her hell for a good long while. I'm well acquainted with the role of 'sibling antagonist.'"
Both the men laughed before him, dispelling the awkward tension hanging between them. Well, as far as first meetings go...
He'd just opened his mouth to ask about Claire when a squeal pierced his ears and a torpedo crashed into his legs. A grin filled his face before even looking down at the small head of curls hovering near his knee.
Over the preceding weeks, with every little giggle and Disney movie and play acting and bedtime story (and even the very occasional teeth brushing tantrum), Quinn had become more and more precious to him. If Claire was the blossoming plant rooted irrevocably within his heart, then Quinn was the very pigment of the petals. The two inseparable, each enhancing the magnificence of the other. Both entrenched so thoroughly into his very soul he couldn't imagine ever trying to dislodge them, much less surviving it.
Without a thought, Jamie bent and lifted her to his hip, hugging her close as she squeezed her arms around his neck. "Och, good evenin' to ye, a leannan!"
"No, say it th'other way!" she demanded with a toothy grin.
With an exaggerated frown, he shook his head. "I'm sorry, lass, I dinna ken how ye mean."
Quinn heaved a long-suffering sigh and rolled her eyes, so evoking Claire that his stomach swooped. "Say it gal-egg!"
"Oooh, like that, then?" After a dramatic clearing of his throat, one eyebrow arching, he said, "Oidhche mhath, a leannan. Ciamar a tha thu?"
"Ha-mee-mah!" came her ecstatic reply, the toddler version of I am well.
"Tha mi gu math," Jamie corrected with emphasis.
Well, close enough, anyway. Jamie chuckled and pecked a quick kiss on the end of her nose. "Sgoinneil, a nighean."
Hector whistled, and Jamie looked over to him. He tilted his head toward the sofa, an invitation for everyone to sit. "So that's what she's been saying all weekend."
"We just thought she was more indecipherable than normal." John lowered himself to sit beside his husband, resting a hand on Hector's knee and giving a fond squeeze. Jamie sat across from them in the lone chair, plush and grey, Quinn on his lap.
"Not many people still speak it, do they?" Hector asked once Jamie had settled.
He shrugged in return, one foot tapping as they worked through another round of pleasantries. "There's been a bit of a revival in the last few years, but it's always been the first language of the Frasers fer generations, e'en stretchin' back to the time after the Clearances. We didna speak English primarily in the house 'til my siblings started school."
A chill descended as he caught his words too late. He swallowed, awaiting the next question. Some variant of, Oh, how interesting. Tell us about your family. He was usually more adept at avoiding such obvious segues, but his mind was in a jumble. Sweat dewed at the back of his neck, and he held his breath.
However, by luck or machination, the question never came.
"And you've been teaching our little whirlwind, then?" Hector turned his focus to Quinn and leaned against John's side as he asked her, "What else can you say, love?"
Her thin eyebrows contracted as she glanced to Jamie, uncertain. With a reassuring wink and a single bounce of the knee she perched on, he prompted, "What's yer favorite color, Quinn?"
Epiphany bloomed over her features. She sat up straighter, sucking in a big breath as though about to dive underwater, saying in a rush, "Iss-t'noom purple!"
Jamie didn't bother instructing or correcting as her uncles rained enthusiastic praise on her. She preened under their attentions, her obvious pride bleeding onto him. He took both her hands in each of his, giving them a gentle squeeze. "Aye, yer a clever wee lass."
Hector and John exchanged a look -- subtle, but noticeable -- the former's eyebrow giving a faint twitch before they both turned back to him. "Well, Claire called an hour or so ago," John finally offered. "Her phone died, and she didn't know your number by heart."
"Is she all right?"
"Oh, yes, she's fine," Hector said. "Geillis blew a tire on the motorway. Which Claire offered to change" -- Jamie's lips flicked up in a smirk, his Claire jumping in to save the day -- "except she apparently had no jack. So they were waiting on a tow truck. Hopefully she won't be very much longer."
"But she knew you'd be arriving for dinner soon, so she sent us along as messengers."
He nodded, relieved that nothing was amiss but antsy now that he didn't know quite how long he'd have to wait to see her. Quinn pulling her hand from his served as distraction. She bunched her fingertips together like one of her plastic dolls and held them before his eyes. "See I got pink now?"
Indeed, her nails boasted a vibrant pink varnish that gleamed in the light. "Verra, verra pretty job, Q. Did ye do that yourself?"
"You liar," John muttered without bite. "What you did was nearly lose the safety deposit."
Ignoring her uncle, she dove for Jamie's own hand, inspecting his own nails with satisfaction. "Yours is...yours is still purple!"
They were, if just barely. Her handiwork from the week before had largely chipped or washed away, but a few patches of glittery purple still survived. Glimpsing them over the last seven days hadn't yet failed to bring a fluttery feeling to his wame and a smile to his face.
"Well, aye," he answered with a matter-of-fact tone. "I kent it was Quinn Beauchamp's favorite color, so I kept it on all week tae remind me of ye."
"Now you're truly one of us, then," Hector said, he and John simultaneously raising a hand to show off matching pink nails. "Poor Claire's been a new color each day this week. Someone has a new obsession."
John snorted. He pushed a swath of hair from his forehead and looked to the ceiling with a shake of his head, murmuring, "If only the new obsession didn't require three hours of panicked scrubbing to salvage the carpet."
"Could be worse," Jamie said, reclining back against the chair. "My nephew, when he was around her age..."
They chatted easily and amicably, Quinn wandering among them as the desire for attention peaked and dipped. Jamie's eyes occasionally fell to his folded hands and the messy color thereupon. Each time, it gave him more than one reason to smile.
The sound of a key scraping the lock set Jamie's pulse pounding. Three heads snapped to the opening door, and Claire lumbered in with a duffle bag on one shoulder, leashed skates hanging over the other, and pulling a rolling gear bag behind her. She heaved a sigh and rolled her shoulders to dislodge it all. As it crashed to the ground, Quinn abandoned her toys and zoomed across the room. "Mummy!"
"Hello, my little monkey! I missed you!"
The men stood as Claire knelt to the ground as she wrapped Q in a crushing embrace, swaying slightly with a contented hum. Jamie felt a mirror pressure in his chest. Witnessing the purest, brightest joy emanating from the pair of them felt like an intrusion, but he couldn't tear his eyes away. He wished he could've watched forever.
Finally, she stood with Quinn glued to her hip, head resting on her shoulder and little fingers locked together around her neck. With a satisfied smile, Claire laid her own head atop the smaller. Affection for them both exploded in him. He was surprised the force of it didn't rip him to pieces.
Claire turned to Jamie then. "Glad to see you're not shivering on the doorstep out there," she said, eyes tired but soft.
"What, don't trust us to follow instructions?" John asked.
"Don't ask questions you don't want the answers for."
He crossed his arms with the caricature of a pout. "Very nice thanks we get for watching your daughter all weekend."
Hector's arm snaked around John's waist as he said, "Well, you did nearly slam the door in the man's face."
"You're a bloody rat."
"John, you didn't!"
"As a joke," John defended himself. "My god, if he can't even--"
"Mummy, d'you wanna see--"
"--good thing Hector hasn't tired yet of--"
"--just a bit of light hazing, Claire, it's not like--"
"I...um, I painted 'em, and...but I spilled some--"
"Dear Lord, two rats--"
"--but...but...um...but then Uncle John--"
"Oh, don't worry, I got it all up. Hector, reassure her, please, since I'm apparently not to be trusted."
Familial cacophony flooded his senses, a soothing nostalgia in spite of the chaos. John and Hector quipped back and forth, and Claire met his gaze over Quinn's head. She rolled her eyes in a silent, not-super-sorry apology. He answered with a wink that made her bite her lips to cover a giggle. The sight tore through him like lightning.
Eventually, the group quieted again and, after a few more minutes' conversation, Hector and John gathered their things to head upstairs.
"There's plenty tae eat, if yer hungry," Jamie offered, fingers crossed behind his back. Pleasant as they'd been thus far, he was ready for some time with Claire on his own.
Relief rushed over him as Hector shook his head. "No, thanks. I'm on deadline this week, so I'll be up early in the morning. Lovely to meet you, Jamie."
"Yes, good to finally put a face to the name that's every third word out of her mouth."
"Can't fault him for telling the truth, dear," Hector teased in a blatant whisper.
Lime green-bedecked fingers rose to pinch the bridge of her nose. "Jesus H. Christ."
Jamie grinned, stepping closer to shake both the men's hands. "Glad tae meet both of you, as well. 'Tis a pleasure to meet the family she cares for so much."
John cleared his throat as Hector opened the door. With a pointed look to Claire, he said to Jamie, "Why don't you fix our lovely ladies some plates while they see us home?"
Brother and sister stood locked in a furious, silent battle waged in stares. Finally, she set Q down with a sigh, taking her hand before turning to place a kiss to Jamie's lips. It lingered long enough for his head to spin. He leaned for her as she pulled away and followed John and Hector out without another word.
Alone in the flat, Jamie tried desperately to shake off the jitters her kiss had left him with. He had yet to actually touch her. His fingers itched with the need for it, and the sensation of her lips against his -- even so short-lived -- only heightened every desire in him. Hoping for a distraction, Jamie crossed to the fridge and set to work reheating supper.
Three warmed plates of sausage and mash sat on the table when Jamie heard the door open and close again. Heart thrumming, he leaned back against the countertop. Quinn bounded into the kitchen first, chattering away as she climbed on a chair.
Claire rounded the corner then and caught his gaze with a wry smirk, stopping his breath itself. The honey glaze of her eyes positively glowed. They engulfed him. To suffocate in that soft, sweet warmth would be the most divine privilege, and he allowed himself to fall gladly into it.
She strode across the room, steps slow and sure until she sagged against him. Their arms encircled each other, and all residual anxiety floated away as he, at long last, held her.
"So...how'd I do?" Jamie joked in a low voice beside her ear. "High marks?"
"No idea what you're talking about." But her lips arced into a smile against his chest. They stood there together, sating themselves on the simple act of breathing the same air, until their dinner was cold.
Claire collapsed into bed by ten that night. A steaming bath and mug of tea, not to mention a long weekend of derby and debauchery, had her half asleep before her head even touched the pillow.
Before it stole over her completely, she grabbed the phone she'd plugged in by the bedside earlier in the evening. With a few swipes, she opened her photos app. The very last file was a 27-second video.
Louise (who, as the only non-derby player in their caravan, had been the Designated Sober) took her phone Saturday night after Claire's third shot of whisky. Through the haze of increasing intoxication, Claire was vaguely aware of her friend snapping photos and typing surreptitiously through the night, sometimes giggling with Geillis at her other shoulder. The later the evening went, the weaker the memories became.
As the alarm went off at ten Sunday morning, she groaned and raised her throbbing head. Phaedra, her roommate, was nowhere in sight, and the room rang with a heavenly silence. With a huff, she burrowed beneath the duvet and promptly passed out again.
An hour later (and after several phone calls and heavy pounding on the door), Claire was awake, showered, and shuffling behind her best friend as they paced toward the car. There was a derby brunch at a cafe in town, and Geillis wanted to stop by a few herbalists before hitting the road back to Edinburgh.
The hangover, thankfully, eased after a mimosa and obscenely delicious blueberry crepes, and Claire was able to enjoy the meandering shopping detour. Somewhere between Geillis's second herbal shop and Louise's third boutique, Geillis pulled her to the side. "I wanted ye to see something," she said, grabbing for Claire's phone.
"What is it?"
Thin lips pressed into a tight line, but something sparkled behind her green eyes. "So I'm confessin' now, we spammed yer fox wi' a fair number of drunken photos last night."
Embarrassment and fury overtook her with two identical slashes through her stomach. "Are you serious?"
"Aye." Geillis shrugged. "I promise, he got a kick outta them."
"Okay," Claire said slowly, folding her arms across her chest. "So what do you need to show me?" Her eyes widened in horror. "I didn't do anything truly...you know...awful or mortifying, did I?"
Geillis drew a sharp inhale through her nose, and Claire's stomach flipped. Finally, as she was ready to strangle her friend for her silence, Geillis spoke. "At some point near one in the mornin', ye got on the subject of him. I pulled yer phone out, thinkin' it may be somethin' cute to make his night."
Without another word, she clicked the video, and Claire watched. As the seconds wore on, blood rushed her cheeks and tears to her eyes.
"I didna send it," Geillis said softly with a hand to her arm. The corner of her mouth pulled up. "But I wanted ye to watch it when ye could see straight."
Her breathing ceased as, after a moment hovering her finger over the file, she tapped it.
Generic pulsing bar music screamed from her speakers, and she frantically turned the volume down so the noise wouldn't wake Quinn. Claire saw herself come into the frame, propped against the dark wall. Perspiration from both the bout and the hot club stuck her hair to her forehead and the back of her neck.
"So," Geillis said in the video, "what were ye sayin' about yer man?"
"O'm'god, Gillie," she said, words slurring and cheeks bright. "He did th'fuckin' cutest thing." Her next sentence was little more than drunken garble. She blushed to watch it back again, waiting until her words were coherent again a few seconds later.
"--watching that...that gorgeous...giant of a man have his hair brushed and nails lacquered. Grinning and laughing the whole bloody time, th'both of them." She closed her eyes then, giggling and stumbling slightly against the wall. "It was a righ' mess. I mean, he prob'ly...prob'ly washed it off after."
''Aye, but still...." Geillis's humming laugh in the speaker drowned out the music for a moment, and the camera shook.
The picture steadied again. She watched her own face crumple. "I never thought I'd have this."
Chills puckered her skin as she watched. For just a moment, then, the veil of intoxication seemed to lift from her eyes. They were clear and focused. Enough to know that the words forming in her mind and working toward her lips were no reckless, whisky-induced lies. She spoke from a place so deep within her she couldn't access it consciously.
"Someone who loves me. Who loves the both of us."
"He said that?"
"No," she'd admitted. "But I can tell."
"And what about ye? D'ye love the lad?"
A tear left a trail down her cheek. "So much."
The video stopped, and Claire dried her cheeks on the edge of her sleeve. She'd watched it that afternoon until her battery died. No matter how many times she did, she couldn't stop the tears from leaking. And each time she watched herself -- confident and joyous and unwavering -- say those words, they rang truer.
Hearing his voice tonight, watching his disaster of a wink, spying the cheap purple glitter still tarnishing his nails. All of it only amplified the truth. It screamed through her entire being, impossible to ignore.
She loved him. So fucking much.