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When the World is Free

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It was a marriage of convenience for them both.

John’s bride was quite well aware of his sensibilities, his preference for the non-female sex. And he was quite well aware of the precariousness of her situation. The tragedy of it as well.

Even if he could forget, it would have been impossible. She was constantly twisting the silver engagement ring she’d been given, constantly resting her hands on her stomach, whether she realized she was doing it or not.

Perhaps the bloke signing their marriage license at the courthouse noticed as well, because he smirked at John with a raised eyebrow when she stroked her flat abdomen for perhaps the millionth time since they’d arrived. John had pursed his lips together for an uncomfortable smile. His assumptions weren’t incorrect, of course, but there were many pieces missing.

The child, for one, still invisible and yet still so enormous in its mother’s heart already, was not John’s. And neither was the ring that lived on her right hand, something he would never ask her to remove. 

The wedding band on her left hand seemed to weigh her down, like a ball and chain pulling her deeper into the black depths of her sorrow.

He drove them home from the courthouse to his flat, or rather their flat. He should start referring to it as such. It was her home now, after all. Their home, the three of them.

Well…four of us, really.

He hung between them like a thick cloud of smoke, solid as a brick wall, at all times. They didn’t speak of it aloud; they didn’t need to. He lived in these rooms rent-free without even needing his name spoken into existence.

John knew that the man who was gone had been the love of her life, her one great love.

And John knew that he was his as well.

He’d confessed it in the black of night, half-buried by rubble when he was sure he would die. They’d gone through basic training together, becoming good friends almost instantly. He’d defended John’s honor when the teasing started; he told him that John was more manly than those other clotheids would ever be. John kept those words, and the gentle touch of his hand that came with them, close to his heart.

“I love you, James Fraser. I love you more than I’ve loved anyone in my life.”

Unfortunately, he hadn’t died.

John had recovered rather quickly from his injuries and proceeded to avoid Jamie at all costs. Jamie was angry as a bull when he’d finally confronted him.

“D’ye think I give a damn, John? D’ye think it’s ever made a difference to me before? I bloody knew before ye said something, ye damned fool.”

John hadn’t realized he’d been that obvious.

“I’m only sorry that I canna be what ye want me to be, a charaid.”

Jamie held him while he cried, and if he hadn’t been mad, he could have sworn he felt Jamie’s tears soak into his hair as well.

Sitting at the kitchen table in his flat across from his new bride, John teared up at the mere memory.

He’d been so ashamed…and Jamie hadn’t given a damn. He was actually sorry that he couldn't return his affection. Instead of John’s confession wrenching them apart as he’d been so terrified of, it brought them even closer.

He watched his bride stare into her teacup as the liquid inside quickly chilled in the November air.

“Are you cold? Should I put on a fire?”

Her hands remained fastened around the teacup and her eyes remained locked inside it as she nodded silently.

God, she had changed.

The first time he’d laid eyes on her was only in a photograph, and even then he’d been astonished by her beauty.

“This is her,” Jamie said as he produced the small photograph that he kept in an inside breast pocket at all times, his face melting into an adoring gaze that took John’s breath away. “My Sorcha.”

She was giving the camera a smirk, eyes sparkling even in black and white, wild dark curls blowing in the wind.

She looked so alive, and that was just a photograph.

When he’d finally seen her in person, he understood quite well why his friend was so drawn to her. She was exquisite, even in her combat nurse uniform. She was radiant, so full of love and life. Her eyes were liquid honey and solid amber all at once. When she laughed, she tossed her head back and smacked whoever was closest, usually Jamie.

If they were beautiful apart…they were a glorious masterpiece together.

Even in the dirt and smoky haze of the camp, when John looked at the pair of them, he could have been looking at a painting. The rest of the world fell away when Jamie had his Claire back in his arms.

It was the most beautiful thing John had ever seen.

A woman was a rare thing in camp, being that most men met their wives elsewhere when they were on leave. But Claire had to be on leave as well if she wanted to see Jamie, and being that they were not yet married, the army wouldn't be bothered lining up their leaves.

And so they’d followed each other. They’d travelled from one battlefield to another, from one hellscape to the next just to be with one another. Even during what was meant to be a reprieve, Claire could be found tending to all sorts of illness and injury around the camp, Jamie trailing beside her like a lost puppy.

Jamie had told John they’d been handfast the night he’d been drafted, an old Scottish tradition that allowed young couples to be married in every sense of the word except in the eyes of the law. There hadn’t been time for a wedding before he was to leave, so that was the best they could do. What mattered to Jamie most was their marriage being seen by the eyes of God, and handfasting accomplished that to his liking. And so for all intents and purposes, Jamie and Claire were married. John could hear it quite well when she was in camp; she was not exactly very quiet about it.

When John returned from starting a fire in the hearth with the intention of leading her into the room to warm herself, she’d replaced her teacup with a glass of whisky and was tossing the entire thing back. She topped her glass off again and then filled a second one. She handed it to him with a sardonic smile, her eyes hooded. There was no trace of that lively youth she’d had when he met her.

“Thank you, my dear,” he said warmly. “The fire is ready, if you’d like to move.”

“Thank you, John.” She stood up and made her way out of the kitchen, taking the bottle with her. Apparently, his bride did not intend to remain sober today. He wondered if she thought that he was going to force her to consummate this marriage, which was just about the last thing on his mind. She should know that he was more than capable of pretending for everyone else, but perhaps he should make himself clear.

“Claire,” he began as they settled into opposite armchairs in front of the fireplace. “You know that I don’t plan to — ”

“Jamie said he kissed you.”

John felt like he’d been smacked in the face with a frying pan. He cleared his throat.

“I beg your pardon?”

“He said that you shared a moment together, and that he kissed you.”

She was staring at him intently, but she didn’t look angry or accusatory. If anything, she seemed possessed by nothing more than morbid curiosity.

“Well…yes. That’s true.”

“We kept secrets, but we didn’t lie,” she said softly, taking a sip of her whisky. “I saw the way you looked at him from the very first time I met you.”

“I’m sorry — ”

“Please don’t be.” Her eyes held such sincerity that he almost wept as he had when Jamie had said just about the same thing. “I just…I wanted to know. That…that last night. The night that we…conceived.” Her hand rested absently on her abdomen again. “I asked him if anything had ever happened. And he told me you shared a kiss.”

“It…didn’t go any farther than that. I wouldn’t have let it, even if he wished it.”

“I know,” she said, taking another sip. “I wasn’t angry. I’m still not. I understand the need for that intimacy in such a hopeless place. And I understand that you…you were very close.” Her voice tightened, and she swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. “I was glad, really. I was grateful to you for being there for him when I couldn’t.”

John didn’t know what to say. He nodded curtly and took a long drag of his whisky.

“What did it feel like?”

He almost choked on the liquid.

“I know it sounds mad. But I…I want to hear you talk about it.” Her chin trembled, but she maintained her strong facade. “I want to hear because I…I want to remember with someone. What it was like to…to love him.”

John blinked back his own tears and ran a hand down the length of his face. He needed a bit more liquid courage before he dove into the details of how Jamie tasted and how he felt beneath his hands. Claire seemed to understand, because she allowed a long silence to pass between them before John finally spoke.

He poured his heart out to her, detailed the feel of Jamie’s lips like he was dictating poetry, described the way Jamie’s short-cut curls felt between his fingers, recalling the way he smelled.

“Like...silver from the gunpowder...but he also smelled vaguely of...aftershave. I remember wondering how on earth he’d come into possession of such a thing. I breathed it in so deeply it made me dizzy.” He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose, and he could swear he smelt it again. 

“And then the rest of the world fell away...even the gunpowder and the smoke...and I just smelt...him.” Eyes still closed, his tongue darted out to lick his lips. He’d wanted so desperately to run his tongue over Jamie’s lips, but he’d been afraid, paralyzed with shock that it was even happening.

“I was so overwhelmed by the...the feeling of him. His lips were so warm and so solid and so timid...and it was over so quickly, but I...” He opened his eyes, blinking back tears. “I saw an...an entire lifetime between us in that kiss. I wanted to...to fold myself into him and stay there forever.” His voice broke, and he anxiously ran a hand through his hair.

He could almost see the man right in front of him again, could almost feel him warm and alive in his hands again; he could feel the shuddering whisper of whisky breath on his lips and chin and nose, and he brought trembling fingers to rest over his mouth, as if to trap the feeling there. He looked up, seeing the real world again for the first time in several breaths, and his heart leapt into his throat to see that Claire was shuddering with silent tears.

“Claire…” he choked out, leaning onto his knees with his elbows, terrified that he’d gone too far. “I’m…I’m sorry…”

She shook her head, putting down her whisky on the table beside her chair. “That’s…that’s exactly it.”

He blinked dumbly at her, and she abruptly leaned forward with a tiny sob, clasping his hands in hers.

“That’s exactly what it felt like,” she said, something in her eyes that was almost desperate. “Thank you…thank you.”

She leaned forward and pressed her lips to their joined hands, hot and soft and wet. She kept her face atop their hands in John’s lap, and she fell apart. It wasn’t long before she slipped out of her own chair and was kneeling before him, sputtering hysterically into his lap, squeezing his hands until her knuckles were white.

John was stunned, but he did the only thing he could do: he gave her comfort. He stroked her hair as she wept, rubbed her back, squeezed back on her hands. Somehow, he ended up on the floor with her, leaning against the seat of the chair and holding her trembling form to his chest. His own tears dissolved into her curls, and soon he was holding onto her for dear life as well.

“We are the only two people in the world who share this pain,” Claire said against his neck, her voice thick with hours of tears. “This pain…of losing Jamie.”

John nodded fervently, tightening his grip on her tiny body yet again.

“We’ll carry it…together,” John whispered into her hair, and then pressed a kiss there. He felt her nod into the crook of his neck and nuzzled in closer.

More and more hours passed, and more and more whisky emptied from the bottle, and then a second bottle, and then a third. It was well past suppertime, but neither were capable of preparing anything to eat in the state they were in, and their empty stomachs only served to send the alcohol straight to their already muddled brains.

They spent hours going back and forth talking about the mutual love of their lives, weeping and clinging to each other, and then they would laugh their drunken heads off, Claire swatting at him as she howled.

John had loosened the top buttons of his shirt and removed his belt, and Claire had undone the top buttons of her dress as well.

“God…I’m melting…” Claire sighed, pulling her dress over her head and revealing the tiny white slip underneath. “You don’t mind?”

John burst into hysterical laughter, and Claire soon followed.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire sputtered. “Of course you don’t bloody mind. I could be stark naked and you wouldn’t bat an eye!”

They howled again, and she swatted at him.

“Not to mention I’m bloody married to you!”

They howled a bit more until Claire had spilled her whisky onto the rug and fell over into John’s lap.

“I think we should get you into bed, my dear.”

She giggled, biting her lip, and John was briefly mesmerized by the way a blush bloomed down her neck and into her chest. He heaved her to her feet, and they laughed together as they both swayed their way into the bedroom.

“You’re going to have quite the hangover tomorrow.” John was attempting to make more lighthearted conversation, but as he looked down at the woman in his arms, he was taken aback to see something he could only describe as hunger in her eyes.

“Would you…” He struggled to think through his drunken haze. “Would you like a nightgown, my dear?”

He made to pull away from her and go to the wardrobe, but she fisted his shirt in her hands, not ready to release him. She pressed her face into his neck and hummed, vibrating the skin there, and it gave him gooseflesh.

“Claire…” His tone could have been a warning, or pleading. He wasn’t at all sure.

Her small tongue darted out of her mouth and traced a line from the bottom of his neck all the way up to where his jawline began, and he shuddered violently. She giggled all the while her tongue was hanging out of her mouth, creating a lusty, wanton sound.

John gently took her face in his hands and pushed her away just enough to look in her eyes. They were hooded with drink and glassy as a porcelain doll’s. He thought he detected the slightest bit of fear, and it broke his heart.

“It’s alright. We don’t…we don’t have to.” He gently took her hands off of his chest and held them loosely between them. “I didn’t expect you to. We don’t have to.”

She gave a heartbreaking little whimper and began nuzzling her face into his chest, practically leaning her entire body weight on him. “Please.”

He didn’t think he’d heard her properly at first.

“Really, we can just…go to bed. On separate sides.”

“Please.”

It was almost a moan in its intensity. She began pawing at his clothing, pressing desperate kisses into his neck.

“I need you,” she groaned. “I need this. I need you, Jamie.”

His blood ran cold, and it would appear hers did as well by the way she froze completely. She practically went cool to the touch.

“Claire.”

He firmly took her chin between his fingers and forced her to look at him.

“I’m not Jamie.”

She could hardly stand on her own, could hardly focus her bleary eyes on him.

“I’m not Jamie,” he said again, more gently, moving his hand off her chin to cup the back of her head. “I can’t…I won’t have you like this. You’re drunk and…you’re not thinking clearly.”

She welled up with tears, looking very much like a wounded animal in response to his apparent rejection.

“I’m sorry, my dear. I know how much you’re hurting.”

God, did he know it.

“And you know that I…well…you know me.” He didn’t feel the need to speak it aloud again.

“You want to,” she sputtered. “I can feel it.”

She very suddenly and very firmly palmed him, causing him to jolt. And damn him, she was right. For some reason, some ungodly, horrific reason, he was aroused.

“It’s…it’s not you, Claire,” he said softly after regaining his composure, though he made no move to remove her hand. “It’s…it’s him. I’m standing here wishing it was his hand.”

“Good.” She tightened her grip, and he groaned involuntarily. “Because I’m standing here wishing it was his cock.”

She kissed him then, sloppily, heavily, lapping her tongue over him.

“Make love to Jamie, John,” she panted between kisses. “You make love to him, and so will I.”

“It’s not…it isn’t right.” He firmly seized her wrist and removed her grip from him, pinning her hands away from him.

Hands or no, Claire was never one to give up. When she wanted something, she would get it, consequences be damned.

She began gyrating her hips against him, and God help him if it didn’t make him even harder. It wasn’t long before he released her hands and finally surrendered to her, allowing her to pin him to the bed and have her way with him. He could have stopped her if he’d truly wanted. He could have tossed a bucket of water over her, given her a light but firm smack, shouted at her, gone to sleep in the living room. But, God…he wanted this, needed this as badly as she did.

He reached out and sought purchase in her skin as she rode him, soft in all the places where Jamie was solid. She was wild, a mad look in her eye as she tossed her head back in delicious ecstasy, and yet she was entirely lucid, he was sure of it. Perhaps the moments leading up to their joining were hazy, but now she was more than aware.

Her hands were all over him as well, small and yet hard and demanding. She even gripped his hands at one point and directed them exactly where she wanted to be touched.

She cried out for Jamie as she came around him, and God help him if he didn’t do the same as he spilled into her.

It was filthy, it was shameful, and he was disgusted and confused and terrified.

But when she collapsed onto his chest and wept like a broken child, everything faded but the need to comfort her, to protect her.

“I need ye to promise me something, John.”

“Anything.”

“If anything should happen to me…”

“God, Jamie, please don’t talk like this.”

“Ye said anything, man. I need ye to mean it.”

He looked into those steel blue eyes, his pupils shrunken to tiny pinpricks. John nodded, though his heart hammered with terrible foreboding.

“If anything should happen to me…I need…I need ye to promise me that ye’ll look after Claire.”

John took a moment to blink back his shock.

“I ken she’s strong as a stallion and stubborn as a mule. She’d have ye think that she doesna need any help. Truth be told, I ken she doesna. But just…fer my peace of mind. Will ye swear to me that ye’ll look after her?”

John swallowed thickly, unable to stop the rush of tears.

“She means more to me than anything in this world. And I’m entrusting her to ye, my dearest friend. And in return, if ye want…I would be willing to…”

John's eyes widened, unblinking.

“If ye want.”

John’s mouth hung agape, and he stammered incoherently for a moment.

“Are you actually offering your body to me in payment if I promise to look after Claire?”

Jamie’s jaw hardened, and he nodded once. “Aye.”

“Dear God…” John shook his head, and he actually started laughing. “That I should live to hear such an offer!”

Jamie blinked rapidly, and John could have sworn he saw tears gathering there. “Ye dinna want me then?”

“I shall probably want you ’til the day I die!” John exclaimed, and then lowered his voice to a whisper, remembering that tents were thin, flimsy things. “But tempted as I am…do you really think I’d accept? I should feel my honor most insulted, save that I know the depth of feeling that prompted it.”

Jamie wet his lips and nodded, averting his eyes and staring at a stain in the tent. “Aye. I’m…I’m sorry. I didna mean tae insult yer honor. I just…I thought to…to give ye something of what is most precious to ye in return for protecting that which is most precious to me.”

John placed a comforting hand on Jamie’s knee, desperate for his friend to not feel ashamed. “I understand.”

Jamie nodded again, and then forced himself to look at John. “Besides, I…I wouldnae ha’ offered if it wasna something I could bear.”

Despite how fiercely John blushed, how much he wanted to tear his eyes away, he didn’t. He held Jamie’s gaze as he whispered, almost inaudible: “You could…bear it?”

“Aye,” he said without hesitation. “I could.”

Then before John knew what was happening, Jamie’s lips were on his, and his soul ignited. It was sweet and chaste, and gentle and beautiful.

Jamie was beautiful.

He pulled away after about three seconds, and the two men maintained their intense eye contact.

“You have my word, Jamie,” John whispered fervently. “God forbid you are taken from us, I will keep safe what you love most. And I am…most grateful for such an honor.”

“Thank ye.” His steel blue eyes welled up with tears, and he clutched at the back of John’s neck. “Thank ye, John.”

John had sworn it with everything he had to give in his heart and soul. She was the most precious thing in the world to Jamie, and he’d left her to his care. It felt like an honor he was not worthy of. He was not worthy of the man as he lived, and he was certainly not worthy of the woman he’d loved and the child she would bear. Perhaps Jamie hadn’t meant for him to marry the woman if something should happen, but what else was he to do? Leave her unmarried and childless in a world so cruel?

No, he’d sworn on his honor that she’d be safe with him, forever and always.

And as he held her, naked, broken, and sobbing to his own naked form, trembling like a leaf with the force of her tears, John could feel her seeping into the cracks that Jamie had left in his heart. He could feel her already becoming as precious to him as she’d been to Jamie…as precious to him as Jamie had been to him.

Don’t fret, Jamie, love. I’ve got her.

I’ve got them both.

Chapter Text

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The first thing Claire was aware of was the pounding of her head.

She groaned loudly, and even that sound made her head split. She roughly rubbed her eyes and tried to open them, then chickened out when the sunlight sent a knife between her eyes.

The second thing she was aware of was that she was stark naked.

Oh, fuck.

That was enough to shake her from her stupor. She sat straight up and searched the room blearily, but John was nowhere to be seen.

Thank God.

She didn’t think she could bear to do a walk of shame in her own bedroom.

She’d thought perhaps it had been a wild, alcohol induced dream. But apparently she really had stripped herself and her homosexual husband naked and ridden him into oblivion. And then cried herself to sleep on top of him.

Jesus fucking Christ.

She pulled a robe out of the wardrobe and wound it tightly around herself, not bothering to dress since she most definitely needed a shower anyway. She emerged from the bedroom, already cringing. The smell of coffee wafted into her consciousness, and it was enough to draw her from the doorway and into the kitchen.

John was sitting at the table with his own cup, staring blankly at the wall in front of him until the pitter patter of Claire’s bare feet caught his attention.

“Good morning,” he said, his voice clipped.

Christ, he could barely look at her.

“The pot should still be hot.”

Claire forced a tight-lipped smile as she shuffled over to the pot of coffee and poured herself a mug. “Thank you.”

He hummed awkwardly in response. Claire sat down slowly with her cup, cringing at the sound of the chair scraping against the floor.

“That bad, is it?”

Claire groaned and rubbed between her eyes, carefully setting the hot mug down in front of her. “Indeed.”

They sat in uncomfortable silence for several agonizing moments, each quietly sipping their coffee.

“Claire, I want — ”

“John, I should — ”

They both snapped their mouths shut, then began stammering apologies over one another.

“I’d…like to go first. If that’s alright,” Claire said uneasily. John nodded, and she cleared her throat, setting her coffee down again.

“What happened last night…it was unforgivable. Me, I mean,” she added quickly. “That was despicable of me. To use your love for him against you like that.”

She felt her face flush hot with shame, and John averted his eyes, a blush creeping into his own face as well.

“I’m a nurse. I know that…arousal doesn’t always mean you…want to…go further.” She swallowed against a rush of tears. “I took advantage of you. I’m…so ashamed, John. I’m so sorry.”

John put his hand up. “It’s alright, Claire.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“If I’d wanted to stop you I could have.”

She stiffened in shock, her hooded eyes widening for a moment.

“I feel I took advantage of you as well, my dear. You were…quite insistent. But I should have stopped you.”

“John — ”

“So I am sorry. Truly and deeply.” His voice sounded pained, and he looked like he was about to cry.

She knew deep down she did not deserve to be apologized to, but to spare him any further pain, she acquiesced. “It’s alright.”

“I used your body for comfort just as much as you used mine. I admit it makes…far less sense to me than it must for you…but use you I did.”

Claire nodded. “I agree. We…used one another. In a way we shouldn’t have.”

John nodded as well. “I think we should…make an agreement while neither of us are inebriated. Something that we can refer to when one or both of us is in too much pain to stop ourselves.”

“I agree.” Claire straightened and took a deep breath. “I can’t believe I have to say this to a homosexual housemate…” Claire tried her hand at humor, and immediately regretted it before continuing. “But I don’t think we should have any more sex. At all.”

“Agreed. And we must not…” He cleared his throat and sniffled. “We must not use Jamie to hurt one another.”

“Never again,” Claire vowed solemnly, reaching across the table and taking his hand. “I promise.”

“I promise, too.”

They gave each other’s hands a squeeze, but were both reluctant to let go.

“What happened…was not right. I shall probably feel guilty until the end of time,” Claire said. “But I think it was just…something we needed to get out of our systems.” John nodded in agreement. “And I think we can move past this, together,” Claire continued. “For Jamie’s sake.”

He nodded again, and gave her hand another squeeze. “And for the baby.”

Claire’s stomach flipped, and her free hand automatically came to rest on her abdomen. “Yes,” she said, and then swallowed thickly. “For the baby.”

He gave her hand one final squeeze before releasing her and standing up. She quickly swiped at the tears that spilled down her cheeks.

“I’m going to make some porridge, it may help with your headache.”

“I’d like that, thank you.”

——

They began a careful dance, a dance with no choreographed steps, but rather an improvised routine that they both fell into. Sidestepping where they needed, pushing and pulling to avoid stepping on each other’s toes in every sense of the word. At first, they stayed as far away from each other as possible in bed, to the point where Claire thought they would both tumble off if one of them so much as sneezed. She’d even considered pawning off the double bed and using the money to buy twin beds. Maybe then she’d be less tempted to ravage him in grief again.

But then, one night, she woke in the night to use the loo, as she’d started doing about a million times per night to empty her pregnant bladder. When she returned, she heard quiet sniffles and small whimpers.

The poor, dear man was weeping.

She crept back under the covers and faced him, his back turned to her. She couldn't tell if he was awake or not, so she reached out and touched his shoulder.

“John?”

He froze. He was awake then.

“Are you alright, darling?”

He continued sniffling, but the little sobs ceased.

“You can talk to me. It’s…what I’m here for. As your wife.”

Claire knew that her time to be married to the love of her life had come and gone. Love as fierce as her and Jamie’s was not meant to last for a whole lifetime, and she was lucky enough to have experienced it at all. Her time had come now to be something else for someone new. Though their marriage was devoid of carnal love and pleasure, she could not deny the growing tenderness for this sweet, thoughtful man.

She whispered his name again and gave his shoulder a light squeeze, and he finally turned to face her. In the glowing moonlight, she could see the tear tracks, the redness of his swollen eyes. Her hand fell on the pillow next to his face, and she waited.

“I…I dreamt of him.”

Claire swore she heard her heart break.

“It was…very real. And when I woke it was like…”

“Like losing him all over again,” Claire whispered hoarsely, understanding immediately. She’d had many a similar dream.

John nodded, blinking back another rush of tears.

“I wasn’t even…we weren’t even…”

Claire nodded; he didn’t have to elaborate.

“He was with you,” John said. “And I didn't even care. Seeing him smile at you was the greatest joy my heart has ever known. I didn’t even care if that…that look was never meant to be mine. I just…wanted him to be happy.”

Claire let out a tiny sob that seemed to echo until she realized it was John breaking down again.

“I wanted to see him grow old and have children…he wanted to so badly…”

Claire fiercely pulled herself right up against him, cradling his head at her breast and weeping into his hair as he clung desperately to her nightgown.

That was the first night Claire was grateful she shared a bed with someone; sharing a bed meaning something different than she’d ever imagined it could. She’d mused recently that to sleep, actually sleep with someone gave a sense of intimacy, as though her dreams could flow out of her to mingle with his and fold them both in a blanket of unconscious knowing. It was an act of trust to sleep in the presence of another person. If the trust was mutual, simple sleep could bring people closer together than the joining of bodies. She could somehow feel this with John, that just allowing her body to fall away into unconsciousness as he did the same, that building that mutual trust between them in this new way was bringing them closer. Especially since their particular joining of bodies had been the farthest thing from bringing them closer.

Some nights she woke to his weeping, or he to hers. They’d grown accustomed to just reaching for the other’s hand, and they would fall back asleep with several inches between their bodies and their hands clasped between them.

It was a comfort that Claire was quickly growing to depend on.

About a week after they'd been married, John took a job as an architect, the career path he'd been preparing for before the war. While he was gone, Claire taught herself to cook, failing miserably more often than not and serving her husband failed dish after failed dish. She went on walks, she read, she picked herbs and flowers in the park, she tended to a small pot of herbs that John had surprised her with in the window of the kitchen one day. She was a terrible cook, but at least her garlic, chamomile, and peppermint were thriving.

The peppermint quite came in handy when the morning sickness started in earnest. John was quite darling about the whole ordeal, never entering the bathroom until he could audibly tell that she’d stopped retching, but he was already prepared with a hot rag and a glass of water, peppermint tea brewing and nearly ready for her consumption.

It wasn’t right away that Claire began missing him during the day, not right away at all. In the beginning she’d enjoyed the alone time with her plants and any strays she decided to pluck from the side of the road or the middle of a field. She enjoyed the time alone to scream into a pillow and weep until her heart could no longer stand it. She enjoyed the time where she held onto Jamie’s old rosary and talked to him like he could hear her.

But the more weeks that passed, the more Claire realized that she’d grown fond enough of John’s presence to feel his absence when he was gone.

It wasn’t that she was never fond of him to begin with. The times she’d visited Jamie during the war and had drinks with John and laughed with him were truly wonderful. She’d always admired his intelligence, his wit, always respected him and appreciated everything he’d done for the man she loved.

But things had somehow changed in that she was truly beginning to see him as a companion. She was truly starting to feel lonely in the hours that he worked, truly starting to look forward to his return home like she supposed a wife should for her husband.

Claire had always sworn that she would not leave her entire life’s purpose to being a wife, even a wife to Jamie. She’d shared her far-off dream of medical school with Jamie, and he’d kissed her with joy for her eventual success; the memory caused deep pangs of sadness in her chest. So for her to find meaning in looking forward to her husband coming home, however amicable a companion he was, could have felt like a betrayal to her very character.

It didn’t, though.

It was an odd comfort, relying on John, and she supposed he felt the same. They read by the fire in their respective armchairs at night, John occasionally remarking on a particular passage to her. In the beginning, she’d only hum in amusement in response, but as more time went on, she allowed it to open discussion, and she’d even started doing it with her own books, engaging him like that.

After reading, they’d strip themselves of their guises of husband and wife. The only visible remnants of their marriage were shared smiles over books or meals (or lack thereof) or flowerpots. Without those, they were just John and Claire, frightened and lonely as they’d always been, hands entwined under the covers in the wide gap between them.

He actually brought home flowers on occasion, on two or three random days throughout the month. Claire found it incredibly endearing. He strode into the bedroom to change out of his work clothes for supper one night as Claire arranged bluebells in a vase, and she allowed perhaps the first genuine smile in months.

He’s trying, God love him.

Claire kissed him on the cheek as she put his plate in front of him that night at supper, and he kissed hers in bed before rolling away and reinstating the gap between them.

Always touching hands.

——

Before she knew it, Claire’s clothing wasn’t fitting anymore, her stomach finally showing true evidence of the life it grew after months of hiding.

And then she felt it, like a bubbly champagne stuck in her chest, like the flutter of butterflies.

Hello, little one.

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Claire said that night over supper. She’d managed a fine beef stew that night, impressing both John and herself. “I don’t want to have the baby in the hospital.”

John comically appeared to choke on his stew. “Beg pardon?”

“Women do do it. Home births, I mean. I had a friend in the army who delivered babies at people’s homes.”

“Isn’t it…” He swallowed a lump of soft carrots. “Painful?”

Claire chuckled. “Well, certainly. But I’d…rather be awake. I can’t stand what they’re doing these days, putting the mothers under with God knows what. I wouldn’t be able to stand it, not knowing what was happening to me for the entire birth. If something were to happen, I would want to be awake.”

“But what if something were to happen?” John said, laying down his spoon.

“If something truly dire were to happen, the hospital isn’t far.”

“God, Claire! What if you died on the way there?”

“Please.” Claire rolled her eyes. “If I was at high risk, I’d go to the hospital from the beginning. Alright? But I truly think everything will be alright. I’d like to have a midwife start coming to make sure of that.”

“What about your friend?”

“Oh, she lives in Glasgow.”

He took up his spoon again, then got a gleam in his eye. “What if I could put her up here, in London?”

Claire put down her own spoon, the corners of her mouth twitching into a grin. “You’d do that?”

“Of course,” he said, as if it were the most simple matter in the world. “I can see you’re not to be argued with on this matter, and I’d rather have the woman in charge of your health and the health of our child be someone you already trust. She’s capable?”

Claire’s mind had momentarily gone blank at his casual utterance.

Our child.

“Are you alright, my dear?”

Claire jolted a bit, shaking her head. “Yes, yes, just a small dizzy spell…” She cleared her throat. “Geillis is quite capable, I assure you. You won’t find someone more so. And it’s as I said: if she thinks it unsafe for me to not have medical intervention, then I will not argue. I promise.”

John nodded curtly, smiling widely. “Then it’s settled. Phone her tomorrow, won’t you?”

Claire took up her spoon again. “I will.”

Our child.

“What’s brought all this on?” John said, spooning more stew into his mouth.

Claire smiled wistfully, her hand resting on the tiny bump. “I felt him today.”

He almost choked again.

“You did?”

“Yes. It’s…too tiny to feel from the outside, otherwise I’d have shown you already. But he’s…he’s fluttering around in there.” She smiled down at her stomach. “It’s…wonderful.”

“That is…wonderful news, my dear,” John said, his eyes bright with joy. “I’m glad of it.”

Claire allowed a few moments of amicable silence to pass between them, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“Did you…mean it when you said…our child?”

For the third time in one meal, Claire thought she had caused her husband to choke.

“God, Claire, I’m…I’m so, very sorry. I didn’t mean…I couldn’t ever…”

“It’s alright,” Claire interrupted gently. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“It’s Jamie’s child. I know that.”

“I know. And I know you know that.” She held his gaze, and she could tell he very much wanted to melt into the floor with shame. “I can’t lie and say it didn’t catch me off guard. Because it did. But it’s…not a bad thing.”

She drew in a long, tremulous breath before continuing.

“Jamie is gone. The father of my child is dead.” Her voice only broke on the last word, and she sardonically congratulated herself in her head. “You are…for all intents and purposes…this baby’s father. And I…I want it to be that way. For the baby. It’s…what Jamie would want.”

John nodded, eyes watering.

“So it’s…it’s alright for you to call him…ours. Because he is.” She covered the small bump with both of her hands, cradling it as if her little child could feel it. “That was just…the first time you’ve said that instead of just ‘the baby.’ So I wanted to be sure you meant it. Or if it was just a slip.”

He looked at her thoughtfully, and she could swear she saw his pupils dilate. “I did mean it, my dear. I wouldn’t say something with that much weight so carelessly.”

Claire nodded, offering him a tight-lipped smile. “Good.”

Their spoons clattered in the thick silence between them.

“Him?” John suddenly said.

“Hm?” Claire looked up at him.

“You keep saying ‘him.’ That sure it’s a boy?”

Claire smiled and chuckled through her nose. “I just…have a feeling, that’s all. A feeling that I’m carrying my little Brian James.”

She could practically see his heart swelling, inflating his chest and causing him to sit up straighter. “For Jamie’s father.”

“That’s right. And for his father as well.”

“It’s…perfect, Claire.” He nodded in confirmation, his eyes wide with something that Claire could only describe as adoration. “Perfect for our son.”

——

John put Geillis up in a flat a few blocks away so that they could walk back and forth to each other with relative ease. Geillis determined that the baby was in excellent shape, and that Claire was a great candidate for a natural birth. Geillis was a bit flighty and slightly mysterious, but that was what Claire had loved about her when they met. She was very reliant on herbs and incense. Claire could tell that her witchy tendencies unnerved John quite a bit, and it often made her giggle to see him uncomfortable in her presence. He didn’t say anything, though, out of respect for Claire’s love for the woman.

Geillis was slightly better in the kitchen than Claire was, so she’d been sharing recipes (much to John’s chagrin; he didn’t trust that there wasn’t something supernatural in anything she fed them). They baked together in either of their flats when John was at work, went on walks together, enjoyed each other’s company. It was refreshing to have female company, and wonderful to have someone to spend time with when she would have otherwise been counting down the minutes until John’s return from work.

Two months after Geillis’s arrival as midwife and friend, Claire was nearly six months pregnant. She was starting to feel exhausted more often than not. She napped quite often, even in Geillis’s flat. Her feet and ankles were constantly sore and swollen, and John had taken to rubbing them for her, having asked her how to do it most to her liking. It was terribly endearing to her.

Claire left Geillis’s flat earlier than usual on one particular day, not wanting to fall dead asleep on her sofa again. She stopped for a few groceries on the way home, not sure if she had enough to prepare the recipe she’d decided on for the night. When she arrived home, she was pleasantly surprised to see John’s shoes and coat by the front door. She didn’t see him in the living room or in the kitchen when she put the brown paper bag down on the counter, so she shuffled into the bedroom to make sure he wasn’t home early because he was ill.

“John, darling, is everything — ”

Claire’s throat went dry and her eyes popped out of her head when she took in the sight on the bed. John was stark naked, cock in his fist, jerking his hips into his hand. He froze immediately at the sound of her voice, covering himself with both hands.

“Oh.” Her cheeks turned pink as she averted her eyes staring at a leaf fluttering by the window. “I’m…I’m sorry…” she stammered. “I saw your coat, and I thought…I’m sorry.”

“I’m…ashamed. Forgive me. I didn’t know you’d be home.”

“No, no. Please don’t be,” Claire said quickly. “It’s…perfectly natural.”

Claire had been very clear with John before they married that she would be perfectly alright with him taking male lovers. She knew she could never provide what he really needed, and she knew this marriage was not for love. He’d thanked her and said he would keep it in mind.

It would appear there hadn’t been any forward momentum on that front.

Claire had no conceivable idea why she was still standing in the doorway staring at the window. “I’ll ehm, just…” She cleared her throat and started to shuffle away, but then stopped herself. “Do you…” she began, only half turning to him. “Want help?”

She looked shyly at him, pointedly only looking at his face. He was beet red with embarrassment, and now looked terribly scandalized.

“The…agreement?” he said, his brow raised in questioning.

“I know. But we’re both sober at the moment, and it wouldn’t really be sex. I…I wouldn’t mind.” She flicked her eyes away from him and wet her lips. “But only if it’ll help. I know I’m not…you know.”

She saw him nod from the corner of her eye. “You, ehm, needn’t trouble yourself.”

“Alright. That’s alright.” Claire nodded curtly and then saw herself out of the bedroom, scuttling back into the kitchen to unpack her groceries.

She did not expect the strange thrill that coursed through her when she heard her name.

Her breathing went ragged as she put down a cabbage on the counter and walked slowly back to the bedroom.

“Did you…call me?” she asked timidly through the crack in the door.

“Yes…you can come in.”

She slowly pushed the door open, taking deep, trembling breaths.

“I’d…like your help. If you don’t mind.”

She blinked back her shock and swallowed against a sandpaper throat before taking slow, even steps across the room and sitting down before him.

He was not as well endowed as Jamie, but it was sizable nonetheless, and had still felt good in that drunken stupor all those months ago. She met his eye and cautiously brought her hand forward. He gave a small groan when her hand wrapped around the base of him. He was burning to the touch, and it fascinated her. She maintained eye contact as she slowly began pumping him, up and down, and he groaned again.

“Is this alright?” she whispered, rolling her thumb over the tip.

“Yes,” he choked out. “Quite…alright.”

Claire smirked and began pumping faster, but not maddeningly so. Not yet.

She had half a mind to ask him what he’d been thinking of before she’d interrupted, but she didn’t need to. She knew.

And she knew how painfully terrible it was to long for the ghost of someone’s touch.

So she didn’t pry, she just worked her hands as expertly as she knew how, until he was panting heavily and jerking his hips up toward her hand. Only then did she double down on the speed, her forearm burning with the effort. He came with a strangled cry, shooting his seed upward, landing on his stomach.

She slowed her hand until she felt him go soft, and then she rested her hand on his thigh, smiling shyly at him. He was laying back, staring at the ceiling as he caught his breath. Claire got up and returned from the bathroom with a towel, and by that time he had seemingly regained his senses.

“Thank you,” he said warmly as he took the towel in his hands, but Claire felt that he was perhaps thanking her for more than just the towel.

“It’s alright, isn’t it?” she said nervously, sitting down. “You don’t feel as if we’ve broken the agreement?”

“No, not at all.” He got up and dressed himself again, though he remained shirtless when he turned back to her. “You were just…helping me finish a job I’d already started.”

Claire nodded, smiling self-consciously, her cheeks blushing fiercely. “Right.”

“You don’t have to blush, my dear.” He closed the distance between them and sweetly kissed her forehead. “You’re my wife after all.”

She nodded again, painfully aware of the heat that had gathered in her stomach and farther down.

“You’re quite warm,” he said, ghosting his fingertips over the apple of her cheeks. “Is it…because…?”

She nodded.

“Ah.” He sat down next to her. “I’m afraid I…wouldn’t be much help. Your knowledge of male pleasure far exceeds that of mine concerning female pleasure.”

“It’s alright,” Claire said gently, covering his hand with hers. “I don’t expect anything from you.”

He smiled gratefully at her, holding her gaze warmly.

Claire had no idea what prompted her to blurt: “You could watch me.”

His mouth popped open a bit, and she watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down.

“Women can do it themselves too, you know.” She smirked, though she was still blushing fiercely. “I wouldn’t mind if you watched. It may…help.”

He swallowed again, drawing his hand away from hers.

“But you don’t want me to…”

“You don’t have to.” She pushed herself higher up onto the bed and unbuttoned her dress, then slid it over her head. She wasn’t sure how John would feel if she got completely naked, so she left her slip on. She reached under it to remove her underwear.

“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” she said, a warning. Before she really began.

“I…I do. Want to.”

She smiled at him and set her underwear aside, away from him. She let her legs fall apart and ghosted her fingers over the slick, wet folds.

“When a woman is aroused…” she said breathily, taking a stuttering breath as her fingers reached the source of her moisture. “Instead of a cockstand, she gets…wet.”

She withdrew her hand to show him, and he stared at the glistening wetness on her fingers with vulgar curiosity.

Smiling devilishly, she returned to her task, gathering more moisture and setting to work on her clitoris. 

“I…aroused you?”

John’s voice brought her out of a haze of pleasure, and she met his gaze with hooded eyelids.

She heard what he left unsaid:

I did…not Jamie?

“You did, John,” she breathed out. “It makes me feel…very good to give a man pleasure.”

It was the truth, really. Jamie was, of course, the subject of her every thought, her every fantasy. In her moments alone, when Geillis was not around, it was thoughts of Jamie’s hands, Jamie’s tongue, Jamie’s cock that roused her to the point of no return. And it was those thoughts that had her weeping in grief after she’d climaxed. But this was different. For the first time, she wasn’t aroused by a fantasy, but rather by the sight of a real man coming right in front of her. By her hand. Did she think of her love in that same position? God, of course. Was she imagining his touch? Certainly. But seeing John, sweet, gentle John, in the throes of pleasure had flipped a switch in her fevered mind.

It was different.

John swallowed hard again in response to her words, and she redoubled her efforts on herself. She did not hold back, allowing her eyes to fall shut and for her desperate keening to get as loud as it would naturally get without restraint. She laid back, neck arching as she moaned loudly with ecstasy.

She picked her head back up when she felt she was close, and made deliberate eye contact with John as she slipped a finger in, still keeping her maddening pace on her clitoris. John’s lips parted and he swallowed again, and with the insertion of a second finger, curling them in and upwards, Claire let out a ragged gasp. Her hips jerked off the mattress, thrusting into nothingness as she continued her rapid assault of her clitoris, her fingers frozen inside her as her walls clenched around them. She let out a sweet sounding moan as her hand finally slowed, and she gradually lowered back onto the mattress, her head swimming and her back slick with sweat.

She kept her eyes closed as she came down from her high, her chest heaving. When she opened her eyes, John was still staring at her, his mouth hanging open. She was still breathing heavily, and she smiled up at him shyly.

“Do you, ehm…” He cleared his throat. “Do you feel better now?”

She nodded lazily, feeling her eyes slide shut again.

“I can finish with your groceries. You seem tired.”

She nodded, eyes still closed, and curled into the pillow, draping her arm over it lazily. She felt like an infant, drugged with sleep after breastfeeding, having satiated herself.

Consciousness was just beginning to slip away from her when she felt a blanket drape over her shoulders, and a gentle peck on her temple.

“Sleep well, my dear.”

Chapter Text

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John and Claire’s delicate dance continued into her seventh and eighth months of pregnancy.  Since that day of shared private pleasure, nothing much had changed between them. They maintained their chaste kisses on cheeks and heads, holding hands and sharing amicable silence.

And occasionally they would pleasure themselves in each other’s company.

By the middle of the seventh month, Claire could not comfortably reach around the swell of her belly to touch herself. John had watched her try one night, feeling himself grow hard as she did, and then she sighed with frustration. It wasn’t long before she had another idea, however, and she was suddenly sitting astride one of her pillows, undulating her hips as she grasped the headboard with white knuckles. John could not take his eyes off of her as he began palming himself and then pumping furiously, finishing only just before she did.

John could not make any sense of it.

She was a woman. John had known since quite an early age that he was not like other boys; he did not desire the company or touch of a woman the way he should. The older he got, the more it clicked in his brain that he desired men in the way he ought to desire women. And he'd done all in his power to rectify it, to change who he was, but to no avail. His confession to Jamie had come about as a result of his wishing to deny it to himself no longer. Jamie had flipped a switch in John’s heart, and John suddenly knew that if he were lucky enough to love a soul like Jamie’s, that being who he was could not have possibly been so terrible. It could in fact have been…absolutely wonderful.

But then there was her.

She, this woman who shared his home and his name, was making him question everything all over again. At first, she had been something to cling to as he floated adrift in a sea of grief. She was his one tenuous link to Jamie, the one thing keeping alive the miracle the man had done to his soul. Even after that first night of their marriage where they’d used each other so grossly, John still could not separate her from Jamie. It was like she herself had so bluntly said:

“We were really fucking Jamie.”

But then she’d offered to touch him…and he’d agreed. And they’d come to this place where they could watch each other in the throes of passion and be spurred even further into their own haze of pleasure.

“It makes me feel…very good to give a man pleasure.”

John quickly learned that Claire carried a great sense of erotic pride in her own abilities, and he had to admit there was something enchanting about it. Since that first time, it was rare that she touched him, but damn him if having her watch him do it himself didn’t light him afire.

And he couldn’t bloody make sense of any of it at all.

And then there was the child.

They’d been sitting and reading as they did every night, and Claire had very suddenly thrown her book aside and grasped John’s hands, causing him to drop his book as well. Before he could find the words to ask what in the world she was doing, he felt it.

“He’s saying hello,” she’d whispered, her eyes flicking back and forth between their hands and John’s face.

John could not stop staring at his hands, hands that could literally feel tiny feet pounding against them.

“I’m so glad you’re finally here for this. You’ve missed it a fair amount of times.”

John had to blink fairly quickly to clear his eyes of tears.

“See, lovie? I told you that you’d get to say hello to Daddy soon.”

John had looked up at her in amazement as the weight of her chosen word sank in, and was surprised at the tears on her cheeks, the pain in her eyes.

I know, my dear. I know you wish it was him instead.

“Thank you for sharing this with me, Claire,” is what he’d said instead.

By the eighth month, words like Daddy and Mummy were regularly exchanged between the two of them, as well as little one and sweetheart.

And Da.

John came home to the sight of Claire on the sofa, legs stretched out over the cushions, Jamie’s rosary in one hand, the other stroking her round belly.

“And then, your Da said to me: you need not be scared of me, nor of anyone here, so long as I'm with you.”

John smiled wistfully as he hung up his coat and hat. They’d decided early on that the child would know his father. John would be Daddy, of course, but he would know the brave man that loved him from Heaven. John and Claire would create that presence for him together.

It gave her comfort to talk to the child, especially while he worked when Geillis could not give her company, and it was more than natural for Jamie to be at the forefront of her mind while she did so.

John heard Claire sigh, and she pressed a kiss to the rosary before tucking it back into the box she kept it in, which she’d brought from the bedroom and put on the coffee table.

“Good evening,” John said warmly, unsure if the moment she’d just shared with the father of her child was meant to stay between them, or if she would bring him into it. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t; it depended on the day as to which option it would be.

“Good evening,” Claire answered, both hands on her stomach now. “How was your day?”

Leave it alone, then.

“Just fine. Rather boring, actually,” he said. He sat on the coffee table in front of her, not at all surprised by the redness in her eyes or the lingering wetness on her cheeks. “Has Brian been behaving himself today?”

Claire sniffled loudly, but she smiled, seemingly savoring the sound of the name being spoken aloud. “What do you think, little one? Should I lie and tell Daddy that you were sweet as anything?”

“Oh my.” John frowned in sympathy.

“I think he’s stepped on my bladder a total of thirty-two times today,” she groaned. “And my feet hurt so bloody badly, I considered just staying here and soiling the couch an embarrassing amount of times rather than go to the toilet.”

“Poor dear,” John said, then gave her stomach a poke. “Naughty thing.”

She laughed softly. “Would you mind terribly if I asked you to cook? I really don’t think I can stand another second today.”

“Not at all.” John leaned forward and kissed her temple before heaving himself off the coffee table. “Whatever you wish to eat, I shall do my best to make it happen for you.”

“Just a plate of every single carbohydrate in the kitchen,” she said dramatically, and John chuckled to himself as he started rummaging through the cabinets.

“Well, I can put the water on to boil for some spaghetti, and get you some bread in the meantime.”

“With oil? And garlic?”

“As you wish.”

He heard her moan with delight, no doubt throwing her head back over the arm of the couch, and he chuckled again. He poked his head in the refrigerator and saw that there was still some baked chicken from the other night’s meal. He decided that would pair nicely as a protein with the carbohydrates his wife so desired, and he put it in the oven on a low setting to heat up.

“Some broccoli, my dear?”

God no. Nothing green.”

“Still? I thought you’d gotten past that by the fourth month.”

“I thought so too. But it’s come back. With a vengeance.”

“Alright, I apologize for even entertaining the idea.”

Chicken warming and water set to boil, John returned to the living room with a plate of bread and a small dish of garlic and oil, along with a glass of wine for each of them. As she dug into the bread, he began rubbing her feet almost as an instinct, remembering exactly what she needed.

“You are too good to me, darling.”

His lips quirked up and he peered up at her. “I do try.”

When the meal was made and John put a plate of pasta and chicken in front of Claire, she glowered at him, not at all unlike a stubborn child after seeing a plate of vegetables.

“Don’t look at me like that. You are the nurse, and you made me swear that I would not let you become undernourished no matter the cravings you had. So this is me holding up my end of that bargain.” He sat down across from her, unable to hold back a smile. “You said yourself you need protein.” She narrowed her eyes. “Perhaps eat it first so that it doesn’t spoil the spaghetti,” he said as if reasoning with a child of five years old. She rolled her eyes at him and reluctantly started to eat.

Claire had done exactly the opposite of what John had suggested; she devoured the spaghetti and a second helping before even touching the chicken. She shot daggers at him lest he even attempt to stop her, so he kept his mouth shut and bit his tongue to stifle laughter.

Just as she was reluctantly beginning to cut into the chicken, there was a knock at the front door.

“Who could that be?” Claire said.

“Don’t get up, I’ll take care of it,” John said. “Likely it’s nothing important.”

John pushed back his chair and made his way out of the kitchen, smiling fondly at the sound of Claire’s humming the beginning of It’s Been a Long, Long Time — one of her newest favorite records — accompanied by the sound of her knife and fork clinking on the plate.

“Never thought that you would be standing here so close to me…”

“Coming,” John called as he switched on a lamp in the living room; it had quickly grown dark since they’d moved to the kitchen.

“There's so much I feel that I should say, but words can wait until some other day…”

John opened the door, and he literally felt the blood drain from his face.

“Kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again! It’s been a long, long time…”

He had to be dreaming. He had to be.

His knees felt weak, and then felt like nothing. His legs went completely numb. He had to clutch the door with both hands to keep from toppling over.

“John.”

His voice sounded far away, echoing as if through a canyon. John’s vision blurred, and the door swayed in his grip.

A pair of strong hands suddenly caught him by the shoulders and held him upright; otherwise he would have slid down the door and landed in a heap. John’s eyes bugged out of his head at the contact, and he stared at one of the hands on his shoulder for several seconds.

He’s really here.

“Haven't felt like this, my dear, since I can't remember when…”

“W…what…?” John stammered, finally wrenching his eyes away from the hands and back into his face. “You’re…you’re dead…”

“No, a charaid,” he said, his grip on his shoulders tightening. “I’m…I’m home.”

John’s eyes finally registered what he was looking at. Trembling hands left the door to ghost over his face, recently shaven — unevenly at that, sallow cheeks and sunken eyes, hair unruly and poorly trimmed…but still him.

“It's been a long, long time…”

“My God!” John sobbed, throwing his arms around Jamie’s neck.

The hands previously holding onto John’s shoulders hovered mid-air for a long moment before resting on his back, and then he waited another moment before fully returning the embrace, holding his friend tightly to him.

“Christ, Jamie…” John stammered into his shoulder. “What…how…my God!”

Jamie gave him another solid pat on the back before gripping his shoulders and pushing him away so he could meet his eye. John almost jumped when he saw what they held. Once clear, bright blue, was somehow dulled, and yet filled with electric rage that John could not place.

“You'll never know how many dreams I've dreamed about you…”

Good Lord…Claire.

“Or just how empty they all seemed without you — Is everything alright, darling?”

Jamie tensed beneath his hands. Had he thought she was a record before she actually spoke, that he just now registered the other voice was her?

“Y-yes, I’ll be right back,” John said quickly. “Don’t t-trouble yourself getting up.”

“So kiss me once, then kiss me twice…”

“Married?”

John blinked as if it could clear the ringing in his ears. “What?”

“Ye’re married?”

John swallowed thickly, feeling needles trail down his throat as he did. “Y-yes. To protect her. Like I promised, Jamie.”

“Then kiss me once again, it’s been a long, long time!”

Jamie nodded once and then gently pushed him out of the way.

“Wait!” John hissed in a low whisper. “You’ll shock her to death. Let me…prepare her.”

Jamie’s back was to John, but he could still see how he trembled…with…rage?

“Claire!” John called, brushing past Jamie before he could protest. “Are you sitting down?”

“Yes, right in front of this bloody chicken still.” She looked up at him as he entered the kitchen. “John! You look ill! You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I’m…not at all sure I haven’t.”

Her brow furrowed, and just as he was about to elaborate, he watched the blood drain from her face and her jaw fall slack. John turned around to see that Jamie was already right behind him in the doorway, and Claire was facing him dead-on. Whatever John meant to say died on his tongue, and he stepped out of the way of Jamie’s path to Claire.

She put her hands on the table like she was trying to stand up, but she didn’t move. She likely couldn’t. The table and tablecloth were obscuring any view of the life she carried. Very suddenly, Jamie collapsed to his knees before her, and John jumped at the sound of the impact. He just stayed there, on the floor, staring up at her, perhaps not knowing what to even do with himself.

Claire’s chest heaved, fat tears rolled endlessly down her cheeks. Her lips were trembling, her hands were trembling. She slowly, painfully slowly, brought her hands off the table and toward his face. She cried out, almost shrieked when she made contact with his skin. He made a noise as well, a heartbreaking, loud sob. Claire let out another noise, almost animalistic in nature as she threw her arms around his head from above him, pressing his face into her neck. He cried out unintelligibly as well, returning the embrace from under her arms, clutching her hair.

John braced himself on the counter and covered his mouth, tears flowing freely over his hand. They were both speaking, but he couldn’t understand a word. Jamie was muttering in Gaelic, and Claire was sputtering incoherently, words that eventually just morphed into a repeated chorus:

“Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie…”

Both pairs of hands were lost in curls as they rocked back and forth, Claire’s tears soaking his mess of red. She started kissing his head, over and over and over, every inch of it, and then his forehead, his cheeks, until finally she gripped his face in her tremulous hands and pressed their lips together.

John thought to leave, or to at least look away, but he couldn’t.

When he’d dreamed of Jamie’s fantastical and imaginary return, he hadn’t dreamed of holding the man for more than a few seconds, hadn’t dreamed of kissing him in relief, of crying in each other’s arms.

He had dreamed of this.

He had dreamed of not being able to decipher whose tears were whose, being unable to determine where she ended and he began. He had dreamed of watching them find each other again.

He loved Jamie on his own, he always would. And he’d come to love Claire, as well, though differently.

But together…it was enough to break his heart and mend it all at once. And it was all he ever dreamed of seeing.

They finally stopped kissing, and Claire half-laughed, half-sobbed into Jamie’s mouth, resting her forehead on his.

“Oh, Jamie…”

She started shifting, rotating her body in her chair, bringing her legs out from under the table. Jamie leaned back, and John could picture the exact position he was preparing for. He’d watched it all too often: Claire sitting high up and looking down at him, either on a tank or a bar counter or a fence, military grade trousers allowing Jamie to nest perfectly between her legs and hold her around the middle.

But her middle was not quite in the state that Jamie had last seen it.

Jamie leaned back again instinctually upon feeling the extra mass between them, not registering right away what it was.

Claire smiled blearily at him, her wet face now positively glowing with joy. Jamie was completely frozen in shock, his eyes locked on the large bump. Claire reached for his hands and placed them on the swell of her abdomen, letting out a beautiful, strangled cry as they rested there.

Jamie’s brow was furrowed, and he finally tore his eyes off of her middle to look up at her face, absolutely bewildered. Claire just nodded, her smile cracking all the wider as she broke into joyful hysterics, fresh tears pouring out of her. Jamie began sobbing anew as well, an even more broken, devastating sound than before. His arms were long of course, so he could still wrap them around her middle almost like before, but now he rested his cheek on her belly, weeping and whispering to it, to him.

Their child.

They started swaying again in this new position, Jamie pressing fervent kiss after kiss to her belly, and she to his head, all while sputtering incoherently to each other, the child, or to no one at all.

It was the most devastatingly beautiful thing John had ever seen. He did not belong in this moment, and yet he could not look away.

An indeterminable amount of time passed in this manner.

Claire looked up first, eyes and face swollen and red and shining. She took a stuttering breath before beaming a watery smile at John, exhaling in a tremulous laugh. He smiled back at her, his heart leaping out of his chest, his own eyes still stinging.

“It’s…a miracle…” Claire breathed, absently stroking Jamie’s head. “Tell me I’m not dreaming…you see him too…?”

John nodded, swallowing hotly. “I do, Claire. I’m almost certain we’re both awake this time.”

She bit her lip, more tears trickling down as she turned to look back down at Jamie. He had not picked his head up off her belly, had not loosened his grip. If John wasn’t mistaken, he was still muttering as well.

“Oh, my love…” Claire crooned, moving her hands down to cup his face in her hands. “Look at me, Jamie…”

She seemed to have to physically pry his head off of their child, raising him up to her eye level. She trailed her fingers over the lines of his face, weeping through a frozen smile.

“What…” she stammered, and his hands came to join hers on his face, lacing their fingers together. “How…? Where have you been…? Are you alright? Are you in pain?”

John could see Jamie’s shoulders tense, see his breathing quicken.

“Jamie…?” Claire said again, pressing her lips to their joined hands. “Talk to me, love. It’s alright.”

After a moment, Jamie’s breathing somewhat returned to normal, and he finally tore his eyes away from Claire to look at John. He hadn’t thought that Jamie even remembered he was there. He cleared his throat and stood up, not releasing Claire’s hands.

“I think…” His voice was hoarse, gravelly and low. “Ye should sit, John. You should hear it as well.”

John took his weight off the counter, swaying a bit as a result. He slowly crossed to the table and sat down in his seat in front of his cold food, across from Claire. Jamie took the seat between them keeping one of his hands linked with both of Claire’s.

“Your plane…it was shot down,” John said. “They said nobody could have survived that explosion.”

“Aye.” Jamie nodded. “It plummeted out of the sky, alright. Felt my guts in my throat. I…held onto…Claire’s picture…and I prayed…so hard…asking God to protect her.”

Claire’s knuckles went white gripping his hand, silent tears staining her cheeks.

“But the impact came and I…I woke up. I was in blinding pain, everywhere…’specially my back. My copilot, Hayes…he was alive. But he was trapped.”

His jaw hardened, his eyes focusing somewhere far off, his pupils tiny pinpricks in a sea of turmoil.

“I tried…I tried to get him out…I tried…” His voice broke.

“Jamie…” Claire soothed, lowering her head to press a kiss to his shoulder.

“I could smell the gas, ye ken. We both could. He begged me tae leave him.”

The hand that Claire was not holding trembled fiercely at his side, even as the rest of him remained still as stone. John had to fight the urge to reach out and take it.

“I would’ve stayed wi’ him. I swear I would’ve. But be begged me.”

“Nobody can blame you for wanting to live, Jamie,” Claire said fervently. “It’s not your fault.”

“So I just…I left him pinned under the rubble like that.”

He seemed to not even hear her.

“I dragged myself out like an animal. Christ, it hurt…it felt like my entire back was ripped open…and it turned out it was.”

John felt that he very soon would be ill. All the horrors he’d seen in the war…and none of them compared to Jamie Fraser thrown out of the sky, bleeding to death like a forgotten animal.

“I got out just before the explosion.” He winced, even jumped a bit, and John knew the explosion was happening right before his eyes again. It was something he’d often experienced, something Claire had coaxed him out of time and again over the past months.

“I don’t even remember losing consciousness…but when I woke up I was in a POW camp.”

“So the plane didn’t explode on impact…” John said incredulously. “And of course they thought you’d died…”

“There wasna anything to bury of Hayes, was there.”

He wasn’t asking. He knew.

“No,” John said softly. “So they…we thought you…”

“Aye.” Jamie nodded, his eyes finally leaving his living nightmare and flicking to John. “Logical train of thought.”

“So you’ve…been captive this whole time…” Claire said.

“Only just liberated,” Jamie confirmed.

“My God…” Claire shook her head, sobbing. “My poor love…” She released his hand to throw her arms around his entire frame, burying her face in the crook of his neck. “My poor, poor love…”

“It’s alright, mo ghraidh…” Jamie choked, gripping her arms as they tightened around him. “You saved me, ye ken.”

“What do you mean…?” she sputtered into his neck.

“The thought of seeing yer face again…my sorcha. Ye came to me at night…ye talked me to sleep, ye soothed my nightmares…but ye never touched me.” Tears rolled down his cheeks for the first time in a while.

Claire sobbed all the harder, tightening her grip again. “I can touch you now,” she whispered fervently.

“I’m alive because ye kept my soul alive in that horrible place. I knew in my heart that I’d live to see this day. I had to.”

John couldn’t stop himself; he reached over and put a hand on Jamie’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. “May the Lord be praised for it,” he said hoarsely.

“Why didn’t…no one sent a telegram…” Claire said, finally picking her head up again. “We didn’t even get a call,” Claire said to John.

“They tell immediate family first,” Jamie said, his face darkening in a different way than it had when he spoke of the war. “Neither of you are Frasers.”

John’s throat went dry, and he noticed how Claire’s eyes flicked downward in shame.

“Jenny didn’t call,” she said after a moment, her voice small and frightened.

“I asked her not to. I wanted to find ye myself.” He wasn’t looking at either of them. “Took me longer than it should’ve. Since I was looking fer a Beauchamp.”

“Jamie…”

“Jenny didn’t even know. Did ye know that?”

Claire met John’s eye, and she looked like she’d been slapped in the face.

“I was…I couldn’t speak of it to her, Jamie. Losing you…it was…God…it ate me alive, tore me to pieces…I wasn’t ready to talk to your sister and hear your voice, or look her in the eye and see you…”

Jamie didn’t respond. His eyes found that faraway place again.

“I was…ashamed…I didn’t know what she’d say about the baby, what she’d say about…marrying…so soon. I didn’t know if she’d assume it was yours or think me some sort of heartless slut…”

“I thought ye’d be there.”

His eyes did not move, but the vein beneath his right eye bulged out, his face turning red. Claire exchanged a frightened look with John across the table, unsure if she should touch him or not.

“What…?”

“I showed up at Lallybroch and I hardly even touched my own sister because I thought you were there. I was demanding to see ye so much that I didna even hear them the first three times they told me that they hadna heard from ye since I was pronounced dead.”

“Jamie — ”

“I thought I’d find ye taking comfort in my family, our family.” His voice was dangerously low. “Instead I find ye married.”

“Jamie, please, you can’t possibly understand — ”

“Oh, I can’t?” His eyes tore away from the wall and bore into her, and John could feel their heat even from behind him.

“No, you can’t!” she shot right back, not at all timid anymore. “I’ll not presume to know what you’ve been through, but I’ll not have you angry at me for how I chose to deal with this! I was pregnant with your baby, Jamie. What the hell would you have had me do?”

“It was my idea,” John interrupted before he could stop himself. Perhaps this should have been left between them, but the fact that he was the one in the middle of it was indisputable.

Jamie whipped his head around to look at John, his eyes afire with betrayal.

“I stopped by to check on her after I found out,” John continued, keeping his voice as level as possible. “She was just sitting on the floor with the phone dangling from the cord…just…staring ahead. I had to let myself in. I was terrified for her.”

Claire’s eyes burned fiercely with tears at the memory. John swallowed thickly before continuing.

“The second I touched her it was like flipping a switch. She just collapsed on me and…”

“John.” She was pleading, begging.

“No, he needs to hear it. She won’t tell you, but I will.” John’s jaw hardened. “She was ready to bloody kill herself, Jamie. She was completely distraught. When she blurted out that she was pregnant I…offered immediately. I made you a promise. And I intended to make good on it. But promise or no…I wouldn’t have let her suffer alone like that.”

Jamie was crying silently now, unmoving.

“A baby needs a father in this world. A mother needs a husband. We did what we had to do to ensure that your child would be brought up right. Christ, Jamie…we did it for you.” John’s voice broke, and he flicked his eyes away from Jamie, staring at his cold food. “We thought it’s what you’d have wanted.”

“It’s…you have to understand, Jamie,” Claire cut in softly. “You and I…weren’t…married. Not really. I know we were, but we…weren’t. Legally. In a legal sense…I was pregnant out of wedlock. I was in an awful lot of trouble without John. Not to mention I…well…he’s right. I’d have wasted away and died if he hadn’t come to check on me that day.”

Her face burned with shame, but John met her eye again and smiled softly, his eyes glistening with affection for her.

“I’m sorry that you’re…hurt, and that you feel betrayed. And I am sorry for avoiding your family. But I will not be sorry for doing it. And neither will John. Because it was the right thing to do.” Her voice was strong, but her chin trembled.

“And I don’t…” Her voice finally broke again. “I don’t want to talk about this right now…you’re…you’re back.” She cupped his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her again. “Look at me, love…” She sniffled and stroked his face with feather-light touches. “You’ve come home to me…to us. I never thought I’d be this happy again.”

Jamie was still stiff as a board, but the longer Claire spent stroking his face, John could see the tension start to roll away, see him melt against her.

And then, very suddenly, Jamie was weeping.

He fully melted against Claire, conforming to the mold of her body. She pressed his head into her breast and wept full-force as well.

“I’m sorry…Claire…mo chridhe, mo sorcha…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”

John could not bear it anymore. He quietly stood up from the table and silently strode out of the kitchen, making his way into the bedroom.

Christ…was it even his bedroom anymore? He had to offer it to them tonight. They deserved it, they needed it.

Would he and Claire divorce? Would she move out with Jamie?

Christ…will I ever meet the child…?

“Damn you,” John cursed himself, sitting on the edge of the bed and burying his face in his hands. How dare he even think such things?

It’s not your baby and it never was. His father is back and you should be damned grateful.

And Lord, he was.

But his mind would not stop racing, would not stop asking: what now?

A light knock brought him from his thoughts; he hadn’t realized how long he’d been sitting like this, in the dark.

“Are you alright, darling?”

Her voice, as always, was driftwood in a stormy sea, and he clung to it for dear life and allowed it to bring him back to the surface.

“I’m…” He cleared his throat. “It’s all just a bit overwhelming.”

“I know.” She turned on the light and leaned against the doorway. “I told him I was going to check on you, he’s in the kitchen with some whisky.”

John nodded. “Is he…still angry…?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, but her voice wavered. “You could come back, you know, drink with us. You’re his family as much as I am.”

John’s stomach flipped at that, and he had to focus substantial amounts of energy to calm his heart.

“I’m…I’m alright. You’ll…want to go to bed soon?” He looked up at her finally, and she was flushed head to toe.

“I’ll take the sofa until we can figure out something more permanent.”

“John, no. I wouldn’t dream of putting you out — ”

He is your husband, Claire. Or at least he should be.” He hadn’t meant to sound so bloody pathetic when he said that, but it was too late now. “He put that miracle inside you. You’ll share a bed tonight after months apart. It’s the least you deserve.”

Claire swallowed, then crossed to the bed. She embraced John rather awkwardly, being that she remained standing and he remained sitting on the bed, and then she kissed the top of his head.

“Thank you, darling.”

After a few minutes, John heard movement outside the bedroom, so he put on pajamas and gathered an extra pillow and blanket. He shuffled past Jamie to get to the couch, and felt his pulse quicken when a large, warm hand rested on his shoulder.

“Thank ye, a charaid.” His eyes held more warmth than they had since his return. “And I dinna just mean fer the bed. Ye’re…a good man. Man of honor. Kept yer word.”

John nodded solemnly. “Of course. It has been the greatest privilege to care for them.”

Before John knew what was happening he was being pulled into a fervent embrace, strong arms wrapped tightly around him. After only a moment’s hesitation, John returned the embrace, and then it was over.

John knew that this was Jamie’s way of apologizing for his behavior, and he was more than happy to accept.

Within the next few minutes, John was lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, wide awake.

Claire and Jamie were wide awake as well.

If they were passionate in camp…they were explosive now. John couldn’t say he blamed them, but dear God.

Jamie was quiet for a bit as Claire cried out to the heavens, and John could only imagine what his mouth was otherwise occupied with.

Shortly after that, there was an audible rhythm set, and John thought he might just pass out.

Claire was usually the loud one, but it was almost as if they were competing for that title tonight. Jamie was crying out almost as much as she; it almost sounded like sobbing. It probably was, from both of them.

“I love you, I love you, I love you…”

Every thrust was met with the words falling from Claire’s lips like a broken prayer.

At first it felt like a needle prick between John’s eyes.

“I love you — ” Prick. “I love you — ” Prick.

The longer it went on, however, the more it felt like a hammer to the chest. To his heart.

“Oh, Jamie! I love you! I love you!”

Over and over and over and over.

Overhearing them make love was nothing new; he and countless other saps in camp had heard it during the war. What was new was that John now knew the faces she made as well as the sounds, knew the way she tossed her head back and forth, the way her eyes hooded even as she stared her partner down, the way her lips remained parted as if in a state of perpetual preparedness for her next moan. He knew what her body looked like now, had seen it change with pregnancy. What was new was that she was legally his wife this time.

Most new was that John did not know who he envied most.

The answer had always been clear during the war. He would always listen to Jamie’s whispers of love and feel the deepest pangs of hurt knowing that they would never be meant for him, followed by guilt that he would even have a fraction of a thought of wishing to come between them.

It was foolish, anyway. When Claire touched herself for him to see, Jamie had always been there in bed with them, wedged right in between them. He’d always known that deep down. He had hardly touched her in those moments of shared intimacy; he didn’t think he was even capable. His touch could never live up to Jamie’s, even the ghost of it. He knew that. Claire’s keening and gasping and coy smiles were not for him. Could not have been.

Right?

Damn it to Hell!

Why should he want them to be? She was a woman!

Woman she may be…but she was yours. For a short time, she was yours.

And now he would lose her.

And how dare he feel grief for it? How dare he feel even remotely upset that Jamie was back? The love of her life had returned to her. How dare he feel anything but overjoyed for her?

He’s supposed to be the love of your life too, man.

Yes, yes, he still loved Jamie. He’d almost fainted dead away to see him standing in the doorway, almost kissed him instead of embracing him. As John had said, he’d probably want him until the day he died.

But he’d never had Jamie. Body or soul, he’d never been able to call him his. John cherished the kiss that Jamie had given him more than he could ever say, but one kiss did not make him his.

He’d had Claire’s body, that was clear enough. John was not fool enough to think he could ever possess her soul, not fully anyway. Parts of her that had died with Jamie were beyond reach forever. But the parts of her that remained, that smiled at him over tea in the morning, that grasped his hand at night, that called him Daddy as she touched her belly…those fragments of a woman had become his.

And he was losing it all.

The phrase “better to have loved and lost” was replaying over and over in John’s head, and he wanted to scream. No, it was decidedly not. To never know what it was like to possess somebody made it easier to part with them; in fact, there was nothing to part with to begin with. He could live with never having Jamie, because he’d never know what he was missing.

But he was not sure he would survive having Claire torn from him, now that he’d known what it was like to call such a remarkable woman his wife.

And the most damnably ridiculous part of it all was that she never loved him. How could she?

So how had he been fool enough to allow himself to love her?

It was these thoughts that carried John into a fitful sleep, into dreams of giggles and swimming amber eyes, of fiery red hair and electric blue.

——

The next thing John was conscious of was a pounding pain directly into his face.

“Jamie! No!”

If there was any mistaking it before, there certainly wasn’t now after he’d heard Claire scream. Jamie had punched him — repeatedly in the face. John’s eyes flew open, and he nearly cried out at the fury before him. Even in the dark, no light but the moon, and even through the swelling that was already present in both of his eyes, he could see the glowing red of Jamie’s face, the map of veins popping out under his eyes.

Jamie fisted John’s collar in both hands and yanked him up off his back, shaking him furiously in front of his face.

“Stop! Jamie — ”

“She’s a woman! What sort of sick pleasure d’ye get…?”

Oh…Good Lord.

“Huh?” Jamie growled, shaking him again fiercely. “What does it do fer ye to fuck my wife, John?”

“Jamie, please!”

John swallowed, tasting blood in his throat as he did, likely from a bloody nose. “You must understand — ”

“Must I?” Jamie growled, shaking him again, causing John’s teeth to rattle, biting his tongue. “By all means! Help me understand!”

“It wasn’t…I never intended for it to happen,” he stammered.

“It was my fault, Jamie, really — ”

No, Claire, don’t,” John said frantically. No, she would not take any blame; she would not take any of Jamie’s rage. John would not allow it.

“Are ye implying that the news of my death deranged ye to such an extent that ye lost all reason and took him to bed by force?” Jamie shouted over his shoulder. “Is that what ye’d have me believe, man? Because unless I’ve been seriously misled regarding yer own nature, it would take substantial force to compel ye to any such action.”

“There was no force,” John said quickly. “From either party.”

“Ye went to her because — from desire?” Jamie actually laughed, tossing his head back mirthlessly. “And she let ye? I dinna believe ye.”

“We thought you were dead you bloody arsehole!” John spat, infuriated by Jamie’s inability to understand. “Both of us! Do you have any idea what that did to us…to Claire? We — we took too much to drink, far too much, and we spoke of you…nothing but you…and…Damn you! Neither one of us was making love to the other! We were both fucking you!”

Jamie’s jaw fell slack, but his grip did not loosen at all.

“It’s like I was saying, Jamie,” Claire’s voice punctured the silence. “It was…comfort, for both of us. For me, it was…familiar feelings in my body that I needed to feel again or I would die, even if my mind knew better that it wasn’t really you…”

“What about you, then?” Jamie shook him again, less violently, John noted. His voice was marginally softer as well. “There’s nothing familiar about a woman’s body to you, I ken it well.”

John gulped again, tasting more blood. “I…I can’t explain it.”

“Ye’d better bloody try, man.” His voice started resembling a growl again, and from the corner of his eye he could see Claire tense and step forward.

“It’s…she…” He looked helplessly to Claire, arms crossed over her chest, but she just sighed, shaking her head. She certainly couldn’t explain it any better than him. “She was yours, Jamie. I knew that. God, I knew it. Every breath she took I could hear your name in it. So it wasn’t about possessing her and taking her from you…it was about…possessing you. Through her.”

Jamie’s nostrils flared, his jaw hardened, but he did not speak.

“It’s…vulgar. I knew it then, and I know it now.” John couldn’t meet his eye. “I felt shameful for it. I knew it was wrong.”

“We both did.” Claire took another step forward, chancing a hand on Jamie’s shoulder.

Jamie flinched, jerking away from her touch.

“Do not touch me.”

Claire pulled her hand back as if scalded, unconsciously resting it on her belly as tears welled up in her eyes.

“Tell me,” Jamie said, low and dangerous. “Tell me exactly what happened, ye filthy wee pervert. Every word. Every motion. Everything.”

John got just enough breath to answer.

“No.”

In an instant, Jamie had transferred his grip to one hand and shoved his free fist into John’s stomach mercilessly. Claire screamed again as John doubled into himself, coughing helplessly.

“Stop it! You bloody bastard!”

Heedless of Jamie’s earlier warning, Claire seized both of Jamie’s shoulders and shook him with a might John did not know she possessed. Jamie dropped John and whirled on her. John tried to cry out, tried to move, but he could not.

Please don’t hurt her.

“What’ll you do? Beat me senseless like you did to him?” Claire challenged, jutting her chin up at him. John swore he could see smoke coming out of Jamie’s ears as he bore his gaze down on him. “Or are you quite finished acting like a fucking barbarian?”

“Ye foul mouthed bitch! Ye’ll no’ speak to me that way!” Jamie roared.

Fuck you!” she shot right back. “You will not speak to me that way! Perhaps you weren’t aware, but I am not your wife! The law doesn’t acknowledge bloody handfasting. My husband is swollen and bleeding because a brute beat him like an animal! And you will let me tend to him or I will walk out that door and you will never see me again!”

John’s jaw went slack. He knew it was an empty threat; he knew Claire would endure anything to remain by his side; threats, rage, physical harm. She’d not be parted from him now, not ever again.

She shouldered past Jamie and sat on the edge of the couch, gently touching the swells of John’s face.

“Rags, clean water, and something cold from the icebox,” she commanded, not unlike John had once seen her do during the war. “Now.”

Jamie swore in Gaelic and kicked over the coffee table as he went, but he did as he was told.

“Oh, John…”

Her fierce front melted away, the fear returning to her eyes. “I’m so sorry…I had to tell him. It didn’t feel right. I thought he’d understand…I didn’t think he’d…”

She silenced immediately when John picked his eyes up, seeing Jamie reenter the room with the requested supplies, flicking the lamp on.

Try as she might, Claire could not get back that cold indifference she’d regarded Jamie with just minutes before, and she wept pitifully as she tended to John. At some point, Jamie reached out to touch her, having been hovering over them uselessly all the while.

No,” she snapped.

John’s heart was in pieces. Never had he seen them at such odds with one another. Not once in all the years he’d seen them together.

And it’s my fault.

She directed John to hold the ice she’d wrapped in a rag over his left eye and told him to lie down. She’d determined he was not concussed and that nothing was broken. Just bruised, bloody, and oozing.

“Claire…”

Jamie sounded like a wounded animal.

“What do you want to know, Jamie?” Claire stood and faced him, her voice hoarse with tears. “Do you want to hear about how I tore his clothes off like a desperate slut? Do you want to hear about how I threw him onto the bed, how I rode him? Do you want to hear about how I forced his hands to touch all the places that you always touched? Do you want to hear how I screamed your name while I came around his cock? Is that what you want?”

She was fully weeping now, and John could tell it was physically hurting Jamie to not reach out and crush her to him.

“Do you want to hear how I…I vomited my guts out the first time I called somebody that wasn’t you this child’s father? Do you want to hear that I wished I could make it go away so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about killing myself? Does that make you feel better? Does that help? To know that I would have let myself, let your child die if it hadn’t been for John? Or perhaps you’d have preferred it that way.”

“Claire!”

“He saved me, Jamie. You were dead. And so was I until John unburied me. So don’t you dare…” Her voice cracked. “Don’t you dare make either of us feel guilty for doing what we needed to survive.”

John winced as his tears burned his wounded eyes.

“Claire…mo ghraidh…” Jamie began weeping as well. “Please…”

She swallowed, looking past him at the clock on the wall.

Mo chridhe…” He sank to his knees before her, not daring to touch her, but gathering her robe into his hands instead. “I…I dinna deserve ye, Claire…”

She still would not look down at him.

“I’m…I’m no’ worthy of yer forgiveness…God knows I’m not…” His knuckles went white gripping the robe. “There’s…there’s a darkness in me, Claire…darkness that wasna there when ye last knew me…I tried to hide it…it’s eating me alive…and it’s gonnae eat you alive, too…”

She finally moved, looking down at the top of his head, being that his face was pressed into her robe.

“I dinna deserve forgiveness, so I willna ask. Just please…” His voice cracked. “Please dinna leave me…”

A sob escaped Claire’s lips.

“I dinna deserve to ask this of ye…but I need ye…I’ll die wi’out ye as ye nearly died wi’out me…” 

“Get up, Jamie,” she said softly, touching the crown of his head. He looked up at her, face shining with tears. “Go to bed. Let me finish tending to John, and then I’ll be in.”

He maintained eye contact with her as he pressed a fervent kiss to the edge of her robe, and then departed to the bedroom. Claire sighed heavily and shakily when he was gone, and John sat up to grasp her hand.

“You don’t really mean to go in there?”

She looked down at him and squeezed his hand. “He won’t hurt me.”

He wanted to believe her…but had the man not just said that there was a darkness in him that he could not control?

“I’ve seen this war do things to men that…that are beyond comprehension,” John said, and a chill ran down his spine. “Some of them come out completely different men.”

“He’s still Jamie,” she insisted. “I’m sorry he hurt you, I am. I feel sick over it. But me…he’d never hurt me.”

John sighed and gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m right here if you need.”

She nodded, squeezing him back. “I’m just there if you need. Come get me if anything starts bleeding.”

And with that, Claire disappeared after Jamie into the bedroom, and John was lulled to sleep by the steady rhythm of the throbbing in his face, and the sound of broken crying from a shattered man.

Chapter Text

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It was a frigid November afternoon, and the first thing Claire was conscious of was a dull ache everywhere, particularly her lower back. She’d been cramping since the wee hours of the morning, and both of the men she lived with had insisted she get back to bed after breakfast. She’d put up a bit of a fight, but then she’d fallen right asleep the second her head hit the pillow, and she thought begrudgingly that she’d definitely needed the rest.

The second thing she was aware of was a deep, calming rumbling from behind her, a noise she quickly deduced to be Jamie muttering in Gaelic. God, after months of going without it and thinking she’d never hear it again, it was music to her ears. She felt her lips curl into a smile before her eyes fluttered open. She craned her neck to look at him without having to heave her body into a new position.

“Are you alright?” she muttered.

“Aye. Just wanted to watch ye sleep in peace fer a bit.”

She craned her neck a bit further but then winced, feeling a pinch at the base of her skull. Jamie did not hesitate to get under the covers with her and help her roll over onto her other side, not without much heavy breathing and groaning from Claire. She exhaled heavily when she was finally facing him.

“Ye alright?”

“I’m fine,” Claire said, embarrassed at how winded she was from just turning over in bed. Jamie pecked a kiss to her nose, then lower down to her lips.

“What was it that you were saying?” Claire asked thoughtfully.

Jamie shook his head, his brow wrinkling between his eyes. “Nothin’.” He smiled sheepishly. “There’s no’ much I can say waking wi’out it sounding daft and foolish, Sassenach.” He delicately ran his fingers down the length of her face with all the tender reverence in the world. “I can say things while ye sleep, and yer dreams will ken the truth of them.”

Claire’s heart melted, and she kissed him soundly. She then laced their hands together and pressed a kiss to his knuckles.

“D’ye feel refreshed after yer wee catnap?” Jamie said, a hint of teasing to his voice.

“I do…but something tells me it wasn’t so wee,” Claire said.

Jamie chuckled.

“What? What time is it?”

“Two in the afternoon.”

What?” Claire’s entire body stiffened, and she made to sit up, but Jamie put both his hands on her shoulders to stop her. “You let me sleep for five hours?”

“Relax, Sassenach. Ye clearly needed the rest. Growing a Fraser baby is no small feat.”

“Well that’s the truth. I feel like I’m carrying a fucking ball of lead.”

Jamie laughed.

“But really, Jamie. I had so much to get done today. He’s going to be here any day now, and I needed to go to the grocer’s — ”

“Already did that.”

“You got all the cans of soup? Chicken noodle? And the crackers? And the apple juice?”

“Aye, Sassenach. I can read, ye ken. I saw yer wee list on the counter.”

“What about the tea — the tea that John likes, I didn't put that on the list — ”

Jamie grunted in apparent annoyance, but he nodded. “Aye, I got that too. Noticed it was missing when I did a sweep of our supplies, and I kent the wee fusspot would be grumbling if we ran out.”

Claire swatted his arm. “If that makes him a fusspot, then I am, too. I’d be upset if we ran out of my favorite tea. Especially right now.”

“Dinna fash, lass. I stocked up on everything ye could possibly be craving these last few weeks.”

“You don’t understand; when I’m at the grocer’s, I see things I wasn’t thinking of before, and I say well, thank God I saw it because if I went home without it I’d be raging later — ”

“Would ye relax, Sassenach?” he said again, exasperated. “I swear, if ye go through the mountains of shite I got ye and ye find something missing, I’ll go out and get it myself.”

Claire sighed, more of a huff than anything else. “Fine. What about the nappies? I wanted to count them today — ”

“Thirty-six,” Jamie said. “And there are twenty clean towels. Ten blankets. All folded nicely in that drawer wi’ his wee clothes.” Jamie gestured to the top drawer of the dresser, the closest to the cradle and rocking chair in the corner of the bedroom.

“The pram! I was supposed to take home the pram and put it together — ”

“Did that as well.”

Claire gaped at him for a brief moment before releasing a breathy laugh, shaking her head. “This was your master plan all along, wasn’t it? To get me into bed so that you could do all of this for me?”

“Aye, ye could say that,” he said, chuckling.

“What about your job search? I hate that you couldn’t do that today because I was lazing about — ”

“Christ, ye’re right. I’ll have to start calling ye fusspot as well.”

She glowered at him, but he just leaned in to kiss her. “Stop worrying yerself. Isna good fer wee Brian.” His large hands spread over the swell of their child. “He’s moving less today,” he said fretfully.

“Don’t worry. It’s likely because he’ll be coming out soon. That’s what happens.”

“Did Geillis say that?”

“I’ll have you know I already knew that, but yes, the midwife also agrees.” Claire rolled her eyes. “Now who’s being a fusspot?”

Jamie grunted in annoyance. Claire allowed a small silence to pass between them, Jamie rubbing his hands up and down her belly, staring into her eyes.

“Really, Jamie…” Claire began tentatively. “I’m worried that you haven’t found work yet. I know that you need…you like feeling useful. Do you miss the farm? Is that it? Do you want to move somewhere you can work the land? Go back to Lallybroch?”

“Dinna fash yerself about all that,” Jamie said softly. “I feel plenty useful taking care of my wife as she grows my child inside her. You are my purpose, mo nighean donn. You and the bairn.”

Claire had to physically restrain herself from visibly wincing at the word wife.

He did this a lot, referred to her as his wife. She wondered if he did it without thinking, being that handfasting was a very serious commitment to him, or if he did it out of spite to John. She always told herself it was the former, not wanting to believe that Jamie carried the contempt necessary for it to be the latter.

But sometimes she wondered.

“Besides, John makes enough for rent at the moment,” Jamie continued. “As much as I loathe no’ being the one providing for my family, I think such things can wait after I’ve been away from ye so long.”

Claire could not argue that point.

“I willna need employment until John moves on and you and I are married proper,” Jamie reasoned. “I’ll start looking in earnest once John finds somewhere to settle.”

Claire felt a sinking uneasiness in the pit of her stomach.

It was the most natural thing in the world to Jamie. It only made sense. John had been looking for somewhere else to live. He couldn’t very well sleep on the couch for the rest of his life. It had already been almost a month.

“Don’t you think it’s…a bit unfair that John has to leave…?” Claire said tentatively. “This is his flat, after all. He’s paid for everything inside it.”

“We’ve talked about this, Sassenach. All three of us, if ye recall. It was John’s idea that he leave. He said it would be unfair to us to have us move all of the things fer the bairn to a new flat. He’s one man, we’re an entire family now. He said that.”

“I know, I know…” Claire said. “It’s just…I don’t feel right. He…John paid for everything in this flat, Jamie. That drawer full of nappies and blankets and towels…that rocking chair, that cradle. All the bottles. All of Brian’s clothing…”

Jamie’s face darkened immediately. “Aye, Claire, go on and keep reminding me that I havena been able to provide fer my child’s basic needs before he’s even born.”

“No! That isn't what I mean, and you know it.” Claire heaved herself into a sitting position, cheeks puffing with exertion. Jamie shot up as well, trying to help her, but she put her hands up to stop him. After taking a moment to adjust to the new position, feeling Brian shift inside, and waiting for her back to stop throbbing, she continued.

“I mean that it…it feels so wrong to just throw him out. It isn’t a slight at you for me to say that he has been providing for this baby. It’s just the truth.” She adjusted the pillows behind her, this time allowing Jamie to help, and then she leaned against them. “I’ve been…he’s been Daddy all these months, Jamie. He watched me go through catalogues of clothing and furniture and told me that he’d get whatever my heart desired for our child.”

“It is not. His.” Jamie growled.

“I know! Jesus H. Christ, Jamie! I know! Every single day I was reminded that your son would be raised by another man, and every single time it killed me from the inside out. But that’s just it! For eight months this baby was John’s. You were dead, Jamie. To us…to him,” she put her hands on her stomach, clutching the baby, “you were dead. John lived for eight months as a father. He was prepared for an entire lifetime with a son. Do you understand…? It’s…it’s going to break his heart to take that away from him.”

“What about breaking my heart? What about all the months I spent away from ye, missing all the time ye were carrying my bairn?”

“Could you stop being so selfish for just a minute?” Claire spat. “You really don’t understand! Jamie, when you came home after all that time, you gained so much. You got me back, you got a child you didn’t know you had. You have an entire life to look forward to now. But when you came back, John lost everything. And of course, he mourned you. His heart was just as broken as mine, I know it. And of course he’s beyond overjoyed that you’re alive. But just…imagine being in his shoes, for even a moment! Everything he thought he had for eight months is just gone now.”

Jamie sighed in frustration. “There’s something you don’t seem to understand, Claire.” He looked at her pointedly. “Ye’re a woman.”

She huffed indignantly and crossed her arms over her chest. “How dare you imply that he can’t feel any sort of loss because we’re not romantically or sexually involved.”

“Well…”

“Don’t you dare even say it,” Claire snapped. “I’ve explained that to you enough times. What I’m saying now is that he doesn’t need to be in love with me to be heartbroken over losing me. And the baby. There are other kinds of love, Jamie. Surely you know that.”

It was her turn to stare him down, brows raised, and he melted under her gaze, understanding exactly what she left unsaid.

Surely you know that, Mister I’m-going-to-kiss-my-best-friend-on-the-mouth-out-of-friendly-affection.

“You know, John told me once…” Claire continued softly. “He was…he was certain that he’d never have children because of...who he is. But he’d always wanted them. He thought maybe he’d be lucky to marry a woman who wouldn’t mind an…arrangement between them, but he couldn’t do it behind her back. So he’d resigned himself to the life of a childless bachelor.

“He said he couldn’t believe how lucky he’d gotten to have…married somebody who knows what he is and accepts it. And who was to give him the child he’d always wanted. He was…he was in tears, Jamie. He loves this baby so much.” Claire sniffled, briefly overcome herself. “I can’t…I can’t send him away. I can’t.”

Jamie’s jaw hardened. “What’re ye saying, Claire?”

“I don’t know…I don’t know what the answer is.” She sniffled again and wiped her eyes with her hands, cursing her hormones as she did so. “He can’t just keep sleeping on the couch and paying rent for two — soon to be three — freeloaders. But I can’t in good conscience just…make him leave…”

She was weeping in earnest now, and despite his obvious rage, Jamie enveloped her in his arms as best he could given the size of her. 

“It’s alright, mo ghraidh. Everything’ll be alright.”

“I’m sorry…” she blubbered. “I didn’t mean to completely derail the entire conversation by crying like a baby…”

“Dinna fash about that, lass.” Jamie caressed her hair, kissing the top of her head. “Get it out now, it’s alright.”

“Everything is just a bloody mess…”

“Everything is fine, mo nighean donn. I’m here.”

As he rocked her gently, Claire wanted to believe him.

Yes, everything was alright now that he was there. Of course. Jamie’s return from the dead was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

But she could not shake the feeling that something was very, very wrong.

Then Jamie’s fingers gently grasped the hair at the nape of Claire’s neck, an innocent gesture of pure comfort and affection, and she felt all of her nerve endings light afire.

She craned her neck up to kiss him, teary face, snotty nose and all. She collided with his mouth harder than she meant to, and he groaned in shock. He pulled back to look at her, bewildered, but she just sniffled and kissed him again.

“I feel like I'm going mad,” she gasped between kisses. “But I need you. Now.”

Jamie was powerless to deny her, growing hard beneath her immediately. She undid his belt with an expert quickness, and he lowered his trousers just enough to spring himself free as she pulled her nightgown over her head. She hoisted her leg over to straddle him, feeling completely un-sexy as she did so, but Jamie’s groan of satisfaction suggested that perhaps that was relative. She reached down to unbutton his shirt so she could roam her hands over the planes of his hard, beautiful chest, and he moved her hips back and forth, so that her slick heat was grinding against his hardness pressed against his stomach.

She quickly lost patience with this of course, and it wasn’t long before Jamie was grabbing himself to line up with her, and she lowered herself onto him with a shuddering groan of relief.

Of all the ways they had tried to make love around her enormous middle, this was by far Jamie’s favorite, and Claire could tell. Sometimes he entered from behind her, laying down, lifting her leg for access; that was perhaps his second favorite, since he could easily fondle her belly or her breasts from behind. They’d also tried propping her up with pillows as he slammed into her standing up. It got the job done, but was nowhere near as enjoyable for either of them. He’d also taken her on her hands and knees, which Jamie enjoyed since he could squeeze her arse to his heart’s desire, but Claire quickly grew tired holding herself up like that, and they would switch before either of them finished.

But this; this was heaven.

Claire could see it in Jamie’s eyes; he absolutely loved watching her ride him to oblivion, absolutely loved reaching up to squeeze her breasts, even stretching up to take them in his mouth, or to kiss her belly. And she loved it, too. No matter how much she felt like a beached whale, when she sat astride Jamie, filled by him as she was, she felt like a goddess in control of the greatest destiny.

Jamie’s grip on her hips became bruising, and she rode him with increasing fervor, her voice reaching new heights in pitch and volume.

“You are mine, Claire.”

Her head was tossed back, her eyes squeezed shut. She almost didn’t hear him over her haze of pleasure. She forced her eyes open and picked her head back up, looking down to see his eyes burning into her, so much so that she almost felt fire in her own eyes.

“You are mine, mo nighean donn,” he said again, squeezing her arse roughly, causing her to whimper. “Mine, now and forever.”

She returned his burning gaze, struggling to keep her eyes open through the intensity of what she was feeling.

He was not just saying it. He was waiting for an answer.

And why was she hesitating? She was his. Completely and totally, she belonged to him, body and soul.

She belonged to no one else.

“I’m yours, Jamie,” she gasped out, leaning forward as much as she could to brace herself on his shoulders. “Yours.”

He growled hungrily, and he began lifting his hips to meet her every thrust.

“Mine,” he said again, his eyes wide, his face strained with need.

“Yours, Jamie,” Claire squeaked. “All yours.”

She came around him perhaps harder than she ever had in her life, crying out hoarsely, digging her nails into Jamie’s shoulders.

“Yes, Jamie, I’m yours, I’m yours…”

No one else’s.

Perhaps if she said it enough, she’d actually start to believe it.

——

Claire’s eyes fluttered open again, and she moaned sleepily. She reached behind her and felt nothing, so she sat up groggily. It was much darker than it had been when she was last awake.

“Jamie…?”

“Coming.”

His voice came from outside the bedroom, and she sighed in relief. She still was not convinced that she wouldn’t wake up one day to find him gone, that he’d never actually returned.

He reentered the bedroom then, wearing nothing but his pajama trousers, and Claire envied his ability to be warm enough to traipse around shirtless in November.

“You let me sleep again?” Claire said.

“Aye,” Jamie said, eyes full of mirth as he flipped the lights on. “I thought I’d up and killed ye wi’ our lovemaking, Sassenach. Ye passed out on me while ye were still screaming to the heavens.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” Claire rubbed her eyes roughly. “Well that’s never happened before.”

“Aye, canna say it didna scare me shiteless,” Jamie smirked, sitting on the bed in front of her. “But neither can I say it wasna extremely pleasing to my masculine pride.”

“It has nothing to do with you,” Claire said. “Well, no more than usual.”

“Aye, go on, keep blaming those wee hormones.”

“It’s true! They heighten everything, including sexual release.”

Jamie hmphed with amusement, and then Claire noticed the wooden box in his hands.

“What’s this?”

“Wee gift. Fer the bairn. Been in my family fer generations. I phoned Jenny as soon as I was able after I found out about the bairn. I was waiting fer the right moment to give them to ye.”

Claire’s gaze softened, her lips unconsciously curling into a smile.

“After I explained the circumstances, Jen was a wee bit more understanding. But she’s still cross wi’ ye, most of all now because ye didna tell her about the bairn. But dinna fash. Once she has a wee nephew to hold she’ll forget all about that.”

Claire laughed sadly. “I hope so.”

Jamie undid the latch on the box and opened it, revealing two rows of glistening silver.

“What are these…?” She reached in and picked one up.

“Apostle spoons,” Jamie said, his eyes warm. “One fer each of the twelve apostles. Christening gift.”

Claire felt tears leaking out the corners of her eyes. “They’re…they’re beautiful, Jamie.”

He leaned in and kissed her sweetly. “I’m glad ye like them.”

“Of course I do.”

“Good. Because I was thinking we’d have one fer each spoon.”

Claire scoffed in surprise. “You’re mad.”

His eyes danced with mirth. “Perhaps.”

“You would certainly not want twelve children if it was you carrying them.” Claire shifted in her spot, wincing with another strong cramp. “You’re lucky if I ever want another again.”

“Aye, aye,” Jamie obliged. “Fair’s fair. It’s yer body he’s wreaking havoc on.” He shut the box and crossed the room to sit it on the dresser, right above the drawer where the rest of baby Brian’s things lived.

“Havoc indeed,” Claire groaned. “Speaking of, if I don’t get out of bed, I’m going to develop sores. How long have I been out this time?”

“Only two hours.”

“Oh! John will be home soon,” Claire said fretfully, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “I need to start supper…”

“Already done, Sassenach.”

Claire froze, looking up at Jamie in awe.

“Dinna ken why ye look so surprised,” he said. “I havena let ye cook since I’ve been home.”

It was Claire’s turn to hmph. “Well, it isn’t because I’m incapable. You’re just stubborn.”

“Ye were exhausted, mo ghraidh. Is it such a crime to feed my wife while she rests?”

“I suppose not. Either way, I do not want to be in bed anymore. Though perhaps I should get dressed.” She smiled sheepishly.

“Och, ye’re no fun,” Jamie teased. “I was looking forward to ye parading around naked.”

“Please.” Claire rolled her eyes. “As much as I’d love to eat dinner completely naked, I think I’d freeze to death before I got to the table.”

With that, Jamie rushed to help her dress, insisting on sitting her back on the bed and putting her stockings on for her. As he pulled the stockings up her legs, he left a trail of kisses above them, higher and higher.

“Jamie…” Claire whimpered. “Dinner…”

“It’ll bide,” he whispered against her thigh. “Let me spoil ye while I can. Remember what ye said about needing time after the bairn is born.”

Claire could not argue with that, so she let him spoil her with his mouth until she was gripping his hair with both hands and screaming his name.

By the time Claire regained her senses and they made their way to the kitchen so Claire could sit at the table while Jamie continued cooking, the front door was opening.

“That smells heavenly,” John’s voice floated in from the living room, and then there he was entering the kitchen. “Good evening, Claire, Jamie.” He nodded curtly.

“Hello, John,” Claire said. She waited for Jamie to greet him in return, but he just grunted, not looking up from the stove. “How was your day?”

“Fine, fine. Nothing to report.” He sat down across from Claire. “And how about you? You look quite well rested.”

Claire scoffed. “Well I only just got out of bed. I slept the day away, I’m afraid.”

“I fail to see how that’s a bad thing,” John laughed. “You’ll need all the rest you can get. Brian will be here any day.” He reached across the table to squeeze her hand, and Claire, nearly forgetting they were not alone, squeezed it back.

Claire heard Jamie clear his throat, and she and John quickly pulled away from each other like a pair of schoolchildren caught holding hands on the playground.

“Ehm…Jamie gave me the most beautiful gift today,” Claire said. “Well, it’s for Brian, but he isn’t exactly ready to receive anything himself.”

John laughed softly. “What is it?”

“Silver apostle spoons. They’re really something. I’ll have to show you after dinner.”

Jamie grunted again, still keeping his back turned to them, and Claire very briefly flared with rage. It would appear that Jamie did not want Claire sharing that moment with John, and to her, it seemed grossly unfair. John had been bestowing gifts upon her and the baby for months. Claire swallowed that feeling and took a deep breath.

“He also checked on everything while I was sleeping, the nappies and towels and blankets and such,” Claire went on. “I wanted to take inventory myself, but I was exhausted.”

“Good. I’m glad everything is in order.” John smiled. “Did he also pick up the things you need to eat after the labor?”

“Yes, he saw my list and got right to it while I slept.”

“Good, good.”

Jamie wordlessly put down two plates, one in front of Claire, the other in front of John. Claire noticed that Jamie withheld the string beans from her plate, giving her more potatoes instead.

“Thank you for remembering my green aversion, love,” Claire said lightly.

“How could he forget?” John teased. “You only remind us every day.”

Claire rolled her eyes, cutting into her roast beef. “Oh, it’s very tender Jamie. Cuts like butter.”

“Yes, fine job, my friend,” John echoed.

Jamie just grunted, sitting himself between them with his own plate. This was usual behavior for Jamie. He would act completely normal while John was at work, and it almost felt like it used to be between him and Claire. But the second John was either brought up or he walked in the door, Jamie was reduced to communicating like a caveman. It was beginning to wear on Claire’s nerves. She knew it was not sheer pettiness; she did not forget the darkness that Jamie spoke of within him. She could see the small ways this war had changed him, moments where he seemed far away even though he was right there, whimpers in his sleep, small jumps of fright at seemingly nothing at all. She knew he was struggling to communicate what pained him, and she knew he was taking it out on those he loved, including herself, including John. Nonetheless, it was becoming more and more difficult to cope with.

They ate in complete silence for a long while, the only noise the clinking of silverware on ceramic.

“So…” John broke the silence after a long while. “I, ehm, looked at a flat today during my lunch break.”

Claire swore that her chair was pulled out from underneath her. Thankfully, neither men seemed to notice how she swayed.

“Aye?” Jamie spoke for the first time since John had arrived home. “How was it?”

“It was quite nice. Roomy enough, but not too much so for only one person.”

Claire swore she felt her heart crack.

“That’s good,” Jamie said, putting a piece of meat in his mouth.

“Yes, I’m only sorry it took so long to find,” John said sheepishly. “I hate to have imposed on you both for so long.”

“It’s no bother, John, you know that — ”

“Dinna fash, John. What’s done is done. I’m glad ye have somewhere to move forward to.”

Claire felt hot tears building up behind her eyes. Had Jamie not heard a single word she’d said all afternoon? How could he be so callous about this?

“I’ve…also been in talks with that lawyer I spoke of earlier,” John said quietly.

Divorce lawyer.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” Claire said softly, but firmly. “I just…want to eat.”

“Then when?”

Jamie’s voice startled her.

“What…?” She looked up from her plate, gently setting her fork down.

“Then when, Claire?” Jamie said, more roughly, slamming his fork down. “When will ye want to talk about it?”

“Please, Jamie…” Claire said. “Don’t do this…”

“I mean it, Claire! What are ye playing at?”

“Perhaps I should…”

“No! You stay right here!” Jamie barked, freezing John in his spot.

“Jamie!”

“D’ye want to stay married to him forever, Claire? Is that it? D’ye no’ want to spend the rest of yer life wi’ me? Wi’ the father of yer child?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Of course I want to spend the rest of my life with you!”

“Then what, woman? What is wrong wi’ ye, every time we speak of this?”

“Just…just until the baby is born,” Claire pleaded. “Please, John, don’t do anything until the baby is born.”

“I — ”

Why?” Jamie roared. “Tell me why!”

“I want him to be here!” Claire shouted, her angry tears spilling over. “He’s been planning to be here for it!”

“It is not his child!” Jamie stood up.

“A point you have made several times; I do understand!” Claire spat back, standing up as well.

“I really think I should — ”

“Stay!” Jamie and Claire both barked at him, and John froze again, standing in front of his chair like the other two.

“No, Claire, I dinna think ye do understand,” Jamie continued as if there hadn’t been any interruption. “There’s something ye’re no’ saying to me, and I want to hear it. Now.”

“I can’t!”

“Can’t what, Claire?”

“I just…I can’t!” She looked desperately at John, tears streaming down her face.

“Can’t divorce him?” Jamie challenged.

“Yes! No!”

“Are ye in love wi’ him, Claire? Ye’re in love wi’ a man who buggers other men?”

Stop!” Claire shrieked. “Just stop it!”

“Ye didna answer me!”

“I can’t take this baby away from him! I can’t do it! I can’t, I can’t!” She was fully sobbing now, feeling weak in the knees. Her back was screaming, her womb was contracting with a never-ending onslaught of cramping, but she could hardly feel it over the breaking of her heart.

“Claire…” John’s voice cut in above her anguish, and she felt a trembling hand on her back. “Perhaps you should sit…”

“D’ye intend to remain his wife just so he can play Daddy to a bairn that isna is?” Jamie said cruelly.

“Jamie, that’s enough,” John cut in.

“Dinna tell me when I’ve said enough.” He was not shouting. His voice was low and gravelly, dangerously so.

“We…we made promises to each other…” Claire sputtered.

“What about the promises, the vows ye made to me? Did that mean nothing?”

“It means everything to me, damnit!” she howled, and John grabbed her upper arm, clearly afraid she was going to fall over. “But we had to create this life for ourselves without you, and I can’t just abandon it because you’re back. I can’t, Jamie. I can’t do it.”

“Ye canna be wife to us both, Claire,” Jamie’s voice rose in volume again. “So who will it be? The man ye vowed yerself to out of love, or the man ye made a legal arrangement with out of convenience?”

“It was a hell of a lot more than convenience!” Claire spat.

“Oh, was it now?” Jamie’s eyes became wild. “Oh, that’s right! I forgot! Ye fucked him, didn’t ye? That’s a ways beyond convenience, is it no’?”

“That is enough!” John shouted, raising his voice more than Claire thought he was capable of. She gritted her teeth in pain, from her back, her head, or her womb; it was anyone’s guess.

Claire watched in horror as Jamie picked up his plate, raised it above his shoulder, and then slammed it back down on the table, shattering it thoroughly, marking the table, and sending food flying all over.

“Dinna fucking tell me — !”

And then Claire screamed.

She was overcome with cramping more intense than anything she’d felt thus far, and she clutched her belly desperately.

Then she felt it, sure as anything. Hot liquid trailing down her legs.

“Claire?” John gasped out, grasping her with both hands now. “Claire, what’s happened? Are you alright?”

She heaved breaths through puffed cheeks, terror seizing her chest.

“Sassenach…?” Jamie’s voice was thin and cracking, like a sheet of ice on a pond about to swallow an unsuspecting skater.

“My waters have broken.”

Chapter Text

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Claire moaned again in pain, and Jamie rushed to grasp her hand, which she eagerly took.

“It’s alright, a nighean. Breathe. I’m here.”

She huffed through her puffed cheeks, panting heavily and riding out the wave of pain.

“There you go. It’s alright.”

Jamie looked up from Claire’s sweaty, pained face to find the source of the other voice. John was grasping her other hand, stroking her hair back. Jamie briefly saw red, but then another little sound from Claire had him snapping his attention back to her.

John had been the one to fetch Geillis after Claire’s waters had broken. He’d dashed out the door before Claire could say another word. After Claire had changed her dress and put on a sanitary belt to catch any leaking fluids that hadn’t come out in the initial gush, Jamie had tried to rush her into bed.

“It’s better if I walk around for a bit. Just walk around the flat with me. But not until you clean that up.”

Jamie obliged her immediately, cleaning up the fluids that had leaked from her body. She started clearing the table, washing her own dish and silverware along with the pots and pans Jamie had cooked with.

“Sassenach, let me — ”

“Make sure the floor is clean and dry. The last thing we need is somebody slipping while I’m in labor. I’m perfectly able to clean the dishes right now.”

Jamie stared at her, dumbfounded, before returning to his task on the floor. When he finished, he brought her his own and John’s plates.

“Absolutely not. You’ll be finishing that, and you’ll leave John’s out for him. It’s going to be a long night and I’ll not have either of you fainting on me.” She aggressively scrubbed the pan in her hands. “It’s not as if either of you got much eating done during that screaming match.”

“Claire…” Jamie said helplessly, putting the plates down on the counter. “Sassenach…I…”

“Eat, Jamie. Now.”

It was a barking command, the likes of which he’d often heard her give in a field hospital. Without another word, he swallowed his pride and continued eating his food at the counter, not leaving Claire’s side despite how she likely wanted him to at the moment.

“Seven and a half centimeters,” Geillis said, sounding satisfied. “Ye’re right on track, lass.”

“How much longer?” Jamie said, not at all unaware of the panic in his own voice. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could bear seeing Claire like this.

“She’s doing a wee bit over half a centimeter every hour, so if that keeps up, she’ll be fully dilated in about two and a half hours, maybe less, maybe more if she stalls.”

“Stalls? Is that bad?” John asked.

“No, no, just means it’ll take longer.”

“It better bloody not,” Claire growled through gritted teeth.

“Ye’re doing a braw job, mo ghraidh.” Jamie kissed her temple gently. “Ye’re a braw lass. You can do it, stalling or no.”

“Here, drink,” John urged, having retrieved the glass from the nightstand on his side of the bed. He held it to her lips and Claire sipped gratefully, letting her head fall back on the pillows after she finished.

“Aye, that’s it. Take a rest while ye can.”

Claire had apparently been in the latent stage of labor for about two days and not even known it. Claire had told Geillis that she’d apparently been cramping all day, news which Jamie had reacted very strongly to, lamenting that she should have told him. Geillis explained she’d likely nearly reached six centimeters without even realizing, and her water breaking had hastened along the process, putting the contractions much closer together.

Geillis arrived when Claire was scrubbing down the stove, having already cleaned the table and all the counters. Jamie had been following her around the kitchen with John’s plate, begging her to stop and sit down, drink some water, or just take a breath, dammit.

Geillis’s bubbly giggling had Jamie snapping his head up from the stove.

“Thank Christ ye’re here. Would ye tell this madwoman to stop fussing about the kitchen?”

“Actually, walking around is rather good to speed things along — ”

“I told you,” Claire snapped.

“But she’s been doing this since her waters broke. And she keeps stopping to howl in pain.”

“How far apart are the contractions?”

“Five minutes,” Claire answered, still scrubbing the stove.

“Oh! Bloody hell, Claire, get the hell off yer feet!”

“Thank you!” Jamie sighed in relief. “Will ye listen now, Sassenach?”

“Fine.” She threw her rag down. “But finish cleaning the stove.”

“Aye, aye,” Jamie waved her off. Anything to get her to listen.

She finally allowed Geillis to take her by the arm and lead her to the bedroom.

“Where’s John?” Jamie heard over his scrubbing, picking up on a clear tinge of panic to Claire’s voice.

“Oh, he told me he was off to get a drink. Dinna fash, my friend.”

“I want him here. Why did you let him go?”

Jamie grunted with annoyance, doubling down on his scrubbing so he perhaps wouldn’t hear Claire. Better she rage at Geillis than him, at least for now.

Jamie truly thought that Claire might fall asleep; her eyes were closed and she was peacefully still on her pillows. Then, unexpectedly, Claire jolted back up, her eyes popping open, all the veins in her neck and face popping out.

“Sassenach?” Jamie said, gripping her hand again.

She yelled out loud for the first time, her previous cries of pain having only been groans and moans.

“Breathe, Claire!” John said. “It’s alright, we’re here. Breathe.”

She continued her long, drawn-out cry, eventually clenching her teeth together and grunting through the rest of it.

“Well, I’ll be damned. The last contraction was only two minutes ago. And that was quite a long one. Wee Brian may be here sooner than expected,” Geillis said, her voice ever chipper.

“Ye hear that?” Jamie said, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Ye’re a wonder, mo chridhe. Our son will be here so soon.”

Claire could only manage to nod, still breathing heavily.

Jamie finished up in the kitchen and sprinted into the bedroom upon hearing Claire groaning in pain. Geillis was inspecting between her legs, and they were conversing about how apparently several signs of labor had gone completely unnoticed by all inhabitants of the flat.

“Is that alright?” Jamie asked.

“Aye, that’s just fine,” Geillis said. “Makes it easier, really. Less work now that the water’s broken.”

“Jamie…”

“I’m here, Sassenach.” He was by her side in an instant, gripping her hand. “Dinna be afraid.” He could see it in her eyes, the doubt of herself that she was strong enough, the fear. “Ye’re tough as nails, lass. And I’m right here.”

She nodded uncertainly, and Jamie leaned in to kiss her sweetly.

“God…I’m so glad you’re here…” she said tearily, reaching up to cup his face in her hands. “I never thought…”

“Dinna allow those dark memories here, Claire. We’re all together now.” He put his hand on her belly, cupping her cheek with his other hand. “That’s all that matters.”

She kissed him again, then flicked her eyes away.

“Did John say when he was coming back?”

Jamie felt bile rise in his throat, burning.

“He didna. But, ye ken fathers,” Geillis said, and then blanched, looking over at Jamie with wide eyes. “Well…ye ken what I mean…men dinna usually want to see the gory bits of a child’s life beginning.”

Apparently, the strangeness of their situation was not lost on Geillis.

“But he knows I want him here,” Claire said, her voice rising in pitch and volume with panic. “He knows I want him here.”

“Oh. Well then I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Likely just needed to take the edge off.”

Claire turned her attention back to Jamie, her eyes frantic.

“Dinna fash, mo chridhe. All will be well. Just relax. Fer the bairn.”

She nodded, biting her lip. “All will be well.”

“You’re doing splendidly, my dear,” John said, his hand on her shoulder. “Little Brian has no idea how lucky he is to have you.”

Claire turned her head from Jamie to John, a groggy smile lighting her features.

“I’m…I’m so lucky to have you both here…” Claire said breathily, reaching up to cup both of their cheeks.

Jamie flicked his eyes to John, making brief, uncomfortable eye contact before they both turned their attention back to Claire.

“And we are lucky to have you, Claire,” John said, not skipping a beat. “Bringing this child into the world.”

Jamie heard what John left unsaid.

Bringing our child into the world.

Jamie had to literally bite down on his tongue to stop himself from protesting. He was fighting very hard to keep it together for Claire’s sake. It would do no good to upset her over this while she was in labor. These things could be addressed later.

Two hours passed of Claire intermittently pacing and lying down, contractions and dilations measured. Claire tried to heave herself off the bed again, but Geillis stopped her.

“I think it’s best if ye stay in bed from here on out, Claire,” she said gently. “Everything is going perfectly. It’s just going to keep getting harder and harder to get up.”

Claire nodded in complacence, lying back on the pillows. Jamie was secretly grateful; every time Claire heaved herself out of bed, he felt like he could vomit with fear.

“It’s been hours,” Claire said suddenly. “Where is he?”

Jamie saw red.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Sassenach,” he said as gently as he could muster. “Just taking the edge off, as Geillis said.”

“For three hours?” she snapped. “No, I don’t like this. I want him here, now.”

“Claire — ”

“You know how important this is to me, Jamie. I do not want a rehashing of the conversation at dinner.” She said the word ‘conversation’ with no small amount of bitterness. “It’s not as if having you here isn’t enough, so please don’t think that. It’s just…I can’t explain it. He needs to be here. And if you truly love me, you won’t need to know the reason why.”

Jamie swallowed thickly, taking a deep, calming breath.

“I’m sorry, lass. There’s nothing I can — ”

“Oh, yes there is. You can go get him. You know the pub he goes to.”

“Out of the question. I’ll not be leaving yer side.”

“Geillis and I are quite capable, thank you very much,” Claire said. “And I don’t think I need to remind you that you are the reason he isn’t here. The things you said and the way you acted are why he feels unwelcome.You need to make it right.”

She squeezed his hand tighter, moaning in pain, clenching her teeth through another contraction. Jamie guided her through it mutely, unable to muster any sound.

“…And you need to do it fast,” she continued, as though uninterrupted. “Or you’ll both be missing it.”

Geillis proceeded to veritably shoo him out of the room.

“And don’t even think about coming back here without him,” Claire added as he was pushed out the bedroom door. “I’ll want nothing to do with you if you manage to make it worse while I’m lying here in fucking labor.”

——

“Ten centimeters!” Geillis cried. “It’s time, Claire. Let’s move ye to the stool.”

Geillis had been right; Claire was fully dilated in under two hours. Jamie thought he might faint nearly eight times from nothing other than the sheer panic of hearing Claire’s pain.

And they’d assured him plenty of times that the worst was yet to come.

John rushed around the bed to help Jamie lift Claire off the bed and into the wooden birthing stool that Geillis promptly slid under her. Without even thinking, Jamie slid back into the chair that he’d been sitting in beside the bed, gathering her into his arms from behind. Claire gratefully leaned into him. Geillis blanched again, looking uncomfortably back and forth between Jamie and John.

Oh.

It hit Jamie just then that where he sat right at this moment is what John had been preparing himself for for months. Jamie looked up and met John’s eye, and John quickly looked away, busying himself with something else. Claire was none the wiser, panting against Jamie like a wilted flower.

“It’s alright mo ghraidh. I’ve got ye.” Jamie pressed a kiss to the crown of her sweaty head, lacing their hands together atop his thighs. “I’ve got ye.”

Jamie briskly walked down the sidewalk toward the pub, hands shoved into his coat as deeply as the pockets would allow. He shouldered the door open, and it didn’t take long to find John sitting at the bar with his head in his hands, staring at an empty glass. Jamie sighed heavily, in dread and preparation for what was to come, and made his way to the stool next to him.

John picked his head up at the sound and presence of someone so close, and he jumped. “Jamie,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m dragging ye home,” Jamie said gruffly. “Claire didna want to look at me anymore until I brought ye back.”

John blinked several times. “You don’t…mind…?”

“Mind?” Jamie said, his eyes darkening. “It boils my fucking blood that the father of her child isna enough to be wi’ her right now.”

John seemed to shrink before his eyes.

“But,” Jamie continued. “The last thing I want is Claire in any distress while she delivers my child. So ye’re coming wi’ me. For her.”

“Listen, Jamie, I’m…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for all of this. I didn’t know she didn’t want me to move out, I didn’t realize she still wanted me at the birth. I thought that since you were back…”

“Aye. I thought so too.”

“It isn’t what you think, Jamie,” John said, looking desperately into his eyes. “She can’t possibly…I don’t…”

“Aye,” Jamie said quickly, not wanting to hear where that line of conversation was headed. “She feels guilty. Her heart is too big fer her own good.”

John nodded curtly. “Right.”

“I think she feels like she used ye and needs to make it up to you.”

John sighed sadly. “She has nothing to make up for. I’d gladly let her use me over and over to spare her more pain. I’d do it all again, Jamie. I don’t regret it.”

“Aye,” Jamie said softly. “I don’t…I don’t regret ye doing it either. She needed…someone. I ken that now.”

John nodded.

“What I’m having a hard time understanding is why she still needs ye.”

John looked away, staring uncomfortably at the bottom of his glass.

“We’d uh…we’d better get back,” John said. “Before you miss it.”

“Keep going! Dinna stop!” Geillis called from the floor.

Claire was shrieking, lifting off the stool from the force of her bearing down on Jamie.

“You can do it, mo ghraidh,” Jamie cried over her howling.

“Alright, relax!” Geillis said. “She’s crowning. The head is coming.”

“I can’t do it…” Claire sputtered, sobbing against Jamie’s chest. “I can’t…”

“You can, and you will,” John said firmly, cupping her face in his hands. “You are the strongest woman I know, Claire Beauchamp.”

“Aye,” Jamie chimed in. “Ye must, Claire, and I know ye can. We’ve got ye.”

We.

That was the first time Jamie had acknowledged the other man in the room, and he noticed that was not lost on John.

Claire geared up for another shriek.

“It feels like I’m being split in half!”

“I ken, I ken, it’s alright — ”

“You don’t fucking ken!” she howled.

“Shh…” John soothed, wiping her face with the cold, wet rag.

“Push, Claire!” Geillis urged.

Fuuuuuuuck!”

It was a long, drawn out cry that ended with a guttural sob.

“Braw, Claire! Two or three more pushes should do it!”

“Ye hear that?” Jamie said, squeezing her hands. “He’s almost here. He’s almost here, Sassenach.”

Jamie himself felt like sobbing, and he thanked the Lord that she wouldn’t be in pain for much longer. He also reminded himself to forbid her from giving birth like this ever again.

“You can do it,” John reminded gently, dabbing at her hairline. “You can do it.”

Claire shook her head, but even as she did, her body was seized by another contraction. She bore down fiercely again, lifting up. John stood so he could still reach her face with the rag, rubbing her back and shoulders as she pushed and wailed in pain.

“Good, good! Keep going!” Geillis cried.

Jamie was certain he was losing circulation in every one of his fingers, but he couldn’t bring himself to care in the slightest. Before Geillis said she could, Claire collapsed back onto the stool, her head thumping against Jamie’s sternum.

“That was braw, Claire!” Geillis said. “One more push when ye’re ready, as long as it’s a long, good push.”

“You can do it,” Jamie whispered, kissing her temple. “Ye can. Christ, I love you…”

Claire let out a little whimper. “I love you…”

Jamie was overcome with adoration and unable to speak. He was in utter awe of her strength, in utter awe at the miracle that was childbirth, in utter awe that his bairn would draw his first breath soon.

Claire tensed again.

“Go, Claire! Push! Push like ye never have before!”

Claire shrieked in such a way that Jamie did not even think she was capable of. Geillis continued to coach her through it, both John and Jamie soothed her with words and with touches, and then Geillis cried out triumphantly.

And then Jamie’s heart stopped.

A shrieking of an entirely different sort pierced the air, and he hardly even felt when Claire collapsed back into him. What he did feel, however, was a hand gripping his forearm. John.

“Ye’ve a bonny wee lass!” Geillis cried, snipping the cord and giving the baby a brief wipe down with one of the many towels that littered the floor around them.

“A girl?” John said.

Claire was panting and whimpering in exhausted relief.

“Here.” Geillis reached up, having wrapped the baby haphazardly in a towel.

“Claire…” Jamie whispered hoarsely. “Oh, Christ…Claire…”

Claire uttered a whimper of a new kind, and she unthreaded her trembling fingers from Jamie’s.

“Put her on yer breast,” Geillis said softly.

Claire looked up at Jamie, then over at John, her eyes glossy.

“Go on, take her,” John said gently.

She did, opening her weary arms and allowing Geillis to place the baby there. Claire let out a beautiful, choked sound as the squirming, squalling, slimy, red infant settled in her arms.

“Claire…” Jamie uttered again, apparently unable to say anything else.

“Oh, God…” Claire said, her voice high and thin. “Jamie…”

Jamie brought a trembling hand to cup the baby’s head nestled in the crook of Claire’s elbow.

“Oh, Christ…” Jamie felt tears streaming down his face, and his throat burned. He realized then that John’s hand had not left his forearm, and it was now trailing further down.

Without even thinking, Jamie laced their fingers together, squeezing.

“Oh…hello darling…” Claire wept. “Oh…my sweet girl…”

“I’m going tae help ye deliver the afterbirth,” Geillis said gently. “It’ll go a wee bit faster if she nurses.”

Jamie continued soothingly rubbing the baby’s head as Claire fumbled with her nightgown to expose her breast.

“Go on, sweetheart…” Claire cooed, holding her breast so the nipple nudged at the little open mouth, still shrieking. “It’s alright. Mummy’s got you. Go on…”

“Ye can push now, Claire.”

Jamie could not even tell if Claire was obeying, because at that moment, the baby latched onto Claire’s breast, and the rest of the world fell away.

“Jamie…” Claire squeaked. “She’s…look…”

Jamie let out a choked sound of his own, pressing a fervent kiss to her head.

“Does it…does it hurt…?” John asked tentatively.

“No…” Claire said. “They say it’s supposed to, just a little…but I don’t feel a single thing…”

Her eyes were locked on the little face, squinting eyes shut peacefully as she suckled, her tiny hand resting on the swell of her mother’s breast. Jamie’s hand still cupped her head.

“Another push.”

Jamie heard Claire give a little grunt then, but other than that, she seemed relatively unaffected by delivering the afterbirth. She’d mentioned that it wouldn’t be nearly as painful as the actual labor, and Jamie also understood what she meant when she said she couldn’t feel any pain at all. Jamie was certain that he could be run through with a dirk right at this moment and he wouldn’t feel a thing.

The only thing he could feel was Claire’s body pressed against him, his child’s head in his hand, his heart swelling permanently, and John’s hand in his.

“Hungry wee thing,” Jamie chuckled.

“After all that work she just did? Of course,” Claire said, her voice light and bouncy; her baby voice.

“She’s…she’s beautiful, Claire,” John whispered.

“She is,” Claire said reverently. “You’re so beautiful, darling…” She ran a finger over her delicate little cheek.

“Just wait until she’s all cleaned up,” Geillis said cheekily. “Few more pushes should do.”

Soon after, the baby’s mouth fell away from Claire’s nipple, but her hand remained on her breast, as did her cheek, squishing her open mouthed face. Claire giggled at this, and Jamie chuckled softly.

“All done,” Claire whispered in her little baby voice, gently pushing the baby’s lips together. “All sleepy now…”

Jamie didn’t realize Claire was rocking until he felt himself rocking as well. Claire gave the occasional grunt or small moan of pain, and then Geillis announced the afterbirth was delivered; labor was finished. Claire continued to wince as Geillis cleaned up her thighs and between her legs as delicately as she could, and then she was standing up in front of them.

“Alright. I’ve got tae clean her up and get her swaddled proper now.”

Claire shook her head adamantly, not taking her eyes off the baby.

“I’ll be bringing her right back, lass. Dinna fash.”

Jamie felt panic seize his own heart, despite knowing how ridiculous it was.

“It’s alright, mo nighean donn. She’ll be right back,” Jamie whispered gently.

“It feels like…I’ll die if I’m parted from her for even a moment…” Claire whimpered.

“Aye. I ken. It’s alright. I promise,” Jamie coaxed.

Claire relented then, sniffling as she looked up at Geillis and lifted the baby to her.

“That’s a good lass. Get her into bed, gentlemen. I’ll just be in the bathroom if ye need me.”

Jamie watched Geillis go, feeling as though she was walking away with a piece of his own heart, and he’d never feel whole again until it was returned to him.

Jamie only remembered the task at hand when he noticed that John had adjusted his position to prepare to lift Claire off the stool. Jamie felt the smallest flash of anger; he was perfectly capable of lifting her himself, of settling her gently into bed and seeing to her comfort on his own. But any lingering thoughts as such melted away when Claire leaned bodily into both of them, and Jamie got out of his chair and adjusted his grip as well. Jamie looked up to see John watched him, and they locked eyes. John counted to three, and then she was up and into the bed.

“Gently,” Jamie warned, though something was telling him John did not need to be told as such.

Claire groaned in pain as her body came in gentle contact with the mattress.

“Ye alright?” Jamie asked.

“I’m fine…” she panted, leaning gratefully into the pillows that she’d had to abandon earlier.

“Do you want a fresh nightgown?” John asked. “This one is clinging to you, it looks uncomfortable.”

“God, please,” she groaned, her eyes closed. “I feel absolutely revolting.”

“Alright,” John said, sitting on the bed beside her. “Jamie, hold her upright, I’ll get it off her.”

Jamie did not hesitate, did not even think. He sat down on the other side, lifting Claire off the pillows delicately. There was no room for pettiness right now; Claire’s comfort was paramount.

Besides, the wee pervert had apparently already seen her naked.

John slowly and carefully peeled her nightgown off of her.

“Ye’re so brave, mo chridhe...”

Nightgown fully removed, John stood up. “Cool her down with that wet rag while I fetch the nightgown.”

Jamie nodded, concern for Claire not allowing him to contemplate that John was telling him how to take care of his wife.

With great care, Jamie patted down her chest, her stomach, her shoulders, her arms, her underarms. He gently rolled her over so he could pat down her back, trickling water over the expanse of white skin. John stood by quietly, waiting with the fresh nightgown as Jamie rolled her back over.

“Does that feel better?” Jamie asked, cradling her in the crook of his elbow like she was an infant.

“Yes, thank you,” she said breathily.

“Here you go,” John said, putting the nightgown over her head while Jamie held her up. “Before you catch a chill.”

After some careful maneuvering, Claire was dressed and propped up against the pillows, blankets pulled up to her waist.

“When is she coming back…?” Claire said, wide-eyed. “I miss her…”

“Aye.” Jamie stroked her hair with one hand, and laced the other with hers. “I ken.”

“Shouldn’t be too long now,” John assured.

“Don’t let me fall asleep before she gets here,” Claire said, though even as she said it, her eyes slipped shut.

Low and behold, shortly after that, Geillis was opening the bedroom door, a tiny swaddled bundle in her arms.

“Claire,” Jamie said, nudging her gently. “Here she is.”

Despite how exhausted Jamie knew she was, Claire’s eyes popped open, darting around the room until they landed on the bundle in Geillis’s arms.

“Oh, my darling…” She held her arms out, trembling with the effort, and she sighed with relief when Geillis placed the baby there. “Oh…hello, love…Mummy missed you…”

The baby’s eyes were closed, but she was making little snuffling noises, her limbs stirring in her swaddle.

“Christ, Claire…” Jamie said, his voice thin and frail. “Look at that hair…”

Now that she was cleaned, it was abundantly clear that her head was covered in tufts of wild red, the same as her father. Claire looked up at Jamie, beaming with proud joy.

“It’s beautiful,” Claire said, her eyes locked with Jamie’s.

“We…we made her…” Jamie said, awed, weaving his fingers gently in her red peach fuzz. “And she’s so beautiful…”

“Mhmm…” Claire nodded, returning her eyes to the baby. Without thinking, Jamie sat on the bed, pulling his legs up and leaning on the pillows, laying beside her.

“I’ll give you two…erm…you three a moment,” Geillis said, a pile of bloody rags and towels in her hands. “I’ll be boiling rags if ye need me.”

With that, she dipped out of the room, leaving father and mother alone with their gift.

No…not alone.

You three.

Jamie tore his eyes away from his daughter to look up at John, who looked very much like he wanted to follow Geillis out of the room, but like he was cemented to the floor, unable to move. At that moment, the baby made a small noise, and Claire gasped.

“Oh…hello…yes, baby, hello…” Claire crooned. She’d opened her eyes.

“Look at how she looks at ye,” Jamie said, his voice hoarse. “That’s yer ma, a leannan. D’ye see…?”

“Oh, her eyes are so beautiful…” Claire bounced her, stroking her cheek. “I hope they stay blue. She’ll look just like you.”

Jamie wanted to say that he hoped her eyes would turn that beautiful shade of whisky, it was on the tip of his tongue, but it was lost when the tiny blue orbs shifted, looking up at him.

“Jamie…” Claire whispered, as if afraid to disrupt the moment.

“She’s…she’s looking at me…”

“Yes, lovie, that’s your Da,” Claire said. “He loves you so much, baby.”

Jamie brought a trembling hand to cup her soft head.

“Here,” Claire said, lifting the bundle. “Hold her.”

“I…” Jamie sputtered. “She…”

“You won’t break her,” Claire said. “Take her.”

Jamie’s mouth went dry and his lips flapped uselessly. With a few small adjustments, the baby was being placed in his arms, and he choked out a gasp.

“Christ…she’s light as a feather…” Jamie whispered. “She weighs next to nothing.”

Claire leaned her cheek on his shoulder, staring at the sight of her baby in her father’s arms.

“She’s…sae tiny…” Jamie ghosted a finger over each of her features, her cheeks, her button nose, her lips.

And he wept.

He didn’t know. He didn’t think it was possible. He knew he loved Jenny’s bairns, but he had no idea.

He had no idea that he’d love her so terribly much.

It ached, it burned, it ate him alive. In that moment, he knew he would kill for her, die for her. He wanted to tear his heart out and give it to her. It felt like it was already gone.

He’d thought his heart was Claire’s alone, that there couldn’t possibly be room for another. But it was as if his heart had grown, and this wee thing had wedged her way into the newly formed craters.

He felt wetness on his shirt where Claire was resting her head, and only then did he become conscious of the sweet noises she was making, weeping with joy. They didn’t need to speak; they both knew.

After a few more quiet moments like this, Jamie felt Claire’s breath chuckle against him.

“It would appear that our Brian James is a Brianna,” she said quietly, brushing a little cheek with her finger.

Jamie raked his eyes over the entire little bundle, and then they narrowed, his brow furrowing. “What an awful name fer a wee lass.”

“It’s not awful!” Claire said, aghast. “It’s beautiful.”

Jamie chuckled to himself, his lips twitching into an unconscious grin. “Brianna,” he tried again, the ‘r’ unconsciously rolling. He let it settle in the air for a moment, and so did Claire. After a brief silence, he said:

“Ellen?”

“Hm?”

“Brianna…Ellen?”

Claire breathed audibly, perhaps in awe. “Brianna Ellen.” She picked her head up and looked at Jamie, and he tore his eyes away from that sweet little face to look at Claire. “It’s…it’s perfect, Jamie.”

“Aye.” Claire’s breathy laughter tickled his face, and a single tear trickled down his cheek. “It is.”

Claire leaned in and kissed him, locking their lips together in a way that seemed like they never had before. He held her there for a moment, and then their lips parted, their foreheads resting together lovingly. Claire nuzzled his nose with hers, and Jamie swore to God he’d never been happier in his life.

Then one of the floorboards creaked.

Claire turned her head immediately, breaking the warm contact between her face and Jamie’s.

“John,” she said. “Don’t go.”

Evidently, he’d finally gotten himself to move, and was making his way to the door.

“No, no, it’s alright,” John said quickly. “I’m sorry to have disturbed…I should have just left when Geillis did…”

“No.” Claire shook her head. “Please don’t go. Come here.”

John remained rooted in place, eyes wide, looking back and forth between Claire and Jamie.

“Please, John,” she said again.

John cleared his throat and then returned to where he was standing, on the left side of Claire. She patted the bed, and John flicked his eyes to Jamie, seeking permission.

Jamie did not move, did not at all indicate that he was allowing this, but neither did he deny either of them.

So John sat down, bending his right leg and folding it under his left, which remained off the bed.

“Do you like it?” Claire asked, adjusting her body so she was no longer fully facing Jamie.

“Do I…?”

“Her name,” Claire said gently. “Do you like it?”

“Oh,” John seemed taken aback. “I…I do.”

“Really?” Claire’s voice got lighter, more giddy. “I want you to like it. Do you really?”

“Yes, Claire. I do.” He looked down at the bundle in Jamie’s arms, and Jamie suddenly felt warm. “It suits her. Both of Jamie’s parents. It’s beautiful.”

“Good,” Claire breathed, beaming. “Oh…I’m so happy…”

In spite of Jamie’s discomfort, he laughed softly. John smiled.

“It warms my heart to hear that, my dear,” John said, putting a hand on her knee.

Jamie tried not to feel the way his stomach churned at the endearment and the gesture.

“Jamie, let me have her.” Claire reached for little Brianna, and Jamie didn’t think twice before returning her to her mother. Claire sighed with contentment when the baby settled in her arms again, and Jamie was overcome with love. He wrapped an arm around her and squeezed her far shoulder, kissing her temple. He closed his eyes, breathing her in, letting her hair tickle his nose, savoring the bliss of the moment.

“Here,” Claire said.

Jamie opened his eyes, and he stiffened.

She was holding the little bundle out to John.

Something was burning behind Jamie’s eyelids, throbbing his temples. It didn’t feel the same as when he’d found out about the marriage, or about their carnal knowledge of one another. But it was a burning nonetheless. It was making his head swim.

“I…” John stammered. “Claire…it’s…”

“You’re her father too, John,” she said softly, but adamantly.

Jamie tried not to feel the stabbing pang of betrayal.

He could not take his eyes off John as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, his eyes locked on Brianna’s blue eyes.

“Go on. It’s alright,” Claire said.

John cleared his throat, swallowing again before he inched closer to Claire and outstretched his arms.

“Mind her head,” Claire reminded.

John exhaled with a tremor as Brianna’s warm weight rested fully in his arms, and Claire slowly pulled her hands away. John stared at her, and Brianna was staring back.

“Say hello, lovie,” Claire said in her baby voice. “Say hello to Daddy.”

Jamie tried not to feel like he’d been kicked in the throat.

John swallowed again, and his eyes began glistening.

And then he smiled.

He broke into the widest grin that Jamie had ever seen break over the man’s face.

And then tears trickled down his cheeks, and he laughed, a breathy, soft sound.

“Oh…hello sweetheart…” John cooed, bouncing her gently. “Hello…”

Jamie tried not to feel the way his heart fluttered.

“You beautiful little thing…” John went on. “Yes…hello, little love. I’m so glad to finally meet you…”

Jamie suddenly felt dizzy, and he tightened his grip on Claire’s shoulder to steady himself, feeling like he may fall over. Claire simply leaned into him, sighing blissfully.

“Thank you for letting him be here,” she whispered, barely audible.

Jamie said nothing, he just swallowed thickly.

And he tried not to hear the voice in his mind that said:

I’m glad he’s here, too.

Chapter Text

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Jamie was falling. Air was rushing past him and metal was clanging, deafening him. There was a blaring in his ears, a ringing in his head. His guts were in his throat, and he actually prayed that he would vomit for any semblance of relief.

It felt like it would never stop, and the blaring and ringing just kept getting louder, and the churning of his insides got more and more unbearable. It got to the point where he was begging for impact, begging for it to kill him, so he didn’t have to suffer any longer.

But then the ground was fast approaching, and he’d never been so terrified.

——

He woke with a start, just before he hit the ground.

“Jamie…?”

His pulse was racing, there was bile in his throat, every muscle in his body was tense.

And his back was on fire.

He began whimpering against his will. It hurt so unbelievably badly. He was burning.

“Jamie…it’s alright, I’m here.”

He knew he was awake, he knew the falling had been a dream, as it always was. He often relived the crash in his dreams and woke up before impact in Claire’s arms. But the pain he was feeling was real. The terror he felt at the thought of bleeding out in the middle of the woods was real.

He could not get enough air. His chest burned almost as much as his back. His breath heaved between clenched teeth. He was trembling.

“Jamie…are you awake? It’s alright, love, I’m here.”

He whimpered again, and it morphed into pitiful weeping. He did not even have the sense to be ashamed. He just wanted it to stop.

“Jamie, are you in pain?”

Yes. Help me. Help me, Sorcha. Save me.

He sputtered incoherently, the fire spreading wider over his back.

“Jamie…what can I do? Tell me how to help you.”

She gingerly touched his shoulder, turning him from his side to lay on his back.

He screamed in agony, unable to hold it back anymore. The noise was joined suddenly by Brianna’s crying.

“Jamie!” Claire was frightened, he could see it, hear it in her voice. “God, I’m sorry! What’s wrong?”

He recoiled from her, turning back on his side to face away from her.

“It…burns!”

“Your back? It hurts?”

He sobbed gutturally in response, and he felt the bed shift behind him, then heard Claire running around to the other side of the bed.

“Jamie, look at me.”

She knelt on the floor right in front of him.

“Look at my eyes, Jamie.”

He obeyed her, finding her eyes with his bloodshot ones.

“I’m going to take your hand. Is that alright?”

He ground his teeth, attempting to quiet his whimpering, and he nodded.

“Alright, my hand is coming to yours. There.”

He felt both of her hands close around the one that he was clenching his pillow with.

“You are awake, Jamie. I know it hurts, but it isn’t real. I am real. Can you feel me?”

She squeezed his hand between hers. It was warm, it was real.

“Breathe, Jamie. Let the air come in. It’s real.”

He obeyed, breathing sputtering breath after sputtering breath.

“Good…may I touch your face, Jamie?”

He blinked rapidly, and he nodded. She kept one hand on his and let the other trail to his face. Her hand was soft, and warm, and real.

“Do you feel me, Jamie?”

He nodded.

“I’m here. You’re awake. It’s over. You’re safe, you’re unharmed. It’s alright.”

He listened to the soothing tones of her voice, leaned into her touch. Gradually, the burning subsided to a dull ache, throbbing rhythmically.

“You’re alright,” she said again, leaning in closer, her breath dancing on his skin. “I’ve got you, love.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead, and he closed his eyes, sighing.

He was suddenly aware that Brianna’s wailing had stopped, and he tensed, flicking his eyes in the direction of her cradle.

“She’s alright,” Claire said softly. “John came in and took her, you must not have noticed. He’s got her. Relax.”

His breathing slowly returned to normal under Claire’s touch. She stroked his arm, his cheeks, his hair, all while carefully avoiding his back. The throbbing continued, slowing gradually.

Jamie’s nightmares were nothing unusual. They’d been happening since he’d returned. This wasn’t the first time he’d woken up screaming either, but this was the first time he’d done so with an infant in the room. He felt ashamed and pathetic; his wife shared a room with her husband and her near two-month-old daughter, and the husband was the one waking her up, and waking up the baby while he was at it.

For the first time, Jamie was grateful that John hadn’t moved out yet.

After Brianna was born, Claire was beyond exhausted, alternating between sleeping and feeding constantly. She needed all the help she could get with nappy changes, cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, and were Jamie a working man at that time, he wouldn’t have been able to help. He was begrudgingly glad that John could go out and earn money for their living while Jamie took care of his wife and child.

Well…she still wasn’t his wife.

Claire had reasoned that they would not be able to afford the divorce lawyer until Jamie had a steady income as well, and she had also reminded him how much help John was in terms of Brianna.

“And besides, it’s nearly Christmas. What are you planning to say to him? ‘Merry Christmas, get out of my home’?”

Claire had been quite smug when she’d said it, but Jamie had to admit she’d had a point.

And now, Claire was taking care of him, and John was taking care of the baby.

Christ, he felt useless. Even though he’d found a job, working at John’s office, he still felt useless.

After a while, Claire got back into bed behind Jamie.

“I’m going to touch your back now. Is that alright?”

“No,” he said reflexively.

“It’s alright, Jamie, you’ve healed. I’m not going to hurt you. Do you trust me?”

“Aye…I do.”

“Alright. Here come my hands.”

Jamie braced for impact, his muscles tensing and his eyes squeezing shut, but all he felt was two small hands on his body, and then lips pressing between the hands.

It’s gone.

He sighed heavily in relief, leaning greedily into her touch.

“That’s right. It’s alright.”

He slowly turned around, laying on his back and turning his head to look at her.

“There you go.”

He sighed again, reaching up for her. She obliged him, allowing him to pull her against his chest and hold onto her for dear life.

“I’m…I’m sorry, mo ghraidh.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” She tightened her grip on him, kissing his chest.

“I ken how little sleep ye get wi’ the bairn, and I’m only making it worse.”

“It isn’t your fault,” she insisted. “I just wish I could help you. I hate seeing you in such pain.”

“I dinna understand it…I ken I’m safe, I ken it’s over…but my mind…”

“Shh…” She reached up to stroke his jaw, caress his cheek. “Trying to understand it will make you mad.”

“I feel like I am mad.”

“You’re not,” she said firmly, leaning on her hand so she could look him in the eye. “You are not the only soldier with shell shock. You went through something horrific. Your mind knows you’re safe, but your body is trying to catch up. And I will be here until it does, and long after.”

“I dinna deserve ye.”

“Nonsense.” Claire leaned down and kissed him sweetly. “I love you, Soldier.”

“I love you too.”

A small cry broke them apart, and Claire sat up.

“See? She would've needed a feeding soon anyway.” She flashed Jamie a smile before getting out of bed and going into the living room, returning with Brianna after a few seconds.

“Oh…I know, I know,” Claire crooned, making her way to the rocking chair.

“Claire.”

She paused, looking up at him.

“Feed her here, wi’ me.” He sat up, adjusting pillows so that Claire could sit up and lean against him comfortably while Brianna fed.

Claire smiled, making her way back to bed. She sighed as she settled in Jamie’s arms, and Brianna latched on immediately as Claire exposed her breast.

“I could watch ye do this every second fer the rest of my life,” Jamie whispered. “Give our child life like this. It’s beautiful.”

Claire smiled, but then she snorted. “Are you sure it isn’t just because you like my breasts this size?”

“Och!” Jamie pinched her arm, being that her arse was currently unavailable to him. “I didna say that wasna part of it, but that’s no’ why. And ye ken it.”

Claire laughed, putting her head on his shoulder. “I know.”

Jamie kissed the crown of her head, his eyes not leaving Brianna.

“Have I told ye lately how much I love ye, m’annsachd?” He rested his cheek on Claire’s head, stroking Brianna’s hair.

“Perhaps not in the last hour,” Claire answered, and Jamie heard the smile in her voice. “It still never feels like it’s enough, does it?”

“No, it doesna.”

“We love you, baby girl,” Claire whispered. “With all our hearts.”

“Aye, and we always will.”

——

“Are you sure you’re up to this, Jamie?” Claire asked for perhaps the tenth time that morning. Brianna cooed from her small wooden playpen on the floor as if in agreement, and Jamie did not miss the smile that John flashed in her direction.

“I dinna ken how else to say it, Sassenach,” Jamie said, agitated. “I’m no’ made of glass. I’m bloody fine.”

He was standing in the doorway in nothing but his trousers, feet and chest bare. He made his way to the icebox for something to eat.

“All I meant was that you hardly got any sleep last night,” she tried again, gently. Her voice floated closer until she was standing in the doorway, holding her robe closed against the chill.

“I’m no’ calling in sick my first day because I had a wee nightmare,” Jamie said, popping cheese into his mouth. He rationally knew that it had been much more than a wee nightmare, but in the light of day, remembering that he’d literally thought himself on fire while fully awake was nothing short of embarrassing.

“It wouldn’t be calling in sick. You’d just be delaying it another day. They wouldn’t mind, would they, John?”

Jamie smushed an entire slice of bread into his mouth, and was barely able to stifle the groan that bubbled up in his chest. John’s head popped up from the pan he was working at to turn and look at Claire.

“Ehm, well, no, I don’t think so. If you’re not feeling well — ”

“I’m fine.”

John jumped a little, and Jamie almost felt sorry.

John had ended up securing Jamie a job at his architecture firm; not as an architect, but something to do with bookkeeping. He’d been reluctant to accept a position he’d felt would be so stifling, though he’d tried to hide it from Claire (without much success). But Claire had assured him it was only temporary until they could move into the country or even back to the Highlands, where he could work in nature or with animals again. Jamie had tried to persuade Claire to just move back to Lallybroch with him, but she’d been adamant about not being ready to face his family yet. Not to mention she did not want to travel in the bitter cold with an infant, which he’d immediately agreed with.

He could spare a few months of discomfort to keep his child safe and healthy, even if said health and safety were maintained in a stuffy London flat.

Jamie knew he should be grateful for that stuffy London flat. It had kept a roof over his wee family’s head when he was unable. And he knew that it only had done so because John had seen to it.

Jamie knew that he meant no harm. After the moments they’d shared the day Brianna was born, Jamie could accept that any pain caused was not deliberate, that everything that had happened had been set on course with the best of intentions. Brute though he may be, Jamie was not brute enough to hold ill will against a man who he’d seen openly weep when cradling Jamie’s child, a man who’d gone to the ends of the earth to ensure Claire’s safety and comfort. A man who’d kept his promise, and then some.

No, it was impossible to bear any ill will.

And yet, though his mind knew this, his body could not be stopped from snapping at him, snarling, even growling. He’d be seized at once by images of Claire astride John, John’s fingers digging into her flesh, or John’s lips kissing the swell of her belly, and he’d go blind with rage.

He knew it was unfair.

But there was something broiling within him that was ready to explode, and he could not find a way to stop it from coming. He felt powerless to determine his own actions, like his soul was trapped in a shell of hatred and cold indifference.

“Oh! Look at you!”

Jamie snapped out of his reverie, realizing a little too late that he had completely crushed a second piece of white bread beyond recognition in his trembling, white-knuckled fist.

“You clever girl!”

Jamie felt the tension rolling away from his shoulders, and his fingers unconsciously unfurled around the lump of squished bread, letting it fall to the counter unceremoniously. Claire’s unbridled joy was music to his ears, and he was drawn to it before he even told his body to move. When he crossed the threshold into the living room, Claire was holding Brianna over her head, positively beaming at her. Brianna’s thumb was stuck in her mouth, apparently unfazed by whatever she’d done to make her mother so giddy. Jamie’s heart melted, and he took a few eager steps into the room.

“What’s she done?”

“She turned over!” Claire exclaimed, turning her radiant face to Jamie and bringing the baby back against her chest.

Her smile and her eyes were brighter than he’d ever seen the sun, and he instantly fell more in love with her than he’d been just two minutes ago.

“All by herself,” Claire went on, cooing into Brianna’s red wisps, patting her soft bottom.

“Did she now?” Jamie said, closing the distance between them. “Is it no’ a bit early for her to be doing that?”

“Doctor Spock said she shouldn’t be doing it for at least another month,” Claire said with a soft laugh.

“Och, what does Doctor Spock know?” Jamie reached for her and Claire obliged. “Ah, come here, lass. Such a braw wee thing.” He tenderly kissed her nose, and her pudgy hand clumsily swatted at his chin, eliciting laughter from Claire and himself. Jamie held her securely in one arm, holding her wee hand in place with his free hand, and he gently kissed the very center of her palm. His eyes flicked from the top of Brianna’s head to see Claire staring at him with nothing short of adoration, pressing her hand into his bare chest. He smiled back at her from behind Brianna’s tiny fingers sprawled over his lips, and the little heathen took this as a cue to stick them between, pulling at his bottom lip.

Claire laughed again, tutting and shaking her head as she pried Brianna’s fingers from his mouth. “Be nice to Da, lovie,” she crooned, kissing the back of her hand, then her head, and then leaning up to kiss Jamie.

“Every day I think my heart canna possibly get any bigger,” Jamie whispered. “And then I hold my lasses in my arms again and I’m proven wrong again and again.”

“I feel the same way,” she answered, nuzzling his nose with hers. Brianna abruptly turned her head, smooshing her face against Claire’s, and both her parents chuckled again.

“I am alright, Claire,” Jamie said, looking into her eyes. “I ken it looks like I’m being haunted; perhaps I am. That’s certainly what it feels like. But yer sweet faces…both of ye. Ye bring me back to life, slowly but surely.”

Claire nodded, understanding. “I love you.”

“Aye. I love you, too.”

Brianna began fussing, and the moment was gone. Jamie began bouncing her lightly, patting her bottom and walking around.

“Sit down, mo ghraidh. Ye’ll be alone wi’ her all day. Let me tend to her.”

“You need to put on a shirt, Jamie,” Claire chided even as she plopped onto the couch gratefully.

“I’ll bide. No’ time to go yet.” He crossed back into the kitchen, still bouncing Brianna.

“Would you quit rifling through the icebox?” Claire’s voice stopped him cold while he was reaching for the handle. “You know full well John is cooking. And it’s meant for all of us.”

Jamie glowered at John, and then he had to put conscious effort into not thinking about how ridiculous he must have looked wearing such a face while he bounced like a fool.

“I’ve put on extra bacon,” John said, indicating the smaller pan, the larger one holding the eggs. “So Claire won’t get up in arms about you stealing hers.”

Jamie hmphed, opening the icebox anyway and popping more cheese into his mouth.

“Stubborn Scottish arse,” he heard Claire mutter. He rolled his eyes, but then was met with a soft chuckle from the stove, and he scowled at John again.

“Forgive me,” John said quickly, though Jamie was certain he wasn’t at all very sorry.

He felt very much like he was being ganged up on by this pair of sassenachs, and that perhaps the near-to-whistling tea kettle would join the ranks next.

“Here.” John moved the pans off the burners. “Everything is done. Let me have her so you can finish getting dressed.”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at him.

“Come on, man. We don’t have all day.”

Jamie hmphed again before relinquishing his daughter to John, and he deliberately told himself to not think about how their hands lingered together in the exchange.

He continued to tell himself not to think about it as he buttoned his shirt, tucked it in, put on a belt and a tie, and grabbed a jacket to throw over later. He heard laughter coming from the kitchen as he departed the bedroom, and yet another fire lit behind his eyes, steaming out his ears, and propelling him to move faster to join them.

He stopped dead in his tracks, then, to see John and Claire facing one another in their chairs, John cradling Brianna in his arms as Claire gave her nose a little tap, causing her to swat blindly at her mother’s fingers and toss her head back and forth.

“Stop tormenting her,” John chastised, though his smile did not fade. “She’ll grow to resent you.”

“Oh…you wouldn’t, would you, sweetheart?”

“I don’t see how she could,” John relented, beaming down at the baby and then up at Claire.

Jamie almost jumped when John’s eyes landed on him, and he didn’t realize why until Claire turned around and John uncomfortably cleared his throat.

He hadn’t wanted it to end.

It was like watching a beautiful family that he was not a part of, touched by their familiarity, their warmth.

Except that was his family.

He shook his head.

He’s no’ yer family, man. He’s a friend, a friend who is leaving.

Jamie reluctantly sat down next to Claire, wordlessly shoveling eggs onto his plate.

“Here, I’ll — ”

“No, I’ve got her.” John stood up, encouraged Claire to keep eating, and then disappeared to put Brianna in her cradle.

Claire swallowed and stared at her food for a moment before turning her face up toward Jamie, offering a tiny smile.

“He made extra bacon today,” she said softly, pushing the plate toward him gently.

“Aye,” Jamie muttered, stabbing several pieces at once with his fork and depositing them on his plate. “I ken.”

——

Jamie woke with a start, his pulse racing. He’d been falling again, waking up just in time before hitting the ground. He waited in terror for the burning in his back to start, but it didn’t come. He turned over, desperate to see her, to feel her, her warmth, her realness. To ground himself before any delusions began.

Moonlight illuminated her face, and it calmed his heart. He tenderly brushed a curl away from her face and kissed her temple before reluctantly extricating himself from her nuzzling grip and pulling the blankets back. Best not to wake her with this one since it seemed to already be over. It had been over a week since the last one where he’d woken up on fire; perhaps Claire could sleep easier thinking that they were ceasing all together.

Jamie pulled the blankets up to Claire’s chin, knowing that she’d be cold without him next to her, and then he made his way to Brianna’s cradle. He needed to feel her next, her tiny softness and warmth, the realness of her featherlight weight, the unconditional trust that he had in her, knowing none of his demons or shortcomings. He needed that.

But when he reached the cradle, it was empty.

Jamie sighed, knowing exactly where she was. He crept silently to the bedroom door, slipping through and shutting it behind him. He was right, of course; John was sitting in the armchair beside the illuminated lamp, holding the sleeping baby, his makeshift bed set-up on the couch abandoned for now.

He was just…watching her. He was not speaking, or rocking. He was just holding her close to his chest, watching her sleep. Jamie almost felt guilty when John looked up, having heard the door shut.

“I, uh…” he said uneasily. “Sometimes I do this. Just hold her close and watch her sleep.”

“Aye,” Jamie said gruffly. “So do I.”

“Could you not sleep?” John said gently. “Another dream?”

“Aye.” Jamie lingered uncomfortably in the doorway, tempted to just disappear back into the bedroom and bury his face in Claire’s hair until his mind was blank.

“Did you…?” John stood up carefully, taking a few steps toward Jamie, clearly meaning to give Brianna to him.

“Nah, it’s…it’s alright,” Jamie said, crossing his arms uncomfortably over his bare chest. “Could ye…could ye no’ sleep either?”

“Not quite,” John said. “I’ve got…a lot of thoughts racing in my mind.”

“Like what?” Jamie challenged.

John opened his mouth, then closed it again, shaking his head. “You don’t want to know.”

“I don’t?” Another challenge. Jamie unfolded his arms and took a few steps into the room. “Try me.”

John blanched, gulping. “Well, it…” He cleared his throat. “I…have no idea what I’m doing, Jamie.”

“What d’ye mean?”

“I mean I have no idea what I’m doing here. With you, and Claire. And Brianna.” He seemed at a loss.

“I dinna ken either, man,” Jamie said, more unkindly than he’d meant it.

John sighed, adjusting Brianna’s weight in his arms. “Surely you understand how it feels to be lost?”

“Aye…I do,” Jamie’s voice softened, tinged with pain.

“I’m completely and utterly lost…” John’s eyes left Jamie, and wandered down to look at Brianna. “But then there are these…moments of clarity.” He stroked her cheek, and Jamie’s chest tightened with what he was nearly certain was possessive jealousy. Nearly certain.

“Do you know why I watch her sleep?” John said, his voice hardly above a whisper as he stared into her face. “Because I…I’m so afraid that I’ll…forget…”

His voice trailed off, and Jamie’s brow furrowed with concern, not understanding. John sighed again, finally looking back up at Jamie.

“I know I’m not her father, Jamie. When you were gone, it was all I could think about, raising this child that wasn’t my own. But I was bound by honor to her, the same way Claire is bound by honor to me. I made promises to Claire, because of the promises I made to you. I wasn’t at all sure how it would be between the three of us. To…to father a child that I didn’t sire. But then I…I felt her moving…inside. And when I felt her little foot against my palm…I fell in love.” He looked into Brianna’s face, and Jamie could not deny that the man was speaking true. “And seeing her now…that love is stronger than ever.”

Jamie’s insides roiled, his heart palpitating. Why couldn't he breathe…?

“If you want me to go, Jamie, just say the word and I will. I can use this red hair to cry adultery, and the divorce would be all too easy.” John’s voice quavered, as if it would not at all be easy. “You need never see me or hear from me again, and Brianna need never know that any of this ever happened. But…and forgive me for presuming to know her heart better than you do…but I don’t think Claire would ever forgive you.”

He crossed the room and transferred the tiny bundle into Jamie’s arms, a purposeful look in his eye. “And it would break my damned heart.”

Brianna fussed a bit, and Jamie tore his eyes away from John’s pained gaze to look at his daughter, bouncing her a bit.

“It’s alright, love,” John whispered, stroking a long, gentle finger over the baby’s cheek.

A switch flipped in Jamie’s heart at the sound of John’s words whispered lovingly to his child, at the sight of his tender, soothing touch to her cheek.

It was beautiful.

Jamie was unable to stop himself from gripping the back of John’s head and turning his face up so he could press their lips together. It felt the same and yet so different than the last time they had done this. So very much had changed…and yet so much was the same.

Jamie pulled away when he felt John’s tears slipping onto his cheeks.

“I dinna want ye to go,” Jamie whispered hoarsely, nuzzling his nose against John’s.

Claire would never forgive him…and he’d never forgive himself either.

Brianna fussed again, disrupting whatever moment had bloomed between them.

“D’ye…suppose she’s hungry?” Jamie said, partly to break the tension and partly because he had no idea if the bairn needed something he could not provide.

“Perhaps.” They both looked down and tried to soothe her, but to no avail.

“I’ll take her to Claire,” Jamie said reluctantly, knowing that the last thing he wanted to do was to disturb her sleep. He turned to go to the bedroom, but stopped. He turned back around, feeling very much like a dog with his tail between his legs. “Ye’ll…wait here, then? Ye won’t leave?”

John’s face morphed through a wide range of emotions without saying anything, and then he nodded, swiping at the tears that still lingered on his cheeks. “I won’t leave.”

Jamie nodded gratefully, his heart twisting and his stomach churning, and then finished his journey to the bedroom just as Brianna started squalling in earnest.

When he opened the door and crept into the dark room, Claire was already sitting up with the lamp on, squinting her still sleepy eyes at him, likely having heard Brianna’s cries. She lowered her nightgown and reached her arms for the baby, leaning back into the pillows with a contented sigh as she latched on to nurse.

“Can I…tell ye something, Claire?” Jamie said, his pulse quickening as he sat on down on the bed beside Claire.

“Of course,” she said, her eyes not leaving the suckling bairn at her breast.

“I kissed John again.”

Her head whipped up, her stroking finger freezing on Brianna’s cheek.

“Oh,” she said quietly. “Ehm…when?”

“Jest now. Before I came back in,” Jamie had thought it would take quite a bit more prodding from Claire and quite a bit more time, but he found himself blurting it out like a sprung leak in a dam. “Bairn in my arms and all…I jest…leaned in and kissed him.”

“Are you…alright?”

Jamie nodded. “He was…saying that he’d leave us. If I wished it.”

He saw Claire visibly stiffen at that, and immediately it confirmed that John’s words rang true.

“The only thing I thought to do was…kiss him.”

“So you don’t want him to go.”

It wasn’t a question. She already knew it to be true.

“No…I don’t.”

A few tense moments of silence passed, the only sounds to be heard Jamie’s heavy breathing and Brianna’s tiny snuffling as she greedily fed at Claire’s breast.

“I dinna understand it,” Jamie finally said, breaking the silence. “I’m no’…I’m no’ like him, Claire. Not that I judge him, mind, but…I love you, and yer body…every part of ye.” His fingers absently trailed over the swell of her breast, half covered by Brianna’s little head.

“Perhaps you…desire both. Women’s bodies as well as men’s,” Claire said gently. “It’s not impossible.”

“But I…I’ve never had those…inclinations before. No’ like John.”

“I didn’t bed a man until I was sixteen,” Claire shrugged. “I didn’t really know until then that I would enjoy it.”

Jamie’s brow twitched at the mention of Claire bedding any other man, and then it fully furrowed, remembering that she’d bedded the man he’d just given his lips to.

“Christ,” he hissed in frustration. “This is a right mess.”

Claire sighed, and then winced as Brianna gave a particularly hard tug. “It is…confusing. I’m not at all sure how to approach the situation.”

“D’ye have to…approach it?”

Claire scoffed. “What would you have us do? Just ignore the fact that he’s still in love with you, and ignore that you feel desire to return his affections?”

Jamie averted his eyes. “Aye. I was hoping we could.”

“Christ,” Claire sighed with exasperation. “How many babies am I taking care of?”

Jamie glowered at her, apparently proving her point.

“Answer me this, Jamie. Who are you most jealous of?”

“What?”

“When you think of John and I in bed, who are you most jealous of?”

Jamie’s face turned red, and heat rushed to his cock at the mere suggestion.

Jesus…she kens exactly how to get the truth out of me.

“I…I couldna say. It’s as if I…I want tae…tae share ye both. Wi’ each other.”

Brianna fell away from Claire’s breast, and Claire sighed heavily, heaving herself out of bed to walk around the room with her so she could burp. Jamie felt himself burning with shame at his admission, and he tried to calm himself by counting Claire’s footsteps, tapping his finger on his thigh in time with her gentle patting of their baby’s back.

“You don’t need to feel ashamed, Jamie,” Claire said softly, and her voice floated on the surface of his subconscious, keeping him from passing out. “Because I…I feel almost the same.”

His blood ran cold, and he whipped his head up to look at her.

“I don’t want to give either of you up,” she said softly. Brianna finally burped, and Claire sighed with relief, smiling in spite of the turmoil that Jamie could see forming between her brows.

“There you go,” she crooned, moving the baby off her shoulder and cradling her lovingly. “All ready for bed now, darling.” Claire exhaled heavily as she sat in the chair beside Brianna’s cradle, facing Jamie on the bed.

“What exactly are ye saying, Sassenach?”

“I know how it sounds, but it’s no crazier than anything you’ve told me,” Claire said, preemptively protecting herself from any oncoming jealous rage. “You know that you are the love of my life, Jamie. You know that my love for you knows no bounds. Don’t you? You know that?”

Jamie’s gaze remained fixed on the floor, but he nodded. “Aye. I ken that.”

“And I know it’s the same for you to me,” she said. “What you and I share is…is deeper than something…usual. But John is…I don’t know. I feel such…tenderness for him. I can’t explain it. I think of him touching my belly when Brianna was inside and I…my heart feels fit to burst.” Jamie looked up to see the wee lass in question was just about asleep in her mother’s arms.

“I think of him holding me as I cried for you all those months, and…yes, I think about our…sexual experiences together. Even though we never truly had sex after that one horrible night…we do have very intimate knowledge of each other’s bodies. And I think of you, so terribly alone during the war, with no one but him to comfort you. I trusted him with you the same way you trusted him with me, really.” She looked down at Brianna and ran a finger down her face, stopping at her little button nose. She stood up and placed Brianna in the cradle despite her tiny protests, then sat back down and rocked the cradle to quiet her again.

“It’s not the same kind of love I have for you Jamie, not at all,” she went on. “But…I do love him quite dearly. More than I should as his companion.”

Jamie nodded. It was not often at all that Claire had the words that Jamie lacked. She was never able to express her thoughts as easily as Jamie, and she often sat back and listened to him ramble away the workings of his own mind, or even deciphering the workings of Claire’s own mind just by watching her face change in silence. So for Claire to sit there and put to words exactly what was churning in his muddled brain was quite astonishing to him.

Claire took her hand off the cradle, seeing as Brianna had finally quieted, and she settled her hands in her lap.

“What are you thinking, Jamie?”

He looked up at her; his face was still burning red, but he forced himself to maintain eye contact as he said:

“I’m thinking that ye understand how I’m feeling a great deal more than I ever hoped ye could.”

——

John was collapsed on the couch, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

What the bloody hell had just happened?

It wasn’t possible. Jamie couldn’t possibly. All these months of rage and hostility after John had coveted his love…it was impossible. Yes, he’d kissed him before. But before, the possibility that one or both of them may die was very real. Jamie was being kind, expressing gratitude for his promise to look after Claire.

Being “kind” by kissing you on the mouth?

It didn’t mean anything, it couldn’t. Well, it had meant the world to John, of course it had. It was the first time his heart and soul had truly come alive in his entire life. But for Jamie? It was…pity. A last rites of sorts, for either one or both of them.

But this?

For the second time, Jamie had initiated a kiss. John would never dream of doing such a thing, would never dream of forcing himself on a man that did not share his predilections. A man who loved a woman.

And yes, he loved Claire. God, John knew it. Whatever this kiss meant, it could not mean that Jamie ceased to have feelings for Claire. That was truly impossible.

So then…what could it mean…?

Jamie was likely in there telling Claire right this moment. He’d told her about the last time. Obviously she hadn’t minded, but circumstances had been different. What was she saying now? Would she throw John out now for coveting her husband? Would she finally understand how Jamie felt all these months and agree it was time for him to go?

God…he couldn’t bear it.

Just when he thought he might faint, the door to the bedroom opened. Claire. John opened his mouth to stammer apologies, to blame himself entirely, but then Jamie followed behind her, shutting the door. He didn’t know what to think. Claire smiled weakly, crossing the room to sit beside John on the couch. She looked behind her at Jamie, giving him some look that prompted him to hmph and make his way to sit on the other side of her. John fumbled with the pillows he’d been sleeping with, tossing them onto the floor to make more room on the couch.

“Claire…I…”

“We want to talk to you about something,” she interrupted. “Something that’s weighing heavily on us, and I think on you, too.”

John’s throat went dry, but he snapped his mouth shut and nodded mutely.

“This…isn’t the first time that Jamie has been…romantic with you,” she began. “And you know, I…I’ve never been the least bit jealous. Perhaps at first, the first time, but after that, I was more…curious. Than anything else.”

John felt bewildered, and his face must have shown it. 

“I was intrigued by the idea…that he could love me with all his heart and still be…drawn to you that way,” she explained. “I couldn’t understand it. But now…”

John’s stomach flipped.

“I find myself…missing you.” Her hand covered his clammy one, resting on the couch cushion. “And I…I can’t make any sense of it. Because getting Jamie back is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But I…I can’t help the way I feel. And I…I miss…” Her hand lingered mid-air, as if she meant to cup his cheek, but stopped. Her voice trailed off, and she returned her hand to her lap, keeping the other on John’s.

“So I…understand now, I suppose,” she finished quietly. “Because I love Jamie with all my heart, but I…I’m drawn to you, John.”

Her eyes were hooded. John’s mouth flapped uselessly, staring in awe between the couple. He expected to see rage in Jamie, that same fire he’d seen all these months, but he was met with a fire of a different kind.

“I…I am too, John,” he whispered, barely audible. “I canna…canna explain it. Ye…ye set me ablaze, man.”

Claire exhaled with a shudder, and John’s chest felt tight.

“I…I don’t…know what to say…” he stammered, hardly any air in his lungs.

“You don’t have to,” Claire said. “Just…” She swallowed, taking a breath. “I know that I’m…not what you want. And that’s alright. I just…” She looked back at Jamie, whose veins were now throbbing in his temples. “Will you let me…be here?”

It took John a moment to realize she was speaking to him. “Be here…? For…?”

“I want to see it.”

“I beg your pardon?” John stammered.

“I want to see you kiss,” she repeated, rather detached, almost as if speaking of something medical and scientific.

John blinked dumbly at her like she had two heads, then turned to Jamie, expecting to see his own bewilderment mirrored back at him. Instead, he almost jumped out of his skin at the intensity of the gaze he was met with. Jamie was practically staring directly into his soul.

“D’ye want me, man? Or no’?”

John’s jaw fell slack, his mouth went dry.

“Go on, darling,” Claire crooned, reaching out to stroke John’s cheek in encouragement.

Do I want him? Of fucking course I do.

It was madness. What they were about to do was complete bloody madness.

But as Claire slowly guided his face closer to Jamie’s he didn’t give a damn.

John was unable to stop himself from fiercely gripping Jamie’s face and kissing him, hard. It was no less urgent than any of the previous kisses they had shared, but this time, there was fire. Jamie was still for a moment, not moving hands or lips as he hadn’t the other times. But then John moved his mouth over Jamie’s again, probing his lips with his tongue, and something ignited within Jamie.

In an instant, Jamie was kissing him back, threading his hands in John’s hair, thrusting his tongue against John’s. A gasp floated on the surface of John’s subconscious, a sound John knew had come from Claire. His cock was hard as rock, every inch of his skin felt lit afire. Jamie bloody Fraser was kissing him. And he meant it.

Overcome with either lust, love, or both, John trailed his lips down Jamie’s face until he latched onto his neck, and the grunts and growls that John’s ears were filled with were music to his ears. To bring Jamie pleasure, to be allowed to do so…it was beyond anything he had ever dreamed. Jamie’s shirt was moving beneath him, and it didn’t take long for John to realize that Claire was pulling it over his head for him. John moaned in appreciation of Jamie’s beautifully sculpted body and began greedily devouring every inch of his exposed torso. John heard whimpering and suckling above his head, and one quick glance upward revealed to him that Claire and Jamie were kissing madly, thrusting tongues in and out and twisting their heads.

John ran his tongue all over the lines of Jamie’s muscles, then watched in fascination as Claire’s hand traveled down Jamie’s chest as well. Her hand stopped over his left nipple, and Jamie cried out into her mouth as she pinched it, hard. John took the hint and moved his mouth to Jamie’s right nipple, sucking hard and flicking rapidly with his tongue.

“Do you like it, Jamie?” John heard Claire breathe out. “Do you like it when John does that just like I do?”

John’s cock hardened even further. To answer Claire, Jamie seized John’s face between his enormous hands and dragged him back up to kiss him savagely. Claire moaned loudly despite the fact that she was the only one left untouched; the sight alone was seemingly enough for her. Jamie began reciprocating John’s attentions, tugging impatiently on John’s shirt until it was over his head. Claire moaned again, and John’s breath caught in his throat to see that her nightgown was rucked up over her hips, her fingers moving in circles over herself. Before he could contemplate this, Jamie’s teeth latched firmly onto his neck, and he cried out in shocked arousal. He could not stop the pathetic keening from his own mouth as Jamie moved his lips and tongue all over his neck and chest, paying equal attention to both of John’s nipples as John had done for him.

Suddenly, Jamie choked out a moan, and John opened his eyes to see that Claire had a firm grip on Jamie’s cock over his trousers. John truly thought he might faint; he was perhaps seconds away from laying eyes on Jamie’s manhood.

Dear God in Heaven.

Claire’s other hand had not left herself, and Jamie was quickly losing patience with his trousers. He practically forced Claire’s hand under the waistband, and she pulled him free, fisting him tightly. John could not say whose groan was louder: Jamie’s at the contact of Claire’s hand, or John at the sight of him. Claire began pumping him slowly, and Jamie moved his mouth back up to John’s, kissing him even more sloppily than before. Teeth clashed, tongues and lips were bitten. John very suddenly felt electricity shoot through him that took him a moment to pinpoint where it started.

Claire had sprung his cock free as well, and she was now stroking them both, one in each hand.

John and Jamie both were now crying out, grunting into each other’s mouths. Claire occasionally dipped her head to kiss, lick, or bite at Jamie’s neck, and sometimes Jamie’s mouth left John’s to kiss Claire on the mouth. John watched them kiss, his hips unconsciously thrusting into Claire’s hand, and then she pulled away from Jamie and looked at him.

“Do you want to kiss me, John?” she said breathlessly.

In her eyes, he saw the rest of what she wanted to say: you don’t have to.

She knew that perhaps this was a moment that she was privy to witness and help Jamie with, but not necessarily to participate in herself. She knew that perhaps John would draw that boundary.

She was a woman after all.

But, God, the pink flush to her cheeks, her neck, the swollen plumpness of her lips, the wild look in her eyes…

God, yes.”

Claire groaned loudly as John seized her face in his hands and kissed her hungrily. As he did, she tightened her grip on his cock and sped her pace. He was dangerously close to climax now, and became all the more so when he latched his teeth onto Claire’s neck, and she gasped out:

“Oh, John!”

The muscles in his stomach clenched, his balls grew tight, and then suddenly, everything stopped, and he stopped kissing Claire, looking down frantically. Jamie’s hand had wrapped around her wrist.

For a moment, the only sound was panting from all three of them. John stared at Jamie, who stared at Claire, who stared back at Jamie.

“Let me,” Jamie said, breaking the silence.

“God in Heaven,” John groaned.

Claire’s hand left both of their cocks, and she breathed raggedly as Jamie moved closer to John. John hissed loudly when Jamie’s warm, large hand closed around him.

“Jamie…” he panted. “God, Jamie…”

“Aye, man.” Jamie gave an experimental stroke, having never done this to anyone but himself. “Let me hear ye.”

John pressed his forehead into Jamie’s, his lips parted, his jaw slack, moaning without restraint.

“It feels…like heaven, Jamie…”

Jamie growled possessively and claimed John’s lips, increasing his pace. John knew he would not last long like this, not when he’d dreamed of Jamie’s hand around him for years.

Jamie pulled his lips away from John’s and burned his eyes into his.

“Kiss her, John. Kiss our woman while ye fuck my hand.”

Our woman.

Claire made a sound between a moan and a sigh of relief as she grabbed John’s face and kissed him soundly. Jamie buried his face in the crook of John’s neck as he began pumping him furiously, and John threaded the fingers of one hand into Jamie’s hair, and the other into Claire’s at the nape of her neck.

John’s entire body seized up, and he choked out a gasp against Claire’s lips, then nearly screamed as Jamie’s lips latched onto his neck. He shot his seed onto his stomach, keening like a woman as Jamie stroked out every last drop, running his tongue over the bite marks he’d left, and as Claire swallowed the sounds he made.

It took him several seconds to recover, but he was surrounded by Jamie and Claire all the while, Jamie’s hand cupping his softening cock and balls and absently stroking his back, Claire stroking his face and kissing him sweetly.

“Are you alright?” she whispered after John had more or less caught his breath.

“I’m…more alright than I’ve been in years,” he panted, and Claire smiled shyly.

“Jamie?” Claire said.

“Are you…are you alright, love?”

It slipped out; John hadn’t meant to say it. Not to him. Not now.

Jamie unthreaded himself from John and sat up on his knees, facing him.

“I’m alright, John.” He firmly gripped John’s thigh. “I’m…happy to have…given ye that.”

Claire smiled tenderly and kissed Jamie’s cheek.

Neither of them seemed to mind John’s near-fatal slip of the tongue.

“I’m…I’m happy too,” he said instead, rather stupidly.

Claire kissed his cheek as well, and he felt warmth spread from head to toe.

Our woman, he remembered.

“Do you…” John flicked his eyes down to Jamie’s still-throbbing cock, standing straight up. “Would you like it if I…?”

“Aye, I would,” Jamie said. “But not until I’ve served the lady.”

Claire wet her lips and exhaled raggedly, and John felt his stomach flip.

“Let me show ye how to pleasure a woman, a charaid.”

Claire was panting again, and she reached down to pull her nightgown over her head. John observed that her nipples were hard and erect, larger than they’d been the last time he’d gotten a good look at them.

“They’re beautiful, are they no’?” Jamie said, as though presenting fine jewels to clientele, running his hands over her breasts. “Plump and swelled with milk for my child.”

Claire moaned as he firmly squeezed them both, and then he closed his lips around a nipple. She leaned into the back of the couch lazily, allowing Jamie’s ministrations to melt her into the cushions.

“Go on, John,” Claire panted, guiding his hand to her breast. “We want you to.”

John gulped and hesitantly squeezed the breast that Jamie was not attending to, and Claire groaned.

Yes…” She arched her neck, her eyes sliding shut and a crease appearing between her brows.

It wasn’t long before John’s confidence grew, and he was kissing her breast and teasing the nipple as Jamie was doing on the other side. Her noises were exactly as John remembered them to be, exactly as he used to overhear. Being the one — rather, one of the ones to pull them out of her, and this time it being in joy and bliss…he felt more blessed than he could put into words.

John and Jamie teased her until John was sure she could stand no more; she was hoarse with crying for more, and her hips were thrusting blindly into nothing.

John knew that Claire and Jamie had yet to be intimate since Brianna’s birth, and also knew how painful such a thing could be if one didn’t wait the proper amount of time. But Claire seemed more than eager, and when John experimentally swiped his fingers over her hot center, he could feel that she was more than ready.

“When a woman is aroused…Instead of a cockstand, she gets…wet.”

Yes, he’d retained at least that.

Jamie’s mouth left her breast and trailed down her body until he was sliding off the couch and kneeling before her.

“Just…” Claire panted. “Go slow.”

“Aye, mo ghraidh. Ye can trust me.”

John sat beside Claire on the sofa, watching hungrily as Jamie hooked one of her legs over his shoulder. His stomach turned to liquid as Jamie’s mouth came in contact with her, and Claire practically screamed. She was still quite sensitive from the birth, and from weeks and months of not being touched. John stared at Jamie’s mouth as it worked on her, so enraptured that he jumped when Claire leaned her head against him. Upon instinct after months of caring for her, he gently caressed her smooth cheeks with his hand.

“God, Jamie…” she cooed. “I’m ready…just one for now…”

Before John could contemplate what she meant, she was threading her fingers in his hair and tugging as if her life depended on it. She nearly screamed again, tensing slightly and tightening her grip. She breathed heavily against John’s skin, and John instinctually kissed her out of comfort.

Just one finger. That’s what she meant.

It was the first thing to have penetrated her since she’d pushed a baby out, so she was bound to experience some discomfort.

“Ye alright, mo chridhe?”

“Mhmm…” Claire managed, keeping her fingers locked in John’s hair.

Jamie returned his attention to his task, and Claire resumed kissing John, occasionally throwing her head back to scream, squeezing his face to the point where he thought she’d bruise him.

“Another, Jamie. Another.”

John knew Jamie had obliged when Claire gave a throaty grunt, this time with no evident pain.

“Yes…that’s it…”

Her noises became louder and more frequent, and it wasn’t long before John had his face buried in her neck, her arms tightly wrapped around his shoulders, pinning him in place.

“More, Jamie!”

John felt his cock growing impossibly hard again.

“Are ye sure — ?”

Claire cut him off by throwing her other leg over his other shoulder, trapping his face between her thighs.

“Don’t you dare fucking stop,” Claire spat, and John knew she was filled with another of Jamie’s fingers when she screamed again, digging her nails into John’s back. It wasn’t long after that before she found release, shrieking unabashedly and nearly drawing blood from John as he suckled at the nape of her neck.

John picked his head up, his eyes wide with wonder to see her coming like this, not a dash of grief etched in any of her features. Her neck, chest, breasts, and nipples were covered in bruises, bite marks, and angry red splotches; whoever left each was anybody’s guess. She was a work of art, a living canvas littered with marks of possession from her two husbands, crying out in pure joy.

“You’re…” he breathed in disbelief. “That was…beautiful.”

Claire laughed airily, her eyes still shut, her chest still heaving. Jamie rose from the floor, sitting beside Claire on the couch.

“Ye’re alright? There’s no pain?”

Claire shook her head, a lazy smile finding its way to her sleepy face.

“I’m splendid.”

John chuckled, pushing a sweaty tendril away from her face. Before he knew what was happening next, Jamie’s hands were on his face, kissing him ferociously. He was met with an unfamiliar taste that had his brow furrowing until he realized.

He was tasting Claire on Jamie’s lips and tongue.

It was enough to stiffen his cock even further.

“D’ye taste her, John?” Jamie growled between kisses.

“Yes…” John groaned.

“I look forward to watching ye taste her fer yourself someday.” Jamie ran his tongue over John’s lips in a tantalizing circle.

“Yes, someday,” Claire piped up, her voice still drugged with her climax. “For now…” She pushed on Jamie’s chest to separate him from John. “Your turn, Soldier.”

Claire dropped to her knees on the floor just as Jamie had done to her, and Jamie cried out as her lips closed around his cock. John could not help himself; he began stroking himself, not knowing what else to do to relieve the painful throbbing that the sight was giving him. Jamie reached to kiss John much the same way as Claire had, and then Jamie’s hand replaced John’s on his cock. Whenever Jamie gave a particularly loud cry in response to whatever Claire was doing, he gripped John’s cock harder, causing John to cry out as well.

It was overwhelming, almost enough to make John spill his seed again.

But then Jamie’s hand stopped, and John opened his eyes to see Claire holding Jamie’s wrist, her mouth having left his cock.

“Do you want John to do it?” she said huskily. John gulped and looked wordlessly back and forth between Jamie and Claire, and then Jamie nodded. Claire gently pulled John off the couch to kneel beside her before Jamie’s solid member. Claire sweetly kissed John, and he could taste Jamie on her.

“Go on, darling,” she whispered lovingly.

“God in Heaven…” John muttered, positioning himself before Jamie. How many nights had he dreamed of this, of having this god of a man at his mercy, of bringing him pleasure beyond description, of making him cry out his name

It was almost too much to bear.

He peppered Jamie’s inner thighs with kisses, leaving the occasional bite that caused the man to hiss in Gaelic. When he reached his cock, he teased it with kisses as well, leaving Jamie panting, sweating, and groaning before John finally took him into his mouth.

It was like playing one of God’s own instruments.

He worked him in his mouth, and alternated between digging his nails into Jamie’s thighs and stroking gently, playing him like a string.

Just after John had gotten a good rhythm going, he stuttered, feeling Claire’s soft lips between his shoulder blades. Her hands trailed down his back and around to the front, grasping his cock. She began pumping mercilessly as John worked Jamie back up to where Claire had left him. Both of Jamie’s hands gripped John’s hair ferociously; the man was growling. John thought he might pass out. It was too much, Jamie in his mouth, in his hair, Claire around his cock, her lips on his shoulder, his neck…

Jamie lost control first, crying out loudly and shooting his seed down John’s throat. Just knowing that he was swallowing Jamie was enough to set John off again, and he moaned loudly, unable to yell out loud with Jamie’s softening cock still in his mouth.

John removed Jamie from his mouth and collapsed with his cheek on his inner thigh, panting heavily as Claire stroked him down from his high. John thought sheepishly that he’d likely shot his seed right into the couch in front of him, or at least on the rug beneath him. He made a note to insist on cleaning it himself if he caught Claire trying to do so tomorrow.

John had barely registered that Jamie’s grip on his hair had loosened; all he was suddenly aware of was that Jamie’s fingers were lazily running circles in his hair, gently massaging his scalp. He realized, too, that Claire’s cheek rested on Jamie’s other thigh, she having hoisted herself back onto the couch and curled up into his side like a cat. Jamie’s other hand was stroking Claire’s hair just as lovingly.

John felt a rush of tears at the realization that Jamie was treating John exactly the way he was treating Claire. Claire caught his eye across Jamie’s lap, and she reached across to caress his cheek.

“Are you alright, John?”

John exhaled in disbelief, meaning for it to be a laugh, but it came out as a choked sort of sound. “God…alright doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

Despite the exhaustion in his limbs from expending himself twice, John reached to his face to gently take Claire’s hand in his so he could press a kiss to her knuckles.

“I enjoyed it too, darling,” she whispered.

John kept his lips on her fingers, closing his eyes for a moment, breathing them in, savoring them. When next he opened his eyes, Claire’s breathing was heavier, and her eyes were closed. She’d fallen asleep. John heard Jamie hum in amusement, and he finally picked his head up.

“Tired her out,” Jamie said lazily. “Puir wee thing should be sleeping when the bairn isna asking fer milk. Shame I’m a greedy bastard.”

He tucked a curl behind her ear, and John laughed softly. “What does that make me, then?”

Jamie made one of those Scottish noises of his, then unraveled his fingers from John’s hair to caress his face. “Come here, man.”

John pulled himself onto the couch and beside Jamie, suddenly entirely too self-conscious to be fully naked in front of him now that he was thinking clearly again.

“Was it really alright, Jamie?” John whispered. “I couldn’t live with myself if I made you uncomfortable.”

“Christ, John. Are ye deaf as well as blind? Not a single person has made me that mad wi’ lust but Claire. No one else but you.”

John’s breath stuttered in his chest, and he felt yet another rush of tears.

“And it…it was alright, even when I…when Claire…”

“Aye. That was…” Jamie swallowed, averting his eyes for a moment, perhaps in embarrassment. “As little sense as it may make, I quite enjoyed watching ye ravish her.”

John blushed fiercely, but he could not help the swell of masculine pride in his chest for having managed to arouse both of these beautiful creatures in one fell swoop. John tentatively reached across Jamie’s lap to caress Claire’s cheek.

“I didn’t think I’d ever love someone as much as I loved you, Jamie.”

For the second time that night, the weight of John’s words did not sink in until it was too late.

Not only had he admitted it to Jamie, he’d admitted it to himself. Something he’d had yet to do.

I really and truly am in love with her.

“Please pretend you didn’t hear that,” John whispered almost inaudibly. “I didn’t mean…”

“Hush, man. Ye’ll drive yerself mad.”

John closed his lips and nodded, reluctantly drawing his touch away from Claire and meeting Jamie’s eye again.

“I’m just…” he stammered. “Very grateful. For you both.”

“As am I. For ye both.”

Jamie kissed him sweetly, and John could have died right then and there a happy man.

“Suppose I should get this one to bed,” Jamie said, proceeding to maneuver Claire in such a way that he was cradling her in his lap. He stood up to carry her bridal style to the bedroom.

“I’ll…see you in the morning, then,” John said uncomfortably, reaching for his trousers.

“John.”

He looked up to see Jamie’s gaze piercing through him.

“D’ye think I’d let ye do what ye just did wi’ yer mouth and no’ let ye into my bed?”

John blinked dumbly, his lips flapping uselessly for a moment. “I…I didn’t think…”

“Besides. Claire would never let me live it down,” Jamie interrupted. “Must I carry ye as well? Get up, man. Take my trousers wi’ ye. And Claire’s nightgown.”

Jamie turned then and carried Claire into the bedroom, leaving John to scramble for their clothing and follow after him. He watched as Jamie placed Claire onto the bed — on the left side — like she was made of porcelain and glass. Jamie gestured for John to throw their clothes on the floor by the foot of the bed, and then he made his way over to the cradle.

“She slept through all that racket, then?” John whispered.

“It would appear as such.”

Jamie leaned in and kissed Brianna’s tiny head, and John’s heart strained in his chest. Jamie whispered something in Gaelic and then left the cradle. John approached it next, almost as if he didn’t believe that she was really asleep. He smiled to see that she was, and he swiped at a few copper tufts on her forehead.

“Goodnight, little love.” He kissed her head as Jamie had, and then turned to see that Jamie had gotten into bed on the right side and gathered Claire into his arms.

“Where should I…?”

“Just get in the bed, ye stuffy wee fusspot.”

John blushed, grinning sheepishly as he made his way to the bed. He got in on the right, and he was indescribably touched when Jamie folded him into his side as he’d just seen him do to Claire.

“Jamie, I…” At a loss for words, John pressed a fervent kiss to Jamie’s chest. “Thank you.”

He heard Jamie inhale deeply through his nose as he pressed a kiss to the crown of Claire’s head, then he felt as Jamie did the same to him. It made him feel safe, it made him feel whole.

“Thank you, John.”

Chapter Text

 

Claire awoke slowly, aware first and foremost of the pleasant soreness between her legs. She nuzzled into the warmth of Jamie’s chest, keeping her eyes closed, and then she became aware of a second thing.

A hand touching hers that was decidedly not Jamie’s.

She opened her eyes lazily, smiling, remembering. She laced her fingers with John’s, and he smiled back at her. Then she noticed the hand moving through John’s hair, and she briefly glanced up to see that Jamie was awake too.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” she said groggily, stretching out for a minute before curling up again. She flashed her eyes down at the tent in the blanket. “Good morning to you, too.”

Jamie swatted at her arse, and she squeaked, and John chuckled.

“Can ye blame me? Waking up wi’ the reminders of what happened on either side of me?” He looked back and forth between each lover, and Claire’s heart skipped a beat to see John reach up to kiss Jamie deeply, less hesitant than he’d been the previous night.

She truly loved watching them, watching this. She also loved joining, but there was something so inexplicably beautiful about just watching her husband be loved so purely. And watching him love in return.

She’d known all along. From the moment he’d confessed to kissing him, to initiating the kiss, she could sense something that she wasn’t ready to admit to herself, that Jamie wasn’t ready to admit to himself. Then even when Jamie returned and he was burning alive with jealousy, Claire had caught fractions of moments between her two men, and she knew. She knew before Jamie did.

Jamie had always loved him.

And that wasn’t to say that Claire had ever been chased from his mind or his heart. He somehow had always loved both. And Claire would not have begrudged him that for their entire lives together. She couldn’t understand, but she could accept that Jamie had that part of him, even if he couldn't ever have done anything about it. But then all this had happened, and she very quickly understood. She hated herself for ever thinking that Jamie would be happy repressing the part of him that longed for John. Because if Claire had had to do it after everything…she’d never be truly happy again.

The kiss in front of her was growing in fervor, and she instinctively glanced at the cradle to assure herself that Brianna would not stir. John climbed into Jamie’s lap, straddling him. Claire fiddled with the sheets and blankets so they could be unencumbered, and then laid back to watch. They kissed madly until they were grunting and groaning like rutting beasts, and John pulled away.

“Do you…” he said breathlessly. “You could…”

He gulped, then guided Jamie’s hand to his arse, dipping their joined fingers in the slit.

“If you want.”

Jamie’s eyes were darker than Claire had ever seen, and she felt her insides melting. She licked her lips and sat up. Jamie looked to Claire for guidance, or perhaps approval.

“If you want to, Jamie,” Claire said, cupping his face and kissing him sweetly. “Then I want you to.”

Jamie nodded, and Claire’s stomach flipped.

“Hold on.”

She swung her legs off the bed and reached into the nightstand for the lubricant that she’d had Jamie purchase in case she had any trouble after the birth. Evidently she hadn’t, but it would now prove useful anyway. She held it up for the men to see, and Jamie nodded in understanding. She got up on her knees behind John, her entire body covered with gooseflesh.

“On your knees, Soldier.”

She saw John shiver, but he obeyed, lifting up from his position straddled across Jamie’s lap. He braced his hands on Jamie’s shoulders as Claire unscrewed the lid and coated her fingers. Jamie tried to see around John to watch Claire, but the man in his lap obstructed his view. He settled instead on watching John’s face as Claire worked, and she was admittedly jealous that she couldn't see what he was seeing, even as he likely wished he could see what she was seeing.

She wondered how long Jamie had fantasized of this, or if he’d even thought of it. Had something like this even crossed his mind to do to another man?

Claire coated John’s slit and then gathered more of the grease. She smiled wickedly when she found his entrance, and her fingers slid in easily. He groaned deliciously, and she could see Jamie’s cock twitch at the sound. She probed him for a bit, thoroughly greasing him and preparing him for Jamie. Admittedly, she was enjoying it far too much, and went on longer than perhaps she needed to.

She removed her fingers and trailed them up his spine tantalizingly. She bit his earlobe, eliciting a soft gasp.

“He’s all ready for you, Jamie.”

Jamie licked his lips and tightened his jaw, and John breathed heavily. He pushed Jamie’s shoulders back until Jamie was lying down, propped up into a half sitting position by the pillows. Jamie’s hands traveled to John’s hips, squeezing with white knuckles. Claire exhaled tremulously, repressing the temptation to touch herself.

John was going to ride him, the way she always rode him.

Jamie watched, completely mesmerized as John grasped Jamie’s cock, holding it in place, and then lowered himself. John’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, his mouth hanging open as a stuttering moan echoed through him. Jamie groaned as well, louder and louder as John took each inch of him in. They both groaned in time with one another when Jamie was fully sheathed, John settling on him, adjusting.

Even if Claire wanted to touch herself now, she couldn’t. She was frozen, her eyes glued to Jamie’s face, strained in a way she’d never seen. He was beet red all the way down to his stomach, a sheen of sweat covering his whole body, beading on his forehead. The crease between his brow that she knew so well was there, his pupils blown wide.

“Christ…” he grunted. “It’s…it’s so…”

John nodded wordlessly, breathing heavily. He braced one hand on Jamie’s abdomen and the other behind him on Jamie’s thigh.

“Oh, Jamie…” he breathed, a heavenly sigh that made Claire’s heart flutter. “Oh…fuck…”

John began rolling his hips, and Jamie moaned loudly. Claire thought she might explode. She had never heard John sound so filthy. It was erotic beyond description, even more than it was when Jamie did. Jamie was always rough around the edges, primal. But John was so god damned refined…

Fuck, Jamie…” he went on, “you feel like Heaven. Oh God…”

He threw his head back in ecstasy, and his filthy mouth didn’t stop there. He went on and on, growing more and more unintelligible by the second. Jamie seemed incapable of speech, which was likely for the best. Claire might have keeled over if they were both talking filth to one another.

John increased his tempo, and it was unclear if it was of his own volition or if it was because Jamie was moving his hips for him. Jamie was now arching his back off the mattress, adding his own thrusting into the mix. They were loud. John was even louder than he’d been the previous night. He’d cry himself hoarse soon. Jamie was always relatively loud, never matching Claire, but now, he was making sounds she didn’t think him capable of. Claire watched, utterly mesmerized at the sight of John’s cock slamming against Jamie’s stomach muscles, back and forth with the force of his riding.

As if hypnotized by a merchant with a pendulum, Claire was drawn to John’s cock, and she literally could not stop herself from reaching out to grasp it. He yelled then, tightening his grip on Jamie’s flesh. Before Claire could set a proper rhythm, John paused. Jamie had moved his hands off of him.

She felt them then, on her own hips.

“Come here, mo ghraidh,” he growled, his voice hoarse. “I can see ye dripping from here.”

She gaped at him for a moment, until he tugged her arse toward his face.

“Holy God,” she breathed, her voice thin and frail.

She was, indeed, dripping, and as she spread her legs above Jamie’s face, he licked every inch of it off her inner thighs before kissing her there, and Claire screamed. With nowhere else to brace herself, she grasped John’s shoulders, and he growled into a kiss. He found purchase in her breasts, kissing her madly, like a man starved. Jamie’s tongue worked madly on her, dipping in and out, flicking rapidly over her apex, as John’s tongue lapped at her mouth, her neck, her nipples, all while he rode Jamie to oblivion.

She was not going to last very long at all.

As predicted, she was gyrating her hips on Jamie’s face in a matter of minutes, and John was slamming up and down, Claire’s wrist burning with the speed of her hand on his cock.

“Oh, Claire, Jamie, fuck…”

John did not seem to know who he should call to as he shot his seed on Jamie’s stomach, crying out against Claire’s mouth. Claire was next, as John was still spilling into her hand. She came fiercely, almost painfully, and John sank his teeth into her lower lip. Jamie was not long after; John had not stopped riding, and Jamie was thrusting like a man possessed, especially now that he’d seen Claire to completion. His cries were muffled for obvious reasons, but Claire could see his hips stutter and still, could feel his grip on her arse tighten, and could hear John’s soft moan at the sensation of being filled with Jamie’s seed.

They were clinging to each other like their lives depended on it, John and Claire. She had her arms wrapped all the way around his neck, and he fully enveloped her in return, breathing into her hair, kissing her head, sighing and groaning with aftershocks. Claire gripped a handful of John’s hair for no other reason than she felt that she must, that she needed to hold onto him in any way she could.

“You’re not leaving me.”

She said it before she realized she had.

“No,” he answered, squeezing tighter. “Never, love. Never.”

Even after what had transpired the previous night, she was still afraid. Afraid she’d wake up and he’d be gone, too ashamed or afraid to stay, or that Jamie would have changed his mind after all.

She felt herself lift up a bit, Jamie lifting her, and when next she sat down, it was in Jamie’s lap, leaning against his chest, still clinging to John.

Love.

Is that what this was?

Claire felt a kiss on the back of her neck from Jamie, then felt his forehead rest there. His arms wound around her waist, below John’s arms.

“Do you, John?”

“Do I what?”

“Love…?” Claire’s voice trailed off, afraid of the answer.

“Because I…” she went on in spite of herself. “I think I must.”

She felt him swallow, and then she felt wet droplets on the crown of her head, christening her.

“Yes,” he gasped, lacing his fingers tighter in her knotted mess of hair. “Yes, my dear. I think I must love you.”

She fervently kissed the crook of his neck that she was buried in, but it wasn’t enough. She untangled herself from him to kiss him soundly on the lips. Jamie’s hands roamed up to absently knead her breasts in his hands, gently, with no further intentions than to just touch them. As if for comfort.

Claire kept one hand on John’s cheek as she extricated herself from Jamie’s grip, and she made herself the point of a triangle, John and Jamie now facing one another. She cupped Jamie’s cheek with her other hand, and she kissed him, even as she rubbed circles on John’s cheek with her thumb.

“I love you, Jamie,” she assured him gently. “Do you believe that?”

“Of course,” he said with no hesitation.

She smiled at him sweetly before kissing John again. “And I love you.”

She glanced back and forth between them, and she saw none of the prior animosity in Jamie. She could not read him, not at first. He was staring at John, and John was staring back.

They both want to say it.

Neither of them did.

They sat in silence for a long while, Claire keeping a hand on each of their faces. Jamie turned his face to kiss her palm, and that was when Claire noticed that Jamie’s fingertips rested oh so gently on John’s knee.

“I think…” Claire finally broke the silence, “we need to talk.”

What she wanted was to curl back into Jamie’s side and pull John behind her, to fall back asleep in their combined warmth, combined love. But they could not keep walking on eggshells. She let her hands fall into her lap, glancing back and forth.

“I’ll not stand for having to choose between you,” Claire went on. “You’re both mine now.”

“How?” Jamie finally spoke. “How can ye be married to us both? How can we...explain? To everyone...including our daughter?”

“All she needs to know is that we love her. And that we love each other,” Claire said. “That’s all that matters.”

“I agree that...love is what matters most,” John said carefully. “But it’s...this isn’t...normal. What we’re doing is...immoral. To most people.”

“I don’t care,” Claire snapped, her eyes flashing defiantly. “Did you care that loving a man was considered immoral to most people?”

John swallowed. “I did, Claire. But I was powerless to stop it.”

“And I am powerless to stop this,” she said emphatically.

“I understand,” John said, taking her hand. “I do.”

“Ye’ll also be powerless to stop the ridicule,” Jamie said darkly. “I heard the shite they spewed at John in the camp. People are cruel.” He stared over John’s shoulder at the wall, unseeing, unblinking. “We’ll never know peace.”

“I know peace,” Claire insisted, grasping Jamie’s hand. “Lying here, with you, both of you, watching you play with our daughter…”

Jamie shook his head. “Children are cruel. They’ll torment her. She’ll be punished fer the way we live our lives.”

“So what do you suggest? Giving it up?”

“I dinna ken,” Jamie snapped.

“Because I won’t.”

“I won’t either,” he growled, finally snapping his head to look at Claire. Then he lifted his fiery eyes to John, breathing heavily. “I won’t.”

John lifted their joined hands and kissed Jamie’s knuckles, maintaining eye contact.

“I won’t either,” he said.

Claire smiled weakly. “At least we’re in agreement there.”

“But what do we do?” John bore his eyes into her.

Claire took a deep breath, looking first to Jamie, then to John. “I don’t want to divorce you.” John flashed a worried look to Jamie as well. “I don’t want to go through the process of legally extricating myself from someone I love only to marry someone else I love. It feels too much like choosing. This is the way the pieces fell into place, and I don’t want to alter it.”

John nodded thoughtfully, but Jamie didn’t move.

“Jamie, I know you always wanted to get married in the church in Broch Mordha, with your family there. Could you...could you be happy without that?”

He didn’t speak for a moment, very deep in thought.

“The war...and all that it brought me...forced me to accept that life wasna going to go according to plan,” he said carefully. “You are the biggest result of that.” He locked eyes with John, who looked as if he didn’t know whether or not to be ashamed. “And the bairn.”

Claire nodded in acute understanding. Brianna had not been part of any plans, not right now. But neither had a world war.

“I can...accept that things have changed,” Jamie said finally. “I can live wi’out plans coming to fruition because I...I’m just glad to be alive at all.” His voice broke, and Claire squeezed his hand and nuzzled into his shoulder, kissing it. “There was a time I thought I’d never have this,” he gestured down to Claire, “or this.” He kissed John’s knuckles. “I didna ken I needed it, but I canna imagine my life wi’out it now.

“But…” Claire picked up her head to look at him as he continued. “I need to know my place in this. If ye stay married...I need to know where I fit.”

“Jamie…” Claire began. “You fit right here. You fit with us.”

“I ken.” He sounded frustrated, as if they weren’t understanding. He sat up straighter. “I ken enough that there’s enough room in yer hearts...but...fer one thing, I’ll not have my child be told I’m no’ her father.”

“Jamie! I wouldn’t!”

“Aye, it sounds unthinkable, but listen,” he went on urgently. “Everybody knows ye carried her, and ye’re married to John. Legally, on paper, she’s his blood. I have no place there.”

Claire opened her mouth to protest, but it died on her lips. He was right.

“Telling her the truth before she’s old enough to understand could be dangerous. For her as well as us,” Jamie went on. “But I couldna stomach her calling me Uncle. I couldna.” He spat the word like a curse. Claire deduced that Jamie had spent more time thinking about this than he’d ever let on.

The thought of raising Brianna and not being called Mummy was enough to turn her stomach. “Alright,” Claire said gently. “We’ll have to think of something.”

John nodded. “She’ll know as close to the truth as we can tell her,” he said.

Jamie nodded. “Aye. We’re to be on equal footing as parents.”

“Of course,” Claire agreed fervently.

“And,” he went on. “As partners.”

Claire waited for him to elaborate.

“If he is yer husband, then I am. I can accept formalities and legalities...but here, in our bed and in our home, ye’re mine just as much as his.”

Claire nodded emphatically. “Yes, love. Of course.”

“And…” Jamie trailed off, looking at John. “The same goes fer you.”

Claire noticed he did not go as far as to refer to John as his husband.

Too soon, she thought. Maybe someday.

John leaned forward to cup Jamie’s cheek. “I have always been yours, Jamie. And I always will be.”

They sealed that promise with a kiss, and Claire’s heart swelled. They allowed the blissful moment to pass caressing each other and gazing lovingly.

“Where should we go?” Claire said, interrupting the silence.

“Go?” Jamie raised a brow.

“Well we can’t stay here,” she said simply. “Brianna can’t share the room forever.”

Jamie made a Scottish noise in the back of his throat. “Aye, ye’re right.”

“And we don’t have to stay in London,” Claire suggested. “Do we?”

“Well…” John began hesitantly. “My work is here, but I suppose I could be an architect anywhere…”

“You get as much say as we do, John,” Claire said firmly. “We don’t have to leave. But…” She glanced at Jamie, then back to John. “I want to be a doctor. When Brianna is older, I want to go to medical school.”

John beamed with pride. “That’s wonderful, my dear.”

Jamie carried pride for his wife, but his expression was otherwise vacant.

“What are you thinking?” John asked him.

Jamie grunted in frustration. “I dinna care where we go.”

“It depends what you want to do,” Claire said. “I know you don’t want to be at John’s firm forever. Buying land would be tricky, because it would take us farther from any city, but a commute — ”

“I dinna want to do anything,” Jamie snapped suddenly, and Claire’s heart pinched. “I want to be a husband, and a father. I want to be part of this family.”

Claire and John exchanged a look. “Remember all that talk of a cottage on your family land? Horses, and wheat fields?” Claire prompted gently. “Is that still something you’d want?

“I canna go back home,” he said quickly. “It’s no’ that I’m...ashamed. I’m just...I’m no’ ready to explain. I dinna wish to think of it.”

“Okay,” Claire soothed. “That’s alright.”

Claire stroked Jamie’s hair, watching him anxiously. Jamie had studied languages at university in France; that’s where he’d met Claire. He had a brilliant mind, but his heart was always with the land, with the beasts in the stable, with his family. She wondered if perhaps the war had taken some of that from him, had made him dread the feeling of mud beneath him rather than relish in it, if the vastness of a no-man’s-land had taught him to fear an open field.

He was lost, and the only thing he was certain of was family, this family.

“You don’t have to be anything more than you want to be,” she went on. “We’re here.”

As if to proclaim to her father that she was there too, Brianna began fussing and broke into an all-out wail before Claire finished tying off her robe.

Claire flitted over to the cradle, tutting and hushing, and when she sat down in her rocking chair to nurse, John was sitting up against the pillows with Jamie tucked into his side, curly red head on John’s narrow and muscled torso. They had the blankets draped over their hips, creating a fluttering pattern over their tangled legs: the makings of a breathtaking sculpture. Soldiers Embrace, she’d call it.

Jamie was watching Brianna with piercing attentiveness, the love in his eyes enough to break her heart. John stared for a while at the growing light out the window, absently playing with Jamie’s hair with the hand on the end of the arm draped around his shoulders.

“Shouldn’t you two be getting ready for work?” Claire chided gently.

“Ach, let it be fer a bit, Sassenach,” Jamie mumbled into John’s chest, kissing it, his eyes never leaving Brianna. “Let me have peace.”

——

About a week later, Claire was sitting at the dressing table in their bedroom, putting final touches on her makeup. In the mirror, she could see behind her that Jamie was tying John’s tie while John held onto Brianna, babbling to her. She stared for a moment, overcome once again with her own luck. As she moved on to putting in her earrings, Jamie finished with the tie, and he straightened John’s collar before putting his hands on his shoulders and leaning in to kiss him sweetly. They’d been getting more and more comfortable being openly affectionate with one another, more and more emboldened. Claire was glad of it.

John was also becoming more and more forward with Claire, less and less worried about how Jamie would react with every passing day. As if to prove right Claire’s train of thought, John handed Brianna off to Jamie and approached the dressing table, grasping her shoulders and fervently kissing her temple.

“You look enchanting, my dear.” He smiled at her through the mirror, and she blushed, smiling back. It was strange to her, how she blushed at John’s affections like a schoolgirl after all they’d been through. Even though they were married, she supposed they were still in that courting stage of their relationship, as strange as it may seem.

It amazed Claire every day that John could love her, not in spite of her being a woman, but because of it. John could not make any sense of it when asked; the only thing to do was to accept that this was the truth.

“Thank you, darling,” Claire returned, covering one of his hands on her shoulder. “You’re rather dashing yourself.” She gave his hand a squeeze and then put on her other earring. “I’m just about finished.”

John nodded in acknowledgement, and they both looked up at the same time to see Jamie staring at them through the mirror.

“Are you sure this is alright, Jamie?” John said, turning away to go to him. “I know it isn’t easy. It would be eating me alive if the roles were reversed.”

“Aye, well,” Jamie said gruffly. “It is eating me alive. But there’s nothing to be done about it.”

Claire turned in her seat, finished with the mirror. “I don’t have to go.”

“Aye, ye do,” he insisted. “That’s how the world works.”

Claire swallowed thickly, and John grimaced. “I wish it didn’t,” John said quietly.

Tonight, John was going for dinner at the boss’s house, and he was to bring his wife.

Not on the invite list was the handfast husband of his wife/man who was essentially his own husband.

This was the first of many things of the like that Jamie would be forced to be left out of, and it wasn’t fair.

“My whole life, I…” Jamie trailed off, tightening his grip on Brianna and inhaling the scent of her from the crown of her head. “Well, when I met Claire, that is, I had this image of...paradin’ her around and telling the world that she was my wife. The...greatest honor and privilege. And I canna share it.”

“I know, Jamie,” Claire mumbled, getting up and going to him. “I’m sorry, love. I’m so sorry.”

“I wouldna have it any other way, dinna mistake me,” he added. “It just...to no’ be able to claim ye as my wife, and you, as my…” Jamie trailed off again, staring at John.

“I know,” John said, cupping Jamie’s cheek and pressing his forehead to his. Claire lifted the baby from Jamie’s arms, giving her a kiss and settling her on her hip. Jamie reciprocated in kind, and they were both holding each other’s faces.

“I love you, James Fraser,” John whispered. “I told you once, and I’ve been too cowardly to tell you again. But God, I do.” He pressed his lips to his for a brief but tender kiss. “Please don’t forget it.”

Claire watched every possible emotion dance across Jamie’s face, his eyes roaming all over John’s, as if searching for any trace of untruth. Jamie’s throat bobbed, his jaw tightening, and he looked as if he might be in pain.

“I..I ken, John,” he whispered hoarsely. “I...I love you, too.”

Claire’s chest ached, astonished at what she was hearing. John seemed to be in as much disbelief as she was, because he gasped with a shudder, then kissed Jamie again, in relief. When their lips parted, Jamie went on:

“And that’s what makes this so feckin painful.”

Claire’s heart nearly tore in two at the break in Jamie’s voice, at the tears rolling down his cheeks. John brushed them away with his thumbs, and Claire moved in closer to grasp the back of Jamie’s neck, pressing her forehead into his cheek. She kissed his cheek as John kissed his lips, Brianna cooing and patting Daddy’s face.

“We love you, Jamie,” Claire affirmed. “What the world sees doesn’t matter. Not one bit.”

“Remember what we said,” John added. “In our bed and in our home, I am yours as much as hers. And she is yours as much as mine.”

Jamie nodded wordlessly, brushing his stubbled cheek against Claire’s.

“We’ll make it up to you, Jamie,” Claire promised. “Tonight, when we get back. We are all yours.”

“Aye,” he said. “Mine.”

——

Claire was pleasantly tipsy when they arrived home, having needed the alcohol to put up with the inane drawling of John’s boss, and his wife as well. She was more than grateful to be home. Not to mention this had been the longest she’d ever been away from Brianna in the baby’s entire lifetime, and as silly as it sounded, she missed her terribly every second she sat at that dinner table. They’d been able to leave earlier than a few of the other couples with the excuse that Brianna was still nursing, and Claire was eternally grateful.

When Claire and John entered the flat together, Jamie was sitting on the sofa with his knees up, resting Brianna there, muttering quietly to her in Gaelic. Claire’s heart fluttered, and a goofy smile plastered itself on her face.

“Oh, there’s my girl…” She floated over to the sofa and dipped down to kiss Jamie’s cheek as she lifted Brianna off of his lap. “Hello, darling. Oh...my sweetheart, I missed you so much!”

Brianna immediately began fussing. “Ah, there she goes,” Jamie said lightly. “She started whimpering in hunger about an hour ago, but I kept her calm until now.”

“Oh…” Claire cooed, bouncing Brianna as she made her way to an armchair. “Did Mummy remind you how hungry you were? Were you so very hungry without Mummy?”

John loosened his tie and sat down with a great sigh on the couch, and Jamie immediately pulled into his side like a magnet, kissing his cheek and nuzzling into his neck. John hummed in appreciation, lacing his fingers in Jamie’s hair, his head tipped back on the cushion.

Brianna settled down and latched onto Claire’s already leaking nipple. She played with the curling red tufts on her soft head, listening to the sound of her greedy guzzling. Lost for a moment in the heaven of holding her baby, she almost didn’t hear another sound, a suckling of a different sort.

She looked up to see Jamie veritably attacking John’s face with his mouth, tongues battling for dominance.

“Don’t you dare start without me,” Claire protested, but they did not stop. She rolled her eyes and returned her attention to Brianna. “You’d better count your blessings that you won’t remember any of this, little girl. They’re shameless, really.”

Once she was fed, Claire retreated to the bedroom to burp her, change her, and put her down. When she returned to the living room, both men were already shirtless, John straddling Jamie’s lap, lapping at his nipples. Claire wanted to groan in exasperation at their impatience, but instead, she found herself flushing red and desperate with need.

A few days ago, Jamie had fully taken her for the first time since the birth, and God how she had missed that feeling. Then John had taken her, while Jamie took John. She found herself lying awake at night, imagining all the different possibilities, all the different ways the three of them could come together.

They did not even seem to notice her arrival, so she marched right in front of the sofa, clearing her throat.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, turning around slowly. “I hate to interrupt, but I think you’d like to see this.”

Her desire and her boldness were heightened by the liquor swimming in her brain. She bent down to grasp the hem of her dress and slowly, tormentingly slowly, lifted it up. When the silken white underwear was exposed, she heard both of their breaths catch in their throats, and she smiled triumphantly. She dipped her thumbs in the hem of the shorts, sliding them down with another tantalizing bend forward. She stepped out of them, leaving her stockings on, and then turned to face them. Jamie reached for her with a growl, but Claire stepped back.

“Ah-ah,” she scolded. She made eye contact with each man, smiling wickedly. “Finish undressing each other. Now.”

Jamie turned bright red, his throat bobbing, and John made a small whimpering sound. The two fools fumbled with each other’s belts and flies and underpants, and Claire sucked in a breath as both of their solid members sprang free at once. They each tossed the other’s clothing over their shoulders, and Claire hummed approvingly.

“That’s better,” she crooned, taking a step to them again. She straddled Jamie’s lap without taking him inside, pressing his cock into his stomach again. He hissed and then moaned, greedily reaching under her dress to seize her arse.

“Mm,” Claire moaned, licking a trail up his throat and scratching his shoulders roughly. “I missed you, love.”

With a roar, Jamie captured Claire’s lips with his own, devouring her. He swallowed her moans as she rolled her hips, just wet enough to make grinding against him absolutely delicious. Jamie kept one hand on her arse and used the other to pump John slowly, going back and forth between kissing him and Claire.

Suddenly, like a man possessed, Jamie stood up, lifting Claire bodily and depositing her beside the arm of the couch. He bent her over it, rucked up her dress, and entered her with a growl, piercing Claire so deeply that she practically screamed. She dug her nails into the upholstery, arching her back and neck, feeling heat creep up from where Jamie entered her all the way up every inch of her skin. John crawled across the length of the sofa, kissing Claire on his hands and knees as Jamie pounded into her mercilessly.

Claire knew quite well that Jamie was enjoying this, squeezing and pulling apart and pushing together the halves of her arse like a sculptor. He did not fully undress her, but something told her that he enjoyed that part, too. Even Claire had to admit that there was something about her skirts rucked up about her that was inexplicably erotic. Not to mention the stockings. They had to be driving Jamie mad.

John pumped himself while kissing Claire, while watching Jamie slam into her. Claire wished she could reach out and do it for him, but she’d have fallen on her face from the sheer force of Jamie.

“Mine,” Jamie suddenly choked out. “This is mine.”

“Yes!” Claire cried out hoarsely, arching her back as far as she could. “I’m yours, Jamie. Use me. I’m yours.”

Use her he did, moaning and groaning, Claire’s cries reaching new heights in pitch and volume. John suddenly stood up, and Claire peered over her shoulder to see him kiss Jamie deeply, lapping his tongue in Jamie’s mouth. Jamie kept one hand braced on Claire’s hips, his thrusts slowing as he roughly seized John’s cock.

Mine,” Jamie growled, and John whimpered, his head falling onto Jamie’s shoulder.

“Yes, Jamie,” he answered, his voice thin and frail. “I’m yours, my love. God, I love you.”

John kissed him deeply again, and then he pulled away.

“I’ll be right back,” John said throatily, the closest to a growl he’d ever come. He retreated to the bedroom, and Claire very suddenly deduced what he intended. Jamie was moving slowly in her, unable to keep still, but he was careful not to go too far before John returned. It was driving Claire mad, and she wriggled her hips desperately.

When John returned, he did indeed have the jar of grease with him. Claire felt Jamie melt behind her, his eyes hooding.

“Do you trust me, Jamie?” John whispered.

Jamie swallowed thickly; Claire could hear it.

“Aye,” he croaked, and Claire felt his cock twitch inside her.

“Then let me show you,” John murmured, opening the grease and dipping his fingers inside. He positioned himself behind Jamie, pushing on his back until Jamie’s chest was pressed flat against Claire’s back.

“Let me show you that you are mine,” John said.

“Aye,” Jamie gasped, his grip on Claire’s hips tightening painfully. “Show me, mo chridhe. I’m yers.”

Though neither man was speaking to Claire, she let out a moan anyway, unable to suppress what these protestations were doing to her. When John’s first finger entered Jamie, he stiffened against Claire, inadvertently thrusting deeper into Claire, and she bit her lip. She very well might die if Jamie didn’t start moving again soon. The anticipation was deadly.

Jamie gradually relaxed, and he began making sounds that Claire had never heard before. He yelped when a second finger followed the first, and Claire moaned as he finally started moving again, thrusting against John’s hand.

“Is it alright?” John asked, murmured against the skin of Jamie’s back.

“Aye,” Jamie choked out. “Oh, Christ...I need ye inside me, man.”

John shuddered, his breath stuttering out of his mouth, and Claire’s stomach turned to liquid. John lined himself up, folding himself over Jamie’s back, and Claire could feel their combined weights pressing her into the arm of the couch. Her arms gave out, doubling her over onto the cushions.

“I’ll go slow,” John assured him, kissing his neck stroking his sides. Jamie made a choked sound, and Claire assumed John had begun. Claire’s patience was growing thin, but she did not want to ruin this moment. Jamie continued to sputter and curse as John fully sheathed himself, and they both sighed with relief when he was fully inside.

“Oh, God help me…” Jamie whimpered.

“Fuck, Jamie…” John groaned, loudly kissing his neck. “You’re exquisite, love. Oh, God…”

John moved slowly, encouraging Jamie to set the pace, and then finally, finally, Jamie was moving inside Claire again. She practically sobbed with relief, arching back and grinding her hips desperately. Jamie was doubly loud now, sensations from both sides likely stimulating him to the point of madness. John was moaning now too, and Claire could feel each of his thrusts as plainly and she felt Jamie’s. Just by the sounds John was making, Claire could tell he was having a difficult time controlling himself. Jamie was growing more and more comfortable with the dual sensation, his thrusts growing more even, regular, and deep.

Still certain this would not be enough, Claire stood up, pushing both men with her, and let Jamie slip out of her. She wanted to watch them, wanted to watch John take Jamie, wanted to watch Jamie come undone with John inside him. She sat down on the arm of the couch and kissed Jamie deeply, then lowered her back and spread her legs for him. Both of her men groaned at the sight, and Jamie plowed into her mercilessly, causing her to cry out. Claire stretched her arms over her head, relishing in every thrust and every grunt from them.

As Jamie’s enthusiasm grew, his thrusts got faster and deeper. At just the right time, his fingers found that bud that was aching for his touch, and Claire moaned throatily, writhing in ecstasy.

“Yes, Jamie...oh, God…”

“Oh, Jamie...Jamie…” John panted, nibbling at his ear. “I love you...you’re exquisite...I love you…”

Jamie could not speak, just groaned louder and pistoned his hips like a madman, and then he was coming, fiercely and loudly, perhaps louder than he ever had.

“Oh, God, oh God...oh, John…”

The sight was enough to send Claire over the edge as well, and she came with a shriek that left her hoarse, squeezing a throw pillow over her head. John bit down on Jamie’s shoulder and let himself go, thrusting madly until he stuttered to a stop with an abrupt shout, squeezing Jamie around the torso.

“Oh, love...Jamie…”

The rest of his exclamations were filthy and unintelligible, and had Claire not already come until she saw stars, the sight and the sound would have sent her again. They all three heaved and panted until their bodies stopped twitching with aftershocks, and then Claire tugged on Jamie’s hands to bring her to him, and John followed. As the boys settled on the sofa, Claire peeled off her dress, sighing with relief when the garment was no longer plastered to her with sweat. She even rolled her stockings off, loving the feeling of being totally bare, and yet craving the warmth of her husbands’ bodies immediately. 

Jamie was lying fully stretched across the cushions, and John was curled into his side, legs hanging off the edge. Claire crawled up the length of Jamie’s body until her head was in John’s lap. She laced her hand with Jamie’s and watched Jamie’s other hand trace lines over John’s face.

“Thank ye,” Jamie whispered reverently.

“For what?” John said, as though there was nothing remarkable about what had just happened. But Claire knew that John had been longing for that experience for years.

“For yer love, John,” Jamie said, like it was painfully obvious. “Christ, I canna believe how much I love ye.”

Claire’s heart warmed, and she squeezed his hand.

“Is it worth it?” John said, his voice trembling. “The pain, the secrets, the lies, hiding…”

Jamie answered by kissing him, hard. Claire tightened her embrace around John’s waist, kissing his muscled stomach.

“It’s worth everything.” Jamie’s voice was tight. He brought Claire’s knuckles to his lips and kissed them. “You both are worth everything.”

Chapter Text

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John could not say why he’d woken up. He hadn’t been dreaming of anything that would jar him awake, there was no sound. Rather, there was a lack of sound. Claire’s light snoring filled his ears…but Jamie’s heavy breathing did not join it.

And then he noticed the crying.

John turned over, having ended up with his back to Jamie, who had fallen asleep with John and Claire tucked into his sides. When he could see Jamie in the dim moonlight, his breath caught in his throat. He was stiff as a board, every muscle clenched, eyes squeezed shut, whimpering quietly.

“Jamie…?” He sat up a bit, leaning on his elbow.

This was not unlike the nights he’d woken to the sound of Claire’s weeping, when Jamie was dead, a whole other lifetime ago.

“Jamie,” he said again. “I’m here. It’s alright.”

His mouth opened to exhale with a small sob, and John felt his heart cleave in two.

“Was it another dream?” John whispered, gently running his fingertips over the creases in Jamie’s face. He knew of them, having even heard Jamie wake with a cry from the next room when he still slept on the couch. But Claire had always been the one to bring him down from that terror. John had to fight the urge to wake her, to ask her what to do.

No, Jamie needed to know he could trust John, needed to know that he would carry that burden just the same as Claire would.

“Open your eyes, Jamie,” John beckoned softly.

Jamie shook his head violently, sending a shiver up and down his body.

“You’re in your bedroom, I’m here, Claire is here, Brianna is across the room. There’s nothing to fear.”

He shook his head again, and tears leaked out of his squeezed eyes.

“What are you frightened of, love? Talk to me?”

“I…” Jamie rasped. “I can feel him.”

“Who?”

“He looked me in the eyes, smiling at me while he blew up…he’s all over me .”

Hayes.

“No, Jamie. There’s nothing on you but this blanket. You’re in your bed.” He willed his voice to be calm, swallowing back the bile that rose in his throat when he realized what Jamie had dreamt of.

“I can smell it…burning, rotting flesh…I canna get it off…”

“It’s off. It’s gone,” John assured him. “I promise. If you open your eyes you’ll see.”

Jamie just sobbed again.

“Can you…can you breathe for me, Jamie?” John tried a different tactic, knowing that Claire had used this for both of them at various times when the ghosts of the war got the best of them. “You can keep your eyes closed. Just breathe, love. Please.”

Jamie obeyed, breathing through his mouth. John coaxed him into breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, realizing that perhaps he was afraid to inhale too deeply through his nose, lest he smell more burning flesh.

“Can you smell Claire’s perfume?” John said. “That sweet vanilla, mixed with that herbal smell that follows her everywhere?”

He watched Jamie’s throat bob, his teeth grinding. He inhaled shallowly through his nose. “Aye…I do.”

“Good, that’s good.” John stroked back Jamie’s sweaty curls. “What about me? Do you smell my cologne?”

Jamie breathed in deeper through his nose. “Aye.”

“Good.” He continued stroking Jamie’s head. “And baby powder. This whole place always smells of baby powder.”

He could swear Jamie’s lips quirked up as if he wanted to smile, but the strain in his muscles wouldn’t let him. “Aye. I can smell it.”

“See? It smells like home, Jamie. You’re home.”

John coaxed a few more deep breaths out of him, and then Jamie’s eyes fluttered open, meeting John’s gaze.

“There you are,” John whispered, cupping his face.

“John…” Jamie blinked rapidly, his chest heaving.

“It’s alright.” John leaned down and kissed him sweetly, chastely, on the lips, then each cheek, his forehead, then his lips again. “I’m here.”

Jamie leaned up and kissed him back, wrapping his arms around him, hands splaying on his back.

“Christ…” Jamie breathed, eyes glistening. “I love you, man.”

John laughed wetly, still not used to hearing that. “I love you too, Jamie. So painfully much.”

The baby stirred, and only then did Claire wake up, more alert than she should have been for three in the morning. Miraculously, they’d all fallen asleep clothed that night, so she just slid out of bed and took Brianna in her arms, flicking on the lamp on the nightstand. When she was settled in the rocking chair, child at her breast, she finally noticed that the men were awake, and had frozen with their hands all over each other. Claire smirked, her eyes half shut.

“Please, don’t stop on my account,” she said wryly, her voice slurring.

John was looking over his shoulder at her, and he turned back to Jamie, laughing quietly through his nose, and delighted to see Jamie shaking with quiet laughter as well. Jamie finished pulling John on top of him, but did not ravage him with kisses as John had anticipated. He merely held him there, as if he were a human blanket draped across his chest, arms wrapped bodily around John’s smaller frame. John buried his face in Jamie’s neck, no kissing or suckling, just resting, breathing, savoring.

This somehow felt more intimate to John than any time their cocks had been inside one another.

They remained like this, holding onto each other for dear life, until the sound of their daughter’s drinking ceased, and Claire’s telltale sigh of relief announced that Brianna was finally back in the cradle. John felt the bed shift and heard Claire thud into it with a groan, lamp flicking off.

“Don’t be too bloody loud,” she grumbled, and then her snoring resumed.

John had to bite down on his lip to stop himself from laughing out loud. Only Claire could get out of bed and breastfeed only half awake, acknowledge that her husbands were in the position to become intimate, and then fall right back asleep as if she’d never woken in the first place.

“D’ye suppose she ever truly woke up?” Jamie whispered into John’s ear, his voice dancing with mirth.

“Did she sleepwalk, you mean?” John whispered into his neck.

“Aye, I believe she did.”

John laughed softly and began kissing Jamie’s neck, laughing still between kisses. Jamie dragged his face out of the crook of his neck. “Come here,” he growled, kissing him deeply, swirling their tongues together. “I want to feel alive, John. Wi’ you, right now.”

John rode him, taking him in deeply, biting his own lip and Jamie’s lip to stifle his cries, lest they provoke the sleeping beast inches away from them. Jamie clawed at his back, then fisted his cock, until they were coming together, lips sealed together.

John fell asleep again, sprawled on Jamie’s chest, the scent of their combined sweat and seed swirling in his nose, all too aware of how blessed he was to be somebody that made Jamie Fraser feel alive.

——

On a brisk, foggy night in April, long after dark, Claire pushed Brianna’s pram along the sidewalks of London, trailed closely by her boys. Jamie had not stopped asking questions the whole while, very much not a fan of the fact that John and Claire knew what was going on when he did not.

They’d been planning this for weeks, she and John, ever since that night of the dinner party that Jamie had had to watch John and Claire go off to. Claire’s stomach was tumbling over and over, her heart lurching. Added to that anxiety was the fact that her fingers had not been bare for months and months, years if she just thought of Jamie’s ring alone. She kept going to twist the rings on her hands, only to come up empty, be reminded of why she was nervous, and then feel ill all over again. One of the pockets of her coat felt like it weighed fifty pounds, jangling as it was with two different rings.

It was late enough that not a soul lingered in the streets, save the occasional drunk stumbling out of a bar that wouldn’t remember them in the morning if his life depended on it. That was exactly what they’d wanted, what they’d needed.

She glanced behind her at the boys, dressed in fine coats over their button-downs and ties. She herself was dressed in her finest white dress falling to her mid-calf and trimmed with lace, hugging all her curves in a way she knew to be pleasing from the way Jamie ogled at her before she put her coat on. It wasn’t the wedding dress she’d imagined as a little girl, but neither was this the wedding she’d imagined.

When they arrived at the church, Jamie still didn’t seem to have gotten the hint. It was open, of course, being that God’s doors were always open, but it was empty, and pitch black, save for one electric light in a corner for any lost souls who needed entry.

“Her baptism isna fer several weeks yet,” he interjected as John and Claire began lighting candles. “Her wee nose is frozen, taking her out in the dead of night like this! What is the meaning of this?”

Claire and John exchanged a look as Jamie grumbled something about Sassenachs to his daughter.

“Really, now,” Jamie demanded. “ What is the meaning of this?”

“You don’t realize yet?” Claire said, willing her voice to be steady. She unbuttoned her coat and slid it off, bearing the white dress to him once again. She reached into her coat pocket and scooped out the rings. John positioned Brianna’s pram in front of the altar and stepped onto it, and Claire joined him.

“I’m wearing white…” Claire whispered. “My hands are bare…”

“Yer...what…?”

“Come up here, Jamie,” John beckoned, and Jamie obeyed, his eyes narrowing. He dropped something into the palm of Jamie’s hand, and Jamie recoiled with shock.

“Why’re ye giving me yer ring, Sassenach?” His voice was laced with panic.

“I’m not giving it to you,” Claire said. “You’re giving it to me. Again.”

“What…?”

“It’s the Church wedding you always wanted, Jamie,” John said gently.

His face fell slack with shock, and Claire swallowed against a sandpaper throat.

“That’s....my ring, from you, for us to renew our vows,” she said, her voice small and timid. “And that’s a new gold band. For you to give to John.”

Jamie stared, unblinking and unmoving at the rings in his palm. Claire glanced nervously at John.

“These are from me, to you both.” Claire produced the rings she had bought. “They’re both set with amber.”

Jamie grinned crookedly, staring at them. “One fer each of yer eyes.”

Claire beamed. “Exactly. I...I remember you said when we were apart that you’d...you’d stare into your whisky and…”

“Pretend I was drowning in yer eyes,” Jamie finished for her. “I remember.”

He still did not look up, so Claire closed her hand around the amber rings and looked to John again.

“And these,” John took over, reaching into his pocket again. “Are for each of you. Claire’s old wedding band from the courthouse to renew our vows, and a new band for you.”

John placed the third ring in Jamie’s palm, and handed the other to Claire. “I got them engraved. I wanted Claire’s to mean something more now that our marriage means something more than it did that day. And of course yours had to be, too.”

Jamie squinted into the ring, his nose scrunching. “When I’m not with you…?” he read, confused.

“It’s...the second half. Claire’s is the first.”

He turned to Claire expectantly, who peered into her ring. “I don’t live at all…” Her breath caught in her throat.

“Hemingway,” Jamie said as it dawned on him. “ Farewell to Arms .”

“Yes,” John said chuckling nervously. “‘Why, darling, I don’t live at all when I’m not with you.’”

“Oh, John…” Claire breathed.

“Either of you,” he clarified, though he hadn’t needed to.

“It’s beautiful,” Claire said thickly, handing it back to him. “So thoughtful. As you always are.”

Jamie wet his lips as he returned the ring to John, blinking several times. “So ye mean to…”

“To handfast,” John finished. “Yes.”

Jamie blinked, and then said, rather stupidly, “Ye need a witness.”

Claire couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of her. “You stupid, bloody Scot…” She cupped his face, forcing him to look her in the eye, look up from his palm for the first time in several minutes. “You and I didn’t have one the first time. You said God himself was enough of a witness. Isn’t that still true?”

Jamie nodded minutely. “Aye,” he said hoarsely. “Suppose you’re right.”

“And besides,” Claire added. “Brianna is right there.”

Jamie snorted, then sniffled. “D’ye ken yer daughter at all, Sassenach? She’ll sleep like a rock right through it.”

They all three shared a laugh at this, before sobering up rather quickly.

“Do you...want to do this, Jamie?” John said quietly. “It was Claire’s idea, and I...well, it would make me...beyond joyful to be married to you, darling. In the eyes of who matters.” Claire shifted one of her hands, and then she was cupping one of Jamie’s cheeks, and John the other. “Each other, our daughter, and God.”

Silent tears trickled down Jamie’s cheeks, and John and Claire each wiped them away.

“Will you marry us, Jamie?” Claire whispered, her forehead pressed to his.

“Aye,” he answered hoarsely. “Aye, I will.”

Out of sheer relief, Claire laughed again, and then kissed him fervently. John kissed his cheek as she did, and Jamie managed a wet smile at them both as they pulled apart. Jamie looked into his palm again, at the thistle ring that had lived on Claire’s hand for years, and at the plain gold band.

“I canna give ye this,” he said to John. “I had this one made fer Claire, chose every painstaking detail...this isna so much as engraved. I canna wed ye wi’ this.”

“Don’t worry about that,” John said quickly. “It’s my fault for that. We wanted to surprise you. You can replace it with whatever you want later.”

“Wait.” Something changed in Jamie’s face; the candlelight caught his eye differently, giving a little skip in its never-ending, flickering dance. He went for his right middle finger and twisted off the ring that lay there, and Claire’s breath caught in her throat.

“Jamie…” John breathed. “I couldn’t…”

“Yes, ye can.”

It was Brian’s ring, set with the ruby in a golden, ornate band. Jamie had proudly declared that one day, their first-born son would wear it, and Claire had mourned its loss along with Jamie, supposedly blown out of the sky with him, knowing that she could not carry out that promise with the baby they’d thought would be Brian.

“But your…your father…” John stammered. “He meant for it to be passed down…”

“Aye, and it will be,” Jamie interrupted, taking John’s hand in his. “To our son. A gift he can carry wi’ him when both his fathers are gone.”

Were the moment not so beautiful, Claire might have snarked that it was bold of them to assume she’d be carrying any more children. Besides, deep down, she knew she wanted to anyway.

Then, very suddenly, she could see it. She could see their big house, filled to the brim with their brood, brown and red hair alike, constant cacophonies of Da , Daddy , and Mummy echoing through the halls. She could see a little boy with John’s nose and Jamie’s eyes (though she knew this, scientifically, made no sense, her heart couldn’t be bothered correcting itself) sitting in John’s lap, fiddling with the ruby that would someday be his, while Jamie told stories of the grandfather that had once worn it.

Our legacy.

John sniffled, bringing Claire back from the future. His forehead was resting against Jamie’s, Jamie cupping the back of his head. Claire kissed both of their cheeks in turn, and then she lowered herself onto her knees, and they followed.

“D’ye remember?” Jamie asked, his eyes and face resembling those of a sweet puppy. “From the last time?”

Claire took his hand and squeezed. “I remember every single second.”

She reached with her other hand for John’s, and watched as they, too, laced their hands together. “We’ll both go first,” Claire said to John. “Repetition to help you remember, and all that.”

“Right,” John chuckled, the corners of his eyes crinkling.

Claire inhaled and then exhaled with a tremor, and John and Jamie both squeezed one of her hands, both of them in tune with her nerves, her need to be soothed, at the same time.

“I, Claire Elizabeth, do take thee, John William, to be my lawful wedded husband. And I take thee, James Alexander, to be my lawful wedded husband.” She met each of their eyes in turn, and the roiling in her stomach gradually faded into gentle waves on soft sand. “With my goods, I thee both endow, with my body, I thee both worship. In sickness and in health, in richness and in poverty, as long as we all shall live.” Her voice caught at the last second, and she blinked away the salty blurriness in her eyes.

She sniffled and unlaced their hands so she could place each ring on their respective hands. “I plight thee my troth,” she beamed at Jamie, sliding the gold band on his right hand, “And I plight thee my troth.” She slid the other ring on John’s finger, and she very nearly burst into tears at the joy on his face. Never had he shone so bright.

Claire kissed each of their rings as she had seen Jamie do to her thistle ring more times than she could count, then re-laced their hands.

She swallowed thickly and looked up at Jamie. “Your turn.”

He cleared his throat. “I, James Alexander, do take thee, Claire Elizabeth, to be my lawful wedded wife. And I do take thee, John William…” Jamie blinked rapidly, pausing to collect himself, and Claire’s tears finally spilled over, albeit silently. “I take thee, John William, to be my lawful wedded…husband.”

Claire had thought perhaps it would sound strange to hear that coming from a man’s voice. But it didn’t. She supposed Jamie had anticipated it feeling strange as well, but given the way he seemed to glow, just the same way John was, Claire supposed she and Jamie were in agreement.

It was beautiful.

“With my goods, I thee both endow, with my body, I thee both worship,” he went on, “in sickness and in health, in richness and in poverty, as long as we all shall live.”

He mirrored Claire, producing the thistle ring once again, and his father’s ring. “I plight thee,” he slipped the ring back in its rightful place on Claire’s hand, “and thee,” Brian’s ring found its new home on John’s left hand, and the world seemed like it was falling into place, “my troth.”

He fervently and reverently kissed each ring as Claire had done, and then Claire and Jamie both looked expectantly to John.

He was weeping.

“Oh, love…” Claire croaked, taking his hand again and squeezing. “It’s alright…”

John nodded. “It’s just…I never…never thought…”

“Shh…” Claire brushed away his tears with her free hand, and Jamie nuzzled into the crook of John’s neck.

“Never thought I’d…have this…”

He was shuddering, nearly inconsolable.

“Oh, darling…” Claire kissed each new tear as it fell, and Jamie rubbed his back, whispering Gaelic.

“We’re right here, John,” Jamie said, in English. “Always.”

John took a deep breath before beginning in a hoarse, strained voice: “I, John William, do take thee, Claire Elizabeth, to be my lawful wedded wife. And I take thee, James Alexander, to be my lawful wedded husband.”

Claire could not even imagine the relief that John felt to say that after a lifetime of thinking, knowing he’d never have a true husband.

“With my goods, I thee both endow, with my body, I thee both worship. In sickness and in health, in richness and in poverty, as long as we all shall live.” Each engraved ring found their rightful place as he said, “I plight thee my troth,” to his husband and his wife.

Jamie beamed tearfully, glancing back and forth between them. “By the power vested in us by God the Almighty, with He as our witness, and…she as well,” he flicked his eyes over to Brianna, fast asleep in the pram, her sacred duty as witness clearly being taken very seriously, “I now pronounce us man, and man, and wife.”

Claire launched herself forward to kiss Jamie, lingering for as briefly as she could possibly allow herself before switching over to John. She pulled back to let her husbands share their first kiss as man and man, and then they were a tangled mess of limbs and mouths and tears and tongues, until Claire did not know who she was kissing and where.

They went on as long as they could in good conscious, being that they were , after all, in a church. They somehow managed to peel themselves away from each other and off the floor. They each blew out a few candles, and then they were off, Claire pushing the pram, her boys trailing behind.

“I told ye she’d sleep through the whole damn thing.”

John and Claire laughed out loud, and Jamie joined, the three of them caving into one another as they stumbled down the sidewalk, delirious with glee.

——

It was well past midnight, so the streets were empty, and even if they weren’t, Jamie did not think he would have given a single damn. He’d have held John’s hand anyway, swinging it between them, he’d have occasionally kissed his cheek anyway, he’d have kept his other hand over Claire’s on the pram anyway, kissed her cheek anyway. He was on top of the world tonight, renewed and reborn, baptized in that church the same way Brianna had been, wiped clean of sin by the strength of someone’s love.

There was nothing earthly to explain what he had found with Claire and John. Nothing explainable could possibly be applied to it. So Jamie reasoned it must have come from a higher power, and he had to believe that higher power to be the Almighty. So any man could spit on them, could curse them, could hate them. But Jamie knew in the deepest depths of his soul that they had no right.

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Claire giggled in his ear, and John laughed heartily in response, leaning over Jamie to peck her briefly. Jamie pecked them each on the cheek, not even knowing what they were laughing about.

Never before had God created something so pure, so free of sin, as this love. And who was Jamie, or John, or Claire, or anybody at all to dishonor something so lovingly and thoughtfully given?

Claire spent far longer than was necessary getting Brianna warm, bundling her in four blankets, none of which had been used in the pram. There were moments where Jamie adored watching his wife fuss over their daughter, could sit for hours and watch her rock the swaddled bundle, coo and babble incessantly.

Now was not one of those times.

The very second Brianna was down in the cradle, both Jamie and John were upon her. Before she could so much as gasp, Jamie captured her lips with his, and John began suckling at her neck. She melted into them, and together they got her undressed and pushed her into the bed. In tandem, they kissed every delicious inch of her, and Jamie’s cock grew harder by the second, listening to her sweet noises, and John’s to accompany. It was one thing to savor her himself, but to hear another savoring her just the same was exquisite.

They alternated between suckling her breasts and kissing one another, and they both began teasing her entrance at once. Jamie grinned wickedly at John, who returned the smirk, but Claire stopped them, putting her hands on their heads. She shook her head, breathless.

“I want you inside me,” she panted. “Both of you.”

Jamie could feel his cock strain painfully. This …they had never tried.

Claire, in all her glorious, vulgar curiosity, had demanded, a few weeks ago, to be shown what the men feel when they have each other inside them.

“I’m ready,” Claire said, her amber eyes entirely liquid, dark, and hooded.

John and Jamie had experimented with her pleasure there with tongues and fingers, but never before had either of them taken her there.

Well, neither of them were capable of denying her anything.

They crawled up the length of her writhing body, shining with sweat like a pearl on the shore, and gave each other another lingering, smoldering kiss that sent Jamie’s head swimming. He reached into the nightstand for the grease, and allowed Claire to lather his cock for her, all while she lazily sucked on John, cupping and squeezing his balls. When Claire was satisfied with Jamie, he reciprocated, greasing her slit and entrance thoroughly and sliding a few experimental fingers in. When he was confident that she’d not be uncomfortable, he put the grease away, John slid his cock out of her mouth, and she laid on her side.

This was their most intimate position, lying together like spoons in a drawer, like they did when they slept, the two ends making eye contact, the one in the middle going back and forth, all three of them clinging to one another. It was fitting for tonight, Jamie thought. Their wedding night.

He caressed the lovely roundness of her arse, then ran his hand down the back of her thigh, gently pushing up. She wrapped her leg around John’s waist and bit her lip, looking back at Jamie. He maintained eye contact with her as he inched inside, and she gasped, immediately tensing.

“It’s alright,” John soothed. “You have to let your body relax, love.”

She moaned, a delicious, intoxicating sound, and it was all Jamie could do to not sheath himself to the hilt. But he would not hurt her, would rather cut the appendage off than hurt her. So he went slow, becoming more and more intoxicated with every inch, every cry she loosed, every heave of her breast. Jamie bit down on her shoulder, finally breaking eye contact as he fully sheathed himself, holding onto her breast as if for dear life. He was nearly certain his handprint would be there tomorrow.

“How does it feel?” Jamie growled, seeing stars.

“It’s…oh, God…” Claire whimpered, wriggling against him.

“Aye, mo ghraidh , feel it…”

She whined, grinding back against him, and he groaned, willing himself to remain still, to let her adjust her own way. He watched as John kissed her deeply, touching where Jamie was not, gentle and soft with his hands in all the ways Jamie was rough and uncontrollable. She continued to writhe against him, setting her own pace right up until Jamie thought he’d go mad if he didn’t start moving, however minutely. Then, she kissed him, then turned to look John in the eye.

“Go on, love,” she crooned, hiking her leg higher up on his waist, drawing him impossibly closer. 

Jamie exhaled tremulously, licking his lips as John lined himself up, feeling his cock twitch at the sound of his groan, at the ragged gasp that tore from Claire. In that moment, all of John’s gentleness was gone, and he gripped her arse with the same fierceness that Jamie braced himself on her breast. Christ, Jamie could feel John on the other side of that thin wall of flesh. He would not, could not last long this way. And judging by the sounds she was making, neither would Claire. And by God, he would take John with them.

And then, they were all three moving together. It was impossible to decipher who started. All Jamie knew was that they were one. It was tender, so beautifully tender. They all touched each other anywhere and everywhere, John and Jamie kissed over Claire, she kissed John, craned back to kiss Jamie. As they grew more frantic, Jamie planted his hand on John’s arse, sealing them all impossibly closer. Claire threaded one arm behind her, tangling her fingers in Jamie’s hair, and the other around John’s neck, fisting his hair.

“Oh, I love you…” Claire whimpered, kissing John sloppily, and yet tightening her grip on Jamie’s hair. “Oh, please…please…”

Jamie ground circles inside of her, hardly sliding out at all, and John hammered into her with growing ferocity.

“With all my heart, I love you,” John cried hoarsely, kissing one, then the other.

Neither of them specified which you they were talking to, but they did not need to. Jamie was unable to speak, and then Claire was climaxing, shrieking, every wall within her clenching so tightly that it immediately drove Jamie right over the edge, and by the sound of it, John as well. Jamie could not see anything but stars, did not know whose mouth he claimed, whose hands gripped him where. They were three parts of the same whole, falling into oblivion together.

The world came back to Jamie in pieces, starting with a tickle under his nose that he immediately knew to be Claire’s curlywig hair. The next piece was a heavy, feral panting, a sound he’d come to love nearly as much as the man who made it. Then his eyes fluttered open, and then he was aware of his softening cock still inside Claire, and John’s as well, still nestled inside.

Claire’s eyes were closed as well, her chest was heaving, her lips parted. Jamie ran his hand up her arm and traced two fingers around the rim of her beautiful lips, and she moaned quietly, closing her mouth around them, suckling sweetly. John brushed a frazzled mess of curls out of her face and kissed her forehead, then kissed the knuckles of Jamie’s hand that was half dipped in Claire’s mouth.

“You were made for me,” Jamie broke the silence in a hoarse whisper, as if hesitant to have spoken at all. “Both of ye. And I am nothing wi’out either of ye.”

Why, darling, I don’t live at all when I’m not with you.

He noted that John had tears lingering on his cheeks, likely having cried through this climax. Jamie wasn’t all too sure he hadn’t as well. He slid his fingers out of Claire’s mouth and brushed away John’s tears with his dry thumb. It would have appeared that Claire had already fallen asleep, had she not tugged insistently on John’s head, bringing him to lay on her breast. She sighed contently, never once opening her eyes, and stroked John’s arse with the heel of the foot still draped over his waist.

“My husband,” John breathed in disbelief, cupping Jamie’s face.

“Aye, mo chridhe ,” Jamie answered, kissing his fingers and bringing the hand to rest on his chest. “And you are mine.”

Jamie draped his enormous, too-large arm over both Claire and John, able to splay his hand on John’s back even with Claire between them. And then, Jamie fell into a dead sleep, his cock still inside his wife, and his husband’s hand on his heart.

Chapter Text

June the Fourteenth, 1946

Dearest Jenny,

This might seem a bit strange, a handwritten letter. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t just telephoned you. And I’ll tell you why: everything I need to say to you can’t possibly be said over the phone. And I can’t face you, sister. I can’t look you in the eye and say everything you are about to read. Now, let me be clear: I am not ashamed. The reason I can’t face you is not out of shame, but rather out of terror. I couldn’t watch you slip away from me before my eyes; I can’t bear for that to be my last image of you. And I hope that seeing it in writing will make it easier for you. I pray it, Jenny. I pray it for Ian, as well. The love I bear you knows no bounds, and that will never change, no matter what happens after you read this.

You remember when I turned up after the war, not dead after all? When I shoved you away and demanded to see Claire, and you told me you hadn’t heard from her in months? I’m about to explain her disappearance, but I beg you from the depths of my soul to not bear her judgement, nor any anger or bitterness.

Claire was married. Yes, she and I were handfast. But I was dead. And she was with child, Jenny. She was carrying my child, as you know. I didn’t know. The plane went down before she could tell me.

I don’t know why she married rather than come home to Lallybroch and let the family care for her and the bairn. She knows you would have. Every time I’ve asked her she doesn’t know what to say. I think mostly she couldn’t face you all after losing me. I know you all had lost me too, and she knows that as well. But she needed someone who was as deeply impacted by my loss as she, as a lover would be.

Which brings me to who it is she married.

I had a friend in the trenches named John Grey. Apart from Ian, he was the dearest friend I had ever known. As I continue, I beg you to keep your hearts open. John was different from the other men. I had noticed, and it didn’t bother me. He told me he loved me. Not the way Ian and I love one another, Jenny. Like man and wife love one another. He confessed it to me when he thought we’d die. I never begrudged him for it. I pitied him, and I valued his friendship very highly. Well, he promised me to look after Claire if anything should happen to me. So when I was dead, and she was pregnant out of wedlock, he married her, predilections be damned. And that was how I found them when I came back from the dead: married and prepared to raise my child as theirs.

Claire took me back in her arms, but she remained bound to John. It was a situation none of us could comprehend. I was mad with jealousy for a long time.

And then Brianna Ellen was born, and none of that mattered anymore.

She was born on November the twenty-third. There’s a photograph of her in the envelope. She has my red hair, mother’s red hair. And the Fraser eyes. She’s my entire heart, and Claire’s entire heart. 

And she’s John’s entire heart.

I can’t explain it, Jenny. If I could, I’d write novels with science to back it up. But I can’t. I saw John holding the bairn, I saw how deeply and completely he loved her. Watching him hold her and love her was like watching Claire hold her and love her.

What I’m telling you, Jenny, and Ian, is that I love Claire as my wife, and I love John as my husband. I can’t explain how it is I can love them both. I just do. John and Claire remain lawfully married, but the three of us are handfast. We were wed in a church. Claire wore white, and Brianna was our witness. We all three love each other. John loves Claire as his wife and myself as his husband. And Claire loves us both as her husbands. It seems complicated, but it really is simple as that.

I can hardly continue writing with the force of my trembling. You see now why I couldn’t face you. I reiterate: I am not ashamed. It is written, Matthew 19:6 — What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. God has joined us together, Jenny. There is nothing on this earth holier than the love I bear for John and Claire, separately and together. I know it must be hard enough for you to imagine men loving each other as man and woman should, let alone imagining it in addition to my still loving Claire. But I have no justifying to do. My love for them, and God’s love and blessing on our family, is proof enough that we are meant to share this life together. And that should be enough for you. And if it isn’t, I understand.

You’ll notice the change of address on the envelope. The neighbors began talking in London; it was becoming quite apparent who had sired Brianna, and I was not the one lawfully wed to the mother. So we’ve left. There were career opportunities for John in Boston, and Claire wants to study medicine at Harvard. We’ve bought a house, large enough for six more bairns if we wanted. Anyone who asks is told that I’m John’s widower cousin, that Brianna is mine. In this facade, Jamie can’t bear to remarry, so he’ll remain with his kin, raising his daughter alongside them. Nobody should know the difference.

I’m going to teach someday, languages, likely Latin, in the high schools. Until then, I am to stay home with my daughter while John works and Claire becomes a doctor. We’ve decided I will homeschool Brianna and any bairns that come after. We refuse to hide the nature of our relationship from our children. They will see us embrace and kiss one another as children see their parents do. They will call us Mummy, Daddy, and Da. And until they are old enough to understand that they may only call us as such in the home, and that they may not discuss the affection they see between us all, for their safety as well as ours, they will not go to school.

I’m once again quite glad that I’ve decided to write you rather than face you. Because any judgement I could see on your face would have me spitting with rage. Forgive me for assuming it of you if it isn’t true, but I don’t expect you to understand. We don’t expect anybody in the entire world to understand. We’ve run away from all that we know (which includes you, my family, I’m afraid, and for that I am deeply sorry), and we are going to hide our children from the world, because we know they won’t understand.

But what I must emphasize to you is that it is worth it. I am happier than I have ever been in all my life. My heart is full, fuller than you can imagine. John is a wonderful father, a devoted husband. I’d be nothing without him. And Claire, of course, is the perfect mother I always knew she’d be. I’d lay down my life for all three of them. They are mine, and I am theirs, always.

I leave you this letter with no expectations, no demands. If you’re disgusted, ashamed, and you want to burn it and forget you ever had a brother, I understand. If you’re confused, and you have questions, questions that you wish to communicate, I beg you to write back. 

I’ve no expectations, but I have my wishes, my prayers. I pray that someday you’ll want to meet your niece. She is every bit both of our parents as she is me. I pray someday you’ll reunite with Claire, someone you once called sister. If you can find it in your heart to forgive her and to understand, she will welcome you into her arms happily. And I pray that you’ll want to meet John. I know I’ve said it enough times, but he is my spouse as much as Claire. He is my family, so he is your family. He’s a gentleman, he’s kind and thoughtful, considerate. He’s braw at chess. He’d keep Ian at it for hours. He’s bloody brilliant, and he would love you and your bairns. He loves children. Brianna is his greatest joy and blessing. He’s told me so.

I miss you, Jenny. I miss Ian, my brother. I miss my niece and nephew. It broke my heart clean in two to leave Scotland behind; it truly did. Leaving Europe was not easy, whatever you might think of me. I agonized over what to tell you for weeks. Claire even offered to write for me, but I insisted this was my cross to bear. You deserve to hear it from me, even just in writing. I pray you understand why I couldn’t just show up at Lallybroch with my child and two spouses; I pray you understand why we had to go, why I had to do this the way I did.

I’m sorry if it feels like I’m taking your niece away from you. My intention was not to punish you for not knowing the truth. My intention was not to drop all these bombs on you and then run away from the repercussions. We left for our safety, for the insurance of our continued happiness and peace. And it felt wrong to leave without telling you we were doing so, and without explaining why. So here it is, all of it.

A package will arrive for you a few days behind this. I’ve sent the spoons back. Not because I’m rejecting them, or symbolically taking you out of our children’s lives, but because if ye dinna wish to see me ever again, I’d feel better knowing you had them over me. Your own bairns deserve a spoon each, anyway. I can’t keep something from you, from the family, for my family, if my whole family is not welcome to use them. I hope that makes sense, and I hope you can understand.

I love you, Jenny. I love you, Ian. I love your children. I love you all so fiercely. The thought of never seeing you again tears me up inside. But if that’s what you wish after learning who I am, who I think I must have always been, really, then I will respect that wish. I will never stop loving you all, no matter what happens. I shall keep the image of you all embracing me and showering me with kisses before my deployment in my mind always. That is who you shall always be in my heart. If you hate me now, my heart will remember that love instead.

But on the chance you wish to meet my family, my home is open to you forever.

God bless you all,

JAMMF

——

Boston, October 1946

“Maaaaaaaaamamamamama!”

Claire audibly groaned. She’d just fallen asleep after taking about an hour to even find a comfortable position. A tiny banging sounded on her door, and she shot up in bed with a gasp. She tore the blankets aside and rushed to the door.

“Mamamamama!”

“Jesus Christ, Brianna!” Claire scooped her up.

Jamie’s voice filled her ears, swearing in Gaelic.

“How did you not notice she was climbing the stairs?”

“I was taking a pish!” Jamie shot right back, taking the stairs two at a time. “I didna ken I had to take her wi’ me!”

“God…” Claire held Brianna close—as close as she could manage these days. “Brianna Ellen. You are not to go on the stairs without Mummy, Daddy, or Da. Do you understand? You could fall and get hurt.”

Brianna just giggled, kicking her feet, landing several strong blows to her belly. Claire jerked her away, holding her at arm's length, and Jamie took her in his arms.

“Ye scared the devil out of me, ye wee heathen,” he said to Brianna. “And d’ye forget what we spoke of? Ye must be kind to Mummy’s belly. D’ye remember what’s inside?”

Brianna didn’t hear a word he said; she was a bit preoccupied rubbing her tiny palms all over Jamie’s scratchy stubble.

“There’s a baby in Mummy’s belly, leannan . D’ye remember?”

“Beebeebeebeebee!”

“Aye, that’s right, a baby.”

“A baby that kept me awfully uncomfortable,” Claire groaned, clutching at her lower back.

“Did ye sleep at all?”

“No,” she said darkly. “I was this close when little miss heathen decided to pull her daring stunt.”

“Och, I’m sorry, lass.”

“It’s alright. We ought to get started on dinner anyway.”

And by we, she meant Jamie. Her contribution was to keep Brianna out of his hair. Which was nearly as impossible a feat for her as roasting a chicken. Jamie stepped forward and gave her a kiss, then turned to the baby on his hip.

“Can ye give Mummy a kiss to say sorry fer waking her, and scaring the daylights out of her?”

Brianna obeyed, smacking Claire on the lips with a loud mwah! Claire patted her cheek and smoothed her hair.

“Thank you, baby. It’s alright. Let’s go play.”

“Mamamama! Pay!”

“Yes, lovie. Mama play.”

When all was said and done, Claire gave up trying to stop Brianna from crawling with the speed of a freight train into the kitchen and just plopped her into her little playpen. It would not be long at all before they couldn’t get away with keeping her in there anymore, so she thought it was fair enough to take advantage of it while she still could. Even as it was, Brianna was standing on her own now while holding onto things; it wasn’t uncommon for Claire to turn around to find Brianna glaring at her over the top of the playpen, like a convict who bore bitter resentment for her jailer.

And that was how she ended up being kissed awake on the couch with a book open on her six-month pregnant belly.

“Mm…?”

“Good evening, sleeping beauty.”

Claire’s heart fluttered. “John.” Eyes still closed, she puckered her lips again, and he obliged her, and this time, she kissed him back. She finally opened her eyes when they parted, no doubt glassed over by the way her vision was blurred. “Hello, my darling. How was work?”

“When compared with coming home and holding my husband from behind while he cooks, kissing his cheeks, his neck, then moving to the couch to wake my wife by tasting her beautiful, sweet, soft lips…” He kissed her again, and Claire whimpered. “It doesn’t hold a candle.”

“Christ, John, you can’t just say those things to me…not when I’m like this .” She gestured ungracefully to her belly, and she knew he knew what she meant. Both of her husbands were all too familiar with her raging hormones by now, and both were more than happy to take more advantage of it this time around than they’d been able to last time.

“Do forgive me,” he said, smirking. He then scooted down the cushion a bit, dipping his head. “Hello, little one.” He kissed the swell of her belly, and Claire tenderly stroked his hair.

“But really. How was work?”

“It’s fine, my dear,” he assured her. “Nearly half a year is long enough to adjust. I’ve established myself well, I think.”

“Good. I knew you would.”

He gave the baby one more kiss before sitting up and taking Claire’s hands. “Come on, dinner is ready.”

He helped her off the couch, setting her book on the coffee table face down, still open to her page.

“Bree…?”

“I’ve already put her in the high chair,” he assured her. “Don’t worry. She wasn’t climbing the stairs while you dozed.” He arched a brow at her, Jamie having clearly relayed the whole tale to him.

“Can you believe she did that?” Claire said as they entered the kitchen. “She’s going to give me gray hairs.”

“You and me both,” Jamie said, setting down two plates full of chicken in a brown sauce, green vegetables noticeably missing from Claire’s plate.

“This is the last of the bread?” Claire said, taking a piece from the basket in the center of the table as she sat down, John pushing in her chair behind her.

“Aye. I’ll get ye the freshest loaves I can first thing in the morning before ye both even wake.”

Claire practically moaned with delight at the prospect, while shoving a piece of bread in her mouth that she’d lathered in the brown sauce on her plate. “God I love you.”

“Me? Or are ye talking to the bread?”

If Claire could have reached, she’d have hit him on the arm. But Brianna’s high chair sat between them, so she chucked a piece of bread, un-dipped, at him.

“What an example for the children!” John said, acting affronted.

“Please. She’s been throwing anything and everything at me since she could sit up,” Claire grumbled. “Nobody taught her that.”

The men chuckled, and John complimented Jamie’s cooking, a sentiment Claire wholeheartedly echoed.

“Oh! I forgot to even ask!” It suddenly dawned on Claire. “My application! Did you mail it?”

“Certainly,” John said. “I did it on my lunch break in case I stayed late and the post office closed before I got there.”

“Jesus.” Claire put her hand over her heart. “Oh God. What’ll I do if I don’t get in?”

“You’ll get in,” John assured her, taking her hand on the table. “You’re bloody brilliant.”

“Aye,” Jamie said. “The finest nurse in His Majesty’s army. Harvard would have to be completely out of their minds to turn ye away.”

“Or completely sexist,” Claire grumbled, pushing a mushroom off the piece of chicken she was about to put in her mouth.

“Aye, well…We’ll just have to see if they try to pull that.”

They went silent for a moment, cutting and chewing meat.

“Was there, ehm…anything at the post office?” Jamie said, attempting nonchalance. “Something they havena sent out yet?”

John made brief eye contact with Claire, and that one glance said a thousand words. “No, Jamie.”

“It’s possible they addressed it wrong…being from outside the country…”

“I always ask for anything with your name on it, properly addressed or not.” John took his hand. “I’m sorry, love.”

Jamie nodded, his eyes still on his plate. “Aye. It’s to be expected.”

Claire looked up at John again, her eyes swimming with remorse.

“It’s…it’s been half a year,” Jamie went on, unexpectedly. “I think by now, if they havena written back…they never will. So.”

Claire swallowed thickly, her heart breaking. She knew what it was to love Jamie’s family and not be able to face them. She couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling if her own heart was so thoroughly broken.

“Something I’ve learned over the years, knowing who I was since a very young age…” John began. “You choose your family, Jamie. I haven’t spoken to my parents since before the war; all I heard from my brother was brief telegrams. It was very heavily implied that I would not be welcome back in the home after the war…or even welcome back in their lives at all unless I brought a woman home for Christmas. And even after I had Claire…I had no intention of bringing her to them. Because they’re not my home anymore.”

Claire’s heart went out to John, as well; she already knew all of this, but it still pained her to think of him rejected and scorned nonetheless.

“I know it hurts, love,” Claire cut in gently. “But John is right. Blood isn’t the end all be all.”

“Ye dinna understand,” Jamie snapped. “My sister isna like Hal. My father was never anything like yers.”

“I know. And in a way, I know they will always love you—”

Abruptly, Jamie stood up, pushing his chair back, pulling his hand away from John, and he stormed off. Claire jumped at the sudden movement, and John looked as though he’d been burned. Brianna chose that very moment to begin babbling and slapping her hands on her tray, and for a moment, John and Claire were lost in adoring her, in settling her to stop her from fussing, making sure she was eating her mashed sweet potato and carrot mix that Claire and Jamie had concocted themselves.

They heard the front door open and shut rather roughly, and Claire cringed again.

“He needs time,” John said softly. “Believe me…I spent years…too many years of my life thinking I could change my parents’ minds, thinking that I could get Hal to help me do it. It’s not an easy thing to accept.”

Claire nodded, her throat tight. “Sometimes I’m almost glad that I have no family left,” she said, her voice small. “If Uncle Lamb rejected me over this…I’d be sick for the rest of my life.”

He squeezed her hand.

“I’d like to think he wouldn’t have, and that he’s happy for me wherever he is. But I didn’t think Jenny and Ian would reject Jamie either. I knew them so, so well…” She swallowed. “At least not Ian. Jenny can be…cold when her views are challenged. But Ian…I thought he’d understand, make Jenny see reason…” Her voice trailed off, as if she didn’t have the strength to continue.

“It will get easier,” John promised, leaning across the table to wipe mush off Brianna's face. “It might never stop hurting, but it will get easier.”

Claire sighed. “And he’ll be back,” she assured him. “We are both his greatest comfort in the world.” She cupped Brianna’s head and kissed the top of it, breathing in the lingering baby smell that she still carried.

“I know.”

——

Claire had been making a slow process of digging up some of her herbs outside and potting them so they would have a chance of surviving the winter. She really should have done it in September, given that a frost in October in Boston was not at all uncommon. She’d been in the middle of this task when she’d been hit with her dizzy spell, during which Jamie had insisted she rest. Which hadn’t exactly gone according to plan.

Their yard was enormous; something that Jamie had desperately wanted for them, or for all their bairns , rather. She didn’t think that man would be truly happy until she’d pushed out enough babies to ruin her body eternally. And the stupidest part was: she’d do it for him, for John. At as early as nine months, Brianna had taken to crawling in the grass like a little tank, unstoppable and seemingly indestructible. She also paid no mind whatever to the fencing around Claire’s garden, so they’d had to reinforce it and replace it several times.

Claire was currently fussing over some hyssop that she’d potted that day before she went to lay down, listening to the beautiful sound of John playing with their baby girl. Their laughter together was like a symphony, and it was the same with Jamie. They were keeping her plants somewhere Brianna could never hope to reach in the office…though Claire was fully prepared to lose at least half of them to her little tank.

The front door opening and closing made Claire’s heart skip a beat, and she abandoned the plants at once. She hurriedly waddled into the hall to see Jamie toeing off his shoes. Similarly to her, John was standing in the doorway to the living room, Brianna on his hip. Jamie looked up from his shoes, turning his head back and forth between them.

“I’m, uh…I’m sorry fer storming out like that.”

“Please, Jamie.” Claire stepped forward. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”

“Truly,” John said, taking a step as well. “We understand you needed to be alone to think. It’s alright.”

Jamie nodded, then swallowed. “Ye’ve…ye’ve no idea how much ye both mean to me. And my…my grief over my family…it doesna mean I dinna appreciate the family I have.”

“Jamie!”

“Of course it doesn’t,” John said fervently.

“I just want that to be clear,” he went on. “Because above anything, I choose this. It was never a question for me, that I’d give up all else for this.”

“We know, Jamie,” Claire said. “You really don’t have to—”

“I do.”

Claire closed her mouth, sighing through her nose.

“I would willingly give up anything for ye both. I’d forsake anything for this family.” He breathed deeply, clenching and unclenching his fists. “I just wish I didna have to.”

Claire’s heart shattered as a single tear trickled down Jamie’s face. Before she could blink, John was putting Brianna down, and then the two men crashed together, crushing themselves to each other. Jamie sobbed into John’s neck, and John cradled his head there, swaying gently. Claire approached them slowly, careful of how she joined the embrace due to her swollen middle. She settled for standing on Jamie’s side, only slightly behind him, her arms around his neck, head resting on his shoulders.

“We’re here, Jamie,” she heard John whisper. “Always and forever. You will always have us.”

Claire kissed Jamie’s shoulder. “We love you.”

They sank to the floor shortly after, Jamie’s knees giving out beneath him as he continued to cry his heart out. Claire continued clinging to him from behind while John held him up in the front.

“We’re here,” John kept whispering. “We love you.”

Claire saw movement out of the corner of her eye and instinctively looked, knowing full well that Brianna would not stay put. What she saw made her gasp loudly, her fingers digging into Jamie’s skin.

“What?” John said, and Jamie took a few heaving breaths to quiet himself.

“You have to look,” Claire whispered. “ Look!”

John frantically looked over his shoulder, and he, too, gasped.

“Jamie, love, look at your daughter.”

Jamie roughly rubbed his eyes and opened the swollen slits, and they instantly popped open ever wider.

“What the devil?” he stammered. “There’s nothing for her to hold onto! How did she—?”

“She stood up on her own!” Claire whispered, her voice decibels away from a squeal. She released Jamie and took a breath. “Brianna? Bree baby?”

“Mamamamama!”

“Yes, hello,” Claire giggled. “Come here to me, sweetheart. Come here.”

Her little mouth formed a perfect “o” shape, and her tiny hands remained suspended in mid air in front of her.

“Come on, Brianna,” John joined. “Come walk to us. Come on.”

Her eyes darted to John, and she clapped her hands nonsensically. “Good clapping, sweet girl. Come here,” he coaxed.

“Come on, leannan ,” Jamie joined, his voice hoarse and thick. “Come to Da.”

“Dadadadadada!”

“Aye, that’s me. Come here, lass.”

She giggled, a shrieking, piercing sound, clapping her hands again.

“She’s so damn pleased with herself,” John said, shaking his head, laughing.

“Because all the attention is on her!” Claire said, still in her baby voice, still reaching out to Bree. “Come on, lovie. You can do it. Come here! Come on!”

Finally, Brianna took one experimental shuffle in their direction, and they all held their breaths. She picked up her other foot and landed with a thud on her little bum.

“Oh!” Claire cried out, and John and Jamie exclaimed similarly. “Oh no…”

“Oh no,” Brianna echoed.

“Yes! Oh no!”

Claire laughed and dragged herself across the floor to scoop her up. There was still room for her in her lap; there likely would be until mid-next month.

“It’s alright, baby…”

Claire kissed her head, and John dragged himself over the hardwood to join them, and Jamie trailed behind.

“It was a wonderful effort, my girl.” John kissed Brianna’s cheek.

“Go on, give Daddy a kiss,” Claire coaxed.

“Mwah!”

“Thank you, sweetheart.”

“Now Da. Give Da the biggest kiss you can.”

She wound up with a long, drawn-out “mmmm,” and then gave him the loudest mwah she had perhaps ever granted.

“My sweet wee lass. Thank you.” Jamie held onto her little hands, pressing the palms into his lips. “Da loves ye wi’ his whole heart.”

Brianna hummed contentedly to feel Jamie’s stubble in her hands again, and Jamie took her in his lap. “Ye didna give baby a kiss, Brianna.”

She gasped dramatically, and promptly mwah ’d Claire’s belly, patting it gently after for good measure.

“Thank you, my darling,” Claire said. “Baby loves you, too.”

“Beebeebeebee!”

“Yes, baby. Good girl.”

The three of them were sitting in a circle, Brianna in Jamie’s lap, and they each joined hands with each other, a circle in which they were all connected. Jamie’s eyes were still red and slightly puffy, his face still splotchy, but he was smiling, whispering nonsense to his daughter. Claire rested her head on John’s shoulder, and they watched Jamie together, still holding his hands.

“He’ll be alright,” Claire whispered, more to herself than John.

“He will.” John squeezed her hand. “We all will.”

——

Jamie was playing airplane with Brianna on the floor while Claire was filling out an application on the couch with a clipboard. Harvard had been the very first place she’d applied, but she wasn’t about to put all her eggs in one basket. And once the new baby was weaned, she’d be more than capable and willing to drive herself at least a forty minute commute from the house. She glanced up from the paper briefly to stop herself from going cross-eyed—God knows that would cause a wave of second-trimester-nausea that she didn’t need—and butterflies fluttered in her chest.

She had seen such a change in Jamie since leaving London. He still had nightmares occasionally, but with nowhere near the frequency he’d been having them in Europe. She and John had discussed that the change of scenery had likely done wonders for him, that the war-torn state all of Europe was in would never have allowed Jamie to even start to move away from the shell shock.

And of course, Brianna was helping, too.

Sometimes, Claire would awake to find a gap where Jamie once was, and she’d find him just kneeling in the nursery at her crib, fingers through the gaps, touching her small head. She never disturbed him in these moments. It was always amazing to her that she could get away with that, being that sneaking up on Jamie was near impossible, but she supposed that proved how entranced he was by his daughter, how much he needed her in those dark places his mind went to.

It was incredible to see, and she was so proud of him.

Jamie caught her staring at him, then, and he smirked, Brianna still hanging over his head. “Ye want a turn, Sassenach?”

Claire snorted. “The thought of you even getting me an inch off the ground at my current size is laughable.”

“Nah,” he said, turning his face back up to the baby and making a silly face as he said it. “I could still throw ye over my shoulder if I wanted.”

“Not with this cantaloupe you can’t.”

He laughed again, kicking his legs slightly so that Bree bounced on the little perch, causing a squealing giggle. The doorbell rang, and Claire started.

“Who could that be?” Jamie wrinkled his nose up at Brianna, earning another giggle. “I’ll get it, Sassenach—”

“No, don’t worry, I need to take a little walk anyway,” she said. “Not good to be sitting for hours. The application can wait.”

Jamie obliged her and began blowing raspberries up at Brianna. Claire heaved herself off the couch, chuckling and rolling her eyes at her adult-child husband’s antics. The bell rang again.

“Coming,” Claire answered, a bit impatiently. “Give a bloody pregnant woman a break,” she muttered to herself, wondering who in the hell could be so eager to call on them in the middle of the day when they purposely didn’t keep any friendships for their own safety.

Claire settled into her mask of cheerful housewife, wife to one , first baby on the way, breathing deeply as she opened the door.

The mask completely cracked and shattered when she took in who was standing on her porch.

“Oh…” The woman gasped, her hand flying to her heart. “Hello, Sister.”

Claire’s mouth was dry, her lips parted in complete and utter shock.

“Jenny…?” she breathed.

“Hello, lass.”

“Ian?” She peered around Jenny to the man behind her. “Oh my God…!”

Jenny pulled her in for a crushing hug, but she quickly jerked back. “Christ! Oh, Sister! Another bairn!”

Her hands rested on Claire’s bump, her eyes shimmering with tears.

“Claire, what’s—”

Claire whipped her head around to find Jamie frozen in the entryway into the living room, Brianna on his hip. He looked as gobsmacked as she felt, though she was certain the feeling was at least doubled for him. Tears unexplainably tumbled down Claire’s cheeks as she watched Jamie’s eyes dart back and forth between the two people on his porch.

“I’m…” Jenny’s voice cracked, and she hastily swiped at her eyes. “I dinna blame ye if ye dinna want us in yer home. Going so long wi’out a word. So I’ll no’ come in unless ye wish me to. I just…” She sniffled, and Ian grasped her hand. “I had tae…to, ehm…”

Jamie moved, as if propelled by an engine, blindly handing Brianna off to Claire without stopping, and then he was yanking Jenny over the threshold and into his arms. Jenny squeaked and then cried out in a little sob, burying her face in his chest and squeezing him around the middle. Jamie cradled her head and clutched her upper back, weeping into her hair. Brianna made an impatient sounding cooing noise, and Claire sniffled, wiping tears away as she hushed her, bouncing her gently.

Jenny and Jamie were muttering to each other in Gaelic in a string of barely intelligible words, even if Claire had known the language. But she was able to translate, over and over, from both brother and sister:

“I’m sorry…I love you…I’m sorry…”

Claire pressed Brianna into her breast and kissed the top of her head, not knowing what else to do with the overwhelming emotion bubbling in her heart.

They carried on like that for an imperceptible amount of time, and then Jenny was finally unthreading herself from him and pushing him toward Ian. Jamie embraced him similarly, both men weeping.

“I’m sorry it took us so long, a charaid .”

Jenny stepped further into the house, toward Claire.

“Is this Brianna Ellen…?” Her voice was a breathless, awed whisper. “Ma wee niece?”

Claire let out a gasping, choked sort of laugh. “Yes…this is her.”

“Christ…” Jenny let a trembling hand rest on Brianna’s curly head. “Jamie was right. She’ll look just like Ma.”

Claire sniffled. “Do you…?”

“Oh, can I…?”

Claire nodded vigorously and transferred the baby to Jenny’s eager arms. Claire braced for Brianna to perhaps start fussing, knowing how babies could be around strangers, but she settled contentedly into Jenny’s arms, even if she kept her eyes on Claire with almost imperceptible longing.

“Oh…hello there, sweet thing…” Jenny crooned. “I’m yer Auntie Jenny. Oh, ye’re so beautiful…”

Claire was fully sobbing now, and Jamie finally released Ian to shut the front door and join the women. Ian put an arm around Jenny’s shoulders and cupped Brianna’s head, stroked her cheeks.

“She’s so bonny…” Ian said.

“Thank you,” Claire choked out, leaning into Jamie’s embrace for support.

“Yer spitting image,” Ian continued. “I canna believe it.”

“She’s so big,” Jenny said, laughing sadly. “She was so wee in that photograph…” She sniffled. “Christ, I’m sorry…I should have put my damn pride aside and come here straight away…”

“It’s alright…” Claire shook her head. “You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”

“Ye’ve another chance to see a newborn of ours anyway,” Jamie said proudly, squeezing Claire around the shoulders.

“Aye! I can see! Ye mentioned nothing of another bairn in yer letter!”

“We didn’t know until right after!” Claire said, laughing. “April nineteenth was my appointment to confirm it. We must have conceived as he was writing it!”

“Christ…” Ian shook his head. “So much time wasted…from fear and misunderstanding.”

“Aye,” Jamie said solemnly. “I ken.”

A sad silence passed between them, during which Jenny not-so-inconspicuously glanced around them and side to side.

“Where’s yer uh…yer man?”

Her voice was timid and unsure, and Claire felt Jamie stiffen slightly against her.

“He’s…working.”

“He’s an architect,” Claire jumped in. “He’ll be home after five.”

Jenny nodded silently, focusing on the baby for a moment.

“He’ll be very happy to meet you both. I’m sure,” Claire went on.

Jamie cleared his throat. “I think I should phone his office, actually…so he can ehm…prepare.”

“Yes, do that,” Claire ushered him away, watching him go, then she smiled back at Jenny. Claire almost jumped at the intensity in Jenny’s eyes. She gripped Claire’s forearm.

“Tell me true, Sister. Are ye happy?”

“What? Of course I am…”

“Is it true that ye’re…involved…?” Her eyes swam with turmoil, her brow furrowed in deep concentration, as if trying to solve a puzzle she couldn’t wrap her head around. “Ye’re no’ just…a facade…? So they can…?”

“Janet…” Ian warned.

“Oh, hush, dinna pretend ye didna ask me the same thing.”

“Jenny,” Claire interrupted gently yet firmly. “I am involved , as you put it. Very much so. I appreciate you accepting Jamie for who he is, but I don’t think you quite understand…he’s not…they’re both not…”

“Sodomites?”

Janet .”

Claire cringed visually at the word. “We don’t use that word,” she said as patiently as she could. “They’re not…only capable of loving men. They both…love men and women. As evidenced by my presence in the relationship.”

Claire could see the gears turning in Jenny’s head, but no understanding lit up her eyes yet. “I’m sorry to offend, truly. I’m just trying to understand…”

“I know you’re trying.” Claire put a hand on your shoulder. “And it means the world. It means the world that you’re here at all. Jamie was beside himself when he thought he’d never see you again. And so was I.”

Jenny nodded. “It…wasna easy at first. It was…hard to swallow.”

“I understand.”

“It was Ian, really, that finally got my head out of my arse,” Jenny said sheepishly. “He said whether or no’ I understood, I shouldna lose a brother over it. And then I figured I couldna just show up wi’out understanding…” She sighed. “I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it.” Claire nodded. “All I’ve ever wanted was for him to find happiness. And I thought he had wi’ you…”

“But it’s not about an either/or,” Claire explained. “He wasn’t lacking for anything when it was just us two…but John just…” Christ, it was hard to explain something she hardly understood herself. “He…completes us. He fills a hole we didn’t feel was there before we met him…does that make sense…?”

She pursed her lips. “I think so.”

“The bottom line is,” Ian cut in, “we’re thrilled to see ye both well. And the bairn. Both bairns I suppose. And we canna wait to meet John.”

“Aye,” Jenny agreed, a genuine, bright smile on her face. “It’ll be an honor to meet the man that completes ye, as ye say.”

Claire squeezed her shoulder, smiling back, and then Jamie reentered the hall.

“How is he?” Claire asked.

“He was…shocked. But he’s happy,” Jamie said, and Claire could see the relief flowing through him like a lifeblood. “He’s eager to come home and meet his family.”

Jenny’s smile was a bit frantic, but it was still genuine.

“Let’s get ye out of the hall. Come sit.” Jamie ushered everyone into the living room, and Brianna loudly demanded to be handed back to her Da, which Jenny obliged. “Where are your bairns?”

“They’re at the hotel wi’ Mrs. Crook,” Jenny explained. “We brought her wi’ us.”

“You will not stay at a hotel!” Claire insisted. “We have more than enough rooms here.”

“We werena sure if ye’d want us,” Jenny admitted sheepishly. “We had no idea how this would go.”

“Ye’re family,” Jamie said with finality. “Ye’ll stay here. After ye meet John, ye can fetch the bairns and Mrs. Crook.”

“Oh…how old are they now…?” Claire said longingly.

“Jamie’s almost five, Maggie just turned three.”

“Oh…”

They launched into gushing over children, the ways in which Brianna was similar to her cousins, when she’d hit milestones, all the things that mothers and fathers discuss.

“Oh, and this one!” Jenny squealed, patting Claire’s stomach. “When’s he due?”

“January.” Claire beamed, caressing the baby.

“Whose is he?” Jenny said, giggling. “I assume ye both…”

Janet .”

“He’s all of ours,” Jamie cut in. “Paternity doesna matter. We’ve no way of knowing, and it doesna matter.”

Jenny blanched a bit, going a bit pink. “Aye, of course.”

“No way of knowing ’til he comes out wi’ hair like that,” Ian joked, jutting his chin toward Brianna.

“Aye,” Jamie said genially, smiling. “Ye’re right. But fer all intents and purposes…”

“No, I understand,” Ian said. “Just teasing, brother.”

“I ken.”

A terribly awkward silence followed, and Claire clasped her hands together. “Do you want to see the rest of the house?”

Conversation flowed more and more easily the longer it went on, and Ian and Jenny were completely charmed by the house. Around four, Jamie got started on dinner, with Jenny’s insistence on helping. Claire and Ian stayed in the living room with Brianna, rolling their eyes at the sound of the classic Fraser bickering.

“This may shock ye,” Ian said, looking up from tickling Brianna, bouncing her on his knee. “But I’ve missed that sound.”

Claire smiled wistfully from the couch. “So have I.”

Ian looked like he wanted to say something, but was stopping himself.

“What?”

“Well, it…” He sighed. “I didna want to say it, because I’m no’ proud of it…Jenny’s no’ proud of it. But when we got Jamie’s letter…she was spittin’ fire. And I didna blame her. I was more sad than angry, but still.”

Claire’s chest ached, but she nodded, urging him to continue.

“I felt like I’d been lied to all my life,” Ian said. “I mean…he was my best friend. Ye have to understand. I thought…how could I have missed something like that? How could he no’ tell me? No’ trust me enough?” Brianna gave a demanding shout, eliciting more tickles from her uncle. “But watching Jenny say such terrible things in her anger…I realized very quickly why he’d never said a damn thing.”

Claire’s eyes glistened.

“And I thought…why would someone choose a life that would lead to their loved ones hating them so? Why would they choose a life where they had to homeschool their children to protect them from harm…?” He shook his head. “So I got there a bit quicker than she did. But she’s here, aye?”

Claire sniffled, wiping her eyes. Damn those hormones.

“Yes, you’re both here.” Claire reached across the couch and took his hand. “And I think you understand a lot better than you think you do.”

He gave her hand a squeeze and smiled warmly.

John arrived shortly before dinner was finished, several minutes earlier than he usually did. Claire smiled fondly to think he must have ran all the way home from the office. He was, indeed, out of breath as he stepped into the living room, still in his coat and hat.

Claire and Ian turned their heads, and John’s eyes widened only slightly.

“Hello,” he said warmly. “I’m John.”

Ian smiled and handed Brianna over to Claire so he could use two arms to pull himself up onto his unsteady legs.

“Hallo,” Ian said warmly. “I’m Ian. The pegleg.”

John flushed a bit, unsure of how to react to Ian’s deprecating humor, but when Ian stuck out a hand to shake, he didn’t hesitate.

“It’s…wonderful to meet you,” John stammered. “Truly an honor. Jamie told me so much about your childhood together while we were in the trenches. You mean the world to him.”

“He speaks quite highly of you as well,” Ian said. “He and my wife are in the kitchen.”

“John.” Speak of the devil, Jamie strode in from the kitchen, dish rag draped over his shoulder.

“Hello, love.”

The endearment slipped out so naturally; they were in their home after all. Claire could see the blush spreading over both men, but Ian didn’t bat an eye. Despite their discomfort, maybe even because of it, to prove a point, Jamie pecked John lightly on the lips, as he would any other day when he got home from work.

“Where’s my girl?” John said, and Claire promptly put Brianna in his arms.

“Do you hear that?” Claire said, forcing a pout. “One day I’m his girl, the next I’m not.”

“Ah, don’t listen to Mummy,” John cooed in Brianna’s face. “I’m happy to see you both. But you are my little girl.”

He kissed her nose, and Claire’s heart tumbled. God, she’d never tire of it.

“John,” Jamie interrupted, stepping aside a bit. “This is my sister, Jenny.”

John smiled, shifting Brianna to one arm as Jenny stuck out her hand.

“It’s…an honor to meet ye,” Jenny said, and Claire could tell it wasn’t as much of a struggle to say as she thought it might have been.

Instead of shaking her hand, John brought it to his lips, bowing slightly, baby and all. Claire bit her lip, fighting the urge to giggle. That bloody fool was too charming for his own good.

“The honor is all mine,” John said genuinely.

Claire met Ian’s eye, and he, too, was trying not to laugh. Jenny’s ears were bright pink at John’s charming attentions.

“Dinner’s just about done,” Jenny said curtly, removing her hand from John’s grasp politely. “Ian, help John set the table.”

Ian rolled his eyes at Claire. “Aye, aye, Captain.”

John met Claire’s eye, and she smiled encouragingly. “Trust me,” she whispered, taking Brianna back. “It’s a good sign when she’s giving you orders.”

John grimaced as if he didn’t believe her, but she pecked him on the lips. “Go on, Soldier.”

He gave her one more kiss before obeying Captain Jenny. Claire asked Jamie to move the high chair into the dining room, and then they were all gathered, candles lit and fine china and crystal set. Claire realized as she sat down that they had not had a single reason to use the fine table settings or the candles. They did not, could not have company. And to use it tonight lightened something in her heart that she did not know had darkened.

Jamie even poured his finest whisky, saved for the grandest of celebrations, like holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. Before they dug into the food, Jenny cleared her throat, holding her whisky.

“I want to make a wee toast. To my brother,” she raised her glass to Jamie, “to the two that love him,” she made sincere, lingering eye contact with both Claire and John, and Claire watched as John welled up with tears, “and to the products of that love.” She gestured to Brianna, then Claire’s stomach with her glass. “And to all of your continued joy and peace.”

“Slaínte mhath!” Ian called joyously, and the whole room echoed, even the Sassenachs. They all sipped their drinks, and Jenny interrupted once more before they could start eating.

“And,” she said, “to bless this union, and the children of this union,” she stood up and left the room, returning with a wooden box, “I’ve brought these.”

“Janet…” Jamie said, breathless.

Claire’s brow furrowed.

“In our family for generations,” Jenny explained to John. “There are two missing, one for each of my bairns, as Jamie suggested in his letter. But…” She opened the box to reveal ten glittering silver spoons. “Apostle spoons. I ken we missed her baptism. But we willna miss his.” She nodded curtly, sniffling away her own emotional tears. “Ye’ll take Saint Andrew for Brianna so she might never forget where her blood is from.” She removed the Saint Andrew spoon and put it on the tray of Brianna’s high chair. “And ye’ll take Saint Thomas for the bairn.”

Her voice broke, and she sniffled again as she put the spoon in front of Claire.

“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed,” she quoted. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Jamie grasped Claire’s hand for dear life under the table, shuddering with quiet tears.

“I, myself, was a Doubting Thomas,” Jenny said shamefully. “I shall never doubt ye again, any of ye.”

Claire picked up the spoon with a trembling hand and brought it to her lips to kiss it, as if christening Jenny’s blessing on their union.

“Thank you, Janet,” Jamie said hoarsely. “Thank you.”

Claire squeezed Jamie’s hand. She knew how much this meant to him; for Jenny to use her faith to welcome him back into the family, to welcome John, their children. That faith was the very thing that kept them apart for as long as it did, so for this to be what brought them back together again meant the world to him.

And to her, and to John.

And as they finally dug into their dinner, all was suddenly right with the world.

Chapter Text

image

Boston, 1952

“Hold your diploma up a little higher, Mummy!”

Claire chuckled to herself, and so did the man beside her, posing in the picture with her, Joe Abernathy, a fellow graduate.

“Alright, one, two, three, cheese!”

Claire’s smile widened unconsciously at John’s coaching, and then the camera flashed.

“Did you get it?”

“Sure did!”

“Excellent job, sweetheart.” John nudged Brianna’s chin.

“Now just Mummy and Daddy. And Da.”

Reflexively, Claire’s eyes swept around the room, but her colleagues were none the wiser, each engrossed in their own conversation, and their drinks.

“I want to take the next picture!”

No.” Brianna held the camera above her head, out of reach of the little boy who was really not all that much shorter than her, but just short enough to not be able to reach no matter how many times he hopped. “You’re too little.”

“Am not,” the boy shot right back. “You’re little as me.”

“Am not,” Brianna said stubbornly. “Seven is bigger than six. Six is too little.”

“Willie,” Claire cut in. “Why don’t you go find Da? We can’t take the picture without him.”

Pouting only slightly, William darted off to find Jamie among the small throngs of people throughout the first floor of their home.

“Brianna, darling.” John bent down in front of her. “Can you do me the biggest favor?”

“Yeah, Daddy! I can!”

“Alright. Could you give your brother a turn with the camera?”

“But Daddy,” she said, exasperated. “He’ll break it.”

“No, he won’t.” John bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. Willie did have a tendency to destroy everything he touched, as did most six year old boys. “Uncle Joe will help him and make sure he doesn’t.”

“That’s right. I got him.”

She pouted, but then sighed. “Fine.”

She allowed John to take the strap over her head. “You’re a good big sister, Bree.”

She crossed her arms, but Claire did not miss the twinkle in her eye. She was always putty in John’s hands. And Jamie’s, for that matter. Everyone’s but Claire’s, evidently. Praise from her fathers could make her do just about anything. Willie came scampering back, Jamie trailing behind with a child in each arm. Four year old Alexander was thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and two year old Julia was cradled against his hip.

“Come on, Da! Picture!” Brianna called.

“Aye, I heard.”

“No babies in the picture,” she said haughtily.

“I’m not a baby,” Alex called.

“No, ye’re not,” Jamie agreed, settling him on his feet. “But ye’ll be in the next one, promise. Bree, hold onto Julie’s hand.”

Bree obeyed, and Joe crouched down to help Willie with the camera. Bree hovered a bit too close, not willing to let any mistake escape her notice.

Claire waved her arms, drawing John and Jamie into the frame, and she draped her arms around their waists, resting on the small of their backs. The men nestled in closer, then they clasped their hands behind Claire’s back, out of anyone’s sight.

“One…two…three!”

“Good job, little man,” Joe tousled his hair. “Hey, don’t move; one more,” he called. “Give her a kiss.”

The three of them gave him a funny, confused look, and John leaned in to kiss Claire.

“No, no, no, on the cheek.” He looked into the lens. “Both of you.”

Claire flushed red, and the other two followed right after.

“Come on, camera’s ready,” Joe goaded.

Claire huffed in amused disbelief. “You heard him, boys.”

“One, two, three.”

And there it was, immortalized forever, both of Claire’s husbands kissing her adoringly on each cheek.

Out of every colleague and their wives in the house, Joe and his wife, Gail, were the only ones aware of the truth of their situation. Leave it to him to push the boundaries of what they should be doing in public, but Claire found herself not giving a damn.

She was too damn happy.

Claire trusted Joe with everything, clearly, including her life. When she’d started at Harvard, he was the only person in the room who wasn’t an entitled white man. They were kindred spirits, she the first woman doctor to graduate there, and he the first black man. They had much in common besides their career and the discrimination they faced, and they became fast friends. Claire had discussed at length with Jamie and John whether or not they could trust him, and Claire was beyond grateful that they’d decided they could. He was one of the only family friends they had, and the only one who was normally allowed in their home. Their two children were just Brianna and Alex’s age, and they were all thick as thieves.

“Alright, let’s get all the Grey’s and Fraser’s in there, now!” Joe called.

In private, he would have referred to them as the Fraser-Grey’s, but all understood the point.

John bent down to pick up Julia, kissing her curly brown head, identical to Claire’s. Jamie hoisted Alex onto his hip, attempting to settle some of his unruly red curls. When it came to Alex, there was really no question as to his paternity, but he was John’s, too, just the same. The neighbors assumed that the red hair was also in John’s blood, given they were “cousins,” so nobody even blinked at the glaringly obvious abnormality. Cousins and their children looking alike was nothing strange.

“Brianna, go get Faith,” Claire commanded gently, and she went right off.

Faith’s chair was settled in front of the record player, and Joe’s son, Lenny, was holding onto her hands and swaying them, dancing with her. Brianna grasped the handles and pushed her across the living room to join the family photo.

Faith was born three months premature on May 12, 1948. The doctors told them she would die, that it was a certainty. But she’d pulled through, though not entirely unscathed. Claire recognized the signs before any certified doctor did: Cerebral Palsy.

As Brianna pushed the wheelchair through the room, the people parted, tutting in sympathy. Everyone always looked at Faith like they wanted to cry, at the park, the library, in their home, and everyone talked to her like she would break any second. But anyone who truly knew her knew that they should be frightened that she would break them.

Faith had the combined tempers of both Jamie and Claire, with the combined forces of their pigheaded stubbornness to match, whether inherited or learned was anybody’s guess. Her hair was a subdued auburn, a shade between Brianna and Alex’s red and Willie’s chestnut. She was the only Fraser-Grey to have inherited Claire’s honey-amber eyes, and Jamie coveted this about her, treated her just the slightest bit different than the other children because of it, though he dared not ever admit it. Claire could just tell.

With the other four children’s blue eyes, and Julia and Willie’s ambiguous hair color, it was anybody’s guess who sired them. There were days where they could swear that Willie was Jamie’s, and days where they kicked themselves and remarked how foolish they were to not realize he was John’s. His eyes did not have Jamie’s slant, but they sometimes glinted like his did. He certainly had Jamie’s temper, but he carried himself so like John.

“Come stand by me, Willie,” Claire crooned, and he wedged himself between John and Claire, squeezing his mother around the waist. Where Brianna could not be told a damn thing by anyone but her fathers, Willie was the most insufferable mama’s-boy Claire had ever encountered. He jumped through hoops to please her, clung to her like a baby gorilla to its mother’s back. It nearly always got to the extent of smothering, but it only got on Claire’s nerves occasionally.

Brianna scooted Faith’s chair front and center, and then Faith used her arms to scoot herself all the way to the left of her seat, and Brianna wiggled in next to her. Claire often found them like this, curled into Faith’s wheelchair like they were in an armchair, looking at a book or a doll. Claire knew Brianna did this so that Faith did not feel left out. She could have easily sat on the end of the couch right beside Faith’s chair, but it wasn’t the same as sharing an equal seat. It amazed Claire to think that her daughter already possessed such emotional intelligence, such empathy. She knew this had to be true, because Brianna had no problem turning her nose up at people who treated Faith differently, had no problem telling them, “She’s not a baby, you know,” when people tried to coddle her. She was perfectly content to call Willie too little, or Alex a baby, but Faith was nothing less than her equal, full stop.

They were inseparable, and Claire prayed they always remained so.

The girls squeezed their arms around each other, and only then could the photo be taken.

“Okay, ready?”

“Ready!” The seven of them answered, all except baby Julia.

“Look over here, Jules,” Joe called, waving his hand. “Come on, baby girl.”

“Look at Uncle Joe, Julsey!” John bounced her, pointing at the camera.

“There she is! One-two-three!” Joe rushed through the count lest they lose Julia again. “Perfect!”

“Thank you, Joe,” Claire said, giving her husbands one final squeeze before the crowd that was their family dispersed. “Do you want to go back by the record player, Faith?”

“Yes, please, Mummy.”

Claire bent to kiss the top of her head before wheeling the chair, still holding both Faith and Brianna, back to the record player. Spirited and high-tempered she may be, but Faith could be sweet as anything when her guard was down. Claire deposited the girls by the music, and she turned to find Joe holding a drink out for her, which she took appreciatively. 

“Claire!” Jamie called, beckoning her away from Joe. “I got this last week, but it’s meant for today.”

Claire opened a Hallmark card addressed to her, her cheeks sore from smiling.

“Good Sister,” she read aloud. “We are so sorry we couldn’t make it, but know that we are so proud of you, and that we love you. Enjoy the whisky. Slaínte, Jenny, Ian, young Jamie, Maggie, Kitty, Janet, Michael, Caitlin, and wee Ian.”

“Jesus. They’ve got more kids than you lot!” Joe ribbed Jamie, and Jamie lightly shoved him back.

“What’s this about whisky?” Claire said, raising a brow.

“They’ve sent over a box of the good stuff. Straight from Scotland.”

“Ah!” John sighed appreciatively. “Nothing beats that.”

“Shall we crack it open?”

“Mummy, Mummy, let me see.” Willie was pawing at her skirt, not relenting until she handed down the card for his inspection.

Jamie opened one of Jenny’s bottles with Alex wrapped around his leg like a monkey, and they toasted Claire, Doctor Beauchamp, Harvard Graduate.

She was euphoric.

——

The rest of Joe and Claire’s colleagues had reservations at Fontaine’s, and when they left, Jamie got started on the grand supper he had in mind to celebrate the two and feed both of their families. They’d managed to corral all of the children into the backyard to run around like the heathens they’d been acting like all day. Faith was sitting in the swing that Jamie had built from scratch to accommodate her disability, and Brianna and Lenny were taking turns pushing her.

John smiled fondly at them, then rolled his eyes heavenward at the sight of Alexander chasing Delia Abernathy with a stick.

“Alexander John!” He cracked the back door open. “Stop terrorizing this instant, or you’ll get none of Mummy’s cake.”

He hurled the stick over the fence with an animal growl, and John shook his head.

“Alex is mad,” he whispered to Julia, still in his arms. “You’re quite lucky you’re not big enough to be out there yet.”

“I big!”

John melted, smiling. “That’s right, of course you are.” He forgot how self-aware she was becoming.

His baby would be a baby no longer sooner than he knew.

Julia had to be their last, full stop. Claire could not keep pushing out babies for the rest of her life, not now that she was a doctor. She’d gone through all of medical school pregnant and nursing with anywhere from two to four young children, putting school on hold for three different maternity leaves, Faith’s being longer than normal. It had not been easy on her, and not a day went by that John did not thank his lucky stars that he’d been lucky enough for Claire to take it all in stride, to want every single one of their five darlings just as much as he and Jamie had. Jamie and John were constantly taking turns holding textbooks in front of her to read while she breastfed, or quizzing her with flashcards while she “rested her eyes” after midnight when one of the babies had finally quieted for the night.

God, she was brilliant, and he had the honor of calling her his.

Perhaps he was daft, or just clueless, being that his Monday through Friday nine to five job had him in the house the least out of the three of them, at least while Claire was home on leave, but he was going to miss having babies around. He practically already did. But, John and Jamie had agreed to Claire’s terms of their getting vasectomies after they found out about Jules, and he couldn’t ask her to reconsider.

So he’d cherish his baby girl as much as he could, while he still could.

“Ye middle-named him, John?” Jamie called from the kitchen.

“Yes, I thought he was going to bludgeon Delia with a tree branch.”

“Christ.”

John gave the kids outside one final glance before rejoining the cooking or, if you were Claire, drinking happening in the kitchen.

Alex was Christened Alexander John almost against John’s will. It had seemed so silly to name one of the children after him.

“It’s not like I’m dead,” he’d grumbled.

But when Claire and Jamie had drawled on at length about how they had Brianna Ellen for Jamie’s parents, William Henry for Jamie’s brother and Claire’s father, Faith Janet for Jamie’s sister, and Alexander for one of Jamie’s middle names, they said it was only fair that John have a namesake.

“William is one of my given names,” John had shrugged.

“Aye, but it’s for my brother. Come on, John. I ken ye dinna want to use your family like we do. And I ken well why. So use yer own name. You are the only thing yer family did right, even if they didna do right by ye. Give our lad yer name.”

And so, weeping, John had kissed the baby’s head and called him Alexander John.

John swept into the kitchen and Jamie beckoned him over, holding out a spoon. “Taste.”

John grinned and opened his mouth. “Oh, it’s perfect, love.”

Jamie beamed proudly. “Good.” He pecked John sweetly, then kissed Julia’s cheek.

“Where’s my Julsey?” Claire’s ears were flushed pink and her words slurred. “Give me my baby…oh, yes, hello.”

“Mama sleepy,” Julia declared as she settled into Claire’s lap. “Mama nap.”

Joe snorted. “Mama drunk.”

“Mama will nap later,” Claire assured her. “Mama will sleep very good tonight.”

Jamie hummed mischievously. “Aye, I’ll see to it.”

“Christ, Jamie!” John cried, aghast, blushing fiercely to have heard such a blatant innuendo in front of their friends. Claire just snorted, smacking Joe on the arm, who hooted himself.

“Lord help us,” Gail declared.

Oh, but He had.

John was married to not one, but two loves of his life. In his boyhood, when he realized who and what he was, he resigned himself to never marry the one he loved. It wasn’t possible. But Jamie had made it possible, and Claire had been his only exception. He’d resigned himself to be childless, and now here he was with five beautiful, healthy children. Yes, Faith struggled, but she was healthy. Claire was a perfect mother, Jamie a perfect father. He was devoted to their homeschooling like a professor teaching college. He was thorough and patient and firm when he needed to be. He was incredible.

And John…well…he didn’t think he was a bad father himself. His children adored him, he knew that much. They clambered all over him when he got home from work, and he read to them, taught them chess.

If he could find his fourteen year old self, sobbing in an alley, beaten bloody by his classmates because they knew before he did, he would pick the lad up and kiss his head, tell him that someday it would all be worth it. If he could find himself in the trenches, practically shitting himself with terror, praying for death rather than go on knowing that Jamie did not love him…God, the things he would tell that shaking young man.

“You’re going to be happy beyond measure someday. You’re going to have it all, even the things you thought you didn’t want.”

“You’re going to have a family again.”

——

That night, Jamie made good on his promise to Claire. He and John took turns kissing her senseless until she was panting and quivering with need. They undressed her together, piece by piece, kissing each new bit of exposed flesh as they went. They devoured her in tandem, pausing to kiss each other and taste her on their tongues on occasion. They brought her to climax, and then they undressed each other, something Jamie knew Claire enjoyed watching. Then Claire was pinning Jamie into the mattress, stuffing pillows under his lower back, exposing him for John. Grease thoroughly applied, John sheathed himself to the hilt, and Claire lowered herself onto Jamie with a shuddering sigh, kissing him as she did.

After a few moments, they settled into a rhythm, John thrusting, Claire riding. She sat straight up like a queen, leaning against John’s chest like he was her throne. This was one of Jamie’s new favorite positions. Watching her writhe on his cock while John touched her was one of the most erotic experiences of his life. It was like watching her pleasure herself for him, but watching someone else do it for her…it was indescribable. And then there was the fact that John’s growing arousal and pleasure from touching Claire was causing him to thrust harder and deeper into Jamie…they were all connected in that way, always. Whatever one did had an effect on the other two, however direct or indirect. 

John pinched and tugged on Claires nipples none too gently, bit her neck and shoulders. The more times Claire gave birth, the more violent she’d begged them to be with her in their bed. She needed to feel everything so much more deeply than she had before five children had stretched her in every impossible direction.

It was why they’d used with more and more frequency the position where one of them had her from behind, on her hands and knees, and the other thrust into her mouth. She received no end of torment from both sides, one man tugging mercilessly on her hair, the other spanking her firmly and loudly.

But Jamie knew she craved it, needed it, loved it. So he felt no guilt in bringing her this delicious pain, not when it made her scream for them both.

Now, one of John’s hands left one of her breasts to trail down her stomach and disappear into her dark curls. She gasped raggedly, throwing her head back onto his shoulder, clenching around Jamie. The sound propelled John’s hips faster, and Jamie groaned.

He was teasing her, not taking up the pace he knew she needed, not yet. John liked to make her beg, and Jamie loved to watch him make her.

“John…” she whined, circling her hips, as if that could get her what she needed, and Jamie growled at the sensation.

“What’s that, my dear?” He squeezed her breast and did something with his fingers between her legs that made her squeak; likely pinched that little bud. Jamie knew all of her sounds anywhere.

“I…” She cut herself off with a humming little moan. “I need…”

“You need only ask,” he purred, and Jamie tightened his grip on Claire’s thighs, holding himself back from slamming up into her and ending everything right there and then.

Please…” she whined, clenching around Jamie again. “Please, John, my love, my darling…”

John chuckled darkly, and Jamie nearly lost his vision as John dug his nails into one of her nipples. “That’s my girl.”

The speed of his hand between her legs practically tripled, and she cried out appreciatively, hoarsely.

“Yes, love…yes…”

He groaned and pumped faster and faster into Jamie, and Jamie moaned loudly. The very second Claire found release and clamped down around him with the strength she only found in oblivion, he would be done for.

“Oh, Claire…” he groaned, digging his nails into the soft, pliable flesh of her thighs.

“Jamie…” she whined, bouncing up and down on him with renewed fervor.

“Aye, lass…that’s it…”

Claire spread her hands over the expanse of Jamie’s chest and mercilessly pinched his nipples, and he yelped, thrusting up into her. She was now bent over slightly, riding Jamie’s cock and John’s hand, grinding against his circling, pressing, pinching fingers.

“I’m…” she choked.

“Ye’re close…” Jamie panted. “I can feel it.”

“Hurt me, John!”

John groaned into her neck, fucking Jamie impossibly faster. And then Claire screamed. Jamie knew what John had done, he himself did it all the time. When Claire was close, but not close enough, and she begged for pain, they roughly pinched her bud with their middle finger and thumb, maintaining the circle motion that she needed, then dug the nail of the pointer right into the center.

As predicted, the sudden tightness around Jamie’s cock, combined with John’s continual slamming right there had him following her right after, mewling like a kitten at the overstimulation. John did not follow, he kept pumping so desperately that, were Jamie a woman, he might have orgasmed again.

Instead of collapsing onto his chest as Claire usually did, broken and boneless after such intense release, she dismounted, letting his softening cock slip out of her. He watched in awe as she dipped her fingers between her legs, coating her fingers in her own natural wetness, moaning quietly as she touched herself. She moved behind John, and Jamie swore his cock stood right at attention again when he realized what she was doing.

“Bend over, John,” she said huskily. “Kiss him.”

He did, capturing Jamie’s lips fiercely, running his hands all over his chest, tangling them in his hair. When John choked against his mouth, Jamie knew Claire had found her target.

“Feel that, darling?” she crooned. “They go in so easily…because of you. That’s mine, not from a jar.”

“Oh, Christ…” Jamie groaned. If he wasn’t hard again before, he was now.

Claire…” John choked, and then he yelped, likely because she put in more fingers. It was not long after that his hips stuttered, crying out to both his loves, and Jamie was filled with his hot seed.

John tended to Jamie’s newest erection while Claire cleaned herself up in their ensuite bathroom. He kept his eyes locked on John’s and held onto his face while he pumped Jamie with his hand. He was close, so close, with John alone, and then Claire came strutting back, naked and glorious, smelling of her soaps and herbs and mint toothpaste. She lay beside her men, swirling her tongue with John’s, moaning into his mouth like she was singing an aria, and that was what put him over the edge.

He shot his seed onto his stomach, and Claire kissed him sweetly and lazily while she cleaned him up with a warm rag, smelling sweet with soap. She cleaned up John next, and then she tossed the rag aside and flopped herself down onto Jamie’s chest. He hummed happily, kissing her head.

“D’ye feel properly celebrated, Doctor Beauchamp?”

She kissed his chest and laced her fingers with John’s as he settled on the other side of Jamie, facing her. “Quite.”

She was not Doctor Grey because she could not be doctor Fraser-Grey. So she chose to use her maiden name as her professional name. It suited her, anyway, Jamie thought. She didn’t need a man’s name to succeed in the workplace. He loved watching her stick it to everybody that doubted her.

“I really am so proud of you,” John whispered. “You’ve worked so hard, wanted it for so long.”

Jamie felt her smile against him, and then felt her body warm, like a hot water bottle on his side.

“Thank you, darling,” she whispered.

“Ye’re a marvel, Sassenach,” Jamie agreed.

“I couldn’t have done it without either of you.”

“You probably could have actually done it quite easier and faster without us.” John smirked. “Without our constant pawing, you wouldn't have needed all those leaves, all those breast feeding study sessions…”

Claire did not laugh, did not move a muscle. “Those were some of the best moments of my life.”

Jamie’s heart ached. God, it hurt how much he loved her.

“I wouldn’t change a damn thing,” Claire said fervently. “Feeding while either of you desperately fed me information, trying to cram shit into my brain while you both did the most ridiculous things to keep the children out of my hair…” She shook her head. “I cherish those moments more than you could ever know.”

Jamie dipped his head to kiss her, then kissed John, then watched as Claire kissed John over his chest.

“I cherish you more than you could ever know,” John said, looking Claire in the eye, but tracing his fingers over the hairs on Jamie’s chest.

After seven years of marriage, they’d each learned that when one said those sorts of things, they were saying it to both of them. They needn’t clarify anymore. It went without saying.

Jamie laid awake long after John’s and Claire’s breathing slowed and deepened, and he relished in the peace of their rest. Someday, it might not be so simple. The children would have to go to public school eventually if they were to have any sort of future. Someday, they’d learn about biology and genes and traits, and they’d look in the mirror, then at their three parents, and they’d wonder. Someday, they’d ask questions.

But for now, all they needed to know was that they were all loved beyond measure, and all three of their parents loved each other unconditionally in whatever way made sense to their young minds.

Someday, perhaps, it wouldn’t matter. Maybe not in his lifetime, maybe not in the children’s lifetimes. But maybe his grandchildren could marry, truly, legally marry, whoever they wished. Maybe his grandchildren could tell their children to call them whatever they pleased in front of anyone. Maybe they would not live in fear.

There'll be love and laughter, and peace ever after.

Tomorrow, When the world is free.

——

fin