Holly, ivy, mistletoe,
and the gently falling snow
Truth and love and hope abide
“I want Christmas,” she told him one day.
“Christmas.” Her eyes were alight with a sudden urgency and hope, and he couldn’t for the life of him conjure up any sort of response.
“I know it’s not a big holiday here ‒ I know we’ll have Hogmanay in a few weeks, but… it’s Faith’s first Christmas and Fergus’s first one with our family and I didn’t realize… I haven’t‒” She shook her head suddenly and those bright eyes turned wistful. “I didn’t think it mattered, but I haven’t had a family Christmas since I was very small and now that we have the children with us,” she shrugged one shoulder and gave him a wobbly little smile that had his heart tumbling in his chest.
“Now that we’re a family of our own… I want Christmas,” she leaned up on her toes to kiss him, soft and quick, like the brush of a wing. “With you. With our family.”
“Christmas,” he echoed the word gently against her lips before sealing it with a kiss. “Aye, Sassenach,” he sighed with mock graveness, struggling to hide his smile. “I suppose we can have yer pagan holiday if it’ll make ye happy. That is, if Jenny doesna run us out of here for suggesting it.”
“Celebrate Christmas?” Jenny pulled a face, which drew a sigh from Jamie. Ian didn’t outright object but even he looked uneasy at the suggestion. Though it hadn’t been outlawed since well before any of them were born, most in the Highlands still frowned upon celebrating Yuletide. “Whatever for?”
“They dinna celebrate Hogmanay where Claire grew up. Instead, she had Christmas.” Jamie straightened up a little. “And ye ken how it is once there’s little ones, Janet‒”
“Oh don’t ‘Janet’ me‒”
“Claire wants us to start our own traditions here.”
“I dinna think the tenants would think well about it,” Ian said cautiously.
“The tenants dinna need to ken how we spend our day. Claire wants it just to be our family here.”
Ian absorbed this while Jenny’s brows furrowed together. “Ye ken that doesna give us much time between then and Hogmanay, and I’m already preparing for that.”
“I will help Claire with any preparation for Christmas. I’m no’ asking ye to give time where ye dinna have any to give. I’m only telling ye both so ye ken ye’re expected to participate, and give ye well enough time to come around to the idea.”
Jenny cocked her head at him. “Never thought I’d see the day,” she teased. “What’s next? Converting to the Church of England?”
Jamie let out a bark of laugh at that. He hadn’t missed the brief twitch of Jenny’s mouth, wanting to smile but stubbornly refusing. “My wife is Catholic. And I’ll remind ye that you said yerself ye didna mind Claire’s Englishness so much.”
“Och aye, when we were being invaded by the Watch and them about to blow a hole through yer head, aye, I said that.”
Jamie chuckled, clocking the faint smile from Jenny before she sighed. “It’s one day,” he said softly, his gaze shifting between Jenny and Ian. “And it would mean the world to yer sister-in-law if ye embraced it. And it willna take away from Hogmanay. Claire only wants Christmas as a family.”
Jenny and Ian shared a look, having long since developed a way of having an entire conversation conveyed in just one glance. “If it makes ye happy, mo bhràthair…” Jenny shook her head at him, but a soft smile played at her lips. “I suppose my niece is half-English, and it’s only fair.”
Jamie grinned broadly. “Claire will be verra happy to hear that.”
“But for heaven’s sake,” Jenny hollered after him as he turned to leave. “Not a word of this to anyone else!”
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire muttered under her breath.
“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked.
Fergus’s head poked out from the other side of Jamie where they all sat on the sofa. “Did you mess up your stitches, Milady?”
She frowned at the boy, which only drew an impish smile out of him. When Fergus had noticed Jamie giving Claire her first lesson in knitting, he had decided that if Jamie could do it, so could he. Claire was admittedly getting the hang of it but Fergus had outpaced her as he took to it immediately.
“It’s just this one part…” She grumbled. She had also, admittedly, taken on perhaps more than she should have with her newly-learned skill. But with Christmas only a few weeks away, she wanted to make something for a gift. The product of her own two hands, born out of love. So she had started working on a simple frock for Faith, throwing herself headlong into a project beyond her level of skill.
Jamie’s hands came over hers, helping her hold the needles. “Ye almost have it, Sassenach…” He leaned in close, pressing a kiss to her temple when he released her. She felt a warm, fluttery feeling in her stomach.
“I have faith in you, Milady,” Fergus offered up, his head now bent over his own work. She glanced over at his progress ‒ the first in a pair of wrist warmers. He’d already finished a set previously.
“That looks wonderful! How are you so quick?”
He looked positively proud, especially when Jamie ruffled his hair. “Aye, well done, laddie.”
“Who is that for, Fergus?” Claire teased. They had told him he didn’t need to give gifts on Christmas unless he wanted to, that they would have gifts for him either way, but Fergus had taken to the idea quite quickly.
He turned away from them slightly, trying to hide his work. “Never you mind, Milady,” he said in a sing-song voice that drew chuckles from both of them.
A heavy snow came one day, forcing them all inside except when tending to the animals. Claire stood by the window in their bedroom with Faith, looking out at the snow covered hills and trees, before she turned and settled in a chair by the fire to feed Faith. Jamie came and found them a short time later.
“We should get a tree,” she said softly by way of greeting. “Something to put up in the parlor. And the boys can help us decorate it.” She paused long enough to kiss Jamie when he bent down to silently ask for one. His hand gently cupped the back of Faith’s head where she was situated at her mother’s breast to feed before he sat down in the chair opposite Claire.
“A tree, hmm?” He leaned back in his seat, feet stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles.
“Yes,” she exhaled a smile, her gaze dropping to the baby in her arms. “I was just thinking it would be lovely to have one when we’re cooped up inside on a day like today. Something festive to brighten up the place.”
“We can get ye a tree,” he agreed easily.
“What’s it like in yer time?” he asked after a moment of quiet. “Christmas, that is. How did ye celebrate?”
“Well,” Claire took a deep breath, not sure where to begin. “It’s not unlike Hogmanay in that there’s usually a Christmas feast, lots of holiday cheer and the sort. But we hang stockings by the fire on Christmas Eve, telling children that Father Christmas will fill their stockings with presents for them while they sleep.”
“A legendary bringer of gifts.” She smiled broadly at his confusion. “It was just a tale, Jamie. It was the parents who placed the gifts under the tree and filled their stockings. Which means you’ll be helping me on Christmas Eve after the children go to bed.”
“Oh, so I’m Father Christmas, aye?”
She laughed so hard at this, she startled poor Faith. “Something like that.”
“And what else, Sassenach?”
“Hmm, well… I went to Mass on Christmas Eve, except for some of the years I was with Uncle Lamb. I do miss the Christmas carols sometimes, actually…”
“Sing one for me.’
“No.” Claire shook her head adamantly, but a smile played at her lips. “Oh! And we would read A Christmas Carol every year, Uncle Lamb and I. It’s a story about a wealthy old man who… well he’s downright cantankerous and mean in the beginning. His heart is closed off to people, even his family. And so he’s visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve ‒ the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future ‒ to show him what truly mattered in this life. How people were worth living for and wealth didn’t truly enrich us. How there was always a chance to change, to be kinder and generous… I always liked that story. Uncle Lamb wasn’t one for making a fuss at Christmas, but that was our one tradition, wherever we were in the world.”
“Sounds lovely that ye had that with him.”
Claire made a soft sound of agreement. “I miss that. I miss him, especially at Christmas.”
Jamie sighed and if she weren’t feeding Faith at that moment, she was sure he would’ve tried to comfort her in some way.
“It’s alright. I’ll always miss my uncle, but I’m grateful for the years I had with him.”
“I feel similarly when it’s Hogmanay,” Jamie admitted. “I canna help but remember what it was like with my mam, my brother Willie… or even after we lost them but we still had our da…” His gaze settled on Faith and he smiled sadly. “There’s so many folks I wish she could’ve met. But we have our memories of them that we can share with her as she grows. And our traditions that we can give to her as well.”
It was a cold and clear day when Jamie and Claire wrangled a few of the children for the tree hunt. The snow had lingered on the ground, about ankle-deep, and they trudged through it as they headed for the woods.
Fergus, Rabbie, and wee Jamie took the task of selecting their tree with grave responsibility. Murtagh joined them, an axe slung over one shoulder while he pondered how they had ended up in this mess, preparing for Yuletide.
Jamie led them to a patch of evergreen trees and then it was up to Claire and the boys to find the right one.
And that was how a seven foot Scots pine came to be Lallybroch’s first Christmas tree. It was a marvelous tree, Jamie thought. Once set up in a corner of the parlor, Claire and the boys decorated it with ribbons, berries, and candles.
Other bits of greenery made their way into the house after that ‒ evergreen trappings along the mantels and around windows, holly wreaths on doors, sprigs of ivy twined together with holly berries and pine cones to adorn their tables.
“And you can keep them up through Hogmanay, if you’d like,” Claire added helpfully to Jenny.
It hadn’t taken much time at all for Claire to bring a little Christmas cheer, as she’d say, into the Lallybroch farmhouse. And she had been right ‒ the Christmas tree was a thing of pride for the children, who marveled at it daily whenever they entered the parlor. On dreary December days, it made the house feel warmer somehow.
But when Jamie caught Claire standing precariously on a chair trying to hang a bit of greenery from the entryway to the dining room, he thought perhaps the decorating could be reigned in a little ‒ it wasn’t anything worth risking injury over.
“What are ye doing, Sassenach?” He held her firmly by the waist to keep her anchored.
“Perfect. Thank you, love. Almost finished.”
He huffed loudly, but she seemed to miss it.
“There!” She declared triumphantly before stepping down from the chair and pushing it out of the way.
“Is it really necessary‒” he was in the process of speaking when suddenly it was she who held him by the hips and was busy arranging him in some particular spot. “What are ye doing?” He asked again with a little more exasperation than before.
Claire only grinned and looked up at the sprig above their heads. “Making sure we’re both standing perfectly under the mistletoe.”
She had him around his waist now, their bodies flush together, and she swayed with him slightly.
“Why do we need tae stand perfectly under the mistletoe?” He had his own responding smile now, too enamored with the feel of her in his arms to care about why they had arrived here.
“Because…” her hands came around his shoulders and settled at the back of his neck, tugging him down to her. “Now we can do this.”
She smiled into their kiss, slow and lingering as they swayed again in the entryway.
“I see,” Jamie said brightly once they’d parted. “Ye didna tell me about this Christmas tradition, Sassenach.” He leaned in to kiss her once more, a little less chaste than before. “Ye ken, I think I like this one best.”
On the day of Christmas Eve, Claire instructed each of the children to fetch one of their stockings to hang by the fire. They tore through the house together like a pack of wild dogs with Maggie on Claire’s hip and the boys excitedly at her side.
Jamie watched them up in the hallway from his seat in the parlor as Faith curled up on his chest. He heard the moment the last stocking had been fetched for they all poured back into the hallway with a shout and Fergus raced ahead in his excitement. Wee Jamie tried to catch up with his much shorter legs but had to slow down on the stairs, holding tight to the banister. Claire followed patiently behind with Maggie and soon their raucous tribe was standing in front of the fireplace, stockings in hand.
Faith lifted her head and watched them curiously.
Claire began to explain why they hung their stockings by the fire on Christmas Eve as Fergus put his up, and she helped Maggie with hers. Jamie watched as Fergus then lifted Wee Jamie to hang up his, while Claire pulled Faith’s stocking from her pocket and let Maggie help with that one as well.
They stood back and admired their work ‒ four wee stockings all in a row. Jamie felt his heart swell with gratitude and great joy that this family had Claire and she had them. Oblivious to the way he watched her, Claire shifted Maggie higher in her arms and pressed a kiss to the girl’s round cheek. Christ, he loved them, his wife and the niece that she brought into the world.
Fergus leaned over then and murmured to Claire that he knew that Père Noël wasn’t real but he wouldn’t tell the little ones. Jamie caught Claire’s sad sigh as she put her arm around Fergus’s shoulders and bent her head closer to his, but whatever she whispered to him was kept between Fergus and Claire.
Wee Jamie leaned suddenly against his uncle’s knee, pulling Jamie’s focus from his wife. “Gonna have presents in our stockings tomorrow, Unca Jamie!”
“Aye, I heard. Isna it wonderful ye have yer Auntie Claire here? Otherwise we wouldna ken to hang up our stockings.”
“Aye.” Wee Jamie nodded, glancing over along with his uncle to the woman in mention.
“What?” Claire’s gaze shifted between both Jamies. “Why are you both staring at me?”
“Because ye’re wonderful, Auntie Claire!” Wee Jamie grinned, earnest in his words and also in his excitement to use such a long word.
Her face flushed a faint pink at the boy’s words, visibly pleased to have his approval.
Later that night, after the children had been put to bed, Jamie helped Claire fill the children’s stockings with fruit and treats and small gifts.
“Faith’s is so small,” Claire giggled as she tucked a wooden rattle in there that took up most of the space. Jamie grinned, too.
“Aye and Fergus’s looks as though it belongs to a giant next to these wee ones.”
“Try and stuff a few more of those smaller candies into Jamie’s, I’m worried he’ll be jealous of Fergus getting more simply because his stocking can hold more.”
Jamie chuckled and did as Claire suggested. “Do ye remember hanging yer stocking by fire when ye were a lass, mo chridhe?” he asked, genuinely curious.
She smiled faintly, her gaze turning soft as she filled Maggie’s stocking. “I do. I remember coming down the stairs in the morning and seeing my stocking filled to the brim when it had been empty the night before and...” she shrugged one shoulder. “It’s a silly thing. I know now it was my parents. But it felt… it felt like magic.” Her gaze flicked over to his and she smiled softly. “Of course I’ve had Christmases since then and good ones at that, but this year with the children… I want them to have those memories. And I feel like I’ve been chasing that feeling of the last Christmas I had with my parents.”
“And have ye found it?”
“Well,” she stepped into the circle of his arms and her hand came to rest on his shoulder. He was all too happy to hold her, pressing a kiss to her hair. “It’s not Christmas just yet. I guess we’ll have to see what tomorrow brings,” she said coyly. Her expression turned tender just before she kissed him. “But I think there’s a good chance that I have found it, Jamie,” she whispered against his lips.
“Good,” he murmured when she pulled back before chasing her lips again. “Ye ken ye make those bairns so happy, aye? They all look at ye like ye hung the stars in the sky.” She seemed to melt under his gaze and ducked her head to rest on his shoulder, but the sigh that escaped her was happily reassuring that she did, indeed, know. “The babes may no’ remember this year’s Christmas, but Fergus will and mebbe wee Jamie, too. Ye’re giving them their own memories and starting traditions that they’ll have for years to come, Sassenach.”
She kissed him softly then, her hands framing his face, and murmured a quiet “thank you” against his lips.
“Oh, for letting me throw the whole house into a tizzy preparing for a holiday your family would rather not celebrate,” she laughed. Her fingers traced the lines of his jaw and he waited, sensing there was more. “For giving me your family wholeheartedly from the time we wed and for…” she shrugged her shoulders. “For everything, Jamie. I’ve loved these last few weeks. More than I can say.”
Claire grunted at the heavy rumble of Jamie’s voice in her ear, pulling her from sleep. “Not yet.”
“Claire.” There was laughter in his voice that she didn’t care for. She refused to open her eyes, though she could feel the likelihood of falling back to sleep slipping away from her.
“What?” She could hear how thoroughly British that one syllable sounded once it escaped her.
Jamie’s lips tickled her skin just below her ear at the same time that she registered the feel of Faith’s little hands grasping fistfuls of her nightgown right by her hip. “Ye have to wake up. It’s Christmas.”
She rolled over at that, finding Jamie’s beaming face and Faith in his arms, her little hands waving wildly.
“Thought we should get up soon if we want tae see the weans with their stockings.”
“Of course,” she agreed, shaking her head to try and clear the fog of sleep. “Here, I’ll take Faith. She’s probably hungry.”
He passed her over as Claire pushed herself up against the headboard. “And I’ll go down and make sure Fergus doesna tear into his stocking before we’re ready.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she smiled.
With Jamie slipping out of the room, it was only Claire and Faith and a few moments of stillness. “Merry Christmas, lovey,” she murmured to a bright-eyed Faith, bringing the baby up to her face for a loud, smacking kiss to the girl’s cheek and then pretending to nibble on her ear. Faith burst into a fit of giggles, and the sound made Claire positively melt.
“Oh my darling girl.” She cupped Faith’s head in her hand and pressed a soft kiss to her temple. Then with practiced ease, she shoved her nightgown down from her shoulder and out of the way, and settled Faith in her lap to feed her.
Claire’s fingers smoothed over the short, silky hairs on Faith’s head and then gently traced the shell of her ear. She hummed softly as she did, catching Faith’s eye eventually as the baby followed the sound. “That is from a song called Angels We Have Heard on High. I’ll teach it to you someday.” She tickled Faith’s cheek lightly. “I’ll teach you all the Christmas songs, my girl.”
Claire and Faith joined Jamie downstairs in the parlor where he stood by the fireplace, and the sight was completely warm and inviting. The work of Claire and Jamie last night was now on proud display in the light of morning ‒ four small stockings filled with treats and small gifts, and presents from them to the family tucked under the tree.
“No Fergus yet?”
“Nae. Heard him stirring about in his room afore I came down, though.”
“I guess it’s early still.”
Jamie tugged her forward into his arms and she went without resistance, the baby bracketed between them. Claire hummed a contented sound and kissed the top of Faith’s head.
“Merry Christmas, Auntie Claire an’ Unca Jamie!” Wee Jamie’s voice bellowed from the top of the stairs. Claire and Jamie looked up to see the boy beaming as he came down the stairs. Jenny was with him and had Maggie in one arm, practically perched on top of her mother’s rounded belly.
“Merry Christmas, darling,” Claire warmly returned his greeting ‒ the one she’d taught him last week in preparation for this day. She and Jamie were situated perfectly by the hearth in order to see wee Jamie’s face when he rounded the corner of the stairs and noticed the stockings.
His mouth dropped open in surprised delight, but no sound came out. The boy practically danced on hurried steps to his aunt and threw his small arms around her knees through her layers of skirts. “He did come here, Auntie!”
Wee Jamie’s excitement was infectious, bringing smiles to everyone’s faces.
Jamie plucked Maggie from her mother, giving Jenny a kiss on the cheek as he did. “Merry Christmas, Jenny.”
She patted his arm as she moved past him to Claire. “Merry Christmas, sister.”
Claire squeezed her sister-in-law back and swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. The warm embrace they shared was so much more than just that; Claire was keenly aware of and understood why they wouldn’t celebrate the holiday here, but it touched her to see Jenny embracing it and encouraging her children to embrace it as well.
“Can I look in my stocking?” Wee Jamie strained up on his tippy toes to try and reach his stocking, but his fingertips swiped at only air.
“Where’s Ian?” Jamie asked, bouncing Maggie in his arms.
“He’ll be down in a moment. The bairns couldna wait.” As if to prove her point, Jenny gestured to her son still trying desperately to reach his stocking.
“Jamie, love, not yet. Wait for Fergus,” Claire said gently.
“Where is the lad?”
“Still up in his room. Perhaps I should‒”
Fergus appeared then at the top of the stairs, his arms filled with bundles that he looked to have a precarious hold on. His head leaned around them to watch his steps as he went.
“What’ve ye got there?” Jenny asked him.
“My gifts for everyone!” He beamed at them as he rounded the stairs and made a beeline for the tree, though Claire caught the way his gaze sought out his stocking first. He dropped them carefully onto the floor and then stood. Claire was already reaching for him, settling an arm around his slim shoulders to draw him to her side.
“Merry Christmas, Fergus.” She kissed the top of his head.
“Joyeux Noël,” he answered softly. “When will we open presents?”
“I thought we could do that later in the day, but since all the children are here now, why don’t you all look in your stockings and see what Father Christmas brought you?”
There was a flurry of movement as stockings were passed to the children. Wee Jamie sat down promptly on the floor and upended his stocking so that the contents spilled out into his lap. The babies were far less riotous in their joy and took their first Christmas morning in stride. Claire watched all of them, heart simply brimming with happiness.
Fergus appeared at her side, his stocking in hand after having been carefully refilled once he’d sorted through the fruit, treats, and small gifts. The tender look on his face had her drawing him back in under her arm.
“Thank you, Milady,” he whispered, mindful of not wanting wee Jamie to overhear.
She smiled through the inexplicable urge to cry and kissed his hair. “Of course, love. Merry Christmas.”
Murtagh joined them, then Ian, and they made their way into the dining room for their breakfast. A few winter chores were unavoidable even on Christmas so the rest of the day passed as it normally would at Lallybroch, with the exception that there was something special to look forward to when the work was done.
When it was time for gifts, their family reconvened in the parlor and Claire took the lead on distributing the gifts she and Jamie had for everyone. She knew Fergus had made his gifts for everyone as well, and he excitedly joined her by the tree to start handing out presents. But throughout the day, without Claire’s notice, more gifts had found their way under the tree, and she suddenly realized that Jenny, Ian, and Murtagh hadn’t only showed up today, but came with presents of their own to give out.
Not for the first time that day, she felt swarmed by gratitude for these wonderful souls. There was thought and care put into each gift, from Fergus’s handknit hats and wrist warmers to the matching dolls Jenny gave to Maggie and Faith.
“Here ye go, lad.” Jamie placed a long, narrow bundle in Fergus’s lap, grinning broadly at the boy’s curious stare. “Go on, open it.”
Fergus unfolded the cloth wrappings to reveal the hilt of a wooden sword, hand-carved and sturdy. He pulled it free and held it up in one hand. Wee Jamie’s jaw dropped when he noticed. “Is this for…”
“So ye can practice yer swordfighting, aye.”
Fergus looked down at the bundle still in his lap. “There’s two of them, Milord.”
“Weel, when ye’re learning, ye need someone to practice with.”
Fergus launched himself out of his seat, wooden swords clattering to the floor, and threw his arms around Jamie’s neck. “Thank you, Milord! I love it.”
“I’m glad tae hear it, lad.”
“You’ll teach me? We can practice together?”
“Aye, I will. Figured ye could practice with Rabbie as weel, so long as you two dinna cause a stramash at the same time. And never in the house, mind.”
“Oui, I understand.”
From her spot next to Jamie, Claire reached over and caressed the boy’s curly mop of hair. He was so dear to them and seeing his happiness and gratitude, his love for everyone here through the gifts he’d made… Claire could hardly reconcile the fact that they hadn’t even known him a year ago. He seemed so permanently rooted in their lives already and she wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Christmas feast followed presents. With the help of Jenny and Mrs. Crook, they’d decided on a menu of wild game that had been recently caught and potatoes from their first harvest. A few other dishes had been prepared as well as desserts ‒ and it wouldn’t detract from the plans Jenny had for Hogmanay next week.
Supper was a lively time. Stories spilled out around the table and the laughter flowed easily. They basked in the comfort of each other’s company, the joy of being all together.
And with full bellies, their small clan retired to the parlor afterwards, soaking in the warmth of the fire as most of them reclined in chairs and on sofas. The candles along the wall had been lit as well, and from the glow of the fire, the room was cast in a warm light.
The wonder and the joy of the holiday… the togetherness… Claire had wanted this more than she could say, having felt for many years a tender ache for family at this time of year. First it had been a yearning for her parents, but then as she grew into an adult, it had shifted into a different kind of ache… a sharper pain for something that felt out of reach for her.
Of course she’d had her Uncle Lamb growing up. And she’d never truly been alone on Christmas ‒ even during the years stationed throughout war-torn Europe, she’d had the hope of reuniting with Frank when the war was over.
But she had still always felt the keen sense of loss this time of year.
Her gaze dropped to the baby and she brought one dimpled fist up to her mouth for a kiss. Her miracle girl. And it wasn’t just this year made special by Faith’s arrival in their lives. Claire was acutely aware that she held in her arms a lifetime of hope and promise. For this year and every year to follow, for as long as Claire lived, she’d never spend another Christmas with that feeling. That yearning which had become a yearly dark companion ‒ first to have her parents back and then to be a parent ‒ would no longer haunt her.
Her eyes sought out Jamie and found him stretched out on his back on the rug. Fergus was there, sitting up beside him, and wee Jamie reclined with his head on his uncle’s chest. Their voices were hushed but the easy smiles between the three of them shone brightly for all to see. Maggie was shuffling around them on her slightly unsteady legs and Jamie’s hand hovered at her back, already bracing for a tumble. The children always gravitated to him wherever he was, but it was also common on quiet winter evenings like this to find him at their level, engaged in some sort of play or discussion.
In all her wildest imaginings, she never saw this. She never saw him coming, but oh, was she ever grateful that he was hers. He’d given her not just Faith, but a home with him and a loud, wonderful family. She’d never been alone on Christmas all those years before, but she’d never in her life had something quite like this before.
Faith began to squirm in her arms, no longer content to simply be held. She shifted the baby to face her and set Faith’s feet on top of her thighs, letting her bounce her legs and flail her arms to her heart’s content.
“We are lucky, aren’t we?” She bounced Faith up and then brought her close to kiss her cheek. “You have the best Da in the whole world.”
At some point in the evening, he made his way back to her side on the sofa. Murtagh had stolen Faith and sat across from them, bouncing her on his knee and having Faith’s dolly pretend to kiss her cheek.
Claire wound her arm through Jamie’s, their hands linking together, and rested her head on his shoulder. “He’s so funny with her now. When she was born, I would’ve sworn he hated babies. Recently, he steals her every chance he gets.”
“Nae,” Jamie chuckled quietly. “He doesna hate them. He’s only afraid they’ll break when they’re sae small. Especially Faith.”
Claire hummed softly, caught up in the notion of rough-around-the-edges Murtagh being scared to hold newborn babies for how fragile they looked. “Well, I’m glad he came around.” She exhaled a smile, watching Jamie’s godfather as he pretended to scold Faith for trying to chew on her dolly’s face.
She felt more than heard Jamie’s quick exhale of a laugh, no doubt equally amused and endeared by those two as she was. Her hand squeezed his in a sudden swell of affection for him, and he raised their clasped hands to kiss the back of hers in response. She looked up at him then, catching the slopes and strong lines of his profile before he turned to her, drawn by the feeling of her gaze.
God, he was so beautiful, and when he looked at her like that, all soft and content and in love, it felt as though her bones were turned to putty. But in the moment, what sprang to mind was something more astounding to her; she had forever with him.
Warmth bloomed in her chest. She had a lifetime yet with him of Christmases and birthdays, Hogmanays and quarter days, and every mundane or monumental day in between. And it thrilled her to the very marrow of her bones that they would do that together, building traditions as a family, just as they’d done with Christmas.
“What’s on yer mind, Sassenach?”
She shook her head, throat swelling with emotion at just the thought of trying to get those words out. She’d be blubbering in front of their whole family. “Later,” she promised and leaned up to kiss him instead.
When they retired to their room for the night, Faith had already lost her battle to sleep and was carried up to her crib in her father’s arms. Claire began readying for bed, shedding layers of clothing and letting out her curls from their tight confines.
She hadn’t been watching Jamie so she was surprised when he appeared suddenly by her side.
“Here, I didna want to give this to ye in front of the family.” He held out a small rock to her. “It’s amber, ye see. Like Munro gave ye as a wedding present. I thought ye could fashion a bit of jewelry out of it perhaps. Merry Christmas, Sassenach.”
She accepted the bit of amber, touched by the thought behind it. The dragonfly in amber that Hugh had given her was a treasured gift. “It’s perfect, I‒” Claire’s eyes went wide with a sudden realization. “Jamie, I didn’t get you anything!” Her hand flew to her mouth as the shock of it set it. “You did all this work to make Christmas happen and I‒ Oh, I’m so sorry!”
“Tis alright, mo ghraidh.” He kissed her forehead.
“No, it’s not. I can’t believe I didn’t even realize.” She blinked back the sting of tears.
“Tis alright,” Jamie repeated, giving her a half-smile. “Ye did this all for the bairns, aye? And they had a wonderful time.”
“But you were right there with me. I couldn’t have pulled this off without you. I feel so foolish.”
“Don’t. Claire …” The way he said her name had her heart tumbling in her chest. He so rarely called her by her name and when he did, his voice was usually laced with emotion. He captured her chin in his hand and looked at her with so much love, she felt like clay in his hands, completely soft and pliable. “I dinna need anything, truly. Today was a gift of its own and I’ll never forget it.”
“I’m glad,” she murmured. “You still deserved something. I’ll‒ I’ll make you‒”
“Christ, I dinna need anything else, Sassenach.”
He kissed her then, though whether in reassurance or to change the subject, Claire wasn’t sure ‒ he kissed her hungrily and she found she didn’t care what the reason was.
He hoisted her up and her legs anchored her around his hips. Her fingers were tangled in his curls and she kissed him back fervently, pouring every ounce of affection she felt for him into that act.
Though as he began to walk them toward their bed, she pulled back abruptly and he froze in his trek. “What is it?”
Her fingers traced the lines of his jaw, biding time as the feeling slowly framed into words in her head.
“I’m no’ upset, mo ghraidh.”
“I know, but…” Her vision clouded with tears, thinking of how she had sat in the parlor tonight feeling so infinitely grateful for and desperately in love with him, and the entire time, it hadn’t occurred to her that she had no gift to give him. “I love you,” she rasped. “And I’m worried I don’t tell you enough or show you enough. For Christ’s sake, I forgot your Christmas gift and… what does that say to you?”
“Dinna need a trinket or token to ken ye love me. I know it in my bones, Claire. And as for telling me… weel,” he kissed the tip of her nose, a soft act of reassurance that melted away some of her fears. “Ye stayed with me when I gave ye the chance to go home. Ye gave me a bairn and took in another one wi’out question. Ye’re here wi’ me now, loving my family as your own. Ye didna‒ ye didna give up on me after all that happened since last year. A Dhia... ye tell me a thousand ways wi’out ever saying the words, mo nighean donn. I dinna have any doubts.”
Her fingers carded through his curls and a heavy sigh escaped her.
“And I meant it,” he continued. “Today was a gift. Ye were so radiant wi’ joy, Claire. I wish ye could have seen you as I did.”
She swallowed back the lump in her throat and breathed in sharply. “You make me happy, Jamie,” she murmured. “So happy, I could burst.” She captured his lips then, too overcome for any more words and needing desperately for the feelings to be expressed some other way ‒ a way that felt more natural to her than speaking.
She squealed in surprise when he flung her backwards onto the bed. “Jamie!”
“Shhhh!” He crawled over her in an instant, covering her body with his own. Both were still clad in a layer of clothing each, but that problem could be easily resolved. “Ye’ll wake the bairn, Sassenach. And that would ruin how I plan to spend the rest o’ this night with ye.”
“Hmm,” her hands smoothed over the broad expanse of his back, pressing him down on her. “And what exactly would those plans include, I wonder?”
He rolled his hips then, drawing a gasp out of her at the sudden contact with the evidence of his arousal through the fabric of her shift. He grinned at her. “Weel, it was yer idea, ye see. Just a little bit o’ togetherness.”