Claire can feel thick-stemmed grass prick into her back at the same time her own sweat dries on her skin. June is not yet so hot that it is uncomfortable, and down here, on the lush-bedded forest floor, it’s almost cool, even.
Of course, she was very recently quite overhot indeed, but her body has receded gently into a steady, lingering sort of warmth.
Still -- between her shoulderblades tickles. The lumpy arrangement of her skirts and their more tattered quilt beneath them is not quite big enough to house both she and Jamie at once. And it is not just between her shoulderblades that is tickling. Claire turns her head around, lazy in the grass, to the sight of Jamie’s long finger tracing carefully over the underside of her breast.
Sometimes, the idea of being so far out into the wilderness frightens her. Other times, it feels as though they were made for it.
And it does make it so much easier to ride out by the mountain’s ridge for the afternoon, alone.
“That tickles, you know,” she says.
One corner of his mouth twitches, but he doesn’t stop. There seems to be a pattern emerging, so Claire refocuses: the wide pad of his thumb bypasses smoother skin to run along the spindly, creased tissue of a silvery stretch mark. There are many of them, and discordantly placed. Every so often the edge of his thumb will catch the areola and Claire will want to squirm.
“Jamie,” she tries again, but stops at his expression. He’s always been able to get almost disconcertingly intense at times, and this is not quite it -- pensive instead of sharp, and muted with it. “What,” she says instead, in a voice not entirely a whisper.
Above them, the canopy that faces the namesake of this home of theirs twitters loudly. It was Jamie’s idea to sneak away, full of cheeky laughter and wandering hands. The age-old claim that they have gone looking for some of her herbs -- but even with Fergus’s knowing smirk in mind, Claire’s heart has been full all afternoon.
“I was just thinkin’ how … I dinna ken. How God’s made women tae carry marks tha’ come purely from an act of love.”
He sounds rather like he did years ago, that first few weeks of summer they spent at Lallybroch. She had bled for the first time in their marriage and Jamie had helped her wash her soiled linens in the river and wondered aloud at all the woes of womankind. Her mouth twitches at the memory, but a full smile does not come. Not even to pick apart the epistemic flaws in his presentation of breastfeeding; there’s something too-quiet in his voice.
She shifts now, rolling over to face him properly. Her cheek is propped practically against one hand. He blinks up at her, a faint tilt to his lips.
“I think it’s a matter of perspective,” Claire says, philosophically.
“Mmhmm. How you’re accounting for the act of love. Is love held in the literal gaining of the mark itself, or in the intention behind its catalyst?”
“That’s verra philosophical of ye, Sassenach.”
You started it, she wants to say, but once again does not. She shifts, pulling forward, directly above him now. The lush green of the grass makes his hair appear all the brighter. Young, still, he has not yet started going grey like she has -- she found her first lone, wonky silver curl last week, and pouted privately for a full day.
With her free hand she reaches out and skims her fingers over the slope of his bare shoulder, down behind his neck; Jamie remains relaxed beneath her touch.
Then she says, “Jenny,” quietly, fingers pressing against rubbery skin. She moves, trailing her palm over the inside of his thigh. Far more complicated in its single, familial syllable: “Us.” She brings the hand up to press a very careful finger at the coin-sized mark against his rib cage.
“Claire --” Jamie begins, his voice hoarse.
She bites her lip, then presses her palm directly over his heart, and up, against his temple.
But he’s always been much better with words than she has been; “You know?” Claire says, after a long moment.
They’re completely dry by now; the breeze has made sure of that. But pressed against him, she is nothing but warm.