Actions

Work Header

Our Lives Illuminated

Chapter Text

December.

The month usually reserved for twinkle lights, ugly sweaters, and copious amounts of food and drink, this December was turning out to be a rather uncomfortable one.

Claire sat in her flat - well, her and her roommate Jamie's flat - staring at the manila envelope that had come in the mail earlier in the week. Her classes finally over for the day, she'd decided to sit down, have a glass of liquid courage in the form of some of Jamie's whisky, and finally look at the documents she'd requested months ago.

The envelope sat on the aged brown coffee table, the tv humming in the background, though Claire had no idea what was on. She'd grabbed the remote and hit the power button purely out of habit. The sofa was soft under her bare legs - she'd stripped down to a night shirt and silk pajama shorts after returning home, eager to get comfortable. Bras were a bitch, and so were pants. She knew she wasn't going anywhere, dinner having been delivered and eaten. So, she sat, sipping the whisky, the liquid burning her throat as she contemplated her options.

She could open it right now. She could tear open the envelope and find out who her mother is.Was? Where she, Claire, came from. Or, she could sit on the information inside, close herself off to her history. Did it really matter, she wondered, if she knew her birth mother? Knew her full name, her age, her location? Perhaps, she thought, she was better off leaving it be. Claire was fine now, had come a long way, gotten into university without the help of a parent. Did she need this in her life?

She took another sip, half wishing Jamie would come home, do it for her. It would be like ripping off a band-aid, eyes shut, teeth clenched. Claire's fingers raked through her wavy hair nervously, catching on knots at the end as she tugged. Jesus, she thought, I need a shower.

She stood, setting the glass down firmly on the table next to the envelope, and pulled her shirt over her head as she went into her en suite bathroom, tossing it on the floor next to the towel rack.

A shower it was. The envelope could wait. Taking off her bottoms, she caught sight of herself in the mirror, her Medusa curls haphazardly framing her face. It had always been a mystery to her - her face. Where had her eyes come from? Jamie called them whisky eyes. She blinked at herself once, smiling as she imagined Jamie's attempted winks: they made him look like an amused owl, the way both eyes would shut instead of one.

Claire scrunched her nose up, then pursed her lips. They were pink, full, hiding her white teeth. Thankfully her last and final foster family had been a good one: four years there had nearly erased all the damage the others had done. Almost. She still jumped at loud noises, hated when people yelled, and couldn't stand the smell of cigarette smoke. They’d taken her to the doctor, the dentist, she’d had her first gynecological exam while her foster mother - Claire called her Joanie - held her hand. It was the first time in her life she’d felt as though she mattered to someone. That feeling had at first been jarring, surreal, but soon Claire let the warmth cover her. She had known for the first time that she wasn’t somehow defective; Jamie had picked up the torch, in his own way, and she would forever be grateful. His support meant everything to her, and when she’d announced she wanted to search for this big unknown in her life, he’d thrown himself behind her, ready to catch her if she fell.

It made Claire wonder: what would her biological mother be able to offer her now, even if she wanted to be found? Claire had told herself, though, when beginning her search, that it was merely out of curiosity. She’d never told anyone, but she’d always secretly yearned for a mother. A real one, one that would allow her to crawl into bed at three in the morning after a nightmare; one that would hold her, no matter the time or place; one that would speak of comfort, safety, home. Claire was always envious of people with loving mothers. She’d see babies in prams at the park and avoid them out of some weird feeling she was never able to put into words. Surely she wasn’t jealous of a tiny infant, but it was the only word that fit.

Her insistence that this was mere curiosity to anyone who asked - though many people didn’t even know about it - was a mere illusion. Her whole life, if Claire were honest, she’d daydreamed about her mother, that elusive ghost always in the back of her mind. She would get out of school as a young girl and scan the crowd outside, just on the off chance that a familiar face would be waiting for her. Even now, Claire would sit on the small patio she and Jamie shared and imagine her mother behind her, cooking something for the two of them in the kitchen.

I know you love a good curry, Claire. Come in, dear. Dinner’s ready!

Claire would sit and sip her drink - she usually drank when she was in one of these moods - and replay the short scene over and over, like a movie stuck on repeat. Not even Jamie knew this. She also kept a diary, full of these little scenarios, ones she couldn’t let go of, no matter how hard she tried. She felt she had always been fragmented, a jigsaw puzzle that had never been put completely together.

Turning on the water, she let the shower steam up before hopping in, letting the water ease the tension in her muscles. She would likely need to do some relaxation tonight, she thought, running a bar of soap under the water as she lathered her hands. The niggling feeling that she was avoiding the inevitable quieted, and when she was clean, she got out, wrapping a towel around herself. She heard the front door open, then Jamie's laugh reverberating through the thin walls of the flat.

Claire heard someone else, too - a female. Claire rolled her eyes, but let the vague annoyance roll off her back as she put her pajamas back on. It wasn't that she didn’t like Jamie’s girlfriend - she was always friendly enough, if a little standoffish when Claire was present. Claire always got the feeling, though, that Anna did not care for the fact that Jamie had a female roommate. Claire supposed she couldn’t blame her. She’d never been in that position, but she wondered if she wouldn’t have some reservations if she were Anna.
Anyway, Claire thought, rubbing lotion into her skin, it would be an excuse not to open that envelope. She'd stay in her room, quiet as a mouse, watch a movie, and go to sleep. She'd find out about her mother tomorrow. It would be Saturday, and she wouldn't have anything else to worry about.

Burrowing under her duvet, she picked a Christmas movie and settled in. A few minutes went by, then she heard Jamie calling for her, her door opening a crack. Jamie stuck his face in. His eyes were shut, and his red, curling hair was plastered to his face. Claire hadn't realized it was raining.

"Are you decent? I've got company - is that okay?"

"Oh, yeah, I'll be in here."

"Have you eaten? I brought food. Come out and have some."

"You can open your eyes, idiot," Claire said, laughing. "I don't know.. I'm in my pajamas..."

"Oh," Jamie said, opening his eyes, "we don't mind."

"It's okay, Jamie. Enjoy your date."

"Okay, suit yourself, Sassenach," he said, withdrawing his head and shutting the door.

Claire sighed, laying back on her pillow. She glanced to her right, Jamie's room a few pieces of drywall away. She hoped she didn't hear anything tonight.

The door opened again, a hand holding the dreaded envelope jutted through the door.

"This yours?" Jamie asked, wiggling it a bit.

"Yes. Leave it on the coffee table, would you?"

"Oh, okay," he said, opening the door wider so Claire could see him. "Do you want me to ask Anna to leave? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Just go, Jamie. I'm missing my movie." She shooed him away with her hand and he shrugged, frowning.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Claire."

The door shut, Jamie presumably returning to his girlfriend, and Claire threw the covers over her head, holding in a scream. She wanted to get up, beg him to spend the evening with her, beg him to open the envelope, tear her life into pieces, help glue her back together again. She couldn't do that to him, though. It wasn't his responsibility to carry that weight. So she bit her tongue, and went back to her movie.

Prancer always made her cry, and now she regretted her movie choice. She turned it off before the waterworks began, and picked something lighter. Safer.

-------------------

It was several days before Christmas, and Jamie had his bags packed by the door.

"Are you coming or not, Sassenach? Shall I call and tell mum you're not coming? She'll be crushed," he said in a sing-songy voice that irked her. Claire was in her bedroom, pulling her boots on.

"I'm coming. God!"

"I'm not God, but I thank you for the compliment," Jamie said, a cheesy grin plastered on his face.

"Shut up. Let's go," Claire groaned, pulling the strap of her bag onto her shoulder.

She wasn't sure why she was so irritated today. This would be the third Christmas she'd spent at the Fraser's and she had always enjoyed herself in the past. Jamie's family had slowly become her own over the years.

She and Jamie had become fast friends at university, and though they were in different programs, they'd spent time together whenever they could. Claire enjoyed Jamie's sense of humor, and his practicality. She had a tendency to fly by the seat of her pants, and she valued Jamie's ability to anchor her, to keep her grounded when she got too hung up on some small detail or task. She couldn't see the forest for the trees, as he would say, and he'd put his hands on her shoulders, steadying her whenever she'd stumble.

In their final year, they were both stressed - the real world looming before them. This, she figured, would be their last Christmas together, and she wished she wasn't so bothered by that damned envelope that she still hadn't opened. She wanted to soak in every second with Jamie and his family, this small vestige of normalcy in her otherwise untethered life.

Getting in Jamie's car, she sighed as Jamie turned on some obnoxious Christmas tune or another, one of those about ringing bells or choirs or something. Claire liked Christmas, just not the music. She rolled her eyes as Jamie pulled away from their flat.

"Do we have to listen to Christmas music the whole way there? Last year you tortured me with the bloody Elf soundtrack the entire way. Don't think I've forgotten."

"What's wrong with a little Let it Snow, Sassenach?"

"Uuuugh."

"Fiiine. But I'm not listening to Lady Gaga."

Claire laughed heartily, clapping her hands in amusement.

"Funny you say that - I believe I heard you humming Dancin' in Circles just the other day!"

"Oh, no, I think you're mistaken. I would never,"

"Yes, you would." Claire snapped her fingers, finding the beat of the song as best she could without help, and began to sing.

"In the fire I call your name out! Up all night trying to rub the pain out!" She laughed, unable to continue, and pushed Jamie's shoulder, causing the car to swerve slightly.

"Hey!" he laughed good-naturedly. "I did not sing that song. I don't even know it."

Claire pulled her phone out, finding it on her playlist. She connected it to the car’s bluetooth and hit PLAY, letting the song fill the car. She laughed as Jamie groaned, squirming in his seat uncomfortably.

"Ugh, this song is so...."

"Good?"

Jamie could only shake his head as Claire began to sing, hands over her head, dancing as best she could while sitting in the car. She heard Jamie laughing, knowing he was secretly enjoying the song. She had heard him singing it in the shower the other day, no matter what he said - he'd left his door open by accident and she'd stopped in her tracks when she'd heard the tune. He couldn't sing at all, but the melody was faintly recognizable, enough so that she knew what song it was, without a doubt. She'd laughed to herself, then, and was glad she'd remembered to tease him about it now. Jamie's bright red cheeks were enough to make it all worth it.

Her mind off her dilemma with the dreaded envelope, she calmed a bit, eager to begin her holiday. She’d done what shopping she could, the both of them bringing bags of presents for the family. She loved Christmas morning, and at the Fraser household, there’d be a group photo at breakfast, and Claire had always been invited to join in.

She suddenly recalled Jamie’s sister Jenny - she and her husband Ian had just had her first child, a boy, and Claire was excited to meet him.

“Are Jenny and Ian coming?”

“Always do, don’t they?” Jamie replied, glancing her way with a half smile. She knew he was excited to meet his nephew, both of them having fawned together over the photos they’d been sent.

“God, I’m so excited. I need this.”

“I can tell, Sassenach. You’ve been on edge all month. Did you bring the envelope?”

Claire cringed at the reminder and shook her head.

“No, I don’t want it near me over the holidays,” she sighed, slumping in her seat slightly.

“Well, it’s not going anywhere - worry about it when we get back.”

Claire played another Lady Gaga song, if only to lighten the mood again, and soon she and Jamie were singing along to Free Woman with abandon. Her stomach hurt from laughing by the end, and Jamie seemed pleased to have played the fool, if only to cheer her up.

The ride to Jamie's parents house was a couple hours from university, and Claire always enjoyed it. They lived in a small village just west of Inverness, and the isolation and quiet of their farm always made her want to stay longer than they had planned. It felt like home - as much of a home as she could imagine, anyway, and she revelled in the warmth and safety of the place.

Jamie's parents, Ellen and Brian, were kind, and had always welcomed her with open arms, no questions asked. Every holiday she'd come with Jamie, knowing she'd be well-fed, cared for,and in a way, loved. She secretly craved Ellen's hugs - they were the kind that only a mother could give - soft, all encompassing, and always freely given. Brian had asked her to call him Da last time she'd visited, and she'd quietly practiced it here and there, wondering if she was actually brave enough to do so.

She knew her mother had given her up when she was born, and at age two, the couple who’d requested to adopt her had been denied, for reasons unknown to Claire. She didn’t recall this couple, but wished she knew how to reconnect, if only for answers.

She'd had parental figures before, sure. They'd been a mixed bag, though. Foster parents always are. Claire heard the horror stories from other kids in the system, and she always assumed the worst when she’d be placed with a new family. There were people who’d neglected her, people who’d merely put up with her presence, and those who were warmer, more welcoming.

At any rate, she'd floated around foster homes when she was younger, put into boarding school by an uncle who agreed to take her in one sudden day the summer she turned eleven. He'd died several years after that, leaving her treading water all over again. The last foster home she found herself in, at age sixteen, was one of the best. A husband and wife team, they'd given her her own room - something she'd never had before, and the other children in the house being younger than her, she took on a sort of maternal role, helping her foster parents out where needed.

She missed them sometimes, but coming to see Jamie's parents filled her again; she felt supported, a whole person with security and a place in the world.

They'd arrived, after battling over the music, and the topic of conversation. He wanted to discuss her envelope, she wanted to...not. The gravel under the car gave a satisfying crunch as Claire's shoes hit the ground - she always loved that sound - and she pulled her bags out of the car as Jamie made his way to the door, pushing it open as his mother greeted him with a hug and a smile.

She watched as he handed over a large bag of his laundry, and she huffed apologetically as she came up the steps, pulled into Ellen's arms.

"I swear he washes his clothes while he's away," she laughs, as Ellen released her and ushered them both into the house.

"I do, but you do it better," Jamie said to his mum, planting a quick kiss on her cheek as he went in to greet everyone else.

His sister, Jenny was there, as well as her husband Ian. Their first born, also named Jamie, was sprawled on a blanket on the floor, emitting baby sounds that made Claire's stomach clench slightly. Brian Fraser was flipping channels on the television, grumbling about the lack of good football games being broadcast that particular day. Jamie’s older brother, Willie, was there as well - he’d missed last year, but Claire was glad to see him join them again. He and Jamie were both tall, red hair wavy and haphazard. Jenny, however, was shorter, with dark hair cascading down her back; it made Claire rather jealous. Claire’s own curls were a mystery, and she’d wondered often if her mother had the same wild hair.

Claire and Jamie both waved hello to everyone, taking seats next to one another on the empty sofa.

"Claire, are you ready to graduate in the spring?" Jenny had picked up wee Jamie, balancing him on her hip as she gave him a teething ring. "I know Jamie is ready to be done for good."

"God, yes. No more classes, no more papers. I'm sick of it," he said, groaning and leaning back heavily, his movements shifting Claire in her seat. Her knee hit his, and she jerked her leg back, her hand holding her knee, rubbing it slightly.

"I think I'll miss it, really, but I'm also rather nervous. I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake, majoring in Literature. I’m terrified it won’t amount to anything. I don't know where I'll wind up," she finished, shrugging her fears away as Ellen offered her a drink. She took it gratefully, the smell of the red wine filling her senses, relaxing her nerves.

"You'll be okay, I think," Jamie remarked. "You’ve always been okay. It's me I'm worried about. Done some searching and there isn't much need for a business major here in Broch Mordha," he said, laughing.

"You're going to come back here, then?" Claire asked quietly.

"I truthfully haven't given it much thought, but, I suppose. Where else would I go?" He smiled then, keeping his tone light.

“You could stay in Glasgow…” she said, her mouth half covered by her glass as she took a fortifying sip of wine, swallowing with it her fear of being left adrift when Jamie left. She dreaded finding another roommate, dreaded not seeing him every day, not hearing his off-tune humming and heavy steps on the floor from her bedroom.

She slapped his knee playfully, holding her drink steady with the other hand.

"What am I going to do on Saturday nights when you go?" Claire asked, smiling, poking him in the ribs with a finger. "Who will watch awful movies with me all night?" She gasped then, thinking of the much more important aspect of those nights: "Who will make that yummy caramel corn for me to eat?!" She let her jaw go slack in fake horror, watching Jamie roll his eyes.

"I'll not miss that, I must say. you always steal the blanket by the end of it and your sofa is too small." Jamie kept his face blank, Claire noticing the beginnings of a smile as one corner of his mouth went up slightly.

"Please, you'll be at my door every weekend - just watch."

Claire swatted his hand away - it was about to go to her knee - and stood, making her way to the kitchen to sniff out dinner. The wine was getting to her head, as was the conversation. She didn't like to think about it, didn't like to imagine her everyday life devoid of Jamie. She'd never tell him, but she had actually thought about begging him to stay in Glasgow. Now that he'd confirmed his plans to come back home, she felt bereft, like there was this wide open space in her life waiting to swallow her up.

The smells emanating from the kitchen were delicious - a roast simmered, and the smell of onions and celery were enough to make her mouth water. She couldn’t wait to eat, and sat at the large kitchen table as Ellen rolled dough into balls.

“Would you like some help?” Claire asked, getting up to wash her hands.

“Oh, certainly! Here, take over for me, would you? Roll the dough into tight balls like this, and place them in the pan. Put them close together, so they’ll rise. I’ve got the oven ready to go, if you’ll stick them in when you’re done?” Ellen smiled at Claire as she slipped on an apron.

Claire didn’t look up as Ellen left, nor when Jamie wandered in, searching for something to munch on. She rolled the dough between her floured hands as Jamie sauntered to the pantry. She heard him humming one of his Christmas tunes, rummaging in the cabinet.

“Why don’t you bring your girlfriend up here?”

The question was out of her mouth before she knew it. Jamie had been dating Anna for nearly a year, and Claire was surprised that this year she wasn’t included in the Christmas gathering.

“Huh?”

Jamie had whirled around - she caught the movement from the corner of her eye.

“You know… Anna? Did she not want to come?”

“Oh, ummm… I didn’t ask her,” Jamie replied, shrugging his shoulders. He grabbed a bag of crisps from the pantry, ripping it open. He popped one in his mouth, then offered one to Claire. She shook her head as she continued her work. She still hadn’t looked at him.

She wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Didn’t invite his girlfriend?

“I wasn’t ready for her to meet everyone. Not yet.”

Claire heard the crunch as he continued eating. She was finished with the dough now, and brushed her hands against the apron, leaving white handprints on the fabric.

“Dinner will be ready soon. You’ll fill up on those and not eat anything.”

“Do you know me, Sassenach?” Jamie said, laughing as he shoved another crisp in his mouth.

Claire shook her head, smiling.

“Apparently not.”

She shoved the pan of rolls into the oven to bake, then pulled her apron over her head. Jamie watched her carefully, pausing his eating long enough to knit his brow.

“Are you angry with me over Glasgow? It was just an idea, Claire. I don’t truly know what I’ll do. I don’t have it figured out any more than you do.”

“I know, Jamie. I’m not angry,” she said, picking up her wine glass and taking a sip. “Just surprised me, is all. It hadn’t occurred to me that you wouldn’t stay in Glasgow.” She shrugged, hoping her facial expression was safely blank, but she kind of figured it wasn’t. She wasn’t good at covering up her emotions, and Jamie could always read her like a book. She waved her hand dismissively, huffing a bit.

“It’s… It’s not a big deal. Do what you want, Jamie. Not like we’re glued at the hip,” she sighed, smiling at him now.

“I know you’ve got your mother on your mind. I wish you’d have opened that envelope. I think you would’ve found it easier than you think.”

“Don’t bring that up,” she groaned, “I don’t want to think about it.”

“Well, okay, but how about we promise to one another to sit down once we get back to Glasgow. We’ll do it together, okay? Over some caramel corn?” His smile was hesitant, and he searched for her eyes with his own.

She looked up then, sighing a bit, relieved.

“Okay, I promise. We’ll do it when we get back. And I’m holding you to that caramel corn promise, Jamie,” she warned, pointing a finger at him. She poked him lightly in the shoulder as he took another crisp and held it up to her. She took it this time, savoring the salty snack.

“Ugh, give me another. I’m starved.”

He laughed, put an arm around her neck, and pulled her back into the living room with everyone else.

Chapter Text

Christmas morning in the Fraser home was rather hectic. Jamie woke her from a deep sleep with a loud knock at her door, Claire’s whole body momentarily seizing with fear before she remembered it was Christmas. She smiled, crawled out of bed, and slipped on a bright red hoodie to match her red plaid bottoms.

Opening the door, she laughed as she saw Jamie, who was already munching on a cinnamon bun.

“How long have you been awake?” she asked as they made their way downstairs. The noise from the living room told her she was the last to wake up. “Why didn’t you get me earlier? Is everybody waiting on me?”

Jamie only shrugged, taking another bite of his breakfast, as they joined the crowd in the living room. Jamie’s uncles and aunt had come for a visit, Claire watching them as they all cooed at wee Jamie. He was the star, this year, for sure.

The pile of presents under the Christmas tree caught her eye. Like every year past, she was in awe at the amount of gifts piled haphazardly on the floor. The mountain of boxes and bags spilled over the small space allotted for the tree, and Claire had to step over a few to find a seat in an empty chair. She spotted the gifts she’d bought placed here and there, and hoped she had gotten enough for everyone.

Being here, in the midst of a true family, she was able to forget what she’d always missed. The holidays of her childhood were mostly unremarkable, save for the few with Joanie and her husband. Those had been happy times, Claire thought, but they were no match for Christmases here.

She took wee Jamie as he was passed around, and though she was not terribly comfortable with babies, she couldn’t help but grin at his bright blue eyes - they reminded her so much of Jamie. He squirmed a bit, started fussing, and she handed him gently back to Jenny, who settled down to nurse.

“Hand us a present there, Claire,” Brian -no, Da - said, and the morning kicked off.

Giftwrap, tissue paper, and bows scattered the floor in a matter of moments. Everyone was either occupied with the tray of pastries laid out, or with unwrapping one present or another. Claire had two in her lap, but she sat quietly, savoring the moment. She liked to open gifts slowly, completely enjoy it all, before it was done with. She picked one up, the gift tag telling her it was a gift from Ellen and Da. Cartoon snowmen stared back at her from the wrapping paper as she fit one finger under a fold in the paper. She tore it open, her first gift being a set of pajamas covered in little gray cats, along with a pair of matching wool socks.

She couldn’t contain her grin as she spotted the santa hats atop the cats heads, then looked at Jamie who had opened the one from his parents at the same time. His pajama set was covered in dogs with santa hats, and he laughed.

“I am not wearing these,” he said, shaking his head.

“You have to, it’s Christmas,” Claire said, holding hers up for him to see.

“You get Jenny a keepsake ornament and Willie a new wallet, but I get dog pajamas?” Jamie teased his parents, throwing the socks at Brian’s head.

“Well, whenever I do your bloody laundry, son,” her mother chided, “there isn’t a pajama in sight. I chose to remedy that this year.” She gave him a pointed look as he blushed, grin widening.

“Mum, they’re called boxers,” he laughed.

“Tell me he doesn’t parade around in his boxers?” Brian asked Claire, who could only laugh as she gathered her new pajama set, ready to go put it on.

“No comment,” she stated, sliding past Brian’s chair to retrieve Jamie’s thrown socks.

“I’ll have you know that she doesn’t mind one bit what I wear to bed,” Jamie said, grabbing his socks and stuffing it all back in the gift bag.

“Oh, God - do we have coffee?” she asked Ellen, moving to the kitchen as quickly as possible before what Jamie wore to bed was mentioned in her presence again. She knew exactly what he wore to bed, and knew that it was usually less than boxers, though she’d never let him know she knew. It was difficult to remain completely private being in such tight quarters with him, and he knew what she wore to bed, too.

And she wore respectable pajamas, thank you very much. She poured herself a cup of coffee, and headed back to the chaos. To her relief, the conversation had shifted to something unrelated to Jamie’s bedtime wear. Jamie had put his gift aside and had started opening the one she’d brought for him. She winced a little bit, worried he wouldn’t like it, as she took her seat again. Her second present still sat unopened. She knew it was from him, and she was excited to see what he’d gotten her this year.

Jamie held up his gift of a bottle of whisky, smiling at her.

“Thanks, Claire!”

“I… finished your other bottle. Sorry.” She grimaced, but Jamie only smiled.

“That’s what it’s there for. We’ll open this later,” he said, tucking it away and opening another gift.

Claire felt the weight of her present in her hand. It wasn’t terribly heavy, but it wasn’t light as a feather, either. She shook it a bit, something rattling slightly inside. She shot Jamie a questioning look, unable to decide what it was.

“Well, just open it, Claire.” He gestured to the gift in her hand, unwilling to divulge any information.

“All right, all right,” Claire responded, slowly tucking her thumb under a piece of tape, hearing the satisfying pop as it snapped. The box inside was bright white, lined with gold trim, and gold letters bearing the name of a stationery store Claire was only vaguely familiar with. She glanced at Jamie, who was looking away, talking to Willie, and slowly lifted the lid of the box, suddenly feeling as though her small gift of a bottle of whisky was entirely inadequate.

The leatherbound journal was gorgeous, the cover soft and cushioned with gilded edges peeking from the sides. She ran her fingers over the etched lettering in the bottom right corner: her full name, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, in beautiful script. She smiled wide, opening the cover.

She couldn’t even be angry at Jamie for tainting the first lined page with his messy scrawl. Inside, he’d written:

Write your book, Claire. It’ll surely be a best-seller. It’s in you.

She rolled her eyes, his black chicken scratch making her heart hurt. Tilting her head back, she closed the journal and willed the tears to stay invisible, though they were just at the surface. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Jamie, knowing she’d break. Instead, she gathered her pajamas and her new journal, excusing herself from the group.

Worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, she made her way upstairs, back to her bedroom. Sitting on the bed, she flopped onto her pillows, sighing, relieved that the lump in her throat was nearly gone. She swallowed hard, not knowing how she could go back downstairs and join everyone without giving into the urge to crush Jamie into a smothering hug. She couldn’t do that though. There were too many people around for that sort of display, and she didn’t care to answer the questions that would surely come.

They’d been caught before, when she and Jamie had had a late night movie session on Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed. They were watching Home Alone, Claire on the couch, Jamie on the floor with his head resting against her knee. She’d absentmindedly begun playing with his hair, had nearly put him to sleep, the small smile on his lips causing her to continue long after the movie had ended. Ellen had come downstairs, spotted them, shot her a puzzled look and then smiled. He’d just begun his relationship with Anna then, and no doubt Ellen wondered just what was going on when her son had a new girlfriend. Claire had kept her distance after that, unwilling to give into those urges to touch him that always caught her by surprise. She had no explanation, so she remained careful.

She fingered the letters he’d written on the first page and she smiled at his kind words. He’d encouraged her, never doubted her, always disuaded her from giving in to her fear of failure. It was too much, too intimate a gift to brush off with a small thank you and a quick squeeze of his hand. She recalled last year, when Jamie had bought her the antique copy of Sara Crew by Frances Hodgson Burnett. She recalled mentioning to him that A Little Princess was one of her favorite novels, and he’d bloody remembered. She’d felt horrible then, having given him a stupid movie poster and a Magic 8-ball, an impulse purchase at the register when she thought the poster wasn’t enough. God, neither of them were enough, and the bottle of whisky wasn’t enough this year. How would she make it up to him?

She had no idea, and as she held the new journal in her hands, gazing at it lovingly, she silently cursed him for being such an amazing gift giver. She felt horrible, didn’t know how to pick out gifts for people, had never felt the desire to buy a gift for anyone until she met Jamie.

She resolved to go out again, after they were home, and buy him an amazing gift to replace his bottle of whisky, which no doubt would be empty by the time they were back in Glasgow. She got off the bed, then, tucking her gifts into her overnight bag, and made her way back downstairs.

////////////

 

Claire sat watching wee Jamie in the bouncing chair sitting on the floor between her and Jenny. The dinner table was bustling, dishes being passed, drinks being poured, yet all Claire could do was stare at the baby. He was a cute boy - a bit of curly red hair atop his head and his mother’s eyes, he was absently toying with the strap that lay across his belly. He cooed every once in a while, and Claire would glance down, distracted by all he seemed to represent.

He was the product of a loving relationship, insofar as she could tell. Jenny and Ian were close, happy together. They made each other laugh, freely showed affection and at the same time they bickered, mostly about small stuff, but they always came around, the arguments being small blips on an otherwise enormous map of their relationship. They’d met in college, Claire knew, and had fallen in love in short order. Ian had become Jamie’s good friend, and ever since Claire began spending holidays with them, both he and Jenny were warm and friendly.

Clare envied this companionship between the two of them, and now the small baby boy they could call their own. They seemed to have everything before, and now wee Jamie would have two loving parents, not to mention a multitude of extended family members there to lean on when need be. For the second time this Christmas Day, she felt the lump in her throat increase in size as she tried to focus on the dinner in front of her.

Was her own mother having Christmas dinner like this one? Surrounded by people she loved, people she was fond of? Did she know her daughter thought of her now, and wished she was here? Claire shook her head, these qestions being completely unanswerable and a futile exercise in mental torture.

Claire took her fork, stabbing a roasted potato, and popped it into her mouth. Her eyes found Jamie’s across the table, and his eyebrows went up in question. No doubt he could tell her mind was a million miles away. She gave him a small nod and a brief smile, and continued eating.

“Want some?” she heard him say, wagging the bottle of whisky she’d bought him in her direction.

“Oh, yes please!”

She smiled around her fork as he poured a drink into her glass. Jamie passed around the bottle to others at the table, then looked at Claire, raising his glass towards hers.

“Slainte, Sassenach,” Jamie said softly, only to her.

She nodded, taking a sip of her whisky, savoring the flavor before letting it burn its way down her throat. She smiled at him again, and was soon swept up in a conversation with Jenny about her last semester of classes before graduation.

The evening wore on, Claire letting the whisky relax her a bit. It was nice to feel that tipsy feeling, the buzz of lowered inhibitions and louder laughter. She had a good laugh at Jamie’s expense when his mother told some story about a previous Christmas, a board game loss and his subsequent tantrum.

“I was six!” he said in his defense, face flushing as his older brother laughed loudest when he recalled that Jamie had thrown his game piece across the room, pelting poor Jenny in the eye. Claire smiled at the memories, wishing she had her own like that.

The night wore on, people making their way to bed slowly, gradually. Soon, Claire finally had Jamie alone, seeing him sitting in an armchair near the fire, the glow of it lighting his face. He was slightly red, probably too warm, yet he sat, staring into the flames. She came up behind him, put her hands over his eyes.

“Wee Jamie, is that you?” he teased, laughing as she came around to face him, taking a seat in the armchair next to him.

“It’s been a fun day, hasn’t it?” she asked, smiling at the fact that he was still wearing the pajamas he’d been nagged to put on for the family photo earlier in the night. Luckily, he’d had enough whisky in him and felt like being silly. Claire knew she’d never see them again. Her own pajamas were too long, and Jamie reached to her arm, rolling the sleeve up as it slipped down her wrist, making a large cuff at her elbow. She cleared her throat as he sat back, taking the last sip of his third and final drink of the night.

“I wanted to thank you, properly, for the new journal. It… it must’ve been expensive.”

She watched as he flopped his hand in a dismissive gesture - she knew he’d not want her to make a big deal of it, so she left her thanks there, resting between them.

“Are we taking off early tomorrow?” she asked.

“Hmm… I don’t know how early I’ll be awake after this, but, yeah, Anna wants to get together tomorrow night, if we make it back.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll be ready, then.” She smiled at him, his eyes on her falling sleeve again. “Happy Christmas, Jamie.” She shoved her sleeve further up her arm before he could fiddle with it again, and stood up.

“Happy Christmas, Sassenach,” he said, lifting his now empty glass.

---------------------------------

Back in Glasgow, Claire’s manila envelope kept taunting her. The promise she and Jamie had made to one another hadn’t yet come to fruition, and tonight was the last night of the year. He was out, gone with Anna to a party. She had been invited as well, but didn’t know if she was quite up to it.

Instead, she chose the comfort of her sofa, alone, the envelope peeking out from under a pile of junk mail she needed to go through. Neither of them had brought it up, so Claire sat ignoring it, not willing to read it while she was alone.

It was ten at night, two hours ‘til midnight, and she wondered what Jamie was up to at the party. It was in a pub down the street - they’d been invited by a mutual friend - and Jamie had agreed to go right away, but Claire had been more unwilling. Jamie had Anna, their friends were all taken, or at least had a date for the night. She’d be there as the third wheel, but a night out did sound appealing. It beat sitting here, she thought, avoiding the elephant in the room.

So, she got up in a huff, threw on a pair of jeans and jumper, and made her way down the street in the cold. Reaching the pub, she could hear the noise from outside - music and laughter filtering out the door whenever it swung open as people went in and out. She could see Jamie from the front window, standing against the wall, drink in hand. Claire looked for Anna and quickly spotted her, her long blonde hair easy to spot in the dark room. Anna was standing next to Jamie, both of them laughing at something someone else said. Claire sighed, and pushed her way inside, going to the group of friends gathered near Jamie.

“Hey, you made it!” she heard her friend Geillis exclaim, throwing an arm around Claire’s neck in greeting. She kissed Claire on both cheeks, then released her. Geillis was a friend of Jamie’s before she’d become a friend of Claire’s, but she’d become a friendly face quickly, and Claire appreciated her blunt nature and no nonsense attitude.

“Yeah, it was silly to stay in. Are you all having fun?”

“Can I get you a drink?” Geillis asked, leaning over to the bar to chat with the bartender.

Claire soon had a pint in hand, and sipped it slowly, the foam tickling her upper lip as she drank. She nodded a hello to Anna, got a grin from Jamie. The music was loud, making it hard to have a conversation, so she surveyed the room, wishing she had a place to sit. She was surprised when Geillis made her way back to her, leaning into her ear to talk.

“Are you not seeing anyone, Claire?”

Claire turned, shook her head, and smiled.

“I’ve just been too busy to date, you know?” she answered, resting her head against Geillis’ as they spoke in one another’s ears.

“Jamie and Anna had a row earlier, you should’ve been here.”

“Hmm, you wouldn’t know it now.”

Claire and Geillis looked over at the pair, Anna’s hand resting in Jamie’s as he continued a conversation with a few other guys and sipping his pint.

“What’s up with them, anyway?” Geillis asked, arching her eyebrow and nodding in their direction.

“What do you mean?”

“Anna was pissed she didn’t spend Christmas with him.”

Claire was certain her cheeks went pink, and she immediately thought of the beautiful journal Jamie had given her. She wondered what he got Anna - he hadn’t mentioned anything to her.

“Oh, um, Jamie only told me he didn’t invite her,” Claire replied, staring into her drink. “He didn’t really say anything else.”

Claire shifted on her feet, turning her head to find a place to sit down. She didn’t want to be standing among a group of people when midnight came along. She’d be drowned in a sea of kissing couples - it was the reason that had initially kept her from coming out. Still, she thought to herself, she was enjoying the music, the hum of the crowd. She gave her a small wave as Geillis made her way over to converse with someone else.

“Sassenach!”

Her eyes flew up from her drink then, catching Jamie’s blue ones. His eyes crinkled in the corners, his mouth in a wide grin as he came to her. He leaned into her, his warm breath tickling her ear as he spoke.

“I’m glad you came! I was going to get you a drink, but looks like Geillis beat me to it!” He laughed, his rumbling voice echoing through her ear causing chills to run down her spine. She held her glass up. He couldn’t get any closer to her unless he wanted to stand on her toes, and she froze as he leaned in again.

“Happy New Year, Claire.”

It was low, reminding her of the way he’d wished her a happy Christmas the week before. She fought the urge to pull him to her, to plant a kiss on his cheek, if only to reciprocate. He was being intimate with her, something that was relatively new. She couldn’t figure out how to respond when he was like this - close to her, gravely voice, warmth radiating from his skin. She swallowed hard, looking at his ear as he tilted it so he could hear her response.

“Happy New Year! What’s this I hear about an argument with Anna?”

Jamie scoffed then, patting her arm as he whirled around, giving her a quick glimpse of his eye roll. “I’ll tell you later,” he mouthed, and she was just able to make it out before he tugged her hand, pulling her along with him as he made his way back to his spot against the wall. Anna wasn’t there, and Claire searched for her.

Jamie seemed to pick up on her curiosity, bending to her again.

“Anna’s just over there. She won’t bother you.”

“Does she know I went with you for Christmas? Is that why she was angry?”

“I told her, yeah.”

Jamie didn’t say anything more, but Claire knew there’d be trouble if she stayed there with him, so she made her way back to Geillis, who was standing with her date now, ready for midnight. Claire had finished her drink and placed the glass on an empty table nearby. She still wished for a chair - at least she could tuck herself away that way. Geillis was standing with her arms around her date, and Claire saw Jamie sandwiched up next to Anna now. Yet, there Claire stood, alone and awkward, wishing she could disappear.

There was less than a minute to go, now, and everyone was getting excited. A loud countdown began, and Claire scooted towards the door as best she could in the crowd. The hour hit just as she reached for the door handle, pulling it open to the cold night air. She glanced back only once, towards Jamie. Catching his eye, surprisingly, she watched briefly as he and Anna kissed, welcoming in the new year together. She frowned as Jamie’s open eyes stayed locked on hers. Stepping outside, she wrapped her arms around herself, and walked quickly back home.

Getting inside, Claire went to her bedroom, put on a large t-shirt, and curled up in bed. Flipping on the television, she watched the celebrations from all over the world as they happened. Was this going to be a good year, she wondered? University nearly over, single as ever, the real world ahead of her, and she not a clue what to do about it, or her brown envelope, or even Jamie.

She heard the front door open at around 1 A.M. She was already half asleep, dozing to the sound of the TV. She jumped when she heard a tentative knock on her bedroom door, then the sound of Jamie clearing his throat. She wondered if he was announcing that he’d brought Anna home, but he surprised her by opening the door wide. She could smell the pub on him. Booze and tightly packed bodies.

Claire sat up against her pillows and folded her arms across her chest.

“Have fun?”

“Hmm. It was okay. Why’d you leave?”

“Ha. You know why I left, Jamie.”

“Was hoping to have another drink with you, but you snuck out on me.”

“Oh, well, I didn’t see any point in staying when Anna was around. She’s not the warmest person, you know. Not to me, anyway.”

Jamie rolled his eyes, like he had back at the pub.

“Yeah, she wasn’t happy I spent Christmas with you. I explained to her that it was rather like a tradition, that it wasn’t romantic, but…” He trailed off, finally noticing a piece of bright orange confetti resting on his arm. He brushed it off, watched it land on the bedroom carpet.

“I’m sorry I caused trouble between the two of you. Is she not here?” Claire peeked around him to the living area, dark and empty.

“No, she went home. It was for the best.” Another piece of confetti hit Claire’s duvet, and she crawled to brush it off.

“You’re vacuuming tomorrow,” Claire said. Jamie put his hand on her arm, then, his bare skin against hers. She pulled away, cradled her arm in her hand as it sizzled.

“Yeah. Okay. Shall we open that envelope of yours tomorrow)? I’ve not forgotten, Sassenach.”
“Start the year off with a bang, huh?”

“Why not? We’ll do it together, like we said. I’ll make something for dinner if you like,” he suggested.

“Movie night, too?”

“Sure, we’ll make a night of it.”

Jamie’s mouth curved up, but it didn’t quite meet his eyes.

“We should’ve just stayed here tonight, Claire. I think I would’ve liked it more than the pub.”

Standing up, he stretched, Claire ignoring the confetti that fell from his body as he moved to the door. She watched him carefully, the way his shoulders were slightly hunched, the way he shuffled his feet like they weighed a ton. He seemed exhausted.

“Go get some rest, Jamie. You look wrecked.”

“Gee, thanks. That’s my shirt, by the way, don’t think I don’t notice when you steal my clothes.”

Claire sat back on her pillows, arms folded in front of her again. She stuck out her tongue at his retreating form, then slunk down into her bed, begging sleep to take her away for a few hours.

Chapter Text

Chinese food containers were lined up along the coffee table, along with a couple bottles of beer, the fragrance filling the flat as they ate. Claire shoveled down orange chicken with a particular urgency, Jamie making a face as she took a rather large bite.

“Stress eating?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in amusement.

“If I keep eating, the envelope remains closed. New to eating?”

Jamie nodded, fried rice taking a spill into his lap as he missed his mouth.

“I never got a hang of chopsticks. Only thing they’re good for is making faces, don’t you think?”

Claire felt the laughter bubbling up inside her as she watched Jamie shove his chopsticks between his upper lip and teeth.

“Oh, God. Don’t do the arms-”

Jamie pressed his elbows against his sides, leaving his hands free to flap in front of him like flippers as he barked in a hoarse manner. Claire gave up all hope of maintaining her composure, throwing her head back, doing her best not to choke as she laughed.

“Surely a walrus doesn’t make that sound,” she sputtered, watching as Jamie removed the chopsticks and looking rather indignant.

“I wasn’t a walrus. I was a sea lion.”

“A walrus is the one with the tusks, you complete idiot!”

“Oh… oh yeah,” Jamie mumbled, Claire knowing full well that he knew that, too. He’d done it only to make her laugh, to ease the tension. She was grateful, and she slowed her eating just a bit, worried about a stomach ache later. She’d consumed the entire order of crab rangoons, much to Jamie’s chagrin. Now she was nearly finished with her container of chicken. Setting the box down, she took a breath, rubbing her hands together.

“I suppose I should just get it done with. I’m honestly not sure what I’m afraid of.”

“It’s just...a name, right? Does it include any other information?”

“The agency said that they sent me the most current records they had of her. So, whatever she deemed necessary to share with them, they sent it. I don’t really know what that would be. They said it might be nothing but a full name, perhaps my place of birth - or it could be something else.” Claire shrugged, scratched her cheek even though it didn’t itch.

“Go on, then.” Jamie nudged her knee, Claire’s legs bent underneath her as they sat on the couch.

She pulled the envelope from under the pile of unopened mail and glanced at her friend. He was waiting patiently, wiping food from his chin with a napkin. He gave her a small smile, tapped her knee again, and waited.

“Okay,” she finally whispered, ripping open the tab at the top. Tipping the packet over in her lap, a small stack of papers fell out, fastened together at one corner with a paperclip. Gathering the papers in her hands, she glanced once more at Jamie, then held it out to him.

“You read it.”

“Me?”

“Yes, just… read it out loud. Just the first part, then we’ll see about the rest.”

Jamie took the papers gingerly, holding them as though they were priceless artefacts.

“O-okay. If you’re sure.” He took a breath, then read for a brief amount of time before Claire was bouncing on the couch impatiently.

“What’s it say?” Her hands were on her head, and she seemed incapable of being still.

“Uh. It’s just a form, really. Her name-”

“What’s her name?”

“Uh. It’s Julia Moriston Beauchamp.” Jamie nodded at her, swallowed hard. “You share a last name, at the very least, Claire.”

She’d been told when she was young that Beauchamp was her surname, and she’d always wondered where it had come from. She’d assumed it was the name of the couple who’d tried to adopt her as a toddler, but now she knew: she’d been carrying a bit of her mother - and father? - all this time. She laughed a bit, surprising herself, not sure why the idea was amusing.

“What else does it say?”

Jamie scanned the document again, releasing breath slowly as his cheeks puffed out.

“It’s got an address here, and phone number. ‘Course, we don’t know how current this is.”

“Really? Where? I mean, where is the address located?” She thought she might faint if it was somehow closeby. In the UK, even. The idea of her having crossed paths at some point with Julia Moriston Beauchamp gave her chills.

“This address is one in California. Wow. Hmm, I’ve never heard of Walnut Creek.”

Claire grabbed her phone, then grabbed Jamie’s arm, pulling the paper closer toward her. She typed the address into her map app. Holding up the phone for Jamie to see, she let out a breathy sigh.

“It’s… it’s near San Francisco.”

Grabbing her drink, she took a long sip, nodding as she did so.

“A long way from home,” Jamie commented, tipping the rice container to his mouth to devour every last grain.

“Well. It’s...it’s good to have that done with.”

Claire set her drink down noticing she was shaking slightly. Adrenaline most likely, she thought. Like when she was having a really good conversation, or when she was watching a good movie. She put her hands on her knees, the paper still in Jamie’s lap.

“Anything else?” she asked, wondering what else there could be. She heard Jamie shuffle the papers, all quiet for a moment.

“There’s a note here. Want to take a look?”

“A note?” Claire took the paper from Jamie’s hand, her breath catching as she saw it was written in blue ink, scribbled on a piece of hospital stationery.

Dearest One,
You are loved, even if we don’t know one another. I did this to see you safe, and I hope you’ll forgive me in the end.
Julia, or Mum?

Claire stared at it, for longer than she realized, her vision blurring as she tried to imagine this woman in a hospital bed, scribbling this note. For her. She hadn’t expected this, at all. She surprised herself, letting out a breathy laugh, a plethora of emotions hitting her all at once. And all she could do was grin at Jamie who looked rather confused.

“Look, look at it!” she wiggled the paper at him, his fingers brushing hers as he grabbed the corner.

“Oh, wow, Sassenach. You were afraid for nothing, it seems.” He swatted her with the paper and she grabbed his arm, hissing.

“Don’t! You’ll rip it!” she laughed, retrieving the note and placing it far away from their food and drinks.

“You’re a nice shade of pink, there, Claire,” Jamie teased, nudging her leg yet again.

“I just… I can’t believe it. I never thought…”

She’d always pictured some faceless woman handing her baby over to another faceless person, completely devoid of any emotion, any humanity. Yet, now she had proof: the woman who’d given birth to her was real, a person with feelings and, it seemed, some hint of regret. She felt warm, suddenly, accounting for her pink cheeks, and she suddenly felt like going for a run.

It was dark, however, so she stretched her arms over her head, still grinning.

“What are you going to do now, Claire?”

“Hmm.. I don’t know.” She rubbed her bottom lip with her fingers, thinking. “I could call. I could...write? Fancy a trip to Claifornia?” she joked, though her mind was clouded with too much emotion to think clearly. “But.. what if the phone number is no good, or she’s not in California anymore?”

A small tinge of fear made her spine tingle, and she looked to Jamie for reassurance.

“Then you’ll have your letter, anyway. That, at least, can’t be taken from you. And you’ll be just as you are now, with the knowledge that Julia loved you enough to leave it for you to find.”

He shrugged, gathering the few papers and stuffing them back in the envelope, leaving the note out for Claire to do with as she liked.

“Oh God, what a weird night it’s been. Is it only nine?”

She was suddenly exhausted, and as Jamie turned the television on, she wondered how long she’d last if they started a movie. She took a calming breath, rubbed her hands over her face, and watched as Jamie moved through the Netflix menu.

“Let’s watch something funny,” she suggested, and Jamie nodded.

She felt him scoot closer, pulling the knit blanket from the back of the couch. Covering them both, Jamie stretched his legs out onto the coffee, barely missing the food containers. Claire’s body jolted, nearly going to grab the letter, but she let it be. She was afraid if she looked at it again she might lose her composure.

/////

Weeks went by, Claire keeping the letter and the rest of the documents tucked away in a drawer. She hadn’t pulled them out since that night, but they were always in the back of her mind. Jamie asked her about them every now and then, but she’d shrug, brush him off. She’d opened the envelope, thinking that would be the difficult part. Instead, she now had a near constant stomach ache over whether or not she should try contacting her birth mother.

One Sunday evening she sat in her flat surrounded by textbooks, papers, and note cards. A classmate was due to show up any minute, one who was better at statistics than Claire ever would be. She’d put off this course for as long as she could, but now that graduation was looming, she’d been forced to enroll, and she’d hated every second of it so far.

So, she’d asked the girl she’d sat beside in class to come over for a study session, and she hoped Jamie would be out before they began working - she knew what would happen if Jamie was seen by her. Swooning would ensue, that breathy, girly giggle that made Claire cringe whenever Jamie was around women who didn’t know him.

He had plans to go out tonight, to eat dinner with some friends. He hadn’t mentioned Anna, and Claire didn’t ask about her, but she got the feeling that things weren’t great between them. She hadn’t been to their flat in weeks, and Jamie never mentioned her anymore. She heard him shuffling around in his bedroom, dressing after a shower.

“Hurry up, Jamie,” she begged under her breath, knowing Mia would be there soon. The girl was gorgeous, and Claire knew it. And she knew Jamie would be interested. Mia had long flowing hair, a black as night curtain that fell down past her bottom. She kept it so shiny, and Claire always wondered how. She had a sweet disposition, and if Jamie were here when she showed up, Claire knew he’d never bloody leave.

Claire tapped her pencil nervously on the notebook resting on her lap, and sighed with some relief as Jamie’s door opened. He wore a pair of jeans that hung low on his hips, and his dark gray jumper fit him just so. Claire wondered how many people knew what he hid underneath his top. She’d seen his muscular build, and she blushed now as she imagined him out of the cable knit top.

She raked her bottom teeth over her top lip as he picked up his wallet and keys from the kitchen counter, where they always rested even though there was a designated bowl for them. Claire had begged him repeatedly to keep them in their place - he was always losing them, but he couldn’t seem to put them there. The bowl held plenty of gum wrappers, though. She put her hands to her cheeks, hoping he didn’t notice she was flushed. He nodded at her school paraphernalia scattered about her.

“Study session?”
“Ah, yeah. Statistics.” Claire made a face, and Jamie smiled knowingly, having heard Claire grumble about it many times.

“I can help if you like,” he offered.

“No, no. That’s okay. I’ve got a classmate coming, anyway. Just waiting on her.”

Claire bit her tongue as she said it, wishing she’d not mentioned the study partner now. As she swallowed her regret, a knock at the door caught their attention, and Jamie pulled it open. There stood Mia, and Claire braced herself for the heavy flirting that would surely ensue.

Instead, she watched Jamie extend his hand politely, introducing himself as Claire’s roommate. He, much to her surprise, ushered Mia inside, then gave Claire a smile and a wave before making his way outside. Normally he’d linger a bit, chat up a girl Claire had invited over, flirt with her as he seemed to do every female within his vicinity. She raised her eyebrows as Mia came to sit next to her on the couch, mouth agape.

“You live with him?” she asked, glancing back at the door.

“Mmhmm,” Claire mumbled, remaining aloof. She didn’t want to get into a discussion about Jamie with Mia. She flipped through the Statistics textbook in front of her, hoping to get things moving quickly so she didn’t have to be mired in this God awful world of whatever the hell Statistics was for too long tonight. Mia had other ideas, though.

“I can’t believe you live with him! He’s so…” Mia tried to find the right word, but Claire cut her off.

“Hot? Yeah… so I’ve been told.” Claire chewed the inside of her cheek, waiting for the next question she was sure to come.

“Are you two…?”

And there it was. She’d had this same conversation with different women over the years, and she had her answers down pat by now. Friends at parties would spot her with Jamie; classmates would see them walking campus together; it never failed: the assumption was that they were an item, and this very question would fly out of someone’s mouth. Claire always shut them down as quickly as possible.

“Oh, no. No. Never.”

Mia dropped her bag at her feet with a thump, her jaw nearly hitting the floor along with it.

“Why the hell not?”

“Because… we’re friends. It’d be weird. Can we just…” she trailed off, gesturing to her notebook.

“Can I ask him out, then?”

Claire did her best to keep her eyes from rolling back into her head, but she wasn’t sure how successful she was.

“No…he’s leaving in a few weeks, anyway. Graduating and then he’ll be off to Australia.” She shrugged, chewing on the end of her pencil. The eraser left a funny burnt taste in her mouth, and she ran her tongue over her teeth as she felt the lie settle into her stomach. She felt not one ounce of guilt as she watched Mia’s face fall.

“Oh, damn. Too bad.” Mia shook her head, pulling her books out of her bag.

“Can we get started then?” Claire suggested, doodling on her paper now, her mind now so far away from Statistics that she wanted to throw her books in a fire and say fuck graduating. Claire and Jamie… dating. Now that was a crazy thought. It made her squirm, made her wonder if it would be weird. Would kissing him be like… kissing a brother? She wouldn’t know. She didn’t have any brothers. Her lips were tingly as the idea swam in her mind, though. She brushed it off, putting it down to a long, long time since she’d last kissed anyone.

Thankfully, the rest of the night went on without another mention of Jamie, and she and Mia prepared for the pop quiz that was inevitably thrown at them every single Monday. Mia was an excellent tutor, and Claire was grateful for her help, yet she couldn’t seem to focus on the work in front of her.

The definitions, the equations, they all swam in her vision like a mass of tangled black lines. Sitting back on the sofa during a short lull, Claire groaned, pressing her finger between her eyes where the headache was beginning to bloom.

“I hate this class,” she mumbled, shaking her head in an attempt to clear her mind. She kept thinking about Jamie, though. About her mother, about the letter. She wanted to slam her book shut and be alone.

“...so do you understand Sample Space?” Mia’s voice cut through her reverie, and Claire’s eyes snapped open.

“Huh?”

“Sample Space… it’s the one you’re tripping up on most. This is basic Statistics, Claire. I hope you’re not going to be a mathematician…” Mia laughed, shaking her head.

“God, no. What would make you think that?”

“I’m only joking, but really though - the professor is going to whip these terms out on the quiz tomorrow - see?” she said, gesturing to her own class notes. Claire’s were hardly legible so she’d relied on Mia’s more often than not.

“Yes, okay. Sample Space.” Claire paused, laughing. “That doesn’t even sound like a real thing anymore. Quick, say it again,” she giggled, covering her hand with her mouth as Mia sighed.

“Sample Space,” Mia began, saying the words firmly, “is the set of all possible outcomes in a trial.”

Claire knew this definition. She’d written it on one of her neat little note cards, stacked by her textbook. Ones she hadn’t flipped through once this study session.

“Okay, yes. I know this. I get it.”

Claire nodded her head, hoping Mia would drop it. It had been an hour - an hour too long, if Claire had anything to say about it. She was relieved when Mia began packing her things. Claire did the same, throwing her notecards haphazardly into her bag along with her notebook and pencils. She’d worry about the quiz tomorrow. Right now, she had some chocolate ice cream in the freezer calling her name. Mia stood, slinging her bag over her shoulder.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Claire. And, ah, if anything changes with your gorgeous roommate, you’ll let me know?” She wagged her eyebrows, winked, then turned to the door. Claire followed, fighting back another eyeroll.

“Sure, sure. But I think he’s pretty serious about Australia. He even took up boomerang throwing lessons.”

Claire stifled a laugh, not knowing if boomerang throwing was even a thing one could take lessons in. At any rate, it seemed to shut Mia up. Saying goodbye, Claire shut the front door and headed straight for the freezer, her phone buzzing just as she pulled out the ice cream.

“Gah, what now?”

She picked the phone up and smiled. It was late for Joanie to call, but Claire was always glad when she did. She hit the button to answer then shoved the phone between her shoulder and chin; a phone call was no reason to put off ice cream.

“Hi, Joanie!”

“Hiya Claire. How are you?”

“Good, good. Just having a quiet night in.”

“Glad to hear it, love. Listen, if you’re not busy tomorrow at lunch, would you like to meet up? I’ll be in the city running some errands and would love to see you!”

“Oh, great idea! Name the time and place and I’ll be there.” Claire took a large bite of ice cream as she settled on the couch.

She would always make time for Joanie. And though she’d hoped to have lunch with Jamie tomorrow to talk about the possibility of calling Julia, she was happy enough to spend some time with her former foster mother - the only woman Claire had in her life that vaguely resembled a parent. Besides Ellen and Brian, of course, but she saw very little of them.

“Sounds good. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? Have a good night, dear, and tell Jamie hello for me, would you?”

“Sure, Joanie. See you tomorrow.”

The call over, Claire dug fervently into the pint of ice cream, hoping Jamie didn’t come home and catch her eating straight from the carton. She couldn’t, however, help but be disappointed when Jamie didn’t return home before she decided it was time for bed. She wanted to laugh with him about Mia’s excited curiosity regarding his status, and wanted to grumble about Statistics as he nodded his head in sympathy.

Mostly, though, she merely longed for his presence. As always, her mother weighed on her mind, and though she’d pushed the idea of calling her away since she’d opened the envelope weeks before, she wondered if she might finally pluck up the courage and do it. Soon?

Tonight, however, her mind wouldn’t let her forget her lie to Mia. Jamie wasn’t moving to Australia - why the hell had she said that? There was nothing wrong with Mia, certainly. Her fudging of the truth caught Claire by surprise. She’d never lied to anyone about Jamie before. Why now?

Pulling out the journal he’d given her for Christmas, she decided to write. It had been a long while since she’d done any journaling, and since her mind was full of questions she couldn’t speak out loud, she pulled a pen out of the cup on her desk and flipped the journal open to the first page.

Chapter Text

Well, new journal, here we are. Months after I got you, I've finally pulled you out of my drawer. I hope you're all right with moody music and crumbs... both are inevitable here with me.

I suppose I should tell you right off the bat: I've never been great at this Journaling thing. And listen to this. It gets better: I want to write a memoir. Tell me that isn't funny.

I'm not sure what to write tonight. I keep looking at Jamie's writing above this. It's distracting.

I guess I could start with some stream of consciousness stuff. I was in therapy once upon a time. For a few months, until I stopped going. Anyway, I was told to journal, didn't see the point, but here I am anyway, rambling on.

I like... chocolate ice cream
I like soft pillows.
I like big butts and I cannot lie.
No, I'm kidding.

You can't help me, you're paper and pen, but I just want to spit this out because I just heard him come home. Alone, I hope. I don't hear anyone else.

Jamie and I are friends. Good friends. Best? He'd say best. So I'll say best.

Why the hell do I get goosebumps when I see him? Why do I want to get lost in his hugs - that are too few, in my opinion. I don't know when this started. Has it always been this way and I'm too stupid to have noticed it? My stomach feels like it's going to fall out of my ass sometimes. Especially when he sits close to me on the couch.

I've never done this before. Guys haven't been... on my radar. I never made time for it. Them. It's amazing I've made it this far really, without winding up a total recluse.

Anyway...

It's bothering me. I want to be with him but when I am it's like some cloud surrounds us, like it's a weight on my lungs - I can't take a deep breath. Whatever this is, I'd like to figure it out.

Closing in on graduation, neither of us has mentioned our plans since Christmas. I'm scared, to be honest.

You’d think I’d be scared of finding a career, making a life for myself. I’m mostly afraid of what’ll happen to Jamie and me.

Chapter Text

The coffee shop was close to campus, and Claire, running late after a lecture went too long, rushed down the sidewalk in order to meet Joanie. She could feel her phone buzzing in her pocket - knew it was Jamie wondering where she was. They normally had lunch together on Mondays, but she hadn’t seen him that morning, and had completely forgotten to tell him about her lunch plans.

Breathing hard, she swung open the glass door and spotted Joanie right away. The woman’s greying hair was cropped neatly at her chin, and as always, she wore a warm smile, standing up as Claire made it to the table. Claire’s arms enveloped the smaller woman, and her jasmine smell filled Claire’s nose as they released one another.

“Have a seat, dear. I ordered the usual.”

‘The Usual’ was a black coffee for Claire and a matching one for Joanie. The white ceramic mugs were patterned with gray swirls and dots. The strong coffee was hot, and she blew on the top to cool it, waiting for Joanie to kickstart the conversation.

“How are things, Claire? I know you got that information in the mail regarding your mother, but you never told me anything else about it. Did you open it?”

“Yeah, I did. Jamie helped.” She nodded, taking her first sip. It was so good, and she needed the pick-me-up. Her morning lecture had been a drain, and she’d wanted nothing more than to go back to bed the second her alarm had gone off that morning.

“Oh, I’m so glad! It must be a relief. I know it weighed on you for quite some time.”

“Mmhmm. I know my last name is shared by my mother, now.” Claire paused, forming the words in her mouth. They rolled around on her tongue like marbles. “Julia Moriston Beauchamp. Assuming she hasn’t remarried since that information was put in the file. I suppose you don’t know whether Beauchamp is hers or my biological fathers?”

“Dear, you know I don’t know anything. They kept that information sealed up, away from us.”

“Yeah. I know,” Claire replied, giving Joanie an understanding look.

“How are things with you two? I thought he might join us?”

Joanie didn’t have to explain this question to Claire. She was asking about Jamie - the constant companion who had accompanied Claire to many meetings with Joanie. Claire shrugged at the question, not knowing what exactly to say.

“He’s good. We’re good. I just… didn’t get a chance to tell him I was having lunch with you. He was out last night, and I didn’t see him this morning.”

“Is that him calling you now, then?”

Claire grimaced, pulling her ringing phone out of her bag.

“Yep, that’s him. Mind if I text him real quick?”

“No, not at all,” Joanie said, shooting Claire a look before taking a sip of her coffee. Claire screwed her face up in confusion, but bowed her head to her phone, choosing to ignore said look.

Sorry, I had a last minute meeting with Joanie today. I’ll see you later, okay?

The dots at the bottom of her screen danced as Jamie typed his reply.

Oh, okay. I’ll see you at home, Sassenach.

She had a pained expression when she looked back to Joanie, who wore a small smirk on her lips.

“What?” Claire asked.

“Nothing. You should’ve asked him to come, is all. I may be old, Claire, but I’m not blind. Yet.” She pushed her large bifocal lenses up her nose as she smiled. “Is he still seeing that one girl… what’s her name?”

“Anna?”

“That’s the one.”

“No. I mean, I don’t know. She’s not been around since the new year.”

Joanie only smiled, nodding her head. Claire watched as she wiped her mouth with her napkin even though it was clean. Joanie tapped her fingers on the table; something Claire knew she did when she was holding back. Claire was surprised, however, when the subject of Jamie was dropped in favor of more talk about Claire’s birth mother.

“Have you thought about calling Julia? I assume there was contact information?”

“There is. I don’t know how current it is, though. The address is one out in California, and the number is a U.S. one, too.” Claire gulped. The thought of calling that number made her throat dry. Luckily, she didn’t have to say anything else right away. Her phone buzzed in her lap and she was thankful when Joanie nodded at her to answer it. Jamie had sent her another message.

It’s been a shit Monday. Want to meet for pizza and a drink after your afternoon class?

She replied quickly, telling him it was a fantastic idea, that she’d see him then. She sighed, running a hand through her hair to get it out of her face. Her coffee was almost gone, and she wanted another.

“Claire, I won’t tell you what to do - you know that by now - but I will give you my two cents. You needn’t be afraid of things that have never come to pass. If you call Julia, she may answer. You may like one another, and you’ll have another person in your life who cares about you - at least in some small way. What’s the worst that can happen?”

“She could not answer at all, and I’d be back at square one. Or… she could be completely uninterested in getting to know me, which I think would hurt more.”

“I want you to remember: she is an unknown entity at the moment. You owe her nothing, not even that phone call. You make the decision when you’re ready. And also remember: you can call me anytime, and I know for certain that you can lean on Jamie. No need to do this alone, like you’ve done so much in your life. Cherish the family unit in front of you now.”

Claire held back a scoff.

“Family unit? Me?”

“All families aren’t a mother, father, and two and a half kids, Claire. You know that. Families come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve a family in Jamie, you’ve my family. This thing with Julia? It may sting, but don’t let your soul be swallowed by it.”

Claire actually scoffed this time, causing Joanie to frown.

“I’ve not really given it much thought.” Claire pushed her coffee away, suddenly sick of it. She was lying of course - a hobby of hers now, it seemed. She’d thought about Julia nearly constantly since opening the envelope. She wanted to know more about this elusive woman, wanted to insert Julia into her life, wanted to be able to claim a parent as her own. She knew, though, that this was all a pipe dream. She’d likely be too afraid of rejection to get too close.

“You’ve always held everyone at arm's length, Claire. And if that works for you, that’s fine. Yet I see in your face that you desperately want to have Julia in your life, that you want her to see you as her child.”

Joanie paused, letting Claire absorb her words. She wondered where Joanie was going with this. Claire was her child, was she not? Surely there would be some… connection between them, no matter what? Isn’t that what mothers always said about their babies? ‘I loved you the moment I saw you!’ Claire sat back in her chair and sighed.

“So what if I want that? Is that so wrong? Everyone else has it. Why not me?”

“You already have that, Claire. Do you not realize it? That’s what I’m talking about - cherish what you have in front of you. Don’t put all your hopes on this woman who you know nothing about. You’ve got too much going for you - and none of that has to do with your biological mother. It’s all down to you. You’re braver than you think. Smarter, too. Not to mention beautiful. And do you know who would repeat these very words if given the chance?”

“Who?”

Joanie pointed at Claire’s phone, and it took a second but she realized what the gesture was intending to say.

“That boy you’re talking to all the time. What’s his name again?”

“Oh, God. He would not.” Claire swatted her hand at Joanie, fighting a smile.

“Yes, he would.” Joanie patted Claire’s hand in reassurance, then raised her eyebrows in question. “Are you working tonight?”

“No, thank goodness. Tomorrow, though. I can’t wait to be done with it. Of course, that might be my life for the foreseeable future. A server at a pub.” Claire sunk lower in her chair as she thought about it. Her, a middle aged woman, apron tied around her waist, asking college kids if they needed another pint while on first or fifty-third dates. She, however, would go home to an empty flat, where she’d wake up every morning with back pain, and walk around town smelling of grease and alcohol.

She cringed, hoping that wasn’t her future. She looked at her phone to check the time, and saw she needed to wrap up her meeting with Joanie soon. Her afternoon class started in ten minutes.

“Thanks for the talk, Joanie. I gotta run, though. Class awaits.” Claire stood, gave Joanie a quick goodbye hug, and made her way back out into the street where she felt relieved to have that conversation over. Joanie had always been good at getting under her skin, much like the therapist she’d sent Claire to. Claire hadn’t enjoyed that one bit, but unfortunately Joanie wasn’t someone she could, or even want to, avoid, so she always let Joanie say her piece, even when it wasn’t what Claire wanted to hear.

Making it to the lecture hall just in time, she sat in a huff at the back of the room, unable to concentrate on anything but the conversation she’d had with Joanie. The professor may as well have been absent for all the attention Claire paid her.

Claire held her phone in her hand instead of pulling out her book, fighting the urge to call Jamie, though she knew he was busy. Claire considered herself a realist, and had thought about calling Julia, had thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be a happily ever after. She wasn’t stupid. But to have someone else confirm these thoughts was jarring. Claire sighed, too loudly apparently, as the person sitting in front of her turned to glance in her direction.

“Sorry,” she mouthed, rolling her eyes. Finally pulling out her notebook, she began to pretend to take notes, though her mind was still miles away. In California, to be exact.

//////

The restaurant was loud, as usual, and Claire sat alone at the table she’d picked out - near a window so she’d see Jamie coming. He was late, but she wasn’t worried. She ordered a couple drinks and a large pizza to share and sat waiting patiently. Tapping her foot on the floor, she watched people stream in the door. It was getting busier, and she hoped Jamie came soon before she was asked to give up her table.

She was relieved when she saw him, towering over the rest of the crowd as he pushed his way inside. Seeing her, he waved, and she was surprised to notice he was out of breath as he came to the table.

“Sorry, Sassenach,” Jamie huffed, “I ran into Anna.”

Claire’s top lip curled up on one end at the mention of Anna. She quickly wiped the snarl from her face, hoping Jamie didn’t notice.

“Oh.”

Jamie waved his hands dismissively, then leaned his elbows on the table. Spotting the drink Claire had ordered for him, he curled his hand around the glass and took a long pull.

“She’s so frustrating,” Jamie said, shaking his head. Claire saw him squirming in his seat as he looked at her. “Did your meeting with Joanie not go well, Claire?”

Claire made a face, irritated that he could tell just by looking at her that something wasn’t right.

“It was fine,” she said simply, choosing to nudge the conversation onto him. “What happened with Anna?” She didn’t care one way or another about Anna, but she didn’t want to bring up Julia at their favorite pizza place. It would forever be tainted.

“Oh? Hmm. Nothing,” Jamie answered, shaking his head as the server brought their pizza. “She’s just... annoying.”

Claire let the subject drop, and as she took a swig of her beer, she caught Jamie’s eyes as he took a slice of pizza from the pan. She watched the cheese stretch out over the table as Jamie laughed, placing the slice onto his plate. She followed him, grabbing her own piece, and together they tucked in.

“So, give it up, Sassenach. What happened with Joanie? I can tell you’ve got something on your mind.”

Claire finished the bite in her mouth before answering, desiring to word her response just right.

“Joanie wanted to prepare me for the worst, I guess.” When Jamie’s face screwed up in confusion, she quickly added, “My mother - contacting her, I mean. I told her I hadn’t done it yet, so she felt a lecture was required, I guess.”

“Well. Why don’t you just call Julia and see for yourself? My gut feeling is that she’d be happy to hear from you. She did leave you that note.”

Claire shrugged her shoulders, wishing Jamie wasn’t so damn logical all the time. He was right, and she knew it.

“It’s all right to be scared,” he continued, eyeing her. “I would be. I hate talking on the phone.”

“Gee, thanks. You’re making me feel so much better.”

“What time is it in California now?”

Claire watched as Jamie did the math in his head. He pulled out his phone, did something she couldn’t see, his tongue sticking out as he pondered. He held a hand up, counting his fingers out loud for a brief moment, then stuffed his phone back in his pocket.

“It’s like mid morning there. We can go home and call now if you want.”

“What? No way. I am not calling right now.”

“Why not?”

“Because!!! What if… what if… what if I interrupt some important meeting she’s in and she’s angry with me.” Claire winced as she pulled the scenario out of thin air.

“Uh… if that’s the case then… fuck her?”

Jamie downed a third slice of pizza as Claire finished her drink. She couldn’t eat anymore, and just wanted to get home, to find another distraction from this frightening conversation.

“So, why did you say it was a shit Monday, Jamie?”

“Ugh, I’d rather not talk about it. My head is already done in by the three papers due in the next few days, and to top it off I’ve got to somehow get you to call your mother.” He nudged her under the table with his foot and she met his cheeky grin with a scowl.

“You’re going to pester me until I do it, aren’t you?”

“How’d you guess? No, really though, I’m just tired of watching you wallow about it.” Jamie held up his hands when Claire tried to jump in and defend herself. “ALL I’M SAYING,” he said loudly, “is that I’d rather see you happy and content - and if making that phone call gets you there, then please do it. Your marathon cleaning sessions and late night fridge raids have reached a fever pitch.”

Claire’s mouth dropped. And here she was thinking she’d been sneaky.

“Fine. All right? Fine, I’ll try calling.” Claire put her head in her hands, then felt Jamie’s hand on her shoulder. He gave it a squeeze, and she looked at him.

“I... you don’t have to. I’m just giving you a hard time, Claire.”

“No, no. I’m going to do it. I need to. It’s better to know than not, right?”

//////

Jamie stood with Claire in the kitchen, where she paced as the phone against her ear rang. No one was picking up, and she wasn’t sure whether she wanted voicemail or wanted nothing. She’d prefer a real live person, but so far she wasn’t getting it.

“Maybe it’s a bad time,” she whispered to Jamie.

“Hello?”

Claire jumped, shoved Jamie out of the way, then pulled him back to stand close.

“Hello?” the voice said again.

“I-” Claire’s voice wouldn’t cooperate, and she jumped up and down, clinging to Jamie’s arm like it was a life preserver and she was drowning.

“Is someone there?”

“Hi. Hello. Yes. I..” Claire took a breath as Jamie nodded at her to continue. He mouthed to her to tell the person her name.

“I’m Claire…. Claire Beauchamp,” she squeaked out. “Is this,” she cleared her throat to stall, but continued, “is this Julia…?”

“Yes, it is. Did you say Beauchamp?” The woman sounded eager and inquisitive. Claire noticed her accent - an odd mixture of Middle America and English.

“Yes. I’m..” Claire looked at Jamie who was standing stock still, watching her carefully. He put his hands up in a questioning gesture. Claire flapped her hand at him as she continued to cling to him. “I’m Claire...Beauchamp,” she said again. “I believe I’m your daughter.”

Claire sank down, bending her knees to squat on the floor, causing Jamie to have to follow her. She gripped his arm like she was being electrocuted, unable to let go.

“Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” she mouthed to him as the person on the other end was silent for what felt like eternity. Finally, Claire heard a small noise, and stood again, Jamie standing with her.

 

“Did you get my note?” the now breathy woman asked. Claire could hear her swallow, and she wondered if she was as scared as Claire felt at the moment.

“Yes. I did. Er...thank you.”

She felt stupid for saying it, but felt it was necessary. It was true - she was thankful. It felt empty, though, like those gifts she’d given Jamie for Christmas, when he’d gotten her so much more. Why could she never do enough?

She heard the woman laugh a small laugh, one resembling her own, and she nearly fell into Jamie. He caught her shoulders, putting her upright while laughing a bit under his breath.

“How are you?” Julia asked, and Claire had no idea where to begin.

Mother and daughter talked for a good thirty minutes, until Julia had to get back to work. She asked Claire to call her again, to tell her more about herself. Claire heard a bit about Julia’s job - she was a literary agent, and very busy. Claire had luckily called during her lunch hour, and Claire could hear the city noise in her ear. Before hanging up, Claire promised to call again, and they made plans to talk again in two days time.

Placing the phone down after ending the call, Claire couldn’t help but throw her arms around Jamie’s neck. It was all too much - more than she’d hoped for, and forgetting it was a Monday night, she wanted to drag Jamie out the door for a celebratory drink.

“How about we stay in, Sassenach. I’ll pour us a wee dram here, okay?”

“Okay!” Claire didn’t care where she had a drink, she only wanted something to calm her dancing nerves. She felt every bit of her was awake, and she knew she wouldn’t sleep much tonight.

Jamie poured them each a drink, then handed her a glass. He lifted his glass in the air, and Claire followed.

“To you, Sassenach. So brave.” He grinned at her, clinking his glass against hers before taking a sip.

“Ha, I suppose I’ll have to let Joanie know I did it. I hope she’ll be happy.”

“I’m sure she will be! I’m so excited for you, Claire.”

Jamie pulled her into a bear hug, one that swallowed her whole. She laid her head on his chest, breathing him in. She didn’t want him to let go.

Chapter Text

The calendar hanging in the living room hadn’t been touched in months - it still said JANUARY in big block letters, so Claire flipped the pages to MAY, her eyes dancing over the days. It was the middle of the month already, and graduation loomed over her. She’d picked out the dress she’d wear under her gown, along with the black strappy sandals she’d bought just for the occasion. Graduation day wasn’t on the calendar yet - she’d have to flip to June for that. Still, the day was imminent, and she still had no idea what she’d do after she had her diploma.

She and Julia had kept up communication on a semi-regular basis, and today Claire was in a rather frenzied state because Julia finally agreed to meet her. Claire had danced around the notion for a while, afraid to bring it up. She was relieved when, during their last phone call, Julia offered to show Claire around San Francisco if she’d like to visit this summer.

Claire hadn’t said yes immediately, but she desperately wanted to. She knew, though, that the trip might cost more than her savings would allow, and she knew she didn’t want to go alone. She hadn’t seen Jamie since yesterday, as he’d gone to his parents’ house for a quick visit, yet she knew she’d have only him to take with her - if he’d agree.

Having spent all day cleaning to keep her thoughts at bay, the living room and kitchen sparkled. All surfaces had been wiped, all floors swept. Claire had even alphabetized the book shelf and cleaned out the refrigerator, which had been full of old food containers and sour milk way past its sell-by date. She promised to herself to eat at home more after wiping off one shelf which had been covered in an unidentifiable mass of orange goo.

Standing quietly to survey her work, Claire was pleased with the progress she’d made. Her mind had been successfully occupied - which was all she truly wanted out of today. She eyed Jamie’s room, briefly wondering whether or not she should go in. In the end, though, she decided to go for it, pushing his door wide to examine the amount of work that would be required. His bed was covered in balled up blankets and sheets, his pillows piled on one side of the mattress. The room smelled like him - a mix of musky cologne Claire knew he wore on occasion, and that sharp scent of sweating male.

She’d certainly been in here before - spent time on the bed chatting with Jamie about classes, plans, or parties. She envied his closet, which was slightly larger than hers; they’d argued about it when they moved into the flat. Jamie had insisted that she have the bedroom with the smaller closet - it happened to be farther away from the front door, but she’d wanted the room with the larger closet. They’d argued for a while, until Jamie put his foot down, insisting that she take the supposedly ‘safer’ bedroom. She’d relented when she saw how serious he was about it.

Now, Claire looked over at the double doors, pulling them open to peer inside. It was a heap of clothes, half on the hanger, half off, thrown to the floor or fallen. Two large gym bags sat in one corner, and Claire held her nose as she decided not to touch the closet. Closing the doors again, she decided to dust quickly, then hoover the carpet.

Soon enough the furniture, particleboard thought may be, gleamed. Lines in the carpet created by the vacuum gave it that just-cleaned appearance. Claire, wondering what to do next, decided to peek under the bed, to see what sort of rubbish Jamie had let accumulate there. She was kneeling by the bed, bottom up in the air, when she heard the front door open. Her fingers hit a glossy piece of paper and she grabbed it, pulling out a copy of Penthouse magazine, open to a lovely woman wearing absolutely nothing.

“Oi, drop that!”

Claire jumped, banging her head on the bed rails as she maneuvered out from underneath the bed. She screamed as Jamie grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up smooth and easy. He turned her deftly in his arms and threw her over his shoulder, his magazine still clutched in her fingers.

Depositing her in the living room, she sat with a thud on the couch, looking up at him with all the child-like innocence she could muster. Eyes large and doe-like, she beamed at him, pinching the magazine between her thumb and forefinger. The magazine swung in the air between them as Claire pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. Jamie’s face was red, and not from the warm sun outside.

“They’re Ian’s, okay? He asked me to keep them so Jenny wouldn’t find them.”

“A likely excuse, Fraser!”

“Oh, please, like you don’t have those dirty books hidden in your bedside table.” Jamie folded his arms in defiance, looking down at her with satisfaction.

Claire’s mouth fell in shock. How did he know about those? They were nothing short of bodice-rippers, though the stories weren’t half bad, either. She watched as Jamie pretended to think, tapping his chin with his finger.

“What’s the most recent one called? Hmm.. was it… ‘Brazen and Buff’?”

Claire gasped, then angrily flipped through the magazine. She made faces of disgust at the naked bodies on the pages, shaking her head at Jamie.

“For shame, Fraser. My books don’t hold a candle to this… this… this!” She gestured to the centerfold model, whose legs were splayed in a manner that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Claire paused, looking closer. She heard Jamie begin to snicker, then jerked her head back up. Tossing the magazine on the couch, she watched as Jamie bent over laughing.

“How do you know about my books?” she asked, waiting for Jamie to catch his breath. He sat next to her, his leg right up next to hers, and sighed.

“I was looking for cough drops one night not too long ago. The book was there on top, it was impossible to miss. What were you doing digging under my bed, Sassenach?”

“You came into my bedroom while I was asleep?”

“Just... just for a moment,” Jamie shrugged. “I had a cough.”

Claire remembered the night in question now. Jamie did, indeed, have a cough. She’d offered him some bloody cough drops before bed, and he’d declined. She had no idea he’d come into her room in the middle of the night. She wondered what would’ve happened had she woken up and seen him. She felt Jamie’s hand land on her shoulder, a warm touch that reached her bones.

“What’s botherin’ you, Claire? You’re cleanin’ like your life depends upon it and I’m scared to walk across the floor.”

Claire shifted in her seat a bit, not knowing whether to hit him with the news about Julia and California, or to hold back for now. She couldn’t gauge how Jamie would react to the proposition of traveling to California. She’d never been great at reading people, and always assumed the worst. Jamie was no different, and the idea of him saying no to coming with her wasn’t something she wanted to hear just now. She studied his face carefully to help her decide how to proceed. He looked relaxed, with a small smile on his face as his head was tilted, nearly resting on the back of the couch as he looked at her. She could see the concern in his eyes - the look he always got when she wasn’t being herself. His fingers toyed with the hem of his shirt

The look always caught her off guard, always made her feel exposed, naked underneath his gaze. She’d never met anybody who could read her like he could, no matter how hard she tried to close herself off. He made her feel vulnerable, that thick, fuzzy feeling right before tears fell always flared up when he eyed her in just the right way.

Ears humming, Claire swallowed the stone in her throat, then licked her lips.

“I’m worried about graduation. I have no plan whatsoever. It just seems like everyone else has it all figured out. Geillis is going on to graduate school - I spoke to her about it months ago. Do you know what you’re going to do, yet?”

“Hmm… I met with some people back home - might possibly do an apprenticeship at a pub - a managerial position. Sort of, anyway.” Jamie lifted a hand to his face, scratching an itch just above his brow.

“You’re leaving Glasgow, then?”

Jamie shrugged, looked at her for a moment, then he found some spot on the wall beyond her intensely interesting because he didn’t look at her again until she cleared her throat. He sighed, then, his eyes finding hers. He shook his head and laid a hand on her knee.

“Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you now, or shall we go get a drink first?” Jamie asked, ignoring her question.

“What do you mean? That is what’s bothering me.” Claire stared at him, face as blank as she could get it.

“Come on, Sassenach. Let’s get out of here. The bleach smell is killing my head.” Jamie stood, and attempted to pull Claire up to follow him, but she stayed rooted to the spot.

“No. Please, let’s just stay in - you and me. I don’t feel like going anywhere tonight.”

“On Saturday night?”

“Yes, Saturday,” Claire said, rolling her eyes. She tugged his arm, pleading with her eyes. She went so far as to stick her bottom lip out, knowing that would break him. Jamie groaned, then shot her a lopsided smile from where he stood. Pulling his arm from her grasp, he caught her hand in his and gave it a squeeze.

“Fine. Hungry? Shall we order a pizza?” Jamie relented, settling back down on the couch. He pulled out his phone and began to rattle off the myriad pizza parlors within spitting distance of their flat.

“Sounds good. We have beer, I think.”

Claire settled back, relieved she wasn’t going to be dragged outside.

“So. While we wait…” Jamie trailed off, gesturing to her with his hands.

“What?”

“Let’s talk.”

“We are talking. How were your parents?”

“They’re just fine - they send their love as always,” Jamie answered, nodding his head. He rubbed his hands together, then leaned toward her. “Why did you feel the need to deep clean under my bed, Sassenach? Not that I mind, of course, but now I have a dirty magazine to dispose of. One I haven’t read yet.”

“Read them, do you? You don’t have to get rid of it.”

“Yes. Read. Very interesting articles in there.” Jamie pulled the magazine out again and stole a look at the cover. “See? ‘Extreme Chick Fights: Sex, Violence, and Ultimate Thrills!’” Jamie moved his eyebrows up and down while making the magazine dance along the back of the couch.

“Ugh, that’s so gross.” Claire scrunched up her nose, pushing the magazine away as Jamie pushed it towards her.

“I wholeheartedly agree,” Jamie stated, tossing the magazine behind him, allowing it to land wherever it pleased. “Now. Talk to me.”

Claire took a deep breath, deciding she may as well share her idea now. Raking her hands through her hair, she let the air in her lungs out slowly.

“I talked to Julia yesterday.”

“Okay.”

“You know what we talk about. My history, a little of hers…”

Jamie nodded, urging her to continue.

“Well,” Claire said, “she finally said yesterday that she’d like to meet me.”

“Meet you? Like… meet for coffee or a drink at the pub?”

“Well we can’t do that, can we?” Claire rolled her eyes as Jamie scoffed.

“I know that, don’t I? What I”m asking is does she want a quick meetup or is this her saying she wants more of a relationship with you?”

Claire froze for a moment, realizing she had no idea what the answer to Jamie’s question was. She hadn’t thought about it that way at all, hadn’t questioned Julia’s motives or desire. Frankly, Claire was sure she didn’t give a damn just now.

“What does that matter? Anyway,” Claire began, scraping her teeth across her bottom lip before continuing, “she wants to show me San Francisco…”

Jamie sat still, brow knit in confusion until Claire’s whole sentence fell out of her mouth.

“Oh, wow. I’m guessing you want to go?”

Claire nodded, unable to hide a smile.

“Do you want to go, maybe? Tag along?”

“This summer?”

“Well, yeah. After graduation.” Claire wrung her hands, so afraid he’d tell her he’d already made plans, or already had a job lined up. Instead, Jamie’s eyes lit up as he grinned at her.

“Please tell me I’m invited. Please- I do not want to waste this summer here in Scotland. I don’t want to be an adult yet. Please, Sassenach.”

Claire laughed at his enthusiasm, her secret worries all but vanquished. She laid a hand on his knee, patting it reassuringly.

“I haven’t even told anyone yet! Well, except you. I had thought about who to take with me but...” she trailed off, toying with him. He appeared to stop breathing as she paused, and he stared at her, eyebrows raised in question.

“What? But what?”

She shrugged.

“I suppose you won’t drive me too crazy. Don’t you need to talk to your parents, first?”

Jamie groaned, rolling his eyes at the mention of Brian and Ellen.

“You're so lucky you don’t have to answer to anyone, Claire. You can do as you please.” Jamie was in the middle of taking off his trainers, bent over untying the laces to loosen their grip on his feet. He kicked one off, then looked up at her, doing a double take.

Claire suddenly felt very small, like the couch had grown three sizes in the length of those couple of sentences. The smile fell from her face as she pulled her hand from his knee. She gave Jamie a weak smile, one that didn’t reach her eyes, as he straightened up. His face was full of regret as he reached out to touch her, his hand lightly brushing her shoulder before she pulled away.

“Oh God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it, Claire. I swear.”

“It’s all right, I know what you mean.”

“No, it’s not all right - I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth. I-”

“Really, forget it.” Claire swallowed, plastering a smile to her face. She knew he was sorry, and tried to forget the remark entirely. “So… you’ll come, then - I mean, if your parents will let you?”

Jamie reached out again, gave her shoulder an apologetic squeeze.

“Oh, they’ll let us. I’m sure they’ll have an opinion about it, but we are adults.”

His use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ didn’t go unnoticed, and Claire gave him a real smile, laughing a bit as she knew exactly what they’d say when she and Jamie came to them with the idea of traveling all the way to California together. They’d lecture Jamie about safety, lecture them both about being smart with their money, and she was almost certain they’d try to talk them both into taking a quiet holiday here in Scotland instead.

“I thought you said you didn’t want to be an adult yet, Jamie.” Claire gave him a sideways glance as he kicked off his other trainer. Watching him peel off his socks, she scrunched up her nose at the thought of his closet and the smell that emanated from the gym bags. She wondered briefly if she could survive a long trip with Jamie. Why were boys so gross? Brushing away the thought, she stood up, itching for a shower after her day of cleaning.

“I’ve got to get a shower. I’m so gross.” Jamie slumped back into the couch, as much as his long legs would allow.

“You smell fine,” he shrugged. The doorbell rang as he said this, signaling the arrival of their pizza.

“I’ll be quick. Promise. I’m starved!”

“Okay. I’ll keep the pizza warm. Maybe I’ll start planning?” he said hopefully, sitting straight again. Claire began walking to her bedroom, but turned back to him once more.

“Yes! See how cheaply it can be done.” She made a face, knowing her savings account wasn’t exactly huge. Jamie only nodded at her, gesturing for her to go on.

“Not to worry, Sassenach,” Jamie said, reaching for his backpack to pull his laptop out. “I shall have it all figured out before you return.”

She nodded at him, grinning excitedly.

That urge - the one that seemed to always be just under her skin these days - bubbled up inside her as she closed her bedroom door. She pulled it open again, Jamie glancing at her questioningly as he settled on the couch for his night in.

“What?” he asked.

She went to him, and carefully avoiding his open computer, she leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. Pulling away, she put her hands on her cheeks, mortified, afraid, knowing she was beet red. Jamie looked mystified, like he’d seen a ghost. She had no idea if that was good or bad, but at least he wasn’t disgusted.

“What was that for?” He put his hand on his cheek where she’d kissed him.

“Ah, just… I’m lucky I have you, that’s all.”

“Oh,” he chuckled, “I don’t know about lucky - apparently I’m kind of a pain in the ass.” He gave her a cheeky smile as she scoffed.

“You are not.”

She walked away from him again, painful as it was, and finally got the bedroom door shut. She stood in the shower for a good while, still feeling slightly unsettled by the possible trip. That, however, didn’t top the rush she’d felt giving into her screaming desire to be close to Jamie - no matter how brief the kiss had been. She had to delay going back out to join him; it took her a little bit to quit shaking.

 

////////

Seated in the Fraser family kitchen, Claire and Jamie stared up at Jamie’s parents, both of whom wore worried expressions. Jamie had just proposed to them the idea of visiting California, of meeting Julia. Brian sat down across from them and began drumming a beat with one hand as the other held his chin. Ellen began pacing while shaking her head.

Jamie leaned back in his chair and groaned, his parents obviously less than excited at his announcement. Claire sat with her arms folded in front of her, her eyes trained on the wood grain of the table. Her knee bounced up and down as she waited for someone to say something.

Finally, Brian cleared his throat and stopped his drumming.

“Hmmmm… I don’t suppose either of you have thought about how you’ll pay for this?”

“I’ve got savings, haven’t I? So does she,” Jamie answered, pointing his thumb in Claire’s direction.

“Yes. But is it enough? And you’ll lose so much opportunity being away for that long. I think that’s a big risk right after graduation.”

Jmaie splayed his hands on the table. Claire was relieved he seemed to have an answer to this.

“If we don’t go now, we never will. This isn’t some holiday in the sun, either. This is for Claire.” He gestured at her again, and her face went pink. Ellen took a seat beside her husband then, eyeing Claire carefully.

“Here’s what I don’t understand, Claire. And please know that I’m saying this with love.”

Oh, God, Claire thought, her knee freezing in mid air as the weight of her foot was entirely on her toes. “Okay,” she nodded, waiting for Ellen to say whatever it was she was going to say that would undoubtedly crush her. She braced herself, gripping the edges of her seat.

“You’re two poor university students,” Ellen began, garnering an eye roll from Jamie. “Wait a minute, let me finish before you get all huffy,” she said to her son. “You’re two young people without much in the way of resources. Julia is, however, presumably a grown woman with a career.”

“She’s a literary agent,” Claire cut in, feeling an odd bit of pride swell within her. Ellen nodded, then continued.

“So, you’d think she’d be more than willing to make the effort to come here. To make it easier on you, Claire.”

“But I don’t mind-”

“I know you don’t mind. It’s just… odd. That’s all I’m saying.”

“She said she’s really busy right now, and will be all summer.” Claire nodded as she spoke, ignoring the anxious knot that was beginning to form in her stomach.

“Ellen, let’s remember - we don’t know this woman. And I think it would do you two good to remember you don’t know her, either.” Brian pointed his finger at Jamie. “I don’t mind you taking a holiday together. Nothing you haven’t done before. But this is quite a bit bigger than a weekend away in London.”

“Ahh, London. That was fun, wasn’t it?” Jamie laughed, glanced at Claire.

“Yeah, it was. I’ve never gotten so well acquainted with a toilet,” Claire burst out, laughing hard at the memory. She hid her face, her stomach churning at the memory of being so off her face that she’d passed out in Jamie’s hotel room, unable to get to her own. He’d let her sleep in his bed while he stretched his lanky form on the small love seat under the window.

“Oh, good lord,” Ellen groaned, putting her face in her hands. “I don’t want to know. Maybe you shouldn’t go.”

Jamie straightened up, recovering from his laughing fit. Claire was still trying to regain control.

“No, no. I swear, we’ll behave. We’ll check in all the time, and send videos and photos. We’ll even Facetime! It’ll be fine!” Jamie was begging now, and Claire’s giggling started anew. She took a few deep breaths, straightened her shirt, then pressed her palms against her hot cheeks.

“Yes. I promise. We’ll...do all he said.” Claire nodded emphatically as Brian pulled his wife to stand.

“Let’s go get our old maps, Ellen. They’ll be of some help, I’m sure.”

“You’re not serious… You’re going to help them?”

“I’d rather help them than not, wouldn’t you?” Brian gave her a smile as he pulled her by the hand. “Come on you two. We’ll figure out the most cost-effective route.”

Claire and Jamie hurriedly stood up, Jamie giving Claire a playful shove as they followed his parents.

“Best not to mention London again, Sassenach,” he whispered to her, chuckling. “They might lock me in my room and never let me out again.”

Claire snickered behind her hand, glancing back at her best friend as the anticipation of this big trip grew. She and Jamie could get in a lot of trouble - a lot of glorious, memory-making trouble. Not that Ellen or Brian needed to know that.

Chapter Text

Claire pushed open the door to the flat and tossed her bag down to the floor, not worried about where it may land. It was raining - pouring, actually - and she'd had to sprint in the downpour to her last final - that bloody Statistics course was finally over. Three long hours in the exam room, and Claire thought her brain might fall out of her head if she'd had to scribble out one more answer.

Finishing just as time was called, she had rushed back out into the rain and texted Jamie. .

I'm done. Fucking DONE. I need a drink.

Meet me in half an hour. You know where.

It was barely five in the afternoon, but she shrugged it off, shoving the phone back into her bag. She’d nearly flown to her flat, eager to throw her bag into a closet and never look at it again. She’d smiled as she thought about it - she would never have to open those spiral notebooks again, would never have to sit through a lecturer droning on while she doodled, only half listening.

She couldn’t deny she was proud of herself, though, and she was eager to celebrate. So, glancing at herself in the mirror, she grabbed her wallet, phone, and keys, and made her way to the pub where she knew Jamie was waiting for her.

Jamie sat in a booth near the back of the place, a round one, surrounded by other guys - some Claire knew, some she didn’t. They were all watching a rugby match recap on the television nearest them, loud cheers periodically coming from the dark corner. Music overpowered the sound on the TV, but that didn’t seem to matter to Jamie and his friends. Claire worked her way around tables and other groups to reach the booth, where Jamie quickly moved over to give her space to sit.

“Sassenach!” Jamie said into her ear, the noise of the pub nearly swallowing his deep voice. “Care for a pint, or will you go for something harder?”

“Ugh,” she huffed, placing her chin in her hands as she leaned on the table. “Anything will do. My brain hurts.” She felt Jamie’s hands grip her shoulders, his fingers massaging her tense muscles. She wriggled free, slightly uncomfortable in the company of his friends. Who, by the way, had begun to stare at the two of them.

“Claire, you know Davie and Mark. This other eejit here is Alex,” Jamie said, gesturing to each one of them as Claire gave them all a smile and a wave. She knew Davie and Mark well enough, had met them at the few rugby matches Jamie had dragged her to, but Alex was a face she didn’t know. His tawny brown hair fell over his forehead in a way that made him appear younger than the rest of them. He smiled at Claire, stuck his hand out, and she took it, shaking it lightly.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, as her pint showed up in front of her. She quickly dropped his hand and wrapped her fingers around her glass, taking a deep drink of the cold beer. It tasted wonderful, and she licked her lips as she lowered the glass, foam sticking to her lip.

“Rugby game went well last night, did it?”

She’d heard Jamie’s shouts last night, coming from his bedroom, as he watched the game. He’d wanted to go out, but his last final was early the following morning, so he’d stayed in.

“Yes! Scotland didn’t lose...so badly!” Jamie said, laughing as he lifted his drink in the air.

“You mean they scored?!” Claire asked in mock excitement. She couldn’t care less, and loved poking fun at Jamie’s unbridled enthusiasm. She laughed as Jamie elbowed her in the ribs.

“Next time we’ll win lads, I can feel it!” Mark shouted, clapping his hands as the highlights show came to an end on the television. A server came to change the channel, then, landing it on a football match, and the guys all focused on their drinks again.

“Jamie tells me you two are headed for California,” Alex spoke, his attention solely on Claire, who wiped her mouth with her hand before answering.

“Mmhmm, flying out in a week - just after graduation.”

“Flying?” Jamie interjected, nudging her with his elbow. “I thought we were driving.” He held his hands out in front of him as though he held a steering wheel, making a sputtering sound with his mouth.

“Well, er, I can’t drive, so you’d be doing all of it. Isn’t it cheaper to fly?” Claire looked at him, puzzled. He hadn’t brought up the idea of driving with her yet, though she wasn’t totally opposed to the idea. But it was true - she couldn't drive, had never learned. She wondered if Jamie realized how big the country was. Three thousand miles of road to travel, give or take. She gulped the rest of her drink, letting it sit in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. The alcohol was already going to her head, and she sat and enjoyed the warm, fuzzy feeling of a growing buzz.

She felt a giggle emerge as she watched Alex and Davie try to flirt with the table of girls nearby. The girls were younger than Claire and Jamie, and they all turned pink as Davie asked what they were doing later. Claire heard one of the girls mention something about a party, and as Claire got up to order another drink, Jamie pulled her shirt, forcing her to stay put.

“Don’t leave just yet, Sassenach,” he said into her ear. “One of the girls at the other table - I know her. She’ll drive me nuts if she sees you leave. Stay.”

Claire sat back down, glancing over at the table, wondering which girl Jamie was worried over.

“Who?” she asked.

“The blonde one. She was in a few of my classes this past year. Refused to leave me alone. If she notices I’m here, and that the seat next to me is empty, she’ll be over here before you can blink.”

“Hmm. Even when you were with Anna?”

“Especially when I was with Anna.” Jamie rolled his eyes, draining the last of the drink in his glass.”

“Is that why you broke up?”

“Mmm,” Jamie hummed, “maybe in a small way. Anna was convinced I was…” Jamie trailed off.

“What?”

“Nothing. Nevermind.” Jamie put his arm around Claire’s shoulders, put his mouth to her ear. “Pretend I’ve just told a joke.”

Claire had no trouble pretending, feeling the situation with this blonde girl beyond hilarious in her slightly tipsy state. She let out a chuckle, scrunched her nose up, even went so far as to playfully slap Jamie’s arm as she threw her head back. She heard Jamie laughing as well, and soon both had forgotten all about the table of girls and Jamie’s three friends.

“Want another drink?” Jamie asked, still smiling at her, his sea blue eyes dancing with amusement.

“As long as I can come with you.”

Claire followed Jamie out of the booth and made their way to the bar. It was beginning to get more crowded, and Jamie elbowed his way up to the counter, making space for them both. Claire stood by his side, waiting for the bartender to notice them.

“So you really want to drive to California? Do you know how long of a trip that is?” Claire turned so her back was against the counter as Jamie ordered their drinks. He shrugged at her question.

“I have seen a map before - even went so far as to map our route. I have it all figured out.”

Claire’s eyebrows shot up, surprised that he’d already put so much thought into it. She’d barely had time to think about what to pack, much less plan their way across America. Of course, she’d thought they’d be flying. They could sit in the airplane, sip drinks, and mindlessly enjoy the journey.

“Do you, now?”

“Yep. We’ll fly to New York, then pick up our rental car. God, I want a convertible.” Jamie paused, picking up their drinks. He led them back to the booth, where Mark sat alone, looking at his phone. Alex and Davie had moved to the girls’ table now, and Jamie swiftly sat back in his spot, set the drinks down, and pulled Claire close to him, still eyeing the girls warily.

“You want...a convertible? Ooh boy.” Claire imagined them getting pelted with all sorts of weather on their drive, the car filling with water, their belongings swimming in the back seat; she wasn’t overly fond of bugs, either.

“Sooooo,” Jamie began again, ignoring her remark, “we drive down, connect with Interstate 40, that runs East to West, where we’ll drive all the way to California, ending up near Los Angeles.” He wiggled his eyebrows up and down, Claire’s eyes going big at the thought.

“Los Angeles? Disney Land?” Claire’s voice went up, though she tried to hide it. She wiggled in her seat at the thought of it, feeling a little like a child.

“Suuuure, why not?”

“Isn’t that...expensive?” Mark chimed in, Jamie shooting him a look that told him to shut up.

“Sounds like fun, huh?” Jamie nodded, biting his lip as he waited for Claire to agree.

“But… isn’t there a quicker way to drive from New York to San Francisco? Why go all the way down, end up in Los Angeles, then go back up north?” Mark again received a warning look from Jamie.

“There’s nothing to see if we take Interstate 80 - believe me, I’ve checked.”

“Wouldn’t you go through Chicago, places like that?”

“Mark. This is our trip. Maybe we don’t want to see Chicago.”

“What’s wrong with Chicago?” Mark put his phone down on the table and shrugged. “I’ve been there - it’s not bad.”

“Oh my GOD. Don’t you have a girlfriend you need to be texting right about now?” Jamie turned to Claire, waving his hand dismissively at Mark. “You don’t want to see Chicago. It’s nothing but a bean in the middle of a city. My way is much better. Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock…” Jamie trailed off, trying to think of the other stops he’d plotted out for them.

Claire looked between Mark and Jamie, conflicted.

“But...what if I want to see the bean?” she asked, her brow knit in confusion.

Jamie rubbed his chin, took a sip of his drink. He pushed her still full drink towards her.

“If we go that way, we can’t go to Vegas.”

Claire gasped, a bit of beer dribbling down her chin as she choked on the sip she’d been in the middle of swallowing.

“VEGAS? LAS VEGAS?” Claire smiled at the thought, then took a long drink. Her head was swimming again, this time with the idea of Jamie’s proposed road trip. It did sound like a lot of fun.

“Yep. There’ll be no time to go there unless we go my way.”

“Okay, but how do we get the money together to rent a car? And how do you know you can drive in the States?”

“I looked that up, too. I have a UK driving license. It’ll allow me to drive in the U.S.”

“Wow. Will your parents go for it, though?”

“Let me worry about them,” Jamie said, drinking quickly as Davie and Alex made their way back to the table, the girls in tow. Claire heard Jamie groan under his breath as the blonde he’d been talking about earlier sidled up to the table to stand next to Davie.

“Hi, Jamie,” she said, giving him a small wave as she batted her eyelashes in his direction.

Jamie granted her a nod, then started to nudge Claire out of the booth.

“We’ve got to get going. See you all later,” he said, downing the last of his drink as he stood. He took Claire’s hand in his and pulled her along as she giggled behind her hand. They made it outside, Jamie pulling her underneath a nearby awning as the rain drenched them.

“Ack, I was hoping it had stopped. Sorry,” he said, as they both watched people scurrying to and fro, tucked under umbrellas and hoods. “I don’t have a jacket - do you?”

“No, but it’s okay. I’ve been in and out of the rain all day. Let’s go home.”

They both looked down the street in the direction of their flat and began to step out into the rain. They were stopped, however, by a voice coming from the door of the pub.

“Jamie! Jamie, wait up!”

“Ah, Christ. So close to escaping her…” He groaned as he turned, rolling his eyes at Claire.

“Hi… hi Laoghaire,” he answered, the blonde girl trotting toward the two of them, wincing as the rain hit her hair. She made it to their awning, where Jamie and Claire pressed themselves up against a shop window to make room for her.

“Claire, this is Laoghaire. Laoghaire, Claire.” Jamie nodded at each of them, exasperation flooding his voice as he made the perfunctory introductions.

“Hi,” Claire said, studying the girl. She had large blue eyes, silky blonde hair, and perky boobs Claire would’ve hurt someone for. She wondered what Jamie’s problem was with this Laoghaire girl.

“Hiya. Listen, Jamie - we’re all going to a party later. Was wondering if you would come with me?” The girl looked over at Claire, her smile falling from her face as Claire continued to stand next to Jamie, instead of leaving like Laoghaire had clearly hoped she would.

“Ah, no… no. Not tonight. We’ve got plans, haven’t we?” Jamie looked at Claire then, his eyes pleading with her to play along.

“Oh, yeah,” Claire responded, her stomach turning over as she watched Laoghaire’s face fall, the girl’s hand reaching for Jamie’s. Was she going to get on the sidewalk and beg? Claire thought she might pay money to witness that. She held in a laugh, and began to pet Jamie’s arm with her hand, looking up at him as adoringly as possible, hoping she wouldn’t regret laying it on thick.

“It’s date night, isn’t it, darling?” Nevermind that it was bloody Tuesday, Claire smiled up at Jamie, unable to look Laoghaire in the face. She was shit at lying, knew the girl would see right through her act.

“Well, then. I didn’t know you two were…” Laoghaire’s voice faltered as she looked between Jamie and Claire, letting go of his hand. She took a step back, then turned and walked quickly back to the pub.

“Sorry!” Jamie called after her, wincing as he watched her pull the door open with more force than was strictly necessary. “Ooh.. I suppose that wasn’t very nice.” He looked at Claire, a pained look on his face, and shrugged.

“Hey, don’t look at me. I was simply following your lead, Fraser.”

“Nicely done, Beauchamp. She’s gone, anyway.”

The rain having let up slightly, they made their way from under the awning, down the street to their flat.

“Why don’t you like her, Jamie? She’s gorgeous, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“She’s too young, kind of clingy, and I’ll not deny she’s beautiful, but she’s just… not my type.”

Claire thought about what he said as they walked home. His type? Anna was blonde, too. Older than Laoghaire, but petite like her. If he had another type, this was news to Claire. She shrugged her curiosity off. She looked at Jamie just as his phone rang, about to ask about dinner - she needed food after all that beer. He answered the call, slowing his stride as he listened to the person on the other end.

Claire wondered who it was, not gaining much from his end of the conversation, it being nothing but monosyllables and a few ayes. As they reached their door, Claire pulled her keys from her pocket, placing the key in the lock. Jamie stopped her, ending the call with a quick goodbye.

“Seems the parental units are in Glasgow early. They want to have dinner.”

“Oh, okay then. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“No, with the both of us.”

“Please tell me we’re going to meet them now. I’m so hungry.”

“Yep, come on, Sassenach.”

Jamie took her hand, pulling her back down the steps. Claire’s stomach felt funny, making her wonder if it was hunger, or perhaps the fact that Jamie hadn’t let go of her hand.

////////////

Jamie and Claire sat across from Ellen and Brian, the restaurant moving around them as they waited for their food. Claire gnawed on a breadstick, wishing it was more than cardboard. She fidgeted in her seat, feeling like she was in trouble. She wasn’t even sure why, but Jamie’s parents had been slightly odd since they’d arrived. They weren’t saying much, and Claire could tell Jamie was just as anxious.

“So, uh, why are you in Glasgow so early? Graduation isn't for a few more days. Oh God, did someone die?” Jamie asked, fiddling with his napkin, still folded neatly in front of him.

“Jamie! No, no one died. Why so nervous? We’re not allowed to come visit? We just thought we’d come see how you kids were doing, you know. I’m sure you want nothing more than to go wild, party a bit, since it’s all over, but…” Brian trailed off, rubbing the stem of the water glass as he pinched it between two fingers.

“We thought you might like your graduation gift early,” Ellen finished for him.

Claire felt more than heard Jamie’s sigh of relief as he slumped in his chair. She stifled a giggle.

“Please tell me it’s a motorcycle,” Jamie muttered, Claire looking expectantly at Ellen and Brian, knowing that he’d been hoping for one for a long time.

“Er, no. No son of mine is getting on one of those death traps. No doubt you’d have Claire on the back, risking her life as well as your own!”

“Helmets are a thing, Ma!”

“No, Jamie, we thought the two of you could use something more practical.”

“Two of us?” Claire chimed in, surprised.

“Well, you’re both going on that trip, aren’t you?” Ellen smiled at Claire, patted her hand from across the table. “We thought you could use some help - we want it to be fun for you, not stressful.” Ellen looked at Brian, nodded at him to tell them.

“Well, uh, we were not planning to stress,” Jamie said, chuckling a bit behind his fist.

“Jamie, I swear to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, if you get into trouble over there, I’ll tan your hide. Believe me, I can do it,” Brian said, pointing his finger at his son, narrowing his eyes threateningly. “I’ve done it before.”

Claire tried to fight it, but she burst out laughing, muttering half-hearted apologies to Jamie between gasps of air.

“Hey! No need for that!” Jamie grumbled, hiding his face behind his menu. “Where’s the server? I’m starved,” he said, hoping to steer the conversation away from himself.

“What we want to say is,” Ellen began, raising her voice to get everyone back on track, “that we know money is a bit of a struggle for you both, and we know how much this trip means to Claire-”

Jamie cut her off with an indignant look. Ellen sighed, fighting an eye roll up to the heavens.

“We want to give you two a bit of money to help things go more smoothly. I don’t want to be harsh about this, but we have… reservations about Julia.” She saw Claire’s face fall, but continued on. “If it all turns out to be a mistake, we want to make sure you enjoy yourselves, at any rate. Claire - I know you have your hopes up, I can’t say I blame you, but please, please be careful.”

“She wouldn’t hurt me, I know she wouldn’t,” Claire said, shaking her head. She’d spoken to Julia just yesterday, actually - had had a lovely conversation about graduation, about exams, about their trip. She seemed excited to meet Claire, and asked questions about her childhood. Claire had no reason to doubt her, and she was slightly annoyed at Ellen’s comments. She was relieved when the server finally showed, and everyone placed their orders.

“I appreciate your concern,” she told Ellen, though she didn't just then, “but I’m confident enough to make the trip. I think it’ll be okay.” She nodded, and smiled as Jamie nudged her leg underneath the table, shooting her a grin.

“Well,” Brian said, pulling an envelope from his jacket pocket. “Put this in a safe place - and don’t blow it on something stupid,” he said, pointing again at Jamie. “We’re trusting the two of you to come back in one piece. You have to call every day.” He slid the envelope to Claire, who took it and mouthed a thank you.

“Augh, but the time difference. It’ll be hard,” Jamie whined.

“I think you’ll manage,” Ellen stated, the server coming to the table just in time with the bottle of wine Brian had ordered.

The bottle opened, glasses poured, Brian raised his glass.

“I suppose congratulations are in order? To two of the smartest, kindest University grads ever,” he said solemnly, then cocked his head at Jamie. “Though one of you could use a good tanning from time to time.” He laughed then, Jamie’s mouth falling open in feigned shock.

“Who, me? I’m a good boy! Claire, tell them.”

“He is - you’d be surprised,” Claire laughed, clinking her glass with Ellen’s before taking a sip. The red wine was delicious. She had no idea what kind it was, didn’t care - she just wanted to disappear, to let go and have her worries melt away. She’d wait til dinner was over to drink more quickly, but she didn’t mind getting a start now.

//////////

Claire couldn’t remember getting home, had no idea how she’d made it safely, but here she was, wrapped in a blanket. Her eyes surveyed her surroundings, and it suddenly hit her that this wasn’t her bedroom.

It was Jamie’s.

Jamie’s plaid blanket was keeping her warm, and as her head pounded, she tried to move, but her limbs were like dead weights. She managed to wiggle one leg, and hit something hard and warm. And slightly hairy.

She rolled over slowly, her mouth feeling like she’d eaten sandpaper, and she jerked when she saw Jamie’s red hair splayed on the pillow next to hers, his long limbs stretched out on top of the blanket that was covering her. His arms were atop his chest, and Claire was relieved to see he was still asleep.

Cocooned as she was in his blanket, she struggled to free herself, the urge to pee growing greater every second. She was finally able to unwrap herself, and planted her feet on the floor. She glanced down at herself, relieved to see that somehow she’d managed to get into pajamas - though, those weren’t hers, either. The t-shirt swallowed her, and the cotton shorts were definitely a pair of Jamie’s, hanging low on her hips. She held them up as she made her way back to her room, her bed made and untouched.

“Oh, God,” she groaned. “What the hell happened last night?” She jumped as she heard Jamie’s voice behind her.

“You were so gone. We made it home, and you refused to get out of my bed, so…” he shrugged, rubbing sleep out of his eyes with his fingers. He yawned, then scratched his torso lightly, turning to leave her room. “Don’t worry,” he mumbled, “nothing happened. I’m a complete gentleman.”

“I know,” Claire said, a sudden wave of guilt washing over her. “I’m sorry. I should’ve been more careful with that wine last night.”

“No, no,” Jamie said, waving his hand at her. “It’s fine - you were no trouble,” he responded, giving her a tired smile.

“Thanks for looking after me, Jamie,” she said. “Did your parents notice?” She screwed up her face, thinking about how she must’ve looked.

“Haha, no actually - you held yourself together til we left. You’re a great pretender, Sassenach.”

Jamie chuckled, then made his way out. Claire heard him sigh, then his bedroom door shut. She used the toilet, then crawled back into bed, her head still pounding. Closing her eyes, she fought the desire to go back to Jamie’s room.

Chapter Text

I always looked for my own Secret Garden. One where I could shut the door, lock it, and escape. I was always jealous of Mary Lennox, which is weird since her parents had died, she had that somewhat creepy cousin and that horrible Governess in Mrs. Medlock. No, I just wanted to have some sort of sanctuary, to be able to create, to be at peace, to escape my racing thoughts and feelings of inadequacy. She was so lucky, finding that key. I looked everywhere for one of my own, but I never got a foot hold anywhere, could never settle down long enough to look properly.

Instead, I was shuffled from house to house, to boarding school, to house. It was hectic, and I always felt that sense of upheaval. I suppose that’s why I started writing. This is my garden, full of things that no one else will ever see, full of words that’ll never pass my lips. It’s always been this way - me, intensely private for reasons I’ll not write down right now - and other people, prying their way in as best they can, but no one has ever succeeded.

Yet… There is Jamie. He knows all my deepest secrets, knows my dreams in life, my fears. Well, most of them. Even him I keep things from. I have to keep things for my garden - and my garden will never betray me. It’ll never snicker, call me names, throw me out. Jamie’s not done that - yet. I would never admit it out loud, but I constantly brace myself for his sudden absence, or at least the verbal refusal of my quirks, my idiosyncrasies.

(I worry about our trip. We’ve lived together for a few years, but what will being jammed in a small car for weeks on end do to us?)

People do that, too often and with not enough thought. Not only to me, but to others, as well. That’s what’s weighing on my mind today, really. Ellen’s words about my birth mother - maybe it’s shortsighted of me, but I can’t think badly of Julia. We’re tied to one another, by blood, by the universe, by… maybe not by love, but-

Oh, that’s stupid. Maybe we aren’t tied together. Fine, I’m living in denial. Ellen is right, I don’t know Julia. Yet I want to believe she’s inherently good. My mother wouldn’t string me along after all this time, right? Whatever - even if she is, it wouldn’t be the first time, and I can handle it. I’ll not dwell on it, enjoy our trip, and hopefully it’ll be a positive experience. I called Julia yesterday, and confirmed our arrival at her door in about three weeks. She sounded excited, congratulated me on graduating, and even apologized for not having sent a gift, though I told her I didn't mind at all, which I don’t. I don’t expect anything from her. Maybe Ellen doesn’t understand that.

Anyway, I'm officially a graduate. I don't feel any different, I didn't somehow sprout wings, or have bits of knowledge silently sprout in my head as my diploma was handed to me. It was sweltering in the auditorium, and I wanted nothing more than to remove my robes, feeling a bit like Harry Potter, but mostly like a hospital patient, unable to move for a long period of time, staring straight ahead, hungry as I’ll ever be.

I tried to enjoy it, really. The crowd was huge, but knowing I had no one there was a slightly overwhelming feeling (Joanie had warned me she couldn’t make it. Some court thing to do with fostering a couple of kids), until my name was called and the entire Fraser family taking up a whole row near the back, stood up, cheering loudly, shouting my name.

I felt that burn in my throat, felt my chin wobble, as I let the sounds engulf me. I managed not to fall flat on my face as I walked up to get that measly slip of paper that's supposed to say I'm somehow more knowledgeable in 7a subject than I was before.

I'm not.

Anyway, I searched for Jamie among the sea of graduates, but was unable to find him, so I looked back at…

My family? Well, they aren't my family, technically, but who else would cheer me on if not them?

They were seated again, but I gave them a wave in thanks, and soon found my seat again, clutching the rolled diploma tight in my hand. It was fake - the real one will come while we’re in California. I'll be excited to see it, to hang it on the wall, though it feels so useless. I hope I haven't wasted all this time only to wind up waiting tables in the city somewhere.

Anyway, fears aside, here we sit - the airplane overflowing with passengers. Poor Jamie’s legs are jammed into the seat in front of him, and I’m waiting for the person sitting there to turn around and complain. He gave me the middle seat - always the gentleman? - and now he’s asleep, head on the tray table, lightly snoring. I hope the drink cart comes soon. I don’t care if it’s barely lunch time. I am going to need a drink...but, God, I don’t want to use those lavatories.

Quite the dilemma.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s head snapped up, drool stringing from his bottom lip to the tray table as his eyes flew around, taking in his surroundings. He swiftly wiped his mouth, eyeing Claire as she sat holding her tiny can of Pringles chips, one part way to her mouth as she watched Jamie shake himself awake.

“Oh, God. How long have I been out?”

Claire snorted, then swallowed her chip. She glanced at an imaginary watch on her wrist, then shrugged.

“Like...twenty minutes?”

Jamie’s eyes went wide, then he pulled his phone out of the seat pocket in front of him. He’d fallen asleep during take-off

“Ah, Jesus. Why’s the Atlantic so big? Gimme one of those,” he said, grabbing the can of Pringles from Claire’s grasp.

“The steward will be coming by again in a minute - you can get some snacks and a drink. They have alcohol,” she teased, wiggling her miniature bottle of gin in Jamie’s face.

“Oh, good. Maybe it’ll put me to sleep again. This Dramamine stuff is not working.”

Jamie had been rather anxious about the flight, as he had a tendency to get motion sick every now and then. So he’d taken some pills, and he’d told Claire he’d hoped to just sleep through the entire flight, but clearly, he hadn’t taken enough. Claire bent to grab her bag from under the seat in front of her, where she pulled out the small yellow pill bottle. She squinted as she read the small print on the side.

“Says here you can take it every four to six hours, so… you’ll have to wait to take more. It also says to avoid alcohol...sorry.” Claire ducked back down, tucking the bottle away again, then quickly downed her gin and hid the bottle from Jamie’s view.

Jamie threw himself back against his seat, the woman sitting behind him emitting a startled sound.

“I’m so sorry, I-” Jamie turned, a pained expression on his face. He held his hands up in surrender as Claire watched from the gap in between their seats. The woman gave him a stern look, then went back to her book.

“I’m too big for this tiny seat. I can’t take much more of this.”

“How in God’s name are you going to drive us across the country?”

“A car’s different somehow. I’m in control, and it’s...less claustrophobic. Also less … death trappy.” Jamie ran his hands along his thighs nervously, his eyes darting around. Claire thought he resembled a caged animal.

“We’ll be in New York before you know it, Jamie. Just… calm down. Would you like to swap seats? I can see out of the window, I mean - every now and then...”

Claire, having been forced to take the middle seat as she was smaller than Jamie, sat between him and a large man who smelled strongly of corn chips. He was asleep, slumped against the wall of the cabin, obscuring the window for the most part, but Claire could peek around him from time to time, catching a glimpse of the daylight outside. She sighed, keeping her body turned away from the man, her knees touching Jamie’s leg.

“No. Hell, no. Uuugh.” He groaned, Claire quickly grabbing the sick bag from her seat pocket.

“Don’t barf on me, Fraser,” she said, holding the bag out to him.

“I’m not!” he spat, indignant. “The Dramamine helps with that, at least.”

Claire patted his shoulder in an attempt to make him feel better, though she wasn’t sure she was much help. He leaned back again, more slowly this time, and pouted. Arms folded in front of him, he looked a bit like a wounded puppy, and though Claire was uncomfortable herself, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. She had no idea he’d be sick on the plane, had no idea he didn’t much like flying. She wished there was more she could do for him.

She watched as he winced, the drink cart coming by in a flurry as the steward pushing it took it back beyond the lavatories behind them. It must be empty, Claire thought, and hopefully they’d come by again soon. Her bottle of gin was gone, as was her small snack. She shuffled the journal and magazine on her tray table, ready to make room for another drink.

“I see you’re writing in that journal I got you. How do you like it?” Jamie gestured to the leatherbound notebook below the magazine. Claire glanced at him, smiling as she pulled it out and held it up. Her name on the cover caught the light, causing it to shimmer.

“Yeah, I love it! The paper is nice and thick, so my pens don’t bleed through, and it’s small enough to keep with me all the time."

“What do you write in there, anyway?”

“Hmm.. stuff…” she trailed off, looking at her feet, nearly touching his own, twisted as she was in her seat.

“Am I in it?”

Claire rolled her eyes then, instinctually clutching the journal to her chest in a protective move.

“Maybe…” she said, eyeing him from under her lashes.

“Good stuff, or bad stuff?”

"Well," she said, pretending to think hard about it, pursing her lips and tapping her finger on her chin. She softened a bit, holding back her planned teasing remark, when she saw the nervousness on his face. “Only good stuff, of course - what would I find to write about you that’s bad, anyway?”

“I have no idea, I’m a perfect angel.” He smirked at her, then held a finger up. “Uh..promise me you won’t mention my motion sickness in your book?”

“No, it’s our secret,” she replied, giving him a grin.

Their conversation was interrupted by the steward, coming again with the drink cart. Claire asked for another mini bottle of gin, and Jamie ordered ginger ale, though his eyes had followed her bottle all the way to her hands. She thought it was a wonder that he hadn't started drooling.

It was going to be a long flight.

/////

Claire's eyes were burning and her skin itched, irritated by the dry, recirculated air on the plane. Eager to get off, she'd gathered her things as the pilot had finally made the announcement that they were making their final descent into JFK International.

The airport was bustling, though Claire had trouble caring - she felt like a zombie and she desperately wanted to brush her teeth and go to bed. Bumping into one another periodically, murmuring half hearted apologies to one another, Jamie and Claire staggered to baggage claim, then outside to catch their hotel shuttle.

"Ramada?"

"Yeah."

"Jamie, is that it?" Claire asked, pointing to a white bus with red lettering.

"Ummm… yeah. Let's go."

They’d successfully found their room, after a frightening ride from JFK on a shaky bus that smelled of motor oil and burnt rubber. Jamie fumbled with the key card as Claire shuffled her feet impatiently, the bag hanging off her shoulder feeling heavier by the second. She stood behind him, their suitcases between them. It was barely 9pm by the time they’d made it here, and Claire had the fleeting feeling that they shouldn’t go to bed yet, that they should stay up, enjoy their first night in the city that never sleeps.

But sleep was all she wanted to do, her patience wearing thin as she watched Jamie drop the small envelope the keys had come in, bend to pick it up with agonizingly slow speed, then shove it into his pocket. He put one keycard between his teeth, then handed one to Claire.

“For safekeeping.” He paused and cut his eyes at her, then, his hand still outstretched as she snatched the card away. “Put it in your bag, Sassenach, or you’ll lose it.”

“Would you open the damn door? The key will be safe! Please, Jamie, I want to go to sleeeeep,” she whined, not caring that she sounded like a toddler. Her foot stomp, however, earned her a look from Jamie, who pushed the door open. He let her enter first, gave her first choice of bed, and she chose the one nearest the window.

The room was tiny, and they both struggled to find places for their luggage. Each had brought one carry-on, along with larger suitcases that they’d checked. Claire hurriedly pulled back the covers on her bed, shoving a few extra pillows away. Jamie snatched one, throwing it on his bed.

“Like pillows, do you?” she asked, crawling underneath the sheets. She desperately wanted a shower, but just now, she was too tired to do anything but lay down.

“It’s cold without them,” Jamie answered, stripping to his boxers and climbing into bed, building himself a fortress with the pillows. Claire raised an eyebrow at him, one she didn’t think he even saw, and they were both asleep before either could utter another word.

//////

 

It was four in the morning, and Claire was wide awake, sitting against her headboard in the dark room. Jamie was curled up in his bed, his toes peeking out from beneath the duvet. He was wrapped somewhat like a burrito, and Claire was rather envious - he looked cozy, comfortable. She, however, had barely slept a wink. The mattress was far too soft, and she couldn’t get comfortable. The hunger she’d been happy to ignore when they’d arrived had reappeared sometime in the night, waking her. She had dug through her carry-on for the cheese crackers she knew were in there, shoveling them into her mouth as the television played silently, the light flickering through the room. Sirens, car horns, and screeching brakes echoed outside the window, and she longed to go out exploring.

“Jamie,” she hissed, brushing cracker crumbs from her pillow. “Jaaamiiieeee…”

She shook her head, knowing she’d never succeed this way. Throwing her feet to the floor, she took the step from her bed to his, then pressed down on his mattress, just enough to make him wiggle a bit. She stifled a giggle, watching his mouth curve into a half smile in his sleep.

“Jamie,” she said again, this time louder as she bent over his ear. She pressed the mattress once more, jerking out of the way just before his head collided with her own.

“What? Huh?” Jamie’s hair was rumpled with sleep, and he tried smoothing it as he made sense of his surroundings. “Claire?”

“I’m bored,” she explained, shrugging. She went back to sit on her bed, crossing her legs in front of her. “Let’s get up and do something.”

“Do...do what? It’s the middle of the night.”

“It’s New York, Jamie - I’m sure there are five 24 hour diners within a block of this hotel.” She had no idea whether or not that was true, but she knew food would lure him out of his cocoon, and she was right.

“Christ, I’m hungry. We should’ve eaten last night.”

“So get up and let’s go!”

Claire was on her feet, pulling clothes out of her suitcase, causing them to spill out onto the floor. She shrugged, only half irritated at having already ruined her careful packing job. Jamie followed, and soon they were out the door, Jamie double, then triple checking that they had their room keys and phones.

“If I’d wanted your dad along, I’d have invited him,” Claire teased, nudging him out the door and onto the city streets. There were people milling about, and Claire wondered where they were all going at such an odd hour. She was normally dead asleep right now but, it being about 9am back home, she was confused, hungry for breakfast, and eager to start the day. She blinked a few times, her eyes adjusting to the city lights that always shone. Jamie plodded along behind her, still half asleep, rubbing his face awake.

“Do you know where we’re going?” he asked, catching up with her.

“Hmm..somewhere there’s food?”

They weren’t in the heart of the city - not near Times Square, or even the Empire State Building. They’d wound up in a hotel off the beaten path, and they were both clueless about where to go. Claire pulled out her phone and opened the maps app. Typing RESTAURANTS into the search bar, she was bombarded with results, and she smiled at Jamie.

“Come on, follow me. We’ll be munching on donuts in no time.” She took his hand, pulling him along as she turned a corner. She pointed when she saw their destination, a bright orange and pink Dunkin’ sandwiched between a phone repair shop and a convenience store. “See?” she asked, as they reached the door.

“Sounds good to me,” he said, pulling the door open, ushering Claire inside.

Soon they were sitting in a booth, a large box of donut holes and several iced donuts between them. Two large coffees completed their breakfast, and they ate happily. Claire sipped her coffee, smiling at Jamie as he bit into a white powdered monstrosity that was stuffed with jam.

“What’ll we do next?”

“I don’t know - this was your idea. I was happy to stay in bed,” Jamie replied, licking powdered sugar off his lips. Claire stifled a giggle, then wiped her own chin, in a gesture that told him he needed to do the same. “What? What is it?”

His hand swiped a large glob of jam, and as he pulled his hand away, he made a face, swiftly grabbing a napkin to wipe the jam completely off.

“Do I have it?”

“You’re good, now,” she replied, popping a donut hole into her mouth.

They were both startled as Jamie’s phone began to buzz, their eyes going wide as he pulled it out.

“Da… probably wondering if we’re alive, or whatever.”

“You better answer,” Claire said, sipping her hot coffee carefully. She licked her lips after swallowing, watching Jamie put the phone to his ear.

“....yeah, Da. We’re here. Just having an early breakfast is all…” Jamie went silent as Claire waited patiently, until she saw him roll his eyes so far back she thought he might tip over.

“Hookers and booze, Mam. What do you think? We’re fine. We just… got off the plane and fell asleep. YES, in the hotel room! Where else? No, she's fine. She’s right here. Claire, say hi,’' he requested, holding the phone out to her.

Claire was in near hysterics, though she was able to catch her breath well enough to mutter a quick “Hello" into the phone.

“See? Happy now? We’ve literally done nothing but sleep and eat. YES, I'll send a photo. Okay, okay. Okay. Yes. Byyyeee."

Finally, Jamie hung up the phone, then held it up in front of Claire.

"They want photo evidence that you're in one piece. Not so concerned with me, apparently," he smirked, then laughed as Claire made a face at the camera. He turned the phone to look at the photo he'd taken.

"Oh, that's going on my home screen. How attractive, Beauchamp," he chuckled.

She'd stuck her tongue out and crossed her eyes, hoping his parents would appreciate the humor.

"You can't put a girl on your phone, Jamie. That's like...kryptonite to potential girlfriends."

"I don't plan on meeting anyone while we're out here, anyway." He shrugged, then swallowed the last of his coffee. Claire wasn’t sure what to make of his comment, but she attempted to shrug it off, throwing a last donut hole into her mouth.

“Well, shall we go see the Statue of Liberty?”

“Ooh, that sounds fun! We can’t be too far away, right?” She pulled out her own phone this time, bringing the maps app back up. Jamie put his hand on her phone, stopping her.

“No, Sassenach. Let’s just wander, see where we wind up.” He attempted to wiggle his eyebrows up and down, but only one would cooperate.

“Isn’t that exactly the sort of thing your parents wouldn’t be happy about?”

“What they don’t know won’t kill them,” he sang, swallowing the last of his coffee before urging her up. They threw away their trash, then headed back outside, where Claire attempted to take a deep breath. She coughed and sputtered as a garbage truck roared past at just that moment, and she waved her hand in front of her face.

“I couldn’t live here. It smells.”

“Not much different than London,” Jamie shrugged, starting off in the direction opposite their hotel.

“Wouldn’t live in London, either,” she said, following behind him. “Swear to God, Fraser, if you get us lost…” Claire said, shaking her head.

///////

“My feet hurt,” Claire whined, slowing her steps. The sun had come fully up, and the City was more awake, more alive. The sidewalks were crowded as people had begun their morning dashes to work, and Claire pressed herself against Jamie’s side so she wouldn’t lose him. She held his arm as they dodged someone walking their dog. Jamie was basically dragging her at this point, and she tugged his arm to get him to pause a minute. “Jamie? I need a break! We are so lost. There is no statue anywhere, and my feet are fucking killing me!”

Jamie maneuvered them to the side, where they both leaned against some building or another.

“Are you all right?” he asked, glancing down at her feet. She hadn’t picked the most sensible pair of shoes to slip into before leaving the hotel, and while he wore comfortable trainers, she had thrown on a pair of sandals, flat and unsupportive. “No wonder your bloody feet hurt.” Jamie huffed a bit, then bent down in front of her.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“Get on.” He gestured behind him, and she scrunched her nose before shrugging.

“Can’t we just… get a cab?” she asked, seeing as it was the most sensible thing to do.

“No - no need. Just.. hop on.”

“Oh, all right.”

Jamie hoisted her up, and she wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms going around his neck.

“Okay?” he asked, taking a chance and throwing them back into the crowd. He jostled her up a little better, then began walking.

“I’m okay. You...you don’t have to carry me, you know.”

“Hm. This way I don’t have to hear you whining in my ear.”

“You’ll have something to tell your grandkids when you’re old and gray, at least,” she said softly. “You once knew a crazy lady who made you carry her around New York because she didn’t know how to pick out shoes.” She laughed, but half-heartedly.

“What?”

“Nevermind,” she said, thinking he didn’t hear her.

“No, I mean - you don’t think we’ll know each other when we’re old and gray, Sassenach?”

Jamie sounded genuinely concerned, and he turned his head to try to look at her. His brow was furrowed, but Claire wasn't sure whether it was from concentration or exertion. Maybe both.

“Oh, well, I don’t know, do I? People drift apart…”

“Yeah, I guess…” he said, turning back around before he ran into someone walking in the opposite direction. “Look, what’s that building, Sassenach?”

“I don’t know, but I do see a hot dog vendor ahead.”

“Well, I was looking for ‘Empire State Building’ but leave it to you to zero in on food. Let’s grab one, I’m starving.”

“How can we be in a huge city like this and not see food or drink for… how long has it been?”

“No idea, but I’m destroyed.”

Jamie set Claire down gently not far from the food cart, and they scampered over, eager to fill themselves. The donuts they’d had earlier had long since disappeared, and the hot dogs smelled heavenly.

“All the way?” the vendor asked, handing them both a dog each before either could utter an answer.

“What’s ‘all the way’?” Claire asked Jamie as they made their way over to a nearby bench. She opened hers, and quickly took a large bite. She made a face as she had trouble forcing the bite down her throat. “I hate sauerkraut,” she groaned, finally swallowing.

“I’ll take it,” Jamie said, grabbing her hot dog and scraping the offensive topping off hers to plop it onto his. “Here. You can eat it now.”

“Thank you. Do you take care of your girlfriends so well?”

“Dunno. Never took any of them to New York, have I?”

“What’s the longest relationship you’ve been in, Jamie?”

Jamie took a final bite of his hot dog before answering, wiping mustard off the corner of his mouth with his finger.

“Hmm.. what is this, 20 questions?”

“No, I was just curious,” Claire said shyly.

“Ah, let’s see. Six months - unless I should count you, Sassenach.” He had a smirk on his face as he said it, daring to poke her in the ribs with his mustard finger.

“Ew! I don’t want that on my shirt!” Claire quickly swiped at the mustard with a napkin, scowling at Jamie, his comment completely forgotten as she focused in on the stain she knew would be left there.

“Shall we keep going, then?” Jamie said, pulling her up as she was finally satisfied with the impromptu spit clean, the mustard leaving only a small yellow stain invisible unless you were looking for it. She huffed at him, pushed her hair out of her face, and followed once more.

Chapter Text


/////////

It had been a long, very hot day. The Statue of Liberty had been more about navigating crowds than enjoying the view, and now they were at Times Square, the lights flashing, yet not enough to hide the glow of the midday sun. Claire shuffled along with Jamie as they peeked into stores, bought copious amounts of fridge magnets and shot glasses, and eyed the prices for tickets to Broadway shows they couldn’t afford to see. Claire had one wrist smarting from the plastic bags around her arm, yet she happily ignored the pinch as she slurped a Big Gulp, the largest soda she’d ever seen in her life, from the nearest 7-Eleven, Jamie eyeing her dubiously.

“You’ll never finish that. You’ll have diabetes before we make it back to the hotel!”

Claire slurped a bit, then gave him a cheeky grin.

“When in Rome…” she shrugged, stumbling as she felt a hard tug on her arm. The bags of souvenirs swung wildly, cutting into her arm as she tried to right herself. Her face met a mass of bright red fur, and she heard her Big Gulp hit the object with a slosh.

“Photo? You want a photo, pretty lady?”

Claire grimaced, nearly dropping her beloved soda, the bright red arm of Elmo grasping her tightly.

“What the fuck?” she said, whirling her head around to the person - monster? - who had pulled her to him - or..it? Two large white eyes with black dots in the center stared down at her, the lopsided grin of a giant furry thing appearing oddly frightening.

“Hey! Let her go, she’s not interested!”

Through the cloud of red fur, Claire heard Jamie’s booming voice nearby, felt a tug on her other arm as Elmo fell to the ground. Her soda was slipping from her fingers as she let out a howl.

“Noooo!” She gripped the cup on the bottom with her free hand as she found her footing, carefully pulling the cup to her chest, then taking a big sip as she watched Jamie flailing on the pavement, his limbs entangled with Elmo’s, both of them grunting and throwing punches. Claire’s eyes went wide as she lowered her cup, her mouth about to form Jamie’s name before a cop entered the fray, separating Jamie from Elmo.

Jamie was heaving, red-faced and scowling. No one could really see the face underneath Elmo’s head, it being twisted backwards, giving Elmo a horrific appearance that caused several small children to squeal. Elmo stumbled backwards, apparently disoriented. The man in the suit moved his furry hands up to grip Elmo’s head, turning it around again.

“What’d you do?” Claire asked Jamie, taking another sip of her drink. She stood beside him, dumbstruck, while Jamie calmed himself.

Jamie just looked at her, shrugging. “He was bothering you.” He looked sheepish, like he wanted to die, or cry, or both. The cop held his hand out at Elmo, who was still trying to claw his way back to pound on Jamie some more, though he hadn’t harmed Jamie in the least, as far as Claire could see.

“Are you two done? What the hell? I got better things to do with my time than this,” the cop said, scowling at the both of them. “Go on, get out of here,” he said to Jamie, nodding behind him. “Elmo, don’t let this happen again, or I’m taking your permit.” He threw a finger into Elmo’s chest, pushing him back on his heels. Elmo nodded, lunged once more at Jamie, then sauntered off with his head low.

“Go on. Get. Don’t want to see you around here again. I’ll take you in next time.” The cop shook his head at Jamie, eyeing him carefully. Jamie’s eyes went wide at the thought of being arrested. He nodded once, mumbled an apology, then grabbed Claire’s hand and began walking.

“You- you got us thrown out of Times Square? I didn’t know that was possible! Are you okay?”

Claire had to run to keep up, Jamie moving so quickly that she wondered if he even heard her. She filled her mouth with soda again before managing to pull him back a bit, forcing him to slow down.

“I’m fine,” he huffed, “just a little...embarrassed.”

Claire could see that - his face was still red, and he refused to look her in the eye.

“Why’d you punch Elmo?” she said, rather giggly.

“Knee-jerk reaction, I guess. Sorry.”

“What?” Claire felt a chill of realization run through her as she hugged her Big Gulp, her shirt wet from the condensation. “Don’t be sorry. It’s...it’s another story for your grandkids, Jamie,” she laughed, desperate for him to cheer up, to give her a wide smile and laugh about it all with her. She suddenly wished she wasn’t holding the giant cup; she dashed away for a moment, threw the soda away, then found her way back to Jamie’s side. He was still sullen, and she grabbed his arm, jerking him playfully.

“You threw your giant cup of sugar away?” Jamie wiped his arm where she’d grasped it, her hand wet and cold from the cup.

“Yeah... my teeth were starting to hurt.”

They walked in silence for a bit, neither of them sure where they were headed. They had tickets to go to the top of the Empire State Building, but neither of them mentioned it. Instead, they made their way back to the hotel, both of them exhausted and overheated.

Claire opted for a shower, while Jamie lounged on his bed, watching television.

“Want to go somewhere for dinner?” she asked, poking her head around the corner, her wet hair dripping onto the stained carpet.

“Hmm,” Jamie grunted, looking at her only briefly. “I suppose. Where?”

“I feel like pasta. Sound good?”

They both readied themselves, Claire having picked a place they could walk to. The reviews were good, and they were both very hungry by the time they made their way to the restaurant. It was a bit less casual than she’d hoped, but they were dressed well enough to make it work.

The Italian restaurant was small, cozy, with wood planking on the floor that creaked when they walked. Twinkle lights were hung haphazardly along the walls and over the ceiling, giving the place a romantic feel that Claire hadn’t been expecting. They were led to a table by a hostess, a small table against a wall. It was covered in a clean white table cloth, topped with two place settings and a small vase with a bunch of forget-me-nots inside.

It was, Claire thought, the perfect place for a date.

But this wasn’t a date. She shook her head of the notion, and quickly pulled out her chair.
She glanced at Jamie as they took their seats, unable to ignore the fact that he looked as handsome as she’d ever seen him.

Jamie had showered and shaved, and had left his hair to do as it pleased, curling at his collar just so. He’d pushed it away from his face with his hands, quickly eyeing his handiwork in the hotel room mirror before turning and announcing that he was ready. She’d been sitting on the bed waiting, and nearly backed out. Instead, she’d stood on shaky knees and looked down at her hastily picked outfit of blue jeans and an I HEART NY shirt she’d bought before they’d been thrown out of Times Square earlier that day.

“Do I look okay?” she’d asked, Jamie merely nodding, though she noticed he struggled to look away.

“You look fantastic as always, Sassenach,” he said softly, jamming his wallet into his pack pocket.

He’d put on a pair of dark wash jeans and a dark blue polo shirt that brought out his eyes.

“You do, too,” she answered, smiling at him as he ushered her out the door.

Now, they sat, knees nearly touching under the table, perusing the menus offered to them. Everything looked delicious, Claire’s mouth watering as she tried to pick what to eat. She eyed Jamie for a moment, then made a decision: he deserved a surprise, after the afternoon he’d had. He was quiet after the Elmo Incident, as Claire had dubbed it, and she wanted to make him happy.

So, the waiter came, and Claire ordered the most expensive bottle of red wine she felt she could afford. It wasn’t much, but she felt Jamie’s surprise from across the table.

“No, Claire, it’s too much!”

The waiter left at Claire’s nod, and Jamie leaned toward her, worried.

“We can’t afford that, Claire. It’s fine - let’s just order a glass each. It’ll be cheaper.”

“No, Jamie. This is my treat. We’ve a long trip ahead of us, and we should enjoy ourselves while we can. You deserve it, at any rate.”

“Me? Why do I deserve it?”

“You protected me from Elmo, of course,” Claire said playfully, looking down at her menu. She winced as she thought that perhaps it had been a mistake to bring up Elmo, but the thought of Jamie protecting her from anything, even something so silly, caused her vision to go blurry.

“I fought bloody Elmo, Claire,” Jamie grumbled. “I was a right eejit, as Jenny would say.”

“You’re not an...eejit...Jamie. No more than I am.” Claire shut her menu and pressed her lips tightly together, relieved when the waiter finally showed up with the bottle of wine and two glasses. She wouldn’t have to admit she’d lied to her friend about him moving to Australia, or that she’d laid in bed wishing that the pretending they’d done in front of Laoghaire hadn’t been an act. No. She’d be able to keep her mouth shut before it ran away with her. She just had to make sure not to drink too terribly much, what with all this on her mind. Jamie didn’t need her to unload her feelings tonight.

Or ever.

So, she gratefully took a sip of the delicious Cabernet, dry and a little sweet. She watched Jamie do the same, both of them letting the previous conversation die away.

“What are you ordering?” she asked, and Jamie mentioned something about some dish she’d happily overlooked - it was some seafood abomination complete with octopus.

“I’m not as brave as you,” she said, “I’m getting fettuccine with prosciutto and green peas. And no, I do not want any of your octopus, before you ask.”

Jamie chuckled, both of them placing their orders before going back to their wine.

/////

The food was delicious. Claire was only a little put off by Jamie’s dish, and thankfully he only made the octopus dance across the table once. The waiter took their plates away after they’d both eaten nearly everything, and offered them dessert. Claire opted for coffee only, while Jamie got the tiramisu.

Their items were brought, Claire eyeing Jamie’s dessert, licking her lips as he picked up his fork. She picked up her coffee spoon, and noticed there was no sugar on the table. Claire requested some and the waiter gave a small laugh, apologizing for not having brought it.

“I’ll go get it. In the meantime, you might sweeten it up by having your man stick his finger in it?” The waiter laughed again, and Claire heard Jamie cough as he choked on his tiramisu.

Claire’s spoon was frozen midair as she stared at the empty space the waiter had left behind as he left the table.

“Oh, my god,” she mumbled, before dunking her spoon into the coffee. She poured a little cream and stirred, not looking up, afraid to look at Jamie. She heard him start to snicker, and she saw his fingers dancing on the table. He was teasing her.

“We can give it a try, Sassenach. I am quite sweet, or so I’ve been told.”
Claire glanced up just in time to see Jamie lift his hand and wiggle his fingers at her.

“Shut up - that’s so gross - I don’t want your fingers in my coffee.”

The waiter came back with the sugar. Claire mumbled a thanks, and stirred some into her cup, taking a grateful sip as she sighed.

“Want some of my dessert?” Jamie offered, smiling innocently now.

“No, thanks,” Claire said, cheeks still burning. She was stuffed, and was eager to leave before the waiter came back with another comment that turned her into a ball of nerves. Jamie seemed relaxed though, happy to take his time with his dessert, taking small, savory bites. She watched him as he licked his fork, making sure to get every last bit into his mouth. He caught her staring and paused.

“I told you to have some.” He held out his fork to her, a bite ready for the taking.

He shrugged when she shook her head. She was suddenly very tired, and very ready for bed.

She paid the entire bill after much grumbling from Jamie’s side of the table, and led them out to the street. They walked a bit, stopping in front of their hotel.

“Thanks for dinner, Sassenach,” Jamie said, laying a hand on her shoulder as they sat on a bench. People went in and out of the automatic doors, some with luggage, some without, and Claire smiled up at Jamie.

“It was good, wasn’t it?”

“Best date I’ve ever been on,” he said.

Claire waited for him to crack a joke, or laugh. But he didn’t - he was serious.

“Oh, it wasn’t a date,” she said, shaking her head.

“No? What do you do on dates, then?” Jamie cocked one eyebrow in question, a half smile forming on his lips.

“I’ve….never been on one,” Claire mumbled, her face going hot again. She silently yearned for her bed, the floral duvet that rested atop it back in Glasgow, her fluffy pillows Jamie always tried to steal. She wanted to cover her head and never wake up.

“Wait. Wait a minute. You’ve never…?”

Claire stared at the pavement, marked with old wads of chewing gum, mystery liquids, and general filth. She heard Jamie rustling on the bench beside her, and waited for the inevitable mocking and teasing she’d receive about her status as a 20-something nobody who had never been on a date. She squeezed her eyes shut as she felt him scoot closer to her.

“That was definitely a date, then, Claire. It was in my book, anyway. So, there. You’ve been on a date. Though, next time, my treat. Yes?”

“Next time?”

“Why not? We’re together in the States for a while, I’m sure we’ll go out again.”

Jamie shrugged as Claire finally had the courage to look at him. He was smiling widely, his eyes nothing but innocence and sincerity.

“Thanks, Jamie,” Claire replied softly.

Jamie swung his leg, hitting her lightly with his knee.

“Can’t believe some Uni bloke never asked you out.”

“Ha, no. Never.”

Claire felt him shifting next to her, watching as he mumbled something that resembled the word ‘idiots’ under his breath. Claire sighed, then stood up. She turned to Jamie, still on the bench, playfully stomping her foot.

“Why’d you have to go and punch Elmo? I wanted to see Times Square at night - all the lights and everything? I never got to go into the M&M’s store either!” Claire folded her arms in an exaggerated pout, sticking her bottom lip out for the full effect.

“You don’t even like M&M’s…”

“Well, no, but that dispenser in the window was pretty cool.” Claire rubbed the toe of her shoe into the pavement, then shrugged. “What shall we do then?”

“Honestly? I’m exhausted,” Jamie replied, shrugging. “We get our car tomorrow morning - early. Why don’t we just go upstairs?”

If Claire were being honest with herself, she’d admit she was exhausted, too. It had been a long, hot day and her legs were sore. The bed waiting for her upstairs was more than enticing. Not to mention she’d be shut inside a small room with no one around but Jamie, and the way she was feeling right now, it was all she wanted.

“Okay, then. Let’s go….”

Claire started to the door, glancing back to see Jamie pushing himself off the bench to follow.

“You look like such a tourist, Sassenach,” Jamie remarked as they boarded the elevator.

“Why did you let me wear this out? I look like a right twat.”

Claire hit the button for their floor as Jamie shrugged in response. She froze as she felt his fingers on her arm, making their way beneath the sleeve of her shirt. He popped the fabric with one finger, letting it hit her skin as his finger pulled away.

“Ow,” she said, even though it was not at all painful. She covered the spot with her hand just the same, and scowled at Jamie.

“You couldn’t look bad in anything even if you tried, Claire,” Jamie said, causing her to choke on her own spit as she struggled to breathe. She coughed as the doors opened and she hurried out, away from Jamie’s gaze.

“You had too much wine,” she said over her shoulder, fumbling with the key card as she opened the door to their room. She heard him laughing as they entered, the stuffy air of the room causing her to cough all over again. Claire watched as Jamie dove onto his bed, the entire mattress bouncing with the weight of him.

“Do we have dessert?” he asked.

“You...already had dessert.”

“Yeah. But...don’t you have a Mars bar from the airport or something?”

“Good God. Yes.” Claire dug into her purse, the aforementioned candy bar only slightly misshapen. She threw it onto the bed next to him, then gathered her pajamas to get ready for bed. She closed herself in the bathroom and fell against the door, happy to have the day over with. She was eager to get in the car in the morning, to let what happened in New York fall behind them like so much else in her life. Tonight’s ‘date’ would be forgotten, they would laugh about Elmo later on in New Mexico, maybe, and perhaps Jamie would buy her that dinner.

But it would not be a date. He was only being nice, Claire thought to herself as she pulled her hair into an elastic tie, ready to wash the city grime off her face before bed. He’d probably never mention it again. She nodded at herself in the mirror, then smiled, unable to contain it.

She stayed there for longer than strictly necessary, hoping Jamie would have fallen asleep by the time she came out. No need to let him see her all giddy for no apparent reason - at least no reason she wanted to explain to him just then.

//////

The small Ford Focus was candy apple red, complete with a Pennsylvania license plate and a small dent in the passenger side door. Jamie swung the key ring around his finger, and whistled.

“Well,” he began, shrugging, “it’s not a convertible.”

“Nope. It’s cute.”

“No. No it is not cute.”

“It’ll get us there. That's all that matters.”

Jamie scoffed, then opened the trunk and threw their luggage inside with ease. He unlocked the doors, both of them climbing into the wrong side out of habit. They rushed around one another to opposite sides, giggling like children, then threw themselves in, the doors closing in unison.

“Let’s goooo!” Claire said, rubbing her hands together.

“Well, hang on. Let me check things out first.”

All right. While you do that, I’ll pick our first road trip song.” Claire quickly pulled her phone out, and began scrolling through a playlist she’d created several days before they’d left Glasgow. She’d tried to pick songs she knew they both liked, and finally landed on a song she knew would start the trip off right.

“Okay. So. I’ve picked a song.”

Jamie was getting acquainted with the wipers and the turn signals when she spoke. He looked at her, nodding.

“So, go on then. What is it?”

“A surprise. Now, drive so I can start it.”

Jamie looked at her dubiously, but started the car. He put it into gear and pulled slowly out of the parking spot, then headed toward the exit. Claire waited until he was stopped again, waiting to turn left onto the road that ran along the rental car area of the airport.

“So…?” Jamie said, waving his hand at her to push play already.

“Don’t laugh.”

“Oh my god, I won’t. Just play it!”

“It’s Tiny Dancer.”

Jamie squinted, partly from the sun, partly out of confusion.

“What?”

“It’s the ultimate road trip song.” Claire put her phone in her lap, folding her arms in defiance.

“Says who?”

“Haven’t you seen Almost Famous?”

“...No…”

Claire huffed, rolling her eyes at her friend’s apparent lack of taste in films.

“They’re on tour with the band,” she explains, not bothering with backstory. “They play this song and sing along to it. It’s one of THE most famous scenes in film.”

“What?”

“What?”

“One of the most famous scenes in film?” Jamie cocked his head at her, unwilling to believe her claim. He was biting his bottom lip, trying to hold in the laugh that was about to escape.

“Just...ugh. Go, so I can hit play!”

“Wait. Let’s hit the highway first.”

“Okay, okay.”

On they went, getting slightly lost leaving the airport. Claire argued with Jamie about turning on a GPS app, but he wouldn’t let her - arguing that it was more fun this way. Claire wasn’t so sure after Jamie had taken them through the city, through places Claire didn’t know the name of, and over at least one body of water more than once.

“Jamie. We’ve been over this bridge THREE times now. Can I please turn on Google Maps?”

“We’re FINE! I just couldn’t get over into the correct lane in time that go round! I’ll get it this time. Watch.”

He made a few risky maneuvers, Claire clutching the door handle with some degree of fear. THey were honked at by several cars, but finally, they hit the Interstate, and Jamie whooped, putting one arm in the air in triumph.

“See? Told you we’d make it!”

“Ahh! Our road trip has officially begun! Okay, I’ll start the song!”

Claire hit play, letting the piano intro of Tiny Dancer fill the small car, her grin feeling much like the one she struggled to suppress the night before. She began singing along with Elton John, rolled down her window and let her hand float in the air as they went.

She was smack in the middle of belting out HOLD ME CLOSAH, TONY DANZA as she felt the car lurch forward, Jamie hitting the brakes rather suddenly.

“What the hell?” he mumbled.

“Fuuuuuuuck!” Claire screamed, the traffic coming to a complete stop. Her window still down, she glanced over at the car next to her. A small child was staring at her from his car seat, his mother scowling from the driver’s front.

“Oh. Uh. Sorry,” she mouthed, putting her window up again as Jamie laughed at her expense. “What’s going on, Jamie?” she asked, slouching down in her seat, disappointed that they weren’t moving.

“Beats me. Traffic jam.”

“Well. This is great. Our first road trip song was interrupted, I may have whiplash, and I’ve sworn at a child. What a great start to our drive.” Claire rubbed her neck, hoping they’d start moving again soon. She watched as Jamie tapped his fingers against the steering wheel, seemingly less annoyed than she was.

“It’ll be fine, Sassenach. Pick another song for later, and we’ll start over. Elton John was not working for me.”

“Ugh, fine.”

So they sat, creeping forward at a painfully slow pace once in a while. Claire shuffled through her playlist, avoiding any overly romantic songs. Jamie hadn’t mentioned the night before, and neither had she. It was just as she thought: they’d forget about the whole date business as soon as the sun came up.

And that was fine with her.

Chapter Text

Claire had tucked herself in a corner, near a bank of vending machines. She plugged one ear to block out the background noise, pressing her phone to the other. She held her breath as she watched the other people at the rest area, shoving coins into the vending machines, or rushing by in search of the restroom. She, however, was frozen in place.

The shrill ringing in her ear was endless, and she searched briefly for a clock on the wall, though of course there wasn’t one. Perhaps it just wasn't a good time, maybe she was busy; hell, maybe she had a weird sleep schedule. Her mind struggled to come up with an excuse, some reason that she’d not been able to get in touch with Julia since before they’d left for New York.

The last phone call had been perfectly normal, and Julia had asked her to check in, to let her know about their progress. Now, though, in the middle of some state Claire couldn’t name right now, Julia wasn’t answering her phone. Claire stared at the screen for a moment, then pressed the END button, swallowing her fears as she caught sight of Jamie, who was loaded with copious amounts of food.

He waved in her direction, and she plastered on a smile, eyeing the food.

“Shall I get drinks?”

“Already done, Sassenach. Chicken tenders, french fries, a burger to split… and Coke.”

Jamie led her to a table amidst the crowded seating area, and they happily sat, ready to dig in.

“Did you get her?”

Claire’s eyebrows shot up, and though she knew she was shit at lying, she didn’t want to tell him the truth just now. So, she lied.

“Yep! She says hello, by the way.”

“Oh, good. She must’ve been busy.”

Claire stuck a french fry in some ketchup, then shoved it into her mouth. They’d been in the car for so long, and it felt good to relax, stretch her legs. She could only imagine how much of a relief it was to Jamie. He seemed to deal with driving well enough, though, and they’d enjoyed the trip so far, stopping when needed, spending a night somewhere just outside Washington, D.C.

They’d spent some time at the National Mall, exploring the Smithsonian museums and memorials. Jamie had dragged Claire up the Lincoln Memorial steps, entirely too fast for her liking, and they’d gotten a glimpse of the White House, which Jamie said made him think only of the movie Independence Day.

Then, they’d driven on, the traffic having finally thinned a bit as they left Washington, D.C. Now they were somewhere between Knoxville and Nashville in Tennessee.

“The guy thought I was crazy, asking for chips. ‘We don’t have chips,’ he’d said. I just stared at him, told him he did, that I was staring at a giant fucking bin of them. Then it hit me,” Jamie laughed, shaking his head.

Claire laughed along with him, the phone call forcibly pushed to the back of her mind.

“Hey, where are we, anyway?” she asked, knowing she’d slept her fair share in the last several hours.

“Hmm… somewhere in Tennessee. Close to Nashville. Want to stop for the night?”

“Okay. But let’s go - I don’t want to get there too terribly late like we did in Roanoke. I want to have some fun!” Claire raised her eyebrows at Jamie. “Think we can make it there?”

“I’m sure there’s plenty to do in Nashville - we’ll make it, no problem.”

They’d had a quick rest at a small hotel in Roanoke, Virginia, but had gotten there so late in the night that things were closed. They’d scrounged for a mediocre dinner, then collapsed in their beds, knowing a drive was ahead of them. They’d explored what they could of Roanoke before leaving mid-morning, the drive to Nashville being a good seven hours.

“We’ve got a couple hours more, and it’s only 4 in the afternoon, and we've also gained an hour.”

“Oooh, that’s right! Okay. Let’s get to a hotel first, because I want to clean up.”

“Aye, me too.”

They quickly finished their meal, then got back into the car, Claire hoping Nashville would offer them a chance to go out. She knew next to nothing about country music, but she was rather enjoying the fantasy of seeing Jamie do a line dance wearing cowboy boots and a hat. The mental image was equal parts silly and, if she was being honest, kind of hot.

She’d seen him on horses before - at his parents home; he was good at it, a skill she knew he’d learned as a young boy. She looked at him, behind the wheel of their car; he was focused on the road, not paying her any mind, so she let her mind go, picturing riding with him, her arms around his middle, much like she would ride on his motorbike if he ever got one. The fantasy carried her into the night, and as they came closer to the city, she broke from her reverie, focusing again on the view outside the car window. Jamie was suddenly in a talkative mood, telling her stories, making her laugh. It helped take her mind off Julia.

“...so I told Ian,” Jamie spoke, swatting some hair out of his eyes before continuing. “So, I told him I’d eat the entire napkin if he’d kiss her.”

Laughter bubbled up within her, as Claire pictured an adolescent Jamie making wagers with his friend, Ian.

“So… wait, kiss who?” Claire had gotten lost part way through, mostly because she’d become distracted by a billboard, one that read ‘ALCOHOL: IT'S CHEAPER THAN THERAPY!” She laughed to herself, then returned her attention to Jamie.

“Jenny.”

“Oh my god.”

“Yeah, so, he agreed, and while I balled my napkin in my hands, I watched him. He sauntered over to Jenny’s table - she was sitting with some girl friends. He tapped her on the shoulder, then bent to kiss her-” A barking laugh escaped his mouth, and he glanced her way before turning his eyes back to the road.

“So….wait - was that their first kiss? Oh, that’s so sweet. And did you eat the napkin?”

“Haha, no. It was not. She pulled away and slapped him silly,” Jamie responded after gathering himself. “And I didn’t eat the napkin - not since he got slapped - it caused him to forget our agreement - his ego was so bruised, poor lad!”

“Oh, well, what was their first kiss?”

Jamie looked her way again, giving her a disgusted look.

“Beats me. I don’t want to know, either.” He paused, then checked the rearview mirror. “When was your first kiss, Sassenach?”

“Umm….” Claire thought - whether to tell the truth, or whether to make something up. The memory of it all still stung, though she hated that it still bothered her so much. It was years ago, yet she couldn’t seem to shake it off. She sighed, taking a fortifying sip of her drink before deciding on the truth.

“I was thirteen - a… boy in the foster home I was in at the time kissed me. When was yours?”

She shrugged, hoping he’d just answer her question, and not drag her story out - she didn’t want to elaborate. At all. Jamie quickly looked at her, then took a breath.

“What was his name?”

Claire groaned inwardly, her chin falling to her chest. She looked up at him from behind her curls, trying to decide whether or not this particular topic of conversation was a good idea. She sighed, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

“Well, now you have to tell me, Sasseanch. What is it?”

“His name was Michael. So - remember, I was young and...well, I was put in this foster home. It was better than my last by a mile: no screaming, or weird food rules, or being forced to go to church. I was happy to be there, and settled in. Soon enough, a boy - a year older than me - showed up. He was nice, and we began hanging out, just talking, you know - that kind of thing. I became rather attached to him - he gave me attention, he was nice, he even stuck up for me at school sometimes.”

“Well, that’s nice - I’m glad he was there for you.”

“Ha. Well… we started, er, experimenting. Well, I mean, nothing but snogging here and there, but that was all I was ready for anyway.”

“Okay…”

Claire sighed again, glad it was dark inside the car. She was sure she was blushing, fearing the end of this story, as cringe inducing as it was for her to tell it.

“I got up the courage to tell him that...that I liked him. Even told him I..ugh. I loved him.” She glanced at Jamie, whose face was blank as he listened. She took that as a good sign, and continued. “I don’t think he ever...reciprocated, but I was too into him to care. Anyway, I guess he took that as permission to push further - to, you know, do things. Sex.”

“O--kay….” Jamie was glancing at her now, nervous, his brow knit in concentration. “I hope this isn’t going where I think it is…”

“I don’t know what you think, but I’ll just say I told him no. He got mad, refused to speak to me. I was gutted. I mean…. I was a stupid thirteen year old, thinking I knew what it meant to love somebody. How could I know at all?”

Jamie was silent as she paused, the turmoil and pain from that time in her life filling her again, causing her to want to ball up and hide. She rubbed her face with her hands, trying to clear the memories.

“So, what happened?”

“He told our foster parents that I was… well he called me a slut. Told lies about me, that I’d forced myself on him. He even fucking told him I’d come into his bedroom at night. Ugh, what a load of shit. They believed him, I was removed, and… that’s that.” Claire did her best to shrug her feelings off, though she knew Jamie still had questions. He was tapping the steering wheel with his fingers, clearly thinking something over.

“Jesus. Did you ever see the little shite again?”

“No. Well, only once. When I got to Joanie’s house - which is where I was sent after being removed from the previous one thanks to him, I was kind of...well, I didn’t want to do much of anything, and I wasn’t sleeping. Looking back, I guess Joanie was right: I was depressed. She sent me to therapy, and during one visit, I was sitting in the lobby waiting to be called back. In walked Michael, and I tried to pretend I didn’t know him, but he knew me.”

“There aren’t many people I hate, but I can already tell Michael is one of them.” Claire could hear the disdain in Jamie’s voice. She smiled a bit in the dark, then continued.

“I hate him too. I refused to go back to therapy after that, afraid I’d see him again. I was convinced he was back with the same therapist, telling her lies about me.”

“But.. What are the odds that you were seeing the same person?”

“Likely - the woman I saw was the only paediatric therapist in that office,” Claire explained, her voice flat and matter-of-fact. She rolled her eyes - for the billionth time - at the whole ordeal.

“So….is that why you don’t date?”

“I figure, why get attached again? It worked out so well the first time,” Claire said, glancing at Jamie.

He rubbed his bottom lip with his chin as he contemplated what she’d said. He only nodded once, and the two of them fell silent, only briefly, Claire tugging at the seatbelt as it became uncomfortable. She’d told Jamie something she’d never told anybody, and now he carried it with her. It felt good, to say it all out loud, and it made her curious about Jamie’s past.

“You know, at Christmas, I asked you about Anna?”

“Yeah, about why I didn’t ask her to come?”

“Yes. And then, shortly after that, you weren’t seeing her so much. What happened?”

“That doesn’t matter. It’s nothing.”

“Hey, I just told you my secret - not even Joanie knows about Michael.”

Jamie sighed, tapping the steering wheel again. The highway traffic was fairly heavy, Nashville coming nearer, evening rush hour painfully obvious as he put on his brakes behind a minivan. Great, Claire thought, another traffic jam.

“Well, if you must know, Anna and I didn’t get along that well. She was too... I don’t know how to put it. She was jealous, constantly needing to know where I was, what I was doing,” Jamie glanced at Claire, “who I was with.”

Claire nodded, figuring as much. Everytime she and Jamie hung out, he was constantly fielding texts from Anna. It got annoying, fast.

“She gave me an ultimatum, shortly after Christmas,” Jamie said, pressing his hand against his mouth. Claire could sense his unease, and she wanted to grab his hand, but didn’t. “She said I had to move away from you, stop seeing you entirely, actually. Or she’d end it.”

Claire’s jaw dropped.

“What did I do to her?” she asked, though she knew the answer. Jamie raised one eyebrow, shot her a smile.

“You and I are in the U.S. together...aren’t we?”

Claire gave a small laugh.

“I’m glad you chose me,” she said, smiling back.

“Oh, it wasn’t difficult, trust me.” He winked at her, the traffic deciding to begin moving again. Much to their relief, the remainder of the drive went smoothly.

//////

Nashville was charming, in a small town, distinctly southern way, though it was large. The main street was packed with music shops, gift shops, and there was also a country music museum on one corner. Claire wanted to go in, but it was closed by the time they’d reached the hotel and cleaned up for a night out.

She’d made sure not to wear a tourist shirt again, instead choosing a deep red blouse and some slim-fit navy trousers that buttoned at her hip. She felt more put together than she had since the graduation ceremony, and as she walked beside Jamie as they found a place to eat, she felt for once like she was where she was meant to be: by his side, worthy, desired and protected. He had his arm draped over her shoulder, a loose hold, but cozy nonetheless. The streets were crowded with people searching for a good time, country music blaring from doors as they walked past.

Jamie finally pointed to one, its door standing wide open, welcoming them in. Claire nodded, and they soon found themselves inside an old bar, packed with people, lively and stimulating. Jamie pulled her to the bar, quickly finding an empty seat, gesturing for her to take it.

She refused, but Jamie shook his head.

“No, I’ll stand. What’ll you have, Sassenach?”

“Ummm,” she thought, rubbing her chin as she surveyed the bottles sitting behind the bartender, “I’ll have whatever you’re having.” Jamie nodded, then ordered them both an Old Fashioned. Claire smiled as Jamie handed her the cocktail, raising her glass to toast the road trip.

“To...a good time?” she said, Jamie clinking his glass with hers.

They ordered food, ate quickly, and they each had another Old Fashioned each before moving onto some brand of Tennessee whiskey that made Claire’s entire body burn. Jamie talked of their upcoming stops, the places he wanted to visit, the hopes that they wouldn’t run into any rough weather. Claire, for her part, nodded, simply enjoying the sound of his voice as she sipped each drink as it was handed to her. Everything he said was hysterical, and he kept it up, Claire sure most of what he said was nonsense. Her mind wandered back to the conversation in the car - about her first kiss, and she put her hand on Jamie’s arm to get his attention.

“Hey! You never answered my question before - when was your first kiss?”

“Mary Owens,” Jamie laughed, “aged ten...and a half,” he said, giving Claire a warning look. “Don’t say a word.”

Claire laughed out loud, catching the attention of several people around them. She didn’t care much, though, and playfully slapped Jamie on the arm. “Playboy from the age of ten, huh?” she giggled, finishing her drink and gesturing for another.

“Oh, please. I am no playboy.”

Claire winked at him, her thoughts getting hazier as the night wore on. She could feel her lips going numb, and she gulped a bit of water, trying to get some clarity. She recalled Anna, Laoghaire, one other girl Jamie had talked about but whom Claire never saw. She was too drunk now to begin a conversation about that, so she focused on her drink, letting the music swallow them up for a bit.

Staring at Jamie, she unabashedly drank him in, her eyes hungry and her hands beginning to wander.
She knew her motions were sluggish, and it took a few tries but she finally got hold of Jamie’s shirt, pulling him down to her level.

“Do you want to sit down?” she muttered into his ear, not really knowing whether she’d pronounced all the words in that sentence correctly or not. He apparently understood, though, and he shook his head in response.

“No. Want to go dance?”

“With my two left feet?”

“And mine. Come on,” he said, pulling her out of the chair. She stumbled, but Jamie righted her with his hands on her shoulders as he nudged her to the dance floor. It was crowded, and some people seemed to be moving in unison, while others were doing their own thing. Jamies surprised her, pulling her to him, one arm around her waist, the other grasping her hand, holding it up near his shoulder.

Claire glanced around, noticing that no one else was dancing like they were. It wasn’t an up-tempo song, but it wasn’t a ballad, either, and she felt rather awkward.

“I… I don’t think we’re s...s-stupposeded to do this,” Claire uttered, all too aware that she was sandwiched against Jamie, their torsos aligned just so. Her cheeks went hot, and she was afraid to move, for fear of how it might make her feel.

“It doesn’t matter - no one cares,” Jamie said into her ear, causing her to shiver.

She’d danced with him before, side by side, as they enjoyed live shows back in Glasgow. Never like this, though - never had he held her like this, his mouth so damn close to hers. He smelled like the complimentary soap from the hotel mixed with a bit of cologne. She hesitated only a moment before letting her head hit his shoulder. She was too gone with drink to care about his reaction, and instead stayed there for a few moments, letting the music carry them away.

Soon, though, Jamie shifted, causing her to lift her head. The song had ended, and he was watching her closely, his eyes dark and glassy. She had no idea who made it happen; she would only recall later that somehow, Jamie’s lips were on hers, insistent yet soft. She felt like she was flying and sinking all at the same time - light, but heavy. The noises of the music, the people around them, melted away, becoming a blur as she pressed herself against him, all the alcohol fortifying her, removing her inhibitions. Soon, though, the alcohol wasn’t enough, and reality crept back in, the music starting up again. She felt Jamie's tongue, prodding her closed mouth, begging for entrance. Claire felt him move closer, if that was possible, and she felt his shoes hit hers. She pulled away, startled.

She felt like she might drown, though there wasn't water to drown in. She stared at the floor, her head pounding. She was terrified to look up, to see Jamie’s face, to see the disappointment. She let go of his shirt, her hands sweaty. Her whole body was on fire and she was suddenly desperately thirsty. She coughed a bit, keeping her head down, and then gathered her courage to look up - not at Jamie, but at the room around them. Nothing had changed, nothing had shifted or fallen apart. The world spun as usual, like she hadn’t just kissed Jamie Fraser - her best friend, the person she trusted most in the world. She felt like she couldn’t breathe, the fear of losing him in her life overwhelming. Because surely - surely - this had been a mistake.

She felt Jamie’s hand grasp hers, pulling her off the dance floor. Her eyes swam as she swallowed her fears, the lump in her throat an unwelcome passenger. She followed behind him, out the door, onto the street. He didn’t look back, only grasped her fingers as he led her back to their hotel.

The night was over. Jamie wouldn’t speak to her again, he’d fly back to Scotland, leave her to find Julia on her own. She had no idea what to do, though, so she stupidly followed him back to their room, knowing she’d have to look him in the eyes eventually.

Both of them stood still as the hotel room door shut behind them, the click of the latch too loud in the silence. The deceptively clean carpet was only mildly interesting, and Claire had trouble keeping her head down. The walk had calmed her only a bit, but she knew she’d have to face the inevitable.

No, Claire - you’re my best friend, but we can’t be together.
I like you, but I don’t love you. Not that way.
I think this whole thing was a bad idea.
I love Anna/Laoghaire/Any Girl But You.

Jamie turned to face her, and she looked up, finally, his face surprisingly soft. She could tell he was drunk, too, but not that drunk. Not as gone as she. She took a breath, licked her lips, prepared to speak - the apology at the tip of her tongue. She was ready to grovel, to beg him to forgive her, to forget it ever happened. She hadn’t stood up for herself before, when she was young… she could at least do her best with Jamie, to let him know she cared, even if she was too afraid to admit she loved him.

Instead, Jamie walked closer, his hand going up to cup her cheek. He took no time in leaning in, pressing his mouth against hers in a crushing kiss, one that stole her breath. She stood still, surprise in her throat, the fear she’d tamped down rising as she tried to make sense of it all. She pulled away, making the kiss shorter than the one at the bar, and shook her head.

“I can’t. I’m…” she trailed off, searching the room for an answer. “We’re too drunk, Jamie. I’m sorry.”

He backed up a bit, his hand falling back to his side. His chest was heaving, and his tongue darted out, tasting her on his lips.

“Right. You’re...right, Sassenach.”

Claire watched him nod, then he gave her a half smile before turning to his suitcase, resting on the floor at the foot of one bed. He grabbed a pair of cotton shorts, then went into the bathroom.

For her part, Claire groaned, only hoping Jamie didn’t hear her. She kicked her shoes off, then crawled into bed, clothes still on. Those drinks had clearly been a poor choice, and she knew the next day would bring a helluva hangover.

She heard Jamie crawl into bed, and then all was still. Claire let her eyes fall shut, and sleep overtook her.