Fanfiction - Phoenix (Constellations Series)
So one of the most amazing ladies in this fandom, Master Seamstress (©) @outlanderedandoverhere, posted a picture of a beautiful Edwardian teal dress a while back. It turns out we both loved it and fangirled plenty about it. Soon enough the idea of her making a version of that dress for Sindy!Claire and me writing a story to go with it was born – we are just that kind of crazy. She inspired me to go back to one of my series, the place where it all started in a sense. I really can’t thank you enough for your hard work, dear - you are as talented as kind-hearted. I’ll never not fangirl over you.
Brahms echoed furiously through the open doors as the orchestra launched itself in a rendition of Hungarian Dance. It started like a riot, a crescendo of frenetic instruments, that made his blood swirl faster inside his veins, eager to jump and dance in the chambers of his heart.
Jamie adjusted his formal black tailcoats and checked his red hair – tamed by several minutes of strenuous work with brilliantine pomade. He wasn’t that used to it, usually allowing his hair to flow loose and tousled, hidden under his homburg hat when he went out for his daily chores. But the occasion demanded his very best evening attire, like a proper Edwardian gentleman, and Jamie was fairly confident he was looking dapper.
It was a birthday celebration for the daughter of the house, a wealthy heir of lands and titles in Oxfordshire – probably spoilt and coquettish, fishing for a suitable match since her debutante ball at the mercy of the King.
Jamie had been travelling home to Scotland, coming from a season of profitable connections in Paris, when one his best friends, Lord John Grey – a nobleman himself from the finest breed – had asked him to spend a short amount of time at his country house, in order to help him with some complex business arrangement. He had later insisted that Jamie must accompany him to the function, dangling in front of his eyes the chance of introducing his whiskey to a couple of eager – and well-lined – pockets.
After the debauchery he had witnessed in the Parisian cabarets, he wasn’t looking too forward to spending another night drinking, swallowing cigars and pretending to be interested in shallow conversations conducted by batting eyelashes or men comparing cock lengths.
What he craved was the simplicity of the moors and lochs of the home of his heart, the painting of clouds and mist from his bedroom window – even if for a short period of time. Soon enough, he was meant to make the voyage across the great sea to New York, where he would make the acquaintance of some of the wealthiest railway tycoons, caskets rolling from Fraser’s distillery into prospering America.
Shrugging to ease off some tension, Jamie managed to summon a pleasant smile and entered the house. It was a riveting crowd – men gathered together in corners like wolfpacks, evaluating their prey; woman sipped from champagne flutes, tasting beverage and gossip alike; the orchestra played along dutifully, decided to give a concert even without listeners.
Jamie greeted a couple of acquaintances, briefly commenting on the excellent turnout of the evening and enchantments of the Beauchamp estate, and accepted a glass of rich Portuguese port offered by a doting footman.
After a laboured hour of confraternization, with a brief passage through the baccarat table and multiple polite – or so he hoped – rejections of languid invitations to dance, Jamie was wondering if it would be the supreme abruptness to leave while the party was still at its prime.
Looking around to try to locate John – perched near the piano player, hypnotized in conversation with his friend Hector – Jamie noticed her.
She was standing by the most secluded window, almost hidden by the heavy drapes of the red curtains, only noticeable because of the beckoning colour of her dress – a deep teal, that reminded him of Scottish skies in the summertime, right before the hour of falling stars. She had her back slightly turned, so he could only see her outline.
Her rich brown hair was styled in an elegant and simple knot, with solitary pearls scattered amongst her trapped locks, like drops of sea commanded by Poseidon to the most beautiful mermaid. Unlike other women – wearing flowers or jewelled pins and combs - she had used a hair accessory that looked like a wee dagger to keep her hair in place – it reminded him so much of a sgian dhu that Jamie almost gasped. She had a pair of simple silver earrings and no other jewellery that he could see.
Jamie moved discreetly, trying to approach her without being noticed. She was looking outside – her hands covered by satin black opera gloves, bracing the marble of the windowsill -, her lips pursed in seriousness, her eyes lost in contemplation of unseen things.
“Ye look bored out of yer mind.” He said in a conversational tone, before he could stop himself. She startled and looked around annoyed, noticing him – her eyes were the most astonishing shade of amber. “Sorry to disturb ye, Madam.”
“That’s alright.” She surveyed him, head to toe, taking him in. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Scotland.” Jamie confirmed, smiling. “My estate – Lallybroch - is near a village much smaller than the backyard of this manor.”
“It is an insufferably big house.” She shrugged. “You could easily get lost inside it.”
“Ah.” Jamie grinned, standing closer to her and peeking through the window to the obscured garden. “Do ye think that’s what happened to the fair lady being honoured tonight? People are commenting on her absence.”
The woman snorted, her lips quivering in amusement.
“I’m sure she’ll appear when she wants to.” She admonished. “I hear she has a wicked temper and rude manners. Not suitable to the title of Lady Beauchamp at all.”
“Hm.” Jamie offered her an appreciative gaze. “At least I’d be most entertained. And maybe ye wouldna look so wistful.” He added, softly.
“You do realize I am Lady Claire Beauchamp, don’t you?” She asked, her eyes suddenly downcast, her lips contorting on a wry smile.
“I do.” Jamie nodded, leaning against the wall next to the window. “I was guessing that was the reason why ye were hidden here.” And then he whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “I’d be too, if I were ye.”
Claire gave him a significant look, raising her brows in a display of stupefaction.
“You look more like the type that should be spending the night next to the gaming table, plotting with the other men about the great determinations of Britain and choosing their next young lover.” She said ruefully.
“I was invited to leave the baccarat table, I’m afraid.” He smiled, tilting his head in fake mourning.
“That bad of a player?” She crossed her arms in a very unladylike position, which made the corners of his mouth almost twitch in supressed amusement.
“Actually,” He confided with a grimace. “I think they were tired of me emptying their pockets. I’m verra good at cards – and dice.”
“So you are a gambler.” Claire gave him a lopsided smile, looking mildly interested. “And how did you find yourself here, Mister…?”
“Fraser. James Fraser” He slightly bowed down his head and kissed the back of her hand, feeling her warmth even underneath the satiny fabric. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle.”
“French.” She commented, looking away to hide her face as a couple passed near them, giggling in search of a vacant room where to express their burning affections. “Do you have ties to France?”
“Very ancient connections.” Jamie admitted, noticing how the candlelight enhanced the honey inside her eyes, the fair skin of her neck turned almost golden. “I just arrived from Paris – made a small detour on my way to Scotland. I have to be in Southampton soon enough, though. I have a passage booked on the RMS Titanic, bound to New York. I hear it’s a verra bonnie ship – a wee beast of the seas.”
“Oh.” She said, sounding strangely disappointed. “I see.”
They stood in silence for a while, their previous conversation interrupted by the announcement of his impending departure. The rooms were filled with the sounds of people gathering to dance a classic gavotte, as the orchestra played on without signs of wavering, flooding the senses as the bodies pulsed with the spirits of alcohol and elation.
“I think I’ll get some air.” Claire finally said, tilting her chin. Her eyes were serious and hardened like crystalized amber. “It was lovely to meet you, Mister Fraser. Excuse me.”
Jamie nodded in retribution, bewildered, as Claire quickly escaped through a nearby open door. He leaned over the window, his eyesight adapting to the surrounding darkness, as he followed her silhouette with his eyes.
She walked with the familiar security of someone who knew the grounds well – a dog, honey coloured like her own eyes, ran from somewhere outside the house and barked to greet her. Claire immediately bent down to salute him, patting his flank with a gentle and caring hand. Her body moved with an easy grace, the promise of her flesh immediate and taunting like a whisper against the back of his neck, disarming him most irrevocably. She was an unusual woman, very different from the image he had created of the lady ruling the understairs servants with an iron fist. Nothing about her was what it should have been - and he had been enthralled with that realization the moment their eyes met.
There was a sadness about her – a peculiarity, like a book misplaced in the wrong shelf, and for that reason condemned not to be discovered. He knew nothing about what pleased her and made her laugh, but was sure it wasn’t the sycophants surrounding them or their many pompous titles.
He watched as she opened the metallic gate, headed to what seemed like a private garden, and without dwelling on it any longer, decided to follow her.
The air outside smelt of lilacs and roses, with a hint of rain to come. He rapidly approached the gate and saw her, sitting in a granite bench amongst a myriad of herbs and flowers.
In that moment, in her teal dress, she was all the lights in Paris gathered together; all the things the old masters had tried to paint, demonstrating beauty – she was the earth underneath his feet and the sky above his head, expanding away from him, limitless.
“You’re trespassing private property.” She announced in a soft voice, declaring her knowledge of his whereabouts.
“I’m a Scot.” Jamie smiled. “We are firm believers in the right of way.”
“I thought you had to be going somewhere to call that.” Claire gave him a slightly smug smile, noticing his surprise.
“Who says I’m not?” He said in a hoarse voice, their eyes locking. Thankfully, the coming clouds still left the moon untouched – he could see her, her outline like a dream half-remembered, and sense the light shivers of her skin, exposed to the night’s breeze and to his unnerving presence. “Do ye want to dance? It’s yer birthday after all – seems unfair ye dinna even dance.”
“Dance?” She raised her brows, her eyes glowing. “We don’t have music.”
“Aye.” Jamie brushed his clean shaven chin with his fingers, in a pretence of deep thought. “We dinna have an orchestra here in the garden or a gramophone – amazing wee things, those – but I’d dance with ye anyway.”
She gave him an undecided look, stalling by brushing her skirt for inexistent leaves.
“In Paris I saw this dance – different from everything, really, brought on by Argentinians – it’s called tango.” Jamie licked his lips and offered her his hand. “I’ll show ye.”
Claire slowly took off her black gloves and reached out to touch his hand with hers – their fingers coming together with a disconcerting ease. Always looking into her eyes, steadying and reassuring her, Jamie brought their bodies to full contact and guided them in a few steps of the exotic dance, which soon would become the art of lovers, the rhythm of passion capable of shocking every matron and hostess.
“This is interesting.” Claire almost panted, as Jamie lightly squeezed her thin waist with his fingers. “You must have been in some extraordinary places in Paris, Jamie. Must have partnered with lots of girls there, leaving a trail of crushed hearts in your wake.”
“No.” He replied, his voice husky. “I didn’t understand it, then. What it takes to be able to dance like this – but now, perhaps, I finally do.”
“Jamie, I…” She gulped. “I have more money and lands than I can count. I have servants, jewels and dresses. But I haven’t been happy in a long time. You’ve talked to me like a person – not a godforsaken title – and for that alone I am grateful. But…”
“What?” He whispered, his fingers brushing her cheek, with heartbreaking tenderness and desire.
“Don’t dance with me unless you mean it.” Claire whispered back. “I know it’s too much to ask, but – please, don’t go to America. Stay here…” She ended softly, her unfinished sentence spiralling between their pressed bodies. Stay here - with me.
“I think I couldna leave even if I wanted to, Claire.” Jamie breathed, hugging her against him. It was still dark - and yet he was seeing explosions of light all around him, fast stars created by two souls meeting in the night, strangers on the verge of becoming one. “Ye have set my soul alight, mo nighean donn. I seem to be blind – but now I can see.”