A week later, Claire and Jamie stood in their kitchen dubiously looking at a plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies covered with cling film Angus had brought in reparation for the stag night drama. It wasn’t the first time he’d brought them baked goods.
“What do you think?” Claire asked cautiously.
“I dinna ken,” Jamie replied, just as cautious.
Angus had come early that day, clean and sober, peace offering in hand. “I dinna know what to say about my behavior that night,” He began saying. “But I hope you’ll accept my apology.”
“This isna what I think it is, is it?” Jamie said, standing hands crossed across his chest, eyeing the plate with utmost skepticism.
“Och, nah! This time it’s a genuine apology, I swear!” Angus had assured, earnestly.
The last time Angus had “apologized”, he’d brought a lovely looking box of fudgy brownies, that were rather more special than was entirely necessary. Back when Claire and Jamie had just gotten together, Angus had thought it funny to regale her - much to Claire’s irritation and Jamie’s embarrassment - with detailed stories of a hot and heavy summer fling in Paris Jamie once had in his late teens, that - as it turned out, according to Jamie - had fizzled out toward the end, with Annalise getting back together with her ex.
Claire had sniffed the brownies once and was about to stop him from taking a bite, that is, until he asked, “Why d’ye suppose they put oregano in the brownies, Sassenach?” as he looked them over critically.
What’s the harm? she’d thought. They were home, alone, and not likely to do anything stupid.
Home alone they were, immune to stupidity they were not. They’d eaten half the plate before things started getting well dodgy. Jamie had started singing, she couldn’t quite make out what it was, but caught a trailing, yet distinct, “I’m yeeers!” He’d managed to convince himself the song would be stuck in his mind for good; Claire had to make sure he didn’t hurt himself, the way he’d begun digging his finger in his ear trying to get it out.
“Some say the stars are actually angels sitting by wee fires,” Jamie said in wonder, a while later. They’d spent an unimaginable amount of time looking out the window.
“A med school professor of mine used to love telling us the stars were the souls of the departed. That no matter how many we saved, it was inevitable we’d lose people. We were doctors, not Gods.” Claire said, reverently. They never did realize they’d been avidly staring at the glow of streetlights.
When Claire had finally started regaining some of her mental faculties, she noticed Jamie’s shirt was on the sofa, but Jamie himself wasn’t in the apartment anymore - the front door slightly left ajar, his deep rumble coming from the hallway. She glanced at her phone’s screen which read 4:42am. She headed for the door, Jamie’s voice getting clearer. He was knocking on the Bugs’ door with the sort of loudness that strived to be gentle and quiet.
“Mrs. Bug? Are ye there? Mrs. Bug? D’ye perchance have some of those wee cheese crumpets ye make? The wee cheese crumpets ye made last Sunday fer church? Mrs. Bu- Sassenach! D’ye remember the wee cheese crumpets? The wee crumpets Mrs. Bug made with cheese?”
“Stop saying ‘wee cheese crumpets’ will you and come on,” Claire hissed at him, grabbing his arm. He was still gesturing just how wee they’d been as Claire tugged him back into the apartment.
“Do we have some left over, then?” he asked hopefully looking round the kitchen. “The wee cheese crumpets.”
“Jamie, the brownies had pot in them,” she immediately came clean as she went to the fridge and got him a strawberry popsicle, and steered him to the couch. “I’m sorry, I should have told you at once, but I couldn’t resist, I was curious to see what would happen,” she added, her voice shaking with laughter.
He sat down like a sack of potatoes as his face went slowly through a range of emotions, to finally dawning realization. He looked up at her, popsicle in hand, eyes full of accusation.
“Damn ye, woman.”
When they were clear-headed enough to go outside again the next day, they found a plate of fresh wee cheese crumpets by their door.
Now, they looked at Angus’ latest gift, the memory of the many odd things that’d happened that night running through their minds and had no wish for a repeat. Jamie gingerly peeled the cling film off a fraction.
“Please give it a wee sniff, Sassenach. Mind, dinna jest this time, aye?” He said, giving her a mock gimlet eye.
Obligingly, she bent down, inhaling deeply. “Flour, chocolate, and sugar. Pretty much just a harmless cookie,” she said business-like, then, voice cracking with humor, added, “Not one sign of any, ummm… oregano.”
“What time are Jenny and Gail meant to get here,” Jamie said as he snapped the last cookie in two and handing her the bigger half. Claire sat comfortably on his lap with no particular intention to move unless absolutely necessary. He’d settled them on the sofa, her weight a comfort to him.
“About an hour or so. Jenny won’t say what we’ll be doing, just that I was to rustle up a few more people and we should all wear comfy shoes. But seeing as how Jenny and I both have an extra passenger on board, doubt it’ll be anything that’ll involve the police,” she looked at him teasingly. He snorted, finishing off his cookie.
“Ye dinna ken Jenny all that well then,” he retorted. “So who did you manage to rustle up?” he asked.
“Oh, on short notice: Mrs. Bug and Geillis Duncan from the hospital,” she said, making Jamie laugh.
“Mrs Bug? For a hen night? And isn’t Geillis the, umm, wee naughty one ye told me about? Should be an interest evening,” he said.
“Mm-hm. Well technically, Geillis overheard me speaking to Jenny on the phone and well, now she’s coming along too,” she replied with a smile.
Claire nestled closer. In truth she didn’t much feel like going out, but Jenny - and Gail - had insisted she have herself a night out. So she’d agreed. She thought though, Jamie’s arms were in her honest opinion, far more enjoyable than anything Jenny had mind.
“Wait, hold on. What are we doing exactly?” Claire asked, unsure she’d heard Jenny right. Their little group stood outside what looked like a massive loft, with a bored looking attendant waiting to let them in.
“It’s simple really, we get locked into yon room and have an hour to figure out how to escape it,” Jenny said cheerily.
“Och, aye? And what happens if we canna figure out the clues before the hour is finished? Are we to be locked up indefinitely?” Mrs. Bug asked nervously.
Jenny squinted at the pamphlet she held. “I dinna really ken…” she said, “but they have a wee board that has the fastest times groups have completed the room. I reckon we can get our names on yon board!” She looked expectantly at Claire, who had an amused look on her face, shaking her head.
“You’re just like your brother! Can’t turn away from a challenge can you? Well, then, c’mon ladies, let’s break some records. What is the record?” Claire said, she couldn’t keep the excitement from building in her voice.
“I thought you said this was a hen night, Rand-sorry-Beauchamp? Shouldn’t we be, you know,” Geillis said wickedly, “getting plastered while impressively built naked men dance about?” she asked while thumbing through her phone, which had been pinging insistently since she arrived.
“Ideally,” said Gail, “but seeing as how Claire and Jenny both can’t drink…”
“And the naked men?”
“Can bide!” put in Mrs. Bug, primly. “Men arena the be all, end all. And they shouldna be!”
“Alright, then. We just have to leave our phones wi’ him, “ Jenny pointed at the attendant, “And head on inside.”
Geillis didn’t look at all pleased with having to leave her phone, but sighed dramatically, popping it into the box with everyone else’s with a murmured, “Dinner and drinks - of your choosing, of course - on me after.”
An undeniable buzz thrummed through them as they stepped through the door.
The room had been 18th Century themed, many of the puzzles imaginatively archaic. They’d blazed through the first few easily enough within ten minutes, much to Jenny’s pleasure, but as the puzzles got progressively - and frustratingly - harder, they found themselves at a dead stop staring at a wagon wheel with a cipher etched upon it for a solid fifteen minutes.
“I swear I’m going to break something, can someone please figure this out! It canna be that bloody hard!” Geillis exclaimed, frustrated. She’d been jotting down possible answers on her palm (a pen having been one of the things they’d unlocked in a previous puzzle). As much as she played indifferent to the night’s activities, Geillis had gotten into the puzzles just as much as everyone else. She cast a gimlet eye around at the others, who were absorbed in trying to connect the clue to what they’d figured out already.
“It must be connected to the ‘stranger in the night’ puzzle,” Jenny said logically.
“Aye? Is that the one at the crofter’s cabin?” asked Mrs. Bug.
“No, that was the secret room bit,” Gail said.
“Hold on, then what was the castle dungeon again?” Claire asked.
“Oh, for the love of Christ!” Geillis shrieked, snapping the pen in two.
Suffice it to say, they didn’t figure it out. Whatever clue the cipher wheel contained, it went unsolved - and the pimply-faced attendant refused to tell them, in case they wanted to come back and have another go - much to the frustration of all.
“Well, bugger them,” Geillis said, checking her phone and frowning. “Let’s go have ourselves some dinner. And an ass load of drinks, eh?”
“I didna ken cocktails could be quite so… Colourful,” Jenny was saying, dubiously looking at a flaming blue one Geillis was industriously putting away. Gail eyeing her own yellow one with some hesitance.
“What? With a husband and three bairns, does one forget what fun looks like?” Geillis asked. Jenny laughed.
“Och sometimes. I love them to bits, but the Lord knows it’s good to get away for an evening!”
“Joe’s always hinting he’s ready for kids - and so I am, truth be told - but it does feel extremely pleasant to not be someone’s wife for a night,” Gail said taking a cautious sip.
“Well, I for one can’t wait to be married,” Claire put in with a smile, seeing the side-eyes from the others, she added, “If married life’s anything like what life’s like now with Jamie, I gladly want a lifetime of it. And - I beg your pardon Mrs. Bug - the sex-”
“Oh, yes. Do tell!” Geillis cheekily said. “From the glimpses I got of yer ginger-haired laddie sneaking about the hospital during yer midnight trysts, I’d say he’s one hell of a ride.”
“EH uh-uh! I dinna need to be hearin’ about my brother’s bedroom efficien-”
“-Prolific bedroom efficiency,” Claire put in helpfully, grinning at Gail.
“Being as yer already with child,” Jenny continued, unperturbed by the interruption, “I ken he ken’s his business right enough. Plus ye willna be too keen when you’ve bairns snapping at yer ankles and a husband who’s off busy “working”. Isn’t that right Mrs. Bug?” Jenny mock-warned. Claire knew Jamie wasn’t going to be that kind of husband, so did Jenny. By all accounts he’d probably be the exact opposite.
“Weel. Lads can get a wee bit… Complacent, ye could say, once they find themselves settled. What with words like “romance” and “wooing” seemingly neither needed nor dwelled upon anymore. But, Arch and I do live quite close by, and the walls arena all that thick… I will say yon laddie sure knows his way about it. As do ye, lass. Heavens, the skelloching!” teased Mrs. Bug, eyes sparkling, making Claire blush as the others giggled.
“Now, ladies! The night’s still young and so are we! What’s next?” Gail said putting down her cocktail and looking expectantly around the table.
Jamie could hear them coming up the stairs near two in the morning, singing in loud whispers, heels clattering against the stone floors. He opened the door just as Claire was about to put in her key.
“Jenny, Gail and Geillis are spending the night,” she said breathless, her voice a little raw and without preamble.
“Oh, aye? And Mrs. Bug?” he asked.
She gestured at a rather giddy looking Mrs. Bug stumbling into her apartment. “Good night Mrs. Bug!!” they all chorused as the door shut with a loud clatter. Stepping out of the way as the ladies stumbled in, Claire lagging behind to give him a kiss hello.
“We called Joe in the taxi. And Geillis, well, let’s just say her late night rendezvous was rather more preoccupied attending his wife. Much to Geillis’ fury,” she said, recalling the drink-fueled, cell-phone throwing rage Geillis had gotten into with her mystery man, “thought it best she come with us, lest she find her way to his apartment to give him a piece of her mind in person.” Which had then prompted them to find the nearest dance club to dance the night’s stress away. Watching the other three seemingly trying to drunkenly harmonize and Geillis declaring for the umpteenth time that night, “All. Men. Are. Fecking. Wankers,” seemed a fitting end to what turned out to be quite a willy nilly night.
Jamie came up behind Claire and gently rubbed her shoulders. “Had a good time, then?” He asked her quietly, moving her hair away from neck and placing a kiss on her nape.
“Mmm… Had an interesting time. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen Mrs. Bug dancing to EDM!” She cleared her throat and leaned back. “Take the bedroom ladies, Jamie and I are good with the couch.”
“We are?” Jamie inquired looking over her shoulder at her. She discreetly slipped her hand behind and grabbed a handful of his bum, squeezing, pulling him closer.
“I don’t mind the close quarters. You?” she said turning in his arms, both hands now intently kneading his behind. He smiled and shook his head, his hands starting their own explorations. Jenny snorted unbecomingly behind Claire.
“To bed wi’ ye, Janet,” Jamie said, not taking his eyes off Claire.
Claire sighed and turned to see Geillis sprawled on the couch and Jenny trying to take off her heels, her feet having swelled up.
“I’ll just get them settled, shall I?” she whispered to Jamie, reluctantly extricating herself from his arms. And grabbing hold of her erstwhile Sirens, headed for the bedroom, whereupon seeing the massive bed, all three stretched out haphazardly and promptly fell asleep.
Claire closed the door behind her and slowly made her way back to the living room, shedding her jacket and shoes (her feet sore beyond belief), her loose fitting dress felt welcoming light against her skin, she absently rubbed her tiny baby bump as she walked. Jamie was waiting for her on the sofa, she could see he was sleepy, but alert.
“Yer sure ye’ll be comfortable, Sassenach? I can sleep on the floor-” Jamie began sitting up, but she put a hand on his shoulder, pushing him back down.
“I’ll be in your arms. There’s nothing more comfortable than that,” she said definitely. She settled beside him, fitting her body to his, arms wrapped round his waist. He pulled the plaid throw off the sofa and covered them both. They lay quietly for a time, listening to the soft snores of the other three in the bedroom - making sure they really were out for the count. Then Claire’s hand deftly undid his board shorts.
“Sassenach, I dinna think-” Jamie began a little hesitant, he’d always been a little shy - albeit thoroughly willing - of being intimate where other people could walk in on them. Even when he’d visit her at the hospital, she’d have to constantly assure him they wouldn’t be caught. She silenced his protest with her lips, her hand left him, only to take his and slide it between her legs.
“I’m tired of talking, Jamie. I’ve been on my feet all night and now all I want to do… Well, you know exactly what it is I want. Come here,” she whispered against his neck. He let out a rather high pitched squeal as she lightly dragged her nails against him, making her laugh. “Now, hush,” she breathed, teeth fastening on the base of his neck, and he said no more.