I NEED MORE HRH 😩 and Loss, obviously

Part I: The Crown Equerry | Part II: An Accidental Queen | Part III: Just ClairePart IV: Foal | Part V: A Deal | Part VI: Vibrations | Part VII: Magnolias| Part VIII: Schoolmates | Part IX: A Queen’s Speech | Part X: Rare | Part XI: Watched | Part XII: A Day’s Anticipation | Part XIII: The Location | Part XV: Motorcycle | Part XV: Cabin | Part XVI: Market | Part XVII: Stables | Part XVIII: Alarms | Part XIX: Visitor | Part XX: Cuffed

Her Royal Highness (H.R.H.)
Part XXI: A Woman’s Speech

Claire woke from a dream within a dream.

In the first, she was suspended in a dreamless trance against Fraser’s chest. It was warm. Too warm for Scotland. Perhaps there had been some noise (a crash or faraway disturbance) that roused them both at the same time. Silently, Claire traced a single gray hair in a sea of unruly auburn lightly breaking against the centerline shore of his chest. Cool air filtering through the window lifted curtains she had never seen before. Perhaps it was a honeymoon – a gauzy, bikini-clad getaway ensconced in the carefully-controlled bubble of one of the British Protectorates. The Maldives maybe? She had seen a postcard once (pressed into the pages of a scrapbook maintained by her sister, a memory of a beautiful holiday to trot out to make a younger royal grow emerald with jealousy), but she had never made it there before.

She curled closer to him, felt the burr of speech rumbling in his chest like an oncoming storm, realized she couldn’t hear him. Jerking up, she pressed a hand to the center of his chest, felt her facial features contort. His mouth was moving, curled into a lazy, slow smile. His hand was on her naked hip, urging her closer, but she had the sensation that she was being pulled backwards. It was as though she was being tugged by a lead threaded into her spine.

Then it was pitch black (like blindness itself, an endless blank slate of darkness upon darkness forever and ever).

In the second dream, Fraser was stripped bare to the waist and in a courtroom. Scars criss-crossed his back like the map of a chaotic, unplanned city center. Lined, bloody wrists were secured in fetters and chained behind his back. Scar tissue (his past) and fresh wounds (their future). Claire shouted for him (for her Fraser, for him to pay attention god dammit, that she would fix this), voice raw. He turned, calling to her and shaking his head. His mouth was frantic, needy. There was no trace of a smile. She tried to move, but she was bound to the spot (hip-deep in cement, locked in place). The courtroom lengthened, the lights dimmed. It was a corridor then, and he was getting further and further from her.

Stop!” she attempted to scream, but no sound emerged. She scraped at the cement until her fingertips were bloodied; she touched her mouth. Only the narrowest indentation remained where her lips (appendages designed to kiss him, taste him, tell him the darkest parts of herself and hope she had for a future drenched in light with him) had been sealed together.

“Claire!” he bellowed, the single syllable bellowing from the deepest part of his belly.

Her fingers clawed at the indentation, her toes curling uselessly inside shoes entombed in cement.

He continued, “I’m doing this for you.”

She tried to call out, shook her head furiously, and refused to blink. She couldn’t bear the thought of tears falling as her lipless mouth screamed, “No. No. No.

She woke, gasping and kicking through layers and layers of covers until her legs were free of the obstruction. The soles of her feet found solid ground.

Edinburgh. She was still in Edinburgh.

Her nightgown clung to the sweaty parts of her (lower back, breasts, armpits, lower stomach, thighs), made her feel like a thousand colonies of insects had taken residence under her flesh.

She launched herself from the mattress, tearing at her nightgown, ripping it off and over her head, leaving it in a puddle on the rug.

“Fraser,” she whispered, taking her robe from its resting place over the settee next to the window. “You bloody stubborn Scottish martyr.”

It had been nine hours since she had left him in that jail. Nine hours since he had declared himself a martyr, announced that he would take the fall without seeking her input. Nine hours from the moment she turned her back on him, left him alone with his mouth full of lies and his daft self-sacrificing nature.

It had been six hours since she had made clear her intentions to her staff. Three hours since she gathered three of her most trusted advisors and explained what she would do to head him off at the pass, to put an end to this (the media spectacle threatened by her ring, the hushed speculations about how it got there and why). She knew that her plan would start something else entirely (a cannibalistic feeding frenzy for information, which she would publicly respond to with a regal dismissiveness appropriate to her position), but she did not know what else to do.

And perhaps, most importantly, she had ceased to care.

She swallowed hard and went to the window.Crossing her arms across her waist, she squinted down at the stables (they were dark, lifeless, her stock transported to Balmoral ahead of her). Quietly, she shook her head and let her fingertips sink into her hips, an attempt to replicate Fraser’s touch. Her efforts failed miserably.

Then she said it aloud – the thought that had dwelled unspoken in her mind since she’d left him, since he’d vowed to take the fall for them both. “I hate you right now.”

She heard footsteps outside her door and turned, watched shadow interrupt the creamy sliver of dim light beneath the door.

“Come in,” she called, turning her attention back towards the stables before the corridor’s lurker could enter.

Mrs. Fitz.

Claire could tell. She knew the cadence of the woman’s step (the soft shuffle, the clank of a tea service on a tray), the gentle way she closed the door and flipped the lock into place.

Swallowing back the bitter taste of a fitful sleep in her mouth, she summoned the question that had roused her, replaced a dream within a dream. “Is Fraser still in the jail?”

“Aye, ma’am,” Mrs. Fitz confirmed quietly.

Without meaning to move from her vantage point at the window, Claire felt herself being pulled as if by gravity itself towards the table where Mrs. Fitz was pouring two cups of what smelled like perfectly-steeped Earl Grey.

How properly English, Claire mused. Fix it with tea.

Claire would have given anything for a taste of the cabin (jewels that were not hers to give, a title that only felt precious when she thought of giving it away). To have the gritty, smoky flavor of Fraser’s too-strong coffee in lieu of her usual morning tea (the concentration in his brow as he poured hers, dropped a single sugar cube into its depths, stirred it into a sparkling whirl before handing it to her with the smallest of smiles, a hand on a bare hip). To taste tinned peaches (to pluck the wiggling, gelatinous, too-sweet preserved stone fruit from the tines of a fork held by Jamie; to squeal as the juice dribbled onto a sheet wrapped around her breast; to let her noises magnify as she feigned a fight against his efforts to take the sheet from her.) To bite into a crumbly icebox biscuit (his fingers dusting the flakes of icing from her lower lip, kissing them from his finger, promising to teach her how to drive his motorcycle) or stovetop-charred sausages (his laugh as he promised her with sparkling, fibbing eyes that he actually preferred them cooked to charred, unrecognizable logs). To lick yogurt from the side of her thumb beneath the sheets (the warmth of their joining evaporating with the leisurely lack of urgency that seemed to define all things on a cool Scottish summer morning, and their tongues meeting to mingle clover honey and berries).

She blinked hard, turned, and offered what she could of a smile.

“How much longer?”

“The broadcast will be at 8 o’clock. Fraser will be escorted from the jail to his sister’s home three hours earlier… they are probably waking him right now.”

Claire nodded, her mind suddenly fixated on the sound of his name from her lips.


It was just a last name to Mrs. Fitz. To her it was something more, intimate syllables that tumbled from her mouth to represent someone to her that had defined love and sacrifice and lust and passion and hate (just a little). She focused her attention outside, feeling her cheeks redden at the thought of him believing he was doing her a favor by declaring himself a common thief.

She dried her palms on her robe, inhaled, let loose a cosmic question to which she did not have an answer. “Do you think that he will hate me for this?”

The cadence of Mrs. Fitz’s familiar plunk-shuffle-plunk step neared, and Claire closed her eyes as the woman’s hand closed around her shoulder. “I ken the man loves ye. I ken that solely from the look in his eyes when I slipped him a wee note, the way his shoulders squared when ye had to postpone a visit or two. The way a lad becomes a man, he looks when he’s longing for someone, not out of lust, ye ken. It’s no’ his cock–”

Mrs. Fitz,” Claire gasped, tears burning along her lower lash line as she chuckled.

“Ye ken just fine that ye’re no’ some innocent doe-eyed girl. Ye’re a woman, and he loves ye. You’re ban-druidh. Ye conjure things for him, ye ken? He’s given himself over to ye, to yer spell, ma’am, just the way of ye enchants him. So no, he’s no’ thinkin’ wi’ the parts that make him a man, but from spiritual need.”

A dribble of tears tickled Claire’s chin and throat. She uselessly attempted to mop at them with the back of her hand.

“And what he needs now is for you to be strong. Stronger than he is.”

Claire nodded, her chin tilting up as she snuffled back a second round of tears.

“Strong enough to show him that he doesna need to take a fall for ye, that ye’re the bloody Queen. That ye’ll do this for that rare love that ye kent ye needed, that led ye into his arms in the first place. Now, wipe yer face and find yer smartest dress, and give the speech of yer life, ma’am.”

Claire intended to do just that.

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