Chapter 1: Help me.
Jamie was different lately.
He didn’t only act differently; he was different.
He had been like that before, staring at an empty screen for hours, but it never lasted that long. The white pages soon flooded with dancing stark letters, telling the stories that lived inside him. He was gifting them to the world.
Not this time. It was almost three months now that the tales had abandoned him, and he had a hard time to place himself in the world.
Claire watched him carefully and self-consciously, keeping a distance since the disaster that was her last attempt to talk to him.
“Jamie, love, you have to eat something. Haggis is your favorite,” Claire said in a soft tone, trying for a supportive smile when half an hour had passed and Jamie had barely touched his plate.
“I’m not hungry, Sassenach.” His voice was cold, his mind miles away.
“You’ve lost so much weight these past months, all I’m asking you is to try – ” She didn’t get to finish.
“I dinna care about what ye’re asking, Claire.” Venomous. “What ye want. ‘Tis not what I want.” He almost spat the last few words out, his eyes lost somewhere between the end of their table and the wall. Not even looking at her.
“Jamie…” Her whisper was the last thing she got to say before she saw with eyes full of incredulity Jamie leaving the table and heading towards the door.
The door opened, then clicked back to place. Her heart snapped. The darkness of the night swallowed him.
He didn’t come back home until dawn.
Claire didn’t sleep, waiting to hear his keys enter the lock of the door, waiting to feel his weight sink in their mattress. When both these were done without a word from him, she gnashed her teeth, holding her thoughts for herself.
He wasn’t ready.
The days passed, full of Scottish rain and freezing gusts of wind, but nothing touched Jamie anymore. He was trying to be invisible, craving to feel nothing. The world was just too much.
Most of the days Claire came back from the hospital to find him sleeping. Or pretending he was sleeping.
He didn’t talk to her, adding brick over brick on the wall he built around him, securing her light outside so he could be lost in the smooth emptiness of his darkness.
She tried to touch him. Again and again.
With trembling hands, afraid of rejection.
With a broken heart that couldn’t accept failure.
Jamie either flinched from her touch or didn’t respond at all. A cold statue with hollow eyes filling the right side of her bed.
She was losing him. Every passing day was marked in her heart, like time counted by a prisoner waiting for his release. Lines, written clear on his cell’s wall.
One. Two. Three. Four vertical lines. A fifth, crossing them.
Only that Claire wasn’t moving towards release. She was sinking, deep down – but still not deep enough to reach him.
She extended her hand as much as she could – with words and touches, with looks and gestures – but he didn’t want to grab it. He wasn’t even trying.
There was nothing to give him pleasure anymore. He denied walking with her in the park as they used to do, he was staring at the TV as if all he could do was see the colors changing instead of watching the show, he declared that he was bored of hiking.
After that, Claire started fighting. She tried to shake him, to hurt him, to crack him a bit, so life could get back in.
Nothing worked. He didn’t fight back. His eyes burned in hers for a few minutes and then turned dull again as he had wrapped himself further inside, hiding from her.
Claire continued living with the burden on her shoulders so heavy, that some days she found it hard to rise from bed.
She felt helpless.
She felt incompetent.
It was a late night when she walked into their dark apartment hearing his ragged breath from the desk in front of the big window. He wasn’t in his chair.
“Jamie?” she whispered, her voice a shiver in the silent room.
Her eyes searched for him on the empty couch, around the shadows of the room, until she found him.
Lying on the floor, under the pale moonlight, was her man, her fragmented soul.
His strong arms trembled as they secured his knees against the broad chest, his head borrowed down.
“Love?” Claire’s fingers ran the length of his arm until they reached his jawline, his prominent cheekbones. Leaning into him, she brushed the locks away from his forehead before placing a soft kiss on the damp skin.
She hadn’t heard that sound in months. It was faint, rooted somewhere deep inside his chest, but loud enough to enter her shuddered heart.
He opened a hole in his sturdy wall, for her. For a ray of light to enter his refuge.
He had always told her - before - that she was his light, his Sorcha.
Claire lay on the wooden floor in her scrubs, as close as she could, desperate to shout at him that she was there.
She was there all along and she would never leave.
She cupped his face with her hands, she cradled him in her arms.
Waiting to see that blue in his eyes, almost grey in the spare light of the room, looking back at her. Seeing her, again.
“I’m here, love.” She sighed, bringing his head closer until it fit under her jaw, his hot breath on her neck and clavicles. Her legs tangled with his without conscious thought and she felt the contraction of his muscles before that final release.
That moment, secured in her arms and outside his well-built wall, Jamie sobbed for the first time in three months.
His body shuddered against hers, taking her with it, living with her. Through her.
“Claire,” he said, at last, his voice croaked as his bloodshot eyes found hers. Found her. “Help me.”
His hands searched for hers, grasping them tightly.
A light breeze moved the white curtains above them, inflating their chests.
Life got claimed again.
Chapter 2: Wide Awake
It was a gentle movement, but it took away all the warmth that enveloped Claire, making her open her eyes.
It wasn’t the first time.
She extended a hand that remained suspended in the air, exactly in the place where his body should be. She lowered it slowly through thin air, until she found the soft linen of their sheets underneath her fingertips.
The alarm clock on her bedside table showed a green four, followed by a fifteen. The room was dark, too far from the light post on the street to get any stray beams of its yellow light.
Claire sat gingerly on the bed, her eyes scanning the room for him.
He was sitting on the edge of the mattress, at the foot of the bed. His head was buried in his hands, elbows resting on his knees.
“Jamie…” Her whisper sounded harsh and loud in the silence of the room. Claire felt her voice echoing off the walls, coming forcefully back to strike them both, as if the room was empty, sterile. And yet, it was the same room they had filled with love, with little parts of them, to make it home.
A picture from their first vacation was standing on Jamie’s bedside table. They were at the beach, laughing, the fluorescent colors of their swimsuits competing with the red of the watermelon slices in their hands. Claire had chosen her favorite picture for her side, taken the night when they first moved in together; two whisky tumblers in their hands - the only ones they had unpacked - and brown boxes all around them as they lay on a bare mattress. In the daylight their bedroom was a soft, relaxing blue. Like the color of the sky; like the color of Jamie’s eyes on sunny days. They chose the color together, after arguing for days, the catalogue lying open on the coffee table.
Claire took a deep breath to fight sleep and she wiggled her toes, feeling the woollen plaid blanket that covered them. It was his; a gift from his late mother when he had moved to Edinburgh to go to university.
She heard him inhale deeply, and she knew he was trying to gain control of his voice. “Go back to sleep, Sassenach.” He sounded distant even though she knew he didn’t want to.
Claire moved across the bed, reaching for him. She sat behind him; her hands, tentative and daring, caressing his back in the darkness. He didn’t flinch under her touch. Biting her bottom lip, she slowly sneaked her arms around his waist, letting her fingers settle on his stomach and chest. He didn’t protest, only sighed loudly, before speaking again. “Mo ghraidh, let me be. Just sleep.”
Claire leaned forward, her chest level with his back before her lips found the warm nape of his neck. “I’m awake. I’m wide awake.” She placed her cheek against his back, closing her eyes and listening to the beating of his heart.
Trying to fill the room with love again.
It was more than ten minutes that she felt him struggling. She knew he was trying to contain the despair, to put his brave front on.
Jamie had been better during the last two months. The first step was to ask for help. They visited a doctor a few days after he decided to acknowledge and fight the disease.
Taking the medication helped him a lot. There were always the side effects, like the vivid dreams that jolted him awake, but they were preferable to the darkness he previously inhabited. There was no perfect drug, anyway.
Claire tried to find alternative ways towards the light, too. She managed to convince him to do yoga with her, and they found that the flows helped him reach his calm center with one aim; to accept himself and focus on the positive things, on the gifts that life gave him.
No matter how hard he tried though, the words hadn’t come back to him. At least not yet. And Claire knew that this was a burden too heavy for Jamie to carry.
She held him close in the darkness of the night, until a light tremble started shaking his body, one that soon transformed into powerful sobs, raking him like a monster seeking its release.
Claire wrapped her arms tight around him and brought his body as close to hers as she could, hands gripping flesh, legs spread on the sides of his. She wanted to hide him inside her; to yell to him that she was there, that she loved him, that she would fight it for him if she could.
But she couldn’t.
All she could do was hold him.
When Jamie’s breathing eased again, she kissed a shoulder blade, and then the other, remaining silent, afraid that she would scare him. He had enough shadows in his mind to terrify him, he didn’t need another burden. He didn’t need to feel the weight of her expectations, the obligation to change, to become normal.
He was deeply disappointed in himself after each relapse, and Claire felt that she might cut him deeper while trying to mend his broken shards.
“I’m sorry,” Jamie whispered at last.
“Don’t be.” Another kiss on the soft spot between his shoulder blades.
“It’s just…” He shook his head, his auburn locks grazing her forehead.
“It’s like the tide, Claire. One moment I think that I’m swimming towards ye, and I can see ye waving yer hands at me from the shore, and the next…” he trailed off, sniffling and swallowing hard.
“And the next?” she encouraged him to go on.
“The next, the tide is taking me away again and I’m swallowed by the waves. I try to swim against them, I really do.” He stopped, hands wiping away tears while new ones came to take their place. His voice was broken when he spoke again. “But they are stronger than me. They move my body as if it’s an empty vessel and I’m weak – I can’t fight them anymore. I don’t want to fight them anymore. I’m tired and I just want to get lost in the vast blue waters, never to be found again.”
“But you don’t stop fighting.”
“Aye, I do. But then I hear yer voice, shouting out my name.”
She leaned back and took him with her, his head heavy on her chest. “I’ll never stop calling your name, you know.” She supported their combined weight with a hand on the mattress, while the other was caressing his face, her thump running softly on the wet high cheekbones.
“I ken,” he whispered, turning to kiss her palm. “Thank ye, mo chridhe.”
“I love you, Jamie.”
No one moved. With time Jamie’s breath got steady against her palm, but Claire kept holding him close, thinking of the tide that was trying to take him away.
“Jamie?” she asked suddenly, startling them both.
“Maybe you should start writing again, love.” The suggestion came out of her mouth before she had time to think thoroughly about it. Holding her breath, she mentally beat herself.
“I canna write, Sassenach.” He got detached again, his voice stern.
“It doesn’t matter if you think you can, or not. Write about what you’re going through. Write your thoughts. Write anything. It might help.”
“It won’t help. I canna do it.”
The first time he admitted that he couldn’t write anymore, all Claire could hear in his voice was his disappointment. Now the same words were nothing more than an announcement, a fact he considered unchanged.
“Will you try? For me? Please?” she pleaded, knowing that this might be the only way to get him to contemplate the possibility of writing again.
“Aye,” he sighed, shaking his head, and for a moment he became the Jamie she used to know. “I’ll do everything for ye and ye verra well know it, Sassenach. I dinna promise anything, though.”
“I don’t need any promises,” she whispered as she leaned forward to kiss his forehead, her lips lingering on his smooth skin.
When Claire opened her amber eyes, she found him looking intently at her, his irises almost black in the darkness of their room. Jamie tilted his head up, making her heart stop when he took her lips in his.
It was more than three days since their last kiss.
Claire kissed him back softly, grateful for his leap of faith, hoping that they would be stronger than the waves and the tides that hit them.
Chapter 3: Not Yet
Claire walked into their bedroom, purse in hand, to find Jamie sitting on the edge of the bed, looking out of the window.
“Ready, love?” she asked in a quiet voice, moving to sit next to him. Her hand found his, lying rigid on his thigh, and she intertwined her fingers with his long ones.
This used to happen instantly, before. He used to reach for her.
Claire pushed the thoughts away and pressed herself closer to his side, placing a soft kiss on his freshly shaved cheek.
She hadn’t seen him shaved in weeks.
Jamie didn’t move. “Do you want to cancel it? We can tell them I had an emergency at the hospital and we can’t make it.”
“No, Sassenach.” Jamie took his eyes from the sky’s endless blue to find the grounding, earthly brown of her irises. He exhaled loudly, the air that left his lungs swirling around her curls. “I’m ready,” he announced, and a strained smile appeared on his lips. Claire nodded and kissed his effort, as they both braced themselves for the day.
It was the first family meal since Jamie was diagnosed with depression. Jenny, Ian and Murtagh knew about it already - it was impossible not to know, with Jamie’s change over the past months. The rest of the family though, didn’t. Claire had spent more than an hour on the phone sharing helpful information with Jenny so that they could all help Jamie once he got there. The two of them wavered between telling everyone about the new situation beforehand, or letting the day roll naturally, as it would. At last, they decided that it might be better for Jamie if he didn’t feel all eyes fixed on him and checking every reaction, everybody focusing on what he’d say and how he’d move.
Claire had told him – repeatedly – that he had nothing to prove. Up until that moment, they were just the two of them. They fought together, side by side. Claire came to know that all it needed was one wrong word or gesture, and the feelings of uselessness would come back, stronger than before. Jamie would withdraw or get angry in a matter of seconds. The medication didn’t help much on that matter, making him be easily irritated, but Claire hadn’t mentioned that to Jenny. She had – stupidly – felt that she’d betray him if she told Jenny about Jamie’s outbursts. He’d chosen to share his struggles with her, and only her.
It might be a good day, anyway. He might find some peace in the Highlands, among those who loved him.
Now, sitting next to him on the bed, seeing him freshly shaved and dressed in something different than his favorite sweatpants, Claire knew that he wanted to make this right.
Jamie’s mood got better while driving North, the Scottish landscape he loved flooding his senses; the hills, the lochs, the meadows. Freedom. Claire felt guilty of not being able to take some days off before, just to drive away from the city. It was never easy for her to leave the hospital, but with all responsibilities falling on her shoulders during the last months it became almost impossible.
Her heart fluttered in her chest when she heard Jamie murmuring the lyrics of the song playing on the radio. She sang along, timidly and without looking at him, not to add any pressure on him to continue for her sake.
And he continued. For his sake.
Further on during their trip, Jamie grasped her hand as it lay on the gear stick, keeping his strong fingers between hers for the rest of their journey.
It was a good day.
Their arrival at Lallybroch filled both their hearts with love.
Jamie got finally pulled into a tight hug from his sister – who kept all tell-tale tears well hidden inside, talked about football with his best friend – who never mentioned any recently played game because he knew Jamie had missed them all and played with his nephew – who had no idea of the monster eating his uncle’s soul as he run around the yard with Jamie on his heeld, chasing him.
It was a great day.
Claire felt herself relax in the parlor’s armchair, her gaze fixed on the bookshelf across from her. Closing her eyes, she could almost see Jamie smiling as he talked to her about his love for literature, back on that first day he’d brought her to Lallybroch.
She shouldn’t be ungrateful. She had seen his smile today, more times than in the whole last month.
It was one of the best days.
Murtagh, Angus and Rupert arrived at the manor house soon after Jamie and Claire. Claire tensed hearing their voices and walked outside the parlor, praying that everything would be alright. She heard Rupert’s laughter and her eyes searched for Jamie, sudden anxiety straining her breathing. Jamie was there, between family. He wasn’t laughing, but he was part of the conversation, with lips curled up.
Dougal, Colum, Letitia and Glenna arrived an hour later, just before lunch.
Everybody sat around the heavy Sheesham wood dining table, the big house alive with boisterous laughter and loud voices.
Claire had missed the vivacity of their house in Edinburgh, as it was before. When she used to go home from work to find Jamie cooking with loud music, singing off tone. She missed that; she missed him. Now their house was always quiet and Jamie was usually sleeping - no matter the hour. The doctor said they might need to change the medication if he continued sleeping for so many hours.
But she shouldn’t complain. He was fighting. He still did yoga with her, although on certain days Claire needed to practice her persuasion skills much more to get him on the mat. He stopped keeping a safe distance from his desk, as if it would attack him, and started writing his thoughts. With every letter pressed on the keyboard, the fears became fainter, losing their power over him. He still couldn’t write stories, but he stopped demonizing his laptop. He was getting better.
It was while eating Jenny’s raspberry cranachan that Dougal mentioned Jamie’s quietness and asked him what he was currently writing.
“Nothing, at the moment,” Jamie replied, slightly shrinking in his chair.
No one noticed. No one, apart from Claire, who wished he’d sit next to her and not across the table. Damn you, Jenny with your savoir vivre. She saw the attack of worthlessness coming with force, and she felt chained in her chair, unable to prevent it. Unable to stand between Jamie and the monster.
“Ye shouldna get cocky because yer a published author, Jamie,” Dougal continued. “Men get their arses to work. As if being a writer isna enough, now ye dinna even do that.”
“Jamie knows better than you and me when it’s time to write, Dougal.” Claire’s voice was sharper than normal, but there was nothing that could be done to change it.
“Do ye think so, lass?” Dougal raised his eyebrows, challenging her. “Do ye think his parents would be proud of him, staying at home all day long wi’ a lass feeding him?”
Claire closed her eyes, afraid to see the effect of Dougal’s words on Jamie. It was only a moment before she opened them again and searched for his blue stare in panic. Jamie was pale, eyes fixed on the white tablecloth, avoiding everyone. She’d lost him. She shouldn’t close her eyes, she should never leave doubt creep between them.
“Ye’re right, uncle,” Jamie said and rose slowly, leaving the table and heading to the front door with big strides.
Everybody stood stunned around the table, their breaths the only sound that could be heard in the large dining room. Claire tried to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat and looked at Jenny, only to find wide dark brown eyes full of fear.
“What’s wrong wi’ the lad?” Glenna broke the silence with a frown curved on her face.
“Jamie suffers from depression,” Claire announced, pushing her chair back to go find him.
“He does?” Dougal asked. “Go tell the lad to cheer up, Claire,” he suggested shaking his head in disapproval, but Claire had no time to tell him to put his ignorance up his arse. She left it to Jenny, who – once she found her composure again – started on a speech about depression and the seriousness of the disease. She had memorized everything Claire had sent her to read.
Claire found Jamie in Jenny’s herb garden.
“Love,” she whispered and the wind mingled her voice with the scent of lavender and rosemary, making it soft and ethereal.
Jamie shook his head, silently pushing her away. He didn’t want her there.
‘Not again. Not because of Dougal’, Claire thought.
“He has no idea, Jamie. All the things he said…” Claire felt her anger rising. “This is utter bullshit.”
“No it’s not. There is no reason for ye to stay with me, Claire,” he said, resigned, his unwavering cold voice scaring her.
“What are you talking about?”
“I give ye nothing.”
“So is this what you think? That I married you for your money? For your name? For your career?” Claire grabbed him but both arms, to make him look at her.
“It’s not only the money. I have nothing to give ye, Claire. I’m empty.”
“Listen to me, Jamie Fraser. You have given me the world, and you’re more than I will ever need. I love you.” Her voice rose in despair, her eyes wild, trying to make him see the truth.
“I don’t deserve your love,” he said, escaping her hands.
“Don’t you dare take yourself away from me, Jamie. DON’T YOU DARE!” Claire shouted, breaking into tears, her hands desperately grasping the fabric of his shirt, trying to bring him back to her.
Jamie turned around, surprised at her outburst. He enfolded her in his arms and held her as tight as he could, providing her with the only thing he still had.
He loved her, more than anything else. But that didn’t make him enough.
Two arms were never enough to keep a person happy.
There would come a time, when Jamie would believe in his heart again. When he would fight the despair, making all days good days.
But this time hadn’t come.
Chapter 4: Five Years
The shopping bags cut deep into Claire’s fingers, leaving raw, flaming red trails under their weight.
She knew she had bought more than the necessary, but she couldn’t risk a failure.
The bags’ weight was substantially increased by the three bottles of wine; a Syrah, a Grenache rouge, a Chardonnay. Three bottles of wine used to be their limit, before. They were both intoxicated by the end of the second, but it was the third one that made them properly drunk. Now she knew that there was no chance they’d drink so much - alcohol and Jamie’s medication didn’t exactly go hand in hand - but it was a special occasion and she wanted to be sure that no matter what he’d like to drink, she’d have it. She got a single-malt whisky too, just in case her Scot would go for a dram.
Claire would make her best to have a proper celebration.
Five years; their wooden anniversary, and she didn’t intend to let any ax cut through them.
With the bags safely deposited in the trunk, Claire drove back home thinking over the risotto recipes she’d read that morning. She’d spent more than an hour searching for recipes online, determined to find something easy yet impressive enough to mark their special day.
She wasn’t much of a cook, but damn her if she wouldn’t make it today.
Claire unlocked the front door of the apartment, the sound of her dangling keys disrupting the heavy, thick silence. Leaving the bags on the kitchen table, she tiptoed to the bedroom to find it covered in darkness, the shutters down, not to leave a light beam split the dark into two. Under the faint light creeping in from the now opened door, she could discern the bulk of Jamie on the bed, a blanket thrown at his feet, eyes shut.
He was sleeping - again.
In his sleep he looked like a child, serene and careless, arms embracing her pillow to keep it close to his face, like his nephew did with his stuffed animals.
With a sigh, Claire closed the door softly. She’d wake him up later, when everything would be ready. She wanted to surprise him. Like he’d surprised her, when she entered the house after a long shift a year ago to find it full of balloons; each one writing a reason why he loved her.
It was his way to bring her back from the abyss she fell in, after losing their baby.
Now it was her turn to pull him away from the quicksand that was swallowing him alive.
The kitchen was enfolded in the soft light coming in from their curtainless window, two pots of thyme and oregano on each side of the windowsill, waiting for their leaves to be touched to share their treasure.
Claire stood by the door for a while, watching the empty room. She didn’t need to close her eyes to see the two of them, years ago, that first time when Jamie attempted to teach her how to make a - simple, he’d said - zucchini omelette. It wasn’t as fluffy and tasty as his was, but she made it all by herself and she stood proud in front of her plate, a broad grin on her face.
With him nothing was impossible.
There weren’t many cooking attempts following that first one. It was a silent agreement, who was to cook in their house. Claire’s place in the kitchen was on a chair, a book or The Lancet in hand, reading while Jamie filled the room with smells that made her stomach rumble in complaint for the teasing scents and the absence of food.
Their kitchen was empty now. Scentless.
Claire took a deep breath and reached for the bags. It was her time to fill the place with the clatter of the pots and saucepans, with scents, with life. She placed every ingredient in a row on the counter and paused for a minute, staring at them with the iPad in hand. After reading the instructions once more, she took the cutting board and began slicing the mushrooms and dicing the shallots.
She was focused while she stirred the shallots.
She was focused while she stirred the rice to coat it with oil, while she poured the wine in.
It was when she added the warm broth, stirring until each cup would be absorbed by the rice that her mind started wandering.
Five years since the day she wore that simple white dress, hoping she’d be the most beautiful woman in his eyes. Five years since she said with pride the Gaelic words, making a blood vow to him; a vow that tethered them together in eternity, making them one. Five years, since they walked through that same door she softly closed today, she in his arms, laughing so much that she thought she’d die in his embrace due to lack of oxygen supply.
Five years of facing life together.
The hectic work schedules.
The loss of this father.
The ghost of a pregnancy.
And now, Jamie’s depression.
She wouldn’t leave him alone. Never.
Tears fell into the pot, their saltiness waiting to be covered by the stronger taste of the parmesan.
No, not today.
Claire hastily brushed the tears away with one hand, the other continuing moving in circles in the pot, as if her life depended on it. She wouldn’t let him see one speckle of sadness in her eyes. All he would see would be that same girl he had kissed on the top of Arthur’s chair that autumn night, when the stars were so close that they felt they’d drop on their heads.
Claire removed the pot from heat stirring in the mushrooms, chives, butter, parmesan and black pepper.
She put the flowers she bought in the blue vase they brought back home from Paris, in their first anniversary. Forget me nots.
She lit up candles that caressed the white walls with their flickering light. She took their favorite plates, writing ‘You and Me’ on the rim, and served the risotto, sprinkling a bit of extra black pepper on the top.
Patting the curls on her head to somehow tame their volume - which was more of a reflex than an effective move - Claire walked to their bedroom, opening the door to find him exactly in the same position she’d left him before. Padding across the room, she changed into a blue airy dress and knelt on the floor next to him. She’d wake him up, take his hand to lead him to the kitchen and it would be their night; just the just two of them, his eyes locked with hers under the candlelight, celebrating their togetherness.
Maybe today she’d be able to steal one of his smiles. The genuine, not the strained ones.
“Jamie, love,” Claire whispered, brushing a lock of auburn hair away from his brow. Leaning into him, she placed a lingering kiss on his temple. “Wake up,” she said, and her heart fluttered.
Jamie turned on his other side with a groan, eyes determined to stay shut. The risotto should be eaten while still warm. Claire nudged him, speaking louder this time. “Jamie, you have to wake up.”
“No.” His voice was thick with sleep. “I don’t. Close the door. I dinna want the light.” She knew he wasn’t angry, but his voice was rough and held a disappointment as he scooted away from her.
A tiny crack. A bite of lips.
A soft hand, still touching him. A tight fist, nails living pulsing crests on their wake, trembling on her side.
“You need to eat.”
“I’m not hungry. I’m tired.”
Another split. A new crevice formed in her heart to store her pain.
“Jamie, I -”
“Just let me be, Sassenach, how hard is that?”
A tight throat. Tight enough to drown the gasps. Tight enough to silence the sobs.
Claire stood up, leaving the room as fast as she could. She wouldn’t let him see the hurt. She wouldn’t give him another reason to blame himself.
It wasn’t his fault.
Once she got in the kitchen again, Claire broke down. Fragments of her soul mingled with fragments of the dream that was never meant to be, and they flowed around her, scented with butter and cheese.
It took her twenty minutes to rise from the floor. She blew the candles and opened the whisky, half-filling a tumbler.
She walked to the bedroom again, changed in her sleepwear and sat on the bed so she could see him.
“Happy fifth anniversary, my love.” She whispered, running her fingers on his high cheekbones.
It lasted only a moment, but a faint smile curled his lips up in his sleep, in response to the feathery feel of her fingers. They felt like love, he’d told her once.
It was a flicker of happiness in the midst of thick darkness. But it was enough.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks.
Rain after the drought.
Leaving the whisky on the bedside table, Claire curled her body to fit his, melting in his warmth. A strong arm came over her waist to settle on her stomach, lightly pulling her to him.
He was there.
She would carry on.
Chapter 5: Angel, Forest, Train
Major Warning for this chapter! Suicide attempt.
Jamie was looking at the empty train rails.
Wet steel. Slick and dark, glinting underneath the occasional light that hit it.
Strong and sturdy. Unaffected by the relentless drops meeting its surface.
So unlike him.
The rain had soaked his hair, his clothes, his soul. Every drop was adding more weight on him, making him sink deeper. Drops that were like rocks, tethered to his legs, his hands, his heart, bringing him closer to the abyss.
He had forgotten.
He woke up at night, the same dream painting a scream on the edge of his lips. He’d been lucky this time; no cries, no abrupt movements, nothing to wake her up. With terrified eyes and shaking hands, Jamie walked to the bathroom, splashing his face with cold water until a semblance of feeling came to him again. It took a while for his freezing skin to bring him back to reality. Glancing back at their bedroom, he stared at her.
She was sleeping, her glass face serene, all the pain he caused driven away in her dreams. When she was awake, when she was seeing him, the worry was always there. A tense tightening her lips, a wrinkle between her eyebrows. She tried to smile but he could see the strain behind. The effort.
All because of him. He had taken her smile away.
He used to make her laugh all the time. The rumbling sound had penetrated the walls of their house, nestling in between the bricks, coming out at night when everything was quite. It still echoed in his sleep, when the screams were away.
A tumbler was on her bedside table.
Was she drinking? In their bedroom? When had that started?
He hadn’t even noticed.
He didn’t even talk to her all day. He didn’t know if she had been at the hospital, how her shift was, if she had lost a patient and tried to forget the sound of a heart, beating for the last time.
Maybe everything was well. Maybe all she tried to forget was the situation he had put her in.
Jamie walked by her side taking the glass in hand, ready to down the amber liquid, wishing for a balm for his soul. His hand trembled and stopped inches away from his mouth.
He shouldn’t drink.
With closed eyes he took a shaking breath. He slowly put the glass on the bedside table again and his hand traveled to her, the back of his fingers grazing the outer layer of her curls.
Silently. Reverently. Guilty.
His throat was dry. He could hardly swallow. Jamie left their room heading for the kitchen. He had to drink something, even if that had to be just water or one of the ridiculous juices Claire bought as of late.
The kitchen lights were too harsh for his eyes. They attacked his irises and burned in them a picture that stabbed his heart.
A table set for two. Flowers, candles, food and wine.
For him? Claire had cooked for him?
Jamie dropped on his knees, bones crashing on the floor tiles - the same tiles that held Claire’s weight while she cried a few hours ago. But Jamie didn’t know that.
She’d made something for him. A whole romantic meal for the two of them and he… He had rejected her.
The memory came to him as a slap, its fingers burning on his skin. Her voice in the dead of the night. Or was it day? He couldn’t bear the light. He’d blocked the sun out of their room, out of his life. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to forget. Everything was too much.
He was miles away when he heard her calling his name. He had finally lost himself in the darkness and she was pulling him back, to the light, to her. She was his light. The angel battling the dark. His Sorcha.
But he couldn’t stand her brightness, he couldn’t stand the thoughts, the need to go on. The way she asked him to feel again.
He’d rejected her. He’d left her alone. He’d denied her.
Jamie opened his eyes and heard the cracking of the few pieces of his soul that were still intact. Despair rushed in, filling his whole existence, like the wine that filled the untouched glasses on the table, red and strong. He suddenly heard all the missed conversations under the candlelight, and the voices in his head became louder, crying out the truth.
He was ruining her life. He was breaking her heart.
Claire hadn’t signed up for this. She signed up for a life that mattered, with a husband that would be present.
He should leave her alone.
The train rails waited patiently. They didn’t call him as he thought they would. They didn’t care for men and their problems. It felt good in a way, that they didn’t. Jamie couldn’t carry people’s love anymore. Their care made him feel incompetent. Less.
He could just leave, go to London or leave UK. But she would find him. Claire Beauchamp Fraser would cross space and time to find him. Leaving wasn’t enough. This had to be final.
He took one step closer to the edge. And then another.
That was it. That was the end.
Jamie closed his eyes, conjuring her face in front of him.
Whisky eyes that used to inflame him whole, exposing all that he was. Full, red lips that he thought he’d kiss until they’d be framed by grey hair and wrinkled skin. He should have kissed her before leaving home. He should have touched more of her ivory skin, feeling like silk under his fingers.
I love ye. I always did, and I’ll always do. Alive or dead, it doesn’t matter. I’m yers, mo nighean donn.
A final step. He’d lie there then, waiting. He’d listen to the buzz of the rails. The buzz of death.
She’d be free then. She’d build a normal life. She’d cook for a husband who’d kiss her and sit across her talking about how their day was. Laughing. Making plans. A husband that would take her to bed, desperate to be inside her, to feel her warmth enveloping him and her breath on his lips.
The husband he should be. The husband he once was.
He couldn’t bear thinking Claire with another man. No. One more step and all thoughts would vanish. One more step and he’d be free. They’d both be free.
“What d'ye think ye’re doing, lad?” The thick Scottish accent brought him back to the present so abruptly, that he almost lost his balance. He was a homeless man, around sixty years old. “There is no train for the next five hours. And the driver will see ye and stop, d’ye know that, right? Ye’re too close to the station and the train isna going fast here.”
What? What was that? The guide to suicide?
Jamie opened his mouth to reply, but after realizing that the man was probably right he stood gaping at him, wondering who of the two of them was more crazy.
The man moved towards him and a hand landed on his trapezoid muscle. His voice was tender when he spoke again. “I ken that, lad. I’ve tried myself. This isna the solution, trust me.”
Jamie looked at him, his gaze lost in the space between them. It was a few inches. It was a whole world. The space between him and the rest of the world was too vast to let him connect with them.
All, apart from Claire. Claire could still reach him. She waited for him.
“Come. Let’s leave this place, aye? It’s too cold to stay out here without whisky.”
Jamie spared a final glance towards the rails. He couldn’t even suicide successfully.
Devoid of any feeling, he walked along with the man towards the gates of the train station. Slowly, with the man always securing him away from the rail side.
“D'ye have a phone, lad?”
Jamie shrugged and search his pockets, finding the phone in the right pocket of his jeans, forgotten in there since the day they went to the supermarket with Claire. He unlocked it and gave it to the man, ignoring the screen lighting with sixteen missed calls.
“This Sassenach.” The old man showed him Claire’s picture on his contacts. “D'ye like her?”
I love her, man.
“Dinna call her. I’m fine.”
“Is she this wild thing running towards us?”
Jamie raised his eyes from the grey tarmac and his heart stopped. He didn’t think his heart still had this quality. To stop meant to be. Meant that he still was.
This wild thing.
She was running towards him, clad in her pajamas and her blue bridge coat, wet curls flailing around her pale face, transparent drops running on her velvet cheeks.
Rain drops. Red eyes. Tears.
She knew he was gone. And now she found out where he’d been. Blood was coloring her lips scarlet.
‘Dinna bite yer lips, Sassenach.’ His own voice came to him from another life, when he knew her distress before listening to her voice.
She was frenzied.
He’d hurt her again, with his soul’s sharp fragments. How much could she take?
Jamie froze in his tracks. Claire was running with her hands extended, trying to reach him as soon as possible. When her fingers crashed on his sweater she grabbed it hard, the fabric becoming just a rug under the force of her hands. Her knees wobbled and she fell on the dirty platform, unable to hold her weight anymore.
He couldn’t hold her up right. Instead, he followed her to her fall, broken and undone.
Sobs were raking her body and new tears mingled with the rain on her cheeks, his sweater still trapped between her long fingers, anchoring him to her.
She was scaring him. She never acted like that. She was the strong one lately, she was always composed. Now he was feeling her struggle to breath, he was seeing pain drawn on every inch of her face, by the cruelest artist.
He cupped her face instinctively, using both hands, to make the drawing disappear, to smudge it into something incomprehensible. It was the first time in months, that he really looked at her. She wasn’t just scared. She was terrified. She was out of her mind.
“I beg you. I beg you, Jamie.” Claire whispered between gasps of breath.
She was begging him, but he couldn’t find any words to offer in response. He just pulled her to him, her face just above his heart. They stayed like this, two shady figures hiding in the dark of the night, until Claire caught her breath again.
She swallowed hard before talking and he heard her sharp breath like a thunder in the sky. “Please, Jamie. I beg you. If you still feel something for me. If you still…” She paused, her bottom lip trembling. “Love me.” It was a whisper and he hardly heard her.
How could she doubt his love for her?
“I love you, mo ghraidh. You’re all I love.” His tears fell on her hair and he pulled away so he could see her.
The amber in her eyes was glowing. Pleading, desperate. “Please, Jamie. Don’t leave me.”
His breath was hinged. His hands trembled. And in her storm, he saw what she was seeing in him.
Without words, he pulled her closer to him, enveloping her in his arms, securing her frame in his bigger one as he trusted his soul to her. He pressed his lips on her forehead, and her whimper traveled through his flesh and bone.
“Please?” She breathed on his neck.
“I’m ruining our life, mo nighean donn. Your life.”
“Our life. I have no life without you, do you hear me?” He nodded, and she continued. “And you don’t ruin it, Jamie. We’ll fix it. I promise you, we’re gonna fix it. Don’t you dare leave me alone, James Fraser.”
A ghost of a smile caressed his lips, at the sound of his formal name leaving her mouth. “Seems I can’t. Can I?”
“It’s our anniversary.” She said, smiling at him, and he took his eyes away.
“Five years. I forgot.” He said, each word punctuated by guilt and shame.
Her fingers were on his face, making him look at her. “That’s why you left?”
“Aye.” It wasn’t more that a sigh.
“You’re a fool. It’s just a stupid anniversary.” Her fingers traveled up at the nape of his neck, and got lost in the wet auburn curls, bringing their foreheads together.
“Ye cooked.” He said in a shaking breath.
“Well, you didn’t try it, did you? It might have been a disaster.”
“Smelled nice.” He said and she chuckled.
“Jamie?” Claire breathed and he felt her warmth on his lips. “Let’s go home?”
He didn’t reply, just kissed the lips he hadn’t felt in days, swallowing her love, getting lost in the lemony scent of her.
They rose slowly and walked towards the street with their hands intertwined, the lamp posts shedding their light on the rails that were left behind, the rails that were made to move the trains through cities and forests, indifferent about life and death.
The rails that had almost smashed two souls.
The rails that were guarded by an old man, who’d lost his daughter years ago, in that same spot.
Chapter 6: You want to hear more
Claire slept fitfully the nights that followed Jamie’s attempt at the train station. Her eyes kept fluttering open in the dead of the night, her hand instantly groping for him at his side of the bed. The few times he wasn’t there, she tasted her own heart in her mouth, the metallic tang of blood she knew all too well taking over her senses.
It felt like a preview of her life without him. A flash forward to the emptiness, to the heartbreak. To a buried life, where dreams would taste of soil.
Tonight wasn’t different.
His absence pushed her to spring out of bed, her feet unstable on the floor for a moment before running to the door. It took her a minute to compose herself before entering the living room, faking a nonchalant night stroll to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Not to scare him. Not to give him reason to collect the pieces he’d laid in the space between them, trying to show her a small part of his darkness.
Claire found him standing next to his desk, looking at the lights of Edinburgh scattered on rain puddles and wet cobblestones.
A whisper. A plea. A voice lost in the void between them.
Claire walked through the void. Walked through the barren surface, the lifeless chasm she could feel but couldn’t see. Each step required a bit of her soul as a toll, but the sacrifice was too small for what she would get.
She reached his body, consumed by the effort, and wrapped two arms around his waist. Two arms that extended to trembling hands, to faltering fingers. Limbs that could never belong to a surgeon. And yet they did. They were attached to a surgeon who had saved so many lives, but stood incapable in front of the life that was the most valuable to her.
Claire pressed her ear against his back and closed her eyes.
It was there. The most reassuring of sounds, the one who haunted her dreams when it suddenly stopped, leaving the world without music, color, taste.
One beat for him.
One beat for her.
Claire didn’t know how much time had passed with her silently listening to his heart. It was her prize, her drive to reach him again and again.
She’d heard countless hearts in the operating room and yet, this was the only one that made hers beat in response.
“Sassenach,” Jamie’s whisper scattered around her, and just before the traces of his voice were lost, he spoke again. “What are ye doing up at this hour?”
“I’m with you.” The answer came easy, unhampered.
“Aye, ye are.” Jamie sighed, placing a big hand on top of hers as it lay on his stomach. “How was yer day?”
“Good,” she hurried to say, scanning her memory for all the positive things she saw happening. “A patient with a cranial injury talked again today, for the first time after the accident.” Claire smiled against his back, and the edges of Jamie’s lips curled up, as if her smile was contagious.
“And her daughter was there, and she started crying and kissing her mother. Mrs. Graham told her daughter’s name, who spent all her days and nights at the hospital, first of all things. And then she asked for a Scottish tablet. Fiona ran out of the hospital, frantic, and came back with a bag full of them, dispersing them around.”
“I’ve missed a good Scottish tablet,” Jamie said and felt her fingers interlace with his.
“We can go buy some tomorrow.” She reassured him with a soft kiss between the shoulder blades, breathing him in, the fabric of his T-shirt almost blocking her nostrils.
“What else?” Jamie asked, closing his eyes, keeping the rain away.
“You want to hear more?” Claire tried to hide the excitement in her voice, but joy was a fickle friend, one that loved to manifest itself. It colored her few words, making the letters hop up and down like children in a summer day.
“Aye,” Jamie chuckled, and Claire was afraid to pinch herself, in case she’d wake up. “Tell me more, Sassenach, take me wi’ ye.”
She heard his voice through the air. She heard it through his body. She heard it while the most beautiful background music filled her ears.
Claire talked to him for hours, filling in the blanks his disease had created, bringing him back into her life. They sat on the wooden floor until the first light colored the sky, taking the darkness away.
She told him about the patients she’d lost, those few people she couldn’t grasp hard enough and was forced to see slipping between her fingers. She cried in his lap, her sobs raking both their bodies as she let herself feel after a long time.
She told him of all the miracles she’d seen, miracles created by human stubbornness and persistence. Springing from the thirst to fight, to stay, to be. And she smiled the most glorious grin then, one that brought her tear-stained cheekbones high enough to make her eyes two happy slits.
What Claire didn’t tell him, was that the she wished only for one more miracle. But she didn’t need to.
Unicorns never knew their true nature anyway.
Chapter 7: Six Months.
Jamie unlocked the door and walked into the house, his keys hitting the glass bowl next to the door and echoing through the house.
Padding softly to the living room, he found Claire sleeping on the couch, her long legs crossed, taking up all the space, a book fallen on the wooden floor from her extended hand.
Whisky eyes closed, mouth relaxed.
He was well aware that Claire never slept when he wasn’t home, apart from the days when Murtagh took Jamie out. They were going for a walk to the Holyrood park, and Claire trusted the grump man enough to leave the two alone and stay calm at home. She was trying to hide it, but Jamie could see her constant worry even without her glass face. It was always there, added on layers upon layers of fatigue, gained from hard shifts and long nights in the OR. Always there, shimmering underneath her skin.
Jamie stopped short, looking at her sleeping. Her hair was still wet from shower, falling on her cheeks and on their beige throw pillows, her T-shirt and pajama pants tracing the soft curves of her body.
His old self would go immediately to her, with wide strides, not to spend another second without holding her. He’d run a hand through the dark curls, trace the lines of her face, the ivory skin, the full lips.
His old self would want to kiss these lips and sneak into her dreams, bringing her back to him with soft nips and bites on the tender skin of her neck. He would ache to hear her whimpers and moans, to feel the way her body roused in response to his. To have her heavy breast in his palm, her labored breath against his skin.
He would feel the need to take her there and then, to mark her body with his love, to enter her with the sole purpose of being one.
Leaving nothing between them. No air. No distance.
His old self would long to find himself in her, just as she lived in him every day, every hour, making his heart beat once more, and then again.
A connection so deep and strong that the seams had disappeared years ago, impossible to be found.
And yet, without taking his eyes off her, Jamie walked to the armchair across from her. He wouldn’t go to her. He couldn’t.
He was afraid to touch her and wake her up, afraid of what he’d see while she was still floating between dreams and reality. He knew that while her consciousness was slowly emerging on the surface, her eyes saw him as he was before. Her mouth smiled for the man she’d married. Her hands were instinctively pulling him towards her, her lips demanding to be captured in his. And in the few seconds it took her to school her features, he could see the million broken pieces of her heart. The sharp fragments of the solid heart he was breaking.
He couldn’t see that again. He wasn’t brave enough to witness her heartbreak.
Six months since the time he had last made love to her. That first night he’d asked for help, when he gathered all his courage and let his heart scream to her.
After that, the medication took over.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Decreased libido. Erectile dysfunction.
All expected. He was just another number that confirmed the statistics.
And yet, that didn’t make it any better.
Claire was supporting him; understanding him. She was holding his damn hand when he first talked to the doctor. They had reduced the dosage of his medication and he’d ended up at the train station, thinking that he was ruining Claire’s life. Not that he didn’t. At that dark night, when emptiness was calling his name and the stars had lost their shine, he gave her her first white hairs, a gift for their five-year anniversary.
This was who he’d become. A rock falling and hurting whomever was on his path.
The doctor increased the dosage after the attempt, that only Claire had the guts to call by its name. In their next appointment they changed the medication, because he was doing nothing but sleep. With the new drugs his sleep schedule became more regular, and he spent more time with Claire.
She smiled more. They did yoga together. He had good days.
But still, he didn’t want to touch her body. He didn’t feel that fire burning him whole, that desire to have his hands on her, to feel her fingers on his body trailing paths and leaving goosebumps behind.
That war inside him, until he buried himself inside her. The peace that followed. The feeling of being whole.
There was only fear, now. Anxiety. It scared him how passionless he was. Empty.
“Mo nighean donn,” he whispered low, so low that she couldn’t hear him. “Ye should run away from the man I’ve become.”
He couldn’t look at her anymore. It broke him to see her there, valuable and alone, and he unable to give her solace.
And yet, she was still there. This fierce thing he’d married, ready to fight anything and anyone for him. Ready to fight him for him.
He leaned his head onto the back of the chair and the tears rolled down his cheeks, quiet and bitter. He mourned his own self, silently, until the frown between his eyebrows smoothed and sleep claimed him.
And he slept.
Chapter 8: Guilt
Claire’s head was buried in her hands, the pads of her fingers pressing her eyeballs, until bright, white dots appeared dancing on the black background. She took a deep, strained breath. And then another.
The tears were dry by now, spent and gone, their silver tracks the only proof they’d rolled down her pale face. Guilt, however, was there - always there - sitting her weight on Claire’s chest, making her heart shrink back to her spine to be protected from the crush.
Guilt, that crawled under closed doors, finding the tiny gap that let the light in, to seal it forever.
Claire’s head was buzzing, her throat was sore, her hands not enough to banish the memories from coming back.
She’d shouted at him.
Why would she be so stupid? Why didn’t she just shut up?
New tears came in her eyes, eager to run free, as if they would carry some of her guilt on their back.
They wouldn’t - they couldn’t.
They couldn’t take Jamie’s shuddered glance away.
It was a whisper, a careful intrusion, a pleading, calling her back to the surface.
“Mmm,” was the only way she could respond. Words were left on the seabed, hiding from the world, waiting for Jamie to trap them in his lips.
“You okay?” Joe moved a chair from across the desk to sit next to her. The chair’s legs scrapped against the floor, the sound so strong, so matter-of-fact, that could have come from a parallel dimension.
“I’m okay, Joe, yes.” Claire took a deep breath and lowered her hands from her face, slowly turning to look at him.
A fake, reassuring smile.
A cocked, unconvinced eyebrow.
“I’m telling you, I’m fine.” Another lie.
“Yes, I can see that.” Another questioning glance. “You’re not okay, Claire. You’re actually far from okay.”
Claire huffed. “You know, Joe? At some point, it doesn’t really matter.”
“It does.” Joe reached for her hand, taking it into his. “It matters to me. It matters to him too, even if he doesn’t quite show that at the moment.”
Claire shook her head, a pitiful laughter leaving her lips. “Oh he does show that. He cares so bloody much that he suggested we’d live apart for a while.”
“He did?” Jamie Fraser, asking the love of his life to go away. Joe tried to hide the shock from his voice, ending up breaking his question into a surprised ‘he’ and an aloof ‘did’, that sounded almost funny.
Maybe it would be funny, another day. But not today.
Claire didn’t speak, just ran her thumb on the metal of her ring, feeling the engraved thistle pattern against her skin.
“What happened, LJ?”
Claire shrugged, the pout on her lips making her the little girl uncle Lamb adored. It soon became a tight line, one designed to keep the words inside, before it trembled lightly, and the words escaped, struggling to be free from their bonds. “We had a fight - a terrible one. I’m terrible, Joe. I’m fucking terrible.”
And like that, guilt was back, with claws that grabbed Claire’s soul, squeezing out hopes until they transformed into sobs.
“It’s going to be okay,” Joe took her in his arms, running a reassuring hand on her back. “You’re not terrible, you’re doing the best you can. Jamie knows that, Claire.”
“I pushed him too much, today. I shouldn’t…” she managed to say in between her sobs.
Joe waited, keeping her in his arms, his black, warm eyes closed tight. When Claire calmed down, he schooled his face into a serene expression and tried again. “Why did you push him for, LJ?”
“Psychotherapy.” Claire swallowed with difficulty, looking at her friend’s eyes. Joe would understand.
“It wasn’t the first time we discussed about this. But he’s denying that it will help him. I gave him the facts, I explained the different approaches, I told him stories of people with depression who said how much it has helped them… Nothing. He’s so negative, the stubborn Scot, and he insists that he only needs me and I’m enough! But I know, Joe. He doesn’t talk to me about everything. It’s not the same. I’ll always be there for him, but you know… It’s not the same.”
“No, I know. It’s not. But if he’s not ready to accept this yet, there’s not much you can do.”
“I did something. I found a therapist. Her name is Agnes Hildegarde, and she’s held in very high esteem.” Claire looked at Joe, her eyes searching his for a shred of compassion. “I didn’t make an appointment!” she exclaimed, raising her hands, pleading not guilty. “I just talked to him about cognitive behavioral therapy and how it could be helpful, and then told him that I found Hildegarde and she’s one of the best. It made him furious.” The crack between Claire’s eyebrows deepened. “He was angry at first, but then he withdrew and announced that we should live separately because he’s obviously only a burden to me. I didn’t want to make him feel he’s a burden! I was just trying to help!”
“He had a bad day, Claire. He doesn’t mean that.”
“I should have known. I should have stopped before it was too late.” She ran her fingers in her hair, the curls stopping them midway across her scalp.
Joe took Claire by the arms, making her look at him. “Will you stop thinking you’re God almighty, Claire?” He asked, his voice raised higher than usual. “I’m sorry to be the one who breaks the news to you, but you’re just a human, LJ. And guess what! We make fucking mistakes!” Claire opened her mouth to speak, but he stopped her. “You’re blaming Jamie for not wanting to open himself and talk to a therapist. Do you know for how long I’m trying to reach you, to talk to you, only to listen to you claiming that you’re fine?”
“I…” Claire tried to defend herself but found nothing to say.
“Exactly. I haven’t seen you smile for a while, I haven’t heard you laughing for ages. I can’t stand this frown that is permanently carved on your face, and I can’t stand having you saying you’re fine. I miss you, Claire, and I want to help.”
Claire nodded, stupefied, realizing that her friend was right. She blamed Jamie, but she was doing exactly the same. She tried to carry on alone, to do the right thing, to be there for Jamie. And somewhere along the way, she forgot herself. She forgot the first advice she was always giving to caregivers. Take care of yourself first and accept help.
“And now that we made a few things clear, LJ,” Joe smiled at her, “Go find your man. I’ll cover your shift.”
Chapter 9: Distorted Thoughts
Chapter 10: A Bad Day
Jamie opened his eyes, the bright daylight stinging his pupils, painful. He closed them again.
He took a deep breath. Then another.
The echo of Claire’s kiss danced on his lips. She had leaned over him, her weight light at the end of the mattress, her voice soft as she told him she was leaving. She had wished him a good day.
Not likely. He hadn’t opened his eyes to tell her so, just waited to hear the door closing behind her and fell asleep again.
He'd wished sleep would take everything away. Bring him back his numbness.
Now, closing his eyes again against the sunlight, he felt guilty. Guilty of not fighting. And this guilt… this guilt made everything worse. Made him want to sink into the mattress, bury himself below the layers of quilts and duvets and forget the empty white page that would appear in front of him the moment he would turn on his laptop.
It was the emptiness of that page that made the sunshine seem cruel.
Yesterday had been a disaster. He had woken up determined to write, to free the monsters that ate his soul. He’d let his fingers roam above the letters. He’d let the words escape him for hours and hours. More pages than he’d written in months.
And then, with a cup of fresh, hot coffee in hand, he’d read it. He’d gathered all the pebbles of courage laying on the bottom of the flooded mess he was, and read it.
And he’d found yet another trigger – another painful experience that made him withdraw from the world, from himself. Editing his own work.
He hadn’t let himself think. He’d opened the first drawer of his desk and set the little black notebook in front of him. The journal he kept for his weekly sessions with Agnes - the only pages that didn’t judge him.
He’d written what had happened. How clearly worthless was to keep trying.
He could hear Hildegarde disagree with that notion. He could hear Claire disagree. He could almost see how her eyes would widen if she’d read his declarations.
But Jamie could see the disaster he had become – it swam before his eyes. All the wrong words. All the seams between the paragraphs, palpable, formed with the wrong thread, its colour an attack to the pieces woven together. He could see all the sentences that were close to what his soul whispered, but not exactly that. Not exactly what he meant to say.
It had broken him to read it again. It hadn’t stopped screaming at him: Failure. You are a failure.
Claire had found him with his face buried in his hands hiding the silver lines on his cheeks, clear paths for more tears to run, before reaching the soft fabric of his sweater.
They had talked for hours. Claire hadn’t let him escape. Hadn’t let him shrink back to that dark place where he couldn’t be found. She was, after all, his social support. She had talked to Hildegarde too, and now she knew how to tread on this dangerous ground.
By the end of the night, holding her tight in his arms, warm and soft and his, his heart had started beating again. In sync with hers. And he’d let himself feel the chunk of happiness she had offered him. And he’d let himself hope that everything could be fixed, as long as she loved him. That he could love himself again.
But today was different. No matter what the two of them had achieved last night, today was different. It took him thirty-five minutes to leave his bed. It took him twenty minutes to realize he was binge-eating and half the fridge was empty. It took him an additional hour to get to the shower. It took him an incredible amount of effort not to give in in self-pity, in the thoughts that insisted he was not worth fighting for.
Today was a bad day.
And that was acceptable, he silently repeated Agnes’s words to himself. Bad days are expected. Just get through it. Just get through it without losing yourself.
The shower helped. A month ago, he would have stayed in bed, trapped in a nightmare. His thoughts repeating themselves, lashing harder at him in every round.
Distorted thoughts, Agnes had said.
But today he did better. Tried more. Went to the living room. Drew back the curtains. Looked at the people passing by. Tried to mute that lingering voice in his head, the one insisting nothing would ever change.
Nothing will get better. You will never manage to write something worthy again. Claire will eventually tire and leave. You’re not enough for her, for the world. There is nothing in you that is desired. There is no life in you.
Darkness reaching out for him. Empty, unending darkness.
But then, Claire words hit him from the recesses of his mind. The ones that held some light, still. “You can’t just let it take you. I need you here, with me.”
Claire was at work, but Murtagh wasn’t. Jamie reached for his phone. He didn’t want to leave the house, he didn’t want to meet anyone. And yet, he called Murtagh. He would meet him in thirty minutes at the park.
He wouldn’t show Murtagh the truth – he wasn’t ready for it. He didn’t want to explain, he didn’t want to let him know the mess he still was. No. Murtagh thought he did better. Jamie wouldn’t let a word slip out of his mouth about how tired he was. What a burden he felt. How most things seemed not to matter. No. Murtagh thought the medication and psychotherapy always worked.
Jamie would just spend some time with his godfather and make sure to keep his mind occupied. He would talk about Claire and Jenny, about little Jamie and his last obsession with fire-fighters. He would hug Murtagh tight before leaving. Not too tight - that would make the grumpy mam suspicious. And he would silently thank him for the help.
Then, Jamie would go back home and make a cup of tea. And when Claire would be back from the hospital, he would tell her. Everything. And she would say that it was just a bad day, and they would get through this.
Claire would wrap her arms around him and bury her head in the crook of his neck. And he would smell the citrus and thyme in her hair, and he would inhale deeply. A balm on his fears. And he would know that she was still there.
On this bad day, and the bad days to come.
Chapter 11: Marks and Blemishes
Chapter 12: Roots and Dandelions
This is the last chapter of Death Dreams. This story started as a one-shot, but your love made it a multi-chapter and I want to thank you for this. Thank you for reading, for your comments and your support. This story is special to me, and I hope I did it justice.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jamie opened his eyes, welcoming the soft daylight that filled the room in a languid pace, and he revelled in the soft strokes of sunlight colouring Claire’s ivory skin a few inches away. He moved closer and buried his head below the mass of her curls, nuzzling the nape of her neck. She was smooth and soft under his lips. He kissed her shoulder, then breathed her in, the vanilla and lemon of her scent curling his lips up until a wide smile spread on his face.
He was still surprised to find feelings rushing out of him.
Joy, happiness. To smile without an effort, just because elation wells up inside you and you need to let it out, to free it to the skies. As if emotions were never yours; they belonged to the world and you had been a part of it, needed as much as a dandelion scattering its seeds in the air, or a tree taking root deep in the earth.
Jamie left Claire nestled between the quilts, sleeping peacefully in their bedroom. For so many months, she used to wake up in an instant when she felt him move out of the bed – but not anymore. She was calm now, her brow free of the deep wrinkles his behavior used to carve between her eyebrows. Jamie stopped on his way to the kitchen and turned his head back to look at her, to reassure himself she wasn’t a faerie that would suddenly disappear.
No. Faeries don’t have scars or wrinkles of pain. They don’t go to battle, they don’t fight. They don’t frantically dig the earth with their bare hands to bring lost people back into the light. But Claire had done this. She had kept pushing her fingers into the soil, scraping and scooping up dirt, even when it was futile and quicksand had buried her efforts, covering her progress under a smooth surface. She had kept quarrying until the skin on her knuckles broke and blood ran, red and menacing against the paling white of her hands. She had continued, until the strain was carved on her forehead, lines that would never disappear. But she had reached deep enough for him to hear her heart beating for both of them. A beautiful, clear sound. The signal to bring him back, the only sound that reached him underground, in the vast darkness he had inhabited. She had shown him the way, and he had found her through the pain and despair. He found the light, and she had ended up with scars enough for a lifetime.
Jamie filled the kettle with water and opened the cabinet, searching for tea. A memory came, uninvited, and he smiled at the reminiscence of teasing Claire about tea when she had moved into his apartment, their first home.
English tea? Were they out of Scottish tea, Sassenach? Or are ye trying to invade my pure Scottish home wi’ yer subtle yet despicable tea schemes?
She had looked at him wide-eyed like a doe at first, but a moment later she’d lifted an eyebrow, ready for a retort.
The kettle went silent and Jamie blinked as he looked around, surprised not to find Claire’s whisky eyes in front of him in their old, tiny kitchen, crammed with pans and pots. He steeped his tea and started fixing the appliances on the counter until they were set in order. He cleaned the toaster, first removing the crumb tray and then turning it upside down over the sink, all the while muttering to himself how Claire always forgot to do it.
Another normalcy that hit him for its novelty. Since the veil of depression had been removed, things were bothering him again. It had been different all those previous months; when he was numb, everything seemed grey, mundane. His house could very well be on fire and he wouldn’t really care. But now, he was getting upset or frustrated more often than he would have expected. Claire had forgotten to do the laundry or had bought the wrong oat cookie brand. His sister had cancelled their trip to Glasgow again. His laptop charger had broken. Little things that suddenly mattered.
Sometimes not caring seemed the easy way – a path he knew how to find, a well-worn shirt that had his shape and felt soft against his skin. He was terribly unused to things itching at him. Feeling them.
It wasn’t bliss that returned to him – it was life. And life was never just the one thing.
Jamie took his perfectly brewed cup of tea and walked back to the living room. After a moment’s hesitancy, he stood by the window as he’d seen Claire do countless times, absentmindedly looking at the world outside the days he had crawled to hide inside himself. Back then, all he had wanted was to disappear. Now he stood tall and proud in front of the wide panel, drawing deep breaths of black tea, preparing himself for the day.
He had finished his manuscript. He had taunted himself for almost two months, reading and rereading, changing words and deleting sentences only to replace them with almost identical ones a few hours later. Today was the day he would send it to his editor. With a simple email, his words would fly away, seeds of a dandelion searching for soil, to take root in a stranger’s heart.
It had been difficult to let it go. Even more difficult than writing the story. A story he had written for himself, and he’d accepted that a writer is sometimes entitled to do just that. Write an uncommon story that talks to his soul.
Not that all stories are the same. Even popular stories can be vastly different from each other. Some are about the love of fallen princesses and smart boys flashing dashing smiles; others about exiled soldiers who had once been powerful. There are stories about gallant heroes and their adventures towards triumph and those about friendships lasting a lifetime, stronger than evil and disaster. All of them, stories that make you hold your breath, turn the pages to reach the final scene, always striking, moving, perfect.
But then, there are these other stories, the ones with protagonists who would never make it in history books, not strong or bold or smart enough to save the world. Maybe a little broken, maybe a little unlucky, maybe more human than they ought to be. The stories of those who lived, and struggled, and won, and lost, and didn’t change anything at the end. But they had been there. They had laughed, and cried, and made other people do so, and they had forced their way forward.
A story like his, still worthy to be told.
Jamie closed his eyes, feeling the sun warm against his face. He would wait for Claire to wake up before sending the email. And then they might go for a walk in the park, and buy a birthday present for wee Jamie. It was time to get him a new bike.
He sipped his tea, making plans, and in the quietness of the room, he heard his heart beat inside his chest. Alive. In the crisp morning, with the sun victorious against the clouds in the sky, he heard it again. And he memorized that sound, and the feeling of completeness, because he knew that other mornings would come, with mist and rain, dark and ominous.
That was not the end – there was no end.
He could still feel depression lurking in the shadows behind him, biding its time. Waiting, to breathe in his air. But he had kept his breath safe, in the words he wrote, in the gasping laughter of his beloved ones. And he knew how to use it, to grow roots that would keep him standing.
Like Claire’s wee cactus. It had lost its vivacity when she’d forgotten to water it for months. Dark and shrinking, it had been reduced to something less. But then, when Claire had realized it, she hadn’t admitted defeat. She had started watering it again, and one day a new branching stem sprang – green, fat and radiant. Persisting. And it grew its own roots, slowly extending them day by day seeking for soil, until the thin roots grabbed it tightly, determined to live.
He knew now, that he had such branches inside him. Parts of him that would always seek life. That would grip it, and breath it, and stand whole again.
He found comfort in the reassurance of abiding life. And he felt strong, now that he could look darkness in the eye and recognize it. He knew its empty embrace all too well. And he had vowed to remember.
He wouldn’t falter. He wouldn’t give in.
‘Death dreams I don’t forget,
It’s been a while since I dreamed this
Even now when I sleep I tread with care…’
This story was written for all those who struggled with depression and lost the battle, and for the people who love and miss them. And for those who still fight and win the darkness, sometimes barely and sometimes triumphantly, and for their loved ones, who fight alongside with them. Much love to you all.