The memories woke up her up, sometimes. Like clutches to her throat, suffocating her. The war had ended a little over two years ago, now. With each passing day, the memories became hazier, blurrier but some things remained…She remembered the smell vividly: a mixture of gunpowder and shredded human flesh. And the noise. Deafening. Some days could go on end without a sound. An agonizing silence that always predicted the impending chaos that would follow.
When the time had come to leave for the front, she didn’t hesitate.
She had no home, no anchors. And with the war, those would have been erased, anyway. Swept away with a single bomb, never to be real, again. She had been stationed, first in Bordeaux and then in Normandy, to heal people. She tried to remember all their faces, sometimes. The ones of the fellow nurses working with her, the doctors, the wounded soldiers, the lost ones… Strangers that were no more. But again, she barely could.
Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp saw countless men wounded and lost under her care. She saw their bodies torn apart by bombs and heard their pleading cries to their mothers. She had looked death in the eyes and yet, it wasn’t what kept her up at night. She barely thought of the night she almost lost her own life in an ambush and laid alone in a ditch for long hours, shaking and paralyzed by fear, either. The smell of exposed flesh and the sound of agony didn’t haunt her, at least not anymore.
He haunted her.
She recalled everything of the Scot. From his impressive height, his fiery curls to the deep blue of his eyes. And the way he looked at her. Like no one else had ever done – like no one would never do. She remembered the smell of his soap and the taste of his skin. The way his flesh was strewed with goosebumps when she touched it.
Claire could still hear his voice. The deep hum of satisfaction he made whenever he was right. The way her name rolled off his tongue as if it had been created especially for him to say. And the thickness of his Scottish accent whenever he spoke Gaelic. He had taught her words during his stay at the makeshift hospital. Words she didn’t speak out loud again.
Jamie had stayed under her care for a month. His shoulder displaced and injured by a bullet. A month where two strangers had quickly become friends and slowly something else.Something more. Something unspeakable, neither of them dared to say out loud. Claire wasn’t sure their bond hadn’t been created even before they had met.
She had learned that tomorrow might not come to pass and so had he. All they had was today and if they were lucky, they would have the next, too. Maybe the one after that. At least, until his shoulder would heal and Lieutenant Fraser would have to go back to the front, disappearing one morning, under the thick fog, one last look towards nurse Beauchamp.
“Lieutenant,” Claire appeared with a smile on her face, clean bandages in her hands, “Time to see that shoulder of yours.”
“I’ve been here for God kens how long, will I have to tell ye every day to call me Jamie, lass?” He looked at her, his mouth curling up into a grin.
“No” She chuckled softly, putting her supplies on the little table by his bed, “I just like to say, Lieutenant.”
“Verra well then Nurse Beauchamp,” Smiling, Jamie sat up slowly, his eyes never leaving hers.
“How are you feeling?” She watched him, washing her hands with alcohol and trying to ignore the burning of it on her chapped skin.
“My arm isna bother anymore and neither is my shoulder wound, if that is what ye are askin’,” He answered, not bringing up the fact that this improvement would mean for him to leave the hospital very soon.
“Well, that’s good,” Her eyes didn’t meet his this time, pretexting to be busy preparing the fresh bandages.
Jamie stayed silent for a while, simply watching her hands. The ones he had felt brushing his skin more time than once when she took care of his injuries.
“Your shoulder is fully recovered, what worried me most was the bullet wound and potential infection but you haven’t had fever, I guess it’s on the road to recovery, as well,” The hubbub and voices had seemed to fade around them. It always seemed to fade whenever she was with Jamie.
“Aye, ‘tis,” Jamie said, smiling sadly.
They both knew the second Claire would speak the words, it meant Jamie would have to go back to the front, in the shortest notice. She had been dragging it more than she should have, for selfish reasons she wasn’t very proud of. But the sheer idea of letting this man go, without no guarantee of ever seeing him again broke her heart.
In the few short weeks he had been here, he had become her friend. Sharing stories about his family and his life in Scotland, trying to describe as best as he could Lallybroch, his childhood home. She heard him pray every night. Pray for his sister, his parents. Pray they would still be there, alive and well whenever he would go back. If he would ever go back. He prayed for strangers and he always prayed for her, but she didn’t know that.
He was a bloody scot. She called him that, sometimes. When he didn’t want to listen to her and tried to use his arm for no reason other than annoy her. In those moments, she wanted to cup his cheeks between her palms and kiss him to leave him breathless.
Kiss him for today and maybe, for tomorrow.
“Thank ye for fixin’ me, Sassenach,” Smiling, Jamie watched her eyes while her fingers slowly opened the button of the pyjama they had provided for him.
They itched to touch his skin in a less clinical way than what she was doing right now. Opening his shirt, sliding it off his shoulder with a medical precision not to hurt his wound. Not to burn her fingers.
“You need a nurse on hand, I’ve never seen someone with so many scars and given the circumstances, it’s quite an accomplishment for one man alone – ”
“Och, I ken and most of them aren’t even because of this bloody war,” He chuckled softly, “My poor mam cursed me more time than once, always falling and injuring myself whenever I would go out to play. Then, I guess growin’ up and becomin’ a soldier didn’t help matters.”
“How did you end up with this one?” Claire pointed at the one on his right side. Her eyes doing their best not to stare at his chest.
“My sister who pushed me down a hill and a rock dug into my skin, I was a wee lad, barely six,” He made a face, “I cried all the tears I had and some more, took me a while to speak to her again,” He looked at her, his mouth curling up into a grin.
Smiling, Claire leaned closer, “And what about this one?”
Her index lightly traced the line on his cheekbone, the tip of her finger like a match igniting heat on the surface of his skin.
“I could tell ye about me fighting in a duel for a lass’ heart but truthfully, I ran into a tree,” He looked at her defeated, with a childlike expression that made her heart burst.
She couldn’t help but laugh, a deep sound coming from the pit of her stomach. A sound she had no idea would be the thing he would remember of her until his last breath. Along with her eyes – the colour of whisky reminiscent of home.
“The duel was far more heroic,” Grinning, Claire sat down on the edge of his bed and slowly unwrapped his bandage.
“Aye, I admit ‘tis,” He smiled, leaning back.
“But it’s a funny story, I hope the tree is alright,” she grinned
“Och, ‘tis!” He chuckled. It was a nice change to hear laughter around these parts and not agonising sounds or men pleading as they were dying.
She smiled again before looking closely at his wound.
For any other soldier, she would have been glad to see it scabbing nicely but the sight of his shoulder simply made her inside shred with the realisation their time together was even more counted than before. And Jamie noticed the way her face completely changed.
“What is it?” He asked, his eyes begging for hers to meet them.
“Your wound is almost healed,” Her voice was low, afraid that if she said it too loudly, someone would hear. She had a glass face, no matter if she tried to hide her emotions from him, she couldn’t.
“Tis…’tis a good thing,” Jamie took her hand.
“Yes, of course.” She cleared her throat and took her hand away, taking a clean roll of bandage, “Let me make you a new bandage and I shall be on my way to tend the others.”
“Aye,” Jamie answered quietly.
Her skilled hands worked quickly but effectively while her mouth remained shut, simply curling up into a sad smile whenever their eyes met with a silent understanding of what would come next.
“There, all good,” Claire buttoned his shirt again and washed her hands. “Have a good day, Lieutenant.”
“Ye too, Claire,” He said softly, watching her walk away before he had the time to say anything.
Since the war had started, time had felt interminable. Hours turned into days, days into weeks and weeks into months. Time had become an abstract concept, that didn’t really exist anymore… Until Jamie had come into her life. Each day faded faster and faster and his impending departure that seemed so far away at first would now be tomorrow.
Claire sat by a fire, eyes closed and ears opened to the crackling of it. The hospital was almost always composed at this time of the evening and Claire had taken the opportunity to go a bit further away to spend time with her thoughts and sorrows. She had avoided him for the last few days, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
“Sassenach,” His voice was low and tender, echoing into the quiet night and bringing her mind back to reality.
Tomorrow he would be gone.
Slightly turning her head, she looked up at him, noticing he was dressed in his army pants and a stained white t-shirt. The same one he had on the day he arrived here.
“‘Tis late, what are ye doin’ here alone in the dark?” He asked, voice still low. He made his way towards her.
“I couldn’t sleep,” She answered truthfully, her eyes following him as he sat next to her.
They both knew exactly why but neither one spoke of the reason, then.
“I couldna sleep, either,” He shrugged, “Weel, ‘tis been a while I haven’t been able to sleep properly.”
“I wonder how much longer this nonsense is going to last,” She sighed, warming her hands towards the fire.
It wasn’t particularly cold during the days, as it was somewhere around spring (maybe May, maybe June, no one knew at this point) but the evenings were chilly when everyone was barely fed and the cots’ beds were deprived of blankets thicker than sheets of paper.
“I don’t even know how long it’s been, at this point, two years? Maybe three?” She chuckled, more of frustration and exhaustion than amusement.
“I dinna ken, either, apart that it’s been a long time we’ve been away from home, Sassenach,” He looked at her, his mouth curling up sadly.
Home. What an odd concept it was for Claire. Losing her parents at a young age and travelling the world with her uncle Lambert after that, she had never known what home meant. At least not in the literal sense of the word. With four walls, stairs, a fireplace and books scattered around shelves. Maybe a bouquet of flowers in a vase, resting on a coffee table.
She realised the longest she had ever stayed in a place was now, stationed in France. With strangers that became friends. Strangers she would never see again once the war would end.
“Do you have anyone waiting for you at home? Apart from your family, of course,” The question escaped her quicker than she realised and she cursed herself for asking it. Not only she would not see his man after tomorrow, but she also didn’t want to know if he belonged to anyone else.
“A lass, ye mean?” He looked at her amused and his expression eased her heart even before he could answer, “Nay, I dinna have a lass waitin’ for me at home.”
“Maybe ‘tis better this way, I have enough worryin’ about my family.”
“That’s true,” She smiled softly, moving slightly to sit closer to him.
“And ye? Is there a lad waitin’ for ye?”
“The only lad waiting for me would be my uncle is all,” She smiled warmly at the mention of Lambert Beauchamp, “The archaeologist I told you about once. Hopefully, he is somewhere, safe and sound.”
“I’m sure he is,” Jamie looked at her eyes. She wasn’t sure he was telling her the truth but he told her what she needed to hear and it was enough.
“Thank you, Jamie,” She squeezed his hand and rested her head against his shoulder. It healed but she made sure to be careful.
“I’m sure he’s verra proud of ye, of how brave ye are,” He whispered, resting his head against hers.
She waited a long time to say something again, her eyes glued to the fire and her hand absently stroking Jamie’s.
“I’m not brave,” Claire finally said, “I don’t even think any of us is, we just got swept in this and we have no choice but survive.”
“Och, maybe ye’re right, Sassenach,” He closed his eyes for a second, “So much bloodshed, so many lives lost and for what? Thirst of power.”
A shiver ran down Claire’s spine thinking of the atrocities fears could generate and how many lives had already been lost. She didn’t dare to think about the ones who would perish before the end. Maybe hers or even worse, Jamie’s.
“What did want to do before this bloody war started?” She quickly changed the subject to avoid her heart to break again.
“You told me about Lallybroch and helping run the farm but was there something else?” Claire would never know what it did to Jamie to hear the name of his childhood home in her mouth. The way her posh English accent pronounced the “ch” as if she had some warm apple pie in her mouth.
“Aye I always wanted to help my family at the farm but if I could, I would be a painter,” He admitted sounding like a child and Claire’s eyes drifted directly to his hands.
“Are you good at it?” His confession surprised her and yet, not at all. “ I love painting but I’m absolutely dreadful, I’d rather take pictures.”
“I dinna ken if I’m good at it, not as good as my mam anyway,” He smiled fondly, “She’s the one who taught me everything and the real artist in the family.”
“If I get you a paper and a pencil, would you draw something for me?” She grinned, noting the surprise on his face.
“Aye, what do ye want me to do?”
“Anything you’d like,” Getting up, she smiled, ”I will be right back.”
Jamie watched as she disappeared into the night in search of papers and a pencil.
Claire reappeared a few minutes later, a proud smile on her face and holding up her finds, “Found what I was looking for.”
“Are ye really sure ye want me to draw something for ye?” Jamie raised his eyebrows.
“Wot? Are you scared to mess it up?” Sitting down, she handed him the paper and the pencil, “Go on, surprise me.”
“Verra well, Sassenach,” Jamie took the items she was presenting him and moved to sit in front of her, “But dinna move.”
So Claire didn’t.
Silence fell between them when the scot started his task, first observing her attentively before picking up the pencil. His eyes examined her face for a long moment, his brows briefly frowning in concentration.
The more he watched her, the more Claire realised no one ever looked at her in a similar way. Like she was some sort of piece of italian renaissance, carved in white marble. When he started to brush the pencil against the paper, her breath hissed. All of a sudden, the air around them seemed to have evaporated and the fire reflecting on her skin was like a wave of warmth, burning in her direction.
Her. He was drawing her.
He did not say a word while he drew nor did he look at the piece of paper, once. His sea blue eyes were reading through her like an open book and she was willingly letting them. They were slowly undressing her, inch by inch and she found it intensely erotic. Claire didn’t know what it was about Jamie Fraser but everything he did felt that way.
“Can I do somethin’, Claire?” He asked softly, voice low but deep.
Without a word, she nodded and followed the movement of his fingers as they reached behind her to pull off her hair ribbon and freed her riotous curls.
Jamie smiled, pleased with himself and the sight before him and got back to his task. She quickly ran her fingers through her birdnest to make it look semi-presentable and their eyes locked again.
After a few minutes of eyes gazing and heavy silence, Jamie handed her the piece of paper. It seemed to her that his fingers were shaking but she wasn’t sure, she didn’t look. She was drowning into his eyes and she didn’t want to come up for air.
However, when her eyes did look down to the little piece of paper he was handing her, she was speechless. She could have been holding a mirror, it would have been the exact same. What stared back at her was her exact reflection and yet… the woman on the page was of a beauty that surely couldn’t be hers.
“Jamie…” She looked up at him, still at a loss for words.
“This looks like a photograph,” She finally said, gazing at him. “it looks more like me than any photograph I have ever seen and yet, there’s something about it I can’t grasp.”
“Ye look like that, Sassenach. But even more beautiful because I canna fully give ye justice on paper. Maybe on a canvas, one day, I could try. Though I’m not quite sure it would work, either.”
Cheeks flushed, she looked at him, “I’m not beautiful.”
“Ye are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Claire,” he brushed a curl away from her face and the tenderness in his voice almost had her crying.
“‘Tis no’ much but ye can keep it,” He smiled sweetly.
“Thank you,” She carefully folded the paper and hid it to safety in her front pocket.
Jamie moved next to her again, “Ye said ye’d rather take pictures, did ye use to do it a lot before?”
“Oh yes, all the time,” She smiled in turn, “I always had my camera with me when I travelled with my uncle. It was almost the continuation of my hand.”
“Do ye miss it?” Jamie looked at her, sensing the sadness in her voice.
“I do,” She admitted, laying down on the grass, her eyes staring at the sky. She wished she had her camera now, to froze this moment onto paper forever. His face and the way he looked at her.
Jamie laid next to her, his eyes too glued to the sky.
“No matter what is goin’ on in the world, the sky will always be full of stars… Isna it fascinatin’, Sorcha?”
“It’s a reassuring sight to know that some things remain,” She smiled, her hand brushing against his.
Jamie took her hand and silence fell into the night. She entwined their fingers, eyes counting the stars.
“‘Tis so quiet,” He whispered, stroking her hand with his thumb.
“I remember as a child, I found silence to be extremely reassuring. Listening to the wind or the rain against the window…Now, the silence only brings anguish to me. At least when there is noise, we know what’s happening. No matter how loud it is.”
“‘Tis what will stay wi’ me the most, I think,” He looked at her, “The noise. Between the bombs and the screams, I dinna ken how I could ever forget that.”
She would never forget, either. But between the bombs and the screams, what would stay with her forever would be the sound of his voice. The only solace in the midst of chaos. She understood very well just then, why it is that men measure time. They wish to fix a moment, in the vain hope that doing so will keep it from departing.
“Are you afraid?” Claire asked softly, she was fearful to look at him even if she knew the sight of his face was far more beautiful than the stars, “To go back?”
“‘Tis never pleasant to ken I might be dyin’ at any moment but I take great comfort in the fact that if I die, at least I would have met ye before I depart this earth,” Jamie turned on his side, their hands still entwined.
Claire turned after a minute, their eyes meeting, “Why are you staring at me?”
“Because ye are beautiful,” He cupped her cheek, Claire melting into his touch, “And I’m afraid to forget a single detail of your face once I’ll be gone.”
At that moment, She realized nothing existed beyond them alone. This fraction of time would be frozen in her memory for as long as she lived and she forgot about the rest, surrendering to him.
“Kiss me,” She almost didn’t recognize her own voice, then. It wasn’t a question, nor a pleading. She needed him and she knew he needed her just as much. God only knew what would become of them come morning.
Something flashed quickly through his eyes. Surprise? Relief? Fear? Claire didn’t know and had no time to linger on it. His face came closer and their lips touched.
It had not been her first kiss but it erased all the ones she had before. She didn’t remember any of them and she never would, again.
Tentatively, at first, their lips overlapped chastely, testing the other, to slowly grow into something more. Something feral.
Lips parting, their tongues started a slow dance that soon turned into a primal need to possess the other and to feel for the reassurance of being alive. As their lips grew hungrier, so did their bodies. Now pressed against one another, only a layer of clothing preventing to reveal their secrets.
When Claire reluctantly pulled away for air (lips swollen and warm), her whisky eyes got lost in his again. Her leg was wrapped around his waist and one of his hands was firmly planted on her arse. They were both breathless.
Cupping his cheek, she sealed their lips again, pressing herself against him and feeling his arousal. God, she wanted him. Like she had never wanted anything else in her life. Her hand tucked at his T-shirt and pulled it out of his trousers but he stopped her.
“Sassenach…” Jamie looked at her, a sudden expression of panic all over his face.
“I havena done this before,” He barely spoke loud enough that she almost didn’t hear him but she did. And the knowledge he had never been with a woman was anything but a turnoff.
“We don’t have to… if you don’t want it,” Her index finger stroked along his jaw, the scruff grazing her delicate skin. When he first arrived and his arm was injured, she helped him shave in the mornings. Though she had to admit she preferred him like this.
“Christ, ‘tis no’ a question of wanting ye,” He rested his forehead against her, “I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe,” He whispered, something caught in his voice.
“I dinna want to disappoint ye,” His eyes dropped down, his jaw tensing.
Lifting his chin for him to look at her again, Claire stroked his bottom lip with the tip of her fingers, “You will not,” She leaned close to him, her lips barely an inch away from his, her breath tickling them.
Jamie swallowed audibly. If it wasn’t for the fire, Claire wouldn’t have seen his eyes go from blue to black with lust, “What if somebody sees us?” He quickly looked around, the thought occurring to him.
She cupped his cheeks and kissed him, again. Slowly but with enough passion that his knees (and hers) would have given in if they had been standing up. She felt his arms tightening around her waist and Jamie made some deep noise low in his throat.
“Are you done talking?” She asked in a whisper after pulling away from him.
“Oh, aye,” He licked his lips, eyes gazing into hers.
“It’s just you and me, no war, no front, no danger. Just us, right here and now.”
“Then make love to me, Jamie,” She purred, her nose rubbing against his.
That’s all he needed to hear. His hands reached between them to open her fly and pull down his trousers while she did the same to him. Once her task was done and no layers of clothing prevented them to be together, Jamie rolled them over, looking down at her.
His lips found the delicate skin of her neck and stamped kisses all over it, descending slowly to her collarbones before he started to open her shirt. Each button gone revealed her porcelain skin and her brassiere. It was pink and silky but it didn’t stay on for very long. He pulled it off and buried his face between her breast for a moment, his warm breath creating goosebumps all over her.
His hand went to cup one of her breasts, perfectly made to fit into his palm, and massaged it slowly. It felt cold against her flesh and it sent electricity through her entire body. A body she arched towards him in a desperate plea.
“Jamie,” She rasped, reaching in between them to take hold of his cock, and making him groan by the same occasion, “I need you.”
“And I ye,” he whispered against her skin, kissing up her bosom and neck before planting a kiss on her lips. With one swift move, he was inside of her.
Neither one of them moved, then. Both completely blinded by something other than need. Something far less superficial and more powerful. They were also too afraid to have this end. It felt like a long moment before one dared to do anything at all.
Claire moved her hips forward, pulling him closer and Jamie started to move, his eyes lost in hers. She had been with men before, not many but enough to know what it should feel like. This was different…unlike anything she had ever experienced before.
Jamie was slow and tender at first but his pace hastened quickly, a groan escaping his lips, “Sorcha.”
“Faster,” She commanded, her hands resting on his arse, pressing him deeper inside of her.
They moved together frantically, desperate to feel, to belong…to make this last a lifetime but even a lifetime wouldn’t have been enough. Claire didn’t know where her flesh stopped and his began and she was blinded. By lust. By love.
She would never forget the look on Jamie’s face as a wave of pleasure took over his body and hers along with it. Panting, Claire cupped his cheeks between her palms and brought his face closer to hers before sealing their lips for as long as she could.
After a while, they laid tangled together, in silence. Holding one another in fears the other would disappear if they let go. Their bodies were aching with the remnants of their lovemaking and the night had gotten chillier but they didn’t care.
Stroking her hair back, he looked into her eyes, “Did ye like it?”
“Yes,” She answered truthfully, leaning up to kiss their lips, “I liked it very much, Jamie.”
“Can I ask ye somethin’? Ye dinna have to answer if ye dinna want to but I’m just curious…” He looked down, holding her close to keep her warm.
“Do you want to know how many men I’ve been with?” Grinning, she lifted his chin to make him look at her. He didn’t need to answer for her to know it was his question. Before he could say anything, Claire answered it, “Two.”
“I was just curious is all,” His ears turned bright pink.
“Thank ye for doin’ this for me, Sassenach. Now if I die, I ken I wouldna lived in vain,” He smiled, tasting her lips.
“You’re not going to die,” She cupped his cheek, stroking his bottom lip with the base of her thumb. She didn’t know who she tried to reassure most with those words. Him or herself?
“Och, one day I will,” His lips curled up into a smile.
“Yes but not during this war nor for many more years to come,” She sealed their lips, as a promise for her words.
“You called me Sorcha earlier,” She smiled, “What does it mean?”
“Light,” He said simply, “‘Tis what yer name means in Gaelic.”
“You’ll teach me to speak it, one day?” She rubbed her nose against his.
“Aye, I will, mo nighean donn,” Smiling, he kissed her.
“And what does that mean?” She chuckled, hiding her face in the crook of his neck.
“My brown-haired lass,” He ran his hand delicately through her curls, their softness tickling his fingers.
“I want to give you something,” Sitting up, Claire grabbed for her shirt before reaching into the front pocket to take out a silver necklace, careful not to let his drawing slip out.
Jamie sat up in turn, watching her curiously, “What are ye doin’?”
“Keep it with you,” She kissed the locket before sliding the chain over his head, “It will keep you safe and you’ll think of me whenever you’ll see it.”
Jamie smile widened, “I dinna need it to ken I will think of ye,” He took her hand, bringing it to his lips, “Always.”
He held her, then, tightly and close to his heart, where she had taken residence way before the day they had met. Everything around them was quiet and the night was fading quickly, too quickly.
“Tha gaol agam ort” Jamie whispered in her curls, kissing the top of her head.
“What did you say now?” She looked up at him, eyes shiny with unshed tears, no matter how much she wanted time to stop, she knew it was slipping through her fingers.
“I’ll tell ye what it means when I’ll see ye again, Sassenach,” Jamie said softly, stroking her bottom lip.
“Is that a lie to make me feel better about you leaving in a few hours?” She couldn’t help the tear escaping her eye
“Nay, ‘tis a promise,” Jamie kept a brave face not to crumble to pieces in front of her but come morning, the tears would flow until they were no more left.
“I want time to stop and to be here with you, like this, forever,” Her lips brushed against his tentatively before wrapping her arms around his neck and laying down with him, both on their sides.
“Aye, me too…” He whispered, pulling her closer, his hand on her hip, “But maybe in a warm room wi’ a big bed. Where I could cherish ye properly from dusk til dawn, Sassenach. The Laird’s room at Lallybroch, wi’ the fire burnin’ like tonight, reflectin’ on yer porcelain.”
“You’ll take me to Lallybroch, one day?” She couldn’t prevent the tear that slipped down her cheek and felt his thumb brush it away quickly.
“Aye, I will,” He sealed their lips, like a promise for his words.
Without a word, Claire guided him home one more time, one last time.
They moved in unison, hands exploring their bodies, which felt like a new territory as well as a familiar one. Bodies made to co-exist forever and even beyond that. Jamie took hold of her leg and wrapped it around his waist, pulling her closer.
Whisky eyes staring into ocean blue, Claire started to rock her hips in slow motion, caressing his cheek and smiling sweetly. They moved together, just savouring one another, every touch and every kiss, climax creeping in slowly and yet, too quickly.
They came together, this time. Climax bringing it with a bittersweet realisation.
“Never let me go,” She whispered against his lips, tears strolling uncontrollably down her cheeks.
“Never,” He promised, his own voice breaking with sadness. Jamie kissed her tears away and held her close against his heart. Cradling her head, he closed his eyes, letting his own tears roam free in silence.
They laid close together for the rest of the night, sometimes talking or briefly drifting off to sleep for longer than they both wanted to. They talked about the war and what would come after it. If such a thing would even come. They talked about a future together but omitted to mention that maybe they would be apart.
They talked about summer in England and autumn in Scotland. About customs and traditions. They talked about long walks by a river and kisses under the stars, just like tonight.
They talked about everything and anything but they didn’t talk about tomorrow. They simply prayed, in silence, that tomorrow wouldn’t come but it did. Too soon, too quickly and ripped them apart. Brutally.
Tomorrow came to take him away.
Since that day, Claire had felt as if a limb had been taken away from her body and a piece of her heart was missing. She started to count the days to see him walk back to the hospital but stopped one morning when the news of his regiment being killed reached her ears.
She had cried that night. And the one after that. She had cried so much, she was sometimes surprised to see she still had tears left to shed.
After a few months, she met Joe Abernathy. An American correspondent for Life Magazine who lost his legs in a bombing in a village nearby. The two quickly became friends, bonding over photography and other shared interests. Joe told her about his lover, perished in the bombing that took his limbs and Claire told him about Jamie. Her soldier, her love.
When the American told her about what was going on beyond these walls, the nurse had realised then that there was a world outside. A world even more bruised than she had suspected while she was stationed here. The military hospital wasn’t the safest place to be but it was relatively fine compared to the rest. And when Joe asked her to continue what he had started, Claire accepted in a heartbeat.
The simple sight of the military hospital drove her mad, anyway. She couldn’t stand to stay there any longer. Saving soldiers were not enough for her anymore, she needed to leave, no matter if she would perish.
With a farewell to Joe, his camera and a few belongings, Claire left France to go back to London. She didn’t count how many miles she had walked, nor how many nights she had slept outside, she didn’t care. She had nothing to lose, anyway.
She became a reporter, for the likes of Life (upon Joe’s recommendation) and then Vogue. For the next two years, she photographed the everyday life of the war, the atrocities and the bombed towns but also the people who remained. Sometimes she would see a flash of red hair through her lens and feel her body almost convulse before she realised it wasn’t Jamie. It was never Jamie.
She made her way through England and Germany. She saw everything. She documented every bit of life and death. History was not only stamped on rolls of film but also through her eyes. Claire had been the only female combat photographer and correspondent in Europe during the war.
Following her attachment to the American troops, she took picture upon picture, revealing to the world what had really been going on. After trudging through the liberated concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau, photographing piles of human bones, S.S. officers in prisoner uniforms who attempted escape and failed, and glass-eyed, barely living prisoners standing around in groups, waiting to see what happens next—Claire took off her muddy boots, making sure to wipe their horrific mud on the clean, fluffy bathmat, and posed in Hitler’s bathtub. To this day, her work would be remembered, talked and written about in books and documentaries.
She had been in Paris the day the war ended. Those were still the most joyous photographs she had ever taken but she had never looked at them once they had been published. After the end of the war, she moved to the English countryside and picked up the pieces to start living normally again. Whatever that meant. She knew she wasn’t the only one in the situation, everyone else had to adapt and move on. The ones that remained.
Claire never knew what became of Jamie, she had heard tales, of course. But even knowing what happened to his regiment, she liked to think he was in the Highlands, with his family and spent his days painting at Lallybroch. She tried to look for him but so many people had perished, it was still hard to find any trace of the victims.
When she wasn’t home or on a photography trip, Claire went back to London twice a month to drop some films. The city was still a dreadful sight, even two years later and rebuilds being done. And on days like today, the rain was not helping either. It had been a thin and misty one when she had arrived, doing nothing for her mass of curls that puffed up even more at the slightest humidity but as soon as Claire left the lab, it had started to pour.
Most things were closed at this time of the day but she managed to take refuge in a little gallery. Her hair was a mess and her clothes were soaked, making her shiver, but at least she was inside a warm place and there was art to look at.
Art by whom? she wondered.
The place was empty and quiet, with no one behind the desk. She decided to walk around anyway, waiting for the rain to calm down and her clothes to dry.
Most of the paintings were huge. Portraits of various people beautifully painted and executed. They were all so realistic, they almost looked like photographs. It was only when she walked further down the gallery that one canvas caught her eyes. It was the last one, at the back and the closer Claire came to it, the more she felt something shifting in the pit of her stomach.
The woman painted on it was sitting by a fire, dressed in a khaki nurse uniform, wild brown curls framing her porcelain face and big brown eyes the colour of whisky. She reached in her satchel and carefully pulled out Jamie’s drawing. She carried it with her everywhere and sometimes, she still wondered how she managed not to lose it. Her hands shaking, she unfolded it.
It couldn’t be but it was.
She stared at the painting for a long while, firmly holding the paper in her hand. After a while, she leaned closer to the painting’s description and almost fainted.
“Mo Nighean Donn,” - Oil on Canvas
Alexander Malcolm, 1947.
Her mouth went dry and her mind raced a mile a minute. She didn’t understand and yet, she did at the same time. She heard footsteps approaching, then, and tensed, straightening slowly.
Claire wanted to turn away but she couldn’t – frozen in place. If it wasn’t him, her heart would break again and she had spent her time carefully mending it back together since the morning he had left for the front. He had died and she was tired of his ghost following her around.
She turned her head slightly, her eyes catching a glimpse of fiery red hair.
Then, she heard it. The voice as warm as a whisky cascading down her throat and burning her inside. The voice she had desperately tried to hold on to and to never forget. The voice she never thought she’d hear again.