Christ, the shot had come out of nowhere.
Twenty-four hours ago, Claire’d agreed to go hiking with him good-naturedly; outdoors was fine. Camping is perfectly acceptable. Hiking through the woods and up a glorified hill was never her idea of a good time. He should have let it go, never should have told her it would mean so much to him. It’s mid-May, deer hunting season should have been over with at the end of March. It’s the only reason the young hunter Jamie’d caught sight of (as he approached to see what he’d taken down) ran.
If Jamie ever sees him again, he’ll kill him.
“Claire? Christ, Claire,” Jamie’s hands move to her stomach, unable to wrap his mind around the fact that she’s been shot in the gut. One moment she’d huffed about living at the top of the ‘mountain’ forever because it’d be too much work to get back down, and the next she was toppling over as if someone let all the air out of her. As Jamie applies pressure, he watches blood seeping between his fingers and his entire body runs hot as panic settles in. Fumbling for his phone with one blood-slicked hand, his attempt to call emergency services is immediately thwarted by no service. They’re deep in the woods, his phone doesn’t work, and his wife is bleeding to death before his very eyes.
“Claire, I have to carry ye, I have to get ye up into my arms.”
For her part, Claire’s calm, clinically trying to decide what her chances of survival are. Not high, she concludes quickly. She can feel her heart beating rapidly, trying to compensate for the blood pouring out of her. He’ll never get to help in time she realizes, watching as his phone fails. “...Too far. It’s too far,” she manages, realizing she doesn’t feel much other than the pressure of his hand.
“I’m no’ staying here or leaving ye,” he says firmly, making a decision as he lifts Claire into his arms.
Ten miles. He judges the distance in his mind and knows that’s as far as he needs to go; the closest ranger’s station. Jamie starts walking, determined that nothing but God himself will stop him. Looking down at her face for a moment, he watches as her own hands move to her stomach now, though it does little to staunch the freely flowing blood. “Keep yer eyes on me, Sassenach,” he breathes out, needing to look ahead now, to navigate the not at all easy terrain.
“I told you I hate—hate hiking.”
Now isn’t the time for jokes, but he’s keeping his emotions in such tight check that a nearly hysterical bark of a laugh escapes him. “Could have made the point any other way.”
Concentrating, he’s never prayed harder for his steps to be sure and steady, his hold on her strong. He has to focus, looking down one more time before taking in the terrain ahead. One mile goes, then another and another. Jamie notes every mile marker carved in trees and tries not to slow down. He talks to her, asking her questions, but realizes as he steps over a fallen tree that she hasn’t answered in return.
“Sassenach? Our honeymoon. Ye remember the mime?”
They’d gone to Paris, and Claire’s eyes drag open to look at him. “Such—” she wets her lips. “Such a stereotype.” Her mouth feels dry, desperately thirsty. “Jamie, stop. Stop, I need water.”
He goes to war with himself, knowing every moment they aren’t moving is more blood lost. “I’ll get ye as much water as ye want, soon as we make it.” He passes another mile marker. Only six to go.
“Do you remember,” she begins, trying to wet her lips. “Our first apartment?”
Sparing her a glance, he smiles, but it fades the moment he realizes how pale she is. It only pushes him to keep going, ignoring the burning in his arms. “Aye, I do. Wi’ the leaky windows.” They’d had a heavy storm and found out then as carpet squished under their feet.
“Balcony, though. It was good,” she murmurs, eyes closing.
“No view was ever as good as lookin’ at ye, silhouetted by the sun in the evenings.” Jamie looks down at her again, then speaks a bit more forcefully. “Open your eyes, Claire. Dinna close them, do ye hear me?”
Slowly, they flutter open again, the amber of them so dull, lacking the fire that usually burns in them. “...Tired. I’m tired,” she manages. Everything in her is slowing down, she can feel it. She always thought she’d be afraid to die, but there’s an odd sense of calm slowly settling over her. To catch her breath she has to breathe deeply, the effort exhausting.
Finally, after reminiscing about the apartment, their first date, their vacation to New Zealand, Jamie sees an actual, honest to God sign. Three miles. Three miles to the ranger’s station. “Claire, we’re close. We’re so close,” he breathes out urgently, hoisting her up in his arms a bit more, re-energized.
“Put me down.” Her words are mumbled, her breathing shallow. “Jamie, please.”
“No. No, I won’t,” he replies firmly. “Ye better no’ give up on me, Sassenach, or I’ll never forgive ye.” It’s a desperate statement to make, not one truly made out of malice. “Christ, we’re nearly there. Tell me… tell me what we’ll do for Christmas this year. Visit Lallybroch?”
Claire makes a sound in the back of her throat, blinking slowly. “The kids?”
“Aye, aye, we’ll visit and ye can hold wee Kitty, though she willna be so wee by then.” Katherine had only been born four months ago, and her arrival sparked conversation about trying to have a child themselves. She still hasn’t stopped her birth control, it’s still an ongoing conversation. “Are we still going to try, Sassenach? For a wean of our own?”
Children. An idea that terrifies her as much as it excites her. “Soon?” she asks, turning her head in against his chest, closing her eyes again. She wants to sleep, desperately.
“Perhaps within the next year, aye?” When she doesn’t answer after a few minutes he looks down again, heart twisting in his chest at how she’s gone beyond pale to grey. “Claire! Claire, dinna—” He pauses as they pass the two-mile marker. “Almost, we’re almost there, mo chridhe, keep speaking to me, open yer eyes. Please, Claire.”
It takes a monumental effort, eyes heavy as she finally, slowly looks up at him. There’s no focus, gaze drifting. “You...you’d be a—a good father.”
“And ye’ll be a good mother, Claire. I ken it. If I’m no’ a father wi’ you, then I dinna want to be a father at all,” Jamie proclaims. He’d never even truly cared about whether or not he’d be married eventually. Not until he met Claire. They’d both been at the same outdoor art festival; her alone and wandering and not even sure of what she’d been looking for. Jamie’d been at a booth, supporting his sister as she sold her artwork. When Claire’d wandered by and immediately been drawn to Jenny’s work, Jamie hadn’t been able to stop looking at her eyes. They were the color of pure, raw honey. That was the first time he’d ever known he wanted to spend the rest of his life with one woman.
He’ll be damned if she leaves him now.
“At least six bairns, aye?” he asks, joking (mostly).
“Jamie, I need—”
“Dinna ask me to stop, Claire,” he manages through gritted teeth. His calves feel as though they’re on fire, his arms are shaking, but he’s so close. “I can see it, Claire. The next marker, then ‘tis only a mile ago, we can make it.”
There’s a feeble attempt from her to turn her head, to see if she can see what he does, but it’s too much effort. As he breathes out that they’re almost there, that she has to hold on for another mile, she weakly shakes her head. “Put me down, Jamie. Please. Please, put me down.” She isn’t going to live, she knows she isn’t. She’s very aware of what her body is (or isn’t) doing, and she just wants to stop.
“Claire, dinna—” Jamie chokes on his words, feeling a lump form in his throat.
“Too much,” she breathes out, her voice sounding like nothing more than a wisp of air. “It’s too much.” Even when they get to the ranger’s station, they’ll still have to call for help. She’ll never make it to the hospital alive, and she knows it. “Stop. Jamie,” she pleads weakly.
When she says it, he can hear it in her voice. She’s dying and there’s not a thing he can do about it. “Please, Claire.” One more attempt.
“I’m cold. I’m so cold, Jamie.”
Her words make his steps falter, and finally, he sinks to his knees, still cradling her close. For a moment, tears blur his vision, obscuring her face. “Ye canna leave me, Sassenach,” he begs, choking out the words as he rocks her, cradling her as close as he can, trying desperately to warm her.
Now that they’ve stopped, she looks up at him, trying to focus as a tear rolls down her cheek. “I don’t—I don’t want to leave you.”
“Then let me keep going, please,” he begs, pressing his forehead to hers.
“It’s too...it’s—” She’s struggling, unable to grasp onto the words she wants to say to him.
Jamie’s hand presses over the wound again, as if he can do more now than watch the life stain his hands. “I dinna ken what to do,” he whispers brokenly, looking to her even now for an answer, a way to make her better.
One of her hands moves over his, the gesture feeling heavy and clunky to her. As if her limbs are all asleep and she isn’t in control of them. “You know,” she begins, stopping as she struggles to take the next breath. “You know—I love you?”
His lips press to hers urgently, a kiss she’s too weak to return. “Dinna say that. Please, dinna say goodbye to— I willna let ye go.”
She’s crying, tears falling backward, over her temples and into her hair. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
Cradling her body in his arms, Jamie rocks slowly. “Dinna be sorry, lass.” He chokes on his words, an actual sob tearing through him. “I love ye, Claire Fraser. And I’ve always kent ye loved me. I ken that ye always will.” He hates saying it, hates knowing this is the last time he’ll ever hear her say it in return. He feels her hand move over his weakly and then stop. When she says nothing, he looks up at her face and everything stops; the noises in the distance coming closer, perhaps even his own heart. “Claire, open your eyes. Claire! Open yer eyes, Claire, please.”
But she doesn’t.
Sobs wrack his frame as he bows his body over hers, shielding her with himself too late to save her. He says her name again, one loud shout up at the treetops.
It’s his scream that wakes her.
“Jamie?” Claire sits up, leaning over to examine the face of her sleeping husband, fingers moving through his curls. “Jamie, wake up,” she whispers quietly.
With a loud gasp, his eyes fly open, cheeks tear-stained. In the dark, his eyes search for hers. “Light, Sassenach.”
Reaching toward the nightstand, her fingers press the switch and instantly they’re both illuminated, blinking and squinting as their eyes adjust. “See? I’m here. I’m right here.”
Jamie swallows heavily, eyes never leaving hers as his fingers reach out and press lightly against the puckered scar on her stomach. Just as he’d gotten to the last mile marker and stopped, the young man who accidentally shot Claire did the right thing, got help, and emergency services had been on their way. She’d coded twice, but in the end, somehow, survived. He’s decided not to question it much and instead thank God she’s alive. It’s been nearly six months, but he still wakes from the nightmares at least twice a week.
“You saved my life, Jamie. I’m here because of you,” she whispers, reaching out to cradle his face now, to pull him closer carefully and press her forehead to his. Tugging at his hand, she drags it from her abdomen up to her chest so he can feel the steady beating beneath her skin. She knows in his dreams she doesn’t live, so she does everything she can now to prove it to him, that she’s real and there.
Taking a few deep breaths, Jamie closes his eyes for a moment before looking at her again, mind clearer now, more focused. “Ye came back to me.”
“That’s right,” Claire murmurs, sweeping curls off of his forehead. “I fought for you.”
“Ye didna leave me.”
“I didn’t. I won’t,” she promises. Sinking down against the pillows, she reaches for him, tugging so that he can rest his head against her chest. This has been their routine from the moment she arrived home from the hospital, only now she can hold him better because the wound has healed. “Sleep again, Jamie. I have you,” she whispers, running her fingers through his hair, lightly scratching at his scalp.
“I love ye, Claire,” he murmurs, needing to say it, knowing he’ll never again stop himself from saying it for any reason. “Christ, I love ye.”
Kissing his face where she can reach, she turns out the light once she’s satisfied he’s calm. “I love you, Jamie Fraser. Close your eyes and sleep.”
This time when he does, he dreams of the bairn growing in her belly now, no bigger than the size of a pea.