He’d forgotten how the mere touch of lips on his own could make his heart soar, his very skin come alive, his breath hitch.
But it wasn’t just any kiss that could do that to him. It was her.
It had been so long. So long… but somehow it felt like no time at all had passed since he last kissed her on that damned hill.
She still tasted of mint and honey. Still smelled like her wee herbs and something else that was uniquely her.
If he had only imagined her, how could he know that?
Jamie opened his eyes as she pulled away, his mind at war with itself.
Everything they had told him in the hospital…the way they’d made it make sense. He’d finally learned to accept that Claire…or at least the Claire he’d loved…wasn’t real. But surely even the most insane couldn’t create a feeling like this from nothing?
“Claire?” he breathed, tears stinging his eyes. Somehow he wanted both to haul her back to him for another kiss, and be held to her bosom like a bairn at the same time.
“Oh Jamie,” she sobbed, her hands framing his face. “Oh, my love.”
He could feel the cool touch of metal on his cheeks, and he slowly reached for her right hand, removing it from his skin and bringing it where he could see it.
“I never took it off,” she whispered as he brushed his thumb across the silver band, one he’d had made from his own key.
“Am I dreaming?” he wondered aloud, still so afraid to hope that this was real… she was here.
A sudden flash of something - mischievousness? - came into her eyes the second before she suddenly pinched the skin a couple of inches below his nipple, and he yelped in pain.
“What are ye…” and then he remembered something, and smiled. “‘Pinch me, I’m dreaming.’ Ye used tae say that sometimes, like when I bought ye that wee cake in Paris. I didn’a think ye meant it literally.”
She chuckled, and God he loved the sound. “You aren’t asleep, you stubborn Scot.”
He smiled back, but then shook his head with a grimace, holding a hand to it.
“Take it easy,” she said. “You’ve been hurt, and very ill. Does your head hurt?”
“Like th’ devil,” he admitted.
“Lay back,” she helped him reclined further into the pillows, then had him sip some water, then a little more. After that, she became the busy wee scold he remembered. Fussing until he swallowed pills and drank more water and submitted to a flurry of poking and prodding.
He’d been poked and prodded plenty in Helwater, but never had it filled him with such happiness and peace. She could scold him into his grave, and he would beg for more.
“Why are you smiling at me like that?” She asked, her own lips quirked in an answering smile.
“I’ve missed ye,” he said drowsily, trying to resist the pull of sleep.
“I’ve missed you, too,” she whispered. “Rest now, Jamie.”
“Will ye stay?”
She stroked his face, fighting back tears. “Yes. I’ll be right here.”
“Lie down wi’ me, Sassenach. Please?” He hated to beg for comfort like a child, but he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t keep his eyes open, and he was terrified that he would waken and she would be gone
His Claire lost her fight with the tears, but she nodded and crawled into bed with him, curling into his side, her arm across his chest, fitting just as perfectly as he remembered. He grabbed her hand…the one with his ring…and held it tightly. He was still so unsure, so confused.
But he didn’t feel quite so mad, anymore.
I was tired… exhausted really, but I found myself unable to close my eyes, unwilling to take them from Jamie’s sleeping face.
That he was not only here with me in body, but in mind…and even heart was more than I could have ever hoped for. Survivor that he was, he hadn’t let himself be broken, and if possible I loved him even more for it.
My hand rested on his chest, over his heart, and I counted the beats while I listened to his breath.
I must have drifted off after all though, because when I awoke again, it was night. The bedside lamp had been left on, so I could see that Jamie’s eyes were open and watching me.
They looked a little dazed, and it worried me for a moment, but they blinked into awareness when I touched his jaw.
“Did you think you were dreaming again?” I whispered.
“I’m still no’ so sure I’m not.”
I smiled, stroking his cheek. “That’s alright. We have plenty of time to convince you.”
He looked away, frowning up at the ceiling, but his thumb stroked my shoulder where it wrapped around me, and his free hand covered mine on his chest.
“My memories are a wee bit foggy.”
“That may be from the electro-shock therapy. It may come back in time.”
I wasn’t actually sure if it would or not, but was already making a plan to take him to a neurologist friend of mine once we figured out how to get him to the States.
He shook his head. “Dinna ken…I think they’ve been foggy a while. My whole time in that damned asylum feels barely real. But then…nothing really feels real.”
“Oh Jamie…” I whispered, leaning up to press a kiss to his shoulder. “I know you must feel so lost right now. But I promise, I’ll be right here for you, and help you any way that I can. Why don’t you start by trying to tell me what happened after I…after I left?”
His face contorted in a grimace, and I pressed my hand harder into his chest, reminding him of my presence.
“No, not Culloden,” I amended. “Not yet, anyway. When you’re ready. After that. Tell me how you got to the stones.”
“I was…in hiding,” he said at last. “I lived in a cave near Lallybroch…for many years.”
I closed my eyes, unable to bear the thought of him living alone in a cave for years, only to continue being locked away from the world. He was a man who lived for the wide, outside world. He didn’t belong in a prison…whether or not it was a prison of his choosing.
“I was a danger tae Lallybroch though. Jenny, Ian…their bairns…”
I felt him turn his head and looked up to find him looking back at me questioningly.
“Yes, Jamie. I delivered one of their children, remember? Little Maggie.”
Jamie smiled, getting the confirmation he’d needed that his sister and her family weren’t figments of his imagination.
He nodded. “I turned myself in. Was sent tae prison…Ardsmuir.”
“I knew that,” I told him, in case he didn’t particularly want to get into the details. “And a little bit more.”
He gave me another searching look, and I realized he wouldn’t know why I knew that, so I attempted to explain.
“This past summer, I looked for you. In history books, that is. That’s how we met Roger. He’s the son of an old friend, and a historian.”
Jamie snorted. “Figures he’d be a historian. Like a wee dog wi’ a bone, that one.”
I chuckled. “That he is, and I’m very grateful for it. So what happened? Were you paroled?”
He shook his head. “No. I would have been, but I escaped instead.”
His brow furrowed. “I dinna remember exactly. I was looking for you… but I dinna ken why. But…I remember…my friend, John Gray. D’ye ken him?”
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone named John Gray.”
Jamie looked a little distressed about that, making me wish I’d lied and said I did.
“That’s no’ right,” he argued. “Ye kent him…he was the governor of th’ prison. But he was an honorable man.”
“Erm…yes…now that you mention it, I think I remember him…” I ventured.
“I can tell when ye’re lying, Sassenach. I haven’a lost that much of my mind.”
I sat up on my elbow a little, offering him a smile. “I’m sorry. I don’t know him, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t.”
All at once, Jamie’s expression cleared, and he chuckled. “I’m sorry, a nighean . I do remember now. Ye wouldn’a ken him by name, but ye did meet him. D’ye remember, when we were living in that barn wi’ th’ army, and that wee lad tried tae slit my throat? Ye pretended tae be an English prisoner tae save him.”
I remembered that night vividly. Surprising, after so many years. I remembered the slight and unexpected rush of power that came to me when Jamie along with all of the men immediately leaned into the little ruse I spontaneously set up in effort to get the boy to give them information about his unit. Along with the slightly shameful secret I’d kept that I’d been unnervingly aroused by Jamie’s rough handling of me that night. I’d never told him that…but I decided that I would…when he was better.
But the boy…that poor boy…yes I remembered him. He had been so gallant in trying to save my honor…not that it needed saving to begin with.
I grinned at Jamie. “I remember. And he was the governor of the prison? Small world.”
Jamie chuckled. “Aye. He was a good man, though. After I returned tae th’ prison…”
“Returned? Why would you go back after escaping?”
He shrugged the shoulder I wasn’t resting my head on. “Th’ men needed me, and there wasn’a much waiting for me on th’ outside. Couldn’a go back to Lallybroch. Problem was, my return would have done more harm than good, for th’ men, for John, and me. John begged me tae just run…so I did. I thought about going tae th’ colonies, starting over there…but I felt like…I dinna ken…that I needed tae say goodbye tae ye again. Once more.”
It made me think of a patient I’d had not long ago…one that had reminded me so strongly of Jamie. He’d been a Scot, but unwilling to return to his home country, even though he missed it, because it would mean leaving his wife’s grave. I said as much to Jamie.
“Aye. But there was no grave, ken? And praise God for it.”
“So you went to the stones.”
He nodded. “It was the last place I was wi’ ye. I dinna ken how it happened. I just touched it…and I was here. I didn’a ken what happened until it was too late tae shut my gob about where I was from.”
An alarming look came over Jamie’s face then, and he screwed his eyes shut, as if in pain. I sat up and hovered worriedly over him.
“He told me I was…I’m traumatized,” Jamie said, in a voice so small…almost childlike…that it made my eyes sting with tears. “Probably sexually. And I…I kent that tae be true, because I remember what that feels like.”
“Jamie…” I whispered, not sure what to say.
“My brain constructed a world tae protect it from things that hurt me. I didn’a believe him at first…but after a while…” his eyes opened then, fixed on me with so much pain and fear that I just wanted to shield him from forever.
“Listen…I know, alright?” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “When I came back, there were whispers. It ranged from me running off and having an affair to being taken against my will. There were some wild moments when I questioned my own sanity, and I didn’t have a doctor breathing those thoughts into my head, so I can only imagine how it must have been for you. So I know that it feels like reality is slipping away from you, and you don’t know who you are, so let me tell you who you are. You are James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, son of Brian and Ellen Fraser. You are a soldier. A laird. You are my husband…and a father.”
I felt more than heard Jamie’s sudden intake of breath, and his eyes widened, losing that fog of confusion.
“Th’ bairn…” he whispered. “God in Heaven…th’ child…is he…”
“She,” I corrected. “You have a daughter, Jamie.”
“Daughter…” he echoed. “Daughter?”
I nodded, the tears I’d been holding in starting to fall. “Yes.”
He was sitting up, trying to stand, and I grabbed his shoulder. “Jamie, don’t! You’re still weak! She’s nearby, but listen to me, there are some things you need to understand…”
Despite my attempts to stop him, he got unsteadily to his feet and turned back to look at me. “That woman…th’ one wi’ the red hair…”
“She wanted to see you,” I explained weakly, worried he was going to be upset.
He turned without another word and fled the room, and I scrambled out of bed after him. But he was as unstable as a newborn giraffe and promptly knocked over an end table just outside the bedroom.
“Jamie, please!” I cried. “Lay back down, I’ll bring her to you!”
Brianna and Roger both peeked out of the living room, evidently having been sat up talking, and were alarmed by the sudden noise. Brianna and Jamie locked eyes, and Jamie just stood there, stunned.
From behind his back, I gave Brianna a little nod, and even from several feet away I could see her gulp.
“Brianna?” Jamie said, his voice hoarse.
“Yeah,” Brianna chuckled nervously. “I’m…I’m your daughter. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before, I was just waiting until you were…”
Brianna was cut off when Jamie suddenly took two lurching steps forward and pulled her into his arms. She hesitated only a moment before returning his embrace, her face pressed against his bare shoulder.