“Well, my first impression was that he looked like a frog!” Claire confessed. Her husband’s face was pressed against the side of her neck and she couldn’t see his expression but knew from the way the bed was shaking that Jamie was trying to stifle his laughter. “He came to hereabouts,” she added, the side of her hand cutting just below her breast. “But despite that, his personality is so vibrant, he seems larger than life.”
“And the healer? Yi Tien Cho?” Jamie asked, the question sounded somewhat muffled. When she didn’t answer right away he lifted his head. Her eyes grew soft and she kissed his lips.
“He is one of those people that instantly calms a room. Not by force but rather by its absence. Both men were beyond impressive and for completely different reasons. I have a journal full of notes, my head is exploding with all kinds of ideas. Did you know that -----” Claire continued but Jamie ceased trying to follow what she was saying about organic chemistry and compounds, something to do with herbs and plants.
He made a mental note to invite Geillis for dinner soon. She was the only one he knew who was as interested in this kind of thing as his wife. They would happily keep one another company for hours, no doubt. For himself, it was more than enough to simply watch her. Jamie grinned as her hands flew out in all directions, her eyes lighting with enthusiasm and, best of all, her warm body curled up next to his. God, how he loved her. It was almost worth her leaving to feel the joyful thrum that swam in his blood upon her return. Her first weekend at Maison de Grenouilles was an unmitigated success. And tomorrow, tomorrow they’d--
“Sassenach?” He cut her off as the thought came suddenly to him. The egg retrieval appointment was tomorrow. Fertilization and implantation were steps a little further down the road.
“Humm?” Claire asked.
“Sorry, I dinna mean to interrupt but I forgot what time I’m to meet you tomorrow and I want to send myself a reminder.”
Claire gave him an amused look. “Excited are you?”
“Ye have no idea, Claire. Truly.” Jamie watches as her body pinks up; he hopes its a flush of pleasure not bashful embarrassment. His hand went instinctively to her stomach and he sighed as she covered it with her own. “But I dinna have the time in my book.” He prompted her.
Claire noticed that he’d taken to doing this more and more lately, writing down notes, setting multiple alarms, confirming dates. Not normally forgetful in the least, she wondered whether he was just anxious or if he genuinely thought he’d miss out on an important appointment.
“I sent you an email from the taxi on the way home,” Her lips met his in an effort to sooth. “And another to Mrs. Fitz. I hope it’s alright that my message wasn’t explicit. I just said to remind you to meet me tomorrow at 3 pm.” His eyes asked the question for him. “When people know, it raises expectations and when things don’t happen right away, they won’t hesitate to ask invasive questions and give you all kinds of well intentioned advice that is meaningless when you are going through it. And if you have a glass of wine at a party or God forbid someone sees you buying tampons at the store….” Her voice dropped so low Jamie had to lean in to catch what she was saying. “Could we keep everything private-- just between us-- for now? It got to a point where all of Frank’s friends knew every detail and I have been on the receiving end of that particular look of pity enough, thank you very much.”
Jamie could see spikes of wet well up in her eyes, but her mouth was set in a tight, determined line that told him she was resolute. Jamie knew she didn’t want to revisit hurtful memories of her previous life, and he’d be damned if he’d be the cause of more stress. He nodded agreement and cleared his throat.
“Pardon my interruption, lass. You were saying, about the …. alkaloids?”
Claire smiled and allowed her attention to be shifted. “Nothing, I must be boring you to death.”
“Yer enjoying the workshop. I want to hear every detail.” He admonished. “Besides, Faith’s run down of every single thing we did while you were gone dinna give you a chance to get a word in between dinner and now.”
“I think our daughter enjoyed having her Da to herself. You definitely packed a lot into the weekend.”
“We missed you though.” He told her honestly.
“We?” she teased, freeing her hand and moving it downward. He let out a gasp of surprise.
“Aye, shall I show you?” Jamie didn’t wait for a response and moved over her in a ferocious wave of gratitude at having her laying beside him again.
Jamie was nervous. There was always that little skitter his heart made in a medical setting. Having heard more bad news than good within such walls, and with the fresh memory of Faith’s hospitalization, Jamie supposed not much would help ease him. Claire, on the other hand, was fine. She lay on the examining table, one arm thrown over her head reading a magazine.
“It's a simple procedure.” She said, not lifting her eyes from the page. Jamie turned and paced back the other way.
“This won’t take much time. I’ll just be a little woozy after.”
“Mmphm.” He spun around on his heel and ran a hand determinedly through his hair.
“Good lord, sit!” She ordered.
He was just about to make up his mind whether to do so or not when, on a perfunctory knock, a nurse sailed through the door. It took a bit of time to set everything in position, Jamie kept out of the way as much as he could, but he seemed to be standing every place “Hiya-Frasers-I’m-Anna” needed to go.
“Let’s take a look at you and see what we have for eggs.” Anna said brightly. “We still haven’t gotten the sperm from your lab.” Anna told Jamie as she turned the ultrasound machine on and took the wand in hand. “Luckily, the eggs don’t need to be fertilized straight away but we’ll need the specimen before Friday for a fresh process. We can always freeze the eggs though. Just let us know in a couple of days, ok?”
“Ye should have everything ye need. I signed the release and messengered it to Preservation, U.K. over a week ago.” Jamie told her.
“You mean the lab you transferred the specimens to? Preservation, U.K. ceased operations months ago and the deadline for moving everything passed over the summer.” Anna said on a smile, assuming he’d simply forgotten.
“What?” Jamie heard himself ask as if from a great distance, his eyes met Claire’s shocked ones. The rush of white noise filling his ears made thinking difficult. He fought down the urge to throw up. What had happened? How had he never been told? Did the messenger company drop off the releases or not?
“They went bankrupt. The company was hit with a bunch of lawsuits a few years ago and, in the end, their reputation was so damaged they couldn’t keep their doors open. But every patient was given notice and time to move everything to new storage facilities. You would have gotten several letters or emails?” She told them.
“Perhaps the notices were sent to Jared and he took care of it?” Claire said softly, with a hopeful expression. Jamie’s heart fell to his feet.
“Aye, that must be it.” He lied for Anna’s benefit but he shook his head a fraction of an inch letting Claire know he wasn’t mistaken. This was not the time or the place for this conversation. He had the fleeting thought that somewhere Frank Randall was laughing. This was quickly forgotten when, less than five minutes later, Anna put the wand down.
“I’ll get the doctor, now.” She said. Jamie’s head came up at the sharp tone of her voice.
“What’s amiss?” he asked instantly alert.
“The doctor will be right in.” Anna repeated, but her cheeks were splotched with red and she didn’t meet his eye. Jamie waited until her back was through the door and he was at Claire’s side at once.
“ Mo chridhe ?” He gripped both her hands in his. Claire was shaking her head but she squeezed his fingers tightly and he knew he hadn’t imagined it.
“I’m not sure.” The doctor in Claire refused to speculate. Better to get the information first hand.
Sometime later, Jamie carefully ushered her into the car. He vividly remembered the drive over to the clinic the buzz of knowing they were taking the next step anticipating holding a new child at the end of their journey. And Claire. She bubbled over with such joy these days. For all she tried to temper his expectations, he knew how much she longed for another child, too. He remembered parking the car. Texting Claire he’d be up soon. Walking through the cold bite of the afternoon, answering a quick call from Geneva before hopping into the elevator.
Yet he found himself, an hour later, staring out of the windshield at nothing, seatbelt biting into his side with no memory of the return trip.
He could feel Claire’s eyes on him. Knew without looking that her glass face would be wearing a worried expression. He hadn’t said a word since their meeting with Dr. McEwan. His fingers shook just a little as he slid the key into the ignition but he made no move to start the car.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked him. Jamie’s tongue ran along his upper lip, thinking. He turned to her.
“I would if I kent what to say.” He gave her a rueful half smile. “I’m no’ sure if I’m meant to be happy or sad, Sassenach. So I’m sitting here mostly just confused. And you?”
But she only shrugged and looked away. He hated not being able to see her eyes. She was doing it on purpose and probably feeling the same way. In the silence, he spoke again.
“I didna get any letters from the clinic, Sassenach. Maybe they sent them to an old address but I think it may be too late, the samples are gone.”
“I gathered as much.” Claire was finally looking at him again.
“So whatever chance we had of Faith having a sibling that way isn’t possible.” Jamie said, stating the obvious.
“Does that even matter?” She wondered, “I mean, given the circumstances?”
“If the testing comes back positive, then it wilna matter. But if not, then maybe we’ll never be able to and I….” This time it was he who shrugged his shoulders, having no answers to give. Claire reached her hand out to his, squeezing it tightly before slumping down helplessly in her seat.
Dr. McEwan had wasted no time, coming into the room within moments of Anna’s exit. She wove the wand with deft precision, explaining as she went.
“Claire, you’ll remember several months before you got pregnant with Faith, the clinic was able to determine that your ovaries were producing eggs but they weren’t capable of surviving the trip into the uterus?” Claire nodded.
Jamie squinted at the screen pretending he had an idea what was happening- every place the wand traveled looked like blobs -- some dark and others in lighter shades.
“The procedure you had on your left fallopian tube repaired some damage there. When a few cycles passed and you didn’t conceive, you started on the IVF. And that eventually resulted in Faith.”
“I remember.” Claire confirmed.
“The pathway between the left ovary and fallopian tube is working perfectly now.” The wand stilled on a slightly lighter spot. “However, I’m afraid that the right side has suffered yet another complication. If not for your scheduled appointment to retrieve your eggs today, we likely wouldn’t have caught this for several weeks but, circumstances being what they are, we just happened catch this. It looks like the right fallopian tube is blocked. I am almost positive that...right there,” Dr. McEwan pointed again at the screen, “is a zygote. I’m having Anna put a rush on your blood work and we will confirm it before you leave our office but I think the test is just a formality.” Jamie remembered just enough high school biology to know a zygote was a term describing the very earliest stages of egg meeting sperm.
“An ectopic pregnancy?” Claire asked.
Jamie noted her look of resignation, and for her sake he kept his face perfectly blank, listening and saying nothing in return. But his heart was hammering inside his chest and his stomach was flipping over on itself despite his outer composure.
“Pretty much, yes. But I would say we are within ten days to two weeks of fertilization.”
“I can’t hear anything.” Claire said regarding the lack of a heart beat from the ultrasound. The doctor shook her head.
“Nor would you. This is far too early, none of the typical structures will form for weeks yet. We aren’t even at an embryonic stage and, given the location, your body couldn’t have sustained this for very much longer. I am sorry.” Both Claire and Jamie had understood there was nothing that she could do. “There is some good news, though, if one can ever say such a thing in these circumstances. We caught this early enough that it can be treated non-surgically and there won’t be any permanent damage to the tube. And, it looks like these new hormone injections do increase your egg production and viability. Here is a copy of all the hormone testing so you can see for yourself.” Claire took the report and scanned it, nodding and humming to herself. The last go around with Frank, her numbers were much lower.
“As for you, Jamie, this confirms that you have at least a few good swimmers in there, which appears to be rather fortuitous given the fact that Anna tells me you never transferred your sperm from Preservation to a new clinic?”
They discussed the next steps at some length after that but Jamie heard maybe one word in three. Dr. McEwan wasn’t sure how much technical support they would require when they were ready to try again. He would need to undergo extensive testing in the next few weeks and they would take it from there.
As they pulled into the driveway, finally home after their trying afternoon, the back door sprung open and Faith’s curly head popped into view. Jamie reached for Claire’s hand, stopping her from jumping out of the car. He starts to ask if she is ok, but quickly realizes how ridiculous the words will sound.
“I’ll always be right here, beside you, come what may.” He vows. Her hand is ice cold in his. She draws in a sobbing breath of air and he knows she isn’t ready to talk about it yet. “I was thinking stew for dinner.” He hopes to ease them onto safer ground. A tight smile and a nod and she’s out of the car and in the house before he’s even moved.
Its deep in the night when a sound rattles him awake. Claire’s speaking in French, telling her mother she’s afraid and doesn’t want to walk any further. Jamie answers her in the same language, soothing her as best he can. She gasps as she wakes, sweat making the back of her shirt hot and damp.
“Just a dream, Sassenach.” He tells her.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you.” She groans and tucks her knees up near her belly.
“Cramps?” He asks, even though he knows.
“I’m going to get some painkiller. I’ll be fine, go back to sleep.” Claire kisses his cheek as she rises. “I am alright.” She repeats with some emphasis. It is then that he realizes they have switched to English.
Jamie waits ten minutes, and then another ten. He doesn’t want to crowd her, knows good and well she hates his mother hen routine. But the instinct to go to her, to offer his wife comfort is too strong to ignore and he goes in search of her. He finds her in Faith’s room, tucking the blankets once more around their daughter’s shoulders. He reaches out to share in this task, fingers brushing against hers. They both kiss Faith’s forehead and then he guides Claire back to the living room. He pours them both a shot of whisky and takes her into his lap, waiting her out. Jamie won’t force her to reveal emotions she is fighting to hold inside and so he hangs onto his silence. Once she has finished her drink, she is finally ready.
“It’s not that I expected my life to be problem free.”
Jamie responds with a mmphm.
“But sometimes I feel like every problem in the universe is waiting to leap out at me from every corner of the globe.”
“Feel like throwing yerself a pity party and wallowing, do ye?” Jamie gave her an amused look.
“Too bloody right I do!”
“Aye, well, I hate to break it to ye, Sassenach but yer far more likely to fight back than to go down for the count.”
“You don’t think I am capable of giving up and giving in?” She said indignantly.
Jamie snorted and she huffed out a laugh. Her head came to rest against his shoulder and his arms envelop her. He can feel the brush of her lashes against his neck, the moist breath tickling his ear.
“Go on, then, Sassenach, rant and wail. Hit me, if it’ll make you feel better, or curse a blue streak.”
“Maybe I’ll just get hysterical and ugly cry.” She warned.
“Maybe ye will but ‘salright, you’re safe wi’ me.” He reminds her. “Ye dinna need to be brave all the time, Claire. Let me be your strength tonight. I promise no matter what you do, I’ll love you twice as much come morning.” He felt her whole body sigh at that and pulled her closer.
“I’m so glad it’s you.” She tells him. “That I married.” This earns her a tender kiss on her forehead, his thumb traces her cheek bone.
“Ye did warn me that the process wouldna be simple.”
“I did. Though, I didn't think it’d be quite this complicated.”
He moves his head to look at her face, noticing for the first time how pale she is.
“Tell me how yer really doing, Claire.” He holds her gaze and nods to encourage her.
“Will you think me a horrible person if I say I’m doing fine?” Jamie shook his head and let out a breath. “It’s a shock, to be sure; but, since I never imagined we would conceive naturally, the loss...doesn’t quite feel real to me. Mostly, I’m worried about you. When I think about you….that’s when I want to cry.” As if giving voice to her fear gave it life, suddenly the tears started rolling down her cheeks.
Jamie kissed them away. “Because?”
“I think you’re going to be so disappointed.”
“Disappointed?” Jamie couldn’t hide his surprise.
“In me. I feel like I’ve let you down.” Claire whispered and Jamie’s heart broke a little. Watching her cry made his own eyes start to spill over. Tissue in hand, Claire started to touch his face but his hand stopped her and he lifted her chin to hold her still.
“Never, Claire.” He looked intently at her. “You give me joy, hope, love. As long as yer by my side, mo ghraidh , I can handle anything the future has in store.”
“Are you sure?” Claire’s voice trembled, scared to ask but needing to know. Jamie nodded emphatically.
“I dinna ken if we are the two luckiest people in the world or the unluckiest.” Jamie was smiling now, a gleam in his eye. “The thought that we could get pregnant like…. just like any ordinary couple... ‘twas nothing I dared hope for when I awoke this morning. But tonight, I’ll fall asleep with you in my arms knowing it’s possible, aye?”